Stand-Alone

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

Autonomous: Is anyone truly autonomous?

Readers’ average rating:

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

2017’s Autonomous is Annalee Newitz’s first novel. Autonomous questions what life would be like in a world with AI, a world where everything is property, whether it’s physical, molecular or intellectual.

Pirate Jack (Judith) Chen is a biologist who started off fighting the restrictive patent system that keeps vital medicines away from people who need them, guaranteeing instead corporate profits. Disillusioned, she has become a pharma-pirate. To her horror, a productivity drug she reverse-engineered is causing deaths. Jack is eager to get her knockoff version off the market, but then she learns that there is no error in her pirated drug; the official drug has the same effects and that news is being suppressed.

Meanwhile two operatives from the International Property Coalit... Read More

Mandelbrot the Magnificent: An almost-mystical origin story

Readers’ average rating:

Mandelbrot the Magnificent by Liz Ziemska

Prior to reading this novella, what I knew about the mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot would have fit into an embarrassingly small thimble (with plenty of room to spare). I identified fractal shapes simply as “tessellations on steroids” and my only reference point for a “mandelbrot” was a delicious cookie.

But thanks to Liz Ziemska, I have a much greater appreciation for Mandelbrot’s work in his field, as well as the passion and determination that sustained him through his years in Nazi-occupied France. Mandelbrot the Magnificent (2017) blends real and imagined history with high-level mathematical equations and principles, and the result is a lovely little “psuedobiography.”

In his ow... Read More

Stranger Magics: These are Faerie troubling times

Readers’ average rating: 

Stranger Magics by Ash Fitzsimmons

Colin Leffee (aka Lord Coileán le fae) is an immortal half-human, half-fae being, who's exiled himself from his mother Titania's court in Faerie for her various misdeeds. For approximately the last eight hundred years he's been whiling away his time on Earth, protecting humans from the terrors and mischiefs of less conscientious faeries, running an antique bookstore, and drinking far too much ― easy to do when you're magical and can make booze, money or anything else appear with a thought.

But one day his past comes back to haunt him: Colin finds a teenage changeling that Titania has tossed out of Faerie, practically on his doorstep. Colin realizes, with a great deal of alarm, that this girl, Moyna, has magical powers and, worse, that his past connects him to Moyna and her mother Meggy, the only woman Colin has truly loved in all his years on Earth. ... Read More

The Night of the Long Knives: Totally absorbing

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Sandy's new review.

The Night of the Long Knives by Fritz Leiber

Free on Kindle.

Murder, as you must know by now, I can understand and sympathize with deeply. But war? No.

After a nuclear holocaust, America is unrecognizable. There are a few cities left on the coasts, but most of America is now the Deathlands, where radioactive dust hazes the skies and radiation-scarred survivors try to stay alive another day. Besides devastating the land, the catastrophe has somehow warped the minds of the few remaining citizens of the Deathlands; they have all turned into murderers. They can’t help it — it’s a drive that can only be released by killing someone. Even when they band together for companionship, it always ends up in a bloodbath.

Ray ha... Read More

The Handmaid’s Tale: Chilling and tense

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

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.

Margaret Atwood was once, via a review of her work, once taken a bit publicly to task by Ursula K. LeGuin for not wanting her books (specifically The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake Read More

Artemis: Andy Weir’s moon phase

Readers’ average rating: 

Reposting to include Bill's new review.

Artemis by Andy Weir

Life in Artemis, the only human city on the moon, is rough for Jasmine Bashara, a 26 year old delivery person, smuggler, and would-be tourist guide. She fails her EVA (extravehicular activity) Guild exam in, literally, breathtaking fashion; she’s somewhat estranged from her welder father, to whom she owes a huge personal debt; she’s living alone in a tiny, claustrophobia-inducing capsule room; she barely gets by on her payments as a porter (supplemented by some judicious smuggling activity). But Jazz wouldn’t want to live any other place ― certainly not on Earth ― and she’s determined to make a success of her life, with no help from anyone.

So when Trond Landvik, one of the wealthiest people on the moon and a regular customer for Jazz’s smuggled luxuries, offers her a million “slugs” (m... Read More

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

In World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, Max Brooks provides an oral history of the global conflict against the undead. In the introduction, the narrator explains how this account focuses on the human element rather than just the statistical details of World War Z. The text shifts from the experiences of one survivor to the next.

