Stand-Alone

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

Noise: A Lord of the Flies for our modern times

Noise by Darin Bradley

Tell me if this doesn't sound like a dream come true for those who regularly visit survivalist forums: In the near-future, the United States experiences a collapse of its economic institutions, which leads to the collapse of every social institution mankind has built to function as a society. All order has been destroyed, and from now on your survival against the challenges of nature, both human and not, depends on nothing but yourself. The classical dog-eat-dog world is in session.

Hiram, the protagonist in Darin Bradley's debut novel Noise, has spent his formative years immersed in the group narratives that he and his friends have created through playing Dungeons & Dragons, defeating monsters and rescuing the disadvantaged, as knights are wont to do. But for Hiram, being a knight wasn't something he was when you were transported into an imaginary world; it was his identity. Th... Read More

To Open the Sky: Silverberg comes roaring back

To Open the Sky by Robert Silverberg

It shouldn’t come as too great a surprise that future Grand Master Robert Silverberg dedicated 1967’s To Open the Sky to writer/editor Frederik Pohl. It was Pohl, after all, who induced Silverberg to begin writing sci-fi again on a full-time basis, after the author’s “retirement” from the field in 1959. As then-editor of “Galaxy” magazine, Pohl (who helmed the publication from 1961-’69) promised Silverberg a greater freedom in his writing, with fewer of the literary shackles that had restrained the author till then (not that anyone would have ever realized it, based on the author’s amazingly prolific output from 1954-’59, and the very high quality of that work). But with his new license to create... Read More

The Girl In The Red Coat: Chillingly compulsive

The Girl In The Red Coat by Kate Hamer

Any mother’s worst nightmare is losing her child. We’ve all heard it before. It’s a phrase used often, almost casually, yet it doesn’t even begin to cover what it must actually feel like to lose a child. This is precisely what happens in Kate Hamer’s dazzling debut. Told from the perspectives of a bereft mother and her abducted daughter, The Girl in the Red Coat has two of the most hauntingly distinctive voices in fiction so far this year. It will have you turning pages in horrified awe until you’ve reached the last page in one sitting.

Carmel Wakeford has always been a slightly fey girl, often getting lost or wandering off on her own. Her single mother, Beth, recently divorced from Carmel’s father, has always suspected her daughter was slightly...different. She’d also always had an unnatural fear that she would lose Carmel. ... Read More

Horrible Monday? Needful Things by Stephen King

Needful Things by Stephen King

For the most part, being sheriff of Castle Rock, Maine is a peaceful job — that’s what Sheriff Alan Pangborn tells himself on difficult days. And for the most part, Alan’s right. Castle Rock is indeed a peaceful little town. Sure, there are frictions. The Catholics are planning to have a Casino Nite, which angers the Baptists. Wilma Jerzyck thinks she knows best, and she isn’t afraid to bully anyone in the town until they accept her way. And everyone knows that Buster Keeton abuses his authority as the town’s selectman. Still, one day in Castle Rock mostly leads into the next without incident.

So everyone’s abuzz when a new shop, Needful Things, opens. Needful Things is an unusual shop: it’s run by an urbane newcomer, Leland Gaunt; there are no prices on any of his stock; and although no one knows precisely what Needful Things sells, the townspeople will soon learn that Gaunt has someth... Read More

The Time Hoppers: Headache-free time travel

The Time Hoppers by Robert Silverberg

This longtime sci-fi buff has a confession to make: Some time travel stories leave me with a throbbing headache. Not that I don’t enjoy them, mind you; it’s just that oftentimes, the mind-blowing paradoxes inherent in many of these tales set off what feels like a Mobius strip feedback loop in my brain that makes me want to grab a bottle of Excedrin. Thus, it was with a bit of decided trepidation that I ventured into Robert Silverberg’s The Time Hoppers, but as it turns out, I needn’t have worried. Silverberg is amongst the most lucid of science fiction imaginers, and here, even when setting forth those inevitable temporal paradoxes that come with all time travel stories, he does so clearly, and in a way that gave this reader no problem whatsoever.

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The Darkest Part of the Forest: An excellent premise that loses its magic

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Once upon a time, in a town called Fairfold, Holly Black set her story for her stand-alone novel The Darkest Part of the Forest. The dark faerie-tale fuses the fantastical with the mundane, as humans and Fae folk exist alongside one another, the faeries even being a huge source of tourism for the little town. That is an original and intriguing premise if there ever was one, with promises of dark twists and turns. But somewhere along the lines the plot failed in its execution, and a book that began as compelling, seemed to lose its magic.

The story opens in the forest, where a high school party is in full swing. Drunken teenagers lounge against the glass casket of a sleeping Prince with horns and pointed ears. One such teenager is Hazel. Angsty and brooding, Hazel doesn’t like the part of her that keeps kissing all the boys and leading them n... Read More

EDGE: The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter

The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter

[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.]

