About these recommendations

In this series, we bring you a selection of science fiction and fantasy book reviews that we enjoyed, and highlight the qualities that made them work for us.

We’re not assigning ratings. We’re saying what we enjoyed, while at the same time paying attention to the craft of writing and to those who we feel do it well.

Cover> Title Author Review Buttons Genre Keywords Sort Name Date Added
Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds Brandon Sanderson

Stephen Leeds can learn any subject in a matter of hours. To keep himself sane, he creates a new personality to manifest that new expertise. As he reminds himself, sanity is a relative thing.

Having an entourage of imaginary people following him can be challenging (he has over 50), but he’s willing to pay the price for the abilities it gives him. These stories are a fascinating exploration of psychoses and genius framed in fun action mysteries to put them on display.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Character Arc Sanderson, Brandon 2021-01-24T03:00:24.000Z
Mythago Wood Mythago Wood Robert Holdstock

Ryhope Wood is a small woodland about 3 miles square. But George Huxley knew there was more to the small bit of primeval forest than met the eye. His experiments revealed a hidden world within, and awoke an ancient force that has begun tentatively extending beyond the bounds of the woodland. And now George is missing and mysterious figures and creatures wander at twilight along the edges of his estate…

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Occult,Top Ten Holdstock, Robert 2021-01-24T22:54:01.000Z
The Hammond Conjecture The Hammond Conjecture M B Reed

A man named Hugh surfaces in a London mental hospital, confused and disoriented. His doctor encourages him to write down his memories to aid his recovery. But the tale he writes, of being an MI6 agent in an England that signed a peace treaty with Nazi Germany, doesn’t match the world outside the asylum. Hugh suspects a nefarious mind-control experiment, while his doctors suspect a confabulated story to cover a traumatic event. But government agents show a strange interest in Hugh’s case, which suggests that both narratives might have substance.

This story is an exploration of many sorts of alternate worlds. There are worlds of imagination, realities constructed to explain, or hide, or reconcile ideas too big to grasp. There are quantum realities, where key decisions make branches in the timeline — and if those other branches can’t be directly observed, how are they different from the imagined worlds? There are the worlds of propaganda, constructed to twist the world by controlling the narrative. And there are worlds of self-delusion.

Hugh reminded me at times of Inspector Clouseau from the old Pink Panther movies. (I could totally imagine Peter Sellers playing the part of Hugh.) Hugh is a comically inept MI6 agent who manages just enough accidental successes to set himself up for the next predicament. This is a fun book that deserves more attention than it’s gotten.

amazon Science Fiction Alternate History,Time Travel,Historical,Humor Reed, M B 2021-12-05T02:38:20.000Z
Sailing to Sarantium Sailing to Sarantium Guy Gavriel Kay

In this two-volume tale, Guy Gavriel Kay assembles, stone by glittering stone, the tale of a master mosaicist, Caius Crispus, who is summoned to perform the commission of a lifetime by the emperor of Sarantium. Crispen journeys from a small, plague-stricken town that has claimed his family and his joy of life, to the glittering capital that is the analog of our Constantinople. He must make his way through Byzantine plots and tensions while maintaining his integrity and honor. Among those, how does he weigh the images of the official religion of the empire, against those pagan avatars that have more directly touched his life, knowing that those are considered as subversive by many in Sarantium. Kay’s prose is lyrical and rich, whether describing the way that a mosaicist perceives light and color in ways that you may not, or the way in which a chariot racer perceives the patterns in the dust and chaos of a chariot race. The two-volume set completes Crispin’s arc through his commission, his career, and his journey of self-discovery.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Historical Kay, Guy Gavriel 2021-01-22T14:06:04.000Z
Illuminations Illuminations T. Kingfisher

Once upon a time, there was a family of artists who painted Illuminations for a living. These Illuminations are charms of a sort, protecting homes from fire, warding off mice, helping healing, or encouraging the bread to rise. The youngest daughter, Rosa, wants desperately to become an Illuminator to help her family, but the magic hasn’t kicked in yet. One day in the cellar of magical knicknacks, she finds an old box and releases a malevolent Illumination, one that defaces other Illuminations and drains their power. Her family’s business will be ruined if she can’t stop this rogue drawing.

This is pitched as a middle-grade novel, but all ages will appreciate the innovative magic system and the folklore woven around it.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Young Adult,Magic Kingfisher, T. 2023-01-02T08:21:05.000Z
And I Darken And I Darken Kiersten White

The daughter and son of Vlad Dracula are hostage to the Ottoman empire.

In this telling, Vlad is a weak nobleman, pushed around by more powerful men. His daughter Lada vows never to be as weak, and teaches herself all the fierce drive that legend ascribes to her father. Her brother, Radu, is seemingly a timid scholar, but grows to be a cunning politician. Their courses collide when they each fall in love with the Sultan who wants to re-take Constantinople.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Historical,Cultures White, Kiersten 2021-01-24T14:47:24.000Z
Fuzzy Nation Fuzzy Nation John Scalzi

When is it appropriate to re-imagine a classic and much-loved science fiction novel? Scalzi has updated H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy from 1962 for a new generation of readers. After reading and enjoying Scalzi’s book, I reread Piper’s to see how they compared.

Piper’s tale had a very fifties feel to it, with a large cast of characters (almost all male, of course). The story was about the big ideas of what constituted sentience and our duty to protect it. The characters weren’t very well developed, nor was the conflict very sharp. In that era, SF was about ideas.

Scalzi shrank the cast from around 30 to a half-dozen, and gave them backstories and more distinct voices so it was easier to keep track of their roles. Jack Holloway went from gruff old prospector to disbarred lawyer who had become a surveyor for reasons of his own. While the story evolved along similar lines, there was a much heightened sense of personal peril for the protagonists and a considerably more dramatic ending.

While both are good stories, and Piper’s is fondly remembered by many who read it earlier, Scalzi’s take is a worthy re-telling for the modern age.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Aliens,Anthropology Scalzi, John 2021-03-24T01:02:34.000Z
The Lord of the Rings The Lord of the Rings J R R Tolkien

The battle for Middle Earth, and how the smallest heroes are often more important than the greatest ones. The trilogy that launched the entire epic fantasy genre. If you’ve only seen the movie, you’ve missed countless referrences to events in Tolkein’s orginal.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Cultures,Top Ten,Adventure,Quest,Epic Tolkien, J R R 2021-02-04T19:21:45.000Z
Agency Agency William Gibson

This is what you read Gibson for: cyberpunk, post-singularity, augmented humans, AI, up-to-the-minute world events, seasoned with an eye for characters who are at least two standard deviations away from average. As expected, he pays attention to the role that information, branding, media, form and function play with our perceptions of the world. This continues from his novel The Peripheral, which was probably a stronger story.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Cyberpunk Gibson, William 2021-01-24T03:29:12.000Z
The Way of Kings The Way of Kings Brandon Sanderson

Epic is a word for lesser books. This is a 1200 page tome of culture and conflict in a very different world that is scoured by titanic storms every few days. Life is adapted to harsh conditions including the Chasmfiends (a giant crustacean) and Rockbuds (a plant), and so have the people. It’s a long road to reach the end of this book, but it pays off in the end.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Character Arc,Epic,Adventure Sanderson, Brandon 2021-01-24T03:08:58.000Z
Storm Front Storm Front Jim Butcher

Harry Dresden is a private investigator and wizard for hire. He is retained by the Chicago PD when they encounter a series of grisly murders with occult connections. Somewhat in the mold of noir detectives, Harry is broke, has transportation problems, has a checkered history with authority both civil and magical, and has relationship issues with the opposite sex.

When Harry tracks down an untutored mage using blood magic to build his power, he finds that his opponent is planning to summon a powerful demon that Harry knows he won’t be able to control. Worse, the mage has gotten a lock of Harry’s hair, marking Harry as the next victim. The police and the mage’s council both think Harry is responsible for the killings and his few friends think he’s crazy. Time is running out.

If you like fast-paced occult mysteries or noir detective stories, give this one a try.

amazon Fantasy Magic,Occult,Noir,Humor Butcher, Jim 2023-02-05T13:53:28.000Z
Fool Moon Fool Moon Jim Butcher

Wizard for hire Harry Dresden is so down on his luck (mostly due to his own life choices) that he can’t pay for his next meal let alone make his rent. When his contact in the Chicago PD reluctantly brings him in on a series of murders that happen on the nights of full moons, Harry hopes that he can simultaneously protect the innocent, regain the trust of the police, and improve his cash flow. Nope.

It turns out there are more types of werewolf than anyone knew, and they’re all contenders in the case. Some work for the mob, some for wizards, and some want to keep their pack safe. It all leads to a showdown at the mansion of the wealthiest man in Chicago.

amazon Fantasy Occult,Noir,Magic Butcher, Jim 2023-02-05T15:31:52.000Z
The Martian The Martian Andy Weir

Mark Watney is stranded on the surface of Mars during a deadly dust storm. He has to use every survival skill and all the science he knows to survive and get word to Earth that he’s out there. But the only rescue ship is months away.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Top Ten,Survival Weir, Andy 2021-02-04T19:00:44.000Z
Lord Valentine's Castle Lord Valentine’s Castle Robert Silverberg

Valentine’s memories start one day on the outskirts of a great city, as a festival begins to celebrate the reign of the new ruler. He remembers nothing before that day. Is it only coincidence that he shares a name with the new Coronal? Is it fate that brings him into the company of traveling jugglers, who can help him on his journey? Silverberg tells a compelling tale of Valentine’s journey, both across a wildly imaginative planet and through his personal quest to become himself once more, or perhaps more than he was. The art of juggling is woven throughout the story, a metaphor for balance, insight, teamwork, and much more.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Quest,Character Arc,Top Ten,Epic Silverberg, Robert 2021-01-22T14:22:17.000Z
Red Thunder Red Thunder John Varley

Four teenagers and a washed out astronaut decide to build a spaceship out of scrap and beat the Chinese mission to Mars — after it’s already launched. Thanks to a radical new invention by the astronaut’s cousin, they have the power to do it, if they can overcome the thousands of technical challenges of making a craft that can survive the journey. On the surface, it’s a cracking good yarn in a classic sci-fi mold.

But if the plot sounds familiar, just look back to Rocket Ship Galileo, Robert Heinlein’s tale of three teenagers and a washed-up scientist building a moon rocket. This is Varley’s ode to Heinlein. Character names, quotes, and story titles from Heinlein are dropped heavily throughout the story, and any Heinlein fan will have fun trying to pick them all up. But it’s more than just fan fiction. Varley is a great writer, and fleshes out characters in ways that RAH never did. You’ll also pick up on him poking fun at Heinlein’s most egregious libertarian excesses and those who follow them.

If you want a good read in a classic style, this is a good story to pick up.

amazon Science Fiction Adventure,Science Varley, John 2022-08-03T23:59:40.000Z
Calamity Calamity Brandon Sanderson

In the conclusion to the trilogy, David leads his team against their former leader who has become the most powerful High Epic to date. Their face off takes place in the former city of Atlanta, which has been turned to salt and now sails across the country. They acquire an unreliable Epic ally who can steal the powers of any other epic they touch. Can they learn from the Epics who can steal or bestow powers something that can kill – or cure – all epics?

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Post-Apocalypse,Young Adult Sanderson, Brandon 2023-01-01T12:26:38.000Z
The Silver Ship and the Sea The Silver Ship and the Sea Brenda Cooper

Six genetically modified children have been orphaned in a colony on an isolated world that abhors what they represent. Yet their reluctant guardians are morally bound to raise and care for them. As the children grow older they begin to learn more about their world, the colony, and themselves, and their new knowledge proves both thrilling and frightening. And just beyond reach, past the Grass Plains, lies the ever-present starship, shining silver, tightly sealed, waiting. A Young Adult tale by Brenda Cooper of adventure on a dangerous world.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Adventure Cooper, Brenda 2021-01-24T22:45:19.000Z
Starter Villain Starter Villain John Scalzi

Charlie’s uncle leaves him an unusual bequest. Despite never having met him, he’s inherited his business. Said business comes with henchmen, a base in a volcanic island, death lasers, and intelligent cats. Oh, and a war with a cabal of supervillains.

This is a fun, fast romp of a book that does for Bond Villains what <a href=https://lamp.works/shop?amazon=B0079XPUOW>Redhirts did for Star Trek tropes.

amazon Science Fiction Humor,Satire Scalzi, John 2023-10-05T00:22:17.000Z
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue V. E. Schwab

Three hundred years ago, Addie LaRue is desperate to escape a marriage she doesn’t want and a village that’s too confining. She wants to see the world, to go beyond the market city that her father took her to when he traded his woodworking for goods and coins. She makes a deal with a devil in the woods the night before her wedding, and comes out to find the entire village has forgotten her. Doomed to live and cursed to be forgotten, she sees the world as she had wished, but cannot find anyone to share it with. Then in the beginning of the new millenium, she finds someone who can remember her name…

A twist on the deal with the devil folk tales, this story asks an interesting question. How do you leave your mark on the world if no one can remember you once you’re out of their sight?

amazon Fantasy Historical,Occult Schwab, V. E. 2022-01-10T23:28:41.000Z
Sea of Tranquility Sea of Tranquility Emily St. John Mandel

This time-skipping novel follows three lives: a dissolute English exile in the Pacific Northwest in 1912, a Lunar author in 2203 in the fog of a whirlwind book tour amid the rumors of a new virus, and a time-detective in 2401 investigating anomalies in the timeline. Each of these characters is poignant and engaging, though seemingly unconnected. Yet the detective begins to believe they have something in common: a singular moment in each of their lives that each describes in different terms. The detective follows a hunch that these moments threaten the timeline – something his agency guards vigilantly against – as he follows these stories to their surprising conclusion.

I heartily recommend this atmospheric and beautifully-written tale.

amazon Science Fiction Time Travel Mandel, Emily St. John 2023-10-05T00:14:58.000Z
The Rithmatist The Rithmatist Brandon Sanderson

A steampunk world where magic is done with geometrical figures. You either are a Rithmatist – have the ability – or not. Joel is not, but he has a passion for the art and science of the craft. When young Rithmatists in training begin disappearing from the Academy, Joel feels driven to investigate, no matter the danger to himself.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Magic,Young Adult Sanderson, Brandon 2021-01-24T03:22:29.000Z
Minor Mage Minor Mage T. Kingfisher

Oliver was 12 and knew three spells. But as the village wizard it was his job to go find the cloud herders and ask them to send rain to his drought-stricken village. He sets out with his sarcastic familiar and a big heart to do the job that needs to be done, learning that in a pinch, just two spells are enough. Clever, funny dialog keeps it lively, and the ending is satisfying enough, though somewhat rushed.

P.S. The blurb on Amazon almost didn’t convince me to pick this one up, being rather lackluster. The book is better than the blurb would lead you to believe.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Magic,Young Adult,Humor Kingfisher, T. 2021-01-24T02:44:58.000Z
This is Not a Game This is Not a Game Walter Jon Williams

Dagmar Shaw designs games for a living. Games that intrude into your everyday existence until the characters start leaving you phone messages asking you to go places and meet people. The stories are beyond immersive, they take over your life.

Now Dagmar has been pulled into intrigues that rival, then surpass her own games. But the stakes are much higher and the situations are deadly. This is not a game, and someone from her past is pulling her strings.

This is a really fun and multi-layered mystery wrapped in a thriller wrapped in a deadly serious game. I recommend it.

amazon Science Fiction Cyberpunk Williams, Walter Jon 2021-09-19T02:41:41.000Z
Fugitive Telemetry Fugitive Telemetry Martha Wells

A murdered body has been found on peaceful Preservation Station. Station Security are out of their depth, but are reluctant to ask their resident SecUnit, Murderbot, to help in the investigation. SecUnits are much better known for causing corpses than for investigating them, after all. Murderbot takes the job anyway. It has to know more about an investigation, right? It’s watched tens of thousands of hours of entertainment media that covered lots of murders. Unfortunately, real life isn’t like that.

amazon Science Fiction Murder Mystery,Cultures,Character Arc Wells, Martha 2024-02-14T02:22:03.000Z
A Memory Called Empire A Memory Called Empire Arkady Martine

The Teixcalaan Empire dominates all power and culture in its sphere of the galaxy, and steadily annexes new systems to push its borders outwards. Ambassador Mahit Dzmare is summoned to the capitol to take the post left vacant by the death of her predecessor. She carries the memories of the previous ambassador in an implant in her head, but those are fifteen years out of date. She finds the Empire in tension, the old emperor in failing health and the power plays for the succession are a gathering storm. Everyone has secrets: the court, her aide, the Emperor, her own government, even Mahit herself.

This story is about identity on many levels. Independent systems like Mahit’s struggle not to be assimilated into Teixcalaan’s pervasive culture. But Mahit herself idolizes that culture, and wishes she was not an outsider — a barbarian. And with the voices of past ambassadors in her head, can she even be sure of who she is any longer? The story itself is a blend of court intrigue and non-stop action as the situation deteriorates and puts Mahit in danger.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Galactic Empire,Cultures Martine, Arkady 2021-11-04T23:32:21.000Z
Otherland: River of Blue Fire Otherland: River of Blue Fire Tad Williams

This is the second book of four in the Otherland series. (Otherland: City of Golden Shadow was reviewed last month.) The story has moved on from the “What the heck is going on?” stage to an almost-entirely virtual world struggle against the masters of the titanic simulation. Eight explorers have penetrated, and then become stranded in, the private worlds of the most powerful people on the planet. That it has purposes more sinister than a debauched playground for the rich has become clear, but the explorers struggle to peel away the layers to find the truth.

At times, the progress becomes the procession through Dante’s cirles of Hell, as the explorers fight through an entomologist’s simulation at 1/1000 scale, a dystopian Oz, H.G. Well’s martian invasion, and much more. None of the explorers had ever been before in Real Life, so they must establish a working trust based on their wildly different online identities. Highly recommended if you like a highly immersive and highly bizarre journey.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Cyberpunk,Adventure Williams, Tad 2021-01-24T23:21:49.000Z
A Psalm for the Wild Built A Psalm for the Wild Built Becky Chambers

One day the robots achieved consciousness and walked out of the factories. They went out into the wilderness to find their own path, leaving humans to remake their society without them.

Centuries later, a tea monk named Dex becomes unsatisfied with a successful career of ministering to people and sets off into the forbidden wilderness to find their calling. Instead they find a robot, on a similar quest. Reluctantly, they go together to find an ancient hermitage. (Reluctantly, because aren’t hermits supposed to be, you know, solitary?)

This gentle and short tale is much-needed antidote to the avalanche of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction these days. Much like one of Dex’s fragrant mugs of tea.

amazon Science Fiction Character Arc Chambers, Becky 2021-09-19T03:00:51.000Z
Good Guys Good Guys Steven Brust

The Good Guys are how the small supernatural crime-fighting unit describes itself, though not infrequently with a question mark. They’re part of the Spanish Foundation, a group that is dedicated to keeping magic secret and enforcing moral standards. Against them are the Mystici, a shadowy group that takes a more libertarian approach and is willing to employ much more questionable tactics.

Life in the unit is bound by bureaucracy, penny pinching, second-guessing supervisors, and rules that just beg to be bent to get the job done, especially when they’re on the track of a serial killer. The dialogue is snappy and sarcastic, the trail is twisty and laden with red herrings, and seems to be leading back inside the organization that they work for. The central question of the book is “Who are the Good Guys here?”

