Book Review Archives

REVIEW SUMMARY: This anthology makes a good argument for why you should be reading short fiction.

MY RATING:

[Note: When rating an anthology, I usually weight the stories according to length: novellas count twice as much as novelettes, which count twice as much as short stories. Since I did not know for sure the lengths of the stories in this anthology, I weighted each one equally.]

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: 16 original stories of science fiction.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: 4 standout stories; variety of styles and sub-genres.

CONS: 2 weaker stories.

BOTTOM LINE: More good stories than bad; worth the read if only to sample the variety sf has to offer.

The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction is the first book to be published by the Solaris imprint and aims to serve as their manifesto: to publish “outstanding science fiction and fantasy, whatever the form.” Like a large majority of anthologies, your story mileage may vary, but overall, they are off to a really good start.

The book’s brief introduction talks about science fiction’s short form and it is clear that editor George Mann values the “sparkling gems” the format produces. He succinctly cites what’s so exciting about the short form: the “single conceit”, neatly packaged for the bite-size consumption, long enough to explore that single idea (though some stories here could have used an extra page or two to provide better closure) and sometimes the launch pad for linked or longer stories. Short fiction delivers sense of wonder in its purest form.

Perhaps more important to regular short fiction readers is the publication of a promising new anthology that doesn’t add to the already-crowded “Best of…” or themed anthology set, but instead offers a various sampling of what the science fiction genre can accomplish. There are indeed many “gems” here. Standout stories included “C-Rock City” by Jay Lake & Greg van Eekhout, “The Bowdler Strain” by James Lovegrove, “Last Contact” by Stephen Baxter and “Third Person” by Tony Ballantyne.

Reviewlettes of the stories follow….

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REVIEW: Eric by Terry Pratchett

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Eric is Pratchett’s novel parodying the classic tale of Faust.

PROS: Some amusing bits

CONS: Not as funny as other books, very short book.

BOTTOM LINE: Aside from continuing the adventures of everyone’s favorite Wizzard, Eric just doesn’t hold up compared to other Discworld books.

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REVIEW: D.A. by Connie Willis

REVIEW SUMMARY: D.A. reads like Robert A. Heinlein on speed!

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Theodora Baumgarten is erroneously enrolled as an IASA space cadet and subsequently tries to find out why.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Fast-moving story; Willis’ writing style is thoroughly engaging and highly entertaining.

CONS: Somewhat predictable, especially for fans of Heinlein’s juveniles, to which this story pays homage.

BOTTOM LINE: An excellent novella.

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REVIEW:Bright Of The Sky by Kay Kenyon

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Former starship pilot Titus Quinn is coerced into returning to the mysterious realm, the Entire, by the Miranda corporation. Miranda wants Titus to discover a way to use the Entire as a shortcut for interstellar travel. Titus has other ideas.

PROS: Unique setting both physically and societally; Titus Quinn is a compelling anti-hero.

CONS: Some clunky writing; a drawn out ending; weaker secondary characters.

BOTTOM LINE: Bright Of The Sky effortlessly blends science fiction concepts and world-building with fantasy story telling to create a unique and intriguing whole.

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REVIEW: Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett

REVIEW SUMMARY: Pratchett’s clever wit and humor throughout a story of time manipulation.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Two Monks of History and the granddaughter of Death race to stop a young genius from completing the perfect clock – one that will halt time as we know it.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Pratchett’s humor is in typical form – a chortle, guffaw or snort on practically every page; some light philosophy.

CONS: A bit of re-used humor.

BOTTOM LINE: Good additon to the Discworld line.

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REVIEW: The Plot to Save Socrates by Paul Levinson

REVIEW SUMMARY: Intricately-plotted time travel with a little philosophy thrown in for good measure.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Graduate student Sierra Waters travels back in time to learn the true identity of Heron of Alexandria and to save the philosopher Socrates from his tragic appointment with a cup of hemlock.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Wonderfully intricate plotting; historically accurate and, thus, unexpectedly educational.

CONS: Light on characterization; characters had little regard for safety or implications time travel.

BOTTOM LINE: A thinking person’s time travel story.

