The Last Light of the Sun: Another lovely historical fantasy by GGK

Reposting to include Bill's new review.

The Last Light of the Sun by Guy Gavriel Kay

The Last Light of the Sun is another of Guy Gavriel Kay’s lovely historical fantasies. This one blends Norse, Celtic, and Anglo-Saxon histories with a bit of faerie mythos. We follow a few main characters from each of these societies as they interact with each other to shape their land and destinies. As usual in a Guy Gavriel Kay novel, we see the struggles from each perspective, so there’s no single “hero” or “villain.” We understand what motivates each of the characters and their culture and we can admire their strengths and recognize their weaknesses. In the end, we want everyone to win but, of course, that’s not what happens.

I thought the cast of The Last Light of the Sun was not as accessible or compelling as that of Tigana Read More

Feersum Endjinn: An eclectic far-future science fantasy

Feersum Endjinn by Iain M. Banks

Sometimes a book has so many incredible elements that it defies easy summary. Compound that with the fact that it shares themes with some of your favorite genre classics, and that it is written by the incredibly-talented Iain M. Banks, and you have the recipe for a very unique reading experience. As I read the story, I was forcibly reminded of some classic books in the genre, particularly Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars, Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, Read More

The Secret of Platform 13: Delightful, fantastical fun

The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson

Eva Ibbotson is a well-loved children’s author, and it is books like The Secret of Platform 13 that make me glad that I have no qualms about reading beyond the confines of suggested age groups. In fact, I find the experience particularly indulgent.

As a quick prologue, I note that some people have made much of the similarity between Ibbotson’s Platform 13 at Kings Cross Station and the one used by J.K. Rowling, Platform 9 3/4. I don’t have much to say on the subject, only that the books are very different in most other ways and honestly, it’s not worth getting excited about.

With that said, I can get on to the important things.

Once every nine years a secret door called ... Read More

Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls: Deserves more attention

Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls by Jane Lindskold

Originally released in 1994, Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls is Jane Lindskold's first published novel. She is perhaps better known for her Firekeeper books and her collaboration with Roger Zelazny, and her more recent work is considered (urban) fantasy, but this book strikes me as more of a near future science fiction novel. As in a lot of her novels, there is a strong connection between animals and people, although not quite in the way the title seems to suggest. The utter strangeness of the main character and the first person narrative make the novel a very interesting read.

At the opening of Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls, Sarah is staying in the ... Read More

Footsteps in the Sky: a multi-layered, rewarding read

Footsteps in the Sky by Greg Keyes

Footsteps in the Sky, by Greg Keyes, is on one level a wholly enjoyable science fiction action story that offers up a whole bunch of fun surface action involving laser rifles, fusion-powered seedships, augmented humans, AIs, rebellious space colonies, and the like. You can read it for those elements alone and have yourself a good time. But the novel offers much more, as Keyes builds onto the surface elements an evocative, deeply felt exploration of identity, compassion, faith, community, and of just what it means to be human, much of it through the prism of the Hopi culture/belief system, presented here in detailed, respectful, and often touching manner and presented as well in a fashion that could clearly stand as an analogue to modern-day conflicts within such native cultures: How does one maintain ... Read More

Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone: A fascinating pilgrimage

Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone by Ian McDonald

Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone is a fascinating short novel by Ian McDonald. At the beginning of the story we meet Ethan Ring, who’s feeling conspicuously tall and red-headed as he chants in a Buddhist temple. Ethan and his friend, a famous Japanese manga artist, are on a bicycle pilgrimage in Japan. Neither of them knows what kind of demons the other is struggling with, and neither does the reader at first, but as they journey on, their stories come out and even though each man’s tale is different, they realize that both of them are searching for redemption and peace.

Many stories deal with a hero’s search for redemption, but Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone is unique. The setting is a neo-feudal Japan where tech corporations are the fiefdoms and gangs of armed vigilantes threaten citizens’ peace and security. This is jarringly j... Read More

Terminal Café: An existential examination of nanotechnology

Terminal Café (Necroville in the UK) by Ian McDonald

“’Am I a ghost in a meat machine, am I God’s little seed stored in heaven for all eternity and glued one day on to a blastocyst in Mama Columbar’s womb; has this me been recycled through countless previous bodies, previous worlds, universes?’ He pressed his finger between Trinidad’s eyes… ‘This is the final frontier. Here. This curve of bone is the edge of the universe.’”

Existentialism is a main theme of Ian Mcdonald’s brilliant 1994 Terminal Café(published in the UK as Necroville). Pyrotechnic poetry blasting from the pages, the possibilities of nanotechnology have never been related in such vivid profundity. In southern California of 2063, the dead live again in this flames-and-leather cyberpunk exploration of the meaning of life and death in a world gone mad with possibility.

In lin... Read More

Marvels: A masterpiece

Marvels by Kurt Busiek (writer) & Alex Ross (artist)

Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross have produced a masterpiece in Marvels. It is simply one of the best superhero comics ever written. As far as I'm concerned, people who say they don't like superhero comics haven't earned the right to that claim unless they've read this comic. And even if their tastes remain unchanged, I can't imagine anyone arguing that the book doesn't have great literary and artistic merit. Marvels itself is a Marvel.

