All posts by Larry Ketchersid

Author of two novels (Dusk Before the Dawn, Software by the Kilo) and one volume of non-fiction stories. CEO of a security software and services company; co-owner of JoSara MeDia, publisher of iPad apps, print and eBooks. Runner, traveler, Sharks fan, Rockets fan, Packers shareholder.

BOOK REVIEW: Harry Harrison, Harry Harrison: A Memoir

REVIEW SUMMARY: Whether you are a Harrison fanatic, a reader of one of his series or just someone who likes history, Harrison’s memoir provides not only insight into his own life, but context of the world that influenced him.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Harry Harrison grows up in the depression, gets drafted for World War II, forms a dislike of the military, learns Esperanto, relocates from NYC to Mexico,  and in his thirties starts writing Science Fiction. From Italy to England to Denmark and several places in between, Harrison’s memoir follows a man bent on writing, unafraid to move to (at the time) far off places to seek a better life for his family. Subtitled “It seemed like a good idea at the time”, the memoir includes several excellent essays in Part II that could not be integrated into the memoir before the writer’s passing.

PROS: History and environment puts writing in context, and Harrison’s memoir provides great context; the essays in Part II are worthy of publication on their own.
CONS: Part I becomes a bit incoherent at the end.
BOTTOM LINE: Though incomplete, this book details the unique life story of one of science fiction’s grand masters, told partially as memoir and partially through targeted essays.

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The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams and Its Place in the History of Epic Fantasy

I’ve recently finished an in-depth re-read of The Dragonbone Chair, the first book in Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy (or tetralogy because when the series was put out in paperback, the third door stopper had to be split in two). I’m re-reading it for two main reasons: Williams has announced a new three book series, placed in the same world, called THE LAST KING OF OSTEN ARD; and though I remember liking it when I read it when it was first released, I cannot remember through the years the details. My Dad used to call this “CRS Syndrome” (Can’t Remember S___).

I’m happy to report that The Dragonbone Chair stands up to the test of time, at least in my re-read of it. Published in 1988. it has an obvious place in the fantasy timeline after Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (LOTR) published in the mid 50’s, and before George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF) (known as Game of Thrones by HBO viewers) published from 1996 through hopefully-not-too-many-years-from-now. Like many other fantasy epics of its time, it is influenced by Tolkien. But unlike many published around the same time, it not a Tolkien imitator (though there are some similarities). GRRM cites the series as an influence on his own A Song of Ice and Fire series. (Read Daniel Kaszor’s article in the National Post that talks about Williams’ series as an inspiration for the A Song of Ice and Fire series and as starting the wave of American fantasy; also, if interested, there is an article about a Tad Williams’ hosted book signing of Martin where Martin discussed this series as inspiration.)
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BOOK REVIEW: Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

REVIEW SUMMARY: The world-building is not as deep as Best Served Cold and The First Law trilogy, and there is a bit of a quick twist at the end but Half a King is a fast paced enjoyable read.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Yarvi, second son of a King, born with only a partial arm, is heading for the ministry when both his father and older brother are killed. As King, he is quickly betrayed, and must survive on his wits as he plots his vengeance.

PROS: Fast paced, with Abercrombie’s expected action and bleak world.
CONS: Not much new in the setting as the world is similar to Abercrombie’s other novels; ending has a convenient twist; could have been an awesome fantasy.
BOTTOM LINE: The world feels familiar, the revenge theme is present again, the ending a bit rushed…but if you enjoyed the worlds of Best Served Cold and The First Law trilogy, you’ll enjoy Half a King, the first novel in the Shattered Sea trilogy as well.

Joe Abercrombie’s world’s are harsh. There is no middle class, only Royalty and those associated with Royalty and the poor, the slaves, the wretched, living in the mud (many of them going “back to the mud”).