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Magic,Urban Fantasy Brust, Steven 2021-10-18T12:36:35.000Z
Swordheart Swordheart T. Kingfisher

This story is a near neighbor of the Clocktaur War books. I came for the inventive settings, the amusing dialog, and the fun characters. I was ambushed by a Romance plot. (I’m not overly fond of romances; I think they’re tedious.) I still had a great time. The best part for me was the heroine’s superpower: the ability to confuse and confound any foe (and most friends) with stream-of-consciousness absurdities that almost make sense.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Magic,Quest,Humor Kingfisher, T. 2021-01-24T03:50:44.000Z
Jackalope Wives and Other Stories Jackalope Wives and Other Stories T. Kingfisher

Jackalope Wives is a collection of short stories. The story of the title won the Nebula for short story, and deservedly so. This is a collection of homey, quirky, and downright funny stories set on the edges of backcountry legends. What happens if you catch a Jackalope without its skin on? (They take them off to dance in the moonlight.) What if Cinderella was a much more sensible girl? What about unicorns? Are we certain they have the same definition of virginity that we do? Sixteen evocative, poignant, homespun tales that will keep your attention. And did I mention that they‘re funny?

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Magic,Humor Kingfisher, T. 2021-03-17T12:17:40.000Z
The Dispatcher: Murder by Other Means The Dispatcher: Murder by Other Means John Scalzi

What if murder were no longer possible? That’s the one impossible premise that John Scalzi makes to launch this noir-ish tale. Through copious amounts of handwavium, anyone who is murdered returns to life unharmed. You can still die of natural causes or suicide, just not from murder. Of course this is an invitation for people to get endlessly inventive with this new fact of life – and death.

Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher, licensed to legally kill people who are at risk of natural or unintentional death so they can come back for a second chance. If this sounds like it’s just inviting grey areas, you’re exactly right.

Take the red pill and accept the impossible premise as a given, because it makes for an entertaining tale when people around Tony start dying in “interesting” ways.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Noir Scalzi, John 2021-06-05T19:54:13.000Z
Babel-17 Babel-17 Samuel R. Delany

Visionary when it was published in 1966, this tale is as relevant today, if not more. In the midst of a galactic war, the other side unleashes a new weapon — a language that undermines the convictions of those who hear it. Captain Rydra Wong, the finest poet in the galaxy, is the only one with the talents to uncover the secret of Babel-17, if she doesn’t fall sway to it herself. This is an intense exploration of the power of language to shape thought, relationships, and outcomes.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Character Arc Delany, Samuel R. 2021-01-24T22:30:28.000Z
Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grille Steven Brust

Cowboy Feng’s Bar is adrift in cultures and in time. You can call it eclectic and know that you’re in need of a heavier-duty word. It starts with cowboys, matzo ball soup, tamales, and an Irish band and gets stranger from there. Just go with it. All will be explained by the end.

The bar and its musicians are swept through time and space every time their city is bombarded by nuclear weapons, which happens with suspicious frequency. In the city of New Quebec, someplace far from Earth, the band decides it’s time for a showdown with the shadowy group that keeps killing their planets.

It’s not a humorous book, per se, but there is a lot of banter that is worth a chuckle. Sometimes it has a noir feel to the narrative, and sometimes it dives deep into music and food. Other times it seems to channel James Joyce for a short passage, which is just enough James Joyce at one sitting, thank you very much. I had fun reading this and figuring out what was going on.

amazon Science Fiction Time Travel,Noir,Humor Brust, Steven 2022-03-02T12:50:16.000Z
Otherland: Sea of Silver Light Otherland: Sea of Silver Light Tad Williams

Book four of the Otherland saga draws the tale to a satisfying conclusion. Renie, !Xabbu, and the rest are stranded in a strange land with terrifying gods. There is no way out; the only way is forward or die. And if they die, so do all the young children the Brotherhood has used to build their simulated world. Jongeleur‘s henchman Dread has taken over the core of the simulation and things go from bad to worse. Their best hope is the badly burned and nearly immobile Sellars, who is almost out of time. Two things impressed me about this book. The first was that it had a cast of nearly thirty major characters, each of which had such a distinctive voice that you tell them apart just by their dialog. The second was that every single one of them contributed to their success. There were no huge acts of heroics, just many small ones.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Adventure,Cyberpunk,Cultures,Quest Williams, Tad 2021-03-16T23:00:51.000Z
The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter Theodora Goss

The story opens with Mary Jekyll, daughter of the famed Doctor Henry Jekyll, burying her mother while wondering how she is to avoid the poorhouse. The family fortune has all been spent by her father and his mysterious associate, Edward Hyde. She soon finds the daughters of other famous scientists with whom to take common cause, such as Catherine Moreau, Justine Frankenstein, and Beatrice Rappaccini. They enlist the help of a renowned detective to help them discover the secrets of their fathers’ shadowy Society of Alchemists.

This story is a delightful mashup of a number of Gothic horror stories and other tales of the Victorian age. It has an unusual structure, couched in a framing story of the young women writing the story of their own adventures, with plenty of editorializing voices bickering about just how the just-recounted scene had really happened. It’s also a cozy mystery, which means it’s a little slower paced, a little more meandering than a lot of other fantasy stories. I enjoyed the change of pace and will be looking for the next two installments.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Adventure,Historical,Occult,Horror Goss, Theodora 2022-10-04T22:39:17.000Z
Uprooted Uprooted Naomi Novik

Every ten years, the Dragon chooses a girl to serve him in his castle, where he rules the valley and defends it from the malevolent Wood. Agnieszka grows up believing that her best friend will be the inevitable choice of the wizard. When Agnieszka is chosen instead, her entire world is changed. He expects her to serve him, but inexplicably, he also expects her to learn how to do magic.

The Dragon is precise, scientific, methodical. Agnieszka is anything but. They’re at odds with each other until a crisis forces them to work together, and Agnieszka’s intuitive grasp complements the Dragon’s in unexpected ways. Together, then separately, they have to battle the Wood and the unexpectedly corrupt royal court and skeptical wizards.

With a bedrock in Eastern European folklore and timbers of modern fantasy and romance genres, this tale becomes a shared journey of understanding, adaptation, and eventual collaboration. I greatly enjoyed the telling of the tale.

amazon Fantasy Character Arc,Magic Novik, Naomi 2023-07-05T01:35:24.000Z
We Are Legion (We Are Bob) We Are Legion (We Are Bob) Dennis Taylor

The protagonist dies in chapter one. This is not a spoiler, since he is frozen and resurrected more than a century later as the intelligence controlling one of the first interstellar probes. His mandate is to explore the stars and make clones of himself to expand the search. He has to come to grips with his new existence, with Earth trying to control him, with hostile aliens, and eventually with an exodus from Earth.

This is unabashedly geeky, with tons of nerd culture references. It’s also a great tour of the current ideas for spacefaring explorers, terraforming, advanced weaponry and more. It’s a quick read, in a breezy style and short snippet chapters that jump viewpoint between all the various incarnations of Bob.

I had a lot of fun reading this book and the two sequels.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Aliens,Exploration,Galactic Empire Taylor, Dennis 2021-04-21T14:05:51.000Z
The Portable Door The Portable Door Tom Holt

Paul Carpenter and Sophie Pettingell, desperate for jobs, are unexpectedly hired by a peculiar firm, J.W. Wells & Co. Despite their apparent lack of experience, the partners’ decision to hire them suggests they might be seeking unusual, possibly even sinister, qualities in their new employees.

The firm itself is an enigma. Despite strict rules that forbid employees from arriving early or staying late, signs of overnight chaos are evident every morning. Paul and Sophie’s main tasks involve dealing with seemingly nonsensical data and objects, leading them to question whether this is a test or the firm’s genuine business. As they navigate their new roles, a series of improbable coincidences not only ensure their continued employment but also spark an unexpected interest between them. Things take an even more unusual turn when Paul discovers the Portable Door in the storeroom, a device that allows him to step anywhere he can imagine. What could possibly go wrong?

Tom Holt intertwines dry humor with a whimsical world set within a mundane office, resulting in a fun read that blends humor and fantasy. Nothing deep here, but the snarky British humor is enjoyable to read.

amazon Fantasy Magic,Humor Holt, Tom 2023-06-04T21:04:24.000Z
The Spire The Spire Simon Spurrier

A distant calamity has left humanity shattered into dozens of forms, with the ‘pure’ humans living in a spire above the noxious fumes. Shå is the Captain of the police force, and a Sculpted, or in vulgar terms, a Skew. That makes her impure but gives her abilities that make her good at her job. She is a favorite of the old Marchioness, secretly the lover of the young princess, and at odds with the new Baroness. Her past is a mystery, even to her.

A series of murders threatens to expose old secrets and call into question who is human and who is ‘pure’. Both artwork and dialog are outstanding in this GN.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy,Graphic Novel Post-Apocalypse Spurrier, Simon 2021-01-24T21:53:40.000Z
Castle in the Stars Castle in the Stars Alex Alice

The universe is made up of aether, and if a ship could be built that could fly in it, humans could explore outer space. Claire Dulac flew her balloon into the stratosphere as an experiment in aether propulsion and disappeared. Her husband, a brilliant engineer, is sure she is lost forever, but their son is not so sure. A year later, when they are summoned to Bavaria by a mysterious person who seems to have Claire’s logbook, they are launched into a dangerous, high-stakes adventure, in an effort to be the first to conquer the aether and fly to the stars. Written for children, this is an engaging, fun tale for all ages.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy,Graphic Novel Historical,Steampunk Alice, Alex 2021-01-31T21:33:11.000Z
The 13th Witch The 13th Witch Mark Hayden

Conrad Clarke, ex-RAF, learns magic is real when he gets a text from Odin. Yes, that Odin, and yes, he’s learned how to text.

Bound to Odin’s service, Conrad sets out on a quest to find and rescue a missing witch. To do that, he must get past a mole the size of a truck to reach a dwarf who resides beneath the Bank of England, find the hidden tower within the Tower of London, and convince the Constable of the King’s Guard that he should join their secret police force.

Between the British slang and the RAF lingo, you may be tapping your kindle for Google searches more often than usual. There’s also a backstory that’s mentioned often that made me realize that there was an entire trilogy before this one. It’s a separate storyline, though, and it’s not important to read it first. Despite those factors, this series is addictive, fast-paced, and darkly funny. I’m already into the fourth book, which is where things really become opaque — he introduces cricket to the mix.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Magic,Occult,Urban Fantasy Hayden, Mark 2021-07-04T19:44:56.000Z
Eye of Cat Eye of Cat Roger Zelazny

William Blackhorse Singer, the last Navaho on earth, is hired to protect an alien diplomat from another human with an agenda. He makes a deal with another alien named Cat, whom Singer captured years ago. In exchange for his aid, Cat will then get to hunt Singer through the canyonlands of the Southwest.

On one level, this is a tale of the hunted turning the tables on the hunter, but it’s also a journey through the mythology of the Navaho, as Zelazny did with Hinduism in Lord of Light and Greek mythology in This Immortal.

amazon Science Fiction Cultures,Aliens,Survival Zelazny, Roger 2021-09-19T12:31:27.000Z
Project Hail Mary Project Hail Mary Andy Weir

Ryland Grace wakes up on a small spaceship with two dead bodies, and wonders why. He was a junior high science teacher, not an astronaut. His mind has turned to mush after an induced coma that’s lasted years. Gradually he remembers: he is here at Tau Ceti to save the Earth from disaster.

This is from Andy Weir, the author who wrote The Martian, the best seller and hit movie. In this book he exceeds the benchmark of his first novel, and redeems himself from his somewhat disappointing second novel Artemis. It has the lone survivor, the desperate odds, and the constant innovation to survive one setback after another that was the hallmark of The Martian, and then it kicks it up a notch.

This may be the most entertaining SciFi book of the year. Make room at the top of your reading list and add this book right away.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Survival,Aliens,Exploration,Science Weir, Andy 2021-05-18T23:46:03.000Z
Nine Starships Waiting Nine Starships Waiting Roger Zelazny

Vendici was a manufactured assassin. He was either an immortal animus who had thrust every knife in history and pulled every trigger – or he was a construct of Comstat, the AI that planned humanity’s future. He was deployed to defeat the forces that were massing to rebel against Comstat. But Comstat may have made him too well.

This is a classic Zelazny novella, out of print for nearly forever. It’s rich in poetic language and layers of classical allusion. It’s a beautiful story to read and one to ponder after you’re finished.

amazon Science Fiction Psychological Zelazny, Roger 2024-02-14T02:32:38.000Z
Trail of Lightning Trail of Lightning Rebecca Roanhorse

After the apocalypse, the former Navaho reservation rises as the nation of Dinétah. The gods and monsters of their ancestral past rise along with them. The gods play a long game, and often damage the people who they raise up to champion them. The people need champions to protect them from the monsters. Maggie Hoskie knows both sides of this.

When sudden killings in remote towns coincide with a visit from Coyote, Maggie reluctantly takes up the role of her mentor, the Monsterslayer. The journey is perilous, not least because there are truths about herself that Maggie doesn’t want to face.

This is a richly-painted world and a mythology that may be less familiar to many. It’s not your usual apocalypse.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Character Arc,Cultures,Post-Apocalypse,Urban Fantasy Roanhorse, Rebecca 2021-08-05T20:01:28.000Z
Nettle and Bone Nettle and Bone T. Kingfisher

The third princess from a small kingdom has been shut away in a convent, like a winter apple, in case she is ever needed. Her second sister has been married to a cruel king; if her sister doesn’t survive it, that could become Marra’s fate as well. She sets off to rescue her sister, along with her dog made of bones, a dust-wife, a possessed demon chicken, and a godmother. It’s a new fairy tale from the inventive mind of T Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon).

Kingfisher’s heroines are very sensible people, more likely to daydream about gardening than about handsome princes and glamorous courts. They’re generally rather plain, and no braver than they need to be. And yet they manage to be vaguely absurd. Who else would wire old bones together to make a dog when she needed one?

I was hooked from the first two lines of the book:

The trees were full of crows and the woods were full of madmen. The pit was full of bones and her hands were full of wires.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Magic,Character Arc Kingfisher, T. 2022-05-02T23:16:56.000Z
A Year and a Day in Old Theradane A Year and a Day in Old Theradane Scott Lynch, Elizabeth Bear

“I sometimes think that ‘friend‘ is just a word I use for all the people I haven‘t murdered yet,” says the capable and accomplished thief (retired) who is at the focus of this enjoyable tale. Getting angry enough to tell off the head wizard of Theradane (that their ruling body is named the Parliament of Strife should clue you in that isn’t a good idea), she is set a task by said wizard: steal the street of her rival! Yes, the whole street.

amazon Fantasy Heist,Rogue,Humor Lynch, Scott,Bear, Elizabeth 2021-01-24T02:39:17.000Z
The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox Barry Hughart

…the abbot of our monastery always said that fable has strong shoulders that carry far more truth than fact can.

These are three novellas set in “a China that never was,” narrated by the peasant Number Ten Ox. The saga starts when Ox is sent from his village to find a cure for a mysterious illness that has paralyzed all of the children in his village. The only sage he can afford to engage is Master Li, who introduces himself as having “a slight flaw in my character.” Fortunately, the only sage he can afford is the sage he needs to unravel the mystery. They set off on a series of quests to find the most potent ginseng root in the world, meeting and outwitting a series of more and more malevolent opponents. The writing is witty and steeped in a brew of Chinese mythology and history. This was an enjoyable and entertaining diversion.

In the first tale, Bridge of Birds, the children of the village, but only those of a certain age, have fallen into a deep sickness. Master Li pieces together the clues, and determines there is only one possible cure. The pair are off on quest to retrieve the Root of Power which can cure them, But one quest leads to another, and one coincidence leads to another, as they unravel a plot that grows deeper with every step. Number Ten Ox is the Watson to Master Li’s Holmes, in a story that is both mystery and journey.

you have a hole in your heart. All young people do. It’s there to catch the wonderful things of the world, and later on it gets filled up by broken things.

In The Story of the Stone, Master Li is called to examine the source of a forged manuscript, and the pair stumble upon a murder, in a valley once ruled by a mass murderer named the Laughing Prince. At first, the murder appears to have been staged to make it look as if the Laughing Prince had returned from the grave. Surely this is just a tactic to throw them off the track of the real perpetrator. Isn’t it?

whenever I hear a high priest howl for divine retribution, I suspect acid indigestion.

Eight Skilled Gentlemen begins with a gruesome murder by a zombie-like creature. Master Li must consult his mentor, the even older Celestial Master, to dig into lore that stretches back to the aboriginal people of the land, who were displaced by the people who formed the Chinese dynasties. The high point of this adventure is a Dante-like journey through Hell to discover who is behind the murders. There’s rather a few too many lengthy digressions in this story, but it still has the witty dialog of the first two.

Final advice: there’s a certain formula that’s common to the three tales, and it may be worth spacing out the reading of the second and third so that this is less obvious.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Cultures Hughart, Barry 2021-01-22T04:26:05.000Z
Nine Goblins Nine Goblins T. Kingfisher

There’s a Human/Goblin war, because how could there not be? Even though it’s all based on a misunderstanding. Kingfisher turns most tropes about how Goblin/Human/Troll/Elf relations should go, if not quite upside-down, at least sideways. Of course the Goblins are blamed for the town full of murdered people that they had nothing to do with, but the Goblins know it was a Mage, and unless they act to stop them, the Mage will kill again. Clearing their own name is a nice benefit, of course.

The story is full of wry observations about people (green-skinned or not), prejudices, and conflicts. The Goblins are funny and relatable, under a leader, Sergeant Nissilka, who is just trying to do the best for her company. (Sergeant seems to be where the pinnacle of military competence lies, with steep drop-offs both above and below.)

I enjoyed this little novella. It’s not the deepest, most thought-provoking thing that Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon) has written. Still it’s got her signature wit and kindness in it. Recommended.

amazon Fantasy Humor,Young Adult Kingfisher, T. 2022-12-04T21:31:36.000Z
The Doomsday Book The Doomsday Book Connie Willis

Kirvin Engle is a historian, sent back in time to study the Dark Ages. But something has gone wrong and things are not as predicted. Despite extensive medical prep, Kirvin is immediately stricken with a deadly disease and is fighting for her life in the year 1320 while in the modern world, a strange pandemic takes hold that can’t possibly be connected to an event over 700 years in the past. Or can it? Note: despite being written in the early 1990s, this book contains detailed and realistic descriptions of a pandemic in the 2050s that has remarkable and haunting parallels with today.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Adventure,Character Arc,Anthropology,Historical Willis, Connie 2021-01-24T23:23:42.000Z
Twelve Kings in Sharakhai Twelve Kings in Sharakhai Bradley Beaulieu

I don’t tend to read a series of books one after another. After 600 pages of exploring a fantastical world, I’m usually ready for something else before continuing on with more books in a series. After finishing Bradley Beaulieu’s Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, within 5 minutes I had acquired the next book in his “Shattered Sands” series because I couldn’t wait to learn more.

Sharakhai is a shining city in the desert, and a center of commerce and power, its history magnificent and literally the stuff of legend. But, as in so many things, a closer look reveals that not all is what it seems. Ruled by twelve immortal kings, who wield absolute power and dispense swift and cruel retribution against all dissenters, the city both bustles with activity and trembles with fear.

