Reviews

We Could Be Heroes

All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault — James Alan Gardner
Dark Versus Spark, book 1

According to James Alan Gardner’s website:

I’m an award-winning writer, editor and teacher of science fiction and fantasy. I’ve published nine novels and a host of short stories in leading SF&F outlets. In addition to writing, I’m strongly interested in math and geology. In my spare time, I teach kung fu to kids and (unsuccessfully) to my rabbit.

2017’s All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault is the first novel in James Alan Gardner’s new Dark versus Spark series.

Kim Lam came to the University of Waterloo to reinvent themself, to go from gender to assertiveness. Thanks to some Mad Science, they will succeed beyond their wildest dreams.

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My Old Familiar Friend

The Kubishime Romanticist — NisiOisiN
Zaregoto, book 2

2002’s The Kubishime Romanticist is the second in NisiOisiN’s Zaregoto series.

Gloomy Ii-Chan has put crime-solving behind him and focused on being a jaded, unenthusiastic college student. Despite Ii-Chan’s best efforts to remain disconnected, he finds himself sparring with serial killer Zerozaki Hitoshiki. Worse yet, fellow student Aoii Mikoko insists on befriending him.

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You Should See My Scars

An Unkindness of Magicians — Kat Howard

Kat Howard’s 2017 An Unkindness of Magicians is a standalone urban fantasy.

Every twenty years, the magical houses of New York City’s Unseen World struggle for dominance in a series of increasingly dangerous contests known as the Turning. This time, the Turning is seven years early. The premature Turning is just one of the disquieting anomalies plaguing the Unseen World. Which may hint that magic itself may be dying.

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I am a Merry Ploughboy

The Makeshift Rocket — Poul Anderson

1962’s standalone comic SF novel The Makeshift Rocket is an expansion of Poul Anderson’s 1958 A Bicycle Built for Brew.

The gyrogravitic generator gave humans and Martians cheap space flight and the ability to transform any dead rock in space into an acceptable facsimile of a habitable world, one with Earth-like gravity and an atmosphere. Any gang of idiots with enough money could create their own pocket nation out in the Asteroid belt. Many idiots did.

Captain Dhan Gopal Radhakrishnan and Engineer Knud Axel Syrup of Mercury Girl sense that something is wrong on the worldlette Lois. Clue: the flags.

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So Limitless and Free

Binti: The Night Masquerade — Nnedi Okorafor
Binti, book 3

2018’s Binti: The Night Masquerade is the third and possibly final instalment in Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti series.

Still digesting the lessons learned in Binti: Home, young Binti is woken by a dreadful vision: her family trapped in the basement of their burning dwelling. She rushes home. She finds charred ruins and no visible survivors.

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This Heavy Crown

Back From Chaos — Yvonne Hertzberger
Earth's Pendulum, book 1

To paraphrase her website:

Yvonne Hertzberger has been a Jill of all Trades; actor, singer, gardener, hairstylist, and decorator. This long-time student of human nature, empty nester, retiree and late bloomer, finally found her calling writing epic fantasy. She lives with her spouse, Mark, in Stratford, Ontario.

2011’s Back from Chaos is the first volume in Hertzberger’s Earth’s Pendulum series.

Catania has fallen! Supine beneath the forces of neighboring Bargia, the Catanians expect the worst: looting, rape, arson, and mass executions.

What the Catanians get — much to the surprise of Marja, sole remaining member of Catania’s royal family — are reason and conciliation. The conquerors attempt to find a solution that will prevent future wars.

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Every Demon Wants His Pound of Flesh

Hiromu Arakawa
Fullmetal Alchemist, book 6

Viz’ Fullmetal Alchemist (3-in-1 Edition), Volumes 16–18 includes Volumes 16, 17, and 18 of the original Japanese manga1. Story and art are by Hiromu Arakawa; English translation by Akira Watanabe; English adaptation by Jake Forbes; touch-up art and lettering by Wayne Truman. The original manga appeared in 2007.

Still processing the revelations of the last few issues, Alphonse and Edward Elric head north to the Briggs’ Fortress, the kingdom of Amestris’ primary defence against neighbouring Drachma. In any sensible universe, Briggs’ commanding officer Major General Armstrong would be the most terrifying aspect of the trip. But as this is Fullmetal Alchemist, there’s far worse waiting for the brothers than one ruthless senior officer.

