Stand-Alone

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

The Chrysalids: Forbidden post-apocalyptic telepaths

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Reposting to include Sandy's new review.

The Chrysalids by John Wynhdam

It’s no wonder that David dreams of a distant and wondrous city at night: life in the post-apocalyptic settlement, Waknuk, is difficult. Waknuk’s people are descended from the survivors of the Tribulation, which everyone knows was sent by God to punish the Old People. Though David and his community are lucky to have any land to live on, they must always guard against Deviations — in their crops, in their livestock, and in their children.

Deviations are not made in God’s True Image. Children that, say, have six toes, have the Devil in them, so they are either destroyed or else sent to the Fringes after they are sterilized. Though these exiles may later return as raiders, life in Waknuk is — if not always peaceful — still much better than life in the Badlands.

David Str... Read More

All the Birds in the Sky: A likeable fable about magic and science

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Reposting to include Katie's new review.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders, is a likeable book. The writing is fluent, filled with grace notes, witty observations and jokes that poke fun, but gently, at certain subcultures and stereotypes — mostly, the ones we all enjoy mocking from time to time.

Furthermore, in her Afterword, Anders says that if you don’t understand the story, she will come to your house and “act the whole thing out for you. Maybe with origami finger puppets.” So there’s that.

All the Birds in the Sky is one of small, newish category of fiction, one I don’t have a label for. It includes Robin Sloan’s Mr. ... Read More

Agents of Dreamland: An atmospheric, disturbing tale of horror from space

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Agents of Dreamland by Caitlín R. Kiernan

Caitlín R. Kiernan delivers another atmospheric, disturbing horror story with her novella Agents of Dreamland, published by Tor in 2017. Kiernan shifts between the tropes of secret agent thriller, creepy death-cult horror and Lovecraftian terror from space, as agents from two competing intelligence agencies try to parse a mass-murder atrocity that took place at Moonlight Ranch, on the banks of California’s Salton Sea.

Kiernan gets style points for including the Salton Sea. It’s a perfect metaphor for the idea of poisoned dreams and it functions well in this short work as an isolated place where a charismatic cult leader prepares his followers to be, well, I guess “transformed” would be the word.

The Sig... Read More

Riders of the Purple Wage: One of the most unique SF texts

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Riders of the Purple Wage by Philip Jose Farmer

At the risk of being overly simplistic, Jacque Derrida’s concept of deconstruction/post-structuralism (whichever you want to call it) is at heart the perspective that any ideological paradigm can be picked apart, bone by bone, until the skeleton lies in shambles on the floor. The purpose is not nihilistic in nature; it is intended, rather, to cast a wrench of relativity into such lofty ideals as modernism, and the rigid mindset of structuralism that came in tow. In practice, I have yet to read a science fiction text that deconstructs the Silver Age better than Philip Jose Farmer’s 1967 Riders of the Purple Wage. From its irreverent title to the telling conclusion, the bones are dust.

Anything but a modernist vision of man as hero... Read More

Norse Mythology: A master storyteller relays the myths he loves

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Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman makes no secret of his love of Norse mythology and folklore. It shows up over and over in his fiction (Sandman, American Gods, Odd and the Frost Giants to name a few); and he has mentioned his love of the stories in interviews and essays. In Norse Mythology (2017), Gaiman puts his distinctive narrative voice in service to this mythological cycle and tells us the tales of the beginnings of the Norse gods, all the way through to beyond their ending, the dre... Read More

House of Suns: Truly epic time scales, but characters also shine

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House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds

This is the first Alastair Reynolds’ book I’ve read not set in his REVELATION SPACE series, and many of his fans claim House of Suns (2008) is his best book. I’d have to say it is pretty impressive, dealing with deep time scales rarely seen for any but the most epic hard SF books. What’s unique about House of Suns is not simply that the story spans hundreds of thousands of years, but that the characters actually live through these massive cycles as they loop around the Milky Way galaxy, experiencing everything it has to offer. It staggers the imagination to think that humanity has survived over 6 million years into the future without annihilating itself, splintered into myriad post-human civilizations that flower a... Read More

Lincoln in the Bardo: A uniquely structured tale of great empathy

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Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

I’ve long been a huge fan of George Saunders’ short stories, which I consider to be generally brilliant both individually and taken as a whole in terms of their commentary on this world and the strange creatures (us) who inhabit it. That commentary is often a blend of satirical fireworks and a warmer, more human exploration of the human condition, and it is the latter of those two that one recognizes most often in his first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, though Saunders doesn’t wholly dispense with the darkly comical.