But after long centuries of oppression, multiple factions have begun questioning the status quo, each with vastly different motives. And far from the palaces in the opulent heart of the city, in the winding alleys of the slums, lives Ceda, a young woman gladiator who scrapes a living off the earnings from her bouts in the Pits and from running occasional nefarious errands. One night each month, on Beht Zha’ir, the Kings have decreed that no one shall venture forth, and during that night the monstrous Asirim roam the streets and take carefully selected victims. Caught out on this night trying to help a friend, Ceda has a terrifying encounter that sets her on a journey of discovery not only of herself and the mysterious and horrific death of her mother at the hands of the Kings, but also, if she can live long enough, of the truth that will shake the foundations of Sharakhai.​  Beaulieu’s vivid desert world is brutal and cruel, yet not needlessly so. Characters act for a reason, even if it’s not immediately obvious. I was also struck by the fact that gender is very rarely a motivator for people to be treated differently. Genders are always recognizable, but in the world of Sharakhai, even though it manifests as something of a medieval Arabia with subtle but powerful magic, the boundaries around gender roles are tenuous in an unexpected and welcome manner.  Female characters are powerful elements in this story, sometimes in roles that are stereotypically male. Also very few characters are one-sided. Heroes have faults and villains have complexities and motives. Quite a few characters are difficult to classify as to whose side they are truly on.

Taking place in a richly imagined desert environment, the depth and details that bring the tale to life don’t bog it down, but unfold naturally along the way. The book tells multiple stories at once, through different chapters occurring at different points in history, which grow closer together and more intertwined through the book, a mechanism that I found intriguing but occasionally mildly confusing. However, I belatedly realized that the seal at the start of each chapter is a clue as to which plot line and time period the chapter pertains to in case it is not immediately clear.

The author himself aptly describes Twelve Kings in Sharakhai as a mix of Arabian Nights and Game of Thrones. It captures the feel of an epic tale, where it begins with small, barely significant moments in the lives of ordinary people, and builds, slowly, inexorably, as lines converge, conflicts build, tensions rise, and past and present align, to a tremendous conclusion. I found it a highly satisfying adventure and look forward to the next installment.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Character Arc,Top Ten,Epic,Adventure Beaulieu, Bradley 2021-01-22T04:24:08.000Z
Lord Demon Lord Demon Roger Zelazny, Jane Lindskold

The demon Kai Wren lives in a Klein bottle. He designs them as works of art, and they are much coveted by other demons. All has been peaceful among the demons for thousands of years, until one day Kai Wren’s human servant is murdered.

This story was left as an unfinished manuscript when Roger Zelazny died, and it was subsequently completed and published by Jane Lindskold. It is out of print now and there’s no Kindle version, but it’s well worth finding a used paperback copy if you enjoyed the Amber series, or Lord of Light.

This is a story in the vein of Zelazny’s best works, including the tension between creative chaos and stifling perfection, a powerful protagonist who may have trusted the wrong people, an intricate plot, and a leavening of Zelazny’s signature puns.

amazon Fantasy Character Arc,Magic,Humor Zelazny, Roger,Lindskold, Jane 2021-04-05T12:32:54.000Z
Jack Four Jack Four Neal Asher

Jack Four is a clone who realizes within moments of waking that he has knowledge and skills that the other nineteen Jacks do not. Someone has created him as a weapon. But who? And what have they aimed him at?

Jack is sold to the King of the Prador, who is horribly mutated by the Spatterjay virus. He and his fellows are to be engineered into nightmare killing machines. He escapes into a world populated by a collection of the most lethal species in the galaxy. He must find a way to turn them against his enemies, just as soon as he figures out who is friend and who is foe.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction AI,Aliens,Cyberpunk,Galactic Empire,Survival Asher, Neal 2021-07-04T19:30:26.000Z
A Master of Djinn A Master of Djinn P. Djèlí Clark

in P. Djèlí Clark’s universe, legions of Djinn were set free in Cairo near the end of the 19th century, issuing in a middle-eastern renaissance of magically powered machinery, clockwork golems, and other wonders. Within this newly prosperous city, a mysterious figure claiming to be the vanished architect of the Djinn’s release reappears and begins sowing chaos. Inspector Fatma el-Sha’arawi suspects that as bad as this seems, the reality might be much worse. Working with a new recruit and a free agent friend, she risks her life to uncover the identity of the one who calls himself al-Jahiz.

This is a richly detailed setting, a mixture of the real and the fantastic, with believable characters and a satisfying plot. I’ll be looking for more from Clark in the future.

amazon Fantasy Cultures,Historical,Magic,Alternate History Clark, P. Djèlí 2022-01-10T23:25:51.000Z
In the Vanisher's Palace In the Vanisher’s Palace Aliette de Bodard

​An intense and emotional tale, set in a sci-fi world based on Vietnamese mythology. Yên is a young teacher, given to a dragon by her village in exchange for a healing. The dragon, Vu Côn, needs a teacher for her two children, to teach them the things she could not. Yèn and the dragon find a deep connection, and deep divisions. Yên’s future seemingly rests in the scaly hands of the dragon. But this is a twisting, inconstant world, and things may not always be as they seem.

The setting might be a fantasy world, with shape-shifting dragons, palaces with infinite rooms, spells and summonings, but it is also a world of gene-modding, isolation skins, and the remnants of technology so far beyond present-day that it becomes magic. A race called the Vanishers has broken the world and then departed, and those left behind must cope with the diseases and constructs they left behind. I hesitate to call it post-apocalyptic, because that belongs to a genre with certain expectations. Here, there is poverty and squalor in the ruins of a civilization, but one can also summon a dragon to beseech it to heal a dying child.

The Vietnamese mythology adds to alien nature of the world. It fits well to the fluid, non-euclidean spaces of the palace that the dragon inhabits. The imagery of trails of ink, calligraphed words flowing in shadows, and flowing rivers is evocative and rich. Scents – of tea, of cooking, of mold, of rivers – are often used to reflect the mood and emotion of a scene.

This is a rich and satisfying story, which addresses the difference between false power, such as that the village elders wield without wisdom or compassion, and the real powers that a dragon, or a teacher, may have.

I picked it up without reading the blurb that mentioned the Beauty and the Beast, and I didn’t make that connection while reading it. I’m glad that I was able to read it without the preconceptions that linking it to the fairy tale will inevitably induce. I think it’s stronger by itself.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Cultures,Character Arc,LGBTQ de Bodard, Aliette 2021-01-22T14:15:47.000Z
The Sword of Happenstance The Sword of Happenstance Steven Brust, Skyler White

A grandmother and a grandfather tell a tale to the children. There was an enchanted sword, that much they agree on, but not how many edges it had or whether it was straight or curved. The king, they did agree, was false, usurping the throne by magic. And one of them was the heir and one was a witch, but which was which was muddled. So,they tell the children, they set off for the castle with the sword and a bat that was maybe a hat or maybe a cloud of midges.

This is a story about how the world is very much the way you see it, so don’t let people put their world view on you. If you believe in yourself, you can tell a story where you’re the hero.

Oh, and they were both right in their own way.

amazon Fantasy Adventure Brust, Steven,White, Skyler 2022-05-02T23:50:49.000Z
Vindolanda Vindolanda Adrian Goldsworthy

Strange raiders stalk the landscape of northern Britain nearly 2,000 years ago. In a realistic portrayal of military life along the most remote Roman frontier, Centurion Flavius Ferox must solve a mystery and fight to survive and prevent disaster.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Historical Goldsworthy, Adrian 2021-01-24T22:25:09.000Z
Irontown Blues Irontown Blues John Varley

When humanity has been evicted from Earth for the good of the rest of the inhabitants, the remaining colonists on the eight worlds can cope by being Heinleiners, or by role-playing a seedy noir detective and solving mysteries. Chris Bach and his uplifted dog, Sherlock take a case from a woman who was deliberately infected with a disfiguring disease.  The case leads them through the warrens of the moon, to Chris’s mother’s dinosaur farm, and into more and more ruthless opposition.

This is book four of the Eight Worlds series, and while there’s some background about the Big Glitch (when the central lunar computer went crazy) that is helpful, there’s enough narrative here to establishing the story for new readers. If you’re hooked, the earlier books are even better.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Cyberpunk Varley, John 2021-01-22T04:28:07.000Z
The Raven Tower The Raven Tower Ann Leckie

I enjoyed the unique narrative style, the never-quite-revealed depths of the focal character, Eolo, and the mysterious narrator. It begins with a really interesting narrative device: what amounts to a second-person narrative. An unseen and unnamed narrator addressing one of the characters as “you.” The story gathers momentum slowly, but is as unstoppable as an avalanche by the end.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Character Arc Leckie, Ann 2021-01-24T02:27:57.000Z
Isolate Isolate L. E. Modesitt Jr

Dekkard is a highly-trained security agent for one of the most important Councilors of the land of Guldor. But there are greater depths to Dekkard than are at first apparent, and circumstances conspire to bring him out of his shell and awaken him to new political awareness.

The novel is set in a gaslamp fantasy world that has transitioned from the feudal age to the steam age, and a unique political system that has become unbalanced by that transition after a millennium of stability. Some people in this world have special attributes: Empaths who can sense and influence (and even attack) the emotions of others, Susceptibles who are little more than slaves to the empaths around them, and Isolates, like Dekkard, who are immune to the influence of Empaths. The book starts with a political assassination attempt via an Empath and builds to an all-out clandestine war to shift the balance of power, or stop it at any cost.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Steampunk,Urban Fantasy Modesitt Jr, L. E. 2021-12-05T02:31:36.000Z
The Goblin Emperor The Goblin Emperor Katherine Addison

Maia is the disregarded son of the fourth wife of the Elvish Emperor, and half-goblin to boot. He lives in exile until the morning that he’s awakened with the news that his entire family was killed in an airship crash. He’s now the Emperor. As he’s thrust into court intrigue that he can barely understand, and without friends or counselors that he can trust, he decides to try an unorthodox strategy for an Emperor: kindness. He’s about to find out how well that works out for him…

This book has a cast of thousands, perhaps not literally, but with everyone known by their family names, their titles, their offices, their familiar names, and various honorifics, only the most dedicated reader will keep them all straight, and probably with a spreadsheet in hand. Nonetheless, the story is surprisingly fast-paced and tense, so just remember the most important names and let the rest flow past like the scenery. It’s an excellent story of growth, of tearing down barriers, and of making alliances. Despite its length, I tore through it in a couple of evenings.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Character Arc Addison, Katherine 2021-11-04T23:42:07.000Z
I am Not a Serial Killer I am Not a Serial Killer Dan Wells

John Cleaver is obsessed with serial killers. When one starts stalking his small town, he is the best-qualified to track him down, though that forces him to confront his fears that he might become one himself. This is a Young Adult horror novel with a 15-year-old protagonist but is still intense and gory. I loved the psychological thriller aspect, even though I normally don’t care for horror novels. Written by one of the Writing Excuses podcasters.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Occult,Young Adult Wells, Dan 2021-01-24T22:06:00.000Z
The Incrementalists The Incrementalists Steven Brust, Skyler White

There is a loose association of a few hundred essentially immortal people. They pass their memories and personalities down to new recruits every generation. They see it as their mission to make small changes to improve society, some of them for altruistic reasons, others for the simple reason of wanting to improve the world because they expect to live in it for a few more millenia. The story follows the induction of a new recruit, from both the point of view of the recruiter and the recruited. It goes sideways, because the former host of the newly transferred psyche of the recruit was playing the long game, and none of them were going to like the result. Not the top of Brust’s game, but his best is so awesome that he still delivers an entertaining and thought provoking tale even on an off day.

amazon Science Fiction Urban Fantasy Brust, Steven,White, Skyler 2022-01-10T23:18:47.000Z
How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with it How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with it K. J. Parker

In the sequel to “Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City,“ it is five years later and the City is still under siege. It has become a way of life, even the subject of plays. One night Notker, an actor and avowedly NOT a playwright, is drafted to play the part of the ruler of the City, who is most inconveniently dead. Once he takes up the part, he finds it hard to let go.

>She wanted me to be a murderer and an extortionist, like my father

Notker is the ultimate unreliable narrator. He tells lies for a living. He’s a disappointment to his mother. And he knows the power of narrative.

Rumour is the ultimate oyster, building layer upon layer of glittering shiny stuff round a tiny speck of fact.

In the end, he gets so wound up in giving everyone what they want, he almost forgets what he wants. Almost.

I tend to think of the past as compost; drifts of dead yesterdays rotting down into a fine mulch, in which all sorts of weeds germinate, sprout and flourish.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Humor Parker, K. J. 2021-01-24T03:54:28.000Z
Kaiju Preservation Society Kaiju Preservation Society John Scalzi

Start with pandemic angst, layoff devastation, and gig-economy poverty. Wouldn’t you grab a lifeline if someone threw it? Jamie Gray did, even though there were some dark insinuations of hazardous working conditions. But the job was in a remote location protecting endangered animals, so that sounded pretty good right now. When Jamie found out that the animals involved were as large as skyscrapers and belched plasma beams, well, it was probably still less hazardous than delivering food in New York City traffic.

I enjoyed the way that Scalzi structured a scientific explanation for kaiju, made movies into cover-ups of actual incursions, and hung the conflict and resolution on those mechanics.

° If you’re not in the know, kaiju is the general term for towering monsters such as Godzilla.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Adventure Scalzi, John 2022-05-02T23:45:37.000Z
A Canticle for Leibowitz A Canticle for Leibowitz Walter Miller

In a small monastery, 600 years after a nuclear war, the first stirrings of science are felt again. Three related post-apocalyptic stories that touch on the nature of humanity.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Post-Apocalypse,Top Ten Miller, Walter 2021-02-04T19:14:11.000Z
Lord Quillifer Lord Quillifer Walter Jon Williams

A secret affair with the Queen. A vengeful goddess. A court resentful of his meteoric rise. Quillifer lives a dangerous life.

In the third installment of Quillifer’s saga, this son of a butcher has risen higher in the court than he had dreamed possible. Poison, daggers, duels, and grudges arise at every turn, aimed either at Quillifer or the Queen he loves. At the same time, a rival kingdom is invading, and leadership of the armies and navies have gone to those with influence rather than competence. When the Queen sends Quillifer to break a siege, is it a vote of confidence or a stratagem to remove him from court?

By now, you know you can count on Quillifer to do the unexpected and to rely on wit and cunning (and his silver tongue) to defeat his enemies. Almost.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Epic,Character Arc,Rogue Williams, Walter Jon 2022-04-05T00:11:57.000Z
Parable of the Sower Parable of the Sower Octavia Butler

In her walled neighborhood near Los Angeles, protected from the horrors of a 21st century that sometimes seems almost too real, Lauren Olamina dreams and writes of a religion called Earthseed, which believes that God is represented on earth by change.  Her story is presented through diary entries over several years as her world spirals down into apocalyptic darkness. After her home is destroyed and her family and friends are lost, she makes her way on foot toward an almost mythical better place in the north.  Can she become the prophet and leader that her nascent movement needs to draw a group of people willing to embrace a different way and dare to hope for a better future?  This is the first book in a duology.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Post-Apocalypse Butler, Octavia 2021-01-24T22:34:38.000Z
The Fifth Season The Fifth Season N. K. Jemison

The land has been shattered. Every century or so an extinction level event called a Fifth Season strikes again. In between the populace struggles. Humanity is divided into castes, some of whom have the powers to stabilize the earth or destroy it. The Orogenes have the lowest status, but gradually realize they have the greatest power over their fate. Plan on reading all three novels in the trilogy in sequence; they pick up in the middle of the action with no recap, so you should have the previous ones fresh in your mind.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Post-Apocalypse Jemison, N. K. 2021-01-24T22:27:43.000Z
Machine Machine Elizabeth Bear

A rescue craft responding to a distress beacon finds a generation ship in flight. Something has built ad-hoc cryopods and frozen the entire crew. The ship’s AI is degraded and not very helpful. Back at the base when the passengers are thawed, things begin to get really strange.

I would categorize this as space opera, not hard sci-fi (due to the Star Trek level of physics errors). But it’s also an adventure, a psychodrama, a detective story, a conspiracy plot, and hopeful vision of the future. If it seems a little preachy on the surface about all the enlightened cultural values that the future holds, don’t fail to notice the dark shadows in the corner that indicates things aren’t quite as rosy as our unreliable narrator tells you.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction AI,Aliens,Character Arc,Cultures,Galactic Empire Bear, Elizabeth 2021-08-19T13:09:41.000Z
The Windup Girl The Windup Girl Paolo Bacigalupi

In a bleak future where biotechnology reigns after the oil age, the world is dominated by “calorie corporations” that control the food supply through genetic engineering. But the kingdom of Thailand keeps a secret seedbank in a bid to maintain independence.

Anderson Lake, an American calorieman, arrives to take charge of a run-down factory, though his real mission is to find the source of the unique fruits appearing in the marketplace. He encounters and becomes fascinated by Emiko, the Windup Girl, a genetically engineered plaything for the wealthy. Emiko in turn dreams of a day when she can be free to join her own kind. Their trajectories intersect with other inhabitants of Bangkok with their own agendas, including Hock Seng, an endlessly scheming Chinese refugee who is just as endlessly thwarted by bad luck and prejudice, and Jaidee, the ‘Tiger of Bangkok,’ the idealistic captain of the Environmental Ministry.

“The Windup Girl” is a thought-provoking cautionary tale about the potential perils of corporate and technological dominance, bioethics, post-humanity, and environmental collapse.

amazon Science Fiction Cultures,Post-Apocalypse Bacigalupi, Paolo 2023-06-03T17:10:56.000Z
A Study in Sable A Study in Sable Mercedes Lackey

In an alternate London, a medium and a psychic have a meeting in a flat on Baker Street. They’ve come to consult with Dr. John Watson and his famous friend. Not as clients. Watson and his wife Mary want them to assist with some of their more occult cases, though Sherlock is dubious. After a few smaller cases, they undertake to solve the case of a missing German girl and her opera diva sister, who has become the victim of a mass haunting.

This was an interesting take on Holmes and Watson from an author that I’ve enjoyed in other series. This is part of a storyline of alternate-world magic, containing references to events in earlier books, but everything was well enough explained in context that it could be enjoyed as a standalone book (which it was for me).

amazon Fantasy Occult,Alternate History Lackey, Mercedes 2022-03-02T22:44:03.000Z
The Space Between Worlds The Space Between Worlds Micaiah Johnson

The multiverse has been opened, and travel to the few hundred worlds closest to our own is now possible. The catch is, you can’t survive the trip to any world that has a version of you who is still living.

The most valuable world walkers — for exploration and trade — are the most marginal people in society. The people who had the deck so stacked against them that their survival is a miracle. Cara can travel to all but two worlds, but this version of her is determined to beat the odds.

