Stand-Alone

These are stand alone novels (not part of a series).

To Live Again: Silverberg in the full flush of his considerable power

To Live Again by Robert Silverberg

By the time Robert Silverberg released To Live Again in 1969, he had already come out with no less than three dozen science-fiction novels and several hundred short stories, all in a period of only 15 years! The amazingly prolific author had entered a more mature and literate phase in his writing career in 1967, starting with his remarkable novel Thorns, and by 1969 was on some kind of a genuine roll. Just one of six sci-fi novels that Silverberg came out with that year (including the Nebula-winning Nightwings and my personal favorite of this author so far, Downward to the Earth), To Live Again initially appeared as a Doubleday hardcover and, surprisingly, was NOT nominated for a Hugo or Nebula award. To t... Read More

The Stress of Her Regard: The minority report; I just didn’t like this book.

The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers

Tim Powers published The Stress of her Regard in 1989. It was nominated for a world Fantasy Award in 1990. It did not win, but it won a Mythopoeic Award that same year. For many people, this is their favorite Tim Powers novel, and they describe it with words like “seductive” and “immersive.”

I fully understand that I am in the minority here, but I didn’t like it.

There are several things to admire about this book. There are some things I liked. Then there are things I disliked, and finally, there is one thing I hated. I will try to cover my points in that order.

What I admired:  The creation of the mysterious, attractive and deadly creatures who have fed on us throughout history is brilliant. If Powers gives them too many names; the lamia, “Lilith’s children,” succubae, muse, nephalim, a... Read More

The Affirmation: Literary science fiction does not get much better

The Affirmation by Christopher Priest

I’ve heard Christopher Priest’s 1981 novel The Affirmation described as regressive, an ouroboros eating its own tail, a Moeibus strip. While there is undoubtedly an M.C. Escher quality to the book — a blurring of reality — the beginning and end are simply too different to form a contiguous whole reverting back on itself. They’re opposite ends of a spectrum in fact, and the appeal of the novel is immersing one’s self in the subjective reality Priest slowly unwraps and getting lost in the world of memories as a result.

The true nature of The Affirmation requires thought; the easy part is relaxing throughout the journey. Priest patiently and precisely lays down the text — words like railroad ties on a Sunday train ride to the country — the story moving effortlessly along. The sublime prose lulls the reader into the deceivingly mu... Read More

Seven Footprints to Satan: Marvelous entertainment

Seven Footprints to Satan by Abraham Merritt

Readers of Abraham Merritt's first four novels — The Moon Pool, The Metal Monster, The Face in the Abyss and The Ship of Ishtar — may feel a little surprised as they get into his fifth, Seven Footprints to Satan. Whereas those earlier fantasy masterpieces featured exotic locales such as the Pacific islands, the Himalayas and Peru; extravagant purple prose, dense with hyperadjectival descriptions; and living light creatures, metallic sentient cubes, a lost semi-reptilian race and battling gods, Seven Footprints to Satan Read More

The Tricksters: A supernatural puzzle-box inside a New Zealand family drama

The Tricksters by Margaret Mahy

Margaret Mahy was one of New Zealand's most seminal writers, and one of only a few authors to twice-win the Carnegie Medal — first for The Haunting and then for The Changeover. As good as these books are, my personal favourite is The Tricksters, written for a slightly older audience and filled with her trademark New Zealand scenery, supernatural occurrences, family dramas and the awakening of a young person to adulthood. Older readers shouldn't be put off by the claims that this is a "young adult" novel, as any intelligent reader over the age of thirteen will enjoy what is perhaps Mahy's best work.

The Hamilton family gather at their beach house at Carnival's Hide to celebrate Christ... Read More

The Peripheral: Satisfyingly complex, with a happy ending

The Peripheral by William Gibson

Reading William Gibson is like learning a new language. At first you struggle. It's a bit boring, although you can tell that's just because you don't understand, that there are exciting things happening under the surface. Then, one day, you've learned enough vocabulary and grammar that it starts to click and you can converse.

His latest novel, The Peripheral, which I listened to on audio, read by Lorelei King, follows two interlocking story-lines. One is from the perspective of Flynne, a young woman in a not-too-distant but horribly bleak American future. Her brother Burton, an ex-Marine, gets Flynne a job running security in what she believes is a virtual reality game. While on the job, she witnesses a horrifying murder. Flynne soon realizes that what she saw was not virtual, but actually happened. As the sole witness, she is drawn into the murder investigation. Puzzlingl... Read More

Child of a Hidden Sea: Satisfying

Child of a Hidden Sea by A.M. Dellamonica

Child of a Hidden Sea is the kind of fantasy book that usually leaves me very aggravated, not because it’s bad, but because parallel world/portal fantasy (whatever you want to call it) usually doesn’t work for me. There are too many leaps of logic that I never really buy into. Things feel clunky, and a good plot seems to be messed up by the complexity that a secondary world alongside our world creates. Therefore I approached Child of a Hidden Sea with a huge amount of skepticism, but I decided to give it a chance anyway because the strong female protagonist really interested me. I’m glad I gave it that shot, because Dellamonica nicely sidesteps most of the speed bumps that so many other authors get slowed down by.

