Book Review Archives

REVIEW SUMMARY: 7 standout stories + 18 good stories – 4 stories mediocre or worse = a very good collection.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Editor Gardner Dozois’ picks for the thirty-two best science fiction stories of 2013.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: 27 of the stories are worth reading and 9 of those were outstanding; a huge short fiction anthology like this provides readers with diverse concepts and writing styles.
CONS: A small handful of stories just didn’t work for me.
BOTTOM LINE: A very good anthology and a wonderful snapshot of the 2013 short science fiction scene.

Here’s a pretty impressive fact: Garder Dozois’ annual Year’s Best Science Fiction anthology has been running for thirty one years. I’ve been following this series for years and I have to say, the series is an annual treat I always anticipate with eagerness. It has continually proven itself to be an excellent source of good science fiction. Sure, there are the occasional stories that miss the mark for me personally, but the stories are overwhelmingly enjoyable.

The same holds true for this year’s volume. The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Annual Collection boasts seven hundred pages and thirty-two pieces of fiction first published in 2013 — that includes short stories, novelettes and novellas. In comparison with the last twelve volumes, it seems as if there were even more outstanding stories this year than in previous years, either a sign that fiction is getting better, or that this year’s selection better matches my own personal taste. In either case, an anthology like this offers something for everyone. At the risk of repeating myself, I’ll say that the value of such an anthology is more than the sum of its parts; it broadens your reading horizons, allowing you to experience a diverse set of writers and writing styles, and most all, a variety of the mind-expanding ideas that are the hallmark of science fiction. This anthology has all that in spades. Add to that Dozois’ extensive recap of the science fiction year as well as an addendum of fiction honorable mentions, and any science fiction will have hours of excellent reading ahead of them.

The standout stories in this anthology are:
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REVIEW SUMMARY: A diverse and well-balanced anthology that delivers on its promises.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An anthology of 24 military science fiction stories.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Excellent stories with highlights by Karin Lowachee, Linda Nagata, and Yoon Ha lee; beautiful Galen Dara Cover art.
CONS: As always with an anthology, some stories stronger than others; story order imperfect.
BOTTOM LINE: An essential set of stories for readers interested in military science fiction.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In a pair of worlds dominated by the magic of stars and moons, a building conflict threatens.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Fascinating cultures and societies; diverse set of protagonists; interesting ecology and magic systems; wonderful cover art.
CONS: Some worldbuilding elements are only skin deep; novel skirts some of the meat of events in its focus on its characters.
BOTTOM LINE: A successful transit from SF into Epic Fantasy that retains the author’s signature voice and style.

Moons and Stars rise and fall in the skies, and with it, does the powers and abilities of the practitioners of magic wax and wane. Nations and cultures too, and even effects on a continental, global scale. The last time the dark star arose, the geography of two worlds changed irrevocably. For you see, two worlds are bound by these moons and stars, their ebbs and flows. Two worlds, with the same peoples, the same cultures, but with distinctly different histories. Enough that a broken people on one world is a power on the other, an Empire seeking to bridge the gap, and conquer its neighbor. With invasion, intrigue, and the dark star rising, the fate of these two worlds are inextricably linked, and those living on them swept up in a time of tumult that will change them all, if not sweep them away entirely.
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BOOK REVIEW: Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

REVIEW SUMMARY: Less True Blood, more a darker cozy mystery set in a town filled with secrets and hiding a killer. For fans of Harris’ many series it is a chance to revisit some supporting characters. An easy read, but filled with red herrings and a problematic conclusion.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Interesting, fairly diverse cast of characters; for fans of Harris’ other series, they will revisit familiar side characters; easy to get into, didn’t bog down much; sets the stage for what could be a fun to read trilogy.
CONS: Red herrings galore; we have characters with powers but they don’t get much action; there were so many characters, 3 POVs and not enough time to really get to know all the players; have to wonder if newcomers to Harris’ books will be as drawn to the characters and world without the anchor of the other established series; the final reveal of the killer was wrapped up too quickly; left this reader feeling underwhelmed.
BOTTOM LINE: While not without flaws, this was an easy read and I enjoyed revisiting some characters. I will read the next one, but not at the hardcover price.

