Stand-Alone

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

The Changeling: A rich dark fairy tale for the Information Age

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The Changeling by Victor LaValle

“How do we protect our children?" Cal said quietly.
Apollo watched the soft little shape in his hand. "Obviously I don’t know."


Victor LaValle’s novel The Changeling (2017) is a five-star book, one of the year’s best. I predict this thoughtful modern dark fantasy novel — or it might be horror — will be shortlisted on several awards and Best Of lists.

LaValle takes the tropes of traditional middle European fairy tales and blends them perfectly with a view of modern living, specifically modern living in New York City. He uses this blend to explore the terrifying state of parenthood, when a person’s life, and heart, become inextricably yoked to another human being.

Apollo Kagwa’s ... Read More

Doomstar: Hamilton goes out like a pro

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Doomstar by Edmond Hamilton

As I have mentioned elsewhere, sci-fi pulpmaster Edmond Hamilton, during the early decades of his career, destroyed so many planets in his stories that he managed to acquire for himself the nickname “World Wrecker.” But in his final novel, Doomstar, the destruction of a mere planet seemed to be small potatoes for the Ohio-born author, and nothing less than the death — or, in this case, the poisoning — of a solar body would suffice! Doomstar was initially released as a 50-cent Belmont paperback in January 1966, almost 40 years after Hamilton’s first story had appeared in Weird Tales magazine. (I was fortunate enough to acquire the 1969 Belmont paperback, also with a cover price of 50 cents.) Hamilton was 62 when he... Read More

Spoonbenders: Come for the psychic shenanigans, stay for this eccentric family

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Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory

Spoonbenders (2017) by Daryl Gregory, is multi-generational family saga. It’s a coming-of-age story. It’s a psychic adventure story and a weird conspiracy tale for lovers of shadowy CIA projects like MKULTRA. It’s a gangster story. There’s a heist. There is a long con, and a madcap comedy along the lines of classic Marx Brothers routines. There are a couple of romances, a direct-distribution scheme, a medallion, a cow and a puppy. If we’re talking genre, I don’t know what Spoonbenders is. I know I loved it. I know it was fun and made me laugh, I know it was scary at times and I know I closed the book feeling happy and sad. And I know it’s a five-star book.

The book follows the Chicago-based Telemachus f... Read More

A Bridge of Years: Time travel to 1962

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A Bridge of Years by Robert Charles Wilson

Tom Winter tried to find solace in a bottle when his wife left him. He lost his job and concluded that 1989 was a pretty tough year. Now, Tom is trying to make a go of it in Belltower in the Pacific Northwest. His brother has set him up with a job as a car salesman, and he has bought a house. Life seems pretty mundane, until Tom realizes that the house is a time machine that leads to New York in 1962.

Published in 1991, Robert Charles Wilson’s A Bridge of Years is his first time travel novel, but it’s the third one I’ve read by him. Here, the traveler wanders through a tunnel from one time/location to another. There is no dial for Tom to turn to 11 or to 1924 or to the future. (This is not to say that the tunnels are... Read More

Barsk: A wonderfully thoughtful, imaginative work of science fiction

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard by Lawrence M. Schoen

When I put in my ARC request for Lawrence M. Schoen’s new novel Barsk, all I knew about it was that the setting involved a group of worlds inhabited by a variety of anthropomorphic space-faring animal species, with the main focus on elephants (thus its subtitle: The Elephant’s Graveyard). C’mon. El-e-phants in Spaaaaaccce! How could I resist? But Barsk is much more than a funny-but-cool premise; it’s a thoughtful, moving, and provocative exploration of a host of issues, including but not limited to memory, history, free will, and power. Eve... Read More

The Space Between the Stars: A tale of two halves

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The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett

The Space Between the Stars, by Anne Corlett, started out promisingly enough. The story is set in a universe where humanity has colonized the stars, which sounds great, but unfortunately a devastating plague has rampaged through the planets, wiping out over 99% of our species. We learn this via our main character, Jamie, who is one of the very few to survive the virus, a literal handful on the planet Soltaire where she has been working on as a veterinarian. The novel follows her as she, joined by a few other survivors, attempts to get back to her childhood home on Earth.

