Verdigris Deep: Be careful what you wish for

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Verdigris Deep by Frances Hardinge

A glance back at former reviews of Frances Hardinge’s work reveals that I have overused the word “weird.” Hardly the nicest word, and yet I meant it as a compliment. It’s a testament to my struggle to pinpoint what it is that makes Hardinge’s books stand out. Nevertheless, stand out they do.

Verdigris Deep (2008) is a weird book and, once again, that’s meant as a compliment. Ryan, Josh and Chelle get stranded in a forbidden village when they miss their bus home. Finding they have no money for the next bus they resort to pinching coins from an old wishing well hidden in the wood. What they don’t know is that the well is inhabited by an angry well spirit who doesn't react well to havi... Read More

Marvel 1985: A realistic superhero story

Marvel 1985 by Mark Millar

In Marvel 1985, Mark Millar tells us the story of comics coming to real life. Young Toby Goodman sees the Red Skull one day, and wonders if his eyes might be deceiving him, but after he sees a few more Marvel characters, he realizes that the super-villains from the Marvel Universe are invading our reality. He encounters the Hulk at one point, but mainly it’s the bad guys coming to his small town: Ultron, the Blob, Sandman, and many more villains appear and begin to kill indiscriminately. But things really seem bad when the planet-destroying Galactus shows up. We begin to wonder who the mastermind is behind this invasion.

Why is this story so good? Because it’s grounded in the reality of a young boy’s daily struggles: Toby’s parents are divorced, and he doesn’t like his stepdad. He seems to get enjoyment only by escaping through comics, going to the comics shop, and han... Read More

The Gone-Away World: Relentlessly ironic, digressive, and clever

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway

The Gone-Away World (2008) is a post-apocalyptic comedy/tragedy about our world before and after the Gone-Away Bombs have wiped up out much of humanity and the world we know. It is about Gonzo Lubitsch and his nameless best friend, who work for a special crew that is assigned to put of a fire along the Jorgmond pipeline, which produced the special material “Fox” that can eliminate the Stuff, the matter that is left over after gone-away bombs have removed the information from matter so that it no longer can form coherent form and structure. Stuff takes on the shape of the thoughts of people near it — nightmarish monsters, ill-formed creatures, and “new people.” Nightmares become real, and the world itself is a nightmare of sorts.

And very soon after the story begins, we are wrenched back into Gonzo and his friend’s upbringing and bizarre early years learning... Read More

The Best of Lucius Shepard: Earlier stories are best

The Best of Lucius Shepard by Lucius Shepard

I’ll come right out and say it. Lucius Shepard was one of the best SF short story writers of the 1980 and 1990s. His prose, imagery, themes, and style are so powerful, dynamic, and vivid that it’s a real crime that he didn’t gain a wider readership when he was alive, though he did win many SF awards.

Although he had already been publishing his stories in SF magazines like SF&F and Asimov’s for several years, he gained greater prominence with his short story collection The Jaguar Hunter in 1987, which won the 1988 World Fantasy Award and Locus Award for Best Collection. Many of the stories were nominated for the Hugo and Nebula Awards, with “Salvador” winning the Locus ... Read More

Echo by Terry Moore

Echo by Terry Moore

Echo by Terry Moore is a page-turner and tells the story of how good technology gets turned into a weapon. The overall comic book series is suspenseful and reads fast even though the book is a long volume that comes in an omnibus edition. However, the story takes second place to engaging characterization, both in terms of Moore’s writing and his art. As a result, Moore creates a pleasant tension in pacing: The suspense makes you want to turn the pages quickly, but the many close-up views of women and the subtle depiction of their emotions makes you want to stop panel by panel, taking the time to study the expressions conveyed through Moore’s art.

The story opens with Annie, ... Read More

House of Suns: Truly epic time scales, but characters also shine

House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds

This is the first Alastair Reynolds’ book I’ve read not set in his REVELATION SPACE series, and many of his fans claim House of Suns (2008) is his best book. I’d have to say it is pretty impressive, dealing with deep time scales rarely seen for any but the most epic hard SF books. What’s unique about House of Suns is not simply that the story spans hundreds of thousands of years, but that the characters actually live through these massive cycles as they loop around the Milky Way galaxy, experiencing everything it has to offer. It staggers the imagination to think that humanity has survived over 6 million years into the future without annihilating itself, splintered into myriad post-human civilizations that flower and fade with each galactic cycle. It’s a sca... Read More

Dark Integers and Other Stories: Humanism and hard science

Dark Integers and Other Stories by Greg Egan

Though the count may not be high (five stories all told), Greg Egan’s Dark Integers and Other Stories packs a theoretical punch, quite literally. Novellas and novelettes only, the 2008 collection is filled with the author’s trademark hard science speculation. The selections were published between 1995 and 2007; one pair of stories is set within the same universe as his 2008 novel Incandescence, another pair within a near-future Earth setting, and the fifth is set on a water world. The quality of this collection is contentious, and certainly those who appreciate abstract theorizing will enjoy it the most.