The precipitating event for Lincoln in the Bardo is the death in 1862 of 11-year-old Willie Lincoln and his entombment in a Georgetown Cemetery, and Abraham Lincoln’s ensuing grief, expressed by several visits to the tomb that go so far as to see him removing th... Read More

Void Star: An ambitious, richly imagined world of wealthy, poor and AIs

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Void Star by Zachary Mason

Void Star (2017) is a brilliant, dense and challenging hard science fiction novel with a literary bent, rich in descriptions and imagery. It’s set in a relatively near future, perhaps a hundred years or so in our future. The chapters alternate between the viewpoints of three characters from vastly different social strata:

Irina has a vanishingly rare type of cranial implant that enables her to communicate wirelessly with computers, from the simplest electronic devices to the most complex artificial intelligences, in addition to giving her perfect recall ― a true photographic memory. She’s an independent consultant who acts as a troubleshooter for people who are having trouble with their information systems and AIs. But now her latest employer, a vastly wealthy and powerful tycoon, is mounting a chillingly deadly effort to captu... Read More

The Mindwarpers: An oddball addition to Russell’s canon

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The Mindwarpers by Eric Frank Russell

For his ninth novel out of what would ultimately run to 10, English sci-fi author Eric Frank Russell pulled a bit of a switcheroo on his readers. The book in question was initially released in the U.K. in 1964 in a hardcover edition by British publishing house Dennis Dobson, sporting the title With a Strange Device. A year later, it was released here in the U.S. as a 50-cent Lancer paperback (the edition that I was fortunate enough to acquire at Brooklyn bookstore extraordinaire Singularity), as its author was turning 60, but with a new and perhaps catchier title: The Mindwarpers. Written at the height of Cold War tensions, and at the peak of the world... Read More

Raft: A provocative amalgam of sub-genres

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Raft by Stephen Baxter

What if we exponentially reduced the scale of the galaxy so that the sun was only 50 yards across, extinguished its raging burn so that only a solid metal lump remained, and set a chain of a few hundred dwellings to orbit around the cold sphere that remained? Imagining as such, you would have the opening of Stephen Baxter’s 1991 Raft. By its conclusion, however, Raft reveals itself as a highly original mix of science and fantasy that continues playing with the scale of the universe while telling an uplifting yet sobering tale of personal and societal evolution.

The title of the book comes from the remodeled spacecraft that hangs above the mini-ringworld orbiting the dead star. Exactly like a raft in space, this large disc of metal is home to a few thousand that depend on the metals the miners extract below, ju... Read More

Geekerella: Sweet and fluffy, but with a surprising depth

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Geekerella
by Ashley Poston

Ashley Poston’s debut novel Geekerella (2017) is definitely not just another Cinderella revision. Classic elements of the familiar story are all present in one shape or another, but Poston brings a distinctly nerd-friendly flair to her tale, and modernizes the characters in ways that turn impossible archetypes into accessible, complicated people.

Danielle “Elle” Wittimer lives with her stepmother and twin stepsisters in a crumbling old Charleston, SC house. Sadly, her mother died when Elle was just four years old, and her beloved father passed away shortly after remarrying, granting legal custody of both Elle and the home to his second wife. Catherine is, to put it nicely, a selfish social climber who spends money she doesn’t have on country club memberships for her daughters while forcing Elle to perform menia... Read More

The Great Explosion: One of the funniest sci-fi novels that I’ve ever read

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The Great Explosion by Eric Frank Russell

In his 1955 collection entitled Men, Martians and Machines, English sci-fi author Eric Frank Russell told, via one short story and three novellas, some of the adventures of a starship crew that strongly suggested nothing less than a proto-Star Trek ensemble. The collection featured visits to three very different sorts of planets, in which the men, Martians, and robot of the starship Marathon came up against a world of mechanical devices; a world of green-skinned inhabitants, lethal trees and giant snakes; and a world of ropy creatures with the power to induce hypnotic hallucinations. Apparently, Russell liked the episodic nature of the collecti... Read More