So what can Abercrombie do to make one of his world’s worse? He makes one of his lead characters handicapped. Not “Nine Fingers” handicapped but half an arm, unable to hold a shield, in the usual harsh Abercrombie-esque world where warriors rule. Then he makes him a King, and then a slave.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Abominable by Dan Simmons

REVIEW SUMMARY: Based on the title and Simmons other works (The Terror), I was looking for the Yeti; I was looking for lots of Yetis! What I found was an excellent alternate history between the Great War and World War II on the slopes of Everest, slow to rev, but a fast and furious ending.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Three world-class climbers, Jake (a young American), Jean Claude (a French Chamoix guide) and the Deacon (a British veteran of the Great War) volunteer for a trip to find the body or whereabouts of Lord Percival Bromley, who either died climbing the mountain or met with an “Abominable” fate.

PROS: Set in a time when Everest has yet to be summited, that complicated point in history between World War I and World War II; in-depth descriptions of climbing in the cold; like The Terror, vivid descriptions about what it feels like to be very cold; have I mentioned the cold?
CONS: NEED MORE YETI! A few side trips to climb mountains for character-building; not sure the “I got this manuscript from a guy I met named Jake” handed-off memoir strategy is required.
BOTTOM LINE: It’s Dan Simmons. Read it.
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If The Moon Were Only 1 Pixel

Scientific accuracy is one of the reason I and our bagel-loving overlord enjoyed Andy Weir’s The Martian. One of the often overlooked points of accuracy are distances; some novels minimize or ignore that vast distances of nothingness because they are difficult to comprehend…plus they mess up plot lines.

Graphics designer Josh Worth (see his page for “Creepy iOS6 Features” as well), in trying to explain these vast distances to his daughter, has created a page called “If The Moon Were Only 1 Pixel“…which uses scrolling (sometimes seemingly infinite scrolling) to depict distances and sizes in the Solar System. In a post accurately titled “A Tediously Accurate Map of the Solar System“, Josh explains his motivation.

I highly recommend looking at this site on a touch device; scrolling through the vast emptiness of space is less tedious on an iPad than hitting the scroll bar with a mouse. Check out: If The Moon Were Only 1 Pixel.

INTERVIEW: Andy Weir Talks About THE MARTIAN, Mars, Space Travel and Orbital Simulators

Andy Weir‘s debut novel The Martian (which is currently in the top 20 on several best seller lists as of this writing) tells the story of Mark Watney, the seventeenth astronaut on Mars and the first one stranded there…and possibly the first one to die there.

Andy is a software developer by trade, currently programming on the Android operating system. He initially released The Martian, which he wrote as a hobby, for free in pieces on his blog. When some of his readers requested a more readable format, he put together a kindle version for the lowest price Amazon allowed: 99 cents.

The subsequent events were those that many authors dream of: picked up by a major publisher, large advance, movie rights…lending strength to the writing advice most often given: first, write a great book. Or, in Andy’s case: first, learn about orbital dynamics, write a simulator for an ion propulsion engine, absorb everything about Mars…and then write a great book.

Andy was gracious enough to submit to my barrage of emails and questions on a wide range of topics.
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BOOK REVIEW: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

REVIEW SUMMARY: King blends a mostly accurate portrayal of the Kennedy Assassination with time travel and a man set on doing the right thing by changing history, and turns it into a doorstop-sized page-turner that kept me reading through the night and almost made me miss work.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Given a way to go back in time and change history, Jake is persuaded that the world would be a better place by stopping Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating president Kennedy. After experimenting with changing history, he starts in 1958 and works his way toward that “watershed moment in history”. But along the way he tries to save more than just the world, and must balance honor and duty against love and comfort.

PROS: Stalking Oswald around the streets of Fort Worth and Dallas; portrayal of “evil” cities, small-town Texas, and the music of the 50s and 60s.
CONS: It’s a long doorstop.
BOTTOM LINE: King’s time travel novel focuses on the characters and events, a page-turner that makes the reader not only eager to see how events of history may be replayed but how the lives of the non-historical characters will turn out.
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BOOK REVIEW: The Lost Fleet: Dauntless by Jack Campbell

REVIEW SUMMARY: Getting introduced to a book discovered by my now-adult son turns the tables, as he matches my enjoyment of military history, historical figures and strategy with a series that lays out all of these factors in a future 100-year war between the Alliance and the Syndics.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Captain John “Black Jack” Geary, awakened after 100-years spent in an escape pod, finds himself in mid-battle and in charge of the Fleet, fighting the same opponent as he was 100-years ago, but with a chance to turn the tide and end the long war.

