Misery: Imprisoned in Nurse Ratched’s guest bedroom

Misery by Stephen King

If you've read one Stephen King novel, you've read nearly all of them. And yet people keep coming back for more. Published in 1987, Misery explores King's relationship with his most obsessive readers while also wrestling with his own addictions.

Misery's plot is pretty straightforward: Paul Sheldon is an author of best-selling novels who one night drunkenly drives into a blizzard and crashes. When he wakes up, he has been (not rescued, but) kidnapped by Nurse Ratched, here named Annie Wilkes.

Annie is a nurse who has access to painkillers and although she helps Paul to heal, she is obsessed with his novels. She insists that he write for her.

... Read More

Strange Toys: An odd, creepy novel

Strange Toys by Patricia Geary

Strange Toys is an odd, creepy novel. It won the Philip K. Dick Award in 1987, though apparently Patricia Geary hadn’t actually intended it as science fiction at all. I found it while exploring the labyrinthine basement of a local used bookstore, but it was reprinted in electronic form in 2018.

The heroine, nicknamed Pet, is the baby of her family. (We never learn her real name.) She is nine years old as the book begins, in the late 1950s. Her twelve-year-old sister, June, bullies her. Her sixteen-year-old sister, Deane, is worse. Deane is in some kind of unspecified trouble with the law (she’s into the occult, too), and the girls’ parents leave home abruptly with Pet and June because they fear retribution from Deane’s criminal friends.

What follo... Read More

Norwegian Wood: Murakami’s breakthrough novel

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Toru Watanabe is just another kid studying drama at university when he falls for his friend Naoko, who is in a relationship with another of Toru’s friends, Kizuki — until Kizuki commits suicide. Emotionally confused because she feels “split in two and playing tag with myself,” Naoko escapes to a mountain retreat, though not before sleeping with Toru. Watanabe pines for Naoko as he passes time in Tokyo with his friend Nagasawa. Nagasawa likes The Great Gatsby, and he has no trouble finding women to sleep with him — and with Toru, who feels disgusted with himself after these one-night stands. (Nagasawa, by the way, is in a relationship with Hatsumi, who is devoted to Nagasawa even though she seems too nice for him.) In the midst of these split loyalties and the emotional turbulence they cause, Watanabe meets Midori. Though she also has a boyfriend, Midori and Toru hit it off bec... Read More

Batman: Year One: Worth reading and rereading

Batman: Year One by Frank Miller

Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986) completely reinvented Batman as an angry and bitter older man coming out of retirement to stem a rising tide of crime in Gotham City alongside Police Commissioner Jim Gordon. This was a dark vision of a complex and troubled soul driven to fight crime to avenge his parent’s senseless death, and it resonated with a new generation of readers and gained comics greater credibility among mainstream readers. Just one year later Miller produced a four-part story arc called Batman: Year One Read More

The Jaguar Hunter: Powerful, hallucinatory stories in exotic locales

The Jaguar Hunter by Lucius Shepard

I try to avoid excessive praise unless it is truly deserved, but I can say this without hesitation -- Lucius Shepard was one of the best SF short story writers of the 1980s. His prose, imagery, themes, and style are so powerful, dynamic, and vivid that it’s a real crime that he didn't gain a wider readership when he was alive, though he did win many awards.

He burst on the scene with his short story collection The Jaguar Hunter, which won the 1988 World Fantasy Award and Locus Award for Best Collection. Many of the stories were nominated for the Hugo and Nebula Awards, with “Salvador” winning the Locus Award in 1985 and “R&R” winning the Nebula Award in 1987. His work is characterized by strong elements of magic realism, supernatural horror, Central American and oth... Read More

Land of Dreams: Strong echoes of Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes

Land of Dreams by James P. Blaylock

James P. Blaylock is a fabulist, a teller of magic realist tales that reframe our everyday world in more colorful, fanciful, sinister, and whimsical ways. His style and themes often overlap with the works of Tim Powers and they have collaborated on several stories and even have shared the character William Ashbless, which is no surprise since they met as students at Cal State Fullerton. There they also befriended author K.W. Jeter (who coined the term “steampunk” and wrote perhaps the earliest full-length example, 1987’s Infernal Devices), and they are sometimes grouped together as ... Read More

Watchmen by Alan Moore (writer) & Dave Gibbons (Artist)

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

What if superheroes were real? I mean really “real”: what if they grew old and got fat, had spouses and families, carried emotional baggage (sometimes a serious psychosis), and just generally had to deal with everyday life? These super-heroes aren’t inherently all good, either. Just like public servants — police, politicians, doctors, etc. — many begin with the best intentions, but some become jaded and others are only motivated by self-interest from the start. In other words, if superheroes were real, they would be just like us, more or less.

