Reviews

This Old and Empty House

The Twisted Ones — T. Kingfisher

T. Kingfisher’s 2019 The Twisted Ones is a standalone horror novel.

Rather than saddle her elderly father with the job, Melissa — Mouse to most folks — accepts the task of sorting through her late grandmother’s North Carolina home. In life, the old lady was malicious and cruel. Nobody much misses her. Even in death, Mouse’s grandmother gets one last joke at her relatives’ expense: she was a hoarder. The house is full of detritus and poor Mouse must sort through it.


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Burn Brighter Than The Sun

War Girls — Tochi Onyebuchi

Tochi Onyebuchi’s 2019 War Girls is a MilSF novel.

The Western powers — the oyinbo — gave the world the gifts of climate change and nuclear war. In the aftermath of the war, nations like America and Britain established glittering space colonies. Many nations succumbed to fallout. Nigeria, on the border of the uninhabitable zone, home to mineral riches, fell back on the familiar habits of civil war: Biafra’s Igbo against everyone else.

Young Onyii is already a seasoned veteran; the loss of an arm has only strengthened her desire to see Biafra free of Nigerian and oyinbo interference. Her only distraction from patriotic fervour is her adopted sister Ify, whom Onyii rescued after Ify was orphaned as an infant. The two sisters live in a camp hidden from Nigerian sensors.

But not hidden well enough.


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Art to Enchant

Hild — Nicola Griffith
Light of the World, book 1

2013’s Hild is the first volume in Nicola Griffith’s Light of the World historical series.

Hild is the second daughter of Prince Hereric Yffing. Alas, Hereric was Hereric the Hapless. He was deposed, exiled, and poisoned, leaving his widow and children in an awkward position. Their existence makes them a potential threat to the ruler who deposed and exiled the former king: Edwin Snakebeard. Hild’s uncle.

Flight would be a chancy strategy. Hild chooses to submit to the new king and make herself useful. Young Hild becomes the king’s seer.


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Holding Out For a Hero

A Hero Born — Jin Yong
Legends of the Condor Heroes, book 1

1957’s Shediao Yingxiong Zhuan is a wuxia novel by Jin Yong (Louis Cha). 2019’s A Hero Born is Anna Holmwood’s English translation of the first part of the work, collectively known in English as Legends of the Condor Heroes.

Everything is going swimmingly in Southern Song era China, provided one is not a Southern Song era Han Chinese. In the north, Jin is slowly encroaching on the remnant of China left after the Jin crushed the Northern Song in the previous century. To the west, the Mongols, long divided into contending tribes, have a leader ready to unite his nation into one unparalleled force.

In the South, the Han Chinese have to prevail against foreign raids and flamboyantly corrupt officials. It is up to heroes like Ironheart Yang and his best friend Skyfury Guo to defend the Chinese against the Jin, the Mongols and most importantly, the Chinese.


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Yet In My Dreams I’d Be

Cults of Prax — Steve Perrin & Greg Stafford

Steve Perrin and Greg Stafford’s 1979 booklet Cults of Prax is a source book for the venerable RuneQuest roleplaying game. It was, I believe, the second publication in the RuneQuest line. Cults of Prax outlines the religions found in Prax, a wasteland adjacent to the Dragon Pass region featured in the original rule set. This booklet fleshed out the backstory to the world of Glorantha, the setting used for most (but not all) editions of RuneQuest.

The somewhat dry material was spiced up with comments from a wandering trader with long experience of the peoples of the Prax region.


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Standing in the Dark

Vampiric: Tales of Blood and Roses from Japan — Heather Dubnick

2019’s Vampiric: Tales of Blood and Roses from Japan, edited by Heather Dubnick, is a translated anthology of Japanese vampire stories.


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Those Schoolgirl Days

A Blade So Black — L. L. McKinney
Nightmare-verse, book 1

L. L. McKinney’s 2018 A Blade So Black is the first volume in her Nightmare-verse urban fantasy series.

Teenage Alice has a full plate: a father struck down by heart disease, an over-protective mother, and a secret life as a monster-hunter.


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Blinded Me With Science

Tales from the Society for the Preservation of Preposterous Absurdity — Shane Darke

Shane Darke’s 2019 Tales from the Society for the Preservation of Preposterous Absurdity is a collection of absurdist science fantasy tales. All of the stories feature the head of the Society, Dr. Martin Smotheringale, and are related by his greatest fan, Dr. Martin Smotheringale.


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All The Best

Gideon the Ninth — Tamsyn Muir

Tamsyn Muir’s 2019 Gideon the Ninth is the first volume in a space opera series that may be as yet unnamed (a sequel, Harrow the Ninth, will be out in 2020).

Gideon Nav, of poorly documented parentage, has been indentured to the Ninth House since she was an infant.

