Aylmer Vance: Ghost-Seer: 8 marvelous tales featuring an Edwardian ghost buster

Aylmer Vance: Ghost-Seer by Alice & Claude Askew

As I have said elsewhere, this reader has long been a sucker for the Victorian/Edwardian ghost hunter. Previously, I had enjoyed the exploits of Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence — who had tackled, in the author’s five-story collection of 1908, a haunted house, a French town peopled by shape shifters, an Egyptian fire elemental, devil worship, and a nontraditional werewolf — and William Hope Hodgson’s Thomas Carnacki, who had gone up against, in the six-story collection of 1913 that was expanded to nine stories 35 years later, haunted abodes, a ghostly horse, weird noises, spectral daggers and maggots, a haunted ship, and a soul-sucking swine monster! But... Read More

The Android’s Dream: A zany SF thriller

The Android’s Dream by John Scalzi

The Android’s Dream (2006) is one of John Scalzi’s earlier books, and a stand-alone rather than part of a series, so I couldn’t resist given the obvious Philip K. Dick reference in the title. I decided to go into this one without knowing anything about the plot or reading any reviews at all. I know Scalzi’s humor and style from the OLD MAN’S WAR series, Redshirts and Lock In, and I love the audio narration of Wil Wheaton, so I figured I’d give it a try.

Initially I was a bit nonplussed by the opening sequence, essentially the m... Read More

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

In World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, Max Brooks provides an oral history of the global conflict against the undead. In the introduction, the narrator explains how this account focuses on the human element rather than just the statistical details of World War Z. The text shifts from the experiences of one survivor to the next.

The history begins in China. Dr. Kwang Jing-shu recalls when he encountered the “Patient Zero,” a child, and the early responses to the child’s illness. The zombie plague spreads across China, and before long human traffickers are explaining in their interviews how they brought the infected to the rest of the world. At first, people do not know what they are dealing with, and they refer to the disease as rabies, and later as “African Rabies.” Israel and South Africa develop strategies for response faster than many other na... Read More

End of the World Blues: Grimwood is a superb stylist

End of the World Blues by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

Roger Zelazny, on top of writing a number of immensely popular books and stories, was one of the genre’s great stylists, with noir minimalism utilized in nearly all his works. He was likewise predictable for his main characters, often world-weary men with personal issues who find themselves facing situations they would rather avoid. I have come to think of Jon Courtenay Grimwood, who bases his fiction on these two same elements, as a successor to Zelazny, but significantly upgraded for the (post-) modern world. An exemplary text, his End of the World Blues (2006) possesses a sophisticated sense of noir that does not lack for eye-kicks (to borrow a phrase from Read More

The Empire of Ice Cream: Dynamic range and dynamic prose

The Empire of Ice Cream by Jeffrey Ford

Emerging in the late morning of an overcast day (one novel in 1988 and a handful of short stories over the decade that followed), there was not much indication Jeffrey Ford would become as prolific as he has. In 1997 he produced THE WELL-BUILT CITY trilogy which did well critically, but was not a commercial success. A deluge of short fiction followed, however, and since 2000 he has produced more than ninety stories amidst a couple of novels. Quantity and quality often quarrelsome bedfellows, Ford proves harmony is possible, a fact wonderfully exemplified by his second collection The Empire of Ice Cream: Stories (2006). What else do you want on a warm, sunny afternoon?

The best of the second quarter of Ford... Read More

Burn: This Nebula winner was inspired by Walden

Burn by James Patrick Kelly

James Patrick Kelly’s Burn (2005) was a finalist for the Hugo Award and won the Nebula Award for Best Novella in 2007. As Kelly explains in the afterword, the story was inspired by his dislike of Henry Thoreau’s Walden which depicts a pastoral utopian society where simplicity is valued and technology is shunned.

In Kelly’s version of Walden, an entire small planet has been purchased and terraformed into a forested utopia in keeping with Thoreau’s vision. Those who move there from Earth adopt a simplistic agricultural lifestyle, rejecting technology and all influence from the humans who make up all the other planets in space (the “Upside”). The only problem is that Walden was not uninhabited and the original denizens do no... Read More

Thirteen: A story with conflicting agendas

Thirteen by Richard K. Morgan

Like drugs for techno-action junkies, Richard K. Morgan did the futuristic, world-weary warrior story well in his TAKESHI KOVACS series. With a Wild West-style of justice continually seeping through the scenes of blood and gore, Morgan also indicated there may be a little more on his mind than just action. The nihilism was left without an explicit voice, so Morgan set out to rectify this in his 2007 Thirteen (Black Man in the UK*). Slowing the plot to allow ideological exposition a place, the novel finds the author highlighting the prevalence of vice in unabashed, overt style. The thematic content does not always match character representation and premise, so the result is a story with conflicting agendas.

