Esbae: Where’s Hermione Granger when you need her?

Esbae by Linda Haldeman

I love fantasies set at colleges, so when I heard about Linda Haldeman’s Esbae: A Winter’s Tale (1981), I had to track it down and read it. The titular Esbae is a spirit who is found wanting by some greater power, and cast down to earth. It attaches itself to an awkward college student, Sophie, and is caught up in a magical battle between good and evil.

The three main human characters are all to be found in Dr. Leo Ernst’s history class. (We know that this is fantasy, because even after an ice storm, everybody goes to class!) The f... Read More

The Soul Eater: Moby Dick in space

The Soul Eater by Mike Resnick

Nicobar Lane is a hunter. People hire him to acquire (dead or alive) exotic species from all over the galaxy. They pay him a lot of money to do this and he’s very successful. But there’s one creature who he refuses to hunt: a creature known by different cultures throughout the galaxy as the Soul Eater, or the Dreamwish Beast, or Starduster. People say this creature lives in space, is not affected by black holes, and perhaps even eats them! Nicobar thinks the beast is a legend and that it’s not worth his time to go looking for it.

But then he meets an old man who claims to have encountered the legendary beast many years ago. The man offers Nicobar a deal: if the old man can help Nicobar finish his current hunt in a fraction of the time it usually takes, then they’ll spend the time they save looking for the Soul Eater. That’s how Nicobar discovers that the legends are true — there is Read More

The Secret Countess : Light historical romance from a fantasy author

The Secret Countess (aka A Countess Below Stairs) by Eva Ibbotson

As a Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer enthusiast, I’m always on the lookout for historical novels in that mold, with manners, a little romance and lots of deliciously witty dialogue. I previously was familiar with Eva Ibbotson solely from her 1994 children’s fantasy The Secret of Platform 13, in which a magical door at Platform 13 of King's Cross Station in London opens every nine years for a nine-day period, leading to a delightful kingdom where humans, mermaids, giants, hags, nymphs and other magical creatures live. (The similarities to Platform 9¾ in J.K. Rowling’s Read More

The Saturn Game: The slippery slope of fantasy role-playing

The Saturn Game by Poul Anderson

Poul Anderson’s The Saturn Game, published in 1981, is a pre-Internet era exploration of role-playing games and their effect on the human psyche, which won the 1981 Nebula and the 1982 Hugo awards for best novella.

On an eight-year long voyage to Saturn, one of the more popular ways for the crew and colonists to pass time is becoming involved in psychodramas, a verbal-type role-playing game. But when a team of four people from the spaceship lands their smaller craft on Saturn’s moon Iapetus to explore the terrain, the terrain reminds three of them so strongly of the Tolkien-esque fantasy that they have spent countless hours creating and imagining that it begins to affect their judgment and discernment. Bad decisions start to cascade as fantasy impinges on their exploratory missio... Read More

The Affirmation: Literary science fiction does not get much better

The Affirmation by Christopher Priest

I’ve heard Christopher Priest’s 1981 novel The Affirmation described as regressive, an ouroboros eating its own tail, a Moeibus strip. While there is undoubtedly an M.C. Escher quality to the book — a blurring of reality — the beginning and end are simply too different to form a contiguous whole reverting back on itself. They’re opposite ends of a spectrum in fact, and the appeal of the novel is immersing one’s self in the subjective reality Priest slowly unwraps and getting lost in the world of memories as a result.

The true nature of The Affirmation requires thought; the easy part is relaxing throughout the journey. Priest patiently and precisely lays down the text — words like railroad ties on a Sunday train ride to the country — the story moving effortlessly along. The sublime prose lulls the reader into the deceivingly mu... Read More

The Flight of Dragons: Fires the imagination

The Flight of Dragons by Peter Dickinson

I loved this book as a kid, and not just because it had naughty boobie pictures that had nothing to do with the text. Dickinson takes the position that Dragons actually existed, then goes from there to ask questions like: why are they not in the fossil record? How could a creature that is generally depicted as huge and armoured supposedly fly? What’s the deal with the fire-breathing? Why are they often depicted as speaking and/or telepathic creatures? How come the accepted method of killing them is by a dude with a magic sword? The answers he comes up with were pretty convincing, at least to young me, and do a lot to fire the imagination.

Scattered throughout the text where Dickinson expounds on his theories are excerpts from stories about dragons (both ancient and modern) that serve to back-up, or at least explicate, some of his theories. After covering the basic elements of Dragon physiology Dickin... Read More

Act of Love: A serial-killer thriller

Act of Love by Joe R. Lansdale

Originally published in 1981, Joe R. Lansdale’s Act of Love is a serial-killer thriller. A year before Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon took us into the mind of a sadistic serial killer, Lansdale was doing it, giving us chapters in the point of view of a necrophiliac, sadistic, misogynist cannibal as he terrorizes the city of Houston, Texas.

Act of Love is set in the 1980s and follows the murders committed by the Houston Hacker. The “Hacker” was given his name by a local tabloid, and he is corresponding with them, taunting the police in the manner of Jack the Ripper. The story also follows Marshall Hanson, a black detective, and Joe Clark, his trainee partner, as they investigate the killings. Hanson has a house in a suburb of Houston, a teenaged daughter and a smart, lovely wife, Rachel.... Read More

Little, Big: Bittersweet and unforgettable

Little, Big: or, The Fairies' Parliament by John Crowley

"All Part of the Tale. Don’t Ask Me How…"

This review is going to be well-nigh impossible to write, as the subject matter is so impossible to describe. Well, John Crowley's Little, Big is definitely a book. That's a good start. But the second I try to narrow down rudimentary elements like plot and character, my brain gets a bit fuzzy. It's about a family. And a house. And how this family lives in the house which is situated on the borders of another world which sometimes intrudes upon their own, and so is aptly named "Edgewood." Beyond that, it gets more complicated. Or maybe simpler. It's hard to be sure.

It begins with a man named Smoky Barnable traveling from The City (though it's never named, it's clearly meant to be New York) toward the mysterious house of Edgewood in order to marry his physically l... Read More

The Door in the Hedge: Nothing exceptional

The Door in the Hedge by Robin McKinley

Despite an interesting title and a beguiling title page, I honestly found nothing exceptional about Robin McKinley's collection of four fairytales. Whether her stories are original or retold, they are rather dull, predictable, and written with long-winded language that makes for sluggish reading. All are centered on the interactions between this world and that of Faerieland — or to be more specific, the interactions between young princesses and the inhabitants of Faerieland. None of these girls are individuals, instead they are cast straight from the princess stereotype and all the stories end on a slightly sickly-sweet note with each dilemma that the girls' face wrapped up in a nice little bow. Faerieland is not seen as a wild and elusive place, but as a pretty sparkling land with none of the depth or hidden meaning that fairytales are meant to have. They are sweet, pretty, Read More