Speculative fiction in audiobook format.

SFM: Killjoy, Gaiman, Arimah, Tolbert, Bisson

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. 

“Everything that Isn’t Winter” by Margaret Killjoy (Oct. 2016, free at, 99c Kindle version)

This piece includes a great range of storytelling in few words. “Everything that Isn’t Winter” is set post-apocalypse in a small community that has carved out a comfortable place in the new world. The setting may sound run-of-the-mill, but what Killjoy does with it makes it come to life.

It would be apt to describe “Everything ... Read More

Zoe’s Tale: “The Last Colony” from Zoe’s perspective

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi

Zoe’s Tale (2008), the fourth book in John Scalzi’s OLD MAN’S WAR series, is the same story we were told in book three, The Last Colony, except it’s from Zoe’s perspective. Zoe is the 17-year-old daughter of the traitorous scientist Charles Boutin. Jane Sagan and John Perry adopted Zoe when she was a small child and they’ve been farming on one of Earth’s colonies for years. Now, though, the family is off to lead the settlers of a new colony called Roanoke (uh-oh). When they get there they realize they’ve been duped and life on Roanoke has a lot more going on than just terraforming a new planet.

While I was reading The Last Colony there were several times I wondered “what’s Zoe doing?” or “what does Zoe think about this?” or even “i... Read More

The Time of Contempt: This story is getting darker

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The Time of Contempt by Andrzej Sapkowski

The fourth installment in Andrzej Sapkowski’s popular WITCHER series is The Time of Contempt (1995 in Polish, 2013 in English) which begins immediately after the ending of the previous novel, Blood of Elves. (You must read the previous stories before beginning this book and you do not need to be a fan of the Witcher video games.)

War is imminent as the elves of Nilfgaard, an ancient kingdom that was displaced centuries ago by the humans who now control the northern land, begin to plan their revenge. The kings of the northern kingdoms no longer trust the sorcerers and sorceresses they used to employ and haven broken off relationships with them. Even the sorcerers themselves are (rig... Read More

Land of Dreams: Strong echoes of Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes

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Land of Dreams by James P. Blaylock

James P. Blaylock is a fabulist, a teller of magic realist tales that reframe our everyday world in more colorful, fanciful, sinister, and whimsical ways. His style and themes often overlap with the works of Tim Powers and they have collaborated on several stories and even have shared the character William Ashbless, which is no surprise since they met as students at Cal State Fullerton. There they also befriended author K.W. Jeter (who coined the term “steampunk” and wrote perhaps the earliest full-length example, 1987’s Read More

Redemption Ark: Promising ideas but excessive page-count

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Redemption Ark by Alastair Reynolds

Redemption Ark (2002) is the follow-up to Revelation Space, Alastair Reynolds’ debut novel and the second book in his REVELATION SPACE series of hard SF space opera in which highly-augmented human factions encounter implacable killer machines bent on exterminating sentient life. The first entry had elements of Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix, Frank Herbert’s Read More

The Last Colony: John Perry is back

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

The Last Colony by John Scalzi

The Last Colony, the third book in John Scalzi’s OLD MAN’S WAR series, returns us to the perspective of John Perry, the “old man” hero of the first novel in the series, Old Man’s War. John Perry is only mentioned in the second novel, The Ghost Brigades, which told the story of how the cyborg Special Forces soldiers found and defeated the scientist Charles Boutin, a traitor to the Colonial Union. On that mission they also found Zoe, Boutin’s young daughter. Zoe has been adopted by Jane Sagan and John Perry and the little family has been farming on one of Earth’s colonies where John and Jane are the leaders.

Life is easy for them until the Colonial Union comes calling — they need leaders for a new colonization effort and John and Jane h... Read More

Revelation Space: Dark, dense, slow-burning space opera

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Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

I’ve been planning to read this series for many years, because Alastair Reynolds, Peter F. Hamilton, Stephen Baxter, Ken MacLeod, Charles Stross and Iain M. Banks are regularly mentioned at the forefront of the British Hard SF movement. Sure, there are many non-British well-known hard SF and space opera practitioners like Read More

The Graveyard Book: Even the dead characters seem alive

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Reposting to include Skye's new review:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Ignore the YA label slapped on this one if that gives you pause. Though that won’t be hard to do because The Graveyard Book opens with a hand in the darkness holding a knife wet with the blood of almost an entire family: father, mother, and older child. The knife lacks only the blood of the toddler son to finish its job. Luckily for the reader (and the boy) he escapes into a nearby cemetery where a mothering ghost convinces the cemetery community to protect him. Another reason to ignore the YA label, or better yet, to revel in it, is that Neil Gaiman’s YA-listed material is stronger than his adult work: tighter, more focused, more intense all around. All that holds true here and The Graveyard Book’s clarity and brevity, often seen as constraints in ... Read More

Blood of Elves: I thought I was tired of elves and dwarves

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Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski

Based on internal chronology, Blood of Elves (2008) is the third book in Andrzej Sapkowski’s WITCHER series. Its format differs slightly from the previous two books, The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny, which are actually story collections. (But don’t think that just because they’re not novels they aren’t necessary; to have the requisite background information you really do need to read both of them before reading Blood of Elves.)

