Jack: Horror during the London Blitz

Jack by Connie Willis

Subterranean Press is reissuing Connie Willis’s moody and bleak novella Jack (1991), which was a finalist for the Nebula and Hugo awards and has appeared in several anthologies over the years. It’s set during the London Blitz in WWII, one of Willis’ favorite settings for her works, including the time-travel novels Blackout and All Clear and the Nebula and Hugo award-winning novelette Fire Watch. Once again, there’s something peculiar going on during the Blitz … but this time it’s not just time travelers visiting from the future.

Jack Harker is part of a ... Read More

The Ends of the Earth: Luminous, powerful stories of war, exotic locales, and supernatural horror

The Ends of the Earth by Lucius Shepard

Lucius Shepard had already created one of the best short story collections in the genre, The Jaguar Hunter, which won the 1988 World Fantasy Award and Locus Award for Best Collection, with “Salvador” winning the Locus Award in 1985 and “R&R” winning the Nebula Award in 1987. His work is steeped in magical realism, supernatural horror, Central America and other exotic locales, and hallucinatory depictions of futuristic warfare. In my opinion, Shepard is one of the best stylists to ever work in the genre. That’s why I can’t help including a writing sample from some stories in The Ends of the Earth — they’re just so good.

It’s always tough to come up with a sophomore effort that lives up to the hype of the original. F... Read More

A Bridge of Years: Time travel to 1962

A Bridge of Years by Robert Charles Wilson

Tom Winter tried to find solace in a bottle when his wife left him. He lost his job and concluded that 1989 was a pretty tough year. Now, Tom is trying to make a go of it in Belltower in the Pacific Northwest. His brother has set him up with a job as a car salesman, and he has bought a house. Life seems pretty mundane, until Tom realizes that the house is a time machine that leads to New York in 1962.

Published in 1991, Robert Charles Wilson’s A Bridge of Years is his first time travel novel, but it’s the third one I’ve read by him. Here, the traveler wanders through a tunnel from one time/location to another. There is no dial for Tom to turn to 11 or to 1924 or to the future. (This is not to say that the tunnels are as limited as Tom’s ability to operate them... Read More

Raft: A provocative amalgam of sub-genres

Raft by Stephen Baxter

What if we exponentially reduced the scale of the galaxy so that the sun was only 50 yards across, extinguished its raging burn so that only a solid metal lump remained, and set a chain of a few hundred dwellings to orbit around the cold sphere that remained? Imagining as such, you would have the opening of Stephen Baxter’s 1991 Raft. By its conclusion, however, Raft reveals itself as a highly original mix of science and fantasy that continues playing with the scale of the universe while telling an uplifting yet sobering tale of personal and societal evolution.

The title of the book comes from the remodeled spacecraft that hangs above the mini-ringworld orbiting the dead star. Exactly like a raft in space, this large disc of metal is home to a few thousand that depend on the metals the miners extract below, just as the miners depend on supplies from th... Read More

Secret of the Earth Star: A wonderful package from Starmont House

Secret of the Earth Star by Henry Kuttner

Starmont House had a wonderful thing going for itself in the early 1990s. The Seattle-based publisher, with its line of Facsimile Fiction, was taking the old pulp magazines of the '30s and '40s, making photocopies of selected stories, and packaging them in a line of reasonably priced paperback and hardcover editions; a genuine blessing for all fans of these old, rapidly moldering monthlies. Secret of the Earth Star, number 6 in the Facsimile Fiction line, in a series that stretched to at least 14, collects eight (NOT seven, as the book's cover proclaims) wonderful stories from Henry Kuttner, one of the sturdiest pillars of the Golden Age of Sci-Fi. Alone and in collaboration with the equally talented C.L. Moore (his wife and ... Read More

Needful Things: Pay the salesperson cash in full

Needful Things by Stephen King

For the most part, being sheriff of Castle Rock, Maine is a peaceful job — that’s what Sheriff Alan Pangborn tells himself on difficult days. And for the most part, Alan’s right. Castle Rock is indeed a peaceful little town. Sure, there are frictions. The Catholics are planning to have a Casino Nite, which angers the Baptists. Wilma Jerzyck thinks she knows best, and she isn’t afraid to bully anyone in the town until they accept her way. And everyone knows that Buster Keeton abuses his authority as the town’s selectman. Still, one day in Castle Rock mostly leads into the next without incident.

