is a science fiction and fantasy book review site, written and published by accomplished reviewer Harriet Klausner. For more information, please check the About page.
Please feel free to use the links below to navigate to book reviews alphabetically, either by Author Name, or Book Title, or else use the main left-hand links to main genres, or most recent reviews.
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December 6, 2013
Baen, Dec 3 2013, $25.00
Billionaire Art Thrasher dreams of a manned mission to Mars. He concludes the incompetent government will not undertake the endeavor. Using his business reputation and personal assets as collateral, Art persuades wealthy acquaintances to join him on funding the hundred billion dollar five-year venture.
One year into the project, Thrasher’s Mars vision increasingly seems probable. However, there is strong opposition to his program especially the nuclear propulsion power source that opponents claim too dangerous because if something goes wrong during the launch would prove catastrophic. Additionally adversaries sabotage the mission pushing it behind schedule and upsetting the backers.
Ben Bova opens a new science fiction series based on the premise that a Billionaire’s Club private business consortium will take on a manned Martian mission. The storyline is at its best explaining the scientific knowledge and theories and on the engineering issues that surface over the five years of development. The saboteurs’ subplot feels more like required action filler especially once the underlying reason surfaces and the protagonist seems like a fidgety P.T. Barnum with long legged groupies. Still readers will enjoy Mr. Bova’s return to space after he escorted fans on the Grand Tour of the solar system.
December 2, 2013
Del Rey, Jan 28 2014, $25.00
Unlike his older brother Kieran, his sister Leanna and their Mother; sixteen year old Darrow watched stoically when the Golds tried and convicted his father, and the Greys hung his dad with the felon’s loved one’s pulling his feet to overcome the scarcity of gravity on Mars. Along with his family, as part of the lowest strata consisting of underground Red miners, Darrow works in hell digging for valuable helium-3 so that his offspring may have a better life on a terraformed surface.
When Darrow’s wife Little Eo learns the lies the elite has told about the hostile surface conditions as living planet-side is safe abundant with cities; she somberly sings a banned hymn. The upper strata convict and hang her. Grieving the loss of his spouse and childhood best friend, Darrow seeks revenge. The rebellious Sons of Ares offer him an opportunity, which he accepts. Following surgery and intense weeks of training, Darrow gains admission to the exclusive Institute. There he struggles to adjust at a school in which power is the only prize coveted by the surface aristocratic students and faculty while the losers’ lament are death or servitude; and students like Darrow are expendables at any time.
With a nod to the Hunger Games, Red Rising is an action-packed science fiction thriller that never slows from the moment Father is executed for dancing. Though the premise offers nothing new, this fast-paced Martian thriller grips the audience as the lowly Red surfaces driven by a bone marrow deep purpose to change the social order that he used to believe in.
Baen, Dec 3 2013, $15.00
This enjoyable collection showcases Mercedes Lackey short story skills as most of the compilation is entertaining especially the author’s various fantasy series. Part I contains reprints of previously published anthologies (“Fiddler Fair” and “Werehunter”). Part II provides five new Secret World Chronicles.
“Fiddler Fair” (1998). The twelve fantasy entries remain enjoyable with the best adding depth to Lackey’s worlds such as the Free Bard title tale and the Spellsingers stories (“Balance” and “Dragon’s Teeth”) focusing on the changing relationship between Martis and her new bodyguard Lyran. The rest of the fiction are fun entries such as the Sooner who explains “Aliens Ate My Pickup”; the alternate history of what happened to Lawrence of Arabia in “Jihad”; and the healer who sees Cerridwen’s Cauldron while the nun looking at the same object proclaims the Holy Grail. The inclusion of the essay “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” seems out of place as the misleading opening act.
“Werehunter” (1999). The highlights are those taking place in one of the series. The two Diana Tregarde investigations (“Satanic, Versus” and “Nightside”) are superb while the Mem’sab Harton’s “Grey” and “Grey’s Ghost” come across as exciting Tregarde-light. The four “SKitty” entries (“SKitty”, “A Tail of Two SKitties, SCat” and “A Better Mousetrap”) focus on the Brightwing agreement with the Lacu’un. There is also one intriguing Valdemar entry (“Stolen Silver”) in which we learn how Alberich became the Heralds’ Collegium’s weaponsmaster. The rest are engaging but feel more like filler.