As much as I loved The Last Wish an... Read More

A Fine and Private Place: A gentle tale of love, death, and lost souls

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A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle

Peter S. Beagle is a well-known author of many fantasy novels, including the classic The Last Unicorn. However, I don’t often hear mention of his debut novel, A Fine and Private Place (1960), written when he was only 19 years old. Given his age it’s a phenomenal achievement — the prose is polished, filled with pathos and humor, and the characters’ relationships are deftly described. And yet I couldn’t get into the story at all, because there was almost no dramatic tension of any kind — just two central romantic relations, one between two people lonely and disconnected in the living world, and one between two recently deceased spirits not ready to let go of life.

The story bears remarkable sim... Read More

Sword of Destiny: More great WITCHER stories

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Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski

Sword of Destiny is the second story collection in Andrzej Sapkowski’s WITCHER books which are the basis of the popular video game. Sword of Destiny should be read second in the series. (This is confusing because the English translations of the WITCHER books were not published in chronological order.) I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the first WITCHER book, The Last Wish, and was eager to read Sword of Destiny. It did not disappoint. I love Sapkowski’s hero, a man named Geralt of Rivia who... Read More

Death’s End: Truly epic finale to the THREE-BODY trilogy

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Death’s End by Cixin Liu

Listening to Cixin Liu’s THREE-BODY trilogy reminds me of those graphics on cosmology that illustrate our relative scale in the universe. It starts with the microscopic world of individual atoms and molecules (or even subatomic particles like quarks and neutrinos), expands outward to individual cells, organisms, and larger creatures, then jumps out further to continents and the planet Earth, zooming back to encompass our solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, and then pulling out further to an endless sea of galaxies that make up our universe. But Liu doesn’t stop there. He’s just gotten started, really. After all, there are more universes out there, and we’ve only mentioned three dimensions so far.

This review will contain some mild spoilers for the pr... Read More

A Window into Time: A charming SF novella

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A Window into Time by Peter F. Hamilton

Julian is 17 and, though he looks like a normal teenager and he’s a really nice kid, he’s something of a misfit. He doesn’t have a normal family life, he doesn’t have any friends, he’s a little too smart, and everyone thinks he’s strange. The weirdest part about Julian, though, is that he remembers pretty much everything that ever happened to him.

When Julian starts remembering things that didn’t happen, he decides there must be some twist in the fabric of space-time that’s causing his life to get mixed up with someone else’s. That person seems to be in danger and Julian would like to warn him but, if he gets involved, he’ll be risking his own life. However, if Julian can’t figure out how to straighten things out, without causing a time paradox, he may ... Read More

The Broken Kingdoms: Adventure and tragedy

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

The world has changed over the last several years and the opportunities that are now possible are too hard for Oree to resist, so she left home to seek a new life in Sky. Oree is an artist with a gift for seeing magic, but magic is the only thing she can see. She has set up shop in a promenade section of the great city and has created a pleasant life for herself there amongst friends and Godlings. Things start to get ugly, though, when Oree stumbles upon a dead Godling. The gods have become angry and the religious factions are looking for someone to blame. Oree’s unique abilities and proximity to the crime make her a prime suspect.

When I read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms I was taken completely by surprise. It was one of those rare moments where I read a book ... Read More

Nifft the Lean: Vance’s Cugel reimagined by Hieronymus Bosch

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Nifft the Lean by Michael Shea

Back in 1950, Hillman Periodicals published a little book for 25 cents called The Dying Earth by Jack Vance. It could easily have disappeared into obscurity like thousands of other books, but there was something special about it. There weren’t any other books in SF/Fantasy quite like it, depicting an incredibly distant future earth where the sun has cooled to a red color, the moon is gone, and humanity has declined to a pale shadow of former greatness, and struggles to survive amongst the ruins of the past. The world is filled with magicians, sorcerers, maidens, demons, ghouls, brigands, thieves, and adventurers.

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The Illustrated Man: Grim but touching stories

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Reposting to include Katie's new review:

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

The Illustrated Man is a  collection of Ray Bradbury’s stories which are sandwiched between the account of the titular man whose tattoos come alive at night and set the scenes for the 18 tales in this collection. All of these stories are classic Ray Bradbury — full of spacemen, Earth-Mars conflict, psychiatrists, spoiled children, bad marriages, book burning, domestic work-saving technologies, and nervous breakdowns. They deal with the fear of atomic war, loneliness, prejudice, madness, and the dangers of automobiles, junk food, and media entertainment (but smoking is okay).

