SFF Reviews

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Part-Time Gods: Another adventure in the DFZ

Part-Time Gods by Rachel Aaron

Part-Time Gods (2019) is the second book in Rachel Aaron’s DFZ (DETROIT FREE ZONE) series which is a spin-off of her HEARTSTRIKERS saga. You don’t need to read HEARTSTRIKERS first, but you’ll want to read the first book in the DFZ series, Minimum Wage Magic, before picking up Part-Time Gods.

After successfully solving a mystery and surviving the danger in Minimum Wage Magic, Opal and Nik have decided they work well together, so they’ve teamed up on their cleaning efforts. Each of them is so skillful that, under normal circumstances, they’d be raking it in.
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The Land that Time Forgot: Fun pulpy adventure

Reposting to include Sandy's new review.

The Land that Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs

You gotta love Edgar Rice Burroughs. He underperformed in life until, as a pencil sharpener salesman who spent his free time reading pulp magazines, he figured he could be paid to write “rot” at least as good as the “rot” he read in the pulps. And thus started the illustrious career of the man who brought us Tarzan, John Carter, and David Innes... And who inspired a generation of fantasy and science fiction writers.

The Land that Time Forgot, a lost world story set during World War I, is the first in Burroughs’ CASPAK trilogy. It was originally serialized in Blue Book Magazine in the fall of 1918 and then published as a novel in 1924.

Bowen Tyler is on a boat that’s torpedoed and sunk by the Germans. He saves a beautiful drowning young wom... Read More

Minimum Wage Magic: A new DFZ series

Minimum Wage Magic by Rachel Aaron

My teenage daughter (Tali) and I enjoyed listening together to the audiobook editions of Rachel Aaron’s HEARTSTRIKERS series, so we were pleased to learn that Aaron wrote (and self-published) a spin-off series also set in the Detroit Free Zone (DFZ), which takes place a couple of decades after the end of Last Dragon Standing.

But you don’t need to read the HEARTSTRIKERS books first, so feel free to jump in right here with Minimum Wage Magic (2018).

The DFZ series, beginning with Minimum Wage Magic, stars Opal Yong-ae, a young mage who ekes out a living in the DFZ by working as a “Cleaner.” This nasty, bu... Read More

Phasers on Stun: A fun and informative tour of the ever-expanding Trek universe

Phasers on Stun! by Ryan Britt

Phasers on Stun!,
by Ryan Britt, is a breezily informative and fun look at the many (and I mean many) incarnations of Star Trek over the decades since it first appeared on television in the late 60s. While it’s true there isn’t a lot new to say about the original series, and to a lesser extent The Next Generation, Britt still manages for find a few nuggets to offer something fresh to fans, while the later materials covers ground that is far less trodden.

Moving chronologically, Britt begins with several chapters on the original series — its creation, the writing, its politics, and finally its cancelation and the “birth of Star Trek fandom.” From there he moves between the creative output of the franchise and its relation to American society (each being shaped by the other). Included in the discussion are ... Read More

The Best of Walter Jon Williams: 12 smart stories

The Best of Walter Jon Williams by Walter Jon Williams

The Best of Walter Jon Williams (2021) is a 663-page tome containing, as its name implies, twelve of Walter Jon Williams’ best stories spanning four decades of his writing career. Fans will appreciate Subterranean Press’s beautiful hardcover edition of this collection (there’s also an audio edition). And for readers who aren’t familiar with this prolific writer, The Best of Walter Jon Williams is a good place to start getting to know him.

The book begins with an endearing introduction by fellow author Daniel Abraham who credits Williams with teaching him more about writing than “any other single source” in his career. After describing the breadth of Walter Jon W... Read More

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (vol. 9): The Reign of the Black Flame: The return of the Fire Starter

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (vol. 9): The Reign of the Black Flame by Mike Mignola (writer), John Arcudi (writer), James Harren (art), Dave Stewart (colors), Clem Robins (letters). 

At the end of last issue, Liz regains her powers and returns to the B.P.R.D., and Fenix, too, returns to the base. Both of them are in time to join the teams going into New York, so this issue starts with them on the ground, on a fact-finding mission. Kate Corrigan gave them orders to assess the threats in New York and, if possible, reduce those threats. Theirs is not a rescue mission, though that doesn’t seem a possibility anyway, since they don’t seem to be able to find anybody left in New York as they make their way in on foot.

There’s a secondary team coming in through New Jersey, and they are working with the Russians, so Iosif is leading that mission. Without Fenix, they are unable to avoid dangerous situations, and th... Read More

Siren Queen: Another five-star read from Vo

Siren Queen by Nghi Vo

2022’s Siren Queen by Nghi Vo is another 5-star read. Set in the same world as The Chosen and the Beautiful, Siren Queen looks at the magic of movies, and the exploitative studio system of the medium’s early days. In Vo’s world, the magic of movies is real magic, and that magic is often hungry.

