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

The Broken Sword: A dark fantasy classic

The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson

Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword (1954) was selected by David Pringle in his Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels, and is highly praised by Michael Moorcock, whose character Elric of Melnibone and his demon-possessed sword Stormbringer are directly inspired by The Broken Sword. The audio version is narrated by Bronson Pinchot, who has an amazing vocal range and narrates with passion.

To get right to the point, this book is amazing and deserves a much wider readership. It’s one of the most powerful, tightly-written and relentlessly-dark high fantasies I’ve ever read. It’s chock full of Norse gods, demigods, Vikings, elves, trolls, goblins, sea serpents, evil witches... Read More

The Case Against Satan: An infernally fine piece of work

The Case Against Satan by Ray Russell

Up until a few years ago, the name "Ray Russell" was only familiar to me by dint of his work as a screenwriter on such marvelous horror/sci-fi films as Mr. Sardonicus (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), Zotz! (also from 1962) and X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes (1963). It wasn't until I noticed a highly complimentary review of his 1962 novel The Case Against Satan, in Jones & Newman's excellent overview volume Horror: Another 100 Best Books, that I even knew he was an author at all, but I've since run across a quote from a guy named Stephen King, calling Russell's original novella Sardonicus "perhaps the finest example of the modern gothic ever written"! I'd been thus trying to lay my hands on ... Read More

Babel-17: A dazzling new-wave SF space opera from the 1960s

Reposting to include Kat's review of the new audio version.

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 fan... Read More

The Anubis Gates: A very generous book

Reposting to include Katie's new review.

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers

Tim Powers' fourth novel, 1983's The Anubis Gates, is a book that I had been meaning to read for years. Chosen for inclusion in both David Pringle's Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels and Jones & Newman's Horror: 100 Best Books, as well as the recipient of the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award in 1984, the book came with plenty of good word of mouth, to say the least. And, as it turns out, all the ballyhoo back when was ... Read More

Ubik: Use only as directed

Reposting to include Sandy's new review.

Ubik by Philip K. Dick

Warning: Use only as directed. And with caution.

Written in 1969, Ubik is one of Philip K. Dick’s most popular science fiction novels. It’s set in a future 1992 where some humans have develop psi and anti-psi powers which they are willing to hire out to individuals or companies who want to spy (or block spying) on others. Also in this alternate 1992, if you’ve got the money, you can put your beloved recently-deceased relatives into “coldpac” where they can be stored in half-life and you can visit with them for years after their death.

As Ubik begins, Glen Runciter, the head of one of New York City’s top anti-psi organizations, discovers that all the operatives of the top psi organization (whose telepathic fields they like to keep track of) h... Read More

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: Running to write

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

I have just finished reading Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running for the fifth time. I love this book, and although I wouldn’t say it’s the greatest book ever written, it may be my favorite book ever written.

At the title suggests, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a series of essays and memoirs, mostly centering on running. However, it’s also the story of how Murakami went from running a jazz club in Tokyo to writing novels. Murakami also touches on his love of vinyl albums, his translating the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Carver into Japanese, and his love of Sam Adams beer. More substantially (for some readers) he shares his ideas about competition, aging, and rel... Read More

VALIS: Reconciling human suffering with divine purpose

VALIS by Philip K Dick

It's often said that "one must suffer for one's art." They must have been referring to Philip K. Dick. He slaved away in relative obscurity and poverty at a typewriter for decades, churning out a prodigious flow of low-paid Ace and Berkeley paperbacks (sometimes fueled by amphetamines), went through five marriages, battled with depression, mental illness and suicide attempts, all culminating in a bizarre religious experience in 1974, and struggled to come to grips with this for the next eight years until his death in 1982 from a stroke at age 54. And yet it wasn’t until VALIS (1981) and the posthumous Radio Free Albemuth (1985) that he addressed these experiences directly in fictional form.

So if you want to get inside the mind of PDK, Radio Free Albemuth ... Read More

Beatrice: A love… pentangle

Beatrice by H. Rider Haggard

Editor's note: This book, which is in the public domain, is available free in Kindle format.

