Stand-Alone

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

Inamorata: A darkly intriguing look at love, art, and sacrifice

Inamorata by Megan Chance

The fatal muse. She inspires artists to create sublime masterpieces, but drains away their life force in exchange, driving them to madness or an early grave. This archetype lies at the heart of Inamorata, a new paranormal tale by Megan Chance, who has previously written a number of historical fiction and romance novels.

Inamorata is set in a gorgeously rendered nineteenth-century Venice, a city long past its heyday, now crumbling picturesquely into ruin. The captivating Odilé Leon has taken up residence there in the hopes of finding a new genius to inspire. Nicholas Dane, once Odilé’s lover and now determined to destroy her, follows her there. Drawn into their orbit are beautiful American twins Joseph and Sophie Hannigan, whose troubled past has forged a more than fraternal bond between them.

You will be transported to this decadent Ve... Read More

Dinner at Deviant’s Palace: Orpheus and Eurydice with a post-apocalyptic spin

Dinner at Deviant's Palace by Tim Powers

Tim Powers is an author who seems to forever fly under the radar of popular readership. And there doesn’t seem to be an obvious reason. His stories are well crafted, his prose lean and brisk, and his sense of the fantastic always vivid and invigorating. His fifth novel, Dinner at Deviant’s Palace, has all of these qualities on display. Recently brought back to life by Open Road Media after two decades out of print, the novel has everything a genre fan could love.

With echoes of Stephen King’s The Stand, Dinner at Deviant’s Palace is a post-apocalyptic novel in an American setting. The story occurs in the crumbling remains of L.A. long after a nuclear catastrophe, humanity having reverted to pre-industrial times. Cults roam the land, ... Read More

The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A book about childhood and memory

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

“When they leave, they leave bemused, uncertain of why they came, of what they have seen, of whether they had a good time or not.”


The best way for me to describe Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is in Gaiman’s own words. The quote is from a different book of his, American Gods, and he’s describing Rock City. I’ve been to Rock City, and the description fits, but it also fits my experience of The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Our middle-aged protagonist has returned home for a funeral. We don’t know the man’s name, though there’s an outside possibility it’s George. We don’t know who died, though it almost has to be one of his parents. He gets sidetracked, driving down the lane where he once lived, and where his childhood friend Lettie Hempstock live... Read More

Sepulchre: For better or worse, exactly what you’d expect from Mosse

Sepulchre by Kate Mosse

Judging from her review, Kat obviously wasn’t such a big fan of Kate Mosse’s Sepulchre! But perhaps her report coloured my own reading of the novel, for though I went in expecting the worst, I instead found myself quite enjoying it.

Sepulchre is the follow-up to Mosse’s best-selling novel Labyrinth, but I found that it was far superior in terms of pacing and plotting. As with Labyrinth, the story is divided into two storylines, one set in 1891, the other in 2007. The chapters alternate between these two periods, following the adventures of Leonie Vernier in the past, and Meredith Martin in the 21st century.

Leonie knows that something is wrong when her brother Anatole insists on secrecy in planning thei... Read More

Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone: A fascinating pilgrimage

Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone by Ian McDonald

Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone is a fascinating short novel by Ian McDonald. At the beginning of the story we meet Ethan Ring, who’s feeling conspicuously tall and red-headed as he chants in a Buddhist temple. Ethan and his friend, a famous Japanese manga artist, are on a bicycle pilgrimage in Japan. Neither of them knows what kind of demons the other is struggling with, and neither does the reader at first, but as they journey on, their stories come out and even though each man’s tale is different, they realize that both of them are searching for redemption and peace.

Many stories deal with a hero’s search for redemption, but Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone is unique. The setting is a neo-feudal Japan where tech corporations are the fiefdoms and gangs of armed vigilantes threaten citizens’ peace and security. This is jarringly j... Read More

Sacrifice of Fools: Aliens in Belfast

Sacrifice of Fools by Ian McDonald

Ian McDonald grew up in Belfast, a city known for the turmoil and unrest it has endured because of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants. Some of McDonald’s novels allegorically explore the causes and results of a divided city. In Sacrifice of Fools, McDonald presents a vivid and lively conflicted Belfast, and then he throws a third element into the mix: aliens.

