2009


The City & The City: Dumbing down & Fridging hamper this adaptation

The City & The City (TV Adaptation)

The City & The City is one of my favorite China Miéville books. I love the conceit of the nested cities, Beszel and Ul Qoma, and I love the voice of our narrator, the smart, world-weary and not-always-so-honest Tyador Borlu.

Amazon Prime offers a four-part adaptation of the book. All four episodes are directed by Tom Shankland, with Tony Grisoni, who was also credited as a writer, as one of the producers. China Miéville shared a writing credit. The series first aired on BBC2 in 2018.

The show stars David M... Read More

Dragonfly: Adventure-filled fantasy and romance for younger readers

Dragonfly by Julia Golding

A political marriage has been arranged between 16-year-old Princess Taoshira (Tashi) of the Blue Crescent Islands and 18-year-old Prince Ramil (Ram) of the country of Gerfal. They're separated by a few hundred miles, a couple of other countries in between theirs, and a world of cultural differences. Both Tashi and Ram are completely appalled by the idea of the match, and it doesn't get any better when they meet up, as Tashi’s government sends her to Gerfal to meet and wed Ram. But their countries need an alliance to fight against an aggressive and brutal warlord, Fergox Spearthrower of Holt (one of those in-between countries), and the marriage is needed, in the views of their rulers, to cement their alliance.

Tashi, frightened, takes refuge in stiff formality; Ram gets wasted and does his best to put Tashi off with his rude and uncouth behavior. They're off on a horse ride that Ram's father, the king o... Read More

The Surgeon of Souls and Other Tales of Terror: Second chances, cosmic do-overs

The Surgeon of Souls and Other Tales of Terror by Robert Leslie Bellem

In my last two book reviews, I discussed a pair of characters who were amongst the most popular during the era of the pulp magazine: The Spider, who was featured in 118 novels that appeared in The Spider magazine from 1933 - ’43, and Doc Savage, who appeared in no fewer than 181 novels in the pages of Doc Savage Magazine from 1933 - ’49. Today, however, I am here to discuss still another pulp character, but one who does not enjoy anything near the renown of those other two. That character is Dr. Zarkov, the self-styled Surgeon of Souls, one of the many pulp-era characters created by the remarkably prolific, Philadelphia-born author Robert Leslie Bellem.

And if Zarkov has sunk ... Read More

The Complete Cosmicomics: Cosmic tales of the universe’s origins

The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino

Along with his brilliant Invisible Cities (1972 in Italian, 1974 in English), one of Italo Calvino’s most enduring creations was his series of whimsical and erudite stories inspired by the origins of the universe and scientific principles, labeled Cosmicomics (1965 in Italian, 1968 in English). They are narrated by a mysterious being called Qfwfq, who tells of the Big Bang and the time before that when the universe was a single point without space or dimensions. Qfwfq has a refreshingly frank and humorous attitude towards such momentous moments as the birth of our universe, the origins of life, the extinction of the dinosaurs, the first animals to crawl onto land, the early days of the Moon, et... Read More

Wolverine: Old Man Logan by Mark Millar & Steve McNiven

Wolverine: Old Man Logan by Mark Millar (writer) & Steve McNiven (illustrator)

Logan, a grizzled west coast farmer whose only joy is his wife and two children, knows that the rent is due. He doesn’t have the dough, and when the cannibalistic Hulk Gang arrives, he will suffer a beating – if he’s lucky.

What if… all of the villains teamed up to defeat the heroes and then took over the country? Written in 2009, Mark Millar’s Old Man Logan was not released as a “What If…?” adventure, but it might as well have been. The heroes were wiped out long ago, and Logan, who has sworn to never do violence again, takes his beating to protect his family.

Hawkeye, now equal parts blind samurai and archer, hopes there might still be a bit of Wolverine left in the old farmer. He offers to pay Logan to drive with him in the Spider-Buggy across America to deliver a package. ... Read More

Her Fearful Symmetry: Needed more substance than the ghosts

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Two sets of twins, a disillusioned husband, a grieving boyfriend, one ghost. The lives of Her Fearful Symmetry’s characters are as tangled as they sound, in a drama that will play out amongst the tombstones of Highgate Cemetery. A sticker on the front reminds potential readers that Niffenegger is the author of The Time Traveler’s Wife. Yet let that be the first and last time Niffenegger’s debut novel is mentioned. Her Fearful Symmetry is described as a ‘delicious and deadly ghost story,’ and should be judged in and of itself.

