Friday, November 5, 2010

The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Volume 2: Power & Light

NOTE: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Volume 2: Power & Light was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by NESFA Press.

I was rather blown away with the first volume of NESFA Press’ six-volume reprint of the short works of Roger Zelazny. So when volume two appeared in the mail, I couldn’t wait to dive in. The second volume opens with introductions from Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Walter Jon Williams. As with the last volume, a large number of poems are interspersed in the collection, which work both as nice interstitial pieces, as well as strong works in their own right.

Major stories in this collection include “Lucifer,” along with the less well known but in my mind equally powerful “The Salvation of Faust,” “Passage to Dilfar,” the first Dilvish story, along with three others in that series, “Devil Car,” the first of the Jenny/Murdoch stories, “The Keys to December,” and “Auto-Da-Fé.”

Also included is the entire text of …And Call Me Conrad in its original magazine format, as serialized in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. The inclusion of this short novel is a unique opportunity to see the original version of the story, before it was expanded into the stand-alone novel version retitled This Immortal, which had a substantial amount of text added. Between the two parts of the novel is included the synopsis of part one written by Zelazny to proceed part two in the magazine publication, and which Zelazny turned into a bit of storytelling in its own right, letting his character give the synopsis, and adding more character building to it.

An essay and two speeches round out Zelazny’s part of the collection, while the collection as a whole is wrapped up with the second part of Christopher S. Kovacs’ “‘…And Call Me Roger’: The Literary Life of Roger Zelazny.”

Power & Light proves to be every bit as powerful as Threshold, if not more so. Traded in are the stories of Zelazny’s early beginnings, which are intriguing from a history of the genre standpoint, and in their place are stories from the period when Zelazny really began to hit his stride, turning out brilliant stories left and right. From just a story standpoint, this is by far the stronger of the two collections. …And Call Me Conrad is worth the admission price alone, but it stands with 28 other stories, which makes this volume a true value. Any fan of the genre needs to grab this book.

World Tree by Bard Bloom & Victoria Borah Bloom

NOTE: World Tree was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Padwolf Publishing.

Normally, Luke Reviews only puts out reviews of novels, collections, anthologies, etc. However, Luke Reviews has been known to read a Role Playing Game book from time to time. When Padwolf Publishing sent me a copy of World Tree, along with Bard Bloom’s novel A Marriage of Insects, which is set in the World Tree game setting, I was quite curious to dive in.

World Tree presents players with a setting taking place entirely on a gigantic tree populated with anthropomorphic animals of all kinds. Players set out on adventures throughout the land, exploring cultures and dangers. Initially, I must admit I thought, anthropomorphic animals, this sounds like a kids game. However, when you read through the book, you find that, far from simply a children’s RPG, World Tree is a complex game. Complex not in its rules of play, which are actually quite easy to pick up, but in the complex, fully developed setting. Beyond just the world of the World Tree, the cultures, each generally simply the different species of anthropomorphized animal, are given a lot of space in the book to be fleshed out, and vignettes are thrown in throughout the volume that add to the cultural and historical setting immensely.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this to the action junky looking for hard and fast, non-stop fights, although I think you could gear this game that way if you so chose. Instead, I would lead those who are looking for strongly story-driven games, that find their true richness outside of the fighting aspect, to World Tree. For those looking for a well developed fantasy setting that isn’t a D&D book, give World Tree a try.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Halfling’s Court: A Bad-Ass Faerie Tale by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

NOTE: The Halfling’s Court: A Bad-Ass Faerie Tale was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Dark Quest Books.

What do you get when you want to take something known for its rather pathetic nature (fairies/faeries) and turn that ideology on its head? The anthology series Bad-Ass Faeries is the first thing that comes to my mind. Now at three volumes (Bad-Ass Faeries, Bad-Ass Faeries 2: Just Plain Bad, and Bad-Ass Faeries 3: In All Their Glory), the series is reinventing the modern conceptions of just what a fairy is and what one is capable of. One of the key workers at this renovation is Danielle Ackley-McPhail. In the series, each volume contains a tale of the ongoing saga of the Wild Hunt, and in The Halfling’s Court: A Bad-Ass Faerie Tale Ackley-McPhail has turned her first two stories, “At the Crossroads” and “Within the Guardian Bell,” into a short novel, with lovely illustrations by Linda Saboe, who did the illustrating work on Bernie Mojzes’ The Evil Gazebo.

So what are you getting into in Ackley-McPhail’s novel? Motorcycle riding, leather clad Lance Cosain, leader of the Wild Hunt motorcycle group, and faerie. However, his people come under attack from the dreaded Dair na Scath, and it is up to Lance to prove himself worthy of his role.

