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

September 13, 2012

Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone-Stefan Kiesbye

Filed under: Author: K,Horror,Title: Y

Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone
Stefan Kiesbye
Penguin, Sep 25 2012 $15.00
ISBN: 9780143121466

Retired Christian the widower comes home from Buffalo, New York to Hemmersmoor, Germany for the first time in years but it is too late to attend his mother’s funeral. When he was young, he had three close friends in the village, but over time the quartet grew apart. However, Martin, Christian, Linde and Anke knew geography, changing relationships and age were not the underlying cause of their separation four decades ago. Instead each looks back to the dark secrets that cursed them and Hemmersmoor.

This is a psychological horror tale in which the atmosphere haunts the older townsfolk (and readers) while the younger ones scoff at their alleged superstition. The quartet ironically realizes that forty years ago they were the ridiculing youth scorning their elders’ fears. Rotating perspective between the four protagonists as they look back to a period when they were changing from youthful innocents to fearful unwanted maturity, fans will appreciate this dark thriller.

Harriet Klausner

July 6, 2012

The Year’s Best Science Fiction 29th Annual Collection-Gardner Dozois

The Year’s Best Science Fiction 29th Annual Collection
Edited by Gardner Dozois
St Martins, Jul 3 2012, $21.99
ISBN 9781250003553

This annual collection consistently is one of the best and the latest anthology obtains the high standard due to the overall strength of the thirty-five entries. My advanced reader copy failed to include the year’s Summation essay so I obviously cannot comment on that. Many of the stories are award nominees with several winners. The sources range from the internet to magazines to books with few contributions from the less commonly known online sources. In “The Choice” by Paul McAuley occurs after the Spasm left the world devastated with places like Norfolk, England under water as two lads visit the sea dragon craft of aliens. The police suspect Dolly (by Elizabeth Bear) the sex robot was either the weapon or the killer of her viciously murdered owner. Linnea is stunned as to whatever that terrible thing is that has her mom leaving their home built by The Coffin People in The Dala Horse by Michael Stanwick; note that my advanced copy did not include the wonderful illustrations by Julie Dixon as found at http://www.tor.com/stories. In “Ghostweight” by Yoon Ha Lee, on Rhaion Lisse hosts a ghost as she becomes an Imperial cadet with one goal to destroy those who assaulted her village when she was a child. He is in charge of building a bridge over the mist in “The Man Who Bridged the Mist” by Kij Johnson is a wonderful novella about a man in charge of building a bridge over a mysterious substance known as mist. In “The Cold Step Beyond” by Ian R. MacLeod, Bess of the Warrior Church travels to an isolated sector of Island City of Ghezirah where she is to kill someone.

Harriet Klausner

November 12, 2010

The Youngest Templar: Orphan of Destiny-Michael P. Spradlin

Filed under: Author: S,Fantasy,Title: Y

The Youngest Templar: Orphan of Destiny
Michael P. Spradlin
Putnam, Oct 28 2010, $17.99
ISBN: 9780399247651

In 1191, Tristan of St. Albans continues his quest to complete the mission of the Holy Grail as assigned to him by Sir Thomas in Outremer (see Keeper of the Grail). Thanks in major part to his companions Robard, Maryam the Al Hasshashin and Angel arrive in Calais (see Trail of fate). However, the lunatic chasing them from the Holy Land Sir Hugh threatens to hang Maryam of Tristan fails to hand over the Grail. Tristan holds Queen Mother Eleanor hostage, but all seems lost. Although Tristan is hurt and unconscious, they manage to row across the Channel landing two days south of Dover where Sir Hugh awaits them.

With no place to go with the Grail except St. Albans in Scotland, they head there. However, ha harrowing trek upon arrival, they find the abbey burned to the ground. Only Brother Tuck lives. While Tristan and his allies ponder what to do with the Grail, Tuck gives him letters from the late King Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Brother Rupert; the correspondence explains all Tristan as coveted knowing.