Finding all the ways that she managed to die in the other worlds takes a toll on her, and she starts to question which reality she’s in. And everyone has secrets, the company she works for, her mission controller, and Cara herself. Her path to survival and happiness takes her through many different lives that could have been.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Character Arc,Post-Apocalypse Johnson, Micaiah 2021-09-05T12:37:42.000Z
Brokedown Palace Brokedown Palace Steven Brust

The Palace is falling apart; the King and his three brothers are at odds what to do with it. The youngest brother journeys to Faery to seek his path, and finds an enigmatic talking horse as a guide. The Palace is an allegory: the house divided against itself, the old that stands in the way of the new, the death that must occur for new life to begin. The writing is haunting, and the little folk tales are gems throughout. Highly recommended.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Character Arc,Magic,Quest Brust, Steven 2021-01-24T03:43:14.000Z
City of Blades City of Blades Robert Jackson Bennett

In the sequel to City of Stairs, General Mulahgesh is sent to the country of Voortystan to determine if their dead god is really as dead as legend says. And if so, just who is raising an army of the dead in her place? Not as lyrical in language as the first book, perhaps appropriately, being about a much more practical main character. The tale says a lot about what being a soldier in a time of war really means.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Magic Bennett, Robert Jackson 2021-01-24T03:24:50.000Z
Ancillary Justice Ancillary Justice Ann Leckie

Breq is searching an icy world for a missing weapon. She is not sure why she searches or who she is. She feels that she was once something different. Something much larger…

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Galactic Empire,Top Ten,AI Leckie, Ann 2021-02-04T19:15:36.000Z
Family Ties Family Ties BR Kingsolver

Diana Smith is about to closer her shop at the Crossroad of the Worlds when in quick succession a customer flashes a lot of gold to make a custom magical sword for him, and then an assassin tries to kill her. She dispatches the assassin, cleans up the mess, and walks across two worlds to meet her friends in Dublin for a drink. In the first ten pages, this establishes the multi-world setting, that Diana is a competent badass, that Smith is her profession as well as her name, and she has the rare ability to walk between worlds. All this reminded of Roger Zelazny’s Amber series.

Diana finds that assassins also targeted her brother and her mother, so she decides to travel to her mother’s realm to find out who sent them. Turns out she’s ninth, or seventh, or fifth in line for the throne depending on what day it is and whose funerals were recently held. And it’s less a matter of who wants her dead than finding anyone who doesn’t.

(And the cover? Forget the cover. It’s not very good. What’s inside is considerably better.)

amazon Fantasy Adventure,Magic Kingsolver, BR 2023-08-04T13:17:34.000Z
Operation Chaos/Operation Luna Operation Chaos/Operation Luna Poul Anderson

A werewolf and a witch battle evil in a parallel universe where scientifically-approached magic takes the place of technology. Published as a book in the early 70s and just recently released on Kindle, it’s stood up well in most respects, except for the sexism typical of the 50s. But if you look past the language, the women kick butt as well as or better than the men. Nice to re-read one of my old favorites.

amazon Science Fiction,Fantasy Occult Anderson, Poul 2021-01-24T02:31:04.000Z
The Wise Man's Fear The Wise Man’s Fear Patrick Rothfuss

In the sequel to The Name of the Wind, Kote the Innkeeper continues to tell the saga of Kvothe the Bloodless to The Chronicler. Kvothe leaves the University to seek the patronage of an imperious and dangerous nobleman, is sent to lead a band of mercenaries on a mission, spends an interlude in Faerie, and attempts to earn a sword, and friendship, from the taciturn and hardened Adem. Just keep in mind that Kote is an unreliable narrator.

Like his first book, the writing is lyrical and flowing. Rothfuss has an ability to choose exactly the right word, the most fitting image, and the best turn of phrase to keep the narrative fresh and interesting. This book is even longer than Name of the Wind, and I didn’t want it to end.

You should know that although this is labeled in the bookstores as volume two of two, there is more of the tale to be told. The story ends by wrapping up an arc, but not all of Kvothe’s story. There are questions still to be answered, and the enigmatic prologue and epilogue to each volume are yet to be explained. I hope that Rothfuss is forthcoming with more of the tale, and soon.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Character Arc,Magic,Rogue Rothfuss, Patrick 2021-06-05T19:26:06.000Z
Undertow Undertow Elizabeth Bear

Any book that has an occupation of ‘coincidence engineer’ has something going for it. Undertow has some interesting propositions to set up its world: instantaneous interstellar travel but only for non-sentient matter; people have to take the slow boat. Quantum uncertainty that can be manipulated on the macro level to create ‘luck’.

Those things got me hooked and kept me interested, but there were also a few things that left me unsatisfied. People’s reactions to events were sometimes puzzling. Even though you eventually learn why, the lack of any other characters questioning the dissonance was rather odd. The resolution also struck me as a bit magical, and not as satisfying as it could be. I’ve enjoyed Bear’s later works greatly. Despite a few flaws this is certainly worth reading.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Cultures Bear, Elizabeth 2021-01-22T14:17:28.000Z
The Galaxy, and the Ground Within The Galaxy, and the Ground Within Becky Chambers

Three travelers from different walks of life (and different species) have checked in for a short stay at the Five-Hop OneStop Inn on Gora, a planet that has nothing to recommend it other than being on a crossroads to more interesting places. The innkeeper and her child make it a point of pride to offer something for every species that visits. Then a massive systems failure strands them on the planet for an unknown length of time.

Each traveler has urgent business elsewhere. Each has a history of decisions that has landed them at this crossroads, some with regrets. They come together in this backwater and tell each other their stories. But the force that unifies them comes from an unexpected direction.

For me there were echoes of Canterbury Tales in the setting and in the progression of the story. It’s both touching and heart warming. This is part of the Wayfarers series, though the series is loosely coupled enough that each can be read as a standalone tale. Start with this one, or start with The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Character Arc,Aliens,Cultures,LGBTQ Chambers, Becky 2021-07-04T19:39:52.000Z
Marvel 1602 Marvel 1602 Neil Gaiman

The year is 1602. Steven Strange is physician to the Queen of England; Sir Nicholas Fury is her master of spies. But her hold on the realm is tenuous, and King James of Scotland is poised to take it from her. Gaiman brings together his favorite Marvel ensemble from the comics of his childhood in this paean to the Silver Age. See how many Marvel heroes you recognize in 17th century clothes. I’ll wager you miss a few.

amazon Fantasy,Graphic Novel Historical Gaiman, Neil 2021-01-24T22:13:48.000Z
Childhood's End Childhood’s End Arthur C. Clark

Aliens intervene as earth teeters on the brink of nuclear war. They usher in a new age of peace and plenty. But if they are purely benevolent, why won’t they show their faces?

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Aliens,Top Ten Clark, Arthur C. 2021-02-04T19:03:16.000Z
Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders Aliette de Bodard

In an other-worldly court deep under a ruined Paris, a shape-shifting dragon prince and his husband are welcomed back to court on the eve of the Viet festival of Tet by finding a murder victim on their threshold. Well, there’s a lot to unpack in that sentence, but it should be enough to tell you whether you’re in the target audience or not.

This is a novella-length murder mystery set against court intrigue, and it carries that off quite well. It’s steeped in Vietnamese culture and tradition to lend an unconventional and interesting setting. Aliette de Bodard’s writing is, as always, bright and colorful. It’s an enjoyable way to spend an evening.

amazon Fantasy Magic,LGBTQ de Bodard, Aliette 2022-07-05T18:56:17.000Z
The Relentless Moon The Relentless Moon Mary Robinette Kowal

The earth is in the middle of a slow-motion disaster after a meteor strike, and a crash program to put people on the moon and Mars is the best hope for keeping humanity alive. And it has to be done with the technology available in 1962. But a reactionary group has planted a saboteur on the mission. Nicole Wargin, one of the senior astronauts, has to overcome both sexism and her inner demons to find the culprit before the next attempt destroys the tiny lunar colony. The book is a little slow initially, but as soon as launch occurs, relentless is the only fitting title for the action.

The author has exhaustively researched the history of the space program and the social upheavals of the early sixties to make this a gripping and realistic account of a disaster that never happened but all too easily could have. This is the third book in a trilogy but can be read standalone. If you want to start at the beginning, read The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky first.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Exploration,Survival,Alternate History Kowal, Mary Robinette 2022-07-05T18:25:30.000Z
Roman Britain: A New History Roman Britain: A New History Guy de la Bédoyère

In 55BC, to Julius Caesar, Britain was a land of legend, beyond the edge of the known world.

Over the next 350 years the Romans left an enduring mark but never truly tamed this farthest frontier of the Roman Empire. An archaeological feast for those interested in this time period.

amazon,Bookshop.org Non Fiction Historical,Archaelogy Bédoyère, Guy de la 2021-01-24T14:55:23.000Z
Seven of Infinites Seven of Infinites Aliette de Bodard

Sunless Woods is a mindship that has made a long and illustrious career of being a thief. Vân is a poor tutor with a scandalous secret. When a visitor dies in the quarters of Vân’s student, Sunless Woods is drawn to the mystery, which might lead to more corpses. Much larger corpses. In this extrapolation of Vietnamese culture into space, memory implants are the honored ancestors and mindships are dragons – vast, ancient, wise, and unpredictable.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Cultures,Heist,LGBTQ de Bodard, Aliette 2021-01-24T03:59:17.000Z
The Forge of God The Forge of God Greg Bear

The moon Europa disappears from its orbit around Jupiter. New mountains appear overnight in Death Valley and Australia. Aliens appear and deliver conflicting messages. When probes impact the oceans and begin burrowing towards the core, it’s clear the Earth’s days are numbered.

Faced with god-like aliens who won’t communicate or negotiate, the story becomes how people face the end of the planet. Some believe the biblical apocalypse has come, some attempt military responses, scientists search for understanding. A few try to plan an escape.

Bear draws a wide view of humanity’s response through a range of viewpoint characters, though few of them get much dimensionality beyond their assigned roles: scientist, writer, officer, President. Still, it’s the human drama that is center stage as the story unfolds.

The novel was written in the eighties and set in the “near future” of the nineties. This creates a kind of uncanny valley of a setting, where he got a number of predictions spot on but missed others, especially in what the internet would become. In the end, this is a haunting yet hopeful tale of the end of the planet. You’ll have to read it to see what I mean.

amazon Science Fiction Aliens,Science Bear, Greg 2023-11-05T12:54:15.000Z
Network Effect Network Effect Martha Wells

In the first full-length novel in the Murderbot series, Wells gives us relatable, human characters in the crews of two ships that are drawn into a land grab for alien technology, then makes the ship’s AI and Murderbot, the sentient Security Unit, the beings with the biggest, most caring hearts of all. Despite the fact that neither one possesses, you know, a heart.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Rogue Wells, Martha 2021-01-24T03:31:05.000Z
The Lost Future of Pepperharrow The Lost Future of Pepperharrow Natasha Pulley

After enjoying The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, I had to read the sequel. It did not disappoint. Thaniel and Keita travel to Meiji-era Japan, to witness the struggle of the newly-opened nation with the forces of colonialization. Keita’s clairvoyance, strange electrical experiments on the cliffs of Yokohama, and ghosts in the Embassy are a fantastical plot layered on the rich tapestry of a Japan just emerging from feudalism.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Occult,Historical,LGBTQ Pulley, Natasha 2021-01-24T03:39:37.000Z
Feynman Feynman Jim Ottaviani, Leland Myrick

A graphic novel about Nobel-prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman? For real?

Yes, and it’s a wonderful story. This may be the only graphic novel you’ll ever read that will teach you about quantum chromodynamics. (It’s more approachable than it sounds.)

Feynman was a larger-than-life character, well suited for a treatment like this. More than physics, Feynman was involved in many projects from the Manhattan project to the Challenger disaster commission. And he loved playing the bongo drums. (There is math here; don’t sweat if you’re not into it. It’s in the background so you can skip it if you want.)

This is a review of the paperback edition. It may be more difficult to view on a kindle because of the details in the drawings.

amazon,Bookshop.org Non Fiction Science Ottaviani, Jim,Myrick, Leland 2021-04-04T21:04:13.000Z
Neverwhere Neverwhere Neil Gaiman

Richard Mayhew lived a normal life in London, until he helped a stranger on the street. Now no one can see him, or remember him. He’s entered London Below, a shadow city of everything fantastical, both good and evil.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Magic,Top Ten Gaiman, Neil 2021-02-04T19:28:27.000Z
The Engines of God The Engines of God Jack McDevitt

Humans have found alien monuments on many planets. All different, all beautiful. And they just might hold the key to our survival.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Archaelogy,Cultures,Aliens,Exploration,Top Ten McDevitt, Jack 2021-02-04T19:17:48.000Z
Midnight Robber Midnight Robber Nalo Hopkinson

On the Caribbean-settled world of Toussaint, life seems a paradise, though a well-monitored one. Everyone has a job, automatons do the thankless tasks. Criminals are banished to the alternate dimension of New Halfway Tree. When Tan-Tan’s father is banished, Tan-Tan impulsively goes with him. There, impoverished and abused, she takes refuge in the Midnight Robber persona, a character from legend. Full of Caribbean patois, legends, Hopkinson has imagined a world richly different from our own.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy,Science Fiction Cultures Hopkinson, Nalo 2021-01-24T22:32:57.000Z
Mary Mary Brea Grant, Yishan Li

Mary is a regular teenager. Angsty, feeling a bit lost, having a hard time in school, family troubles… But Mary is also the descendant of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, and every female member of her family since then has been a great author, so the pressure is on! But what if that’s not what SHE wants to be? Then, with the help of a group of wacky but loyal companions, she embraces a secret talent that has nothing to do with writing but everything to do with who she is.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy,Graphic Novel Magic,Historical Grant, Brea,Li, Yishan 2021-01-31T21:31:44.000Z
Clockwork Boys Clockwork Boys T. Kingfisher

A forger, a scholar, an assassin, and a paladin, all misfits, are sent to stop an unstoppable enemy. A darkly funny story of people overcoming their differences to overcome impossible odds.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Magic,Humor Kingfisher, T. 2021-01-24T13:19:07.000Z
Implied Spaces Implied Spaces Walter Jon Williams

Implied spaces are those unintended elements that exist, just because something has to fill the void between the spaces that are deliberately created. This metaphor starts with architecture, but the swordsman and scholar Aristide extends it to the created worlds, societies, and pocket universes of post-singularity humanity. He discovers a plot emanating from the implied spaces that threatens to destroy all that he created, from a nemesis who can match or exceed Aristide’s nearly god-like powers.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Singularity Williams, Walter Jon 2021-01-22T14:14:47.000Z
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street The Watchmaker of Filigree Street Natasha Pulley

Thaniel, a telegraph clerk, finds a watch on this pillow that forecasts a bomb blast six months in the future. After this proves be accurate, he makes the acquaintance of watchmaker Mori, along with his whimsical creations, which include a mechanical octopus. Set in Victorian London and Meiji-era Japan, the story is full of humor, quirky characters, and twisty plots. The writing is engaging, with many colorful turns of phrase. Highly recommended.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Magic,Occult,Historical,LGBTQ Pulley, Natasha 2021-01-24T03:13:47.000Z
Junkyard Cats Junkyard Cats Faith Hunter

In the ruins of America after WWIII, there is a scrapyard, guarded over by the woman formerly known as Shining Smith. She’s more than she seems, as are most things in the scrapyard, including the cats. Mess with them at your peril, as a biker gang finds out.

amazon Science Fiction Cyberpunk,Post-Apocalypse Hunter, Faith 2021-01-24T03:45:33.000Z
A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking T. Kingfisher

I haven’t had this much fun with a book since the last Terry Pratchett novel I read.

Mona is a wizard who works in a bakery. Her one skill is to get bread dough to do what she wants. But when the city comes under attack and almost all the other wizards are assassinated, Mona rises to the challenge.

With smart, slightly dark writing, witty characters, and a homicidal sourdough starter, this is a joy from start to finish.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Magic,Young Adult,Humor Kingfisher, T. 2021-01-24T03:41:00.000Z
System Collapse System Collapse Martha Wells

This book picks up immediately after the events of book five, “Network Effect” (despite the flashback novella “Fugitive Telemetry” being listed as book six). Murderbot, its pal ART the sentient ship (though it won’t admit the ‘pal’ part), and the human crews are still trapped in a hostile star system. Said hostiles consisting of a) remnants of ancient alien biotech with an imperative to escape the system and the ability to take over either cyber or meatware systems to accomplish that goal, b) a rapacious company that wants to mine the planet, enslave the colonists, and make a side-buck on selling the dangerous alien tech, and c) the colonists who have no intention of being rescued from anyone.

But Murderbot is struggling from a serious system fault that results in reboots at the worst possible times. Can it trust its own performance enough to keep everyone safe? The glitch is so serious that it’s blocked it even from itself. Any of the humans could tell it what the problem is, though. It’s just not something Murderbot can admit to itself.

amazon Science Fiction AI,Character Arc,Rogue Wells, Martha 2024-02-14T02:26:13.000Z
Head On Head On John Scalzi

In the second book in the Lock In universe, Chris and partner are called in to investigate a suspicious death in a Hilketa game. In case you’ve never heard of Hilketa, it’s where a team of locked-in Haydens remotely operating android bodies attempt to rip the head off one of the opposing team and run it down the field and into the goal. Axes and machetes are approved equipment. You’re welcome.

If the game is cutthroat, the boardrooms behind the professional sport are even more so. So are the player’s lives, rivalries, endorsement deals, and illicit romances. It’s less a matter of finding someone with motive and more one of finding anyone who doesn’t. Scalzi does a great job extending the technical and sociological changes from his previous novel into the world of professional sports.

amazon Science Fiction Murder Mystery,Cyberpunk Scalzi, John 2023-07-05T17:16:04.000Z
A Desolation Called Peace A Desolation Called Peace Arkady Martine

In book two of the Teixcalaan saga, the Empire confronts the deadly and non-communicative aliens on the far side of Lsel station space. Ambassador Dzmare of Lsel and Three Seagrass of Teixcalaan are summoned to attempt the impossible task of negotiating with an enemy that doesn’t talk. Since this is the Empire, politics is everywhere: in the ministries, in the fleet, and in the Palace. And Dzmare has lost the trust of both Lsel and the Empire by trying to do the right thing instead of what either side wanted.

The depiction of the Empire is as lush and detailed as the previous book, as it takes us into corners we haven’t see before. The aliens area also a fresh and unusual take on how truly different a species can be. If the book has a theme, it’s how difficult it can be to communicate — between species, between cultures, between ideologies, and even between friends.

amazon Science Fiction Aliens,Cultures,Galactic Empire,LGBTQ Martine, Arkady 2021-11-18T13:17:14.000Z
The Martian Chronicles The Martian Chronicles Ray Bradbury

When Earthlings venture to Mars, they find wonders and terrors, strange beings, and unimagined dangers. A classic collection of mystical tales of an enigmatic future.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Top Ten Bradbury, Ray 2021-02-04T19:10:11.000Z
The Quantum Magician The Quantum Magician Derek Künsken

​Singularity Cyberpunk, caged gods and their obligate worshipers, a satisfyingly complex con job and grand heist, and an epic space battle. The execution is outstanding, the pacing is excellent, and the characters have distinct and interesting voices. On top of all this are meditations on what it means to be human, carried on from the points of view of four engineered lines of specialized humans plus the baselines, to say nothing of the AI that believes it’s the reincarnation of Saint Matthew. The character arcs for the main players were all satisfyingly developed. A very satisfying read.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Singularity,Cyberpunk Künsken, Derek 2021-01-22T14:08:36.000Z
Prosper's Demon Prosper’s Demon K. J. Parker

The unnamed (and probably untrustworthy) narrator has a calling. He can see and speak to demons, and he can cast them from a person they’ve possessed. He travels the land, performing his exorcisms, never asking for thanks and frequently not receiving it. He does it for the love of the job, or to be more accurate, his hatred of demons. The demons don’t like him much, either, since getting ripped out of a body hurts.