After a number of anthologies containing her work, I have become quite a fan of Ackley-McPhail’s science fiction, but I had yet to explore her fantasy side, nor had I come across any of her work set as far into the humorous vein as this one, so I had no idea what to expect. And what I got was a fast-paced adventure that was a lot of fun to read. At times the absurdity of the situation (I admit it, I saw “bad-ass faeries” as an oxymoron) got to me in a way I didn’t want it to, but overall Ackley-McPhail ran with this one and it was a blast. The handling of the story, as an adventure with humor, rather than necessarily a straight comedic fantasy, reminded me a bit of A. Lee Martinez’s work. This one is short, fast, and fun, and worth a read for anyone who is looking for a light tale that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

The Best of Talebones edited by Patrick Swenson

NOTE: The Best of Talebones was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Fairwood Press.

In this field, there are a lot of magazines that come and go. Some leave a mark, and some pass on with little acclaim or notice. And sometimes some of them really take a hold and manage to pull together some great fiction before their eventual decline. One of these magazines is Talebones, headed by Patrick Swenson, who also happens to be head of Fairwood Press. And now, Fairwood has set out to collect some of the best stories to find homes in Talebones in their newest volume, The Best of Talebones.

The Best of Talebones is a generously-sized collection, topping out at 42 stories. Some big names and award-winning stories make it in here, as do a number of stories I had never encountered, but was glad to have fallen across.

With strong stories from names such as James Van Pelt, Paul Melko, Steve Rasnic Tem, Jack Skillingstead, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Ray Vukcevich, Jay Lake, Devon Monk, William F. Nolan, Aliette de Bodard, Tom Piccirilli, and Ken Scholes, along with a host of others, The Best of Talebones is a huge collection of strong authors, both established and up-and-coming. The volume proves to be a very nice sampler, as well, of authors to check out that you may not have come across before. Off the top of my head, I know Van Pelt, Melko, Skillingstead, Vukcevich, Lake, Mark Rich, Monk, Nolan, and Scholes all have at least one book out from Fairwood Press, if not more, and you will be sure to look them up after seeing what they can do here.

The Best of Talebones chronicles the highlights of a strong genre magazine, and gives a nice look at the start of some careers that deserve to really take off. Fans of genre fiction won’t be disappointed.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Dead to Rights by Patrick Thomas

NOTE: Dead to Rights was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Padwolf Publishing.

I have been coming across more and more Patrick Thomas lately, it seems. I’ve been loving his short stories, and once you read some of them, you can’t help but want to dive into some of his series more, and return to the characters over and over (I’m looking at you Startenders; can anyone tell me if there are more than just the one story out there?).

I first encountered Agent Karver of the D.M.A. in Mystic Investigators, a collection of urban fantasy/paranormal mystery tales from Thomas. He featured in “Cardiac Arrest,” which I thoroughly enjoyed, so when a book collecting his tales arrived in my mailbox, I knew I needed to dive in soon.

Dead to Rights contains all of the agent Karver stories, seven of which have been previously published elsewhere, and four that are new to this collection. C. J. Henderson co-authors two of the stories, one of which is also co-authored by John L. French. Henderson’s Lai Wan and French’s Bianca Jones both make appearances.

So does Dead to Rights live up to the standard set by “Cardiac Arrest”? You better believe it. These stories of dark urban paranormal mystery are rich throughout. The settings are fleshed out nicely, Agent Karver gets a lot of depth, with his struggle to escape his own demons (literally and figuratively), and the plots whip along, each twist fitting perfectly into the narrative.

Not a single one of these stories will let you down, and more than a couple will stick with you for a while. Fans of evocative fantasy that rips across the page dare not miss this one.

So It Begins edited by Mike McPhail

NOTE: So It Begins was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Dark Quest Books.

In my quest to discover another side of military science fiction, I stumbled upon Breach the Hull edited by Mike McPhail, the first volume of the Defending the Future series from Dark Quest Books. When I received the second volume, I made sure to dive into the contents ASAP.

This second volume turned out to be even better than the first. Stories such as James Chambers’ “War Movies” ratchet up the emotion, while others, like “Junked” by Andy Remic (whose Kell’s Legend got a strong review here, and has the sequel out soon) play to the all-out, non-stop action. What the two stories share is a well-developed set of characters, and a plot that shows military science fiction is about far more than making ever bigger explosions.

Other great additions to this collection include Danielle Ackley-McPhail’s “First Line,” set in the Alliance Archives universe, which contains her usual mix of action and strong storytelling, with an emotional tug, and “Grendel” by military science fiction genius Jack Campbell (aka John G. Hemry), the story set in his acclaimed Lost Fleet series, the first book of which got a rave review here at the site. Campbell’s deft touch with military science fiction and the space engagements of fleets of ships are the best I have ever seen, and “Grendel” won’t let down his fans.