The Shian are a peaceful alien species who, upon arrival on Earth, are allowed to settle in Belfast in exchange for sharing the secrets of their technological superiority. The Shian are humanoid in appearance, but have enough biological differences that they cannot successfully mate with humans. They also have very different languages, laws, culture, and customs. While their similarities make them attractive to many humans (and weird fetishes evolve), the differences cause misunderstandings and culture... Read More

Horrible Monday: Shakespeare in Hell by Amy Sterling Casil

Shakespeare in Hell by Amy Sterling Casil

Shakespeare in Hell is an intriguing title. Think of all it can conjure up - allusions to Milton and Dante, who both had more luck finding stories in the darker realms of the afterlife, and with the villains of their pieces, than with an antiseptic realm of winged creatures playing harps, come to mind; one can imagine Shakespeare choosing Hell as a better stage for his plays and poetry. Or perhaps Shakespeare sinned with his Dark Lady, landing him in eternal flame. Or — well, the possibilities seem endless.

But Amy Sterling Casil has not taken full advantage of the myriad plotlines available to her. We are given no moral structure for this Hell, and no hint of a Deity meting out punishments and rewards. We never do learn precisely why Shakespeare is in Hell, though it does appear to have something to do with the Dark Lady, who is here given the... Read More

The Left Hand of Darkness: An important thought experiment

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

Given science fiction’s near infinite palette of available colors, it was bound to happen one day. Thankfully, Ursula Le Guin was the one. The idea: androgynous humans. Winner of several awards, the social significance of science fiction has never had a stronger proponent than The Left Hand of Darkness, the meaning of gender never so relevant to mankind.

Genly Ai is an envoy sent to the planet Gethen to convince the nation of Karrhide to join Earth’s Ekumen (a politically neutral organization supporting the dissemination of knowledge, culture, and commerce). What he encounters are the native Gethens, an androgynous people who go into kemmer once a month, physically adapting to the features of any mate they encounter during that time. Mixed up in the local politics is Estraven, a Gethen Genly meets as part of his inter-planetary task, and the two sub... Read More

Heart of the World: Action-packed and exciting

Heart of the World by H. Rider Haggard

Although I had previously read and hugely enjoyed no fewer than 40 novels by H. Rider Haggard, I yet felt a trifle nervous before beginning the author's Heart of the World. I had recently finished Haggard's truly excellent novel of 1893, Montezuma's Daughter — a novel that deals with the downfall of the Aztec empire in the early 16th century — and was concerned that Heart of the World, which I knew to be still another story dealing with the Aztecs, would necessarily be repetitive. As it turns out, however, I needn't have worried. Despite the Aztec backdrop, the two novels are as dissimilar as can be; whereas the first deals with an Englishman witnessing the Indian conflicts with Cortes from 1519 - 1521 and the fall of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, Heart of the World takes place a good three centuri... Read More

Babel-17: It’s all that, and a bag of marbles

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany

Babel-17 won the 1966 Nebula award for best novel, tying with Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon. Samuel Delany’s space opera novel is dated in many ways, but still holds up.

In the future, humans have colonized many star systems. Currently, the Alliance is engaged in a war with the Invaders, who, despite the name, are also human. The Alliance has intercepted many dispatches in a code they can’t break. They’ve labeled it Babel-17. Desperate, they turn to the inter-galactically renowned poet Rydra Wong to help them decipher it.

Wong is in her late twenties, a linguistic, semantic and telepathic genius, a starship captain, and so compelling that the general who meets with her falls in love with her almost instantly. There is more than a bit of fantasy wish-fulfillment in this character. (Don’t believe me? Say this out loud: “... Read More

Eifelheim: An elegant First Contact story

Eifelheim by Michael Flynn

Eifelheim is an interesting take on the First Contact story. This one takes place in the Middle Ages, as an alien ship crash lands in the Black Forest of Germany near the small village of Oberhochwald. Tied in to this tale of the past is one that takes place in the present as two researchers (and lovers) try to solve the mystery of the disappearance of the village of Eifelheim (once called Oberhochwald) from recorded history and the implications this may have on their separate fields of study.

