Stand-Alone

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

The Stonehenge Gate: Jack Williamson’s final novel

The Stonehenge Gate by Jack Williamson

What do you plan to do when you're 97 years old? Me? If I'm fortunate enough to attain to that ripe old age, I suppose I will be eating pureed Gerber peaches and watching Emma Peel reruns on my TV set in the nursing home ... IF I'm lucky. For sci-fi Grand Master Jack Williamson, the age of 97 meant another novel, his 50th or so, in a writing career that stretched back 77 years (!), to his first published story, "The Metal Man," in 1928. Sadly, the novel in question, 2005's The Stonehenge Gate, would be the author's last, before his passing in November 2006. Impressively, the novel is as exciting, lucid, readable and awe inspiring as anything in Williamson's tremendous oeuvre. Few authors had as long and productive a career as Jack Williamson, and I suppose it really is true what they say regarding practice... Read More

Horrible Monday: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

South African writer Lauren Beukes had a hit with last year’s The Shining Girls, the story of a serial killer who could travel through time. Readers of both time travel novels and serial killer thrillers loved the way Beukes melded the two genres. Beukes has again given us a genre-bender with Broken Monsters. Both a horror novel and a police procedural, Broken Monsters is even better than The Shining Girls.

Broken Monsters is set in Detroit — today’s Detroit, bankrupt yet defiant, down on its luck but searching luck out wherever it can be found. The arts community seems to be especially thriving in this down-at-the-heels city, and it is a desire to make art that is the foundation of all the problems that are visited upon the victims of an especially perverse serial killer. The first body fo... Read More

Bitter Greens: Gorgeous historical novel blended with fairytale

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth is a marvelous re-telling of Rapunzel, woven together with historical fiction that gives the reader a glimpse into the life of Charlotte Rose de Caumont de La Force, the French noblewoman who first published the fairy tale. Forsyth, pursuing her doctorate in fairy-tale retellings in Sydney, originally published in this novel in her native Australia. It has just been released in the US.

Bitter Greens begins with the story of Charlotte, exiled from the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King, and locked in a nunnery. Through her narrative, we learn that she was a vivacious courtier whose passion and wit would not be contained. Early in the novel, her mother tells the young Charlotte that she could have been a troubadour; instead, as an adult, she has left scandal in her wake and written some saucy stories that h... Read More

Fated: I can’t recommend this one, but I want to try something else by Browne

Fated by S.G. Browne

“You like Christopher Moore,” the bookstore clerk said, pushing a book into my hand. “You’ll like this.” I do like Christopher Moore, and I think S.G. Browne does too, but Fated fell short of the wry Moore-like comedies it tries to emulate.

Fate, who uses the name Fabio, is a world-weary immortal Personification. When the book opens, he is bored with his work and disdainful of the human race. Fabio is only one of many — dozens, scores, I don’t know, maybe hundreds — of anthropomorphized states. He has a rival, Destiny, who gets all the glamor assignments. He used to be best friends with Death, who goes by Dennis (wouldn’t you?), but they had a fight and now they don’t speak. The Personifications are ruled by God. He used to be called Jehovah, but now he goes by Jerry. Je... Read More

Maddigan’s Fantasia: A futuristic steampunk adventure

Maddigan’s Fantasia by Margaret Mahy

Early in the 22nd century, the world underwent a vast and radical change, in which the tectonic plates of the Earth shifted and a series of devastating earthquakes changed the face of the planet. As a result of these events now known as the Great Chaos the population has severely dropped and most technology has been lost. What remains is a dangerous wilderness where communities are isolated and bandits roam the unmapped highways.

Yet out of the ashes of the old world comes Solis, the shining city. It is here that the circus troupe known as Maddigan's Fantasia spends each winter before heading out every year to explore new lands, collect lost knowledge and spread some colour and joy to those living in a post-apocalyptic world.

But this year things are different. Because Solis is powered by the sun, it is in desperate need of a new solar converter if the... Read More

Horrible Monday: The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley

The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley

When I first saw the 1968 horror film "The Devil Rides Out" several years back at one of NYC's numerous revival theatres, I thought it was one of the best Hammer films that I'd ever seen, and made a mental note to check out Dennis Wheatley's 1934 source novel one day. That resolve was further strengthened when I read a very laudatory article by Stephen Volk on the book in Kim Newman and Stephen Jones' excellent overview volume Horror: Another 100 Best Books. Now that I have finally read what is generally deemed Wheatley's most successful and popular novel, I can see the Hammer film for what it is: a watered-down adaptation that can't hold a Black Mass candle to its superb original. The great R... Read More

Out on Blue Six: Really bizarre

Out On Blue Six by Ian McDonald

Courtney Hall is a cartoonist because that’s the job she’s been assigned by the tyrannical government agencies that dictate all of the details of everyone’s life — where they live, who their friends are, who they marry, what job they do. The goal of the government, which consists of such agencies as the Ministry of Pain, the Compassionate Society, and the Love Police, is to analyze every citizen’s genes and personality so that they can be assigned to the lifestyle that will minimize their pain and maximize their happiness, thus creating a populace that is obedient and compliant. The government assures that its dictates are adhered to by monitoring all activity and censoring criticism.