Also of interest is a piece by David Sherman, co-author of the Starfist and Starfist: Force Recon series, set in his Demontech universe. The piece, “Surrender of Die,” was to be the beginning of the unpublished fourth book, and is a fitting tribute to the series, as well as a nice capstone to a very well rounded anthology.

If you are looking for a diverse collection of stories that will show you all that military science fiction can do, look no further.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mythic Memories by Alex Ness & Trent Westbrook

NOTE: Mythic Memories was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Rogue Blades Entertainment.

Much of modern fantasy is deeply rooted in the mythic traditions of the past (The Lord of the Rings takes a lot of stories from Celtic and Anglo-Saxon tradition in particular, and retells them). However, many modern readers aren’t familiar with the long tradition of heroic literature in the myths of the past. Thus, I was really excited to see this book of Ness’ poetry coming out, which promised to address these Mythic Traditions.

The book is broken down into four sections, focusing on the myths of the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Celts, and the Norsemen. Mixing history and myth, Ness weaves tales of a number of heroes and battles. I thought that the Egyptian and Greek poems were good, but what really won it for me were the second two sections. Having just finished studying Celtic literature, it was neat to see what Ness did with it. And the Norse seem far too often overlooked by general mythology texts, so it was great to see this, especially “Storm of the Tupilak,” a long poem of a crashed ship and the spirit haunting the survivors of a violent crime.

One thing worth noting: not all of these poems would be easy for someone with no background knowledge to pick up on. Most people know the Greek myths, and the Egyptian myths aren’t too obscure, but I know I got a lot more out of the Celtic section from having recently studied it. Not being as well known, these may be a little more obscure to the reader who hasn’t explored them before. However, they are well worth exploring. One would be well off reading the Mabinogion, which has a number of tropes found in modern fantasy (including a certain ring that turns the wearer invisible). Also of import, although Anglo-Saxon instead of Celtic, is Beowulf, which is a true heroic epic regardless (and the Seamus Heaney translation is very readable), but it too carries over much into modern fantasy, including (again) The Lord of the Rings.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention all of the art by Trent Westbrook. Every poem is lavishly illustrated, both from pre-established art, and from Westbrook’s own hand, and all of it is very well done. His art adds a lot to the book.

For the reader willing to wax lyrical for a bit on the tales that enraptured nations, of heroism and courage, duplicity and danger, check out Mythic Memories. And don’t be too concerned if you don’t know much myth, Ness’ verse is sweet reading, regardless.

Now if I could only knock out a modern version of “The Battle of Maldon” before Ness beats me to it…

Boarding Instructions by Ray Vukcevich

NOTE: Boarding Instructions was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Fairwood Press.

One thing I really like about Fairwood Press is that they put together some top notch collections by both authors I have heard of before, and authors that I’m glad I’ve found out about through their collections. I discovered the work of James Van Pelt through them, as well as Ken Scholes, and a number of others. And now it was time to decide if I was going to be adding Ray Vukcevich to the list of authors I was proud to own collections from.

As things turned out, I am very glad I was introduced to Vukcevich. His wonderful stories take the ridiculous, and while it disarms you with the funny, it works in a deep point that hits you out of the clear blue. It was there the whole time, and you never noticed.

In the 33 stories collected in Boarding Instructions, most of them only a few pages, you get tales from all over the gamut of speculative fiction, but each one retains a style very much Vukcevich. Clear prose with a smooth deliver makes these stories easy to read, and the impact behind them keeps them rattling in your head for a while.

Particular favorites include “The Library of Pi,” “Human Subjects,” and “Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Boy.” However, none of these will let you down.

Fans of good short stories need to take note of this collection. Go out there and get it.

Bad Cop, No Donut edited by John L. French

NOTE: Bad Cop, No Donut was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Dark Quest Books.

I read some mystery and crime fiction on occasion, but not often, and not nearly as much as I would like. Especially rare are original crime anthologies. So, when I received Bad Cop, No Donut, I dove at the chance to explore some new crime stories from the darker side of the genre.

What I found in Bad Cop, No Donut was a buffet of stories that were even better than expected. Editor John L. French’s “The Last Convention” was exciting from first word to last. C. J. Henderson’s “A Fine Officer” is up to his usual high standards as well.

However, there were two that really took the cake. Patrick Thomas’ “Dysmayed” took the “bad cop” theme straight to Hell, literally, with the return of his series character of Hell’s Detective.

