Monday, December 19, 2011

Book Review - Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton

Nights of Villjamur
Series: Legends of the Red Sun (Book 1)
Mark Charan Newton
Spectra (2011)
Trade Paperback
464 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0345520852


Murder, mystery, and magic ; a deadly combination, to be sure, but in the hands of Mark Charan Newton it becomes something altogether more entertaining then might be expected. And, while the prose, character development, and pace seem to lack perfect clarification the story itself is strong enough, the plot and characters creative enough, and the new concepts introduced intriguing enough to make this a better than average murder/mystery/fantasy. While I enjoyed the story a great deal there were some plot point, character development, and location problems that were somewhat disappointing. The strength of the back-story got lost in places – tell me more about Caveside, and the Garudas, and the banshees, and the coming ice age (winter/freeze) – and some of the characters’ actions were somewhat unexpected and sometimes illogical. For instance, during a visit with a prostitute, the last person to see one of the murder victims alive, an investigator dismisses a major murder scene clue (blue paint) even though he knows that she’s an artist. Another major plot flaw occurs when one characters’ anger over being overlooked for promotion forces him from the role of minor character to major antagonist. But we are told early on in the narrative that the position he envies have always been reserved for members of a particular race and he doesn’t qualify. The mid-story switch in character standpoint didn’t flow enough for me to overlook those failings. Now, with those flaws pointed out I must add that I was definitely entertained by Nights of Villjamur and while the faults are not quite glaring they may turn some readers off but they certainly did not distract me from the story. And, in the spirit of entertainment and in the telling of a good yarn I’d have to say that there are enough unique and creative ideas in the story to keep even the most jaded readers diverted. Fortunately for Mr. Newton, this first story in the cycle has enough fertile ground and potential to develop into a highly acclaimed series. Let’s hope he’s up to the task.

If you’re the type that enjoys dark fantasies filled with strange alien races, unpredictable magic, murder mystery, and light fantasy then Nights of Villjamur is certainly recommended for you.

3 ½ (4 for originality) out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Nights of Villjamur Extract

Fantasy Hotlist Blog Review

Strange Horizons Review

Author Website

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Works of Jack L. Chalker (Classic Science Fiction Book Series)

In my opinion, one of the most overlooked and under rated Science Fiction writers of the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s was Jack L. Chalker. Jack passed away in 2005 after a two-year illness. He was 60 years old and I can’t help but feel that his body of work was cut much too short and that we are missing so many wonderfully creative stories because of his passing. I have been a long-time fan and would like to take a moment to rate the works of his that I’ve read. What I really enjoyed about Jack’s work is that most of his stories contained a long-term vision. Not a single 300 page story but massive, rolling three or four sometimes even five book epics that were fertile and rich in character, with creative worlds, and unique story-lines. His stories are always entertaining and highly creative and you’ll see by my ratings below that not one of his books rates lower than four stars which should tell you how much I value his work.

If you’re in the mood for some wonderful Science Fiction reading and have somehow disregarded this author I suggest you search out any of his novels. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that many of his books are now out of print but if I were you I’d head out to my favorite used book store and browse the shelves. It’ll be worth the quest. I promise. He is, by far, one of the very best Science Fiction authors that deserved to win both the Hugo and the Nebula Award but never did.

The Saga of the Well World Series


1. Midnight at the Well of Souls, Del Rey, 1977 (ISBN 0-7434-3522-2) 5 stars (one of my all time favorites)

2. Exiles at the Well of Souls, Del Rey, 1978 (ISBN 0-7434-3603-2) 5 stars

3. Quest for the Well of Souls, Del Rey, 1978 (ISBN 0-7434-7153-9) 5 stars

4. The Return of Nathan Brazil, Del Rey, 1980 (ISBN 0-345-28367-8) 4 ½ stars

5. Twilight at the Well of Souls, Del Rey, 1980 (ISBN 0-345-28368-6) 4 ½ stars

6. The Sea is Full of Stars, December, 1999 (ISBN 0-345-39486-0) 4 ½ stars

7. Ghost of the Well of Souls, 2000 (ISBN 0-345-39485-2) 4 ½ stars

The Watchers at the Well Series


1. Echoes of the Well of Souls, Del Rey, trade paperback, May, 1993 (ISBN 0-345-38686-8) 4 ½ stars

2. Shadow of the Well of Souls, Del Rey Feb. 1994 (ISBN 0-345-36202-0) 4 ½ stars

3. Gods of the Well of Souls, Del Rey, 1994 (ISBN 0-345-38850-X) 4 ½ stars

The Four Lords of the Diamond Series


1. Lilith: A Snake in the Grass, Del Rey, 1981 (ISBN 0-345-29369-X) 4 stars

2. Cerberus: A Wolf in the Fold, Del Rey, 1982 (ISBN 0-345-31122-1) 4 stars

3. Charon: A Dragon at the Gate, Del Rey, 1982 (ISBN 0-345-29370-3) 4 stars

4. Medusa: A Tiger by the Tail, Del Rey, 1983 (ISBN 0-345-29372-X) 4 stars

The Four Lords of the Diamond, The Science Fiction Book Club (omnibus edition), 1983

The Dancing Gods Series


1. The River of Dancing Gods, Del Rey, 1984 (ISBN 0-345-30892-1) 4 stars

2. Demons of the Dancing Gods, Del Rey, 1984 (ISBN 0-345-30893-X) 4 stars

3. Vengeance of the Dancing Gods, Del Rey, July, 1985 (ISBN 0-345-31549-9) 4 stars

4. Songs of the Dancing Gods, Del Rey, August, 1990 (ISBN 0-345-34799-4) 4 stars

5. Horrors of the Dancing Gods, 1994 (ISBN 0-345-37692-7) 4 stars

The Dancing Gods: Part One, Del Rey, November, 1995 (ISBN 0-345-40246-4)

The Dancing Gods II, Del Rey, September, 1996 (ISBN 0-345-40771-7)

