A Brother’s Price: An amusing “what-if” story

A Brother’s Price by Wen Spencer

In a frontier land on some other world, a close-knit family of outlaws lives in the same sort of manner that you’d expect such a family to live in the American Wild West. They’re tough, they wear cowboy hats and ride horses, they speak coarsely, they curse and brawl, they shoot and hunt, they drink whiskey and smoke cigars, they protect their spouses... Oh, and I’m talking about how the women behave.

In A Brother’s Price (2005), Wen Spencer twists this classic Wild West tale by switching the genders. Because, in this world, male babies are rarely born alive, there is a gender role reversal. Women have the power, they rule, they do the dangerous jobs, and they compete for men (a limited resource). They choose, own, shelter and protect their men. Men are kept in the hou... Read More

The Penelopiad: A razor-sharp retelling

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

It is Alicia Ostriker, in her wonderful collection of essays Dancing at the Devil’s Party, who writes “the true poet is necessarily the partisan of energy, rebellion, and desire, and is opposed to passivity, obedience, and the authority of reasons, laws and institutions.” Daring to deconstruct one of the most dearly held myths of the Western world, Margaret Atwood’s 2005 The Penelopiad is certainly a tango step or two with the one with the pitchfork tail. Taking The Odyssey and turning it on its head, from comedy to tragedy, Atwood gives readers Penelope’s side of the story.

Narrated from Hades, The Penelopiad is a recounting of Penelope’s life from beyond the grave. Atwood utilizes not only The Odyssey Read More

Sea Kings of Mars and Otherworldly Stories: Leigh Brackett’s fantasy stories

Sea Kings of Mars and Otherworldly Stories by Leigh Brackett

As NASA’s Curiosity rover trundles about the surface of Mars today, another page turns on the glories of pulp science fiction. Leigh Brackett’s vision of a land populated with humans and aliens, ancient cities and creatures, long-buried secrets and mysterious deserts fades a shade closer to pale as one desolate desert image after another is beamed back to Earth. But there was a day when her works shone with the hope and possibility of life on the planets beyond Earth. In 2005, Gollancz brought together the best of these stories as part of their Fantasy Masterworks collection. Sea Kings of Mars and Otherworldly Stories is an imaginatively nostalgic look back to a time when the solar system held more possibilities.

The collection contains five novelet... Read More

Od Magic: A mild book

Od Magic by Patricia A. McKillip

The city of Numis is home to the famous Od School of Magic, founded years ago by the legendary giantess Od. She’s apparently immortal, but appears only occasionally, and therefore the school lies in the hands of the king Galin and the wizard-headmaster Valoren, who demand strict obedience from its students. Any unorthodox magic is outlawed, any student that step outside the boundaries set for them are expelled. This is especially true of any student who goes wandering in the Twilight Quarter of the city: a neighborhood that comes alive only after dark, a place of wild and uncontrollable magic that the king is determined to stifle.

This is particularly true when two new faces arrive in Kelior. One in a simple gardener named Brenden Vetch, sent by Od herself to the school in order to take up a position as a new gardener. His magical skill with plants is astonishing, as well as threatening to those ... Read More

Never Let Me Go: A quiet exploration of the human condition

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

[In our Edge of the Universe column, 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.]

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is about clones, but don’t get your hopes up. This is an unconventional clone story.

That’s right. There aren’t any mad scientists, nor are there any daring escapes. There isn’t even a sterile cloning facility run by a ruthless villain. So forget about a daring infiltration scene in which the sterile cloning facility is shut down from within.

There is, however, a private boarding school – Hailsham – and thankfully, it’s a mysterious ... Read More

I Am Alive and You are Dead: A Journey Into the Mind of Philip K. Dick

I Am Alive and You are Dead: A Journey Into the Mind of Philip K. Dick by Emmanuel Carrère

Anyone familiar with the SF novels of Philip K. Dick and the many films inspired by his works knows that he was one strange and visionary guy. Certainly the SF genre is filled with works of bizarre worlds, aliens, characters, and slippery reality. But it’s generally accepted by authors and readers alike that these fictional creations are just that — works of the imagination by writers who are generally considered sane and share the consensus view of reality. In the case of PKD, however, the line between reality and fiction, sanity and madness, redemption and damnation, revelation and delusion is very blurred indeed. In fact, the person most likely to question such distinctions w... Read More

