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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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, 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.

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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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

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. Highly recommended.

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
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
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 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
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
Starsight Starsight Brandon Sanderson

A solid sequel to Skyward. Spensa continues fighting the aliens that have imprisoned humanity on the world of Detritus. Then she has the opportunity to infiltrate the enemy as a pilot trainee for the other side, which she seizes 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
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
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