2015


The Abaddon: Existential horror story

The Abaddon by Koren Shadmi (writing and art)

The Abaddon by Koren Shadmi is a horror story of existential dread: A man knocks on the door of an apartment, asking if this is the open house for a room to rent. He meets three out of the four housemates right away, as they are all relaxing in the living room. Unfortunately, when asked his name, he can’t quite remember it, and instead says to call him, “Ter.” Thus starts a surreal story in which questions without answers are the norm. Why are the windows covered up, for example? What happened to the guy who had the room before him? Why is the rent set at whatever he wants to pay? Why isn’t there a lease? And why does “Ter” have a bandage on his head?

Ter tries to sleep, but cannot turn out the light in his room, and he’s haunted by dreams of being on a military firing range. His sleep is soon disturbed by his peculiar roommates: a drunk Vic won... Read More

Frankenstein Underground by Mike Mignola: For all Frankenstein fans

Frankenstein Underground by Mike Mignola (author) & Ben Stenbeck (artist)

One of the best books in the wider Hellboy Universe, Frankenstein Underground takes the famous literary monster and places him in a battle for light against darkness. This book is one of my favorite comics I have read recently. Frankenstein’s monster seems to have a patchy memory, and other than recalling random events here and there, he only remembers one name — Frankenstein — which he thinks is his own. In the opening scene, “Frankenstein” is on the run, as he has been throughout his long life. The comic book shows Frankenstein throughout the years as he has been chased in many different areas of the world. But in this most recent chase, he enters a cave and encounters a witch of sorts who heals and comforts him. The five-issue story will come full circle, from physical healing to spiritual healing, but there are many dire events t... Read More

Baba Yaga’s Assistant: A compelling tale by a gifted collaboration

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Baba Yaga's Assistant by Marika McCoola (author) & Emily Carroll (illustrator)

Baba Yaga's Assistant, by Marika McCoola and illustrated by Emily Carroll, is a MG graphic novel that tries to work the frightening richness of the Baba Yaga folktales into the press of modern family life, but despite the great source material, the attempt falls short, though it has its moments.

The protagonist is Masha, a young girl whose father has just proposed to a woman sometime after her mother's death. Her father had relegated most of Masha’s upbringing to her grandmo... Read More

Nimona: A fun, colourful and heartfelt fantasy tale

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

I picked up Nimona (2015) after recognizing that writer/illustrator Noelle Stevenson was also the showrunner of Netflix’s rebooted She-Ra, and becoming interested in what she worked on in the past. As it happens, if you enjoyed She-Ra then you’ll probably like Nimona as well (and visa-versa) as there are many similarities in style, character, depth and tone.

Ballister Blackheart returns home to his evil fortress one day to discover a perky young girl waiting for him, insisting that she’s his newest sidekick. Introducing herself as Nimona, he’s a little doubtful about her youth and bloodthirsty streak, but soon won over by her mysterious (and very useful) shapeshifting abilities.

In his ongoing vendetta against the heroic Ambrosius Goldenloin, Nimona proves herself to be a very able ally, not only in her destructi... Read More

Alabaster (Volumes I and II): A dark but compelling story

Alabaster (Volumes I and II) by Osamu Tezuka



Alabaster (Volumes I and II), written by Osamu Tezuka in 1970 and published in 2015 by Digital Manga, Inc., is a dark but compelling story that touches on the evils of which humankind are capable and the resentment and desire for revenge that results in those who are mistreated. Alabaster’s story allows Tezuka to critique bigotry, specifically focusing on racism in the United States. James Block, a young African-American gold-medal winning Olympic athlete, turned into Alabaster because of his experience with the woman he loved as a young man. After a year of dating, James Block proposes to Susan Ross, only to be laughed at, mocked, and turned down by her because he was a black man. She displays shock that he would even imagine that she would stoop to marry ... Read More

Zeroboxer: The truth will set you free

Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee

Carr “The Raptor” Luka has been rising in the ranks of zeroboxers — men and women who fight in zero gravity. He’s just signed with an agent, been assigned a brandhelm (publicity manager), procured a sponsor, and he hopes to be able to compete for the championship title. As political tensions rise between the residents of Earth and Mars, Carr’s success becomes a point of pride and an inspiration for Earth, “the old dirt ball.”