Secret World Chronicles. These well-written five tales include WW II prequels (“Valse Triste”, “White Bird” and “Sgian Dubh”) and two others occurring just after the first novel coauthored respectively with Dennis Lee and Cody Martin.
November 22, 2013
The Grey Star
Medallion Press, Dec 1 2013, $9.99
In their quest to obtain the Risa Star shards, the weary Apollonians have won a battle on oceanic planet Nexus that destroyed much of the world and left the Emperor dead. However, they and the apparent Ubermensch Jack have no time to celebrate or even rest. Their adversaries the Cult of Dionysus members remain powerful with plans to obtain and deploy the Risa Star that will kill billions. In combat, the Cult’s disregard for collateral damage gives them a fighting edge over the Apollonians.
Making matters more complicated and dangerous for Jack and his allies is they must split up in their task of gaining the final two shards. However, the weight of the universe is on the Ubermensch who faces an enemy so great, his only chance of winning seems to lie with mass destruction.
This Seven Stars middle school fantasy is a fast-paced tale although the predictive final confrontation is slowed considerably by passive explanatory commentary rather than active combat except for an odd climatic battle. Jack is a solid hero matured by the fight while his prime opponent seems greater than him. Tweeners and young teens will enjoy the third novel if they read the previous two thrillers (see The Black Rose and The White Fox).
November 21, 2013
Harlequin Teen, Nov 26 2013, $7.99
Like everyone in society, Kitty Doe took the Test at seventeen, but scored a disappointing rank of III branded into her neck. This means a lowly job in Denver, a life span of forty and the loss of her boyfriend Benjy with his superior VI.
A District of Columbia Shield mentions to Kitty that her eyes are the same coloring as Prime Minister Daxton Hart’s deceased niece Lila Hart. Later that day, Colonel Sampson and that same Shield arrive at the group home seeking Kitty. The “mother” Nina Doe tells them to try the train station or the clubs. Associate Tabs takes Kitty to a prostitution club where Sampson and the Shield guard Prime Minister Hart are. The PM offers her a chance to become a VII; a ranking only obtained by the Hart family. She agrees to surgery that changes Kitty Doe lowly III into Lila Hart lofty VII. However, instead of adulation and not lacking for anything, the “Masked” Kitty soon learns of Lila’s rebellious activity and what happened to the wife and child of her “uncle”.
The first Blackcoat Rebellion is a fabulous young adult dystopian thriller in which America is a very rigid numerological social order. With an obvious nod to the Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games (especially the districts), the D.C. by the numbers neighborhoods and a fully developed cast especially the protagonist make the Carter caste society feel genuine in an entertaining opening act.
November 17, 2013
The Severed Tower
J. Barton Mitchell
St. Martin’s Dunne, Nov 19 2013, $18.99
A decade ago the Assembly arrived and abducted almost every American adult. Since the ethnic cleaning, these aliens have controlled most of the country while human teen outlaw bands continue to prey on the struggling survivors, mostly young children. Bounty hunter Holt Hawkins, his partner Max the dog and fugitive Mira Toombs teamed up to rescue Zoey, who the Assembly coveted for her magical skills. The unlikely quartet headed to Midnight City; seeking to find out who Zoey is and why the Assembly wanted her, but none of them anticipated Zoey’s power until she defeated an Assembly army (see Midnight City).
Seeking The Severed Tower for further information on the prophecies and hopefully Zoey’s destiny that they found out about in Midnight City, the foursome enter the Strange Lands. There they quickly learn none of their experiences and knowledge applies; as the known laws of physics no longer work here. The Assembly and human enemies led by Ravan the pirate pursue them because Zoey is a valuable commodity and they owe her companions while the target increasingly becomes enervated each step closer to their destination.
The second Conquered Earth science fiction is an enjoyable young adult post-apocalyptic thriller starring likable protagonists and vile antagonists in a weird wonderland. Though it behooves newbies to read Midnight City first to understand how the beleaguered heroes became a team with bulls-eyes on their chest, fans will enjoy this taut tale.
November 12, 2013
Spheres of Influence
Ryk E. Spoor
Baen, Nov 5 2013, $15.00
The Arena names Holy Grail starship pilot Ariane Austin as the Leader of the Faction of Humanity while she and the crew struggle to adhere to the rigid rules of the Arena as they compete with less scrupulous races also trying to gain higher social hierarchal status. Hyperion Super Marc DuQuesne introduces Ariane to other experiment survivors before visiting and asking Hyperion Sun Wu Kung the Monkey God of a virtual world to return to the real realm as they need his expertise.
