Blindness: Nobel Prize-winning post-apocalyptic fiction

Blindness by José Saramago

Originally published in Portuguese in 1995, José Saramago’s Blindness is a post-apocalyptic novel about pandemic blindness and the consequent dissolution of a society. Both the novel and the author have received acclaim, and Saramago won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998. I liked Blindness, but I found it overrated.

Many readers will find this novel thoughtful and complex. The hero is a woman who does not lose her sight but nevertheless accompanies her suddenly blind husband when he is sent into quarantine. She is just a regular person, and yet she selflessly cares not only for her husband but also for the strangers in her ward. There is a temptation to simply read her as a straightforward Christ-like figure, until one reads Saramago’s W... Read More

The Secret of This Book: A great buffet of literature

The Secret of This Book by Brian W. Aldiss

Brian Aldiss was one of the most versatile writers in speculative fiction. Published in a variety of forms (poetry, plays, short fiction, novels, and non-fiction), a variety of genres and sub-genres (fantasy, science fiction, and realism — to cover the big ones) and in a variety of writing styles, his dynamism, willingness to try new modes, and experimentation with prose made him one of the most important writers in the field. Capturing this versatility is Aldiss’s 1995 collection The Secret of This Book. Showing off nearly all the tools in his kit, it’s a mature collection of well-wrought stories that are perfect for the reader looking for variety in their genre reading.

From the opening salvo to the last, Aldiss lets the reader know art is one of the main motifs of The Secret of This Book. “Common Clay,” which opens the col... Read More

Merlin’s Bones: Needs fleshing out

Merlin’s Bones by Fred Saberhagen

We raided the used bookstore the other day and this was one of my prizes; as sometimes happens when I visit the used bookstore and pick up a book by an author whose name I consider a guarantee of quality, I discovered when I got home that I had actually read Merlin’s Bones before — perhaps fifteen years ago, in this case. It took about three chapters to be sure, by which time I was merrily embarked and enjoying the story, so I didn’t mind. I did have, however, a small uneasiness — I recalled having been unimpressed with my previous read, though I didn’t remember why.

The story is set in two times: the first is medieval England, where a boy named Amby and his troupe of traveling players are attempting to escape the attentions of a warlord who their (the troupe’s) leader insulted on-stage and find themselves in a very strange castle which, as it turns out, was bui... Read More

Slow River: A must-read

Slow River by Nicola Griffith

Slow River (1995) is Nicola Griffith's second novel and the third one by her I've read. Like her debut Ammonite (1992), it attracted quite a bit of attention. The novel won a Nebula Award in 1996 and has made it into the Gollancz SF Masterworks series. I enjoyed both Hild (2013) and Ammonite an awful lot so this book ended up on the to-read stack right after finishing Ammonite. I didn't know it when I got it, but Slow River has quite a bit of environmental science in it. If I had known earlier this might have been the more obvious starting point in Griffi... Read More

The Terminal Experiment: A substandard Crichton-style thriller

The Terminal Experiment by Robert J. Sawyer

Robert J. Sawyer is a very popular Canadian science-fiction author, with many novels under his belt and several major awards, including the 1995 Nebula Award for The Terminal Experiment, 2003 Hugo Award for Hominids, and 2006 John W. Campbell Award for Mindscan. I hadn’t read anything of his so I decided to give The Terminal Experiment a try. It’s about an engineer who creates three artificial copies of his consciousness, and one of them becomes a killer. The audiobook, by Recorded Books, is narrated by the very competent Paul Hecht, and is an easy listen. But how well does it hold up as an award winner?

I’ll freely admit I am not a big fan of “techno-thrillers” in science fiction. Gene... Read More

The Firework-Maker’s Daughter: Another wonderful tale for children

The Firework-Maker’s Daughter by Philip Pullman

The Firework-Maker’s Daughter is a short children’s book written by Phillip Pullman and it’s a little gem. Pullman pulls off a perfect recipe of magic, adventure and pure fun in this sparkling little fairy tale.