The history begins in China. Dr. Kwang Jing-shu recalls when he encountered the “Patient Zero,” a child, and the early responses to the child’s illness. The zombie plague spreads across China, and before long human traffickers are explaining in their interviews how they brought the infected to the rest of the world. At first, people do not know what they are dealing with, and they refer to the disease as rabies, and la... Read More

Middle-Earth: From Script to Screen: Building the World of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit

Readers’ average rating:

Middle-Earth: From Script to Screen by Daniel Falconer

Getting a glimpse behind the scenes of a favorite film is always exciting — it’s rather like pulling the curtain back and, rather than seeing a humdrum old snake oil salesman, actually discovering a great and powerful wizard. David Falconer’s Middle-Earth: From Script to Screen gives credit to the several hundred wizards hard at work re-creating and re-inventing J.R.R. Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS novels and The Hobbit into two sets of visual feasts.

Everything from aerial photography, to miniaturized or life-size sets and props, to CGI artistry went into those six films, and each page of this guide pays ... Read More

Fisher of Bones: Half-baked prophetess for half-mutinous followers

Readers’ average rating:

Fisher of Bones by Sarah Gailey

Sarah Gailey’s novella Fisher of Bones (2017) is a bewildering revision of the Talmud/Old Testament Exodus story with the “Moses” role cast as a prophetess dubbed Fisher (formerly Ducky).

Fisher assumes the prophetess mantle only on her father’s deathbed when the patriarch prophet lays his hands upon her in a would-be ordination and declares her an outcast, “forever banished from [her] people.” And in the next breath commands her to lead the same. I never could get over this contradiction. This kind of launching and halting, lurching and jolting is characteristic of the entire story’s progression and it is not a device that works.

The story’s principle tension involves threats to Fisher’s authority as the pro... Read More

The Crystal Heart: An interesting retelling of a familiar tale

Readers’ average rating:

The Crystal Heart by Sophie Masson

I've always enjoyed Sophie Masson's books, and it would seem she's written something of an unofficial trilogy based on the stories of Rapunzel (The Crystal Heart), Cinderella (Moonlight & Ashes) and Beauty and the Beast (Scarlet in the Snow). All of them are based on old familiar fairy tales, but take the opportunity to flesh out the characters and expand the tales into fully-fledged adventures, till they bear very little resemblance to their original sources.

In this case, it's easy to forget that The Crystal Heart is based on Rapunzel, as after establishing the existence of a youn... Read More

Merlin’s Bones: Needs fleshing out

Readers’ average rating: 

Merlin’s Bones by Fred Saberhagen

We raided the used bookstore the other day and this was one of my prizes; as sometimes happens when I visit the used bookstore and pick up a book by an author whose name I consider a guarantee of quality, I discovered when I got home that I had actually read Merlin’s Bones before — perhaps fifteen years ago, in this case. It took about three chapters to be sure, by which time I was merrily embarked and enjoying the story, so I didn’t mind. I did have, however, a small uneasiness — I recalled having been unimpressed with my previous read, though I didn’t remember why.

The story is set in two times: the first is medieval England, where a boy named Amby and his troupe of traveling players are attempting to escape the attentions of a warlord who their (the troupe’s) leader insulted on-stage and find themselves in a ver... Read More

Night Has a Thousand Eyes: Pretty horrifying, after all

Readers’ average rating:

Night Has a Thousand Eyes by Cornell Woolrich

On the cover of my Dell paperback edition of Night Has a Thousand Eyes (with a cover price of 25 cents), the author is listed as William Irish, with an asterisk next to the name. At the bottom of the cover, next to the footnote asterisk, is another name: George Hopley. This should not fool any prospective readers, though. Both names were pseudonyms of Cornell Woolrich, the author whom Isaac Asimov called "THE Master of Suspense"; whom his biographer, Francis Nevins, Jr., called "the Edgar Allan Poe of the 20th century" (hey, wait a minute ... I thought that H.P. Lovecraft was considered the Edgar... Read More

The Devil in a Forest: “Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”

Readers’ average rating: 

The Devil in a Forest by Gene Wolfe

Gene Wolfe is different from most of us — at least, he’s certainly not like me. When I hear the song “Good King Wenceslas” I may wonder idly when the Feast of Stephen is (it’s December 26th, as I finally learned two years ago), if he was a real person (he was, although he was actually a duke) and, perhaps, if he was as good as all that (I have no idea). Gene Wolfe heard “Good King Wenceslas” and decided to write this book.

