Stand-Alone

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

Machine: Should have been more exciting

Machine by Elizabeth Bear

Dr. Jens and her alien colleagues rescue spaceships that are in trouble. After answering a distress call, they discover an old ship in which all of the human crewmembers are in cryogenic storage. Their only caretaker is an oddly sexy robot who was given instructions to build the cryogenic storage containers for the crew long ago.

When Dr. Jens and her colleagues get back to their own ship and get ready to thaw out some of the frozen humans, they discover that their own trusty shipmind, Sally, is starting to forget things. They begin to suspect a rogue artificial intelligence might be responsible for what’s been happening on both of the ships.

When Dr. Jens is asked to figure out what’s going on, she begins to unravel a strange mystery and discovers that the benevolent organization she works with, and some of her beloved colleagues, may not be quite as wonderful as she thought. As we tag... Read More

The Second Deluge: Rain, rain, go away….

The Second Deluge by Garrett P. Serviss

It is the Indian state of Meghalaya, just north of Bangladesh, the holds the record for being “The Wettest Spot on Earth,” getting, on average, a whopping total of 467” of rain a year. (Do bring an umbrella if you’re planning a visit!) But while this 38-foot tally, 13 times what Seattle might expect annually, is certainly impressive, it pales to insignificance compared to what descends from the heavens in Garrett P. Serviss’ 1911 novel The Second Deluge, in which, due to a cosmic mischance, no fewer than 30,000 feet of rain fall upon our fair planet in under one year … enough to effectively drown the entire world, past the tippy top of Mt. Everest itself! A wonderfully written novel that is fairly epic in scope, it is a sadly neglected apocalyptic work that is surely ripe for rediscovery in our modern-day era... Read More

The Midnight Bargain: A charming frolic of a book

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk 

By the bottom of the second full page of text, when the protagonist of The Midnight Bargain (2020) walked into Harriman’s Bookshop, I was hooked. When Beatrice Clayborn entered the second-hand shop and I saw it through her eyes, the book claimed me, not unlike the way a spirit might claim a sorceress in Beatrice’s magical world.

It’s bargaining season, or marriage season in Beatrice’s world, and young women of the upper classes, like Beatrice, jostle and compete for the hand of a suitable husband. Suitability is decided by their fathers, of course, and usually determined based on wealth, status and influence.

Beatrice loathes the bargaining season. She wants to study magic and become a full-blown Mage, a path closed to women, especially upper-class wome... Read More

Theodore Savage: An absolutely splendid post-apocalyptic work

Theodore Savage by Cicely Hamilton

By the time WW1 ended in 1918, London-born Cicely Hamilton had already earned a name for herself as an advocate for both women’s rights and marriage equality. As one of Britain’s most vocal suffragettes, she’d campaigned for the right of women to vote; as a renowned playwright, she’d written socially biting works for the stage, and indeed, her suffrage dramas How the Vote Was Won (1909) and A Pageant of Great Women (1910) were both highly successful. But during the Great War, Hamilton also served in France, both in a nursing unit and in a revue for the entertainment of the troops, and her wartime experiences soon resulted in her penning her one and only science fiction novel, entitled Theodore Savage.

A wonderfully well written and emotionally affectin... Read More

We Are Satellites: A science fiction novel that will stay in your head

We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker

Often in magical realism, a writer takes one little bit of magic and plunks it into an otherwise entirely realistic story, like adding a single drop of blue food dye into a glass of water that remains water, but water newly, wholly colored by that one tiny drop. In Sarah Pinsker’s novel, We Are Satellites (2021), we have what one might class science-fictional realism; she eschews building the usual futuristic world full of advances and instead offers up a single drop in the form of the Pilot, a brain implant that allows the wearers to multitask without loss of focus, making them incredibly efficient.

Pinsker further narrows the story by focusing like a laser on a single family and the varying impact the introduction of the Pilot into society has on each member, crafting a quiet, character-drive... Read More

The Golem and the Jinni: A magical mural of the immigrant experience

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

A Genie. A golem. Nineteenth-century New York City. Boy, did I want to love this book. Drawn by its come-hither characters, its promise of poetry, and by its dark side in the form of a truly nasty character, I really, really wanted to love it. And truth is, I liked The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker. But in the well-trod words of middle school, I didn’t “like like” it. Oh, it was fun, it made me smile sometimes and think sometimes and feel a bit sad at other times. I enjoyed hanging out with it for the length of its near-500 pages. But, despite that fire-genie at its heart, there just wasn’t that spark. I just wanted to be friends.