Most people seem content in the Compassionate Society because they like being pain-free, doing a job that they love (even if they’re not good at it) and being married to people who they’re compatible with... Read More

Star-Begotten: A “must read” for thinking adults

Star-Begotten by H.G.Wells

Released 39 years after his seminal sci-fi novel The War of the Worlds was published in 1898, and just two years before Orson Welles scared the bejeebers out of U.S. listeners with his radio play of that same novel, 1937's Star-Begotten finds its author, H.G. Wells, returning to the Red Planet to tell us more about those mysterious and pesky Martians. Written when Wells was 71, this latter work — rather than being a tale of action and mayhem and a truly groundbreaking instance of the then-still-new science fiction (or, to use the term that Wells preferred, "scientific romances") — is more a novel of ideas and speculation, of satire and bitter condemnation, and, I have a feeling, is a largely unknown work today. And that is a shame, as it is obviously a deeply felt work; an appeal to reason in a... Read More

A Monster Calls: A deeply moving tale about the reality of death

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Conor O’Malley is a thirteen-year-old boy living in modern England. Conor is haunted on a nightly basis by a terrible nightmare in which he wakes up bathed in sweat, shaking with fear. A night comes where he has a different nightmare, and a yew tree in his yard comes alive, calling his name. Conor is actually relieved that the terrifying nightmare has been replaced, but he’s also annoyed that this not-so-scary monster is just that —not scary. The monster wants to tell Conor three stories, with a fourth that Conor tells, which the monster dubs “the truth”.

Conor’s mother is dying of cancer, and his world is turned upside down with change. As a result, he gets unwanted attention at school, whether it comes in the form of comfort from teachers or from bullying by kids who are too young to know better.

A Monster Calls Read More

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August: An excellent take on the reborn-lives concept

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

I’m not sure what’s been in the air lately, but it seems I’ve been reading a lot of books this past year dealing with reincarnation/being reborn. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is yet another of those, and while it isn’t my favorite of the ones I’ve read with similar ideas (that would be either Life After Life by Kate Atkinson or The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell), I thoroughly enjoyed Claire North’s novel, though the first half was better than its second half.

In the world of Harry August, a small group of people (called Kalachakra or ouroborans, after the worm that eats its own tail) are born, live their lives, ... Read More

Station Eleven: A quiet and lovely post-apocalyptic novel

Station Eleven Emily St. John Mandel

“Quiet” and “lovely” are not usually words one reaches for when describing a post-apocalyptic novel. Not with the reverted-back-to-savagery cannibals; the road-raging-mohawk-sporting highway warriors; the gleeful told-you-so rat-a-tat of survivalist gunfire, or the annoying mumblespeak “braiiinnnnss” from the shambling zombies. But quiet and lovely are exactly the words I’d use to describe Station Eleven, the post-apocalyptic novel from Emily St. John Mandel that is happily missing all the above and shows the modern world ending with neither a bang nor a whimper, but with a gentle murmur.

Mandel’s chosen method of ending the world is the Georgia Flu, an incredibly virulent bug that wipes out 95+ percent of its victims within a span of 48 hours. In true form for the eventual tone and shape of the novel, though, Mandel opens not with a ma... Read More

Egg and Spoon: Feels more like fabulist literary fiction than YA

Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire

Gregory Maguire's Egg and Spoon is being marketed as a YA novel, and I hope that designation doesn't drive any readers away. This book blends the humor and hunger of real life with the wonder and otherworldliness of fables, resulting in a story that broke my heart so subtly, it was like a crack developing in an egg.

Egg and Spoon follows two young protagonists in Tsarist Russia. Elena Rudina, a peasant girl from the village of Miersk, meets a young noblewoman, Ekaterina (or Cat, for short), whose train has stopped in Miersk for repairs. The two girls become unlikely friends until one day, in a bizarre series of events, Elena and Cat accidentally switch places. Elena is whisked away on the train, dressed in fine clothing, fed more food than she's seen in her impoverished life, and taught manners and etiquette in anticipation of an expected meetin... Read More

The Eyes of Heisenberg: Fascinating ideas, lacks character development

The Eyes of Heisenberg by Frank Herbert

The Eyes of Heisenberg (1966) is set in a far future where humanity is ruled by a small group of biological immortals known as Optimen. They have lived for tens of thousands of years and regulated every aspect of life. Their life and health is preserved by carefully maintaining the balance. Genetic engineering has progressed to the point where the genetic sequences of a fertilized ovum can be manipulated by highly skilled doctors. This technique is used to keep the population within a narrow genetic bandwidth and decide who gets to have children. Parents have little say in this matter but they are not entirely without rights. When Lizbeth and Harvey Durant, a couple lucky enough to be selected for breeding, exercise one of these rights, to be present at the modifying of the genetic material of their child, it becomes apparent that there is a certain uncontrollable element to procr... Read More

Mortal Fire: A haunting and evocative supernatural mystery

Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox

This was my first time reading an Elizabeth Knox novel, but I know for certain that it won't be my last. Quite famous in her (and my) country of New Zealand, Knox is best known for her adult novel The Vintner's Luck and her YA duology Dreamhunter and Dreamquake. Mortal Fire is set in the same world as the Dreamhunter books, one that's so similar to our own that only a few name changes and the presence of hidden magic differentiates it.