The best of the batch, though, was the volume opener, James Chambers’ “Henkin’s Last Lies.” His characters felt perfectly real, the motivations true, and the plot twists were as believable as they were effective.

Not to say that there was a truly bad story in the bunch. You would be hard-pressed to find a new anthology out there that has as high a level of quality as this one. So if you are a fan of the rough side of crime fiction, of cops gone wrong, and noir fiction, give Bad Cop, No Donut a shot.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson, Volume 3: The Saturn Game

Note: The Collected Short Work of Poul Anderson, Volume 3: The Saturn Game was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by NESFA Press.

As I discovered when reading a previous volume of Poul Anderson’s short works, I was really missing out having not read much from this accomplished author. I got the chance to dive into more of his work with the brand new collection out from NESFA Press, The Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson, Volume 3: The Saturn Game.

The third volume of this series contains a number of classic works from Anderson, including “The Saturn Game,” a wonderful stand alone story, “No Truce with Kings,” and a personal favorite of mine, “Operation Salamander,” a follow up to “Operation Afreet,” found in the previous volume. Anderson’s characters, along with his scientific-feeling magic system, make for a wonderful story. Series characters Manse Everard, David Falkyn, and Nicholas van Rijn all make appearances.

Added to the stories, filling out the volume, are a string of limericks and songs that are quite fun, especially the last, which explains the problems an astronomer runs into while driving.

Anderson’s sense of Sherlockian mystery, consideration of all points of view, sympathy for antagonists, and broad imagination make this volume yet another worth diving into. Anderson is a true gem of the genre, and any fan should consider this a required course in their history of the genre.

Skein of Shadows by The Wandering Men

NOTE: Skein of Shadows was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Dark Quest Books.

Tie-in fiction for roleplaying games is a subgenre that is really taking off. The RPG Crown: City of the Fallen has gained a following, and has recently joined the ranks of branching out into fiction markets. What is also intriguing is that it takes a method similar to that in George R. R. Martin’s Wild Cards series, that of a mosaic novel. In short, it takes a series of almost standalone stories and weaves its tale in and out of them, creating an overall picture and plot that is more than the sum of its parts.

Authors Nathan Ellsworth, Davis Riddle, Brannon Hall, Corey Blankenship, and Brannon Hollingsworth teamed up to give us a picture of Crown, a city of the edge of the sea, teeming with treachery, violence, and magic. The quintet of authors do a good job of mixing the elements of an RPG into a non-interactive story, minimizing the elements that feel too much like a transcript of an RPG adventure. The story flows together well, each of the stories moving in and out from one another in a way that works wonderfully.

I had no previous knowledge of Crown: City of the Fallen, and I found myself catching onto the world pretty quickly. The magic system seemed a little too oblique to me at first, but it began to make much more sense as the story went on. Different authors seemed to handle it better or worse, some of them making it feel more natural and less charts and numbers than others.

All-in-all, however, Skein of Shadows takes a very interesting approach to the media tie-in, and hits a homerun. The interwoven stories work well, and the overall plot is definitely one worth reading about. This is strongly recommended to fans of Crown: City of the Fallen, as well as those looking for a mash-up of a number of different subgenres, from more action-based fantasy to assassin stories, etc, and who are looking for a tale that shows you the city, not just one person’s view of it.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Diving Mimes, Weeping Czars and Other Unusual Suspects by Ken Scholes

Note: Diving Mimes, Weeping Czars and Other Unusual Suspects was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Fairwood Press.

Ken Scholes can tell a good story. In his first collection, Long Walks, Last Flights and Other Strange Journeys, he blew me away with his storytelling gusto. He has since gone on to write the very well received Psalms of Isaak series, which began in the novel Lamentation. Fairwood Press and Scholes have teamed up to release a second collection of Scholes’ stories.

Fans of Scholes’ novel series will find a couple pieces of particular interest, as two stories take place in the same setting. Set well before the novels, “A Weeping Czar Beholds the Fallen Moon” sets up a number of engaging elements that make this a wonderful story, even for those who, like me, haven’t read the series yet. “Of Missing Kings and Backward Dreams and the Honoring of Lies” works as a follow up to “Of Metal Men and Scarlet Thread and Dancing with the Sunrise” (found in the previous collection, Long Walks, Last Flights). The story is as brilliant as its predecessor, and shows the richness of the world Scholes was creating. Another must read.

Other top stories, in my mind, include “Four Clowns of the Apocalypse and the Mecca of Mirth,” “The Boy Who Could Bend and Fall,” and “There Once Was a Girl From Nantucket (A Fortean Love Story).” However, that isn’t to say that any of the stories are lacking. You would be hard pressed to find a non-great story in this volume. Fans of the genre must pick this one up.

