Ambiguity Machines: An Examination April 29, 2015 Ambiguity Machines: An Examination Vandana Singh A test for Junior Navigators of Conceptual Machine-Space. The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn April 22, 2015 The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn Usman Malik He will inherit the Unseen. The Ways of Walls and Words April 15, 2015 The Ways of Walls and Words Sabrina Vourvoulias Can the spirit truly be imprisoned? Ballroom Blitz April 1, 2015 Ballroom Blitz Veronica Schanoes Can't stop drinking, can't stop dancing, can't stop smoking, can't even die.
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April 30, 2015
The Folklore Origins of The Avengers
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Five Books Where Music is Practically a Character
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Message Fiction: Politics in Sci-Fi and Fantasy Literature
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Daredevil, Catholicism, and the Marvel Moral Universe
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Showing posts by: Mark Graham click to see Mark Graham's profile
Feb 10 2010 5:58pm

Dan Simmons’ latest novel, Black Hills

Dan Simmons may be best known for his Hugo Award-winning far-future science fiction tetralogy, which includes Hyperion, Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, and Rise of Endymion. But he is equally at home with horror novels like the just-released Carrion Comfort, Summer of Night, and A Winter Haunting, and with the detective stories in his Joe Kurtz series.

Recent novels The Terror, about a real attempt to find the Northwest Passage, and Drood, which combines the life of Charles Dickens with the plot of the Dickens’ unfinished final work, combine intricately accurate historical plots with disturbing supernatural frisson. Look for more of the same in Black Hills, due out next week.

Regardless of plot or theme, four elements that define Simmons’ works are his thorough research, his literate writing style, his careful delineation of characters, and the vivid detail of his settings, whether on board space ships, on faraway planets or, as in Black Hills, on the grasslands of South Dakota, the Chicago World’s Fair and the face (and faces) of Mount Rushmore.

[I don't want to give away much about Black Hills, but here is a bit to whet your appetite…]

Feb 4 2010 5:08pm

Connie Willis's Blackout Arrives after a decade

Connie Willis was named to the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in ceremonies at the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle last June. Blackout, her first full-length time travel novel in over a decade, was released this month.

The time travelers in Connie Willis’s books never quite end up where or when they plan. When they intrepid historians head for the past from Oxford University in the mid 21st century, they are always aware of that there may be “slippage.” Because of the possibility that they may interfere in a significant event or be seen arriving by the locals, they know they may land a few hours or a short distance from their target sites. And time machines are tricky gadgets. Sometimes slippage is severe; thus, Willis’s stories have a tendency to wander from where they seem to be headed...but wander in a good way.

[A short introduction to Blackout follows the break...]

Jan 19 2010 6:08pm

Kim Stanley Robinson's Galileo's Dream

Galileo’s Dream, Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest book, is part historical novel and part science fiction novel.

As an historical novel, it is an interesting and minutely-detailed look at the life of one of the most important men who ever lived. And, even though readers suspect they know what will happen to the “first scientist,” they are compelled to keep reading, because there is always the possibility that Robinson will follow an alternate time string before the end.

As science fiction, the tale combines time travel and first contact.  Far-future human beings travel back to influence history, and Galileo Galilei is transported from Italy in the early 1600s to the moons of Jupiter in the year 3020. The inhabitants hope his impartial mind will help settle a dispute about how to deal with recently-discovered planet-wide alien intelligences.

[More about Galileo's Dream follows...]

Jan 18 2010 3:23pm

David Morrell’s The 100-Year Christmas: poor timing, great book

David Morrell’s The Hundred-Year Christmas (pictured at right) was published in a signed/limited edition of 700 copies in 1983. For sheer Christmas sentiment and fun the book ranks right up there with Valentine Davies’ The Miracle on 34th Street, William Kotzwinkle’s Christmas at Fontaine’s and O’Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.” But chances are you have never heard of it. Maybe you haven’t read Kotzwinkle’s great Christmas book either. It’s time you did.

One of the first books I reviewed was Morrell’s The Last Reveille in 1977, and, after going back and reading his first two books, First Blood, which introduced the iconic anti-hero John Rambo; and Testament, a tense and quick- moving suspense novel, I followed his career closely. After his fourth novel, The Totem, perhaps the only unique werewolf novel of the last century, I was hooked.

[More about Morrell’s rarest book follows...]