Our main character is a Chinese American girl in Los Angeles who becomes enthralled with the magic of moving pictures. Soon, a director picks her up as an extra, and he starts using her more and more frequently. Her father disapproves, but her mother sees that the family needs the money. When our protagonist is given a line to speak in a film, she feels the magic envelope her as she speaks, and knows this is what she wants to do with her life. The question is, can she do it on her own terms? The entire system is arrayed against her. Read More

The Boat of a Million Years: A millennia-spanning epic

The Boat of a Million Years by Poul Anderson

Poul Anderson’s millennia-spanning epic The Boat of a Million Years (1989) follows the lives of several unusual human beings starting from a few hundred years before the birth of Christ and ending sometime in the far future.

For some unknown reason, these folks are essentially immortal, not appearing to age past 25 years old and remaining fertile forever. They heal quickly and are immune to disease, though they can be killed by accident or murder.

The problem is that these few immortal people, who are born at different times in different parts of the world, do not know each other and each assumes he or she is the only immortal person alive. Living forever is not a lot of fun when everyone around you eventually dies, including your friends, lovers, and children. When this goes on for hundreds of years, it gets pretty depressing. Besides that, if... Read More

The Cave of a Thousand Columns: The land down UNDER

The Cave of a Thousand Columns by T.E. Grattan-Smith

I have never been to the continent of Australia before, and after watching a number of videos, both online and on television, concerning the fauna and flora there, I am really in no great rush to go. Perhaps you’re familiar with some of the videos I mean? Australia, it would seem, is home to the inland taipan snake (the world’s most venomous snake), kamikaze magpies, the freshwater bull shark, the Australian honeybee (one of the world’s most poisonous insects), raining spiders, the flying fox (the largest bat in the world), paralysis ticks, and the toxic gympie gympie tree. Still planning a visit? The country is also home to the predatory saltwater crocodile, giant centipedes, red-backed spiders (poisonous, natch), swarming soldier beetles, the Sydney funnel-web spider (the world’s most venomous spider), the coastal taipan snake (almost as bad as the inland one!), strychnine t... Read More

The Light in the Sky: Aztec Two-Step

The Light in the Sky by Herbert Clock & Eric Boetzel

In H. Rider Haggard’s 16th novel, the epic blockbuster Montezuma’s Daughter (1893), the reader is introduced to a young man named Thomas Wingfield, a European (half English, half Spanish) who is captured by the ancient Aztecs in the New World of the 16th century. Wingfield eventually becomes something of a living god among them, marries the titular Otomie, and witnesses the arrival and eventual conquest of the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes. It is a truly wonderful piece of historical fiction, with minimal fantastic content. But 36 years later, another book would be released with many of the same plot points mentioned above, but updated to a modern setting, and with the fantasy elements very much in the fore... Read More

The Stardust Thief: An impressive debut

The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah

The Stardust Thief (2022), by Chelsea Abdullah, is one of the more impressive debut novels I’ve read lately, offering up a bevy of strong narrative elements with barely a weakness to be found and using a well-known tale (1001 Nights) not as a basis for a retelling but as the germ of something that is its own lushly original story. It wasn’t until I neared the end that I had the happy realization this wasn’t a stand-alone novel but would give me two more chances to spend time in this world.

As a child, Loulie (AKA the Midnight Merchant) was the sole survivor when her tribe was massacred, rescued from the desert by Qadir, who now serves as her bodyguard as she plies her trade of finding and selling magical jinn relics. Her unique success in that area has caugh... Read More

Sentient: How Animals Illuminate the Wonder of Our Human Senses

Sentient: How Animals Illuminate the Wonder of Our Human Senses by Jackie Higgins

In Sentient: How Animals Illuminate the Wonder of Our Human Senses, Jackie Higgins smoothly and successfully merges what could have been two popular science books — one on animal senses and one on human perception. Instead of separating the two subjects, here Higgins uses one as a vehicle for exploring the other.

More precisely, by examining a dozen animal species and focusing on a single sensory trait they possess, Higgins casts a clarifying light on our own sensory abilities, including those we may not even be aware of.

Each chapter focuses on a single creature and sense, as follows:

Peacock Mantis Shrimp: color vision
Great Gray Owl: hearing
Star-Nosed Mole: touch
Common Vampire Bat: pleasure/pain
Goliath Catfish: taste
Bloodhound: sme... Read More

The Dark Archive: One for the fans

The Dark Archive by Genevieve Cogman

Fans of THE INVISIBLE LIBRARY series will enjoy 2020’s The Dark Archive. Cogman’s intrepid librarian Irene bounds from one adventure to another, armed with her wits, magical knowledge and the power of the Library’s Language. This story adds important information to the conspiracy that is bubbling in the background, while serving up a comfortable, familiar set of adventures for Irene and her team. Along the way, we get to know some secondary characters a bit better.

