The Outlaws of Sherwood: A strong contender in an overstuffed genre

The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley

Robin Longbow, a lowly apprentice to the forester of Nottingham Forest, is on the way to Nottingham fair when he is waylaid by bullies. After he accidentally kills one of them, he is forced to flee and go into hiding. If he’s discovered by the sheriff of Nottingham, he’ll be hung by the regent who is sitting in for King Richard the Lionheart while he’s away fighting in Palestine.

But Robin’s friends Much and Marian see Robin’s exile as an opportunity to strike back at the regent and his Norman allies. They convince Robin to gather and lead a band of ragtag Saxon rebels against their enemies. Thus, Robin Hood becomes a symbol and a rallying point for Saxon resistance against Norman tyranny.

The Outlaws of Sherwood is a strong contender in the overstuffed Robin-Hood-legends genre. Read More

A Different Flesh: Thoughtful stories about humanity

A Different Flesh by Harry Turtledove

A Different Flesh (1988), by Harry Turtledove, is a thoughtful collection of linked stories set in an alternate America which was inhabited by a hairy upright-walking sub-human species (homo erectus) when European settlers arrived. The settlers call them “sims.” The earliest story is set in 1610 and the last one in 1988 and, as the stories progress through time, we see the sims become more and more advanced, but it is clear that they will never reach the level of cognition that homo sapiens has achieved.

The relationship between sims and humans also progresses. In the first story, new European settlers are trying to wipe out the sims, who they view as animals. They do not succeed. By the final story, there is a much different relationship between the two ... Read More

Unicorn Mountain: Moving, heartfelt fiction

Unicorn Mountain by Michael Bishop

When I lived in Prague, I couldn’t help but admire the Czechs and their respect for the written word. Riding the subway I saw many people who had taken the time to make a brown paper cover for their literary investment. While reading Michael Bishop’s Unicorn Mountain (1988), I considered doing the same. Unfortunately, it was for a different reason: protection of Bishop’s, and my, self-respect.

Pause, just for a moment, and take a look at the cover. What you are looking at is a disconnect between not only the literal, but also the proverbial book and cover. Grafton Press went in one direction, and Michael Bishop in an entirely different one. The book’s actual content is a heart-touch... Read More

Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore

Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore

Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986) and Batman: Year One (1988) completely reinvented the caped crusader as a dark and conflicted figure. This time, it was Alan Moore’s turn to reinvent Batman’s greatest rival, that homicidal madman The Joker. Batman: The Killing Joke (1988) tells its compelling story in just 51 pages, but the writing and artwork are so phenomenal that it has retained a legendary status. Even now, you can find a deluxe hardcover edition being sold in bookstores, and how many single issues get that treatment?

Even those casually familiar with the Batman story know his flamboyant rival The Joker, with his powder-white face, shock of green... Read More

Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels, 1946-1987: Introduces many lesser-known fantasy works

Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels, 1946-1987 by David Pringle

Note: You may also be interested in Stuart's reviews of:
Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels, 1985-2010.
Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels, 1949-1984.

Following on the success of 1985’s Science Fiction: 100 Best Novels, An English-Language Selection, 1949-1984, it made sense that David Pringle would tackle the wide-ranging and ill-defined field of fantasy with Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels, An English-Language Selection, 1946-1987. It’s actually an amazing effort, since Pringle would have to read compr... Read More

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore

For those who claim that comics lack sufficient depth and complexity, fans generally recommend Alan Moore’s Watchmen, V for Vendetta and From Hell, Frank Miller’s DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and SIN CITY series, and Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN series. These are considered “gateway” titles likely to convince skeptics that comics (often labeled “graphic ... Read More

Memories of the Space Age: Autopsy of a lost dream

Memories of the Space Age by J.G. Ballard

Memories of the Space Age (1988) is a limited edition hardcover published by small press Arkham House, with a gorgeous cover of Max Ernst’s ‘Europe After the Rain’ that captures the hallucinatory, decayed imagery of J.G. Ballard’s collection. It contains eight stories written between 1962 and 1985, thematically linked around rotting launch gantries at Cape Canaveral, the failure of the US space program, dead astronauts eternally orbiting in space, deserted hotels lining the Florida coast, and the lonely, disturbed individuals who linger at the fringes of this lost dream of the Space Age. The stories have so much overlap that some readers will find them very repetitive, and that is undeniable. Yet they do lure the reader into Ballard’s hypnotic world in a way few other writers do. The... Read More

