Stand-Alone

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

Three-Bladed Doom: Howard’s only El Borak novel

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Three-Bladed Doom by Robert E. Howard

Even those readers who have previously thrilled to the exploits of such Robert E. Howard characters as Conan the Barbarian, King Kull of Valusia, the Puritan fighter of evil Solomon Kane, the Pictish king Bran Mak Morn, the piratical Cormac Mac Art, and boxer Steve Costigan might still be unfamiliar with the author’s El Borak. And, I suppose, there may be good reason for that. Howard only managed to sell five stories featuring the character before his suicide death, at age 30 in 1936, although 11 more would surface in later years. Of those 16 tales, only one was of a full novel length: Three-Bladed Doom. Like many other fans, this decades-long Howard buff had never run across this character before, and so, when I spotted the 1979 Ace edit... Read More

The End of the Day: Before Death, meet Charlie

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

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... Read More

I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land: A disquisition on the value of all books

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I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land by Connie Willis

Jim is visiting Manhattan, doing publicity for his blog, Gone for Good, and hoping to sell it as a book to a publisher. The point of Jim’s blog, and his sincere belief, is that things dying out and disappearing ― payphones, elevator operators, VHS tapes, and books nobody cares about ― is part of the natural order, a sign that society doesn’t need these things any longer. If society changes its mind, they can always be brought back. Books are generally digitized, after all. Or so Jim asserts.

When a meeting with a publisher gets cancelled, Jim wanders the streets of Manhattan until a downpour of rain drives him into an old-fashioned bookstore, Ozymandias Books, which appears to deal in rare titles. Jim wanders through the shelves, bemused at the odd variety of obscure books that he sees.
Pr... Read More

Sky in the Deep: Axe-wielding star-crossed lovers

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Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

Eelyn lives only to fight with her father, her best friend Mýra, and the rest of the Aska clan against their mortal enemies, the Riki clan. Every five years, the clans meet on the battlefield and do their very best to slaughter one another, then return home with the survivors to heal their wounds and train for another five years. Eelyn doesn’t question why the Aska are bound up in this eternal blood-feud; this is how things have always been, this is how they will always be, and the best death Eelyn can imagine is in battle against the Riki. Should she die ingloriously, however, or be captured as a slave, she will be denied entrance into the Aska afterlife, and will lose all honor.

Her older brother, Iri, died while fighting the Riki five years previously, so when Eelyn sees him fighting alongside the Riki, she becomes obsessed with determining whether ... Read More

The Scarlet Plague: Jack London makes London Magazine

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The Scarlet Plague by Jack London

Editor's note: Because it's in the public domain, it's easy to find an inexpensive electronic copy of this book.

By the time Jack London released his post-apocalyptic novel The Scarlet Plague in 1912, the author was 36 years old — just four years shy of his premature passing in 1916 — and yet had already managed to cram in more incident and adventure into those three dozen years than most folks do in their lifetime. Since his birth in San Francisco in 1876, he had worked on a sealing schooner, done a stint as an oyster pirate, participated in the Klondike Gold Rush (in 1897), played the part of a war correspondent in the Russo-Japanese War (1904), operated a ranch, been married twice, and had released over 100 short stories... Read More

Good Morning, Midnight: Your book club might enjoy this

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Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

Lily Brooks-Dalton’s general fiction novel, Good Morning, Midnight (2017), is literary in nature but uses speculative elements to contemplate isolation, hope, despair and human connection. The book has beautiful prose, especially in some of the descriptions of the arctic, and interesting insights into human nature, but it was not a completely satisfying book for me. In a few places, the hand of the author can be seen forcing events in order to make the story work, and some of these tropes, particularly the literary ones, felt too familiar. Still, it’s worth checking out for the writing alone.

Good Morning, Midnight follows two characters who are about as far apart spacially as one can imagine. Augustine is an astronomer who has remained behind at an arctic observatory site... Read More

The Gone-Away World: Relentlessly ironic, digressive, and clever

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The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway

The Gone-Away World (2008) is a post-apocalyptic comedy/tragedy about our world before and after the Gone-Away Bombs have wiped up out much of humanity and the world we know. It is about Gonzo Lubitsch and his nameless best friend, who work for a special crew that is assigned to put of a fire along the Jorgmond pipeline, which produced the special material “Fox” that can eliminate the Stuff, the matter that is left over after gone-away bombs have removed the information from matter so that it no longer can form coherent form and structure. Stuff takes on the shape of the thoughts of people near it — nightmarish monsters, ill-formed creatures, and “new people.” Nightmares become real, and the world itself is a nightmare of sorts.

