Stand-Alone

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

The Sunken World: An exciting first novel with some interesting points to make

The Sunken World by Stanton A. Coblentz

Ever since reading the truly beautiful and unforgettable fantasy When the Birds Fly South (1945) around 3 ½ years back, I have wanted to experience another book from the San Francisco-born novelist and poet Stanton A. Coblentz. Unfortunately, just as “Coblentz” is not exactly a household name these days, his books are hardly to be found at your local modern-day bookstores. Coming to my rescue once again, however, were the fine folks at Armchair Fiction, who currently have no fewer than five of the author’s titles in their very impressive catalog. Choosing at random, I opted for Coblentz’s very first piece of fiction, The Sunken World … and a very fortuitous choice it has ... Read More

Wraiths of time: An American grad student becomes an African princess

Wraiths of time by Andre Norton

Tallahassee (Tally) Mitford, a graduate student who studies archaeology and African history, has been asked to examine some Egyptian artifacts that appear to be very old, important, powerful, and radioactive.

When one of the relics pulls her into a parallel universe, Tally finds herself in Meroë, an ancient Nubian kingdom located on the Nile River. She is completely helpless there with no status and the inability to speak the language. She has no idea how to get back home.

When she’s rescued by some women who are the companions of the recently deceased princess Ashake, she is asked to impersonate the princess and help Queen Candace fend off the attacks of a powerful man who hopes to subjugate these women who just want to rule themselves.

Andre... Read More

Android at Arms: A prince wonders if he’s an android

Android at Arms by Andre Norton

This year Tantor Media has been producing audio editions of the Baen omnibus collections of Andre Norton’s science fiction stories. Gods and Androids (2004 in print, 2021 in audio) contains the two novels Android at Arms (1971) and Wraiths of Time (1975). I am reviewing the novels separately because that’s how they were originally released, and that’s usually been our practice here at Fantasy Literature. Each of these stories stands alone.

In the opening scene of Android at Arms, Andas Kastor comes to consciousness in some sort of automated jail cell on a harsh uninhabited planet. He has no idea how long he’s been there or how long he’s been in a state of delirium. In... Read More

The Cosmic Geoids and One Other: Take your vitamins!

The Cosmic Geoids and One Other by John Taine

It was Polish biochemist Casimir Funk who, in 1911, isolated the substance now known as vitamin B3. In 1912, Funk wrote a book called The Vitamines (he’d coined that term as a contraction of the words “vital amines”), in which he spoke of other, similar substances and their abilities to prevent various ailments. And then, the vitamin ball really got rolling, with sales of vitamins A and C rising steadily in the 1920s and ‘30s. Before the onset of WW2, it was learned that fully 1/3 of America’s enlisted men were suffering from assorted illnesses due to malnutrition, resulting in FDR convening the National Nutrition Conference for Defense. And in 1943, the very first “one-a-day” multivitamin was introduced to the U.S. populace. So yes, vitamins were indeed very much in the spotlight at this time, and it was perhaps these news reports that caused Scottish-born mat... Read More

Voorloper: A few humans try to make peace with a hostile planet

Voorloper by Andre Norton

Voorloper (1980) is the last novel collected in The Game of Stars and Comets (2009), Baen’s omnibus of Andre Norton stories. I’ve been reviewing the books individually (because they were originally released as separate novels), but it’s cost-effective and convenient to purchase them in the omnibus edition. Specifically, I’m reviewing Tantor Media’s new audio version of the omnibus, which is excellently narrated by L.J. Ganser.

The first three books in this omnibus are The Sioux Spaceman (1960), Read More

The Bone Maker: A solid novel

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst

There’s a point almost exactly halfway through Sarah Beth Durst’s latest novel, The Bone Maker (2021), where the author teases us that the book we’ve been reading just might go in a completely different direction, prompting me to write in my notes, “Love this.” And then, well, it didn’t. Instead, as if the inertia were too great, we’re shortly steered back into a well-worn fantasy story, which, despite being mostly satisfying — with some moments that rose above that level and a few that pulled it below — had me wishing I could have gone back to that moment fifty-three percent of the way in and chosen the plot less traveled.

Twenty-five years ago, Kreya led her crew of magic-users (husband Jentt and friends Zera, S... Read More

A Question of Navigation: Ghastly, gory, and entertaining

A Question of Navigation by Kevin Hearne

While on a hike, Clint Beecham gets abducted by aliens. The aliens have decided that humans are tasty and that Earth will make a wonderful buffet for them. Along with Clint, they’ve kidnapped 50,000 humans and are on their way back to their mother planet where they will report the location of this big delicious feeding trough.

