Book of a Thousand Days: Two girls trapped in a tower

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

With Book of a Thousand Days (2007), Shannon Hale offers a delightful retelling of the Grimm fairy tale Maid Maleen.

Dashti is a mucker, a low-born girl who was born on the steppes. When her mother dies, she goes to the city to take a job as a maid to Lady Saren. Right away she is locked into a tower with her lady because, in defiance of her father’s wishes, Saren has refused to marry Lord Khasar. She says she plans to marry Lord Tegan instead. Dashti and Saren must stay in the tower until either Saren repents and agrees to marry Lord Khasar, or seven years have passed.

For Dashti, who narrates the story via diary entries, things aren’t so bad at first. There’s plenty of food, she gets to sleep by the fire, and she has ... Read More

iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It

iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It by Steve Wozniak & Gina Smith

What I knew about Steve Wozniak prior to reading iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It (2007) could be summed up like so: he invented the Apple II, and he guest-starred on a video-game-themed cartoon called Code Monkeys, which was a program on the television channel G4 back in 2007. After reading his memoir, I can definitely say that I've learned a lot about the history and creation of computers, but I've also gained new insight into the mind of a person who literally changed the world.

iWoz is an interesting, reflective memoir which occasionally is bogged down by technical details. Luckily, the strength of the personal reminiscences and the easy familiarit... Read More

A Nameless Witch: Trips along merrily without any pretensions

A Nameless Witch by A. Lee Martinez

This silly little tale is about a beautiful witch who doesn’t have a name. When she was young she was taken in by an old ugly witch who educated her in magic spells and other witchiness. Part of her education involved learning how to make herself appear ugly with sloppy clothes, hair coverings, and warts, because nobody trusts a beautiful witch.

After the death of her mentor, the young nameless witch was on her own, though she acquired a few companions: an enchanted broom, a troll, and a demonic duck. After they settled into a friendly village, a brave knight came along and warned them that a goblin horde was approaching. The witch, her companions, and the knight teamed up to defeat the goblins and an evil magician who had plans to remake the world. During the process, the witch realizes she’s got the hots for the knight, but she worries she may eat him alive since she is starting to have so... Read More

The Book Thief: A tale of a girl told by Death

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

"Here is a small fact. You are going to die."

It is Death who speaks the novel’s opening lines. And Death himself, for the duration of Markus Zusak’s bestselling novel, will be our narrator. It is 1939 in Nazi Germany and whilst he takes away an increasing amount of souls, Death muses on the unravelling of humanity.

Upon taking the soul of a young boy on a train, Death notices a girl. Her name is Liesel Meminger and she has just watched her brother die. Her mother takes her to a town called Molching, specifically to a street named Himmel, which translates as heaven. Here she is taken into the care of Rosa and Hans Hubermann, a German couple whose son has been lost in the war. With the death of her brother and abandonment of her mother, Liesel must come to terms with her new life under the watchful eye of Rosa, who swears at anything that moves (if she is not al... Read More

Robot Titans of Gotham: Robots and bats and mutants, oh my!

Robot Titans of Gotham by Norvell Page

In my recent review of the anthology volume Rivals of Weird Tales, I mentioned that one of my favorite stories therein was the novella-length “But Without Horns,” which was written by Norvell Page and first appeared in the June 1940 issue of Unknown magazine. I also expressed a desire to read some of Page’s many tales dealing with his most famous character, the Spider. Well, I am here to tell you: Mission accomplished! Thanks to the fine folks at Baen Publishing, two volumes of Spider tales have been released for modern-day audiences, and this reader was fortunate enough to pick up the first, 2007’s Robot Titans of Gotham, which collects three Page novels from the mid- to late-... Read More

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union: How can one resist?

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon

[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.]

Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union is (breathe in) an alternate history science fiction noir police procedural that won plaudits from the literary mainstream as well as several top honors from the science fiction community (breathe out).

There’s a great deal going on, but perhaps it’s best to introduce the setting. In this alternate history, America created a temporary settlement for Jews in Sitka, Alaska. Today, the Sitka Jews are facing Reversion, which mea... Read More

Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire: Darkly poetic WWI story

Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire by Mike Mignola & Christopher Golden

On a cold autumn night, under a black sky leached of starlight and absent the moon, Captain Henry Baltimore clutches his rifle and stares across the dark abyss of the battlefield, and knows in his heart that these are the torture fields of Hell, and damnation awaits mere steps ahead. 

Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire (2008) is a darkly poetic story of supernatural horrors unleashed during World War One. Lord Baltimore is our broken hero, chasing a plague-spreading vampire across the blooded lands of Europe. This is no graphic novel, but author/artist Mike Mignola, who is most known for his work on the HELLBOY series, adds over 100 images to this... Read More

Undertow: Mediocre

Undertow by Elizabeth Bear

Ursula Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest (1976) is a (novella extended into a) novel that features an alien planet invaded by humanity and exploited for its resources, the natives forced into labor. An open allegory regarding the United States’ involvement in Vietnam, it is a compact novel that remains focused on three main points throughout: corporate/political greed, respect for traditional cultures, and the need to find reconciliation between the two. Elizabeth Bear’s 2007 Undertow is precisely the same story, but with additional focus on science fiction/fantasy concepts, added character viewpoints, and all upgraded for the 2... Read More

The Fade: One of Wooding’s first excursions into the world of adult fantasy

The Fade by Chris Wooding

Nations divided by vast lakes, destinations defined by stalagmites and minerals, a world without a sun: The Fade (2007) takes place in an unfathomable network of caves beneath the surface of an unknown planet. Here the reader finds a cavernous underground in the midst of jealous war. Two distinct races of beings fighting over their shared bubbles of space. It is on the battlefield that we meet the protagonist and learn that she is a highly skilled and thoroughly trained one-woman war machine. Soon, we also learn that she has a loving family and a complicated set of allegiances. This is the foundation upon which The Fade is built.

Orna is an elite assassin and highly trained warrior, who fulfills many roles for the family she has been sworn to serve since birth. It is while she is on a mission in the midst of the ongoing war that she is captured and forced to live out the rest of... Read More

Gentlemen of the Road: Swashbuckling historical fiction

Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road (2007) is a swashbuckling historical fiction about a pair of Jewish vagabonds in 10th century Khazaria. Amran is a large Abyssinian, while Zelikman is a somber doctor who explains that he does not save the lives of his patients — he only “prolongs their futility.” We meet our heroes in the midst of a con game and the two rogues soon find themselves in the middle of a royal plot.

Though Gentlemen of the Road is a pretty straightforward historical fiction — there are no sorcerers — there is still plenty here for fantasy fans to enjoy. Chabon’s heroes, for example, strongly recall Fritz Leiber’s Fahfrd and the Grey ... Read More

Soon I Will Be Invincible: Sometimes Postmodernism gives me a headache

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman

Sometimes post-modernist novels, like time-travel novels, give me a headache. It’s because I’m confused. Is the writer subverting expectations with the ending, or it is just that they can’t wrap up a story? And that really shallow character, is that a flaw, or a comment on society’s view of that “type?” Did the novelist really just lift points and themes wholesale from other works because it was easy, or this is an “in-depth analysis and critique of mainstream culture’s tropes and values?”

So, sometimes these kinds of books give me a headache. On the other hand, the 3D glasses at the cinema give me a headache too, but sometimes I still want to watch something in 3D. It’s a price I pay.

I’m willing to pay that price for Austin Grossman’s novel Soo... Read More

Igraine the Brave: A sweet feminist children’s story

Igraine the Brave by Cornelia Funke

After finishing The Thief Lord, my daughter and I wanted to read more Cornelia Funke (pronounced “FOONK-ah”) so we picked up Igraine the Brave, a short novel that we listened to in audio format.

Igraine is a 12 year old girl who lives in a castle complete with a moat, drawbridge, stone lions and gargoyles, and lots of spiders (Igraine hates spiders). Her parents are famous magicians and her older brother is training with them. Igraine has no use for magic, though. She wants to be a knight. She gets her chance when her parents accidentally turn themselves into pigs just as the castle is under siege by enemy forces. The only way to turn her parents back into humans so they can protect the castle with their magic spells, is to make a potion that... Read More

After Dark: Staying up late

After Dark by Haruki Murakami

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.

The bars are closing and the night’s last trains are shuttling people out of the city to their suburban beds. The city would be empty if it weren’t for the few remaining people who have decided to stay up After Dark.

Mari Asai, who studies Mandarin, sits in a Denny’s, reading a novel, when a stranger, Takahashi Tetsuya, joins her. Technically, Takahashi is not a stranger. He went to school with Mari’s sister, Eri, and he and Mari actually met once at a party the year before. Takahashi is staying up all night because... Read More

The Haunter of the Ring & Other Tales: Excellent compendium of a legendary career

The Haunter of the Ring & Other Tales by Robert E. Howard

A very long time ago, when I was still in high school, Texas-born Robert E. Howard was one of my favorite authors, and this reader could not get enough of him, whether it was via such legendary characters as Conan the Cimmerian, King Kull, Solomon Kane or Bran Mak Morn.

