1992


Briar Rose: Fairy tales and trauma

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

In the 1980s, Terri Windling created the FAIRY TALE SERIES, a collection of stand-alone retellings for adults, featuring some of the best writers in the field. The series continued into the early 2000s and spans a wide variety of styles, tones, and interpretations of the tales. Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose (1992) was the sixth in the series and combines its fairy tale with an all-too-real historical horror. It won the Mythopoeic Award in 1992, and was nominated for the Nebula.

Becca, the heroine, is a young Jewish woman who grew up being told fairy tales by her grandmother, Gemma. Becca’s favorite was Sleeping Beauty, though Gemma didn’t tell it in the standard way. Now Gemma is dying, and on her deathbed... Read More

The Thief of Always: A delightful children’s horror story

The Thief of Always by Clive Barker

It’s summer and Harvey Swick, a ten year old with an active imagination, is bored. That’s how he gets lured into Mr. Hood’s Holiday House. It’s a wonderful place that’s fun and exciting, where Harvey gets everything his heart desires, and where he and the other kids who live there can play all day every day and eat delicious food whenever they want. As the seasons fly by, Harvey is happy at Mr. Hood’s house until things start to get a little spooky and it starts to dawn on Harvey that the place seems unnatural. When Harvey tries to leave, the Holiday House gets downright scary.

I was thoroughly entertained by Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always and I suspect that most children and teens will easily identify with Harvey and, perhaps, will come away from the story with a ... Read More

Quarantine: Cool quantum mechanics, pedestrian plot

Quarantine by Greg Egan

Greg Egan is an Australian writer of hard science fiction who specializes in mathematics, epistemology, quantum theory, posthumanism, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, etc. When you pick up one of his books, you know you will be getting a fairly dense crash course in some pretty outlandish scientific and mathematical ideas, with the plot and characters coming second.

The cover blurb advertises Quarantine as “A Novel of Quantum Catastrophe,” and the back describes “an impenetrable gray shield that slid into place around the solar system on the night of November 15, 2034” causing riots and chaos. However, the book mainly takes place in Perth and New Hong Kong, which was relocated to Australia after the Chinese took over. So don’t expect too much galaxy-spanning space travel or conv... Read More

Doomsday Book: Historically robust time travel with deeply satisfying characters

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Although it took a good two-thirds of the novel for me to decide, I've come to the conclusion that I really enjoyed this multiple award-winning book by Connie Willis. At its core, Doomsday Book is sci-fi time travel, but it’s got depth and intelligence, and leaves little wonder that it won both the Nebula and Hugo Awards for Best Novel (in 1992 and ’93, respectively), as well as the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 1993, and a nomination for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature (also in 1993).

Doomsday Book follows two parallel stories separated by 500 years. In the 21st century, history professor James Dunworthy finds himself caught amidst an epidemic, trapped in a quarantine and unable to confirm the safety of his most b... Read More

The Mist in the Mirror: This ghost story didn’t quite live up to the hype

The Mist in the Mirror: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill

The beginning of The Mist in the Mirror is lovely, evocative of turn-of-the century London and the surrounding English countryside. I felt like Susan Hill had been there and merely transcribed her experiences:
It was early afternoon but already the light was fading and darkness drawing in. A chill wind sneaked down alleyways and passages off the river. The houses were grimy, shiny and black-roofed with rain, mean and poor and ugly, and regularly interspersed with more, looming, sheds. The air was filled with the hooting of tugs and a plaintive siren, and there was the constant thump of boxes onto the wharves.
If that doesn't set the mood for you, then nothing surely will.

All of the required spooky set pieces are on full display in this tale: a pale, dirty boy of roughly thirteen years who appears when there is trouble and... Read More

X: Clamp is one of my favorite modern creators of manga

X by Clamp

X is an eighteen-volume manga by Clamp. It is also known as X/1999, but the more recent six-volume omnibus edition refers to the storyline as X. The series should not be confused with Clamp’s xxxHolic, my favorite series by Clamp (so far). Read More

The Gypsy: A Brust & Lindholm collaboration

The Gypsy by Steven Brust and Megan Lindholm

Experienced police man Mike Stepovich anf his green partner Durand apprehend a gypsy suspected of murdering a shopkeeper. Stepovich immediately notices something strange about the gypsy and does something he's never done in his long career. He fails to turn in the knife the gypsy is carrying. Somehow he knows the gypsy is not the murderer and the knife is special. Later that night, the gypsy disappears without a trace from the police cell they are holding him in. Murder investigations are not the territory of an ordinary patrol cop but this case does not let him go, especially when the body of an old gypsy woman turns up. Again, the suspect Stepovich and his partner arrested seems to be involved and Stepovich is determined to find him. His search will lead him into a supernatural power struggle the existence of which he never suspected.

The Gypsy (1992) is an u... Read More

The Broken Land: Surreal visions of the horrors of civil war

The Broken Land by Ian McDonald

Ian McDonald’s The Broken Land (Hearts, Hands and Voices in the UK) is a book I admired more than I loved. It’s an allegorical look at the horrors of civil war caused by religious zeal and division. The story is set in a fictional country that feels like it could be in a future Africa where biotechnology has led to the development of mechanical infrastructure that is part organic and part artificial intelligence. The citizens are divided by their religious affiliation — some are Proclaimers and some are Confessors. All are subject to the Emperor who lives across the river.