And very soon after the story begins, we are wrenched back into Gonzo and his friend’s ... Read More

Exit West: A slightly speculative exploration of love, migration and nationality

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Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

2017’s Exit West by Mohsin Hamid is definitely not speculative fiction. It is general fiction, literary in nature, which uses a trope of speculative fiction as one way to explore the nature of war, love and human migration.

There is always a risk when a general fiction writer “discovers” speculative fiction and tries to write it without having read within the genre. The story often contains hackneyed, tired-out elements which the writer trumpets as new and amazing. Hamid dodges this risk completely. His strange black rectangles, which appear in doorways, like in closets or storage sheds, and lead to other parts of the world, are not explained. Even though they lead to mass migrations, they are a minor part of the story. Exit West focuses on the impact of migration on nations, communities, ... Read More

The Oracle Year: An exciting, fast-paced science fiction thriller

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The Oracle Year by Charles Soule

OCTOBER 8: FOURTEEN BABIES WILL BE BORN AT NORTHSIDE GENERAL HOSPITAL IN HOUSTON. SIX MALE, EIGHT FEMALE.

One morning at about 5:00 am, Will Dando, a struggling young New York musician, abruptly awakes from a vivid dream. In his dream, a voice told Will 108 oddly specific and rather random predictions about the future, which he remembers verbatim when he wakes up. Some are potentially life-changing: warnings of the collapse of a major bridge and other disasters. Others may have a huge financial effect: a football game that will be won by the Jets by four points; a caution about a late freeze of crops in the southeastern United States. Still others are apparently mundane:
APRIL 24 – MRS. LUISA ALVAREZ OF EL PASO, TEXAS, PURCHASES A QUART OF CHOCOLATE MILK, SOMETHING SHE HAS NOT HAD IN TWENTY YEARS, TO SEE IF SHE STILL ENJOYS THE TASTE AS ... Read More

Will Do Magic For Small Change: Interesting characters, great ideas, and theater arts

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Will Do Magic For Small Change by Andrea Hairston

Andrea Hairston’s 2016 novel Will Do Magic for Small Change spills out across traditional fantasy subcategories like the foamy head of a beer. There are urban fantasy elements, historical fantasy, science fiction and coming-of-age themes in this tale, which is set alternately in 1987 and the turn of the 20th century. And while I don’t think there is a subgenre called “performance magic” or “theater magic” yet, when there is, this book will be a seminal example because the love of the theater and performance runs all the way through it.

In 1987, Cinnamon struggles to find acceptance. She is African-American, tall for her age (fourteen), heavy, super-smart and a motor-mouth in a very particular way. She wants to sing and act on stage and she’s gifted, but racism and sexism blo... Read More

The Valley Of Creation: Clan brothers

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The Valley Of Creation by Edmond Hamilton

One of the crowning events in the sci-fi/fantasy year 1948 was most assuredly the release of Jack Williamson’s 1940 novella Darker Than You Think as an expanded, full-length novel; it has since gone on to be acclaimed one of the greatest fictional books on the subject of lycanthropy ever written. In it, reporter Will Barbee learns that he is a primordial shapeshifter and, in one memorable sequence, runs through the night in the form of a wolf, relishing his exhilarating swiftness and grace. But this was not the only time in 1948 that the reader was presented with such a scenario. In the July issue of the 20-cent Startling Stories magazine that year, Williamson’s close fri... Read More

Unbury Carol: Many interesting parts that didn’t quite fit together for me

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Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman

Unbury Carol (2018) is billed as a Weird West story, and Josh Malerman has staged it in a world that has the trappings of the mythical American West — stagecoaches, outlaws, “triggermen” and a perilous Trail the outlaws ride. Malerman’s prose is elegant and he manages to create, at least with the character of Sheriff Opal, an authentic sense of rhythm and regional speech. Moments of bizarre imagery startled me and captured my imagination. Overall, though, the many intricately carved pieces just didn’t fit into a congruent whole for me.

