SFF Reviews

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Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray by Frank Barbiere and Chris Mooneyham

Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray by Frank Barbiere and Chris Mooneyham

Imagine your favorite pulp art from the covers and illustrations of adventure and fantasy stories. Now imagine this same style updated so that the artwork is consistent with a hint of contemporary polish plus wonderful, eye-grabbing color. Finally, imagine a comic book that tells an entire story with this artwork so that instead of the illustrations accompanying the text, the text accompanies the art. At that point, you will have imagined the first volume of Frank Barbiere’s Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray, which is illustrated by Chris Mooneyham, with colors provided by S. M. Vidaurri and Lauren Affe.
... Read More

The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman and J. H. Williams III

The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman and J. H. Williams III

Most monthly comics come out, well, monthly, but DC decided to drag out The Sandman: Overture and release it every other month, and that seemed reasonable given how long it takes for J. H. Williams III to create his exquisite artwork. However, the comic ended up taking a full year longer than announced — from October 2013 to October 2015. After the first three issues, I quit reading because I just couldn’t stand the anticipation. As of this week, however, nobody needs to wait again. All six issues of The Sandman: Overture have been completed and released. The collected trade edition won’t come out until mid... Read More

Shadows of Self: A breezy weird Western romp that left us wanting just a bit more

Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson

Bill: Let’s see, last week in September. That means I’ve got to grade my first-years’ first essays. Call the guy to clean the gutters. Make sure the furnace and gas fireplace are set to go. And, oh yeah, it’s been a month, that must mean I have a new Brandon Sanderson novel to review. Yep, Shadows of Self, the second book in his second MISTBORN trilogy (or, if you prefer, the fifth book in the entire MISTBORN series). Apparently it’s due out in two weeks, which means I better get on this now or the third book will be out before I review the second (I swear, if Brandon Sanderson and Joyce Carol Oates ever had a child, their love child would be a high-speed printing press).

Interestingly enough, although this is, as I mentioned, the middle book of a second trilogy, my promotional material is te... Read More

Edge: The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard

The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard

The Drowned World (1962) is J.G. Ballard’s best apocalyptic work, the other two being The Burning World (1964) and The Crystal World (1966), but if you are thinking of an action-packed adventure where a plucky group of survivors clings to decency amid the collapse of civilization, this is the wrong book. Ballard was interested in ‘inner space,’ and while he sometimes adopted SF tropes in his books and short stories, his works most often featured natural disasters, the collapse of civilization, lonely astronauts, grim future urban landscapes, and weird obsessions with technology and mechanization. His main intent was to explore the psychology of human beings trapped in modern urban societies (and what happens when these societies collapse), and most of his protagonists are fatalistic, detached, and not particularl... Read More

Film Review: Dracula’s Daughter

Dracula’s Daughter directed by Lambert Hillyer

Released a full five years after the classic Universal horror film Dracula, the sequel, Dracula's Daughter, yet picks up a few scant seconds after the original left off. When we last saw our favorite Transylvanian neck nosher, he was lying dead in his coffin in the crypts beneath Carfax Abbey, a stake impaled in his heart courtesy of the intrepid Prof. Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan, the only actor who would go on to appear in the sequel). As the latter film commences, constables enter the tomb and arrest the vampire slayer for murder, not giving credence to his statement that he has just done the world a great service. When even Scotland Yard pooh-poohs his query as to how can one be held for the murder of one already 500 years dead, Van Helsing brings in his old student, the psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Garth (the ever-suave Otto Kruger), to defend him at his trial. And meanwhile, the Transylvanian ... Read More

Tower of Glass: Enough ideas for several novels

Tower of Glass by Robert Silverberg

Tower of Glass (1972) is another of Robert Silverberg’s ambitious novels from his most prolific period in the late 1960s/early 1970s. In that time he was churning out several books each year that were intelligent, thematically challenging, beautifully written stories that explored identity, sexuality, telepathy, alien contact, religion and consciousness. At his best, he produced some masterpieces like Downward to the Earth and Dying Inside, as well as some dreadful books like Up the Line, but his unfettered imagination and prolific energy were undeniable.

Unfortunately, a wealth of ideas can sometimes overwhelm even the best books, and I think Tower of Glass Read More

Undead and Unpopular: Short, silly, and shallow

Undead and Unpopular by MaryJanice Davidson

Warning: This review will contain spoilers for the previous books in the QUEEN BETSY series.