Also, what would an ultra-powerful superhero really be like? A person who understands quantum theory as easily as we chew gum, and is so powerful that he can move through the space-time continuum, be several places at once, and alter sub-atomic structure with a mere thought? Can you imagine how scary it would be for a god to live among us? So... Read More

Feral Cell: Performance-art-fantasy

Feral Cell  by Richard Bowes

Richard Bowes published Feral Cell in 1986. It’s set in 1999, the last year of the second millennium, in New York City, which is starting, to “go bad” as many other cities before it have. It’s not clear exactly what is making the city go bad. Is it the strange weather, as summers grow hotter and winters grow shorter and drier? Is it the selfishness and complacency of the wealthy and the desperation of the young people? Is it the use of more and different drugs? Robert Leal, a self-described “game-master” who produces elaborate fantasies for bored wealthy people, is too busy with his own problems to think much about it, but in Chapter One, when a strange boy appears out of thin air to threaten him with a bone weapon, he has to accept that strange things are happening in his city.

Leal has distractions: physical pain that is a harbinger of a serious... Read More

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World: On the Edge

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.

Haruki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World begins in Murakami’s “hard-boiled wonderland.” This wonderland is postmodern territory: our disaffected hero is in an elevator that is moving so slowly that “all sense of direction simply vanished.” Murakami finds a nexus between the detective story, postmodern literature, and cyberpunk. Faced with the dilemma of the elevator, the narrator, almost predictably deadpan, reflects that
“it could have been going do... Read More

Sphere: Crichton elevates his use of character

Sphere by Michael Crichton

[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]

In Sphere, the follow up to Congo, Michael Crichton asks the question: how do you top a techno-thriller that pits a team of parachuting scientists against extremely intelligent apes that protect a remote area of jungle in Congo?

Impossible, right?

Perhaps not. Sphere begins with a premise that, by now, most Crichton fans will recognize very easily. Norman Johnson is a scientist, this time a psychologist, who has done a bit of work for a major organization in th... Read More

Soulstring: Resonates with mythic weight

Soulstring by Midori Snyder

In the first few pages of Soulstring, I was worried that I was reading another book about a spoiled princess who was going to do nothing but complain about how hard she suffered in her privileged life. But by page thirteen, I was deeply engrossed in the story of a young woman who is hated by her parents for the sin of being the firstborn and a girl. Soulstring is a high fantasy story about a young woman who has to discover a way to reclaim the magical power that has been taken from her by her father, wrapped inside a retelling of the Tam Lin myth.

Midori Snyder has the gift of being able to write deeply fascinating characters and show personalities through dialog that many authors lack. She builds a detailed world without a lot of excess prose. In a slender volume of 182 pages she creates two competing countries, and different cultural groups within th... Read More

War for the Oaks: Rockin’ in the Sidhe World

War for the Oaks by Emma Bull

Anyone who likes urban fantasy should go "back to basics" and pick up this defining classic of the subgenre. I've read several books that borrow zillions of plot elements from War for the Oaks, but never reach the same sort of exhilarating heights. Yeah, yeah, we all know the story: young woman wanders the city at night and meets a mysterious stranger, so on, so forth. Now sit back and see it done right!

Eddi McCandry has just quit her boyfriend's abysmal band, and now plans to break up with the boyfriend as well. But before she gets the chance to talk to him, she gets recruited into a war between the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, for the heart and soul and magic of Minneapolis. You see, the Fair Folk can't wound each other in battle unless there is a human there to lend mortality. The Seelie Court needs Eddi in order to make their sparring a war rather than a mere sport.
... Read More

The Firebrand: Feminist agenda goes too far

The Firebrand by Marion Zimmer Bradley

I'm not a huge fan of Marion Zimmer Bradley, but the Trojan War is one of my favourite subjects, and I was curious to see how it could be told from a singular, feminine point of view — in this case, Princess Kassandra of Troy, tragically famous for her accurate predictions of doom that no one believed. The Firebrand is told with Bradley's trademark style; a strong feminist streak (that can become a little too heavy-handed at times), and her fresh spin on an ancient legend, a technique that brought Bradley into the public eye with her best known novel The Mists of Avalon.

The Firebrand follows the life of Kassandra of Troy from childhood to the fall of her city at the hands of the Akhaians, and the details of her life in-between, significantly her relationships with her family members and her strug... Read More