Most of the captured humans have been put into a cargo hold and are being harvested for food, but Clint and a few others have been set aside for a special purpose. They are scientists and mathematicians and are not only required to help the aliens with their calculations, but are also providing the entertainment. Because it’s fun for them, the aliens give them just enough hope and resources to induce these smart humans to try to get out of their predicament.

Can Clint and his new allies save themselves from being eaten by aliens? And do they care en... Read More

Eye of the Monster: Colonized crocs get revenge

Eye of the Monster by Andre Norton

Tantor Media has published an audio version of Baen’s The Game of Stars and Comets (2009), an omnibus that contains these four novels by Andre Norton: The Sioux Spaceman (1960), Eye of the Monster (1962), The X Factor (1965), and Voorloper (1980). Each of these short novels stands alone and they are all set in Norton's Council/Confederation universe. I’m reviewing them separately, because that’s what we like to do here, but it’s wonderful that they’re now available in these cost-effective omnibus editions.

Like The Sioux Spaceman... Read More

The Sioux Spaceman: Beware the Horsemen of the Stars

The Sioux Spaceman by Andre Norton

Tantor Media has published an audio version of Baen’s The Game of Stars and Comets (2009), an omnibus that contains these four novels by Andre Norton: The Sioux Spaceman (1960), Eye of the Monster (1962), The X Factor (1965), and Voorloper (1980). Each of these short novels stands alone but they are all set in Norton's Council/Confederation universe. I’m going to review them separately, because that’s what we like to do here, but it’s wonderful that they’re now available in cost-effective omnibus editions in print and audio formats.

In The Sioux Spaceman we meet Kade Whitehawk, a young man of Native American (Lakota) desce... Read More

Machinehood: A near-future SF thriller that feels realistic

Machinehood by S.B. Divya

“If they get everyone to stop taking pills and give bots equal rights, humanity is screwed.”

It’s 2095 and humans rely on drugs to stay healthy as well as physically and cognitively competitive in a gig economy where they must compete with artificial intelligence for jobs.

Cameras everywhere tend to keep violent urges in check, so life is fairly peaceful for Welga Ramirez, a 35-year-old physically-upgraded bodyguard who’s happy to have steady employment (most people don’t) and is looking forward to being transferred to a desk job soon. She’s also thinking about turning her passion for “slow cooking” into a business in which her hired chefs will use performance-enhancing drugs to speed up their kitchens.

But when the Machinehood strikes, publicly assassinating Welga’s current client and threatening all of the pill producers, the government asks Welga... Read More

Hummingbird Salamander: VanderMeer’s unique take on the eco-thriller

Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer

Hummingbird Salamander
(2021) is Jeff VanderMeer’s newest work, and it may also be his most accessible. Certainly it’s his least strange, though admittedly with VanderMeer that’s not saying much. Though if he’s working in more familiarly popular territory — the thriller novel — there’s no doubt VanderMeer puts his own stamp on the genre, whether he’s working within its tropes or subverting them.

Chapter One opens ominously enough, as any good thriller should — “Assume I’m dead by the time you read this” — and ends even more so — “I’m here to show you how the world ends.” The stakes have clearly been set. Our narrator, who won’t tell us her real name, offering up “Jane Smith” as her none-too-imaginative alternative, is seemingly set... Read More

Tower of Mud and Straw: A poignant tale of love and loss

Tower of Mud and Straw by Yaroslav Barsukov

Lord Shea Ashcroft, a government minister, faced with a rioting crowd of protestors in the capital city, makes the call to have the military fall back rather than killing the protestors — and innocent bystanders —with poisonous gas. Some people praise his mercy, but half the city now lies in ruins from the mob’s violence, and the queen is not so appreciative of his decision. Shea is shipped off to the border city of Owenbeg as punishment, charged with overseeing the finishing of construction of a colossal tower to protect the border against enemy airships. The tower is already a thousand feet high, with plans to add another thousand feet on top.

Things get complicated for Shea in Owenbeg, on both a personal and a political level. The duke of Owenbeg, his military commander, and the chief engineer of the tower all resent Shea, especially when Shea makes it clear that he won’t just... Read More

The Forbidden Garden: Lucky 13

The Forbidden Garden by John Taine

Once again, it has been impressed upon me how very unfair the modern-day world of publishing has been to the Scottish-born author John Taine. Taine, whose career as a novelist extended from 1924 - ’54 – while at the same time that he plied his “day job” as a mathematician and professor under his given name, Eric Temple Bell – produced 14 works of fiction during that time, the bulk of which have been OOPs (out of prints) for many years. Some cases in point: His 1934 novel Before the Dawn, which I recently wrote of here, has not been reissued since 1975. His next two novels, Twelve Eighty-Seven (1935) and Tomorrow (1939), have never been reprinted since their initial pu... Read More

We Shall Sing a Song Into the Deep: Odd, unsettling, lovely

We Shall Sing a Song Into the Deep by Andrew Kelly Stewart

When she was a small child, Remy was rescued from death by a chaplain who oversees the monks on a submarine called Leviathan. They carry the world’s last nuclear missile and their mission is to wait, protecting the missile, until God tells them it’s time to deploy it against the wicked Earth on judgement day.

