Hellboy in Mexico: Mostly fight scenes

Hellboy in Mexico by Mike Mignola (writer) & various artists

Hellboy in Mexico is a collection of short stories. It starts out with the same story that is in Hellboy (Vol. 11): The Bride of Hell and Others:

“Hellboy in Mexico, or A Drunken Blur” is a funny story about Hellboy’s lost five months in Mexico drinking and wrestling. The story starts in 1982 with Hellboy and Abe Sapien in Mexico together. Abe Sapien finds an old wrestling poster showing Hellboy with three other wrestlers. Hellboy tells him that it was from 1956. Hellboy then tells Abe the story of how he met the three wrestling brothers who were also monster hunters. Hellboy joined the brothers to fight monsters during the day and party at night. Then one night one of the brothers is taken by the vampires, and Hellboy goes in search of his lost friend. The story takes a strange turn once they locate the lost ... Read More

Blossoms and Shadows: Readers might not find what they are looking for

Blossoms and Shadows by Lian Hearn

Japan in 1857 is in turmoil. Internal divisions mean the country is on the brink of civil war, whilst after centuries of isolation, the country has also opened its doors to the west. In the midst of this instability, Tsuru, a doctor's daughter, wishes to study medicine, but the only expectation her father has for her is to marry.

After the hugely successful TALES OF THE OTORI series, Lian Hearn returns with a very different kind of novel in Blossoms and Shadows (2010). The evocative setting of Japan is still used as a backdrop, but this story is a historical one, largely without the fantastical elements of the Otori series.

Tsuru has harboured an interest for medicine since... Read More

The Small Hand: I’m giving it a big hand

The Small Hand by Susan Hill

Susan Hill’s first ghost novel, 1983’s The Woman in Black, had recently surprised this reader by being one of the scariest modern-day horror outings that I’ve run across in years. Thus, I decided to see if lightning could possibly strike twice, and picked up her more-recent The Small Hand (2010). This latter title is the fourth of Ms. Hill’s five ghost novels to date, following The Mist in the Mirror (1992) and The Man in the Picture (2007), and preceding her recent Dolly (2012). The Small... Read More

Spirits of Glory: A unique, surreal world

Spirits of Glory by Emily Devenport

Recently, author Emily Devenport approached me with a request to review her young adult novel Spirits of Glory. I was not familiar with Devenport, but a quick search told me she has published several novels under three different pen names, one of which earned her a Philip K. Dick Award nomination. Spirits of Glory (2010) is self-published, and I tend to avoid such books after a number of negative experiences. Given Devenport's resume, however, I wasn't too worried I'd end up with a poorly written piece of fiction, so I accepted a review copy. It turned out to be one of my better decisions in regards to self-published material. Spirits of Glory turned out to be a good short novel with one of the more intriguing main characters I've come across in young adult novels.

Amber "Hawkeye" Rodriguez has be... Read More

The Honey Month: A delicate and unusual collection inspired by honey

The Honey Month by Amal El-Mohtar

Having recently re-read Chocolat I found myself with a hankering for more of that winning combination of sugar and magic. It was lucky then that I stumbled across Amal El-Mohtar’s The Honey Month which provided just what I was after in perfect, petit-four-sized nuggets.

The Honey Month was conceived when the author received a gift of assorted honeys from a new-found friend. Finding herself inspired by the smell, taste and texture of each honey she wrote a quick review of each one, followed by a short story or a poem set to the individual sensation each honey garnered. The result is the Honey month, a collection of 28 magical, whimsical snippets, each as unique as the honey that birthed it.

I am hard pressed to say what I enjoyed more, the stories themselves or the reviews that precede th... Read More

Journeys: Nine stories by Ian R. MacLeod

Journeys by Ian R. MacLeod

As always with books published by Subterranean Press, Journeys (2010) by Ian R. MacLeod looks stunning. I love the cover art by Edward Miller. The collection contains nine stories, ranging from a few pages to novella length, all of them first published between 2006 and 2010. Personally I feel the longer pieces work better.

Journeys is an appropriate title for this collection, MacLeod takes you to unexpected places with his stories. In many of them, the setting is familiar, often historical, but with a few crucial changes. The collection opens with “The Master Miller's Tale,” one of the longer stories in the collection and a good example of the changes the author weaves into his tales. It is set during the early stages of the industrial revolution. A master miller i... Read More

Black Hills: A Lakota Indian channels General Custer

Black Hills by Dan Simmons

Dan Simmons has impressed with the variety of themes and settings he takes on in his novels. He has written science fiction, horror, historical novels, crime and literary fiction. The man's a very versatile writer. Black Hills, like his previous two novels The Terror and Drood, could be considered historical fiction with a clear supernatural theme.

