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Sign of Chaos: A really bad soap opera

Sign of Chaos by Roger Zelazny

Note: You must read the previous seven AMBER CHRONICLES before picking this one up. Expect spoilers for those previous books in this review.

Sign of Chaos (1987) is book eight in Roger Zelazny’s ten-book AMBER CHRONICLES. It starts right where book seven, Blood of Amber, ended: with Merlin and his frenemy Luke in the midst of an LSD drug trip that has conjured up the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. (Zelazny delights in literary allusions. Expect plenty of Lewis Carroll, Shakespeare, Kuttner & Moore, as well as Arthurian legend and Celtic mythology.)

When Merlin finally escapes Wonderland, he is once again plunged into the political and personal machinations of his extended family, including step-brothers and half-brothers, a couple of bastards, and some people who will undoubtedly be revealed in the f... Read More

A Case of Conscience: A Catholic priest faces aliens with morality but no religion

A Case of Conscience by James Blish

Great A-side, dreadful B-side. A Case of Conscience is James Blish’s 1959 Hugo-winning SF novel, expanded from the1953 novella. Part One (the original novella) is set on planet Lithia, introducing a race of reptilians with a perfect, strife-free society and innate sense of morality. However, to the consternation of Father Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez, they have no religion of any kind. Their morality is inherent, and they have no need of a religious framework to direct their actions.

As a Catholic, Ruiz-Sanchez cannot make heads or tails of this. Without religion, do the Lithians have souls? If so, are they fallen into sin like humans, or still in a state of grace like Adam and Eve? He struggles with this conundrum, as well as the purpose of the expedition to Lithia, which is to determine whether the planet should be exploited for its lithium or quarantined sin... Read More

Low Volume 1: The Delirium of Hope (Issues #1-6)

Low Volume 1: The Delirium of Hope by Rick Remender (author) & Greg Tocchini (artist)

Low Volume 1: The Delirium of Hope
, written by Rick Remender and drawn by Greg Tocchini has an intriguing concept whereby in our far, far future (it’s actually the deep past relative to the characters in the story) humanity has fled our burgeoning sun by setting up cities in the depths of the oceans, where they await the news from space probes sent out to seek inhabitable planets. Unfortunately, by the time of the storyline, no probes have returned, the air in what appears to be the only remaining city is turning toxic, and its citizens have turned to a nihilistic, hedonistic lifestyle of sex, drugs, and violence as a means of “dealing” with their impending doom.

The story focuses on a single family whose DNA allows them to work an integral “helm suit” and we meet them jus... Read More

The Glass Arrow: Shallow world-building, sloppy characterization

The Glass Arrow by Kristen Simmons

I was about as close to a Did Not Finish with Kristen Simmons’ The Glass Arrow as I can get without putting a book down, so you can tell already where this review is going to end up.  As usual in these situations, preferring not to belabor the point with regard to what I consider a bad book, I’ll keep this review relatively brief.

Simmons sets her story in a world where women are treated as breeding cattle, basically. They’re bought and sold at auction, painted and sculpted and costumed. Their numbers are carefully managed by census and “reduction when needed,” and those who live in the wild are hunted by Trackers and brought back to the city because these “wild” women have more boy-producing wombs.  The... Read More

Shakespeare in Hell: Should not have been published in its present form

Shakespeare in Hell by Amy Sterling Casil

Shakespeare in Hell is an intriguing title. Think of all it can conjure up - allusions to Milton and Dante, who both had more luck finding stories in the darker realms of the afterlife, and with the villains of their pieces, than with an antiseptic realm of winged creatures playing harps, come to mind; one can imagine Shakespeare choosing Hell as a better stage for his plays and poetry. Or perhaps Shakespeare sinned with his Dark Lady, landing him in eternal flame. Or — well, the possibilities seem endless.

But Amy Sterling Casil has not taken full advantage of the myriad plotlines available to her. We are given no moral structure for this Hell, and no hint of a Deity meting out punishments and rewards. We never do learn precisely why Shakespeare is in Hell, though it does appear to have something to do with the Dark Lady, who is here given the... Read More

Murder of Crows: Worse than the first book

Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop

Meg Corbyn, a blood prophet, has finally found a place to belong — among the ferocious shapeshifters called the Others. They love and protect Meg from the man who still hunts her. Meg’s prophetic abilities seem to be getting stronger and she is able to foresee violent interactions between the humans and the Others. Meanwhile Monty, a cop, is trying to defuse tensions before war breaks out.

I didn’t much like Written in Red, the first book in Anne Bishop’s THE OTHERS series. As I explained in my review, Meg is one of the dullest people I’ve ever read about. The only thing that makes her interesting is her addiction to cutting herself, but this is so unpleasant that, rather than making me feel sympathetic for Meg, I just feel revolted. I also didn’t believe in Bishop’s world.