The Ninth House is known by other names: the Keepers of the Locked Tomb, House of the Sewn Tongue, and the Black Vestals, for example. Nowhere are the houses of necromancy given any names that would suggest the they are fun places to live. No, they are not fun. Gideon has been scheming escape ever since she was old enough to form the thought of leaving. None of her efforts have succeeded … yet. Why let a 100% failure rate keep her from trying?

As the story begins, Gideon is preparing another escape attempt, one that will surely succeed!


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A Fly On Your Wall

Danny Dunn, Invisible Boy — Raymond Abrashkin & Jay Williams
Danny Dunn, book 13


Raymond Abrashkin and Jay Williams’ 1974 Danny Dunn, Invisible Boy is a juvenile SF story. It is the thirteenth (and third last) novel in the Danny Dunn series.

Scolded and humiliated when his paper airplane bounces off his English teacher mid-class, Danny Dunn wonders if his life would be better if he could be invisible at will. He discusses the matter with his chums Irene and Joe. Joe, who has been reading mysteries, suggests that misdirection is the best way to attain practical invisibility. Danny would prefer true invisibility, but is willing to give misdirection a try. The trio tries to use misdirection to steal cookies under the nose of Danny’s mom; they fail abjectly.

But Mrs. Dunn’s scientist employer, Professor Bullfinch, uses the distraction provided by the trio’s attempt to actually steal some cookies. Crumbs on the professor’s shirt give the game away.

This gives Danny to think. It reminds Danny that his mom’s boss is a brilliant if impractical genius. If anyone could figure out true invisibility, surely it would be Bullfinch

Nope.


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Come Back Even Stronger

Magical Women — Sukanya Venkatraghavan

Sukanya Venkatraghavan’s 2019 Magical Women is a speculative fiction anthology that showcases a few of India’s best women writers.

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Legend in My Living Room

Demons of Shanghai — Hiromu Arakawa

Hiromu Arakawa’s 2000 Demons of Shanghai (Shanghai Yōmakikai) was a short-lived urban-fantasy manga.

Shanghai in 2050 is a thoroughly modern city with thoroughly modern amenities. Alas, it is also home to more traditional beings: gods, demons, and other supernatural entities. Such creatures are more than the city officials, even the police, can manage.

For those, the city has no choice but to reluctantly call on the Demon Taoists Corporation.


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Make Thee Mightier Yet

Johannes Cabal the Detective — Jonathan L. Howard
Johannes Cabal, book 2

2010’s Johannes Cabal the Detective is the second volume in Jonathan L. Howard’s Ruritanian fantasy steampunk series.

Detained by the Mirkavians on a specious pretext, amoral necromancer Johannes Cabal finds himself drafted into Count Marechal’s bold plan to elevate the Mirkavian Empire from a minor historical footnote to a modern reality. For that to happen, the Count needs the King of Mirkavia to make an inspiring speech. Too bad that the king is dead. The Count orders Cabal to revive the king just long enough to deliver a speech.

What could go wrong?


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We’re Better Off Apart

The City and the Stars — Arthur C. Clarke

Arthur C. Clarke’s 1956 The City and the Stars is a standalone SF novel. A famous SF novel.

A billion years in the future, Earth is a lifeless, arid desert world. The galaxy-spanning civilization of the ancients is gone, the victim, or so myth has it, of nigh-unstoppable Invaders. The last remnant of humanity lives in the city of Diaspar. The inhabitants are effectively immortal, being reincarnated over and over again from Central Computer records.

Once reborn, they take up their old roles. That is, everyone but young Alvin, one of the rare unique persons intermittently created to ensure that Diaspar does not completely stagnate. Alvin is going to succeed in this purpose and then some.


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Just Another Ordinary Day

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance — Lois McMaster Bujold


Lois McMaster Bujold’s 2012 Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance is an SF adventure. It’s set in her Vorkosiverse, but unlike most of the other novels, which focus on Cordelia Vorkosigan or her son Miles, it stars Miles’ cousin Ivan Xav Vorpatril — better known as “Ivan, you idiot!”

Ivan is widely viewed as a shallow, lazy womanizer. This is in large part a well-crafted mask. Ivan eschews any appearance of dedication or boldness. He is not viewed as a threat; as a consequence, he is still alive, an achievement many bold Vorkosiverse characters cannot claim. (Well his cousin Miles is bold and threatening; naturally, he died once. It’s just that Miles being Miles, he got better.) If Ivan has his way, he will have a long, unremarkable career followed by a long, unremarkable retirement.

Ivan is not going to have his way.


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Right From Wrong and Weak From Strong

A Ruin of Shadows — L. D. Lewis

L. D. Lewis’ 2018 A Ruin of Shadows is a standalone secondary-universe fantasy novella.

General Édo and her Shadow Army — an army of just seven people — have fought for decades to expand the Boorhian Empire. Each of the Shadows brings their own special skill set to the task of annihilating enemies. Ebony-masked Édo, for example, is essentially invulnerable, which is convenient for a professional soldier.

All careers ultimately end.


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Heartaches by the Number

Finna — Nino Cipri

Nino Cipri’s 2020 Finna is a standalone SF novella.