Beatrice was first published in 1890, and was H. Rider Haggard's 10th novel, out of 58 titles. Unlike so many of his other books, Beatrice is one that features almost no action scenes whatsoever; no lost races, no adventure, no battles, no supernatural elements. (My editors here at FanLit are thus indulging me once again by allowing me to submit a review of a book by my favorite author, despite the fact that this book has little in the way of fantasy content.) What it IS, is a beautifully written romance novel; indeed, is is one of Haggard's most emotional works. It tells the story of the ill-fated love affair between Beatri... Read More

The Book Of Skulls: A far cry from Daytona Beach!

The Book Of Skulls by Robert Silverberg

Because he has garnered no fewer than eight Hugo and Nebula Awards over the years, has been inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Hall of Fame, and has been, since 2005, anyway, an SFWA Grand Master, it might be difficult to credit the notion that Robert Silverberg might also be a writer of horror. And yet, there it is, the 55th book under discussion in Jones & Newman's excellent overview volume Horror: Another 100 Best Books; namely, The Book of Skulls, which first saw the light of day in 1972, the same year that its author released the masterly Dying Inside. Though its claims for being listed as a sci-fi novel are as debatable as its claims to being labeled horror or fantasy, the book WAS nevertheless n... Read More

Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus

Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card

Scenario: If you knew there was a bomb in a building, would you feel obliged to yell as loudly as possible to warn other people? The bomb explodes and the injuries are high and the death toll unimaginable. But let’s then suppose you have an opportunity to go back in time and prevent the bomb from ever being planted in the first place. Take things one step further... let's say that you stop the bomber before he even places his bomb... what else might change? Now you're dealing with what's known as 'the butterfly effect' — if a butterfly flaps its wings in China, can it change the weather on the other side of the world?

Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus takes this concept one step further by asking: if you could change the course of one man's life, could you change the course of the entire world? What if that one man h... Read More

Radio Free Albemuth: Divine messages via a pink laser from space

Radio Free Albemuth by Philip K Dick

Radio Free Albemuth was written in 1976 but only published posthumously in 1985. Even for Philip K Dick, this is a bizarre and partly deranged book. It’s a deeply personal autobiographical attempt for him to make sense of a series of bizarre religious experiences he collectively referred to as “2-3-74”. So if you are only a casual fan of PKD’s books or movies, this is probably not for you. However, if you love his novels and know something of his troubled life, it will provide an absolutely fascinating picture of a man struggling to extract meaning from it all, using every resource his powerful, wide-ranging and increasingly unstable mind can muster. It may be a confounding mess for many, but what a gloriously courageous attempt he makes. For me this book and his later complete rewrite VALI... Read More

Solar Express: Not entertaining

Solar Express by L.E. Modesitt Jr

L.E. Modesitt Jr’s newest work is a stand-alone hard science fiction novel that takes place in the 2100’s when the geo-political landscape of Earth has changed dramatically. Climate change and bad economic policies have nearly destroyed the United States, which now belongs to the North American Union. The major world powers have been exploring space, but all have signed a treaty that prevents them from weaponizing their spaceships or militarizing space in other ways. War threatens, however, after the Sinese Federation accuses the North American Union and the Indians of breaking the treaty. The Sinese seem to be using their alleged suspicions as an excuse to build up their own military capabilities in space.

As tensions rise, Alayna Wong-Grant, a young astrophysicist with a grunt job on a lunar space station, notices an anomaly in her data which indicates that an unknown object is travelling th... Read More

The Damnation Game: Beats with an eloquently bloody heart

The Damnation Game by Clive Barker

Clive Barkers first full-length novel is magnificent. It’s dark, intense and mostly unrelenting in its steady construction of supernatural horror. While full of gut wrenching visuals – resulting in several nights of me restlessly attempting to fall asleep — under a skin of pure horror, this novel beats with an eloquently bloody heart.

Barker’s skills shone through early in his career as The Damnation Game was a Bram Stoker Award Nominee for Best First Novel (1987), World Fantasy Award Nominee for Best Novel (1986), and British Book Award Nominee (1988).
Hell is reimagined by each generation. Its terrain is surveyed for absurdities and remade and, if necessary, reinvented to suit the current climate of atrocity; its architecture is redesigned to a... Read More