We meet our two fantastical characters early on via two different storylines. The Golem, Chava, travels to 1899 New York on a steamer and finds herself ashore in... Read More

This Virtual Night: An entertaining SF thriller

This Virtual Night by C.S. Friedman

C.S. Friedman’s This Virtual Night (2020) is billed as book two in her OUTWORLDS/ALIEN SHORES series but these novels are, so far, stand-alone stories set in the same universe. Thus, you don’t need to have read the first book, This Alien Shore (1998), though I’d recommend doing so anyway because it was fabulous. All you need to know about Friedman’s world is that, long ago, the humans who left Earth to colonize other galaxies evolved in ways that their fellow humans who remained on Earth find repulsive. There is little communication or cooperation between Earth and the outworld “Variants,” though some people on earth are trying to reconcile the two groups.

... Read More

Project Hail Mary: Mixed opinions

Reposting to include Bill's new review.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

It’s alarming to wake up from a coma in completely unfamiliar surroundings, tethered to a bed by tubes and electrodes, with a computer voice quizzing you and robotic arms controlling your movements. It’s even more disturbing when you realize that you have no recollection of your name or your past life, and that there are two long-dead bodies in the room with you.

But gradually, through a series of flashback memories, Ryland Grace remembers that Earth is facing an extinction event: a Russian scientist discovered that a strange line has developed between the sun and Venus, and it’s causing the sun to lose energy at a rate that’s high enough to cause a worldwide ice age in the next few decades. Grace, a disgraced molecular biologist who abandoned academia to teach middle school science, was one of the scientists investigating the un... Read More

The Stone From the Green Star: “Dark star crashes, pouring its light into ashes”

The Stone From the Green Star by Jack Williamson

As I mentioned recently in my review of Edmond Hamilton’s 1930 novel The Universe Wreckers, this Ohio-born author was just one of three writers who helped to popularize the genre now known as “space opera,” the other two being E.E. “Doc” Smith and Jack Williamson. I’d recently experienced Smith’s seminal six-book LENSMAN series, written between 1934 and ’48, but it had been a good number of years since I’d read anything by Williamson, one of my all-time fa... Read More

Hench: A hilarious debut

Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

Anna Tromedlov (try reading that backwards) works at a temp agency that supplies minions to evil villains. Her expertise is in data analysis so, typically, her jobs involve spreadsheets and reports and she gets to work from home. This fits her personality nicely, plus it’s the safest way to work for an evil villain.

When her best friend June encourages her to take an on-site job, Anna agrees that it might be good for her. She is just beginning to add new skills to her resume when there’s a conflict between her boss and a superhero and she gets badly injured by the hero. Irate, she begins calculating the actual cost of superhero encounters. This is a life-changing event that sparks a whole new career for Anna.

I loved Hench (2020), the Locus-nominated debut novel of Natalie Zina Walschots, from the first paragraph. This fast-moving story is amusing, witty,... Read More

War of the Maps: A straightforward story in a fascinating world

War of the Maps by Paul McAuley

On an artificially created planet made up of numerous islands, a middle-aged man called the lucidor is stalking his prey. At first, we don’t know much about Remfrey He, the man the lucidor hunts, except that he’s an arrogant and corrupt man who, thanks to the lucidor’s detective work, was convicted and imprisoned years ago. But now he’s been set free because his skills will be helpful in fighting “the invasion,” a war with an unknown enemy which has brought genetically engineered monsters to the realm. These creatures are scary and deadly and Remfrey He says he can help the army defeat them.

But the lucidor believes that Remfrey He is the more terrible monster so, in protest, he has resigned from the department and set out to recapture his enemy. The lucidor’s former colleagues, though, have been ordered to stop the lucidor from interfering. Consequently, the lucidor is both hunter Read More

Beowulf: He was the man!

Beowulf: A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley

A couple of years ago I read Maria Dahvana Headley’s The Mere Wife (2018) which was a finalist for the Locus Award in 2019. Set in a wealthy suburb, the story was a promoted as a “modern retelling of Beowulf” and told from the perspectives of the mothers. I admired this novel and was therefore eager to read Headley’s new translation of Beowulf which also happens to be a Locus Award finalist in the Horror category this year.

While The Mere Wife was billed as a “retelling,” Beowulf: A New Translation is, as promised, a new modern translation of the epic poem. In the introduction to the piece, Headley explains her love of the poem (she’s been obsessed with it since seeing an illustration of Grendel... Read More

Race to the Sun: An exciting and educational family story

Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Nizhoni Begay wants to be a star, or at least popular. She’s hoping to make the game-winning score at her middle school basketball game but, instead, she’s humiliated when she gets distracted and gets hit in the face by the ball. The reason she was distracted was that she saw a man in the stands watching her. She could tell he was a monster. When that same man shows up at her house for dinner because he’s her dad’s new boss, Nizhoni tries to warn her father that he’s a monster but her father doesn’t believe her and seems very eager to please the monster.