The problem with reviewing an author’s work when you are already familiar with their other series is that you tend to focus on what the book is not, versus what it is. However, the truth is that one of the first thoughts I had upon finishing Midnight Crossroad was that it was not True Blood. If you are hoping for a steamy romance or a blond viking vampire, you won’t find it here. While there is the broad hint at some romantic feelings among some of the townspeople, there is no romance in this book.
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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.

MY RATING:

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.

MY REVIEW:
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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MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: On the frontier of an Empire squabbling with the indigenous elf-like inhabitants and its global rival, a fateful trip shepherding a governor and his family upriver throws two mercenaries into intrigue and danger.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strong pair of central characters; excellent and original worldbuilding; gritty, sharp and potent action and dialogue; a beautiful book cover.
CONS: A few more thousand words to flesh some of the worldbuilding would help clarify some matters.
BOTTOM LINE: An absorbing turn into secondary world fantasy that deserves a wide audience.

The Incorruptibles is a turn into secondary world fantasy for John Hornor Jacobs, best known for his horror and dark fantasy. In it, Dveng “Shoe” Ilys and Fisk are a pair of long-time partners in the mercenary business in the territories. Their current job (along with their young recruit, Banty) is to shepherd a bunch of rich Rumans — a Governor’s family, no less — as they steam upriver on their riverboat. It is Banty’s impulsiveness, however, that will bring these mercenaries into close contact with Gnaeus’ family, and it is the mercenaries that will stand between the family and the very dangerous frontier. Not even the feral elf-like vaettir is the most dangerous thing in the Territories, not when a potential failure of the real reason for Govenor’s Gnaeus’ trip upriver could mean a world war.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: A highly satisfying read, this third (out of four) book in Philip’s Rebel Angels series gets us one step closer to the dissolution of the veil that separates our world from the Sithe world. Meanwhile, Seth is trying to keep his clan safe and his son Rory out of trouble, and not succeeding with either.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Excellent characterization; well paced plot; Philip’s writing is sure to get an emotional reaction out of the reader as she builds on the previous installments in the series.
CONS: Change in character POVs and jumps between 1st person and 3rd person POV can be jarring; readers new to the series are not advised to leap right in at this volume.
BOTTOM LINE: While much Urban Fantasy hasn’t thrilled me, Philip’s Rebel Angels series easily defines everything I want out of an Urban Fantasy novel. If you’re in need of an UF palate cleanser and enjoy adventures into the Fae realm, this might be just the thing.

For those of you new to this multi-generational urban fantasy series, here’s a very quick and simplified recap of the story so far:

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You can follow Rachel S. Cordasco on her bookish adventures at Bookishlywitty.blogspot.com and Bookriot.com. She is a huge fan of robot stories.

Robot Uprisings had been floating in my peripheral vision for a couple of months before I finally picked it up, but man am I glad that I did. Filled with androids and Roombas, service bots and “minids,” this eclectic and wide-ranging anthology offers us many possible worlds in which humans and their mechanical creations fight, love, outsmart, and kill one another. And if that doesn’t entice you, then allow me to name a few of the contributors: Hugh Howey, Cory Doctorow, Daniel H. Wilson, Nnedi Okorafor, Robin Wasserman, Ernest Cline.

That’s right. And with many of these stories originally written for the anthology, we have in Robot Uprisings fresh, often frightening, stories from some of the best scifi writers at work today. Thus we have stories about killer robots, rogue AIs, “ascended” AIs, and spider-like fuel-pipeline sentinels. In some stories, the robots/androids remain mostly offstage, having already thrown off their shackles, as it were, and attacked the human societies that produced them (“Lullaby,” “Eighty Miles an Hour,” “Executable,” “Human Intelligence,” “We Are All Misfit Toys,” “Small Things”). Others imagine how such an attack might begin (“Complex God,” “Seasoning”). And then there are those stories that offer a less threatening view of our mechanical friends, who might joke around with their sysadmins or even care for a baby (“Epoch,” “The Robot and the Baby”).
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I’m a sucker for graphic novels with great protagonists. A good case in point is Ben Hatke’s recently completed Zita the Spacegirl comic series—comprised of Zita the Spacegirl, Legends of Zita the Spacegirl, and The Return of Zita the Spacegirl—published earlier this summer. Framed with Hatke’s outstanding artwork, the series is an earnest, adorable and kick-ass story following Zita’s adventures far out in space.