The End of Eternity: Tadiana revisits a retro time-traveling tale

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The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov

Re-reading a favorite book from your teenage years is always a risky endeavor. I've been dismayed by how often my youthful memories are tarnished by a re-read, and I end up wondering if my taste as a young adult was all in my mouth. But I couldn't resist trying The End of Eternity (1955) by Isaac Asimov again, partly because I remembered liking it so well as a teenager, but my memories of it were so extremely hazy (for the longest time, until a Google search saved me, I couldn't even remember the title of the book, it was just "that really cool Asimov time-traveling book" in my head). So I bought a used copy, got a few chuckles out of the 1970s sci-fi cover and how short novels used to be (192 pages here), and settled down to read.

Andre... Read More

Slow River: A must-read

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Slow River by Nicola Griffith

Slow River (1995) is Nicola Griffith's second novel and the third one by her I've read. Like her debut Ammonite (1992), it attracted quite a bit of attention. The novel won a Nebula Award in 1996 and has made it into the Gollancz SF Masterworks series. I enjoyed both Hild (2013) and Ammonite an awful lot so this book ended up on the to-read stack right after finishing Ammonite. I didn't know it when I got it, but Slow River has quite a bit of environmental science in it. If I had known earlier this might... Read More

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union: How can one resist?

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon

[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.]

Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union is (breathe in) an alternate history science fiction noir police procedural that won plaudits from the literary mainstream as well as several top honors from the science fiction community (breathe out).

There’s a great deal going on, but perhaps it’s best to introduce the setting. In this alternate history, America created a temp... Read More

Carmilla: If you’re not an 1800s-horror expert, it’s better with a little homework

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Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Editor's note: Carmilla is free in Kindle format because it's in the public domain.

Giving Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla (1872) a 4-star rating feels a bit like critiquing my cat’s life choices. Sure, she could act more like a cat, and she could definitely make more sense from time to time — but ultimately, I love her and that ought to be enough.

Carmilla truly begins when Carmilla (surprise) arrives somewhat suddenly at the summer home of Laura and her father. It’s a picturesque manse on a ... Read More

Wasp: Phase 9 From Outer Space

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Wasp by Eric Frank Russell

There seems to exist some very real confusion as to just what English sci-fi author Eric Frank Russell did during WW2. Some sources would have us believe that he worked for British Intelligence during the war years, while others claim that he was merely an RAF radio operator and mechanic. Whatever the real story may be, the writer put his war experiences to good use over a decade later, when he wrote what would be his sixth novel out of an eventual 10, Wasp. Initially released as an Avalon Books hardcover in November 1957, when Russell was already 52, Wasp has been called one of its author’s finest works. This reader was fortunate enough to acquire the 35-cent Perm... Read More

Forest of Memory: Engaging if somewhat bewildering

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Forest of Memory by Mary Robinette Kowal

A story set in the future about an ‘authenticities’ dealer, Forest of Memory is set in a culture where everyone is connected by an omnipresent internet. The main character has a personal AI who is always listening and also recording and broadcasting the life of the protagonist. Mary Robinette Kowal then thrusts the main character into a situation where none of her technology works.

The premise of the tale interested me. In few words, Kowal has built a culture that is both rooted in today and wholly futuristic. It is believable and engaging, asking and answering: what if the internet connects us all, all the time? Its dream-like atmosphere and descriptions lend to the uniqueness of the tale, and made it a gripping setting.... Read More

Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire: Darkly poetic WWI story

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Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire by Mike Mignola & Christopher Golden

On a cold autumn night, under a black sky leached of starlight and absent the moon, Captain Henry Baltimore clutches his rifle and stares across the dark abyss of the battlefield, and knows in his heart that these are the torture fields of Hell, and damnation awaits mere steps ahead. 

Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire (2008) is a darkly poetic story of supernatural horrors unleashed during World War One. Lord Baltimore is our broken hero, chasing a plague-spreading vampire across the blooded lands of Europe. This is no graphic novel, but author/artist Mike Mignola, who is most known for his work on the HELLBOY Read More

The Wanderers: A wonderfully intimate, character-driven story

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The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

The Wanderers
(2017), by Meg Howrey, focuses on a simulated mission (code name: Eidolon) to Mars more realistic than anything ever attempted before. Prime Space has chosen three exemplary, experienced astronauts (American Helen, Japanese Yoshi, and Russian Sergei) for a 17-month, fully immersive simulation in the Utah desert in preparation for the real thing two years later. We join the “journey” via their 3rd-person POVs, but are also given a broader view thanks to their family members (one might consider them “satellites” orbiting the main characters — always tied to them): Helen’s actress daughter Mireille, Yoshi’s robot-salesperson wife Madoka, and Sergei’s sexually-uncertain 15-year-old son Dmitri. We also get a POV from Luke, one of the “Obbers” — the Prime Space employees tasked with observing the crew an... Read More

The Evil Wizard Smallbone: Young readers will love this funny, exciting fantasy

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The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman

What is it about Maine? Stephen King and John Connolly both write terrifying horror stories set there, and Delia Sherman places The Evil Wizard Smallbone, a middle-grade fantasy published in 2016, in Maine in the winter. That state must have a lot of magical juice.

The Evil Wizard Smallbone not only shares the horror of a Maine winter, it’s got an evil wizard, shape-shifting coyote-bikers, a small and somewhat magical town called Smallbone Cove whose residents have forgotten their own strange history to their peril, and a scrappy boy named Nick who stumb... Read More

Mr. Adam: The last fertile man on Earth

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Mr. Adam
by Pat Frank

Pat Frank’s Mr. Adam (1946) is billed as “[o]ne of literature’s first responses to the atomic bomb,” and the uncertainty of the freshly-minted Atomic Age is palpable within the novel’s pages. With the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still fresh in his mind, and within the minds of his readers, Frank crafted a cautionary tale regarding the dangers of nuclear power and its invisible, unstoppable effects on the future of mankind.

Steve Smith, intrepid journalist and recent veteran of the European theatre in WWII, quite literally stumbles through winter snow into the biggest story of his life: there are absolutely no maternity ward reservations booked in New York City after June 21. In fact, there are no reservations for maternity wards anywhere... Read More

Passing Strange: Simply irresistible

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Passing Strange by Ellen Klages

Ellen Klages’ short novel Passing Strange (2017) is a beautiful, fantastical melding of history, romance, magic and revenge, set against a meticulously researched San Francisco of 1940. At just over 200 hundred pages, the story follows six women in the city, each one in some way an outcast. Add a present-day story frame that includes secret passages in Chinatown, pulp magazine covers of the 1940s, and an elaborate scam, and for many of us you have something irresistible.

I loved Passing Strange from the cover by Gregory Manchess. That wistful moonlit scene is central to the story in more than one way. Take a moment to study that cover before you open the book, and then, when you’ve finished, feel free to go back and savor it some more.

In the present day, Helen Young, a ... Read More

All Flesh Is Grass: Flower power

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All Flesh Is Grass by Clifford D. Simak

In the 1966 3-D movie The Bubble, later rereleased as Fantastic Invasion of Planet Earth, an impenetrable and transparent dome of unknown origin encases a small American town, trapping its residents inside. Forty-three years later, in Stephen King’s doorstop best seller of 2009, Under the Dome, another American town, Chester’s Mill, is similarly and mysteriously ensnared. Beating both these projects to the punch, however, and a possible inspiration for both of them, was Clifford D. Simak’s 10th novel, All Flesh Is Grass. The book... Read More

This River Awakens: Beautifully dark and very challenging

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This River Awakens by Steven Erikson

Pretty much all you have to do is say Steven Erikson and I’m there. This River Awakens (2012) is far different from anything most people will think of when they hear the author’s name. It’s not set in a secondary world. It’s not epic fantasy. There isn’t a huge war or expanding empire in the core of the book. From what I understand, This River Awakens was Erikson’s first book and it’s more fiction and urban fantasy than anything else. While it is far different than typical Erikson, it is still glorious.

This River Awakens was re-released in 2012 after initially being published in 1998 under Erikson’s pen name of Steve Lundin. I love reading author’s works that are t... Read More