PROS: Builds believable rules of warfare and technology; explains the thought process of the strategies without bogging down the pacing of the story; flawed characters, even the legendary Geary.
CONS: A series, that might not end? Never explains why the 100-year war began (perhaps later in the series?).
BOTTOM LINE: Mixing a believable set of technological rules with complex characters, The Lost Fleet: Dauntless is fast-paced military SF that my son calls “believable.”

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BOOK REVIEW: Happy Hour in Hell by Tad Williams (Bobby Dollar #2)

REVIEW SUMMARY: The second of the Bobby Dollar series features amazing world-building (or Hell-building) as the angel Bobby Dollar (Doloriel) visits the Underworld to save his demon girl friend.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Bobby Dollar is once again chased by demons and questioned by juries of angels. Everyone wants him to go to Hell, including himself. So he does.

PROS: An amazing and disturbing vision of Hell; more conspiracy layers upon conspiracies, as the norm of what we the reader (and Bobby Dollar) think the rules are between Heaven and Hell are slowly disproven; the character Riprash.
CONS: Descriptions of hell and its punishments so vivid I almost put the book down.
BOTTOM LINE: The first book in the series set the stage by stating the rules of balance between Heaven and Hell…and then slowly showing that their are no rules. This new book burns down the stage and the book of rules, with an amazing, disturbing, thought-provoking depiction of Hell. Who is Bobby Dollar (or who was he before he became an angel), and why he is the focal point of these trials and adventures?
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INTERVIEW: James Gunn Talks About TRANSCENDENTAL, The History of Science Fiction, and How It Can Save The World

James Gunn is a Grand Master of Science Fiction, one of its best historians and proponents, and is a gentleman and a scholar. He’s been writing science fiction for 64 years, and has been a science fiction scholar for 54 years. I only spoke with him a couple of times briefly at Worldcon, but he was gracious and very forthcoming. At 90 years of age, Jim was energetic, articulate, polite and had time for everyone. And his memory and clarity of mind rivals the sharpest.

Jim started reading pulps like Doc Savage magazine (who doesn’t like Doc?), and a set of Tarzan novels found in the back of his parents’ closet. He absorbed all the magazines he could at Andy’s used magazine store. He has memories of his Uncle John taking him (at 14 years old) and his brother to see H.G. Wells speak; Jim doesn’t recall what Wells talked about, but recalls that he was “short and dumpy, and spoke in a high voice.” He and his brother tried to get close enough to touch and talk to his hero, but were unable to.

His first science fiction story was called “Paradox” – it was rejected by Astounding (John Campbell) and Amazing but eventually sold to Thrilling Wonder Stories for $80. The late Frederik Pohl was Gunn’s agent; they first met in person at the 10th Worldcon in Chicago in 1952. Gunn sold nine of his first ten stories, but he took two years. With his wartime savings running out, he turned to Kansas University.

As a science fiction scholar, Professor Gunn founded the Center for the Study of Science Fiction as Kansas University. His scholarly works include the series of six Road to Science Fiction anthologies and Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction (for which he won the Hugo for Best Non-Fiction Book in 1983). He also wrote a book of science fiction criticism, Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History Of Science Fiction, which won a special award from the 1976 World SF Convention (there were no Hugos for non-fiction at that time). He is the only person to be president of both the Science Fiction Writers Association (1971-1972) and the Science Fiction Research Association.

James Gunn was recognized with the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement in 2007.

His latest novel, Transcendental, is as ambitious and optimistic as his novels from decades ago. In this interview (partially in person, mostly via email), Professor Gunn discusses his past, science fiction’s past, his new novel, and how Science Fiction can save the world.

(There is a link below to also skip over the parts about Transcendental, for those who wish to read the interview but want to avoid any spoilers.)

