Book Review Archives

BOOK REVIEW: Beyond the Rift by Peter Watts

REVIEW SUMMARY: A strong collection of short fiction that shows the author’s versatility and range at shorter lengths. (”The Things“ opens a strong selection of the best of an underrated writer.)

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A collection of fourteen stories written by Peter Watts.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Excellent stories that highlight the author’s versatility and strengths in writing science fiction.
CONS: Story order might have been rejiggered to better impact.
BOTTOM LINE: A chance to delve into Watts’ work and find out what the fuss is all about.

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AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: A Discourse in Steel by Paul S. Kemp

REVIEW SUMMARY: The second novel in the tales of Egil and Nix significantly ups the stakes and showcases Kemp’s skills in writing Sword and Sorcery.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Adventurers Egil and Nix novel face off against a mobilized Thieves Guild with a deadly agenda.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: High quality action scenes; excellent chemistry between the main characters; real choices with real consequences; immensely entertaining; excellent audiobook narration.
CONS: Some more specifics on one of the main characters would help drive the themes of the novel even more strongly.
BOTTOM LINE: This second Egil and Nix novel improves upon the first.

Thieves Guilds are nothing but trouble. Even when they aren’t sucking the lifeblood of a city like Dur Follin, they are scheming amongst themselves for status. When a coup against the head of the Thieves Guild leaves their friend a eyewitness to be eliminated, adventurers Egil and Nix find themselves wrapped up yet again in matters way above their heads. Taking on an entire Thieves Guild? That’s going to be the easy part. The soul-sucking magical alleyway in Dur Follin and the deadly swamp down river? Now those are going to be the real problems for the duo.
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BOOK REVIEW: Cyberstorm by Matthew Mather

REVIEW SUMMARY: Contemporary era thriller with a preference for over-dramatized responses to tense and dire situations. Good for a quick read if you like that sort of thing, but not for readers looking for characters to sympathize with or prose to remember.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Mike Mitchell has a problem. His wife is struggling to fit her old-money roots alongside Mike’s blue-collar foundations, and his career plan isn’t shaping up to help matters much. Also, the power is out, the water is off, it’s New York’s worst blizzard since the Ice Age, and the entire city is about to find itself up the Hudson River without so much as a folded paper sailboat.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Cyberstorm is rich with tension and peril; there’s no trouble sympathizing with New Yorkers trying to survive in the midst of a massive systems failure during one of the worst snowstorms on record; national and international response to the crisis feels authentic and believable; pacing is spot-on with breaks in the action and detours into subplots blended seamlessly with the main narrative.
CONS: The characters in Cyberstorm were dull and half-formed, serving only to be placeholders; other than Mike, everyone else seemed to wait in the wings for their moment and otherwise lingered around so Mike had someone to talk to or look at; women, in particular, got very short shrift in this story; Mather overdoes the gore and amplifies people’s responses to desperation; the conclusion was also a complete let-down.
BOTTOM LINE: As a thriller-adventure story, Cyberstorm will appeal to readers of mainstream contemporary thrillers. With warnings aplenty about what might happen if we’re not careful, Cyberstorm has the pacing, action, technical details, and political intrigue to satisfy readers looking for a story that hints at dangers in our modern computer- and information-dependent landscape. If you’re looking for a speculative fiction escape into the realms of possibility with memorable characters and exciting prose, look elsewhere.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Diamond Deep by Brenda Cooper

REVIEW SUMMARY: The second half of the Ruby’s Song duology continues the weighty themes of the first novel and continues the focus on character drama.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The Creative Fire, generation ship and home to Ruby and her fellow crew, returns back to its home solar system and finds itself embroiled in power struggles on the eponymous space station.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Continues the strong character-based fiction and evocation of themes of the previous novel; stands well on its own despite being the second part of a duology.
CONS: Some world building elements feel underdone.
BOTTOM LINE: A fitting end to Ruby’s Song.
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Short Fiction Friday: Lightspeed Issue 42, November 2013

REVIEW SUMMARY: This week’s Short Fiction Friday looks at the Original Short Science Fiction and Fantasy offerings in the latest issue of Lightspeed. The November issue has additional reprint short stories as well as nonfiction and exclusive extras in the ebook addition.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SUMMARY: Four nicely-paced original works of short genre fiction that offer ideas sure to stir the imagination.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strong science fictional aspects, even in the original fantasy selections; wide variety in style and subject matter; solid nod to two classic science fiction authors; offerings demonstrate that short story writers haven’t forgotten that stories can be fun.
CONS: Purists might feel the two original works of fantasy contain too many science fictional leanings.
BOTTOM LINE: The original fiction presented in the November issue of Lightspeed showcases the variety in subject matter and style that makes engaging in short fiction so pleasurable.  Not every story will work for every reader but the stories chosen demonstrate a proficiency with the medium that allows the ideas, and in some cases the characters, to shine through.