Jan 2 2010 2:03pm

Jack Cady’s Rules of ’48--ghosts of the past

Jack Cady died after a battle with cancer six years ago. His talents in science fiction, fantasy and horror were recognized in his lifetime with a World Fantasy Award for Best Collection for The Sons of Noah: And Other Stories in 1993; a Nebula and a Bram Stoker for Best Novella for “The Night We Buried Road Dog” in 1994; a Philip K. Dick Special Citation for Inagehi in 1994; and numerous nominations for various awards in the field.

The titles of books like The  Jonah Watch: A True-Life Ghost Story in the Form of a Novel, McDowell’s Ghost, The Hauntings of Hood Canal, Ghostland and Ghosts of Yesterday suggest Cady’s fascination with ghosts. Yet, as I wrote in a 2001 review which likened The Hauntings of Hood Canal to Cannery Row (with just a few supernatural beings lurking off the docks), “(Cady), like John Steinbeck, is an accomplished storyteller. His works resonate with the passions and foibles of ordinary people, and he makes his readers care for them. Like most great tales of the supernatural, The Hauntings of Hood Canal is actually about human nature and some wonderfully contrived characters. The ghosts are integral, but secondary.”

[Rules of ’48, Cady's last novel after the break...]

Dec 24 2009 3:39pm

Patrick Lee's debut novel, The Breach

If you have read Robert Sawyer’s Flash Forward, the book on which this year’s television series is based, you know that strange things can happen when scientists use super colliders to try to replicate the beginnings of the universe. In Patrick Lee’s first novel the man-made “big bang” provides a different surprise: a hole in the fabric of space creates a tunnel to another dimension, and whatever is on the other side is sending us strange gifts, some of them beneficial, some of them not so nice at all.

The Breach, the first in a series of novels starring ex-con/ex-cop Travis Chase, should please X-Files and Fringe fans, as Chase teams up with the tough and beautiful Paige Campbell to try to save the world from a nefarious human villain controlled by an other-worldly power.

[Some hints about The Breach with minor spoilers follow...]

Dec 21 2009 11:51am

John Langan’s debut novel, House of Windows

On his page of “Acknowledgements,” John Langan had this to say about his debut novel: “This book had a hard time finding a home: the genre people weren’t happy with all the literary stuff; the literary people weren’t happy with all the genre stuff.” Indeed, House of Windows is a difficult tale to classify.

Langan definitely pursues a literary style most of the time, but readers will find occasional graphic descriptions that would find themselves more at home on the pages of a splatterpunk story than one steeped in the halls of academia. Think Henry James and Joyce Carol Oates with just a few paragraphs of Joe Lansdale.

House of Windows is not a rapid page turner, due both to the content and the format. The tale is related in minute detail, and some of those details are necessarily redundant. And the tiny margins and light type face make each page seem to last longer than it should. Yet the novel, as a whole, is thought provoking, satisfying and, at times, frightening.

[A bit about what happens in House of Windows follows...]

Dec 6 2009 1:04pm

Dean Koontz leaves you...Breathless...

Of course there is a dog: Page 1—“Merlin led the way, seemingly indifferent to the spoor of the deer and the possibility of glimpsing the white flags of their tails ahead of him. He was a three-year-old, 160-pound Irish wolfhound, thirty-six inches tall, measured from his withers to the ground, his head higher on a muscular neck.”

Of course the hero has hidden strengths: Before retiring to the Colorado Rockies, Grady Adams was a military sharp shooter. He assassinated a lot of bad guys.

[Read  more about what to expect from Breathless, with very minor spoilers, after the break...]

Dec 4 2009 10:21am

Reading Stephen King may be hazardous to your health

I am about 200 pages away from finishing Under the Dome. Reading the book has made me extremely uncomfortable, and not in the way you might think. Perhaps the following anecdote will give you some idea.

This is a true story.  In 1986 I had back surgery. In that ancient year, a person actually stayed in the hospital for a few days after such a procedure instead of being sent home in a couple of hours. So there I was, a day or two post-op, sitting up (more or less) in bed reading Stephen King’s It, and my doctor came in to check on me. When he entered the room, he started laughing out loud. I looked around wondering what could have set him off like that. I didn’t see anything funny; my back still hurt. “It...It,” he managed to say between giggles.

[As Paul Harvey used to say, “And now for the rest of the story...”]