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BOOK REVIEW: The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams

REVIEW SUMMARY: Author Tad Williams does a lot of things differently (and exceptionally well) than in his previous series in a crime-noir take on the concepts of Heaven and Hell, and Angels and Demons.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Souls of the recently deceased begin to disappear and advocate angel Bobby Dollar has to solve the mystery before demons, his bosses in Heaven and the lords of Hell lay the blame and punishment on him.

PROS: Fiery demons! Sexy demons! Angels with assault weapons and cool cars! And just enough recitation of the rules to make the reader realize: there are no rules.
CONS: Not many. A lot of telling of the rules; a story-line that could be a series, but will hopefully tie up some loose ends without dragging them out.
BOTTOM LINE: The first in the Bobby Dollar series is a fun, fast-paced read, with a protagonist that does what a lot of us do: questions the rules of Existence and his place in it while just trying to survive…but Bobby Dollar happens to be an Angel. The rules seem cut and dried…but are they?

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REVIEW: The Private Eye by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin

theprivateeye_01enr00 1
Title page of episode 1 of “The Private Eye”. Used with permission.

With the plethora of social media outlets combined with the ease of content creation brought on by mobile devices, faster networks and better cameras, it grows more difficult to keep one’s information private. Some people that I know (my college-age son included) have started a backlash by deleting their Facebook and other accounts, citing their distraction, invasion of privacy and questionable content as reasons not to invest time. And once your data and information is out there in the great wide Intrawebs that Al Gore invented, it is near impossible to retract it, or delete it. Thanks to Google et. al., it gets easier and easier for anyone to find it. The viral nature of the Internet can make anyone a celebrity, and the lack of privacy can make many wish they were not.
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BOOK REVIEW: Doc Savage: Skull Island by Will Murray

REVIEW SUMMARY: Pulp legends collide as Doc Savage encounters King Kong shortly after World War I, augmenting the history of Doc Savage.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Called upon to take care of King Kong’s body after his fall from the Empire State Building, Doc Savage recounts to his aides the story of his first meeting with Kong, shortly after World War I when he and his father were searching the southern seas for Doc’s grandfather.

PROS: Adds to the origins and background of Doc Savage and features a younger, still maturing, more complex Doc; and it has Kong! And DeVito art of Kong!
CONS: Would have enjoyed seeing more of Kong; and more DeVito art of Kong!
BOTTOM LINE: Near the 80th anniversary of both King Kong and Doc Savage, this novel is a well-paced look at a younger Doc Savage, uncertain of his future, uncomfortable in his relationship with his father, and searching for a grandfather he barely knows. This “origin” story provides a more complex Doc Savage than other novels, and can be enjoyed by Savage zealots (guilty!) and neophytes alike. Kong’s portrayal is true to DeVito’s Kong: King of Skull Island, and more Kong is the main thing I would ask of this novel.

[For newbies: check out A Doc Savage Primer and this list of all of the Doc Savage novels]

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BOOK REVIEW: The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan

REVIEW SUMMARY: The third book in Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series joins Percy Jackson (son of Poseidon), Jason Grace (son of Jupiter) and other Greek and Roman demigods in a quest to save the world from the destructive awakening of Gaia, goddess of the Earth.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Seven teenage demigods of prophecy race to Rome to save one of their own and to thwart Gaia, one of the most powerful gods in mythology. Gaia sends giants and other mythological creatures against them. And the Roman demigods are threatening the Greek demigods camp. All while the teenage demigods act like…well…teenagers.

PROS: Full of Greek and Roman mythology; fast paced; suitable for kids, young adults and adults. And flying ships! And Riordan is from San Antonio!
CONS: Gotta wait for at least one more and maybe two in the series.
BOTTOM LINE: Rick Riordan gets my vote (and my family’s vote) to fill the void left by the end of the Harry Potter series. The books include well-researched Greek and Roman mythology, very ‘human’ demigods and gods, lots of humor and ‘save-the-world’ action.