Batman: The Man Who Laughs by Ed Brubaker

Batman: The Man Who Laughs (2005) #1 by Ed Brubaker

Ed Brubaker is one of the best writers in comics overall, and he is unquestionably the best writer of noir comics. Batman: The Man Who Laughs is a re-imagining of what Batman’s first encounter with the Joker might have been like. In the story, the Joker makes his presence known and tells Gotham that he will kill one-by-one prominent Gothamites. He even names the specific day and time of each death. After the first wealthy target — surrounded by police and watched covertly by Batman — dies precisely on time, the story builds in intensity, particularly once Joker announces a few more targets, and the last one is Bruce Wayne. This one-shot story is a good representative of Brubaker’s noir work in DC cont... Read More

Pushing Ice: Stand-alone hard SF from Reynolds

Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds

Pushing Ice (2005) is a standalone novel. It is not set in Alastair Reynolds’ REVELATION SPACE universe and as far as I can tell it is not related to any of his other works either. On his website, Reynolds mentions that there may one day be a sequel though. Pushing Ice is space opera on an intimidating scale but, unfortunately, I don't think it gets close to the best the REVELATION SPACE universe has to offer.

The year is 2057 and humanity has escaped the Earth's gravity well. The outer planets and asteroid belt are frequently visited by mining ships, of which the Rockhopper is one. When Saturn's moon Janus inexplicably leaves orbit and heads out of the solar system in the direction of Spica, a star in the constellation Virgo, the Rockhopper is the only ship close enough to have any chance of intercepting the ... Read More

A Man Without a Country: Essays from the GWB Years

A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man Without a Country collects essays about living in George W. Bush’s America. Published in 2005, these essays were written after America invaded Iraq in order to defeat terrorism, to find and neutralize weapons of mass destruction, and to spread freedom and democracy throughout the Middle East.

Briefly summarized, Vonnegut is critical of the state of America, which has been hijacked by psychopaths, and let’s not forget the state of the world, which has been destroyed by a century of fossil fuel emissions that produced nothing more than transportation. He’s not especially glad that so many nuclear weapons remain, either. He defends the arts, humanism, and, generally speaking, compassion and mercy. He regularly mentions Mark Twain, Albert Einstein, an... Read More

Platinum Pohl: The Collected Best Stories

Platinum Pohl: The Collected Best Stories by Frederik Pohl

Platinum Pohl is a career-spanning collection of Frederik Pohl’s best short fiction. Almost every collection of short fiction contains weak stories but I was absolutely blown away by editor James Frenkel's selection of Pohl's work. It is one of the best collections of short fiction I have ever read.

Platinum Pohl contains a total of thirty stories, too many to comment on each of them but I'll name a number of the highlights. The opening story is “The Merchants of Venus,” a novella-length work and the first work than mentions the Heechee, which he would later write a number of novels about. The story deals with the dangers of exploring Venus and how to stay alive on a reasonable income in a high-cost environment. I thought Pohl’s description of Venus very interesting, the way Pohl imagines transport in particular.... Read More

Fledgling: Love and relationships examined through vampirism

Fledgling by Octavia Butler

In some ways there are superficial resemblances between Fledgling and the last vampire book I read, Let the Right One In: both books have as their star apparently pre-pubescent vampires who have ‘complicated’ relationships with their human companions. In John Ajvide Lindqvist’s case it was a Renfield-like adult who was enamoured of the vampire-child for whom he obtained blood and the young boy who becomes a part of her life. In the case of Butler’s book the vampire in question, Shori, isn’t even only apparently pre-pubescent… according to vampire physiology she is in fact still a child, though that still translates to her being much older than her appearance would suggest (around 52 years old in fact). Despite this fact the relationships she has with the humans around her bear all of the appearances of a pedophilic relationship, at least from the outside.... Read More

The DC Infinite Crisis and the “Old” 52 (part 4): Villains United by Gail Simone

The DC Infinite Crisis and the "Old" 52 (part 4): Villains United by Gail Simone
I just reread Gail Simone's Villains United for what must be the third time, and it wasn't as good as I remembered it being. I think there are several reasons for this reaction. When I first read it, I was still fairly new to comics and was learning something new from almost everything I read. But with at least a thousand more comics read between then and now, I have to say that I don't think this book will impress the seasoned comic book reader, though there are some great moments and it can be enjoyable if read only once. It just doesn't hold up to multiple reads because i... Read More

Infinite Crisis and the “Old” 52 (Part 3): Day of Vengeance by Bill Willingham

Infinite Crisis and the "Old" 52 (Part 3): Day of Vengeance by Bill Willingham

In this third review, I will cover the rest of the issues included in the Day of Vengeance trade paperback. This story is written by Bill Willingham, well-known for Fables, his excellent Vertigo series at DC. These issues are also available on Comixology as Day of Vengeance Issues #1-6. However, as confusing as this sounds, do not read the Day of Vengeance: Infinite Crisis Special, which is included ... Read More