The Soul Rider Series


1. Spirits of Flux and Anchor, Tor Books, 1984 (ISBN 0-8125-3320-8) 4 stars

2. Empires of Flux and Anchor, Tor Books, 1984 (ISBN 0-8125-3329-1) 4 stars

3. Masters of Flux and Anchor, Tor Books, January, 1985 (ISBN 0-8125-3281-3) 4 stars

4. The Birth of Flux and Anchor, Tor Books, 1985 (ISBN 0-8125-2292-3) 4 stars

5. Children of Flux and Anchor, Tor Books, September, 1986 (ISBN 0-8125-2340-7) 4 stars

The Rings of the Master Series


1. Lords of the Middle Dark Del Rey Books, May, 1986 (ISBN 0-345-32560-5) 4 stars

2. Pirates of the Thunder, Del Rey Books, March, 1987 (ISBN 0-345-32561-3) 4 stars

3. Warriors of the Storm, Del Rey Books, August, 1987 (ISBN 0-345-32562-1) 4 stars

4. Masks of the Martyrs, Del Rey, February, 1988 (ISBN 0-345-34309-3) 4 stars

The G.O.D. Inc Series


1. The Labyrinth of Dreams. Tor Books, March, 1987 (ISBN 0-8125-3306-2) 4 stars

2. The Shadow Dancers, Tor Books, July, 1987 (ISBN 0-812-53308-9) 4 stars

3. The Maze in the Mirror, Tor Books, January, 1989 (ISBN 0-8125-2069-6) 4 stars

The Changewinds Series


1. When the Changewinds Blow, Ace - Putnams, September, 1987 4 stars

2. Riders of the Winds, Ace Books, May, 1988 4 stars

3. War of the Maelstrom, Ace - Putnams, October, 1988 (ISBN 0-441-10268-9) 4 stars

The Quintara Marathon Series


1. The Demons at Rainbow Bridge, Ace-Putnam's, hardcover, September, 1989 (ISBN 0-441-69992-8) 4 stars

2. The Run to Chaos Keep, Ace - Putnams, May, 1991 (ISBN 0-441-69348-2) 4 stars

3. The Ninety Trillion Fausts (a.k.a. 90 Trillion Fausts), Ace - Putnams, October 1991 (ISBN 0-441-58103-X) 4 stars

The Wonderland Gambit Series


1. The Cybernetic Walrus, Del Rey, trade pb in November, 1995 4 stars

2. The March Hare Network, 1996 4 stars

3. The Hot-Wired Dodo, Del Rey, Feb. 1997 4 stars

The Three Kings Series


1. Balshazzar's Serpent, Baen Books 1999 4 stars

2. Melchior's Fire, Baen Books, 2001. 4 stars

3. Kaspar's Box, 2003 4 stars

Stand-alone Novels

A Jungle of Stars, Ballantine, Del Rey, 1976 (ISBN 0-345-28960-9) 4 ½ stars

The Web of the Chozen, Del Rey, 1978 (ISBN 0-345-27376-1) 5 stars

And the Devil Will Drag You Under, Del Rey, 1979 (ISBN 0-345-30504-3) 5 stars

A War of Shadows, Ace: An Analog Book, 1979 4 ½ stars

Dancers in the Afterglow, Del Rey, 1979, 1982 (ISBN 0-345-30493-4) 5 stars

The Devil's Voyage, Doubleday, 1980 4 stars

The Identity Matrix, Timescape: Pocket Books, 1982 (ISBN 0-671-65547-7) 4 stars

Downtiming the Night Side, Tor Books, May, 1985 (ISBN 0-8125-3288-0) 4 ½ stars

The Messiah Choice, St. Martins - Blue Jay, May, 1985 4 stars

The Red Tape War (with Mike Resnick and George Alec Effinger). Tor hardcover, April, 1991 (not read)

Priam's Lens, Del Rey 1997 (ISBN 0-345-40294-4) 4 stars

The Moreau Factor, Del Rey Feb., 2000 4 stars

Chameleon (partially completed at time of death) (not read)

Collections and Anthologies

Dance Band on the Titanic, Del Rey Books, July, 1988 (short stories) 4 stars

Hotel Andromeda [edited by], Ace, 1994 (ISBN 0-441-00010-X) (not read)

Additional Reading:

Jack L. Chalker Wikipedia Entry

NNDB Jack L. Chalker Site

Fantastic Fiction Jack L. Chalker Page

Baen Books Jack L. Chalker Page

Darrell K. Sweet (Artist) Site

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Book Reviews - The Morningstar Strain by Z. A. Recht

The Morningstar Strain Book 1 - Plague of the Dead
Z. A. Recht
Permuted Press
Trade Paperback
303 pages


Plague of the Dead, the first book in the Morningstar Saga by Z. A. Recht, is perhaps, one of the better zombie stories I’ve read in a long time (and I’ve read my share.) Every character is believable, the zombies are both hideous and understated, and the action is mile-a-minute fast and succinctly described. While there are some questionable events – a general stuck in a tree for lack of planning, for instance - the book is a very good read and is reminiscent in some ways and has the same feel as Justin Cronin’s Passage. Not quite an instant classic Plague of the Dead will, nonetheless, entertain.

Two story lines come together in Plague of the Dead to form one cohesive and entertaining story. In the first, a rag tag group of defunct soldiers and civilian survivors of a brutal plague that began in Africa set off on a quest to reach a U. S. Government medical facility in Omaha, Nebraska. In the second, a medical researcher who was studying the Morningstar Strain pre-plague, a journalist who leaked the story, and an FBI agent who detained them both escape a government prison on the east coast and trek west to meet up with the first group. This secret facility, dedicated to researching the plague, is the designated meeting-place where the leader of the soldiers and the doctor believe they may find a cure for the virus that has caused the plague. Unfortunately, the infected victims suffer from symptoms often described as appearing zombie-like and each trek is fraught with danger. Zombies, bandits, and the last remaining government agents make each journey difficult and the losses heavy.

Recommended for post-apocalyptic fiction fans, action-adventure lovers, and zombie phreaks from all shambling walks of life.

4 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

The Morningstar Strain Book 2 - Thunder and Ashes
Z. A. Recht
Permuted Press
Trade Paperback
297 pages


Thunder and Ashes is a continuation of the first book in the series and is every bit as good. The pace is as whirlwind fast as Plague of the Dead and the narrative will keep you turning through action-packed pages to find out what happens next. I enjoyed the two party quest motifs, flipping back and forth from one group of survivors to the other, and was impressed by Recht’s unique two types of zombies - the quick and the dead. Yes, some of the zombies in this series have not completely succumbed to the virus and are as quick and lithe on their feet as normal human beings. The dead zombies? Not so much. They shamble, they crawl, they drag themselves towards humanity as expected but as a force the two zombie groups are as dangerous together as an entire city full of “normal” zombies.

With that said, Thunder and Ashes, lived up to my expectations and in some ways exceeded the story presented in Plague of the Dead. The characters, now familiar, continue their quest and the action is even heavier than the first book. All in all, a very entertaining read.

4 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Note: The third book in the series, Survivors, was left unfinished at the time of Z. A Recht’s death (at the tender age of 26) but is still scheduled for release on May 5, 2012. It will be completed by a ghost writer.

Additional Reading:

Morningstar Website

(Note: Click on “LINKS” at the bottom of the main page to find a short list of other Zombie stories, websites, books, and movies. Highly entertaining Zombie faire to bite in to.)

