The Nightmare and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy: A very fine collection

The Nightmare and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy by Francis Stevens

Up until recently, Minneapolis-born author Francis Stevens had been a very solid 3 for 3 with this reader. Her first novel, 1918’s The Citadel of Fear, had proved to be a mindblower, dealing as it did with the lost city of Tlapallan, nightmarish creatures, and battling Aztec gods. Her second novel, 1919’s The Heads of Cerberus, was a dystopian affair set in a totalitarian Philadelphia and is one of the first sci-fi offerings to feature a parallel time track. And in Stevens’ fourth novel, 1920’s Read More

Jigs & Reels: Like a box of chocolates, a fun collection of treats

Jigs & Reels by Joanne Harris

It's always fascinating to read short stories written by your favourite author. Without the luxury of a longer page-count, they're forced to hone their craft and get out of their comfort zone, and often some of their best work can be found in the short story format. Besides which, a lot can be said with just a few words. As Joanne Harris herself points out in her foreword, short stories: "provoke questions, whereas most novels tend to try and answer them."

Harris is perhaps best known for Chocolat, and most of her novels are so full of sensory description that you can almost see, smell, taste and feel what she's describing. However, the twenty-two short stories in Jigs & Reels (2004) are more ... Read More

In the Land of Time: And Other Fantasy Tales: A Dunsany primer

In the Land of Time: And Other Fantasy Tales by Lord Dunsany

In In the Land of Time: And Other Fantasy Tales (1986), literary critic and editor S.T. Joshi has compiled a large collection of Lord Dunsany’s short fiction that spans fifty years and is representative of his entire oeuvre. As someone who is not well-acquainted with the writings of Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, the 18th Baron of Dunsany (1878-1957), I found this collection to be both an excellent resource and an enjoyable read. I especially appreciate the opportunity to listen to this in audiobook format, thanks to Tantor Audio who has recently released an audio edition which is 17 hours long and is beautifully narrated by Steven Crossley.

After giving us an informative introduction, Joshi has arranged Dunsany’s stories into six sections. The first... Read More

THE ASSASSIN SERIES: Three horror novellas by Tim Lebbon

Dead Man’s Hand, Pieces of Hate, A Whisper of Southern Lights by Tim Lebbon

The three novellas Dead Man’s Hand, Pieces of Hate, and A Whisper of Southern Lights make up Tim Lebbon’s ASSASSIN series. They were originally published in 2004, 2005, and 2008 by Necessary Evil Press but were reprinted by Tor.com in 2016. Tor packaged the first two stories together under the name Pieces of Hate.

The ASSASSIN series tells the story of a man named Gabriel who has, for centuries, been hunting Temple, a demon who slaughtered Gabriel’s family. Gabriel can feel when he is close to Temple and uses this sense to follow him all over the world. Every time they meet, G... Read More

Century Rain: Noir, hard SF, and a dash of romance

Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds

Century Rain (2004) is the first novel Alastair Reynolds published outside of his REVELATION SPACE setting. It combines elements of noir, hard science fiction and time travel with a dash of romance. Reynolds also experimented with noir elements in Chasm City and The Prefect (which I think is one of his best novels). The melding of noir and science fiction doesn’t work as well in Century Rain; this book is not one of Reynold's stronger novels.

The novel opens in the late 23rd century with archaeologist Verity Auger leading two students through the ruins of Paris. Earth has been destroyed by an event referred to as the nanocaust during the 2070s. A host of tiny machines, released to correct the centuries of abuse heaped upon the earth by humanity, turns against its creators a... Read More

Camouflage: Species meets The Abyss

Camouflage by Joe Haldeman

How did Joe Haldeman’s Camouflage beat Susanna Clarke’s monumental work Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell for the Nebula Award in 2005? Granted, I haven’t read that book, but I have read many glowing reviews from my fellow FanLit reviewers and Goodreads friends. It was also made into a major BBC miniseries and received many accolades. Clarke’s book is incredibly long and filled with dense footnotes that show the depth of research and creative energy, perhaps too much for some readers but showing great effort on the author’s part. It is a major literary work of speculative fiction, and won the Hugo, World Fantasy, Locus, and Mythopoeic awards, and was even nominated for the Man Booker Prize and Guard... Read More

Minority Report and Other Stories: 4 PKD stories that inspired movies

Minority Report and Other Stories by Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick is the classic case of a brilliant but struggling artist who only got full recognition after he passed away. Despite publishing an incredible 44 novels and 121 stories during his lifetime, it was not until the Ridley Scott film Blade Runner was released in 1982 that PKD gained more mainstream attention, and sadly he died before being able to see the final theatrical release.