So everyone’s abuzz when a new shop, Needful Things, opens. Needful Things is an unusual shop: it’s run by an urbane newcomer, Leland Gaunt; there are no prices on any of his stock; and although no one knows precisely what Needful Things sells, the townspeople will soon learn that Gaunt has someth... Read More

The State of the Art: Stories by Iain M. Banks

The State of the Art by Iain M. Banks

The State of the Art is a collection of short fiction written by Iain Banks between 1984 and 1987. Surprisingly, it is the only such collection the author has published. Given Banks’ fifteen mainstream novels and twelve science fiction novels, one would expect a much larger output of short stories and novellas. The following is a brief summary of the eight stories (most of which are science fiction stories, three which are CULTURE related).

“Road of Skulls” — Not a story in any conventional sense, the collection opens with the bickering of Mc9 and a companion whose name “he’d never bothered to find out” while they sit on the back of a cart being pulled over a road paved with enemy skulls. A short, macabre tribute to storytelling.

“A Gift from the Culture” — Wrobik Sennkil, recently detached from the Culture and at... Read More

He, She and It: My favorite science fiction novel

He, She and It by Marge Piercy

He, She and It by Marge Piercy is my all-time favorite science fiction novel. Though Marge Piercy is not considered a science fiction author, this work is clearly one of science fiction, particularly in the sub-genre of cyberpunk as it was shaped by William Gibson and other writers classified as "cyberpunk." Piercy, after writing Woman On the Edge of Time, was told that parts of that novel anticipated cyberpunk; when Piercy asked what cyberpunk was, she was pointed in the direction of Gibson. Piercy writes: "I enjoy William Gibson very much, and I have freely borrowed from his inventions and those of other cyberpunk writers. I figure it's all one playground." She also acknowledges a debt to Donna Haraway's fascinating essay "A Manifesto for Cyborgs."

That Piercy borrows from Gibson and others does... Read More

Griffin’s Egg: A semi-ambitious novella

Griffin’s Egg by Michael Swanwick

Michael Swanwick’s Griffin’s Egg tries as much to be retro sci-fi as it does to push the limits of the genre — or at least the limits when the novella was published in 1991. The story of a industrial worker on the moon who must deal with the spillover of violence from Earth to the point of post-humanism, Swanwick’s effort succeeds as much as it could be improved, making Griffin’s Egg at least marginally effective.

Gunther Weil is an employee of G5, one of the biggest industries mining the moon for metals and raw materials. Though working on a voluntary contract, he holds no place in his heart for the rote and plethora of bureaucracy, the rubbish strewn about the moon’s surface, or the radioactive storms that plague his rover trips delivering fuel pods. But he is more afraid of political turmoil on Earth; governments continu... Read More

Stations of the Tide: Nebula award winner now on audio

Stations of the Tide by Michael Swanwick

It’s the Jubilee Year on the planet Miranda. Every 200 years the planet floods and humans must leave until Miranda’s continents are reborn. Miranda used to be the home of an indigenous species of shapeshifters who, during Jubilee, would return to their aquatic forms until the waters receded, but it seems that humans have killed them off.

Gregorian, who lives on Miranda but was educated off-planet by a rich and distant father, now styles himself a magician and is telling the citizens of Miranda that he can transform them into sea creatures so they can stay on the planet. He has stolen a piece of proscribed technology from Earth and our protagonist, who we know only as “the bureaucrat,” has been sent to find out what Gregorian has up his sleeve. The bureaucrat must track down Gregorian before the Jubilee tides flood the planet. During his quest he learns about the exotic planet’s hi... Read More

The CYGNET duology: Early Patricia McKillip

CYGNET by Patricia McKillip

She walks the path of time toward this house...