Ariane learns that Oscar Naraj has become the Space Security Council chief with his loyal supporter Michelle Ni Deng assisting him. They are coming to the Grand Central Arena on the FTL ship Duta, which means physicist ship designer Dr. Marilyn Shoshana, who DuQuesne insists is a psychopathic murdering Hyperion Super, betrayed them. The Holy Grail returns to the Arena just before the arrival of the Duta. Ariane informs an angry Naraj that the Arena named her as the Leader of the Humanity Faction and that the only mission remains for their species to prove its worthiness is to join this association or face extinction.
Once again paying homage to E. E. “Doc” Smith, the sequel to Grand Central Arena is an exciting science fiction. The Holy Grail crew led by awesome Ariane must deal with competing species, learning Arena rules of order, partner with wary Super Hyperions, and prevent another human faction nuking their chances. Although the storyline does not move forward much, readers of the previous Arena thriller will enjoy this solid outer space first contact saga.
November 10, 2013
Pyr, Nov 5 2013, $17.99
Several years have passed since the 2017 Doomsday terrorist attack left London an isolated Toxic City (see London Eye) surrounded by Chopper troops assigned to use deadly force to keep survivors inside and other people outside. The rest of Britain and the world believe no one lives within this wasteland, but those who do are considered expendable experimental guinea pigs.
Apparently due to the healing touch of enigmatic Nomad, some of those “trapped” inside the dead city like Jack and Lucy-Anne are developing odd powers (see Reaper’s Legacy). Jack learns that in seventeen hours the final solution will occur when the Choppers detonate a nuclear bomb to eradicate London and bury their test specimens. With the assistance of Lucy-Anne and Nomad, Jack must warn Londoners, but even with the doomsday clock counting down, he knows he first must commit patricide by confronting his father the Reaper.
The third taut Toxic City post-apocalyptic thriller will remind readers of the TV show 24 as each chapter contains one hour closer to the nuking of London. With a stunning climax, fast-paced and filled with action except when wallowing Jack (in those non-heroic introspective moments) too frequently feels remorse for killing those who want to kill him. Still series fans will enjoy climatic Contagion.
The God Tattoo: Untold Tales from the Twilight Reign
Pyr, Nov 5 2013, $18.00
This superb eleven story collection enhances the macro view of the Twilight Reign fantasy saga with a darker micro level return to the Land. In the opening act, “A Beast in Velvet” brutally hunts the residents of Narkang with a calling card of battered corpses and enigmatic runes. Daken the mercenary believes mages are natural born sociopaths while the indifference of the Gods makes both groups untrustworthy with their hidden agendas in the title story. Now retired, “The Marshal’s Reflection” of a time just before the war came to Narkang remains vivid. Marshal Calath learns a life lesson that good intentions do not necessarily mean good outcomes in “A Man from Thistledell”. All the entries are excellent leading to Twilight Reign fans relishing this strong anthology and newbies showing their appreciation by reading the novels.
November 7, 2013
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Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Baen, Nov 5 2013, $25.00
On Verstal, junior galactic trader Jethri ven’Deelin the human works deals with Liaden traders. When he completes these transactions, retired trader tel’Linden shows him items for sale to include outlawed Old Tech and other merchandise. After haggling, they agree on a price.
Jethri returns to the Clan Ixin Tradeship Elthoria to continue his training on Terran and Liaden contract law and customs; especially intriguing to the trader is the Terran birthright principle and the Liaden concept of Balance. Liaden Clan Ixin Master Trader Norn ven’Deelin consults with the Elthoria’s weapons master Pen Rel about her adopted son Jethri’s abilities. Shortly afterward Liaden Scout ter’Astin arranges to meet them at Boltston; where he and Jethri as Second Board leave together on his ship.
The second Liaden Universe coming of age prequel is a fascinating outer space thriller that enables reader to better understand Liaden clan and Terran social orders through the eyes of a neophyte in training. Although the well-written insightful storyline feels somewhat like a middle tale with most threads left dangling, the cast is fully developed especially Jethri and those in direct contact with him. Saga fans will enjoy this entry, but should read Balance of Trade first to know how Jethri got to where he is.