Stand-Alone

These are stand alone novels (not part of a series).

The Spear Cuts through Water: One of the best of 2022

The Spear Cuts through Water by Simon Jimenez

Simon Jiminez’s The Spear Cuts through Water (2022) is one of the most vibrantly original novels I’ve read in some time, an enthralling work of creativity that even as it makes use of some familiar tropes arrives absolutely as its own unique self: richly mythic and startlingly inventive. It will absolutely land on my Best of 2022 list, even it may not be for everyone (though everyone should attempt it).

At its core, The Spear Cuts through Water is a simple quest story told unsimply. Ages ago the Moon Goddess fell from the sky and eventually became captive in the deep dungeons of the Empire. The current Emperor, aged and fearing death, is about to embark on a grand procession, but when the Goddess escapes two young men — Jun and Keema — foes at first and then allies, must escort her through a series of dangers to the coast to p... Read More

The Shadow on the House: Strange days

The Shadow on the House by Mark Hansom

For the past 35 years or so, I have been so busy trying to experience all the 200 books described in Stephen Jones’ and Kim Newman’s two excellent overview volumes – Horror: 100 Best Books and Horror: Another 100 Best Books – that I was completely unaware, until recently, that there is yet another trusted resource that horror buffs in the know have been using for recommended reading; namely, the Wagner 39 List. It seems that back in 1983, in the June and August issues of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine, editor/author Karl Edward Wagner provided a list of the 39 books in the horror arena that he felt were of the highest calibre, or most in need of being discovered by a new audience. The 39 books were broken down into three categories: The 13 Best Supernatural Horror Novels, The 13 Best Sci-Fi Horror Novels, and The 13 Be... Read More

The Witch and the Tsar: Solid, but a bit flat

The Witch and the Tsar by Olesya Salnikova Gilmore

“Solid” is the best description I can give for The Witch and the Tsar by Olesya Salnikova Gilmore, a debut novel that shows flashes of hitting its potential, particularly in its folkloric elements, but overall feels a bit flat and overlong.

A retelling of the Baba Yaga mythos, the story mostly takes place during the reign of Ivan the Terrible (1500s), though there are flashbacks to earlier times, thanks to the fact that the main character (who prefers Yaga to Baba Yaga) is immortal, daughter of a human and the Earth goddess Mokosh, dead now for some years. Since then Yaga has been alone, save for her wolf and owl, and quietly helping the people nearby, especially the women. What precipitates her re-entry into the world is a visit from Anastasia, whom Yaga had helped long ago and set her on the path to her current role as Tsarina (Ivan’s wife).
... Read More

Dark Sanctuary: Thanks, Karl!

Dark Sanctuary by H.B. Gregory

A very happy day it was for me – but a very unfortunate day for my bank account – when I first discovered the website for Ramble House books. Specializing in impossibly obscure sci-fi, horror, mystery and “weird menace” titles from the first half of the 20th century, the publisher has an overwhelming catalog of reasonably priced volumes that will surely make any fan of those genres salivate; books, for the most part, that are available nowhere else. I have already written here of Greye La Spina’s wonderful horror novel Invaders From the Dark (1925), only available from Ramble House, and now would like to tell you of a book that I recently read from the company’s Dancing Tuatara Press imprint that is even more of a rarity. The b... Read More

The Final Girl Support Group: Good thriller if you are adept at suspending disbelief

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

The title of Grady Hendrix’s 2021 novel might make you think it’s a horror story in the slasher-movie style, and there are plenty of nods to horror here. Actually, the book is a thriller, and as a thriller it works pretty well. Hendrix intersperses the thriller with some dark, zany humor, trauma-fueled angst, and toxic sisterhood rants, but the story’s at its best when our main character, Lynette, is on the run from, well, everybody.

The Final Girl Support Group opens with Lynette preparing to attend that very group. Lynette has turned her LA slum-neighborhood apartment into a bunker. She does self-defense drills before setting out, hyper-vigilant, to attend the group she participates in every week with five other women, all in their late thirties, who survived not one but two bl... Read More

The Centaur: Another masterwork from Algernon Blackwood

The Centaur by Algernon Blackwood

English author Algernon Blackwood was always one to make good use of his wide-ranging travels in the 14 novels and over 180 short stories and novellas that he would ultimately give to the world. For example, his early 1890s sojourn in Canada, where he worked as a dairy farmer and hotel operator, would, upon his return to England, provide the inspirational setting for one of his greatest novellas, “The Wendigo” (1910). Canoeing trips down the Danube during the summers of 1900 and 1901 would compel him to pen one of his most famous tales, “The Willows,” in 1907. After Blackwood settled in Switzerland after 1908, the beautiful Alpine scenery there became the backdrop for many of the stories in his remarkable collection Pan’s Garden... Read More

