1999.01


The Human Target: A thriller about a man with a thousand faces

The Human Target by Peter Milligan (writer), Edvin Biukovic (artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Robert Solanovic (letterer)

Christopher Chance is the Human Target. He is able to impersonate anybody, and he takes the place of those whose lives are in danger, often when there is a hitman pursuing them. He digs deep in his method acting to really become the person he impersonates. He is a master of disguise, but sometimes a human target can be too good at imitation, perhaps even forgetting at times that he is not the person imitated. For example, in this story, the Human Target, a white man, takes the place of a black minister who is trying to clean up his neighborhood, get drugs and drug lords out of the community. The minister has a wife and young child, and the impersonation lasts for over a month. After that long, the Human Target starts to believe he is really married to the wife and a father to the child. He wil... Read More

Starfish: A scary deep-sea biological horror story

Starfish by Peter Watts

In a future overpopulated and under-resourced Earth, a geothermal energy plant has been constructed in a trench thousands of miles under the Pacific Ocean’s surface. The humans of the maintenance crew who live and work in and around the power station have been genetically engineered to withstand the harsh deep-sea environment. But the only people who are willing to undergo this biological manipulation and unpleasant living situation are outcasts, misfits, the psychologically damaged, and criminals.

We meet them aboard the Beebe station where they live together in a cramped environment that can be tense, not only because of the difficulty of their job, but also because of the personalities involved. Ratcheting up the tension is the presence of the unearthly creatures that inhabit the deep trench and the crew’s realization that, in some ways, they are more akin to those monsters than they are to the human... Read More

Chocolat: Pure indulgence and a hint of magic

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

I love stories that feature outright magic, fantastical worlds and mythical creatures — but sometimes all it takes is a tiny dabble of enchantment to turn a story into something really special. That’s what Joanne Harris achieves with her bestseller, Chocolat, a timeless story about love, motherhood and, best of all, chocolate.

Chocolat takes place in the picturesque, fictional village of Lansquenet Sous Tannes in France. Vianne and her young daughter Anouk arrive with the wind on the day of the annual carnival. To their surprise, something about Lansquenet whispers at them to stay. They rent a tiny shop in the square, opposite the village’s only church, and set about turning it into a chocolaterie.

Vianne is a novelty in the quiet, conservative ... Read More

The Visitant: Satisfying historical fantasy

The Visitant by Kathleen O’Neal Gear & W. Michael Gear

The Visitant brought all sorts of family vacation memories to my mind. It reminded me of all the times I’d hiked through the ruins of Mesa Verde and imagined all the people who had worn those same rocks smooth hundreds of years ago. That’s part of the power of the book. It takes people back in time to revisit portions of their own lives, and back to the time of the Anasazi.

The Visitant is told from two different periods of time. There is the modern day story, centering around the archeologist Dusty and his crew as they unearth bones which tell a mysterious story. There’s also the ancient past involving the war chief Browser and his warrior Catkin. Their perspectives basically tell the reader how the bones got to be where they were. These two very different perspectives work together to unravel a very absorbing my... Read More

The Voice From the Edge Volume 1: I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream: The Voice From the Edge Vol. 1 by Harlan Ellison

Probably everyone who knows anything about Harlan Ellison knows he’s a jerk (please don’t sue me, Mr. Ellison). I had to consciously put aside my personal opinion of the man while listening to him narrate his audiobook I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream: The Voice From the Edge Vol. 1. I was disgusted by some of these stories, but I have to admit that even though I suspect Ellison delights in trying to shock the reader with his various forms of odiousness (mostly having to do with sex), the stories in this collection are all well-crafted, fascinating, and Ellison’s narration just may be the best I’ve ever heard. Here are the stories:

"I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" — (1967, IF: Worlds of Science Fiction) Harlan Ellison spends the introduction to I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream: The Voice From the Edge Vol. 1, a... Read More

100 Bullets: If you are a fan of crime fiction and comics, 100 Bullets is the series for you

100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello (writer) & Eduardo Risso (artist)

100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso is one of the first lengthy comic book series I read (along with Y: The Last Man and Sandman), and it remains one of my favorites, competing in its writing and art with the best that Sandman has to offer. Which one of the two series is your favorite will probably depend on what kind of genre you like best. Sandman appeals to lovers of fantasy, horror, and mythology; Read More

Song Quest: An old favourite you may not have heard of

Song Quest by Katherine Roberts

I read Katherine Roberts’ Song Quest (book one of the three-book ECHORIUM SEQUENCE) as a child when it was first published in 1999. A few years later it was the first book I ever cajoled an unsuspecting customer into buying during my Saturday stint at the local bookshop. It is one those books that has stayed with me and I indulged myself with a re-read partly for stroll down memory lane and partly because I do not think it has received the attention it deserves. As with most things revisited from childhood it did feel smaller and less exciting when viewed from the tarnished eyes of adulthood (which is why I will not be returning to Disneyland) but I still think it is an exciting and, most importantly, enchanting read for the young and young at heart.