The Simulacra: Dick keeps his multiple story lines percolating

The Simulacra by Philip K. Dick

Fueled by prescription amphetamines, and in a burst of creative effort rarely seen before or since in the sci-fi field, cult author Philip K. Dick, in the period 1963 - ‘64, wrote no less than six full-length novels. His 13th since 1955, The Simulacra, was originally released as an Ace paperback in 1964 with a cover price of 40 cents. The book, written in Dick's best middle-period style, gives us a pretty whacky look at life in the mid-21st century. Scottish critic David Pringle, in his Ultimate Guide to Science Fiction, aptly describes the work as "an overpopulated novel which flies off wildly in too many directions," and indeed, readers may need a flowchart to keep track with this one. According to my careful count, the book features no less than 56 named characters (no... Read More

The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster: A magical door to the past

The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster by Scott Wilbanks

In May 1895, Elsbeth Grundy, a crotchety widow living in a cabin on the Kansas plains, sees a purple and gold-painted Victorian home that has unexpectedly appeared in her wheat fields. Elsbeth determinedly stalks over to the home to demand an explanation of this irksome addition to her back forty, but every time she goes to knock on the door, she’s immediately displaced back to the gate around the home. Incensed, she leaves a letter in the mailbox, threatening to use her shotgun to deal with this unwanted trespass.

In May 1995, Annabelle Aster, a young woman in her late twenties who loves Jane Austen and dresses in Victorian-style clothing, takes a break from cleaning her beloved San Francisco Victorian home. She steps into her back yard and is completely bewildered by the sight of a cabin and a large field of wheat, neither of which, as far as she is aware, have any business ... Read More

Hotel Ruby: “Hotel California” for the YA set

Hotel Ruby by Suzanne Young

Stories of supernaturally-afflicted hotels are easy to find, but can be hard to get right. Characters first must be brought to the hotel, enticed to stay, and then convinced to linger even when presented with evidence that they should run for the hills. Suzanne Young takes a stab at the “haunted hotel” novel with Hotel Ruby, a mostly successful YA romance-horror mash-up with really enjoyable elements of surprise.

After their mother’s sudden and unexpected death, Audrey Casella and her older brother Daniel are being relocated from Arizona to Nevada, where their father will leave them in the care of their strict, aloof grandmother. Their father claims it’s just for a summer, so he can get himself back into a parenting frame of mind, but the teenagers know better. On the drive up, they decide to stop for a night at the Hotel Ruby, so Dad can get some much-... Read More

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind, translated into English by John E. Woods

If you are anything like me, then Perfume: The Story of a Murderer will prove a most tantalising title. And, if you are anything like me, you will not be disappointed upon delving inside. This is a story of human nature at its most despicable and scent at its most sublime, a heady combination of depravity and olfactory beauty.

Published in 1985, Perfume fast became a best-seller in Patrick Suskind’s native German. I can only assume the translation is sublime (indeed John Woods received a PEN Translation prize in 1987 for his work on this novel), as sadly I cannot read a word of German in order to compare. This always leaves me perplexed. I can't help feeling there will always be something of the author I am missing. But perhaps that is a discussion for another day. Read More

The Shining Girls: Scary in all the right ways

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

A serial killer is at a serious advantage when they can jump through time at will, as Harper Curtis of Lauren Beukes The Shining Girls can. This does not bode well for Kirby Mazrachi, intended victim of said serial killer who should’ve died after Harper sliced open her stomach and slit her throat. But Kirby miraculously survived the attack and is determined to find the man that derailed her life.

The problems with trying to find a time-travelling serial killer, however, are obvious. Harper Curtis jumps between 1929 and 1993, killing his ‘shining girls.’ Quite why they shine is never explicitly explained, but they all have the potential to change the world in some way. Harper is able to time travel through the House (note the capital H), an entity which is, again, left so... Read More

The Girl Who Could Not Dream: Dreams come true… with rainbows and teeth

The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth Durst

Monsters, glittery flying ponies, ninja bunnies and other fantastical creatures inhabit the pages of The Girl Who Could Not Dream, Sarah Beth Durst’s enchanting new middle grade fantasy adventure novel. Sophie’s parents own a secretive dream shop, where you can buy bottled dreams or ― if you prefer more frightening adventures ― nightmares. (It’s like reading a Stephen King novel, only more immersive.) Her family uses woven dreamcatchers to capture other peoples' dreams, and then her parents distill the dreams into liquid form, bottle them and sell them to customers.