When the Duke and Duchess of a neighboring country propose to have their child raised by Prosper of Schantz (who is so accomplished that he would make da Vinci look like a one-trick pony) to become the most shining ruler of this or any age. There have to be demons involved, don’t there? Our narrator goes to find out and finds an old enemy. Plenty of room here for Parker’s signature black wit and social commentary.

amazon Fantasy Humor,Magic,Occult Parker, K. J. 2022-01-05T13:56:10.000Z
Snapshot Snapshot Brandon Sanderson

A short read – especially for Sanderson. A near-future police agency has the ability to replay a day in the life of the city in minute detail and insert detectives to investigate crimes that happened in the past. On this day, a troubled detective is assigned two cases with his partner, but he has an agenda beyond what he’s been assigned.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Character Arc Sanderson, Brandon 2021-01-24T03:23:55.000Z
Translation State Translation State Ann Leckie

Ann Leckie returns to the universe of the Ancillary Justice series with a standalone novel. Three misfits from three societies: a human heiress looking for an occupation after losing her family and position, a foundling of uncertain heritage (tentatively identified as human) looking for a place to belong, and a Presger Translator grappling with what we might call imposter syndrome, but which it has no word for. They come together to solve a missing-person case and end up catapulted into the midst of an incident that could trigger the next galactic war. It’s only through understanding themselves and each other that they can thread the diplomatic needle that faces them. Leckie writes some of the most alien aliens in the business today.

amazon Science Fiction Aliens,Cultures,Galactic Empire Leckie, Ann 2024-02-14T02:29:52.000Z
Red Lightning Red Lightning John Varley

In the sequel to Red Thunder, the focus shifts from the protagonists of the first book to their children, now living on Mars, and from technically-detailed feats of engineering to a survival story. Ray is a normal Martian teenager, surfing the thin skies on the surfboard powered by his uncle’s invention, and hanging out in his clubhouse on Phobos. But when a mysterious object hits the Atlantic Ocean at near light speed, a tsunami wipes out most of the East Coast of the US. Ray’s parents immediately pack up an expedition to rescue Ray’s grandmother from her hotel near Cape Canaveral, where the whole story started. The first half of the book is a survival story of a rescue in a nightmare land where there are far from enough resources to help everyone.

The second half of the story shifts gear, as the forces of Earth invade Mars, seeing the red planet as a haven for displaced population and Martian technology as a prize to be seized. Ray becomes part of the resistance, and ultimately rescues his uncle, the inventor of the Squeezer drive, who had vanished from a sealed facility on a remote island. Ray and his family have a single ship against the Earth fleet, and a weapon no one wants to use.

amazon Science Fiction Adventure,Survival Varley, John 2022-08-05T11:41:02.000Z
Lord of Emperors Lord of Emperors Guy Gavriel Kay

In this two-volume tale, Guy Gavriel Kay assembles, stone by glittering stone, the tale of a master mosaicist, Caius Crispus, who is summoned to perform the commission of a lifetime by the emperor of Sarantium. Crispen journeys from a small, plague-stricken town that has claimed his family and his joy of life, to the glittering capital that is the analog of our Constantinople. He must make his way through Byzantine plots and tensions while maintaining his integrity and honor. Among those, how does he weigh the images of the official religion of the empire, against those pagan avatars that have more directly touched his life, knowing that those are considered as subversive by many in Sarantium. Kay’s prose is lyrical and rich, whether describing the way that a mosaicist perceives light and color in ways that you may not, or the way in which a chariot racer perceives the patterns in the dust and chaos of a chariot race. The two-volume set completes Crispin’s arc through his commission, his career, and his journey of self-discovery.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Historical Kay, Guy Gavriel 2021-01-22T14:07:53.000Z
The Graveyard Book The Graveyard Book Neil Gaiman

As a toddler, Bod takes refuge in a graveyard when a man named Jack comes in the night to kill his family. The kindly ghosts look after him, and teach him what they remember of life, and skills they have learned, such as how to Fade. They know that some day, Bod will have to leave the graveyard. And when he does, the man Jack will be waiting for him.

This is a beautiful and evocative story, about a coming-of-age that is both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Occult,Top Ten,Young Adult,Humor Gaiman, Neil 2021-01-24T21:58:36.000Z
Steelheart Steelheart Brandon Sanderson

The age of super-powered humans has dawned, but there are no heroes. Those who gain powers lose all empathy for others, especially those puny normal humans who pose no threat to them. Entire cities are destroyed as the Epics, as they are called, struggle to carve out their own empires to rule.

David Charleston lives in Newcago, what’s left of Chicago after Steelheart to control. David’s father died in the first moments of Steelheart’s rampage, right in front of his eight-year-old son. Ten years later, David has devoted his life to studying everything about the Epics and finding their weaknesses. He wants to join the Reckoners, one of the only bands of Normals who still opposes the Epics. He doesn’t fit in with their cautious tactics, though. He’ll stop at nothing to kill Steelheart for revenge.

Be warned, if David does have a super power, it’s the ability to mangle any metaphor that crosses his path. Just grin — or groan — and roll on. It’s a fun ride.

amazon Science Fiction Adventure,Post-Apocalypse,Young Adult Sanderson, Brandon 2022-12-05T00:25:57.000Z
Machine of Death Machine of Death Ryan North

Ryan North posed a question to his friends, assorted writers and cartoonists: “What if a machine could tell you how you are going to die, with complete accuracy?” This result is this book, thirty-four short stories taking on this theme. How would you change your life if the machine said ‘DROWNED’ or ‘OLD AGE?’ And what if there were more than one way to interpret that prediction?

These stories are funny, poignant, inspiring, and more. They explore how some people might use their foreknowledge to try to escape their fate, and others might use it to give meaning to their lives, or their deaths. Each story is a unique take on this premise, and they’re all worth reading.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Humor North, Ryan 2021-06-17T02:03:02.000Z
Summerland Summerland Hannu Rajaniemi

Hannu Rajaniemi imagines a world that diverged from our own, not into the brass technology of steampunk, but into a world where the dead can be communicated with by Marconi’s devices, a world of ectophones, ectotanks, and spirit cages.

Take that backdrop and mix it with a pre-WWII tale of espionage, and you have a story that keeps you guessing until the end. The two main characters weave a braided path through the narrative, each commanding the reader’s sympathies though often appearing to be on opposing sides. The world of the spy, where nothing is what it seems, is mirrored by the world in which it is set, where our history has been turned on its ear by contact with the land of the dead, yet still manages to play out most of the conflicts that marked our history. The story is told with a minimum of explanation; one of the pleasures and one of the challenges of this book is figuring out how this world works, how it diverged from our own, and how some of our historical figures would have reacted in these game-changing circumstances.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Historical,Cyberpunk Rajaniemi, Hannu 2021-01-22T14:18:59.000Z
The Long Earth The Long Earth Terry Pratchett, Stephen Baxter

A genius has invented a simple device that anyone can build, powered by a potato. When activated, the holder can step into alternate earths, all of them completely empty of humanity. An explosion of settlement, exploration, or simply escape follows, disrupting every facet of life on the base earth.

The story focuses on Joshua, who hides that he can step between earths even though his device is broken, and Lobsang, a Tibetan motorcycle repairman, reincarnated as a supercomputer. Between the cutscenes of people settling the new earths and those left at home dealing with the aftermath (very much Baxter-style), the duo set off on a cross-multiverse journey to find the meaning of it all. (If the motorcycle repairman didn’t clue you in, this is Pratchett spoofing a book from the sixties.) I don’t if it was intended, but I got a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea vibe from their voyage, with Lobsang in the role of the driven and slightly deranged Nemo.

Of course, there were the Pratchettisms scattered throughout, stamping it as one of his:

This apocalypse had four horsemen of its own, their names being Greed, Failing to Follow the Rules, Confusion, and Miscellaneous Abrasions.


The central Australian sky was so full of stars that some had to wait their turn to twinkle.

I waited this long to read it because of a few negative reviews that this was neither Discworld nor Moonseed. I think it’s something different and better, a melding of the two.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Adventure,Epic,Humor Pratchett, Terry,Baxter, Stephen 2021-08-19T13:13:36.000Z
Stranger in a Strange Land Stranger in a Strange Land Robert Heinlein

Michael Valentine Smith, raised by Martians, must learn how to be human. In the process, he teaches his family and followers how to be more than human. This classic from the early sixties is still relevant today.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Top Ten Heinlein, Robert 2021-02-04T19:07:27.000Z
Escape from Yokai Land Escape from Yokai Land Charles Stross

If you’ve read any of the Laundry Files novels, this is a fun return to the original protagonist of the series, Bob Howard. Bob has been called to consult on an occult manifestation in Tokyo by an agency that doesn’t want him there. They just need to check the boxes in their response plan.

Manifestations are shaped by the beliefs of the people. Japan has moved on from the Tengu and Oni of their past. What’s top of mind now is much cuter … until it starts being animated by Lovecraftian horrors from beyond.

If you haven’t read the Laundry Files yet, start with The Atrocity Archives. Stross weaponizes both IT and humor to tell darkly funny tales of the apocalypse. This is the book that features a literal “death by Powerpoint.”

amazon Fantasy Occult,Humor,Urban Fantasy Stross, Charles 2023-05-05T12:17:50.000Z
The Beekeeper's Apprentice The Beekeeper’s Apprentice Laurie R. King

Young Mary Russell runs into the retired Sherlock Holmes on the downs of Sussex and proves to be as acerbic and sharp-eyed as the old master. They strike up a friendship that grows over time, as Sherlock gradually begins allowing Mary to assist in his cases. This Sherlock is a touch more human than Doyle’s; perhaps it’s the times, perhaps it’s the narrator. But this is Mary Russell’s story, and she’s a good choice to carry on the tradition.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Historical King, Laurie R. 2021-01-24T21:51:27.000Z
A Night in the Lonesome October A Night in the Lonesome October Roger Zelazny

An old favorite of mine, which I pull out to read every October. Narrated by Snuff, the watchdog of an occult practitioner named Jack, the thirty-one short chapters chronicle the thirty-one days of a particular October. A group has gathered to play an ancient game with high stakes. The tale is told through the familiars of the (mostly) human players as they negotiate to alternately aid and confuse the other teams. But you can’t say which team you’re on until the last moment.

amazon Fantasy Occult,Humor Zelazny, Roger 2021-01-24T02:22:56.000Z
Kalifriki Kalifriki Roger Zelazny

Kalifriki of the Thread is the type of character that Zelazny did so well. Powerful yet flawed, mysterious and seemingly immortal, until he has become his own legend. In the first tale, he pursues a dimension-shifting thief who goes to ground in a garden of clockwork toys. Kalifriki is befriended by the clockmaker’s daughter, who becomes his companion in discovering the riddle of the garden and uncovering the thief.

In the second tale, Kalifriki is leading a life of retired contemplation when a woman engages him to find the killer of her seven clone sisters. The killer is a former lover who has closed himself in a pocket universe, where he controls all the laws of existence. Kalifriki arms himself with his Thread and a single arrow, and undertakes the job.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Quest Zelazny, Roger 2022-09-05T13:18:07.000Z
The Golem and the Jinni The Golem and the Jinni Helene Wecker

The tale of two supernatural beings who meet where the Jewish and Syrian cultures rub up against each other in Manhattan in 1900 New York. It brings the times and places to life in a way that reminded me of Middlesex, while telling the tale of these two beings, whose lives are more intertwined than any could imagine. I loved the pace and texture of this story. Slow, yes, but everything is there for a reason.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Historical,Cultures,Magic Wecker, Helene 2021-01-24T03:16:03.000Z
The Lions of Al-Rassan The Lions of Al-Rassan Guy Gavriel Kay

A physician and two warlords have their fates intertwined in the divided land of Al-Rassan.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Historical,Cultures Kay, Guy Gavriel 2021-01-24T14:43:44.000Z
The Worlds of J. R. R. Tolkien: The Places That Inspired Middle-earth The Worlds of J. R. R. Tolkien: The Places That Inspired Middle-earth John Garth

Renowned Tolkien expert John Garth takes the reader on a surprising exploration of Tolkien’s life and how the places he knew, visited, and read about shaped his writings. The Shire, Rivendell, Mirkwood, Gondor, Mordor – many places and cultures in Middle Earth were inspired by real places across Europe as well as Africa and even America, and beautiful illustrations and photos help to bring the journey to life. Truly a treat for anyone interested in delving “under the hood” of Tolkien’s world, and even includes tantalizing tidbits from earlier versions of published works, from when Middle Earth was much more closely tied to England in Tolkien’s mind.

amazon,Bookshop.org Non Fiction Historical Garth, John 2021-01-24T23:16:08.000Z
The Haunting of Tram Car 015 The Haunting of Tram Car 015 P. Djèlí Clark

In a slightly different Cairo, in 1912, the Djinn have been set free upon the land and magic is everywhere. So it’s a normal day when Inspector Hamed Nasr of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities is assigned to investigate reports of a haunted tram car. What he finds is neither within his experience or his budget, so improvisation is the order of the day. It doesn’t help that the Station is packed with suffragettes that day, demanding the right to vote.

This is a richly-designed alternate world, with a middle-eastern steampunk vibe (call it magicpunk perhaps). It paints a picture of how the region might look if the northern European powers had been tossed out and the country left to chart its own course. It’s also a great example of what writers call a try-fail cycle, where everything the protagonists try blows up in their faces, but provides a clue to the eventual solution. This is a novella in a longer series; it has plenty of background to be a standalone story, and a good introduction to draw you into the series. I’ve added the next full-length novel to my reading list.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Urban Fantasy,Magic,Alternate History Clark, P. Djèlí 2021-11-04T23:26:57.000Z
Rendezvous with Rama Rendezvous with Rama Arthur C. Clark

A survey craft finds a alien artifact as large a small world as it slingshots around the sun. In a few short weeks they try to learn its secrets before it leaves the solar system forever. In the warmth of the sun, automatic systems awaken to do housekeeping. But where are the builders?

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Exploration,Top Ten,Aliens Clark, Arthur C. 2021-02-04T18:56:49.000Z
Nation Nation Terry Pratchett

Magic is just a way of saying “I don’t know.”

​It took me too long to pick up this book. The teaser on Amazon does not do it justice. The description is lackluster for a volume so full of ideas, philosophy, humor, and emotion. If you haven’t read it, get it today. Read on for why.

The setting is simple enough. A tsunami wipes out a village, leaving only a single surviving boy. It also drives aground an English ship, leaving only a single surviving Victorian-era girl. Together Mau and Daphne learn to communicate and to survive on the island. Gradually, the survivors of other islands trickle in. From the bits of many islands, they start to build a new nation.

What this misses (as does the teaser on Amazon) is the humor on every page, humor that not only delights but makes you rethink the things he makes fun of. It’s easy to say that the game of cricket is silly, but to really puncture it you need to read the scene where an Englishman tries to teach the game to the islanders. Imperialism, religion, propriety, and more are all skewered in this way.

The two protagonists are on the edge of adulthood when their futures are ripped away. They initially want to find a way to regain their future. As they grow and face their challenges, they find that what they need to do is find a better future, and let go of their preconceptions of what that future should contain.

she’d wanted him to argue . . . It’s hard to talk to someone who understands.

​In the end, this book is about belief. Not the belief that religion preaches. There are iconic representations of both western and island religions, that turn out to be insufficient to deal with the new world. Belief in themselves and in other people makes their new future worth living.

“Er . . . who’s Nawi? A new god?” ​“No. Better than a god. A good man.”

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Cultures,Young Adult,Humor Pratchett, Terry 2021-01-21T13:32:11.000Z
What Feasts at Night What Feasts at Night T. Kingfisher

Alex Easton, a sworn soldier (retired), is still recovering from the horrific experience attending the fall of the House of Usher. Retreating with batman (aide) Angus and the indomitable mycologist Miss Potter to the family lodge in Gallacia, they find the lodge abandoned and the caretaker dead. The townfolk shun them and talk of a moroi that steals the breath of sleepers. Only the Widow Botezatu is brave or desperate enough to come be the new caretaker, along with her grandson Bors. But soon, the nightmares begin (Alex always has nightmares, mostly of the war). It appears that the moroi is still in residence.

I enjoy the depth of characterization that Kingfisher brings to her stories, and this is no exception. Alex’s inner scar tissue, both from the war and from family disapproval, drives a lot of the plot. Angus, the stoical but smitten batman, and Bors, the simple and slow country lad who plays a mean game of chess are counterpoints to Alex’s turmoil. The Widow’s certainty of supernatural creatures and of Alex’s moral failings as not just a soldier, but a sworn soldier no less, are counterpoints in the opposite direction.

Kingfisher’s approach to horror is refreshing. Scary without being gory, leavened with humor, people with good sense to balance those without. It brings out the best in the genre without becoming overwhelming.

amazon Fantasy Horror,Psychological,Occult Kingfisher, T. 2024-03-13T20:14:38.000Z
City of Stairs City of Stairs Robert Jackson Bennett

The Continent was once ruled by seven gods, until one man found out how to kill them. Their miracles died with them, leaving all they built a crumpled ruin. Their very mention was outlawed and their history was rewritten. Now a historian has been murdered for finding what was forbidden, and Shara, grandaughter of the man who killed the gods, must unearth the plot. Fantasy mixed with espionage and murder mystery, beautifully written.

The woman smiles. The smile is neither pleasant nor unpleasant: it is a smile like fine silver plate, used for one occasion and polished and put away once finished.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Magic,Epic,Quest Bennett, Robert Jackson 2021-01-24T03:19:55.000Z
Downward to the Earth Downward to the Earth Robert Silverberg

The planet of Belzagor had two intelligent species. The Nildoror looked like elephants so the humans employed them as menial laborers. Eventually forced to relinquish the planet to the original inhabitants, a man named Gunderson comes back for a pilgrimage to atone for sins committed while under his watch. In learning more about the Nildoror and Sulidoror, he learns more about himself than he was prepared to learn.

This is the type of journey of discovery that Silverberg does so well. This particular gem was out of publication for a long time until it was finally republished.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Character Arc,Cultures Silverberg, Robert 2021-01-24T02:34:03.000Z
Ghost Talkers Ghost Talkers Mary Robinette Kowal

The Spirit Corps gathers intelligence from the front in WWI – by summoning and interviewing the freshly-killed ghosts of soldiers. But the Germans may have learned of their existence, and planted a spy – or a saboteur. Historical fiction|romance|murder mystery|spy thriller|ghost story. This novel stirs all of that seamlessly into an entertaining tale, and also touches on the racism and sexism of that era without being preachy.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Historical,Occult Kowal, Mary Robinette 2021-01-24T03:11:40.000Z
Nine Princes in Amber Nine Princes in Amber Roger Zelazny

Amber is the one true realm, of which all others are shadows. Corwin, Prince of Amber, awakens from a coma in a hospital, and starts on the path the leads back to the throne of Amber. A pack of playing cards that can summon his allies and enemies is his first clue to his destiny.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Epic,Magic,Top Ten Zelazny, Roger 2021-02-04T19:23:35.000Z
Blackout/All Clear Blackout/All Clear Connie Willis

The Oxford time-travel lab (run by the History department, of course) sends observers to critical points in history to observe the nuances that tilted events one way or another. London in World War II is full of those, and a cadre of historians are taking roles as shopkeepers, ambulance drivers, and evacuation workers where they can watch but never change anything. It starts to seem, though, that the timeline itself is conspiring against them to thrust them into roles where they have to take part in events and risk changing their own history.