The following is a brief summary of the five pieces:

“Luminous” (1995): In a shocking opening scene, a man awakes to find hims... Read More

The Graveyard Book: Even the dead characters seem alive

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Ignore the YA label slapped on this one if that gives you pause. Though that won’t be hard to do because The Graveyard Book opens with a hand in the darkness holding a knife wet with the blood of almost an entire family: father, mother, and older child. The knife lacks only the blood of the toddler son to finish its job. Luckily for the reader (and the boy) he escapes into a nearby cemetery where a mothering ghost convinces the cemetery community to protect him. Another reason to ignore the YA label, or better yet, to revel in it, is that Neil Gaiman’s YA-listed material is stronger than his adult work: tighter, more focused, more intense all around. All that holds true here and The Graveyard Book’s clarity and brevity, often seen as constraints in the category, only enhance the book’s impact.

Chapter One sets the premise, introduces the... Read More

The Last Theorem: Arthur C. Clarke’s last novel

The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke & Frederik Pohl

In March 2008 one of the titans of science fiction, Arthur C. Clarke died at the age of 90. At the time he was working on The Last Theorem, a collaboration with another big name in science fiction, the slightly younger Frederik Pohl who died in 2013. Clarke's health would not permit him to do the writing himself so much of the novel was written by Pohl based on an outline and notes by Clarke. Just a few days before he died, Clarke finished reviewing the manuscript and gave it his blessing. Clarke's last novel got quite a bit of attention when it was released. It also got mixed reviews.

The Last Theorem is the story of the life of Ranjit Subramanian. We follow his life, most of wh... Read More

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: Running to write

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

I have just finished reading Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running for the fifth time. I love this book, and although I wouldn’t say it’s the greatest book ever written, it may be my favorite book ever written.

At the title suggests, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a series of essays and memoirs, mostly centering on running. However, it’s also the story of how Murakami went from running a jazz club in Tokyo to writing novels. Murakami also touches on his love of vinyl albums, his translating the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Carver into Japanese, and his love of Sam Adams beer. More substantially (for some readers) he shares his ideas about competition, aging, and relati... Read More

Starlady and Fast-Friend: Two novelettes by George R.R. Martin

Starlady and Fast-Friend by George R.R. Martin

In July 2008 Subterranean published this book containing two novelettes by George R.R. Martin, both of which were originally published in 1976. They are presented in a similar fashion to the Ace Double novels of the 1950s and 1960s. Thus, Starlady and Fast-Friend has two covers and is printed back to back and upside down. I was born too late and on the wrong continent to have been exposed to any of these double novels myself, but I thought it an interesting idea anyway. In his collection Dreamsongs: A RRetrospective, a publication that is central to Martin’s work, he mentions Starlady and Fast-Friend as some of his earliest exposures to (written) science fiction — stories that took him to “walk beneath the light of distant stars.” But they weren’t included in Dreamsongs: A RR... Read More

Saturn’s Children: Fun and adventure in a post-human galaxy

Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross

In the future of Charles StrossSaturn’s Children, humans have somehow managed to kill themselves off. But, before they did, they developed an array of artificial intelligence machines to serve them. Some were sent out to explore and settle the galaxy. The universe now contains all sorts of robots and cyborgs. They’ve set up a class-structured society with “aristo” robots owning those that humans had fitted with loyalty-inducing slave-chips. This strange new feudal society carries on with normal business, free from the oversight and lordship of humans.

Freya is one of these cyborgs. She was designed to be a “companion” (to put it nicely) for humans, so she is humanoid in appearance and exhibits most human emotions and motivations. She was spawned from a “mother” named Rhea and... Read More

Pandemonium: Demon possession and Jungian archetypes

Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory

I’m going to say something that sounds unkind, but really it’s a compliment from me: for a long time now I’ve kind of thought of Daryl Gregory as something of a poor man’s Sean Stewart. I must first admit that this happened before I actually read any of his books (this one is my first), and was based on what I could glean of them from the jacket blurbs and comments/reviews. It probably also comes from the fact that I once ran across a posting made by Gregory on a message board or blog somewhere where he bemoaned the fact that Sean Stewart was no longer writing and wished that he could still look forward to more books by him (a desire which I have ardently shared ever since Stewart decided to move on from writing into online game design) and so I thou... Read More

The Seer of Shadows: A short but sweet period ghost story

The Seer of Shadows by Avi

Set in New York City, 1872, we are introduced to Horace Carpetine, a young man who works as an apprentice to a photographer. His employer Mr Middleditch is a rather unscrupulous man, eager to turn a penny whichever way he can, but Horace is captivated by the magic of early photographic techniques.