Orphan of Destiny is a fabulous fitting finish to a strong young adult late twelfth century thriller. Fast-paced with amazing action, readers will enjoy the final stretch of the quest as the trio struggles to find someone to trust with the Grail while Hugh continues to apply the pressure on them. Fans will enjoy the adventures of The Youngest Templar as he risks his life to complete the pledge he made to his mentor Sir Thomas in Outremer.

Harriet Klausner

June 16, 2010

The Year’s best Science Fiction Twenty-Seventh Annual Collection-Gardner Dozois (editor)

Filed under: Author: D,Fantasy,Title: Y

The Year’s best Science Fiction Twenty-Seventh Annual Collection
Gardner Dozois (editor)
St. Martin’s Griffin, Jul 6 2010, $21.99
ISBN: 9780312608989

This anthology always lives up to its hyped title as the “best” as Gardner Dozois does his usual yeoman’s job of selecting from print and the net a strong collection; this time thirty-two short stories (631 pages of contributions). The Summation of 2009 is the usual profound absorbing essay that focuses on the good with overall strong creative writings especially in book anthologies and on the Internet; and the bad with the continual collapse especially early in the year of print magazines and the panic amongst publishing firms as Mr. Dozois says reminiscent of the 1929 Wall St. collapse though as I say no one jumped. In his article he recommends going to the Internet as the anthology golden age is ebbing but the year also turned to hard copy retrospective anthologies of famous authors.

Most of the selected shorts in this year’s collection are from known authors like Ian McDonald, Robert Chares Wilson and Nancy Kress while the Honorable Mention listing does likewise to include a Bear, a Beagle and a Baxter amongst an A-Z who’s who. This reviewer especially enjoyed those entries I never read before especially from the electronic publications; as an aging Boomer I need the hard copy. The selections are excellent as readers will enjoy the compilation with tales like “Useless Things” by Maureen G. McHugh, “Things Undone” by John Barnes’s and Karl Bunker’s “Under the Shouting Sky” affirming Mr. Dozois’ claim of the “Best” in breed as the collection runs the science fiction universe..

Harriet Klausner

December 22, 2009

Young Flandry-Poul Anderson

Young Flandry
Poul Anderson
Baen, Jan 2010, $13.00
ISBN: 9781439133279

“Ensign Flandry”. In 3019, Terran Empire Imperial Navy security chief on Planet Starkad Commander Max Abrams recruits intelligent and debonair in spite of his young age Dominic Flandry as an ensign, a glorious title for a field agent. The assignment can prove dangerous as Terran is at war with the Merseians with Starkad as a war zone. However, Flandry uncovers something so nefarious; both sides in the combat want him dead.

“A Circus of Hells”. In 3021, Lieutenant Dominc Flandry is posted on planet Ironclaw, a backwater orb 200 light-years from Sol. The Merseians are cruising nearby so Flandry knows that the ennui he expected would not be for long especially after he runs into Tachwy the Dark in Old Town. Flandry meets with Citizen Ammon who assigns him to investigate mineral deposits on the moon Wayland with a female partner Djana. However, they find much more than just some uranium.

“The Rebel Worlds”. In 3025, former Admiral Hugh McCormac leads dissenters against the increasing corruption of the Terran Empire, but in Betelgeuse he is put on military trial by ambitious Governor Shelund at a time when the Merseians are making noise in the demilitarized zone. On Terra Vice Admiral Sir Ilya Kheraskov gives Lieutenant Commander Flandry a vessel to command and sends him to the remote zone to keep the wild races from revolting for the first time in over four decades. Planet side he rescues McCormac’s beautiful wife Kathryn and falls in love.

These are three exciting reprints of the first Flandry tales. The hero is a James Bond-Hans Solo who accepts the fact that the Empire is collapsing due to its size, corruption, and bad leadership, but Flandry and others like Abrams and Kheraskov remain loyal, tough and do their best. Although at times the back story of the fall of the Terran Empire overwhelms the action especially in books two and three, fans will enjoy the adventures of this young swashbuckler in space.