All of the tales are written in Bradbury’s incomparable prose and most of them are emotionally touching. But, not surprisingly, they’re almost all grim, making Read More

I Am Princess X: An exciting YA thriller

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

My 14 year-old daughter (Tali) and I recently listened to the audiobook version of Cherie Priest’s I Am Princess X. We took a look at the print version, too, since the story is part novel, part comic. It’s about a slightly awkward girl named May who, back in fifth-grade, became best friends with a girl named Libby during recess when the two of them, both new to the school, had to sit out. Bored on the playground, together they created a cartoon heroine named Princess X. She has blue hair, wears red Chuck Taylors with her princess dress, and carries a katana instead of a wand (because “anyone can be awesome with magic... Read More

The Naked God: Brings this trilogy to a merciful end

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The Naked God by Peter F. Hamilton

Disclaimer: This audiobook, and the series, is extremely popular and has high ratings at Goodreads and Audible. I will explain why I am not enthusiastic about it, but please take my opinion with the proverbial grain of salt.

The Naked God (1999 print, 2016 audio) is the third and final book in Peter F. Hamilton’s NIGHT’S DAWN trilogy. It begins immediately after the events of the previous book, The Neutronium Alchemist which follows the first book, The Reality Dysfunction. At this point in the story, the... Read More

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: Different

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

CLASSIFICATION: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is epic fantasy that mixes together court intrigue, mythology, romantic/family drama, and celestial magics. It brought to mind everything from Jacqueline Carey, Lane Robins' Maledicte, and Marie Brennan’s Midnight Never Come to Gregory Frost’s Shadowbridge / Lord Tophet, Read More

The Ocean at the End of the Lane: An evocative return to childhood

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I’ll start by saying that I’m not hugely familiar with Neil Gaiman’s work. I’ve read Stardust and watched his two Doctor Who episodes… and that’s it. At first I wasn’t sure whether or not to absorb more of his work before tackling The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but decided against it for the sake of a fresh perspective. So consider this a review from someone who has very few preconceptions about Gaiman’s style and themes.

Our middle-aged protagonist (I don’t recall if we ever learn his name) recounts to us his movements after a family funeral. Instead of going to the wake he drives through Sussex to his childhood home where vague memories begin to stir. Going down a little country lane he arrives at the He... Read More

The Obelisk Gate: The weight of history crushes the present

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

The Obelisk Gate is the second in N.K. Jemisin’s BROKEN EARTH trilogy and the follow-up to her Hugo Award-winning The Fifth Season; expectations were understandably high for this installment, which promises to shed a little more light on The Stillness and the qualities that make its geology and its people so unique. The Obelisk Gate is compulsively readable, filled with characters and circumstances that will transfix the reader’s attention, and effectively picks up right where Read More

Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners

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Reposting to include Tim's new review.

Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners by Ellen Kushner

Set in a fictional Georgian-era-type society, Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners is a “fantasy of manners” or “mannerpunk” novel. In contrast to epic fantasy, where the characters are fighting with swords and the fate of the universe is often at stake, mannerpunk novels are usually set in a hierarchical class-based society where the characters battle with words and wit. There may or may not be magic or sorcery involved and, in many ways, this subgenre of fantasy literature is more like historical fiction that takes place in an imaginary universe. The focus is on societal structures and social commentary. Characters may not be changing THE world, but they’re changing THEIR world. If you like Jane Au... Read More

A Deepness in the Sky: Might have been interesting at half the length

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A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge

A Fire Upon the Deep was a big success for Vernor Vinge, winning the 1993 Hugo Award. Seven years later, he followed up with A Deepness in the Sky, set 20,000 years earlier in the same universe, and this captured the 2000 Hugo Award and John W. Campbell Award. I came to both books with high expectations and was eager for a big-canvas space opera filled with mind-boggling technologies, exotic aliens, galactic civilizations, and a big cast of characters. Sadly, the first volume didn’t engage me, and I’m afraid the second didn’t either. At 28 hours, this audiobook became a chore about halfway through, and I mainly forced myself to finish it becau... Read More

Planetfall: An SF exploration of mental illness

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Reposting to include Marion's new review:

Planetfall by Emma Newman

Planetfall, the first science fiction offering from Emma Newman, is about a colony of humans who left Earth to follow Suh, an alleged prophet who received a supernatural message giving her the coordinates of an unknown distant planet where she was supposed to travel to receive instructions about God’s plans for humanity. Suh and her best friend Ren, a brilliant geneticist and engineer, gathered a team of like-minded believers and they landed on the planet 22 years ago. After “Planetfall,” Suh disappeared into “God’s City,” where she continues to live and send yearly messages and instructions to the rest of the colonists. All is going well until a visitor arrives and claims to be Suh’... Read More

The Days of Tao: Checking in with Cameron Tan

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The Days of Tao by Wesley Chu

Warning: Contains mild spoilers for Chu’s TAO trilogy.

Wesley Chu’s TAO trilogy (The Lives of Tao, The Deaths of Tao, The Rebirths of Tao) about two enemy alien species (the Prophus and the Genjix) who’ve been occupying human hosts and battling it out on Earth for thousands of years, came to a satisfying conclusion last year but I was hoping for more because, as I said in Read More