Nov 24 2009 5:31pm

Gaiman’s Odd and the Frost Giants--a stocking stuffer for young readers

A few months ago, for his short novel, The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman won the Newbery Medal, presented each year to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children by the Association for Library Service to Children . This wasn’t the first time one of Neil’s books for young readers took home an award. Coraline, later to become a motion picture, copped the Hugo and Nebula Awards in 2003 for Best Novella.

The previous year Gaiman took home the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel for his American Gods, a lengthy adult tome that celebrates his fascination with Norse mythology. This fall the versatile and prolific Gaiman combines his talent for storytelling to young audiences and his preoccupation with Scandinavian legends in Odd and the Frost Giants, a dandy little book with terrific illustrations by Brett Helquist.

[An introduction to Odd and his story follows...]

Nov 23 2009 10:21am

Total Oblivion, more or less...weirdness on the Mississippi

Alan Deniro takes us just a step or two beyond the current economic and political situation.  As the author suggests, with American military forces deployed around the world; glaciers and icecaps melting amid climate changes; jobless rates constantly rising; the cost of health insurance more expensive than mortgage payments for homes no longer worth their original values; and multiple threats of pandemics threatening an overgrown population (H1N1 is making strides faster than expected, AIDS continues to spread, and, according to recent reports, avian flu isn’t flying away any time soon), things can only get worse. Deniro timed the publication of his first novel perfectly: Total Oblivion, more or less may not be that far away.

[Just a bit about the end of the world as we know it after the break...]

Nov 8 2009 12:19pm

Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City

Jonathan Lethem (pronounced, in case you are curious as I was, leeth´-em) is one of those rare science fiction/fantasy authors like Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. and Tom Robbins whose novels are shelved in the mainstream fiction sections of book stores. If you had read only his masterful Motherless Brooklyn, about a detective with Tourette’s syndrome, you might feel that justified. Yet beginning with his inaugural novel, Gun, with Occasional Music, the majority of the author’s work has involved genetic mutations, futuristic scenarios, space travel and other elements of the fantastic. This year’s Chronic City is an expedition into the surreal that takes place in an alternate Manhattan where winter has apparently come to stay, and either a giant tiger or a mad robotic tunneling machine or both are laying waste to the city.

[More about Chronic City after the break...]

Oct 28 2009 12:01pm

Joe Hill’s Locke & Key Volume 2: Head Games

Locke and Key: Head Games, the second hard-cover volume of Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s terrific graphic novel set in the East Coast village of Lovecraft was released earlier this month.

Volume 1, Welcome to Lovecraft, started with the brutal murder of high school counselor Rendell Locke. His wife Nina and three children left their West Coast home to move in with Rendell’s brother Duncan in the family mansion in Massachusetts. There Bode, the youngest child, begins to find a series of magic keys that give the owner powers. Unwittingly, Bode has released an evil spirit from a well.

A generation ago Lucas Caravaggio, Lovecraft’s charismatic bad boy, disappeared, and now the spirit has taken Lucas’s body, still in good shape after all those years, and it now goes by the name of Zack. In Volume 2, still just as charismatic, Zack befriends the Lockes and obviously has nefarious plans for both the family and the town.

[More about Head Games after the break...]

Oct 18 2009 12:19pm

Joe Schreiber's Death Troopers and No Doors, No Windows—two books in one day

I once read that less than 1% of all novels submitted are actually published; one source actually put it at .03%. If those statistics are true, imagine the odds of an author having two new novels published on the same day. On October 13, Joe Schreiber saw the publication of his Death Troopers, “the first-ever Star Wars horror novel,” and No Doors, No Windows, a pretty scary haunted-house ghost story, and both just in time for Halloween.

Before the start of Death Troopers, readers are provided with a handy timeline, which places dozens of Star Wars books chronologically in reference to the motion pictures. Death Troopers takes place just before Star Wars: A New Hope—Year 0.

[A bit more about Death Troopers and No Doors, No Windows after the break...]

Oct 9 2009 4:20pm

Berkeley Breathed’s first novel: Flawed Dogs

Let me confess first, I am a major Berke Breathed fan. I wore a black armband the last day the Bloom County comic strip appeared in my local paper. People frequently come up and ask me as I get out of my car, “Are you a musician?” I have to explain that my vanity license plate that reads OPUS has nothing to do with music. When I first heard about the great Richard Dreyfuss film, Mr. Holland’s Opus, I thought it was about a penguin in Amsterdam. Imagine my disappointment. So it is hard to be very objective about Mr. Breathed’s first novel. Of course, I thought it was awesome.