Told in first-person account, Horace describes meeting a young black servant girl called Pegg by the gates of Mr Middleditch’s house, who arranges a photography session with her mistress Mrs Von Macht. Sensing a wealthy woman, Mr Middleditch agrees to the woman’s request to take her picture so that she might leave it on her recently deceased daughter’s tomb.

Mr Middleditch has a better idea — to exercise his skills and manipulate the photograph so that it looks like her daughter Eleanor appears as a ghostly presence in the portrait. To do this he needs Horace to sneak around the Van Macht house and ... Read More

The Origin of Tarot? Madame Xanadu by Matt Wagner

Madame Xanadu (Vol 1): Disenchanted by Matt Wagner (author) and Amy Reeder Hadley (artist)

A few months back, we had a discussion here at Fanlit about Tarot cards and literature. We tried to come up with a list of books in which the use of Tarot cards was prominent. Well, I’ve got another book to add to that list: Madame Xanadu: Disenchanted by Matt Wagner.

Madame Xanadu is a DC character who is one of DC’s magical and mystical figures, along with such characters as Zatara, Zatanna, The Spectre, The Phantom Stranger, John Constantine, The Demon, Sandman, Death (from Sandman) and others. You don’t need to be familiar with any of these characters to read Madame Xanadu: Disenchanted. In fact, this volume ... Read More

Space Magic: Impressive story collection

Space Magic by David D. Levine

Before picking up this story collection, I was only familiar with David D. Levine from a couple of his stories that I’ve read in anthologies. Space Magic sparked my interest because it contains a Hugo Award winning story (“Tk’Tk’Tk’”) and because it has recently been released in audio format, read by the author himself.

It rarely happens that I enjoy every story in a collection, but that’s what happened here. All of these tales are entertaining, I was pleased with the diversity of themes and styles, and I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the audio production. Here are the stories you’ll find in Space Magic.

“Wind From a Dying Star” — (first published in the anthology Bones of the World, 2001) A tribe of post-humans who travel the universe in freeform bodies decides to visit the galaxy that spawned the human race. The Earth i... Read More

Mister X: Condemned

Mister X: Condemned by Dean Motter (writer and artist)

The City of Dreams had become The City of Nightmares . . . was it too late to awaken it?

Mister X: Condemned makes for a perfect introduction to the critically acclaimed Mister X series that first appeared in 1984. Since that time, other writers and artists also have been allowed to play in this futuristic world that Motter created, but if you want an affordable, quick introduction written and drawn by Motter, then this book is the place to start before you shell out the bucks for the more expensive definitive edition of his work — Mister X: The Archives.

Mister X is a shadowy character who haunts the world of Radiant City, a dystopi... Read More

Elak of Atlantis: Shows Kuttner in his formative writing years

Elak of Atlantis by Henry Kuttner

When budding author Henry Kuttner wrote a fan letter to the already established Weird Tales favorite C.L. Moore in 1936, little did he know that the object of his admiration was a woman... a woman who, four years later, would become his wife, and with whom a collaboration would begin that was ultimately recognized as one of the sturdiest pillars of the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Such a melding of talents was Henry and Catherine Lucille's, it has been said, that if one of the two stopped writing to go to the bathroom, the other could seamlessly continue the story in progress. Together, the pair wrote hundreds of short stories, in addition to a good dozen novels and novellas, often behind a bewildering plethora of pen names. Planet Stories' release of Elak of Atlantis allows us to see Kuttner in his formative writing years, a so... Read More

Those Who Went Remain There Still: Southern Gothic

Those Who Went Remain There Still by Cherie Priest

Those Who Went Remain There Still is a short Southern Gothic horror novel by Cherie Priest which I listened to in audio format. The story follows two plotlines told in alternating chapters. One is excerpts from Daniel Boone’s Reflections Upon the Wilderness Road which he wrote while leading a group of trailblazers across Kentucky. Every night, Boone and his men are being stalked, picked off, and eaten by a huge bird-like monster.