Heartbroken over her breakup with Jules, Ava has rearranged her life to minimize contact with her ex. A challenging task, given that the pair both work at soulless big box store LitenVärld. Still, careful schedule management should do the trick. At least if fucking Derek doesn’t call in sick, obligating Ava come in to work on what should be an off-day.

The resulting encounter between the former couple is as uncomfortable as it is unwanted. But it could be worse — and is.


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Rise From the Ashes

Kingdom of Souls — Rena Barron

Rena Barron’s 2019 Kingdom of Souls is a young-adult secondary-universe fantasy.

Arrah is the daughter of powerful parents. Her father is a respected witchdoctor, an honorary member of the Aatari tribe’s ruling council, the edam. Her mother Arti occupies an even loftier position as Ka-Priestess. It is the third most powerful position in the Kingdom. Arrah, alas, has as much magical power as a hollow gourd. Some folks like her prove to be late bloomers of remarkable ability. Arrah is increasingly convinced she is just a magicless failure.

There are ways for the powerless to gain power. They’re costly. One would have to be desperate to try them. Soon, Arrah will be desperate enough.


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Terrible Swift Sword

Edison’s Conquest of Mars — Garrett P. Serviss

Garrett P. Serviss’ 1898 Edison’s Conquest of Mars is a sequel to 1897’s Fighters from Mars, or The War of the Worlds in and near Boston, which was a version of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds rewritten and dumbed down by persons unknown in order to better suit Yankee sensibilities.

Having survived Mars’ first attack thanks to the Martian vulnerability to modern Terrestrial diseases, the people of Earth are alarmed when astronomers report that the foul Martians are preparing for a second foray. Mars has the technological edge; it is likely that they will be able to guard their second invasion force against disease.

Is Earth doomed? No. Earth has Thomas Edison.


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All You Do is Look the Other Way

Takako Shimura
Sweet Blue Flowers, book 1

Takako Shimura’s Sweet Blue Flowers (Aoi Hana) was serialized between 2004 and 2013. Volume One contains the first seven issues.

When they were separated as children, BFFs Akira Okudaira and Fumi Manjoume vowed to write each other every day. Well …

Years later, they meet again on a train. They’re both travelling to their new high school. They don’t recognize each other and find themselves making friends all over again. Eventually the penny drops. Recognition! Delight! It’s almost as though the intervening years had never been.

Which is good, because Fumi could use a friend.


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You Should See Me in a Crown

Empress of Forever — Max Gladstone

Max Gladstone’s 2019 Empress of Forever is a standalone space opera.

Oligarch Vivian Liao is certain that Earth’s shadowy masters have finally tired of her. She fears that in short order she will be immured in some deep-state prison, slated for a brief but memorable terminal interview with a torturer. She attempts to avoid this dismal fate by launching a daring bid to conquer the world. She will hack and control the world’s computer infrastructure. Bwahaha!

Before she can do more than start her attack, she is dragged off to another realm by an enigmatic woman in futuristic garb.


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I’m a Lionheart

The Ten Thousand Doors of January — Alix E. Harrow

Alix E. Harrow’s debut novel The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a standalone portal fantasy.

January Scaller rarely sees her beloved father, because Julian Scaller is absent running errands for wealthy Mr. Locke. She has been raised mainly by Mr. Locke’s servants. Her life is cozy and safe, but January increasingly feels that she is just one of Locke’s carefully guarded treasures. Not at all a person.

But a person who is a one-of-a-kind human, one who might not do well in the harsh outside world.


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Season For Battle Wounds

The Deathworld Trilogy — Harry Harrison

Harry Harrison’s The Deathworld Trilogy consists of three works: 1960’s Deathworld, 1964’s Deathworld 2, and 1968’s Deathworld 3. Alternate titles: Deathworld, The Ethical Engineer, and The Horse Barbarians. All were serialized in the same magazine, which was known as Astounding when Deathworld was published and Analog when the other two came out.

(The Deathworld series is much longer. More on that later.)


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Skies of Blue, Clouds of White

Iruka Shiomiya
Kino's Journey: the Beautiful World, book 1

Iruka Shiomiya’s manga Kino’s Journey: the Beautiful World is based on Keiichi Sigsawa’s light novel series of the same name.

Kino wanders her world in the company of her talking motorcycle, Hermes. The pair visit community after community, never staying more than three days.

Volume one covers three incidents in Kino’s journey.


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Just a Whisper of Smoke

Spirit Hunters — Ellen Oh
Spirit Hunter, book 1

Ellen Oh’s Spirit Hunters is the first volume in her middle grade Spirit Hunter series.

Grade-seven student Harper Raine is coping with an unwanted move to a spooky mansion in Washington, DC. If that were not stressful enough, she has a mysterious past about which her parents are mum and an older sister who blames Harper for all that is wrong in the world. At least her four-year-old brother Michael likes Harper.

Back to the spooky mansion thing….


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