These are listed as two novels, but it’s really a single novel in two volumes. Willis brings to life the war years and the struggles that ordinary people faced to just live their lives. She follows shopgirls and actors, not soldiers, and the everyday acts of heroism that they performed. From the perspective of the historians, who know how events are going to play out, we get a sense of the knife edge that the war balanced on, and the number of times that things could have gone very differently. And despite their mandate to not participate, the historians get drawn into an all-out effort for things not to turn out very much worse than they did.

amazon Science Fiction Alternate History,Historical,Time Travel Willis, Connie 2023-10-05T00:27:27.000Z
The Big Score The Big Score K. J. Parker

Saloninus has a problem. He faked his own death to escape his creditors, and suddenly his plays are worth far more than when he was alive. How to cash in?

He’s neither as dead nor untraceable as he had hoped when an old colleague finds him. She’s a forger and sometime romantic interest (who doesn’t appear to have a romantic bone in her rapacious soul). She enlists (coerces) him into her scheme that will make them that one spectacular score that will allow them to retire forever, despite the failure of their previous scores to live up to their equally high bidding. Saloninus’s main worry – how is she going to betray him this time?

Delightfully witty, sarcastic, and satirical, this short novella is a good way to spend an evening or two.

amazon Fantasy Heist,Rogue,Thief Parker, K. J. 2021-08-19T13:06:01.000Z
The Flaw in All Magic The Flaw in All Magic Ben Dobson

Tane Carver fakes his way into a University of magic despite having no abilities of his own, solely because he has an unparalleled grasp of theory. When he’s found out, he isn’t rewarded, he’s expelled. But then a murder occurs, and he’s the only one who can solve it.

Dodson has created a world of magical creatures and half-breeds that defy the usual stereotypes, starting with the female half-orc policeman who decides that Tane is going to be her partner, no matter what he says. The story is light and amusing and the twists are clever. This is good entertainment that has fun upending a lot of tropes.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Magic,Steampunk Dobson, Ben 2021-10-18T12:28:02.000Z
Mistborn Mistborn Brandon Sanderson

The ash-covered land has been ruled with an iron hand for a thousand years. Now a band of misfits has rediscovered an ancient alchemy that gives them hope of overthrowing that rule. A heist novel, an epic fantasy, and one of the best magic systems ever invented.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Magic,Top Ten,Epic,Adventure Sanderson, Brandon 2021-02-04T19:30:49.000Z
Judgment at Proteus Judgment at Proteus Timothy Zahn

Just last month I reviewed the first book in the series. Now I’m featuring the last book? Well, I got drawn in and binged the entire series all at once. The series is just fun. It’s tense enough that you just want to know what’s coming next, and the characters are engaging enough that you start to care about making it through the gantlet. (Yes, gantlet. Running the “gauntlet” is a misquote. Look it up.)

To recap: there is a galaxy-spanning railroad run by a race named the Spiders. You can take a train to any of thousands of worlds belonging to the twelve known intelligent races.

  1. Night Train to Rigel Earth agent Frank Compton teams up with the Spider’s agent Bayta to investigate a galactic threat from a group mind called the Mohdri.
  2. The Third Lynx Compton and Bayta investigate art thefts that have had deadly consequences. The art pieces just might be artifacts of a long-dead warrior race that had formerly enslaved the galaxy, the Shonkla-raa. They may not be much to look at as art, but they may be much more. And the Mohdri wants them.
  3. Odd Girl Out Compton comes to the aid of a girl after her sister was murdered on Earth. The Mohdri wants her dead, and Compton and Bayta race to find out why she’s so important.
  4. The Domino Pattern In a change of pace, this book takes on the air of murder mystery on a sealed train between stations. People are dying. Bayton and Compton work to find out why. Even more puzzling, the Mohdri wants to help them.
  5. Judgment at Proteus Compton and Bayta travel six weeks across the galaxy to the home of the Shonkla-raa. Both their enemies and their allies follow, but with former enemies aiding them and former allies hindering them, the power dynamic is shifting. Compton must figure who are the Shonkla-raa and how can they be stopped?

Overall, this is a fast-paced series of galactic intrigue, espionage, and tactics that rivals anything else out there.

amazon Science Fiction Aliens,Galactic Empire Zahn, Timothy 2023-12-05T13:11:12.000Z
The Last Stand of Mary Good Crow copy The Last Stand of Mary Good Crow copy Rachel Aaron

In this Western with a steampunk vibe, the discovery of a vein of crystal with magical properties has upended the power dynamics of the West. The time is just after the end of the Civil War, and all the political and military figures of the era take up new roles in this alternate history. Mary Good Crow is the half-Lakota, half-white guide to the vast crystal mines, and one of the few people who can hear the crystal sing. The heiress to the mining company hires her to take her into the mines to re-establish her father’s legacy. Meanwhile, the cavalry tries to maintain control of this fabulous resource against the native people who know it as a holy land, as well as murderous bandits who want it for themselves. No one is exactly what they seem, however. Sometimes not even close.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Alternate History,Magic,Steampunk Aaron, Rachel 2022-10-04T22:33:02.000Z
Homebody Homebody Orson Scott Card

From the author of Ender’s Game, a ghost story in modern-day Greensboro, NC. Don Lark is trying to get his life back together after the death of his wife and daughter and a mountain of ruinous legal bills. He buys houses, renovates them, and resells them at a profit, and the parallels with his life journey are not lost on him. His latest project is a (formerly) grand southern mansion with a long history. It also comes with modern-day baggage: a cheerful real-estate agent with a duplicitous partner, very sweet but odd neighbors who warn him about the house, and a squatter living in the attic. But then it seems that the house wants to object to his renovation plans…

I wouldn’t place this among Card’s top-tier works. For instance, there’s what seems a major plot thread in the beginning that just vanishes halfway through. It’s still an engrossing and properly spooky tale to read on a dark winter evening. Try to find a comfortable old house that creaks in the wind to read it in.

amazon Fantasy Occult,Character Arc Card, Orson Scott 2021-11-19T01:35:27.000Z
The Lost World of the Old Ones The Lost World of the Old Ones David Roberts

Desert philosopher, seeker of ancient civilizations, and expert rock climber David Roberts tells of his adventures of the last 20 years exploring remote archaeological sites from central Utah to Northern Mexico.

amazon,Bookshop.org Non Fiction Archaelogy,Cultures Roberts, David 2021-01-24T15:57:23.000Z
The Night Kings and Night Heirs The Night Kings and Night Heirs Roger Zelazny, Warren Lapine

The first story in this collection is a classic Zelazny tale. The proprietor of a curious store senses that trouble is brewing when business is too good. Occult matters are coming to a head. Customers are buying defenses against vampires and zombies as if the apocalypse is next week. Then a messenger arrives bearing a challenge. He gathers up his sword and his apprentice and heads out to the graveyard…

The second story was written by Walter Lapine in the style of Zelazny. Many years later, the apprentice has taken over the shop. It also transpires that he began a relationship with the beautiful apprentice of his master’s opponent on the night of the encounter related in Zelazny’s story. Business is once again too good, portents are appearing, and the challenge is imminent. How to respond when the challenger is one you’ve grown to love?

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Occult Zelazny, Roger,Lapine, Warren 2022-09-04T21:57:16.000Z
The House in the Cerulean Sea The House in the Cerulean Sea T.J. Klune

Linus Baker, a government caseworker, is sent on a special assignment to inspect an orphanage for magical children on a remote island. They’re all “difficult” and they’re all unique. But as he gets to know them, he starts to question the entire purpose of his visit and the goals of his employer, The Department in Charge of Magical Youth.

The novel speaks to the treatment of all those who have been marginalized or discriminated against, but gently, not in a preachy way. Linus himself has things he has been hiding, and not just his love of old vinyl records. Learning to speak up for his children, he starts to learn to speak up for himself as well. I very much enjoyed this book.

amazon Fantasy Magic,LGBTQ,Character Arc,Humor Klune, T.J. 2023-05-05T11:57:11.000Z
Quillifer the Knight Quillifer the Knight Walter Jon Williams

Rogue, womanizer, son of butcher, and now knight of the realm. Quillifer carves himself a life in the court of the queen that he helped to the throne, and holds it against those who were born to the court and resent his intrusion. Quillifer will take on any challenge, but never in the way his opponents expect, preferring to win by wit rather than force. But will that work against his worst enemy, the goddess he offended who has sworn his ruin?

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Character Arc,Magic,Rogue Williams, Walter Jon 2021-01-24T03:26:38.000Z
Monster Portaits Monster Portaits Sofia Samatar

What are monsters? Do they come from our subconscious, or do they look at us from the mirror?

I feel myself in the clan of immigrants and hyphens.

Sofia Samatar writes a series of dense, poetic portraits of creatures from mythology accompanied by illustrations by her brother Del. Her language has layers of meaning to unpack as you decide whether she is speaking of the myth, society, or oneself. (Often all three.) Each piece is short, one to two pages, giving you time to consider before turning to the next.

I enjoyed this, but acknowledge it’s not for everyone. Take a look at the free preview on Amazon and decide if it’s for you.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Cultures,Magic Samatar, Sofia 2021-09-05T12:34:12.000Z
The Long Game The Long Game K. J. Parker

This is a return to Parker’s world of Adepts and Demons. Demons possess people to torment them, or to compel them to commit evil acts that harm others. Adepts cast them out and foil their plans. Neither side will admit that this arrangement is mutually beneficial. The narrator, an Adept, had come to that realization on a personal level: a particular Demon and he have developed a working relationship. A favor here, a favor there. Maybe a little respect. Until a mysterious woman from a mythical country arrives to capture a Demon to use for her own purposes. There’s suddenly much more at stake than the status quo.

Parker’s writing is always witty, and this is among his best. It’s a fun social satire about the realities behind the labels “good” and “evil.” And what the *real* goals of the players on both side might be. (You can read the books in this loose series in any order.)

amazon Fantasy Humor,Magic,Satire Parker, K. J. 2022-06-03T20:23:41.000Z
I Shall Wear Midnight I Shall Wear Midnight Terry Pratchett

Tiffany Aching is a young witch, learning the tedious, simple tasks that her community depends on. When a shadow falls over the land, Tiffany has strength that even the elder witches do not. Not the first book in the Tiffany Aching series, but the finest of them all.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Young Adult,Magic,Humor,Top Ten Pratchett, Terry 2021-02-04T19:26:21.000Z
American Gods American Gods Neil Gaiman

Shadow is employed by the mysterious Mr Wednesday after he is released from prison. He tells Shadow that the old gods are gathering, and there is a reckoning coming. Shadow is skeptical, but the pay is good. But strange things keep happening wherever Mr Wednesday goes…

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Cultures,Magic,Top Ten,Character Arc Gaiman, Neil 2021-02-04T19:20:16.000Z
Redshirts Redshirts John Scalzi

Redshirts starts off like a bad SciFi novel. And that‘s the point. Andy Dahl realizes that a posting to the Universal Union‘s flagship isn‘t the opportunity he thought it was. Why does the bridge crew always lead the away teams personally, and why does some low-ranking ensign always end up dead? Why do officers make snap decisions that make no sense, other than they‘re dramatically appropriate? And why are the laws of physics suspended just in time to save the ship? Most of the crew just ducks any hazardous assignment but Andy and his crewmates are determined to find a reason for the madness. Their journey becomes even stranger than one of their away missions. Redshirts is a wickedly funny satirical sendup of popular but flawed SciFi shows of today and yesteryear.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Humor Scalzi, John 2021-03-17T12:17:28.000Z
To Each This World To Each This World Julie Czerneda

Humanity has migrated to New Earth, while Origin Earth has fallen mysterious silent. Once established, New Earth sent out sleeper ships to expand humanity’s toehold on the Universe. Then then Kmeth arrived with instantaneous travel and declared themselves the friends of humankind.

At least that’s the working assumption. Humans and Kmeth have such different natures that understanding teeters on the edge of slippery words. Does “friends” mean “equals” or “wards” or “competitors”? The Arbiter is the human elected to negotiate with the Kmeth. As Arbiter, Henry m’Yama t’Nowak has the responsibility of working out the terms of that relationship.

As word comes back that the sleeper ships have established colonies, the Kmeth become alarmed and insist that all humans must be recalled to New Earth to be safe from a destroying alien race. Henry, pilot Killian, and a sentient shuttlecraft named Pip head an expedition aboard the Kmeth Portal to rescue the colonists. But what, exactly are they rescuing them from?

Often, the aliens in SF are humans with strange noses and ears. They have understandable motivations to us: greed, fear, ego, kindness. Czerneda digs deeply to uncover the biological imperatives that drive a truly alien viewpoint. This story asks the question of how species can communicate when they don’t have any shared motivations.

amazon Science Fiction Aliens,Anthropology,Cultures,Survival Czerneda, Julie 2024-03-16T01:36:46.000Z
Ekho: New York Ekho: New York Christophe Arleston

Fourmille Gratule is on a flight to New York when a strange creature accosts her with a request. When she lands in New York, she is no longer in a 747. She disembarks from a dragon into a strange and magical Manhattan in a world called Ekho. Her seatmate Yuri, a computer nerd whom she had never met, is dragged along in her vortex. The grumpy Yuri just wants to go home but ends up helping the vivacious Fourmille on her quest.

The world is full of magical creatures, but little squirrels called Preshauns seem to run the place. Their dark secrets seem to be tied up with the role that Fourmille has been given to play out. They try to sideline her but haven’t counted on her own brand of chaos.

The dialog is bright and humorous and the artwork is gorgeous. Buckle up for a wild ride.

amazon Fantasy,Graphic Novel Magic Arleston, Christophe 2021-02-02T00:55:24.000Z
The Mote in God's Eye The Mote in God’s Eye Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle

Humanity’s first contact with aliens – three-armed beings bottled up on their world by an accident of cosmic geometry. They’re inventive and charming, and quite possibly dangerous.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Aliens,Adventure,Top Ten Niven, Larry,Pournelle, Jerry 2021-02-04T19:12:08.000Z
Good Omens Good Omens Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett

The apocalypse is next week, after teatime. The forces of darkness and light are both pushing for it, because that’s what it’s all about, after all. Plans have been in motion for eons.

For the demon Crowley and the angel Aziraphale, it’s not so black and white. Crowley has had to keep the plan on track by doing what could be called, in the right light, good deeds. And Aziraphale has had some orders that don’t sit well with him either. They both agree that there’s a lot to like about these humans, once you get close to them. The Four Horsemen are riding, and the traffic jam of doom stands between them and the Antichrist. Who, in an embarrassment for both sides, seems to have been misplaced.

Two masters of understated and dark humor join forces to prophesy the end of the world. Even if you’ve seen the miniseries that was made from this, pick up the book as well.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Humor,Occult Gaiman, Neil,Pratchett, Terry 2021-07-19T14:22:18.000Z
The Seventh Bride The Seventh Bride T. Kingfisher

Lord Crevan makes a surprising offer of marriage to Rhea, a miller’s daughter. Rhea is a commoner, and rather plain. Crevan is a friend of the prince, creepy, and a reputed sorcerer. It’s hard to say “no” to such a person.

When Rhea arrives at Crevan’s manor house, she finds that six women had previously made this bargain, and are bound in service to Crevan and the house. The house may have its own opinions about this.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Character Arc,Magic Kingfisher, T. 2022-04-04T23:54:45.000Z
The Devil You Know The Devil You Know K. J. Parker

As an old man, Saloninus summons a devil to make a deal: give him 20 more years of life and serve his every wish, in exchange for Saloninus’s mortal soul. Since Saloninus is the world’s foremost playwright and inventor, the devil thinks this a good deal. But Saloninus is also the world’s foremost con artist. As the twenty years drag on, the devil becomes more and more worried about the things Saloninus is asking for.

The book is full of Parker’s biting humor and signature tricksy protagonist. If Saloninus seems full of himself and too good to be true, remember that he’s the ultimate unreliable narrator – a playwright. In his own words, “I can write the most profound things without actually meaning them. I can persuade people of things I don’t believe myself, or (more usually) simply don’t care about.”

Amazon and Goodreads disagree on the order of the series of three novellas that this is part of, but it doesn’t matter. They’re all quite independent.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Heist,Rogue,Thief Parker, K. J. 2021-08-19T12:58:53.000Z
The Twelve Dragons of Albion The Twelve Dragons of Albion Mark Hayden

Someone has stolen a dragon’s egg, which is pretty close to saying someone has stolen a thermonuclear device. Conrad has little magic of his own (he can dowse, and that’s about it), and his magical weapon has been impounded until he can get safety training. Still, he’s the best candidate for the job, along with his partner Vicky. They set off across the Welsh countryside to answer the question, “Who would steal a weapon that no one can control?”

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Magic,Occult,Urban Fantasy Hayden, Mark 2021-07-04T19:48:57.000Z
Moggies In Space Moggies In Space Raconteur Press

This is a book about cats in space. Since my most-checked-out book when I got my first library card when I was five years old was Space Cat, I immediately wanted to read this. Being marginally more cautious now than I was at five, I checked over the mostly-positive reviews and read the first page. Then, seeing that it was on Kindle Unlimited, I figured I had nothing to lose but a few hours.

There are eleven short stories in this volume, all about cats of some description. Mostly good, sometimes heroic, but always recognizably cats in nature. I would say the median story in this collection is quite good and a few are excellent. I didn’t enjoy the second one, which was a horror story featuring the least cat-like creature of the bunch. I’d skip that one if I were you.

For the rest, I enjoyed tales of cats hunting new alien vermin, chasing off space pirates, inspecting their cargos, and keeping their humans in line. I had a good time with the book. If you like cats, I predict you will too.

amazon Science Fiction Space Press, Raconteur 2023-11-05T14:40:56.000Z
Harmony Lost Harmony Lost Stella Jorette

London, 1969. Pam Davis wakes up in a hospital with a sense that nothing’s familiar, not even her own body. It’s like she was beamed in from somewhere else. She also finds that remnants of the previous resident of the body are still there, and she’s angry.

Pam finds she’s married to a rock musician who is playing small gigs and dreaming of making it big. With a sensible, project-management attitude and a large dose of kindness-never-hurts, she takes over the band management to make those dreams reality. Her first hurdle is the band, because that’s not at all who she was before ending up in the hospital. Along the way she runs into sexist industry managers who won’t give her anything more than a leer, corrupt club owners, and a vindictive show organizer who will do anything to make them fail. The mystery of Pam unravels slowly through the book as she finds there are others like her, each with a different clue.


amazon Fantasy Time Travel,Alternate History Jorette, Stella 2021-11-19T02:56:07.000Z
Take a Look at the Five and Ten Take a Look at the Five and Ten Connie Willis

Ori dreads holiday dinners with her blended family (blended is far too mild a word to cover the tangle of relationships she has). She starts dreading them in July. Her Dad’s current wife only thinks she can cook, and her daughter Sloan (thankfully only an accidental relation) is snobbish and conceited. Sloan has brought home the tall blond handsome boyfriend of the moment, Lassiter. Then there’s aunts and cousins and grandmothers, all more horrible than the last.

Well, Grandma Elving isn’t horrible, but the only thing she can talk about is the Christmas season she worked at Woolworth’s in the 1950s, a habit that annoys everyone but catches Lassiter’s attention. He’s studying neurology, and sees all the signs of it being a Traumatic Flash Bulb Moment, which leave vivid, indelible memories of the moment of the trauma. Lassiter takes up Grandma Elving as a project for his thesis and begins interviewing her. For her part, Ori starts being drawn to Lassiter, which is bad for all sorts of reasons.