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REVIEW: Larklight by Philip Reeve

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Art and Myrtle Mumby adventure throughout the solar system in search of the reasons behind a Sider attack on their home, Larklight.

PROS: Very cool setting, humor and wit abound, interesting characters, non-stop adventure!

CONS: Some violence and death.

BOTTOM LINE: Larklight is a fantastic novel for young and old readers alike. If you like anything Steampunk, you’ll love Larklight.

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REVIEW: Gods and Pawns by Kage Baker

REVIEW SUMMARY: A good collection of bite-size morsels to whet your appetite for more Company stories.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: 7 stories (3 novellas, 2 novelettes and 2 short stories) set in Baker’s Company universe.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: 2 top-notch stories; offers tantalizing glimpses into the bigger universe told across the novels.

CONS: One of the two new stories for this collection is not nearly as strong as its counterparts.

BOTTOM LINE: Serves as a good introduction into Baker’s Company universe.

First, a confession. I have not yet read any of Kage Baker’s Company novels. Why the heck, you might ask, would I be reading a book of stories set in that universe?

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REVIEW: New Dreams for Old by Mike Resnick

REVIEW SUMMARY: Makes me want to read more of his work.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A collection of 20 short fiction works by Mike Resnick; many of them award winners and nominees.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: 17 stories good or better, 7 of them excellent.

CONS: 3 stories hovering around the mediocre range.

BOTTOM LINE: An above-average collection of stories featuring many award winners and nominees.

Over the past couple of years, I have read a small handful of Mike’s Resnick’s short fiction and every single one of them received relatively high marks. When I realized this, I was eager to dive into some more. (Let alone, for the moment, the longer fiction of his that I’d like to read like Kirinyaga and the Starship series.)

New Dreams for Old is a 2006 collection of Resnick’s short fiction. Together, the twenty stories have won 2 Hugo Awards and 11 Hugo or Nebula Award nominations. (Factoid: According to The Locus Index to Science Fiction Awards, Mike Resnick has earned the fourth-highest number of award nominations – behind Ursula K. Le Guin, Harlan Ellison and Connie Willis – when considering all awards that the Index tracks.) That award tally is impressive and after reading the stories I can see why.

Simply put, Resnick writes “people” stories that carry quite an emotional impact. Instead of far-flung, hard science fiction that deals with impersonal concepts, these stories are endearingly personal. Resnick writes from the heart and with heart thus making an instant connection with the reader.

There are an amazingly high number of top-quality stories in New Dreams for Old. Standouts included “Robots Don’t Cry”, “Travels with My Cats”, “A Princess of Earth”, “Guardian Angel”, “For I Have Touched the Sky”, “Mwalimu in the Squared Circle” and “Keepsakes”. Even the story I least enjoyed – and that only because I did not see the movie Casablanca on which it was based – was not bad.

Reviewlettes of the stories follow, with links to online versions where available…

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REVIEW: Sourcery by Terry Pratchett

(See the main Pratchett story table here.)

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A Sourceror is loose on the Discworld and its up to Rincewind and friends to stop him and reassert Magic’s place in the (Disc)world.

PROS: Interesting characters, strong plot, typical Pratchett humor.

CONS: The antagonist could have been fleshed out more, story seems to wander towards the end.

BOTTOM LINE: Another fine entry in the Discworld series.

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REVIEW: The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett

MY RATING:

(See the main Pratchett index here.)

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The continuing adventure of Rincewind, Twoflower and The Luggage as they make their way back to Ankh-Morpork.

PROS: More funny and interesting characters, full of Pratchett’s signature witty and humorous writing.

CONS: A bit ambiguous at the climax, otherwise, not much.

BOTTOM LINE: A very strong Discworld novel.

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REVIEW: No Dominion by Charlie Huston

REVIEW SUMMARY: More engaging vampire noir.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Vampire Joe Pitt tracks down the source of a new drug that’s strong enough to affect vampires.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: The writing style makes for quick, engaging reading; the noir atmosphere.

CONS: Mired down a bit too long in intra-clan politics for my taste, even though it was essential to the story.

