Author Archive

Review: Trigger Warning – Short Fictions and Disturbances

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Review: Trigger Warning – Short Fictions and Disturbances

I remember Icarus. He flew too close to the sun. In the stories, though, it’s worth it. Always worth it to have tried, even if you fail, even if you fall like a meteor forever. Better to have flamed in the darkness, to have inspired others, to have lived, than to have sat in the darkness, cursing the people who borrowed, but did not return, your candle.

Elizabeth and Kathryn bought this same book on the same day – to the surprise of absolutely no one – so we’ll be doing a joint review this week. It’s a twin thing.

Kathryn here. Remember last April, when I posted a review of Fragile Things and complained about the fact that it had been over eight years since Neil Gaiman (one of my favorite authors) had released a collection of short stories (one of my favorite literary formats)? You can imagine how happy I was last week to get my copy of Trigger Warning – Short Fictions and Disturbances. Neil went for a slightly grimmer tone for this book: twenty-five dark little stories of murders and obsessions, forbidden knowledge and technologies, and twisted fairy tales.

(Hey, Universe? As long as you’re granting wishes, I’d also like a pony.)

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Review: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea

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Review: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea

I’ve decided that, as a fan of the steampunk genre, it’s a shame and a crime that I haven’t read more Jules Verne. As a fan of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, not reading the original tale of Captain Nemo is just unacceptable.

A classic science fiction story along the lines of Journey To The Center of the Earth, Verne’s novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea tells the story of three castaways – Professor Pierre Aronnax, his manservant Conseil, and the whaling shipman Ned Land – as they’re swept up in the travels of the mysterious Captain Nemo in his submersible, the Nautilus. It works as a character study, as an adventure story, and as a treasure for anyone who’s even a little bit curious about the sea and everything it contains (or at least everything that Victorian scientists thought it might contain.)

And of course the Nautilus is a straight-out steampunk fantasy. It’s a submarine. With a library. How can you not love that?

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Review: Agatha H and the Airship City

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Review: Agatha H and the Airship City

Phil and Kaja Foglio’s gaslamp fantasy series Girl Genius is set in a world of automatons and dirigibles, tyrants and heroes, and stories of the famous adventurers, The Heterodyne Boys. It’s a world where a small portion of the population are Sparks, geniuses born with the ability to invent death rays and revenants and robots capable of leveling cities, but usually without the common sense to determine when building something like that is a fantastically bad idea. 

Into all this comes Agatha Clay, a bumbling college student with a lot of big ideas, and a track record of creating things that either fall to pieces or explode. Sometimes both. Nothing she makes ever works, at least until the day the locket she’s been told to never take off is stolen. Suddenly Agatha finds herself a hostage aboard a tyrant’s city-sized dirigible, Castle Wulfenbach, surrounded by the brightest and maddest of the Empire, and building actual working inventions in her sleep. And all that’s before she finds out that she is somehow the long-lost heir to the Heterodyne Family.

The ongoing Girl Genius comic series first started in 2001, and has since won the Hugo Award three times for Best Graphic Story; it most likely would have kept on winning if the Foglios hadn’t withdrawn the series from the competition so they could give other artists a chance. In 2011 the Foglios released the first of the novelized versions of the ongoing story, Agatha H and the Airship City. The book retells the story from the graphic novel, with some interesting additions that can give readers a little more back story about the characters and world that the original version may have missed.

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Review: The End is Now

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Review: The End is Now

John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey’s The Apocalypse Triptych is a trilogy of short-story collections, each one set at a different stage of the end of the world. In the second book in the series, The End is Now, we take you to Doomsday already in progress. Twenty stories telling all the different ways that everything is coming to an end.

The quarantine measures have failed, the asteroids are leveling Earth’s cities as we speak, the zombie horde is just shambling into view, and the aliens have already started shooting. The apocalypse is in full swing. Let’s do this.

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Review: The Habitation of the Blessed – A Dirge For Prester John

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Review: The Habitation of the Blessed – A Dirge For Prester John

The legend of Prester John is one of the first documented cases of a hoax going viral. In 1165 a letter was discovered, supposedly sent to the Byzantine Emperor from a mysterious king in  the far east, telling of a Christian land filled with riches and monsters. The letter inspired stories and explorations and crusades for four centuries before everyone finally decided the whole thing had been made up.

But what if it was all real?

In The Habitation of the Blessed, Catherynne Valente tells a small part of the story of Prester John as it appears in three books plucked from a tree where they’d been growing like fruit. The viewpoints alternate from Prester John’s own tale, to his history as written by his fantastical wife many years later, to the nursery stories told to a trio of royal children long before John ever came to the country of Pentexore. And all of this is read by two humble priests who frantically try to finish transcribing the story before the books they’ve harvested can finish rotting and going to seed.

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Review: Revival

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Review: Revival

                  …something happened…

A lot of Stephen King’s older works revolve around younger (or at least simpler) themes: little boy versus the haunted hotel, aliens from outer space, teenagers fighting a demon-possessed car. His more recent books seem to be taking a gloomier tone, and involve a lot more soul-searching. The main characters are all getting older, and having to come to terms with their eventual mortality. Books like Revival feature all of the mundane nastiness that can come from real life, like cancer, and substance abuse, and domestic homicide. And, of course, stupid and pointless accidents.

