The Secret Commonwealth (2019) by Philip Pullman

Remember Lyra and Pantalaimon?

I read and enjoyed Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy back when they were first published just over twenty years ago. I’ve wanted to re-read them for a while, but I haven’t got around to it yet. I bought The Book of Dust Vol.1: La Belle Sauvage when it came out in October 2017. I enjoyed it overall, but felt that something was lacking. Perhaps it was the lack of familiar characters, as Lyra is just a baby in that story which is set chronologically before the His Dark Materials trilogy. But there were moments of magic in there; enough to make me want to read the next volume of the Book of Dust: The Secret Commonwealth (2019).

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The Folding Knife (2010) by K.J. Parker

‘War is an admission of failure.’

I recently reviewed K.J. Parker’s novella The Devil You Know and enjoyed it very much. This led me to try one of his novels, so I bought a copy of The Folding Knife after reading some positive reviews. I was also swayed by the fact that this is a standalone story.

Publisher’s Synopsis

Basso the Magnificent. Basso the Great. Basso the Wise. The First Citizen of the Vesani Republic is an extraordinary man.

He is ruthless, cunning, and above all, lucky. He brings wealth, power and prestige to his people. But with power comes unwanted attention, and Basso must defend his nation and himself from threats foreign and domestic. In a lifetime of crucial decisions, he’s only ever made one mistake.

One mistake, though, can be enough.


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Die, Vol.1 (2019) & Vol.2 (2020) by Kieron Gillen & Stephanie Hans

Title: Die
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art: Stephanie Hans
Series: Die
Format: Kindle Edition
Length: Vol.1, 184 pages; Vol.2, 168 pages
Rating: ★★☆☆☆



Publisher’s Synopsis


Die is a pitch-black fantasy where a group of forty-something adults have to deal with the returning, unearthly horror they only just survived as teenage role-players. If Kieron’s in a rush, he describes it as “Goth Jumanji”, but that’s only the tip of this obsidian iceberg.

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In the Forests of Serre (2004) by Patricia McKillip

Beware of old women in the forest; especially if they live in a hut that can sprout chicken legs and run! I first came across Baba Yaga in an issue of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic. The story was titled “The Hunt” and was published in issue #38 back in June 1992. She wasn’t as scary as when I later encountered her in a couple of issues of the comic book Hellboy.

Here is a quote from Wikipedia’s page on the character:

‘In Slavic folklore, Baba Yaga is a supernatural being who appears as a deformed or ferocious-looking old woman. In Russian folklore, Baba Yaga flies around in a mortar, wields a pestle, and dwells deep in the forest in a hut usually described as standing on chicken legs.’

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Elric of Melnibone and Other Stories (2013) by Michael Moorcock

‘And a helm was on his head; a black helm, with a dragon’s head craning over the peak, and dragon’s wings flaring backward above it, and a dragon’s tail curling down the back.’

Yes, I’m very late to the tales of Elric VIII, 428th Emperor of Melniboné. His first appearance was in a novelette titled “The Dreaming City” which was published in the British magazine Science Fantasy in 1961. Since then, Moorcock’s most famous creation has featured in a wide range of stories including short stories, novels, comic books and graphic novels. The publisher Gollancz republished all of Moorcock’s Elric back catalogue over seven volumes from 2013–15. This is the first volume and serves as an introduction to the character.

Gollancz UK 2013 edition
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A Feast for Crows (2005) by George R.R. Martin

Aemon’s blind white eyes came open. “Egg?” he said, as the rain streamed down his cheeks. “Egg, I dreamed that I was old.”

2005’s A Feast for Crows appears to divide opinion more than any of the previous three books in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. One reason for this was the author’s decision to chop this fourth installment into two parts due to its excessive length. (The second part would eventually be released in 2011 as A Dance with Dragons). The author then upset fans even more by leaving the plot threads of his three most popular characters hanging until the following book. So readers had to wait six more years to discover what became of Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow, and Danaerys Targaryan.