Empire Dreams: An excellent sampler of Ian McDonald’s work

Empire Dreams by Ian McDonald

Over the past few months I’ve read seven novels by Ian McDonald and have appreciated his thoughtful and beautifully written stories. I admired all of them, even those that I didn’t particularly like. McDonald’s stories are unique, many have exotic settings you can get immersed in, and most have fascinating science fiction ideas while also portraying poignant human struggles.

Empire Dreams (1988) is a sampler of ten of McDonald’s short stories and novelettes that offer fans and new readers a few glimpses of the author’s brilliance and versatility. The first five were originally published in Asimov’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine and the rest are original to this volume:

“Empire Dreams (Ground Control to Major Tom)” — (Originally printed in Asimov’s, December 1985) This novelette is about a new medical technology that... Read More

Travels: A journey abroad, within, and on the astral plane

Travels by Michael Crichton

When Travelsbegins, Crichton is a student at Harvard Medical School, sawing into cadavers with his peers. He nearly faints at the sight of blood, but he is a talented and diligent student. Crichton shares the objections and concerns that would ultimately drive him from medicine, a decision perhaps made easier by the fact that he had already begun to experience success as a writer of spy novels. However, more than anything, it seems that Crichton began to doubt that doctors are capable of helping people. Instead, he believes that people should always assume personal responsibility for their illnesses.

So, Crichton leaves medicine, moves to Los Angeles, and begins writing novels and working in film. However, Travels is not the book about how Michael Crichton developed a passion for writing or found his big break. In fact, asi... Read More

Islands in the Net: SF political thriller

Islands in the Net by Bruce Sterling

Love him or hate him, Bruce Sterling is one of the most intriguing voices in science fiction. A successful writer of fiction and non-fiction, and a speaker of the most unique and presumptuous nature, his words carry regarding the future of technology and society. At base a humanist, Sterling’s work reflects the potential implications of applying the knowledge humanity acquires to economic, ecological, and socio-political environments. Islands in the Net, a good example of his aims, presents all of these facets in a political drama/thriller that continues to touch upon ideas in today’s world despite the decades that have passed since its publishing.

Islands in the Net opens in the year 2023. The world appears much the same as it does today, but with a few small differences. Multinational megacorporations wield ever-growing clout in systems which continue to utilize capitalism... Read More

Zodiac: The Eco Thriller: An accomplished blueprint

Zodiac: The Eco Thriller by Neal Stephenson

Sangamon Taylor is a professional asshole, he is known as the granola James Bond, and he knows how to use your child’s aquarium to filter PCBs from his body. Zodiac: The Eco Thriller is Neal Stephenson’s second novel as well as a clear blueprint for its successor, the cyberpunk classic, Snow Crash.

Sangamon Taylor works for GEE, an activist group that tries to act as a check against the toxic waste Boston industrialists dump into Boston Harbor. GEE, whose members are often English majors and leftover hippies from the sixties that care about the environment, man, stages media events and organizes non-violent civil disobedience. They are well meaning, but they really rely on Sangamon, their trained chemist and impromptu engineer, to collect and analyze samples of toxic wast... Read More

The Changeling Sea: A sweet, simple fairytale about the sea

The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip

I'm a huge fan of Patricia McKillip's work, but it's taken me a while to get my hands on The Changeling Sea, and once read I found that it was a rather unique addition to her body of work. One of her earliest books (published back in 1988), and possibly her only work that was written specifically with a young audience in mind, The Changeling Sea is a slender novel with an extremely simple plot.