Carol Evers is a wealthy heiress in the frontier town of Harrows. She has been married to Dwight Evers for about twelve years. Carol has a condition that drops her into deep comas, so deep that she appears to be dead. Her heart beats once a minute and she may draw two breaths... Read More

Dreadful Sleep: Some kind of ultimate pulp mash-up

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Dreadful Sleep by Jack Williamson

At the end of my recent review of Jack Williamson’s 1933 novel Golden Blood, which initially appeared as a six-part serial in the pages of Weird Tales magazine, I mentioned that the author had later placed another serial in that same pulp publication, and that I meant to seek it out. Well, I am here to tell you MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! That later serial, Dreadful Sleep, was a three-part affair in the March - May 1938 issues (although it didn’t cop any front-cover illustrations, as had Golden Blood, the great Virgil Finlay did contribute drawings for the interior spreads), and I was happy to lay my hands on what I h... Read More

Snow City: A disorienting, intermittently interesting, destination

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Snow City by G.A. Kathryns

G.A. Kathryns’ independently-published novel Snow City (2017) is a story about a ghost, narrated by a kind of a ghost. The POV character Echo Japonica creates Snow City in her mind as a preservation mechanism responsive to the terror she experiences in a dystopian reality. The fantastical part of this creation is that she inhabits her imagination physically, along with a ghost. And the living is not too bad until her creation doesn’t turn out to be as safe and warm as her conscious mind had hoped.

The narrative begins with, for me, much too much exposition, and even when the story launches in earnest, it flies like a pelican — heavily, beating broad wings madly to hold itself up.

There is honest creativity here, however, and some nice moments, interesting characters, and quite a bit of heart. Reader... Read More

Gulliver of Mars: An incredible fairy tale of adventure

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Gulliver of Mars by Edwin L. Arnold

Editor's note: Because it's in the public domain, Gulliver of Mars is free in Kindle format.

On those rare occasions when it is discussed at all today, British author Edwin L. Arnold’s final book, Lt. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation, is primarily spoken of as a possible influence on Edgar Rice BurroughsJohn Carter novels. But this, it seems to me, is doing Arnold’s last writing endeavor a disservice, as the book is an exciting, highly imaginative, colorful piece of fantasy/sci-fi more than capable of standing on its own merits, discounting any possible relat... Read More

Blood of the Four: Dangerous magic and brutal conspiring

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Blood of the Four by Christopher Golden & Tim Lebbon

Magic is an elusive and dangerous thing in the kingdom of Quandis, forbidden to all except a few select priests who spend their lives preparing to handle the ancient magic, and even then inhale only a few smoky tendrils of the powerful magic. Princess Phela thrives on sneaking through hidden passages of the castle, seeking to overhear others’ information and secrets. When Phela hears her mother, the queen, confessing (in a drug-induced haze) to her lover Linos Kallistrate that she, the queen, has been exploring the far depths of the castle seeking out the magic of the Four, who are the gods of Quandis, she’s appalled at the heresy, but eager to find a way to use this secret to further her own ambitions.

Meanwhile, among the Bajumen ― the hereditary slaves of Quandis marked by their deep blue eyes and serpentine brands ― Bla... Read More

The Coincidence Makers: Weaving an elaborate web

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The Coincidence Makers by Yoav Blum

Behind the scenes of our lives, pulling the strings for the benefit of humanity, are the people assigned as “coincidence makers,” arranging the events that need to happen in people's lives, both on a personal and larger scale. It may be making a particular love connection by arranging that two people meet at the right time, or taking steps to help an accountant find his true work in being a poet, or ensuring that an assassin is pointed in the right path to later do society a larger good. Coincidence makers work for a hidden organization that supervises and directs their generally benevolent efforts, along with those of imaginary friends, dream weavers, luck distributors and other useful employees, endowing them with supernatural powers, while insisting on compliance with a plethora of bureaucratic rules and restrictions.