Her reason for aiming for Earth is that she and her long-time lover Daniel used to always joke about meeting at Northumberland in case of a “zombie apocalypse” or other type of world-ending event, so she hopes beyond hope to find hi... Read More

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: …and all for the want of a slide rule

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Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom by Bradley W. Schenck

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom (2017) is a sleek and shiny illustrated novel from Bradley W. Schenck, one that pays homage to the much-venerated Golden Age of science fiction while slipping a fair amount of modern social commentary beneath the chromed and bubble-helmeted exterior, and imparting the lesson that a well-equipped backpack will get you through most situations. Also, slide rules are important. Get yourself one if you don’t have one already, and if you do have one, maybe get a backup. Apparently, you never know when it’ll come in handy.

Imagine if, whenever you wanted to look at a website on your computer or hand-held device, an actual person had to move a cable from one switchboard-port to another, as had to be done for telephone calls in the first half of the twentieth cen... Read More

City At World’s End: Going Vegan

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City At World’s End by Edmond Hamilton

Written near the dawn of the Cold War era and soon after mankind first became aware of the fearful possibilities of the atom bomb, City at World’s End yet remains both highly readable and grippingly entertaining today, more than 65 years after its initial appearance. Edmond Hamilton’s book initially as a “complete novel” in the July 1950 issue of the pulp magazine Starling Stories, was released in hardcover the following year, and, in ’53, appeared again in the pages of Galaxy. (Personally, I just finished reading the 35-cent Crest Giant paperback from 1957.) Hamilton, who was already 46 when he wrote this tale, had been a published author since 1926, and already had countless hundreds of short stories, novellas and n... Read More

Fata Morgana: A vintage-type tale of a WWII bomber lost in time and space

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Fata Morgana by Steven R. Boyett & Ken Mitchroney

It’s 1943, at the height of the air war during World War II. US Air Force Captain Joseph Farley and his crew of nine men fly a B-17 bomber on missions out of England, bombing German factories and other military targets. On their last mission their bomber Voice of America, a never-ending source of problems (“fixing this one’s like taking a gator to the vet. You’re just making it better so it can try to kill you again”) finally bit the dust permanently, and the crew is assigned a brand new B-17F bomber, which they christen Fata Morgana after an unusual type of mirage, along with a new ball turret gunner, Sergeant Martin Proud Horse, a Native American of the Lakota tribe. One of the men, Shorty, is a gifted artist who paints a sorceress type of woman on the nose of the Fata Morgana, following Captain Farley’s deta... Read More

Bios: A rare miss from RCW

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Bios: A Novel of Planetary Exploration by Robert Charles Wilson

Isis is not the M class planet we have been looking for, and upon landing the humans discover that it’s extraordinarily toxic to them. It’s not cheap traveling through space to distant planets, so the scientists will just have to do their best. This is the premise of Robert Charles Wilson’s Bios: A Novel of Planetary Exploration. The scientists initially try to solve this problem with nifty machines and suits, but eventually one of them tries to change people at a genetic level to make them fit the planet, rather than conquering it.

Zoe carries the modified “bloodware,” and she wants to make life work on the new planet. On Earth, she was sexually abused, and though her emotions were “smooth... Read More

Beren and Lúthien: For the diehard Tolkien fan

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Beren and Lúthien ed. by Christopher Tolkien

In the very early pages of Christopher Tolkien’s Beren and Lúthien, his exploration of how his father’s grand love story of the two star-crossed lovers developed, he notes that, “This book does not offer a single page of original and unpublished work. What then is the need, now, for such a book?”

It’s a fair question, and one that I’m not sure all readers will find a ready answer for. The last half-dozen or so posthumous Tolkien books (from now on I will refer to J.R.R. Tolkien as simply “Tolkien” and his son/editor as “Christopher”) run a spectrum from those, such as The Story of Kullervo, probably only enjoyed by the most diehard of Tolkien fans/completists and those such... Read More

A Taste of Honey: A love story with a very particular style

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A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

Another 2016 Nebula nominee today, this time for best Novella. A Taste of Honey (2016) is set in the same world as a previous work by Kai Ashante Wilson, The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, which I confess I have not read (it’s not necessary for the understanding of this story, though it may provide some useful background to the setting and its institutions).