When Irene’s detective friend Peregrine Vale takes Irene through a suboceanic tunnel to retrieve a vitally important letter, the two realize almost immediately that they’ve been lured into a trap, fighting zombiefied sailors who are being compelled by mechanical cerebral controllers. Escaping them, Irene co... Read More

Fevered Star: A somewhat slower pace through a richly constructed world

Fevered Star by Rebecca Roanhorse 

Fevered Star (2022) is the follow-up to Rebecca Roanhorse’s enjoyably original Black Sun, set in a fantastical Mesoamerica (with a few other cultures mixed in as well). As the second book, it does suffer somewhat from that dreaded middle book curse, but Roanhorse offers enough original worldbuilding here to compensate for the book’s weaker aspects, leaving the reader eager to see the trilogy’s conclusion.

As with Black Sun, Roanhorse employs multiple points of view to tell the story, including the Crow God’s avatar Serapio, the Sun God’s priest Naranpa, the Teek ship’s captain Xiala, the Carrion Crow captain Okoa, and Cuecola m... Read More

Stars Above: Backstories and an epilogue for the LUNAR CHRONICLES

Stars Above by Marissa Meyer

Readers who didn’t get enough of Marissa Meyer’s LUNAR CHRONICLES will be pleased to find Stars Above (2016), a collection of nine stories that give fans more backstory on their favorite characters as well as a romantic epilogue.

Some of these stories can stand alone, giving you a taste of what to expect in the LUNAR CHRONICLES series, but it’d be most meaningful and enjoyable to read Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter first.

The stories are:
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How to Build a Human: In Seven Evolutionary Steps

How to Build a Human: In Seven Evolutionary Steps by Pamela S. Turner and illustrated by John Gurche

I often tell my first-year college students that when they start out doing research, they should begin not with the academic journals, which so many of them do, and not with the newspaper or magazine articles, but with books written for young readers. Because what they want is something that is brief, broad, shallow but informative, easy to understand. Something that strips out the overwhelming details and provides them a strong foundational understanding of the major points so that when they do eventually research more deeply, the details will make a lot more sense to them, will be “fitted into” an intellectual framework they’ve constructed for themselves. I add as well that they are lucky in that they’re currently living in a golden age of non-fiction for young readers, not only in terms of quantity but quality as well.

E... Read More

Noor: Okorafor weaves another stunning imaginary world

Noor by Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor’s 2021 Noor is a short, fast-paced science fiction novel. The futuristic energy delivery system called Noor, and the “Red Spot” dust storm are innovative, made plausible by Okorafor’s grounded writing and her fine eye for detail.

Anwuli calls herself AO for Artificial Organism. Considered “wrong” even before birth, AO was seriously injured in a car accident when she was a young adult. An experimental process gave her prosthetic limbs and cerebral implants. She is an outsider, tolerated, barely, because of her useful skills. Her peaceful life in a small Nigerian town ends when, on a trip to the market, a group of men attack her with no provocation. AO’s instinctive reaction leaves dead people in her wake, and her on the run, heading into the desert.

While she is es... Read More

The Sea Girl: The original water-gate break-in

The Sea Girl by Ray Cummings

A little while back, I had some words to say concerning Garrett P. Serviss’ truly excellent apocalyptic novel The Second Deluge, which was originally released in 1911. In that book, the Earth passes through a so-called “watery nebula,” and the resultant downpours cause the world’s oceans to rise over 30,000 feet, effectively inundating the entire planet! Well, now I am here to tell you about another Radium Age wonder, with precisely the opposite scenario. In Ray CummingsThe Sea Girl, all the oceans on Earth mysteriously start to drop ever lower, until the point is reached where barely a drop remains, thus changing practically everything on our fair planet!

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Devolution: A Bigfoot horror story

Devolution by Max Brooks

I spent countless hours as a kid rummaging the local libraries and shops for stories about Bigfoot. I was a walking encyclopedia for all things Sasquatch, Yeti, Yowie, Skunk Ape, Hairy Man, and even Harry Henderson. The idea of an 8-foot primate rampaging through the forest terrorizing campers is really my jam.

Although I now may no longer “believe” in the Bigfoot story as an actual thing that exists, I’m still a sucker for a good Sasquatch story. I couldn’t get to the bookstore fast enough when I heard that World War Z author Max Brooks had taken a crack at some Bigfoot horror with his novel Devolution (2020).

