Miles Vorkosigan is used to having difficulties with his physical body — he makes up for this by being smarter than almost everyone around him. But inMiles Vorkosigan is used to having difficulties with his physical body — he makes up for this by being smarter than almost everyone around him. But in Memory, for the first time Miles is dealing with mental handicaps, too. So is his boss, Simon Illyan. This story is painful as we watch these two brilliant men have to give up the parts of themselves that they think define them. In fact, this happens for other characters, too. It takes a little while to get going, but in the end there’s a lot of change for everyone in Memory.
More than anything, Kip Russell wants to go to the moon, and that means he needs to go to college first — the best college he can manage to get into and pay for. So, with the encouragement of his father, who has (gleefully) pointed out the deficiencies in Kip’s public education (and complained extensively about taxes), Kip educates himself and works hard to earn money. When he enters a slogan contest for a national soap company, he hopes to win the money he needs for tuition, but instead he wins an old space suit which he engineers into a functional suit.
During a trial run in his new decked-out suit, Kip gets picked up by ugly evil aliens. On their spaceship he meets an eleven year old American girl named PeeWee and a cute cuddly alien they call The Mother Thing. Kip, PeeWee and The Mother Thing must foil the plans of the evil aliens. In the process Kip, who thought all he ever wanted to do was go to the moon, goes on a universe-spanning adventure and ends up on trial representing the human race.
Have Space Suit — Will Travel is another of Robert A. Heinlein’s appealing children’s space adventures. Most of them have intelligent and hard-working young protagonists (both male and female), are fast-paced and exciting, and most of them try to Say Something About Life. Often there’s a less-than-subtle attempt to indoctrinate kids with a bit of libertarian propaganda. In Have Space Suit — Will Travel, the virtues of education, hard work, and courage are extolled while taxes and public education are maligned. Thoughtful children may notice that Kip and PeeWee are required to defend the barbarous human race in front of the more highly evolved aliens, and this is not an easy thing to do!
Have Space Suit — Will Travel isn’t one of my favorite Heinlein juveniles for a couple of reasons. It gets rather gadgety as Kip works with his spacesuit, and these technical passages tend to run on. But most objectionable is that Kip and PeeWee are hard to believe in. They are experts in pretty much every academic discipline you can think of — biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, philosophy, history, languages… I could go on. I found their vast stores of knowledge to be implausible and their smugness to be a tad annoying.
However, in general I much prefer any of Heinlein’s juveniles to his novels for adults which tend to be sexist and provocative in a creepy way (e.g., nudity, boobs, and incest are common elements). In Have Space Suit — Will Travel, the sexism is seen when Kip keeps calling PeeWee “honey” in a condescending manner, but at least this story, and many other Heinlein juveniles, feature women who are smart and/or educated.
Have Space Suit — Will Travel is likely to please the target audience and many adults, too. Besides, it’s a classic, and every SF fan should read the classics. I listened to Blackstone Audio’s recent version which is almost nine hours long and expertly read by Mark Turetsky. I thought Turetsky’s voice was perfect for this children’s story — his enthusiasm and inflection sound just like a young teenage boy....more
To get the fastest transport to a rendezvous with his new job, spacer Rohr Furland decides to take a position on The Comet. Rohr doesn’t lis3.5 stars
To get the fastest transport to a rendezvous with his new job, spacer Rohr Furland decides to take a position on The Comet. Rohr doesn’t listen to gossip, so he isn’t aware that the captain of The Comet, who styles himself Captain Future, is a nut case who can’t find a crew because nobody else will work for him. Nobody, that is, except for Jeri, a bioengineered “Superior” human who Rohr develops a crush on.Why is Jeri, who is a wonderful person and an excellent First Officer, willing to put up with this awful job?
Captain Future, obsessed with 1960s American pulp science fiction, turns out to be a tyrant. His father bought him The Comet and now he’s living out all his boyhood fantasies as the captain of a spaceship. Rohr can’t stand Captain Future, but all he has to do is make it to their next stop, where Rohr will be disembarking. But when a distress signal comes in from a spaceship that’s in trouble, The Comet is obliged to change course and go to its aid. Now, with potential danger ahead, Captain Future is really in his element!
The Death of Captain Future, by Allen Steele, is a short fun story that’s bound to please fans of old science fiction heroic adventures. I listened to it in audio format and it kept me happily entertained for two hours. Audible Frontier’s version was read by Marc Vietor, who is perfect for this sort of role. This version has an introduction by Allen Steele (read by Allen Steele) in which he talks about how Edmond Hamilton’s CAPTAIN FUTURE stories, which Steele read when he was a young boy, inspired this story. He even includes excerpts from the CAPTAIN FUTURE books in the text. Allen Steele also explains how Jeri was inspired by the girl he had a crush on in sixth grade.
The Death of Captain Future appeared in the October 1995 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction and won both a Hugo Award and a Seiun Award. It was also nominated for a Nebula and a Locus Poll Award....more
Tom and his wife are visiting London so Tom can attend an academic conference while his wife goes shopping with a friend. When Tom takes the Tube to the conference, he feels a strange wind in the Underground. It’s more than just the normal drafts created by trains coming and going; this wind smells ancient and deadly and makes him feel afraid. Skipping the conference, and forgetting to buy theater tickets, Tom spends the next couple of days riding the Tube all over (under, actually) London to try to find the origin of the winds that only he seems to feel.
Connie Willis’s The Winds of Marble Arch won the Hugo Award for Best Novella and was nominated for the World Fantasy Award for Best Novella. Like several of her stories, this one involves a time-traveling academic, except that he doesn’t actually move through time, but he senses historical events when he visits places where bad things have happened — in this case, the London Underground.
The Winds of Marble Arch gets tedious in the middle as Tom races from station to station sniffing the air, buying history books at the gift shops, and overwhelming us with information about what happened at each station during the London Blitz of WWII. This might be interesting for someone who’s familiar with all of the Tube stations, but for me it all ran together and I couldn’t appreciate all of Connie Willis’s extensive research into the history of the London Underground during WWII. There are also too many details about London theatres, actors, and plays —another favorite topic for Willis.
It’s not all just an excuse to lecture us on London Blitz history and Underground geography, though. Willis cleverly relates these bombings and the dreadful winds they created to the disastrous effects of adultery, divorce, and aging. This part of the novella is truly beautiful.
Dennis Boutsikaris superbly narrates Audible Frontiers’ version of The Winds of Marble Arch....more
Betsy Taylor is having a rough week. First she gets fired, then she gets hit by a car, and then she wakes up iORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
Betsy Taylor is having a rough week. First she gets fired, then she gets hit by a car, and then she wakes up in a coffin lined with plush pink satin (yuck!) wearing an unfashionable dress, cheap shoes, and the wrong color make-up. How embarrassing! After piecing together the clues and visiting a minister, Betsy realizes that she’s a very unusual vampire — she’s not affected by crosses, holy water, or sunlight. She does, however, need to drink blood.
Betsy is determined to make the most of her death by getting back to her normal life, but she soon discovers that the other vampires in town have expectations of her. Though she tries to stay clear of them, they will not let her rest in peace, and she ends up in the middle of a vampire clan war.
I thought that Undead and Unwed was totally not my kind of book. I don’t like sarcastic female protagonists and I don’t like vampires. I only picked up Undead and Unwed because it was cheap at Audible during one of their big sales and somebody needed to review it for the SFF review site I'm involved in. I was completely surprised, therefore, at how well it entertained me.
MaryJanice Davidson managed to make Betsy’s shallowness and over-concern about fashion amusing rather than annoying (“Being dead was no excuse to get sloppy”) and, though Betsy can be rather sarcastic, it’s mostly directed at the villains and it’s not the defining feature of her personality. The villainous vampire and his minions are completely over-the-top —the men in black tuxedoes, and the women in red lipstick and nail polish. Their leader sits on a gold-plated throne. This works so well here because the novel is aware of its campiness and Betsy is constantly commentating on their bad sense of drama and fashion. She has no respect for the vampire scene and its clichés and wants no part of their “little undead covens.” I found her to be genuinely funny.
Betsy has a couple of likeable friends who are eager to be her new sidekicks. There’s Jessica, the rich black heiress, and Mark, the gay doctor who is less disgusted with Betsy being a blood-sucking vampire than that she used to donate money to PETA. There are not many characters, but two are homosexual (one male and one female) and I can’t help but think that this is an easy way for the author to make some characters sexually off-limits. Maybe I’m wrong, and it doesn’t really matter anyway since Undead and Unwed isn’t asking us to take it seriously. Speaking of sex: it’s rather steamy.
I listened to Recorded Books’ audio version of Undead and Unwed, narrated by Nancy Wu. I didn’t like her at first because her reading started off choppy and I could hear her breathing after every sentence, but after the first chapter, she really did a great job. She doesn’t have the best male voices, but her performance for Betsy was brilliant, especially each time Betsy’s fangs started erupting.
