Author Archive

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won the Hugo Award three times for Best Graphic Story; it most likely would have kept on winning if the Foglios hadn’t withdrawn the series from the competition so they could give other artists a chance.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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Review: Afterworlds

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Review: Afterworlds

“Well, honey, maybe you should pretend to be dead.”

“What?”

The gunman looked up from the wounded on the floor, and I could see the glitter of eyes through the two holes in the mask. He was staring straight at me.

“If there’s no way to get to safety,” she said carefully, “maybe you should lie down and not move.”

He holstered his pistol and raised the automatic rifle again.

“Thank you,” I said, and let myself fall as the gun roared smoke and noise.

We’re introduced to Lizzie Scofield, the main character of the book-within-a-book “Afterworlds”, in the middle of a terrorist attack while she’s on the phone with a desperately calm 911 operator who gives her the last-second advice that saves her life: pretend to be dead. Lizzie drops to the floor, praying that the shooter won’t finish her off like the dozens around her, and somehow wills herself into the underworld. She meets the love of her life in the space between worlds, and then spends the rest of the book trying to find her place in a dangerous new reality where the dead have literally been with her since birth, and where things can happen to you that are a lot worse than dying.

The writer of the Young Adult book “Afterworlds” is Darcy Patel, a teenage writer just graduated from high school. Darcy wrote the draft of her first novel in one month, and manages to get a publisher to sign her to a two-book deal for over a hundred thousand dollars. The alternating chapters of Scott Westerfeld’s book Afterworlds follows Darcy’s choice to move to the big city, living off her advance while she completes the revisions for the book’s final draft, all the while getting to hang out with a supportive crowd of fellow writers. And even though the book she’s writing is filled with ghosts, psychopomps, kingdoms in the afterlife, and a mystical river between worlds, it actually feels like less of a fantasy world than the idyllic year Darcy spends in the Young Adult Writers Heaven in New York City. Read On

Review: The Seventh Bride

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Review: The Seventh Bride

Ursula Vernon, also known as Ursulav, has been the purveyor of the weirdly beautiful, and the beautifully weird, for over a decade now. Her artwork is impossible to categorize; if you were to start combining random words out of the dictionary you’d have a good chance of accidentally describing something she’s painted. Anthropomorphic saints? Plenty to choose from. Swamp landscape teacup? Got a beautiful one of those. Feral strawberry, cantaloupe sandals, and a biting pear? Yep, yes, and you’ve probably already seen that last one.

In 2008 Vernon started writing and illustrating her own children’s books, and she recently released several short stories written under the pen name T. Kingfisher. This couldn’t have been better news, because as much as I adore her art, what really drew me to her work were the descriptions she included with the art. They’re such a wonderful combination of the bizarre and the totally mundane. The short descriptions often led to longer slice-of-life stories, my three favorites being The Saints of San Axolotl, The Golem Girl, and the incomparable House of Red Fireflies. In Kingfisher’s most recent release she follows the same format she started with her short story collection Toad Words,  taking familiar elements from fairy tales and turning them ever so slightly off kilter.

More than a children’s story, not quite an adaptation, The Seventh Bride tells the tale of a hapless miller’s daughter, dragged into a world of imprisoned brides and stolen gifts. It’s too much to ask of anyone, particularly someone who can’t even keep the big swan at the millpond from stealing her lunch every blessed day.  But she’s got a hedgehog, so at least there’s that much going for her…

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