The World Before Us
, by Aislinn Hunter, has at its core two roughly similar mysteries. One occurred almost 20 years ago when the main character, Jane Standen, was only fifteen and acting as a nanny for William Eliot and his five-year old daughter Lily. While in Jane’s care, Lily suddenly disappeared at the gardens of the Farrington country estate. A little more than a hundred years earlier, another girl, a young woman known only as N— went missing in roughly the same area, her disappearance noted in the records of the near... Read More

Karen Memory: A purely fun mashup of steampunk and Weird West

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Readers, Elizabeth Bear will be visiting us next Thursday, Feb 12 and will be giving away a copy of Karen Memory.

If — like me — you find steampunk to be a problematic genre, take heart: Elizabeth Bear has created the cure, and it is called Karen Memory. This is a rollicking good story, full of period-appropriate details and flights of fancy, nefarious plots, honest romance, and women who say things like “I gotta get to my sewing machine” and mean it as a call to arms.

Our heroine is Karen Memery, a “seamstress” who works in Madame Damnable’s Hôtel Mon Cherie, located in Rapid City, Washington Territory. Rutherford B. Hayes is president, the Klondike Gold Rush is in full swing, and pilots steer gaudy airships through the sky. “Seamstress” ... Read More

Time of the Great Freeze: Cold Comfort

Time of the Great Freeze by Robert Silverberg

Given that global warming seems to be an almost universally accepted fact of life these days (except by obstinate conspiracy theorists such as my buddy Ron, who also denies that men ever walked on the moon), it might strike a reader as strange to come across a sci-fi novel that posits the advent of a new Ice Age in the early 23rd century. And yet, such is the case with Robert Silverberg’s Time of the Great Freeze, a novel that first saw the light of day as a Holt, Rinehart & Winston hardcover in 1964. This was right in the middle of Silverberg’s supposed “retirement” period from science fiction, which began in ’59 and ended when editor Frederik Pohl induced the author to come roaring back in ’67. The year 1964 saw Silverberg release only one other sci-fi novel, Read More

Edge: Of Things Gone Astray by Janina Matthewson

Of Things Gone Astray by Janina Matthewson

[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.]

Of Things Gone Astray is Janina Matthewson’s debut novel, and it is charming and heartfelt magical realism. Using short chapters that cycle through different character perspectives, Matthewson tells the story of several people who have lost something of value to them, ranging from piano keys or the front of a house to a girlfriend or a father.  As these characters struggle with their losses, a young boy named Jake begins to find the things that are lost, developing a magical sense for where the items came from and their meaning... Read More

Recalled to Life: Ungrateful dead

Recalled to Life by Robert Silverberg

True to his word, after announcing his retirement from the science fiction field in 1959, future Grand Master Robert Silverberg’s formerly prodigious output fell off precipitously. Although he’d released some 16 sci-fi novels from the period 1954 – ’59, not to mention almost 250 (!) sci-fi short stories, AFTER 1959 and until his major return in 1967, his sci-fi production was sporadic at best. In 1960, Silverberg only released one sci-fi book, Lost Race of Mars (a so-called “juvenile”), and in 1961, not a single full-length affair; only two short stories. In 1962, however, in a slight return to form, Silverberg released Recalled to Life and The Seed of Earth. The year 1962 was hardly an idle one for Silverberg, however; besides those two novels, he also released one sci-fi shor... Read More

Horrible Monday: The Three by Sarah Lotz

The Three by Sarah Lotz

Sarah Lotz’s The Three is a stand-alone horror novel which should, by all rights, have a terrifying plot: Four high-capacity passenger jets crash on the same day, with no warning or clues as to the cause. After three of the crashes, a single child is found alive among the wreckage: one Japanese, one American, and one Briton. Global media coverage focuses on these three children (and the possibility of a fourth in Africa), creating a maelstrom of controversy over what may have happened and whether these children are symbols of hope or something far more sinister. Complicating the issue is the last known communication from an American woman, a voicemail which is appropriated by her pastor for self-aggrandizing purposes.

These events are bookended by a framing device: A journalist, Elspeth Martins, has taken it upon herself to better understand the plane crashes and the effect they ... Read More

Those Who Watch: Compulsively readable and quite touching

Those Who Watch by Robert Silverberg

There is a certain aptness in the fact that I penned this review for Robert Silverberg’s Those Who Watch on January 15, 2015. That day, you see, happened to be Silverberg’s 80th birthday, so my most sincere wishes for many more happy and healthy birthdays must go out to the man who has become, over the years, my favorite sci-fi author.

