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

Doctor Who: The Book of Whoniversal Records: Official Timey-Wimey Edition

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Doctor Who: The Book of Whoniversal Records: Official Timey-Wimey Edition by Simon Guerrier

It’s impossible to deny the appeal of acquiring trivia relevant to one’s interests or chosen fandom; whether slinging obscure Star Wars minutiae across a family dining table or competing against teams at a local bar’s Harry Potter-themed trivia contest, it’s always fun to discover what fan is truly the most committed. To that end, I present Simon Guerrier’s Doctor Who: The Book of Whoniversal Records: Official Timey-Wimey Edition (2018).

If you’ve ever wondered what the “greatest potential threat to Gallifrey” was, when the very first Dalek appeared on screen, or which of the various Companions appeared in the most episodes, that information and much, much more will be found within these pages. Perhaps you want to know which of the Doctors was the longest-l... Read More

Central Station: A wealth of ideas, a breathtaking vision

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Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

Central Station is a thoughtful, poignant, human take on a possible future. For the most part Central Station occurs at the titular port on planet earth. This space resides in what we know today as Tel Aviv, but in the distant future it has gone through many names and many people. Everything seems to begin in earnest when Boris Chong arrives in Central Station after spending a great deal of time away — some of which on Mars. Central Station, the place, is a half-thought meeting of a variety of worlds. Central Station the book is more thoughtful than I think I know how to express, but I’ll give it a try.

Central Station occurs in the very spot where humans expanded from our first planet... Read More

Raw Spirit: The search for Scotch

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Raw Spirit by Iain Banks

In Raw Spirit (2003), Iain Banks (Iain M. Banks to science fiction readers) and his friends journey in search of the perfect dram.

It would not be wise to approach this book for an overview of Scotch, how it’s made, and how to drink it. One part stunt memoir, one part travelogue, and one part wide ranging digressions, Raw Spirit is really held together by Banks’ love of Scotch and of hanging around with his buddies. In essence, this means that they tour around Scotland in fast cars, they travel to midge-infested islands to look at distilleries, and, generally speaking, eat until they’re stuffed and drink until they’re loaded. There’s a section of recommended books for further reading, the table of contents is quite... Read More

Creatures of Will and Temper: A Wilde pastiche

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Creatures of Will and Temper by Molly Tanzer

Molly Tanzer took quite a bit of inspiration from Oscar Wilde’s classic 1891 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray for her 2017 novel Creatures of Will and Temper, and yet manages to make her story far more unique than simply gender-switching some characters and tossing in modern-sounding references to changing social mores.

Evadne Gray and her younger sister Dorina are completely different — Evadne loves fencing above all else, while Dorina nurtures dreams of someday becoming an art critic — so being forced to take a trip to London together, with Evadne acting as Dorina’s chaperone, is cause for tremendous friction between the two. Th... Read More

Unsong: Celestial spheres and whale puns

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Unsong by Scott Alexander

Sometimes, you pick up a book expecting to know what’s in it, and expecting that you’ll like it, and your expectations are met and everyone goes home happy. This scenario is at least good, often excellent, sometimes superlative, and by this time in my book-reading life that’s usually what I get.

But there’s a peculiar kind of pleasure in picking up a book which you have no expectations for, good or bad, putting it down after the first chapter, and saying, “I don’t know what’s going on here, but I think I like it.”

Scott Alexander’s Unsong (2017) fell into that category for me, and that’s a big part of what makes it one of my favorite books this year.

Unsong is set in a world which... Read More

The Bird’s Child: Beauty and brutality, magic and illusion

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The Bird’s Child by Sandra Leigh Price

There’s something to be said for seeking out authors from more unfamiliar places, especially when experiencing a dry phase in which nothing read quite hits the mark. The experience can be illuminating and so it was with The Bird’s Child, a 2015 debut novel by Australian author Sandra Leigh Price.

