2012


Empire of Jegga: Lovely Vrita and Ho-Ghan’s heroes

Empire of Jegga by David V. Reed

I have a feeling that most people, when they begin a book in the genre of the Golden Age space opera, go in expecting a slam-bang action affair replete with starship battles, interplanetary conflict, weapons of superscience, hissable villains and cheerable heroes. Well, I am here now to tell you of a Golden Age space-opera novel in which all those aspects are indeed most certainly present, but in very much a secondary role. The book is one that you may very well be unfamiliar with, and for good reason, although its author’s name just might ring a bell among some of you.

The book in question is entitled Empire of Jegga, by the NYC-born writer David V. Reed, whose real name was David Levine. Reed’s first novel of four, Empire of Jegga initially appeared complete in the November 1943 issue of Amazing Stories (cover price... Read More

Moonlight and Ashes: A fresh take on the Cinderella fairy tale

Moonlight and Ashes by Sophie Masson

This is one of three fairy tale retellings by Sophie Masson that are only tangentially based on a traditional tale, the others being The Crystal Heart (Rapunzel) and Scarlet in the Snow (Beauty and the Beast). Moonlight and Ashes (2012) tackles Cinderella, and is quite possibly the best of the three. Incorporating elements of the story that are usually forgotten in retellings (such as the magical hazel tree) and Masson's own imagination, it’s a fun and unpredictable fantasy adventure.

Selena is a sixteen-year-old girl living with her spineless father and wicked stepmother, as well as tw... Read More

Scattered Among Strange Worlds: A great introduction to de Bodard’s writing

Scattered Among Strange Worlds by Aliette de Bodard

Scattered Among Strange Worlds (2012) contains two short stories and a sample chapter of Aliette de Bodard's debut novel Servant of the Underworld. The first story is “Scattered Along the Rivers of Heaven,” first published in the January 2012 issue of Clarkesworld, where it can still be read and listened to for free. It is a far-future science fiction story that incorporates some lines of classic Chinese poetry. The future she describes is clearly Asian-influenced, and the story deals with the fallout of a revolution that alienates a mother and daughter. Many years later, the granddaughter returns to... Read More

Angelmaker: Zany mashup of thriller, doomsday device, and whimsy

Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

Angelmaker (2012) is Nick Harkaway’s second book, after his exuberant, clever, digressive and exhausting debut The Gone-Away World. It shares the same qualities with that wild and free-wheeling tale, with relentlessly clever dialogue, quirky and in-depth characters, an intricate but playful doomsday plot, more flashbacks than most readers can handle, and chock-a-block with clever and ironic observations of the weirdly-unique world he has created, and by extension our own less colorful one.

The story skips back and forth in time just like its predecessor, to a degree some readers will get irritated by, as we learn a great deal about the back stories of the main characters but very little of ... Read More

The Secret Service: Fun story, but glorifies violence

The Secret Service: Kingsman by Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons, Matthew Vaughn

The Secret Service: Kingsman
, by Mark Millar, is about a young man, Eggsy, being rescued from rough, poor neighborhoods by his uncle, who takes him under his wing and trains him in a new profession. The twist is that his uncle, Jack London, is not in computer work like Eggsy thinks; actually, his uncle’s job is as a spy for his country. Our young man is sent to a spy school and, given that the rest of the spies-in-training are from upper-class families, he sticks out in a number of ways, including not being able to act with a certain amount of class socially. This story is about his learning his trade and getting to put it to good use by the end of the book.

The Secret Service: Kingsman can be divided into three storylines: First, the book is about a man wanting to do well and come back to take care of h... Read More

Mind MGMT by Matt Kindt

Mind MGMT by Matt Kindt

Mind MGMT by Matt Kindt is a six-volume series that is a demanding, but worthwhile comic about a secret group that, were conspiracy fans to learn of it, they would not sleep soundly ever again. The group, Mind Management, has offices all over the world, and they take in “gifted” children and train them to become agents, depending upon their talents. However, some of the adults who are gifted who run the group are able to erase and manipulate memories, so even the agents do not always remember that they were agents at one point. Some agents are sleeper agents and do not even know it until they are “awakened” via a variety of means.