Thirteen is the story of Ca... Read More

Eifelheim: Magnificent SF combining science, history, and historical fiction

Eifelheim by Michael Flynn

Eifelheim is one of those transcendent science fiction stories where an author is able to treat very human and Earth-bound issues with a well-reasoned and fascinating gloss of aliens and science. Author Michael Flynn's alien mythos and capabilities are believable and seamlessly integrated into the very real history of plague-era Germany.

I picked up Eifelheim because I love a good story of first contact. I find myself continually drawn to the classics in this science fiction genre, but also the classic tales of first contact of the very terrestrial kind: human exploration and discovery. Both Hernán Cortés and his first Aztec meetings as well as Pizarro and the Incas hold special fascination for me, as do much of that era’s tribal first contact with “civilizations.... Read More

Can’t Get No by Rick Veitch

Can’t Get No by Rick Veitch

Rick Veitch is one of the best comic book artists and writers most people have never heard of. I’ve already reviewed one of my favorite books of his, Shiny Beasts, a collection of short stories. He also worked with Alan Moore on Swamp Thing, and he’s sort of what Alan Moore would be if he were primarily an artist, I believe. Consider this little plug for Rick Veitch’s Can’t Get No: “. . . supremely, magnificently strange, and like nothing else I’ve read.” And that’s from Neil Gaiman, author of Sandman Read More

Illyria: A short story, a tiny bit of magic, a big impact

Illyria by Elizabeth Hand

It hardly feels right to class Elizabeth Hand’s Illyria as fantasy, and yet it won the World Fantasy Award for best novella in 2008, and who am I to argue? There are only a few very short scenes of a magical character spaced throughout this story and they are subtle, unexplained and un-commented upon. These moments linger in the reader’s mind, who is free to draw their own conclusions and find their own meaning. And yet despite the essentially non-magical nature of this story, Hand has managed to elevate the simple love of two young people to an enchanted status.

Maddy Tierney is the youngest daughter of a sprawling New York family. Her neighbours are her aunts and uncles and their many children, her life the rough and tumble that comes of having boisterous and numerous relations. But M... Read More

The Keeper: This is a writer you’ll want to know

The Keeper by Sarah Langan

Bedford, Maine, is a town with one industry: the paper mill. It’s been poisoning the water and air for generations, and workers have all sorts of physical complaints from breathing sulfur and other toxic fumes, but if anyone thought about it, they’d know that the recent closing of the mill probably dooms their town.

But no one’s thinking about the mill and the town’s economy. Instead, they’re all focused on Susan Marley. She’s a silent, beautiful woman in her mid-20’s who lives in squalor, turning a trick now and then to stay supplied with Campbell’s tomato soup, which she eats straight out of the can. She appears nightly in just about everyone’s nightmares, making her a sort of literary ghost of Dickens’s Jacob Marley.

One of the people most haunted by Susan is her sister, Liz. Liz is in high school, and is planning to put Bedford behind her as soon as possible and nev... Read More

Elephantmen: Wounded Animals by Richard Starkings & Moritat

Elephantmen (Vol 01): Wounded Animals by Richard Starkings (writer) and Moritat (artist) and other artists

Hip Flask, one of the main characters of Elephantmen, has been around for over a decade now, and the first images I saw did not immediately appeal to me. However, after reading the first issue, I realized this reaction is essential to the entire point of the series, because we are led to see how these Elephantmen, who have been terribly mistreated, continue to be discriminated against by humans. So, if you also are put off by the appearance of a humanoid hippopotamus dressed in a trench coat, then you still are likely to enjoy this series: You are being invited into this fictional world by being asked to respond as any human would. The goal of the author and artist is to make you care about these creatures after your initial difficulty in empathizing. However, as you begin to empathize within the very first issue, ... Read More

The Portent: Duende by Peter Bergting

The Portent: Duende by Peter Bergting

It seems as if every month when I go into the comic shop, I discover a new science fiction, fantasy, or horror title. These genres are getting better and better treatment in comic books. They are done so well and there are so many of them that you could happily spend your time reading only SFF and horror comics and have no time left over for novels in those genres. Just last night I read an excellent fantasy title: The Portent: Duende by Peter Bergting.