[Read more...]

Oct 5 2009 5:38pm

Terry Brooks goes back to Landover

Terry Brooks hasn’t written about the kingdom of Landover for 14 years. But this fall he has dropped by for a short visit with Mistaya Holiday, the mostly human princess of the realm. For those who don’t remember or weren’t around as the series began in 1986, it all started when depressed millionaire Ben Holiday answered a come-on in a Christmas wish book advertising a magic kingdom.

In Magic Kingdom for Sale (Sold) Holiday discovers that the ad is not a ruse, and he buys the kingdom. In the first novel and the four ensuing books, Holiday interacts with a host of fantastic characters, many of them stereotypes, but some really fun and original. The saga kind of ran out of gas with Witches Brew in 1996.

[Some more about Terry Brooks’ background and a bit about A Princess of Landover with just a few minor spoilers follow...]

Sep 16 2009 10:39am

Not your father’s funny books—The Dresden Files: Storm Front and Mercy Thompson: Homecoming

Back in the days of 10- and 12-cent comic books, the only place you could find an illustrated version of a novel actually would cost you 15 cents. Classics Illustrated was a reasonably good way to pretend a knowledge of quality literature and a darned good way to come up with a last-minute book report. As I recall, science fiction was only represented by Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein, and a few works by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, none of which would have been acceptable for book reports by the nuns who taught me.

Today’s graphic novels may be a bit more pricey, but the number of titles available is daunting, the artwork is amazing, and science fiction, fantasy, and horror occupy center stage. For new readers who just want a taste of what to expect, graphic novels can be great introductions. And established fans should enjoy visiting these interpretations of their favorite works.

[Two new graphic novels after the break...]

Sep 10 2009 3:54pm

Twilight Zone 50th Anniversary anthology

It is hard to imagine that it has been nearly a half century since the debut of The Twilight Zone on October 2, 1959. Each of us who were glued to the black-and-white screens of our 21-inch RCA televisions (or Sylvania or Zenith, perhaps and some smaller screens) has a scene from at least one episode fixed indelibly in our minds. For me the strongest image is of Burgess Meredith as Henry Bemis in “Time Enough to Last.” The last man alive on earth prepares to enter a library and happily while away the rest his life reading all of the great works, only to break his glasses.

Carol Serling, the wife of Rod Serling, the late genius creator of TZ, celebrates the semi-centennial anniversary by editing an anthology of 19 new stories written in the style of the seminal series.

[Read about a few of the stories after the break...]

Sep 8 2009 5:42pm

Graham Joyce’s new adult novel—How to Make Friends with Demons

Since The Limits of Enchantment appeared in 2005, Graham Joyce has spent most of his time writing young adult novels. TWOC and Do the Creepy Thing (The Exchange in the U.S.) have been printed in the United States. Three Ways to Snog an Alien and this month’s The Devil’s Ladder still are available only in the U.K.

Finally, Joyce’s first adult novel in four years is being published by Night Shade Books in the U.S. this fall. A year ago Memoirs of a Master Forger came out under the pseudonym William Heaney in England. Heaney is the narrator of the story. Joyce was not secretive about the use of the nom de plume. He announced it on his web site. He was just curious to see how a new book would sell without the baggage of his previous work. The book sold amazingly well. However, in the U.S. the novel has a new title, and is being released under the author’s real name.

[An introduction to How to Make Friends with Demons follows...]

Aug 31 2009 1:24pm

Not your father’s funny books: Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft and Ball Peen Hammer

Coming from the generation that remembers the 5¢ candy bar, the nickel ice cream cone and the terrible shock when the price of a comic book, after several decades at a dime, increased to 12¢ in the early 1960s, it is hard for me to imagine shelling out $20 or more for a graphic novel.  I sure wish my parents had used a Mercury dime and popped for an Action Comics #1 back in 1938 and put it in a safe deposit box for me.  Then I wouldn’t worry about the price of a graphic novel.  But, hey, I’ve been hanging out at Starbucks a lot lately, so that premium comic book doesn’t seem so bad next to a $4 frappucino. And I’ve bitten the bullet and given these luxury comics a try, some original stories, some adaptations of previous novels and some new looks at heroes from the past.

[Two top notch graphic novels after the fold...]