The Devil in a Forest is not a Christmas story, though it is a Christian story; the action takes place near and on the Mountain, within the “forest fence” and near a shrine to Saint Agnes, and that is, as far as I can tell, the end of the direct influence of the song on the story. As the story opens, a... Read More

Scarlet in the Snow: A unique and interesting take on Beauty and the Beast

Readers’ average rating:

Scarlet in the Snow by Sophie Masson

Sophie Masson's unofficial fairy tale trilogy is linked only by the presence of feya (powerful fairies) and certain geographical locations, which hint that Scarlet in the Snow, Moonlight & Ashes, and The Crystal Heart all exist in the same world, though none of the stories or characters ever interact.

Each one is based on a traditional fairy tale, with Scarlet in the Snow providing some interesting twists on the story of Beauty and the Beast. What if Beauty's father was dead and it was instead her mother who was struggling to make ends meet? What if Beauty actually investigated the Beast's identity, in an attempt to find out who he was before the spell wa... Read More

The Faerie Handbook: Lots of information and art, and a few crafts

Readers’ average rating:

The Faerie Handbook by Carolyn Turgeon & the editors of Faerie Magazine

The editors of Faerie Magazine have compiled The Faerie Handbook: An Enchanting Compendium of Literature, Lore, Art, Recipes, and Projects (2017), and its eye-catching lavender-and-silver binding and satin ribbon bookmark certainly seem appealing, but do the contents match the cover?

Faerie appreciation is nothing new — there was a big craze in the middle of England’s Victorian era, justified thusly:
Real life was stark and challenging for most Victorians, who faced a rapidly changing and increasingly less romantic world due to urbanization and industrialization, and many felt like the world of old — and all the magic that went with it — was gone for good.
With that frame of reference in mind, it’s easy to see why certain periods and social groups... Read More

Ironclads: Searching for the missing Iron Man

Readers’ average rating:

Ironclads by Adrian Tchaikovsky

In Ironclads (2017), the gap between the haves and have-nots has become drastically wider in this near-future novella, especially in the military, where it’s become popular for rich young men, called Scions, to engage in war, battling foes in high-tech, weaponized and near-impenetrable suits of armor paid for by their wealthy family corporations. It’s a little like having Iron Man, Iron Patriot, and several of their friends in your military, though without, apparently, the flying ability. In contrast, the regular army “grunts” are underpaid and denied most of the high-tech protections available to the Scions, who always outrank everyone else.

Sergeant Ted Regan of the U.S. 203rd Infantry Division and two of his men, Sturgeon and Franken, are on two weeks leave in England (now a territory of the U.S.), preparing for battle a... Read More

The Return: Mystifying and challenging, but not without its rewards

Readers’ average rating:

The Return by Walter de la Mare

In Prague-born author Franz Kafka’s 1915 novella The Metamorphosis, a man named Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning and discovers that he has somehow been transformed into a cockroach. But this, it seems, was not the first time that a human being had undergone a baffling overnight transformation. I give you, for example, British author Walter de la Mare’s novel The Return, which was initially published in 1910, when the author was 37 and just recently retired, and which subsequently saw two revised editions, in 1922 and ’45. To tell you the truth, I’m really not sure which version of this classic tale of psychic possession I just experienced, but can say that it was in a Dover edition that came out in 1997, with a scholarly introduction by S.T. Joshi. And I can also say that my uncertainty as to wh... Read More

A Skinful of Shadows: Weird but not weird enough

Readers’ average rating: Comment Reviews for this post are disabled. Please enable it first

A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

Here in the UK, Frances Hardinge is everywhere. Her new book, A Skinful of Shadows (2017), was plastered all over the London underground in the run-up to its publication, thrusting Hardinge into the mainstream.

I heard Hardinge talk about A Skinful of Shadows at a local bookshop and she admitted that she’d felt some pressure when writing. I can’t help wonder if this pressure somehow seeped into the novel as she wrote.

Like all of her books, A Skinful of Shadows is an adventure. There’s a plucky heroine, plenty of ghastly enemies and best of all, murderous ghosts. But the story lacked the orig... Read More

The Beautiful Ones: The true magic is that of the human heart

Readers’ average rating:

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s 2017 novel The Beautiful Ones is an historical romance, a comedy of manners set in an alternate world. This world has the social mores and the esthetic of Europe’s Belle Époque (the late 19th century). Certain people in the world of The Beautiful Ones have telekinetic abilities, but while these abilities do play an important part in the story, this is not a story of magic unless it’s the magic of the human heart.