Rialle, along with her friends Fren and Chissar and class bully Kherron, are all training... Read More

Darwin’s Radio: Cool idea that doesn’t connect

Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear

Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear follows several characters — a molecular biologist, an archaeologist, and a public policy maker — through a cataclysmic pandemic sweeping through the human race. This disease is an HERV, a human endogenous retrovirus, which is a piece of dormant genetic code that, when activated, only affects sexually-active women. It causes them to get pregnant with a horribly-mutated fetus that self-aborts, only to follow up with another pregnancy of a new species of human, homo novus.

I found Bear's description of homo novus a fascinating suggestion of ways in which our species might evolve. He envisions humans evolving new physical structures. These structures —glands, concentrations of photo-sensitive skin cells, etc. —create new ways of communicating and relating between members of the species. This description was so much more interesting than your stereotypi... Read More

A Living Nightmare: Horror for children

A Living Nightmare by Darren Shan

“Only the world’s dumbest person would run a risk like that again. Step forward — Darren Shan!”

Darren Shan (which is the name of the author and the protagonist of the CIRQUE DU FREAK series) was having a pretty normal life until one of his best friends finds an advertisement for the Cirque du Freak. After they “borrow” some money from their parents and sneak out at night, Darren and Steve discover a weird world that they never could have dreamed of. Darren is particularly enchanted by Mr. Crepsley and his performing spider, Madam Octa. This spider kills a goat on stage and then obeys Mr. Crepsley’s commands. When they stay after the show, Darren and Steve discover that Mr. Crepsley is a vampire!

Darren should have left well enough alone, but, unfortunately, he makes another crucial error in judgment. And another, and another. Horror is heaped upon horror... Read More

Beyond the Highland Mist: Everything I hate about romance novels

Beyond the Highland Mist by Karen Marie Moning

Modern Seattle: Ravishingly gorgeous Adrienne de Simone (whose every body part is “perfect,” though she doesn’t know that) hates beautiful men because she just had a bad experience with the gorgeous man who was her fiancé. Never! Never again!
Medieval Scotland: Sidheach James Lyon Douglas, otherwise known as “the Hawk” (even his mother calls him that) or “the King’s Whore,” is the hottest laird on the Highlands, but he’s never met a woman he could love. Every one of his body parts is “perfect” and he knows it.
The Fairy Court: When the fae start to meddle with Adrienne and the Hawk, mischief ensues. Hawk falls in love with Adrienne and she, despite the promises to herself, starts to wonder what might be throbbing under his kilt. Read More

Guenevere: Queen of the Summer Country: Not a sucess

Guenevere: Queen of the Summer Country by Rosalind Miles

The literary world is crammed full of books surrounding Arthurian lore — so many, in fact, that it could very well be a genre of its own. The problem, however, is that because the main events, characters and storylines are already set out in the mythology, authors cannot tamper with them... at least not too much. This poses the challenge of presenting the familiar story in an original way, and the latest trend seems to be taking a character and telling the story through their point of view. In Guenevere: Queen of the Summer Country, Rosalind Miles has done this with the titular character.

In her version, the city of Camelot already exists in Guenevere's home country, the Summer Country. The Summer Country is a matriarchal society that worships "the Goddess" and where the Queens choose their own husbands, but then take a champion/l... Read More

Space Wolf: Entertained this 40-something teenage male

Space Wolf by William King

In mankind’s distant future there is only war. Welcome to the world of WARHAMMER 40,000; a time flung so far into the future that the past has long been shrouded in legend. The human empire spans the universe but is assaulted on every front by demons, aliens, and the followers of evil gods. The Emperor is immobile, only kept alive by ancient machines created in the Dark Age of Technology. Our survival depends on his constant vigilance and the command of his vast armies. The greatest of the Emperor’s soldiers are the Adeptus Astartes, the Space Marines; and the Space Wolves Chapter of the Space Marines consists of barbarian warriors recruited from the primitive world of Fenris, selected for their prowess in battle. If they live through the brutal training regimen and survive the tests, they then drink from the Cup of Wulfen. This mutates the warriors with a beast-like spirit. If their bodies accept ... Read More

Dark Prince: Ugh!

Dark Prince by Christine Feehan

Mikhail Dubrinsky is the leader of the Carpathians, a powerful race that is dying out due to lack of females. Raven Whitney, a human, is vacationing in the Carpathian Mountains after using her telepathic skills to help catch a serial killer. Raven senses Mikhail’s distress and the two of them realize they have a connection to each other. Raven may be the life mate that Mikhail thought he’d never find and she represents hope for the Carpathians.