These days, of course, Silverberg is one of the most honored and respected writers in his chosen genre; a multiple winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards, not to mention a Science Fiction Grand Master. Hard to believe then that, back in 1959, Silverberg, facing a diminishing market for his work and chafing under the literary restrictions of the day, announced his retirement from the field. Since 1954, he’d already come out with some 15 sci-fi novels, plus ... Read More

Horrible Monday: A Shrill Keening by Ronald Malfi

A Shrill Keening by Ronald Malfi

A Shrill Keening opens with a first person narrator telling us about the books in his hospital room, and expanding from there to tell us about the hospital’s library and librarian.  It is only when he notes that the list of requested books he hands to the librarian is written in crayon that the reader realizes the nature of the hospital:  it is a mental institution.  But the reader must also wonder:  why is a mental institution catering to a patient’s request for books by and about H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe?

The nature of the narrator’s malady becomes evident when he states that he does not know which part of his life is real and which part he is dreaming. His therapist attempts — poorly — to convince him that his particular form of solipsism, in which he imagines that the therapist blinks out of existence as soon as they part; but the narrator conti... Read More

Her Fearful Symmetry: Needed more substance than the ghosts

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Two sets of twins, a disillusioned husband, a grieving boyfriend, one ghost. The lives of Her Fearful Symmetry’s characters are as tangled as they sound, in a drama that will play out amongst the tombstones of Highgate Cemetery. A sticker on the front reminds potential readers that Niffenegger is the author of The Time Traveler’s Wife. Yet let that be the first and last time Niffenegger’s debut novel is mentioned. Her Fearful Symmetry is described as a ‘delicious and deadly ghost story,’ and should be judged in and of itself.

We open with the death of Elspeth Noblin. She and her (substantially younger) boyfriend, Robert, had, until her death, lived in two separate flats next to Highgate cemetery. Shortly before her death, Elspeth wrote to her twin sister Edie, who lives in America,... Read More

Lexicon: You’ll never look at words the same way again

 Lexicon by Max Barry

Compare two commonly-used adages: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” versus “The pen is mightier than the sword.” In your own life, which saying have you found to be truer? It's all well and good to claim that an intangible thought, either spoken or written, is less powerful than a physical object, but one can easily come up with several examples to the contrary: Discarded treaties between the United States government and various Native American tribal peoples; Chairman Mao's infamous little red book; documentation in South Africa upholding the so-called legality of apartheid; Stalin's issuance of the Great Purge and subsequent refusal to acknowledge its existence; Adolph Hitler's deranged, inflammatory Mein Kampf. Words are powerful, dangerous things. One might even say that they're magical. In Lexicon, by Max Barry, they are all... Read More

Master of Life and Death: Early Silverberg

Master of Life and Death by Robert Silverberg

Future Grand Master Robert Silverberg’s fifth sci-fi novel, Master of Life and Death, was originally released as one-half of one of those cute little “Ace doubles” (D-237, for all you collectors out there), back to back with James White’s The Secret Visitors. Published in 1957, this was one of “only” three novels that Silverberg would release that year (the others were The Dawning Light and The Shrouded Planet), a fairly paltry number, one might think, for this remarkably prolific author… until one realizes that he also came out with no fewer than 82 (!) short stories and novellas that year in the sci-fi vein, plus 19 “adult” stories. On average, that comes to around a story every three or four days, PL... Read More

Codex: A must-read for Grossman fans

Codex by Lev Grossman

There are disadvantages to finding a trilogy you really love, and they usually surface somewhere between the second and final book. I discovered this whilst waiting for The Magician’s Land to be released, after devouring the first two novels of Grossman’s Magicians series. It was at this point I turned my attention to the rest of Grossman’s literary corpus and discovered a stand-alone novel published five years previously to The Magicians: Codex.

Codex centres around the twenty-something, highly paid investment banker, Edward Wozny. Wozny is a disillusioned, slightly listless New Yorker (sound familiar?) who’s got two weeks off between his high-flying job in New York and his high-flying job in London. He’s spent his entire life working, and now that he actually ha... Read More

Horrible Monday: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

When I read Terry Weyna’s review of Broken Monsters last year, I knew I had to get this book. Lauren Beukes’s earlier horror novel, The Shining Girls, was compelling and original, and Broken Monsters does not disappoint. More than a terrifying horror novel, it’s a study of ... Read More

Dwellers in the Mirage: A marvelous fantasy

Dwellers in the Mirage by Abraham Merritt

After taking a brief respite — in the hardboiled yet outre crime thriller Seven Footprints to Satan — from the tales of adventurous fantasy at which he so excelled, Abraham Merritt returned in fine form with Dwellers in the Mirage (1932). In this terrific novel, Merritt revisits many of the themes and uses many of the ingredients that made his first novel, The Moon Pool, such an impressive success. Like that early work, Dwellers features a lost civilization (of the type grandfathered by the great H. Rider Haggard), battling priestesses, civil wars, and otherdimensional creatures (in the earlier book, a light creat... Read More

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