SFF Reviews

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The Liminal War: Why isn’t this series adapted for streaming already?

The Liminal War by Ayize Jama-Everett

The third book in Ayize Jama-Everett’s LIMINAL PEOPLE series, 2015’s The Liminal War returns us to the near future and the world of Liminal healer Taggert, his daughter Tamara and the daughter of his heart, Prentis. Prentis is the orphaned Liminal young woman who communicates with animals. We met her in the Book One; as Book Three opens, Tamara, a powerful telepath and telekinetic, starts a firestorm of fear and anger with her realization that Prentis has been kidnapped and is nowhere on their earth.

At least, nowhere in their now. In practically no time, Taggert is reluctantly talking with the enigmatic Alter Nayarana and a weird DJ who goes by Jah Puba, but also Mico, and planning a trip back in time to 1971, where there may be a trace of Prentis. Taggert is al... Read More

The Rise and Reign of the Mammals: A New History, from the Shadow of the Dinosaurs to Us

The Rise and Reign of the Mammals: A New History, from the Shadow of the Dinosaurs to Us by Steve Brusatte

2022 has been a banner year for me in terms of non-fiction reading, and that trend continues with The Rise and Reign of the Mammals: A New History, from the Shadow of the Dinosaurs to Us, by Steve Brusatte, an epic and vividly told survey of how evolution bit by bit equipped our ancestors with the tools necessary to at first survive and then thrive. As with Brusatte’s earlier work, the excellent The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, this is popular science as it should be done: clear and compelling.

Brusatte begins before the mammal line as we think of it comes into existence, setting the context for what drove the evolution and doing so broadly, discussing not just specific creatures but eco-systems (i.e. including plants), climate, and the impact of extinction events. He also does a n... Read More

Leviathan Wakes: Action-packed space opera that transcends the genre

Reposting to include Justin's new review.

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

FORMAT/INFO: Leviathan Wakes is 592 pages long divided over a Prologue, 55 chapters and an Epilogue. Extras include an interview with the author and an extract from Caliban’s War, the second book in The Expanse series. Narration is in the third person, alternating between Executive Officer James Holden and Detective Miller, except for the Prologue (Julie) and Epilogue (Fred). Leviathan Wakes is mostly self-contained, coming to a satisfying stopping point, but the book is the opening volume in The Expanse series. June 2, 2011/June 15, 2011 marks the UK/North American Trade P... Read More

The Green Rust: Proto-Bond

The Green Rust by Edgar Wallace

In Ian Fleming’s 10th James Bond novel, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963), 007 foils a plot by the Germanic supervillain Ernst Stavro Blofeld to use biological agents to destroy a goodly part of the world’s farm crops. But as it turns out, this was not the first time that an English author had given his readers a story featuring a Prussian madman employing bacterial warfare to cut off part of the globe’s food supply! A full 44 years earlier, we find Edgar Wallace, the so-called “King of Thrillers,” coming up with a similar dastardly scheme, in his 1919 offering entitled Green Rust. Wallace’s novel was initially released by the British publisher Ward, Lock & Co. and has seen a modest number of other editions since, sometimes under its original title The Green Rust, and other times as just Read More

My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies: A noir coming-of-age story

My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies: A Criminal Novella by Ed Brubaker (writer), Sean Phillips (artist), and Jacob Phillips (colorist).

My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies: A Criminal Novella is another Ed Brubaker-Sean Phillips work of perfection. It’s another tale of danger and the criminal world.  The story and the art are each five-star outings, the storytelling melding well with the visuals. Simply put, this noir story has matching noir-ish artwork, but if you’re familiar with Phillips’s work in previous Criminal titles, you’ll be surprised by the light pinks and purples and light blues used this time, creating a different tint than the usual (colors are by Jacob Phillips, Sean Phillips’s son). Any noir novel fans, including fans of the covers, will appreciate both aspects of the book — content and look. The father and son artists give a sense of some of these covers with a contemporary, more r... Read More

The Entropy of Bones: The extraordinary origin of an extraordinary Liminal

The Entropy of Bones by Ayize Jama-Everett

When we meet Chabi, the protagonist of 2015’s The Entropy of Bones, she is running the sixty miles from Sausalito, CA, to Napa, CA. She plans to grab a meal and run back. This is our first clue that Chabi isn’t average… and it’s not our last. Chabi doesn’t speak, although she certainly has a voice. Her physical abilities are astounding. Her martial arts teacher is a strange, dangerous man, Narayana, who lives on a ship near Chabi’s mother’s houseboat.