Undead and Unwed is a cute and entertaining paranormal romance and I will pick up the next installment when I see it on sale at Audible....more
Lila Black is a high-price cyborg special agent. She used to be a regular human, but after a disastrous encounORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
Lila Black is a high-price cyborg special agent. She used to be a regular human, but after a disastrous encounter with someone from a parallel realm, she nearly died. Then she was rebuilt, at huge expense, and is now being sent by her government intelligence agency to be the bodyguard of Zal, an Elfin rockstar who has received some threatening letters. Things get complicated when Zal and Lila become involved in Elfin politics.
Justina Robson’s Keeping It Real has an intriguing premise: a nuclear bomb explosion in 2015 opened up the fabric of the universe and made five parallel worlds accessible to each other. Until then, humans had thought that elves, elementals, and demons were the stuff of fantasy novels, but now they must figure out how to live at peace with all these other species, not to mention the magic they wield.
Unfortunately, that’s about all the good I can say about Keeping It Real. The characters are shallow and unbelievable, especially the protagonist. It’s hard to accept that the government has spent billions of dollars to rescue, rehabilitate, and train Lila to be one of their best superweapons because Lila is pathetic. It’s easy to see why she was nearly killed; she is emotional, weak-willed, unprofessional, and lacks judgment — traits that don’t seem to get better after she’s given machinery to help regulate her internal states. She’s constantly angry, resentful, irritated, nervous, flustered, and always on the verge of a meltdown. While on this assignment, she is less aware of what’s going on around her than she is about how she feels about the male characters, how they feel about her, and which female characters might be jealous of her. She quickly and unthinkingly falls for two different men, letting her “heart” make important decisions about who she should trust and to whom she should give secret information. And she’s a lot more worried about her relationships than her job. Some special agent.
Another problem with Keeping It Real is the “science.” Robson seems to be asking us to take the science seriously, suggesting a rational basis for parallel worlds, discussing the way that Lila’s machinery can control the release of hormones (something it doesn’t seem to do very well, I guess) and split her consciousness so she can act sentry while sleeping, etc. This is something I’d normally enjoy, but Robson just gets stuff wrong — basic stuff like confusing brain EEG patterns while sleeping and waking. This is material that’s been in almost every high school psychology textbook for decades and is easily checked at Wikipedia. Getting it wrong really kills your credibility. Mixed with the “science” is the “wild magic” which is seen, on Lila’s electromagnetic display, as sparkly pink and purple swirls in the ether... don’t get me started.
I might have been able to forgive the aforementioned problems if the plot had entertained me, but it was dull and, frankly, often ridiculous. Where it tries to be funny or profound, it’s just silly or trite. It’s not even suitable for a juvenile audience because of the sex which we know is going to occur because Lila gets bound by an Elfin “Game” based on “sexual forfeit” within a few minutes of meeting Zal the rockstar. She didn’t even know the rules of these common Elfin Games before she took the assignment and I guess her agency didn’t bother to warn her. (Maybe they thought it was as unbelievable as I did.)
It really pained me to finish Keeping It Real. I only kept on so I could review it, though I admit that I skimmed parts by speeding up the playback of the audiobook to three times normal narration speed. The reader, Khristine Hvam, was fine, though her male voices don’t sound masculine and she reads the word “across” as “acrost” which made me cringe. But I have to give her credit for not snickering when she read the words “His body was poetry in her mouth...”...more
When Erec Rex’s adoptive mother disappears into a tunnel under a New York City sidewalk, 12-year-old2.5 stars ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
When Erec Rex’s adoptive mother disappears into a tunnel under a New York City sidewalk, 12-year-old Erec and his new friend Bethany go looking for her. Below the city streets they find a new world full of magic and enter a contest which, if they win, will make them king and queen of Alypium.
The Dragon’s Eye, the first book in Kaza Kingsley’s EREC REX series, is a fun, fast-paced children’s adventure featuring a magical world that’s hidden from modern society but can be accessed through a magical version of Grand Central station. When they get there, Erec and Bethany meet tricksy ghosts, make potions, learn a new sport, and get their own pets. They live in a castle, which is a welcome change from the closet Erec is used to sleeping in.
The magical competition involves growing gills and swimming below a lake inhabited by a sea monster to meet the race of water sprites who live there. Another task involves a hazardous maze and another requires them to steal something from a dragon. Bethany, who happens to be a math genius, gets plenty of chances to impress people with her brilliance as they complete these tasks. Although she’s only 13, she can talk intelligently about calculus and linear algebra and even uses the correct jargon, despite having no formal education. During all this, the kids must, of course, avoid the traps laid by the mean rich boy and his cronies who are eager to see them fail. There are a few adults who seem evil, too.
A big surprise to Erec (but probably not to the reader) is that his name is famous in Alypium. All this time his adoptive mother, who had magically changed his appearance, had been trying to hide him in the world of the “Losers” above, but his name gave him away when he entered their world. I couldn’t help but wonder, if she was so worried about him being found, why she didn’t change his name, too. Oh, well.
I know what you’re thinking: “This is HARRY POTTER.” But you’re wrong. This is not HARRY POTTER. And that’s its problem. Some of the story is cute, but it’s never very clever, and nearly every part of the plot has a parallel to HARRY POTTER, even down to the soul-sucking Dementors (which are called "Destroyers" in Kingsley's work). It’s full of heavy foreshadowing and all of the adults are stupid. Despite the supposed danger, we never really worry about the characters.
The Dragon’s Eye is clearly meant to appeal to youngsters who haven’t yet read HARRY POTTER, or maybe are too young for how dark HARRY POTTER can get, and that’s fine. However, it’s hard to admire a work that’s so derivative but lacks the qualities that make the imitated work so brilliant. I think that most discerning readers who love Rowling’s series will be disappointed in The Dragon’s Eye. And if it didn’t want to be compared to HARRY POTTER, it shouldn’t have copied it.
I read the audio version which was produced by Simon & Schuster Audio and narrated by Simon Jones. Mr. Jones was a terrific reader. If you're going to read The Dragon's Eye, I recommend this version.
In Delusion’s Master, the third of Tanith Lee’s FLAT EARTH novels, we’re introduced to another Prince of DarknORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
In Delusion’s Master, the third of Tanith Lee’s FLAT EARTH novels, we’re introduced to another Prince of Darkness: Chuz, the Prince of Madness, who is handsome when seen from one side and hideous when seen from the other. Chuz watches humans and uses the opportunities they give him to practice his craft: There were several doors by which Madness might enter any house; one was rage, one jealousy, one fear.
We first meet Chuz when a jealous queen tries to get rid of the baby she believes has caused the king to stop loving her. When she accidentally kills the child and her husband puts her aside, Chuz shows up to comfort her by helping her descend into madness. When he offers to grant her a wish, she asks that Chuz make her husband, the king, as mad as she is. That’s why the king decides to build a tower to heaven where he will wage war on the gods. Everyone knows that pride comes before the fall so, sure enough, disaster strikes the land. This sets off a string of strange events that have the demons, once again, meddling in the affairs of men.
The beautiful demon Azhrarn, from the first two FLAT EARTH books, continues to be a main character. When he becomes involved in Chuz’s doings on earth, we see Azhrarn get his feelings hurt, seek revenge, fall in love, and have a child. The demons are not like the uncaring gods above — they are passionate creatures. Occasionally they can be tender and compassionate with favored mortals, but their fickle emotions can suddenly turn to vanity, petty jealousy, and hate. And then the humans suffer.
Delusion’s Master is quite a bit shorter than Night’s Master and Death’s Master and Chuz, the title character, isn’t nearly as interesting as Azhrarn, but fortunately we get plenty of Azhrarn here. All of the FLAT EARTH tales have been dark, but Delusion’s Master actually gets uncomfortable because it includes baby killing, rape, and the torture of a mentally disabled girl. The imagery is vivid and I admit that I squirmed. Still, Tanith Lee continues to enchant us with the exotic setting and peerlessly gorgeous writing.
There are several biblical allusions in this installment: the Tower of Babel, the Flood, redemption of humanity through death, and man’s natural hatred of snakes. The most beautiful moment in the book is when Azhrarn goes up to the Earth to find out why men hate snakes and then, as a favor to snakes, sets out to make them more palatable to humans.
I’m still enjoying this series on audio. Susan Duerden’s narration gets even better with each book. Each also has an interesting introduction by Tanith Lee. In this one she talks about how her mother influenced her writing....more
Sal and his father have been on the run from something for as long as Sal can remember. Now they’ve come to thORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
Sal and his father have been on the run from something for as long as Sal can remember. Now they’ve come to the seaside town of Fundelry and it seems like Sal’s father may finally be giving up. Sal doesn’t know what they’ve been running from, or what happened to his mother, who left them when he was young. Most of the townsfolk are suspicious of the newcomers, but Lodo the hermit and his young apprentice Shilly take an interest in Sal. Under their tutelage, Sal learns that he has some blossoming magical powers, which might be what his father has been trying to keep concealed. He must learn to control these powers before the Sky Wardens can find him.