While on a publicity tour, Carr discovers some information about a crime that someone close to him has committed. This brings on a major ethical dilemma as he decides whether or not to report the crime. It’s not as simple as “doing the right thing” because not only is Carr’s career threatened, but so is the fragile peace between Earth and Mars. Not to mention the devastating effect this information would have on all of Carr’s fans, especially the young boys who i... Read More

Lady Killer: Very funny, dark, hard to stop reading

Lady Killer (Vols. 1 & 2) by Jamie S. Rich & Joelle Jones

Lady Killer is a very funny, though dark, story about the troubles a woman faces when she works out of the home, balancing job and family, in the early 1960s. The twist, however, is that Josie Schuller’s work is that of a contract killer in heels. The humor comes in because her family — husband, two daughters, and live-in mother-in-law — are all clueless. Well, except maybe for the mother-in-law who is beginning to suspect something is not quite right with her all-too-perfect looking daughter-in-law.

The story is funny because it has all the clichés of the suburban family from the time period: The father with his feet up on the table watching TV after work while the wife, looking her best, prepares dinner for a largely unthankful family. The boss and his wife come over for dinner, and he is all hands and jok... Read More

The Two of Swords: Much to admire across the series

The Two of Swords: Volumes One, Two, and Three by K. J. Parker

Reading any of K.J. Parker’s books will reveal that he is deeply skeptical of human nature, very much including the feelings and ideals that usually get the best press. He passed his witheringly critical eye over romantic love in the ENGINEER trilogy, platonic friendship in The Company, and in THE TWO OF SWORDS series, idealistic devotion to a cause and rationalism get their turn in the ducking chair.

The story is set in the same world as the ENGINEER trilogy — I got the impression it was hundreds of ye... Read More

Chrononauts: A wild ride!

Chrononauts by Mark Millar & Sean Murphy

How else can I describe Chrononauts but as a wild ride? Mark Millar, the master of the blockbuster comic book, increases the action beyond his usual by cramming more events than you can possibly imagine into a four-issue mini-series. He collaborated on the idea with artist Sean Murphy, and the result is a buddy adventure story across time and place.

Dr. Quinn first creates an unmanned time machine — more of a satellite — that allows the world to observe events in the past on live television. Then, with the help of a friend, they develop a suit, equipped with a hundred-year battery, that allows whoever wears it to travel anywhere at any point in time. The suit even allows them to transport whatever they are touching — anything from an I-phone to a car to an airplane. So at certain points in the story, they drive from century to century and country to count... Read More

All the Light We Cannot See: Science, magic and morality

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See (2014) opens in the basement of a hotel in the port city of Saint-Malo in occupied France, 1944. The city is being bombed. Eighteen-year-old Nazi soldier Werner Pfennig is trapped below tonnes of rubble, his chances of survival increasingly slim, whilst across town, a blind French girl Marie-Laure is hiding in her attic. The pair is bound by a curiosity in natural science, years of surreptitious radio broadcasts, and a diamond that may bestow immortality upon its holder. Neither of them knows it yet. What follows is the tale of a boy who joins the Nazi regime and a girl who tries to evade it, and the series of events that will set their paths hurtling towards one another.

After these opening scenes, the story rewinds to 1934: Werner Pfennig and his sister Jutta are orphans in the German mining town of Zollverein. He has white hair (n... Read More

Bryony and Roses: Bryony and the Beast

Bryony and Roses by T. Kingfisher

Seventeen year old Bryony and her sisters, Holly and Iris (I’m sensing a horticultural theme here) were the daughters of a wealthy merchant who lost his fortune through risky investments three years earlier. They moved to the remote village of Lostfarthing, where the now-orphaned sisters are barely scraping by. Bryony, a dedicated and enthusiastic gardener, hears about some particularly hardy rutabaga seeds available in a nearby village, and sets off to get some. Unfortunately, on the way back she’s caught in a spring blizzard. She and her pony are nearly frozen when they come across an impossible road that leads to an equally improbable manor house in the forest. In the manor house is magically provided food, a lovely rose in a vase … and, of course, a Beast.

For about the first half of Bryony and Roses (2015), this novel tracks the traditional tale of Beauty a... Read More

The Bird’s Child: Beauty and brutality, magic and illusion

The Bird’s Child by Sandra Leigh Price

There’s something to be said for seeking out authors from more unfamiliar places, especially when experiencing a dry phase in which nothing read quite hits the mark. The experience can be illuminating and so it was with The Bird’s Child, a 2015 debut novel by Australian author Sandra Leigh Price.

The Bird’s Child tells the story of three people living in Sydney in 1929, all with pasts they’d rather forget. There’s Ari, a young Jewish man, victim of a pogrom, who lives with his zealous uncle but dreams forbidden dreams of Houdini and magic. There’s Lily, a mysteriously beautiful young woman whose pale skin and hair have the power to bewitch those around her. And finally there’s Billy, haunted and dangerous, determined to have whatever and whoever he wants.