Remy’s job is to sing in the choir of eunuchs, a crucial role that keeps up morale. Her voice will remain high because she’s a girl (a secret that only the chaplain knows), so she is not in danger of being pulled out of the choir and sent to work in the engine room where the nuclear reactor is. That’s a dangerous job that soon leads to a wasting illness and eventual death. But as Remy hears her best friend’s voice begin to change, she worries about his fate and begins to question all she’s been told about the world.

Read More

A Beginning at the End: Personal struggles in a post-apocalyptic world

A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen

A Beginning at the End (2020) is set in a near-future world where, in 2019, a deadly worldwide pandemic kills some five billion people, including seventy percent of the U.S. population. Johanna Moira Hatfield, a teenage pop music star known as Mojo, tired of being browbeaten by her stage father, Evan, uses the sudden panic at her Madison Square Garden concert to disappear into the crowd in search of a new life.

Six years later, in San Francisco in 2025, MoJo has a new name, Moira Gorman, a job, and a fiancé who she’s not really in love with, but he represents stability in a society that’s still fragile and unstable, as well as safety from her father, who’s still looking for his MoJo. Moira’s wedding planner, Krista Deal, has a somewhat similar backstory: Krista faked her own death years ago to escape her drug-addicted, dysfunctional mother. Wedding planning isn... Read More

One Day All This Will Be Yours: How I learned to love the time travel bomb

One Day All This Will Be Yours by Adrian Tchaikovsky

What’s a grumpy, misanthropic time traveling warrior to do? Governments and factions have misused time travel machines, each using their time machines to remake the past in the way they want it to be, over and over again. Time travel machines really are the ultimate weapon: if you go back far enough you can change history enough that your enemy never has a chance. Except that your enemy’s time traveling agents are cut off from those changes, so they’re still around to try to change history in a different way that favors them. And then there are Causality Bombs, “[f]or when regular time travel just can’t mess up continuity enough.” Now the past is irretrievably broken into shards and splinters.

So our surly main character, the last survivor of the time soldiers, has set himself up as a gatekeeper in a distant future to make sure it never happens again past hi... Read More

Before the Dawn: An entertaining if lesser Taine novel

Before the Dawn by John Taine

Following the release of John Taine’s four-part, serialized novel The Time Stream, which wrapped up in the March 1932 issue of Wonder Stories, fans of the Scottish-born author would have to wait a good 27 months for any more sci-fi product from him. But this is not to say that Taine was idle during that time, his “day job” as a mathematician and professor — under his given name Eric Temple Bell — keeping him more than busy, and indeed, in 1933, Bell even came out with a nonfiction book entitled Numerology. But fans of the Taine alter ego, and the wondrous nine novels that had thus far been the product of his abundant imagination, were eventually rewarded in June ’34, with the release of... Read More

Forty Thousand in Gehenna: A new human society evolves

Forty Thousand in Gehenna by C.J. Cherryh

Tantor Audio recently released two of C.J. Cherryh’s stand-alone ALLIANCE-UNION novels, Merchanter's Luck and Forty Thousand in Gehenna (1983), together under the title Alliance Space. I’m reviewing the novels separately since that’s the way they were originally published and can still be purchased. However, I love that you can get them both in one Kindle edition or one 22-hour long audiobook! The narration by Daniel Thomas May works well enough, though his voice is a little too deep to handle many female characters. That becomes noticeable in Forty Thousand ... Read More

The Glass Hotel: A modern-day ghost story

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

Emily St. John Mandel rose to prominence with the extraordinary Station Eleven (which, given the current state of the world, is enjoying a resurgence on the best-seller lists), but her latest novel, The Glass Hotel (2020), is a very different kind of book.

The story begins with a young woman named Vincent disappearing from a ship, the Neptune Cumberland. In what has become Mandel's signature style, the story eschews chronology to skip backwards and forwards in time, piecing together the events of Vincent's life that lead her to those final moments aboard the Neptune Cumberland.