The Stone Mage & The Sea is the first novel in Sean Williams’ young adult series called THE CHANGE. Despite the familiar young-boy-discovers-he’s-got-a-destiny type of YA epic fantasy elements, The Stone Mage & The Sea has some unique qualities to praise. The setting, for one. Rather than the familiar European medieval setting, the world of THE CHANGE appears to be influenced by Sean Williams’ native Australia. Red inland deserts, where the Stone Mages practice their craft, give way to sandy dunes as we approach the sea where Sky Wardens use seagull spies to hunt for youngsters with burgeoning talent. The technological status of this society is intriguingly unclear. Sal’s father has a motorized dunebuggy, but it’s the only one we see, and it seems to be the highest form of technology available in this world.
Williams’ plot and characters are engaging and his writing is solid, though it lacks even a trace of humor. It will appeal most to its target YA audience. Adults will wonder why Sal, at 12 years old, knows so little of his own history. What happened to his mother? What are they running from? Why, when the children of Fundelry are hoping to be chosen by the Sky Wardens, does Sal’s father think they’re so evil? It would have saved them both a lot of trouble if his father had just explained things to Sal. We get the impression that Sal has just now started questioning his father in earnest. Of course, the reader understands that the tale is being unfolded for us as it unfolds for Sal, but I found it hard to admire a 12 year old who’s had no idea what’s going on around him for this long.
The Stone Mage & The Sea is definitely a set-up book. By the end, Sal is just beginning to get a glimpse of his destiny and the book stops as tragedy strikes and things really get going. Most teen readers will be eager to move on to book two, The Sky Warden and the Sun. This is an intriguing world with a unique magic system that we’re only beginning to understand. There are lots of interesting questions left unanswered.
Eric Michael Summerer narrates Audible Frontiers’ version of The Stone Mage & The Sea. He gives a good reading and I can confidently recommend this version of The Stone Mage & The Sea. Audio readers will be pleased....more
I haven’t actually read every page of The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, yet I’m giving it mORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
I haven’t actually read every page of The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, yet I’m giving it my highest recommendation. Edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, Master and Mistress of Weird, The Weird is 1126 pages long and should really be considered a textbook of weird fiction. It contains 110 carefully chosen stories spanning more than 100 years of weird fiction. Here’s what you can expect to find in this massive volume:
A “Forweird” by Michael Moorcock gives us a brief history of the weird tale, discusses how it has defied publishers’ attempts to categorize it into neatly-bordered genres, and gives examples of writers who are revered by modern readers but whose weird fiction caused them to be marginalized during their lifetimes. Moorcock also attempts to explain why we like weird fiction and relates the affinity for strange tales, at one time or other, to the popularity of psychoanalysis, the development of easily-consumed mass communication, and the desire to rock the literary boat once in a while when genres become staid. Or, Moorcock suggests, perhaps we just occasionally like to be disturbed.
Next, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s introduction begins to define “Weird” by reminding us of H.P. Lovecraft’s 1927 definition: “something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains.” The VanderMeers suggest that weird stories are dark and make us uneasy, but can at the same time be beautiful. They also discusses the influences of surrealism, Decadent Literature, New Wave and Gothic and then offers a detailed history and evolution of the weird tale with recommended authors and stories (most of which are included in this volume).
Then come the stories — 110 of them arranged chronologically starting with stories from 1907 and 1908 from Alfred Kubin, F. Marion Crawford, and Algernon Blackwood and ending in 2010 with a story by K.J. Bishop. In between are stories by men and women from all over the world including Lord Dunsany, Abraham Merritt, Franz Kafka, H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber, Ray Bradbury, Jorge Luis Borges, Shirley Jackson, Robert Bloch, Mervyn Peake, Daphne du Maurier, James Triptree Jr., George R.R. Martin, M. John Harrison, Octavia Butler, Clive Barker, Lucius Shepard, Harlan Ellison, Elizabeth Hand, Poppy Z. Brite, Haruki Murakami, Lisa Tuttle, Stephen King, Angela Carter, Tanith Lee, Kelly Link, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Michael Chabon, China Miéville, Neil Gaiman, Jeffrey Ford, Jeff VanderMeer, Daniel Abraham, Margo Lanagan, Laird Barron, Liz Williams, and so many more... Each story is introduced with a paragraph explaining the author’s credentials, awards, and influence in the field.
Last comes an “Afterweird” by China Miéville which is just weird enough to deserve a place in this anthology. Miéville, not surprisingly, discusses the etymology of the word “WEIRD” and, as he recaps some of the unsettling things we’ve encountered in this compendium, wonders how useful etymology is when defining something as “weird.” Instead, he suggests that weird is personal, state-dependent, and “We know it when we feel it.” Lastly, Miéville proposes that “weird” is contagious, infecting your brain and the stories you read from now on.
The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories is not meant to be read front to back all at once, but is rather more like a manual or primer in the scholarly field of Weird Fiction. I read many of the stories (most of them were stories I had not previously read) and familiarized myself with a few authors I’d never heard of before. I look forward to reading all of these weird tales eventually and I’m glad to have this text on my shelf. The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories deserves a place on every speculative fiction lover’s bookshelf.
On Tanith Lee’s Flat Earth, humans live in the space between apathetic gods and vain and meddlesome demons. InORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
On Tanith Lee’s Flat Earth, humans live in the space between apathetic gods and vain and meddlesome demons. In the first FLAT EARTH book, Night’s Master, we met Azhrarn, prince of demons and ruler of the night who found and loved a human orphan. I loved that book for its exotic setting and gorgeous fairytale quality, but Death’s Master, the second FLAT EARTH book, is even more enchanting. While the first book was a series of connected tales, Death’s Master is a traditional novel. This time we meet a second Lord of Darkness, Uhlume, Lord Death, when he makes a deal with Narasen, a human warrior queen.
Narasen, the Leopard Queen of Merh, doesn’t like men. When she rebuffs a powerful magician, he curses her, causing plague, famine and barrenness to settle in Merh. An oracle announces that the land will be healed when Narasen, who is barren, bears a child. After the people of Merh have sent all the men they can muster to Narasen, she seeks escape by asking the witch Lylas, Death’s Handmaiden, to arrange a deal with Death.
Uhlume, the Lord of Death, gives Narasen a child, but the price she must pay is heavy: after giving birth, she must remain under the Earth with Uhlume for 1000 years. The rest of the story follows Simmu, Narasen’s hermaphrodite child; his friend Zhirem, whose mother also made a deal with Death; Lylas, who assigns nine virgins to guard the waters of immortality; the demon Azhrarn, who can’t help but meddle in human affairs; and other characters that’ve unfortunately come to the attention of demons.
It’s hard to truly like any of these characters, which, I suspect, is the main reason that the FLAT EARTH books are not universally loved. Tanith Lee’s characters are all well-developed, but they don’t give back. They’re not interested in whether you like them, so you’re not likely to find yourself really caring what happens to any of them. Tanith Lee isn’t offering us friends. Instead, she offers a vision of a world that’s completely foreign, yet peopled by real humans who we can relate to, whether we like them or not. Lee uses this unfamiliar world to explore familiar human nature in a way that isn’t possible outside a fantasy setting.
One theme in Death’s Master is the idea that when life becomes difficult, we often preserve sanity by knowingly casting illusions. When Narasen goes with Death to the underworld, she sees all the humans who’ve made similar deals with Death and must live in his kingdom for 1000 years. The place is horrible, but they’ve constructed illusions to make it bearable. When Narasen scorns these weak-minded people, Death explains that they survive by creating their own reality:
"The soul is a magician. Only living flesh hampers it... This land is a blank parchment where anyone may write what they wish."
Another theme is the boredom that comes with immortality on Earth. When the well of immortality is discovered and some humans drink from it, their lives eventually become pointless and dull. Lee suggests that the gods knew that the constant threat of pain and death is what gives life its meaning and joy:
"Men could not have too much. Ecstasy and vulnerability belonged in the same dish. The fear the cup would be snatched away was what gave the wine its savor and as Zhirem’s cup was sure, so was his joylessness... to die is a fear, but to live is a fear, also."
These ideas are so beautifully examined in Death’s Master, but Tanith Lee’s writing isn’t unrelievedly heavy. In fact, I think she’s one of the funniest writers I know and even this dark tale has plenty of humor. The scene in which all nine virgins were disqualified in three nights is hilarious and this description of Yolsippa the charlatan had me literally clapping my hands in delight:
"Generally Yolsippa was not a sensual man, but there was one thing, and one thing alone, which could stir him instantaneously and irrepressibly to amorous frenzy. This singular thing was a member of either sex who happened to be cross-eyed. Now the reason for this is a matter of conjecture. Possibly Yolsippa, in his tender years, had been nursed by a woman with just such a feature who had toyed indelicately with him so that ever after the erection of his weapon became associated with the strabismus of his nurse. Now and again Yolsippa had taken himself into a brothel and there lain down with straight-gazing harlots in an effort to be rid of the ridiculous taint. But it was no use; the perversion remained. Indeed, many afflicted by the squint had been most grateful for it. However, the cross-eyed being that Yolsippa had suddenly caught sight of in the desert border town was none other than the local prizefighter, a man near seven feet high with a prodigious girth, the belly of a boar and the fuse of an ox. Yolsippa completely comprehended the unwisdom of his passion, but no sooner had the two blood-shot squinting eyes been fixed on him than he began shuddering in a seizure of profound desire. Nor was it any use to seek his own medicine for dispelling such emotion since it was made of water, spirit, and mules’ urine."