On her semi-regular run this day, she stumbles into a marijuana grow and makes the uncomfortable acquaintance of a pair of brothers and the adult son of one of them. The family originally grew grapes, but a strange fungus is overtaking the vines, so they switched to premium marijuana. Chabi, who finds an odd peace when she’s around the fungus-swamped vines, agrees to provide some patch security for t... Read More

The Ecologic Envoy: A new generation of Ecolitans

The Ecologic Envoy by L.E. Modesitt Jr

The Ecologic Envoy (1986) was the first novel published in L.E. Modesitt Jr’s THE ECOLITAN MATTER quartet but, according to the series’ internal chronology, it comes third, after The Ecolitan Operation (1989) and The Ecologic Secession (1990). You don’t need to read those two novels first because The Ecologic Envoy and its sequel, The Ecolitan Enigma, are set a few hundred years later and feature a completely different set of characters.

Our hero, though, is a direct descendant of JimJoy Earle Wright, the protagonist of t... Read More

The Ecologic Secession: JimJoy takes on the Empire

The Ecologic Secession by L.E. Modesitt Jr

The Ecologic Secession (1990) is the second novel (according to internal chronology) in L.E. Modesitt Jr’s THE ECOLITAN MATTER quartet. In the first book, The Ecolitan Operation (for which there will be a few spoilers in this review), we met Major JimJoy Wright. He used to be the Empire’s best secret agent, but after they tried to assassinate him, he switched sides.

Now, after faking his death and being given a new identity, he’s a professor at the Ecolitan Institute, a think-tank on the planet Accord that opposes the Empire and is plotting a revolution.

The Ecolitans are glad to have JimJoy’s allegiance and service, though they’re not sure what to m... Read More

The Liminal People: Imaginative, violent, and exciting

The Liminal People by Ayize Jama-Everett

If we could use our minds to make others see what we wanted them to see, rearrange people’s internal organs and dissolve their musculature, call animals to do our every bidding, or know others’ thoughts as intimately as our own, wouldn’t we rule the world? Or would we be so preoccupied with fighting with others like us that humans would be mere pawns, little worth toying with? Or, even worse, would we be so damaged by our powers that we would be dangerous to ourselves and others?

These are all questions posed by Ayize Jama-Everett’s short, powerful first novel, The Liminal People (2012). Jama-Everett’s first person narrator, Taggert, introduces himself while in the midst of conducting a drug sale he is conducting on behalf of his mentor, Nordeen Maximus. Taggert is able to keep the transaction from going sour by putting his would-be assassins to sleep wit... Read More

The Ecolitan Operation: I’d like to see where this is going

The Ecolitan Operation by L.E. Modesitt Jr

Major Jimjoy Wright is the Empire’s most successful secret agent. That’s because he’s strong, brave, clever, deceptive, ruthless, and totally goal-oriented. Once he accepts a mission from his government, nothing gets in his way. He always gets the job done.

Though JimJoy thinks he’s highly ethical, most people would find his consequentialism to be psychopathic. For example, JimJoy is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people. This doesn’t bother him because if he hadn’t destroyed them, millions of other innocent people probably would have died (it’s like an extreme version of the Trolley Problem).

The fall-out from JimJoy’s actions are causing problems f... Read More

Ralph 124C 41+: The Kramdens, they’re not!

Ralph 124C 41+ by Hugo Gernsback

During the course of any number of my book musings here at FanLit, I have made reference to editor Hugo Gernsback, in whose magazine Amazing Stories – the very first magazine devoted to the type of writing that would one day be called “science fiction,” and which rolled out its first issue in April 1926 – so many wonderful tales and serialized novels first appeared. Gernsback, in truth, was a pretty remarkable figure. He’d been born in Luxembourg City in 1884, and by the time of his passing in 1967, at age 83, had edited or published at least 50 other magazines, written three novels and a dozen or so short stories (plus countless essays), taken out 80 or so patents, and coined the term “science fiction.” The Hugo Awards today, of course, are named in his honor. However, it recently struck this reader that although I have experienced any number of works that originally appeared in Read More

Locklands: Concludes one of the best series of the last decade

Locklands by Robert Jackson Bennett

In Locklands, Robert Jackson Bennett closes out his FOUNDERS TRILOGY in epic style, raising the stakes to literally “all of creation” and upping his characters’ (some of them) power levels to god-like heights, all while managing to keep the story grounded in the personal thanks to Jackson’s typically sharp characterization. Being the concluding novel, two things should be obvious: one, you need to have read the prior ones and two, there will be inevitable spoilers for those prior books.