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Ben Blattberg is a freelance writer currently living in Texas. He blogs about movies and story structure at incremental-catastrophe.blogspot.com and makes jokes on Twitter @inCatastrophe.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In a magical LA ruthlessly run by a cannibal magician, a thief with a magical talent gets caught up in a heist.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Fun world-building with some darkly vivid imagery, and a fast-moving caper plot that pulls readers along.
CONS: Some jarring plot shifts and murky character motivations.
BOTTOM LINE: I wouldn’t want to live in van Eekhout’s grim, magical LA, but it’s a fantastic place to visit; and despite a few hiccups, the book is a fun thrill-ride.

If you’ve ever been to sunny Los Angeles, you know that it’s a dread-laden city of madness, where the palm trees merely bide their time till they wake and push us all into the unforgiving Pacific. Or maybe that’s just me; maybe Los Angeles strikes you more as a city of pretty people cavorting in endless sunshine. Greg van Eekhout channels both versions of LA into his new novel, California Bones, an expansion of his earlier short fiction story “The Osteomancer’s Son“. Looked at one way, California Bones is a light-hearted epic heist story in a magical, alternate California; looked at another way, it’s a dystopian Grand Guignol about a decaying bureaucracy ruthlessly ruled by the biggest cannibal in town. Either way, it’s a fast-moving adventure with some heavy stakes, and only a few bumps along the way.
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REVIEW SUMMARY: In Bald New World, Tieryas Liu explores social complications, structure and
culture of a world in which everyone loses their hair.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The story follows Nick Guan as he moves between a Dystopian future set in L.A. and parts of Asia with a twisted plot revealing shocking truths about hair loss on a global scale beneath a seedy underworld filled with spies and murder.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Descriptive, engaging narrative that is smart in its observations of popular culture; deep, personal narrative set against intense, raw scenes.
CONS: Fast paced ending gave illusion of being a tad rushed.
BOTTOM LINE: A wonderful, clever narrative that builds an intriguing look at a plausible yet fantastic future while remaining a personal story of man’s struggles with societal norms and family.
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REVIEW SUMMARY: McCellan’s second Powder Mage novel expands the canvas of the story in a welcome and engaging manner.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: The repercussions of Promise of Blood echo forward, as Tamas strikes into Kez even as political events back in Adopest (and an angry god) threaten to overwhelm the promise of his revolution.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Engaging story of the main protagonist; excellent set pieces; tight writing.
CONS: Some choices in POV characters remain something of a lost opportunity.
BOTTOM LINE: A solid follow-up to The Crimson Campaign that keeps the momentum of the series.

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Eleven failed expeditions have ventured into Area X. We embed with the twelfth – a psychologist, a surveyor, a linguist, an anthropologist, and a protagonist – as they cross Area X’s mysterious border, hoping to discover their precursors’ fates.

Annihilation, first in a trilogy to be drip-fed throughout 2014, is part dark fantasy horror, part sci-fi adventure into verdant wilderness, and part bittersweet fabulism. The prose is lucid, gripping, and establishes a not altogether disagreeable sense of “breathless and unexplainable dread,” in H.P. Lovecraft’s words.

Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness (1936) and William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland (1908) are significant precedents in their mix of trepidation, adventure, and rapture. Annihilation can also boast a crawler and a pit, a bit like Abraham Merritt’s “The People of the Pit” (1918).
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REVIEW SUMMARY: A deliriously smart and funny beginning to a new urban fantasy series about dragons in the ruins of Detroit.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW
PROS: Fantastic and memorable characters; spectacular world building; fast paced adventure; snappy dialog with a lot of humor; completely unique magical system.
CONS: Would have liked more info about the rest of the world after the magic apocalypse.
BOTTOM LINE: A compelling first volume in a new series that will knock your socks off so hard they’ll leave smoking holes in your wall.
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REVIEW SUMMARY: Clarkesworld Year Six includes all 34 original pieces published in Clarkesworld Magazine during their sixth year. If you’re looking to get caught up on Clarkesworld, you can’t beat their yearly volumes.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Large variety of voice and style; good mix of famous writers and newer voices; includes many excellent examples of speculative fiction that pushes the boundaries; stories can be read in any order.
CONS: None. One of the strongest collections I’ve read in a long time.
BOTTOM LINE: This collection is jam-packed with Nebula and Locus award winners and Hugo nominated works. Well worth the money for that alone.