Here, and in all of her writing, you can clearly see the influence of Jack Vance, who Tanith Lee calls “one of the literary gods” in her afterword to her story in the anthology Songs of the Dying Earth. In fact, Lee says that “Influence is too small a word. What I owe to Vance’s genius, as avid fan and compulsive writer, is beyond calculation.”
Indeed, Tanith Lee’s imagination and writing style are a fantasy lover’s dream. If you haven’t read Tanith Lee, you’re missing one of our age’s best fantasists. If you’re not into the twisted dark fairytales found in FLAT EARTH, you should at least try some of her short fiction, which is easily found in the best anthologies.
I listened to Susan Duerden narrate the audio version which was just released by Audible Frontiers. Her lush voice is gorgeous and I think she has the sexiest male voice I’ve ever heard by female or male narrator. The sing-song quality I mentioned in my review of Night’s Master was less noticeable this time. If you’re an audio reader, don’t miss this. Death’s Master, originally published in 1979, won the British Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1980.
Araminta Palomer is the daughter of an elderly wealthy businessman and his second wife. Minta has bee2.5 stars ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
Araminta Palomer is the daughter of an elderly wealthy businessman and his second wife. Minta has been sheltered for all her life, living in the family mansion which is surrounded by high walls and patrolling Doberman Pinschers. She has a governess and is driven to town only rarely for shopping. Because she’s lonely, Minta creates an imaginary friend — an egg-shaped furry creature who loves her. Prophetically, she names him Willbe and she imagines him with sharp needle-like teeth because she’s got a really nasty older stepbrother.
At first, Willbe is the perfect companion; he’s warm and furry and sleeps next to Minta at night. The problems start when Willbe begins to manifest as a real creature whenever Minta feels threatened — and he’s not afraid to use those teeth. When Minta is kidnapped and Willbe steps in to protect her, the police start asking questions. Most people can’t see Willbe, but the governess, who has spent some time in Tibet, recognizes the creature as a Tulpa. She understands that Minta has summoned the tulpa, but she doesn’t know how to get rid of him, and he’s gradually getting more dangerous as he resists Minta’s control. He racks up several murders by the end of the story.
The Tulpa by Ardath Mayhar, who died this year, is a relatively short novel (168 pages in paperback, 5 hours in audio) that was originally published as The Tulpa: A Novel of Supernatural Horror in 2005 in ebook format. The plot is straightforward and linear — there is no divergence from the chronological storyline about Willbe. Since it’s a horror story, some departure or tension relief would have been welcome. The story isn’t particularly scary or gory, it’s just single-minded to a fault.
At first I was confused about Ardath Mayhar’s setting because Araminta’s family is so worried about her being kidnapped, she lives behind high walls, she has a governess instead of going to school, and her mother has been told that reading fiction causes children to become unhealthily fanciful. Then the governess mentions surfing the Internet and it’s clear that the setting is modern U.S.A. This all seemed incongruent to me.
Probably what saved The Tulpa for me was Kate Rudd’s narration of the audiobook version (published by Wildside Press). I have always enjoyed her performances and, though I accused her of being too angsty in the last audiobook I listened to her narrate, I didn’t find that to be a problem here (when she had even more cause to be angsty). She made Minta feel more real than Ardath Mayhar did.
If you’re looking for a short fast-paced supernatural horror story that’s not too gross or scary, The Tulpa will fit the bill. Don’t expect more than an uncomplicated unswerving monster story, though.
Ardath Mayhar’s writing style is pleasant, and I look forward to reading more of her work. I have one of her novels on my shelf and I fully intend to crack it open sometime soon.
Paleontologist Richard Leyster works for the Smithsonian. It’s his dream job, so naturally he scoffs when a stra3.5 stars Originally posted at FanLit.
Paleontologist Richard Leyster works for the Smithsonian. It’s his dream job, so naturally he scoffs when a strange man named Harry Griffin offers him a new job whose description and benefits are vague. But when Griffin leaves an Igloo cooler containing the head of a real dinosaur on Leyster’s desk, Leyster is definitely intrigued. A couple of years later, when Griffin finally contacts him again, Leyster is ready to sign on to Griffin’s crazy project. He and a team of scientists are sent back to the Mesozoic era to study, up close and personal, the animals that, previously, had only been known by their bones. When a Christian fundamentalist terror group disrupts the project, things get very dangerous for Leyster and his colleagues. There are also concerns about the whole time-travel technology. How does it work? Where did it come from? What is the government hiding?
Bones of the Earth gleefully revels in paleontology and paradoxes. Readers will go to science conferences, watch grad students do field work, and listen to lengthy discussions about the classification of dinosaurs, the evolution of fringe ecological niches, and the event that caused dinosaur extinction. Some of this gets a little dry. There’s an entire chapter called “Peer Review” in which several scientists work together to write up a paper that, due to being stuck in the Mesozoic era, they know will never be published. (Even though this went on too long, I loved this idea!) But it’s not all stuffy science, because this is Michael Swanwick, so there’s also a paleontologist orgy — probably the first one ever.
Most people, if they had the chance to move around in time, would be tempted to use this ability to profit financially — get the lottery numbers from the newspaper, find out who won a horse race and go back and bet on it... But not a paleontologist. Swanwick speculates that they’d prefer prestige over money (and I think he’s right about that). Thus, Dr. Gertrude Salley, who’s both a hero and a villain in this story, gleans facts instead of dollars during her time travels. Later, when Salley creates a time paradox and is forced to meet herself, she’s chagrined to learn that she’s not much fun to be around. Swanwick also takes us to the far distant future and speculates about the future of the human species. Humanity’s prospects are grim, but we’re left with a deep admiration for the human mind, its insatiable curiosity, and the science that allows us to fulfill our desire to understand our world.
I’ll mention, since I’ve seen some negative reviews of Bones of the Earth, that some readers have accused the book of being anti-Christian because the terrorists are creationists. I am both a Christian and a scientist and I did not feel that the book was anti-Christian. Yes, there is a villain who identifies as a Christian creationist, but two of the small group of paleontologists are also specifically identified as practicing Christians. A Christian who refuses to consider the possibility that creation and evolution are not mutually exclusive probably won’t like this book. For everyone else, it’s fine.
Bones of the Earth, originally published in 2002, is an expansion of Michael Swanwick’s 1999 short story “Scherzo with Tyrannosaur” which was published in Asimov’s Science Fiction and won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 2000. Bones of the Earth was nominated for a Nebula, Hugo, Campbell, and Locus Award. Kevin Pariseau narrates Audible Frontier’s version which has recently been released. He was a great choice for this book. During my life I’ve listened to hundreds of scientists talking about their research. There’s a certain reserved enthusiasm and eagerness they display and Mr. Pariseau has this down perfectly — he would fit right in at any scientific conference....more
The Zarathustra Corporation owns and has been mining the planet of Zarathustra for years. They’re allowed to oORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
The Zarathustra Corporation owns and has been mining the planet of Zarathustra for years. They’re allowed to own the planet because it contains no sapient races. But when prospector Jack Holloway discovers a potentially sentient mammalian species, the Zarathustra Corporation may lose its charter and, therefore, the planet’s resources that they’ve been exploiting. What exactly are these little fuzzy creatures? Pets or people? It makes a big difference to Zarathustra Corporation.
I read H. Beam Piper’s 1962 Hugo-nominated novel Little Fuzzy in preparation for reading John Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation, his recent “reboot” of Piper’s classic. Little Fuzzy is a quick read featuring cute Ewok-like creatures whose sapience could do great financial damage to a very large corporation. Holloway, who calls himself the creatures’ “Pappy Jack” tries to protect the Fuzzies while the Zarathustra corporation argues with biologists and psychologists about their classification. Are they sapient? How do you define sapient? Must they be able to speak? Light a fire? Bury their dead? Use weapons? Think consciously?
The whole question about sapience is interesting, but the novel tends to get bogged down in it — there’s a lot of dialogue about the definition of sapience and the legal issues it brings up, and eventually the issue goes to court, where’s there’s even more talking. I think I would have enjoyed this part more if the discussion hadn’t felt like it was written in the 1950s. The science, especially the psychology, is noticeably dated, a common problem with old SF. For example, when the characters discuss consciousness, Freud’s ideas about id, ego, and superego are espoused. The trial proceedings also don’t fit modern methods (e.g., calling witnesses that the other side isn’t aware of). I can see why Scalzi felt the need to update Little Fuzzy. Other than the science and court procedures, though, Little Fuzzy feels quite current. It’s a sweet story that will please most readers and would be appropriate for a young audience, too.