The DC Infinite Crisis and the “Old” 52 (Part 2): “Lightning Strikes Twice” by Judd Winick

The DC Infinite Crisis and the “Old” 52 (Part 2): “Lightning Strikes Twice” by Judd Winick

In Part One, I gave an introduction to this series and discussed Countdown to Infinite Crisis #1 (it's available on Comixology or in the trade paperback The OMAC Project). This second review is about the first three issues included in the trade paperback Day of Vengeance. These issues, by Judd Winick, tell the three-part Read More

The Stonehenge Gate: Jack Williamson’s final novel

The Stonehenge Gate by Jack Williamson

What do you plan to do when you're 97 years old? Me? If I'm fortunate enough to attain to that ripe old age, I suppose I will be eating pureed Gerber peaches and watching Emma Peel reruns on my TV set in the nursing home ... IF I'm lucky. For sci-fi Grand Master Jack Williamson, the age of 97 meant another novel, his 50th or so, in a writing career that stretched back 77 years (!), to his first published story, "The Metal Man," in 1928. Sadly, the novel in question, 2005's The Stonehenge Gate, would be the author's last, before his passing in November 2006. Impressively, the novel is as exciting, lucid, readable and awe inspiring as anything in Williamson's tremendous oeuvre. Few authors had as long and productive a career as Jack Williamson, and I suppose it really is true what they say regarding practice, p... Read More

Magic for Beginners: Impressive and strange

Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link

Kelly Link's short story collection, Magic for Beginners, is a great piece of work. In a bit of a departure from her earlier collection Stranger Things Happen, the stories in it don't follow normative narrative structures; they draw from sources as various as fairy tales, kitchen sink realism, heist stories, TV fandom, and Link's own surrealist vision.  These nine stories don't share overt connections, but they do provide a window into modern American life, complete with bland marriages, mortgages, and random zombie sightings. I listened to Random House Audio's version of this book which is almost 11 hours long and is read by various actors such as Cassandra Campbell, Lorna Raver, Marc Bramhall, and others.

The first story, "The Faery Handbag," was my favorite. It was the most straightforward, which probably indicates that I'm a lazy reader and ... Read More

Malvolio’s Revenge: A quick but fun read

Malvolio’s Revenge by Sophie Masson

I've read plenty of Sophie Masson's novels and enjoyed them all, but I'm fairly certain that Malvolio's Revenge may end up being my favourite. Though Masson usually writes straight-out fantasy stories, this is a more of a mystery with a few supernatural trappings thrown in.

The book's title is a bit misleading, for this book isn't a sequel to Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Instead it refers to the title of a play that the travelling troupe of actors who comprise our main characters are performing all around Louisiana. Set primarily in New Orleans in 1910, the story begins on a terribly stormy night when the Trentham Troupe of Players stumble upon an old estate that promises food and shelter.

Unfortunately the mansion is all but ruined, but that it's called Illyria (the setting of their play) is taken as a good omen — ... Read More

Numbers Don’t Lie: A cocktail of laughs and what-ifs

Numbers Don’t Lie by Terry Bisson

In 2005, Tachyon Press published three of Terry Bisson linked novellas in one volume, called Numbers Don’t Lie. This short, fun book follows Irving, a Brooklynite lawyer, and his genius best friend Wilson Wu on a series of adventures.

Wilson is a six-foot-tall Chinese American polymath; he is a math genius, he’s studied meteorology, botany, Chinese herbs, pastry-making, law and the care of camels at a caravansari in the Gobi. The three stories collected in Numbers Don’t Lie were published separately in Asimov’s. Bisson realized that, combined, the stories have a certain momentum, and by combining them, he also did something insidious — he programmed the reader. By the time you start reading “Get Me to the Church on Time” a story about, well, time, it’s impossible not to laugh.

But first things first. In “The Hole in the Hole,” Irv ... Read More

Agent to the Stars: John Scalzi’s debut novel

Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi

Tom Stein is a young Hollywood agent who used to think that his clients were hard to handle. That was before Tom’s boss assigned him to represent the most important client any agent has ever had to deal with — the first aliens to contact the human race.

