Good Omens: The harbinger of the apocalypse is an eleven-year-old boy

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

The bad news for the world is this: the apocalypse is nigh and all of humanity will soon face their final judgement. The good news? A Bentley-driving demon and an angel who is ‘gayer than a tree full of monkeys on nitrous oxide’ have decided that they rather like humanity and are going to try and save it.

Good Omens is the result of a collaboration between Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, when ‘Neil Gaiman was barely Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett was only just Terry Pratchett.’ The story centres on Crowley, said demon, and the serpent who tempted Eve (originally named Crawly). Throughout history, he has secretly liased with Aziraphale, an antique-loving, rare books enthu... Read More

How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy: A manual by Orson Scott Card

How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card is an award-winning author of dozens of science fiction and fantasy books, including the Hugo and Nebula award winning Ender’s Game. So who else would you turn to for instruction on how to write a science fiction and fantasy novel? I’m working on a novel — isn’t everyone these days? — and picked up How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy for some instruction. I’m used to writing for an academic audience, so bridging the chasm between peer-reviewed journals and publicly read books is a big step for me. I have to say, though, that I’m not sure this book is really worth all the kudos it has in the writing community, and I think that’s mostly because it hasn’t been updated. The original publication date is 1990. Whole genres of fantasy have come out since 1990, not to mention the advent of the Internet and its revolutionary changes to t... Read More

The Hemingway Hoax: Award-winning novella

The Hemingway Hoax by Joe Haldeman

While on vacation in Key West, John Baird, a Hemingway scholar, meets a conman named Castle in a bar. After telling Castle about Hemingway’s missing manuscript, Castle suggests that they forge it and make a lot of money. Baird refuses, of course, but Castle enlists Baird’s wife Lena and the two of them talk John into creating a forgery. Under pressure from his wife and his rapidly dwindling finances, John goes along with the plan but, unbeknownst to his co-conspirators, he makes a backup plan to protect himself in case of detection. Meanwhile, Lena and Castle are working another angle and the stage is set for betrayal, adultery, and murder.

Up to this point, Joe Haldeman’s short novel, The Hemingway Hoax, is a thriller, and it’d make a great movie. But Haldeman throws in a science fiction element involving Hemingway’s ghost, time travel, parallel universes, and metaphysics that will p... Read More

The Madness Season: Showcases Friedman’s admirable skills

The Madness Season by C.S. Friedman

I am quickly becoming a fan of C.S. Friedman. Audible Frontiers has recently produced all her novels in audio format, so I snatched them up and I’m happy I did. Her science fiction is original, imaginative, and super smart.

In The Madness Season, a man named Daetrin is old enough to have fought in the last battle when the Earth was conquered by the aliens of Tyr. That was three hundred years ago and the Tyrians want to know how Daetrin is still alive. So they’ve captured him, just like they’ve rounded up all the humans who they think they can learn something from. The Tyr have been genetically engineering the humans who are left on Earth — breeding out creativity, intelligence, and rebelliousness in the hopes of making them more biddable — but some humans have found ways to resist their captors’ plans. Daetrin is worried about what they inte... Read More

Jurassic Park: Crichton has improved his formula

Jurassic Park 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.

It’s difficult to talk about Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, though not because the novel’s plot and characters are especially complex. They aren’t.

Alan Grant is a paleontologist who is asked to vet a new theme park that has brought dinosaurs back to life. The dinosaurs escape, and Grant, human resourcefulness, and state of the art technology are pitted against the raw power of Jurassic era biology. It’s a simple premise, though it is also undeniably compelling.

Instead, Jurassic Pa... Read More

Horses of Heaven: Historical fantasy with an unusual setting

Horses of Heaven by Gillian Bradshaw

Gillian Bradshaw’s Horses of Heaven is a historical fantasy set in a place and time far from fantasy’s beaten path: central Asia in 140 B.C. It takes place in the kingdom of Ferghana, which was once on the eastern fringe of Alexander’s empire. Now, Alexander is long dead and Ferghana is an uneasy mix of Greeks and native Sakas. The widowed King Mauakes makes a political marriage with a Greco-Bactrian princess, Heliokleia, but he is abusive toward her and their marriage is a disaster from the start. When Heliokleia instead falls in love with Mauakes’ handsome son Itaz, and he with her, the situation becomes as incendiary as Greek fire.

