Neverwhere: A wonderfully fantastical setting

Reposting to include Maron's new essay.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere is a novel that improved dramatically for me on reread, which actually was a surprise to me. I originally read it about six years ago when, in an odd twist worthy of London Below, it mysteriously appeared one day on my clunky Kindle 2, without my having ordered it. About a month later it just as mysteriously disappeared again (luckily I had finished it just in time). I was fascinated by the marvelous and imaginative setting of Neverwhere and London Below, but only mildly entertained by the plot, which ― other than the beginning and the end ― I found quite forgettable.

Still, when I was offered the chance to read a 2016 edition of Neverwhere with the “author’s preferred text” and illustrations by Chris Riddell, whose illustrations make Gaiman’... Read More

Antarctica: Familiar, but well-written and fun

Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson

X follows his girlfriend, Val, to Antarctica, only to learn that she is dumping him. A mountaineer, Val becomes an expedition leader while X becomes a grunt. While driving a convoy, one of his vehicles is hijacked, which is odd enough that the American Senator Phil Chase sends one of his staff, Wade, to investigate. Kim Stanley Robinson's Antarctica is an adventure, a near future climate change allegory, and an overview of Antarctica's history, geography, geology, politics, and more.

In other words, Antarctica, published in 1997, is almost exactly the mix of detail, thoughtful speculation, and fun that KSR's readers might expect. The details are laid out in a familiar way: a lot of political and philosophical theorizing is dressed up as conversation, ... Read More

The Five Sisters: A whimsical adventure from a master storyteller

The Five Sisters by Margaret Mahy

You always know you're in for a magical, whimsical treat when reading something by Margaret Mahy, one of New Zealand's most best-loved children's authors. The Five Sisters (1997) is no exception, recounting the marvellous adventures of five paper dolls with linked hands.

On a hot summer day Sally entreats her Nana for a story, but instead watches as she folds a piece of paper and draws a doll with a crooked smile and strong running shoes called Alpha. But before the rest of the sisters can be coloured in, a kingfisher swoops down and snatches them up while Sally and her Nana are fetching lemonade.

The adventures that follow involve a near run-in with a lawnmower, an evil magician in the guise of a china pig, a playful breeze, a career as a bookmark, and several attempts to r... Read More

Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche

Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche by Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami is a celebrated novelist, but Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche is a work of non-fiction about the 1995 sarin gas attack on Tokyo’s subways carried out by the Aum Shinrikyo cult. In five separate locations, cultists simultaneously carried packets of sarin onto a subway. They each pierced their packet with the sharpened end of an umbrella and then left the subway. Twelve people died, and thousands more were harmed by the toxin.

Fans of Murakami’s novels may not be interested in this work, but they should hesitate before dismissing it from their “to read” list. In his ... Read More

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: In search of lost things, including a cat

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

At first glance, Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is about Toru Okada, a legal assistant who has given up his job in the hope of finding a more fulfilling purpose. Though happily married, his cat, Noboru Wataya, has gone missing. If a missing cat sounds too straightforward for a novel often described as the masterpiece of a man who is often mentioned as a dark horse to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, well, there’s a lot to unpack in this summary. Also, Toru is about to learn that his brother-in-law defiles women and his own marriage with Kumiko is in serious trouble.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle can be interpreted along several lines, but perhaps our struggle to form meaningful relationships built on common understanding is th... Read More

The Moon and the Sun: A lush, award-winning fantasy that holds up today

The Moon and the Sun by Vonda N. McIntyre

In 1998, Vonda McIntyre’s sumptuous fantasy The Moon and the Sun won the Nebula award for Best Novel. Set in the court of King Louis the XIV of France, this fantastical alternate history asks questions about the nature of humanity, divine right, and the power of belief systems, whether those are religious or philosophical. Science versus religion is also an element, and a pointed one. Along the way, McIntyre shares tidbits about music, art, “natural science,” and fashion. It’s a dense book, stuffed with characters, ideas and detailed descriptions.