Firstly, Sophie, our protagonist, is far from perfect. She’s a fairly flawed person, in most senses of the word. She... Read More

Horrible Monday: The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Melanie is ten years old, with skin as white as snow, just like in the fairy tale. But she doesn’t live in a tower; she lives in a cell, and is taken from there through the corridor to the classroom, and the shower room, where she is fed grubs once a week before a chemical spray falls from the ceiling. She knows that the place she lives in is called the block, and that the block is on the base, which is called Hotel Echo. They’re close to London and part of Region 6, which is mostly clear because the burn patrols kill the hungries. Her favorite teacher is Miss Justineau, who makes school days interesting and full of fun.

We quickly learn that the hungries are zombies — and at that point, I groaned; not another zombie novel! Haven’t we worn out this meme yet? But M.R. Carey has s... Read More

Horrible Monday: The Haunting of Toby Jugg by Dennis Wheatley

The Haunting of Toby Jugg by Dennis Wheatley

Although English author Dennis Wheatley wrote a total of 55 novels before his death in 1977, his reputation today, I have a feeling, rests largely on the nine novels that he wrote dealing with the supernatural and the “black arts.” And if Wheatley’s name is not a familiar one to you, it is really no great wonder, as not too many of those 55 titles – mainly in the adventure/thriller genre – are in print today, and it would surprise me if you could walk into your local Barnes & Noble and purchase one. And yet, here’s a cautionary notice to all hugely popular modern-day authors, who may think their fame is of a permanent nature (are you listening, Stephen King?): For many decades, Wheatley was one of Britain’s biggest-selling authors (second only to Agatha Christie), who dependably sold 50 million books a year,... Read More

He Who Shapes: A short rich read from one of the strongest voices in SF

He Who Shapes by Roger Zelazny

In the mid to late ‘60s, the sci-fi world was Roger Zelazny’s oyster. Possessing an abundance of fresh ideas delivered with a deft hand, the author took the genre by storm — This Immortal, Lord of Light, and Creatures of Light and Darkness gained notable attention and won awards. Published amidst these unique novels was, however, a book of an entirely different range and frequency. More personal and cerebral than mythic or heroic, The Dream Master (1966) instead features Zelazny’s interests in the psyche, subconscious, and to a small degree, spiritualism. The novel is based on the novella He Who Shapes, which Zelazny would later state is his preferred version and is the subject of this review.

He Who Shapes is the story of Dr. Charles Rend... Read More

Willful Child: Erikson’s Star Trek parody

Willful Child by Steven Erikson

Let’s start with what needs to be said when reviewing a book like Steven Erikson’s Willful Child, a full-bore parody/homage to Star Trek: The Original Series. One, humor is wholly subjective. I, for instance, have never understood the allure of Adam Sandler. My wife, meanwhile, has never understood why I find Airplane funny (I could go on and on with that list, but one will suffice). So one person’s rib-splitting, laugh-out-loud bit will be another person’s “meh.”  Second, humor is tough. As the line goes, “dying is easy, comedy is hard.” So, that being said, what about the book?

As mentioned, Willful Child takes on the classic Trek series and makes no, ahem, “Bones” about it. After a quick little prologue, this is the opening of Chapter One:  “Space. It’s fucking big. These are the voyages of th... Read More

The Time Axis: Exciting, but not fully satisfying

The Time Axis by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore

Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore's sole novel of 1948, The Mask of Circe, was a very way-out excursion in the fantasy realm, and in early 1949, the pair followed up with an equally way-out piece of hard sci-fi. The Time Axis, which initially appeared in the January '49 issue of "Startling Stories," finds science fiction's foremost husband-and-wife writing team (my apologies to Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm!) at the top of their game, but perhaps giving their seemingly limitless imagination too free a rein. The book is well paced, finely and at times humorously written, exciting and colorful, but ultimately, unfortunately, not fully satisfying.

The story here concerns the "nekron," a shadowy whatz... Read More

The Book of Strange New Things: A marvelous exploration of human faith and faithfulness

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

Since Bill and I both read Michel Faber’s newest novel, The Book of Strange New Things, at the same time, we’ve decided to share this review.

The Book of Strange New Things is a marvelous exploration of human faith and faithfulness in the most trying of circumstances. It follows Peter, a British evangelical minister, as he undertakes a missionary venture on Oasis, a recently colonized planet. Behind him he leaves his wife and partner in faith, Beatrice, to continue their ministry on Earth. However, life on Earth gets increasingly difficult and dangerous after Peter leaves, and his relationship with Bea — continued solely via e-mail — begins to fracture as their experiences of God diverge.

One of the major strengths of The Book of Strange New Things is its portrayal of the relationship... Read More

The Haunting: The beginning of Mahy’s illustrious career

The Haunting by Margaret Mahy

I first read The Haunting when I was about ten or eleven years old, and now — almost twenty years later — I was stunned by how much I remembered it. Usually good books leave an imprint of enjoyment on your memory, but such is the potency of Margaret Mahy's writing that I recalled almost every beat of her story. At the same time, there were parts of The Haunting that I could appreciate much more as an adult than as a child.