The second plotline follows the history of Daniel Boone’s descendants in the rural Kentucky area where Boone met the monster. They’re an inbred, ignorant and nasty lot that’s been split into two feuding families. A couple of the family members from each side manage to “escape” by running away, eventually acquiring some education, and progressing to a new standard of living. Each is called home years later when the family patriarch die... Read More

Kenny & the Dragon: A great read-aloud book

Kenny & the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi

Kenny & the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi is a charming tribute to Kenneth Grahame’s children’s classic The Reluctant Dragon, which most people are familiar with through the Disney short film adaptation. In this beautifully illustrated volume, DiTerlizzi tells the story of a small, bookish rabbit named Kenny who learns that a dragon has been spotted on his family farm. Armed with a bestiary, he goes to investigate, and instead of a fearsome fire-spouting dragon, he finds Grahame, a dragon much more interested in poetry, crème brulee, and rearranging the rocks around his cave than in anything as savage as fighting. Kenny and Grahame become fast friends, but trouble rears its head when the villagers find out about the dragon and demand his exte... Read More

The Winds of Marble Arch: Hugo award winning novella on audio

The Winds of Marble Arch by Connie Willis

Tom and his wife are visiting London so Tom can attend an academic conference while his wife goes shopping with a friend. When Tom takes the Tube to the conference, he feels a strange wind in the Underground. It’s more than just the normal drafts created by trains coming and going; this wind smells ancient and deadly and makes him feel afraid. Skipping the conference, and forgetting to buy theater tickets, Tom spends the next couple of days riding the Tube all over (under, actually) London to try to find the origin of the winds that only he seems to feel.

Connie Willis’s The Winds of Marble Arch won the Hugo Award for Best Novella and was nominated for the World Fantasy Award for Best Novella. Like several of her stories, this one involves a time-traveling academic, except that he doesn’t actually move through time, but he senses historical ... Read More

The Secrets of the Cave: Beautiful moments, but not satisfying

The Secrets of the Cave by Phillipa Bowers

The loveliest image in Phillipa Bowers’s The Secrets of the Cave is the form of a woman, carved into the rock of the cave by the flow of the spring waters. At her feet, the pure water gathers in a pool lined with pink and red crystals. The water looks blood-red because of those crystals. The Lady in the cave is never described but frequently evoked in this book, which follows a young woman in England from 1930 until the end of World War II.

Betty, the main character of The Secrets of the Cave, is the younger of two sisters living in the rural village of Oakley Vale. Betty and her sister Kate are from a long line of women charged to protect the cave. Their grandmother was an herbalist, feared but frequently consulted by the village women, and Betty has the Sight. If she touches an object, she gets flashes about the life of the owner. Be... Read More

The Glister: A literary horror novel

The Glister by John Burnside

Reading The Glister by John Burnside was like opening a perfectly crafted wooden box and finding inside a set of components, nested into cognac-colored velvet. Some components were made of finely worked gold and brass; some were polished wood; some were ethereal blown glass; some were made of jewels and bone. Usually, components like these fit together to form a whole: a telescope, a kaleidoscope or a theodolite. Try as I would, though, I could not get the components of The Glister to merge into one coherent whole. Each piece looked beautiful in its velvet nest, but they did not combine to create a larger form.

The Glister is a literary thriller, or perhaps literary horror novel, about an isolated Scottish town that has been poisoned on many levels by the toxic chemical plant that it grew up around. There is ... Read More

Anathem: Don’t skip the Note

Anathem by Neal Stephenson

In his “Note to the Reader” at the start of Anathem, Neal Stephenson writes “if you are accustomed to reading works of speculative fiction and enjoy puzzling things out on your own, skip this Note.” My advice is this: Don’t skip the Note. In spite of years of speculative fiction reading, I found myself constantly referring to the novel’s chronology and glossary, not to mention online summaries and Stephenson’s acknowledgements page.

Here’s why. Our narrator, Fraa Erasmus, is an avout, a fid, and an Edharian. He is a Hylaean, a Protan, and a Decenarian. He lives in the mathic world, not extramuros. Nor does he live in the Sæcular world, though he was born there. It is worth noting that Erasmus is also not a Procian, an Ita, nor a Hierarch. He is also not a member of th... Read More

The Sacred Book of the Werewolf: Sweet, profound, bitter and funny

The Sacred Book of the Werewolf  by Victor Pelevin

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.

I think I can safely say that I have never read a book quite like The Sacred Book of the Werewolf before. I found the book in the fantasy section, but it had literary novel packaging with a slightly risqué cover (the back and buttocks of a naked woman sporting a plumy fox’s tail). A medallion in the corner announced that this had been a New York Times Book Review Notable Book. I thought I knew what to expect and that this would be some modern fable about consumerism or humanity’s ... Read More