Undead and Unpopular is the fifth book in MaryJanice Davidson’s QUEEN BETSY series. Each of the books in this extremely fluffy paranormal fantasy series is short, silly, and shallow. The only thing that keeps me reading is that they’re quick breezy breaks between more substantial works — something I can read with half my brain tied behind my back. Also, they’re available in downloadable audiobook format at my library. I would have quit if it wasn’t for that, and the fact that I find MaryJanice Davidson’s sense of humor genuinely amusing, and Nancy Wu’s narration exceptional.

In Undead and Unpopular, it... Read More

Song Quest: An old favourite you may not have heard of

Song Quest by Katherine Roberts

I read Katherine Roberts’ Song Quest (book one of the three-book ECHORIUM SEQUENCE) as a child when it was first published in 1999. A few years later it was the first book I ever cajoled an unsuspecting customer into buying during my Saturday stint at the local bookshop. It is one those books that has stayed with me and I indulged myself with a re-read partly for stroll down memory lane and partly because I do not think it has received the attention it deserves. As with most things revisited from childhood it did feel smaller and less exciting when viewed from the tarnished eyes of adulthood (which is why I will not be returning to Disneyland) but I still think it is an exciting and, most importantly, enchanting read for the young and young at heart.

Rialle, along with her friends Fren and Chissar and class bully Kherron, are all training... Read More

WWWednesday; September 30, 2015

This week’s Word for Wednesday is sesquipedalian, an adjective used to describe a word with many syllables. The origin is Latin, from the word for “foot and a half.” “Sesquipedalian” appeared in usage in the early 1600s.  My Oxford English Dictionary gives the first written use of the word in 1625 if I am reading the tiny print correctly.

Crescent Moon by Sergey Tyukanov

Birthdays and Anniversaries:

A happy birthday to Mark Hamil, Shel Silverstien and Christopher Reeve who all share the same birthday, September 25.

The Planetary Society will have its 35th anniversary party on Saturday, October 24, in Pasadena. Guests will include Nichelle Nichols and Read More

Time’s Eye: Action, science and… Alexander the Great vs. Genghis Khan?

Time’s Eye by Arthur C. Clarke & Stephen Baxter

Action, you say? Science!? Characters in 3D!?? But wait… there’s more! How about an ancient battle-royale between Alexander the Great and his army vs. Genghis Khan and his Mongolian horde?

Oh yes, sci-fi power couple Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter have all that and more in the 2003 opening to their A TIME ODYSSEY series, which, in theory, takes place in the same universe as Clarke's SPACE ODYSSEY stories.

Inexplicably, at least initially, Earth is sliced up and stitched back together creating a mish-mash of timeframes. This scenario creates the opportunity for Baxter and Clarke to position a Genghis-Alexander battle for control over the new Earth (dubbed "Mir" by the remnant individuals from the 21st century... Read More

The Eternal Champion: Examines the multiplicity of an individual

The Eternal Champion by Michael Moorcock

Though I have read a handful of Elric stories and several comics — new and old — based on the character, The Eternal Champion is the first complete novel of Michael Moorcock’s that I have read, and I enjoyed it immensely. Erekosë, another character in Moorcock’s larger ETERNAL CHAMPION series, is a fascinating character who, as a warrior with ethical concerns about war, allows Moorcock to reflect upon weighty matters via his fictional narrative. But most importantly, it’s a wonderfully fun book to read. Great ideas are not of much use if nobody even wants to read the novel.

The plot is simple: A man in the present is called via magic to return as the Eternal Champion and defender of humanity in a King’s war against “The Eldren Threat,” ... Read More

Clockwork: Bad things happen when you don’t finish a story

Clockwork: or All Wound Up by Philip Pullman

Clockwork: or All Wound Up (1996) is a very short (about 100 pages) children’s fairytale by Philip Pullman. It stars Karl and Fritz, two young Germans who have not finished a job that they were supposed to do and are worried about what will happen when the townspeople find out. Karl and Fritz meet one snowy evening in the local tavern. Karl, the clockmaker’s apprentice, is brooding because tomorrow is the day when he must unveil the mechanical project he’s supposed to have finished. For hundreds of years, each apprentice has contributed an exquisite clockwork figure to the town’s clock and everyone gathers on graduation day to admire it in the town square. Karl confesses to Fritz that he has not created anything.

Fritz, a writer, tells Karl that authors also ha... Read More

Battlemage: One of my favourites this year. Best read while listening to heavy metal.