Barbarians at the Jumpgate edited by Bruce Gehweiler

Note: Barbarians at the Jumpgate was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Padwolf Publishing.

I’m slowly broadening my military science fiction reading from the big names and Black Library to the small presses. I took a look at the first volume of Dark Quest Books’ Defending the Future series, Breach the Hull, and I wanted to continue on that train of thematic relevance. Thus I picked up a new Padwolf Publishing release, Barbarians at the Jumpgate.

Barbarians at the Jumpgate turned out to be a simply excellent anthology. The theme of alien/human conflict played out wonderfully over the stories told. The stories range from John Sunseri’s “Biological Imperative,” with its wonderfully adaptable aliens, that shows that alien conflict can be just as richly imaginative, to the hilariously intelligent “Furlough,” where Patrick Thomas takes his Murphy’s Lore series into space. Danielle Ackley-McPhail’s “Building Blocks” took a sort of Weinbaum-ian look at aliens who are truly alien, in her tale of the slow offensive of an entire planet.

Other top stories include Robert E. Water’s exciting “Pest Control,” “The Hardest Glory” by co-conspirators C. J. Henderson and editor Bruce Gehweiler, the tale of a frontier planet, and “The Levee Song” by Bernie Mojzes, which keeps the mystical, mythical resonances from The Evil Gazebo, but placing them in an all new, science fiction setting.

Overall, there are very few stories in here that won’t grip you. The writers formed action-packed tales that don’t forget about plot, strong characters, and vibrant settings, and give you the feel of the science fiction of before, with a sense of wonder available to those looking for it. A very worth-while collection for all fans of science fiction to pick up.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mystic Investigators by Patrick Thomas

NOTE: Mystic Investigators was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Dark Quest Books.

The whole urban fantasy/paranormal mystery scene isn’t one I am too familiar with. I know who Jim Butcher is, and thought about reading some of his books, but never have. Same goes for a couple others. For whatever reason, the genre just doesn’t really appeal to me. However, I’ve read some of Patrick Thomas’ work, and enjoyed it, and fans of his many series characters liked the book, so I gave it a spin.

If this is what the rest of the genre is like, I’m missing out. Thomas presents a collection of stories that is hard to beat. His tale of the Nightcriers (“Night Cries”) was a wonderful mystery of discovering the truth behind the legends, while stories like “A Stitch in Time” really resonated with the pulp-ish feelings. “Put Your Demon on My Shoulder” turned up the humor, yet stories such as “Working Girl” showed a slightly more series side (that still hits at some dark humor). There isn’t a dud to be found in this collection. Beyond the above stories, other standouts include “Tesque, Tesque,” which had a truly rich setting and wonderful main character, “Cardiac Arrest,” featuring Agent Karver of the D.M.A., and “Attack of the Trouser Snake,” featuring the ever-popular Terrorbelle. Those last two are also nice lead-ins to upcoming titles here at Luke Reviews, Fairy With a Gun: The Collected Terrorbelle and Dead to Rights: The D.M.A. Casefiles of Agent Karver.

Many of these stories tread the border between urban fantasy mystery and other genres, making them accessible to a very broad audience, and Thomas’ talent with words makes every story engaging. The characters resonate well, and you won’t be able to stop yourself for looking for other adventures they have. Don’t plan on picking this book up unless you plan on keeping tabs on Thomas’ work from here on out. A gem.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Uncanny X-Men: Manifest Destiny

The “Divided We Stand” storyline which ran through X-Men comics after Messiah CompleX (see Uncanny X-Men: Divided We Stand and X-Men: Legacy – Divided He Stands) lead to a new home and a new ideology. The “Manifest Destiny” storyline that ran in all of the books right after set up a new beginning. For the X-Men, we see this in Uncanny X-Men: Manifest Destiny.

A prologue of sorts introduces readers who don’t follow New X-Men to Pixie, who begins to take her place as an X-Man. Then, the main storyline kicks in, with the X-Men now in San Francisco, celebrating their new beginning while struggling against a string of hate crimes against mutants, lead by the Hellfire Cult. Also, we see some short stories that explore a number of X-Men as they deal with Messiah CompleX, Divided We Stand, and Manifest Destiny.

Uncanny X-Men: Manifest Destiny contains: Free Comic Book Day: X-Men 2008 (“Pixies and Demons”), Uncanny X-Men #500, #501 (“All Tomorrow’s Parties”), #502 (“Beginning to See the Light”), #503, and stories from X-Men: Manifest Destiny #1 (“Control”), #2 (“Good With the Bad” and “Flaw”), #3 (“Abomination” and “Uncheerable”), #4 (“Mercury”), #5 (“Dazzler: Solo”).

