The Red Magician: A moving story about the Holocaust

The Red Magician by Lisa Goldstein

Winner of the National Book Award, Lisa Goldstein’s The Red Magician (1982) is such an unusual fantasy novel. I read it because Tantor Audio has just released the first audio edition of the book.

As the story begins, a young girl named Kisci is growing up in a small, isolated Jewish community in Eastern Europe. Her family’s rabbi is visiting Kisci’s home and expressing his displeasure at the way Kisci’s school is teaching Hebrew as if it were a common language. When Kisci’s father refuses to obey the rabbi’s command to remove his children from the school, the rabbi, who has some magical abilities, sets a curse on the school and its students’ families.

Soon after, a visitor named Voros appears in the village and Kisci’s family extends their hospitality... Read More

Northwest Smith: Some of the sturdiest pillars of Golden Age science fiction

Northwest Smith by C.L. Moore

The original readers of the legendary pulp magazine Weird Tales could have had little idea of what a landmark release the November ’33 issue would turn out to be. Kicking off the magazine that month, and preceding stories by such already established veterans as Edmond Hamilton, E. Hoffman Price, Clark Ashton Smith and Mary Elizabeth Counselman, was a story with the unusual title “Shambleau,” written by an author who nobody had ever heard of … for the simple reason that “Shambleau” was the very first sale by the 22-year-old writer C.L. Moore. The story turned out to be something of a s... Read More

No Enemy But Time: Reveals new layers with each fresh realization

No Enemy But Time by Michael Bishop

Mankind is a creature which occupies itself predominantly in the present. Smoking, murder, alcohol abuse, poor diet, resource wastage — all of these habits and behaviors alleviate the moment but do nothing to bolster the idea a human is aware of, or concerned with, the long term existence of itself or the species. Moreover, it’s fair to say that when one does bring in the long view, “recent” history and near future remain the focus. Our primitive roots are left to esoteric niches of science (archeology, anthropology, and the like) available almost exclusively in museum corners and textbooks. Dinosaurs seem to get more attention than Cro-Magnons. But yet our slumped, hairy forbears are an essential part of the evolutionary formula that has brought homo sapiens to its current point of existence, for better and worse, and will always be, no matter what humans evolve into.

Extending... Read More

A Wild Sheep Chase: In search of lost things, including a sheep

A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

I’ve seen Haruki Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase casually described as postmodern, as surreal, and as magic realism. Though it was published in 1982 (and translated into English in 1989), and though the main character is not a private investigator, I nevertheless think of it as a weird private investigator novel. Private investigators are often associated with thrillers, their novels can play with the expectation that the detective will solve the case, and/ or they can create a noir atmosphere that the hero inhabits on the reader’s behalf. A Wild Sheep Chase works mostly like these last two types of private investigator stories.

A wild goose chase is an exercise in futility, but perhaps a wild sheep case is about escaping futility... Read More

Stargate: Beautiful creation myth blends fantasy and sci-fi

Stargate by Pauline Gedge

“Before the beginning was the Lawmaker,” he read. “And the Lawmaker made the Worldmaker and commanded him to make according to his nature. And the Worldmaker made the worlds…”

Originally published in 1982 and re-issued in 2016, Pauline Gedge’s Stargate is a sci-fi/fantasy hybrid writ large. Its universe rides the mythic themes of a world overseen by Gods who live within the vague rules similarly employed against their literary and cultural brethren in Olympus. Gedge seems more than happy to borrow these Grecian mythic motifs while putting her own sci-fi/fantasy spin on the creation myths we find embedded within even modern religions.

Important note before I continue: This book has nothing to do with Read More

Port Eternity: Arthurian legend in space

Port Eternity by C.J. Cherryh

The history, legends, and myths surrounding the man known as King Arthur are some of the most enduring and inspirational material in the English language. Like Robin Hood, Arthur’s name resonates in modern history. The number of books, fiction and non-fiction, which have been spun off the man is increasingly difficult to quantify. Appearing in such a wide variety of Western media and culture, most people, in fact, have only a hazy idea of who he was or might have been (including this reviewer), Disney being as much a teacher as high school history class. C.J. Cherryh is an Arthurian aficionado, so she applied her interests in a science fiction novel. Knowledge of the legends is required for a full appreciation of Port Eternity (1982), a survival in space story that uses a strong sense of character to play with Arthurian myth to a satisfying degree.

Port Eterni... Read More

X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont and Brent Eric Anderson

X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont and Brent Eric Anderson

Marvel’s X-Men franchise is long-running and crosses into so many different titles that it’s difficult to know where to start if you know only the movies, but want to start reading some actual comics. There are many excellent titles to start with, but the stand-alone 1982 graphic novel X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills is the book I recommend for those who want the single best X-Men title that makes clear the thematic significance of the X-Men characters as outsiders persecuted for their differences.

Christopher Claremont’s story is not for those looking for light entertainment. He deals explicitly with the conne... Read More

Maggie the Mechanic by Jaime Hernandez

Maggie the Mechanic: The Love & Rockets Library — Locas Book 1 by Jaime Hernandez

Love and Rockets is a series of comics that started in the 1980s. It was written by three brothers: Gilbert, Jaime, and Mario Hernandez, and the brothers each created their own storylines, tracing a set of characters over a period of time, even allowing their characters to age and develop and change appearance, a too-rare technique employed in the world of comics, where most characters are ageless and timeless.

