The Gripping Hand by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
The Gripping Hand (1993) is Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s sequel to their popular 1974 novel The Mote in God’s Eye, which you probably want to read first. This review will have a couple of spoilers for The Mote in God’s Eye.
Recall that by the year 3017 AD, humans had designed the Alderson Drive — an interstellar transporter which allowed them to jump out of our galaxy to colonize different star systems. Then they discovered the first alien species — the Moties — who were excellent engineers but did not know the science behind the Alderson Drive. The Moties must breed to survive and were quickly overpopulating their own star system. Because they represent a major threat to our species, the human space navy ha... Read More
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The Gripping Hand by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross
The Rhesus Chart is the fifth and most recent novel in Charles Stross’ LAUNDRY FILES. Bob Howard has been moving up the ranks in the Laundry — not due to any particular motivation or ambition on his part, but just because he has managed, so far, to stay alive as he and his fellow agents battle the eldritch horrors who are trying to find their way into our universe so they can eat us.
While doing some data mining in his office one day, Bob happens to notice a small but statistically significant outbreak of an illness that looks like Mad Cow disease in an area of London. Curious, he begins to investigate by consulting a neurologist, looking at cadavers, and tracing the habits of the people who’ve died of the disease. Eventually this leads him to a small group of data analysts who work for a London bank. One of them accidentally progr... Read More
Vergil in Averno by Avram Davidson
Vergil in Averno is the second book in Avram Davidson’s trilogy about Vergil Magus. It was published in 1986, 20 years after its predecessor The Phoenix and the Mirror which told how Vergil (yes, that Vergil) created a magic mirror for Queen Cornelia. I enjoyed that book for its interesting period details and the appealing humor. You don’t need to read The Phoenix and the Mirror to understand Vergil in Averno. This story can stand alone.
In Vergil in Averno, Vergil travels to (surprise!) Averno, a region in Italy where volcanic activity has created a toxic lake and boiling water travels just below the surface of the earth. (Early Romans thought Averno was a gate to Hell and ... Read More
Heart of Venom by Jennifer Estep
Heart of Venom is the ninth book in Jennifer Estep’s very popular ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN series. I skipped it a while back because I’m not crazy about this series and I didn’t want to purchase it. I had the later volumes and went on. (I’ve only continued to read ELEMENTAL ASSASIN because I already owned most of the books and I wanted to report on it for FanLit.) However, a copy of Heart of Venom fell in my lap recently, so I read it. I feel the same way about it as I do about all the other books in this series, so I’ll be brief here.
Gin’s friend Sophia (the goth dwarf) is kidnapped by the man who tortured her many years ago. Gin must get her back because she has a hero complex — she sees it as her job to protect everyone she loves. So instead of asking her sister Bria, a top cop in the Ashland police fo... Read More
The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross
Charles Stross continues to entertain with The Apocalypse Codex, the fourth novel in his LAUNDRY FILES series. I suppose you could read this without reading the first three books, but it’d be better to start with book one, The Atrocity Archives. For this review, I’ll assume you’re familiar with the story so far.
Bob has been unintentionally working his way up in the Laundry, the secret British agency where computer scientists, mathematicians, and physicists have, by accident, become sorcerers. For every case he’s been on, Bob has sort of bumbled his way into a successful outcome just by using his brains and creativity. Now he’s being groomed for a leadership position, so he needs some people skills. A lot of his preparation involves sitting in boring management training classes and seminars where he has to use role... Read More
The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross
I just can’t get enough of THE LAUNDRY FILES. This series has almost everything I want in an urban SFF adventure — an intelligent hero with a wry sense of humor and a great voice; an eclectic supporting cast; a fast pace with lots of action and plot twists; a cool mix of fantasy and science fiction; occasionally odd (and interesting) structural choices; a reverence for geek culture; and a smattering of computer science, mathematics, quantum physics and neuroscience. And Lovecraft. I love it.
In The Fuller Memorandum, the third LAUNDRY FILES novel, things start badly for Bob after he accidentally kills a bystander during a mission. He’s sent home to await an inquiry. That’s pretty bad, but soon things get worse. His enigmatic boss goes missing, there ar... Read More
Hawk by Steven Brust
"My heart gave a thump. It had been doing that a lot lately. I wished it would stop. I mean stop giving random thumps, not, you know, stop." ~Vlad Taltos
Note: This review contains spoilers for previous novels in the series.
Hawk is Steven Brust’s fourteenth (and latest) novel about Vlad Taltos, a charming assassin living in Dragaera. Over the past 31 years, fans of this series have been through a lot with Vlad and Loiosh, Vlad’s flying reptilian familiar.