The novel tells the story of the Paha Sapa. His name means Black Hills in Lakota but it is only used by those he is most intimate with; to the rest of the world he is Billy Slow Horse. Born in 1865, Paha Sapa lives through the final days of the independent buffalo-hunting lifestyle of his people. In 1876 he is present when a coalition of Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho defeat General George Armstrong Custer in wh... Read More

Redemption in Indigo: Clever and heartwarming retold folktale

Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord

Redemption in Indigo (2010) by Karen Lord is a beautiful, sly, innovative book that is doing much more than it seems to be on the surface. The frame story is the folktale of Ansige the glutton. Lord’s retelling takes Paama, a skilled cook and Ansige’s estranged wife, as its protagonist. At the beginning of the book, she has left Ansige and returned to her own family to decide what she’ll do next. But after missing his wife’s constant attention to his endless appetite, Ansige comes looking for her. In typical folktale logic, he is humiliated three times, tricked by djombi (who are spirits or deities), before leaving Paama in peace.

But where the folktale ends, Lord’s novel really begins. Because after Ansige leaves, Paama is left with the Chaos Stick, a magical artifact that ... Read More

Annabel Scheme: A short, clever high-tech thriller

Annabel Scheme by Robin Sloan

Set in an alternate world in which Google's place is filled by a company called Grail (a brilliant name for a search engine, by the way), and Wikipedia's by "Open Britannica," Robin Sloan’s Annabel Scheme is difficult to categorize. Is it a detective novel? An urban fantasy? A technothriller with a touch of cyberpunk? It's all of those at once. It reminds me a little of Charles Stross's LAUNDRY FILES novels with the mix of high technology and demons.

Annabel Scheme is narrated by an AI in the Watson role, observing events through detective Annabel Scheme's high-tech earrings. That's clever, because the point of view follows Scheme and yet isn't her POV. It also means, though, that the fir... Read More

Noise: A Lord of the Flies for our modern times

Noise by Darin Bradley

Tell me if this doesn't sound like a dream come true for those who regularly visit survivalist forums: In the near-future, the United States experiences a collapse of its economic institutions, which leads to the collapse of every social institution mankind has built to function as a society. All order has been destroyed, and from now on your survival against the challenges of nature, both human and not, depends on nothing but yourself. The classical dog-eat-dog world is in session.

Hiram, the protagonist in Darin Bradley's debut novel Noise, has spent his formative years immersed in the group narratives that he and his friends have created through playing Dungeons & Dragons, defeating monsters and rescuing the disadvantaged, as knights are wont to do. But for Hiram, being a knight wasn't something he was when you were transported into an imaginary world; it was his identity. Th... Read More

Birchfield Close by Jon McNaught

Birchfield Close by Jon McNaught

Birchfield Close by Jon McNaught is another wonderful offering from Nobrow Press. It is a quiet work filled with noises, a Mona Lisa on a postage stamp, an epic in sonnet form, and a study in time captured in minutes and seconds. All these contradictions should make it clear how difficult it is to write about a book that’s only about twenty-five pages long, covers a brief period of time at the end of a day, and has no dialogue between characters.

Physically, the book is about the size of a typical paperback, and many of these fairly small pages have such tiny panels that a single page can have as many as twenty-six panels, though the number of pane... Read More

Fated: I can’t recommend this one, but I want to try something else by Browne

Fated by S.G. Browne

“You like Christopher Moore,” the bookstore clerk said, pushing a book into my hand. “You’ll like this.” I do like Christopher Moore, and I think S.G. Browne does too, but Fated fell short of the wry Moore-like comedies it tries to emulate.

Fate, who uses the name Fabio, is a world-weary immortal Personification. When the book opens, he is bored with his work and disdainful of the human race. Fabio is only one of many — dozens, scores, I don’t know, maybe hundreds — of anthropomorphized states. He has a rival, Destiny, who gets all the glamor assignments. He used to be best friends with Death, who goes by Dennis (wouldn’t you?), but they had a fight and now they don’t speak. The Personifications are ruled by God. He used to be called Jehovah, but now he goes by Jerry. Jerry... Read More

Possessions: A great book for kids

Possessions, Book One: Unclean Getaway by Ray Fawkes (author/artist)

If you are looking for a fun, unique, well-written book for your 8-12 year old, you should seek out a copy of Possessions by Ray Fawkes. It’s horror fiction for kids in the same way that Scooby-Doo is technically horror fiction: It’s just so much fun, there’s nothing to be frightened of. Basically, the main character looks like a five- to six-year old girl, but she’s actually a pit demon known as “Gurgazon the Unclean.”

