The Stand: The biggest, baddest tale of the apocalypse

The Stand by Stephen King

Stephen King's The Stand is an awesomely epic creation. It's good versus evil writ large across the American landscape. It's heavy, detailed, and extremely rich in the characterizations of its people and themes. The story is familiar — an apocalyptic virus is accidentally (and inevitably) released from a government lab. Over 99% of all human life is wiped out by what becomes known as Captain Trips. This story is about those who survived.

The survivors are polarized around two god-like characters that magnetize individuals through their dreams. Mother Abigail Freemantle, a 108-year-old woman from Hemingford, Nebraska draws those with inherent goodness. Randall Flagg, from nowhere and everywhere, draws those with a slightly more dubious nature.

The story of T... Read More

Half in Shadow: 14 perfect gems

Half in Shadow by Mary Elizabeth Counselman

In my review of Jessie Douglas Kerruish's The Undying Monster, I warned readers away from the British publishing outfit known as Flame Tree 451, because of the company's slapdash manner of proofreading and editing its products. But just as there are some publishers that should be avoided, there exist others whose books might be safely recommended just by virtue of the company's imprint itself. Such a one, for me, is Arkham House, which, for 76 years now, has shown infinite care in the production of its publications. Originally founded in 1939 by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei to preserve the legacy of H.P. Lovecraft, the firm has remained consistent in bri... Read More

The Eye of the Heron: A short but complex novel suitable for all ages

The Eye of the Heron by Ursula K. Le Guin

Starscape (Tom Doherty’s YA imprint) presents The Eye of the Heron as a book for ages 10 and above. While the story is straightforward enough, the philosophical ideas that underpin the story are quite complex, so The Eye of the Heron is quite an interesting read for the more mature reader as well. Le Guin does not waste any words in telling the story, she delivers a to-the-point but surprisingly complex novel. If you read it at age 10, you’ll probably see it in a different light now.

The Eye of the Heron is set on a planet that was fairly recently colonized. Le Guin doesn’t mention a year but sometime in the 22nd century seems reasonable. Two waves of colonists have settled a small area of the planet. One group consists of criminals from a nation that covers South America, sent on a one way trip to dispose ... Read More

The Sandcats of Rhyl: Possibly the worst novel I’ve ever read

The Sandcats of Rhyl by Robert E. Vardeman

The Sandcats of Rhyl, Robert E. Vardeman’s first novel, is possibly the worst novel I’ve ever read. It is bad in every sense — so bad that I wondered if it might be a parody of bad science fiction. Apparently it’s not a parody; it’s just simply bad.

So how did I end up with this awful book? It was one of those daily ebook deals at Amazon. I think I paid 99¢ and then added the audio narration for 99¢ more. Before I bought it I checked the star ratings at Amazon just to make sure it wasn’t something everyone hates. Well, according to the average rating at Amazon (4.5 stars at this moment), readers love The Sandcats of Rhyl. So, a 4.5 star ebook and audiobook for $1.98? A no-brainer, right? I bought it. What I realize now is that I looked at the average rating but didn’t bother to read Read More

The Persistence of Vision: Fascinating

The Persistence of Vision by John Varley

In a post-apocalyptic near-future, a middle-aged drifter roams from commune to commune in the Southwest United States. Each of these groups has its own culture and he stays a while at each, doing whatever he needs (e.g., going nude, praying, chanting “Hare Krishna”) to fit in while he’s there. This works well for him — he stays fed and sheltered and moves on when he’s ready for a change of scenery.

But when he comes across a walled-in settlement in the middle of Native American land, he finds that he can never fit in because the group who lives there are the adult descendents of women who contracted rubella while pregnant. All of these adults are both deaf and blind, though their children are not. At first the drifter is fascinated by the ways they’ve developed to get around their “handicap,” but soon he learns that, in their community, he’s the one with the disability bec... Read More

Dreamsnake: Nebula and Hugo winner

Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre

Dreamsnake (1978) by Vonda N. McIntyre is a novel that won the Nebula and Hugo double, something that happened more often than not in the 1970s. Although slightly less common since the mid-1980s, it is still surprising to see how many novels are joint winners, especially since the nominees don't overlap that much. I purchased Dreamsnake as an e-book after reading an article by Ursula K. Le Guin about it. It ended up on the formidable to-read stack but this month I finally managed to read it. Like Le Guin, I'm a bit surprised this work isn't better known. It's a very nice piece of writing and it has aged a lot better than some of its contemporaries. It has some flaws as well, though... Read More

Baal: Exploring early McCammon

Baal by Robert McCammon

The first Robert McCammon book I ever read was Swan Song, a post-apocalyptic horror story about the choices people make when there are no rules. Baal, published in 1978 and reissued by Subterranean Press, explores many of the same themes. I expected this book would have some historical interest for me, as a look back at how a mature writer got his start. To my surprise I found compelling writing and a character I cared about. At the age of twenty-five, when he sold this book, McCammon could write. He could create suspense, and ask the tough questions.

In the case of Baal, the character who engaged me was James Virga, a theology professor in his sixties, who teaches at a college in Boston. Virga compares himself, lightly, to Job in the Old Testament, faithful to God even though bad things have happened to him, the ... Read More

No Flying in the House: Adorable book for young readers

No Flying in the House by Betty Brock

Annabel Tippins is not like other girls. First, she has no parents. Second, she is cared for by a tiny white dog named Gloria. Third, Gloria can talk. When Annabel starts to discover the truth about her past, she’ll have to make a choice between the parents she has always wanted, and the best friend she has ever had.

No Flying in the House
by Betty Brock is an engaging tale of a young girl trying to find her way in the world with only a little dog for guidance. Torn between her love for Gloria, and her discovery that she is a fairy, Annabel tries to discover the truth behind her parents’ disappearance. The subject material is mostly lighthearted, but the evil Belinda adds a note of sinister tension to the story without being too scary for younger readers. The relationship between Annabel and Gloria is charming, and the story teaches an important lesson about love ... Read More

The Castle of Dark: You won’t regret tracking it down

The Castle of Dark by Tanith Lee

It is continually frustrating to read a rich, suspenseful, beautifully crafted book and then find that hardly anybody else knows about it — such is apparently the case with Tanith Lee's The Castle of Dark. Containing an imprisoned damsel, a spooky castle, a magical harp and a mysterious secret, this is a wonderful book that has the same tone and atmosphere of an old dark fairytale.

The chapters switch back and forth between two characters: Lilune is a strange young woman living with two hags in an abandoned and dark castle. With hair down to the ground and without any need to consume food, Lilune is intensely lonely and curious about the outside world. Lir is a young harper, chosen for his calling in his youth by an unnamed traveler who instructs him on the crafting of a beautiful harp that makes the most beautiful music.

When Lir is calle... Read More

Beauty: We are divided on this one!

Beauty by Robin McKinley

I hate writing negative reviews, especially for books that are obviously both loved and respected. Beauty appeals to a lot of people, and you may well want to disregard my opinion and go with the majority. But for what it's worth, I can't quite bring myself to recommend Beauty for those of you out there who enjoy reading novels in the fairytale genre.

To McKinley's credit, Beauty was written before the sudden demand in retold/fractured/fleshed-out fairytales. In fact, she may have very well started the trend with this novelisation of the traditional Beauty and the Beast story. But these days, authors tend to put a spin on the source material. For example, Donna Jo Napoli often gets the villain's side of the story, as she does in Spinners Read More