This short tale has Willis’ classic charm, wit, and funny portraits of dysfunctional families and pompous people who need their ego pricked. It’s also a cute little holiday tale, so go read it while the holiday lights are still up. (Yeah, I know, some people will keep their lights up until the next solstice.)

amazon Science Fiction Character Arc Willis, Connie 2022-01-03T16:01:54.000Z
House of Rain House of Rain Craig Childs

House of Rain is one of those rare books that may change you forever. It’s not destined to have that affect on everyone, but for those with even a passing interest in the ancient Anasazi culture of the American Southwest (think Mesa Verde or Chaco Canyon), this book is a page-turner. While archaeology can seem like a dry subject, Craig Childs is a different kind of archaeologist. Part scientist, part adventurer, and occasional mystic, he seems driven by a passion not just to discover and understand, but to FEEL.

He uses the power of archaeological research and analysis mixed with his remarkable knowledge of the desert itself to build up an understanding of ancient people like layers on a painting, giving them the details that are often missing from a purely scientific approach. He seeks out their motivations, joys, sorrows, aspirations, and tragic ends. Is he absolutely right in all his inferences? Sometimes yes, other times perhaps not, but that may not be the point. There are many sources of information about the Ancient Puebloan cultures that stick strictly to known, established data and analysis. The true value of this book is in the intelligent, informed questions it asks and the unique literal and figurative paths it explores through Childs’ almost lyrical writing. His theories aren’t completely out there, but he isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers with unorthodox thinking and his style of writing is engaging and thought-provoking, liberally sprinkled with vivid descriptions and entertaining tales of his adventures in the desert backcountry.

House of Rain has a structure that is almost a story within a story, which ties the various anecdotes and vignettes together as he slowly builds his case for the explanation of the mysterious vanishing of the Anasazi around the 13th century AD. As a long-time archaeology fanatic (who actually minored in archaeology as an accompaniment to my anthropology major) and with a longtime interest in the Ancient Puebloan peoples of the Southwest, I found the final chapters of this book almost breathtaking. Childs looks deeper at the holes in the ground and the scant remains of a past civilization, as well as the environment in which they lived to discern amongst the detrius, fleeting glimpses what their lives were truly about.

amazon,Bookshop.org Non Fiction Cultures,Anthropology,Archaelogy Childs, Craig 2021-01-22T04:22:09.000Z
Catfishing on Catnet Catfishing on Catnet Naomi Kritzer

One of Steph Taylor’s few escapes is CatNet, a place to share pictures of cats and socialize with other teenagers. Steph isn’t allowed to really make friends outside, since her mother picks them up and moves to a new town every few months, telling Steph that her abusive ex-husband is tracking them.

CheshireCat is the benevolent moderator of CatNet, who seems to always be online, always available, and capable of finding out nearly everything. CheshireCat may not be a person at all, or at least not a human-type person. When CheshireCat starts helping the teenagers with some real-world hijinks, Steph’s cover is blown and they’re on the run again. But this time she has friends and a very capable mentor. But CheshireCat has secrets and a different kind of vulnerability, and the friends have to help CheshireCat as well.

This is a story of friendship, belonging, helping out, and winning causes. It explores what it means to be a person, and why it’s important to fight for the inclusion of everyone, no matter how different. Plus it’s just downright fun.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction AI,Humor,Young Adult Kritzer, Naomi 2021-05-19T00:37:49.000Z
All the Seas of the World All the Seas of the World Guy Gavriel Kay

All the Seas of the World is set in Kay’s almost-Europe with two moons in the sky, as a follow-on to A Brightness Long Ago. It begins with two unlikely business partners, a woman who freed herself from slavery to become a corsair (a sometime merchant, sometime pirate, according to opportunity), and the man whose ship she signed onto to start her career. Their commission is to assassinate the ruler of a city to prepare it for invasion, but their mission turns into a heist instead. That decision propels them into the center of a whirlwind as all the great powers that ring the Middle Sea recast their alliances. The story is equal parts finely-crafted political maneuvering, Renaissance-era naval warfare, and the long personal voyages of this pair as they find their new roles among the rich and powerful leaders of their world.

While this is part of a series, any one of the books can be used as the jumping-off point.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Adventure,Character Arc,Alternate History Kay, Guy Gavriel 2022-07-05T18:17:44.000Z
Under Heaven Under Heaven Guy Gavriel Kay

This is now my favorite book this year. Set in a fantasy realm analog to Tang Dynasty China, minor noble Shen Tai carries out a two-year vigil and is rewarded by a princess with a gift of 250 magnificent horses. The question is whether he will survive the gift. The assassin arrives two pages later. Tai navigates the undercurrents of the court, the ambition of powerful men and women, and the enmity of his brother. If he doesn’t keep his balance …

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Historical,Cultures Kay, Guy Gavriel 2021-01-24T04:01:25.000Z
Otherland Otherland Tad Williams

Otherland starts out with threads that are each fascinating, but seem unrelated. The main one follows a professor in a South African university, whose brother is comatose after an encounter in virtual reality, launching her into an investigation of powerful forces shaping the world for their own gain. Hang on, because some of these threads don’t tie together until nearly the end, but tie in they do, in unsuspected ways.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Cyberpunk,Quest,Adventure Williams, Tad 2021-01-24T03:58:03.000Z
The Hollowing The Hollowing Robert Holdstock

Book 3 of the Mythago Wood Cycle travels further into the seemingly small yet impossibly vast haunted woodland of Ryhope, where space and time turn back on themselves and dreams (and nightmares) become reality. This time a young boy loses himself in the forest and is believed dead. Years later his father learns that his son may still live, preserved as a young child in the strange timeline of the wood. With the help of explorers studying the wood, he mounts a search for him. But the boy’s own powerful imagination has conjured sinister “mythagos” to protect him.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Occult Holdstock, Robert 2021-01-24T23:05:34.000Z
In the House of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns In the House of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns Elizabeth Bear

In the city of Bangalor, India, fifty years in our future, a murder is committed. Sub-Inspector Ferron is called in to investigate. This is the simple beginning to this short tale, which proves to be neither simple nor short by the end of its 77 pages.

In Sub-Inspector Ferron, Bear conveys a three-dimensional character, not by dumping a page of backstory as so many authors do, but by weaving a tapestry whose threads extend off the page, connecting her to her mother, her relatives, her career choice, her culture and colleagues, and even her choice of name. This is done with economy of words; after the first paragraph describing the highly unusual crime scene, Bear drops in wryly, “Ferron was going to be late visiting her mother after work tonight.”

As the fairly standard investigation of this non-standard crime proceeds, Ferron’s relationship with her mother forms an important thread. Everyone who has dealt with parental disapproval of career or lifestyle choices, parental addictions, or parental insolvency, will recognize the patterns, though the thread from which they’re woven is new and unfamiliar. We would consider cell phones, internet service, and cable TV necessities today, which would seem as strange to someone from fifty years in our past as the needs of these characters seem to us. Are the true necessities of life timeless, or a product of our times?

The culture of India is the backdrop to this story, taking few words but adding the flavoring of cardamom and coriander to the mixture. The icons of Ganesha, Aryamen, and Varuna in various locations, the Hindu names of the constellations, and the names and forms of address all add an exotic flavor (unless, of course, that happens to be the culture you hail from).

All of that is skewed by the placement fifty years in the future. That not only makes the crime possible, but carries an implicit history of our future that gives hope that we will solve many of our problems. The populace lives an energy-frugal life, with integrated vertical farms in residential buildings, solar powered buses, pedicabs, and the mentioned but never quite explained “pedestrials”. Gratuitous travel has been curtailed so much by telepresence that having someone fly in for the case is a momentous event. And of course the bio-engineered pets that could have come from a Japanese anime form a whimsical but pivotal point in the story.

The final dimension, the axis that spindles through all of these layers, is the flickering star in Andromeda that provides the opportunity meditate as to what this all might mean from the perspective of billions of miles and millions of years.

When I began by saying that the story was neither simple nor short, despite the small page count, I meant that there is much that is implied, that extends beyond the edges of the page, or that fills in the gap between our time and that one. It left me with a number of points to ponder for the next few days. What more could one ask of a story?

amazon Science Fiction Cultures Bear, Elizabeth 2021-01-22T14:20:34.000Z
Penric's Demon Penric’s Demon Lois McMaster Bujold

Going to the aid of a dying traveler on the road, a young lord finds himself suddenly bequeathed the demon that had possesed her. The demon brings powers, the memories of the twelve hosts it has had before, and new responsibilities and dangers that change his life forever. This is the beginning of the Penric and Desdemona saga, which spans eight novellas. Each is an evening’s reading, and each is a new chapter in the evolving relationship of Penric and his demon.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Magic,Character Arc Bujold, Lois McMaster 2021-01-24T22:40:02.000Z
A Practical Guide to Conquering the World A Practical Guide to Conquering the World K. J. Parker amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Humor,Epic,Satire Parker, K. J. 2022-04-05T00:05:33.000Z
Shadow Winged Shadow Winged Jilleen Dolbeare

Piper Tikaani is an Inupiaq bush pilot with a secret—she can take the form of a raven or a wolf. But her day job is flying hunters and miners to remote cabins in the wilderness. When a family friend dies mysteriously at his cabin, the new owner suspects there may be hidden gold on the property and there are others who are searching for it. As Piper helps him follow the clues, the game becomes more deadly, and she begins to learn that there are more shape shifters around than she knew about. And buried gold is the least of their interests.

I enjoyed the way the author wove native american culture and myths into the story line, not just as background but as an integral part of the world-building. She also convincingly portrays the joys and hazards of being a bush pilot in this remote land. The light but sturdy planes they fly are characters in their own right, with their own limitations and foibles. It was a different take on the modern urban fantasy.

amazon Fantasy Magic,Urban Fantasy,Cultures Dolbeare, Jilleen 2023-08-04T12:45:59.000Z
Rainbow's End Rainbow’s End Vernor Vinge

In a world enlarged by augmented reality, where smart clothes and smart lenses add layers of context and metadata to your experience, those who came to this experience late in life are at a disadvantage compared to the younger generation. Our foil in this story is Robert Gu, recently cured of Alzheimer’s, who is struggling to re-integrate with this society. His children and their friends introduce him to this world, with mixed results. One symbol of this change is the effort to digitize all the works in the University Library – an effort that will free the world’s knowledge to be used by all, at the cost of destroying the books themselves.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Cyberpunk Vinge, Vernor 2021-01-22T14:04:58.000Z
The Foundation Trilogy The Foundation Trilogy Isaac Asimov

Using the mathematics of Pyschohistory, Hari Seldon predicts the downfall of Galactic civilization, and how to reboot it. Seldon establishes a Foundation to guide the Galaxy through the dark ages, preserving knowledge for the eventual renaissance. But there are more layers to Seldon’s plan than anyone knows.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Exploration,Top Ten,Galactic Empire Asimov, Isaac 2021-02-04T18:52:01.000Z
A Brightness Long Ago A Brightness Long Ago Guy Gavriel Kay

Guy Gavriel Kay weaves a tale of an almost-Italy. Amid warring city-states and political intrigue, a young scholar, son of a tradesman, witnesses the rivalry between two of the most prominent mercenaries of the day. Beautifully written, with a pensive tone, this is a standalone extension to his Sarrantine history. His exquisite descriptions of several horse races that occur during the tale are worth the read all by themselves.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Cultures,Historical Kay, Guy Gavriel 2021-01-21T13:25:11.000Z
Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City K. J. Parker

The army and the navy are away from the city when the invasion force shows up. Standing between them and the ruin of the city: an engineer, a liar, a crook, and a forger. These all happen to be the same man. Orhan, a milkface who cannot be a citizen in this land, rallies his corps of engineers to the defense. A fascinating look at a siege from the engineers who make all the defenses and the siege weapons, as well as wicked social satire.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Character Arc,Humor Parker, K. J. 2021-01-24T03:48:01.000Z
Quillifer Quillifer Walter Jon Williams

Quillifer is a silver-tongued law student who has a penchant for talking himself out of, or more often into, all sorts of scrapes and predicaments. At first he is concerned with little more than getting into and then out of the chambers of the latest girl to strike his fancy. Then his town is sacked and he must accept a new life, even becoming a soldier and a sailor. Even here, he employs his charm more than his sword, though he does find that you disappoint a goddess who you have charmed at your own peril.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Quest,Character Arc,Rogue Williams, Walter Jon 2021-01-22T14:13:22.000Z
Survival Survival Julie Czerneda

Can a biologist who studies the spawning habits of salmon in the Pacific Northwest help solve the mystery of the great lifeless void in the galaxy? If you’re Dr. Mackenzie Connor, the answer is, “Hell no, leave me alone with my fish.” Even when the request comes from the first representative of the alien Ohryn race to visit Earth. Unfortunately for her research, Mac isn’t given a choice.

Her research station is destroyed and her colleague Emily is kidnapped, dragging Mac into the conflict between the Ohryn and the Ro, creatures not entirely of this dimension. As Mac uncovers lairs of the mystery, it turns out that a biologist is exactly what they needed. It all comes down to the biological needs of each species. Salmon must swim upstream, and … something … is impelled to devour whatever it finds.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Aliens,Cultures,Survival Czerneda, Julie 2021-06-05T21:50:24.000Z
The Last Continent The Last Continent Terry Pratchett

It‘s a Discworld novel, so anything‘s fair game, including all the tropes from Down Under. (No, a trope is not a marsupial.) The Wizards of Unseen University go in search of a missing colleague, who seems to have a portal to a beach in his bathroom. They meet the god of evolution, hard at work but missing the point of natural selection. Then they wash up on the continent of Fourecks, nearly on the rim of the world. Rincewind and the Luggage have also landed there, and the two groups are bound to meet, even though they have arrived thirty thousand years apart. On the way to that meeting, Pratchett skewers all the popular cultural images of Australia, from crocodiles and their hunters, to the beer, the opera hall, and more. It‘s a grand romp. No worries.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Adventure,Humor,Quest Pratchett, Terry 2021-03-17T00:36:53.000Z
The Kingdoms The Kingdoms Natasha Pulley

The Battle of Trafalgar was a pivotal moment in English history. Life would have been very different if the French fleet hadn’t been trapped and sunk in that engagement. When Joe Tournier steps off the train at Londres, Gare du Roi, he has no memory of his past, but does have a conviction that the world isn’t right. His only clue is a postcard with a picture of a lighthouse on the North Sea, off the coast of Lewis Island. It’s a pivot point of history.

Joe has to stay out of mental asylums, escape from slavery, and work his way back through the memories of the past. Except there may have been more than one of those.

This is great historical fiction and alternate history besides. I look forward to each of Natasha Pulley’s new books, and this has been no exception.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Historical,Time Travel Pulley, Natasha 2021-08-05T20:06:16.000Z
Dragon Pearl Dragon Pearl Yoon Ha Lee

A YA adventure in a universe peopled by creatures out of Korean legends: fox spirits, dragons, tigers, and ghosts. Min is a fox who runs away on a space freighter to find her lost brother and clear his name. She learns that she’s a good gi engineer, but can use some practice in trusting the right people.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction,Fantasy Cultures,Heist Lee, Yoon Ha 2021-01-24T21:47:00.000Z
The Spare Man The Spare Man Mary Robinette Kowal

Inventor and socialize Tesla Crane is on her honeymoon cruise, bound from Earth to Mars on a luxury liner when her new husband is locked away for the murder of a passenger. Tesla is partially disabled by pain and PTSD from a horrific accident and functions with the help of a pain management implant and a charming service dog. Since the ship’s security staff is convinced they have the right suspect in custody, Tesla must do her own investigation to find the real killer before they kill again. Her only support is her lawyer, who, thanks to interplanetary distances, is increasingly hard to reach as Earth recedes astern.

This is inspired by the classic movie The Thin Man, with the banter, social glitz, fancy cocktails, and cute dog of the original, though the solution to the mystery is different. Each chapter is headlined by a classic or made-up drink recipe. The reader can have fun discovering the connection between the name of the cocktail and the theme of the chapter.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Noir,Space,Mystery,Murder Mystery,LGBTQ Kowal, Mary Robinette 2022-12-04T21:03:29.000Z
The Bedlam Stacks The Bedlam Stacks Natasha Pulley

Before the events of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street (*****), Merrick Tremayne is sent to Peru to attempt to smuggle cuttings that produce quinine out of the country, to break their stranglehold on this life-saving drug. Among the remains of the Incan culture and the Spanish conquest, Merrick finds old legends, stone men, and an impossibly old priest with a secret that involves generations of Merrick’s own family.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Historical,Quest,LGBTQ Pulley, Natasha 2021-01-24T03:33:33.000Z
Terra Incognita (Ythaq #1) Terra Incognita (Ythaq #1) Christophe Arleston

A luxury space liner crashes on an uncharted planet, stranding two crew members and a hyper-entitled passenger in the wilds. They begin their trek to find a way home, evading mercenaries, evil rulers, and fanatically litigious villagers. Tired tropes (the capsule eaten by the giant undersea worm … I’ve seen that somewhere) are magnified into satire, while the world begins to look like Gulliver’s Travels. This is a fun romp from French graphic novel publisher Soleil.

amazon Science Fiction,Graphic Novel Adventure Arleston, Christophe 2021-09-05T12:43:47.000Z
The Calculating Stars The Calculating Stars Mary Robinette Kowal

In a slight variation from our history, a meteor lands on the East Coast of the US in 1952, wiping out most of the coastal cities. Elma York, a WASP pilot, mathematician, and lightning calculator, has the good fortune to be on vacation that day, and so survives the blast the destroyed her home.

Elma soon realizes that the climate will change rapidly and that humanity’s chance of survival depends on colonizing other planets. Kickstarting the space program a decade earlier than our timeline, they race to get people in orbit, then to the moon, then Mars. There’s one trouble: brilliant though Elma is, she’s a woman, and people don’t believe women can be astronauts.

The book explores how the space program could get off the ground before electronic computers, before miniaturization, and before the other advances that seemed necessary to us before an existential threat made it a do-or-die proposition. Just as much it explores how women, people of color, and people of other cultures have to fight to contribute and to have their contributions recognized.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Exploration,Survival,Science Kowal, Mary Robinette 2021-05-19T01:02:27.000Z
Bryony And Roses Bryony And Roses T. Kingfisher

Bryony, lost in the woods, finds a strange mansion inhabited by a cursed … yes, this is a Beauty and the Beast retelling. (Though Bryony is really rather plain.) It’s a fresh retelling with Kingfisher’s signature humor. Bryony is more of a gardener than a bookworm and sets about what she does best — growing things. Her nemesis is a nasty and bloodthirsty rose bush, and she has an unexpected ally. You’ll enjoy the twists and the thorns.

amazon Fantasy Character Arc,Magic Kingfisher, T. 2022-03-02T13:38:00.000Z
Beholder's Eye Beholder’s Eye Julie Czerneda

A shapeshifter breaks the first rule of her kind and allows a human to learn what she is. It’s fortunate that she did, because she’ll need that friendship to sustain her when a predator threatens to make her the last of her kind. Julie Czerneda’s universe is full of a wonderful biological diversity and she connects her characters’ motives to their biological imperatives in a way that few other authors do.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Cultures Czerneda, Julie 2021-01-24T02:36:52.000Z
Dust Dust Elizabeth Bear

A generation ship left earth 500 years ago. Now damaged, it is filled with modified humans, angels, demons, and a manufactured religion. The warring factions must be united to repower the ship before the star goes nova. A young angel named Sir Perceval and her sister Rien are in the center of the war to retake the ship. A mix of biblical and Arthurian imagery, which mostly works but is sometimes jarring. Probably not for everyone, but I enjoyed it

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Cultures Bear, Elizabeth 2021-01-24T03:06:30.000Z
Chaos on Catnet Chaos on Catnet Naomi Kritzer

In the sequel to Catfishing on Catnet, Steph and her friends find that there’s another AI lose in the world. While their friend ChesireCat is all about helping people, this new AI seems bent on creating anarchy and conflict.