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A Look Back at the 2012 Hugo Award Nominees – The Novels

Award shows and popularity contests normally have no influence on my book buying. With a long back-list on the SF/F TBR stack demanding attention (not to mention the History book TBR stack, the Science TBR stack…), and the growing availability of all types of titles, glomming onto any “this year’s best” has seemed a small influence (especially given the low voter numbers, see results here). Plus different genres and different authors obviously appeal to different people.

But this year, given certain events (Yay John!), I participated in the voting and enjoyed the benefits of the Hugo voter packet (an outstanding deal).  The Hugo packet certainly had the desired effect: I’ve purchased other works by a couple of these authors, based on what I read and enjoyed in the packet.

I voted simply based on which book I enjoyed the most, versus any context of whom I thought was the most deserving. The group of nominated novels contained a near-future space opera, a near-future zombie apocalypse, the continuation of a historical fantasy series, a coming of age novel of fairies and magic, and a story of alien language. Another interesting fact is that three of the five are part of series and two are standalone novels.

Here are my notes on the nominated novels, with where I placed them in the voting (which correlates with my tastes not matching the voters at large):

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REVIEW: Clockwork Angels by Kevin J. Anderson (based on a story and lyrics by Neil Peart)

REVIEW SUMMARY: A fable of Order vs. Chaos fighting for a young man’s soul set in a world of alchemy and alternate universes. And steamships! KJA’s world building plus Easter eggs for Rush fans, and a struggle that starts out simple but is complex.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Owen Hardy grows up in a world controlled by the Watchmaker, where “the Universe has a plan, All is for the best.” His yearning for something more takes him out of the order of his small town, and thrusts him into the battle between order (the Watchmaker) and chaos (the Anarchist) leading him to explore places and worlds he did not realize existed.

PROS: Hugh Syme’s graphics (wish there were more in the ARC!); Rush easter eggs; combination of alchemy and steampunk world
CONS: Starts slow; more backstory (i.e, a longer novel) on the world’s history and characters;
BOTTOM LINE: After a slow start, Clockwork Angels barrels through a world of alchemy, multiple universes and steamships, using a manipulative war between chaos and order as the canvas for a philosophical discourse based on lyrics by Neil Peart. Not just for Rush and KJA fans, but enjoyable for those who like different worlds and allegorical fables.

[For additional background, see the review of the Clockwork Angels album by Rush]

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BOOK REVIEW: Assassin’s Code by Jonathan Maberry

REVIEW SUMMARY: With ancient conspiracies wrapping more genetic mutations and the not quite omniscient Department of Military Sciences, Assassin’s Code is the most enjoyable in this series yet.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Taking a cue from the headlines – after rescuing U.S. students being held as spies in Iran, Joe Ledger and Echo Team are pulled into an ancient hostile agreement between Christian and Muslim factions, with an old foe, some legendary mutations and the past of the DMS leadership complicating their fight against a nuclear holocaust.

: Maberry keeps the pace moving with short chapters, wise-cracking Joe Ledger, lots of action and flashbacks; blends in historical background with enough realism to make you check the facts; large world and history shaking conspiracies.
: Need some new villains; hopefully background on Church/Deacon/St. Germaine in a future book.
: Fast-paced, with Joe Ledger getting more and more complicated with each novel, Assassin’s Code is easily the best in the series since Patient Zero…and may be the best of the four.
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Our Evening with Carrie Fisher

“Dad,” asked my 21-year-old son, “do you think she’ll wear the Princess Leia outfit?”

That, in a nutshell, is the now 55-year-old Carrie Fisher’s blessing and curse. My friend Vern admitted he had “serious issues with Princess Leia” from age 13. Ms. Fisher herself tells the story of a man who said he thought of her daily from age 14 to 22…”at least four times a day.”

Our evening with Carrie Fisher, watching her perform Wishful Drinking, her one woman autobiographical sketch of “talking about myself behind my back” was neither as magical as the first time one sees Star Wars as a teenager and probably will not be as memorable (my wife enjoyed it, but even she rated the jazz concert from the previous Friday better entertainment…it was Joe Sample!). Ms. Fisher’s show, which has been running off and on since November 2006, could quickly have turned into celebrity self-indulgent crap (at one point she says “Don’t you hate it when celebrities talk about themselves?”); but through many clever turns of a phrase and an uncanny detachment of talking about tragic parts of her life in humorous fashion, Ms. Fisher made it quite an enjoyable evening. It was comfortable and fun, like exchanging stories while drinking with an old friend.