Eight years have passed since the events of Shorefall, and they haven’t been good ones for our characters. The sort of collective-AI intelligence Tevanne, thanks to its forcible “twinning... Read More

Into the Narrowdark: Wonderfully immersive and rewarding

Into the Narrowdark by Tad Williams

Into the Narrowdark is the concluding volume to Tad Williams’ epic THE LAST KING OF OSTEN ARD series, and it … Hold on. Scratch that. Apparently, Williams and his publishers have decided to split the concluding work into two books. So readers will have to wait a bit longer for that conclusion, though at least they’ll have a short novel to read instead of … Wait a minute. OK, never mind on the brevity. Turns out Into the Narrowdark is still 600+ pages, despite only being half of a final book. Thankfully, though, splitting the book means a streamlined plot and far fewer character, making it … One moment here. All right, actually the plot remains a complicated tapestry, and the list of characters at the back runs for nearly two dozen pages. But Into the Narrowdark Read More

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (vol. 13): End of Days: The ultimate battle with the Black Flame

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (vol. 13): End of Days by Mike Mignola (writer), John Arcudi (writer), Laurence Campbell (art), Dave Stewart (colors), Clem Robins (letters).

With Johann in the vril-powered suit of armor, the B.P.R.D. now has on hand a great resource for taking on monsters. Johann commands almost as much power as Liz. Liz has taken the time to get back to gardening back at the B.P.R.D. headquarters now that Johann used the armor to stop the monsters that were getting close in Colorado. But events are escalating around the world. Fenix, who goes into a trance with Panya as her guide, has an epileptic fit witnessing even more tragedy to come, and she slips into a coma. Also at headquarters, the mad professor starts babbling about the seven that are one, the ogdru jahad on earth, and other prophetic concerns. There’s a lot going on in this volume, and the art is fantastic, particularly the scenes with the large monsters and the scenes in w... Read More

The Deep and Shining Dark: Intriguing enough to check out book 2

The Deep and Shining Dark by Juliet Kemp

The opening of a new series, The Deep and Shining Dark is a debut novel by Juliet Kemp, that for the most part avoids many if not all of the common issues of first books, making for a smoothly enjoyable read that falls just a bit short of a richly realized story.

The city of Marek is ostensibly part of the larger nation of Teren. It for some time now has operated as an independent city-state thanks to several factors: being a port city, having a strong trading relationship with the dominant sea-faring nation of Salina, and being the only place in Teren where magic doesn’t require blood.

This last is due to a century-old agreement made between the founders of the city and a spirit known since then as the cityangel. Now though, change is coming to disrupt the city’s long-standing stability — a plague has killed all but two of Marek’s sorcerers,... Read More

Gladiator: Of Hugo, Doc and Supes

Gladiator by Philip Wylie

In a recent review here on FanLit, for J.D. Beresford’s seminal 1911 classic The Wonder, I mentioned that the novel was an early example of one of Radium Age sci-fi’s favorite themes, that of the “superman” or “wunderkind.” In that book, we had encountered a young British lad, Victor Stott, who was born with superhuman mental abilities that had made him an object of both fear and hatred among most of his fellows. Well, now I am here to share some thoughts on still another Radium Age wonder that tells the tale of a superman, but in this case our lead character’s marvelous abilities are physical ones rather than mental, and brought about by artificial means rather than being a mere freak of nature. And it seems that this man of remarkable physic... Read More

Flash Fire: The best of its sub-sub-genre

Flash Fire by T.J. Klune

2021’s Flash Fire is the second book in T.J. Klune’s YA Series The Extraordinaries. This is the best YA superhero origin story / Spiderman-movie parody / coming of age / neurodivergent / queer rom-com I’ve read this year. With most of the background put in place by its predecessor, The Extraordinaries, Flash Fire is tighter, filled with action sequences, super-villains, and a deadly ordeal known as Prom.

This review may contain spoilers for The Extraordinaries.

At first, it seems like Nick Bell’s life is great. He’s acknowledged his feelings for his best-friend Seth (and Seth for him). His cop father has a ... Read More

The Fall of Babel: A satisfying and emotional ending

The Fall of Babel by Josiah Bancroft

Thomas Senlin’s bizarre, chaotic, and perilous adventure in the Tower of Babel finally ends in the fourth book of Josiah Bancroft’s BOOKS OF BABEL series: The Fall of Babel. If you haven’t read the first three books, Senlin Ascends, Arm of the Sphinx, and The Hod King, stop now and get those under your belt before reading this review. I don’t want to spoil them for you. I recommend picking up Hachette Audio’s editions read by John Banks. They are so entertaining.

The Fall of Babe... Read More

The Wonder: Too cool for school

The Wonder by J.D. Beresford

As I believe I’ve mentioned elsewhere, one of the pet themes of both Radium Age and Golden Age sci-fi was that of the ubermensch (superman) or the wunderkind (child prodigy), as the case may be; individuals who, as a result of a mutation or genetic engineering, and whether deliberately or accidentally created, came to possess mental and/or physical abilities that separate them from the ruck of humanity. I have already written here of such ubermensch novels as Seeds of Life (1931) by John Taine, in which Neils Bork, a lab worker, is changed after being exposed to a massive dose of X rays and electricity; Read More

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (vol. 12): Metamorphosis: Two stories featuring B.P.R.D. member Johann Krauss

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (vol. 12): Metamorphosis by Mike Mignola (writer), John Arcudi (writer), Peter Snejbjerg (art), Julian Totino Tedesco (art), Dave Stewart (colors), Clem Robins (letters). 