I found the tale in the past to be the more compelling of the two, though they do work well together as a whole. Flynn does an excellent job of bringing to life a realistic Middle Ages that doesn't look sneeringly down on the "superstitious savages" of that age. All of the characters we meet in Oberhochwald are fully developed people, none of whom are simply "good" or "bad." In many ways it is actually they, and ... Read More

The Creature From Beyond Infinity: Kuttner’s first novel

The Creature From Beyond Infinity by Henry Kuttner

The Creature From Beyond Infinity was the first novel published by Henry Kuttner, an author who was one of the half dozen or so pillars of the Golden Age of Sci-Fi. It first saw the light of day in a 1940 issue of "Startling Stories" magazine under the title A Million Years to Conquer, and finally in book form in the 1968 Popular Library paperback that I recently completed. Although that original title may perhaps be a more accurate descriptor, the pulpier Creature title gives a truer feel for what this book is: pulpy as can be!

In it, we meet Ardath, the sole survivor when his Kyrian spaceship crash-lands on Earth while our planet is still in the throes of its infancy. Ardath is instructed by his dying captain to repair the ship, put it into orbit around Earth, go into hibernation stasis for several aeons, and await the coming of genius... Read More

The Great Glass Sea: A fine literary novel with a solid SF premise

The Great Glass Sea by Josh Weil

It’s difficult to write a comprehensive yet succinct critique of a work by someone who understands storytelling from the bones outward, who writes unsentimentally about a place he loves and uses exquisite language while doing it. That’s my particular challenge with Josh Weil’s literary novel The Great Glass Sea.

I’m reviewing The Great Glass Sea for our Edge of the Universe column because the springboard for the story is an audacious SF what-if: What if orbiting space mirrors could provide 24 hours of light to an agricultural area on earth? What if endless acres of farmland could be sheltered from the elements of winter under huge greenhouses, a sea of glass, and crops could be grown year round? This is the starting point of Weil’s thoughtful, elegiac novel about Russia, his lyrical character study of two broth... Read More

When the World Shook: Somebody, please hire a screenwriter

When the World Shook by H. Rider Haggard

In 1916, as World War I raged, Henry Rider Haggard, then 60 years old, started to compose his 48th novel, out of an eventual 58. Originally called The Glittering Lady, the novel was ultimately released in 1919 under the title we know today, When the World Shook, and turned out to be still another wonderful book from this celebrated author, in which many of his old favorite themes (lost civilizations, reincarnation, love that survives beyond the grave) are revisited, but with a new spin.

As in his first success, King Solomon's Mines (1885), we meet three intrepid Englishmen — Arbuthnot, Bastin and Bickley — and follow them on their amazing adventure. The three are quite a mixed trio, to put it mildly, Bastin being an upright, priggish, highly religious pastor; Bickley being a hardheaded materialist, a doctor and man of science (hi... Read More

Horrible Monday: Deceiver by Kelli Owen

Deceiver by Kelli Owen

DarkFuse, an independent publisher of horror, suspense and thrillers, has a thriving novella series. For $85 per month, you can subscribe to the limited hardcover editions of the novellas, which are published at the rate of two each month. (The subscription also includes a hardcover novel every month.) Only 100 copies are printed, though the works are also available in electronic form. It’s a delight to see a publisher take an interest in publishing this shorter form, which is often exactly the right length for genre works (and for mainstream fiction, for that matter; consider William Faulkner and Henry James), but which is neglected by most publishers.