At its heart, A Taste of Honey is a love story between two men from different lands — wealthy nobleman, Aqib, from Olorum (where the story is set), and battle-hardened warrior, Lucrio, from Dalucan. The story moves through time, alternating ... Read More

The Regional Office is Under Attack: Lots to like but overall frustrating

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The Regional Office is Under Attack
by Manuel Gonzales

As I kept reading The Regional Office is Under Attack (2016) by Manuel Gonzales, whipsawing back and forth between being impressed and being annoyed, I found myself pulling for Gonzales to pull it off, and it was a near thing. In the end, I think I come down on the side of the novel frustrating somewhat more than it delights, though it leaves me intrigued to see what Gonzales comes up with next.

The titular office is an agency that, according to their own sign (written in light-blue calligraphy), is:
Uniquely positioned to Empower and Strengthen otherwise troubled or at-risk Young Women to act as a Barrier of last resort between the survival of the Planet and the amassing Forces of Darkness that Threaten, at nearly every turn, to Destroy it.
Employed to that end are a trio of Or... Read More

Chocky: Wyndham goes out on a high note

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Chocky by John Wyndham

Following the publication of 1960’s Trouble With Lichen, fans of the hugely popular English sci-fi writer John Wyndham would have to wait a good solid eight years for his next novel to be released. During that time, the author limited himself to the shorter form, coming out with 10 stories. One of those short stories was “Chocky,” which initially appeared in the March ’63 issue of the legendary American magazine Amazing Stories, which had been started by author and editor Hugo Gernsback back in 1926. Wyndham later expanded “Chocky,” and the result was his final book to be published before his untimely passing. As had so many other of the author’s previous works, the no... Read More

Sealskin: Atmospheric but troubling

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Sealskin by Su Bristow

“Do you think, if something starts wrong, it can come right in the end?” Late in Sealskin, the protagonist Donald asks this question, and each reader’s answer to it will likely shape how they feel about the novel as a whole.

So, selkie legends (and similar animal-bride myths; sometimes it’s a swan or a fox instead) are kind of My Thing, and as soon as I heard of Su Bristow’s new release, I wanted to read it. I found it well-written and atmospheric, but I had problems with it as well. At this point I need to drop a spoiler warning; it’s impossible to discuss my qualms without giving some things away. This is an event that happens on page 6 and is central to the plot. I'll let you decide whether or not to read it. If you want to, highlight the follo... Read More

Roses and Rot: The price of making dreams come true

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Roses and Rot by Kat Howard

Roses and Rot (2016) is a slow-building but beautifully written dark fantasy, loosely based on a familiar folk tale that isn’t disclosed until about a third of the way into the novel, so I’ll refrain from giving it away. Primarily Roses and Rot explores the relationship between two adult sisters and their devotion to their respective arts, and how that affects their relationship during a year they spend at Melete, an elite fine arts retreat program in New Hampshire. At the same time, it asks hard questions of its characters, and of us as readers, about what we are willing to sacrifice in the pursuit of our art, or any other personal goal.

Imogen, the narrator and older sister, is an author who uses fairy tale themes and motifs in her stories; her sister Marin is a gifted ballet dancer. The sisters’ relat... Read More

The Library at Mount Char: We all love it

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Ever wonder what might happen if a god went missing? The Library at Mount Char is Scott Hawkins’ fiction debut, and in my personal opinion, it is flawless. There are no wasted words, no unnecessary plot digressions, no moments in which a character says, “Wow, this crisis is important! We should respond right away!” and then tootles off to fold laundry for ten paragraphs. Each detail is crucial, even if the reader doesn’t realize it for a hundred pages or more, and the resulting novel feels enormous and expansive though the page count doesn’t hit 400.

Garrison Oaks was a lovely little slice of Virginian 1970s suburbia, where Adam Black roasted meats in an enormous metal bull and shared beer with his neighbors. Things changed, though, in one catacl... Read More

Certain Dark Things: I thought I was tired of vampires; then I read this

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Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

I’ve gotten tired of vampires. All too often, their social models are those of decadent, louche aristocrats with their courts and their bloodsucking royalty, or mafia-like crime lords. There isn’t much new about the process of drinking blood, either; they host a demon; or they are demons, or they have a virus. (Yawn.) I didn’t think anyone could make vampires interesting for me again until I read Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things. Her vampires are crime lords, but not mafia; they run narco-cartels, and Certain Dark Things (2016) tells a story about a vampire and her human sidekick in a way that is gritty, romantic, action-y and new.

