Stories of Your Life and Others: Eight carefully crafted stories

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

Stories of Your Life: And Others by Ted Chiang

In his review of Ted Chiang’s brilliant short story collection Stories of Your Life and Others (2002) in The Guardian, China Miéville mentions the “humane intelligence [...] that makes us experience each story with immediacy and Chiang’s calm passion.” The oxymoron “calm passion” is an insightful and ingenious way to describe these stories because of the way it hints at their deft melding of the most solid of hard science fiction concepts with an often surprisingly gentle, humane t... Read More

Amazonia: A Haggardian adventure for the modern age

Amazonia by James Rollins (aka James Clemens)

A scientific expedition of thirty people enters the Amazon jungle and is never heard from again. One of the expedition’s members was Gerald Clark, a former special forces turned CIA agent after he lost an arm in combat. Four years after he disappeared with the expedition, Agent Clark stumbles into a remote mission — covered in markings, his tongue cut out — and then dies in a fit of convulsions. That’s not even the strangest part. When Agent Gerald Clark comes out of the jungle, he has two arms.

How’s that for a premise? If that’s not a spectacular story hook, then I don't know what would be. While not technically classified as fantasy, Amazonia does contain its fair share of monsters, magic, and lost worlds. It’s fantasy in nearly every way except marketing. Most o... Read More

Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee

Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee

Batman: Hush (2002-2003) is a story arc that appeared originally as Batman #608-619. I first saw it as a bound collection at Barnes & Noble when my daughter was shopping for Christmas presents. I knew nothing about internal chronology, but I picked it up and was just stunned by the glossy, dynamic, sensual and powerful artwork of Jim Lee. This guy is really something else, I can understand why he is so popular.

Before reading Batman: Hush I did my homework and read some core Batman titles beforehand: Frank Miller’s ... Read More

The Mothman Prophecies: Genuinely freaky

The Mothman Prophecies directed by Mark Pellington

Laura Linney, one of Hollywood's preeminent mainstream actresses of the early 21st century, made a pair of highly effective horror pictures in 2002 and 2005 that share a number of notable similarities. The Mothman Prophecies, the earlier film, and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, are both products of the Screen Gems/Lakeshore Entertainment production company, and both deal with supernatural events that are purportedly based on real-life incidents. Both films go far in convincing the viewer of the possibility of the bizarre happenings portrayed as being genuine and real (unknowable, highly advanced life forms watching over mankind in the first; demonic possession in the latter), and both, strangely enough, clock in at precisely 119 minutes. But whereas the exorcism film was based on a German case, transplanted here to midland America, Mothman retains its real-life setting and historical basi... Read More

From a Buick 8: Equal parts horror, science fiction and Lovecraftian ode

From a Buick 8 by Stephen King

Stephen King tends to get hammered in the press and by literati. He’s pulp, they say. He’s popular, they say. Nobody can be as productive (he publishes an average of two books per year) and still write quality, they say. I remember starting college in Boston in 1988, shortly after U2 released their huge Joshua Tree album. The established U2 fans rejected it outright as a ’sell out'. They couldn’t believe that their heroes sold out to ‘the man’ and became... popular. I think King gets painted with a similar brush.

But the truth is, much of his writing resonates quite deeply. His work can be touching. It’s relatable, and has as much symbolism and depth as one chooses to see. Is everything he touches great? No. But as a rule, is it schlock? Absolutely not.

I only discovered St... Read More

The Years of Rice and Salt: What if the Black Plague killed the Europeans?

The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson

In The Years of Rice and Salt, Kim Stanley Robinson uses the Black Plague to remove the Europeans, leaving the Old World to the Chinese, Islam, and the many cultural groups that end up in India. The Chinese discover the Americas, their diseases spread through the Native American populations, and their armies plunder the Incans. The novel begins with the Plague, but its vignettes move from one period of history to the next until it reaches the end of the 20th century.

How do you write a novel about one set of characters that spans centuries? Robinson uses reincarnation to cast a set of souls in various times and places as he follows his alternate history. The characters can always be told by the first letter of their names. Bold, a soldier, eventually becomes Bu... Read More

The Thief Lord: My kids love this fantasy set in Venice

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

One thing I love about summer vacation is that my 12 year old daughter Tali and I have time to read together. Our first book for the summer was Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord which, as Tali was thrilled to learn, takes place in Venice, a city she visited a couple of summers ago with my parents.