Barney Palmer is a sensitive but ordinary little boy, who is on his way from school one day when "the world tilted and ran downhill in all directions, and he knew he was about to be haunted again." Sure enough, the blurry vision of a ghost appears before him, a curly-haired boy wearing an old-fashioned velvet suit and lace collar, who cries: "Barnaby's dead! Barnaby's dead! And I'm going to be very lonely." Read More

Horrible Monday: Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons

Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons

Carrion Comfort is one of Dan Simmons’s earlier works, first published in 1989. It is about psychic vampires who feed off of other people, manipulating their thoughts and thereby controlling their actions.

The notion of a psychic vampire is what made me want to read this book — it’s an idea far too interesting to pass up. Simmons’s vampires are unique, and they do live up to the hype in some ways. Ultimately, though, they often tiptoed right up to being absurd and ridiculous. The lack of believability at certain parts of the book diminshed my enjoyment of the novel. If there had been fewer completely unbelievable scenes — unbelievable even in the context of horror fiction — Carrion Comfort would be far more haunting than it is.
... Read More

Blackdog: Stand-alone epic fantasy

Blackdog by K.V. Johansen

While religion is often found in epic fantasy, rarely is it the main focus of a novel, as it is in Blackdog. It’s even more rare to find an epic fantasy that is a stand-alone rather than part of a long series or trilogy. While the fact that Blackdog is a stand-alone might turn some epic fantasy fans off, it is rather refreshing to read a fantasy on an epic scale that is contained within one book and has a definite beginning, middle and ending.

K.V. Johansen’s world building reminds me a bit of Steven Erikson’s MALAZAN series. The world is large, intricate and sprawls into lands that are just hinted at. It has a rich history which will keep the reader interested and yearning to learn more. Furthermore, the gods are steeped in that rich history and add an int... Read More

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown: I was expecting her to be a little bit colder

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a novel of the same name as a short story in Holly Black’s The Poison Eaters, and anthology of delightfully dark YA stories, all with particular flavours and drawing on different myths from around the world. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown finds the reader in a post-vampiricism-infected United States. The cities in which the largest outbreaks occurred were swiftly enclosed (earning the name ‘Coldtowns’), trapping vampires, humans, and infected alike in a backwards world where day is night and predators look like the people you once loved.

The way one turns into a vampire in Holly Black’s world is unique. It’s a disease that has particular stages from bitten to full vampire, and there’s a way to beat it. Of course sweating out the infection isn’t easy, as it takes 88 d... Read More

The Second Trip: A trip worth taking

The Second Trip by Robert Silverberg

In his 1969 novel To Live Again, Robert Silverberg posited a world of the near future in which it is possible for the very rich to have their personae recorded and preserved, and later placed in the mind of a willing recipient after their own demise, as a means of surviving the death of the body and sharing their consciousness with another. It is a fascinating premise and a terrific book, and thus this reader was a tad apprehensive at the beginning of Silverberg's similarly themed novel The Second Trip. Would Silverberg merely repeat himself here, to diminished effect, and offer his audience a mere rehash of an earlier great work? As it turns out, I needn't have been concerned. Silverberg, sci-fi great that he is — especially during this, his remarkable second phase of writing, ... Read More

Horrible Monday: Carpathian Castle by Jules Verne

Carpathian Castle by Jules Verne

When 35-year-old Jules Verne managed to sell what would become his first published novel, Five Weeks in a Balloon, to the already long-established literary publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel, in 1863, little could the two Frenchmen know that this was just the beginning of a decades-long association. Hetzel was already a well-known Parisian figure, having previously released works by such luminaries as Victor Hugo, Emile Zola and Honore de Balzac. Verne, the future “Father of Science Fiction,” was an unknown commodity in 1863; a lawyer who found his true calling as a writer of adventure tales (just as this reader’s personal favorite author, Englishman H. Rider Haggard, would do 20 years later). Five Weeks in a Balloon Read More

The Doubt Factory: A socially-conscious YA thriller

The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi

Paolo Bacigalupi’s most recent stand-alone novel is a modern day young adult thriller. It’s about a rich girl named Alix who attends an elite highschool (uh oh, it’s already starting off wrong for me) who meets a mysterious sexy bad boy (oh gosh) who leads a diverse gang of socially conscious teenage vandals (ugh) who hope to change the world by taking down a public relations company that works for industries like Big Pharma. They hope to do this by stalking Alix and showing her how bad her father, one of the owners of the company, is.

At first Alix, after she finally figures out what the mystery stalker is all about, isn’t willing to believe that her father, a man who takes such good care of his family, could be so cold-hearted toward the rest of the world. Ah, but Alix has the hots for the sexy bad boy stalker (it wouldn’t be a YA novel otherwise), so she begins to investigate his ... Read More

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