The friends become suspicious of popular new games, one social and one religious, that take on sinister undertones when the games lure the players into increasingly questionable actions. This thread demonstrates the power of peer pressure and misinformation to motivate people to act against their inner convictions.

As violence in the city escalates, CheshireCat and Steph race to find the other AI, and why two AIs from the same code base behave so differently. The story is set in Minneapolis, and Kritzer writes in the afterword how eerie was to be proofreading the nearly-finished book as the George Floyd incident incited the real-life Minneapolis riots.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction AI,LGBTQ,Young Adult Kritzer, Naomi 2021-06-17T02:25:39.000Z
Prince Ombra Prince Ombra Roderick MacLeish

The apocalypse put me in mind of another favorite story. Prince Ombra is the lord of nightmares. He has brought war and strife to the world a thousand times. Each time, a hero is born to oppose him.

The thousand and first hero is born as usual, but this time Prince Ombra strikes early, when Bentley Ellicott is only nine, hoping to tip the balance forever in his favor.

This tale combines familiar elements — a hero, a companion, a wise elder advisor — with much that is unique and surprising. It’s a story that I’ve enjoyed through multiple readings. It appears to be out of print now, but used copies are still available.

To give you a flavor, here is how it begins:

IT IS SAID–and it is true–that just before we are born, a cavern angel holds his finger to our mouths and whispers, “Hush! Don’t tell what you know.” This is why we have a cleft on our upper lips and remember nothing of where we came from.

amazon Fantasy Epic,Quest MacLeish, Roderick 2021-07-19T22:43:25.000Z
Dead Lies Dreaming Dead Lies Dreaming Charles Stross

Britain is under New Management – an undead Pharaoh from the eldritch realms to be exact. Justice is fair and impartial and usually involves a beheading. Superheroes and supervillains emerge daily as the breakthrough of Lovecraftian powers through the aegis of ubiquitous computing spills over into everyday people. (Magic is nothing but higher mathematics after all, and computers can do a LOT of math.)

Against this backdrop, a ragtag band of lost boys squatting in an old London mansion finds a hallway that shouldn’t be there. It leads through rooms that would fill many mansions, all in earlier and earlier periods, back to a plague-infested era that is better off forgotten. An unscrupulous billionaire commissions them to pull off the heist of the century. Steal the Necronomicon from an occult library hundreds of years in the past.

This is a new arc in the Laundry series of sci-fi/occult novels, with a new set of characters in play. There should be enough backstory here for new readers to jump in. Anyone who’s been following it since the Atrocity Archives should be right at home.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Occult,Heist Stross, Charles 2022-04-05T00:09:00.000Z
Starsight Starsight Brandon Sanderson

This is a solid sequel to Skyward (reviewed in the November newsletter). Spensa continues fighting the aliens that have imprisoned humanity on the world of Detritus. When she has the opportunity to infiltrate the enemy as a pilot trainee for the other side, she seizes it with her usual lack of forethought. With her angsty AI M-Bot and pet Doomslug, she takes on the entire alien bureaucracy. I felt a few wisps of Douglas Adams-level satiric absurdity along the way to a satisfying conclusion

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Young Adult,Character Arc Sanderson, Brandon 2021-01-24T03:18:10.000Z
Lock In Lock In John Scalzi

Several chapters into this book, I had to check the publication date. 2014. The landscape was so familiar that I thought it had to be post-2020: a global pandemic; a highly-contagious influenza; a long-term syndrome affecting a small percentage of victims; politicization of the burden of long-term care. Unlike Covid, this flu caused a meningitis that caused “lock in.” The victims were left alive and aware, but paralyzed and cut off from their senses. They became known as Haydens, after their most famous victim.

The answer was android bodies called Threeps that the Haydens could remotely operate to participate in society. The story begins with Chris Shane’s first day on the job as the first Hayden FBI agent, and the first Hayden-related murder. It quickly develops into a fast-paced buddy cop cyberpunk mashup that’s a great deal of fun to read. Scalzi does a great job exploring the changes that new technology would make to a society. New capabilities mean new types of crime are possible.

amazon Science Fiction Murder Mystery,Cyberpunk Scalzi, John 2023-07-05T01:51:02.000Z
To be Taught, If Fortunate To be Taught, If Fortunate Becky Chambers

This is a beautifully-told tale of an exploration ship sent out to find new habitable worlds that Earth could settle, who continue long after their mission has been forgotten back home. There isn’t much plot, what there is is more of a meditation on why we explore the universe.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Exploration Chambers, Becky 2021-01-24T03:36:35.000Z
Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage Alfred Lansing

Over a hundred years ago, Ernest Shackleton lead an expedition that was to attempt the crossing of Antarctica by dog sled. They never made it even to their intended landing point on the coast of the Weddell Sea. They became locked in sea ice for nearly a year, and finally their boat was crushed by massive ice flows. Their journey became one of survival, crossing the pack ice, subsisting on seal meat, and finally tackling the treacherous Drake Passage to find help. If this were made into a movie today, it might be dismissed as too improbable to believe, as everything relentlessly goes wrong, day after day. Shackleton might be the modern-day Odysseus, enduring the trials set by an angry sea god. Yet, this is thoroughly-researched and documented history, taken from the party’s log books and journals and from eye-witness accounts. (If you search the web, you can find Google Earth maps tracing the route, complete with log excerpts and photographs.) This is a well-told story of an expedition through a land so alien, it could be science fiction.

amazon Non Fiction Adventure,Epic,Historical,Survival Lansing, Alfred 2022-01-05T13:25:13.000Z
Skyward Skyward Brandon Sanderson

Spensa’s father was the best pilot of his time, but everyone knew that he ended his career in an act of cowardice. Spensa is determined to be an even better pilot and clear the family name, but no one wants to give her a chance. As she doggedly pursues her goal, she starts to find out that not everyone is her enemy, and that stories that everyone knows may not be true. A coming-of-age tale with lots of humor.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Young Adult,Character Arc,Post-Apocalypse,Quest Sanderson, Brandon 2021-01-24T03:03:14.000Z
The Hands We're Given The Hands We’re Given O. E. Tearmann

In a future America — The United Corporations of America, that is — Aidan Headly is given the Wildcards as his first command. A famously unconventional band of misfits in the resistance forces, the Wildcards are now dysfunctional and insubordinate. As a new commander and a closet trans, is it a good idea to be drawn into a romance with a subordinate? Of course not, but this is the Wildcards, who specialize in taking bad ideas and making them work.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Post-Apocalypse,LGBTQ Tearmann, O. E. 2021-01-24T03:52:21.000Z
Six of Crows Six of Crows Leigh Bardugo

When Kaz Brekker is offered a fabulous payment for an impossible heist, he sees it as a way to the top of the heap. He sees it as a means of revenge. He assembles a team of misfits to accompany him to infiltrate the most impregnable fortress in the world. They all come with baggage; none of them trust each other, and some of them can barely be restrained from killing each other. That makes them perfect for the job.

In its bones, this is an ensemble heist novel. It has the crew of specialists learning to work together to plan and execute an intricate plan. Of course things go wrong; everyone has to step up and have their heroic moment when the time is right. But there are also subplots about romance, about freedom and oppression, about redemption, and much more. This is a tale that works on many levels. I’ll be looking for the next installment to see where the Crows go next.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Character Arc,Heist,Thief,Magic Bardugo, Leigh 2022-10-05T00:24:32.000Z
Thorns Thorns Robert Silverberg

This is Silverberg’s transition novel between the schlocky space opera that he wrote early in his career and the voyages of personal discovery on SciFi and Fantasy worlds that marked his later work. It tells the tale of two broken individuals, a spaceman who was experimented on by aliens, and an earthwoman who was experimented on by her own people. Duncan Chalk, a vastly wealthy media mogul, brings them together on a solar system-wide television series, in the hopes that they will destroy each other for the titillation of his audience. Improbably, they begin to heal each other.

The story bogs down a bit in mid-60s pschobabble, and is one Silverberg’s darker tales, but this may be the first novel that accurately forecast trends that didn’t take root until the 90s, such as reality TV. Such prescience is worth a read, especially now that this title is finally available on Kindle.

amazon Science Fiction Character Arc,Aliens Silverberg, Robert 2023-02-05T15:43:10.000Z
The Encircling Sea The Encircling Sea Adrian Goldsworthy

Flavius Ferox, a British tribesman and Roman centurion is back in book 2 of the Vindolanda series about ancient Britain during the time of Emperor Trajan. Hibernian kings visit hoping to gain favor from the Romans, while reports suggest that supernatural cannibalistic creatures are raiding along the coast. Ever the questioning sort, Flavius has suspicions that all is not as it appears. When those dear to him are kidnapped and he must go to Hibernia (Ireland) to rescue them, pieces begin to fall into place. As with book 1, The Encircling Sea accurately depicts situations and warfare of the first century AD, and includes significant amounts of violence and gore.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Historical Goldsworthy, Adrian 2021-01-24T23:04:02.000Z
Name of the Wind Name of the Wind Patrick Rothfuss

Kote is an innkeeper in a remote village. He was once someone quite different, but here his identity is a secret known to only one other, a situation much to his liking. But these lands are not safe and when Kote saves a stranger from a demon attack, the man recognizes him as the great and powerful hero he once was. As events transpire, it becomes necessary for him to agree to tell the story of his life, an event that, in the telling, will change his life yet again.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Epic Rothfuss, Patrick 2021-04-21T14:01:29.000Z
River of Stars River of Stars Guy Gavriel Kay

After being blown away by Under Heaven, reviewed last month, I had to immediately dive into the second book of the series. This is not quite a sequel; the characters of the first book have passed into legend, forming the backdrop for this tale several hundred years later.

The first book told the story of the beginning of the fall of the Tong Dynasty. This one tells the end of the fall of the Sung Dynasty. While the first was more heroic, this one is more elegiac. Ren Daiyan is an outlaw who rises to army general convinced that he can reclaim lost territories from the horsemen tribes to the north. Lin Shan is the best poet of the generation when women don’t write poetry, and an archaeologist, and increasingly a favorite of the emperor for her unorthodox views. (Being a favorite at court is not necessarily the safest thing to be.) They each try to save what they can from history’s river in lives that often intersect but seldom run together.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Historical,Cultures Kay, Guy Gavriel 2021-01-24T04:02:38.000Z
The Lies of Locke Lamora The Lies of Locke Lamora Scott Lynch

Locke Lamora is a name of convenience for the orphan who didn’t know his parents. He is the leader of a ragtag band of highly skilled thieves. They’ve graduating from common pickpockets to running elaborate scams and confidence tricks against wealthy merchants and nobles. In Camorr, crime isn’t just organized, it’s regulated and taxed. Locke and his gang risk reprisals through schemes outside — way outside — the boundaries of the system. In the thick of an elaborate ruse, a new player threatens to topple the entire system, using Locke as a lever.

This is a detailed and imaginative world, built on the ruins of an older civilization. The characters have deep backstories that drive their skills, their quirks, and their decisions. Lynch has given them such distinctive voices that you never have to wonder who is speaking. Twist after improbable twist keeps you guessing, but each one seems inevitable once it’s sprung. It’s brutal in places, but that underscores that the stakes are about as high as they can get. One thing is a constant; Locke Lamora lies about everything to everyone, including himself.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Magic,Rogue,Thief Lynch, Scott 2021-10-18T22:22:33.000Z
Night Train to Rigel Night Train to Rigel Timothy Zahn

I was immediately drawn in by the conceit of a literal train between the stars, a whimsical nod to the bygone era of grand terrestrial railroads (and a whole raft of “Night Train to …” references). Frank Compton, a former intelligence agent, is offered a ticket on the Quadrail from the hand of a man suffering from an excess of bullet holes. By implication, a job. Despite having just taken a different job, Frank takes the ticket and finds himself in a web of politics and threats that could threaten all the species in the galaxy and the Quadrail itself.

The Quadrail is the only method of interstellar travel known, and it’s operated by the Spiders. Emotionless, enigmatic, and absolutely opposed to violence, the Spiders keep all weapons from traveling on the Quadrail. Thus they safeguard their monopoly and keep galactic peace. Anyone with designs on empire-building would target the Quadrail first.

This is a fun bit of science fiction wrapped up in all the tropes of the era of luxury rail travel across the Continent and the schemes of the conquerors to turn those trains into troop transports. It works on many levels.

amazon Science Fiction Aliens,Galactic Empire Zahn, Timothy 2023-11-04T15:09:50.000Z
Frost and Fire Frost and Fire Roger Zelazny

Zelazny selected the stories in this anthology to cover a range of his output from the mid 80s, spanning topics from uploaded minds to centuries-long blood feuds. The bookend stories of the collection won the Hugo awards the year they were published. “Permafrost” tells the story of a celebrity adventurer down on his luck and seeking to make one last comeback on the icy world where he had failed a century before. He doesn’t know that the person he betrayed waits for him still…

The collection ends with his celebrated novela “24 Views of Mt Fuku, by Hokusai.” A woman takes a final journey through Japan, guided by a book of woodcuts from the early 1800s (you know the one, it includes the famous image of the great wave that’s reproduced everywhere). She’s pursued by the ultimate stalker: someone who’s only limited by the reach of the world’s communication network. If she can’t defeat him, no one in the world will be safe. For an extra treat, open the full list of woodcuts Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji and follow along with the story to see how Zelazny weaves each scene into the story.

amazon Science Fiction Psychological Zelazny, Roger 2024-03-13T19:27:20.000Z
Passage Passage Connie Willis

At a hospital in Denver, a young psychologist studies near-death experiences (NDE). Are the experiences reported by patients visions? Dreams? Or are they confabulations born from the leading questions of unethical practitioners? Many people warn young Dr. Lander not to get involved in research so tainted by the occultists.

Dr. Lander believes there is a layer to the human mind to uncover, a layer that might help her treatments. She haunts the emergency room to get interviews with patients as soon as they’re revived. Eventually, she agrees to a proposal from a fellow doctor to experience a simulated NDE of her own. From there, things spiral rapidly into unexpected territory.

Half an exploration of of the fringe of science, half a tense mystery, it’s entirely a book that will leave you with plenty to think about. And it wouldn’t be a Connie Willis novel if there wasn’t a comically inept and overbearing bureaucracy to skewer.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Science Willis, Connie 2021-07-19T22:56:11.000Z
What Moves the Dead What Moves the Dead T. Kingfisher

Retelling and expanding on Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, this tale is, if anything, creepier than the original. While Poe’s story (and, yes, I went back to read it once more after I finished this one) crushes the last of the Ushers and their house under the supernatural weight of dread and despair, Kingfisher has invented real reasons for their decline, grounded in science. She has also made the characters three-dimensional, with backstories and personalities, beyond just their roles. I recommend this retelling of an old classic.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Horror,Occult Kingfisher, T. 2022-08-01T23:53:37.000Z
This Immortal This Immortal Roger Zelazny

They call him Kallikanzaros, Karaghiosis, and Konstantin. He calls himself Conrad. His wife is Cassandra and his dog is Bortan. The legends of ancient Greece have resurfaced in the radioactive ruins of earth, or perhaps they never left. The current owners of the planet are Vegans (their origin, not their diet). Conrad conducts one Vegan and a motley crew on a dangerous tour. He must decide whether to protect the Vegan or kill him.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Character Arc,Cultures,Post-Apocalypse Zelazny, Roger 2021-01-24T02:42:14.000Z
Toad Words and Other Stories Toad Words and Other Stories T. Kingfisher

I enjoyed the last book from Ursula Vernon, aka T Kingfisher, so much that I had to squeeze another one in my schedule this month. This one is a collection of retold fairy tales that are by turns creepy, a bit morbid, whimsical, or just plain strange. But all funny. There’s the alternative Red Riding Hood (and what sort of person who lives in a cottage could afford red dye, anyway?). There’s the other side of the little mermaid from the perspective of an unbiased (hah!) observer. Then there’s Snow and her cruel stepmother, and seven … well, they weren’t dwarves. No, not at all.

amazon Fantasy Humor,Magic Kingfisher, T. 2021-04-05T22:45:51.000Z
Minimum Wage Magic Minimum Wage Magic Rachel Aaron

Freelance mage Opal “cleans” apartments for a living. Meaning: she bids on the rights to clean out abandoned spaces for the value of the artifacts (often magical) that were left behind. She lives in the city of Detroit, which became a living god-being when magic flooded back into the world.

Business has been bad and Opal is in a bind with rent and debts. Then a bid simultaneously lands her with a murder case, a secret that is valuable beyond belief, and a thoroughly unwanted partner. Opal follows a twisty trail of clues through the seamy underbelly of a magical city, staying one step ahead of increasingly deadly competitors. And trying to keep the holder of her debt from calling it in and taking her off the playing board.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Magic Aaron, Rachel 2022-10-05T23:42:15.000Z
The Road to Roswell The Road to Roswell Connie Willis

Francie arrives in Roswell to attend her college roommate’s wedding. Her roommate is known for not making the best choices, and Francie usually bails her out. There’s a lot of that going on: a UFO-themed wedding at the height of the annual UFO convention and enough nut jobs in town to make a squirrel think it had found heaven. If there were any squirrels in the desert. Then Francie and some other folks are kidnapped by an actual alien, who wants them to drive around the state looking for … something. Trouble is, the alien doesn’t speak their language.

The first part of the book is a crazy mashup of all the things people are capable of believing as the road trip takes them through reservations, casinos, Las Vegas, a chapel and more. They attempt to communicate using some old westerns for language lessons, with hilarious results. Around the middle of the book, it shifts from a farce to a thriller as the men in black get on their trail. Francie and friends have more sympathy for the alien than the Feds by that time.

There’s plenty of Willis’s signature humor here, especially her favorite variety of maddenly dense or self-centered people getting in the way of getting things done.

amazon Science Fiction Aliens,Humor,Satire Willis, Connie 2023-08-04T16:26:46.000Z
Obsidian and Blood Obsidian and Blood Aliette de Bodard

A trilogy set at height of the Aztek empire, telling the tale of Acatl, High Priest for the Dead. As High Priest, Acatl must protect the boundary between his world and the worlds of the Gods, Gods who can manifest to their chosen priests when offered sufficient quantities of blood. But when you summon a God, they may have their own designs on you and your world. Acatl often seems to be more of a detective than a priest, piecing together the plots of the different Gods and their factions for dominating the world.

amazon,Bookshop.org Fantasy Cultures,Historical de Bodard, Aliette 2021-01-22T14:10:42.000Z
Firefight Firefight Brandon Sanderson

In the second installment of the Reconners trilogy, David has become the leader of their resistance cell. After taking down one major Epic – the emergent super-powered humans who rule the world – they now face multiple even more powerful adversaries. At the same time, David has to wrestle with having fallen in love with an Epic who was formerly an opponent. This has caused his team to question his loyalties, with the prevailing belief that Epics invariably turned evil when they aquired their powers. Even more importantly, in the ruins of Manhattan, they begin to find clues to what caused the sudden outbreak of superpowers. Now they have to survive long enough to find of fighting their powers, or maybe of curing them off their sociopathy.

amazon,Bookshop.org Science Fiction Post-Apocalypse,Young Adult Sanderson, Brandon 2023-01-01T12:26:31.000Z