Understories: Tim Horvath has an amazing imagination!


Understories by Tim Horvath Tim Horvath has an amazing imagination. He can take his work in academe (as a writing teacher) and turn it into a story about a dying department of...

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The City & The City: Utter genius


The City & The City by China Miéville It’s impossible to discuss China Miéville’s The City & The City without discussing its premise. I don’t consider this much of...

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Wolfbreed: The worst and the best that humanity can do


Wolfbreed by S.A. Swann Lilly is one of a litter of werewolf children being raised by the Knights of the Teutonic Order in 13th century Prusa (later Prussia). The wolfbreed, as...

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Existence: A big book that’s all too short — a must read


Existence by David Brin Existence is David Brin’s first novel in some time and while I’ve long bemoaned his absence, it’s hard to complain about the time he takes if this is...

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Recent Posts

The Escapement: Brilliantly weird (or possibly weirdly brilliant)

The Escapement by Lavie Tidhar

Lavie Tidhar’s The Escapement (2021)is a fantastic and fantastical fever dream of a novel, a Weird Western via Lewis Carroll, Gilgamesh if had been translated and illustrated by Norton Juster and scored by Ennio Morricone, The Searchers if it had starred Buster Keaton, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had it been directed by David Lynch from a screenplay co-written by Steven King, Raymond Carver, and Italo Calvino and storyboarded by Salvador Dali. It’s a wondrous riot of imagination that veers back and forth from horrific to heartbreaking to laugh-out-loud funny to macabre to absurdist. Defying genre,... Read More

The Specter from the Magician’s Museum: Might be the scariest story yet

The Specter from the Magician's Museum by John Bellairs & Brad Strickland

The Specter from the Magician's Museum (1998) is the seventh novel in the LEWIS BARNAVELT horror series for middle graders. The first novel, The House with a Clock in its Walls, was written by John Bellairs and published in 1973. There was a 17-year hiatus after the third book, The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring, was published in 1976 while Bellairs was focused on his JOHNNY DIXON series. Bellairs died in 1991, leaving both series to be finished by author Brad Strickland. I haven’t read the JO... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Favorite magic systems

As Supreme Court Justice Potter1 Stewart famously said when asked to explain “magic” in fantasy novels:


“I shall not today attempt to further define the kinds of actions/abilities I understand to be embraced within that description, and perhaps I never could succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.”2


Ok, he didn’t really say that about magic in fantasy novels. He was talking about pornography.3


But let’s pretend.


Now, some novelists don’t bother themselves to “further define” how magic works in their fantasy universe. They figure the reader knows it when they see it,

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The Green Man of Graypec: Kastrove convertible

The Green Man of Graypec by Festus Pragnell

In his famous short story of 1858 entitled “The Diamond Lens,” Irish-American author Fitz-James O’Brien gave his readers a tale of a scientist who invents a new type of microscope and with it discovers a woman living in a droplet of water. This fascinating premise of humanoid life existing in a microscopic realm was later amplified by NYC-born author Ray Cummings, whose 1919 novella “The Girl in the Golden Atom” told of a chemist who’d discovered a beautiful female living in the subatomic world of his mother’s wedding ring (!), and later invented a miniaturization drug that enabled him to pay this woman a visit. Cummings’ novella was such a success that he came out with a sequel the following year, “People of the Golden Atom”; the two novellas would later be fixed up and combined to form the 1922 novel The Girl in the Golden Atom, which, like O’Brien’s ... Read More

WWWednesday: September 22, 2021

It will be a very short column this week.

At Lit Hub, Joe R. Lansdale thinks back about the Hap and Leonard series and how Leonard came into being. He updates the column with memories of Michael K. Williams, who played Leonard in the series.

Maria Dahvana Headley’s translation of Beowulf took the Harold Morton Landon translation award.

FIYAHCon 2021 has made some of its panels available at no cost... Read More

Bacchanal: Trapped souls, a dark carnival and a quest for belonging

Bacchanal by Veronica G. Henry

In the northern hemisphere, it’s heading for autumn, when nature slows and sleeps, when days get shorter, and tales get spookier. It’s the time of year for “dark carnival” tales, and Veronica G. Henry provides us with a new one, Bacchanal (2021), her debut novel.

In the late 1930s, The G.B Bacchanal Carnival makes the south-and-southwest circuit of the USA, and along the way they often pick up new acts. Clay, a red-haired white man from Chicago, is the “face” of the carnival, but all the acts are Black performers. Clay and his lieutenant, Jamey, a Black man born in the south, scout for talent. The people they hire are not your average performers; they all have a touch of magic. And Clay, for all his apparent authority, is not the boss of the operation. That position is held by a powerful African demon, Ahiku, who uses the carnival to search for (... Read More

Beasts Before Us: The Untold Story of Mammal Origins and Evolution

Beasts Before Us: The Untold Story of Mammal Origins and Evolution by Elsa Panciroli

Let’s face it. When it comes to discussion and portrayal of ancient/extinct life in modern culture, dinosaurs rule. They rumble, lumber, sprint, pounce, trumpet, and roar across our screens and pages, across bedspreads and pajamas. Their names trip merrily across the tongues of children as they reel off Latinate terminology and eras like an auctioneer at a livestock sale. The “Rex” in T-rex may as well refer to the King of the Lizard’s place in our collective minds as much to its role as an apex predator of its time.

Pity then the poor early mammals, who can’t help but be overshadowed (literally and figuratively) by their massive cousins. Well, no more. Paleontologist Elsa Panciroli speaks for the mammals! And luckily for us, she does so in fantastic fashion. In sharp, concise, vivid prose, she’s here to tell us to forget everything we... Read More

Breath of Earth: Alt-history and magic in a high-stakes adventure

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Breath of Earth by Beth Cato

Breath of Earth begins a new fantastical alternative-history series from Beth Cato, in which hydrogen-filled airships dot the skies, giant beasts in the ground cause earthquakes, and Teddy Roosevelt became an internationally-renowned Ambassador rather than the 26th U.S. President. (There’s also a nationally touring opera prominently featured in a side plot; if Lincoln isn’t a sly nod to a certain massively popular Tony-winning musical, I will eat my least-favorite hat.)

In an almost-recognizable San Francisco, a permanent establishment of geomancer wardens keeps the city and the surrounding countryside safe from tremors and other manifestations of magical energy. By absorbing the earth’s power and transferring it to crystals of a special mineral known as kermanite, the wardens all... Read More

The Doom of the Haunted Opera: The kids encounter a necromancer

The Doom of the Haunted Opera by John Bellairs & Brad Strickland

The Doom of the Haunted Opera (1995), the sixth book in John Bellairs’ and Brad Strickland’s LEWIS BARNAVELT series for middle grade readers, has best friends Lewis and Rose Rita back together again after having separate adventures in the previous two novels, The Ghost in the Mirror (Rose Rita) and The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder (Lewis).

The adults are away — Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman have gone to Florida to execute the will of a frien... Read More

Sunday Status Update: September 19, 2021

Marion: If you’re looking for a spooky “dark carnival” book to head into fall with, I finished Bacchanal by Veronica G. Henry, and I recommend it. I liked the complex loyalties of the carnies, the touch of an all-Black carnival working the American south and southwest (with all the mundane danger that implies) and the creepy little stories about the carnival that Henry weaves into the tale. I read two comic book collections: Batwoman: Elegy. I loved the art,and  the backstory about Kate getting kicked out of West Point was good. Overall, though, while Kate mouths words about finding a “way to serve,” the story is all about her, and personal vengeance. I also read Book One of The Old Guard. For ... Read More