This set-up is confusing for the reader, because we, too, do not know who is an agent and who is not. Is our main character, the writer Meru, a new agent, an old agent, or a civilian? If she’s an agent, what is her power? And what is her past? I... Read More

Dark Melody of Madness: The Supernatural Novellas of Cornell Woolrich

Dark Melodies of Madness: The Supernatural Novellas of Cornell Woolrich by Cornell Woolrich

Because New York City-born author Cornell Woolrich so excelled at tales of suspense, crime, murder and noirish mayhem, there might be some who find it hard to believe that he could also excel in the arena of horror. But those who have read Woolrich’s truly frightening novel of 1945, Night Has a Thousand Eyes, which combines the occult, clairvoyance, death and predestination into one tasty chiller, already know how capable he could be in that field. And if any further proof were ever needed to bolster the argument, we now have a beautiful new collection from the fine folks at Centipede Press — Dark Melody of Madness: The ... Read More

Dolly: Hell, oh, Dolly

Dolly by Susan Hill

English author Susan Hill had recently been an impressive 2 for 2 with this reader. Last year, I was happy to discover that her 1983 ghost novel, The Woman in Black, is one of the scariest books that I’d read in quite some time, and just a few weeks back, her 2010 ghost novel, The Small Hand, had proved highly satisfying for me, if not quite as chilling as the earlier book. Curious as to whether Ms. Hill could possibly go 3 for 3 with yours truly, I dove into her 2012 offering, Dolly, which, like those other two, is subtitled “A Ghost Story.” So, you may reasonably ask, has Ms. Hill managed the difficult challenge of pull... Read More

This River Awakens: Beautifully dark and very challenging

This River Awakens by Steven Erikson

Pretty much all you have to do is say Steven Erikson and I’m there. This River Awakens (2012) is far different from anything most people will think of when they hear the author’s name. It’s not set in a secondary world. It’s not epic fantasy. There isn’t a huge war or expanding empire in the core of the book. From what I understand, This River Awakens was Erikson’s first book and it’s more fiction and urban fantasy than anything else. While it is far different than typical Erikson, it is still glorious.

This River Awakens was re-released in 2012 after initially being published in 1998 under Erikson’s pen name of Steve Lundin. I love reading author’s works that are totally different from what I typically associa... Read More

The Rapture of the Nerds: Facilitates deep thought and plenty of laughter

The Rapture of the Nerds by Cory Doctorow & Charles Stross

The Rapture of the Nerds (2012) is an odd duck, and that’s probably the reason I’m struggling so much to write this review. On the one hand, there are some deeper themes that are absolutely fascinating. On the other, the book feels like a mashup of as many clever curses as the authors can possibly think of, with some odd situations thrown in. Is this good or bad? I can’t even seem to decide. There is a place for fun and funny books, but sometimes a person could wish for the substance to be a little less subtle and the humor to be a little less in-your-face. Basically, I think this is one of those books that will sink or swim based on the mood of the reader.

Cory Doctorow and Read More

Wonders of the Invisible World: Intoxicatingly beautiful fragments

Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia McKillip

I love Patricia McKillip’s writing, and was excited to hear she had a short story collection coming out. I really enjoy reading short stories because I think it’s a good measure of what a writer can do – distill down the essential elements of story to a concentrated core of who they are as a writer.

Upon opening the collection I was slightly disappointed to realize that these were all stories that had been previously published, many of which I had read before. However, it was an interesting experience for me to rediscover some of these stories for a second time, and to compare the effect of the stories I had read before to the ones I was reading for the first time.

I thought the first story, “Wonders of the Invisible World,” was the least effective story in the collection. While I understand why it was placed first — it gives the title ... Read More

The Infinite Wait and Other Stories by Julia Wertz

The Infinite Wait and Other Stories by Julia Wertz

The Infinite Wait and Other Stories by Julia Wertz is one of my favorite “slice of life” comics, and it is one I’ve taught several times in my course on comics. A memoir in three parts, The Infinite Wait and Other Stories is memorable for the reader because of Wertz’s strong voice as presented in two ways: through the drawn character we see — the “Julia” we watch living through the events recounted — and through the voice of the narrator, a future Wertz we “hear” but do not see, as she looks back and comments on the Julia in each panel as she lives and reacts in the moment. This layering effect is best suited to comic... Read More

A Face Like Glass: Hardinge has a wonderful way with weird

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

Frances Hardinge is rumoured to be made “entirely of velvet”, or so her biography would have us believe. A mysteriously “unphotographable” author who wears a black hat. She seems to covet a certain strangeness, a sense of mystery that shrouds both her writing and herself.

Well if that’s what it takes to write stories as well as she does, then I’m all for it.

