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Phule’s Company: A short, entertaining, and heart-warming SF tale

Phule’s Company by Robert Asprin

Until I picked up Phule’s Company, I hadn’t read anything by prolific author Robert Asprin. I hadn’t planned to, either, but Tantor Audio is producing his PHULE’S COMPANY series in audio format, so I figured I’d give the first book a try. I liked it well enough to ask them to send me the second book, Phule’s Paradise. There are six PHULE’S COMPANY books, published from 1990 to 2006. The latter four were written with Peter J. Heck and were some of the last books Asprin penned before his death in 2008.

Willard Phule, the heir to a vast fortune, has done something to annoy his superiors in the Space Legion. As a punishment, they promote him to captain and send him off to oversee a company of the Space Legion’s ... Read More

The Eye of the World: An entertaining, if daunting, start

The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

Years ago I read the Wheel of Time series up through book 10. Now it's late 2008, Robert Jordan has passed on, and we're expecting the last Wheel of Time book, A Memory of Light in about one year. Brandon Sanderson will be writing it with the help of notes and taped messages left by Jordan, and in consultation with Harriet, Jordan's widow and confidante.

When I read it the first time, I really enjoyed WOT until it bogged down in the middle of the series. In fact, I stopped reading it after Crossroads of Twilight. But the story was interesting and exciting (though excruciating... Read More

Dragon Wing: Not very good

Dragon Wing by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

The Margaret Weis/Tracy Hickman novels make up one of those corners of the Fantasy genre that you either enjoyed in your teens (and remember fondly)... or you didn’t. I have to admit that I’m of the latter camp, and while I strongly suspect that there was a time when I could have greatly enjoyed Dragon Wing, that time has passed me by. These days, I’m a little too jaded and I’ve read a few too many works in a very similar vein. Dragon Wing isn’t bad, necessarily, but I’d be lying if I said I particularly like it.

It starts well, mind you, as master assassin Hugh the Hand is employed by the king for that most politically frau... Read More

The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story: Unique in many ways

The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story by Stephen Donaldson

Though better known for his ongoing epic fantasy series, THE CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT, THE UNBELIEVER, Stephen Donaldson has also taken a foray into science fiction. The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story is the first in THE GAP CYCLE and a very difficult read if it is not understood that the book is mere stage setting for the four books which follow. Essentially the exploits of a sadistic psychopath and his victim, the novel will (rightfully) not win sympathy from many readers, but must instead be approached with a view to the larger framework of character development Donaldson imagines the series to be. Criminal and victim may be the assigned roles now, but what of the future?

The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story is unique in science fiction for a... Read More

Homeland: Fun For Your Inner Fourteen-Year-Old

Homeland by R.A. Salvatore

R.A. Salvatore’s brooding, noble hero Drizzt Do’Urden is almost inarguably the most popular character in the FORGOTTEN REALMS universe (which is to say, the Dungeons & Dragons tie-in novels). It has become a general joke through the years that half the new D&D players of the world incorporate something of the dark elf warrior into their first characters, and — tellingly — when Suvudu did their initial fantasy character popularity contest some years ago, Drizzt beat out such classic characters as Aragorn, Conan, and Ged to take the fourth spot. It’s hard to deny Drizzt’s popular success or his ponderous influence on heroic fantasy. That said, it’s an open secret that THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT has never accumulated a lot of critical success to correspond with its popularity. How to make sense of this divide? Well… frankly, both Drizzt fans and Drizzt detractors have some excellent points. Read More

Lens of the World: A beautifully told coming-of-age story

Lens of the World by R.A. MacAvoy

Nazhuret was an ugly half-breed orphan when he started life at an exclusive military school, but now he’s someone important. So important, in fact, that the king has asked him to write his autobiography. Who is this man who has fascinated a king, what is he now, and how did he come so far in the world?

Lens of the World, published in 1990, is the first book in R.A. MacAvoy’s LENS OF THE WORLD trilogy. It’s a coming-of-age story which reminds me of several fantasy epics I’ve read, especially Ursula K. Le Guin’s EARTHSEA series, Robin Hobb’s FARSEER saga and, more recently, Patrick Rothfuss’s Read More

Black Trillium: Substandard

Black Trillium by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Julian May, Andre Norton

At first glance, Black Trillium looks like an interesting project: three leading female authors of speculative fiction — Marion Zimmer Bradley, Julian May and Andre Norton — writing a book together. After having read it, I don't think the result is a resounding success. It still spawned a total of four sequels written by each of the authors individually. I understand there are some continuity issues between those books, making the SAGA OF THE TRILLIUM series a strange one indeed.

Black Trillium is the story of the Kingdom of Ruwenda, a place s... Read More

The Vampire Chronicles: Vampires and gumshoes

THE VAMPIRE CHRONICLES Vol 1: BloodList, LifeBlood, BloodCircle by P.N. Elrod

The Vampire Chronicles compiles the first three books in P.N. Elrod's series featuring Jack Fleming who, in case you haven't deduced by the title, is a vampire.

What makes this series different from most other recent vampire novels is that Elrod combines an old familiar trope with something familiar but not usually associated with vampires: noir detectives. Her characters are believably of the gumshoe type and include those hopeful yet gray sensibilities that were products of that era. That is easily Elrod's strength, so if you're a fan of the pulps and radio dramas (Elrod even references The Shadow multiple times throughout the novels), this is perhaps the series for you.

THE VA... Read More

The Steps up the Chimney: A mixed bag of magic and flatness

The Steps up the Chimney by William Corlett

The Steps up the Chimney is the first in four books that accumulate into The Magician's House Quartet, revolving around three children who come to stay at their uncle's strange house, and Stephen Tyler, a time-traveling wizard who befriends the children on their stay at Golden Valley.

In The Steps Up The Chimney, the children arrive at the house after already experiencing some strange events — Will has meet a stranger at Druce Coven station who mysteriously disappeared and a fox seems to popping up everywhere they look. Within the house and grounds however, things become even more strange — Alice finds footprints in the snow that end abruptly in the middle of a clearing and Mary notices an extra window in the house that shouldn't be there. By researching the house's ne... Read More

The Witching Hour: Imaginary genealogies are more fun than they sound

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

Although Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles are undoubtedly her most famous and best-selling novels, there is much to be said for her witch trilogy: The Lives of the Mayfair Witches. Although none of the characters who populate The Witching Hour are quite as memorable as her vampires, the plot and pacing of her witch-stories appeal to me more than anything else she has written to date. Her skills as a novelist are on fine display here and her storytelling techniques are utterly unique, including introductory chapters told through the eyes of family associates who experience unsettling experiences with the Mayfair family; the gradual intertwining of her two main characters through a series of `coincidental' events; and a large chunk of the novel ... Read More

Lion of Macedon: Proves why David Gemmell will be sorely missed

Lion of Macedon by David Gemmell

The dearly-departed David Gemmell was, in his lifetime, acknowledged as a master of the heroic fantasy, and if you want any proof of that, read Lion of Macedon.

The tale begins in Sparta in the period after the end of the interminable Peloponnesian wars, when Sparta had begun to weaken, and several decades before the rise of Philip and Alexander the Greats. The eponymous hero, Parmenion, is a Spartan — a true Lakedaimonios — with a Macedonian mother. Because of his half-barbarian heritage, he is something of an outcast when we meet him as a fifteen year old boy in the harsh, near brutal training Spartan boys were put through. Despite this, he is most certainly not the angsty adolescent I had expected. Instead, he is a well-thought out, detailed and layered personality who grows and changes as we follow his life and career. It is difficult to give a bas... Read More