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BOOK REVIEW: Generation V by M.L. Brennan

REVIEW SUMMARY: An entertaining and thoughtful urban fantasy thriller.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Vampire and college graduate Fortitude Scott must embrace the supernatural world he has so long avoided in order to stop a vicious monster.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Great characters, great dialogue, great themes.
CONS: Forgettable villain, lead character is occasionally eclipsed by support.
BOTTOM LINE: This is a strong debut with a lot of heart, with an interesting take on the vampire mythos.

I haven’t had a whole lot of time for reading lately (blasphemy, I know) but I was recently able to finish M.L. Brennan’s Generation V and boy-howdy was it a fun novel! I’m not big on vampires. I don’t find them as boring as zombies but they’ve never appealed to me like other monsters. I do love the movie 30 Days of Night for making vampires frightening (perhaps I should check out the comic) and Jonathan Maberry’s portrayal of blood suckers in Assassin’s Code is insanely awesome. Brennan’s vampires are extremely interesting in a completely different way.
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REVIEW SUMMARY: 7 standout stories + 18 good stories – 4 stories mediocre or worse = a good collection on par with previous editions.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Editor Gardner Dozois’ picks for the twenty-nine best science fiction stories of 2012.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: 25 stories worth reading, 7 of which were outstanding; exposure to new writers and writing styles; the multitude of ideas.
CONS: A small handful of stories just didn’t do it for me.
BOTTOM LINE: A worthwhile anthology providing a good snapshot of the year in science fiction for 2012.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirtieth Annual Collection is the 2013 edition showcasing editor Gardner Dozois’ picks for the twenty-nine best sf stories of 2012. The newest edition — See also my reviews of previous editions: #19, #20, #21, #22, #23, #24, #25, #26, #27, #28, and #29 — is just as enjoyable as past volumes, which is to say that some stories will be enjoyed more than others. But as I’ve stated before, the benefit of short fiction is more than just enjoying the story, it’s sampling new writers and being exposed to new ideas and writing styles — and this volume scores big on that front.

That said, some stories did work better for me. The best in this anthology were:
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BOOK REVIEW: The Prince of Lies by Anne Lyle

REVIEW SUMMARY: The ending to the Alchemist of Souls trilogy decisively builds on the foundation of its predecessors.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The story of Mal, Coby, Ned and Gabriel leads to final confrontations over the future of England, and themselves.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Evolving and complicated relationships between the protagonists; convincingly complicated landscape of characters; memorable action scenes.
CONS: Focus and subject matter slightly unexpected; long time frame of novel, while realistic, dilutes story impact.
BOTTOM LINE: A good ending to what will hopefully be the first of many trilogies from the author.

Guisers, why did it have to be guisers?

The Alchemist of Souls, the debut novel from Anne Lyle, reads like an urban fantasy set in a alternate historical London. The Merchant of Dreams, its sequel, reads like an epic fantasy set in a range of locations from London to Venice, expanding the story and world of The Alchemist of Souls. Now, The Prince of Lies finishes Lyle’s trilogy.

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Short Fiction Friday: Recent Selections from Tor.com

REVIEW SUMMARY: To welcome November, Short Fiction Friday focuses on two of the latest free fiction selections from Tor.com.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SUMMARY: The two stories reviewed this week focus on two different stages in the lives of young girls, one that examines disappointment and regret over birthday wishes not granted and the other looks at an adolescent girl whose coming-of-age changes are reflected in a series of strange and unsettling events at her house by the sea.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Tight, solid prose; well-written female protagonists; seasonal sentiments are present in both stories with one having a nicely wicked thread of humor.
CONS: None for me folks, I liked these both very much.
BOTTOM LINE: These two October 2013 offerings from Tor.com provide two different emotional experiences for the reader: one is mysterious and creepy and has some nice depth to sink one’s teeth into in regards to discussion points, the other is wry and a bit twisted but also very sweet without resorting to saccharine sentiment.  The characters are easy to relate to and the prose is skillfully wrought.  Don’t miss these.