We open with the death of Elspeth Noblin. She and her (substantially younger) boyfriend, Robert, had, until her death, lived in two separate flats next to Highgate cemetery. Shortly b... Read More

The Best of Gene Wolfe: Challenging, allusive, and tricky stories

Editor's note: Stuart originally posted a review of this book in December 2015. This is a new version of the review.

The Best of Gene Wolfe: A Retrospective of His Finest Fiction by Gene Wolfe

I decided to tackle this collection for a third time, this time armed with Marc Aramini’s Between Light and Shadow: An Exploration of the Fiction of Gene Wolfe, 1951 to 1986, an 826-page analysis covering Wolfe’s output through 1986, including most of his short stories (no matter how obscure) along with The Fifth Head of Cerberus, Peace, Free Live Free, and The Book of the New Sun... Read More

The Language of Dying: Slowly creeping horror hiding within the mundane

The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough

A novella that packs the emotional punch of a full-length novel, Sarah Pinborough’s The Language of Dying (2009) stealthily moves from an innocuous beginning to a stunning conclusion in the spare space of less than 150 pages. This work was nominated for a 2009 Shirley Jackson award and won a British Fantasy Award for Best Novella in 2010, and it’s obvious why: Pinborough writes beautifully and honestly about the complicated process of saying good-bye to a loved one, which would have been compelling material on its own, but the underlying current of potential madness and the repeated visits of a menacing force of nature slowly shift the mundane into the surreal.

As a woman prepares for her ailing father’s inevitable death, she ruminates on certain events leading up t... Read More

The Lucky Strike: A useful primer to Robinson’s style and themes

The Lucky Strike by Kim Stanley Robinson

The Lucky Strike collects a short story and an essay about alternate history by Kim Stanley Robinson. At the end, readers are treated to an interview with the author. It is part of a larger series of publications that highlight “outspoken authors.”

“The Lucky Strike,” the short story, is an alternate history about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In this world, however, Frank January chooses to drop the bomb early so as to minimize human casualties. He hopes that the Japanese will surrender when they realize the destructive power of atomic bombs.

It is difficult to discuss the text without spoilers, so what follows is full of them:

Begin highlighting here to read the spoiler:  When Frank re... Read More

The Windup Girl: Mixed opinions

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

My Body is Not My Own…

Having just finished Paolo Bacigalupi’s Hugo and Nebula award-winning novel, I’m left rather bereft at how to describe, let alone review, The Windup Girl. I am not a big reader of science-fiction or dystopian thrillers, which means that no obvious comparisons come to mind, and the setting and tone of the novel are so unique (to me at least) that they almost defy description.

Set in a future Thailand where genetically engineered “megodonts” (elephants) provide manual labor and “cheshires” (cats) prowl the streets, the world’s population struggles against a bevy of diseases brought on by all the genetic tampering that’s been going on. Oil has long since run out, Chinese refugees flood the cities, the seas are rising, and power now lies in the hands of “calorie co... Read More

Galileo’s Dream: A decent story with uneven execution

Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson

I'm a huge fan of Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt, which is a terrific blend of pseudo science fictional philosophy and religion, and fun and entertaining alternative history. It's deep and touching and provides a strong sense of activity (if not specifically action and adventure). So the concept behind Galileo's Dream drew me to the book the instant I read the description: the astronomer Galileo is taken from Earth to the moons of Jupiter (which he discovered) in an attempt to modify the past to make for a better future — a future in which science rises up over religion. Unfortunately, while it's a fun concept, Robinson provides an uneven implementa... Read More

Under the Dome: An incredibly gripping read

Under the Dome by Stephen King

Stephen King’s Under the Dome is long. I mean, long. The manuscript weighs in at 8.6 kg and Time magazine quoted King himself saying he’d be “killing a lot of trees” with his next novel. But when you read the book’s premise, and begin to understand what King had set out to do, it begins to make sense…

Under the Dome opens in Chester’s Mill, a small Maine town which is suddenly and inexplicably cut off from the rest of the world by a dome. It’s kind of like a humongous semi-permeable upside-down petri dish, which is fitting, because Under the Dome plays out like a kind of human experiment: what happens when a small town of people is completely cut off from the rest of society and left to their own devices?

This is where the length comes in. King follows the stories of various... Read More

Madame Xanadu: Exodus Noir by Matt Wagner

Madame Xanadu (Vol. 2): Exodus Noir by Matt Wagner

Exodus Noir, the second volume of Matt Wagner’s Madame Xanadu series, is an impressive follow-up to the first collection, even though there is a new artist on board. However, there’s no loss in artistic quality. If I prefer the first volume to the second, it’s primarily because I love an origin story. So, my preference is less a fault of the second volume than it is the inherent focus of the first.