Gurgazon is captured by Mr. Thorne, a butler-like servant who maintains for his elderly employer the Llewellyn-Vane House for Captured Spirits and Ghostly Curiosities. The main narrative is simple: Gurgazon tries again and again to escape and is constantly frustrated by Mr. Thorne who seems to anticipate perfectly every atte... Read More

Foiled by Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallaro: Instant Classic

Foiled by Jane Yolen (writer) and Mike Cavallaro (illustrator)

The past few weeks I've been spending time writing reviews that focus on new Monthly Comics I think would make good entry points for new comic book readers who have never had pull lists, and I have several more new comics I want to promote. The end of 2013 is an excellent time to be a new reader of comics. However, I must break this series on Monthly Comics because I just read a graphic novel too good for me not to immediately write a review of it: Foiled, written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Mike Cavallaro. Foiled is clearly a five-star book, and I want to say in the first paragraph in case anybody stops reading here: Buy this book and it's sequel — Curses!... Read More

Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero: Did Not Finish

Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero by Dan Abnett

It’s 2010 and Queen Elizabeth XXX is on the throne of a magical alternate England. When the throne is threatened, Sir Rupert Triumff, discoverer of Australia, comes to the rescue.

I’ll make this short. I didn’t get very far with Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero. The story is a comedy of the sort that has no appeal to me. It’s written in a self-consciously long-winded style where extensive detailed descriptions and explanations of every minor person and place keep interrupting the plot in order to provide background trivia and to crack jokes. Unfortunately, the trivia isn’t interesting or relevant and the jokes aren’t funny. By the end of the first chapter I felt buried under minutiae and puerility. Here’s just one example (read the first chapter at Amazon to get more of the sense of it):
Gonzalo would attempt to distract Her Majesty with discourses on the correct stri... Read More

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Stories: A good quick culturally-relevant dose of Lovecraft

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Stories by H.P. Lovecraft

"In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming."

Ask any writer of horror, fantasy, or weird fiction who their influences were and H.P. Lovecraft’s name is almost sure to come up, especially if they’re over the age of 50. For this reason alone, all true fans of these genres must experience H.P. Lovecraft’s work for themselves. Think of it as “required reading.” Even if you don’t read horror or weird tales, Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos pops up regularly in fantasy literature, games, television, music, and art, so it’s a good idea to get a little of it under your belt.

If you want to get a good quick culturally-relevant dose of Lovecraft, I recommend The Call of Cthulhu and Other Stories which is available in several editions. I listened to Naxos AudioBooks’ version read by William Roberts, which I downloa... Read More

Identity Theft: Hugo & Nebula nominated novella on audio

Identity Theft by Robert J. Sawyer

Alex Lomax, a private detective on Mars, has been hired by Cassandra Wilkins to find her missing husband, Joshua Wilkins. At first the solution to the mystery seems obvious, but Lomax soon discovers that it’s a lot more unusual, complicated, and dangerous, than he originally thought. Both Mr. and Mrs. Wilkins are Transfers — they’ve had their consciousnesses uploaded to artificial bodies. But that’s not the only reason the Wilkins case isn’t routine — it also involves a paleontologist who has discovered a large cache of valuable Martian fossils. Can Lomax solve the crime without getting himself killed?

Identity Theft is fast, fun, exciting, and peopled with interesting characters in an original setting. The idea of uploaded consciousnesses isn’t new for Robert J. Sawyer, but he asks some intriguing questions about that idea here. I’m looking forward to r... Read More

Horns: Frightening, sad and ultimately hopeful

Horns by Joe Hill

CLASSIFICATION: Horns is a murder mystery/love story/revenge thriller with a dark supernatural twist in the vein of Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Peter Straub.

FORMAT/INFO: Horns is 384 pages long divided over 4 titled Parts and 50 numbered chapters. Narration is in the third-person, mainly via the protagonist Ignatius “Ig” Perrish, but also includes narratives by the villain and Ig’s older brother Terry. Horns is self-contained.

February 16, 2010 marks the North American Hardcover publication of Horns via William Morrow. The UK edition will be published on February 18, 2010 via Read More

The Ammonite Violin and Others: Beautiful dark stories

The Ammonite Violin and Others by Caitlín R. Kiernan

A while ago, I bought a number of books in a Subteranean Press clearance sale. Eleven books with a huge discount, but I didn't know what I would be getting. As it happened, the package contained a lot of short fiction collections, mostly of authors whose work I'm not too familiar with. The Ammonite Violin and Others by Caitlín R. Kiernan was one of these. Kiernan was completely new to me, but The Ammonite Violin and Others turned out to be a beautifully written collection of very dark short stories.