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Let The Light In

The Prey of Gods — Nicky Drayden

2017’s The Prey of Gods is Nicky Drayden’s debut novel.

Sydney Mazwai may be passing as a simple beautician now, but she has big plans. She appears to be just another human … but she is a being of power, a being who is scheming to unleash a new age of gods on humanity. The chaos will be delightful! And Sydney intends to be the greatest, meanest god of all.

Mr. Tau’s protégée Nomvula could just possibly derail her plans, but Sydney isn’t worried. Nomvula is, after all, only one little girl. How much trouble could one little girl cause? Even if that little girl is a godling herself?

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About Strange People in the Strangest Place

A World Out of Time — Larry Niven

ISFDB lists 1976’s A World Out of Time as one of Larry Niven’s State novels1, which it is. I liked to think of it as the last fun Niven novel. Having reread it, I am not so sure that’s right.

Jerome Branch Corbell had himself frozen in 1970 in a desperate bid to escape terminal cancer. In 2190, a man with Corbell’s memories woke up to discover a world unlike any Corbell had expected back in 1970, a world that expected him to expiate a crime he had no memory of committing … with a mission that would consume three centuries.

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A Restless Spirit on an Endless Flight

Stoneskin — K. B. Spangler
Deep Witch

2017’s Stoneskin is a prequel to K. B. Spangler’s upcoming Deep Witch trilogy.

Tembi Moon, one of the poorest of Adhama’s poor, knows her alleys and she knows that the alley in which she has awakened is no alley that she has ever seen. It’s the first hint that something vast and alien has taken a personal interest in her.

Vast, alien, and as friendly as a puppy dog.

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Truth in the Space Between

The Last Namsara — Kristen Ciccarelli

To quote her website:

Kristen Ciccarelli hails from Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula where she grew up on her grandfather’s grape farm. She spent her childhood running wild with her cousins, adventuring in the woods, building forts in the barn, and obsessing over books, dragons, and girls wielding really cool weapons.

2017’s The Last Namsara is Kristen Ciccarelli’s debut novel.

Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, hunts dragons. She has devoted her life to this quest, to the point that dragons have become an endangered species.

Her father the king has one final task for Asha. Kill Kozu, the First Dragon. One last death and the king’s rule will be secure against any revival of the old faith (and its dragons).

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No Colors Any More

Kubikiri Cycle — NisiOsiN
Zaregoto, book 1

2002’s Kubikiri Cycle is the first volume in NisiOisiN’s Zaregoto series. The 2008 English translation is by Greg Moore.

Exiled to Wet Crow’s Feather Island, Akagami Iria surrounds herself with the world’s best and brightest, people at the pinnacle of their chosen fields. But one resident, nineteen-year-old Il-chan, is no such genius. His lesser status gnaws at him. There’s no cure; for him, study and practice would be futile. But the fact that he knows he is a comparative dullard means that he is aware of his mediocrity — which fact bars him from the Garden of Eden that the truly dim enjoy.

Il-chan is on the island because his best friend Kunagisa Tomo is there. Kunigisa is a genius in her field of computer science. Outside her specialty, she is incapable of even minimal self-care or day-to-day competence. It’s Il-chan’s job to protect her from her own tunnel vision. Why would he do this? Well, certainly not because he’s in love with Kunagisa. That would be attachment and attachment is a fool’s game.

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Slack Your Rope Hangman

Exo — Fonda Lee

Fonda Lee’s 2017 Exo is a standalone young-adult SF adventure novel. (No, this is not a review of Steven Gould’s Exo, even if my editor wishes it were.)

Earth is a colony of the Mur Commonwealth, a colony protected by its benevolent zhree overlords from their rapacious Rii cousins. Most humans, secure in their placid second-class existence, regard the brutal resistance that first met the zhree as a regrettable mistake. For the insurgents of the Sapience, the resistance is an inspiration.

Teenager Donovan Reyes is a loyal soldier for the zhree: an elite soldier, hardened with alien biotechnology. Donovan and those like him are charged with maintaining the peace in West America. His enhancements provide Donovan and his comrades with the durability, speed, and lethality required to protect the “squishies,” as the soldiers deem the unenhanced humans, from their own worst impulses.

A moment of poor judgment lets the insurgents capture Donovan. Sapience’s policy is to brutally murder any soldiers they capture, pour encourager les autres. Donovan’s prospects are dim — or they would be if not for the fact that in addition to being a willing ally of the zhree, he is also the only son of West America’s Prime Liaison Reyes. Donovan has considerable hostage value.