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US Hardcover (First edition)

A Feast for Crows continues the narrative from the point of view of twelve characters, both major and minor. Jaime Lannister, Brienne of Tarth, Sansa and Arya Stark get the majority of the chapters. It is notable that Martin takes us inside Cersei Lannister’s head for the first time in this book and we get to hear her first-person narration of events. Additionally, we are introduced to Aeron Greyjoy–a priest of the Drowned God–and discover more about the ways of the Iron Islands and their inhabitants. Continue reading

“Requiescat in Pace” Gene Wolfe, (1931~2019)

“I would like [my readers] to better understand human beings and human life as a result of having read [my] stories. I’d like them to feel that this was an experience that made things better for them and an experience that gave them hope.” – Gene Wolfe


I was very sad to read of the passing of the American science fiction and fantasy writer Gene Wolfe. I’d heard nothing about it until I saw this article on Tor.com. I’ve only read a couple of books by Wolfe and this is something I am determined to remedy. I just wish it hadn’t taken such upsetting news to push me into rediscovering his writing. Continue reading

Witches Abroad (1991) by Terry Pratchett

‘Forever didn’t seem to last as long these days as once it did.’

My recent re-read of Pratchett & Gaiman’s sublime Good Omens (1990) led me to seek out the Discworld books that were published around the same time, (give or take a couple of years). Witches Abroad is the twelfth Discworld novel and the third featuring the Witches, preceded by Equal Rites (1987) and Wyrd Sisters (1988). It stars Pratchett’s holy trinity of Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlik.

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Witches Abroad opens with a death. Desiderata Hollow, witch and fairy godmother, bequeaths her magic wand to Magrat Garlik before she passes on to the undiscovered country. This leads to Magrat becoming fairy godmother to Emberella, a young woman who lives in the land of Genua, far across the Disc. Now responsible for young Emberella, Magrat must journey to Genua and help her get out of an impending, unwanted wedding. Not trusting Magrat with the responsibility of her new role or her new wand, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg insist on accompanying her abroad. Continue reading

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Twelve (2018) Edited by Jonathan Strahan

 

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Background

The Best SF&F Volume Twelve contains 29 short stories of genre fiction selected by Jonathan Strahan. I was so impressed with last year’s Volume Eleven that I didn’t hesitate to buy this new Volume Twelve when it was released in March 2018. It is another high-quality collection in which every story deserves to be read. Authors include Charlie Jane Anders, Samuel R. Delany, Greg Egan, Dave Hutchinson, Caitlin R Kiernan, Yoon Ha Lee, Max Gladstone, Alastair Reynolds, and many more.

In his introduction, Strahan offers some of his highlights of the year including the resurgence of “the novella,” which suggests that readers are keen to read more short fiction. Strahan recommends Tor.com for the regular “free” short stories it provides. He also comments on the continuing quality of such monthly publications as Lightspeed, Asimov’s, Interzone, Uncanny, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and more. Continue reading

Good Omens (1990) by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

“Anyway, if you stop tellin’ people it’s all sorted out after they’re dead, they might try sorting it all out while they’re alive. ”

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Cover Artwork by Graham Ward

“She was beautiful, but she was beautiful in the way a forest fire was beautiful: something to be admired from a distance, not up close.”


 

Wow! Is this book already almost thirty years old? I remember buying the first paperback edition back in the days of Gaiman’s Sandman comic book series. In fact, the author used the Sandman’s letters page to announce Good Omens’ release. I remember that, too. So, this is what getting old feels like.

Good Omens is a black-comedy about Armageddon set at the end of the 1980s. Its main characters are an angel, a demon, a witch, a witch-finder, the antichrist and his friends. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse also feature. It was written by Neil Gaiman, (Sandman, American Gods, Coraline, The Graveyard Book) and Terry Pratchett, (The Discworld series). Continue reading