This volume consists of two stories. In the first, “Nowhere, Nothing, Never,” Johann has a crisis of sorts, and his team at the B.P.R.D. is turning on him, finding him responsible for mistakes that they feel should not have been made. He talks with Liz to figure out how she lives with the fact that she has killed a lot of people, but the conversation doesn’t go as well as it could. Thus, Johann makes an important decision and acts alone, releasing himself into the night air, giving himself a chance for death as far as we know at the end of issue number one in this story arc. But there’s more to the story than we first get. Kate forces a member of Johann’s team to give a report on what happened on the mission, and Joha... Read More

The Extraordinaries: Superheroes and extraordinary friendships

The Extraordinaries by TJ Klume

TJ Klune’s 2020 novel The Extraordinaries is only the second-best YA/superhero/coming of age/Spiderman movie parody/neurodivergent/ queer rom-com I’ve read this year. I’ll explain at the end of the review why it only came in second.

Nicholas Bell is sixteen, gay and out to his father, friends and school. Nick lives with ADHD. His mother was killed a few years ago, and he and his cop dad share a loving but uneasy relationship. Nick’s life is further complicated by his crush on one of the two of Nova City’s superpowered, or Extraordinary, people—Shadow Star. Nick writes voluminous fanfic about Shadow Star and obsesses over him daily. It’s easy to obsess over Star and his nemesis, PyroStorm, because the two Extraordinaries seem to clash more and more frequently, their battles are becoming dangero... Read More

Night Shift Dragons: An entertaining finale

Night Shift Dragons by Rachel Aaron

Rachel Aaron’s DFZ (DETROIT FREE ZONE) series comes to a conclusion with the third novel, published in 2020, Night Shift Dragons. For this review, I’ll assume you’ve already read its predecessors, Minimum Wage Magic and Part-Time Gods. (There will be spoilers for those books in this review.)

The story begins right where Part-Time Gods left off. In that novel, we watched Opal suffering under the authoritarian maneuvers of her father, the powerful Dragon of Korea. He put a bad-luck curse on Opal to try to force her to leave the DFZ and return to No... Read More

The Greatest Invention: A History of the World in Nine Mysterious Scripts

The Greatest Invention: A History of the World in Nine Mysterious Scripts by Sylvia Ferrara, translated by Todd Portnowitz

Sylvia Ferrara is an Italian scholar/researcher/professor who has devoted much of her life, both in solo work and (more importantly and effectively to her) in collaboration, to learning how writing developed/develops and to deciphering a number of scripts that have stubbornly resisted translation. In The Greatest Invention she offers the fruits of that research in often fascinating, sometimes dizzying, sometimes frustrating, always exuberant fashion.

The dizzying part comes partly from the way Ferrara flies all over the place in space and time, hitting regions such as China, Crete, Easter Island, Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, Central and South America, and the United States, among others, all of them at various stages of mostly ancient but sometimes recent history. The fascina... Read More

The Extractionist: Enjoyable, left me wanting more

The Extractionist by Kimberly Unger

With The Extractionist, Kimberly Unger presents a pretty typical futuristic-internet-cybersetting-with-a-name background (in this case the cyberverse is called “the Swim”), but enhances the familiar setting with an original spin — a class of workers called Extractionists whose job it is to rescue people who get “stuck” in the Swim by reconnecting their Swim persona and their real-world body.

I loved the idea, and mostly loved its embodiment in Eliza McKay, the book’s protagonist, but felt the story could have been executed better.

McKay’s job is actually a fall-back position she takes on after she was banned from the high-level nanotech research she really wants to do (the reason for her being “burned” is gradually revealed).

Extracting is part engineering / tech know-how and part art, and McKay is good at both aspects, he... Read More

Spear: Go read it. Now.

Spear by Nicola Griffith

Nicola Griffith’s Spear glides effortlessly and confidently into the Arthurian cycle, while giving us a completely new character and an outsider’s perspective of Arthur, his court, Merlin, and the Holy Grail.

Published in 2022, this novella starts with the account of a young girl who lives in a cave in the woods with her mother. Their one item of value is a large cauldron in which the mother cooks their food and heats water. The girl roams the woods, learning the language of the animals, knowing how to read the plants and the seasons. She grows stronger. The girl has two names, depending on her mother’s mood. Sometimes she is a word for “gift.” Sometimes, when her mother is raving in nightmares, the girl’s name is “price.” Always, her mother is filled with fear that someone will come seeking... Read More