1993


Winter of Fire: Just as powerful now

Reposting to include Rebecca's review of the new reprint edition.

Winter of Fire by Sherryl Jordan

Sherryl Jordan is a New Zealand-based author of young adult and children’s fantasy fiction. In Winter of Fire (1993) she tells the story of Elsha, a sixteen year old girl born into the enslaved underclass called the Quelled. As the sun has disappeared from the world, a memory only alive in mythology, the Quelled are forced to mine for the firestones that are the people's only source of warmth. But Elsha has a rebellious spirit and is often in trouble with the brutal overseers at the mine. They are from the upper class, the people known as the Chosen.

Elsha's life is changed forever when she is chosen to be the handmaid of the legendry Firelord. The Firelord is the most important man in the world as he possesses the power to divine for firestones, the life fuel of e... Read More

Strange Devices of the Sun and Moon: A charming historical fantasy

Strange Devices of the Sun and Moon by Lisa Goldstein

Alice Wood, a recently widowed middle-aged woman, is continuing her husband’s bookselling business in his stall in the courtyard of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Though Alice is liked by the other vendors in the courtyard, most think that, as a woman, she’s not equipped to run a business by herself. One of her competitors, a man named George, insists that she should sell her stall to him, or at least that she should marry him and let him run their combined businesses. Everyone knows that, with the exception of Queen Elizabeth, a woman needs a man around to run things.

But Alice is determined to prove George and her other detractors wrong and she continues to work with publishers to sell books and pamphlets (such as those by Thomas Nashe) to Londoners. Things are going well until her... Read More

The Porcelain Dove: A gothic fairy tale

The Porcelain Dove by Delia Sherman

Years ago, I got into “fantasies of manners” at about the same time as I was going through a big Revolutionary France phase. When I heard about Delia Sherman’s The Porcelain Dove (1993) — a fantasy set in that time period, and which won the Mythopoeic Award for 1994 — it sounded like the perfect book for me. I could never find it in the used bookstores, though. (I did, before I successfully committed the title to memory, buy two different other books thinking they might be it.) The rise of e-books has fortunately made it possible for us to track down some of our elusive great white whales, or in this case, our porcelain doves.

I don’t know what gave me the idea The Porcelain Dove would be a light, frothy novel. It is not. It is also, c... Read More

The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump: Very punny

The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump by Harry Turtledove

David Fisher is an inspector for the Environmental Perfection Agency (EPA), a bureaucracy in charge of regulating the industrial by-products (pollution) caused by using magical spells in an alternate America where most of the technology is based on magic or the actions of any deities or demons that people believe in. For example, the telephones work because there are imps that relay messages back and forth, salamanders produce heat, and vehicles are actually flying carpets.

One night, David gets a frantic call from a superior who tells him that there’s some unusual activity at a spell dump north of this world’s version of Los Angeles. A spell dump is where companies and other entities guard the spells they devise so they can keep them secret, and so any dangerous by-products of the magic are contained.

When David visits the spell dump, he notices some oddities... Read More

A Night in the Lonesome October: An annual October ritual for fans

A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny

During the entire month of October, in the late 1800s, in a year when the full moon falls on Halloween, strange forces gather in a village outside of London. Various iconic characters ― who will be familiar to fans of Victorian literature and classic horror movies ― create shifting alliances, gather herbs, instruments of power and the odd eyeball and femur, and prepare for a mystery-shrouded event that will take place on Halloween night.

A Night in the Lonesome October (1993) is narrated by the aptly-named Snuff, a dog who is the familiar of a man named Jack. Snuff is more than just a dog; at the beginning of the novel he comments cryptically, “I like being a watchdog better than what I was before he summoned me and gave me this job.” Snuff helps Jack gather ingredients for Halloween night, keeps an watchful eye on various cursed Things trapped in ... Read More

Down in the Bottomlands: Hugo-winning novella

Down in the Bottomlands by Harry Turtledove

Harry Turtledove is known best for his alternate histories. In Down in the Bottomlands, a novella which won the Hugo Award, Turtledove goes with the premise that the Atlantic Ocean did not re-fill the dried-up Mediterranean Sea during the Miocene period. The sea basin becomes a desert, and this alteration in the Earth’s geography affects many aspects of humanity’s genetic and geopolitical evolution.

Radnal vez Krobir, a citizen of the Hereditary Tyranny of Tartesh, is a tour guide in Trench Park, part of the dessert that he knows used to be a sea supplied by the ocean that lies beyond the Barrier Mountains. Now dried up, it has a distinct ecosystem. When we meet Radnal, he is in charge of a diverse group of tourists who want to experience the wonders of Trench Park. Read More

Permutation City: A staple of transhumanistic fiction

Permutation City by Greg Egan

What would you give in exchange for immortality? Greg Egan's unabashed answer to that question in Permutation City is simple: Your humanity. Its sounds cliché, but Permutation City is a book that is able to do what only the best science fiction books can: make you think of questions you never knew you had, and imagine futures that seem ever more possible as time passes.

Around the mid-21st century, mind-uploading technology has been perfected, but its use is still limited to those few who can afford it. Moore's law no longer holds, and computing power is an ever scarcer and costlier commodity, so much so that Copies without the requisite funds to run indefinitely are put on hold until the computing resources become available. Paul Durham has been trying to experiment on Copies... Read More

Against a Dark Background: A fun story that lacks depth

Against a Dark Background by Iain Banks

Despite being Iain M. Banks’ fifth published work of science fiction, Against a Dark Background has all the feel of being the author’s fledgling effort in the genre. Overwritten, narrative fragmented in inconsistent fashion, and plot devices and storytelling all rather overt, the book is good if you’re looking for a light read that doesn’t require too much thought. Otherwise, it leaves a lot to be desired when compared to much of the author’s other sci-fi.