In this case, the old friend has a Hollywood pedigree, a metal bikini from George Lucas, one ex-husband named Paul Simon and awards for mental illness. And that’s how Carrie Fisher structures her very well written show, in four parts:

  • Hollywood Inbreeding 101
  • Star Wars
  • Two Ex-Husbands
  • Mental Illness

If you haven’t seen the show and intend to, some spoilers after the break.
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REVIEW: Edge of Dark Water by Joe R. Lansdale

REVIEW SUMMARY: Utilizing the East Texas setting he knows so well, Lansdale repeats the master storytelling displayed in one of my all-time faves, The Bottoms, with this genre-bending tale of escape and hope. Lansdale integrates pieces of Homer, Mark Twain and other influences, but it is his ability to make the characters, the setting and extraordinary circumstances come to life that makes this a great read.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Almost an adult, Sue Ellen is trapped in East Texas with an abusive stepfather and a mother who lives in a drunken haze. A friend’s murder and the discovery of her hidden stash of cash set Sue Ellen and her friends, Terry and Jinx, on an escape down-river, trying to leave their past and running from people and legendary killers who would take their new found cash, their freedom and their lives.

PROS: Lots of people know how to write a book, Lansdale knows how to tell a story. The characters, the setting, the prejudices of the time period and the legendary “do they really exist” killers all flow together into a can’t-put-it-down tale.
CONS: Strikingly similar to The Bottoms — not necessarily a con, but some scenes seemed familiar.
BOTTOM LINE: Lansdale often gets classified as a “Horror Author” and that kept me away from his stories for a long time. But his writing flows so well, it’s like we’re sitting drinking tequila swapping tales…with him always winning the storytelling contest. Edge of Dark Water is difficult book to confine into a single genre (the best kind!) but it’s an enjoyable read, ranking close to The Bottoms as Lansdale’s best.

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REVIEW: A Stark and Wormy Knight by Tad Williams

Tad Williams writes doorstop-sized fantasy series where, in his world building, not everything is ever revealed to the reader. One of the great characteristics about series such as Otherland, Shadowmarch, and Memory, Sorrow and Thorn is that, when they are done, there are pieces and connections that your brain continues to try to figure out; it’s not that he leaves big gaping holes in the background of the world or characters, he provides just enough to allow his reader to think, and to imagine. (The other great characteristic is that he finishes these series with a frequency that doesn’t keep his readers waiting for several years; and he always provides a summary of what has gone before, something those of us with poor memories require.)

Thus, I expected this collection of short stories and novellas to be in that category: grandiose fantasies with lots behind the curtain. And some of these certainly fit in that bucket and could be extended into larger stories and worlds (specifically “And Ministers of Grace”, “The Storm Door”, “The Stranger’s Hand”, and “The Terrible Conflaguration at Quiller’s Mints”, which takes place in the Shadowmarch world). But there were other stories that were either completely out of the fantasy genre, or in someone else’s world, or were just standalone fantasy short stories. And unfortunately, there were a couple of screenplays thrown in. Unless it’s Shakespeare, the reading of a screenplay is difficult (unless maybe for actors?), and having one (or two) in a collection of short stories breaks up the rhythm. Structurally, they are quite a different read, and the two included here were a fragment and a horror story. “Black Sunshine”, the horror story, I actually enjoyed, but the reading of a story in screenplay format is not for me.

My favorites here were “And Ministers of Grace”, “The Stranger’s Hand”, “The Thursday Men” (Hellboy, yeah!) and “The Lamentable Comic Tragedy (or the Laughably Tragic Comedy) of Luxal Laqavee”. I could have done without “Bad Guy Factory” (the screenplay fragment) and “The Terrible Conflagration at the Quiller’s Mint”.

Individual reviews below:

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