The Bird’s Child tells the story of three people living in Sydney in 1929, all with pasts they’d rather forget. There’s Ari, a young Jewish man, victim of a pogrom, who lives with his zealous uncle but dreams forbidden dreams of Houdini and magic. There’s Lily, a mysteriously beautiful young woman whose pale skin and hair have the power to bewitch those around her. And finally there’s Billy, haunted and dangerous, determined to have whatever and whoever he wants.
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Spoonbenders: Heartwarming and extraordinary

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Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

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 b... Read More

The Woman in Black: A classic ghost story

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

So what does a young actor do after starring in one of the most lucrative franchises in cinema history? That was the precise dilemma facing the 22-year-old Daniel Radcliffe in 2011, upon the completion of his 8th and final Harry Potter film. The Potter series had brought in a whopping $7.7 billion worldwide over its 10-year run, firmly establishing Radcliffe as an international star. And so, the question: What next? Wisely, the young actor’s follow-up project was another in the supernatural/fantasy vein, and one that was also based on an already well-loved source. The film was 2012’s The Woman In Black, another successful film for Radcliffe, having been produced for $15 million and bringing in almost $130 million at the box office. The film was based on English author Read More

Sign of the Labrys: Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered

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Sign of the Labrys by Margaret St. Clair

A pleasingly unique — indeed, possibly sui generis — combination of post-apocalyptic sci-fi and (of all things) Wiccan magic and craft, Sign of the Labrys initially appeared in 1963, as a Corgi paperback. Its author, Kansas-born Margaret St. Clair, was 52 at the time and had been writing short stories (well over 100 of them) since the late ‘40s. Sign of the Labrys was her fourth novel out of an eventual eight. And lest you think that the novel’s Wiccan elements were merely a passing fancy of its author, let me add here that St. Clair and her husband were indeed inducted into the Wiccan craft three years after this novel’s publication, when Margaret would adopt the Wiccan name Froniga.

Out of print in English since the year of its release, St. Clair’s truly bizarre nove... Read More

Autonomous: Is anyone truly autonomous?

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Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

2017’s Autonomous is Annalee Newitz’s first novel. Autonomous questions what life would be like in a world with AI, a world where everything is property, whether it’s physical, molecular or intellectual.

Pirate Jack (Judith) Chen is a biologist who started off fighting the restrictive patent system that keeps vital medicines away from people who need them, guaranteeing instead corporate profits. Disillusioned, she has become a pharma-pirate. To her horror, a productivity drug she reverse-engineered is causing deaths. Jack is eager to get her knockoff version off the market, but then she learns that there is no error in her pirated drug; the official drug has the same effects and that news is being suppressed.

Meanwhile two operatives from the International Property Coalit... Read More

Mandelbrot the Magnificent: An almost-mystical origin story

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Mandelbrot the Magnificent by Liz Ziemska

Prior to reading this novella, what I knew about the mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot would have fit into an embarrassingly small thimble (with plenty of room to spare). I identified fractal shapes simply as “tessellations on steroids” and my only reference point for a “mandelbrot” was a delicious cookie.

But thanks to Liz Ziemska, I have a much greater appreciation for Mandelbrot’s work in his field, as well as the passion and determination that sustained him through his years in Nazi-occupied France. Mandelbrot the Magnificent (2017) blends real and imagined history with high-level mathematical equations and principles, and the result is a lovely little “psuedobiography.”

In his ow... Read More

Stranger Magics: These are Faerie troubling times

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Stranger Magics by Ash Fitzsimmons

Colin Leffee (aka Lord Coileán le fae) is an immortal half-human, half-fae being, who's exiled himself from his mother Titania's court in Faerie for her various misdeeds. For approximately the last eight hundred years he's been whiling away his time on Earth, protecting humans from the terrors and mischiefs of less conscientious faeries, running an antique bookstore, and drinking far too much ― easy to do when you're magical and can make booze, money or anything else appear with a thought.

But one day his past comes back to haunt him: Colin finds a teenage changeling that Titania has tossed out of Faerie, practically on his doorstep. Colin realizes, with a great deal of alarm, that this girl, Moyna, has magical powers and, worse, that his past connects him to Moyna and her mother Meggy, the only woman Colin has truly loved in all his years on Earth. ... Read More

The Night of the Long Knives: Totally absorbing

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Reposting to include Sandy's new review.

The Night of the Long Knives by Fritz Leiber

Free on Kindle.

Murder, as you must know by now, I can understand and sympathize with deeply. But war? No.