However, I picked u... Read More

Expiration Day: Give it a pass

Expiration Day by William Campbell Powell

Expiration Day, by William Campbell Powell, was a book I almost didn’t bother finishing and only ended up doing so because of that added sense of obligation of having received it for free to review. Had I picked it up on my own, I almost certainly would have dropped it somewhere about halfway in. As usual, in these cases, this will be a relatively short review so as not to belabor the issue.

In 2049, humanity has all but died out and is racing to find a cure to this plague of infertility that has been around for some while now. Meanwhile, to give the race hope and meet the parenting instinct, “teknoids” (sophisticated androids) can be rented by couples to be brought up as their own child, with regularly scheduled “revisions” to mirror the physical development due to aging. Everyone knows this happens, but it’s considered ill manners to speak of it too bluntly, so nobody is ev... Read More

Six Heirs: Give it a pass

Six Heirs by Pierre Grimbert

Six Heirs, the first book in the SECRET OF JI series by Pierre Grimbert, was originally published some years ago in the author’s native French. Sadly, it does not import well, though some of the flaws may be due to translation issues rather than authorial ones.

The novel opens with a captivating story of how several generations ago an enigmatic stranger (is there any other kind?) led a group of emissaries from most of the nations of the Known World to the island of Ji, where they simply vanished. When they eventually returned as mysteriously as they had disappeared, some had died, many were wounded, and none would speak of what they had been shown or where they had been. Over time, the survivors began to gather regularly every other year and share their secret with select “heirs” so that knowledge of the mysterious event wouldn’t disappear as the original participants died of... Read More

The Sagan Diary: Not convincing

The Sagan Diary by John Scalzi

The Sagan Diary was a prize and an experiment. As John Scalzi explains in the introduction, this novelette was written for Bill Schafer, editor of Subterranean Press, who won it in a charity auction. Schafer wanted a story set in Scalzi’s popular OLD MAN’S WAR universe. Scalzi wanted to challenge himself, so he decided to attempt a woman’s internal monologue. Fans will immediately realize from the title of the book that the woman is Captain Jane Sagan, a cyborg who features prominently in OLD MAN’S WAR. Scalzi has said that he originally wrote this story in free verse (which I did not know before I read it). The Sagan Diary is available for free in audio format on Scalzi’s blog where it’s read by Read More

Live Free or Die: I wouldn’t pay for this

Live Free or Die by John Ringo

Humans were alarmed when the first aliens that arrived to introduce themselves to Earth set up a hypergate that immediately connected Earth with all the outside universe. We were no longer alone. At least the Glatun were friendly aliens.

Tyler Vernon, a smart hard-working guy who chops wood for a living, decides to take this opportunity to improve his fortune. He finds a product that our new alien friends love and begins a business empire. Soon he’s the richest man on Earth, and that means he’s got a lot of influence on how things get done. When another alien race, the Horvath, come through the gate, declare themselves Earth’s “protectors” and start demanding tribute, Tyler is the only human who seems ready to take them on.

Live Free or Die, the first in John Ringo’s TROY RISING series, starts strong. Tyler is, at first, a likeable entrepreneur whose clever busines... Read More

Triton: The Trouble with Triton; its main character, for starters

Triton by Samuel R. Delany

Samuel R. Delaney wrote Triton in 1974, but it was published in 1976, after his best-seller Dhalgren. Delany’s subtitle for this book was “An Amorphous Heterotopia,” and he stated at the time that the book was inspired by (or a response to) Ursula LeGuin’s “ambiguous utopia” The Dispossessed. Oh, how I wish that I had re-read that book instead of picking up this one.

Delany is a brilliant observer of humanity. I like what I have read of his memoirs and essays. I enjoyed The Fall of the Towers and Read More

Hunter’s Prayer: What’s the point?

Hunter’s Prayer by Lilith Saintcrow

“I am not a nice person” — Jill Kismet

Jill Kismet is a Hunter — she keeps her city safe by tracking and destroying the creatures of the Nightside — those things that come out of hell to prey on humans. The cops call on Jill when there’s a crime that seems to involve paranormal beings. Jill takes care of it while the cops cover it up. Jill’s a badass — she can beat up anybody — but she also has some special powers of sorcery and healing which she got by making a bargain with a hellspawn named Perry. Perry keeps Jill alive and in return she gives him two hours of her “time” each month.