The story is about Boniface (Bo) and his big brother Prosper(o). Their parents are dead and their aunt wants to adopt only Bo because he’s cute and sweet. She plans to send Prospero to boarding school. So the boys run away to Venice, a city their mother loved. There they fall in with a small group of orphans who live in an abandoned theater and claim that a boy named The Thief Lord is their leader. He brings them the loot he steals and they sell it to Barbarosa, a corrupt red-haired shopkeeper. When Barbarosa offers the kids a lucrative job, they decide to take it. But they nee... Read More

The Rope Trick: All the ingredients for a quintessential Lloyd Alexander story

The Rope Trick by Lloyd Alexander

During his lifetime, Lloyd Alexander was a prolific children's writer, perhaps best known for the wonderful THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN, which is essential reading for any young fantasy fan. The Rope Trick was one of his last books (only two more followed it) and it contains a lot of what his fans have come to expect: a plucky heroine, a twisty plot, nuggets of wisdom, a range of colourful characters (including an enigmatic wise man who always lingers just out of reach) and the familiar theme of it being the journey, not the destination, which really matters.

After her father's death, copper-haired Lidi is determined to become the greatest stage magician of all time. With her clever hands she can perform all sorts of marvellous tricks that keep her audiences enthralled and her belly full with the money it earns her. But the secret to one illusion continues to elude her: the titular rope tri... Read More

The Dark Country: A collection of horror stories

The Dark Country by Dennis Etchison

The Dark Country was Dennis Etchison's first collection of short stories, and originally appeared back in 1982. I picked up an out-of-print copy recently, after seeing that it had been included in Stephen Jones and Kim Newman's excellent overview volume,  Horror: 100 Best Books. Well, I don't know if I would place it on my personal top 100 list, but this book certainly is a unique collection of shuddery, gruesome little tales.
... Read More

Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia

Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia by Greg Rucka (writer) and J.G. Jones (artist)

I’m a card-carrying geek if there ever was one, but there are a few areas where my fannish education has been a little spotty, one of them being superhero comics. It’s not for lack of enjoying them when I do read them; it’s more that the reams of backstory and frequent reboots feel a little daunting. Then, this past Christmas, I found a copy of The Hiketeia among the presents from my boyfriend, along with a Post-It note that read, ‘I’ll turn you into a comic book geek yet!”

The Hiketeia was, by all measures, a gateway drug that was right up my alley. Greek mythology, powerful female characters, cool art, and a plot centering on conflicting vows? Sign me up!

Writer Greg Rucka introduces the eponymous Hiketeia, a ritual by which a supplicant throws himself or herself on someone els... Read More

Stealing Alabama: U.S. history in S.F. context

Stealing Alabama by Allen Steele

It’s the year 2070 and the United States is a mess. There’s civil war and, while people are suffering, the totalitarian government chooses to spend its money on a massive space program. In fact, the countdown has begun for the launch of the starship Alabama which will establish humanity’s first interstellar space colony. The “Intellectual Dissidents” who disagree with the government’s actions are rounded up for “re-education” and are never seen again, but many have been undetected and they’ve got a vast conspiracy going on. Robert E. Lee (a descendant of THE Robert E. Lee) is the captain of the Alabama and he and his crew and a group of dissidents are planning to hijack the ship and secede from the USA. This is a huge and dangerous operation. If caught, they’ll be tried for treason. Will they be able to pull it off?

Stealing Alabama is... Read More

Bones of the Earth: Revels in paleontology and paradoxes

Bones of the Earth by Michael Swanwick

Paleontologist Richard Leyster works for the Smithsonian. It’s his dream job, so naturally he scoffs when a strange man named Harry Griffin offers him a new job whose description and benefits are vague. But when Griffin leaves an Igloo cooler containing the head of a real dinosaur on Leyster’s desk, Leyster is definitely intrigued. A couple of years later, when Griffin finally contacts him again, Leyster is ready to sign on to Griffin’s crazy project. He and a team of scientists are sent back to the Mesozoic era to study, up close and personal, the animals that, previously, had only been known by their bones. When a Christian fundamentalist terror group disrupts the project, things get very dangerous for Leyster and his colleagues. There are also concerns about the whole time-travel technology. How does it work? Where did it come from? What is the government hiding?