Guy, Emily, and Eric are all... Read More

The Android’s Dream: More like The Fifth Element than Bladerunner

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The Android’s Dream by John Scalzi

The Android’s Dream (2006) is one of John Scalzi’s earlier books, and a stand-alone rather than part of a series, so I couldn’t resist given the obvious Philip K. Dick reference in the title. I decided to go into this one without knowing anything about the plot or reading any reviews at all. I know Scalzi’s humor and style from the OLD MAN’S WAR series, Redshirts and Lock In, and I love the audio narration of Wil Wheaton, so I figured I’d give it a try. I was also surp... Read More

All the Light We Cannot See: Science, magic and morality

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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See (2014) opens in the basement of a hotel in the port city of Saint-Malo in occupied France, 1944. The city is being bombed. Eighteen-year-old Nazi soldier Werner Pfennig is trapped below tonnes of rubble, his chances of survival increasingly slim, whilst across town, a blind French girl Marie-Laure is hiding in her attic. The pair is bound by a curiosity in natural science, years of surreptitious radio broadcasts, and a diamond that may bestow immortality upon its holder. Neither of them knows it yet. What follows is the tale of a boy who joins the Nazi regime and a girl who tries to evade it, and the series of events that will set their paths hurtling towards one another.

After these opening scenes, the story rewinds to 1934: Werner Pfennig and his sister Jutta are orphans in the German mini... Read More

The Grip of It: Compelling and scary

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The Grip of It by Jac Jemc

TerryJac Jemc’s The Grip of It (2017) made the long list for the Bram Stoker Award for 2017, and for good reason: it’s delightfully frightening, and refuses to be set down before the reader has finished it. We both loved it.

Here’s the premise: James and Julie have decided to leave the city for a small town a good distance away, looking for a clean break from financial problems (though Julie has determined she is not going to harp on how James gambled all of his nest egg away; she’s just glad the joint account is still intact). They’ve decided to buy an older home with lots of closets and dark wood, with a forest starting right where the backyard ends. There’s a weird sound in the house that the real estate agent assures t... Read More

The Invincible: Early classic encounter with a swarm intelligence

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The Invincible by Stanislaw Lem

Stanislaw Lem was a Polish SF author, one of the most famous and successful writers outside the English language world, selling over 45 million copies in 40+ languages over five decades from the 1950s, but mainly in Eastern European communist bloc countries such as Poland, Germany, and the Soviet Union. However, despite his success he had a rocky relationship with the United States SF community, having a fairly low opinion of American SF fiction writers other than Philip K Dick’s works, and having his honorary membership with the SFWA taken away when he became eligible to become a regular member, which may have been intended as a slight and... Read More

Tomorrow’s Yesterday: Unearthing a true obscurity

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Tomorrow’s Yesterday  by A.M. Stanley

I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb in making the following sweeping statements about a certain book that I just read, A.M. Stanley’s Tomorrow’s Yesterday: You have never heard of this book, or of its author. You’ve never read anything about the book, either in print or online. This, my friends, is a lost book; one that, since its initial publication in 1949, has plummeted stone-like to the bottom of the literary pool. Not just a book that is currently out of print but is easily researchable ― there are tens of thousands of those ― but rather, a book for which virtually no information is to be had at all. Even the usually infallible Internet Speculative Fiction Database offers no help when it comes to this volume, and indeed, I do believe that this review here may well constitute the only substan... Read More

Norse Mythology: A master storyteller relays the myths he loves

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

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 ... Read More

The Sky is Yours: We wrestled with this literary SF novel

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Reposting to include Bill's new review.

The Sky is Yours by Chandler Klang Smith

I wrestled with this review for Chandler Klang Smith’s 2018 novel The Sky is Yours from the first paragraph. I wanted to refer to it as a “zeitgeist novel.” After I wrote that, I glanced at Wikipedia and decided that, as Inigo Montoya says to the Sicilian in The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” So, I’ve decided that The Sky is Yours is not a zeitgeist novel. It’s more self-conscious than that. It is a novel of the zeitgeist, using a future-dystopia to comment on the values, concerns and fears of modern living.

The Sky is Yours is about t... Read More

Roadmarks: The Road must roll

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Roadmarks by Roger Zelazny

Roadmarks (1979) is a fragmented, experimental type of novel, tied together by a Road (with a capital R) that leads to all times and places and alternative timestreams in our world’s history, for those who know how to navigate it (a certain German named Adolph briefly pops up in an early chapter, eternally searching for the timeline where he won). The other constant is the character of Red Dorakeen, who has been traveling the Road for years, trying to find something, or somewhen. Sometimes he's in company with Leila, a woman with precognitive talents. He’s also generally accompanied by one of two sentient AIs in the form of books, called Leaves (of Grass) and Flowers ( Read More