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Review: The Third Claw of God

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Review: The Third Claw of God

Still, there was no denying that his headquarters world, Xana, set an entirely new record for the shortest interval between my arrival at a place I’d never been and the very first attempt on my life there.

We’re talking about minutes. Minutes.

Things have started to improve for Andrea Cort at last. She’s been given a promotion (arranged by the ancient software intelligences, the AIsource, whom Andrea is secretly working for) and has more freedom than she’s known since being drafted to the Diplomatic Corps. She also has a devoted new lover/bodyguard, the beautiful cylinked pair Oscin and Skye (former lovers who’d undergone a procedure to merge their personalities together to become one person in two bodies, and yes, they do have sex). Unfortunately she’s still the notorious survivor of an unexplained massacre, and she still has a price on her head. After landing at Xana she fights off a very clumsy, very amateur assassination attempt by attackers wielding an impossibly rare weapon, The Claw of God, which kills by dissolving the victim internally, and which was invented by an obscure sect of an alien race 15000 years ago.

Andrea’s still trying to figure that one out when she and her companion(s) board a luxurious space elevator, owned by her host Hans Bettelhine, the patriarch of the Bettelhine Munitions Corporation. Over the next several hours the space elevators failsafes, well, fail. The elevator carriage is stuck high above the planet’s surface, another visitor is murdered with a second Claw of God, and every member of the boarding party is a suspect. As the Dip Corps Prosecutor-at-Large, Andrea now has to wade through a tangled mess of family history and political intrigue while surrounded by members of a corporation that manufactures weapons capable of blowing up entire planets. And even though there have been at least two attempts on her life since accepting an invitation that still hasn’t been explained, there’s a very good chance that none of this has anything to do with her at all.

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Review: The Immortal Circus – Act One

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Review: The Immortal Circus – Act One

“Can’t they make their own damn show?” I say.

“Come on,” Kingston says. “Faeries are proud. The Summer King would never stoop to imitating his enemy.”

“Besides,” Mel says, “The name Cirque du Soleil was already taken.”

I’m a sucker for cinematic scenes in books. I love it when an author’s description makes me wonder just how cool something would look if it were made into a movie. The first book in the A.R. Kahler’s Cirque des Immortels series has plenty of just that sort of scene. You’ve got a circus run by Queen Mab herself, filled with shape-shifting carneys, magicians with tattoos that change position when you’re not looking, and circus trailers that open into rooms in a completely different part of the country, if they’re part of this world at all. A battle late in the book pitches two armies of otherworldly creatures against each other (naiads, dryads, satyrs, centaurs, elves, and whatever shadow-thing it is that lives under the trailers), and the whole conflict is centered around the possession of a secret demon and the lucrative trade in dreams. The book starts with a gruesome murder and ends with more secrets and lies, and I can only hope that the next two books in the series develop the characters better because the main character just hasn’t won me over at all.

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Review: The Paper Magician

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Review: The Paper Magician

Continuing the theme of Back to School, this week’s review is for Charlie N. Holmberg’s debut novel The Paper Magician. The new twist on magic-users caught my attention (every magician specializes in one man-made material: metal, glass, paper, plastic, etc.,) so I picked it up after only a brief look at the description: top-in-her-magic-class Ceony is heartbroken when she graduates and is assigned to be the apprentice of a paper magician, forever crushing all her dreams of working with metal. I’ll admit I thought this was going to be mostly a book about leaving childhood behind, learning to appreciate books and the beauty of origami, making new friends, and eventually finding out that the real magic was inside her all along. Standard coming-of-age young-adult stuff. 

Ha, no. Ceony does learn a lot about origami and other techniques used by Folders (paper magicians); she also faces scenes of massacres, betrayal, mistakes with horrific consequences, and for a good part of the book she has to wade ankle-deep through blood while trying to escape a magician who works with a material very very far removed from paper. This is a wonderfully dark little book. Clever, definitely, but also disturbingly violent.

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Review: Dragonsong and Dragonsinger

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Review: Dragonsong and Dragonsinger

Warning, great big spoilers.

Even though I graduated *ahem,mumble,cough* years ago, I still get a flood of memories around back-to-school season. Many are positive, some less so. By far the best memories involve Anne McCaffrey’s Harper Hall trilogy; my sixth-grade English teacher read the first two books out loud to our class over the course of most of the school year.

First printed in the 1970’s, Dragonsong and Dragonsinger tells the story of Menolly, a lonely teenager living a repressed life in a fishing village that doesn’t have any patience for girls who want to be musicians.  Friendless and miserable, she runs away and purely by accident becomes the owner of nine fire-lizards: miniature telepathic dragons who are loyal to her and her alone. Imagine being a somewhat awkward middle-schooler and getting to hear a story like that. If you’ve ever wondered why my twitter and Deviantart names both have the word “dragon” in them, this would be the reason why.

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Review: Doctor Who – Tales of Trenzalore

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Review: Doctor Who – Tales of Trenzalore

‘We didn’t want to disturb you, Doctor. You’re an important man.’

The Doctor rolled his eyes. ‘Important? I’m not important. I’m the least important man in this town.’ He waived his stick at the assembled townsfolk. ‘It’s you lot who are important…”

To celebrate the return of Doctor Who, I’m going to review a second collection of Doctor Who short stories in a row. Love Doctor Who, love short stories. Both together? Can’t resist.