A number of his short stories were adapted into feature-length films, and this audibook contains “The Minority Report” (1956), which inspired the 2002 Steven Spielberg film Minority Report starring Tom Cruise, “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” (1966), which was the loose basis for the 1990 Paul Verhoeven film Total Recall and a 2012 reboot starring Colin Farrell, “P... Read More

Codex: A must-read for Grossman fans

Codex by Lev Grossman

There are disadvantages to finding a trilogy you really love, and they usually surface somewhere between the second and final book. I discovered this whilst waiting for The Magician’s Land to be released, after devouring the first two novels of Grossman’s Magicians series. It was at this point I turned my attention to the rest of Grossman’s literary corpus and discovered a stand-alone novel published five years previously to The Magicians: Codex.

Codex centres around the twenty-something, highly paid investment banker, Edward Wozny. Wozny is a disillusioned, slightly listless New Yorker (sound familiar?) who’s got two weeks off between his high-flying job in New York and his high-flying job in London. He’s spent his entire life working, and now that he actually ha... Read More

The Secret Sharer and Other Stories: Silverberg achieves greatness

The Secret Sharer and Other Stories by Robert Silverberg

The Secret Sharer and Other Stories by Robert Silverberg is available on Audible and offers a top-notch performance by Robertson Dean. The title is a little misleading, I think. There are only three selections included, and only one is a short story. The other two seem to be novellas. However, based on the way Silverberg’s works have been repackaged and republished over the years, even those distinctions are difficult to make: For example, We Are for the Dark is included in both his collected short stories volume seven, We Are for the Dark: 1987-1990, and in the collection Sailing to Byzantium: Six Novellas. In listening to all three selections, I noticed that The Secret Sharer and We Are for the Dark are both much longer than "Good News from the Vatican." The short story is a good one, but I absolutely loved the two... Read More

Marvel 1602: 10th Anniversary Edition

Marvel 1602: 10th Anniversary Edition by Neil Gaiman (story), Andy Kubert (illustrations), Richard Isanove (color)

In 2001, Marvel gave Neil Gaiman the chance to write in the Marvel universe. Being Gaiman, he didn’t come up with a traditional superhero story at all. There are no tall buildings to be leaped at a single bound, no airplanes or guns, no fancy particle beam weapons. Instead, Gaiman went sideways, developing a story with Marvel characters — many Marvel characters — in Europe and the New World just at the transition from Queen Elizabeth I’s reign to that of James I of England. The result was Marvel 1602.

The collection of the eight chapters of Marvel 1602 is a beautiful book. Gaiman wrote the story, it was illustrated by Andy Kubert and colored by Richard Isanove. Todd Klein’s lettering enhances the illusion of a 17th century book — and still reminds us, at times, that we’re reading a comic... Read More

Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon

Astonishing X-Men, Volume One: Gifted (Issues 1-6) and Astonishing X-Men, Volume 2: Dangerous (Issues 7-12) by Joss Whedon (writer) and John Cassaday (artist)

These two Astonishing X-Men trade collections by Joss Whedon — Gifted and Dangerous — make a great introduction either to superhero comics in general or to X-Men comics specifically. There are some goods reasons Joss Whedon was chosen to write and direct the latest Avengers movie, and one of them must be his incredible work on these twelve issues of Astonishing X-Men in 2004 and 2005. Joss Whedon, known for his excellent dialogue in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and Do... Read More

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary: 8 tasty little nuggets of supernatural horror

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by M.R. James

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary contains eight tasty little nuggets of supernatural horror that I found very satisfying. In each of them the story is told second or even third hand by a genial narrator whose acquaintances, who are themselves of a decidedly scholarly bent, have been the victims of supernatural intrusion into our world. Often the stories revolve around an ancient artifact able to invoke the otherworldly that is discovered by these particularly luckless individuals (though they often feel themselves lucky indeed when they first make their discoveries). The tales are all good, but my favourites were “Canon Alberic's Scrap-book”, “Lost Hearts”, “”The Mezzotint”, and “Count Magnus”. I found myself thinking of both H.P. Lovecraft (in James’ use of made-up man... Read More

Identity Crisis by Brad Meltzer & Rags Morales

Identity Crisis by Brad Meltzer & Rags Morales

Over the years, the DC universe has undergone a series of crises — Crisis on Infinite Earths, Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis... Read More

The Algebraist: Unabashed space opera

The Algebraist by Iain Banks

Over the top villain. Check. Strange and funny alien races. Check. Quest for singular object that leads through space. Check. Multitudes of battlecruisers, space wings, and dreadnaughts converging at a single point. Check. Boxes ticked, Iain M. Banks makes no bones about it: The Algebraist is unabashed space opera, for better and worse.