In Night Shift, the first book in Lilith Saintcrow’s JILL KISMET series (reviewed by Robert), we met all the main characters, but you don’t really need to read Night Shift t... Read More

Planet of the Damned: Cheesy, pulpy, boring

Planet of the Damned by Harry Harrison

Brion Brandd has just become the champion of his planet by defeating all the other contestants in “The Twenties.” Many men train all their lives for a chance to be the winner and Brion is ready to savor his victory. But not so fast! When a former winner challenges Brion to do something truly meaningful and heroic with his life, Brion sets off to save the planet Dis from a war that will surely destroy the entire planet. Dis has a hostile environment that nearly kills Brion before he even gets to meet the natives. Then he needs to figure out how the planet and the species that have evolved on it work together so he can solve their political problems.

Since this is a story written by Harry Harrison, there must also be a hot chick for Brion to save and fall in love with. My eyebrows rose when I found out that the girl in Planet of the Damned is Dr. Lea, an accomplished biologist. That was s... Read More

Technomancer: Doesn’t fulfill my criteria for good entertainment

Technomancer by B.V. Larson

When Quentin Draith wakes up in a bed in a private hospital he has no idea how he got there or even who he is. He does realize, though, that he’s being drugged and, therefore, somebody must be trying to control him. After he manages to escape, he learns that he lives in Las Vegas and blogs about supernatural events. And there’s a lot of weird stuff going on in Las Vegas these days.

Quentin soon discovers that the world contains an assortment of powerful magical objects and that he’s a rogue member of a community of people who are trying to collect them. These objects have something to do with the mysterious Grey Men who keep popping out of rips in space and gruesomely killing Quentin’s new friends. When Quentin meets a pretty young bride whose husband has just disappeared into a rip, he feels protective and wants to save her from the Grey Men. Eventually he develops a plan that he hopes will destroy the bad... Read More

Messenger: Whaaaa?

Messenger by Lois Lowry

The book flap describes Messenger by Lois Lowry thusly: “For the past six years, Matty has lived in Village and flourished under the guidance of Seer, a blind man, known for his special sight. Village was a place that welcomed newcomers, but something sinister has seeped into Village and the people have voted to close it to outsiders. Matty has been invaluable as a messenger. Now he must make one last journey through the treacherous forest with his only weapon, a power he unexpectedly discovers within himself.” Do you want to know why I used the book flap description for the first time ever? Because I don’t trust myself not to get all snarktastic just describing the book.

Warning: Review is going to be snarktastic.

Okay, I freely admit I am getting more and more irritated by this series as I go further along. You want to know why? Because it ma... Read More

The Awakening: Lacks anything special

Magelord: The Awakening by Thomas K. Martin

It is interesting to read older fantasy novels and see how the genre has grown and evolved. Thomas K. Martin published Magelord: The Awakening in 1997, and it feels dated.

Bjorn Rolfsson is a young hedge-wizard. In a time when people who can use magic are hunted down and burned alive, he and his father are part of a hidden, secretive group, called a Circle, who teach each other to use magic. I felt like I was reading about early Christians under the Roman Empire, where being exposed was a sure death. There are many different groups who have been persecuted like this throughout history, but that was what jumped into my mind.

Gavin is the son of the King of Ryykvid and a decent enough guy. He is trying to do what is right, but he has a problem: one of the Magelords, the former rulers of the world who destroyed each other and almost ... Read More

City of Lost Souls: Very disappointing

City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare

THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS series started out as a trilogy, and should have stayed there. This fifth book in the series has devolved into nothing more but one incident of teenage groping and/or angst after another.

City of Lost Souls is very disappointing.

 

[Editor's note: Terry, a perfectionist, didn't want to post this short opinion as a review, but we thought you'd want to know, so we posted it anyway.]   Read More

The Mammoth Hunters: Prehistoric Mary Sue

The Mammoth Hunters by Jean M. Auel

The Mammoth Hunters, the third book in Jean M. Auel's EARTH'S CHILDREN series, followed relatively quickly on the heels of The Valley of Horses. After this one, the gap between books increases. It would take Auel 26 years to get the last three published. I guess it was a good thing that Auel took more time for the fourth book. The Plains of Passage is not up to the standard of The Clan of the Cave Bear, but it certainly beats this third volume. Still, there is something very readable about these books. She never managed to get close to the level of the first book, but millions have devoured the other five anyway. Unfortunately, that still doesn't make The Mammoth Hunters a good book.

Ayla and Jondalar meet a group of Mamutoi, Mammoth Hunters o... Read More

Dark Moon: Pure genre fantasy

Dark Moon

In writing reviews of fantasy, everybody makes mention of those derivative books of sword and sorcery which lack imagination and either borrow exclusively from previous works (think Terry Goodkind) or possess so many archetypes that the whole book becomes cliché (think the DRAGONLANCE series). Everybody knows these cardboard Conans and Gandalfs wielding battleaxes, wands, and uttering the worst one-liners published today. But these comments about garbage fantasy are always directed to the “others” — someone else — never the work under review. Nobody wants to step on any toes.