Against a Dark Background is the story of Sharrow, the displaced daughter of a noble whose life choices have not endeared her to the aristocracy of their planet Golter. And what a character she is. On the run from the Huhsz, a strange religious group which has a legal assassination warrant out on her unless sh... Read More

The Rediscovery of Man: The strangest future mythology you’ll ever read

The Rediscovery of Man by Cordwainer Smith

The universe that Cordwainer Smith created has captured the imagination of many SF fans and authors thanks to the short stories that have been collected in The Instrumentality of Mankind (1974), The Best of Cordwainer Smith (1975), and The Rediscovery of Man (1993). It is without doubt one of the strangest and most memorable creations in SF, even if it only affords short, tantalizing glimpses of a much greater tapestry that the author was never able to fully reveal due to his untimely death at age 53.

The most famous of those stories are included in the Gollancz edition:

Scanners Live in Vain (1950)
The Lady Who Sailed the Soul (1960)
The Game of Rat and Dragon (1955)
The Burning of the Brain (1958)
Golden the Ship Was — Oh! Oh! Oh! (1959)
The ... Read More

The Innkeeper’s Song: A vivid, bittersweet dream… but of what?

The Innkeeper's Song by Peter S. Beagle

The Innkeeper's Songis a one-volume fantasy for mature readers that is by turns (or even simultaneously) lyrical and maddening. Lyrical because much of its language is, in contemporary fantasy, on par with only Patricia McKillip and Guy Gavriel Kay. Maddening because — despite the full-throttle beginning, intricately woven characters and a world made wondrous without a map or long descriptions but simply by names and prosaic brushstrokes — the promise of the beginning and middle absolutely fizzles to a all-but-incomprehensible anti-climax in which none of the characters' skills, virtues or flaws seem to matter. It's the equivalent of dreaming oneself into a world of rich and dread beauty, flying over that world so freely as to go beyond dreaming entirel... Read More

Deerskin: McKinley seduces us

Deerskin by Robin McKinley

Robin McKinley sure knows how to use the English language. We are in her spell from the beginning. Deerskin commences with Lissar's nurse telling her a fairy tale — but the fairy tale is the story of how Lissar's larger-than-life parents met. She is told from the very cradle what paragons her mother and father are, and yet she herself is ignored by them. McKinley seduces us with the the magical kingdom's rarefied beauty and glamour — and also the coldness and rot at its core. When Lissar flees, we are shown, with the same deftness, an inhospitable wilderness. And when she finds the kingdom of Cofta, we can't help but notice the difference between it and Lissar's old home; it is more pompous in its architecture, but filled with human warmth. McKinley is equally at home in the throne room and in the dog kennels, and she makes all of it real for us, as Lissar, with the help of the Moonwoman,... Read More

Into the Green: What a strange little book!

Into the Green by Charles de Lint

What a strange little book. That was the first thought that crossed my head after I closed Into the Green. It concerns the adventures of Angharad, a tinker-woman who is also 'Summerborn', which means that she has a mystical gift that connects her with the realm of Faerie, better known in this world as 'the Green'. Traveling the three islands that make up her Celtic-flavoured world, Angharad's mission in life is to awaken other potential Summerborns to their dormant gift and prevent the magic of the Green from leaking out of the world through her singing, storytelling and harping.

In the first surprise of the book, the heroine does not marry at the finale of the story but at its beginning — and just as abruptly her husband Garrow is taken from her by the plague. With her husband, family and community dead she is forced into a new calling as a solitary wanderer. For the f... Read More

The Rose and the Beast: Nine Fairy Tales: Dark stunning collection

The Rose and the Beast: Nine Fairy Tales by Francesca Lia Block

The Rose and the Beast: Nine Fairy Tales was my first look into the writing of Francesca Lia Block, and I was immediately captivated by both her style and tone and her unsurpassable use of imagery, and her ability to make old fairytales into new, darker and profound creations. It is gradually becoming clear in the general world of literature that fairytales in their original form were not at all intended for children, and the advent of sweet little fairytales, beginning with the Brothers Grimm and accumulating in the works of Enid Blyton, are gradually heading back to what they were originally used for: deep insights into the minds and souls of human beings as a whole. With that in mind, Francesca Lia Block perfectly captures their essence and meaning.
The cover art also captures this regard for fairytales — the fr... Read More

The Magic Circle: Poignant and thought-provoking

The Magic Circle by Donna Jo Napoli

Donna Jo Napoli's trademark technique of fleshing out a fairytale is in fine display in The Magic Circle, her retelling of Hansel and Gretel. Napoli's stories often reveal motivations behind some of the action that takes place in the traditional fairytales, reasoning out some of the fantastic elements and explaining the behaviour of the familiar characters; which usually results in the villain becoming more sympathetic and understandable. Such is certainly the case in The Magic Circle, in which she explores the background of Hansel and Gretel's wicked witch.

The hunchback woman is known as the Ugly One by all her neighbours, but has the gift of healing which she uses to aid pregnant women and sick people in her medieval Europe community. She is the proud mother of a beautiful ... Read More