Because Sophie has never had a dream of her own, when she was six years old her curiosity led her to swipe a dream b... Read More

The Man Who Japed: PKD shines in his third novel

We're re-running this post to include Sandy's recent review.

The Man Who Japed by Philip K. Dick

Cult sci-fi author Philip K. Dick's third novel, The Man Who Japed, was originally published in one of those cute little "Ace doubles" (D-193, for all you collectors out there), back to back with E.C. Tubb's The Space-Born, in 1956, and with a cover price of a whopping 35 cents. (Ed Emshwiller's cover for The Man Who Japed was his first of many for these beloved double-deckers.) As in Dick's previous novel, The World Jones Made (1955), the story takes place on an Earth following a nuclear Armageddon that has considerably changed mankind's lot. In The Man Who Japed, by the year 2114, a... Read More

Glory Road: Sandy loves it, Kat doesn’t

Glory Road by Robert A. Heinlein

So what does an author do after writing one of the most beloved science fiction novels of all time and in the process picking up his third out of an eventual four Hugo awards? That was precisely the conundrum that future sci-fi Grand Master Robert A. Heinlein faced in 1962, after winning the Hugo for Stranger in a Strange Land, and he responded to the problem by switching gears a bit. His follow-up novel, Glory Road, was not precisely Heinlein's first fantasy piece — his 1959 novella The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag had contained a large dollop of very strange fantasy mixed in with its central mystery — but, as far as I can tell, it was his earliest full-length creation in the fantasy vein; one that was... Read More

A Time of Changes: Reminiscent of other novels, but still excellent

A Time of Changes by Robert Silverberg

A Time of Changes is one of Robert Silverberg’s best novels from his most prolific and creative period in the late 1960s/early 1970s, along with Downward to the Earth and Dying Inside. Once again, Sandy’s review (below) is both excellent and comprehensive, so I can only add my personal impressions.

In many ways, this book resembled Evgeny Zamyatin’s We (1924) and Ayn Rand’s Anthem (1938) since it depicted a repressive society that demonizes the individual, venerates the group, and suppresses private feelings. In both books, the concept of “I” is forbidden, and people have numbers in place of... Read More

The Terminal Beach: The best of Ballard’s early stories

The Terminal Beach by J.G. Ballard

J.G. Ballard is best known for his autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun (1984), along with his early novels like The Drowned World (1962), The Crystal World (1964), The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), Crash (1973), Concrete Island (1974), and High-Rise (1975). But many consider his best work to be his huge catalog of short stories, many of which were pivotal in the New Wave SF movement in the late 60s/early 70s. Ballard’s style may have been suited to the short form, as it plays to his strengths (hallucinatory imagery, bizarre concepts, powerful descriptions) and avoid his weaknesses (lack of empathetic characters, weak plots, unrealistic mot... Read More

From a Buick 8: Equal parts horror, science fiction and Lovecraftian ode

From a Buick 8 by Stephen King

Stephen King tends to get hammered in the press and by literati. He’s pulp, they say. He’s popular, they say. Nobody can be as productive (he publishes an average of two books per year) and still write quality, they say. I remember starting college in Boston in 1988, shortly after U2 released their huge Joshua Tree album. The established U2 fans rejected it outright as a ’sell out'. They couldn’t believe that their heroes sold out to ‘the man’ and became... popular. I think King gets painted with a similar brush.

But the truth is, much of his writing resonates quite deeply. His work can be touching. It’s relatable, and has as much symbolism and depth as one chooses to see. Is everything he touches great? No. But as a rule, is it schlock? Absolutely not.

I only discovered... Read More

An Inheritance of Ashes: Probably going on my best books of 2015 list

An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet

There are two things to know about Leah Bobet’s An Inheritance of Ashes. The first is that it is going on my list of potential best books of the year. It’s that good. The other is that you should ignore the genre marketing which has Bobet’s novel listed as YA, I assume because of its sixteen-year-old protagonist. But An Inheritance of Ashes has a deeply adult sensibility, whether in its treatment of war, heroism, family, romance, or trauma, and it would be a shame if it were lost any readers due to labeling (even recognizing that many adult readers do read YA).

An Inheritance of Ashes is set just after the end of the war in the south against the Wicked God and his followers, which included human “irregulars” led by the prophet Asphodel Jones and “Twisted Things,” monstrous creatures wh... Read More