Jamie Morton is six years old when he meets Reverend Charles Jacobs, the cheerful, intelligent young minister who moves to Harlow in 1962 to become the town’s new preacher. Three years later Jacobs responds to tragedy by throwing away his faith and his career in one blistering sermon that alienates most of the town and kills whatever faith nine-year-old Jamie might have had left.

In 1992 Jamie stumbles across Charles Jacobs again. Jacobs has turned a passion for the study of electricity into something much more. It starts with impossible photographs taken at an amusement park; by 2008 he’s using his “secret electricity” to heal cancer and paralysis and congenital handicaps, curing people by the thousands. And Jamie gets more and more wary every time Pastor Jacobs comes back into his life. It’s not just that Jacobs obviously doesn’t believe a word of what he’s preaching during his tent-revivals; the cures are real even if the testimonials aren’t. It’s that the former minister-turned-carnival-barker-turned-revival-preacher is looking for something he won’t explain, and he isn’t even concerned that a small number of the people he’s cured have had some weird side-effects.

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The Best Books of 2014

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The Best Books of 2014

Happy New Year, book readers! As you probably already know, there’s not nearly enough time to read all the amazing books that came out last year. Between the two of us, though, we tried to get as big a sampling as we could. Here’s each of our picks for our three favorite science-fiction/fantasy books of 2014.

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Review: Golden Daughter

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Review: Golden Daughter

…Sairu stood a long moment in silence. Then she said, “I do not believe in dragons.”

“It’s time you started,” said the cat.

If you’ve been reading Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s series Tales of Goldstone Wood you’ll already be familiar with the fantasy world she’s created, filled with dragons, unicorns, fairies, reluctant princes and benevolent goddesses. Each one of her books starts with a familiar fairy-tale premise that will suddenly make a left turn into something you completely didn’t expect. And just when you think you’ve gotten a character figured out, their motivations become much more complicated. Not everyone gets their happily-ever-after in these stories, and those that do either no longer want it, or find it where they never thought to look in the first place.

If you haven’t been reading this series, well, you’re missing out, but you’ll also still be able to enjoy Golden Daughter. The first book of the series that’s printed under Stengl’s own imprint, Rooglewood Press, this book takes place in the same reality, but an entirely different part of the world as the other six books in the series. Long time readers will recognize several familiar elements from the original books, and the worlds are linked in many important ways. But the story itself is entirely new.

The Golden Daughters: beautiful and deadly, each raised to become the wife in name only of a patron who they will secretly serve and protect for the rest of their lives. Masayi Sairu is the most skilled of all her sisters, but instead of marriage she chooses to become the handmaiden and guardian of a temple Dream Walker. Sairu must protect her mistress from assassins, religious fanatics, and demons, and she must hide her from whatever it was that left her comatose and with a burn in the shape of a handprint on her face. And the only companions Sairu can trust are her three dogs…and a cat who talks way too much for his own good.

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Review: Station Eleven – A Novel

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Review: Station Eleven – A Novel

All three caravans of the Traveling Symphony are labeled as such, THE TRAVELING SYMPHONY lettered in white on both sides, but the lead caravan carries an additional line of text: Because survival is insufficient.

The book opens with the death of an actor on stage: heart attack, completely unrelated to the epidemic of flu which wipes out most of the world’s population, and yet somehow linked with the lives of many of the survivors.

Emily St. John Mandel’s post-apocalyptic book Station Eleven: A Novel has no Mad Max-style warring armies, no mutants or zombies, no underground laboratories of scientists working on new technology to save civilization. The story wanders back and forth from the beginnings of the actor’s career through to twenty years after the epidemic. All of the characters are achingly normal, trying to find fulfillment in their mundane lives pre-collapse, or moments of happiness as they try to survive afterward. Sounds like a fairly sedate, character-study, doesn’t it? Well let me tell you, I finished this one in less than two days. Not kidding here, day-and-a-half tops. Like eating dessert in one bite, owmf, done. The book is beautiful, and scary, and exciting in places, and full of that kind of sadness you only get when you think about lovely things that you’ll never see again.

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Review: Arkham Asylum – A Serious House on Serious Earth

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Review: Arkham Asylum – A Serious House on Serious Earth

1989 saw the release of Batman titles like Legends of the Dark Knight, a comic book adaptation of Tim Burton’s film, and a very pretty Elseworlds one-shot, Gotham by Gaslight. It also saw the publication of the graphic novel Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, a story that takes the regular comic book format and the hard-boiled detective image of Batman, and throws them both out the window. For its 25th anniversary, DC has released a deluxe version of the title, complete with Grant Morrison’s original full script and storyboards.

The story: Joker and many of Batman’s greatest enemies are on a rampage, and Batman has been called in to rescue hostages and save the day. The kicker is that the riot is inside Arkham Asylum, and it’s the inmates themselves who have invited Batman to come home where he belongs. Grant Morrison’s first Batman title, the complicated story illustrated by Dave McKean’s fever-dream artwork has been called “groundbreaking” and “daring” by some fans, “overrated” and “a mess” by others. The comic operates on many levels and, like it or hate it, the results are pretty disturbing.

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