After her father's death at sea, Peri (short for Periwinkle) and her mother become estranged. Peri takes up residence at the abandoned shack on the seashore, spending her days working at the inn and her nights staring at the sea. Finally frustrated into action, Peri calls upon what little magic she has and casts several hexes into the sea. Her actions are to have far-reaching consequences, for this charm calls into her life two pr... Read More

Schrödinger’s Kitten: Hugo and Nebula winning story

Schrödinger’s Kitten by George Alec Effinger

Jehan is a pretty 12-year-old Islamic girl who sees visions of her own possible futures. These visions suggest that she will be raped in an alley, disowned by her fundamentalist Muslim father, and forced to live as a whore until she dies. Or she could kill her potential rapist first, but if she does that she will be executed, unless somebody saves her by paying the blood price... There are too many “ifs” and too many potential paths and, as a child, Jehan is haunted by all the possibilities and her knowledge that something bad will happen, but not knowing exactly which of those branches her life will take.

Interspersed with these disturbing visions, we see Jehan in a possible future as an assistant and then a colleague to the men who are, during World War II, trying to unravel the secrets of quantum physics. Their findings will enlighten the world, but may also give the Nazis the... Read More

The Last of the Winnebagos: Hugo and Nebula Award winning novella

The Last of the Winnebagos by Connie Willis

After a virus has killed all of the dogs on Earth, the Humane Society (“The Society”) has been given the power to prosecute and punish anyone who, even accidentally, harms an animal. The government has started putting walls around highways, tracking vehicles with videocameras, and banning recreational vehicles from the roads.

After a photojournalist stops to report a dead jackal on the highway, he becomes involved in The Society’s investigation. During the process he meets an elderly couple who claim to own the last Winnebago, and he visits the woman who accidentally killed his own dog, one of the last to survive, 15 years earlier. Along the way, he keeps hoping to get a candid photo that will show, through its owner’s face, one of these beloved dogs who’ve been lost.

The Last of the Winnebagos, which won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards ... Read More

The Paladin: Oriental fantasy

The Paladin by C.J. Cherryh

The Paladin is a stand-alone novel set in the China of an alternative world. It's more of an alternative history than a fantasy — there are no mythical creatures or magic here, although superstitions of both remain. The story falls into two parts. In the first, a stubborn girl seeking vengeance for her murdered family arrives at the mountain home of an exiled hermit who was the greatest warlord in the Empire prior to the death of the old emperor and the takeover by an evil regent. The girl wears him down, and he agrees to teach her swordsmanship and so on, convinced that she will eventually tire and lose hope in her foolish quest. Instead, she perseveres, and he finds himself growing fond of her. Over a two-year span, she becomes a promising pupil; he finds his defenses against the world he left behind crumbling... and how much he now needs her.

In the second part, the two ... Read More

The Good Fairies of New York

The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar

Martin Millar’s writing is consistently funny and entertaining. And while The Good Fairies of New York is upbeat and comedic, it also has a layer of tragedy that the author manages to juggle and incorporate seamlessly. The pace is quick and precise so that by the time you're laughing or crying over a particular scene, you're already on to the next one.

Millar manages to thrown in a lot of disparate elements in this novel (rock music, Maoist teachings, exotic diseases) and make them work. The writing is strong — it’s easy to get into and there's no room for confusion, even when Millar is juggling a dozen interweaving characters from two distinct parts of the world.
His characters are another asset — whether it's the fairies who consistently get into trouble despite their best efforts, or the human characters who each have distinct personalities (... Read More

Through a Brazen Mirror: A bittersweet gem of fantasy

Through a Brazen Mirror by Delia Sherman

Through a Brazen Mirror is the sort of book that deserves a wider audience than it's gotten so far. The author is a lesbian, and the book contains a gay character. Since mainstream publishers are still a little squeamish about such things, this book gets the label "Queer Fantasy" slapped on it, gets published by a small press, and the upshot of it is that most straight readers have never heard of the darn thing. And that's a shame. This isn't just a good "gay book," it's a good book.

Through a Brazen Mirror fleshes out the ballad The Famous Flower of Serving-Men. It is compelling from the first few pages, wherein a young man stumbles into the King's kitchens during a rainstorm. He announces he's looking for a job, proclaims his robust health, and promptly faints. But the young man, William Flower, is more than he ... Read More