Book Review: Mission Critical, edited by Jonathan Strahan (Four Stars)


Book Review: Mission Critical, edited by Jonathan Strahan

(Four Stars)

“Chance wouldn’t save them. If she left this to chance, they would die.”

The best SF anthology I’ve read in years. Most anthologies trade on famous names or unlikely “best of” claims; this one focuses on short stories and novelettes about what happens after a disaster. Admittedly inspired by Andy Weir’s The Martian. Nice cover art.

“It’s easy to make a ‘hard’ choice when the price is paid by someone else.”

No story rates less than three stars; a few are outstanding. “This is not the Way Home” harks back to the Golden Age of SF but with Continue reading

Book Review: The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: edited by John Joseph Adams (Four Stars)

19386511Book Review: The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, edited by John Joseph Adams

(Four Stars)

“Speculations about the mental state of suspects are rarely so fruitful as concentration on the salient facts of the case.”

This anthology breaks the curse of mediocrity which bedevils the category. Worth reading to see how accomplished authors of various genres breathe new life into the familiar tropes of the classic detective duo.

“I wish you all the happiness you deserve.”

Each author puts his or her spin on Holmes, of course, but some manage to turn Holmes and Victorian England upside down. Often to entertaining effect. We find Holmes as a famous serial killer, homosexual, virgin, mystic, and a concert violinist, not to mention Continue reading

Book Review: The Dragon that Flew out of the Sun by Aliette de Bodard (Three Stars)


Book Review: The Dragon that Flew out of the Sun: Stories of the Xuya Universe by Aliette de Bodard

(Three Stars)

“Everything is a lie. Everything is a fragment of the truth.”

The collection contains the titular story plus “Ship’s Brother,” and “The Frost on the Jade Buds.”

“… seemed to be perpetual mourning, as if some spring within them had broken a long time ago.”

Well-written, but lacks depth. Presumably much backstory is developed in earlier Xuya Universe novels. This is not a good place to start.

“Tales for children. Bedtimes stories: the only narratives that can be stomached.”

(Illustration from deBodard’s website, not from collection.)

Book Review: One and Wonder: Piers Anthony’s Remembered Stories (Three Stars)


Book Review: One and Wonder: Piers Anthony’s Remembered Stories, Evan Filipek, Editor

Three Stars

An eclectic collection of early science fiction works selected for their seminal impact on Anthony. Some good science fiction: some good stories; some neither. Don’t read the Introduction by Piers Anthony: spoilers. Not all strictly SF, some stray into urban fantasy aor horror.

“Equalizer” by Jack Williamson (1947) “Man lives at the mercy of blind chance, surviving only through a peculiar combination of improbable factors.” Utopian twaddle we all sighed over. Well written and daring for that day. No, cold fusion (or whatever) is not the answer to world peace.

“Breaking Point” by James Gunn (1953) A psychological thriller. “For man’s sense is falsely asserted to be the standard of things; on the contrary, all the perceptions, both of the senses and of the mind, bear reference to man and not to the universe; and the human mind resembles those uneven mirrors which impart their own properties to different objects … and distorts and disfigures them …. For every one … has a cave or den of his own which refracts and discolors the light of nature.” Francis Bacon (1561-1626) “Reality is what it is, and not what it seems to be.” “… using a game whose rules he knew to relate to the one whose rules he didn’t know,”

“Vengeance for Nikolai” by Walter M. Miller, Jr. 1957. Urgh.

“Wherever You May be.” James Gunn 1957. “There was something about machines and the things they made which was basically alien to the human spirit. They might disguise themselves for a time as willing slaves, but eventually, inevitably, they turned against their masters. At the psychological moment, they rebelled.”

The only one I recommend skipping is “Ground Leave Incident” by Rog Phillips. It involves a rape and many of the archaic and offensive attitudes toward it of the twentieth century.