It’s hard to picture, since we only get to see a brief montage of it in one episode, but the Doctor was stranded on Trenzalor, on purpose, for nine hundred years. Nine centuries protecting the town of Christmas against attacks by pretty much every enemy the Doctor had ever faced. You can have a lot of adventures in nine hundred years; Tales of Trenzalore tells four of them.

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Review: Doctor Who – 11 Doctors, 11 Stories

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Review: Doctor Who – 11 Doctors, 11 Stories

‘Be careful, Aggie! Remember, ‘The Doctor is a Master of Deceit”.’

‘Aggie?’ said the Doctor thoughtfully. ‘I wonder what that’s short for.’

The girl’s nostrils flared proudly. ‘My full name is Agony-Without-End-Shall-Be-The-Doctor’s-Punishment.’

‘Ah,’ said the Doctor. ‘You know, Leela, just between ourselves, I’m starting to feel that I’m not entirely welcome here.’

Rejoice! Season 8 of Doctor Who starts in just two days; brand new season, brand new Doctor. And I can’t think of a better way to get ready for the grand entrance of Number Twelve than a collection of short stories about all eleven Doctors who came before.

11 Doctors, 11 Stories brings together eleven award-winning authors, each telling their own tale about a different incarnation of the wandering Time Lord. The stories are about as different from each other as the Doctors are themselves, and since they’re all extremely well-written, I really think the story you like best is going to depend on which one features “your” Doctor.

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Review: Deathbird Stories

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Review: Deathbird Stories

Men rarely (if ever) manage to dream up a god superior to themselves. Most gods have the manners and morals of a spoiled child. –Robert Heinlein, 1973

That quote is featured in the introduction to this bookIf it offended you, well guess what, it was supposed to. Harlan Ellison has made a career out of, if not actually picking fights, then at least never pulling his punches. There’s no sugar-coating in any of his writing, no shading of the truth, and certainly no dumbing-down of anything. The man will dive into any topic and wrestle out its darkest, hardest-to-face aspects, and then shove them in the reader’s face. His writing is impossible to categorize; some bookstores file him in Science-Fiction, some in Literature. Mr. Ellison refers to his own work as Speculative Fiction, so let’s go with that.

Harlan Ellison has written for comic books, TV (remind me to review his book about writing a Star Trek episode sometime), movies, and he’s published several novels/novellas. But it’s his short-stories that first caught my attention; there’s simply no one out there who can pack that much fire and poison into just a few pages. So take a belligerent author with a genius for the short story format, and add an unflinching look at God, or gods, or Gods, and what you get is Deathbird Stories. It’s one of Ellison’s many short-story collections, and also one of my favorites. Not in spite of the bitter, angry, way these stories tear into the whole concept of faith, but because if it.

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Review: The Scar

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Review: The Scar

Imagine a world that’s run on magic and steam. Fill it with a collection of races so different from each other that they might as well be alien species. Then picture a pirate fleet that takes every ship it captures and adds it to the collection of ships already bolted together into a miles-wide floating island.

What you end up with is a city-on-the-sea, one made entirely of steamboats and tall-ships and blockade-runners and pleasure yachts, all of which have been gutted and turned into libraries and markets and workshops and sports arenas, or just scraped down to the waterline and covered in soil to make farms. And around each corner is a woman with a scarab for a head, or a human with pistons instead of legs, or a cactus-man, or a priestess who used to serve as the figurehead for her ship, or any number of other people who were taken prisoner when their ship was pirated and are now trying to make a life for themselves as a citizen of the floating city.

And that’s only the setting. The story quickly moves on to a quest to find a hidden civilization, in order to recruit the one scientist who can track down and capture an impossible underwater creature big enough to pull the floating city to the literal end of the world: a fissure in the ocean (and the planet, and reality) known only as the Scar.

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Review: Iron Man Vol. 2 – The Secret Origin of Tony Stark

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Review: Iron Man Vol. 2 – The Secret Origin of Tony Stark

San Diego Comic Con starts in two days, and the entire cast of Avengers: Age of Ultron will be there. To get us in the mood, lets review an Iron Man graphic novel, shall we?

At the start of Iron Man Volume 2, Tony Stark is literally flying high: saving an alien world from space pirates and being fawned over by beautiful alien women. By the end of the first issue, he’s rejected, arrested, and presumed guilty of deicide. By the end of the book he’s an accessory to genocide, in league with the person who put the genocide into motion, and most of what he knows about his origin may be a lie. It’s been a bad few days for Stark, and it looks like things are just getting started.

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Review: Artful

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Review: Artful

If you’ve had anything to do with science fiction over the last thirty years, chances are you’ve seen or read something by Peter David. The man has written for movie and TV, dozens of original novels, thousands of comic book issues, and generally has something new coming out about once a month. My introduction to all things Peter David was though his Star Trek: The Next Generation books; Strike Zone was one of the first books that ever made me laugh out loud, and it only got better with Q-in-Law. David captured the characters better than any other writer, and the dialogue was always filled with snappy, quotable snarkiness.

In Artful, Peter David steps away from the science fiction/comic book world, and comes up with a different take on Charles Dickens’s classic, Oliver Twist. Not quite in the same vein as rewrites like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, this book follows the adventures of the secondary character Jack Dawkins, better known as the Artful Dodger, last seen being hauled off to prison for theft. After escaping from jail before he could be shipped to the penal colony in Australia, Dodger sets up a comfortable (to him) life in the slums of London, charming and thieving his way though the world until he stumbles across a plot to kidnap the princess Alexandrina – future Queen of England – thereby subjugating the British Monarchy. By vampires. 

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