Z. A. Recht Interview

Plague of the Dead Review

Z. A. Recht Wikipedia Entry

Z. A. Recht Remembered

Friday, November 18, 2011

Book Review - Low Town by Daniel Polansky

Low Town
Daniel Polansky
Doubleday (Random House)
August 16, 2011
341 pages

ISBN: 978-0-385-53446-8


The back flyleaf gives a clear description of what you are about to experience when you pick up Low Town the debut novel by writer Daniel Polansky. “Drug dealers, hustlers, brothels, dirty politics, corrupt cops… and sorcery. Welcome to Low Town.” Except the likes of you and I would be most unwelcome within the walls of Low Town. Should you find yourself lost in the streets be sure to hold your purse in one hand and the pommel of your sword with the other because you’ll more than likely end up having to fight your way out or surrender your coin to the countless thieves, con-men, cut-throats, or dirty cops that ply the dark alleys there.

Low Town is a noir dystopian fantasy steeped in dark magic which Polansky has blended nicely into a hard-edged murder mystery with a smattering of Victorian decadence. The main character, Warden, an ex-soldier, ex-cop with a kick-ass attitude and a serious chip on his shoulder finds himself relegated to dealing drugs for a living in Low Town. But his world suddenly changes when he stumbles upon the body of a missing child in the most despicable neighborhood of Low Town. And, since local law enforcement members appear indifferent to the killing, Warden unexpectedly decides to solve the crime himself. Who else but a down-on-his-luck ex-cop would even consider taking a case like this? But the clues left behind quickly uncover a sinister plot that will take him to places he might never otherwise go and Warden quickly discovers that black-hearted sorcery lies at the bottom of numerous abductions and ritualistic murders.

Low Town is an exceptionally strong introductory novel and I see nothing but high-quality stories coming from the pen of this exceptional new author. I suggest you keep an eye out for upcoming novels in the near future. In my opinion, Daniel Polansky is a writer with great potential and hopefully we will all get to read his stories for many years to come. Low Town is recommended for fantasy purists, noir crime fans, murder mystery buffs, and anyone who likes a bit of blood and guts splattered on the pages of their dark fantasy. This is one to devour. I did!

4 stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Official Author Website

Low Town Excerpt (First Seven Chapters)

Fantasy Book Critic Review

New York Journal of Books Review


(UK Cover)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Book Review - The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch

The Eleventh Plague
Jeff Hirsch
Scholastic Press
September 1st, 2011
Trade Paperback
Advance Reader’s Copy
304 pages


Post-apocalyptic entertainment is all the rage these days. Oryx and Crake, Falling Skies, I Am Legend, The Plague Year, The Road, The Walking Dead, World War Z, etc. standing as prime examples. While all of the named works above are excellent in their own right The Eleventh Plague, a Young Adult novel, has its moments, as well. It is well-written, fast-paced, and should be a favorite among the young-adult readers that manage to happen upon it.

The supporting characters, both children and adults, are sufficiently flawed to be completely believable. As a matter of fact, making mistakes at the most inopportune time seems to be a theme but Hirsch handles them well and the story flows with action. So much so, that I finished it in very short time.

The book is not without flaws but they do not draw away from the story and do not hurt the plot. Most glaringly is the 17 year old protagonist that frequently wishes to run away from just about every difficult situation he comes in contact with rather than face them. That aside, I recommend The Eleventh Plague for those who enjoy post-apocalyptic YA fiction or for those who simply enjoy a fast-paced, well-written end-of-times story.

3 ½ stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Jeff Hirsch Official Website

The Eleventh Plague Book review

The Eleventh Plague Video Promo

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Book Review - Reamde by Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson
William Morrow
September 20, 2011
1056 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0061977961


Some books are sprints, quick easy reads that take the breath away. Others are long distant runs; more complicated, with timing, spacing and strategy integral to crossing the finish line with a specific goal in mind. Reamde by Neal Stephenson is a true long-distance marathon. It is a performance, obviously backed by long practice and training. It is gut wrenching, breath-taking, and ultimately exhilarating. While it is not Science-Fiction in the traditional sense, Reamde is more of a thriller, it tackles elements of near-future business, social media, and Internet gaming aspects and manages to add elements of an international thriller that spans the globe and includes kidnapping, hackers, Islamic extremists, Russian Mafia, massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMO), murder, spies, action, adventure, and intrigue. While not his normal bill-of-fare Reamde is still a very accessible read and should be enjoyed by present fans as well as action-adventure, tech thriller, and murder mystery enthusiasts. With Reamde Stephenson should gather in an entirely new and pleased audience. I wish him well.

Many established fans may not enjoy this work as well as some of Stephenson’s others but Reamde is a high-quality novel. Strong characters, a good plot, interesting locations, and pages of tense action make this a very enjoyable read.

4 stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Neal Stephenson Official Website

Neal Stephenson Wiki Page

Reamde Book Review

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Book Review - And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life by Charles J. Shields

And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life
Charles J. Shields
Henry Holt and Co.
November 8th, 2011
Trade Paperback
Advance Reader’s Edition
494 pages


“And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life” by Charles J. Shields is the definitive biography of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Thoughtful and thought-provoking “And So It Goes” provides genuine insight into the life of one of the world’s truly extraordinary writers. Whether pointing out the negatives regarding the rolls of science and technology in society or finding humor in almost everything that happened to him, Vonnegut has never failed to entertain. And in “And So It Goes” Shield gives us the complexities of Vonnegut’s heavy thought and in the process allows us to see the human lurking beneath the mask of the writer. Vonnegut has been compared to Mark Twain many times, and the level and style of humor both men possessed would validate that comparison, but Vonnegut also had something to say about society and he did so with aplomb. Every aspect of Kurt Vonnegut’s life is studied here. The triumphs, the struggles, the inner turmoil and human faults are all included in great detail but in such a way as to paint a very human picture of one of our finest writers. From childhood to death this is a true study of the life of Kurt Vonnegut.

“And So It Goes” is recommended for biography aficionados, Vonnegut fans, and anyone interested in the writing process (Shield’s gives Vonnegut’s views on writing and includes sage advice to Vonnegut (which still hold true today) from high-level magazine editors of the times.)

Hi Ho!

4 ½ stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Charles J. Shields website

Kurt Vonnegut Official Page

Kurt Vonnegut Wiki Page

Kurt Vonnegut Quotes

Those who believe in telekinetics, raise my hand.
- Kurt Vonnegut

Book Review - End of Days by Robert Gleason

End of Days
Robert Gleason
Forge Books
Trade Paperback
Advance Reader’s Copy
496 pages


End of Days by Robert Gleason had all the potential of becoming a very good post-apocalyptic glimpse into a future gone terribly wrong. It contains political intrigue, fairly interesting characters, a good premise, and an excellent explanation of a world on the brink of nuclear destruction. But it suddenly took a turn for the worse when a pair of philosophical-minded rats unexpectedly entered the narrative. They were so out of place in the flow of the story, in fact, that I thought perhaps a portion of another novel had somehow been accidently edited into this one by the publisher. I gave the author the benefit of the doubt and read on but it only got worse and then the story (and the writing) bogged down to a slow crawl and I admit that I was unable to finish the book. I’m still trying to figure out what purpose the rats played in the story and I’m sure Gleason somehow pulled it all together in the end but I really didn’t feel there was a need for the animal-based fantasy to be included in the story. It just didn’t make any sense.