Each chapter of The Bird’... Read More

Robot Universe: A quick and fun tour through the world of robots real and imagined

Robot Universe: Legendary Automatons and Androids from the Ancient World to the Distant Future by Ana Matronic

Ana Matronic is a huge fan of robots: “I love robots ... The reflection off highly polished metal, the red glow of a light-emitting diode, the sound of a vocoder: these are a few of my favorite things ... doesn’t everybody love robots?” Just in case some don’t, or aren’t sure if they do, she’s gathered together over a hundred of her personal favorites in a lavishly illustrated compendium titled Robot Universe: Legendary Automatons and Androids from the Ancient World to the Distant Future. It’s a pretty thorough gathering even if, as she readily admits, some might disagree with a few of her omissions.

Matronic divides the book into two sections — fictional and real-world robots. The fictional she further divides into the following categories (I’ve listed a few examples ... Read More

Black Dog Short Stories: Events in the lives of key Black Dog characters

Black Dog Short Stories by Rachel Neumeier

This set of four short stories is an interlude in Rachel Neumeier’s BLACK DOG universe, where werewolves ― more properly known in this world as black dogs ― are adjusting to a world where humans are now aware of them, after an interspecies war that wiped out the world’s vampires and decimated many of the black dog packs. To the black dogs’ dismay, destroying the vampires also destroyed a type of mental mist or miasma produced by the vampires that kept humans from recognizing the magical creatures around them. Many humans recognize that at least some of the black dogs are worth having as allies against the more evil types, but it’s an uneasy alliance at best.

With one exception, these stories are set after the first book in the series, Read More

Lost Stars: Lost interest

Lost Stars by Claudia Gray

Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Lost Stars (2015) is not in want of a good premise. The story takes place over the course of events in A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi. It chronicles the rise and fall of the Galactic Empire and the struggles of two star-crossed individuals as they try to find their place within the changing political environment of the galaxy. The aristocratic Thane Kyrell and lowly labourer Ciena Ree both reside on the Outer Rim of planet Jelucan. Whilst their backgrounds couldn't be more different, the childhood friends both have one thing in common: they love to fly. As teenagers they are both accepted into the Imperial Academy and train as TIE fighter pilots and are both (unsurprisingly) star flyers. But their friendship is about to be tested, as one of them begins to question their loyalty to the Galactic Empire. W... Read More

The Library at Mount Char: We all love it

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Ever wonder what might happen if a god went missing? The Library at Mount Char is Scott Hawkins’ fiction debut, and in my personal opinion, it is flawless. There are no wasted words, no unnecessary plot digressions, no moments in which a character says, “Wow, this crisis is important! We should respond right away!” and then tootles off to fold laundry for ten paragraphs. Each detail is crucial, even if the reader doesn’t realize it for a hundred pages or more, and the resulting novel feels enormous and expansive though the page count doesn’t hit 400.

Garrison Oaks was a lovely little slice of Virginian 1970s suburbia, where Adam Black roasted meats in an enormous metal bull and shared beer with his neighbors. Things changed, though, in one cataclysmic afternoon. Black revealed himself to be something far more than human and took twelve local children in... Read More

This Year’s Class Picture: A scene from a zombie apocalypse

This Year’s Class Picture by Dan Simmons

Sci-fi and horror master Dan Simmons has only one real character in this short story: Ms. Geiss, dedicated fourth-grade teacher extraordinaire. She seems to be one of the very few remaining humans following the frequently mentioned, but never-explained, “Tribulations” that had some role in creating an environment where zombies roam the planet.

This Year’s Class Picture opens rather bluntly:
Ms. Geiss watched her new student coming across the first-graders’ playground from her vantage point on the balcony of the school’s belfry. She lowered the barrel of the Remington .30-06 until the child was centered in the crosshairs of the telescopic sight.
But don’t get Ms. Geiss wrong. All of her students are zombies, and without proper precautions, she could ea... Read More

The Water Knife: Bacigalupi’s formula is getting a little old

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

It’s official. I hereby dub Paolo Bacigalupi, Captain Grimdark of science fiction. Uncontent to swerve in and out of dystopia when telling his near-future stories of the Earth gone to hell, he rubs the reader’s face in the grime every step. Scenes of violence and human misery, both manipulative and informative, string along stories of good people stuck in bad times. Formula? Set in the near-future, mix in some stereotypical characters, use a few simple environmental destruction plot devices to build sympathy, make cutting, realistic, and informed comments about contemporary politics and corporate greed that allowed the situation to happen, and voila, Captain Grimdark. (Science fiction has captains, and fantasy has lords, natch.)