This volume feels a bit broken up, with a number of shorter, self-contained stories of sorts. Free Comic Book Day: X-Men 2008 gives us a story of Pixie at home in Wales, as she realizes that her town is overrun with demons. It is a fun, fast-paced tale, that does a lot for the character (who otherwise I would stare at incredulously, saying “Pixie?!”).

Uncanny X-Men #500 also feels more at home as a standalone. Gala celebrations, a rather racist art display, and the attack of the first villain the X-Men ever faced cap off the anniversary issue, as well as a subplot involving the High Evolutionary that seems to be a holdover from the last Eternals series, and one that gets no mention later in the volume.

The main story begins in Uncanny X-Men #501, with the X-Men exploring their new lives in San Francisco, and dealing with the Hellfire Cult, a group that is perpetrating hate crime after hate crime against mutants. It is a fast-paced and engaging tale.

This is followed by a string of short stories pulled from the miniseries X-Men: Manifest Destiny. These seemed like an odd inclusion, on some parts. Only some of the stories, not all, were bound into this volume. Others were included in the volume X-Men: Manifest Destiny, which focuses solely on the “Manifest Destiny” miniseries. It seems they should have been collected all together, but so it goes. They were pleasant reads, not much to most of them (the obvious exception being “Abomination,” dealing with one young characters abuse at the hands of his father), but a nice end to the beginning of the X-Men in San Francisco.

In the full view, this was a nice volume, likely a great jumping on point for new readers, and one that gives you a lot of little tidbits instead of one long story.


Breach the Hull edited by Mike McPhail

NOTE: Breach the Hull was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Dark Quest Books.

Military science fiction is a passion of mine. However, it seems I am getting it more and more from Warhammer 40,000, and not from much else. That isn’t to say there is anything wrong with Warhammer 40,000 (far from it!), just that I would like to see some new settings and new themes in my military SF. So, with that in mind, I picked up a copy of Breach the Hull, the first book in Dark Quest Books’ military science fiction anthology series, Defending the Future.

What I found was a bit hit-or-miss. While I think calling “Cryptic” by Jack McDevitt military science fiction is a bit of a stretch, it slammed a home run to start the proceedings, with a story of wonderful science fiction. It, along with other strong contributions such as Danielle Ackley-McPhail’s “In the Dying Light,” packed into the story a wallop of suspense and excitement, not just at the gunfights and violence, but weaving a strong story through the action. The stories worked on their own, not just as a vehicle for the action associated with the genre.

However, other stories seemed to not hit those high notes quite as well, such as editor Mike McPhail’s “Wayward Child,” which felt a bit flat throughout, lacking that engaging sense of suspense that made some of the other stories such winners. I found myself not finishing all of the stories, as the anthology lost momentum, instead skipping around a bit.

Not all is lost, however, with appearances by the brilliant Jack Campbell (under his real name, John G. Hemry), and the ever-popular Patrick Thomas, who has an entry into his 142nd Starborne series. All-in-all, this volume fills out well, not using many big names, but hitting a number of authors with a lot of work out from smaller publishers, and searching for the new breed of story to be found, not in the big publishers, but in the hands of authors and fans of the genre.

This isn’t necessarily the best anthology you will read, but in a subgenre dominated by a few big names, it is nice to see a fresh take at the stories that made the genre exciting to read. And even if they don’t all succeed, they serve as a platform to keep the genre alive.

Monday, September 6, 2010

X-Men: Powerless

Going back a little while, I read the string of issues from late 1999/early 2000 that were being republished, in the volumes X-Men: The Shattering, X-Men vs. Apocalypse, Volume 1: The Twelve, and X-Men vs. Apocalypse, Volume 2: Ages of Apocalypse. That segment continues in a brand new volume, X-Men: Powerless.

After the stunning events of The Twelve and Ages of Apocalypse, the team is in shock. Cyclops appears to be dead, Jean Grey leaves the team, and everyone needs a break. The X-Men take a day off, only to receive a most unwelcome visitor, the High Evolutionary, who has drastic news: to save humanity, he has eliminated the ability to use the x-gene, thus turning all mutants into normal humans!

X-Men: Powerless contains: Uncanny X-Men #379 (“What Dreams May Come…”), #380 (“Heaven’s Shadow”), Cable #78 (“I Still Believe I Cannot Be Saved”), X-Force #101 (“Learning to Fly”), Wolverine #149 (“Resurrection”), X-Men #99 (“Oh, the Humanity!”).