Skimming the table of contents of Clarkesworld Year Six, you’re going to recognize a lot of titles. The fiction that Clarkesworld published in their sixth year includes Nebula and Locus winners and nominees, Hugo nominees, and stories included in Gardner Dozois’ Years Best Science Fiction, Jonathan Strahan’s The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, and Rich Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy. So it easily goes without saying that the 34 stories included in Clarkesworld Year Six are some of the best of the best.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: The Third Craft Sequence novel continues to show the burgeoning skills of one of the newest and freshest voices in fantasy

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Diverse, interesting cast of characters; conceit of the Craftverse transplants nicely to yet another new setting; pacing is improved from previous novels.
CONS: Although not a direct sequel, novel doesn’t stand on its own well.
BOTTOM LINE: The Craft Sequence gets better in this third volume, but it’s not the place to start your engagement with this world and characters.

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Hard to believe that is is the first Friday in July. And Independence Day (here in the ol’ U.S. of A.) to boot!

It hardly seems that long ago that I was sitting in this same chair, in much colder climes, writing about the stories I was nominating for this year’s Hugo Awards.

Now here we are, less than a month away from the deadline for voting, and all over the internet folks are talking about their picks for this year’s rocket.

In the midst of today’s festivities, I would encourage you to take the time to check out the four entries for this year’s Hugo Award for Best Short Story.

There are four very strong contenders that not only represent new (or newer) voices in speculative fiction, but the stories are also very much a reflection of the social and cultural issues prevalent in the science fiction community and in the world at large. There is nothing of what I would consider a long-held “standard” Hugo short story here.

While there are some similarities in theme, each story is uniquely its own and is different enough from its fellow contestants to make reading them truly pleasurable. It also makes it that much harder to decide which to vote top honors.

All four stories are available for you to read online for free and are well worth your time.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: Buckell continues to explore the near future world of Arctic Rising with a distinctly excellent focus on the Caribbean.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Interestingly drawn and well-depicted main character; amazingly immersive setting.
CONS: A point or two of motivations and setting need a bit fleshing out; a couple of off-the-shelf elements of the genre jar against inventiveness; lightness of genre may turn off some genre readers.
BOTTOM LINE: A science fiction thriller set in a startlingly plausible and intriguing future.

Prudence “Roo” Jones thought he was out of the game. He is so very wrong.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: Returning to the world of The Blackdog, Johansen crafts half of a story continuing the machinations of wizards, devils and Gods.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: At the trading city of Marakand, a Goddess’ move to build an Empire draws the attention of assassins, devils, and stranger folk.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Welcome return to a rich, diverse, secondary world fantasy that looks beyond the usual Western European models; gorgeous writing.
CONS: Pacing needs work; title of the book is misleading; feels like half of a story rather than a self-contained one.
BOTTOM LINE: While not without issues, this is a pleasing step back into a fantasy world and characters that beg for more exposure.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: A portal fantasy that excellently leverages the author’s penchant for strong characters, evocative description and vivid worldbuilding.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: Sophie Hansa inadvertently finds herself transported from modern San Francisco to the parallel world of Stormwrack. The secrets of her own origins in this strange watery world are but a small thread in a tangle of politics and conspiracy.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strong characters (especially female characters); interesting and evocative worldbuilding; tasty, complicated politics.
CONS: Portal Fantasy may be passé to some readers; the book could use a map and glossary.
BOTTOM LINE: A bright and clear view to an interesting world with an engaging heroine who is our entry ticket into it.

No good deed goes unpunished. One minute, Sophie is trying to help her birth mother, who, on a weekend where her adoptive parents are away, she’s decided to try to track down and meet. Next minute, a fight at her mother’s doorstep goes weird, and Sophie finds herself treading water in an ocean, but its not the Pacific Ocean outside her San Francisco home. She’s on another world, where the people are hauntingly familiar, even if they speak a foreign language. And they are aware of and dismissive of the more technologically advanced Earth next door. What connection does Sophie have with this world of Stormwrack? Why does it seem that people know who and what Sophie and her family is,here, even if she doesn’t know herself. Can Sophie learn to navigate the dangerous currents of the politics and conspiracy that she has been dropped into? Or even be allowed to stay rather than being bundled back to Earth? A.M. Dellamonica explores Sophie’s story in Child of a Hidden Sea.
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