This second volume is similar to the first in that it shifts from the present to the past. However, Exodus Noir Read More

Act One: A Thought-provoking and moving story

Act One by Nancy Kress

Ever since reading Kress' wonderful collection Nano Comes to Clifford Falls and Other Stories I've been keeping an eye out for her short fiction. A number of her short works won Nebulas and Hugos, the most recent was a Hugo in 2009 for her novella The Erdmann Nexus, which unfortunately I haven' t read yet. The novella Act One was nominated for the Hugo, Locus and Nebula award but won none of them. It was originally published in Asimov's in 2009. As usual, it is a thought-provoking and moving story.

I always have trouble reviewing shorter works without giving too much of the story away. The text below is a bit spoilerish.

Barry Tenler is the manager of the ageing, and in recent years none too successful, actress Jane Snow. Still, there is a new opportunity waiting and Barry believes this role will do Jane's c... Read More

The Eternal Smile: Three Stories

The Eternal Smile: Three Stories by Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim

I just finished reading The Eternal Smile for a second time to see if I would like it as much as I did the first time. The answer is, "Yes." There's no doubt in my mind that this work is a truly great comic book that is unique in presenting three very different short stories with overlapping themes. They are extremely different in look and in genre, but they come together to present some unified ideas about the dreams we have, the stories we tell ourselves, and the stories of our lives that we want to deny.

Artist Derek Kirk Kim, though perhaps not as well known as Gene Luen Yang, has written and illustrated several books I love and hope to review in the near future: Read More

The Unwritten by Mike Carey

The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor & the Bogus Identity (Vol 1) by Mike Carey (writer) & Peter Gross (artist)

The Unwritten by Mike Carey is one of the best current series being published right now. It is one of the few titles put out by Vertigo — DC's mature line of comics — that has kept Vertigo from losing its respected place in the world of comics. Vertgo was started by Karen Berger with Neil Gaiman's wonderful Sandman stories, and many of my favorite comics have come out with the Vertigo label on them. However, in recent years, Vertigo has lost its edge for the most part except for a few excellent works like Read More

Olympus by Nathan Edmondson

Olympus by Nathan Edmondson (writer) and Christian Ward (artist)

I am starting to be very impressed with this writer whose books I've just started reading. Nathan Edmondson caught my eye first with Who Is Jake Ellis?, for which I wrote a positive review earlier this year. But today — May 15th, 2013, the day I'm writing this review — marks the release of a 50+ page first issue of a new limited series: Dream Merchant. I read it today and was absolutely blown away by both the writing and the art. It’s a six-issue story, so I should be writing a review of it before the end of the year. That issue made me want to pick up his earlier four-issue graphic novel* Olympus. I'm glad I did. I just finished reading it in one sitting, and I'm sure I'll be rereading it again soon. It is so very different from Who Is Jake Ell... Read More

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: Nerdy and bookish

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a romp of a first novel by Robin Sloan. It’s a perfect book for booklovers who lean toward the mysterious and fantastic, blurring genre lines throughout to afford readers a marvelous time.

The novel begins when Clay Jannon, the first-person narrator, is responding to an advertisement for a clerk in a 24-hour bookstore in San Francisco. Clay was educated as a graphic artist, but he’s finding jobs scarce since his work designing a logo and a website for a bagel bakery and acting as the “voice” of @NewBagel on Twitter — definitely a new economy sort of job. When the bakery went bust along with the rest of the economy less than a year after Clay took the job, he was left jobless with a very slim resume. So the help wanted ad in the window of the bookstore seems like a godsend, even though Clay questions whether the bookstore is a... Read More

RASL by Jeff Smith

RASL by Jeff Smith

RASL by Jeff Smith — available in four paperback volumes — is a fifteen-issue story that recently took me by complete surprise. However, I should have known how good it would be: Smith's well-known comic Bone — an epic work of fantasy for all ages — is one of the great contemporary comic classics. However, I must warn fans of Jeff Smith and Bone that RASL is not a book for kids. Please do not pick this one up for little Johnnie's next birthday gift. You'll have a lot of explaining to do — from the birds and bees to the scientific theories of Nikola Tesla and Einstein.

Tesla seems to be a favorite historical character of current comic book writers — he's a main character in the Atomic ... Read More

Fire on the Mountain: Alternate history with a political flavor

Fire on the Mountain by Terry Bisson

What if America’s Civil War had been, not a war of unification, but a war to end slavery? What if John Brown had succeeded at Harper’s Ferry?