Once again on reading Hardinge, I am struck that the age-old question — where do you get your ideas? — is entirely appropriate. There are familiar motifs in her work and yet there are also other ideas that leap from the page defying normality and expectation. I felt this in Cuckoo Song from the moment the young protagon... Read More

The Ice Owl: A Hugo- and Nebula-nominated novella

The Ice Owl by Carolyn Ives Gilman

Carolyn Ives Gilman's novella The Ice Owl, originally published in the November/December issue of the magazine Fantasy & Science Fiction, was nominated for (but didn’t win) both the Nebula and Hugo Awards in 2012. The Ice Owl is set in the same universe as Gilman's earlier novella Arkfall (2008). These stories can be read independently.

Thorn is a teenager living in a future where near instantaneous communication is possible but travel is still limited to the speed of light. She and her mother are Wasters. Outcasts in most societies they are part of, and often living in their own ghettos, Wasters are usually seen as trouble, heretics or rebels. Thorn is a teenager but has already lived parts of her life on nine different plan... Read More

The Unreal and the Real, Vol 2: Outer Space, Inner Lands

The Unreal and the Real, Volume Two: Outer Space, Inner Lands by Ursula K. Le Guin

This is essential reading (or listening) for all fans of SF who want to see why Ursula K. Le Guin is one of the giants of the SF/fantasy field. Volume Two: Outer Space, Inner Lands contains a host of impressive stories, both her famous award-winners and lesser-known gems. All of them are intelligent, thought-provoking, understated, and beautifully written. It’s hard to underestimate the influence she has had on the genre, fans, and how much respect she has gained in the greater literary world. I can’t wait to see the upcoming documentary about her life and legacy being produced by Arwen Curry called Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin scheduled for completion by 2017.

As we journey through the various i... Read More

The Unreal and the Real, Vol 1: Where on Earth

The Unreal and the Real, Volume One: Where on Earth by Ursula K. Le Guin

Having just read two long, dense space opera epics, I was in the mood for shorter work, and who better than Ursula K. Le Guin, one of the giants of the sci-fi/fantasy field, and a respected American novelist who has transcended genre and literary categories. I discovered two volumes of her stories available on Audible, with Volume One: Where on Earth (2012) set on Earth in what I would categorize as “literary realism” style, though in Le Guin’s introduction she challenges the convenient and inaccurate labels we apply, and the preconceptions and biases that accompany them.

Nevertheless, it’s undeniable that this first volume will be of less interest to dedicated fans of science fiction, fantasy, or “speculative fiction, or “genre fic... Read More

Song of Kali: A terrific horror novel from a future Hugo Award winner

Song of Kali by Dan Simmons

In Jones & Newman's Horror: 100 Best Books, Edward Bryant, writing of his choice for inclusion in that overview volume, Dan Simmons' Song of Kali, mentions that Simmons had spent precisely 2 1/2 days in Calcutta before writing his first book, in which that city plays so central and memorable a role. Despite Simmons' short stay, Bryant reveals that the author filled "voluminous notebooks" with impressions and sketches of the city, and any reader who enters the grim but remarkably detailed horror novel that is Song of Kali will be amazed that its author spent such a short time there. The city is superbly well depicted in this book, and indeed is its most fully fleshed-out "character:" a vile, overcrowded, steaming cesspool of a city that breathes iniquit... Read More

The Visible Man: Spying on Others

The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman

Therapist Victoria Vick has taken on a new client, Y___. He has a suit that renders him invisible, though he doesn’t like that term, and he uses the suit to watch people when they think they are alone. He feels guilt, but he also thinks that his guilt is illogical. So, he has come to Vick for therapy.

Why should Y___ feel guilt when his project of observing people is so important? Watching people who do not know they are being watched has become his life’s work, and there is no doubting Y___’s dedication to observing others. He has studied yoga to the point that he can remain still for hours at a time. Though careful to avoid addiction, Y___ takes stimulants so that he can maintain his surveillance for days if necessary. He has also devised numerous ways to get into people’s homes unobserved.

The central conflict in Chuck Klosterman’s The Vis... Read More

Proto Zoa: Five early short stories by Bujold

Proto Zoa by Lois McMaster Bujold

Proto Zoa, whose title literally means “first animal,” collects five of Lois McMaster Bujold’s earliest short stories:

“Barter” — (Originally published in 1985 in The Twilight Zone Magazine) Mary Alice has a lazy husband, three young bratty children, and a couple of clumsy cats. She’s having her usual rough morning when a strange little man shows up on the doorstep asking for a bottle of ammonia. Mary Alice decides to make a deal with him. This cute story will especially be appreciated by harried mothers.