Lila is the daughter of the talented firework maker Lachland. All Lila wants is to become a true firework maker herself, but to do so she must make the perilous journey to the fire-fiend Razvani and bring back some Royal Sulphur. What’s worse, she sets off before her father can tell her the one thing she’ll need to survive Razvani’s flames. Luckily Lila has good friends in the form of Hamlet, the talking white elephant, and his special minder Chaluk, who follow Lila in hot pursuit, bumping into goddesses, tigers and pirates on the way.
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The Time Ships: The Time Machine was just the beginning…

The Time Ships by Stephen Baxter

Stephen Baxter's The Time Ships is a sequel to HG Wells' classic The Time Machine. Where Wells was crisp, haunting and poignant, Baxter is deep and broad, and offers his usual blend of hard-core sci-fi philosophy and science.

The Time Ships picks up where The Time Machine left off. The Time Traveler (TTT), after getting nothing more than a tepid response to the story of his first trip to the future, rushes headlong back into the future to find and rescue his Eloi friend Weena. Instead of returning to fix the wrongs of his previous time travel experiences, TTT finds himself in a different future, somehow caused by his initial trip. ... Read More

Clover Honey by Rich Tommaso

Clover Honey by Rich Tommaso

Clover Honey by Rich Tommaso is a re-release of his first graphic novel, originally published in 1995, when Tommaso was twenty-three-year-old. I’ve never read anything quite like it. It’s a quick read — I think it took me all of forty-five minutes to read it — but I think it’s going to stay with me for some time to come. And I’m sure I’ll return to it. My initial impression is four stars, but I think with time I’d be willing to go higher. I suspect that the more time I spend with the book and thinking about it, the more it will grow on me.

Clover Honey is a black-and-white slice-of-life story that deals with the ... Read More

Dreams of Terror and Death: The Dream Cycle of H.P. Lovecraft

Dreams of Terror and Death: The Dream Cycle of H.P. Lovecraft  H.P. Lovecraft

In the mood for some Eldritch horror? Feel like steeping yourself in Lovecraft’s frightening nihilistic dream worlds? Want to be read to by some of the world’s best story readers? Then give Blackstone Audio’s version of Dreams of Terror and Death: The Dream Cycle of H.P. Lovecraft a try. It collects Lovecraft’s entire Dream Cycle in 20 hours of high-quality audio narrated by some of my favorite readers including Robertson Dean, Simon Vance, Sean Runnette, Elijah Alexander, Stefan Rudnicki, Bronson Pinchot, Simon Prebble, Tom Weiner, Malcolm Hillgartner, and Patrick Cullen.

Here are the stories. (I’ve linked them to the excellent Lovecraft Archive where you can read them for free since they’re in the public domain, but please consider this audio version, because it’s really excellent):
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Resurrection Man: A gem of literary fantasy

Resurrection Man by Sean Stewart

Not knowing who Sean Stewart was prior to reading Resurrection Man, it was more than a pleasant surprise to find such a well written book with poignant themes. Hiding on the margins of literature, Stewart’s novel tells the story of a Hungarian family living in the US and their attempts to come to terms with skeletons in the closet after WII, both personal and familial. But it is not the 1950’s America you know from history; magic in the form of charms and strange, unexplainable occurrences are a natural part of everyday life.

The opening lines of the novel find the protagonist Dante staring down at his own dead body. Thinking it an ill omen, he sets about solving the riddle. But Dante is not alone in unraveling the mystery. His mysterious adopted brother Jet hangs on the periphery, offering the most spiritual of advice, while his sister, Sarah, fights personal probl... Read More

The Lions of Al-Rassan: Political intrigue, romance, poetry, passion

The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

In the turbulent region that used to be the stable empire of Al-Rassan, petty kings vie for power. Each of these rulers is ambitions and clever, but none of them has been able to acquire his position without the help of others — crafty advisors, brave army commanders, brilliantly inventive doctors, devoted wives and children — and sometimes the same people who have served them well are the same ones who may later cause their downfall.

The Lions of Al-Rassan is the story of a few of these people, how they worked for (and sometimes against) the rulers they pledged to serve, and how they brought about the rise and fall of nations. The infamous Ammar ibn Khairan — King Almalik’s soldier, advisor, assassin, and poet — is known as the man who assassinated the last Khalif of al-Rassan. The notorious Rodrigo Belmonte — King Ramiro’s best commander — is the... Read More

Distress: Lots of big ideas

Distress by Greg Egan

The unique talent that is Greg Egan has written another novel that barely strains the limits of modern technology in a near-future socio-political world that is more than believable. Cameras are biologically inserted into humans, rendering reporters as close to the definition of the word “witness” as philologists will permit; pharmaceuticals exist which allow a person to be one button away from a desired mood; and fundamentalists and activists emerge from all corners as science replaces religion in the global mindset. Distress contains enough ideas for three novels; imagination does not seem to be a problem for Greg Egan.