These aliens — the Yherajk — have been watching our TV broadcasts for years, so they know a lot about humans. They are peaceful and want to make a good impression, but they know it’ll be a hard sell. That’s because they look like The Blob, smell like sweaty sneakers, and have some powers that humans are going to find very disturbing. In other words, they seem more like fodder for our horror movies than friends. That’s why they’ve asked Tom Stein’s agency to represent them. So Tom gets to dump his difficult clients off on a junior agent so he can concentrate on figuring out how to give the aliens an image makeover before they’re marketed to ... Read More

Hellblazer: All His Engines

John Constantine, Hellblazer: All His Engines by Mike Carey (writer) & Leonardo Manco (artist)

There are so many options available to the reader who wants to meet John Constantine for the first time. He was created by Alan Moore in his groundbreaking run on Swamp Thing (Moore's entry into American comics). Another good place to start is with Jamie Delano’s Hellblazer: Original Sins, the volume collecting the first issues of Constantine's solo title Hellblazer — the longest running title in the history of Vertigo, DC's line of comics with adult content and adult themes (both in terms of being explicit and being intellectually complex). Unfortunately, DC just recently canceled this title at issue #300 and has replaced i... Read More

Blue November Storms: Doesn’t hang together

Blue November Storms by Brian James Freeman

The “Lightning Five,” so called because of their prowess on the football field, has reunited twenty years after a tragedy sent one of them away — so far away that the other four all thought he was dead. Adam simply calls Steve one day out of the blue and says that he’d like to go hunting with the old crew, practically giving Steve a heart attack. The gang agrees to get together, especially because there’s supposed to be an amazing meteor shower that night. They’ll climb onto the roof of the cabin they built together and watch the show.

And so they do. Adam has promised to tell why he left, but as the night settles in he still isn’t talking. Still, the friendship between him and the four others resumes as if twenty years had not intervened. They play cards, drink beer, and talk about everything but why Adam left. Finally, around 2:00 a.m., they climb out onto the roof and wait for the m... Read More

The Book of Lost Souls by J. Michael Straczynski

The Book of Lost Souls, Volume 1: Introductions All Around by J. Michael Straczynski (writer) and Colleen Doran (artist)

I am so pleased I picked The Book of Lost Souls up off the shelf at Oxford Comics in Atlanta, Georgia. Though I am familiar with the writer, J. Michael Straczynski (often referred to simply as JMS), I'd never heard of this book or its artist — Colleen Doran. But I was immediately grabbed by the title and cover image of a forlorn young man clutching a large, red book. In the center background is a large moon with the nighttime skyline of 19th-century London on the left and 20th-century New York on the right. I did judge this book by the cover, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the inside of the book was even better than was promised by the cover. In fact, this book made such an impression on me that I'm writing this re... Read More

Godland: Hello, Cosmic!

Godland: Hello, Cosmic! Volume One, Issues 1-5 by Joe Casey (author), Tom Scioli (artist) & Bill Crabtree (colors)

Godland is a fun, and funny, story about Adam Archer, an astronaut who gains super-heroic powers during a mission to Mars. It's a playful comic, and even though its playfulness is based on a parody of older comics, knowledge of them isn’t essential. To be more specific, the visual style is based on older artists like Jack Kirby, who drew large, solid people with exaggerated perspective. If you aren't familiar with Kirby, you will still be in awe of the artwork.

Basically, the stories are good but forgettable parodies, but the artwork really sets Godland apart from other contemporary comics. It imitates without being derivative; rather, it builds on an older style but adds brilliant colors that were not technologically reproducible at the time of printing of the original source comics. In fact, ... Read More

The Tulpa: An uncomplicated unswerving monster story

The Tulpa  by Ardath Mayhar

Araminta Palomer is the daughter of an elderly wealthy businessman and his second wife. Minta has been sheltered for all her life, living in the family mansion which is surrounded by high walls and patrolling Doberman Pinschers. She has a governess and is driven to town only rarely for shopping. Because she’s lonely, Minta creates an imaginary friend — an egg-shaped furry creature who loves her. Prophetically, she names him Willbe and she imagines him with sharp needle-like teeth because she’s got a really nasty older stepbrother.

At first, Willbe is the perfect companion; he’s warm and furry and sleeps next to Minta at night. The problems start when Willbe begins to manifest as a real creature whenever Minta feels threatened — and he’s not afraid to use those teeth. When Minta is kidnapped and Willbe steps in to protect her, the police start asking questions. Most people can’t see Willbe... Read More

Inside Job: Hugo Award-winning novella

Inside Job by Connie Willis

I have a goal of eventually reading all of the major SFF award winners, including novels, novellas, novelettes, and short stories, so that’s why I picked up Connie Willis’s Inside Job when I saw that it was available on audio. Inside Job won the Hugo Award for Best Novella in 2006. Just a couple of months ago, by the way, Connie Willis received the SFWA Grand Master Award (January 2012).

Inside Job is a story about Rob, a professional debunker of pseudoscience, and his new partner Kildy Ross, a beautiful and famous actress. They attend séances and visit faith healers, psychics, and palm readers, always figuring out how these hucksters are cheating the gullible and publishing their findings in their magazine, The Jaundiced Eye.

Mostly it’s the same thing over and over: an earpiece, hidden wires, a... Read More