I read Little Fuzzy on audio. It is included in Audible’s downloadable version of John Scalzi’s new Fuzzy Nation. It is NOT included in the CD version of Fuzzy Nation. You can purchase Little Fuzzy separately, but why would you want to do that when you can get both for one credit by buying Fuzzy Nation? In either case, Little Fuzzy is narrated by Peter Ganim who does a nice job. His reading of the narrative is straightforward and austere, but his dialogue is lively and appropriately inflected.
You can download a free print version of Little Fuzzy because it’s in the public domain or get it free on Kindle from Amazon.
After impressing King Zachary with her courage in Green Rider, Karigan G'ladheon has been sent north on a diplORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
After impressing King Zachary with her courage in Green Rider, Karigan G'ladheon has been sent north on a diplomatic mission. When her companions make the bad decision to camp in a magical place, a dark supernatural force is inadvertently loosed upon the world. It seems to be linked to Mornhavon the Black, who used evil magic to try to conquer Sacoridia a thousand years ago. Back then he was captured and walled into the Blackveil Forest, but now he is working his way free through a breach in the wall. Karigan’s friend Alton D’Yer has been sent to the wall to try to repair it. Meanwhile the whole country is experiencing strange magical events that are frightening the people and undermining their faith in the king. The Riders are experiencing problems with magic, too — suddenly their powers have become unreliable. And, most frightening of all, there’s a secret band of Sacoridians who have been waiting for generations to help Mornhavon the Black return.
First Rider’s Call, the second of Kristen Britain’s GREEN RIDER series continues Karigan’s adventures as a Green Rider. This is a long book (19½ hours in the audio version I listened to) that will appeal to those who liked Green Rider. The setting is well developed and I felt immersed in Britain’s world. In First Rider’s Call, we learn more of Sacoridia’s history and legends. Some of this history was cleverly related through ancient journal entries of the best friend of the man who became Mornhavon the Black.
Karigan continues to be a strong but stern character. I was hoping I’d warm up to her a bit in this second book, but I still found her difficult to embrace. She’s courageous and loyal, skilled at everything she does (even sword fighting), but she’s almost completely rigid and humorless. There’s not much to make her interesting other than a talent for staying alive. Men fall in love with her and people are afraid to get in her way, but I’m not really sure why they think she’s so awesome. When she gives a 30 second speech about how we’re-all-in-this-together-and-we-will-overcome, she sets the Riders’ hearts aflutter, but I thought it dull and trite. I’m afraid that Karigan’s personality is a stumbling block for me. I like her world, but I don’t really care enough about Karigan to want to spend more time with her. Her love interests, King Zachary and Alton D’Yer are more inspiring, but they are also unrelievedly good.
Kristen Britain’s writing does its job without calling attention to itself in either a positive or negative way. There’s nothing wrong with it except that it tries too hard to sound archaic. If you’re looking for beauty, you won’t find it here; “utilitarian” is a better description of Britain’s style. The plot is fast-paced but relies too often on deus ex machina involving ghosts and time travel. Villains are easily vanquished and we never really fear for our favorite heroes. Still, First Rider’s Call is a cozy high epic fantasy that will likely appeal to many, especially women since it contains a strong heroine.
The audio version is read by Ellen Archer who uses Irish and English accents for most of the characters. As long as you don’t mind these accents, you’ll probably enjoy this audio version. Archer gives a nice performance....more
When Jack Holloway’s dog blows up a cliff during a prospecting mission on the planet Zarathustra, Jack loses hORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
When Jack Holloway’s dog blows up a cliff during a prospecting mission on the planet Zarathustra, Jack loses his contract with ZaraCorp. Fortunately, inside the cliff he discovers the biggest vein of precious gems that have ever been found on the planet and he gets to take a percentage of the profits as finder’s fee. Things start to get complicated when Jack returns home to discover that his house has been invaded by a fuzzy mammal that seems a lot smarter than he should be on this planet that has no sapient creatures. When he calls in his ex-girlfriend, ZaraCorp’s biologist, to have a look, they realize that there may be trouble ahead. A sapient race means that ZaraCorp will have to give up their rights to the planet’s resources. Murder attempts and court cases ensue.
Fuzzy Nation is John Scalzi’s “reboot” of H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy. I mostly enjoyed Piper’s original plotline, but his novel got bogged down in long repetitive discussions about sapience which included some outdated ideas about the nature of consciousness. Not his fault, of course, since those ideas were trendy (though not empirically derived) back then, but they did make Little Fuzzy feel dated. In addition, the court proceedings were laughable and this is not likely to be dismissed by today’s readers who have grown up watching courtroom drama on TV.
In Fuzzy Nation, Scalzi has not only ditched the bad court procedures and old psychology (he replaced Freud’s psychoanalytic theory with Theory of Mind), but he has also eliminated the dull sapience discussions, too. This is still a story about what it means to be sapient, but Scalzi manages to intelligently address the issue without making us watch his characters sit around and talk about it. He also does a better job of explaining why humans shouldn’t be removing resources from planets with sapient races.
Scalzi’s characters are also more vibrant, especially Jack Holloway who, in Piper’s version, addressed himself as “Pappy Jack.” In Scalzi’s version, Holloway is a young hot-head who doesn’t seem to be able to open his mouth without spitting testosterone. Jack’s dog Carl is a welcome addition and his interactions with the cute Fuzzies gives the book some warmth and humor. I also liked Jack’s ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend who becomes Jack’s lawyer. All of the men in Scalzi’s story are unrelievedly aggressive and sarcastic, and I’m tempted to assume this is some manifestation of John Scalzi’s own personality, but instead I’ll argue that those types of personalities are likely to be disproportionately found on a distant inhospitable planet that’s home to man-eating raptors.
I listened to the audiobook version of Fuzzy Nation which has been produced by Brilliance Audio and Audible Frontiers. It’s the same recording, but the Audible Frontiers version includes H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy. Fuzzy Nation is narrated by John Scalzi’s friend, actor Wil “Don’t be a Dick!” Wheaton. He did a great job with all of the characters and he was especially perfect for the role of Jack Holloway. (I guess it’s okay to be a dick if you’re just acting).
Fuzzy Nation is a successful re-write of Piper’s classic, and I can heartily recommend it. The audio version is especially rewarding. If you want to read Little Fuzzy first, you can download a free print version because it’s in the public domain.
The city of Ondinium clings to the side of a mountain where the rare and precious metal that the city is namedORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
The city of Ondinium clings to the side of a mountain where the rare and precious metal that the city is named for is mined. This substance is lighter than air and is used to create the marvels that the city is known for, including the huge clockwork engine that lives in the heart of the mountain. The castes of Ondinium live on separate tiers of the mountain with the lower castes occupying the sooty smog-filled expanse at the bottom. But Taya, whose family comes from the lowest caste, is an Icarus, a courier who straps on ondinium wings and freely flies up and down the mountain, without caste constraints. When Taya saves the lives of an Exalted’s family, she becomes embroiled in political intrigues that involve theft, terrorism, murder, computer hacking, and romance. And she doesn’t know whom she can trust.
Dru Pagliassotti’s steampunk setting is fascinating and Taya, who flies with metal wings, makes a unique and likeable heroine. She’s strong and independently minded, yet she cares what people think about her and treats others with respect. She is not the usual tattooed sarcastic kickass urban fantasy heroine. Taya’s love interests are a pair of brothers; Alister is a gregarious computer programmer who fully embraces his role as an Exalted on the city council while Cristof, the introverted brother, shuns his class and prefers to make clocks and gadgetry in the lower tier of the city. Both are appealing characters, as is the harmless political dissident whom Taya used to date.
I loved the first half of Clockwork Heart as we were introduced to the city, its citizens, and its political and social issues. There’s some excellent world-building here, a nice set of characters, and plenty of action. I was fascinated by the Great Engine in the mountain and the way it was programmed with old-fashioned tin punch cards.
Clockwork Heart falls a little short when it comes to plot and pacing, especially in the second half of the novel. After the big climax, the story continues on too long, gradually losing steam (pun intended!) and occasionally flip-flopping between the realms of the predictable and the unlikely. I anticipated some of the plot twists and didn’t believe in some of the others. A new subplot involving a group of computer programmers was suddenly brought in, but it should have been left out. It felt like Pagliassotti couldn’t decide between two different endings for the novel so she decided to include both, to poor effect. Even with that complaint, though, I enjoyed Clockwork Heart and its characters enough that I’d like to read more in this world.
I listened to Kate Rudd narrate Brilliance Audio’s version of Clockwork Heart. I always like Kate Rudd when she reads a book with a young female protagonist, though she tends to overdo the angst. This is noticeable in the more intense parts of Clockwork Heart, but it’s not enough to keep me from recommending this version.
