Alternative Worlds: Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Reviews

03rd April 2015

Fantasy and sci-fi book reviews

Alternative Worlds 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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Latest Reviews

November 10, 2013

Contagion-Tim Lebbon

Tim Lebbon
Pyr, Nov 5 2013, $17.99
ISBN: 9781616148218

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.

Harriet Klausner

September 18, 2013

Cain’s Blood-Geoffrey Girard

Cain’s Blood
Geoffrey Girard
Touchstone, Sep 3 2013, $25.99
ISBN 9781476704043

In Pennsylvania, six young subjects escape from the Dynamic Solutions Technology Institute, but not before they massacred most of the staff and took a few as prisoners. Also missing is Dr. Gregory Jacobsen who led the cloning experiment and probably abetted the escape by the six clones of notorious serial killers.

Special Ops veteran Shawn Castillo leads the search for the murderous clones starting at the DSTI facility and then Dr. Jacobson’s home. He quickly learns that the scientists created more subjects than they reported with some adopted by unaware caring families. Jacobsen kept one child with him, Jeffrey who recently learned that his true sire is Dahmer. With Jeffrey as his sidekick, Castillo hunts the killers.

This is a taut DNA thriller filled with insight and asides into cloning that enhance the horror of what Jacobson and others have wrought though the lead geneticist is no regretting “Modern Prometheus” (Mary Shelley). Once again as with the YA companion piece Project Cain, the underlying premise that the military would consider using serial killers seems wrong; as besides being loners psychologically unfit for a cohesive unit, consider the PR from news media telling grieving moms that their child died from a Dahmer clone in a friendly fire incident. Still this is an action-packed suspense that makes a strong cautionary case when it comes to cloning humans.

Harriet Klausner

September 5, 2013

Chimes at Midnight-Seanan McGuire

Filed under: Author: M,Fantasy,Title: C

Chimes at Midnight
Seanan McGuire
DAW, Sep 1 2013, $7.99
ISBN 9780756408145

In San Francisco, the relationship between half-Fae private detective October “Toby” Daye and King of the Cats Tybalt is as strong as it ever has been. Toby becomes concerned when changeling corpses die from goblin fruit overdose. Investigating the drug-related deaths leads Toby to her adversary the Queen of the Mists.

The untouchable royal orders Toby to leave the Bay area or face retaliation much worse than banishment. A shimmer of hope to remain in San Francisco surfaces when clues claim the monarch may be a pretender sitting on the throne. However with time against her, Toby and her friends search for the true ruler.

The latest Toby Daye urban fantasy (see Ashes of Honor) is a taut thriller with a fabulous midcourse twist from an illegal drug problem to a political ruler legitimacy issue causing tremors throughout the magical McGuire milieu. Terrific Toby is at her best as she knows she and her friends are in trouble if she fails to produce the real monarch with time on the side of her diabolically brilliant opponent.

Harriet Klausner

June 7, 2013

A Captain and a Corset-Mary Wine

Filed under: Author: M,Fantasy,Title: C

A Captain and a Corset
Mary Wine
Sourcebooks, Jun 4 2013, $6.99
ISBN: 9781402264832

In 1843 London, Sophia Stevenson knows she will never go back to her rigid frivolous Victorian life before the Root Ball changed her. Now inside the Illuminist’s Solitary Chamber she is the rarest of the rare a Navigator in training to guide ships.

Her instructor Captain Bion Donkova is stern and demanding, which angers and frustrates Sophia who struggles to adjust to her new lifestyle though she respects the Illuminist’s goal to make the world a better place for all. He thinks she is too frivolous and troublesome as she does not appreciate what she possesses. However, each conceals their attraction from one another. One of the unfriendly groups abducts Sophia in order to use her abilities to further their agenda to grab power. Wishing his beloved student was more biddable and adhered to the rules, a worried Bion pursues the kidnappers to rescue the woman he loves.

The second Illuminist steampunk romantic thriller (see A Lady Can Never Be Too Curious) is a fast-paced action-packed tale that never slows down from the moment Sophia is snatched. The villains are top of the line and in many ways steal the show (along with the wonderful Wine world) from the protagonists. Although the romance feels rushed, fans will enjoy the thrilling A Captain and A Corset.