We first met Vlad when he was at the top of his game, running the Jhereg criminal organization of Adrilankha. Then he married Cawti, who also used to be an assassin but later became a social revolutionary. The change in her worldview was too much for the marriage to handle and they separated, but that didn’t stop Vlad from betraying the Jhereg in order to save Cawti from being executed. T... Read More
The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross
The Jennifer Morgue, the second novel in Charles Stross’ LAUNDRY FILES, is a science fiction spy thriller that’s an obvious homage to Ian Fleming and H.P. Lovecraft. Bob has been sent to the Caribbean to try to find out why Ellis Billington, an evil megalomaniac billionaire, is interested in The Jennifer Morgue, a place deep in the ocean which may be an access point into our universe by tentacled eldritch horrors. For this assignment, Bob is paired up with someone from the American agency that deals with this kind of supernatural stuff — a gorgeous woman possessed by a succubus.
As usual, Bob has been insufficiently briefed about his mission, so he’s bewildered most of the time. What is he doing wearing a tuxedo to a casino and ordering vodka martinis (shaken, not stirre... Read More
The Bishop’s Heir by Katherine Kurtz
The Bishop’s Heir is the first book in Katherine Kurtz’s trilogy called THE HISTORIES OF KING KELSON but it’s a direct sequel to High Deryni, the third book in her CHRONICLES OF DERYNI trilogy. (Did you get that?) To get the most out of The Bishop’s Heir, you really need to read THE CHRONICLES OF DERYNI first. This review of The Bishop’s Heir will contain a couple of spoilers for the original trilogy.
King Kelson’s battle with the church is over... or so he thinks. Archbishop Loris, the man responsible for the Church’s persecution of the Deryni and for the excommunication of Morgan and Duncan, Kelson’s trusted advisors, has been sent to live out the rest of his life in confinement. Kelson, Morgan, and Duncan should now be fr... Read More
The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross
The Atrocity Archives contains the first two novellas in Charles Stross’ THE LAUNDRY FILES: The Atrocity Archive and The Concrete Jungle. The series is based on the premise that, before he died, Alan Turing solved a theorem that proved that mathematics could be used to gain access to other space-time dimensions. Unfortunately, what’s out there is exactly what H.P. Lovecraft said there was — sleeping tentacled horrors that might be inclined to enter our universe if gateways were opened. To avoid mass panic, this has been kept secret from most humans. The ones who accidently find out are scooped up and brought into a secret organization where they are paid to help keep the world safe. In England, that organization is a government agency... Read More
The Price of Spring by Daniel Abraham
Note: We're re-running this review as a way to highlight the audio version which was recently released by Tantor Audio. Kat listened to that audio version and completely agrees with everything Bill says here in his review. So, she'll just add a few comments at the end:
I’ve been a big fan of Daniel Abraham’s Long Price Quartet and The Price of Spring, its concluding volume, confirms my view that it is one of the more original and best-written fantasy epics in recent years.
If you haven’t read the third volume, An Autumn War, stop reading here as you’ll run into spoilers for that book.
As has been the pattern in the series, the story picks up years after the events of An Autumn War. Otah and Maati r... Read More
High Deryni by Katherine Kurtz
High Deryni, originally published in 1973, is the third novel in Katherine Kurtz’s DERYNI CHRONICLES. In the first novel, Deryni Rising, young Prince Kelson, who has inherited some Deryni magic, took his dead father’s throne after fighting an evil sorceress. In the second novel, Deryni Checkmate, tensions rose after the Church (obviously based on the medieval Catholic Church of our world) excommunicated Alaric Morgan and Duncan McLain, two of Kelson’s relatives and advisors.
As the third novel starts, the Church has just split over the Deryni issue. Traditionally the clergy has viewed any sort of magic as evil, akin to the witchcraft which their Holy Scriptures clearly forbids. They’re also worried that the Deryni will use their powers to overturn legitimate benevolent governments, undermine the Chu... Read More
Rogue Knight by Brandon Mull
Rogue Knight , book two of Brandon Mull’s FIVE KINGDOMS series, continues the story about Cole, the boy who took his friends to a haunted house on Halloween and unwittingly caused them all to be sold into slavery in another universe. (Ouch.) Cole managed to escape slavery, but he’s racked with guilt, and now, with the help of some friends he’s made in The Outskirts, which consists of the five kingdoms of this series’ title, he hopes to eventually save his friends.
Cole is currently in Elloweer, the second of the Five Kingdoms (you can probably guess that there will be five books in this series). He’s tagging along with Mira, a princess who’s hiding from her father, the King, because her father wants to steal her magic for himself. Mira is trying to find her sisters who are also in hiding so they can work together to overthrow their evil father. Col... Read More
Royal Airs by Sharon Shinn
Royal Airs is the second book in Sharon Shinn’s ELEMENTAL BLESSINGS series. I loved the first book, Troubled Waters, which was a light romantic fantasy that told the story of Zoe Ardelay, a young woman who was brought to the royal court of Welce to be the fifth wife of its king. She discovered that she had power over the element of water and, using the personality traits that her water spirit gave her, she successfully navigated the dangers of the court and found true love. I’ll be reading that book again someday.