Flash forward more years than I’d care to admit, and one day I realized that I hadn’t read a book of Howard’s in all that intervening time. Sure, I’d run across the occasional story of his now and then; when your tastes run to vintage pulp fiction, as do mine, and you read a lot of old anthologies and Best of Weird Tales collections, the man is practically unavoidable. But an entire book devoted to Howard … it had been eons, for me.

Thus, the collection entitled The Haunter of the Ring ... Read More

Dangerous Space: Gorgeous short stories

Dangerous Space by Kelley Eskridge

Dangerous Space is a revelation. I had no idea these gorgeous short stories were out there. Put me on the list of people who will now read absolutely everything Kelley Eskridge writes, because if these are characteristic of her work, I want it all.

Eskridge often makes creativity her subject, writing movingly about various forms of art, especially music. The opening story, “Strings,” posits a world in which the classical composers are revered so completely that any deviation from their scores, note by note, tempo by tempo, is punishable by loss of employment, and apparently by loss of the right to make music at all. Master musicians are named for their instruments, so that the world’s best violinist is known only as “Stradivarius,” the best pianist as “Steinway.” Being an instrument carries with it great prestige and wealth, but the musician who is cursed with an imaginatio... Read More

Shiny Beasts by Rick Veitch

Shiny Beasts by Rick Veitch (with Alan Moore & S. R. Bissette)

Shiny Beasts is a 2007 collection of short story pieces dating from 1978-1994. Rick Veitch is an artist who worked with Alan Moore on his early run of Swamp Thing and eventually took over writing duties as well. Since Swamp Thing is a horror title, it's no surprise that Shiny Beasts deals with the horrific at times as well, but usually in terms of the horror that man inflicts on himself and other men. However, though not all the stories are horrific, all are a bit unsettling. Finally, Shiny Beasts, like most story collections, is uneven in its content; however, the best pieces make it worth having, particularly if you like art tha... Read More

Butcher Bird: A beautiful, surreal tapestry of imagery, and a kick-ass quest

Butcher Bird by Richard Kadrey

Kadrey’s Butcher Bird was published in 2007, two years before his SANDMAN SLIM series. Butcher Bird, subtitled A Novel of the Dominion, shares some themes with its later cousin, but the shape and the tone of this book are completely different.
Spyder Lee is a tattoo artist in San Francisco. He shares his studio with his best friend Lulu Garou, who does piercings. One night, when Spyder steps out into the alley behind his favorite bar, he is attacked. The attack is terrifying, and for one moment Spyder realizes that the thing that is trying to kill him is not human. Seconds later a blind woman with a sword beheads it. When Spyder awakens the next morning, his world has changed. He can see the everyday mundane world he is used to, and more… demons, angels, beasts, and even parts of cities that he’s never imagined.

Spyder becomes obsessed with the swords... Read More

The Jack Vance Treasury: A wide array of Vance’s oeuvre

The Jack Vance Treasury by Jack Vance (edited by Terry Dowling & Jonathan Strahan)
While I don’t think there’s any one novel or short story or even collection of Jack Vance‘s work that comes close to capturing all the best aspects of his writing, I do think that this 633-page Subterranean Press collection does a fairly good job of exposing the reader to a wide array of Vance’s oeuvre. In addition to eighteen stories that span much of Vance’s writing career, there’s a brief comment from Vance himself after each story that gives a little view into how his mind worked while in creative mode, as well as some of the authors and factors that had a major impact on him in developing his writing (note to self after reading one of his comments: re-read P. G. Wodehouse, then find and read some Jeffrey Farnol, two of the writers he says influenced him). There’s also an “Appreciation” by Read More

The Terror: Historical, horror, and literary fiction

The Terror by Dan Simmons

The Terror is based on the British vessels HMS Erebrus and HMS Terror and their voyage to discover a northwest passage in the 19th century. Using their unknown fate as a literary springboard, Dan Simmons freely fills the gap in history as his imagination allows, and in the process has created a work of historical fiction that transcends genre. Classified horror due to one of its plot devices, the novel is in fact much deeper in scope. On the surface it is the story of the two ships and their crews’ attempts to survive, frozen in the ice for more than two years, but at another level, it is an examination of the hubris of humanity and its attempts to defy nature.