The collection contains 20 short stories as well as an introduction by Jeff VanderMeer (which, unless you have previous experience with Kiernan's writing, I recommend you read after finishing the stories; he lost me halfway... Read More

Hull Zero Three: A science fiction thriller with a touch of horror

Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear

Greg Bear’s Hull Zero Three is a science fiction thriller with a touch of horror thrown in for good measure.

The novel starts quickly with a spaceship arriving at a distant planet. A man wakes suddenly, naked, and tries to figure out where he is. He can remember sleeping and dreaming, and the memories of those dreams remain. He otherwise knows very little about himself, aside from the names of his organs, and how he has come to be where he is. He doesn’t even know how to avoid being eaten by space monsters. Curiously, he has memories from Earth. Though the majority of the novel is told from the hero’s point of view as he tries to unravel the nature of his existence, his thoughts are often interrupted by monsters that try to kill him. It is only thanks to a little girl, Nell, that he survives, and he will run into Nell at multiple times during the story. Read More

Toads and Diamonds: A nice lesson on the importance of kindness

Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson

I have always loved the Charles Perrault fairy tale called simply “The Fairies.” A girl goes to a well to draw water for her family and is approached by an old, threadbare woman who asks for a drink. The girl gladly gives her water. As a reward for her kindness, the woman (actually a fairy, disguised) gives the girl a gift: for every word she speaks, a flower or a jewel shall fall from her lips. The girl returns to her stepmother, who is astonished at the gift and resolves to send her own daughter to the well. That daughter is rude to the fairy, who this time appears as a wealthy old woman (thereby foiling the mother’s instructions to treat a threadbare old woman with kindness). The fairy therefore rewards the daughter with a different gift: for every word she speaks, a toad or a snake will fall from her lips. A nice lesson on the importance of kindness!

Heathe... Read More

Walking the Tree: A very good effort

Walking the Tree by Kaaron Warren

Walking the Tree is the second novel by Kaaron Warren. Previously, my only experience with Warren was her short story in Lavie Tidhar’s The Apex Book of World SF, which I thought one of the weaker pieces of the collection. The concept of Walking the Tree appealed to me a lot, though, so I decided to give it a try. It is an interesting book in many ways, but not without a few structural problems.

The novel is set on the island of Botanica. The island is huge, but almost all available space is taken up by one gigantic tree. Around the base of the tree, small scattered communities of people known as Orders live on whatever the tree and the ocean provide. To prevent i... Read More

Zoo City: Lovable heroine, unique setting

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

The main character of Lauren Beukes’s Zoo City is a former freelance journalist named Zinzi December. Zinzi is cool, intelligent and carries some big mental baggage. Despite her flaws, you will love her almost immediately. Zinzi lives in Zoo City, which is essentially a slum in Johannesburg for people who have been burdened with animals. In the world of Zoo City, people are magically attached to animals after they’ve done something particularly awful. People with animals are the outcasts of society, and the more conspicuous the animal the harder it is to lead a normal life. Zinzi carries a sloth, which isn’t the easiest critter to conceal.

Since Zinzi is not able to work a real job due to her fuzzy companion, she makes ends meet by using her natural ability to find lost things for people. On one of this lost item cases she stumbles... Read More

The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow: As grim as it gets for Cory Doctorow

The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow by Cory Doctorow

When we meet Jimmy Yensid, the hero of Cory Doctorow's novella The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow, he is aboard his giant mecha and hunting down a wumpus in the abandoned city of Detroit, until he comes under attack from a rival group of mechas. The resulting action scene is spectacular — and really made me want to dig out my ancient Mechwarrior games — but as you'd expect from Doctorow, there's much more going on than meets the eye.

Jimmy is a transhuman boy, genetically engineered to be as close to immortal as you can get. The wumpuses are ravenous mechanical monsters who consume any non-organic matter they find and recycle it into arable soil. Meanwhile, Jimmy's father is actually trying to preserve Detroit, the last standing city in the United States, as a historical artifact.

The Great Big... Read More

Moxyland: Miserable but successful

Moxyland by Lauren Beukes

Every  once in a while a novel comes along that’s touted as new, exciting, daring, meaningful, poignant, fresh, full of big ideas, etc. That’s what I’ve heard, so that’s what I was expecting and hoping for in Lauren Beukes’ novel Moxyland  — especially since it has a nice blurb from William Gibson and has been compared to Neuromancer.

Moxyland takes place in a futuristic (2018) Cape Town, South Africa. The Cape Town setting is unique, and I was hoping to explore it a bit, but Beukes did not make use of her setting — Moxyland could have taken place anywhere. This Cape Town of the not-too-distant future is a police state run by big corporations where the police control people through government-approved cell phones. S... Read More