After a nuclear holocaust, America is unrecognizable. There are a few cities left on the coasts, but most of America is now the Deathlands, where radioactive dust hazes the skies and radiation-scarred survivors try to stay alive another day. Besides devastating the land, the catastrophe has somehow warped the minds of the few remaining citizens of the Deathlands; they have all turned into murderers. They can’t help it — it’s a drive that can only be released by killing someone. Even when they band together for companionship, it always ends up in a bloodbath.

Ray ha... Read More

The Handmaid’s Tale: Chilling and tense

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

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.

Margaret Atwood was once, via a review of her work, once taken a bit publicly to task by Ursula K. LeGuin for not wanting her books (specifically The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake Read More

Artemis: Andy Weir’s moon phase

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Reposting to include Bill's new review.

Artemis by Andy Weir

Life in Artemis, the only human city on the moon, is rough for Jasmine Bashara, a 26 year old delivery person, smuggler, and would-be tourist guide. She fails her EVA (extravehicular activity) Guild exam in, literally, breathtaking fashion; she’s somewhat estranged from her welder father, to whom she owes a huge personal debt; she’s living alone in a tiny, claustrophobia-inducing capsule room; she barely gets by on her payments as a porter (supplemented by some judicious smuggling activity). But Jazz wouldn’t want to live any other place ― certainly not on Earth ― and she’s determined to make a success of her life, with no help from anyone.

So when Trond Landvik, one of the wealthiest people on the moon and a regular customer for Jazz’s smuggled luxuries, offers her a million “slugs” (m... Read More

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

In World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, Max Brooks provides an oral history of the global conflict against the undead. In the introduction, the narrator explains how this account focuses on the human element rather than just the statistical details of World War Z. The text shifts from the experiences of one survivor to the next.

The history begins in China. Dr. Kwang Jing-shu recalls when he encountered the “Patient Zero,” a child, and the early responses to the child’s illness. The zombie plague spreads across China, and before long human traffickers are explaining in their interviews how they brought the infected to the rest of the world. At first, people do not know what they are dealing with, and they refer to the disease as rabies, and la... Read More

Middle-Earth: From Script to Screen: Building the World of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit

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Middle-Earth: From Script to Screen by Daniel Falconer

Getting a glimpse behind the scenes of a favorite film is always exciting — it’s rather like pulling the curtain back and, rather than seeing a humdrum old snake oil salesman, actually discovering a great and powerful wizard. David Falconer’s Middle-Earth: From Script to Screen gives credit to the several hundred wizards hard at work re-creating and re-inventing J.R.R. Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS novels and The Hobbit into two sets of visual feasts.

Everything from aerial photography, to miniaturized or life-size sets and props, to CGI artistry went into those six films, and each page of this guide pays ... Read More

Fisher of Bones: Half-baked prophetess for half-mutinous followers

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Fisher of Bones by Sarah Gailey

Sarah Gailey’s novella Fisher of Bones (2017) is a bewildering revision of the Talmud/Old Testament Exodus story with the “Moses” role cast as a prophetess dubbed Fisher (formerly Ducky).

Fisher assumes the prophetess mantle only on her father’s deathbed when the patriarch prophet lays his hands upon her in a would-be ordination and declares her an outcast, “forever banished from [her] people.” And in the next breath commands her to lead the same. I never could get over this contradiction. This kind of launching and halting, lurching and jolting is characteristic of the entire story’s progression and it is not a device that works.

The story’s principle tension involves threats to Fisher’s authority as the pro... Read More

The Crystal Heart: An interesting retelling of a familiar tale

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The Crystal Heart by Sophie Masson

I've always enjoyed Sophie Masson's books, and it would seem she's written something of an unofficial trilogy based on the stories of Rapunzel (The Crystal Heart), Cinderella (Moonlight & Ashes) and Beauty and the Beast (Scarlet in the Snow). All of them are based on old familiar fairy tales, but take the opportunity to flesh out the characters and expand the tales into fully-fledged adventures, till they bear very little resemblance to their original sources.

In this case, it's easy to forget that The Crystal Heart is based on Rapunzel, as after establishing the existence of a youn... Read More

Merlin’s Bones: Needs fleshing out

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Merlin’s Bones by Fred Saberhagen

We raided the used bookstore the other day and this was one of my prizes; as sometimes happens when I visit the used bookstore and pick up a book by an author whose name I consider a guarantee of quality, I discovered when I got home that I had actually read Merlin’s Bones before — perhaps fifteen years ago, in this case. It took about three chapters to be sure, by which time I was merrily embarked and enjoying the story, so I didn’t mind. I did have, however, a small uneasiness — I recalled having been unimpressed with my previous read, though I didn’t remember why.