One immediate downside: the main storyline is carried just in the X-men books. While Cable, X-Force, and Wolverine deal with the effects of the High Evolutionary’s blocking of mutant abilities, they have no real tie to the main story. Thus, after one chapter to kick off the event and start the main story, we leave that story for half of the book. That jump felt abrupt, and meant going a long time without any real meat to the plot, just more day in the life scenes. Also of note, the issue of Cable was more an epilogue to X-Men vs. Apocalypse, Volume 2: The Ages of Apocalypse. The Powerless storyline doesn’t arrive until the very last page, in a full page panel. No other attachment. I imagine that these issues were included because, in order of least to most important, A) they do show the effects of the loss of powers, B) it fills out the book to a normal size of six issues, and C) it makes a nice capping point, before the Revolution event and the return of Chris Claremont.

On the plus side, the story is fun. The Cable issue drags a bit, but it was nice to see some closure from The Ages of Apocalypse. X-Force was a nice standalone piece that explored bullying, a common theme for X-Men comics. Wolverine was nothing but a robot slaughter, guest starring the New Warriors (including Nova, who has risen to some prominence lately). Action? Yes. I good story? Any real plot worth following? Not really.

The issues of X-Men and Uncanny X-Men tell the overarching story, and it is one that is much better than the three standalone pieces. The idea of blocking mutants to make everyone human raised questions of making the whole world white to stop racism, or to make everyone heterosexual to stop homophobia. This event made a nice parallel that was also explored in the issues by characters in dialogue. The pace was right, and the story a nice, fun, short one after the epic length and time scale of X-Men vs. Apocalypse.

The X-Men story is a plus, and the other three issues a not-so-much, but all-in-all this was still a fun volume. Consider just reading the X-Men issues. You won’t miss anything important to the story.


Friday, August 27, 2010

The Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson, Volume 2: The Queen of Air and Darkness by Poul Anderson – Part 2

NOTE: The Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson, Volume 2: The Queen of Air and Darkness was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by NESFA Press.

It is part 2 of my review of The Collected Works of Poul Anderson, Volume 2: The Queen of Air and Darkness out from NESFA Press. For those interested in a prelude to the review, as well as the reviews of the stories from the first section, please see Part 1 of this review.

“Brake”: After a spaceship mutiny, the ship’s captain must stop a group of fanatics from either taking over or destroying the ship, and put a stopping block in front of a much larger conspiracy. This story showcases Anderson’s ability to write near-perfect hard science fiction action/adventure stories. Completely wonderful in both its action and its characterization.

“The Burning Bridge”: Another tale of space, this one is a bit quieter, yet with deep ethical considerations, as a ship on the brink of reaching a new world has received a message from their old one saying they can come back home. Another very strong story, this one rooted in character as well as ethical drama that reaches new extremes in the world of space exploration.

“A World Called Maanerek”: A man living on a planet, among a more primitive society, knows that he is not the same as everyone else. However, after a victorious hunt, it takes a UFO to show him just how different he is, and what destiny awaits him. At first, this story felt a little slow, but once I got into it, the plot fell into place beautifully, working in the twists and turns, the losses, and yet creating a satisfying ending. A strong piece.

“The Pirate”: When a less-than-honorable man claims to have come clean, a galactic police force of sorts isn’t quite so sure, and what they find when they begin to dig is far more than anyone expected. Another tautly written story, that unwraps perfectly as you read along.

“To Build a World”: After a disaster on the moon as the terraforming project seems to flounder, a plot begins to unfold that might reveal a conspiracy against making the moon into a new Earth. Another well-thought-out future, with strong characters, and plenty of grey characters, rather than black and white.

“Say It with Flowers”: A fun story of a man who is captured while trying to deliver a message in war time, and how he manages to find a way to get the message out. Flowers is a fun character, and his adventure was quick-paced and engaging.

There are also two essays:

“Science Fiction and Science: The Hardness of Hard Science Fiction”: An interesting look at both the hard science fiction out there, as well as Anderson’s own thought processes as he sets out to create a believable, science-based world.

“Science Fiction and History”: A look at history’s lessons, and what they may mean for the future, and also a critique on both well-envisioned futures and those that skimp on thoughtful analysis. An interesting essay, an intriguing point of view, and well-written. This one would find fans outside of the genre for what it has to say about humanity’s time.

And the following poems: “Jennifer’s Song” and “Veleda Speaks.”

The second part of the collection was simply brilliant. Anderson displays his versatility at writing quieter stories of introspection, and following them up with tales of action and hard science. He displays a knowledge of societal interworkings and thoughtful explorations of science and humanity that make for top notch reading. The more I delve into Anderson’s work, the more I find to like. Truly, he is revealing himself to be a literary and genre treasure, and I cannot wait to finish this collection.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fear the Alien edited by Christian Dunn

NOTE: Fear the Alien was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by The Black Library.