Long ago, the earth was flat. Humans lived on its surface while the benevolent gods who created them4.5 stars ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
Long ago, the earth was flat. Humans lived on its surface while the benevolent gods who created them lived in the heavens. Regretting that they had made man, the gods ignored their creation and held themselves aloof while the sorcerous demons that lived in the glowing gem-encrusted city under the earth were permitted to use humans as they wished. Being at the whim of cruel and impulsive demons made these times terrifying for humans. Eventually hate and evil began to prevail, and earth was near death, but the gods showed no inclination to save humanity. Azhrarn, Prince of Demons and Night’s Master, was the proudest and most powerful demon of all. When he discovered a beautiful orphaned human child and brought him to live in the underworld, the destiny of the earth was changed forever.
Tanith Lee’s Night’s Master, the first of her FLAT EARTH series, is a collection of connected stories set in Lee’s unique world. The first story recounts Azhrarn’s discovery and love for the human child he finds. Each of the following tales is related, perhaps by a character, an object, or a theme. Together, the stories weave a vast dark mythology covering thousands of years. With vivid imagery and elegant prose, they show demons meddling in human affairs, humbling men who exalt themselves, and using magic to harness the powers of music, love, and joy as well as grief, hate, and death.
Night’s Master is dark, yet richly luxuriant and full of passion. The writing is gorgeous. There’s not much more that a lover of excellent fantasy could ask for, though some readers may wish for a more obvious hero to love. You won’t find one here. Instead, you’ll feel the decline of civilization and the degeneration into hopelessness as a capricious demon wields magic against powerless men. But because the demons admire beauty, there’s also a gothic splendor that permeates the novel. In many ways the setting and characters of FLAT EARTH are reminiscent of Jack Vance’s DYING EARTH stories, which isn’t surprising considering that Vance was one of Tanith Lee’s major influences.
Night’s Master has just been produced in audio by Audible Frontiers. The narrator, Susan Duerden, did a great job with the dialogue — she has a lovely resonant voice which is a good fit for this dark fairytale. Unfortunately, her reading occasionally takes on a noticeable sing-song quality during the narrative. I hope this will not be as conspicuous in the second FLAT EARTH novel, Death’s Master.
Everyone knows that that the invertebrates of Neptune are the most intelligent minds in the galaxy. That’s howORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
Everyone knows that that the invertebrates of Neptune are the most intelligent minds in the galaxy. That’s how, years ago, a bored mollusk from Neptune was able to conquer the Earth and set himself up as Warlord. To subdue the planet he had to use a few nasty tricks such as doping the water supply with anti-aggression drugs, but now that he has all of humanity under his tentacle, Emperor Mollusk is actually a pretty swell guy and he has even developed a soft spot (or should I say “softer spot”) for planet Earth, though he’ll be quick to tell you that he’s not reformed — just retired. Nowadays, he spends most of his time tinkering in his laboratory and coming up with ways to solve Earth’s numerous problems. He fixed the energy crisis long ago and so far he’s been able to protect Earth from aliens from Mars, Venus, and Saturn. Pretty good for a slimy cephalopod that you could easily squash under the heel of your boot.
Unfortunately, most of Emperor Mollusk’s experiments on Earth tend to cause unexpected and dastardly consequences, and the emperor usually ends up needing to develop even more brilliant solutions to the problems he created. Emperor Mollusk Versus the Sinister Brain is an account of the Emperor’s various adventures as he attempts to save humans from all the disasters that would not have befallen them if the Emperor had never set his slippery tentacle on the planet in the first place. Disasters such as an island of radioactive dinosaurs, giant fireants, missing countries, an anti-time radio, and the rampaging brain of Madam Curie. He even has to deal with assassins from Atlantis, killer scorpions, a clone of himself, and the sinister brain who wants to challenge him for world domination.
Emperor Mollusk Versus the Sinister Brain, A. Lee Martinez’s newest novel, is a hilariously wacky story with a preposterous premise, impossible characters, and an absurd plot. I’m rather picky about humorous fantasy so I’m surprised that I enjoyed the non-stop comedy here, but Martinez has his pacing down and he knows exactly when to stop. I like Martinez’s bizarre situations and droll sense of humor, and he balances all of it with a well-developed protagonist who we can’t help but love, even though he’s slimy (literally) and he keeps telling us he’s an evil overlord.
Fans of Douglas Adams’ THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY shouldn’t miss Emperor Mollusk Versus the Sinister Brain. Let me highly recommend the audio version produced by Audible Frontiers and performed by actor Scott Aiello. This was the first time I’d heard Mr. Aiello (he is a new narrator) and I was extremely impressed with his performance — he made the novel even funnier. He was absolutely perfect for this role and I look forward to hearing more from him in the future. ...more
During his profitable pirating career, Captain Sparrow discovered an unknown South Pacific island that appeareORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
During his profitable pirating career, Captain Sparrow discovered an unknown South Pacific island that appeared to consist entirely of rocky cliffs but contained a lushly fertile inland landscape. It could only be accessed at high tide from a small hidden recess high in the cliffs. Sparrow and his crew, who were wanted all over the world for their crimes, made the island a hideout where they stowed heaps of gold bars and lots of guns and ammunition. Before his last voyage, Sparrow left some of his crew, several Chilean women, and his young son on the island. But Sparrow had tempted fate one time too many; he and his remaining crew were caught and hanged. Not knowing what happened to their leader and the rest of his men, the pirates and women left on the island degenerated into illiteracy and lawlessness.
A couple of generations later, Charlton Foyle, drifting alone in a lifeboat, happens upon the island’s hidden recess. After gaining access to the interior of the island, he discovers several oddities: huge flesh-eating birds, satyrs and, most interesting of all, a pretty young French woman named Marcelle who was marooned two years earlier and has been hiding from the pirates in the forest. Marcelle is excited to have a civilized companion but can’t show herself because she’s naked. When she tries to steal clothing to cover her indecency, she’s caught by the pirates and is about to be forced to marry their brutish leader, the grandson of Captain Sparrow. Will Charlton, the refined Englishman, come and save her?
The Island of Captain Sparrow, published in 1928, is a classic lost world fantasy which contains many of the themes found in similar stories written in the early 1900s. Charlton Foyle’s adventure is thrilling and the world he discovers is both beautiful and horrible. Because of S. Fowler Wright’s lovely descriptive prose, I felt like I was drifting in the boat, exploring the caves, and peeking through the trees with Charlton. I was truly anxious during the scenes in which Marcelle and Charlton encountered the degenerate pirates. It’s too bad that the plot gradually fizzled after the climax; I wish it had ended more strongly.
One noticeable annoyance with Wright’s story, and this is surely due to the time period during which it was written, is the glaring racism and classism. There are several reminders from the narrator that the islanders were brutes because they were descended from 1. Europeans of the lowest class, and 2. Chileans:
It is doubtless true that the men and women that Captain Sparrow had landed upon the island had been subnormal both in intellect and in moral stability. That is a reasonable supposition considering their occupation and antecedents.
The physical features of the islanders are often described as offensive and contrasted with the attractive features of Charlton and Marcelle who are upper-class Europeans. At one point, Charlton notices that Marcelle, who had been running around the island naked before he arrived, has a suntan. But he quickly assures us that she is tanned “only lightly” for which he thanks the shady forest. Fortunately, “only the soles of her dust-stained feet were very dark.” Another time, Charlton uses a metaphor to suggest that he and Marcelle are like the mighty trees that struggle to push through the “strife” and “parasites” of the forest canopy to rise above the rest of the “savage” jungle. This Eurocentrism is ugly, but perhaps not surprising since S. Fowler Wright, an Englishman, lived from 1874 to 1965.
The audio production I listened to was performed by Napoleon Ryan, a British comedy screen actor. As far as I can tell, this is his first audiobook performance. His presentation was genuine and he has a terrific voice — even his voice for Marcelle was completely convincing. I hope Mr. Ryan will continue narrating audiobooks.
The Island of Captain Sparrow is a relatively short book (only 7 hours) which is fast-paced and exciting. If you you can look past the Eurocentrism, it’s an entertaining example of an old lost world fantasy....more
“You’re Heavy Jake Sullivan, aren’t you?” “Yep.” “I was afraid of that.”
Larry Correia delivers another exciting magical alternate history with Spellbound, the second of his GRIMNOIR CHRONICLES. After Jake Sullivan and the gang took care of the German zombies, the Japanese Iron Guard, and Nikola Tesla’s peace ray in Hard Magic, the magicals are needed again to thwart new threats to the country. This is hard to do, though, after they’ve been framed for the attempted assassination of President Roosevelt. Public approval for magicals is low and opposition groups are organizing to march on Washington. FDR decides that magic must be regulated and proposes a new-deal-type law that will require all magicals to register with the government and wear an identification badge.
Meanwhile, after receiving a phone call from Hell, the Grimnoir recognize that there’s a much greater magical threat that the American citizens are unaware of. Only the Grimnoir are equipped to handle it. Frustrated, they must take care of this alien evil while hiding from the government. Fortunately, they do have some really awesome magical powers, an unexpected powerful ally, and a lot of guns.