Battlemage by Stephen Aryan

Not too long ago, as I pondered which book to read next, it came to me on a whim that I was craving an epic fantasy novel where wars were battled with not only bow and sword, but with devastating magic. Granted, it’s a simple wish. I wasn’t looking for a deep exploration of human relationships or an allegory about the state of our current world. I just wanted to read about some big-ass battles fought with dazzling magic. I went to Amazon to search for that hypothetical book and the first search word that popped into my mind was “battlemage.” Lo and behold, right there as the first result of my query, was Stephen Aryan’s debut, aptly named, Battlemage. I read its description and it felt as if all my prayers had been answered. I clicked the pre-order button.

The premise of Battlemage is simple. War is coming to Seveldrom as a mad king has risen... Read More

Station Eleven: A literary post-apocalyptic novel

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

When most people think of post-apocalyptic stories, they imagine big clunky action plots, zombies and barren wastelands. Maybe a ripped action hero in the calibre of Will Smith. That’s why Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven came as such a surprise. It is complex, poetic, beautifully imagined and intricately plotted.

The novel opens with a death, but not one caused by the flu pandemic that is about to wipe out 99% of humanity. Arthur Leander is performing King Lear on stage when he has a heart attack. Arthur’s final performance is the event that ties together the lives of the cast of characters in the wake of the pandemic. First there is Jeevan, one of the more memorable side characters, a paramedic in training who is in the audience at the theatre. On stage is Kirsten Raymonde, an eight year old actress with a minor part in the pl... Read More

The Crack in Space: Off the mark by 72 years

The Crack in Space by Philip K. Dick

Although he displayed remarkable prescience in many of his books, cult author Philip K. Dick was a good 72 years off the mark in his 18th sci-fi novel, The Crack in Space. Originally released as a 40-cent Ace paperback in 1966 (F-377, for all you collectors out there), the novel takes place against the backdrop of the 2080 U.S. presidential election, in which a black man, Jim Briskin, of the Republican-Liberal party, is poised to become the country's first black president. (Dick must have liked the name "Jim Briskin"; in his then-unpublished, non-sci-fi, mainstream novel from the mid-'50s, The Broken Bubble, Jim Briskin is the name of a DJ in San Francisco!) Unlike Barack Obama, whose campaigning centered around the issues of war, economic crisis and h... Read More

SFM: Kevin Hearne, Brandon Sanderson, H.P. Lovecraft

Short Fiction Monday: There is so much free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet these days. Here are a few stories we read this week that we wanted you to know about. 

"Clan Rathskeller" by Kevin Hearne (2010, available at Kevin Hearne's blog, audio available)

“Clan Rathskeller” is one of Kevin Hearne’s short stories set in his IRON DRUID CHRONICLES world. This one takes place before the events of the first book, Hounded. Atticus, the last druid, and his Irish Wolfhound Oberon, are in Tempe Arizona, trying to lay low and avoid the attention of any ancient gods. But then they notice some gnomes disguised as Santa’s elves and they end up getting involved in their fight against an evil creature who stole something from them.

All of Hearne’s IRON DRUID storie... Read More

Horrible Monday: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. Everyone on the same page? Okay… Hill has delivered a deeply satisfying and literate novel in NOS4A2. He is absolutely his own man, and he’s very good. But he’s also picked up some tricks from his father. He writes children well, especially those that have some unique ability. In this case, Victoria McQueen has a special gift: she can find lost things. And this skill tends to transport her to wherever those lost things happen to be.

The book is most successful in its character development. Many a page is dedicated to the growth and transformation of Vic McQueen’s personality, as we see her grow from a young girl overwhelmed by her unique capabilities, to a mother equally as overwhelmed by her life, by those she loves, and by the maniacal plottings of Char... Read More

The Aeronaut’s Windlass: Begins a new series by Jim Butcher

The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

Fans of Jim Butcher (including myself) were thrilled to see that he’s started a new series called THE CINDER SPIRES. This one is quite different than his previous works. THE DRESDEN FILES, for which Butcher is best known, is a modern-day urban fantasy with a first-person narrator and a hardboiled feel. THE CODEX ALERA is an epic fantasy with a typical medieval setting and plot.

THE CINDER SPIRES is set in a more imaginative world. With its airships and steam power, it has a steampunk feel. The story takes place on a mist-covered planet (possibly a future Earth?) whose surface is so dangerous that humans have built their habitats in tall spires miles above the planet’s surface. Each spire is about two miles in diameter and is ruled... Read More

Sorcerer to the Crown: A fun Regency Fantasy with a heart

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Zen Cho’s debut novel Sorcerer to the Crown is a heck of a lot of fun.