The first run on the series lasted fifty issues and ran from September 1982 to 1996. The series featured two main sets of stories: Gilbert’s Palomar stories, which take place in a fictional city in Latin America, and Jaime’s stories, which take place in the fictional Hoppers, California (based on Oxnard, California where the Hernandez brothers grew up). The Hoppers 13 Read More

The Haunting: The beginning of Mahy’s illustrious career

The Haunting by Margaret Mahy

I first read The Haunting when I was about ten or eleven years old, and now — almost twenty years later — I was stunned by how much I remembered it. Usually good books leave an imprint of enjoyment on your memory, but such is the potency of Margaret Mahy's writing that I recalled almost every beat of her story. At the same time, there were parts of The Haunting that I could appreciate much more as an adult than as a child.

Barney Palmer is a sensitive but ordinary little boy, who is on his way from school one day when "the world tilted and ran downhill in all directions, and he knew he was about to be haunted again." Sure enough, the blurry vision of a ghost appears before him, a curly-haired boy wearing an old-fashioned velvet suit and lace collar, who cries: "Barnaby's dead! Barnaby's dead! And I'm going to be very lonely." Read More

The Running Man: Don’t read the introduction!

The Running Man by Stephen King

Ben Richards hates America’s dystopian future. Because he quit his job cleaning up atomic waste before it could sterilize him, Ben finds himself blacklisted and unemployable. He and his wife, Sheila, did manage to conceive, but their daughter now suffers from pneumonia in polluted Co-Op City. Sheila makes ends meet by turning tricks, which bothers Ben.

Ben looks at the people around him and is sickened by their devotion to the Network, a corporation that organizes and televises gladiator games for the masses. Ben knows the games are rigged — no one ever wins — but, his back against the wall, he decides to apply for the most dangerous game: “The Running Man.” If he’s smart and lucky, he will make enough before his inevitable death that Sheila will be able to afford medical care for their... Read More

Grendel: Archives and Grendel: Devil by the Deed

Grendel: Archives and Grendel: Devil by the Deed by Matt Wagner (writer and artist)

Now that I’ve read Matt Wagner’s Grendel: Archives and Grendel: Devil by the Deed, I regret how long it took me to read any of his Grendel stories, a series of comics that have a thirty-year history (and counting). I kept reading about them here and there, but had no sense of what they were about. I assumed they had something to do with Beowulf, and — having spent a year of graduate school translating old English line-by-line — I am not a big enough fan of Beowulf to watch movies or read novels and comics inspired by Beowulf. I've even talked to quite a few people who have made it clear that th... Read More

Fevre Dream: Vampires on the Mississippi River

Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin

For some time I’ve been a fan of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. In the last few years, though, when my mind turns to that series, it’s usually either (a) to speculate about potential plot twists or (b) to wish the next book were out already. What I forget is how much I simply enjoy Martin’s writing, particularly his nuanced, flawed characters and the way he can turn a phrase. Fevre Dream, a tale of vampires on the Mississippi River in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, provided the perfect opportunity to savor Martin’s writing in a stand-alone novel with a comparatively straightforward plot.

Abner Marsh is a steamboat captain facing financial ruin when he meets the wealthy, enigmatic Joshua York, who offers to become his partner and help him build a magnificen... Read More

The Idylls of the Queen: More than a good murder mystery

The Idylls of the Queen by Phyllis Ann Karr

Phyllis Ann Karr’s The Idylls of the Queen is so much more than a good murder mystery. It is a good murder mystery, but unlike an ordinary mystery, you can reread it (even knowing whodunit) without any of the fun being spoiled. The murder is one that actually appears in the legends, so some readers may recognize the bones of the story, but again, it’s enjoyable even if you know the murderer’s identity. The mystery is sort of a backdrop to the real show: an original take on the personalities of Arthurian legend, and a different look at chivalric ideals.

The narrator is the oft-maligned Sir Kay, the grouchy but well-meaning seneschal of Arthur's court. He's not a bad guy. He is a sarcastic curmudgeon, having seen countless self-serving buffoons win glory and adulation while his own hard work goes unnoticed. He is also secretly in love with ... Read More

The Swordbearer: Read The Black Company instead

The Swordbearer by Glen Cook

The Swordbearer is an early standalone novel by Glen Cook, originally published in 1982 and re-released by Nightshade Books in 2009. If you're a fan of Glen Cook, whose CHRONICLES OF THE BLACK COMPANY are classics of the genre, this would probably be an interesting read, as you'll be able to see some of the author's themes and quirks taking shape. However, taken on its own, The Swordbearer isn't anywhere near as good as some of Glen Cook's other works.

Gathrid, the main character, is the youngest son of a noble family who lives on the border with a growing empire. He wants to become a warrior like his older brothers, but isn't allowed because of his relative weakness which was caused by a childhood illness. When his childhood home becomes the latest front in the war with the east, he flees and stumbles upon the magic sword Daubendiek. The sword is, in a nutshell, a direct descendant of... Read More

Sorcerer’s Legacy: A fun stand-alone fantasy

Sorcerer's Legacy by Janny Wurts

Sorcerer's Legacy is the first book written by Janny Wurts and it's a wonderful breath of fresh air because it’s a self-contained story. Much of modern fantasy seems bent of many volumes and epic scope while Legacy is content to be a single volume and a complete story.

It is essential to appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship that Wurts puts into her writing and for one familiar with her more recent works, this novel is just plain fun. The storyline follows a female main character, Elienne, whose life has been destroyed. Her husband is dead, the Kingdom they ruled has been conquered and she is about to be victimized by the conquerors.

From such difficult circumstances we are lead to a whole new world where Elienne is given a chance to start again. This new world is fraught will magic and ... Read More