It has some of the best art I’ve ever seen. In fact, the art is so good, the one person I mentioned it to today looked it up online and purchased it immediately after... Read More

Maddigan’s Fantasia: A futuristic steampunk adventure

Maddigan’s Fantasia by Margaret Mahy

Early in the 22nd century, the world underwent a vast and radical change, in which the tectonic plates of the Earth shifted and a series of devastating earthquakes changed the face of the planet. As a result of these events now known as the Great Chaos the population has severely dropped and most technology has been lost. What remains is a dangerous wilderness where communities are isolated and bandits roam the unmapped highways.

Yet out of the ashes of the old world comes Solis, the shining city. It is here that the circus troupe known as Maddigan's Fantasia spends each winter before heading out every year to explore new lands, collect lost knowledge and spread some colour and joy to those living in a post-apocalyptic world.

But this year things are different. Because Solis is powered by the sun, it is in desperate need of a new solar converter if the... Read More

Failure: Erotic horror

Failure by John Everson

It’s been decades since horror was really hot, with whole sections of bookstores devoted to novels with black and red covers. But the genre never really died, and not just because of Stephen King’s ongoing popularity. Horror went underground, in a sense; small presses picked up where the standard publishers left off, and a great deal of fiction was published in extremely small press runs, often in gorgeous editions with full illustrations. Novellas and novelettes were (and are) published as chapbooks, demanding the same price that complete novels do in other genres. Most people didn’t even know these books existed, and those who did often couldn’t afford the high prices these limited editions demanded.

Enter the ebook revolution. With each passing week, it seems, a work t... Read More

Terror by Night: Classic Ghost and Horror Stories by Ambrose Bierce

Terror by Night: Classic Ghost and Horror Stories by Ambrose Bierce

Wordsworth Editions, published in London, has a wonderful thing going with its current series entitled "Tales of Mystery & the Supernatural," bringing back into print short story collections and full-length novels from such relatively unknown authors as Gertrude Atherton, Edith Nesbit, D.K. Broster, Marjorie Bowen, May Sinclair and Dennis Wheatley. The imprint's collection of horror tales from Ohio-born Ambrose Bierce is a very satisfying and generous one, gathering 51 of the author's more shuddery pieces, out of the 90 or so from his complete oeuvre. (Bierce never wrote any longer pieces, calling the novel, in typically cynical fashion, "a short story padded.") Bierce, who was born in 1842 and died mysteriou... Read More

Cell: Cell phones turn users into zombies

Cell by Stephen King

In The Stand, Stephen King basically wrote the book on contemporary post-apocalyptic settings. However, one of the few things that 1000+ page novel missed was zombies. King corrects that omission in Cell, a novel in which cell phones turn users into zombies.

Unlike in The Stand, King wastes no time assembling his heroes. Clayton Riddell, who is, of course, from Maine, writes graphic novels. Clay barely has a moment to enjoy his first big break in publishing before the world is ending after the “pulse.” Amidst the ruin, Clay meets Tom McCourt and Alice Maxwell, and they flee Boston together.

Their quest is to survive and to save Clay’s wife and child. It takes them north until they finally reach a prep school — a way station where Clay and his companions will regroup and figure out how to procee... Read More

The Forest King: Woodlark’s Shadow

The Forest King: Woodlark’s Shadow by Dan Mishkin (author) & Tom Mandrake (illustrator)

Justin’s family has moved to the town where his dad grew up, and they now live in a house on the edge of an ancient forest. Justin knows something evil is lurking in the forest but faces ridicule from his friends and disbelief from the adults. When his friends get hurt by a strange creature playing in the forest, Justin knows that he has to act to save everyone he cares about from danger.