Bones of... Read More

Lost in the Labyrinth: Young readers will be delighted

Lost in the Labyrinth by Patrice Kindl

In recent years there has been a massive increase in the publication of re-told fairytales and myths, usually with the author twisting the known facts and meanings of the original source material into something more contemporary: villains become sympathetic characters, we see the proceedings through the eyes of a minority character such as a slave or a woman, or hidden agendas and meanings are revealed behind the bare bones of the story.

Famous examples of this have been Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted and any of Read More

The Speed of Dark: Stays with you forever

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

In The Speed of Dark, Elizabeth Moon blends science fiction, neuroscience, and her own experience to speculate about a future in which scientists have nearly eliminated the symptoms of autism.

Lou Arrendale’s cohort is the last of the impaired autistics. Thanks to early intervention programs, Lou and his colleagues are verbal, take care of themselves, and work for a pharmaceutical company that makes use of their savant abilities, yet they lack the social understanding needed to integrate into “normal” society. But that could all change because Lou’s company has just received approval to begin clinical trials on a procedure that may cure them of their disorder, and the boss wants to use Lou and his co-workers as the first guinea pigs.

Because Elizabeth Moon has a teenager with autism, a background in science (and science fiction), ... Read More

The Portrait of Mrs Charbuque: Couldn’t put it down

The Portrait of Mrs Charbuque by Jeffrey Ford

The best thing about being my own master when it comes to choosing what I want to read is that when I read a book I really want to talk about I can without feeling like I have to put aside any other obligations, and I really want to talk about The Portrait of Mrs Charbuque.

Piero Piambo, a portrait artist in New York in 1893, is currently in fashion and as a result also in high demand. Despite the financial security it affords him, he begins to wonder if he has not lost his way in regards to his art, and when he receives a mysterious commission from the blind Watkins, servant of Mrs Charbuque, he accepts it with the absurd condition that he must paint her portrait without ever seeing her. The one concession that she does make is that Piero can visit for an hour Monday through Friday and ask her any questions he wants as long as they do not pertain to her appea... Read More

Coraline: For brave children who like to squirm

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Coraline’s family has just moved into a new flat. Her parents are always busy with their own work and Coraline (please don’t call her Caroline) has no friends or siblings to play with. She spends her time exploring her new apartment complex and the surrounding grounds. She’s got some eccentric neighbors: two little old ladies who love to reminisce about their time on the stage and an old man who trains mice to sing and dance.

But what’s really strange is the extra door in Coraline’s flat. It doesn’t go anywhere. Coraline’s mom says it used to connect to the vacant flat next door, but now it’s bricked up. Except that it’s not always bricked up... sometimes it does go somewhere…

Coraline is a terrific little heroine. Curious and brave, but appropriately cautious, she sets out to discover what’s in the vacant flat. And though what’s there seems rather wo... Read More

Monument: It took guts to write this story

Monument by Ian Graham

When Ballas is nearly beaten to death, kind strangers give him life-saving medical attention. He repays their charity by robbing them. But there’s more to the stolen artifact then just priceless gemstones. It holds ancient secrets the ruling religious leaders will stop at nothing to keep hidden. Ballas quickly becomes the most hated and feared man in the empire. He is hunted with a brutal relentlessness that equals only that of Ballas himself. His only chance for survival is escape to a mythical land on the far side of an impassable mountain range — the only place beyond the power of the Church of the Four Pilgrims.

Ballas is a vagrant with no greater interest than his next means of getting drunk or hiring a prostitute. He’s big, bad, and a kind of ugly that only looks more natural beat-up. Besides the ability to consume mass amounts of alcohol, his only talent is for violence and a spiteful survivabil... Read More

Fitcher’s Brides: Unforgettable rendition of Bluebeard

Fitcher's Brides by Gregory Frost

A widower, with a little help from his cold-hearted new wife, has fallen under the spell of Elias Fitcher, an apocalyptic preacher who predicts the world will end within the year. Packing up all his earthly belongings, and his three daughters — romantic Vernelia, neurotic Amy, and practical, skeptical Kate — he and his wife move to a tiny village in upstate New York to await the end of days. There, the charming, charismatic, and utterly horrifying Fitcher takes a shine to Vernelia, and sweeps her off her feet in a whirlwind courtship.