The story is set in two times: the first is medieval England, where a boy named Amby and his troupe of traveling players are attempting to escape the attentions of a warlord who their (the troupe’s) leader insulted on-stage and find themselves in a ver... Read More

Night Has a Thousand Eyes: Pretty horrifying, after all

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Night Has a Thousand Eyes by Cornell Woolrich

On the cover of my Dell paperback edition of Night Has a Thousand Eyes (with a cover price of 25 cents), the author is listed as William Irish, with an asterisk next to the name. At the bottom of the cover, next to the footnote asterisk, is another name: George Hopley. This should not fool any prospective readers, though. Both names were pseudonyms of Cornell Woolrich, the author whom Isaac Asimov called "THE Master of Suspense"; whom his biographer, Francis Nevins, Jr., called "the Edgar Allan Poe of the 20th century" (hey, wait a minute ... I thought that H.P. Lovecraft was considered the Edgar... Read More

The Devil in a Forest: “Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”

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The Devil in a Forest by Gene Wolfe

Gene Wolfe is different from most of us — at least, he’s certainly not like me. When I hear the song “Good King Wenceslas” I may wonder idly when the Feast of Stephen is (it’s December 26th, as I finally learned two years ago), if he was a real person (he was, although he was actually a duke) and, perhaps, if he was as good as all that (I have no idea). Gene Wolfe heard “Good King Wenceslas” and decided to write this book.

The Devil in a Forest is not a Christmas story, though it is a Christian story; the action takes place near and on the Mountain, within the “forest fence” and near a shrine to Saint Agnes, and that is, as far as I can tell, the end of the direct influence of the song on the story. As the story opens, a... Read More

Scarlet in the Snow: A unique and interesting take on Beauty and the Beast

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Scarlet in the Snow by Sophie Masson

Sophie Masson's unofficial fairy tale trilogy is linked only by the presence of feya (powerful fairies) and certain geographical locations, which hint that Scarlet in the Snow, Moonlight & Ashes, and The Crystal Heart all exist in the same world, though none of the stories or characters ever interact.

Each one is based on a traditional fairy tale, with Scarlet in the Snow providing some interesting twists on the story of Beauty and the Beast. What if Beauty's father was dead and it was instead her mother who was struggling to make ends meet? What if Beauty actually investigated the Beast's identity, in an attempt to find out who he was before the spell wa... Read More

The Faerie Handbook: Lots of information and art, and a few crafts

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The Faerie Handbook by Carolyn Turgeon & the editors of Faerie Magazine

The editors of Faerie Magazine have compiled The Faerie Handbook: An Enchanting Compendium of Literature, Lore, Art, Recipes, and Projects (2017), and its eye-catching lavender-and-silver binding and satin ribbon bookmark certainly seem appealing, but do the contents match the cover?

Faerie appreciation is nothing new — there was a big craze in the middle of England’s Victorian era, justified thusly:
Real life was stark and challenging for most Victorians, who faced a rapidly changing and increasingly less romantic world due to urbanization and industrialization, and many felt like the world of old — and all the magic that went with it — was gone for good.
With that frame of reference in mind, it’s easy to see why certain periods and social groups... Read More

Ironclads: Searching for the missing Iron Man

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Ironclads by Adrian Tchaikovsky

In Ironclads (2017), the gap between the haves and have-nots has become drastically wider in this near-future novella, especially in the military, where it’s become popular for rich young men, called Scions, to engage in war, battling foes in high-tech, weaponized and near-impenetrable suits of armor paid for by their wealthy family corporations. It’s a little like having Iron Man, Iron Patriot, and several of their friends in your military, though without, apparently, the flying ability. In contrast, the regular army “grunts” are underpaid and denied most of the high-tech protections available to the Scions, who always outrank everyone else.

Sergeant Ted Regan of the U.S. 203rd Infantry Division and two of his men, Sturgeon and Franken, are on two weeks leave in England (now a territory of the U.S.), preparing for battle a... Read More