Woodlark’s Shadow (2006), by comic book author Dan Mishkin and illustrator Tom Mandrake, is the initial book release by Actionopolis, a press that specializes in comic books. Aimed at the reluctant tween male reader, the idea of expanding the action-oriented stories in which the press specializes to books is a good idea in concept, but I can’t say that this book was a success. The heavil... Read More

Glasshouse: SF to the extreme but with a social agenda

Glasshouse by Charles Stross

So chock full of the social consequences of nano-science and memory editing is Charles Stross’s Glasshouse, I’m still trying to pick myself up from the floor. In a whirl, I can’t decide whether the ideas were expressed in cohesive enough fashion to produce a book I can praise or if I’ve simply been blinded by an imaginative eruption that is worthy enough in itself of admiration. Beyond a dumb-faced sense of wonder, I’m also wondering if anyone else could have a more defined view after riding Stross’s tilt-a-whirl of futuristic possibilities…

Set at an unknown time in the far future, humanity — or what resembles humanity, considering anyone can edit memories or nano-dapt into any living form — is recovering from war. Infected via the A-gates and T-gates which humanity used for said alterations, society was attacked by rebels wielding viruses t... Read More

Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk

Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk by David Lindelof (writer) & Leinil Francis Yu (artist)

A little background for newcomers or fanboys/girls who have been away for a while: Marvel comic’s ULTIMATE story arcs are a rebirth of the Marvel Universe for a new generation of readers and have storylines that fit better with the recent movie adaptations.

Bruce Banner is sentenced to death and executed by nuclear bomb. Soon after, three random disasters occur in remote places around the world that were not due to nature or terrorists. It doesn’t take S.H.I.E.L.D. long to determine the most likely cause is the Hulk. Nick Fury must find someone capable of hunting Hulk down and taking him out as quietly as possible; a super-human with no qualms about getting his hands dirty. Wolverine is the best there is at what he does, and what he does best isn’t very nice. Marvel’s ULTIMATE WOLVERINE VS. HULK is a ... Read More

The Book of Lost Things: This is a book about hope

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

A vulnerable boy makes his way into an alternate world filled with magic and danger. To return to his own world, he must find a talisman held by the land’s king. He is beset by dangers, unsure who to trust.

So far, this sounds like many other books and stories; myths, fairy tales, “Thomas the Rhymer,” The King of Elfland’s Daughter, The Wizard of Oz, The Chronicles of Narnia, even The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly is... Read More

American Morons: Glen Hirshberg is one of our modern short story masters

American Morons by Glen Hirshberg

[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.]

Glen Hirshberg is one of our modern short story masters. His first collection, The Two Sams, won the International Horror Guild Award for best collection, and was nominated for the World Fantasy Award as well. American Morons was nominated for the World Fantasy Award for best collection in 2007. Short horror fiction is difficult to write well, but Hirshberg does it consistently.

Hirshberg is an “edgy” author because his fiction tends to reside in the twilight between fantasy and horr... Read More

The Grass-Cutting Sword: An exquisite metaphor

The Grass-Cutting Sword by Catherynne M. Valente

The Grass-Cutting Sword is a metaphor, comprised almost entirely of exquisite imagery, and every single word has obviously been chosen with a poet’s eye for sound and sight. It is a creation myth and a Grendel for the nuclear age, a story of beginnings and endings, of beauty and hideousness. The images Catherynne M. Valente chooses in The Grass-Cutting Sword will haunt your nightmares and inform your dreams. Close your eyes, for instance, and envision the monster of the tale from this excerpt of its self-description:
I am Eight. We are Eight. Lying on my side, if you prefer the symbolism. Eight heads, eight tails, eight snakes susurring against each other like auto-asphyxiating lovers, joined at the torso — circus grotesque, unseparated octuplets in a jar of formaldehyde, jumbled trunk a snaggletoothed muscle with the ... Read More

The Road: Haunting, impactful

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

[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.]

Slake-moth, Uruk-hai, or vampire, the mark of great SFF authors is often their ability to describe monsters and horrors. They say that children are desensitized to violence, but I submit that many SFF readers have become desensitized to monsters. I have read about many SFF monsters before bed, but was never once afraid of the dark until I read Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel, The Road.

The premise of The Road is simple: The world as we know it has ended. An anonymou... Read More

In the Palace of Repose: These stories are uniformly excellent

In the Palace of Repose by Holly Phillips

Holly Phillips is a brilliant prose stylist, and it shows in her first collection of short stories, In the Palace of Repose. These stories, all but two of them original to this volume, range from the joyful to the mysterious to the ominous. They are uniformly excellent. Phillips uses words the way a musician uses notes, playing a resonant, fey tune. It is easy to journey with her into the foreign and fantastic worlds she builds, just as one might follow a gentler Pied Piper.

My favorite story involves just such a journey. In “Variations on a Theme,” Berenice is an English woman who plays the piano with great virtuosity. World War I gives her a chance to study in earnest: the men are off fighting, and the music academy must admit women in order to stay open. But Berenice’s professor refuses to believe in her talent, and forbids her to play Ch... Read More