Book Review: Deeds of Honor by Elizabeth Moon (Four Stars)


Book Review: Deeds of Honor (Paksennerrion #10.5) by Elizabeth Moon

(Four Stars)

“Something would go wrong; something always did in war.”

Set in the world of the Paksennerrion tales, these short stories as less backstory as background. Each stands alone, concerning some minor or bridge character in the greater timeline. As the number implies, there’s a lot to cross connect.

“You can’t undo what is done or unsay what is said.”

I have only read The Farmer’s Daughter, but missing many connecting threads enhances the quality, if not the enjoyment, of these fragments. In fact, I enjoyed these short stories–because each was a self-contained whole–better than the sluggish longer work.

“Sometimes young men learn only from old men … willing to teach the hardest lessons the hardest way.”

Book Review: Pawn’s Gambit by Timothy Zahn (Three Stars)


Book Review: Pawn’s Gambit: and Other Stratagems by Timothy Zahn

(Three Stars)

“Physical reality is never obligated to correspond with our theories and constructs.”

An adequate collection of short science fiction. Quality decreases deeper into the book, however the last tale, the eponymous “Pawn’s Gambit,” is the best of the bunch.

“You risked your life to try to save people whose music you don’t even like.” “People are people, no matter what their tastes are.”

Quibble: No one would fly the two hundred miles from Frankfurt to Stuttgart. Train or car would be faster.

“Not paranoid, you understand, just cautious.”

Book Review: Stories of the Raksura 2 by Martha Wells (Three Stars)


Book Review: Stories of the Raksura 2: The Dead City & The Dark Earth Below by Martha Wells

(Three Stars)

“Now would be a good time to go, to fly west into the sun with no one to see. Except he didn’t appear to be doing that.”

Anthologies set in the world or featuring the cast of an author’s invented universe allow her to explore side issues, deepen characters and promote the greater series–especially when said short stories are offered free or included in other anthologies. Fans get a fix of a favored setting; new readers can sample without committing to a full novel. So it is here. Not great literature, not even as good as the Raksura novels, but enjoyable nonetheless.

“He had learned from bitter experiences not to try to explain unexplainable things.”

Book Review: From a Certain Point of View, edited by Ben Acker (Three Stars)


Book Review: From a Certain Point of View (Star Wars Disney Canon Novel)

(Three Stars)

“As if all the stories we heard as children were true.”

Forty authors celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Fourth Episode, but first movie, set “long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away.” What could go wrong?

“As Obi-Wan will soon learn, the most beautiful form of mastery is the art of letting go.”

Despite the prominent Disney appellation, not much goes wrong. Uneven quality, but a better-than-average anthology of stories surrounding A New Hope from the points of view of often-peripheral characters. A bit self-referential and tongue-in-cheek, but Continue reading

Book Review: Armored, edited by John Joseph Adams (Four Stars)


Book Review: Armored, edited by John Joseph Adams

(Four Stars)

“An awful lot of people go crazy, when you take the humanity away, and lock them inside a box.”

Better-than-average anthology. While some stories are SF combat, some aren’t. The common thread is that all involve a future version of whole-body armor. Explores many interpersonal and philosophic issues. My favorites were: Field Test, Don Quixote, and N-body Solution.

“It was never about armor … it was about the man inside.”

Book Review: Tales of Old Earth: Stories by Michael Swanwick (Four Stars)


Book Review: Tales of Old Earth: Stories by Michael Swanwick

(Four Stars)

“You won’t find the natural state here. We’re living in the aftermath.”

A really good collection of short stories. Many good stories about beginnings and endings, especially endings which may be beginnings. Lots of cliffhangers. Some post-apocalyptic, some deeply introspective. Some funny, some tragic, most thought provoking. All well fashioned.

“Self is an illusion … a fairy tale that your assemblers, sorters and functional transients tell each other.”

Swanwick has a gift with word images. Out of a few words, he fashions a complete context.

“…as cozy and snug as the inside of a walnut.”

Skip the Introduction Continue reading