The Reyes government does not negotiate with terrorists.

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The Best Kind of Loving Is The One That Hurts

The High Couch of Silistra — Janet E. Morris
Silistra Quartet, book 1

1977’s The High Couch of Silistra is the first volume in Janet Morris’ Silistra Quartet. It’s also proof that not every reviewer should review every book, because the market it caters to, the BDSM crowd, is not one to which I belong. I’m mostly blind to whatever strengths this work may have.

The ancient Silistrans used their impressive technology to scour their own homeworld. A handful survived in underground refuges. When the surface of Silistra recovered and the descendants of the survivors emerged from their warrens, they vowed to never again become dependent on technology.

Silistrans are hardy, long-lived, and thanks to that ancient war, infertile. High technology might have dealt with the fertility issue. The Silistrans chose an entirely different solution.

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Rise Up

The Tripods Trilogy — John Christopher

1967’s The White Mountains, 1968’s The City of Gold and Lead, and 1968’s The Pool of Fire constitute John Christopher’s Tripods trilogy.

A century after the coming of the Tripods, humans are few, backward, and well-behaved. It has been decades since any human posed a serious threat to Tripod rule.

That’s about to change.

(spoilers)

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It’s The Hard Knock Life

Beasts of New York — Jon Evans

To quote his Wikipedia entry, Arthur Ellis award-winner Jon Evans was

 (b)orn to an expatriate Rhodesian father and Canadian mother. Evans grew up in Waterloo, Ontario and graduated from the University of Waterloo. He has a degree in electrical engineering and over 10 years of experience working as a software engineer.

He’s also a former customer of mine, from the days when I owned a game store. Small world!

2011’s Beasts of New York won the Foreword Medal of the Year Award.

Patch son of Silver, of the Seeker clan, of the Treetops tribe, of the Center Kingdom, faces calamity, as do all his compatriots. Long winter means food stores are pressed to their limits and beyond. Instead of a meagre supply barely able to see Patch and his kin to spring, there is nothing. Starvation looms.

Patch discovers that his clan and kind face an existential threat that is far greater than a lean winter. The fate of the beasts of New York rests on the shoulders of Patch the squirrel.

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Heavenly Blessed and Worldy Wise

Stratagem — Yoshiki Tanaka
Legend of the Galactic Heroes, book 4

First published under the title Ginga Eiyu Densetsu, 1984’s Stratagem is the fourth volume in Yoshiki Tanaka’s Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Tyran Grillo’s translation was published by Haikasoru in 2017.

In any other era, military genius Reinhard von Lohengramm would have been just as successful at conquering the breakaway Free Planets Alliance as he has been at commandeering the reins of power in his native Galactic Empire. Fate was unkind to Lohengramm; the Free Planets have their own military genius in academic Yang Wen-li. Thus far, the Free Planets remain free.

Scheming merchants and disloyal aristocrats may be about to hand von Lohengramm the means to finally defeat the Free Planets.

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I Know At Last The Secret Of It All

Power Ballad — Molly Brooks

Molly Brooks’ 2017 Power Ballad is, in the words of its creator, a “lesbian superhero romcom” webcomic.

Meera Verma is the perfect personal assistant, so keen that it has taken her only two days to realize that her boss, talented musician Carina Peterson, is also Los Angeles’ two-fisted costumed vigilante, the Skeleton. As any respectable personal assistant would, Meera immediately extends her services to the Skeleton as well.

Meera has only one defect as an employee. She’s made the terrible error of falling hard for her boss.

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Like the Stars Above

Whipping Star — Frank Herbert
ConSentiency, book 1

1970’s Whipping Star is the third piece and first novel-length work in Frank Herbert’s ConSentiency series. I hope I’ve worked out how I am going to number Whipping Star by the time I post this review.

The ConSentiency spans the Milky Way. While faster than light drives exist, all are too slow for galactic travel. What made the ConSentiency practical was the jumpdoor. Jumpdoors allow people to step from the surface of one planet to the surface of another. Jumpdoors were so clearly useful that nobody questioned their enigmatic Caleban creators too closely about how exactly they worked.

Jumpdoors have some interesting undocumented features. For example, someone who knows their jumpdoors can use them to kill an astonishing fraction of the population of the ConSentiency in one go.