The two main characters are Marie-Josephe de la Croix, a young colonial woman who has come to court after a stay in a convent, and Lucien de Barenton, a noble, a dwarf and a friend of the king. There is a huge circle of ch... Read More

Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb

Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb

Batman: The Long Halloween (1997) takes place soon after Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One (1987) in chronology. Batman is still in his early days of crime-fighting, while Captain Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent are trying to combat corruption in the police force and courts. This book is a lengthy and gripping noir story that goes back to Batman’s roots as a detective, as he and Jim and Harvey all try to solve the mystery of the Holiday Killer, who has been striking both the Falcone and Maroni crime families on major holidays, always with the same... Read More

Warp: Lev Grossman’s first novel

Warp by Lev Grossman

Hollis Kessler has just finished college, and now he’s coasting. He has neither purpose nor direction and can only tie everything he sees into a pop culture web of references. When he sees a woman, for example, he and his friends will immediately tell her what famous woman she resembles. The first woman they see looks like Denise Crosby, who played Lieutenant Tasha Yar in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Hollis and his friends otherwise spend most of their time together gossiping about what jobs and internships their peers have gotten while waiting for something more interesting than their web of pop culture references. Unfortunately, Hollis is becoming increasingly distracted by his memories when he spends time with his friends. Though Star Trek might be his favorite touchstone, even “The House o... Read More

The Night Watch: Primarily about human relationships

The Night Watch by Sean Stewart

Sean Stewart is one of those writers I used to buy sight unseen (before he unfortunately dropped out of writing novels and decided to devote his time to writing interactive online games). His books tend to be very character driven, something I personally like, and he has an individual writing style that manages to be “writerly” without getting bogged down in stylistic tricks.

The Night Watch is the story of a future earth in the year 2074 after an inundation of magic has flooded the world (this flood started soon after WWII in Stewart's timeline) and only pockets of human civilization are left in the sea of wild and magical frontiers (in this the story can be seen as a member of the same universe as Stewart’s Resurrection Man and Galveston). The novel concentrates on two societies, the Southside, which is a relatively technological and militaristic state located w... Read More

The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye: A great way to spend a frosty evening

The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye by A.S. Byatt

[At The Edge of the Universe, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us. Today we have two reviews of A.S. Byatt's The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye.]

The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye is a collection of five stories, or more accurately, four stories and a novella, since the title story is actually quite long; it takes up half the book.

First we have "The Glass Coffin," which is excerpted from Byatt’s stellar novel Possession. It's a fairly standard princess-rescuing sort of fairy tale, starring a young man who chooses adventure over good sense, and is rewarded for it.

Then c... Read More

…Where Angels Fear to Tread: Steele takes on time-travel

...Where Angels Fear to Tread by Allen Steele

Allen Steele promised himself he’d never write a time-travel story, but nevertheless, here it is. In his introduction to this audio version, he explains that he didn’t want to write about something he thought was impossible, but one of his friends challenged him to write a story that could overcome his own doubts. And thus we have ...Where Angels Fear to Tread.

There are two timelines going on in ...Where Angels Fear to Tread. In one, time travelers from the future go back to study the cause of the Hindenburg explosion. In the other timeline, Dr. Murphy, a modern day scientist who is embarrassed to work for the government’s Office for Paranormal Sciences, investigates UFO sightings. The two stories converge when the Hindenburg doesn’t explode on schedule and a paradox is created.

This story was... Read More

Press Enter: Works on so many levels

Press Enter by John Varley


Victor Apfel, a lonely middle-aged veteran of the Korean War, gets a recorded phone call asking him to come to his reclusive neighbor’s house to take care of what he finds there. The voice promises that he’ll be rewarded. Victor would like to ignore the message, but he gets another call every 10 minutes. When Victor arrives at Charles Kluge’s house, he finds Kluge dead and slumped over his computer keyboard, so he calls another neighbor — a computer operator named Hal (har, har) — and the cops. When the computer screen asks them to PRESS ENTER, they do, and this initiates Kluge’s strange interactive suicide note. Things get weirder when Victor finds a large deposit in his bank account and the cops find no record anywhere of Charles Kluge. Even the IRS didn’t know about him.