Our protagonist is a young woman named Mathembe who, because of her particular convictions, decides not to speak. Mathembe is a confessor, so she is skilled in the manipulation of genetic material to create new life. When members of her family die, their heads are attached to a huge tree where they are event... Read More

Cosmic Odyssey by Jim Starlin

Cosmic Odyssey by Jim Starlin (writer) and Mike Mignola (artist)

On the one hand, the story of Cosmic Odyssey is a simple one — a terrible and dangerous force known as the anti-life equation threatens our universe, and all the good characters must unite with the evil Darkseid to save the day. On the other hand, this story is rich with Jack Kirby’s wonderful cosmic characters that form the background for much of DC’s Cosmic Universe as it remains to this day.

To understand why you should read Cosmic Odyssey is to understand its background, its creators, and the characters: Cosmic Odyssey is a DC story that includes major characters created by Jack Kirby — characters known as the “New Gods.” Jack Kirby, the influential artist from Marvel who worked with Stan Lee to create major, iconic characters... Read More

Ammonite: Plays a sly trick on us all

Ammonite by Nicola Griffith

In Nicola Griffith’s Ammonite, we find a world without men. If you’re imagining a serene society ruled by wise matriarchs, or a planet of space-babes waiting for Kirk to rescue them, then perhaps this book is not for you. Because Griffith’s world is different. Her book is about reworking the familiar ploys of science-fictions past and making them wonderfully new. It’s classically science fiction, in that it pushes irreverently against the boundaries of classic science fiction.

The first few pages of the book are filled with enough airlocks, sliding doors, and food dispensers to satisfy the most rigid sci-fi fan. An anthropologist named Marghe is in space, preparing to descend to the planet Jeep. Jeep, we learn, was once colonized by the Company for its valuable resources. But then a virus swept through the settlers and killed all the men and most of the women, and the Company abandoned ... Read More

The Hollow Man: Confused and overly-complex

The Hollow Man by Dan Simmons

I’m a huge fan of Dan Simmons’s work — when he hits. With The Hollow Man, he misses. Though his talent as a stylist is once again on full display here, the story is confused and overly-complex, leaving the objective of The Hollow Man obscure and ambiguous. One look at the plot devices at work — neuroscience, serial killers, homelessness, telepathy, depression, the mafia, quantum physics — ought to tell you the story is bogged down with excess baggage. And did I mention the abused, deaf-blind boy with Down Syndrome who plays a hand in the novel’s climax?

Regarding content, The Hollow Man is the story of a telepathic man who undergoes a drastic life change after his wife, also telepathic, dies. The severing of this bond, which we are led to believe is stronger than the average relationship due to their mind-to-mind connection, causes the man t... Read More

Alien Earth: A magnificent science fiction tale

Alien Earth by Megan Lindholm

Megan Lindholm is perhaps better known under her pseudonym Robin Hobb. Since the appearance of Assassin's Apprentice in 1995, her work set in the Realm of the Elderlings has gained her a wide popularity among fans of epic fantasy. Before the emergence of Hobb, Lindholm had already published ten other novels. A lot of these are out of print these days and that is a shame; the seven I’ve read so far are more than worth reading. It should be noted that Lindholm had a good reason to adopt another pen name. While the Robin Hobb books tend to be more traditional epic fantasy, Lindholm's work also includes urban fantasy to books that border on historical fiction and, in the case of Alien Earth, even science fiction. It's hard to pin down the difference in style, but Lindholm's writing has often been described as grittier. Liking Robin Ho... Read More

Snow Crash: Required reading for cyberpunk and speculative fiction fans

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Readers considering whether they should read Neal Stephenson’s breakthrough novel, Snow Crash, would do well to read the novel’s opening chapters about the Deliverator. Rarely has a sales pitch been so blatantly — and so masterfully — launched at the start of a novel. Even James Bond must envy such a rich opening gambit.

For some readers, the remainder of Snow Crash will not live up to the pacing of the opening sequence. In fact, I’d even go so far as to suggest that Stephenson’s hero, Hiro Protagonist — who carries a katana and who is supposed to be “type A on steroids” — does not live up to his introduction. Yet, the style and sheer attitude of the opening is a joy to read, and this mood, which skates the line between irony and geek enthusiasm, is maintained throughout.

The plot is a litt... Read More

The Master of Whitestorm: An excellent stand-alone

The Master of Whitestorm by Janny Wurts

As The Master of Whitestorm starts off, Haldeth, a blacksmith turned galley slave, gets involved in an escape attempt by his bench mate, a mysterious and silent man who quickly proves to have surprising skills and hidden depths. After the two companions escape, they strike out together, and the mysterious man, whose name turns out to be Korendir, takes on a number of mercenary missions. It quickly becomes clear that Korendir is, to put it lightly, very focused on gathering enough money to build an impregnable fortress on the cliffs of Whitestorm...

This standalone novel is another excellent example of Janny Wurts' gorgeous prose style and entrancing story-telling. Initially an episodic story, consisting of a number of separate "missions" Korendir undertakes, the book gradually reveals an underlying thread that explains Korendir's distinctive persona... Read More

A Song for Arbonne: Reverberates with the slow, sweet music of humanity

A Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay

In this homage to the troubadours and the "court of love" of medieval France, Guy Gavriel Kay comes down from the dizzying heights of The Fionavar Tapestry trilogy and creates a beautiful and memorable tale of mere mortals ensnared by political intrigue, enmity and love. (GGK does allude to Fionavar quite nicely, however, in a brief lullaby.)

While the plot is perhaps too complex for adequate summary here, it's certainly not too complex for your reading pleasure. At the heart of this tale of an alternate medieval reality is Blaise of Gorhaut (Germany), a knight who has traveled to "sun-blessed" Arbonne (France) for the primary purpose of leaving his past behind. As events unfold, however, Blaise is carried higher and higher into the... Read More