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Run For One And Then Catch None

Lightning in the Blood — Marie Brennan
Books of the Varekai, book 2

2017’s Lightning in the Blood is the second in Marie Brennan’s Books of the Varekai series.

At the end of Cold-Forged Flame, Ree set out to help her new friend Aadet overthrow the tyrant of Solaine. With the tyrant deposed and rightful heir Enkettsivaane in power, that leaves the question of what to do with Ree, who is an archon, a being of great power. A useful ally, yes, but a dangerous next-door neighbour.

Every archon must follow its nature. Providentially for Enkettsivaane, Ree’s nature provides a solution that will keep his hands clean. Ree’s wanderlust compels her towards Solaine’s border, towards new lands and new adventures.

She very nearly makes it out of Solaine.

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A Cherry Blossom Tree

The Riverbed of the World — B. C. Holmes

B. C. Holmes is:

 an IT consultant, a social justice activist (especially in regards to Haiti), a trans person, a writer and cartoonist, an sf fan, a pinko-commie feminist, a film-lover and a Canadian (eh?).

To date they have produced a small but diverse body of work. It includes non-fiction and fiction, graphic (in the sense of comic books) fiction, and spec-fic stories such as “Ghosts in the Machine,” “Glamour,” and the short work I’m reviewing, “The Riverbed of the World.”

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A Low Below The Low That You Know

Fullmetal Alchemist (3-in-1 Edition), Volumes 13–15 — Hiromu Arakawa
Fullmetal Alchemist, book 5

Viz’ Fullmetal Alchemist (3-in-1 Edition), Volumes 13–15 includes Volumes 13, 14, and 15 of the original Japanese manga1. Story and art are by Hiromu Arakawa; English translation by Akira Watanabe; English adaptation by Jake Forbes; touch-up art and lettering by Wayne Truman. The original manga appeared in 2006.

I’m cheating somewhat here. No local source has the omnibus. I tracked down the individual volumes. That should suffice.

Edward and Alphonse’s cunning scheme has paid off beyond their wildest nightmares. The brothers and their allies have managed to capture the homunculus Gluttony.

But their triumph is brief.

Once free, Gluttony sets out to even the score for its fellow homunculus, who died in the flames sent by pyromancer Roy Mustang. Gluttony’s plan succeeds beyond all expectation. Gone: expendable Prince Lin, Gone: Edward and homunculus Envy. Oops.

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No Escape From The Ties That Bind

Provenance — Ann Leckie

Ann Leckie’s 2017’s Provenance is either a standalone novel set in the same universe as the Ancillary books, or the first book in a series set in the same universe as the Ancillary books. I should find out which it is before posting this. Wonder if I will.

Oh, well.

Determined to prove her worth to her high-ranking foster-mother Netano Aughskold, Ingray Aughskold has invested most of her money in a very bold scheme, a scheme so well planned that it does not go off the rails until shortly before the book begins.

Ingray paid to have a very special person retrieved from durance vile. She did not expect him to arrive in a suspension box1. Nor did she anticipate that meticulously conscientious Captain Uisine would insist on talking to the man in the box to make sure that he wanted to be transported from Tyr Siilas to distant Hwae. Nor did Ingray foresee that the man in the box would deny being Pahlad Budrakim, the arch-criminal who is the key to Ingray’s cunning plan.

And then the real complications begin.

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Will A Pretty Face Make It Better?

Restoree — Anne McCaffrey

Anne McCaffrey’s standalone SF novel Restoree was her debut novel.

Snatched by monstrous aliens, embittered spinster Sara wakes from nightmares to find herself transformed from an all-too-Semitic-looking woman whom nobody could possibly love to a beauty. Her current captors are using her as grunt labor in a mental institution. They regard her as semi-intelligent and unthreatening.

Her masters’ underestimation of Sara’s cognitive abilities will prove their undoing.


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Strange Little Girls

The Murders of Molly Southbourne — Tade Thompson

Tade Thompson’s 2017 The Murders Of Molly Southbourne is a standalone novel of SF horror.

Molly’s parents taught her four simple rules:

If you see a girl who looks like you, run and fight.
Don’t bleed.
If you bleed, blot, burn, and bleach.

If you find a hole, find your parents.

Failure to follow any one of these rules could mean death. For Molly, for her parents, for anyone involved.

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