In his short utopian novel Fire on the Mountain, Terry Bisson contemplates those questions.
Bisson’s story is simple and human, but he uses it to muse on how the Civil War could have gone differently. Yasmin Abraham Martin Odinga is an archeologist recently back from a dig in Olduvai, returning home to Nova Africa. She is coming across the border into the United Socialist States of America to visit Harper’s Ferry, where she is delivering her great-grandfather’s memoir to the museum in that town. Yasmin’s great-grandfather was a twelve-year-old slave when John Brown and Harriet Tubman led their successful raid on Harper’s Ferry and started a war of insurrection against slavery.

... Read More

Reunion: A lovely story

Reunion by Rick Hautala

As we grow older, we tend to think of childhood as a golden time, when the hours poured through our fingers like water, glistening and plentiful. Summers were especially wonderful, those days when school was out and there was nothing to do but play. But when we call up specific memories, they never seem quite so golden; our friends never seem quite such good friends; and there are terrors that we have worked hard to forget. Perhaps that’s why so many books have been written about that time when we transition from childhood to young adulthood, the moment when we begin to regard our childhood fancies as childish.

For Jackie, the main character in Rick Hautala’s Reunion, that “moment” comes in late August, just a couple of weeks before he is to begin attending junior high school. Jackie is camping out in his backyard with his best friend, Chris Hooper. Chris h... Read More

Dracula: The Undead: Just plain bad

Dracula: The Undead by Ian Holt & Dacre Stoker

Have you ever read a book that is so bad that it loops back around to being good? Well, Dracula the Un-Dead (2009) isn’t one of those books. It’s just plain bad. But it nearly provides one of those “so bad it’s good” reading experiences, creating a sense of bile fascination in the reader over the fact that someone could clearly enjoy a source material enough to write a sequel, but apparently hate it so much that they would write it… well, like this.

According to the afterword, the subject of a sequel was raised between screenwriter Ian Holt and Dacre Stoker, Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew as an attempt to “re-establish creative control over Bram’s novel and characters by writing a sequel that bore the Stoker name.” Given the copyright issues that have plagued the Stoker family ever since th... Read More

Basilisk: Strange mixture of science and magic

Basilisk by Graham Masterton

Graham Masterton is relatively unknown in the United States except among the horror cognoscenti. Although he’s written or edited more than 20 books, he is mostly known in his native England. He can write a slick little work of horror like House of Bones and make it haunt you no matter where you live, though; there’s something about the idea of being pulled right through the walls or floor of your home that can make anyone shudder. It would be nice if he were better known in these parts.

Basilisk (2009) is not the place to start reading Masterton, however. One big problem is that, for reasons known only to himself, Masterton chose to set Basilisk primarily in Philadelphia. It’s hard for a writer in Britain to get American idioms right, and vice versa. Language errors, even very small ones, and geographic anomalies can p... Read More

Eyes Like Leaves: A gifted writer’s beginnings

Eyes Like Leaves by Charles de Lint

The magic is leaving the Green Isles. The Summerlord Hafarl’s staff has been broken, and the Everwinter is coming to blanket the islands in snow forever. To make matters worse, the Vikings are raiding up and down the shore, laying waste to everything in their way. It’s up to Puretongue, leader of the dhruides, to weld together the last scraps of the Summerlord’s power that can be found in the people to create a defense against Lothan, and bring summer and magic back to the isles.

Eyes Like Leaves is well-paced, and the action scenes flash with energy. Charles de Lint shows signs of the bardic gift in his ability to make scenes come alive, especially the chase scene with the direwolves pursuing the tinker caravan.

While the characters are interesting and detailed, and individual scenes are beautifully written, the plot is oddly flat ... Read More

Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America

Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America by Robert Charles Wilson

Robert Charles Wilson's novel Julian Comstock is set in a vastly changed 22nd-century USA — after the end of the age of oil and atheism has resulted in disaster. Technology is mostly back to pre-20th century levels, and the population has been vastly reduced due to social upheaval and disease. Society has become fully class-based, divided into a Eupatridian aristocracy, middle-class lease-men, and indentured servants. The country — which now stretches across most of the North American continent — is involved in a lengthy and brutal war with the Dutch over control of the recently opened Northwest Passage.

In this setting we meet the novel's extraordinary hero, Julian Comstock, the nephew of the dictatorial president Deklan Comstock. Julian is a free-thinker with a deep interest in the apostate Charles Darwin (whose heretical th... Read More