It’s a time and place where many ideas and philosophies competed for dominance, and there are many debates within these pages: the merits of Buddhism vs. Zoroastrianism vs. the Greek pantheon vs. Saka sun worship, for example, a... Read More

Possession: A Romance

Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt

[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.]

An historical mystery, a bittersweet love story, an exploration of myths and fairytales, a tribute to the power of books, and a beautiful, delicate style of prose all makes A.S. Byatt’s Possession: A Romance an intriguing, rewarding, immensely enjoyable read.

Roland Michell is a research assistant for Professor Blackadder, the self-proclaimed expert on all matters concerning the Victorian poet: Randolph Henry Ash. Whilst thumbing through one of Ash’s old books, Roland uncovers rough drafts ... Read More

The Difference Engine: Thickly veiled and imperceptible

The Difference Engine by William Gibson & Bruce Sterling

William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, two major SciFi powerhouses, joined forces to produce The Difference Engine, a classic steampunk novel which was nominated for the 1990 British Science Fiction Award, the 1991 Nebula Award for Best Novel, and the 1992 John W. Campbell Memorial Award and Prix Aurora Award. I listened to Brilliance Audio’s version which was produced in 2010 and read by the always-wonderful Simon Vance.

The Difference Engine takes place in a nearly unrecognizable Victorian England. The fundamental “difference” between this alternate history and the real one is that Charles Babbage succeeded in building his Difference Engine — the first analytical computer. Thus, the information age develops (along with the industrial revolution) in the social, political, and scie... Read More

The Silver Kiss: The thinking girl’s Twilight

The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause

The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause entwines the two stories of Zoe and Simon, chapter by chapter. We start with Zoe, a lonely girl who is struggling with the steady decline of her mother to cancer and the loss of her best friend who is moving to a new city. She feels lost and unloved, and as though no one can understand her grief and pain. Enter Simon, one of the undead. A vampire who has flitted from city to city in pursuit of his monstrous brother, also a vampire. Simon struggles against his nature, believing himself to be unnatural —this is why he is unable to show his face to the sun, or cross running water. He is perfectly positioned to understand Zoe's plight, particularly because he feels as though his condition is a disease.

The Silver Kiss is a beautiful, poetic and ephemeral little book. The fleeting natu... Read More

Jack of Kinrowan: Draws you in

Jack of Kinrowan by Charles de Lint

Jack of Kinrowan is actually two books — Jack the Giant Killer and Drink Down the Moon — in an omnibus edition.

Jack the Giant Killer served as de Lint’s volume in the excellent Datlow and Windling edited series of modern retellings of classic fairy tales, as it retells the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, this time with Jack being a Jacky.

Set in Ottawa, Jack follows the adventures of Jacky Rowan, a young woman in her late teens who is stumbling through her own life and manages to fall into the faerie realm which inhabits the sidestreets of ou... Read More

Haroun and the Sea of Stories: Lots of meaning

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

I confess that I’ve read nothing by Salman Rushdie before, and any knowledge I have of him stems from the controversy that surrounds him. Most are probably well aware of this already, but in 1988 his novel The Satanic Verses was published, resulting in a call by Muslim extremists for his execution. Consequently, he has been forced to spend many years under police protection. I only mention this in the context of this review, because I doubt Haroun and the Sea of Stories would exist had Rushdie not experienced this concentrated effort to have him permanently silenced.

It must have been surprising for fans of Rushdie to find that the first book he published after The Satanic Verses was a children’s book (albeit a complex and lengthy one). Twelve chapters in all, with intricate, intriguing and intoxicating... Read More

Tigana: Fascinating story filled with passion

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

Tigana is a masterpiece.

It is difficult to summarize the plot, for so much of the story unfolds organically — indeed, as a near-perfect tainflower — that one fears to spoil the pleasure of becoming swept up in the narrative. That said, the tale concerns the Palm, a mythic penninsula reminiscent of Italy, a land divided between two wizard-conquerors. One conqueror has utterly blighted the province of Lower Corte with an undreamt-of dark magic. (Take a fresh look at the map of the Palm mid-way through, and you will grasp the immensity of the spell!) A handful of refugees must undo the spell... yet if the one wizard falls, the other will irrevocably gain control of the Palm, leaving the deadly choice: the breaking of the spell, interminable conquest... or, perhaps, perhaps, the smallest gleam of freedom.

Guy Gavriel Kay's writing flows well, as a... Read More