Yes, Bacigalupi has struck upon a blueprint, and his 2015 The Water Knife Read More

Huck by Mark Millar

Huck by Mark Millar

Huck is the feel-good action movie you’ve been waiting for, except it is a comic. Of course, as with many Millar comics, there are already rumors that Huck is heading for Hollywood, so you could wait to see it in the theaters. But, why wait?

Huck is an endearing character who is based on the Clark Kent model of the good-hearted, simple-minded, small town farm boy with superpowers. However, unlike Clark, Huck isn’t putting on a simple man act. That’s who he is. He works in a gas station, and he tries to do at least one good act of kindness a day. Not all of them even require being a superhero: He might pay for someone’s lunch, or he might save a life b... Read More

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-18

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-18 by Joseph Loconte

During a stressful stretch at work, and the persistently weighty negativity tied to the 2016 U.S. election campaign season, I found myself turning to ‘comfort reading.’ The negative vibes, for me, carried through Election Day and I looked toward J.R.R. Tolkien for relief. I knew I wouldn’t have time to return to the warm depths of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, so instead I read something I’d downloaded a few months earlier: A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friends, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-18, by Joseph Loconte.

The unique relationship between two of Europe’s most influential writers o... Read More

Guns of the Dawn: Austen collides with muskets, warlocks and war-machines

Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Guns of the Dawn, originally published in 2015 in hardback and ebook, with a paperback version due on November 1, 2016, is my favorite fantasy that I’ve read this year ... and I read a lot of fantasy.

The story begins in media res, as gentlewoman Emily Marchwic fights her first battle in muggy, oppressive swamplands, as a new conscript in the Lascanne army. There’s a brief, inconclusive battle with their enemies, the Denlanders, who are almost impossible to see in the impenetrable murk until they are upon her and her friend Elise. Emily, shocked to the core by her up-close contact with death and killing, flounders away with her unit when they retreat, leaving dead on both sides behind in the swamp.

From here we flash back three years, to when the war between the countries of Lascanne and Denland first began. Their long alliance fractured w... Read More

Between Light and Shadow: A prodigious study of SFF’s most elusive writer

Between Light and Shadow: An Exploration of the Fiction of Gene Wolfe, 1951 to 1986 by Marc Aramini

Last year I tried twice (unsuccessfully) to finish The Best of Gene Wolfe: A Retrospective of His Finest Fiction, giving up in defeat. Gene Wolfe is frequently described as one of the most brilliant SFF writers in the genre by critics, authors, and readers alike. Some fans prize his books above all others, and there is a WolfeWiki page dedicated to discussing his work. But there are also many SFF readers that are baffled and frustrated by his stories because they are packed with metaphors, literary references, and hidden themes, and require extremely close reading to understand and appreciate. So I didn’t expect to make any more attempts in the near future.

However, when the 2016 Hugo Awards were announced, I noticed that Marc A... Read More

The Book of Speculation: Doesn’t quite come together as expected

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

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 Book of Speculation, by Erika Swyler, is one of those perplexing novels I come across now and then where the book has everything I would usually lap up as a reader, but for some reason it falls just a little flat, resulting in a book that is "good enough," but falls short of the great read I would normally have expected.

In this case, the specific enticing novelistic elements are: a book within a book, a traveling carnival/circus, a non-linear structure, a main character who is a librarian and another who deals in old books, a quirky se... Read More

I Am Princess X: An exciting YA thriller

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

My 14 year-old daughter (Tali) and I recently listened to the audiobook version of Cherie Priest’s I Am Princess X. We took a look at the print version, too, since the story is part novel, part comic. It’s about a slightly awkward girl named May who, back in fifth-grade, became best friends with a girl named Libby during recess when the two of them, both new to the school, had to sit out. Bored on the playground, together they created a cartoon heroine named Princess X. She has blue hair, wears red Chuck Taylors with her princess dress, and carries a katana instead of a wand (because “anyone can be awesome with magic” but “a sword takes skill.”). Libby did the artwork while May created the story. Their friendship, and Princess X, ended when Libby was killed in a car accident... ... Read More

The Heart Goes Last: Has its moments

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

I consider Margaret Atwood to be a literary treasure. The Handmaid’s Tale. Alias Grace. The Blind Assassin. The MADDADDAM trilogy. Any author would be thrilled to have written a single work evincing such craft and depth. Atwood churns them out on a regular basis. That context is important here, because her most recent work, The Heart Goes Last, is in my mind definitely a “lesser” Atwood and is in several ways a disappointing work. But that’s “lesser” and “disappointing” in relation ... Read More