Turnabout: The ol’ switcheroo

Turnabout by Thorne Smith 

It has been a good number of years since I last read Thorne Smith’s ribald fantasy classic entitled The Night Life of the Gods (1931), but I can still recall how thoroughly enjoyable and hilarious the book was for me. In this wonderful romp, a NYC-based scientist, Hunter Hawk, invents a device that can turn people to stone. He soon meets Megaera, one of the Little People, who has the converse ability to turn statues into living people, and the two later manage to bring all the stone effigies of the ancient Roman gods at the Metropolitan Museum to life, with increasingly madcap results. The book was chosen for inclusion in Cawthorn & Moorcock’s excellent overview volume Fantasy: The 100 Best Books, and deserve...

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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

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

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

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

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

The Girl in the Golden Atom: “One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small…”

The Girl in the Golden Atom by Ray Cummings

In Irish author Fitz James O’Brien’s classic novella of 1858, entitled “The Diamond Lens,” a scientist, employing his newly invented supermicroscope, is able to observe a beautiful young woman who lives in the impossibly small world of a droplet of water. Flash forward 77 years, and we find British author Festus Pragnell, in the novel The Green Man of Graypec (1935), giving us the tale of a man who is accidentally sucked, via his scientist brother’s new supermicroscope, into the subatomic world of Kilsona, where he is forced to abide for some time. Sandwiched between these two works, however, is a book that has, over the decades, managed to achieve for itself pride of place in these kind of microverse affairs, in... Read More

Walk the Vanished Earth: A debut with great potential

Walk the Vanished Earth by Erin Swan

Walk the Vanished Earth by Erin Swan is a debut novel with great potential in its underlying premise, structure, and characters, but while the story does at times rise to meet that potential, it does so unevenly and by the end, for me at least, unsatisfactorily.

The story opens at the close of a buffalo hunt in the Kansas prairie in 1873, with a young Irishman named Samson doing the last bit of work amidst the bloody carnage and recalling the harsh life that led them here and making plans for the better one he hopes to forge for himself: “In this New World, he told himself, he would be a new man.”

From there, the narrative leaps forward in time to 2073 and outward in space to Mars and a young girl named Moon who has spent much of her remembered life traversing the Marscape with Uncle One and Uncle Two, a pair of beings that are clear... Read More

Last Exit: Complex, compelling, and intense

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Last Exit by Max Gladstone

Here is Max Gladstone’s recipe for a Last Exit (2022) cocktail:

One part fervent, confident intensity of young adulthood
One part fever dream (or nightmare) of magic and alternate worlds
Add bitters in the form of mid-life fears, regrets, and resignations born out of both trauma and simple aging
Splash of Mad Max
Zest of Zelazny
Stir with a rusty spoon of entropy
Pour slowly into a clear (eyed) glass filled one-quarter with the crushed ice-dreams of Americana myth and rimmed with sugar for a little bit of innocent sweetness
Serve with a shot of hope (the kind that burns on the wa... Read More

Razzmatazz: Drag kings, crime gangs, corrupt cops, and a dragon

Razzmatazz by Christopher Moore 

Razzmatazz, Christopher Moore’s fantasy/action/comedy follow-up to Noir, came out in 2022. While I recommend Noir, you don’t need to read it first to enjoy this outing.

It’s 1947, in San Francisco, and Sammy “Two-Toes” Tiffin, bartender and sometime detective, and his group of regulars are still just trying to get by, when Sammy’s friend Eddie “Moo Shoes” Shu brings Sammy to a meeting with Eddie’s Uncle Ho. Uncle Ho has a job for Sammy; recover a black dragon statuette currently in the town of Locke, California, and give it to one of the criminal tongs, or they’ll kill Ho.

Sammy has some other things on his mind; namely, where h... Read More

Nettle and Bone: A princess, a dog, and a fairy godmother like you haven’t seen them before

Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher

Kingfisher’s Nettle and Bone (2022) was exactly the book I needed to read when I read it, so I am grateful to it and the writer for that. Kingfisher’s original fairy tale is a satisfying read at any time, with characters who engaged my imagination and find original ways to solve their problems.

Marra is a princess, the third daughter of a small kingdom with a deep-water harbor, nestled between two powerful warlike nations, each of whom covets the harbor. Marra’s mother marries off her eldest daughter, Damia, to the prince of the Northern Kingdom, which is the less vulnerable of the two bellicose kingdoms because it is protected by magic. Shockingly, almost immediately, Damia dies, supposedly in an accident. Marra’s next sister, Kania, marries the prince, and she lives. Kania has a child, and Ma... 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 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

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

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