Harriet Klausner

June 5, 2013

Cradle Lake-Ronald Malfi

Filed under: Author: M,Horror,Title: C

Cradle Lake
Ronald Malfi
Medallion, Jun 1 2013, $14.95
ISBN 9781605425108

English college professor Alan Hammerstun inherits a house from his paternal Uncle Phillip; a man he met a few times and a place he visited once thirty years ago. He persuades his wife Heather to move from New York where they lived their entire lives to start fresh in this home in the Smoky Mountains. Depressed Heather agrees to leave the bad memories of two miscarriages and her subsequent suicide attempt behind. Thus they and Jerry Lee the farting dog drive to North Carolina.

Their new neighbors seem young, healthy and friendly, and the air quality perfect. Oriole fanatics especially Hank Gerski befriends him. Alan finds a path with strange stone markers through the forest. That night he dreams the path leads to a lake and he dives into it. When a child is hit by a car, Hank and others carry the injured lad to the nearby lake. The kid heals almost instantly. The neighbors warn him to be careful with the lake; while psychic George YoungCalfRibs tells him the lake can do bad things against those poisoning the land and water. Alan ignores them as he spends all his time there wondering if this water will heal Heather’s health issues unaware of his increasing paranoia that the neighbors hold him culpable.

Cradle Lake is an exciting horror tale that feels like a throwback to 1970s books and movies in which Mother Nature revenges the destruction of the environment. Readers will be hooked early on as the atmosphere gets increasingly darker as Alan who holds the storyline focused slowly loses his mind. Although fans will anticipate the climax, Ronald Malfi provides a tense thriller.

Harriet Klausner

May 26, 2013

Creator II: Human Behavior Explored-Allen Pollens

Creator II: Human Behavior Explored
Allen Pollens
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, Feb 8 2013, $14.99
ISBN: 9781482011067

In 2014, the Guardians of the Universe ordered Professor Thomas Scribner to act as human witness to an inquiry. Seven pass judgment on the eighth, the Creator of planet Earth whose experiment went wrong due to the psychopathic selfishness of the individuals making up the dominant sentient species. If ruled a colossal failure the free will test subjects will be terminated (see Creator: Apocalyptic Sci-Fi Epic, Earth’s Human Behavior Confronted).

In 2015, Harvard University History Professor Jeffrey Lerner agrees to go back in time to study human behavior in order to isolate the cause(s) that has led to endless violence; his findings are due to the Guardians of the Universe in 2024. From his home in Sudbury and with help from his teaching assistants Hank and Kathy, he makes his first stop in 3900 BCE, Jerusalem where he meets with Priest Jacob, Saul, David, Judith, Samuel and Laban where he uses the name Jethro and learns about the origins of the True One God religion(s) of Abraham and his offspring as well as female subjection to the rule of man.

The second Creator science fiction epic continues the look at irrational bellicose human behavior throughout history with a focus on key religious events in creating the Abrahamic religions and seeking why women were less than cattle. Though this entry can stand alone, reading book one enhances the understanding of the Guardians especially the Creator. With a fantastic late Hail Mary time travel twist to attempt to save mankind (and his heart), readers will relish this insightful look at humanity beginning with the origin of the Adam and Eve legend; as the Guardians paraphrasing H. Rap Brown believe that “violence is as (human) as cherry pie.”

Harriet Klausner

May 22, 2013

Children of the Gates-Andre Norton

Filed under: Author: N,Fantasy,Title: C

Children of the Gates
Andre Norton
Baen, May 7 2013, $13.00
ISBN: 978-1451638899

“Here Abide Monsters:” On this apparent parallel earth where elven roam, creatures in flying saucers abduct and enslave newcomers. Avalon the herald offers safety at a cost to recent travelers from various earth ages who unfortunately fell through the Gate; they must give to him part of their soul.

“Yurth Burden.” On the Zacar plains dwell the Raski farmers while in the mountain reside the Yurth with their Upper Sense. The two races are in a constant state of hostility with horrific wars occurring. When a Raski warrior Stans follows a Yurth woman Elossa on her coming of age quest, he knows he must kill her.

Children of the Gates contains reprints of two wonderful 1970s tales. Yurth Burdon is especially timely leaving the audience to ponder the long term impact of racial hatred.