Two Patricia McKillip books in a single volume, what could be better?

As two of her earliest works, the CYGNET duology (composed of The Sorceress and the Cygnet and The Cygnet and the Firebird) make for more challenging reads than her later offerings. McKillip is renowned for her complex writing techniques. It's obvious to those who are familiar with her distinctive poetic-prose that she's still getting the hang of it here, and sometimes the density of it threatens to overwhelm her story. At the risk of making them sound like a chore, McKillip's earliest books — this duology and THE RIDDLE-MASTER OF HED trilogy in particular — are not easy to read. Every word demands your utmost attention just to understand wh... Read More

Great Work of Time: It’s time to bring this book back

Great Work of Time by John Crowley

In 1990, Great Work of Time won the World Fantasy Award for best novella. I’m surprised someone hasn’t snapped up John Crowley’s short book, given it a glossy steampunk cover, and re-released it. Of course it isn’t steampunk. John Crowley’s work doesn’t fit easily into any sub-genre except Things John Crowley Has Written. Still, Great Work of Time has enough of the British Empire, airships, alternate histories, train terminals, misty London cityscapes, and men with bowler hats and tightly furled umbrellas to justify a steampunk cover, which might introduce a whole new generation of readers to this unusual and powerful writer.

Great Work of Time starts with a forest under the sea. Or maybe starts with Caspar Last, an impoverished genius. Last has invented a way to travel in time. It is not a ... Read More

Tam Lin: One of my favorite books

Tam Lin by Pamela Dean

Tam Lin is Pamela Dean’s retelling of the classic folk tale, done as part of The Fairy Tale series created by Terri Windling. The folk tale is about a battle between the Faery Queen and a mortal girl for the heart and soul of Tam Lin, a young man enthralled by the Faery Queen. Pamela Dean has taken the innovative step of setting the story at a university in the Midwest during the seventies, which is pretty smart, because if the Faery Queen needs to hide out, where is she more likely to blend in than with a bunch of eccentric theater majors? Janet, the daughter of one of Blackstock’s professors, enrolls at the university as a freshman and moves into the dormitories. Like those at any good old university, the dorms are haunted, and like any good freshman Janet has no idea what she wants to... Read More

Neverland: Will appeal to horror and fantasy fans both

Neverland by Douglas Clegg

It’s a hot and humid Georgia summer, and 10 year old Beau Jackson and his family have made their annual journey to the summer retreat of Gull Island. (Gull Island is not really an island, it’s a peninsula, but like the name of Gull Island, not everything is like it seems.) Beau’s family stays in the old home still occupied by his grandmother and they’re joined by his aunt and his odd cousin Sumter. The Jacksons seem like a typical albeit somewhat dysfunctional Southern American family, but that doesn’t take long to change. As Beau and Sumter begin spending time in a run down little garden shack which contains a presence which Sumter names “Lucy,” what starts out as innocent childhood fantasies slowly turns into something much more diabolical.

Neverland is an intense read. Douglas Clegg does a masterful job of capturing the feel of a hot Georgia sum... Read More

Wilderness: A moving supernatural love story

Wilderness by Dennis Danvers

Wilderness, originally published in 1991, has recently been rereleased. I presume it’s because tales of lycanthropy are all the rage at the moment. Wilderness is an excellent novel and I’m thrilled that it will get the chance to reach new readers — myself included, as I hadn’t heard of it until the new edition popped up on shelves — and at the same time, I hope it will find its way to readers who will appreciate it for what it is rather than wishing it were something else. I worry that the new cover art will lead readers to expect a novel more in line with the books of Laurell K. Hamilton. If you’re looking for the latest lycanthropic smut-and-gore fest, Wilderness is not it.