The story takes place after the eruption of Mt. Rainier... Read More

All the Seas of the World: A master working at the top of his craft

All the Seas of the World by Guy Gavriel Kay

As I write this, it’s early spring in Rochester, and those who live in the Northeast knows what that means. Cold. Clouds. Wind. The false promise of warmth. The precipitation that no longer falls in feet and inches but instead has become a more annoying (and far less pretty) alternation of rain and sleet and hail that you know has to stop soon, will stop soon, but still Just. Keeps. On. Happening. Bleak, yes. But then here it is: a new Guy Gavriel Kay book arriving like an early harbinger of spring — a shaft of sun through the cloud cover, a cardinal’s trill cutting through the wind in the bushes, a sudden spike into the sixties. And suddenly you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

At least, not for a few hours, which is how long it took me to read All the Seas of the World, because when you start a Kay novel, you don’t want to put it down. Let the wor... Read More

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (vol. 8): Lake of Fire: The humans fight back against the monsters

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (vol. 8): Lake of Fire by Mike Mignola (writer), John Arcudi (writer), Tyler Crook (art), Dave Stewart (colors), Clem Robins (letters)

The B.P.R.D. is running missions to try to save people from the apocalyptic events happening around the world. They’ve lost to the monsters in England and in multiple large cities in the U.S., so at the moment they are focusing on trying to get into New York and launch some rescue missions. We follow some of the B.P.R.D. agents who are going into New York, including Howards with his mystical, mythical sword with which he is deadly. But in this volume, we don’t yet get to see this mission launched. We see only the preparations. We also see that the B.P.R.D., with the help of the Russians, is starting to investigate Zinco, which is based in New York.

Liz is in a hospital and trying to recover from injury from a collapsed building. She’s been bedridden for two months. She... Read More

Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak: Space Princesses as only Anders can do them

Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak by Charlie Jane Anders

“Knowledge is ugly, and that’s why we wear cute dresses and eat cake.”

As with most second books in a trilogy, things are bad, teetering on the precipice, by the end of Charlie Jane Anders’s second YA SF book Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak (2022). Our stalwart band of earthlings are not giving up, however, even in the face of injury, doubt, and a devastating loss.

In Victories Greater Than Death, Rachael, the artist, used her talent to activate an ancient weapon and stop Marrant, the military leader of the Compassion, from completing genocide. As a result, Rachael has now lost the ability to draw. Tina, raised as a human but in fact a cl... Read More

Vampires of the Andes: Almost too much for me

Vampires of the Andes by Henry Carew

Just as it’s patently obvious that “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” it seems to me that one might justifiably add the statement “You can’t judge a book by its title, either.” Case in point: the novel that I recently experienced, Vampires of the Andes. Now, with a title like that, one might automatically be led to assume that this would be a rather pulpy, empty-headed affair; a simply written story, perhaps concerning a gaggle of caped and transplanted Carpathian neck noshers, now residing in South America and sucking on the maidenly necks of the local senoritas. And as it turns out, you would be incorrect pretty much all the way down the line, as the book is anything but simply written, and the vampires of its title are rather … well, more on them in a moment.

Vampires of the Andes was originally release... Read More

The Circus Infinite: A night at the circus

The Circus Infinite by Khan Wong

I’ll start off with a list of things I liked from 2022’s The Circus Infinite, a science fiction novel by Khan Wong:

Wonderful, occasionally psychedelic visuals
Interesting world building
Unusual non-human characters
“What happens on Persephone-9 stays on Persephone-9”
A brisk start that balances action with exposition
The circus!

The Circus Infinite introduces us to Jes, who is on the lam from an evil Institute when the story opens. Jes lays down a false trail at a spaceport, and leaves the planet of Indra for Persephone-9, a moon orbiting the planet of Persephone. The pleasure moon is the Las Vegas of this star system, and Jes hopes he can keep his head down, that he and his extraordinary ability can avoid detection.

Well, that doesn’t happen.
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The Candy House: A not-so-futuristic future

The Candy House by Jennifer Egan

What is most frightening about the imagined conscious-sharing technology in The Candy House (2022) is that it's not so far off from our own reality. 'Own Your Unconscious' is a futuristic cube that allows users to access and share every memory they've ever had, alongside the thoughts and feelings that go with them. Parents can access the minds of their children, lovers, their partners' – siblings, students, colleagues – you name it. And because it's possible to upload your memories for public access, it's also possible to locate people through others' memories. That person you met at a bar for one night in your twenties? Through the collective memory of 'Own Your Unconscious,' you can trace them. This is the heady premise on which Jennifer Egan's companion novel to the Pulitzer prize-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010) is based.
... Read More