Once again, I’m surprised to find myself enjoying Larry Correia’s testosterone-pumping, gun-toting, blood-spurting, heads-rolling story, but there’s a lot more here than guns, guts and gore. There’s a large diverse set of likeable and fully-developed fictional and real historical characters, an interesting historical backdrop, plenty of action and suspense, some blood-chilling moments, and a few quirky elements, too, such as an army of robots and a black hole.
There’s also quite a bit of dark humor, which blends perfectly to lighten the mood just a bit when things get scary. I was always entertained by the scenes in which Lance takes over the body of an animal. I also love the adapted quotes at the beginning of the chapters, which put the story in its historical context. For example, one is from the New York Commissioner of Boxing who explains how, after Jack Johnson beat the Great White Hope, they bribed a referee and snuck in a Brute to end Johnson’s career (“Gotta keep the sport pure, y’know?”).
Bronson Pinchot’s performance in the audio version of Spellbound is nothing short of brilliant. There’s a large international cast here and Pinchot handles all of those accents with ease. He perfectly captures the excitement, horror, and humor of Spellbound. If you don’t read audiobooks, you might consider starting with this series. It’s a perfect example of how good audio can get.
There’s danger on the horizon, American opinion about magicals is unstable (are they public heroes or public enemies?), and many questions remain about the Power, its motives, and Faye’s ties to it. I’m looking forward to the next GRIMNOIR CHRONICLES book. ...more
It’s the Jubilee Year on the planet Miranda. Every 200 years the planet floods and humans must leave until MirORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
It’s the Jubilee Year on the planet Miranda. Every 200 years the planet floods and humans must leave until Miranda’s continents are reborn. Miranda used to be the home of an indigenous species of shapeshifters who, during Jubilee, would return to their aquatic forms until the waters receded, but it seems that humans have killed them off.
Gregorian, who lives on Miranda but was educated off-planet by a rich and distant father, now styles himself a magician and is telling the citizens of Miranda that he can transform them into sea creatures so they can stay on the planet. He has stolen a piece of proscribed technology from Earth and our protagonist, who we know only as “the bureaucrat,” has been sent to find out what Gregorian has up his sleeve. The bureaucrat must track down Gregorian before the Jubilee tides flood the planet. During his quest he learns about the exotic planet’s history, meets several strange residents, does a lot of hallucinating, has a lot of sex, worries about his job back home, and gets hooked on a local soap opera. The middle of the book bogs down in a haze of drugs and sex which feels slightly self-indulgent, but Swanwick manages to make it fit the plot. In the end, it’s not just Miranda that changes.
Stations of the Tide, which has been compared to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, is often surreal and confusing, but this seems to fit the dark exotic planet. The setting was my favorite part of the story — Miranda is both beautiful and frightening. I especially loved the Grandfather Tree which has many trunks descending from its huge branches and houses a café and a shipwreck.
Then there’s the technology: the bureaucrat has a walking talking briefcase and can split his consciousness into surrogate electronic forms that can run errands for him. He’s very surprised to find that the Mirandans had even higher forms of technology until they were made illegal by the bureaucrat’s agency. The Mirandans resent this.
Some readers are likely to be put off by the nameless bureaucrat because he’s somewhat flat and emotionless for much of the novel, but Oliver Wyman, the narrator of Audible Frontier’s version, made him feel like a real person rather than a nameless entity. I liked Wyman’s interpretation of the bureaucrat’s epigrammatic business-like style. His aloofness made it all the more moving when he rarely but suddenly was overwhelmed with emotion.
This is the second novel by Michael Swanwick that I’ve tried. I didn’t at all like the first one, The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, but I liked Stations of the Tide even though it had some of the same issues. Both novels are original and inventive with exotic settings but the plot of Stations of the Tide was at least comprehensible most of the time. It reminded me most of Robert Silverberg’s fantasy, especially his novel Downward to the Earth.
Stations of the Tide was originally published in two parts in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine in 1990 but was published as a book in 1991. It won the Nebula Award for best novel that year and was also nominated for the Hugo Award, the Campbell Award, and the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Try Stations of the Tide if you like lushly exotic alien settings and don’t mind feeling like you’ve taken the same hallucinogens that the protagonist took....more
"Does the night seem uncommonly full of dead men and severed heads to you?"
Langdon St. Ives is a man of science and a member of the Royal Society. With the help of his dependable and discreet manservant, St. Ives prefers to spend his time secretly building a spaceship in his countryside silo. But currently he’s in London to help his friend Jack Owlesby recover a wooden box containing the huge emerald Jack’s father left him for an inheritance. Things get confusing when it’s discovered that there are several of these boxes that all look the same and all contain something somebody wants. Soon St. Ives, Jack, and a host of other friends and enemies become embroiled in a madcap adventure featuring a toymaker and his lovely daughter, a captain with a smokable peg leg, the scientists of the Royal Society, an evil millionaire, a dirigible steered by a skeleton, a tiny little man in a jar who may be an alien, a cult evangelist who wants to bring his mother back to life, a love-spurned alchemist who keeps trying home remedies to cure his acne, and a lot of carp and zombies.
As you may have guessed, Homunculus is zany and completely over-the-top in the right kind of way. The villains are meant to be caricatures — one of them is hunchbacked and another sneakily lurches around England with his head wrapped in unraveling bandages. They do stupid things such as leaving the curtains open while animating corpses for the evangelist to claim as converts, and tip-toeing up dark staircases carrying bombs with lit fuses. Blaylock’s bizarre but deadpan humor, in the absurdist British style (though Blaylock is American), was my favorite part of the novel. Even though Homunculus is packed with action and very funny when it’s in its farcical mode, the pace sometimes lags and the shallow characters can’t make up for it when that happens. Fortunately, that’s not often. The final scene is a screwball melee as all the heroes and villains, and thousands of London’s citizens, turn out to witness the story’s climax.
I listened to Audible Frontiers’ version of Homunculus which was narrated by Nigel Carrington who was a brilliant choice. There are a lot of similar characters in Homunculus, but Mr. Carrington made them distinguishable. He also hit exactly the right tone with the humor which ranged from deadpan to black comedy to zany farce. In fact, I would specifically recommend the audio version of Homunculus just because Nigel Carrington’s performance was a large factor in my enjoyment of the book.
If you’re in the mood for a surreal British comedy in the vein of Monty Python or Fawlty Towers, James P. Blaylock’s Homunculus will fit the bill nicely. Published in 1986, this is one of the earlier steampunk novels. In fact, Blaylock, along with friends K.W. Jeter and Tim Powers, all of whom studied with Philip K. Dick, are considered fathers of modern steampunk, and it was Jeter who coined the term to describe their work.
Homunculus won the Philip K. Dick Award in 1986....more
Dan Gurlick is a pathetic human being, which is undoubtedly why nobody likes him. He has no identifiable positORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
Dan Gurlick is a pathetic human being, which is undoubtedly why nobody likes him. He has no identifiable positive personality traits, his motivations and desires are base, and he lacks the skills and knowledge to appropriately acquire the things he wants. Life suddenly changes for Gurlick when he accidentally ingests the spore of an alien hivemind named Medusa. Medusa has been all over the universe enfolding the collective minds of the species it finds. When Medusa becomes conscious on Earth, in Gurlick’s mind, it’s surprised to find that human brains are not connected. Perhaps humans have sensed Medusa’s plan and have protected themselves by disorganizing. The hivemind plans to use Gurlick’s limited brain to figure out how to put human minds back together so it can engulf them. To get Gurlick’s cooperation, Medusa promises to give him whatever his nasty heart desires.
Theodore Sturgeon’s To Marry Medusa, originally published as the longer novel The Cosmic Rape in 1958, is a not just an exciting hivemind science fiction story, it’s also a beautiful but frightening speculation about what life would be like if humans shared a collective consciousness. At first the idea is naturally horrifying, but Sturgeon makes us reconsider by interspersing humanity’s response to Medusa with vignettes of several characters experiencing loneliness, loss, lust, jealousy, fear, or budding faith. A group mind could be a powerful thing, but if we all share the same mind, what is the value of one of us?
I listened to Blackstone Audio’s version of To Marry Medusa, narrated by Stefan Rudnicki who is the reason I chose to read this book in audio format. As always, he does a great job except that I think he said the word “unties” when he meant “unites” at one point, though perhaps it was a typo in the book. I wouldn’t usually pick on something so seemingly trivial, but those two words have opposite meanings and, in this context, it confused me for a moment.
For such an old SF hivemind story, To Marry Medusa is surprisingly fresh and deeply thought-provoking. I’m putting the rest of Theodore Sturgeon’s work on my TBR list....more
I was in Viriconium once. I was a much younger woman then. What a place that is for lovers! The Locust Winter carpets its streets with broken insects; at the corners they sweep them into strange-smelling drifts which glow for the space of a morning like heaps of gold before they fade away.
Viriconium Nights is the last book in M. John Harrison’s VIRICONIUM epic. It’s a collection of these seven short stories set in and around the city of Viriconium:
-- “The Lamia and Lord Cromis” — tegeus-Cromis, a dwarf, and a man named Dissolution Kahn travel to a poisonous bog to destroy a dangerous Lamia.
