The Hounds of the Morrigan: A lesser known children’s classic

We'd like to introduce new reviewer Taya Okerlund. Welcome, Taya!

The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O’Shea

The Hounds of the Morrigan (1985) is an overlooked classic in children’s fantasy. A gem of a book published before the children’s fantasy readership exploded. (The classics are sometimes underappreciated by a readership who discovered children’s fantasy with Harry Potter.)

Consider Pidge, the sober-minded boy who unwittingly frees the evil Olc-Glas serpent from his prison within the pages of an old manuscript. As a consequence, Pidge is charged to recover a stone — a stone stained red with the Morrigan’s own blood. With it, Pidge can destroy Olc-Glas before he unites with the Morrigan, and foil her plans of re... Read More

Eye: For dedicated Herbert fans only

Eye by Frank Herbert

Eye is a short story collection by Frank Herbert and is one of his last works. Published in 1985, the same year his sixth Dune novel Chapterhouse: Dune was published, Eye covers most of his career. I guess you could consider this a “best of” volume. Herbert was not a prolific short fiction writer, especially in his later years, but quite a few stories are still missing from this collection. Like many SF authors he began his career publishing in the genre's big magazines, and quite a few of these stories ended up in this collection. I thought Eye was something of a mixed bag; some of the stories don't achieve the depth many of his novels have, and more or less lean on an interesting technological concept to carry the story. On the ... Read More

Haunted Castles: The Complete Gothic Stories: Exquisite, gruesome

Haunted Castles by Ray Russell

Thanks to the ongoing Penguin Classics series, this reader was finally able to purchase and enjoy Chicago-born author Ray Russell’s classic novel of modern-day exorcism, The Case Against Satan (1962), which the publisher rereleased in late 2015. Now, Penguin Classics has followed up by giving the world a beautiful new edition of the 1985 Russell anthology entitled Haunted Castles: The Complete Gothic Stories, which consists of three novellas and four shorter pieces ... and this new edition comes complete with an impressively erudite introduction by famed Mexican director Guillermo del Toro! I must say... Read More

The Memory of Whiteness: Science, music, philosophy

The Memory of Whiteness by Kim Stanley Robinson

The Memory of Whiteness is Kim Stanley Robinson's third novel, after The Wild Shore and Icehenge. It's a very unusual book, standing out in Robinson's oeuvre. Much of his work deals with science and many of his characters are scientists. In this novel science plays a large role as well, but this time it is not so much the process and the ways it can change the world but rather the world view that is influenced by a scientific theory.

The novel is set in the thirty-third century, some three centuries after a physicist named Arthur Holywelkin forces a paradigm shift in physic by revealing a theory that is the biggest breakthrough in science since Albert Einstein’s. In his later years, Holywelkin devotes his time to building a massive musical instrument known as The Orchestra, a complex instrument allowin... Read More

Blood Music: One of the first novels about nanotechnology

Blood Music by Greg Bear

Blood Music (1985) by Greg Bear is a novel that, in its day, was well lauded, but has since had its profile reduced by books which have taken its central premise further. One of, if not the first, major novel to utilize the idea of nanotechnology, the wave of related sci-fi digging deeper into the potential for nanotech that has followed has perhaps drowned out the book, leaving it to be found by those looking back into the history of the genre. While the classic comic book opening does not endear the story, the concept it evolves into stands as an abstract extrapolation — at least, not of the superhero variety.

Blood Music is not the story of a single character, but rather many; if looked at from another perspective, it has a gazillion characters. Matters begin at a s... Read More

Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels, 1949-1984: An amazing guide to lesser-known SF gems

Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels, 1949-1984 by David Pringle

Note: You may also be interested in Stuart's reviews of:
Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels, 1946-1987.
Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels, 1985-2010.

This book was such a great guide for me while growing up in Hawaii. Without any real sci-fi fan community, conventions, or the Internet, there really weren’t many places to get good SF reading tips. Of course I knew every bookstore in town, both new and used, so I didn’t have trouble finding the big names like Arthur C. Clarke, Read More

Blood Meridian: Luminous, blood-drenched, profound, and confounding

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Blood Meridian is a book that almost everyone has heard of, read, or intends to read at some point. It’s been called one of the Great American Novels (and Cormac McCarthy one the Great American Writers), and the greatest Western or most ruthless debunking of the Western myth of Manifest Destiny ever written. Many who have read it are probably at a loss to say whether it is a work of genius or depravity, and it is mind-numbingly violent, lyrical, and profound at the same time.

Opinions on its message and philosophy differ so wildly that I wonder if McCarthy deliberately wrote it to confound all the attempts of literary critics to make sense of it. I, myself, was torn between my appreciation for the absolutely stunning passages of poetic brilliance — particularly his descriptions of nature, cold,... Read More

Radio Free Albemuth: Divine messages via a pink laser from space

Radio Free Albemuth by Philip K Dick

Radio Free Albemuth was written in 1976 but only published posthumously in 1985. Even for Philip K Dick, this is a bizarre and partly deranged book. It’s a deeply personal autobiographical attempt for him to make sense of a series of bizarre religious experiences he collectively referred to as “2-3-74”. So if you are only a casual fan of PKD’s books or movies, this is probably not for you. However, if you love his novels and know something of his troubled life, it will provide an absolutely fascinating picture of a man struggling to extract meaning from it all, using every resource his powerful, wide-ranging and increasingly unstable mind can muster. It may be a confounding mess for many, but what a gloriously courageous attempt he makes. For me this book and his later complete rewrite VALIS Read More

The Damnation Game: Beats with an eloquently bloody heart

The Damnation Game by Clive Barker

Clive Barkers first full-length novel is magnificent. It’s dark, intense and mostly unrelenting in its steady construction of supernatural horror. While full of gut wrenching visuals – resulting in several nights of me restlessly attempting to fall asleep — under a skin of pure horror, this novel beats with an eloquently bloody heart.