David Gemmell’s Dark Moon is pure genre fantasy. This is one of the books everyone is indirectly referring to when they mention derivative fantasy. Reptilian uni-mind creatures attack in... Read More

Agatha Awakens: Kat loves it. Bill doesn’t.

GIRL GENIUS: Agatha Awakens by Phil & Kaja Foglio

Adventure! Romance! MAD SCIENCE!

I don’t read many graphic novels — though I’ve tried many of them, they’re just not my thing. In fact, I only read one graphic novel and that’s GIRL GENIUS by Phil & Kaja Foglio. I love this comic and I must not be the only one —it’s won the Hugo Award three times (and lots of other awards, too). Therefore, I was thrilled to see that Tor is releasing hardback omnibus versions of GIRL GENIUS because this comic is a work of art that deserves to be beautifully bound and displayed on coffee tables everywhere.

GIRL GENIUS is a “gaslamp fantasy” set in a Victorian-style world which produces “Sparks” — admired, but also somewhat mad, geniuses who are able to create bizarre machines and biological constructs — some which make life easier for... Read More

Dracula: The Undead: Just plain bad

Dracula: The Undead by Ian Holt & Dacre Stoker

Have you ever read a book that is so bad that it loops back around to being good? Well, Dracula the Un-Dead (2009) isn’t one of those books. It’s just plain bad. But it nearly provides one of those “so bad it’s good” reading experiences, creating a sense of bile fascination in the reader over the fact that someone could clearly enjoy a source material enough to write a sequel, but apparently hate it so much that they would write it… well, like this.

According to the afterword, the subject of a sequel was raised between screenwriter Ian Holt and Dacre Stoker, Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew as an attempt to “re-establish creative control over Bram’s novel and characters by writing a sequel that bore the Stoker name.” Given the copyright issues that have plagued the Stoker family ever since th... Read More

The Battle of Corrin: Continues the downward trend

The Battle of Corrin by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson

One steps into the LEGENDS OF DUNE series not expecting the achievement of Dune, an unfairly high standard, but a good read with maybe some flashes of Dune's complexity of character, plot, and philosophy. The first book of this trilogy, The Butlerian Jihad, failed in the latter two areas but the plot was a good enough read to overcome those flaws.

The second book, The Machine Crusade, was a step backward, with the same weak characterization, but this time not balanced by a strongly told story.

The Battle of Corrin, unfortunately, continues the downward trend. As in the other books, characterization is almost uniformly shallow, which is tough to do since we’ve followed some of these characters over the course... Read More

Living with Ghosts: Mixed reviews

Living with Ghosts by Kari Sperring

It took me a long time to get through Living with Ghosts by Kari Sperring. As a fantasy novel, it meets all the requirements in terms of the setting, the use of magic and the plot. I think that it took so long because I had a hard time getting into any of the characters, and for me that is essential to my enjoyment of a book.

Gracielis is a gigolo. He is well-mannered, good-looking and seemingly omnisexual in his willingness and ability to become attractive to anyone. Gracielis’ history is actually quite interesting. He is a failed novice of a group of assassin-sorcerer-priests who spend years training to become the ultimate blend of lover and killer. The process is only loosely depicted, but it’s something to ponder, and it’s interesting to imagine what could be created out of a blend of complete conviction, extreme skill and magic.

... Read More

Isle of Night: Read The Hunger Games instead

Isle of Night by Veronica Wolff

Isle of Night is the first in a new young adult paranormal series, The Watchers. Author Veronica Wolff attempts to combine several hot fiction trends into Isle of Night: vampires, boarding school, catty mean girls, and a scenario in which teens are forced to fight to the death.

Annelise Drew, who goes by her last name, is looking forward to escaping her abusive home life and going to college. When she gets to school, though, an issue has arisen with her high school credits and she’s unable to enroll. Drew is unsure what to do next. In swoops hunky Ronan, who convinces her to leave the country with him. He’s recruiting for a very different kind of school. Located on a remote island north of Scotland, it trains young women to become Watchers, which might be described as secretaries-slash-bodyguards for vampires.

Th... Read More

Haunted Heart: A biography of Stephen King

Haunted Heart by Lisa Rogak

It must be difficult to write a biography of someone who is still living, who has not donated his papers to a library where one can get access to them, who is still active in his career, and who has a healthy sense of privacy. Even when the subject agrees to an interview, a biographer has to be aware that the subject is telling what he wants to tell and leaving out that which he does not care to discuss. If the interviewee is sufficiently charming, or is completely forthright on a particular subject that casts him in a poor light, the interviewer can easily lose sight of questions not asked. And when the subject has himself written a book or two about his past, you have to wonder just what you can come up with that’s new and interesting.

Lisa Rogak’s Haunted Heart, a biography of Stephen King, is interesting and entertaining, but does not p... Read More