The police investigator doesn’t think it’s a ... Read More

Rose Daughter: McKinley’s second rendition of Beauty and the Beast

Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley

Can a beast who loves roses so much be so very terrible?

It's been years since I read and reviewed Robin McKinley's Beauty, her first rendition of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale. Despite the book's popularity, I wasn't particularly moved by it, and ended my review saying that I was looking forward to experiencing her second retelling of the same story, seeing how an author would approach the same material the second time around.

Well, it took me a while (though not as long as the twenty years between each book's publication) but I've finally tracked down and read Rose Daughter. So how does it measure up with its predecessor? On the whole, I enjoyed it a lot more. The prose is more polished (insofar as I could recall Beauty) and the story itself more sophistica... Read More

Shade’s Children: Like a really well-made B movie

Shade’s Children by Garth Nix

Garth Nix published Shade’s Children in 1997. Shade’s Children is a complete book, not part of a series. It reads like a really well-made B movie. It isn’t terribly deep, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, just provides a decent action adventure.

In the near future, a cataclysmic “Change” made everyone over the age of fourteen disappear. The children have been captured and live very short lives in Dorms. On their fourteenth birthdays, the Overlords who now rule earth come and take them away to become part of the Meat Factory; a Parts Department for their fighting creatures — Screamers, Trackers, Wingers, Myrmidons and Ferrets. Every one of these monsters is engineered; part magical, part machine and part human. There is a rumor that some fourteen-year-old girls are forced into a breeding program and may live to be ... Read More

Bearskin: Lyrical prose and whimsical pictures

Bearskin by Howard Pyle

Howard Pyle is best known as the writer of The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, a book that's widely considered to be the definitive compilation of the Robin Hood ballads into a cohesive whole. Though that's his most famous work, he also wrote two anthologies of fairytales: Pepper & Salt and The Wonder Clock. This adaptation of Bearskin is from the latter collection, and Pyle's love of fairytales and legends is apparent, for it reads like a composite tale of several other familiar stories.

A king is traveling through the country when he stops to rest and dine at a mill. For fun, he orders his wise man to read the fortune of the miller's newborn baby, but to his displeasure, the king is told that the infant will one day marry his own unborn daughter. To avoid this insulting fate, the ki... Read More

Ella Enchanted: One of the best YA heroines

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Retold fairytales, in which the characters and plots of traditional stories are explored in more depth, or told from an unexpected point-of-view, are a dime a dozen these days. But one stands out from the rest, and that is Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted, which takes the story of Cinderella and not only provides impetus for many of the nonsensical elements of the original tale, but builds a rich imaginary world around it and makes the titular character one of the best heroines to ever appear in YA novel.

If you secretly always thought Cinderella was a bit of a pushover, sitting and crying by the fireplace when she could have been raiding her stepsisters’ wardrobes and hitchhiking to the ball, then you’ll be pleased to find that Levine gives us a perfect acceptable reason as to why her Ella is so slavishly obedient to her step-family: she’s under a spell. Wh... Read More

The Iron Ring: Morals, magic, and mythology

The Iron Ring by Lloyd Alexander

The trademark feature of Lloyd Alexander's storytelling is to choose a cultural background and weave his own story into the already existing mythology; his most famous example of this is of course The Chronicles of Prydain, in which his own story and characters were melded with the myths and legends of Wales (as found in The Mabinogian). The Iron Ring gets a similar treatment, as worked into the story are elements of The Mahabharata and The Ramayana, India's great national epics.

Tamar is the young king of a small kingdom who is doing a rather successful job at ruling under the guidance of his loyal wise-man Rajaswami and military leader Darshan until one day he foolishly plays and loses a game of chance to the mysterious king Jaya.... Read More