Harriet Klausner

November 22, 2009

A Young Man Without Magic-Lawrence Watt-Evans

Filed under: Author: W,Fantasy,Title: Y

A Young Man Without Magic
Lawrence Watt-Evans
Tor, Nov 2009, $27.95
ISBN: 9780765322791

In Lume, food riots break out while noble magicians use commoners as sacrifices to bring in a needed harvest. The orphaned son of two renowned sorcerers who died using magic, Anrel Marau shows no skills so he loses his nobility status. His uncle makes him a clerk while also training his nephew’s friend Valin, the son of the baker, who surprisingly as a commoner possesses the ability to employ magic. However, Valin a champion for change is accused of theft by Lord Allutal and dies in a duel.

His friend’s death angers Anrel to the point of demanding justice from the Grand Council and is the impetus to awaken his dormant magic skills that had vanished when he became an orphan. As the emperor invokes a new Grand Council meeting to deal with unrest, Anrel causes a riot that leads to his being branded traitor. He flees for his life into the hinterland where kind witches teach him simple spells.

Although the transformation from mundane “commoner” to magic user rabble rouser seems unreal as the impetus to return the magic to the young hero, fans will enjoy his political coming of age fantasy. Anrel’s loss of his talent is a classic defense mechanism reaction to the deaths of his parents, but the return appears impossible as is his sudden eloquence as a public speaker. Still the society is interesting as the caste system is unraveling and the masses seem heading towards a French revolution when the nobles’ attitude is let them eat cake when they have no bread (or flour). Fans will have to set their plausibility index on low, but if one can they will enjoy the political and magical awakenings of Anrel; if not pass.

Harriet Klausner

November 4, 2009

Yellow Moon-Jewell Parker Rhodes

Filed under: Author: R,Horror,Title: Y

Yellow Moon
Jewell Parker Rhodes
Washington Square (Pocket), Aug 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9781416537113

In New Orleans, Dr. Marie Laveau works the emergency room at Charity Hospital. The single mom tries to balance her medical charity work in ER with being a single mom raising a child Marie-Claire and a “Kind Dog” with time for herself. She especially enjoys jazz at the clubs. However, she also has a legacy that she would prefer to ignore but her heightened sense of responsibility never allows her to do so. As a blood relative of the legendary Voodoo Queen whose surname she shares, Marie watches out for supernatural evil to prevent tragedies.

Thus she cannot ignore the murders of three seemingly different people; each had their blood drained and their necks contained three teeth like puncture marks. She fears, a wazimamoto African vampire is stalking the city while the victims remain restless wandering the streets. With NOPD Detective Daniel Parks; her Creole boss Dr. Louis DuLac; her daughter and others, Marie knows she must stop the predator before the monster consumes enough blood to look human.

Yellow Moon is an exhilarating gritty urban fantasy that connects African vampirism with jazz and de facto racism. The story line is tense and gripping but especially fresh with a different perspective on the blood suckers, but definitely not a rehash of Blacula. Instead this deep New Orleans thriller is based on the premise of a deadly angry non-western African vampire who reacts to cultural racism, but must be stopped by Marie and her allies.

Harriet Klausner

July 12, 2009

The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty Sixth Annual Collection

The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty Sixth Annual Collection
Gardner Dozois (editor)
St Martins, Jul 2009, $40.00
ISBN 9780312551056