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BOOK REVIEW: We Will Destroy Your Planet by David McIntee

REVIEW SUMMARY: The how-to guide for extra-terrestrials and time-travelers bent on conquering Earth.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Intended as a guide for extra-terrestrials and time-travellers who have an eye to taking over the Earth, this book provides a run-down on the planet’s military defenses, terrain, and place in the universe, and gives advice on how to annihilate us all.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Filled with fascinating facts and pieces of trivia about Earth and the solar system.
CONS: Inconsistent audience assumptions; often switched from talking to prospective conquerors to people who’ve watched a lot of sci-fi TV; over-reliance on a hard-sciences approach to the exclusion of much biological and psychological data.
BOTTOM LINE: An interesting approach to the trivia presented; educational, even if it was lacking and suffered from a bit of an identity crisis.

Intended as a manual for extraterrestrial forces to aid them in taking over Earth, We Will Destroy Your Planet takes a look at the astronomy of our solar system, Earth’s best military forces, our ways of resistance, and various other pieces of information that would be invaluable to an invading conquering force.
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REVIEW SUMMARY: This week’s Short Fiction Friday features two selections of science fiction with a sinister vibe, the opening story from Peter Watts’ forthcoming collection, Beyond the Rift, and a story from the recently released anthology In Space No One Can Hear You Scream.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SUMMARY: Parasitic extraterrestrials feature in both of this week’s stories; one visits Earth and finds it a hostile place while the other chooses a pet from among Earth’s population only to discover that a pre-teen girl may not have been the wisest choice.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Strong prose in the Watts’ story; engaging young character in Daniel’s tale; fun takes on the alien-as-parasite trope.

CONS: Final line in one story is potentially offensive and may color what is an otherwise good story.

BOTTOM LINE: An alternate viewpoint of John Carpenter’s The Thing makes for a page-turning read and Tony Daniel’s story, chosen at random, provides a nice comparison as each story examines the idea of aliens assimilating mankind for their own reasons.  One story looks at things from the alien point of view while the other shows the tenacity of a young lady to remain fully human.  Both were enjoyable and worth checking out as further examples of science fiction with a frightful edge.

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MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: A collection of fantasy stories from voices familiar and unfamiliar that explores the titular theme in diverse ways.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Some relatively strong stories; an anthology theme that despite previous volume still has a lot of story potential; extremely character-focused fiction; a good collection of authors both familiar and unfamiliar.
CONS: A fair proportion of the stories did not work for me; the collection might be overlong.
BOTTOM LINE: A an overall good collection of fantasy short stories.

The epic battle to save the world has been won. The ancient evil has been defeated. The cursed artifact has been thrown into the elemental pole of fire. The enemy army has been vanquished. The opposing horde has been fought to a stalemate, and an status quo ante bellum has been reached. Or perhaps, for all of their heroism, the hero has failed and has to live with the personal and public consequences of that failure.

What happens now? Can a hero really go home again? With the transformative experience of their adventure, their heroism, their act of bravery or sacrifice, their success, draw or defeat, do they even fit at home anymore? And what happens when those worlds collide?
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BOOK REVIEW: The Scroll of Years by Chris Willrich

REVIEW SUMMARY: An entertaining and inventive sword and sorcery novel with memorable settings and characters.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Bone and Gaunt, a thief and a poet, journeying to a mysterious land to elude the implacable assassins behind them, find themselves in the coils of the politics and mythology tying into Bone’s unborn child.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Innovative structure; beautiful flowing writing; interesting premise.
CONS: Pregnant status of Bone sometimes sidelines her from the action as a character with agency too much; ending is problematic.
BOTTOM LINE: An entertaining entry into a sword and sorcery world and its characters.

Picaresque stories rise and fall on the strength of their protagonists and the settings in which they find themselves. If the roguish characters are not appealing or distinctive, the story loses its power to charm and the reader loses interest. Fortunately that is not the case in Chris Willrich’s first novel The Scroll of Years, which features Imago Bone (a thief who has not aged for 70 years) and Persimmon Gaunt (a magic-device-using poet) who go to interesting places like Qiangguo, a realm based on mythic, wuxia flavored China. Oh, and did I mention that they are a romantic couple, and most unusually for fantasy fiction, Gaunt is pregnant with their child? Furthermore, that child’s destiny has connections to the realm from which they have fled? They are being chased by the Night’s Auditors, implacable and possibly invulnerable mage-assassins. How’s that for distinctive?

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Short Fiction Friday: Stories The Go Bump in the Night

REVIEW SUMMARY: Four recently published (or reprinted) chilling science fiction tales to read on a dark and stormy night.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Interesting comparison between classic and contemporary short sci-fright fiction; satisfying glimpses into two authors’ ongoing literary worlds; solid pacing; good examples to whet the appetite to buy the publications in which the stories are featured.
CONS: Three of the four reviewed stories undoubtedly have a greater impact if the reader is familiar with other stories written in those worlds.
BOTTOM LINE: Seasonally-appropriate science fiction tales from capable authors that work well within their word-count restraints and satisfy the reader looking for science fiction with an eerie edge.