When the new boss tells Nizhoni that she and her little brother Mac have powers he’s interested in, and then kidnaps their dad, it’s up to Nizhoni, Mac, and Nizhoni’s best friend Davery to rescue him.

This sets them on a quest in which they will need to find a map, solve riddles, pass tests, procure special weap... Read More

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires: Hilarious and horrifying

The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Patricia Campbell and her neighbors are housewives in Charleston, South Carolina. Looking for friendship and something to talk about other than their husbands, children, housekeeping, and other neighbors, they form a book club. True Crime is their genre of choice.

After the ladies read Helter Skelter, Patricia laments that nothing exciting ever happens in their neighborhood:
“But don’t you wish that something exciting would happen around here?” Patricia asked. “Just once?”

Grace raised her eyebrows at Patricia.

“You wish that a gang of unwashed hippies would break into your house and murder your family and write ‘death to pigs’ in human blood on your walls because you don’t want to pack lunches anymore?”

“Well, not when you put it like ... Read More

How to Mars: Solid but feels like a missed opportunity

How to Mars by David Ebenbach

In David Ebenbach’s How to Mars (2021), humans have made it to Mars, but not via the usual major government initiative. Instead, a group of six was sent as a reality TV show produced by Destination Mars, a corporation whose owner is “pretty eccentric.” Sadly, Mars turned out to be kind of dull (lots of rocks, no life, monotone color) and as the six scientists grew bored so did the audience, leading to the show’s cancellation after just one year. The novel though kicks off with a revelation sure to jump start ratings: despite a prohibition on sex, one of the group (Jenny) is pregnant. It’s a great premise, rich with potential for tension, drama, and an exploration of what it means to be human, especially with the added complication of Martian life, but unfortunately the novel doesn’t fully mine that potential, leaving it less than the sum of its parts.
Read More

The Ghost Tree: A well-rendered 1980s slasher that could have gone farther

The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry

After I read Christina Henry’s 2020 horror novel The Ghost Tree, I did a bit of research on the writer. It seems like she is well-known for retelling fairy tales, usually with a dark (or darker) twist than the original. The Ghost Tree is not a fairy tale, as far as I can tell, although it has some fairy-tale elements. It’s a 1980s-style slasher horror novel. By the way, that’s what I thought I was getting when I bought it, so there is no mislabeling going on here.

Lauren DeMucci, nearly fifteen, has weighty problems on her shoulders. The year before, her father was murdered in the woods near their house, his heart torn out. The town police haven’t made any progress on solving the murder. Lauren’s best friend since the second grade, Mi... Read More

Cemetery Boys: A heart-warming coming-of-age tale

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Yadriel’s Latinx community in East Los Angeles practices brujería. The men are brujos who escort ghosts to their final resting place and the women are brujas who have healing powers. But Yadriel’s large close family has not supported his desire to be a brujo because he is transgender. Their community has strict gender roles, they don’t see him as a boy, and they don’t think the brujo magic will work for him (though the women’s bruja magic definitely doesn’t work for Yadriel).

Yadriel is determined to prove not only that he is a boy, but that he can be a brujo, too. Only his cousin Maritza believes in him and is willing to help Yadriel become a brujo so, together, without the rest of their family, they perform the ceremony. When they accidentally summon the ghost of a handsome boy named Julian, and when another cousin, Miguel, dies unexpectedly, the teens, though grieved, finally ... Read More

The Universe Wreckers: Interplanetary House of Pancakes

The Universe Wreckers by Edmond Hamilton

I have long been amused by the nicknames that some of our finest purveyors of sci-fi, fantasy and horror have managed to acquire for themselves. For example, both Jules Verne and H. G. Wells have understandably been dubbed The Father of Science Fiction. The great H. P. Lovecraft, due to the place that he called home, is known as The Sage of Providence. E. E. Smith, due to the fact that he was also a food engineer, was known as Doc, and Isaac Asimov, thanks to his Ph.D. in chemistry, was lovingly referred to as Doc Ike. Read More

The Chosen and the Beautiful: A five-star book I will read again

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

What if Jay Gatsby literally sold his soul to a demon, in order to woo and win the love of Daisy Buchanan? With that one question, Nghi Vo ushers us into a strange, familiar, wonderful and terrifying world with her first full-length novel, The Chosen and the Beautiful (2021).

In a 1920s USA where magic is common and ghosts walk side by side with people, Vo introduces us to Jordan Baker, bosom friend of Daisy Fay Buchanan. Through Jordan’s eyes we see the story of Gatsby, a man doomed to destruction by his love for Daisy, from a different angle. Unlike the expository Jordan Baker character in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, this Jordan, while she was raised wealthy and inherited money, is an outsider and always will be. She was adopted by the Bakers, from the country of T... Read More

Upright Women Wanted: Subversive roaming librarians in a near-future U.S.A.