Moreno-Garcia’s story choices range from the R... Read More

Trouble with Lichen: Complications of eternal youth

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Reposting to include Sandy's new review.

Trouble with Lichen by John Wyndham

Published in 1960, John Wyndham’s Trouble with Lichen tells the story of Diana Brackley, a revolutionary, a feminist, and a scientist.

Diana is considered odd because although she is attractive, she does not want to marry. Instead, she is dedicated to her career in the lab, and it is there that she makes her amazing discovery: a type of lichen that slows the aging process. Diana decides to use the lichen to empower women, and she sets up a beauty clinic that caters to rich and influential women (more ... Read More

Final Girls: Intriguing, but overall, did not satisfy me

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Final Girls by Mira Grant

Stories about people trapped in virtual reality have been thoroughly done, and the trope of the horror-story “final girl,” the lone survivor or almost-survivor who makes it to the end of the movie, at least, is pretty familiar too. In Mira Grant’s latest story, the novella Final Girls (2017), she mixes both of these with a dash of science fiction for an interesting tale that didn’t completely work for me.

Dr. Jennifer Webb is a visionary who has created proprietary VR technology designed to help people address and ultimately heal old traumas. Webb’s favorite VR technique is to run the patient (or patients, if it is a family situation) through a horror movie scenario. With all the safety subroutines in place, the patient can use fleeing fro... Read More

The White Road of the Moon: An enchanting tale of black-eyed witches, pale ghosts, and the white road

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The White Road of the Moon by Rachel Neumeier

In The White Road of the Moon (2017), a YA high fantasy filled with magic and ghosts, 15 year old orphaned Meridy lives in an isolated mountain village with her aunt and cousins, all of whom despise her (and the feeling is mutual). It’s partly because Meridy’s mother Kamay raised her with a love for books and old languages and stories, partly because Meridy is the daughter of a man her mother never named, who bequeathed Meridy her duskier skin and black eyes, and partly because Kamay had the audacity to die when Meridy was 11, leaving Aunt Tarana with the inconvenient obligation of raising Meridy. To make matters worse, Meridy’s black eyes are a sign of a witch, someone who can see ghosts and bind them to our world ― a magical ability that the practical-minded and suspicious Tarana detests.

So when Meridy's au... Read More

Brimstone: The Queen of Southern Gothic delivers again

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Brimstone by Cherie Priest

Brimstone (2017) is a throwback to some of Cherie Priest’s earlier work in theme and in setting. The story takes place in Florida, this time in Cassadaga, a real town which, like Lily Dale in northern New York, was founded by spiritualists. Cassadaga still exists and still draws the public for psychic readings, classes and attempts to contact deceased loved ones. In Brimstone, Alice Dartle comes to Cassadaga to learn about her own psychic gift, and Tomas Corderos flees there in an attempt to escape a terrifying spirit of fire, which soon puts the whole town in danger.

The book is set in 1920; both World War I and Prohibition play their parts in the story. What I loved best were the two main characters and their contra... Read More

The End of the Day: Before Death, meet Charlie

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The End of the Day by Claire North

“I am the Harbringer of Death,” Charlie explains countless times to airport security, friends of friends, nurses, doctors, strangers in bars, passengers on trains. Because before Death, comes Charlie: sometimes as a courtesy and sometimes as a warning, but always before. Meeting people from every possible walk of life, Charlie discovers what it is to be human in The End of the Day, a genre-defying tale.

When we first meet Charlie he’s somewhere in Central America, trying to locate an old woman called Mama Sakinai. He explains to a mule driver that he is the Harbringer of Death. He is here to bring Mama Sakinai some whisky. Sometimes Charlie comes to mark the end of the world, or a world. In this case, he is marking the end of an era: Mama Sakinai is the last person who knows the ancient language of her tribe — i... Read More

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