It says on the very cover that it's a Bluebeard story, so I'm not spoiling much to say that Vernelia goes mysteriously missing, and Fitcher then marries Amy. When Amy, too, vanishes, it's up to Kate to find out what has happened and stop Fitcher's horrible spree. There's a storm brewing, of course, and the plot goes from atmospherically creepy to nail-biting as t... Read More

To Ride Hell’s Chasm: One heck of a ride!

To Ride Hell's Chasm by Janny Wurts

At the start of To Ride Hell's Chasm, an outstanding standalone fantasy by Janny Wurts, Princess Anja of the tiny isolated kingdom of Sessalie has gone missing on the eve of the ceremony for her betrothal to the Crown Prince of Devall. Since Anja is beloved by her people, and the alliance with Devall represents potentially big trade increases, it doesn't take long for many people to be involved in the search, from Mykkael, a foreign-born former mercenary now in charge of the city's garrison, to Taskin, the military commander for the kingdom.

Over 650 pages covering about 5 days, Janny Wurts delivers a story filled with almost non-stop action that's at times impossible to put down. One of the odd and wonderful things about this novel is the contrast between the tight pacing and the lush language. Again, those 650 pages cover just a handful of da... Read More

A Fistful of Sky: Too mature for YA, too shallow for adults

A Fistful of Sky by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

A Fistful of Sky is the story of Gypsum LaZelle, who comes from a magical family. Each child goes through transition in their early teens and receives the ability to do magic. However, Gypsum doesn’t go through transition. After several years of adjusting to her life as the mundane member of her family, she unexpectedly goes through transition, and receives the power of cursing. The only magic she can do is to perform curses, and if she doesn’t use her power regularly, it turns inward and attacks her own body.

A Fistful of Sky is an interesting story. The siblings, parents, and assorted relatives of the LaZelle clan form a cast of colorful characters that form a web of conflicting allegiances around Gypsum as she struggles to learn how to cope with her new powers. The relationship between Gypsum and her mother was a source of tension th... Read More

Dreams of the Compass Rose: Unique format

Dreams of the Compass Rose by Vera Nazarian

Vera Nazarianemploys a fairly traditional and even romantic method of narration, but what makes Dreams of the Compass Rose unique is its format. It's reminiscent of mosaic novels or even the high fantasy equivalent of Jack Vance's Tales of the Dying Earth as each chapter stands well on its own and explores a facet of the various characters. I like the Tales of the Dying Earth comparison, as a minor character in the previous story might take center stage in the next.

The narrative isn't chronological and with all the character-leaping, Dreams of the Compass Rose isn't the most accessible of texts — at least at the beginnin... Read More

Ombria in Shadow: Dreamy and intricate tale

Ombria in Shadow by Patricia A. McKillip

Like all of Patricia McKillip's books, Ombria in Shadow is a dreamy, intricate tale, made memorable by her distinctive poetic prose. Symbols, circumstances and meanings can be interpreted on any number of deeper levels, making her books ones to be savored and re-read. If you are a lover of eloquent poetry and subtle imagery, then let Ombria in Shadow be the first of McKillip's range of stories to let you drift away on language that must have been meticulously chosen in order to create a sense of faery and dreaming.

The royal prince of Ombria is dead, leaving a child-heir, a grieving mistress and a confused bastard nephew at the mercy of Domina Pearl ('The Black Pearl'), the regent of the city, who is seemingly immortal and has her own dark plans for the ruling of the oldest city in the world. Casting the young mistress Lyd... Read More

Finders Keepers: A romance novel with spaceships

Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair

I enjoyed Ann Aguirre's Grimspace so much that I thought I ought to start looking into this whole "romantic" sci-fi thing. It all seemed so right up my alley. And I'd seen Linnea Sinclair listed as an author of this type of work, and Finders Keepers sounded interesting.

Finders Keepers is undoubtedly a romance novel with spaceships and laser rifles (no lightsabers). No matter how you shake it, that's what it is. Now, I'd like to be able to tell you that it was a good romance novel with spaceships and laser rifles, but I can't.

Alarm bells start going off immediately when I read, very early on, about Trilby's jerk rich boy ex-boyfrie... Read More