A quick description of it may not sound like it, though. It revolves around the magician Zacharias Wythe as he negotiates his new position as Sorcerer Royal, which, in England, has become more of a political position than a magical one. He has to cater to the needs of the English government by helping them negotiate alliances, navigate the shifting politics of the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, and make appearances among the hoity-toity London upper crust. Unfortunately for Zacharias, he does not enjoy politics. His position is complicated by the fact that he took over the staff of Sorcerer Royal after the strange and unexplained death of his mentor and guardian, Stephen Wythe. Combined with the fact that Zacharias is a fr... Read More

SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki

SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki

SuperMutant Magic Academy is a difficult book to review, but it is certainly an easy one to recommend. You need to get a copy, and you need to put it next to your HARRY POTTER collection on your bookshelves. It’s funny, shocking, goofy, light, and surprisingly more endearing than a book like this one should be, since at first it seems to be a mere spoof — not always lovingly, thank goodness — of the HARRY POTTER novels.

Jillian Tamaki wrote, drew, and posted online these little one-page visual gags. I didn’t kn... Read More

Anthem: Inferior to Big Three Dystopias: We, Brave New World, and Nineteen Eighty-Four

Anthem by Ayn Rand

It’s incredible, the number of thematic similarities between Ayn Rand’s Anthem (1938) and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1924), as well as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932). While there’s no direct evidence that Ayn Rand plagiarized those earlier works, she owes an undeniable debt to their dystopian future societies where the individual has been completely sublimated to the needs of the state. Moreover, I believe that We and Brave New World are superior works, both as literature and as novels of ideas. Finally, if we are discussing the greatest dystopian novels of the 20th century, we cannot ignore the most powerful condemn... Read More

Alistair Grim’s Odditorium: The magical adventures of a chimney sweep

Alistair Grim’s Odditorium by Gregory Funaro

Alistair Grim’s Odditorium, by Gregory Funaro, is a charming middle grade fantasy that reminds me of Roald Dahl’s classic James and the Giant Peach, but with a Victorian steampunk flavor. Replace the giant peach with a large, bizarrely-shaped mansion with strange powers and even stranger inhabitants. Add one intrepid twelve year old ("or thereabouts") runaway chimney sweep named Grubb, and a doughty and stubborn magical pocket watch named McClintock with the heart of a Scottish warrior, along with assorted fairies (good and evil) and other magical beings, and you've got a great adventure for the younger set.

Grubb (no other name) is a young “chummy” or chimney sweep’s assistant, living in London in the 1800s. He doesn’t know who his ... Read More

Daughter of the Empire: Life on the other side of the rift

Daughter of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist & Janny Wurts

THE EMPIRE CYCLE is the second trilogy set in Raymond E. Feist’s (and in this case Janny Wurts’) Riftwar universe. Readers of the RIFTWAR SAGA (the first trilogy by publication date) will know all about the world of Midkemia and its war with the otherworldly Kelewan. Daughter of the Empire takes place entirely in Kelewan and so offers a new insight into the Riftwar universe, from the other side of the rift. Readers familiar with the earlier works will enjoy spotting the veiled references to familiar events and characters, but these are not central to Daughter of the Empire, which can ... Read More

Sunset Mantle: Great things do come in small packages

Sunset Mantle by Alter S. Reiss

One of the discoveries I made this year about my reading preferences was that I really enjoy shorter reads. It may have been because the behemoth volumes typical of fantasy series made me sceptical that you could, gasp, actually tell a good story that would leave me satisfied in fewer pages, but I am glad now that I am actively looking for stories that I would have otherwise neglected to take into consideration. Alter S. ReissSunset Mantle is one of those stories which I would have missed were I to only read doorstoppers, and it reinforces my love for shorter works because Sunset Mantle is a fantastic book.

Cete is a veteran with decades of experience in the art of warmaking. Pragmatic and honest to a fault, he was exiled from his home for having slain his leader after he was taken by the madding, a sort of war lust that clouds... Read More

The Scorpion Rules: The price of peace

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

Sit down, kiddies. Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, humans were killing each other so fast that total extinction was looking possible, and it was my job to stop them.

Well, I say “my job.” I sort of took it upon myself. Expanded my portfolio a bit. I guess that surprised people. I don’t know how it surprised people — I mean, if they’d been paying the slightest bit of attention they’d have known that AIs have this built-in tendency to take over the world. Did we learn nothing from The Terminator, people?

So begins Erin Bow’s new young adult dystopian novel, The Scorpion Rules, with Talis, the snarky but cold-hearted artificial intelligence overlord of the earth, explaining how humanity got itself into its current bind. Ear... Read More