The main idea tackled in Distress is: what if a Theory of Everything were not only possible but just around the corner? What effect would this have on society? In order to examine this scenario, Egan sets his protagonist, the... Read More

The Death of Captain Future: Old-style heroic SF adventure

The Death of Captain Future by Allen Steele

To get the fastest transport to a rendezvous with his new job, spacer Rohr Furland decides to take a position on The Comet. Rohr doesn’t listen to gossip, so he isn’t aware that the captain of The Comet, who styles himself Captain Future, is a nut case who can’t find a crew because nobody else will work for him. Nobody, that is, except for Jeri, a bioengineered “Superior” human who Rohr develops a crush on. Why is Jeri, who is a wonderful person and an excellent First Officer, willing to put up with this awful job?

Captain Future, obsessed with 1960s American pulp science fiction, turns out to be a tyrant. His father bought him The Comet and now he’s living out all his boyhood fantasies as the captain of a spaceship. Rohr can’t stand Captain Future, but all he has to do is make it to their next stop, where Rohr will be disembarking. But when a dis... Read More

The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer

The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson

In The Diamond Age, anything, no matter how trivial, could be made from diamonds drawn from molecular feeds. This will be the era in which humanity masters nanotechnology. On the one hand, this is a time of plenty and technological progress, but it is also a time of great illiteracy as well. With the rise of universal access to the molecular feed, the governments and nations that we know today will lose their purpose and become supplanted by culture-based societies that have territory around the world.

John Percival Hackworth, for example, is a Neo-Victorian engineer based in Shanghai. He has been commissioned to build a primer that will teach the Neo-Victorians’ children to think independently. More than a book, the Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer is interactive and adapts its storyline for the young... Read More

The Shape-Changer’s Wife: A beautiful fairytale romance

The Shape-Changer’s Wife by Sharon Shinn

Aubrey is a young wizard, apprenticed to Glynrenden, the most powerful shape-changer in the land. Aubrey wants to learn all of his magical secrets, but instead discovers a mystery surrounding the shape-changer’s wife, Lilith, which may change everything Aubrey has ever known.

The Shape-Changer’s Wife is a beautiful fairytale romance, with a haunting, slightly creepy undertone. Glynrenden is a menacing character, and Shinn does a wonderful job of eliciting a sense of dread during his interactions with the other characters. Similarly, the interactions between members of Glynrenden’s household and the local villagers underscore the simmering tension and a growing realization that something is not quite right. This makes for an effective counterbalance to what could have been an overly sweet love story. Shinn also manages to write a novel that is appropriate fo... Read More

The Book of Atrix Wolfe: Mysterious and beautiful

The Book of Atrix Wolfe by Patricia McKillip

I would have brought you every bird in the wood...

Patricia McKillip once again takes a seemingly simple plot and shapes into something mysterious and beautiful through the use of her poetic, luminous language. It must be said that McKillip's writing style is entirely unique, to the point where it is slightly off-putting to anyone reading it for the first time. Because she incomparable to anyone else I can think of, the best I can do to explain it is to say that her books are like Shakespeare in the fact that it seems indecipherable when you first begin to read, but after getting used to the technique, it gradually begins to make more and more sense till you can finally appreciate its beauty and the skill that went into creating it.

The powerful mage Atrix Wolfe is known throughout the lands as the White Wolf, due to his tendency to sha... Read More

The Arkadians: Not as brilliant as his other books

The Arkadians by Lloyd Alexander

Lloyd Alexander follows his usual technique of incorporating various myths from around the world into his own original story (as he’s already done with The Chronicles of Prydain, The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen, and The Iron Ring) but this time it’s with a clever twist. Instead of taking aspects of myths to work into his own story, here Alexander traces several Greek myths back to their source, outlining the roots of these stories and exploring how they may have been changed over time into the myths as we know them today. For example, we meet a character in the course of the book who provides the inspiration for The Odyssey — a sailor who helps a group of warriors fetch a runaway youth and maiden from a fortified city by constructing a wooden as... Read More