One of the June 2014 novella offerings is Kelli Owen’s Deceiver, a suspenseful work of dark fiction that opens at a post-funeral gathering. Matt’s wife Tania has been murdered while on a business trip, strangled with a necktie. The police have ... Read More

Son of Man: A stoner book

Son of Man by Robert Silverberg

Back in the 1970s, there was a certain type of film that, whether by chance or design, became highly favored by the cannibis-stimulated and lysergically enhanced audience members of the day. These so-called "stoner pictures" — such as Performance, El Topo, Pink Flamingos and Eraserhead — played for years as "midnight movies" and remain hugely popular to this day. Well, just as there is a genre of cinema geared for stoners, it seems to me that there could equally well be a breed of literature with a genuine appeal for those with an "altered consciousness." That we don't hear of such books is perhaps due to the fact that reading requires more in the way of active mental work than does film gazing; reading is not as passive an activity, generally speaking, as watching a film, and entails more of an exercise of the imagination.

But if there ever WERE such a genre of literature as the... Read More

The Broken Land: Surreal visions of the horrors of civil war

The Broken Land by Ian McDonald

Ian McDonald’s The Broken Land (Hearts, Hands and Voices in the UK) is a book I admired more than I loved. It’s an allegorical look at the horrors of civil war caused by religious zeal and division. The story is set in a fictional country that feels like it could be in a future Africa where biotechnology has led to the development of mechanical infrastructure that is part organic and part artificial intelligence. The citizens are divided by their religious affiliation — some are Proclaimers and some are Confessors. All are subject to the Emperor who lives across the river.

Our protagonist is a young woman named Mathembe who, because of her particular convictions, decides not to speak. Mathembe is a confessor, so she is skilled in the manipulation of genetic material to create new life. When members of her family die, their heads are attached to a huge tree where they are event... Read More

The Master of Whitestorm: A satisfying self-contained story

The Master of Whitestorm by Janny Wurts

Janny Wurts’ The Master of Whitestorm is a stand-alone high fantasy that, like the author’s other work, differentiates itself from other fantasies published in the late 20th century that feature a medieval-style setting. The book has recently been produced in audio format by Audible and is read by British actor Simon Prebble, a highly decorated audiobook narrator and someone whose name I’m always happy to see in the credits. As expected, he does a wonderful job with The Master of Whitestorm and I recommend this audio version to anyone who wants to read or re-read this exciting and emotional story.

The story begins in the slave galley of a ship. Haldeth, whose wife and children were slaughtered by the Murghai, is now chained to the oar of one of their ships. As he slaves for his captors, he observes his benchmate, a man named Korendir who looks fierce but so far has neve... Read More

Alif the Unseen: A mesmerizing mashup

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

G Willow Wilson’s Alif the Unseen might be a thrilling techno-fantasy, or a fantastical techno-thriller, or even a fantasy-political-techno-thriller. I don’t know quite how she pulled off the genre blending, but she did.

In an un-named Middle Eastern City, a young hacker whose handle is Alif comes to the personal attention of the State’s head of security. Alif pings “the Hand’s” radar for two reasons; he is in love with that man’s fiancé, and he has created a program that identifies any computer user simply by keystrokes, a boon to any security force trying to shut down internet use. Alif and his duplex neighbor, the devout Dina, are forced to go into hiding, and this brings them into contact with the mysterious man known as Vikram the Vampire. Vikram, it turns out, is not a vampire. He is a jinn.

From there the story weaves breathlessly through techno-thr... Read More

Horrible Monday: Stoker’s Manuscript by Royce Prouty

Stoker’s Manuscript by Royce Prouty

Royce Prouty received a 2013 Stoker Award nomination for superior achievement in a first novel for Stoker’s Manuscript. Because of the nomination and the fact that Prouty’s protagonist, Joseph Barkeley, is a rare book and manuscript expert, I couldn’t resist.

Joseph Barkeley has always had a knack for spotting rare editions in crowded used bookstores, and is able to tell if a manuscript is genuine without the need for any chemical testing. It’s an ability that makes him the subject of Arthur Ardelean’s search for the right man to verify the authenticity of the original draft of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and to negotiate its purchase if its authenticity is established. (There is some real history behind this scenario, as the original manuscript for the novel was apparently lost, turning up only in 1980 in a Pennsylvania barn.) Ardelean is working on... Read More

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