Life is too short to put this one at the top of your reading list. In my opinion, End of Days is pretty much a waste of good reading time. There are plenty of other solid post-apocalyptic stories out there that are much more worthwhile. Scroll down through some of my other reviews and you’ll see what I mean.

2 ½ stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Sunday, September 25, 2011

An Appraisal of a Unique and Fascinating Tome - The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities - Edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities
Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (Editors)
Harper Voyager
Publication Date: July 12, 2011
320 Pages
ISBN: 9780062004758


A Word Concerning the Discovery

After the death of Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead eight years ago a startling discovery was made at his manor house in Wimpering-on-the-Brook, England. Buried beneath the stacked detritus of antiques and collectibles in the basement of his Victorian-era cottage and nearly reduced to ash by fire was discovered the most remarkable cabinet of curiosities ever encountered. In it was a vast accumulation of extraordinary artifacts and curios. For the first time since that astonishing unearthing a select group of artisans (authors, fantasists, illustrators, and artists – hypnotists all) have assembled together to catalogue and craft to life the oddities recently found in Dr. Lambshead’s Cabinet of Curiosities.

The Curious Contents of the Cabinet (Incorporating Active Uniform Resource Locators)

- The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities

- Introduction:

The Contradictions of a Collection, Dr. Lambshead's Cabinet - The Editors

- Holy Devices and Infernal Duds: The Broadmore Exhibits

The Electrical Neurheographiton - Minister Y. Faust , D. Phil

St. Brendan's Shank - Kelly Barnhill

The Auble Gun – Will Hindmarch

Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny – Ted Chiang

- Honoring Lambshead: Stories Inspired by the Cabinet

Threads – Carrie Vaughn

Ambrose and the Ancient Spirits of East and West – Garth Nix

Relic – Jeffrey Ford

Lord Dunsany’s Teapot – Naomi Novik

Lot 558: Shadow of My Nephew by Wells, Charlotte – Holly Black

A Short History of Dunkelblau’s Meistergarten – Tad Williams

- Microbial Alchemy and Demented Machinery: The Mignola Exhibits

Addison Howell and the Clockroach – Cherie Priest

Sir Ranulph Wykeham-Rackham, GBE, a.k.a. Roboticus the All-Knowing – Lev Grossman

Shamalung (The Diminutions) – Michael Moorcock

Pulvadmonitor: The Dust’s Warning – China Mieville

- The Mieville Anomalies

The Very Shoe – Helen Oyeyemi

The Gallows-horse – Reza Negarestani

- Further Oddities

The Thing in the Jar – Michael Cisco

The Singing Fish – Amal El-Mohtar

The Armor of Sir Locust – Stephan Chapman

A Key to the Castleblakeney Key – Caitlin R. Kiernan

Taking the Rats to Riga – Jay Lake

The Book of Categories – Charles Yu

Objects Discovered in a Novel Under Construction – Alan Moore

- Visits and Departures

1929:The Singular Taffy Puller – N. K. Jemisin

1943: A Brief Note Pertaining to the Absence of One Olivaceous Cormorant, Stuffed – Rachel Swirsky

1963: The Argument Against Louis Pasteur – Mur Lafferty

1972: The Lichenologist’s Visit – Ekaterina Sedia

1995: Kneel – Brian Evenson

2000: Dr. Lambshead’s Dark Room – S. J. Chambers

2003: The Pea – Gio Clairval

- A Brief Catalog of Other Items

- -- An Inquisitive Review of Cabinet Curiosities by The Alternative One

Paragraph the First: Being a Failing on the Part of the Critic While Indicating a Certain Genius on the Part of the Editors.

The fault on my part is that due to a set of unfortunate circumstances I had never heard of Thackery T. Lambshead before purchasing a copy of the very unique and satisfying Cabinet of Curiosities. The brilliance of the editors is that for the first 20 pages or so (the entire introduction actually) I firmly believed that there really was a collector of oddities named Thackery T. Lambshead. So much so that I had to conduct a Google search to find that he (and the books about him – however vaguely) are pure fabrication. But oh, what beautiful curiosities I have been witness to here. I was spellbound and entranced from the moment I opened the tome. Unique devices, eerie tales, colossal inventions, peculiar stories, and hypnotic illustrations by the likes of Carrie Vaughn, Greg Broadmore, Garth Nix, Naomi Novik, Tad Williams, Cherie Priest, Lev Grossman, Michael Moorcock, Alan Moore, and China Mieville, among others, make this one of the very best collections of dark ephemera, exhibits, relics, keepsakes, antiques, artifacts, illustrations, things in jars, and curiosities ever brought together under the cover of one beautifully etched and illuminated tome.

Paragraph the Second: Being a Review of the Contents in no Logical or Discerning Order but with an Eye Pointed Squarely at the Most Curious of Oddities.

The Introduction overflows with anecdotal information concerning Dr. Lambshead and his wife Helen. Unfortunately, much of Lambshead’s story is missing at this point. Fortunately, it appears that the remaining stories in the collection are rumored to shed more light on the mysterious doctor and his bevy of curiosities and indeed do not disappoint. Entries of significant import include (in order of personal enjoyment by this critic): Naomi Novik’s captivating Lord Dunsany’s Teapot; Cherie Priest’s (a perennial favorite of mine) Addison Howell and the Clockroach; Michael Moorcock’s addition Shamalung (The Diminutions); China Mieville’s always strange and imaginative Pulvadmonitor: The Dust’s Warning, and Amal El-Mohtar’s The Singing Fish.

Paragraph the Third: In Which a Brief Outline of Indelible Art and Outlandish Illustrations is Revealed.

The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities contains some of the very best Steampunk art you may find. With unforgettable illustrations by the hands of esteemed artists such as Greg Broadmore, Sam Van Ollfen , James A. Owen , Jonathan Nix , and John Coulthart there is steampunk curiosity enough for everyone here. Honestly folks, I would own this book just for the artwork alone, sans stories. Fortunately for all, the text matches the illustrations in beauty and elegance.

Paragraph the Fourth: Recommendations by Variety of Like and Kind.

If you enjoyed Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke , Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs , Wisconsin Death Trip by Michael Lesy , or Billy Sunday by Rod Jones then The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities will certainly be an entertaining distraction for you.