This anthology always lives up to its title as there are thirty strong short stories with 628 pages of contributions included. The Summation of 2008 is a deep fascinating essay that focuses on the good with overall strong creative writings especially in book anthologies; and the bad being the collapse of several print magazines with those surviving cutting back the number of pages in each copy and reducing the number of releases per year. The stories are for the most part super but in spite of the rise of the on line magazines most of the compilation comes from print magazines and book anthologies. My personal favorites are those I had not previously read (thus I discount the excellent “Boojum” by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette, “The Gambler” by Paolo Bacogalupi, and “Eligible Boy” by Ian McDonald, etc.). “The Six Directions of Space” by Alastair Reynolds, “Five Thrillers” by Robert Reed and the “Erdmann Nexus” by Nancy Kress are tremendous; the rest are quite good too. This collection with its Honorable Mention list and reference guide is a short story delight. Harriet Klausner

March 19, 2009

You’re So Vein-Christine Warren

Filed under: Author: W,Fantasy,Title: Y

You’re So Vein
Christine Warren
St. Martin’s, Mar 31 2009, $6.99
ISBN: 9780312947927

The European Council of Vampires has sent Vladimir “Dima” Rurikovich to America to find the rogue vampire serial killing humans. Although she hates the monsters of the Others, Ava Markham is fortunate that Dima arrives in time to rescue her from the assault of the predator he seeks. However, he failed to arrive in time to prevent her draining and biting.

Ava is changing and Dima helps her by giving her his blood. Instead of euphoria, Ava awakens in rage as he has changed her to what she detests most in the world. Almost as bad is her attraction to the eight hundred years old vampire who knows he has found his soulmate, but she prefers ripping out his heart. However, the worst as far as the fledgling is concerned is the demand by a royal vampiress that Ava pledge her loyalty.

If a reader was trapped on WALK ON THE WILD SIDE and had to fight an eight century old vampire or the tyro to survive, we would go after Dima. Few characters are as ferociously angry as the heroine, who makes the tale fresh with her shove it up your butt mentality. The arrogant alpha Dima figuratively and literally loses a few gallons of blood while alos having his esteem trashed trying to mentor his “Nenaglyadnaya”, but knows it is worth every ounce as he will never grow tired of her. Fans will appreciate this super Others urban romantic fantasy.

Harriet Klausner

January 21, 2009

You’re the One That I Haunt-Terri Garey

Filed under: Author: G,Fantasy,Title: Y

You’re the One That I Haunt
Terri Garey
Avon, Mar 2009, $6.99
ISBN: 9780061582035

In her twenties in Atlanta, Nikki Styx suffered heart failure. However instead of passing on, she is sent back to earth to help those dead unwilling to move on. She co-owns Handbags and Gladrags with Evan, who is despondent because his lover Butch is cheating. Nikki has had commitment phobia issues until she met Joe six months ago when she nearly died and he was her ER surgeon; Joe is also her sister’s ex husband.

At the Moon Beam Coffee Shop an angry ghost Crystal accuses Joe of killing her. Sammy the devil arrives to inform Nikki and Joe that Crystal is his apprentice unless Nikki wants the position as he wants her to go dark. Sammy has opened up an Indie music store Divinyls nearby. Crystal leaps inside Nikki taking control of her and shouting that Joe killed her; Sammy tapes her outcry. Nikki forces Crystal out of her body. Afterward, she asks her sister Kelly in Savannah for help. Kelly promises to research possession and their transvestite “grandma” Bijou heads to Atlanta with the Savannah Garden Club members. Meanwhile Crystal’s mother encouraged by Preacher Jimmy Boyd sues Joe and Columbia Memorial Hospital for wrongful death. As Crystal refuses to move on encouraged by Sammy, she possesses her again; Nikki realizes the dead woman cannot depart until she is assured that her twelve year old sister is safe, but to persuade the mom seems impossible.

The strong relationship between the lead couple is terrific as Crystal’s possession and a hospital lawyer causes problems for Nikki and Joe. The strong support cast enhances the plot especially the Savannah posse, Sammy, and Crystal. Although the plot is thin especially the climax, urban fantasy chick lit fans will enjoy Nikki’s latest caper (see A MATCH MADE IN HELL and DEAD GIRLS ARE EASY).

Harriet Klausner

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