The Algebraist, the 20th novel and 8th sci-fi offering in Bank’s oeuvre, tells the story of Fassin Taak, a scholar who spends his time in the atmosphere of a gas giant interacting with the native species called Dwellers. A smaller version of the blimp-like floaters Banks created in Look to Windward, the Dwellers live for millions and billions of years, accumulating knowledge, enjoying life, and remaining aloof of the cyclical rise and fall of power humanity and other species experience. W... Read More

Stamping Butterflies: Comes together too late

Stamping Butterflies by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

I  picked up John Courtenay Grimwood’s Stamping Butterflies because Marion thinks so highly of his work and I thought a stand-alone novel which has just been released in audio format would be an ideal introduction to the author. While I found much to admire about Grimwood’s style, I didn’t enjoy Stamping Butterflies as much as I expect to enjoy some of his other work.

The non-linear three-pronged plot of Stamping Butterflies is ambitious. One part takes place in modern-day United States where Gene Newman, the charismatic U.S. President, refuses to collaborate on a space mission with the Chinese until their government addresses its human rights issues. A sniper, concerned about a Chinese-American partnership, attempts to kill Newman in M... Read More

The Scarecrow and his Servant: Pretty hefty stuff

The Scarecrow and his Servant by Philip Pullman

We Might Sometimes Go Hungry, But We Will Never Want for Adventure...

Philip Pullman is best known for his young-adult fantasy series His Dark Materials as well as the Victorian thrillers starring Sally Lockhart, but he also has quite a few children's books under his belt, all of which are whimsical and comedic in nature. The Scarecrow and His Servant is one such story, highly reminiscent of Lloyd Alexander's work and definitely a change of pace from Pullman's darker, more sophisticated fare.

A farmer builds a scarecrow with a turnip for a head and a broomstick for a backbone, and plants it in a field with these words of advice: ... Read More

Inventing Memory: Read it if you’re into mythic fiction, magical realism, or time-travel

Inventing Memory by Anne Harris

Inventing Memory is a book I found impossible to put down. Anne Harris kept me spellbound from beginning to end, with one hiccup: an aspect of the science-fiction twist that didn’t quite make sense.

The novel contains two parallel storylines. One is about Shula, a slave in ancient Sumer, who has visions that lead her to the service of the goddess Inanna. However, even as Inanna makes greater and greater demands upon her, Shula loses her heart to a different goddess, Belili, Inanna's wilder rival.

In modern times, a nerdy girl named Wendy grows up, has a vision of Belili, and begins to dream of a life better than her social-outcast existence. She searches for goddess religion and matriarchy and eventually becomes a scholar of ancient literature, but meanwhile her relationship with her boyfriend Ray is becoming more and more troubled.

The two s... Read More

River of Gods: A complex, foreign, unique world

River of Gods by Ian McDonald

Ian McDonald’s River of Gods is a complex, multi-threaded tale that takes place in near-future India which has been split into somewhat warring states. There is a water shortage as the monsoon hasn’t come in three years, a rigid caste system is in place, and political and economic strife is tearing cities apart at the seams. While the rich get richer and designer babies are common among the elite, there is a gross gender imbalance where men outnumber women by two thirds. It’s a complex, foreign, and unique world.

McDonald’s writing at times reminded me of a mixture of K.J. Parker’s dry, cynical humor and a dash of Peter F. Hamilton’s science fiction. McDonald is incredibly descriptive, and he seems to purposefully take a “no holds barred” stance with many of his scenes. He eq... Read More

Mira, Mirror: Intriguing and thoughtful

Mira, Mirror by Mette Ivie Harrison

Everyone knows the story of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” but Mettie Ivie Harrison has something more to say, not just about the Evil Queen, but also her magic mirror. In recent years it has been rather vogue to take a traditional fairytale and put a new spin on it (usually by retelling it through the eyes of the antagonist), but Mira, Mirror not only acts as a sequel to “Snow White,” but also provides a new point-of-view in the form of the Queen's mirror.