Ugh. I really hated Dark Prince and, though I tried to stick it out, I finally had to put it down after three chapters of torture. The first problem is the characters. Raven is everything you expect in a romance heroine: slender, small bones, tiny waist, big high breasts (how often does that combination happen naturally?), big blue eyes (“brilliant sapphires”), long thick lashes, skin like satin, full soft mouth, “... Read More

Orcs: These orcs are pretty tame

Orcs by Stan Nicholls

The Wolverines are an elite Orc fighting unit bound to the service of an evil witch-queen. War rages between religious factions — those who follow the one god who places humans above the elder races (orcs, dwarves, trolls, etc.) and those, such as the Wolverines, who worship the old god. On a mission to secure a mysterious relic, the Wolverines discover a slim hope of salvation for all the elder races, but they must turn renegade to achieve it.

The shadowed brute on the cover of Orcs caught my eye, and it's got endorsements by great authors like David Gemmell and Tad Williams, but it was this teaser on the back cover that got me hook, line, and sinker:
There is fear and hatred in your eyes. To you I am a monster, a skulker in the sha... Read More

The Search for Senna: What’s going on?

The Search for Senna by K.A. Applegate

Best known for her bestselling pre-teen series Animorphs, K.A. Applegate takes on a darker subject matter for a significantly older audience in her twelve book series Everworld. Straight away one of the advantages to the story is that there’s an end in sight (unlike the Animorph series which dragged on for fifty-four books), though I cannot help but wonder if perhaps this series would have benefited by simply being a single novel. The chapters are short, the font is large, and there is so little exposition presented here that it’s difficult to believe that this is an introductory novel. I must admit at being a little lost at times as to what the heck was going on.

David is a sixte... Read More

World’s End: Can be appreciated on several levels

World's End by Mark Chadbourn

World's End is the first book in British fantasy author's Mark Chadbourn AGE OF MISRULE trilogy. The novel was originally released in the UK in 1999, and has been re-released in the US by Pyr in 2009.

World's End can probably best be categorized as dark contemporary fantasy. The setting is England, in more or less the present day. Jack Churchill ("Church") lives in London and is trying to cope with the apparent suicide of his girlfriend Marianne. Returning home one night, he has a terrifying encounter under a bridge with a giant whose face seems to melt and change before his eyes. Ruth Gallagher, a lawyer, is also a witness. Both of them pass out, unable to deal with this terrifying vision, but in the next few days, they are drawn together to find out more about what happened.

Soon it becomes clear tha... Read More

The Oath of Empire: A brilliant idea

THE OATH OF EMPIRE by Thomas Harlan

The Oath of Empire is a series of four books, namely The Shadow of Ararat, The Gate of Fire, The Storm of Heaven, and The Dark Lord, which is at once a fantasy and an alternate history of the Western and Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empires, and which is set in the early 7th Century. The alternate history part pre-supposes that Christianity never gained much of a foothold in the Empire, and Constantine was only a rebel, never Emperor, and this fact appears to be the biggest event change to form this alternate history...  It also presupposes that the Western Roman Empire was able to withstand the barbarian invasions of the fourth and fifth centuries, and was able to recover its power. The fantastic element is sorcery in the form of the thaumaturges (mages), the healers, and the sorcerers that rise in the story.

This series was a brilliant idea, as I hav... Read More

The Gnomewrench in the Dwarfworks: Great idea, poor execution

The Gnomewrench in the Dwarfworks by Nick O'Donohoe

Set during World War II, The Gnomewrench in the Dwarfworks (1999) concerns a young man who works at an industrial plant selling furnaces for war production. When he gets an order for a furnace sized for someone who is only three feet tall, he investigates and discovers that there are dwarves supplying the American military with some of their most essential war machinery.

The Gnomewrench in the Dwarfworks has a brilliant premise: what if the success of the American war machine in World War II depends upon a small band of dwarves being able to keep themselves hidden, and also protected from their historic enemy, the gnomes?

Unfortunately the book falters on execution. Plagued by an overabundance of loosely differentiated characters, the story kind of meanders along, resembling a series of vignettes that are only lo... Read More

Dawnthief: The literary equivalent of an entertaining action movie

Dawnthief  by James Barclay

Dawnthief is the first book in James Barclay's CHRONICLES OF THE RAVEN trilogy (followed by Noonshade and Nightchild). In addition to the trilogy, the author also published four LEGENDS OF THE RAVEN novels and one Raven novella, as well as two ASCENDANTS OF ESTORIA novels and the stand-alone Vault of Deeds. Dawnthief was James Barclay's first published work in 1999 and, in the author's words, "came from a personal frustration with the pace, style and character matter of other fantasy novels." Its aim, again quoting the author, was "to entertain readers."