BOTTOM LINE: I want more and I want them sooner.

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REVIEW: The Color Of Magic by Terry Pratchett

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The first Discworld novel follows the adventures of Rincewind the Wizzard and Twoflowers, the Disc’s first tourist.

PROS: Great characters, interesting setting, humorous writing.

CONS: Very disjointed, not up to par with later books.

BOTTOM LINE: A good intro to Discworld, but there are better books out there.

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REVIEW: Final Impact by John Birmingham

REVIEW SUMMARY: Continuing the quality of effort from the previous book, Birmingham delivers on a quality ending to a complicated trilogy.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The task force from the future introduced in the work Weapons of Choice, continues to deal with the impact of its arrival and, most importantly, the continuation of the fight against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. The politics of nations takes center stage here as the planet deals with the new ending to WW2 and the significantly different history of the Soviet Union.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Excellent thoughts on the behavior of Stalin, Yamamoto, Roosevelt, and others when confronted with the major changes in the world brought about by the technology of the future.

CONS: Perhaps a bit gratuitous in parts – but war is hell.

BOTTOM LINE: The final 2 books in this trilogy make it overall very solid and worth your time if you are interested in military fiction of this type.

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REVIEW: The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett

REVIEW SUMMARY: Someone please tell me this series gets better!

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The misadventures of incompetent magician Rincewind who acts as a guide for the rich-but-naïve tourist named Twoflower.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: “The Lure of the Wyrm” was the strongest story; well-conceived world.

CONS: Not as funny as expected; uneven stories, some of which hovered near mediocrity.

BOTTOM LINE: Considering the expectations fueled by the series hype, this was a letdown.

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REVIEW: The Brass Man by Neal Asher

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The continuing adventures of Polity Agent Ian Cormac as he tries apprehend the terrorist Skellor, deals with remnants of Dragon and meets an old foe thought destroyed in Mr. Crane, the brass man of the title.

PROS: Interesting universe and characters.

CONS: Very violent, choppy story threads, somewhat overcomplicated and long, plot centered at expense of characters.

BOTTOM LINE: A decent entry into the Polity universe, but doesn’t quite live up to Gridlinked.

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REVIEW: Fugitives Of Chaos by John C. Wright

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Five school ‘children’ attempt to escape their school grounds and discover the full potential of their powers.

PROS: Strong philosophical discussions of different supernatural power paradigms, snappy/witty dialogue, intriguing main characters.

CONS: Suffers from being the middle book, last half if basically one long ‘chase’ sequence with little actual chasing.

BOTTOM LINE: Fugitives Of Chaos is a worthy addition to this series, especially if you enjoy Wright’s wide-ranging and deeply philosophical writing style.

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REVIEW: Already Dead by Charlie Huston

REVIEW SUMMARY: Engaging vampire noir. With zombies!

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Joe Pitt, vampire for hire, must find a carrier of the dreaded virus and a socialite’s missing daughter.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: The bleak-but-tasty noir feel; accessible and engaging writing style; realistic depiction of the effects of the virus.

CONS: Joe needed some more backbone; lack of quotes on dialogue sometimes caused unwelcome pauses in reading.

BOTTOM LINE: A refreshing and fun book.

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REVIEW: The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

REVIEW SUMMARY: Reading this classic was long overdue.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Gully Foyle seeks vengeance on those who refused to rescue him from his derelict ship, the Nomad.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Textured prose; swift-moving plot; memorable main character; inventive and well thought-out societal backdrop.

CONS: A minor one: Foyle’s feelings for Olivia seem unfounded.

BOTTOM LINE: If you haven’t read this yet, do so.

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REVIEW: Project U.L.F. by Stuart Clark

REVIEW SUMMARY:Excellent sci-fi thriller that offers a ride reminiscent of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An ex-con turned animal hunter is thrust onto a very dangerous planet and forced to rally his rag-tag team of misfits into a fight for their very lives.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Very well written action sequences, overall pacing is excellent

CONS: Some characters are openly stereotypical, dream element heavy-handed

BOTTOM LINE: Well worth the time if you enjoy a bit of thrill along with your pulpy science fiction.

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