Mira and her foster-sister are the outcasts of the village, sold by their families and raised by an old witch. Companions, rivals and sisters, Mira worships the ground her sister walks upon until the day she is caught up in one of her spells. Her body is turned to wood, her face to glass, and suddenly Mi... Read More

Spirited: Confusing and unsatisfying

Spirited by Nancy Holder

During the height of the French-Indian War, Isabella and her father, who is a doctor with the British army, are making their way to a new fort through the New York wilderness. In the meantime, Wusamequin, a Native American brave who is looking to avenge the death of his wife and child has a vision of soldiers crossing through the lands of his people. In a fit of rage Wusamequin leads a party of warriors against the English. Impressed with the way Isabella fights back, he spares her life and takes her into his home as his slave, though soon both of them begin to realize that they are becoming much more than servant and master.

I liked the idea behind Spirited; I love stories where Native American tribes take in settlers and the settlers learn that all they have been taught about “Indians” is wrong. It’s a classic theme, I know, but I can’t help liking those kinds of stories... Read More

Cloud Atlas: A treasure

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

For some people, awards are guides as to which books to read, but for others they can serve as a warning that the novels are “too literary,” all art and artifice and no story. It’s easy to see how some might think that of Cloud Atlas. Nominated for several awards, including the heavyweight Booker prize, written by an author — David Mitchell — known for his surreal “literariness,” and constructed in a non-linear fashion, Cloud Atlas runs the risk of being ruled out at the outset by many. That would be too bad, however, for the book is utterly brilliant, one of my favorite reads of the past decade and a perfect example of how craft and storytelling are not mutually exclusive.

The structure, as mentioned, is unusual, taking the form of six stories linked mostly if not solely by theme and told in chronological order. That i... Read More

Mortal Love: A Sensual Tale

Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand

Elizabeth Hand, who famously dealt with the Mother Goddess myth in Waking the Moon and the cult of Dionysus in Black Light, here tackles the subject of the fatal muse: the White Goddess, the lhiannan-sidhe, the Belle Dame Sans Merci.

Mortal Lovedrifts back and forth between several periods of history, between men throughout the years who have fallen under her seductive spell. Along the way there are Hand's usual lush fruit-metaphors and insect-metaphors and jewel-metaphors, and as always her prose is an intoxicating fever-dream of a read.

Writing-wise, I think it was probably better than Waking the Moon, but I have to admit I liked Moon better. Moon had sympathetic, every-(wo)man sorts of characters who felt like old friends ... Read More

The Three Sisters: Badly written and edited

The Three Sisters by Rebecca Locksley

I’d been meaning to read The Three Sisters for a long time. The cover art intrigued me. I remember seeing it in the bookstore, thinking “But there are only two sisters in the picture!” and then finally noticing the third, ghostly woman in the pool. I wanted to know what these sisters’ story was. Sadly, I don’t think I’ll ever know.

The sisters, Elena, Yanimena, and Marigoth, are members of a race called the Tari. The Tari are magically gifted, drop-dead gorgeous, and feared for their power and beauty. Their religion is based around the “life spirit.” Tari are more in tune with the life spirit than people of other races. They’re so in tune with the life spirit that if a Tari kills someone, he or she suffers death throes in sympathy with the victim.

Their enemies are the Mirayans. The Mirayans follow a religion analogous to Christianity.... Read More

An Earthly Knight: Interesting character study, flat romance

An Earthly Knight by Janet McNaughton

I went through a phase a few years ago where I sought out every retelling of the Tam Lin story that I could get my hands on. So the title An Earthly Knight was instantly familiar to me, and I knew I needed to read this book. I was especially intrigued by the author's choice to return the story to its original setting, medieval Scotland.

Unfortunately, the historical aspect falls a little flat. McNaughton has a tendency to get a bit infodump-y. I wasn't familiar with the politics of that time and place, and so I appreciated being brought up to speed, but there has to have been a more deft way of doing it than having one character expounding history to another character who already knew that history.

I also wasn't thrilled with the romance. Tam Lin was too Generically Nice, and his rival, Earl William, was too one-dimensionally nasty. If Tam Lin needed a foil, I'd have preferred e... Read More

Heroics for Beginners: Very funny!

Heroics for Beginners by John Moore

This is one of my favourite fantasy books ever. It might not have the epic scope of The Lord Of The Rings, nor the immersive quality of Feist's Riftwar Saga, but what it does have going for it it has in spades: it's very clever. This is The Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy of fantasy novels. Forget Terry Pratchett, Tom Holt, and Robert Rankin. John Moore is far funnier. Plus, his comic style of writing isn't the only attraction; this b... Read More