If entertainment was the novel's only goal, I'd consider Dawnthief a success, despite ... Read More

The Thief’s Gamble: Unpolished potential

The Thief's Gamble by Juliet McKenna

The Thief's Gamble is a difficult book to review. The difficulty arises primarily from the same thing that my lukewarm 3-star rating does: the uneven, jam-packed narrative and the periodic confusion that it caused. The narrative is really three-fold: (1) the main story, as seen through the eyes of Livak, a tough, lucky female thief who stumbles into a quest for artifacts that may somehow be linked to a lost race and new kind of magic; (2) near-simultaneous events occurring elsewhere, told from a third-person viewpoint but focusing on an irritating, pompous minor wizard, Casuel; and (3) excerpts from treatises in the fantasy world that are supposed to provide key information to understanding things that will soon happen. The problem, in a nutshell, was that there were just too many things — a pantheon/religious system that is only explained piecemeal; systems of magic explained some... Read More

The View From the Mirror: Not regular fantasy fare

THE VIEW FROM THE MIRROR by Ian Irvine

I wonder how much of an abstract autobiography this tale is. The main character shares a name very similar to that of the author (Ian and Llian) and his occupation is that of a chronicler and teller of tales. In other words, he is the rough equivalent of an author and researcher with a Ph.D. Ian Irvine earned a doctorate in environmental sciences before becoming an author, the former probably accounting for his excellent ability to create believable races and places.

Anyhow, this is an incredibly crafted piece of work for a debut author. It is one of those ‘once in a decade’ works that only come along, err, once every ten years.

The world is unique. I’ve never come across anything quite like it. The myths and races contained within these books are also very original. Though there are nearhuman races, there are no elves, dwarves, orc-alikes, or any of the r... Read More

Sir Stalwart: Fun S&S romp

Sir Stalwart by Dave Duncan

Dave Duncan delivers a fun, sword & sorcery romp in a short book that you don't need to invest hours slogging through. Too often there are books out there that simply can't stand on their own without being 800-900 pages in length and Duncan seems to avoid this.

Now, if you have never read any of the King's Blades before, there are some gaps in this story line that will not make as much sense for you. The concept of soldiers who are magically indentured to their King and thereby granted exceptional skills and unfailing loyalty is cool. The rest of the books in this series seems to go into more detail on that.

Sir Stalwart focuses on one particular soldier (Blade-to-be) and the mission for which he becomes famous. Duncan does a good job of building a complete character and surroun... Read More

First Test: A school story

First Test by Tamora Pierce

Throughout Tamora Pierce's range of fantasy books, the Protector of the Small quartet is unique, mainly because it is not primary a fantasy series, but a school story — more akin to the likes of Enid Blyton's Naughtiest Girl in the School or Mallory Towers. This may seem like an odd thing to say, but on close inspection I think you'll find it's true. Though there are fantasy elements present, the main narrative of the book is concerned with topic that you find in other books of the school-story genre (including Harry Potter), including school bullies, malevolent teachers, homework assignments, camaraderie among peers, "hazing" younger students, and even sporting tourna... Read More

The Shadow of Albion: Refreshing as the spring rain

The Shadows of Albion by Andre Norton & Rosemary Edghill

I've heard others gripe that this book is basically fluff. Well, yes, it's light, but that's part of what I liked about it. I've read a lot of serious (and sometimes depressing) books lately, and this one was a much-needed cool breeze of just plain fun.

The Marchioness of Roxbury, a vain and vapid woman, is on her deathbed, having failed to fulfill a promise made to the Fair Folk. She lives in an alternate England where magic exists, though it's subtle. The only way she can keep her word is by switching places with Sarah Cunningham, her double from our world, an independent woman who was raised in the wilderness and knows her way around a musket. Sarah's memories are jumbled by magic, and now she has to figure out who she is.

She and her new husband, Wessex, get caught up in a deadly game of espionage, kidnapping, and murder. When Sarah becomes friends wit... Read More

A Cavern of Black Ice: Original, long and… bitterly cold

A Cavern of Black Ice by J.V. Jones

While I await my copy of the third book of Sword of Shadows, A Sword from Red Ice, I'm re-reading the first two books of what may be my all time favorite epic series. For A Cavern of Black Ice, which I first read back in 2000, it's my third reading and it's still just as much fun and exciting as the first time.

I've read all of J.V. Jones's books and I've enjoyed every one of them. The Book of Words Trilogy and The Barbed Coil are both good stories that have a cozy kinda feel to them that only adds to the entertainment value.

But this Sword of Shadows series takes Ms. Jones to a whole new level. She creates her w... Read More