Royal Airs takes place after the events of Troubled Waters, but it can stand alone. Many of the characters overlap, but this is a separate story, not a direct sequel. In Royal Airs we become acquainted with more of the princesses of the five fami... Read More
Dzur by Steven Brust
In Dzur, the tenth book in Steven Brust’s VLAD TALTOS series, Vlad is finally back in the city of Adrilankha. I suspect that most fans will be thrilled to return to that decadent cosmopolitan city; it’s just so much more interesting than watching Vlad roam around the countryside. Fittingly, each of the chapters in Dzur is named for one of the items Vlad is served at his favorite restaurant during a gourmet meal that runs parallel to the main plot of Dzur. (Vlad, an assassin by trade, is quite the foodie and, while he dines, he often points out the analogies between preparing a gourmet dinner and preparing to make a hit.)
So, he’s back in Adrilankha eating with a new Dzurlord in his favorite restaurant and telling us what happened just after the events of the last book, Issola (which yo... Read More
An Autumn War by Daniel Abraham
This third novel in Daniel Abraham’s LONG PRICE QUARTET is even more exciting than the first two novels. In the first book, A Shadow in Summer, we saw the Galts (the enemies of the city-states of the Khaiem) destroy the industry of the Khaiem’s most glorious city, Saraykeht. In the second book, A Betrayal in Winter, the Galts attempted to get control of the city of Machi by killing off the Khai’s sons and installing their own man as Khai. However, the failed poet Otah, the youngest son of the Khai, managed (with the help of his old friend Maati) to uncover the plot and become Khai in Machi.
Fourteen years later, the Galts have not given up. That’s because they still suffer from the way they were treated by the Khaiem generations ago when the Khaiem’s andats destroyed Galt and turned part of their land into a vast wastelan... Read More
A Betrayal in Winter by Daniel Abraham
“Constant struggle is the price of power.”
A Betrayal in Winter, the second book in Daniel Abraham’s LONG PRICE QUARTET begins about 15 years after the events of A Shadow in Summer (which you probably should read before beginning A Betrayal Winter or before reading this review).
Maati, the poet of Saraykeht, was disgraced by the disappearance of the andat Seedless and the subsequent downfall of the cotton trade in Saraykeht. He and Liat had a baby boy, but Liat left Maati years ago because he seemed to be going nowhere and didn’t seem wholly committed to his family. Maati hasn’t seen them in years, and he has also not seen his former friend Otah since that fateful night when Seedless disappeared. Maati’s life is dull and somewhat meaningless.
Things... Read More
Issola by Steven Brust
“I miss the days when I used to be nostalgic.” ~Vlad Taltos
I’ve been slightly disappointed with the last few novels in Steven Brust’s VLAD TALTOS series, but with Issola, book 9, Brust returns to what I liked about the earlier books. While I admired Brust’s willingness to experiment with his world, his characters, and especially the narrative structure of his novels, I think he’s best when the overall plot is moving forward and Vlad is using his assassin skills to solve mysteries and help his powerful Dragonlord friends.
In Issola, we’re back to a present timeline. Vlad and Cawti are separated but Vlad is starting to recover from the funk he’s been in for quite a while now. He’s been run out of his organization and is hiding from them in the woods. Then Lady Teldra (an Issola who is servant to the ... Read More
Legion: Skin Deep by Brandon Sanderson
“I’m not crazy. I’m compartmentalized.”
Legion: Skin Deep is the second novella in Brandon Sanderson’s series about Stephen Leeds, a man whose psyche has spawned a “legion” of extra personalities that he thinks of as “aspects.” Stephen is the only person who can see his aspects — each is a separate personality who lives with him and can follow him around and help him solve problems. Everyone else thinks Stephen has schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder, but it’s not the same thing. Stephen doesn’t know why he has all these aspects or why he creates new ones when he learns something new. There’s one woman (Sandra) who can help him understand, but she has disappeared.
When we met Stephen in the first LEGION story (simply called Legion), he was helping a client find a c... Read More
Deryni Checkmate by Katherine Kurtz
Deryni Checkmate, first published in 1972, is the second novel in Katherine Kurtz’s epic fantasy series that’s set in a world called Gwynedd (loosely based our own medieval UK) where some people have inherited magic from a race called the Deryni which has interbred with normal humans. The church of Gwynedd considers magic anathema and is using its wealth, power, and influence to rid the world of Deryni magic. Thus, Kurtz’s story is clearly inspired by our own middle ages when the Roman Catholic Church dominated Western religious and political systems and, having strayed from its Biblical roots, lorded it over the political leaders and the rest of the citizenry.
In the previous novel, Deryni Rising (1970), we met young King Kelson who ascended the throne after his father... Read More