The basic premise is a simple one: The story of Marvel comics is told from our perspective, the perspective of an everyday citizen. We are represented by the main character, Phil Sheldon, an up-and-coming photographer who labels these new super-powered heroes and villai... Read More

Noctuary: A horror collection

Noctuary by Thomas Ligotti

“For we are the specters of a madness that surpasses ourselves and hides in mystery. And though we search for sense throughout endless rooms, all we may find is a voice whispering from a mirror in a house that belongs to no one.”

Thomas Ligotti is a master of madness. He writes short stories in the horror vein. Subterranean Press has collected eight of them, along with twenty vignettes or “flash fiction,” not more than 750 words, in the anthology Noctuary (originally published in 1994).

Ligotti shares the horror-master dais with writers like Ramsay Clark and, of course, H.P. Lovecraft. His work is less about physical horror and more psychological; evoking dread, depression and a dislocation of the senses that leave you distrusting your own sanity. In many of ... Read More

Dark Visions: If you like Edward, you’ll love Gabriel

Dark Visions by L.J. Smith

"If You've Got Darkness in Your Nature, You Might as Well Enjoy It..."

One of the beneficial side effects of the sudden surge in paranormal teen romance is that Lisa Jane Smith's novels have been republished. They were essential reading material in my adolescence and getting the chance to reread them in my twenty-something-hood has been lots of fun. Supernatural creatures, love triangles, empowered heroines, a solid story, and clear narrative with just a hint of purple prose are the staple ingredients in any L.J. Smith trilogy.

Kaitlyn Fairchild is isolated and ostracized in her small town, considered a witch by her peers and plenty of adults too due to her ability to draw precognitive visions. She can never find a way of preventing her dark visions from coming true, leading to circulating rumors that she not only sees the future... Read More

Waking the Moon: One of my Desert Island books

Waking the Moon by Elizabeth Hand

I'm on either my third or fourth copy of Waking the Moon, I can't remember which. I first read it eleven years ago, loaned it to everyone I thought might be remotely interested, sometimes didn't get it back, and never felt quite right when I didn't have it on my shelf. This is one of my Desert Island Books.

The plot revolves around Sweeney Cassidy, an insecure college freshman who goes wild in her first semester away from home. She skips classes, stays out all night, and drinks staggering amounts of alcohol. Into this haze come the ethereal, effeminate Oliver and the seductive queen-bee Angelica, who become her best friends, and with both of whom Sweeney falls in love.

Sweeney has more on her plate than hangovers and term papers, however. Angelica turns out to be the chosen avatar of a long-forgotten goddess, and the college is controlled by the Benanda... Read More

Primavera: A fascinating story

Primavera by Francesca Lia Block

Francesca Lia Block's novel Primavera is the sequel to an earlier novel Ecstasia, which should probably be read before continuing with this one. I hadn't read Ecstasia, and though this didn't prevent me from grasping what was going on here, I couldn't help but feel that some of the action that takes place would have been better understood and more poignant had I previously read Ecstasia.

From what I gathered here, Ecstasia concerned a four-person band (Calliope, Dionisio, Paul, and Rafe) who lived in the beautiful city of Elysia which revered the youthful and cast out the old — much like Hollywood. Their band Ecstasia was a huge success, but eventually they tired of the city and escaped to the desert, where their music created a paradise for them to dwell in. Calliope ... Read More

Here There Be Witches: Beautiful illustrations

Here There Be Witches by Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen's anthology is centered around the topic of witches and holds a wide range of writing styles, whether it be poetry, short stories, retelling of legends or dialogue. This variety of these stories and their tones sometimes makes a rather mish-mashed collection; the serious stories don't quite fit with the light-hearted ones and you feel as if they should be in separate books. On the other hand, the range means that there's something for everyone and one gets to see the many sides of witches and their crafts. David Wilgus' black-and-white illustrations are greatly responsible for my enjoyment of this book — he is able to create beauty and realism in each one, no matter how fantastic the subject matter is. I especially like the front and back cover — an old woman on the front, but a beautiful youthful one on the back — but the same snake-ring they wear is testimony that they're the same person! Read More

Bast: Bell, Book, and Murder

Bast: Bell, Book, and Murder by Rosemary Edghill

Speak Daggers to Her, The Book of Moons, and The Bowl of Night are some of the best fiction about modern witches I've seen yet. And the main reason why is the heroine — Bast. In Bast, Rosemary Edghill creates a delightful heroine with a deep belief in the Goddess and magic — and also with a barbed tongue that deftly skewers the politics and foibles of the Pagan community. Even if there had been no plot in these three novels, I would have kept reading just to "listen" to Bast talk. And as an added bonus, there is a plot.

Speak Daggers to Her: An old friend of Bast's dies of seemingly natural causes in her apartment. Bast discovers that her friend had gotten mixed up in a cult — could this be related?

The Book of Moons Read More

Storm at the Edge of Time: Interesting, but hardly exceptional story

Storm at the Edge of Time by Pamela F. Service

Storm at the Edge of Time is a good idea, and nicely presented, but on reading it one realises it could have been a lot better with a little more length and time, as well as depth into the characters and circumstances.

Jamie is a young American girl holidaying in Scotland, Arni is a young Viking living on the coast, and Tyaak is a half-human, half-alien boy who is going through with his rite-of-passage stay on Earth's island of Britain. All of them are separated by thousands of years, yet all of them are descendants of each other. They are each called toward the great stone circle in their separate times and greeted by the wizard Urkar who presents them with a task only they can pre form: to prevent the chaotic storm of destruction from destroying the world, they must find and return to him three magical staffs that can stabilise the worlds. These staffs repr... Read More