Given that Halloween is not too far away I thought I would spend the next few Fridays featuring science fiction/fantasy shorts of the thrilling variety.  For this week’s selections I chose two stories from the recently released Baen collection In Space No One Can Hear You Scream and two from the October/November 2013 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction.

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REVIEW SUMMARY:The Hugo Award winner from 2012 comes across as a fun and light listen when combined with the audio talents of Wil Wheaton.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Ensign Andrew Dahl, new crewmember on a ship of the Universal Union of Planets, slowly learns that the nature of his reality is stranger than he imagined.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Humorous writing, breezy dialogue and action married to the perfect narrator for the source material.
CONS: The three codas of the novel really feel like padding; non-Star Trek fans are going to find no purchase here.
BOTTOM LINE: An entertaining novel that really comes across well in audio form.

Andrew Dahl is a new officer on the Universal Union ship Intrepid, the flagship of this far future interstellar polity. He quickly learns that there are strange things going on the ship. Co-workers avoid away missions, and the senior staff of the ship in general, like the plague. A mysterious figure in the bowels of the ship provides cryptic warnings and advice. Dahl, and his new shipmates seem to have a target painted on their back. And just what is that mysterious gadget in Xenobiology, really? The answer to Dahl’s investigations, in the novel Redshirts by John Scalzi, is a metafictional trip down the rabbit hole.

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BOOK REVIEW: Odd Men Out by Matt Betts

REVIEW SUMMARY: In his debut novel, Matt Betts successfully mashes up a whole lotta things that wouldn’t usually go together.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Entertaining and fast-paced Civil War era alternate history mashes up steampunk, zombies, and pop culture references.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Amusing pop culture references are smoothly and slyly put into the narrative; the story is wildly imaginative, yet feels plausible; dialog is fun and at times laugh-out-loud funny.
CONS: Light on world building and characterization; short chapters made it hard to keep track of everything that was going on; final action sequence was predictable.
BOTTOM LINE: A fun and entertaining mash-up that’s not without a few issues, but shows that the author has plenty of potential.
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Wondrous Wit Smackdown! The Pleasure of Witty Repartee

What is it about witty banter that thrills our souls so? How is it that some stories may be weak on plot, on action, or lack a compelling setting, yet they can still rivet us so long as a silver-tongued duo is at the center of the scene? Of course, it’s so much better if the plot and action and setting are all backed up or enhanced by character interactions. There’s something incredibly pleasing about the lobbing back and forth of subtle insults (or not-so-subtle) or the casual joking of characters as they dash headlong into danger, using humor as their way to avoid directly admitting that they might die at any instant at the hands of whatever monster or fiend they may be facing.

Banter often also can be a way that two characters who, on the surface, appear to have an intense distaste for one another, are still able to convey a grudging fondness or even admiration for one another that they would rather not have others pick up on overtly. Let’s admit that a battle of wits can often be more exciting and entertaining than a clash of swords! So let’s look at several stories where the banter brings a grin to even the grimmest of circumstances.
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AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: The Merchant of Dreams by Anne Lyle

REVIEW SUMMARY: A solid sequel to Alchemist of Souls that expands on the first novel in terms of both location and character.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The enemies of Mal, Coby, Ned and Gabriel lead all four to adventures abroad and confrontations in La Serenissima, Venice.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Venice as a character; successful expansion of the scope of the first novel; excellent and engaging narration.
CONS: A few plot contrivances weaken the through line somewhat; a character beat seems odd in retrospect.
BOTTOM LINE: A worthy middle volume to an exciting trilogy.

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Short Fiction Friday: “The Symphony of Ice and Dust” by Julie Novakova

REVIEW SUMMARY: A discussion/review of the longer of the three original works of fiction featured in the October 2013 issue of Clarkesworld. This issue also contains two works of classic reprint short fiction as well as nonfiction articles.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In humanity’s far-distant future an exploratory mission to the planet Sedna reveals the presence of a human visitation some 11,000 years earlier along with an even more surprising discovery.

MY REVIEW
PROS: Plausible science layered in accessible prose; world-building sans the info-dump; ideas that spark the imagination.
CONS: One abrupt moment that could have been teased out a little further.
BOTTOM LINE: My first experience with the work of Julie Novakova results in a story worth singling out for a solo review.  Novakova presents a plausible view of future space travel and exploration that abandons the standard space adventure tropes (of which I am admittedly a fan) while generating a level of daydream-inducing fiction that will remind some readers of the science fictional stories that made them a fan of the genre in the first place.

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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.

MY RATING:

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.

MY REVIEW:
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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