5 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Thackery T. Lambshead series:
1. The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases (2005)
2. The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities: Exhibits, Oddities, Images, and Stories from Top Authors and Artists (2011)

Jeff VanderMeer site

The Cabinet of Curiosities

Functional Nerds Review

Harper Voyager Page

SF Signal Review


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Book Review - Other Kingdoms by Richard Matheson

Other Kingdoms
Richard Matheson Trade Paperback
287 Pages
Publisher: Tor/Forge Books
Publication Date: March 1st, 2011
ISBN-13: 978-0765327680


Other Kingdoms by Richard Matheson is a darkly entertaining and gripping fantasy and while not his usual bill-of-fare the story is both enjoyable and interesting from many perspectives. Matheson’s stories, usually filled with aspects of fear and horror, have been captivating fans for decades and while Other Kingdoms does come off very dissimilar than most of his past accomplishments it tells a wonderful story, nonetheless. Other Kingdoms is quite definitely a fantasy novel, it contains witches and fairies and things that go bump in the forest for instance, and while not a horror novel per se it contains characteristics of fear and dread that lurk uncomfortably subtle below the surface of almost every page. What sets this particular work apart is that Matheson proves he can write in any genre or style and still be an effective storyteller.

Other Kingdoms is the nostalgic retelling by an elderly author of his experiences as a young man in the years right after his release from World War I. After the death of a comrade in the trenches of France and the discovery of a large lump of pure gold in his belongings he decides to travel to his friends homeland in England in an effort to understand how and why the precious metal came into his possession. It becomes a story of the Fae or Fairy Folk living in the woods of central England and one man’s encounter and interaction with the dark and supernatural creatures of the forest he finds there. Matheson takes on the affectations and prose of a writer born at the turn of the twentieth century (i.e. in the style of H.P. Lovecraft or A. A. Merritt) and it works. When the internal author tells us of his experiences in the trenches during World War I we are spirited away to that time and place. When he interacts with the Faye we are chilled, suffer at the thought of losing our souls, and are distraught by the creatures that dwell in the land of Fairy. Alex, the main character, soon becomes embroiled in a love/hate relationship as the third point of a triangle that also includes a witch and a fairy. Not sure whom to trust and whom to love Alex struggles first, with the fact that the Faye actually exist and second, that he could become involved with them let alone fall in love with one of them.

I'd like to say a few words about the many reviews I've seen of this book and to refute one often repeated critique that has been perpetuated ad infinitum. There are NOT too many parenthesis (asides) in this book, period. There are many, to be sure but Matheson uses them to let the reader hear what the main character is thinking (from his older, wiser perspective), to let us in on his internal jokes, and to give us a better insight into the character’s mental state both through the experiences of the young man and the memory of the elderly one telling the story. That this minor, structural literary device bothered so many readers is puzzling to me. In my opinion, it did not distract from but enhanced the story. The elderly, more jaded, man became more understandable through the parenthetical asides. Mr. Matheson? If you are listening (reading this) please continue to write as you see fit. Your devices have yet to fail you and haven’t this time either. I, for one, will continue to purchase your work and I suspect many, many others will, as well.

Recommended for fans of urban and/or pastoral fantasy, witchcraft, mystery, Victorian fantasy, Fairies, or just plain well-written literature.

Disclaimer: Review copy provided free as part of the Vine Program.

4 stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Richard Matheson Wiki Page

Richard Matheson SCi-Fi Masters Page

Richard Matheson Storyteller

Other Kingdoms Excerpt Other Kingdoms Excerpt

Richard Matheson Biography

clip_image004 Richard Matheson is The New York Times bestselling author of I Am Legend, Hell House, Somewhere in Time, The Incredible Shrinking Man, A Stir of Echoes, The Beardless Warriors, The Path, Seven Steps to Midnight, Now You See It…, and What Dreams May Come, among others. He was named a Grand Master of Horror by the World Horror Convention, and received the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement. He has also won the Edgar, the Spur, and the Writer's Guild awards. In 2010, he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. In addition to his novels, Matheson wrote screenplays, and he wrote for several Twilight Zone episodes, including “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” based on his short story. He was born in New Jersey and raised in Brooklyn, and fought in the infantry in World War II. He earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. He lives in Calabasas, California.

Richard Matheson’s Novels*

Fury on Sunday (1953)
Someone Is Bleeding (1953)
I Am Legend (1954) aka The Omega Man
Woman (1954)
The Shrinking Man (1956) aka Incredible Shrinking Man
A Stir of Echoes (1958)
Ride the Nightmare (1959)
The Beardless Warriors (1960)
Comedy of Terrors (1964) (with Elsie Lee)
Hell House (1971)
The Night Stalker (1972) (with Jeff Rice)
The Night Strangler (1973)
Somewhere in Time (1975) aka Bid Time Return
What Dreams May Come (1978)
Earthbound (1982) (writing as Logan Swanson)
Journal of the Gun Years (1991)
The Gun Fight (1993)
The Path: A New Look at Reality (1993)
7 Steps to Midnight (1993)
Shadow on the Sun (1994)
Now You See It.... (1995)
The Memoirs of Wild Bill Hickok (1996)
Hunger and Thirst (2000)
Passion Play (2000)
Camp Pleasant (2001)
Hunted Past Reason (2002)
Abu and the 7 Marvels (2002)
Come Fygures, Come Shadowes (2003)
The Link (2006)
Richard Matheson's Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (2011)
Other Kingdoms (2011)

* Source: Fantastic Fiction (

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Book Review - Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One
Ernest Cline
Publisher: Random House (Crown)
Electronic Book (iBook version)§
530 pages (Portrait View)
eISBN: 978-0-307-88745-0
Trade Paperback
374 pages
ISBN: 978-0-307-887-43-6


Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is both a brilliant and unusual novel. In the sense that it is immensely creative, compulsively addictive, contains its own element of game-play, and is a highly entertaining read, it’s a very peculiar novel indeed. In addition, it was an extremely likeable story to get caught up in. Reading Cline’s virtual-cyber-world saga I had no trouble transporting myself back to the 1980’s. In fact, it had me reflecting nostalgically back to my 20’s in no time at all. It had me reminiscing over old video systems and games that I hadn’t thought about in years, it had me searching my book collection for 80’s era Science Fiction, it had me hunting through boxes of old VHS and 8-Track tapes, and it had me thinking about the box of old Texas Instruments computer components and game cartridges that I use to keep down in the basement. I can’t remember the last time a novel gave me so much satisfaction and, at the same time, exercise (both mentally and physically.) This book may not be for everyone - well, mostly not for those born after 1990 - but the story itself holds up even without knowing all the pop-culture references, so, maybe after second-thought, it is for everybody. I imagine a sixteen year old reading this today might encounter some of the same feelings I had the first time I stumbled through Dune – the pleasure of being transported to a bizarre other world yet not truly understanding the fullness of the plot and subsequent sub-plots and tropes.