The story is set in 1950s Southland, a large island republic in the South Pacific, and our protagonist is Canny Mochrie, a sixteen year old math genius, forced to accompany her stepbrother Sholto and his girlfriend Susan on a research project to the town of Massenfer. Sholto has been instructed by his father (a writer and professor) to collect testimo... Read More

Sputnik Sweetheart: The world’s most depressing love triangle, after Twilight

Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.

Haruki Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart is narrated by an elementary school teacher we know as “K.” K is in love with Sumire, an aspiring young writer who never feels sexual attraction for others until she meets Miu, an older woman and a wine dealer who is incapable of feeling love for others.

It’s the world’s most depressing love triangle, after Twilight.

In many ways, actually, Sputnik Sweetheart feels like a typical Haruki Muraka... Read More

The Trial of Terra: Fun and amusing

The Trial of Terra by Jack Williamson

Jack Williamson's The Trial of Terra made its initial appearance in 1962, as one of those cute little Ace paperbacks (D-555, for all you collectors out there). The book is what's known as a "fix-up novel," meaning that parts of the book had appeared as short stories years earlier, and then skillfully cobbled together by the author later on to form a seamless whole. Despite this, the book is a stand-alone novel in the Williamson canon, with no relation to any of the other books in the author's substantial oeuvre.

The Trial of Terra tells a very interesting story, and one that might strike my fellow Trekkers as a bit familiar. It seems that there has been a galactic Quarantine Service in effect for many millennia, its job being to ensure that no planet makes first con... Read More

The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit: A lovingly written ghost story

The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit by Graham Joyce

It’s the end of August, a time when each day seems noticeably shorter than the one before, when kids are getting haircuts and school supplies and heading back to school, when Thanksgiving and Christmas seem to be just around the corner. It’s a time for taking stock; for many of us, for those who loved the return to the classroom each fall with new resolutions to get good grades and excel at our extracurricular activities, it is more a time for such reevaluation of one’s life, hopes, goals and habits than is New Year’s Day. Perhaps that is why the coming-of-age novel is almost always set in the summer. Graham Joyce’s tale of a young man working at a summer resort, The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit,belongs on the same shelf as other great stories of haunted summers, like Read More

The Bone Clocks: One of my favorite reads this year

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Fans of David Mitchell (of which I am definitely one) will feel right at home with his newest work, The Bone Clocks. You’ve got your chameleon-like ability to shift voice across a wide variety of genders and ages via multiple POVs, your richly vivid characterization, the literary and at times lyrical passages of internal monologue or description, spot-on dialog, an interconnected-story structure that spans time and space, the erudite use of history, and imaginative yet grittily real extrapolations of future settings and language. Weaving in and out of all this are familiar themes involving reincarnation, mortality, the predatory nature of humanity against both itself and the environment, and the idea of interconnectedness, the latter made more overt via the added pleasure for Mitchell fans of the many references to characters from earlier Mitchell books. Throw in some paranormal event... Read More

Mary of Marion Isle: Another wonderful Haggard adventure

Mary of Marion Isle by H. Rider Haggard

The great H. Rider Haggard wrote a total of 58 novels before his death in May 1925, and of that number, four were released posthumously. Mary of Marion Isle was his penultimate creation, one which he wrote in 1924, although, as revealed in D.S. Higgins' biography of Haggard, the idea for the story first came to him in 1916, while sailing to Australia and watching the albatrosses circling his ship. The novel was ultimately released in April 1929, and, as stated by Higgins, was limited to a run of only 3,500 copies by the publisher Hutchinson & Co. Somehow, many years ago, I got my hands on one, and in fair shape, too. I'm glad I did, because it turns out to be another wonderful Haggard adventure, although many reviewers (Higgins included) tend to denigrate these later Haggard titles as being mere rehashes of older works. Well, I suppose that some of the themes and set pieces in... Read More

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: A book that lingers

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

There are a variety of ways in which a book lingers with the reader after they’ve finished. Emotional impact, imagery, character empathy, the message, and other elements have the opportunity to impress us to the point we may be unable to forget a book despite plot details fading with time. Philip K. Dick’s 1968 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? caused this kind of reaction in me. None of the aforementioned elements, however, are the reason his 37th novel hangs in my mind. It is simply the questions he asks and the myriad implications that follow.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is the story of Rick Deckard, an android bounty hunter who experiences a crisis of faith as the emotional proximity to those he is supposed to be “retiring” becomes clouded. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, man has begun inhabiting ... Read More

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