Skip backwards a few years and Vincent is a bartender at the prestigious Hotel Cai... Read More

Merchanter’s Luck: An entertaining space opera

Merchanter’s Luck by C.J. Cherryh

Tantor Audio has recently released two of C.J. Cherryh’s ALLIANCE-UNION novels, Merchanter's Luck (1982) and Forty Thousand in Gehenna, together under the title Alliance Space. I’m going to review the novels separately since that’s the way they were originally published and can still be purchased. However, I love that you can get them both in one Kindle edition or one 22-hour long audiobook! The narration by Daniel Thomas May works well.

In Merchanter’s Luck we meet Sandor, a good-looking, slightly dishonest, 27-year-old merchant with a tragic past who lives on a tiny 150-year old spaceship. Sandor was bor... Read More

The Midnight Library: A literary Sliding Doors

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Who hasn't fantasised what a different version of their life might look like? What if you'd become famous? Or an Olympic athlete? What if you'd become an arctic researcher? A musician? That's exactly what Matt Haig explores in his latest offering, The Midnight Library (2020).

Nora Seed (and note the pointed symbolism of her surname) is not having a great day. Her cat just died. She's been fired. Her brother is ignoring her and her neighbour, the only person she has any social contact with, doesn't need her to bring round his meds any more. So that night, she tries to kill herself.

Instead of death, however, Nora finds herself in a library where each volume on the shelf is a different version of her life. She is met by the librarian, a certain Mrs. Elm (who, coincidental... Read More

Trouble the Saints: A deeply, darkly magical Americana novel

Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Trouble the Saints (2020), by Alaya Dawn Johnson, follows three people of color — Phyllis (whose friends call her Pea), Tamara and Dev — from the late 1930s into the American involvement in World War II. Not one of them is “ordinary”; Pea and Dev have “saint’s hands” that bestow a gift … or a curse. Tamara has inherited a deck of playing cards, and she’s an oracle. When the story opens, all three are trying to make a living working for the white gangster Victor in New York City.

Phyllis is light-skinned enough to pass for white, which she does, and the hands have given her the power to throw anything with amazing accuracy. She can balance things on her knuckles and the tips of her fingers; whatever she throws a knife at, she hits. The gangsters call her “Victor’s Angel,” meaning Angel of Death, and she is his assassin.
... Read More

The People’s Republic of Everything: An experimental collection

Reposting to include Skye's new review.

The People’s Republic of Everything by Nick Mamatas

I don’t know if I simply wasn’t in the right mood for Nick Mamatas’ short-story collection The People’s Republic of Everything (2018), or if I’m not the right audience for his preferred themes and overall style, but this book and I just could not mesh.

There was one story, “Tom Silex, Spirit-Smasher,” which gripped my attention and had everything I look for in short fiction. The story focuses on Rosa Martinez, whose elderly grandmother might — through quirks of legality regarding her first marriage and the question of ownership of her first husband’s pulp publications — own the rights to a series of stories revolving around psychopomp Tom Silex. The character work is strong, the ... Read More

Empire of Wild: A First Nations writer on love, loss and rogarous

Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline

Cherie Dimaline is a Métis writer and activist from the Georgian Bay Métis Nation in Ontario, Canada. She has received a number of awards for her novels and short stories, none of which I’ve yet had the pleasure of reading — but after reading Empire of Wild (2020), I’m definitely going to track them down. Her use of First Nations themes and folklore is fascinating, and a delightful change from the many fantasies based on European images and tales.

Dimaline has set Empire of Wild in Arcand, a tiny Canadian town full of halfbreeds (the author’s word, first used on p. 1 and repeated throughout the novel) — the offspring of French voyageur fathers and First Nations mothers, part of the Métis people — on the shores of Georgian Bay in Ontario. The indigenous people have been constantly moved away from the shoreline, replaced by million-d... Read More

The Year I Flew Away: Full of heart and humor

The Year I Flew Away by Marie Arnold

The Year I Flew Away (2021), by Marie Arnold, combines the timelessness of a fairy tale with the timeliness of the immigrant experience, all while being set in the 1980s amidst Whitney Houston and Prince. It’s a charming middle-grade novel full of heart and humor.

Gabrielle is a young girl living in Haiti; though she’s poor, she’s surrounded by family and friends. One day her parents have big news: Gabrielle is going to America to live with her aunt and uncle. She has to go alone, though, because of issues with her parents’ paperwork.

Gabrielle thought America would be heaven, but instead she finds herself terribly lonely; the other kids make fun of her and leave her out. And when her uncle and aunt take her to their respective workplaces, she learns that they have to deal with bigots on a daily basis. Gabrielle feels li... Read More