So what is it? It’s a love story, but it’s... Read More

Tam Lin: Deftly retold for kids

Tam Lin by Susan Cooper

Anyone who is familiar with the ballad Tam Lin knows it's a story that is very much for grown-ups, or at least teenagers. Susan Cooper does a very good job here of adapting the old story so that it's suitable for any age. It requires changing a few plot elements, but the essential spirit of the story remains the same.

Margaret is tired of sewing and acting polite and talking about future husbands with the other girls at her father's castle, so she runs away to the woods of Carterhays to pick flowers. She has been expressly forbidden to go there, of course. There, she meets the handsome Tam Lin, and after arguing for a minute over who really owns the forest, they spend a pleasant afternoon talking and becoming friends in the woods. When Margaret gets back home, she's in big trouble — she has actually been gone a week! Her unlikely friendship with Tam Lin leads her to sneak out once again, to rescue him fro... Read More

The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen: If I ever have kids…

The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen by Lloyd Alexander

If I ever have kids, I'm going to make sure that their bookshelves are stocked full of Lloyd Alexander's books. Most famous for his award-winning The Prydain Chronicles, Alexander has carved out a little niche for himself in children's literature by taking his often-used (but never stale) technique of adapting a particular culture's mythology and shaping it to include his own brand of wisdom, poignancy and humour. For The Prydain Chronicles Alexander borrowed heavily from Welsh mythology as found in the The Mabinogian, whereas The Iron Ring focused on India's The Ramayana and The Arkadians was based on Grecian legend. For The Remark... Read More

King of Morning, Queen of Day: A fairy tale of unforgettable power

King of Morning, Queen of Day by Ian McDonald

I knew, just by reading the back cover blurb, that King of Morning, Queen of Day was right up my alley. Women with mystical powers? Check. Faeries? Check. Ireland? Check. In fact, I think the only reason I didn't discover this book earlier is that it was published in 1991, and I only started reading fantasy sometime in the late nineties.

The story begins with Emily, a bratty but endearing girl of fifteen, poised on the edge of adulthood in the early 20th century. Emily knows she is special — set apart — and when she sees the faeries in the wood by her family's home, she knows she will never be satisfied with ordinary life. Emily makes a colossal mess of things, as bratty fifteen-year-olds will do, and sets in motion events that will affect generations to come.

What follows is a fairy tale, but not precisely a tale ... Read More

Illusion: A wonderful historical fantasy!

Illusion by Paula Volsky

A fictionalization of the French Revolution set in the invented kingdom of "Vonahr" and laced with a little bit of magic, Illusion is a gem of historical fantasy and ought to be a classic. Paula Volsky combines epic ideals, all-too-human characters, and lovely prose to create a book I couldn't put down and will never forget.

The events of these turbulent times are seen through the eyes of a high-born young woman, Eliste vo Derrivalle. Eliste is at first a product of her society and upbringing, a spoiled brat who doesn't think to question her class's superiority over the serfs and working class. She is only willing to respect one serf, the brilliant Dref Zeenoson, whose talents belie everything Eliste has been taught about the inferiority of his kind. When Eliste's father shows himself as a cruel master, and Dref defies him, only Eliste ca... Read More

Cloven Hooves: Beautiful, haunting, and sad

Cloven Hooves by Megan Lindholm

Though I liked this book, it was depressing. Cloven Hooves is a very melancholy book, moving from one heartbreaking situation to another with no respite.

The story starts with two stories intertwined: first, Evelyn's wild, rough-and-tumble childhood and her youthful escapades with a faun in the Alaska forest, and second, an older, tamer Evelyn's marriage, which is on the rocks after she, her husband, and their son move in with the husband's family. His family is horrible in ways that are devastatingly realistic. I know people like Tom's folks. Unfortunately.

Evelyn, at first, tries to fit in with the in-laws, but it soon becomes apparent that she never will. Then she begins to see her faun again. Some very bad things happen, and Evelyn faces difficult decisions. I'll say no more for fear of spoilers, but there is no choice in this novel that does not lead to... Read More