Reining himself in from the vivid descriptions and vibrant storytelling of the HYPERION CANTOS or JOE KURTZ novels, Simmons’ imagery of a frozen wasteland in The Terror require... Read More

The Dog Said Bow-Wow: Short stories by Michael Swanwick

The Dog Said Bow-Wow by Michael Swanwick

I must first off state that I am generally not an avid lover of the short story. There are a few writers that I think really excel in the genre and whose stuff I will read without hesitation (Edgar Allen Poe, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Arthur Conan Doyle, Fritz Leiber), but in general I am often underwhelmed by the format. Keep that in mind when I say that Michael Swanwick’s collection The Dog Said Bow-Wow was quite good, but didn’t blow me away or make me into a believer.

The various Darger & Surplus tales (“The Dog Said Bow-Wow”, “The Little Cat Laughed to See Such Fun”, and “Girls and Boys, Come Out to Play”), relat... Read More

Territory: The gunfight at the OK Corral becomes a romping fantasy adventure

Territory by Emma Bull

Emma Bull turns the infamous gunfight at the OK Corral into a romping fantasy adventure in Territory.

Since I don't know much about this period, most of the historical specifics were lost on me. For example, I can't critique her characterization of Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday or say if she was accurate with the nitty-gritty details of events. Thus, historical accuracy wasn’t a huge deal to me, which allowed me to sit back and really enjoy the book for its story.

Territory opens on a rather grim note at the scene of a robbery where two people are killed. While this scene is important for the plot, it doesn’t set the tone for the whole book. There are incredibly dark and suspenseful moments, but they are nicely juxtaposed with an overall feel of innocence as the widow Mildred Benjamin and the traveler Jesse Fox are introduced. In fact, it se... Read More

Bad Monkeys: A funny, dark and twisty thriller

Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff

Bad Monkeys, by Matt Ruff, is a funny, dark and twisty thriller. I was hooked on Page Five, when a woman who is being held in the nut-job wing of a Nevada jail says to the doctor evaluating her, “I think it all started when I figured out my high school janitor was the Angel of Death…”

Jane Charlotte, the woman in question, says she works for a secret organization called, well, the organization. This organization has a unit called “The Division for the Final Disposal of Irredeemable Persons” — nicknamed Bad Monkeys. (All of the organization’s divisions have nicknames.) Jane, a Bad Monkeys operative, has been captured because one of her assignments went bad, but as she starts telling the doctor her story, it’s clear that things started going wrong in Jane’s life much earlier.

Jane’s story unspools like a true spy thriller or the oh... Read More

Let the Right One In: A bleak and chilly horror novel

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Let the Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist, is a bleak and chilly horror novel that evokes classic Stephen King works like Salem’s Lot. Lindqvist is a Swedish writer and the book is set in a planned community in northern Sweden, called Blackeberg, in 1981. The novel follows several different point of view characters as the events that will change the community forever begin to unfold.

From the beginning, Lindqvist wants the reader to understand Blackeberg.
It was not a place that developed organically, of course. Here everything was carefully planned from the outset. And people moved into what had been built for them. Earth-colored concrete buildings scattered about the green fields.
Part of the atmospher... Read More

20th Century Ghosts: A prime collection of short fiction

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. Good, now that’s out of the way. 20th Century Ghosts (2007) is a prime collection of short fiction. Some stories are horror, some are literary horror and some aren’t horror at all. Hill has a strong style, a distinctive voice, and a willingness to indulge in post-modernism. This means that the conclusions of some stories are left up to the reader. This is not the undisciplined writing of someone who can’t commit to a resolution, but a literary choice executed with intent and skill.  In “Best New Horror” and “In the Rundown,” readers must decide for themselves what comes after the final paragraph.

“Best New Horror” is a familiar tale, and a tasty mélange of tropes; bits of Read More

Shaun Tan’s The Arrival

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan’s The Arrival is a highly acclaimed graphic novel about immigration. There are no words in this graphic novel, allowing Tan to rely entirely on images to reveal the doubts and conflicts that his characters face. On his website, Tan explains that:
"In ‘The Arrival’, the absence of any written description also plants the reader more firmly in the shoes of an immigrant character. There is no guidance as to how the images might be interpreted, and we must ourselves search for meaning and seek familiarity in a world where such things are either scarce or concealed..."
Tan’s approach makes for a remarkably inclusive reading experience. Every reader is invited to empathize with the emotions that play across our unnamed hero’s face, particularly as he boards a ship without his wife a... Read More