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

After being betrothed to a man she doesn’t love and watching her secret lover, Beatriz, get hanged for aberrant behavior and possession of unapproved reading materials, Esther decides to run away. So she hides herself in the wagon of the traveling Librarians, the distributors of all approved reading materials, who are passing through her town.

When the stowaway is discovered, Esther attempts to convince the librarians that she always wanted to be one of them but, in reality, she is hoping their good morals and upright behavior will rub off on her so she will no longer feel deviant.

But that’s not going to happen, as Esther soon learns, because there’s a good reason why these women have chosen to remove themselves from regular society and become itinerant librarians. They don’t fit into the conservative, patriarchal social order endorsed by the approved reading materials t... Read More

The Man From Tomorrow: Past shock

The Man From Tomorrow by Stanton A. Coblentz

In Robert Silverberg’s masterful 1968 novel The Masks of Time —just one of three novels that the author released that year, during one of his superhumanly productive periods — the Earth of 1998 is visited by a man name Vornan-19, who has arrived from the year 2999, and whose advent leads to all manner of upheaval and complications. But this, of course, was hardly the first time that an author had written about a visitor from the far future. Take, for example, a novel that had come out a full 35 years earlier, San Francisco-born writer/poet Stanton A. Coblentz’s The Man From Tomorrow. Although nowher... Read More

The Album of Dr. Moreau: I stayed up too late to finish it

The Album of Dr. Moreau by Daryl Gregory

It’s 2001, and Luce Delgado, homicide detective for the Las Vegas PD, has come to a casino on the strip to deal with a celebrity murder. Dead, “Dr. M,” manager of the hottest boy-band act on the planet, the WyldBoyZ. Suspects? There are plenty, but her top five are the brilliantly harmonizing human/other-mammalian hybrid band members, the Boyz themselves. The challenge? A locked room on the fifty-sixth floor of the casino hotel.

Almost equally important to Luce is her attempt to keep from breaking the heart of the WyldBoyZ’s number one fan — Luce’s nine-year-old daughter Melanie.

Published in 2021, Daryl Gregory’s latest novella, The Album of Dr. Moreau, is a locked room mystery that pokes fun at mysteries, at fans, at boy bands and at Read More

Riot Baby: A short, intense, emotionally draining novel

Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi

Tochi Onyebuchi’s Riot Baby (2020), a finalist for the Nebula, Locus, and Hugo Awards for Best Novella, is a mind-expanding story about growing up Black in America. Kevin, the titular “riot baby,” was born in South Central Los Angeles during the riots of 1992 which were sparked by the acquittal of the LAPD officers who beat Rodney King after a traffic stop turned into a high-speed chase.

Before Kevin is born, Onyebuchi sets the scene by introducing Ella, Kev’s big sister. As a child, before the family moves to Harlem, we see Ella witnessing gang activity as she rides the school bus through South Central Los Angeles. On a day when it’s too hot to be inside, we see her watching a woman she calls her grandmother sweep bullet ca... Read More

Star Daughter: A fairly strong debut

Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar

16-year-old Sheetal seems like any other normal Indian-American teenager. She’s close to her large family, has a best friend and a boyfriend, and she’s looking forward to going to college. What most people don’t know, though, is that her father, a famous astrophysicist, married a star.

Sheetal’s mother left years ago to ascend to her celestial court, and she told Sheetal never to let anybody suspect that she’s half star. To hide this fact, Sheetal dyes her silver hair black, but lately the hair dye has not been taking. Also, recently, as Sheetal approaches her 17th birthday, she has started to hear her mother’s starsong and doesn’t know what that means.

When Sheetal begins to realize she has some special powers and then accidentally causes her father to have a heart attack, she realizes she must visit her mother’s court to find a cure for him. When she arrives in the c... Read More

A Game of Fox & Squirrels: A moving allegory

A Game of Fox & Squirrels by Jenn Reese

11-year-old Samantha and her big sister have just arrived at their Aunt Vicky’s farm in Oregon. Samantha is not happy that the girls have been taken away from their parents and she wants to go home, even though her dad sometimes has a pretty bad temper. Aunt Vicky and her wife are clearly not prepared to take the girls in, but they do their best to make the sisters feel at home.

Aunt Vicky gives Samantha a game called The Game of Fox & Squirrels and one night, when Samantha is playing with it, the fox from the game visits her room. He’s charming and offers to give Samantha anything she wants if she can find the Golden Acorn. Samantha, who just wants to be back with her family in Los Angeles, is nervous about the challenge, but decides it’s the only way to get out of her current situation.

As Samantha attempts to complete her quest, various dangers arise ... Read More