-- “Viriconium Knights” — Ignace Retz, a young swordsman and treasure seeker, discovers an old man who has a tapestry which shows Retz at different times in Viriconium’s history.
-- “The Luck in the Head” — In the Artists’ Quarter, the poet Ardwick Crome has been having a recurring dream about a ceremony called “the Luck in the Head.” He wants these disturbing dreams to stop, so he goes looking for one of the women in the dream. (BTW, there’s a graphic novel based on this story.)
-- “Strange Great Sins” — A man from the country goes to Viriconium, falls in love with the ballerina Vera Ghillera, and wastes away. This story looks at the city of Viriconium from the perspective of outsiders who know that those who go there either are, or will become, decadent and self-absorbed.
-- “Lords of Misrule” — tegeus-Cromis visits an estate outside the city of Viriconium which is under threat of invasion and won’t survive if Viriconium won’t help.
-- “The Dancer From the Dance” — The ballerina Vera Ghillera from “Strange Great Sins” visits Allman's Heath where strange things are afoot.
-- “A Young Man’s Journey to Viriconium” — This final story, set in our world, explains that Viriconium is a real place and tells you exactly how to get there, in case you want to go. The doorway is a mirror in a bathroom in a café in England.
The stories in Viriconium Nights contain some of the characters we’ve met in the previous VIRICONIUM books (e.g., tegeus-Cromis, Ansel Verdigris, Audsley King, Paulinus Rack, Ashlyme) and include many allusions to recurring events and motifs: mechanical metal birds, tarot cards, locusts, the fish mask, big lizards, the Mari Lwyd, etc. Each story stands alone but focuses on the city of Viriconium and particularly the bohemian residents of the Artists’ Quarter. All of Viriconium is decaying, but this part of the city feels especially bleak, probably because it’s peopled with brooding artistic types whose desperation results in freakish hedonistic behavior.
Though there are recurring characters in the VIRICONIUM works, we never get to know any of them very well. The haunting, weird, incomprehensible city is the main character. M. John Harrison has explained that he didn’t want Viriconium to be “tamed” or “controlled,” so he has confused and disoriented the reader by making it impossible to understand what it would be like to live in his world: “I made that world increasingly shifting and complex. You can not learn its rules. More importantly, Viriconium is never the same place twice.” I think this is more successful in the last three parts of VIRICONIUM — the first novel, The Pastel City, is almost a traditional quest fantasy.
VIRICONIUM is one of those works that I feel like I should give 5 stars just because it’s original and M. John Harrison’s prose is brilliant. Harrison is a master of style and his writing is superior to most of what’s offered on the SFF shelves.
However, the truth is that though I recognize Harrison’s genius, I can’t say that I enjoyed every moment of VIRICONIUM, which may be a reflection on me more than on the work itself. Spending so much time in a city that’s unknowable and decaying resulted, for me, in an overwhelming feeling of disorientation and hopelessness. The characters and the plot, which feel like they are there only to support the role of the city, don’t make up for this. A month from now, I probably won’t remember any of the plots in Viriconium Nights. But I will remember Viriconium.
If you decide to read VIRICONIUM, I highly recommend the audio version produced by Neil Gaiman Presents. Simon Vance's performance is excellent....more
Farewell to the Master is the short story that forms the premise of the popular 1951 (remade in 2008) scienceORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
Farewell to the Master is the short story that forms the premise of the popular 1951 (remade in 2008) science fiction movie The Day the Earth Stood Still, in which an alien and his robot visit Earth to warn humans that their atomic weapons and violent tendencies will not be tolerated by the rest of the galaxy. Earth can get in line with peaceful galactic ideology, or be destroyed.
Not surprisingly, Bates’ story, which was published before atomic weapons were developed, is hardly like the movie. Yes, there’s a humanoid alien and his robot who appear in Washington D.C. in a spaceship. Yes, a violent human being shoots the alien. But from there the stories diverge. There’s no threat of Earth’s destruction and Harry Bates never penned the famous phrase from the movie: “Klaatu barada nikto.” While the movie and the original story have different messages for humans, both are meant to knock us off the pedestal we’ve placed ourselves on.
In Farewell to the Master, a photojournalist realizes that the robot is more than he appears and that there is some secret activity going on in the spaceship. He is determined to get photographic evidence and sell it to the highest bidder. The resulting story is exciting, suspenseful and, of course, short. Here in 2012, the famous “ironic” twist at the end isn’t too surprising, but it probably was in 1940.
Blackstone Audio has just released Farewell to the Master on audio. Tom Weiner gives his usual enthusiastic performance – I am always happy to see his name on an audiobook. I’m also pleased that Blackstone Audio has been producing old SF lately and I can hardly keep up with all of it. I have just one complaint about this production. Right now the CD version of this book is available at Blackstone Audio or Amazon for $20 which I think is overpriced considering that the story is only 1½ hours long and you can read it for free online (it’s in the public domain) or for 99¢ on Kindle. However, the Audible download version is available at Audible for less than $5, which is completely reasonable — I can recommend this version if you download from Audible. Just make sure you’re purchasing the one narrated by Tom Weiner and produced by Blackstone Audio. I have tried a sample of the other audiobook version of this story and I much prefer Tom Weiner’s narration....more
In this third volume of the VIRICONIUM omnibus, we visit the old artists’ quarter of Viriconium — a lazy decayORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
In this third volume of the VIRICONIUM omnibus, we visit the old artists’ quarter of Viriconium — a lazy decaying place where gardens bloom and the smell of black currant gin exudes from the taverns where the increasingly lackadaisical citizens used to sit and talk about art and philosophy. This part of the city used to be vibrant and innovative, but it has been deteriorating as a psychological plague has been creeping in from the high city. The artists’ patrons, infected by this plague of mediocrity, have become dreamy and only want to purchase uninspired sentimental watercolor landscapes. And all they want to talk about is the debauched antics of the Barley Brothers, a couple of twins who act like buffoons but are rumored to be demi-gods.
Ashlyme is a renowned artist whose cruel portraits are known for their ability to capture and emphasize his subjects’ unflattering personality traits. He’s concerned about Audsley King, another famous painter who is succumbing to the plague. With the help of his scientifically minded friend and a cruel dwarf who calls himself the Grand Cairo, Ashlyme plans to transport Audsley to a part of the city where the plague has not yet reached, thinking that she may recover. Their plans go awry and end up like an episode of The Three Stooges.
The Floating Gods (aka In Viriconium) is funny, witty, and brilliantly written with sharp humorous insights into disagreeable human behavior. As the plague crept closer, I could feel the beloved city of Viriconium decaying — its fountains drying up and its gardens becoming unkempt and shabby. Like the previous book, A Storm of Wings, The Floating Gods is intensely atmospheric. This is a better book, though, because the atmosphere is balanced by humor and plot. This is my favorite VIRICONIUM book so far. Now I’m moving on to the last part, a collection of stories called Viriconium Nights.
I’m listening to the wonderful audiobook version of the entire VIRICONIUM saga which is produced by Neil Gaiman Presents and narrated by Simon Vance....more
A Storm of Wings is the second part of M. John Harrison’s VIRICONIUM sequence. Viriconium has been at peace foORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
A Storm of Wings is the second part of M. John Harrison’s VIRICONIUM sequence. Viriconium has been at peace for eighty years after the threat from the north was eliminated, but now there are new threats to the city. Something has detached from the moon and fallen to earth. A huge insect head has been discovered in one of the towns of the Reborn. The Reborn are starting to go mad. Also, a new rapidly growing cult is teaching that there is no objective reality. Are the strange events linked with the cult’s nihilistic philosophy? And what will this do to Viriconium’s peace? Tomb the dwarf and Cellur the Birdlord, whom we met in The Pastel City, set out to discover the truth.
A Storm of Wings was published in 1980 — nine years after The Pastel City — and M. John Harrison’s writing style has evolved. In some ways it’s better — characterization is deeper and the imagery is more evocative. This world feels fragile and moribund and the reader gets the sense that, as the cult proclaims, it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s just a warped perception. Or perhaps Viriconium is slipping from reality into a dream. Or into a different reality altogether. The story is strange, outlandish, and blurry.
I like weird tales, but I had trouble with A Storm of Wings because the pace was so sluggish. M. John Harrison spends so much of his effort building an eerie atmosphere and a dreamy mood and not enough time with real action. The atmosphere is successful but that wasn’t enough to completely satisfy me because very little actually happens in this story. I often wished that Harrison would quit with the mood and move onto the story.
However, I do love the city of Viriconium — a city whose palace, which is built to mathematical precision and carved with strange geometries, lies at the end of a road called the Proton Circuit. A city that must have been absorbed with the highest levels of math and science until it fell. A city that no longer remembers its former glory. I can’t wait to find out more about Viriconium in the next book.
I’m still listening to the audiobook version of the VIRICONIUM omnibus. Thanks to narrator Simon Vance, this is an excellent format for this epic....more