Ready Player One is a rare combination of retro-80’s Cyberpunk combined with themes of futuristic dystopia, over-population, and economic squalor, then heavily blended with a boat-load of virtual reality, and garnished with a hint of thriller. Not to mention that it employs a universal quest motif and contains a love story yet still manages to include an in-book puzzle that millions would kill to uncover. (By universal I mean that almost everyone in the world is involved in the hunt.) The reward? A billion dollar estate bequeathed to the winner by the mad genius that developed the world’s most popular video game/virtual world. To the first person that solves an elaborate three-part virtual quest goes the spoils. Ready Player One is filled with 80’s pop-culture references that both enhance and become integral to the plot. And that’s what makes this story so much fun to read. I dare anyone who lived through that decade to not be entertained by this book. Nix that. I dare anyone at all to not be entertained by this story (even those born post-1990.) It’s that good. Donning Nostradamus’s hat I have only this to say… in the years to come, Ernest Cline will become a household name and Ready Player One, his claim to fame, will be considered a classic work of Science Fiction. I, for one, intend to visit often. Recommended for 80’s buffs, dystopia fans, virtual reality enthusiasts, video game addicts, near-future aficionados, computer geeks, and Science Fiction lovers of all kinds.

P.S. Ready Player One is named after the common message that flashed on-screen in early arcade video and computer games.

Disclaimer: Review copy provided free as part of the Vine Program.

4 ½ stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Author Website

Ready Player One

Huffington Post Review

Random House Page

HitFix Review

Ready Player One Excerpt (First 0003 Chapters)

Ain’t It Cool Review (and more)

Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel Review

Geekiest Book Tour Ever

Adventures in Open Source

A few 80’s Pop-Culture References from the Book

There are countless transparently obvious 80’s references in Ready Player One (See below.) But, there are just as many subtle, hidden references that the diligent researcher may pick up on while reading more closely (See even further below.) It was a lot of fun looking for the hidden 80’s gems Ernest Cline references in the book. As a matter of fact, I think I’ll re-read it again just to spot the plethora of pop-culture references he calls out. The following is a sampling for your retro-80’s pleasure.

“I need to reevaluate my life. Do you have a minute?”*

Some Obvious References
- 1980 (U.S. Release) Mad Max starring Mel Gibson
- 1981 “Lunatic Fringe” by Red Rider (from the motion picture Vision Quest)
- 1982 Family Ties – TV series starring Michael J. Fox
- 1982 Devo – “Oh, No! It's Devo
- 1982 Knight Rider – TV drama series
- 1983 Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life – motion picture
- 1984 The Return of Godzilla – motion picture
- 1984 The Terminator – motion picture
- 1985 The Transformers – animated TV series
- 1985 Vision Quest – motion picture
- 1986 Bon Jovi – “Livin’ On a Prayer “ - music video
- 1989 (Recorded) “Birdhouse in Your Soul” by They Might Be Giants from the album Flood
- 1989 The Simpsons – TV comedy series

Some Less Obvious References
- 1976 Xyzzy Cluster - Xyzzy is a magic word from the Colossal Cave Adventure computer game, one of the very first text adventure games.
- 1979 “Don’t Panic” is the motto of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Used throughout the novel.
- 1979 “Joe’s Garage” – Frank Zappa rock opera and in-book an “orbital starship repair shop in Sector Ten” (Note: Sector-Ten was a massive Imperial-Faction guild previously played on Chilastra server, Star Wars Galaxies.)
- 1980 The Well of Souls novels by Jack L. Chalker - Cline mentions a virtual world with areas containing levels of magic, technology, etc. which is right out of Chalker’s science fiction novels where whole planets are separated into hexes with different levels of technology (including: non-technological, magical, and highly technological races.)
- 1980 (U.S. release) Mad Max - Wade’s car was “booby trapped Max Rockatansky-style” – Reference is to the first Mad Max movie and the explosive device Max had hooked up to his black Pursuit Special (a limited GT351 version of a 1973 Ford XB Falcon Hardtop.)
- 1980 “Don’t Call me Shirley” from the motion picture Airplane. Found in dialogue between Wade and Aech in the “Basement.”
- 1980’s Gygax – Named for Gary Gygax co-creator of Dungeon and Dragons and generally acknowledged as the father of role-playing games - Cline often mentions Gygax as a world in the Virtual Reality of OASIS.
- 1980’s Art3mis – A main character could have origins derived from the following 1980’s references: ARTEMIS - the brand name of a family of software based project planning and management tools developed by Metier Management Systems; Artemis 81 - BBC Science Fiction feature about an epic battle between good and evil; or Artemis, the goddess of the wilderness, the hunt and wild animals, and fertility (the hunt fits this book perfectly)
- 1982 “We Can Dance If We Want To” partial song lyrics to the Safety Dance by Men Without Hats.
- 1980’s Parzival - Parzival (Percival in English) by the poet Wolfram von Eschenbach, in the Middle High German language, is the earliest complete Grail romance in European literature (also an apropos name for an epic quest-driven character.)
- 1984 “Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada” from the motion picture The Last Starfighter. (We once had a cat named Mags.)

§ I enjoyed Ready Player One so much that after purchasing an electronic copy I also requested the paper version from the Amazon Vine program. Each had a very different cover which explains the two covers above.

* Mallory Keaton - Family Ties (1982) TV comedy series.

Some (Mostly) 80’s Video Game References found in Ready Player One
Tennis For Two (1958), Colossal Cave Adventure (1976), Zork (1980), Mystery House (1980), Defender (1980), Pac-Man (1980), 3D Monster Maze (1981), Haunted House (1981), Donkey Kong (1981), Battlezone (1981), Wizardry (1981), Jungle King (1982), Zaxxon (1982), Dungeons of Daggorath (1982), Dragon's Lair (1983), Mario Bros. (1983), King's Quest (1984), Super Mario Bros. (1985), The Legend of Zelda (1986), Dragon Warrior (1986), Metroid (1986), Final Fantasy (1987), Street Fighter (1987), Maniac Mansion (1987), Metal Gear (1987), and Prince of Persia (1989) to name only a few. And, of course, Joust (1982) but that’s way too obvious as it was winning this game that allowed Parzival to open the First Gate of the quest and top the leader board.

Author Bio
Ernest Cline has been a short-order cook, fish gutter, plasma donor, elitist video store clerk, and tech support drone. He eventually ditched those careers to express his love of pop culture as a spoken word artist and screenwriter. His 2009 film Fanboys became a cult phenomenon. Ready Player One is his first novel.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Book Review – L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume XXVII

Writers of the Future Volume XXVII
K. D. Wentworth (Editor)
Mass Market Paperback
560 pages
Publisher: Galaxy Press
Publication Date: June 20, 2011
ISBN-13: 978-1592128709


The best of the best in new speculative fiction can usually be found in L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future and the 27th Volume of this unique format does not disappoint. Past Judges of the contest include some of the best Science Fiction writers in the world: Greg Benford (Eon), Orson Scott Card (Ender), Eric Flint (1632), Frank Herbert (Dune) , Anne McCaffrey (Pern), Larry Niven (Ringworld), Andre Norton (Witchworld), Frederik Pohl (Heechee), and Robert Siverberg (Majipoor), to name just a few. Rather than give each of the short stories in this volume a separate score I’ve elected to rate the anthology as a whole. As a concept I love the idea of giving new author’s of short fiction a creative outlet that becomes available to the masses. And, to be chosen by the esteemed judges listed above, among others, we, as readers, are rewarded with some of the best new fiction being written today. Recommended for fans of short form Science Fiction and Fantasy and for those who are addicted to Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, or the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Volume 27 Table of Content (including links):