Barker’s skills shone through early in his career as The Damnation Game was a Bram Stoker Award Nominee for Best First Novel (1987), World Fantasy Award Nominee for Best Novel (1986), and British Book Award Nominee (1988).
Hell is reimagined by each generation. Its terrain is surveyed for absurdities and remade and, if necessary, reinvented to suit the current climate of atrocity; its architecture is redesigned to appa... Read More

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind, translated into English by John E. Woods

If you are anything like me, then Perfume: The Story of a Murderer will prove a most tantalising title. And, if you are anything like me, you will not be disappointed upon delving inside. This is a story of human nature at its most despicable and scent at its most sublime, a heady combination of depravity and olfactory beauty.

Published in 1985, Perfume fast became a best-seller in Patrick Suskind’s native German. I can only assume the translation is sublime (indeed John Woods received a PEN Translation prize in 1987 for his work on this novel), as sadly I cannot read a word of German in order to compare. This always leaves me perplexed. I can't help feeling there will always be something of the author I am missing. But perhaps that is a discussion for another day. Read More

Dinner at Deviant’s Palace: Orpheus and Eurydice with a post-apocalyptic spin

Dinner at Deviant's Palace by Tim Powers

Tim Powers is an author who seems to forever fly under the radar of popular readership. And there doesn’t seem to be an obvious reason. His stories are well crafted, his prose lean and brisk, and his sense of the fantastic always vivid and invigorating. His fifth novel, Dinner at Deviant’s Palace, has all of these qualities on display. Recently brought back to life by Open Road Media after two decades out of print, the novel has everything a genre fan could love.

With echoes of Stephen King’s The Stand, Dinner at Deviant’s Palace is a post-apocalyptic novel in an American setting. The story occurs in the crumbling remains of L.A. long after a nuclear catastrophe, humanity having reverted to pre-industrial times. Cults roam the land, ban... Read More

Sailing to Byzantium: Move it to the top of your to-read stack

Sailing to Byzantium by Robert Silverberg

I just finished listening to the audio version of Sailing to Byzantium. It was read convincingly by Tom Parker, who transported me in time along with Charles, the lead character. Charles is from New York City, and he is a twentieth-century man, a curiosity in the world of the story. His 1984 is long gone, yet he doesn't quite understand how he's been transported in time to the 50th century. The people of this time, the "citizens," will tell him very little actually. They consider Charles to be a "visitor." Charles doesn't know how long his visit will be though. He is confused and tries to go with the flow, but keeps finding it hard to do so in this very odd future world.

In the 50th century ("of what," he wonders at one point), there are very few citizens. There is a small world population compared to 1984 (and especially compared to our time). All the citizens look almost identical — ... Read More

The Postman: A powerful story about hope

The Postman by David Brin

Sixteen years after an apocalyptic event that nearly destroyed all human life on the earth, civilization consists only of small groups of suspicious people who have managed to band together for safety. These communities are spread out and preyed upon by roaming bandits or groups of “survivalists” who follow a despotic leader.

Gordon Krantz has been struggling to survive by himself in the Oregon wilderness. He’s been hoping to find a community where he can fit in, but when bandits steal all his clothes and gear, he has nothing to offer in return for shelter. He’s in danger of dying from hunger and exposure until he stumbles upon the corpse of a United States postal worker and dons the dead man’s uniform.

Then he begins his scam; he presents himself to various towns and convinces them that he represents a newly formed United States government. He says he has a message to bring them from their n... Read More

Galápagos: Don’t feel sorry for any of these people

Galápagos by Kurt Vonnegut

Kilgore Trout, who appears in many of Kurt Vonnegut's novels, is a science fiction writer whose ideas and stories are interesting even though his plots and characters are dreadful. My favorite Kilgore Trout story is summarized in Breakfast of Champions. Here, Trout writes about extra-terrestrials that come to earth to prevent nuclear holocaust. Unfortunately, they rely on tap dancing and farts to communicate, so the confused humans immediately kill their furiously farting and tap dancing visitors. This depressing depiction of humanity is common in both Trout and Vonnegut’s writing.

Trout is Kurt Vonnegut’s fictional alter ego. Vonnegut acknowledges that Trout isn’t a very good writer, and consequently publishes all of Trout’s work in pornographic magazines. So Kurt Vonnegut must have been surprised when he realized that had become one of the most accla... Read More

The Woman Who Loved Reindeer: A must-read

The Woman Who Loved Reindeer by Meredith Ann Pierce

Set in a prehistoric fantasy setting of ice and snow, The Woman Who Loved Reindeer refers to its two main characters: the young Caribou and the child she names Reindeer. As someone who experiences prophetic dreams, Caribou lives alone until her sister-in-law brings to her a golden-haired child. Claiming that it is not her husband Visjna's child (Caribou's brother), Branja begs her to take in the child before Visjna returns from the season-long hunt and so that the child's true father cannot come to claim him.

Caribou is initially disdainful of such a request, but the tiny infant soon warms her heart. Due to his love of the reindeer herds, she names him after them, and goes about raising him to the best of his ability. But soon it becomes clear that he is no ordinary child. After a terrifying run-in with a golden reindeer that results in her brother's dea... Read More