“Garage Sale” — (1987, American Fantasy) Harold Kreeger is constantly fighting with the widow next door. She doesn’t like the way he takes care of his property, and she hates it when his cat poops in her yard. Finally, Harold hatches a plan to get revenge. This story is slightly dark and fairly amusing.

... Read More

Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels, 1985-2010: Interesting choices

Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels, 1985-2010 by Damien Broderick & Paul Di Filippo



Note: You may also be interested in Stuart's reviews of:
Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels, 1946-1987.
Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels, 1949-1984.

Ever since high school, I’ve used David Pringle’s Science Fiction: 100 Best Novels, 1949-1984 (1985), Modern Fantasy: 100 Best Novels, 1946-1987 (1988), and The Ultimate Guide to Science Fiction (1991) as excellent guides to some of the highest-quality, distinctive, and intelligent books in the SF and fantasy ge... Read More

Between Two Fires: Epic, emotional, cross-genre fantasy

Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman

Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman is a hybrid fairy tale / fantasy / horror / historical fiction. These individual parts blend to create a fulfilling whole in a Canterbury Tales-style story of a fallen knight and spiritually lost priest who journey across France during the plague-ridden middle ages with an orphaned girl who's either an exceptionally special individual, a weird witch, or a gift (literally) from the heavens.

The emotionally driven backdrop is a beautifully diverse French countryside, absolutely decimated, both mentally and physically, by the Black Death. Humanity has been abused and tortured so completely and without relief that the very reasonable question of "is there a god, and if so, why is this allowed to happen?" rests on the lips of all but a few ... Read More

The Collected Works of Philip K. Dick: 11 Science Fiction Stories

The Collected Works of Philip K. Dick: 11 Science Fiction Stories by Philip K Dick

During his lifetime, Philip K Dick published 44 novels, 121 short stories, and 14 short story collections. If you are interested in getting his short stories, you can find many of his earliest stories available in various combinations on Kindle for $0.99 or $1.99 since they are public domain now. For more dedicated fans, you can get the five-volume series The Collected Short Stories of Philip K Dick, which contains over 100 of his short stories (over 2,000 pages) from throughout his career. But what if you want audio versions?

If you search for his short stories on audio, there’s surprisingly little. Considering how cheap some of the e-book collections are, you’d expect much more, but the best overall deal I could find was the $1.99 Collected Works of Philip K... Read More

The Adventures of Venus by Gilbert Hernandez

The Adventures of Venus by Gilbert Hernandez

The Adventures of Venus is one of my favorite books by Gilbert Hernandez, and since I usually think he’s incapable of going below four-and-a-half out of five stars, I obviously think this comic is another five-star work of genius. It’s a collection of short comic strips in a simple cartoon-style about a young girl, Venus, and her observations on life. It’s really Peanuts-meets-Calvin and Hobbes with more realism. In fact, much of what I said about Marble Season applies to The Adventures of Venus, except Marble Season i... Read More

Distrust That Particular Flavor: Gibson’s “Best of” non-fiction album

Distrust That Particular Flavor by William Gibson

Distrust That Particular Flavor is William Gibson’s non-fiction compilation album. These entries, which are arranged neither chronologically nor thematically, touch on a variety of subjects, ranging from Japanese culture to Steely Dan to how recent technologies will evolve.

Gibson begins the work explaining how he learned to write fiction. He further admits that many of his non-fiction works were done primarily because Wired and other publications offered to fly him abroad if he’d comment on his experiences. Given the introduction, readers might not expect much from Distrust That Particular Flavor, but I often enjoyed it. In fact, I enjoyed it more than I do most compilations of non-fiction written by novelists, perhaps in part ... Read More

The Wisdom of the Shire: Remembering Hobbit wisdom in the 21st century

The Wisdom of the Shire by Noble Smith

Hobbits constantly surprise Elf kings, dragons, and Dark Lords with their courage and valiant spirit, but we rarely associate them with wisdom. Thankfully, Noble Smith’s The Wisdom of the Shire: A Short Guide to a Long and Happy Life exists to correct our mistake. Wisdom of the Shire is one part self-help book and one part homage to Hobbit wisdom.

Smith divides his work into a series of essays, with titles like “How Snug is Your Hobbit-hole?” and “Your Own Personal Gollum.” The chapters often begin with a summary of Bilbo and Frodo’s adventures (sometimes Gandalf gets a mention and there’s even a chapter on “The Lore of the Ents”) in Middle-earth, which ends with a concise summary of the essay’s lesson.

Unfortunately, the essays rarely led to a startling revelation for me, perhaps ... Read More