Harriet Klausner

March 21, 2013

Creator: Apocalyptic Sci-Fi Epic, Earth’s Human Behavior Confronted-Allen Pollens

Creator: Apocalyptic Sci-Fi Epic, Earth’s Human Behavior Confronted
Allen Pollens
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, Apr 13 2011, $14.99
ISBN: 9781456306700

On June 14, 2014 in New York City, Professor Thomas Scribner receives a summons to appear at an inquiry to bear witness. He is given no choice whether to appear at the inquest as no essence can refuse the Guardians of the Universe. Seven Guardians are passing judgment on an eighth, the Creator of planet Earth where an experiment went wrong due to the psychopathic selfishness of the individuals making up the dominant sentient species. If ruled a colossal failure the free will test subjects will be terminated.

A stunned Scribner sees a wake-up tragedy the next day and knows he must turn humanity around before mankind’s eradication. He persuades student assistants Susan Bellwether and Andrew Brown to help him write the “Words of the Creator” and convince an avarice world to adhere to “The Credo.” As the world devolves over the years, mostly due to religious dogmatic wars and environmental destruction, the Creator increasingly believes the noble experiment failed. Disheartened the Creator creates warning calamities in 2025 and 2035, but few heed the message. Over those same decades, the three messengers, though considered by most as lunatics, continue their efforts to save earth while marrying and having children. However, a sad Creator leans towards pulling the plug.

With a nod to the song In the Year 2525 (by Zager and Evans), Allen Pollens provides a deep apocalyptic science fiction epic centered on Earth’s Creator confronting human behavior in a refreshing profound Creationism-Judgment Day parable. Fast-paced from the moment a bewildered professor finds himself in Times Square to bear witness to a calamity, readers will appreciate this strong tale as the displeased Creator begins the end.

Harriet Klausner

March 19, 2013

The Chosen-Theresa Meyers

Filed under: Author: M,Fantasy,Title: C

The Chosen
Theresa Meyers
Zebra, Mar 5 2013, $6.99
ISBN: 9781420121261

“The Chosen.” In 1883 Arizona, as the Chosen Darkin hunters, attorney Remington Jackson and his brothers, Winchester (see The Slayer) and Colt (see The Hunter) grew up being trained to fight evil. Currently they each must find a segment of the Book of Legend in order to combine the tome needed to prevent Hell from invading earth. In the Bisbee Mining Camp, Remy enlists the help of incarcerated shapeshifting thief China McGee whose skills he needs to steal his part of the tome. The Darkin, who has worked with Colt, agrees to assist him in return for her freedom, but China has plans for the relic that do not include Remy. In the Aztec jungle, as they fight for their lives, China widens her options to partner with Remy long after the mission is done, if they survive.

“The Inventor.” In 1868 London Sir Marley Turlock works on his invention in order to obtain membership in the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain by impressing Queen Victoria though he has hit a glitch. Lady Persephone Hargrieve works alongside of him and soon afterward her father Lord Hargrieve asks Marley to join in the fight against Darken. Skeptical, the inventor joins the battle against demons, vampires and those even more lethal evil.

The Chosen, the third Legend Chronicles, is an exciting Wild West urban romantic fantasy starring the last Jackson sibling and a master Darkin thief who Colt insists can steel rail from underneath a train. Action-packed throughout with a strong cast, readers will enjoy the rumble in the jungle as time has run out on the Jackson brothers. Additionally, the bonus prequel the Inventor looks at a key series support character Sir Marley’s introduction to the Darkin.

Harriet Klausner

March 13, 2013

Calvert the Raven in the Battle of Baltimore: Flying Through History

Calvert the Raven in the Battle of Baltimore: Flying Through History
J. Scott Fuqua
Bancroft Press, Mar 4 2013, $7.99 (trade), $17.99 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781610880787 (trade); 9781610880770 (hardcover)

At school in Baltimore, Daniel studies the boring War of 1812 musing how he will stay awake reading this ennui fight while also wondering why no cameras were invented to at least take still photos. His teacher writes “Terrible” on his report.

Calvert the raven shocks Daniel when he speaks to the lad saying he will prove firsthand that history is exciting. He takes the skeptical student back to 1814 Baltimore where the British army and navy attack Fort McHenry. Explaining to the stunned child that history is fluid as there is a distinct possibility that this time the Star-Spangled Banner may not wave comes morning.

The first Flying Through History tale is a superb historical (with speculative elements like time travel and anthropomorphism) as the illustrations enhance a deep look at the battle that led to the National Anthem. Elementary school students will want to sear back in time with Calvert as he makes his case that history is thrilling using “empirical experience”.

Harriet Klausner

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