Catchman: A too-elusive serial killer

Catchman by Chris Wooding

There’s a murderer loose in the city. Catchman (1998) centers on a group of homeless teenagers and the news circling around a serial killer nearby, who has been dubbed the ‘Catchman’. As victims surface one by one, the tension grows and with it, tempers run high among the teens.

One of the greater strengths of Catchman was the intriguing set-up. I actively wanted to know what was going to happen from the beginning of the story and throughout the narrative. The tension of the background, Catchman included, helped lend gravity to the struggles of the young protagonists.

The main creep factor (the Catchman himself) wasn’t immediately threatening enough for me to get into the heads of the characters. To me, the elusive villain was too elusive — to the detriment of the story. The murders in the city always feel far off and as such do... Read More

The Healer’s War: Harrowing tale of a Vietnam combat nurse

The Healer’s War by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

This is another Nebula winner I’ve had on the shelf ever since it was published in 1998, but hadn’t got around to reading. So when I found an audio version on Audible narrated by Robin Miles, one of my favorite female narrators after listening to N.K. Jemisin’s phenomenal The Fifth Season, that was enough to pull it to the top of my TBR list. Elizabeth Ann Scarborough is mostly known as a writer of humorous fantasy novels, along with several collaborations with Anne McCaffrey, so it was quite a surprise to discover that she was a combat nurse in Vietnam, and The Healer’s War is a fictional treatment... Read More

Darwinia: Europe, suddenly terraformed

Darwinia by Robert Charles Wilson

In 1912, continental Europe suddenly changed into a foreign wilderness. Where there once were European nations arming for war, there are now new ecosystems and alien creatures. There is even a baffling, new evolutionary history. Christians declare “Darwinia” a miracle — what else could explain what’s happened but Biblical precedent? America, meanwhile, declares the continent open for exploration and settlement.

Guilford Law, originally from Boston, is an ambitious photographer who travels to England with his wife and daughter. He leaves them there before traveling alone with the Finch expedition. The expedition hopes to penetrate the European wilderness, and Guilford hopes to make a name for himself.

Elias Vale, meanwhile, is an American con man who suddenly realizes that he has been inhabited by a demon that grants him strange powers. Vale begins making a name for himself ... Read More

This Alien Shore: Another outstanding novel by Friedman

This Alien Shore by C.S. Friedman

This Alien Shore is another outstanding science fiction novel by an author who I’ve come to respect immensely for her extraordinarily creative worlds, fascinating ideas, complex characters, and elegant prose. If there’s one flaw (from my perspective) with Friedman’s work, it’s a difficulty in actually liking many of her characters, but even if you find that it’s hard to sympathize with them, it’s also hard not to admire them, or at least to see them as superb creations.

I think many readers will, however, sympathize with Jamisia, the protagonist of This Alien Shore. She’s on the run from unknown enemies who want the bioware that’s in her brain. She can’t feel safe anywhere because she has no idea why her brain is so valuable, or to whom. Is it the Guerran guild that oversees all intergalactic traffic? An Earth corporati... Read More

Battle Chasers: A groundbreaking fantasy comic book

Battle Chasers by Joe Madureira & Munier Sharrieff

Battle Chasers was a groundbreaking fantasy comic book that emerged onto the comics scene in 1998, when independent comic publishers were finally giving the big two — DC and Marvel — a run for their money. Despite the sporadic release dates of Battle Chasers’ issues, the series won the hearts of many readers, only to disappear like a shooting star when Joe Madureira went on to pursue interests in the video gaming industry. I was one of those original fans, but as the wait between issues increased, I missed the final installments. So I recently purchased all nine comics in a digital omnibus edition which also includes an introduction and bonus material. Battle Chasers was intended to be an ongoing fantasy comic book series which centered on a quintet of characters:

Gully Read More

Song for the Basilisk: Music can heal and destroy

Song for the Basilisk by Patricia McKillip

One of Patricia McKillip's earlier novels, Song for the Basilisk has all the hallmarks of her fantasy fiction: unique prose, ambiguous characters, fairytale settings, court intrigue, and a love of musical instruments. Here especially McKillip calls on her appreciation for viols, flutes, harps and picochets (the one-stringed instrument on the cover), in which music plays a crucial part in the narrative.

As a child, Rook is pulled from the ashes of a fireplace and smuggled away to the isle of Luly where the bards live. Knowing he's escaped certain death, he buries his memories and loses himself among the music and desolation of his island home. But many years later, with a son of his own, he finds that he can no longer ignore his lingering nightmares. Renamed Caladrius (after a bird whose song heralds death), he secretly accepts his identity as a s... Read More

King Rat: China Mieville’s first novel

King Rat by China Mieville

An urban fantasy set in London, China Miéville’s debut novel King Rat tells the story of Saul Garamond, the Prince of Rats. Unfortunately for London’s rats, the Pied Piper of Hamelin has recently come to town.