Ø Introduction by K. D. Wentworth

Ø The Unreachable Voices of Ghosts by Jeffrey Lyman • Illustrated by Nico Photos

Ø Maddy Dune's First and Only Spelling Bee by Patrick O'Sullivan • Illustrated by Meghan Muriel

Ø The Truth, From a Lie of Convenience by Brennan Harvey • Illustrated by Irvin Rodriguez

Ø How to View Art by L. Ron Hubbard

Ø In Apprehension, How Like a God by R. P. L. Johnson • Illustrated by Dustin D. Panzino

Ø An Acolyte of Black Spires by Ryan Harvey • Illustrated by Fred Jordan

Ø The Dualist by Van Aaron Hughes • Illustrated by Frederick Edwards

Ø Making It by Mike Resnick

Ø Bonehouse by Keffy R. M. Kehrli • Illustrated by Vivian Friedel

Ø This Peaceful State of War by Patty Jansen • Illustrated by Scott Frederick Hargrave

Ø Sailing the Sky Sea by Geir Lanesskog • Illustrated by Joey Jordan

Ø Creating Your Own Destiny by Robert Castillo

Ø Unfamiliar Territory by Ben Mann • Illustrated by Erik Jean Solem

Ø Medic! by Adam Perin • Illustrated by Gregory J. Gunther

Ø Vector Victoria by D. A. D'Amico • Illustrated by Ryan Downing

Ø The Sundial by John Arkwright • Illustrated by Irvin Rodriguez

Ø The Year In Contests

Anthology Content: 4 out of 5 stars
Writers of the Future Concept: 5 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Writers of the Future Sites

Writers of the Future I – XXVII

Writers of the Future Contest History

Judges Author Sites

Greg Benford

Orson Scott Card

Eric Flint

Frank Herbert

Anne McCaffrey

Larry Niven

Andre Norton

Frederik Pohl

Robert Siverberg


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Book Review - Sandman Slim 03 - Aloha From Hell by Richard Kadrey

Sandman Slim 03 - Aloha From Hell
Richard Kadrey
Uncorrected Proof
438 pages
Trade Paperback
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publication Date: October 18, 2011
ISBN-13: 978-0061714320
Genre: Urban Pandemonium Fantasy


James Starks (A.K.A. Sandman Slim) demon killer and nephilim* has been to Hell and back… literally. When his fame as a teenage warlock attracted the notice of demons years ago, they snatched him up and sent him off to the underworld, where he spent the next eleven years as a combatant in the Arena fighting demons as entertainment for Satan's spawn. Since escaping Hell (a long story revealed in the first two books) and returning to L.A. he’s been busy killing demons, staking vampires, and preventing a zombie invasion but things of late have been a bit slow and Stark’s is a little off his game.

So what exactly does a half-angel do on his day off? Apparently he attempts to locate and rescue the survivor of a failed exorcism. But the demon possessing this victim knows Sandman Slim intimately and now Starks must descend into Hell to rescue his dead soul mate. But in the land of Nod nothing is at it seems. He must travel through a barren desert then traverse Malchut of Atzilut, Gan Eden, Tartarus, Eleusis, and the suicidal streets of a burning Los Angeles before he can face down the minions of Hell. But first, he’s going to have to take an unexpected side trip back into the Arena as the epic battle between Heaven and Hell threatens to rage out of control.

As reported previously all the books in this series are very quick reads (for those who like their death, destruction, mayhem, and demon-killing cranked up to level 11!) This series is a good starting point for anyone interested in blood and guts urban fantasy.

Disclaimer: Review copy provided free as part of the Vine Program.

4 stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

My favorite quote: “After you’ve been shot, stabbed, slashed, burned, and almost zombified and survived it all, death gets kind of abstract.”

Sandman Slim Series by Richard Kadrey
1. Sandman Slim (2009)
2. Kill the Dead (2010)
3. Aloha from Hell (2011)


Additional Reading:

Richard Kadrey Sandman Slim Website

Richard Kadrey Official Website

Richard Kadrey Wiki Page

Richard Kadrey Interview

Richard Kadrey 7 Question Interview

Rue Morgue Interview

My Past Reviews of the Sandman Slim series:

Sandman Slim 01 – Sandman Slim (4 stars)

Sandman Slim 02 – Kill The Dead (4 stars)

* Nephilim – fallen angels.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Book Giveaway – Escape From Furnace 01 –Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith

book cover of 


 (Furnace, book 1)


Alexander Gordon Smith

To celebrate the release of Alexander Gordon Smith’s Science-Fiction series Escape From Furnace Macmillan Publishing is offering a copy of the first book Lockdown. We’re happy to announce that the publisher has given The Alternative permission to offer one (1) free copy to the readers of this blog. Please privately e-mail me ( your name and mailing address for entry into the giveaway. The subject of the e-mail must read “Lockdown Giveaway”

This offer is currently only available to U.S. and Canadian delivery addresses and expires August 31st @ 12:01 AM CST. The winner will be selected at random and notified by e-mail.

The book ships directly from the publisher after September 5th, 2011.

More about the 'Escape from Furnace' series:

Beneath Heaven is Hell....Beneath Hell is Furnace! Furnace Penitentiary: the world’s most secure prison for young offenders, buried a mile beneath the earth’s surface. Convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, sentenced to life without parole, “new fish” Alex Sawyer knows he has two choices: find a way out, or resign himself to a death behind bars, in the darkness at the bottom of the world.

Escape from Furnace Series by Alexander Gordon Smith
Includes: Lockdown, Solitary, Death Sentence, Fugitives (Available in 2012), and Execution (Available in 2012).

Trailer URL

Author Website

Become a Facebook Fan

Macmillan Page for Alexander Gordon Smith and Lockdown

Please note that I will be reviewing this book later in the month. So, stay tuned.

Thanks again for your support!

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Sunday, August 14, 2011

NPR’s Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books

On August 11th, NPR published their list of the top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy books/series of all times, which I’ve included here. I’ve read about 75% of the list. How many have you read?

1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien

2. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

3. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card

4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert

5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin

6. 1984, by George Orwell

7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov

9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan

13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell

14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson

15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore

16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov

17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein

18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss

19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick

22. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood

23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King

24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke

25. The Stand, by Stephen King

26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson

27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury

28. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut

29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman

30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess

31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein

32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams

33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey

34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein

35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller

36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells

37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne

38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys

39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells

40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny

41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings

42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley

43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson

44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven

45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin

46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien

47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White

48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

49. Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke

50. Contact, by Carl Sagan

51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons

52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson

54. World War Z, by Max Brooks

55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman

57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett

58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson

59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold

60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett

61. The Mote In God's Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind

63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson

66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist

67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks

68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard

69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb

70. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne

73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore

74. Old Man's War, by John Scalzi

75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson

76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke

77. The Kushiel's Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey

78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin

79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury

80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire

81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson

82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde

83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks

84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart

85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson

86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher

87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe

88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn

89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan

90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock

91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury

92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley

93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge

94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov

95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson

96. Lucifer's Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis

98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville

99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony

100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis

Surprising additions? Omissions? I was happy to see Iain M. Banks and Jasper Fforde included but Brandon Sanderson – twice? Hmmm… Octavia Butler and Frederik Pohl missing?