Hector Auvray is a “talent,” one who can move objects with his mind. While he is neither gentry nor aristocracy, he has amassed a great deal of wealth from his years of performing. Hector has returned to the city of Loisail to confront the love of his life... Read More

Dolly: Hell, oh, Dolly

Readers’ average rating:

Dolly by Susan Hill

English author Susan Hill had recently been an impressive 2 for 2 with this reader. Last year, I was happy to discover that her 1983 ghost novel, The Woman in Black, is one of the scariest books that I’d read in quite some time, and just a few weeks back, her 2010 ghost novel, The Small Hand, had proved highly satisfying for me, if not quite as chilling as the earlier book. Curious as to whether Ms. Hill could possibly go 3 for 3 with yours truly, I dove into her 2012 offering, Dolly, which, like those other two, is subtitled “A Ghost Story.” So, you may reasonably ask, ... Read More

The Prey of Gods: Three takes on this imaginative story

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden

The Prey of Gods (2017), by Nicky Drayden, takes a well-worn concept — what if gods walked among regular humans? — and breathes new life into it through her innovative uses of location, technology, mythology, and complex characters in this blend of real-world problems and fantastical situations.

Life is pretty great in futuristic Port Elizabeth, South Africa (so long as you’ve got money); people have access to genetically-engineered pets, personal robots with varying degrees of intelligence and capability, and solar wells that draw both energy and moisture from the air. When a long-forgotten demigoddess currently styling herself as Sydney sees an opportunity to restore her former glory and supremacy, just as a powerful new hallucinogenic hits... Read More

A Night in the Lonesome October: An annual October ritual for fans

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny

During the entire month of October, in the late 1800s, in a year when the full moon falls on Halloween, strange forces gather in a village outside of London. Various iconic characters ― who will be familiar to fans of Victorian literature and classic horror movies ― create shifting alliances, gather herbs, instruments of power and the odd eyeball and femur, and prepare for a mystery-shrouded event that will take place on Halloween night.

A Night in the Lonesome October (1993) is narrated by the aptly-named Snuff, a dog who is the familiar of a man named Jack. Snuff is more than just a dog; at the beginning of the novel he comments cryptically, “I like being a watchdog better than what I was before he summoned me and gave me this job.” Snuff... Read More

Paradox Bound: A sweet mix of time travel, road trip, and secret history

Readers’ average rating:

Paradox Bound by Peter Clines

Peter Clines’ 2017 fantasy novel Paradox Bound is a sweet, creamy double-scoop of time-travel, secret history, scavenger-hunt story and road trip, as Eli Teague, the protagonist, travels with Harriet Pritchard — she likes to go by Harry — across the continental US through various time periods, searching for something elusive: something unique to, and desperately needed by, the US if it is to continue as a nation.

Eli is eight and a half years old when he meets Harry. It is his first time meeting her, but her third time meeting him (although she doesn’t recognize him at first). Eli lives in Sanders, Maine, a town that feels mired in the 1980s. Eli longs to get out, do something with his life, but circumstances conspire, it seems, to kee... Read More

Neverwhere: Wonderfully fantastical setting

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Tadiana and Jana's review of William Morrow's new illustrated edition.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere is a novel that improved dramatically for me on reread, which actually was a surprise to me. I originally read it about six years ago when, in an odd twist worthy of London Below, it mysteriously appeared one day on my clunky Kindle 2, without my having ordered it. About a month later it just as mysteriously disappeared again (luckily I had finished it just in time). I was fascinated by the marvelous and imaginative setting of Neverwhere and London Below, but only mildly entertained by the plot, which ― other than the beginning and the end ― I found quite forgettable.

Still, when I was offered the chance to read a 2016 edition of Neverwhere with the “auth... Read More

A Monster Calls: The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.

Readers’ average rating:

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

At seven minutes past midnight, Conor O'Malley is visited by a monster. But it's not the monster he's expecting. This monster is wild and ancient. This monster comes in the form of a yew tree that usually stands atop the hill Conor can see from his bedroom window, in the middle of the graveyard. Except that now it is here, outside his bedroom window, and it wants something from Conor.

Conor O'Malley started getting nightmares after his mother got sick. In them he has terrible visions, visions which not even the monstrous yew can compare too, and it is perhaps for this reason that Conor is able to have a relatively nonplussed conversation with the tree outside his window. The mass of leaves and branches takes the shape of a man, and it seems to think Conor summoned him. The tree tells Conor he will tell him three true stories, after which Conor will have to ... Read More