Saul returns home from a camping trip to find his stepfather murdered. Before he knows what’s happening, Saul meets the King of Rats and is inducted into the seedy underbelly of London — an underbelly fit for a king of rats. Under King Rat’s care, Saul learns to eat garbage and climb walls. He discovers his “rat strength.”

Unfortunately, Saul’s new powers come with a few responsibilities.

It turns out that the Piper is hunting King Rat. The Piper controls the minds of his victims using his flute. When the Piper joins forces with drum & bass DJ Natasha, he finds a way to control not only an... Read More

Brown Girl in the Ring: Ahead of its time

Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

Brown Girl in the Ring is a novel that may have been a little ahead of its time. When it was first published in 1998, it had “Science Fiction” stamped on the spine. Cue angry Amazon reviewers complaining that it was full of “mumbo jumbo.” If I were to wager a guess, I’d say that Brown Girl in the Ring was marketed as science fiction because of its near-future setting and heavy violence level, which were not nearly as common in late-nineties urban fantasy as they are today (see Ilona Andrews, for example). Yet this is unmistakably urban fantasy, with a strong horror streak. I could see it picking up many new fans if it were rereleased today.

The world of Brown Girl in the Ring is frighteningly plausible; it’s the logical conclusion... Read More

Sirena: Powerful, beautiful, tragic

Sirena by Donna Jo Napoli

Now famous for her ability to take old, familiar tales and present them through new perspectives, Donna Jo Napoli tackles the subject of Greek mythology and the captivating mermaids of the oceans.

The Sirens were long thought to be deadly women, either humanoid or bird-like, who lured sailors to their deaths on the rocks with their enticing songs. But Napoli presents the Grecian Sirens as mermaids — half-women, half-fish, a hybrid creature who are just as cursed as the men they destroy. Due to a spiteful nymph's curse, the mermaids are mortal until they can cause a man to fall in love with them and be their mate, thereby securing immortality for themselves (quite a change from the usual stories when falling in love means a heroine must give up her immortality). Thus, the heroine Sirena and her nine sisters spend each day on the lookout for ships, carrying pre... Read More

Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary: Not as good as Tam Lin

Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary by Pamela Dean

I've read several Pamela Dean books in the past, and so I was prepared for her style; it didn't bother me much that characters quoted too often, or that the book was long on characterization and mood but short on plot, or that the ending swooped in out of the ether when I was least expecting it. I was ready for those things to be the case, so they didn't disappoint me. I opened the book hoping for a story like Dean's earlier Tam Lin, full of interesting characters, with a subtle but looming sense of the supernatural.

I didn't like Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary as much as Tam Lin, though. For starters, I didn't feel like we got to know Gentian and her friends and family as well as we got to know Janet's circle; I wanted to know more about these people, but I always felt a little like a spectator. Then, I couldn't understand why Gentian liked Dominic. Hormones or no, be... Read More

Smoke and Mirrors: Gets under your skin

Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman's place on my personal "favorite authors list" is cemented firmly by Smoke and Mirrors, a versatile collection of his short stories and narrative poems. There is a wide variety of "types" of story here, from fantasy to horror to mystery to wildly hilarious comedy. I liked almost all of them.

Neil Gaiman's two finest gifts are (1) humor, and (2) truly scary horror that gets under your skin rather than just grossing you out with gore. He flexes his humor muscles with such outstanding fare as "Chivalry" (the story of an old woman who buys the Holy Grail at a thrift shop), "We Can Get Them For You Wholesale" (about hit men with discount rates), "One Life, Furnished in Early Moorcock" (about a young boy and his love for fantasy novels), and "Shoggoth's Old Peculiar" (believe it or not, a funny Cthulhu story, about strange t... Read More

Stardust: Full of magic and whimsy

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Go, And Catch a Falling Star...

If you like fantasy stories filled with magic, adventure and romance, but are getting sick and tired of boring, long-winded fantasy epics, then look no further than Stardust. There are no long histories, family trees or endless descriptions of culture, landscapes and back-story. This is just a sweet, simple fairytale told by a great storyteller. Though be warned — the original fairytales were not written for children, and Stardust follows in their literary footsteps, by including several violent, sensual and bittersweet scenes. It might be tempting to read this book aloud to children (particularly if you've seen the recent movie adaptation), but this is something I would strongly advise against!

Set in the Victorian Era out in the English countryside, the town of Wall is n... Read More