NPR Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Book Review - The Unit by Terry DeHart

The Unit
Terry DeHart
Apocalyptic Fiction / Science Fiction
Trade Paperback
307 pages
Publisher: Orbit – Hachette Book Group
Publication Date: July 14, 2010
ISBN-13: 978-0316077408


Told through the eyes of five main characters in short, alternating but impactful chapters Terry DeHart’s debut novel, The Unit, is post-apocalyptic fiction at its finest. Where Cormac McCarthy’s The Road centers around two dark, lonely, and desperate characters trudging through the scarred and desolate countryside searching for a home DeHart’s narrative concentrates on the perspectives of a family of four caught in the after-effects of a recent nuclear holocaust. Every chapter is written in a distinctive, sometimes complimentary but often conflicting, voice and is told from the point of view of each member of the Sharpe family (Jerry, Susan, Melanie, and Scott.) DeHart occasionally interrupts the family’s journey by inserting chapters narrated by a gang of barbaric juvenile delinquents who have forgotten what it means to be civilized. When the two groups accidentally meet we see just how savage, loving, brutal, caring, indifferent, and angry humans can be towards each other.

The Unit is much more than a post-apocalyptic romp through the barren hills of charred central California, however. What makes this book special are the profound and complicated yet controversial themes explored through the experiences of each of the five central characters. The conflict of trust during war is common and each character gets caught up at least once with the issue of who is trustworthy and who should be shot on sight. While The Unit certainly covers the subject of survival in difficult times it also manages to explore the deeper realms of faith, morality, family, loyalty, and the psychological impact of survival after a catastrophic breakdown of civilization. The concept of instinctual human survival and the idea of maintaining civilized behavior in the face of horrendous brutality and cruelty is thrown into the face of the audience and we are forced to examine our own principles. What might we do in the same situation? How far would we go to protect our families? Would we throw decency out the window in favor of survival?

Not only does DeHart tell a good story but he also manages to speak with profound wisdom regarding the specific flaws and strengths of our society. Do we retain our sense of morality during societal collapse? Or do we become brute savages? Or, are we something entirely between the two? Are we, under pressure, who we hope we are inside? Good or bad he explores the deepest of human emotions and chronicles the reactions and feelings of very different individuals in one of the most stressful environments ever imagined. And he gets it totally right! Conflicts of trust, thoughts of spirituality and death, human cruelty and violence, love of family, abject hunger, protective instincts, absence of amenities, wariness of strangers, pain and suffering, and post-traumatic stress all fall into this vision of life after the collapse of civilization.

Terry DeHart demonstrates the rare ability to keep the action flowing without it interfering with the plot and he’s not afraid to explore the dark side of survival and the atrocities of conflict and disaster following the breakdown of law and order. In fact, he does an admirable job of describing the heart-rending and complicated range of emotions that might be felt in horrible, even macabre, situations by letting us see them through the diverse perspectives of a handful of characters. There are many disturbing scenes here, and I won’t give away too much for fear of spoiling the story, but the sad reality is that during a society-wide catastrophe some people will revert to barbarism, others will struggle against all odds to survive, and some will surrender to the eventuality of despair. That DeHart gives us concise and emotion-filled depictions of all three is a credit to his skill.

Recommended for fans of post-apocalyptic nuclear war, dystopia, guerilla warfare, fast-paced action, and survival. Read The Unit if you liked The Road; Oryx and Crake; Alas, Babylon ; Burn Down the Sky; Soft Apocalypse; Falling Skies; The Walking Dead; Desolation Road; or Feed .

4 ½ out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

The Unit Series by Terry DeHart
1. The Unit (2010)
2. The Sharpe’s Story (TBD)

Additional Reading:

Official Author Website

Author Website

Grasping for the Wind Review

The Unit – Chapter One


Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Book Review – The War That Came Early 03 – The Big Switch by Harry Turtledove

The War That Came Early 03 – The Big Switch
Harry Turtledove
Genre: Alternative History
Publisher: Del Rey
Trade Paperback
418 Pages
Publication Date: July 19th, 2011
ARC Trade Paperback Uncorrected Proof
ISBN-13: 978-0345491862


How does he do it? Harry Turtledove, the foremost alternate history writer in the world, maintains an instinctive ability to write grand, sweeping novels incorporating larger-than-life historic events such as World War II (albeit alternate and unconventional views of the same) while still managing to compress it into the emotions, daily events, and actions of the least, common man. Master storyteller Harry Turtledove begins this series with an interesting “what if” premise and follows it through to its logical conclusion. “What if U. K. Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, instead of placating Hitler, had defied him by not signing the Munich Agreement in 1938?”

No other author working in the field of speculative fiction today has such an accomplished grasp of narrating the all-encompassing alternate big picture while still retaining the ability to drill down to and explain all the fears, the uncommon bravery, and the irrational behavior of the common soldier, no matter what his nationality or which country he fights for. Mr. Turtledove entwines the alternate world-view with the human condition and continues to hold our attention throughout. And few, if any, can include so many characters in such an extensive, world-wide saga and still manage to draw them all back together. In fact, there are so many characters here that I found it hard to connect with some of them. While all were intriguing some of their stories were less interesting (and satisfying to me) than others, which may be the worst thing I can say about the book.

So, here’s the thing, why I think The War That Came Early is an exceptional work of alternate fiction. If you are not extremely familiar with World War II history you’ll be convinced that things happened exactly as Mr. Turtledove chronicles in The Big Switch. That’s because the stories are stimulating, fascinating, and entirely credible works of alternate history which tend to show how minor changes in the action or inaction by prominent players (and sometimes totally improbable characters) can cause huge changes in historic events. Mr. Turtledove accomplishes this better than anyone else in the genre and tells a great story in the process.

Recommended for history buffs, military strategists, alternate historians, and fans of sprawling, blood-and-guts war fiction.

Review copy provided free as part of the Early Reader program.

4 stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

The War That Came Early by Harry Turtledove
1. Hitler's War (2009) 4 stars out of 5
2. West and East (2010) 4 stars out of 5
3. The Big Switch (2011) 4 stars out of 5


Additional Reading:

Harry Turtledove Wiki

Random House Page

Harry Turtledove Website

Harry Turtledove Baen Webscription Page Turtledove Page