After another lengthy absence from the world of Warhammer 40,000, I return again, this time with the upcoming anthology Fear the Alien. Prepare yourself for xenos/Empire conflict! The stories are as follows:

“Gardens of Tycho” by Dan Abnett: Abnett delivers a story of Magos Drusher, who teams with the local law to discover what is behind a string of brutal killings. But what seems like random slaughter may have a much darker rationale. This story is wonderful, flat out. The characters feel richly fleshed out, the mystery is genuinely engaging and suspenseful, and the plot is fun. If there are more Magos Drusher stories out there, I will be looking for them.

“Fear Itself” by Juliet E. McKenna: A group of soldiers hold a fort at a key placement protecting a bridge, fighting against wave after endless wave of tryanid, who take biological warfare to an extreme. McKenna’s tale is a blast, with strong action, great characters, and a grasp on conveying prolonged conflict that was truly well done. The ending felt a bit too deus ex machine for my tastes, but it was a small price to pay for an otherwise great story.

“Prometheus Requiem” by Nick Kyme: I have had trouble with other Kyme works (Assault on Black Reach: The Novel comes to mind), so I was leery with this one. And was I ever wrong. Kyme blew me away with this story of a group of Salamanders Space Marines exploring a dead ship with far more darkness inside it than they thought. Suspenseful, with strong characters and excellent action, this story is everything Warhammer 40,000 can be.

“Mistress Baeda’s Gift” by Braden Campbell: A tale of the dark elder, and what happens when they fall in love, this one didn’t work very well for me, falling flat and feeling over long.

“Iron Inferno” by C.L. Werner: Werner pleases, as usual, with this tale of orks and the mistake of trying to trick them using human standards. Werner address the ego-centric view that everything must think like us, while at the same time creating a tale without dialogue that thrills, is funny, and manages to do more for orks than any other book I have read on them.

Friday, August 20, 2010

X-Men: Legacy – Divided He Stands

X-Men: Messiah CompleX changed a lot. The team’s old headquarters were destroyed, and they made a major move to a new home in Uncanny X-Men: Divided We Stand. However, even more changed for Professor X. His story is found in the newly-re-titled X-Men: Legacy, the first volume of which is X-Men: Legacy – Divided He Stands.

After what should have been a fatal injury at the end of Messiah CompleX, Xavier is on the brink of death when he is rescued by, of all people, the villain Exodus. Exodus uses his powers to repair Xavier’s broken body, but he needs the help of Xavier’s long-time friend and archenemy Magneto to repair Xavier’s fractured mind. And just as that situation seems to be resolved, Xavier discovers a dark secret buried in his past.

X-Men: Legacy – Divided He Stands contains: X-Men: Legacy #208 (“From Genesis to Revelations”), #209 (From Genesis to Revelations, Part Two”), #210 (“From Genesis to Revelations, Part Three”), #211 (“Sins of the Father, Part One”), #212 (“Sins of the Father, Part Two”).

While X-Men: Legacy isn’t the action fest that Uncanny X-Men is, Mike Carey’s story is incredibly gripping, as he weaves huge amounts of the X-Men’s and Xavier’s past into the story. Xavier’s quest to save his mind and rediscover his memories is one that leads to a lot of dark places in X-Men history, and each is explored in a wonderful tapestry that all fits back together into the frame narrative.

There is plenty of character exploration, and lots and background. The story is an excellent character piece about Xavier, and what he went through and accomplished as head of the X-Men, both good and bad. Solid work.

Things that might perturb readers: The story is definitely continuity-heavy, so some new readers may not get all of the references. This isn’t necessary to enjoy the story, but it may still bother some. Also, while all volumes of X-Men are part of a larger story, and those no true, definite “end” is ever there, the wrapping up of the current story provides that end piece. This volume ends mid story, so it isn’t the best for those looking for a one-and-done book.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Eight Against Reality edited by Dario Ciriello

NOTE: Eight Against Reality was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Panverse Publishing.

Luke Reviews always has its eyes out for good new short story offerings, and a great place to look is among the smaller presses, which seem to take non-novel length fiction far more seriously than the big publishers do. Panverse Publishing made some waves with their first publication, Panverse One, and before the release of Panverse Two, the second in their novella anthology series, Panverse put out a new short fiction anthology, Eight Against Reality. After a very brief introduction from the editor, we dive into the stories.

“The Eminence’s Match” by Juliette Wade: A society grounded in a very distinct caste-system of sorts, this tale of a hard-to-please leader and his desire to control his servants, and the servant who just can’t seem to do things right, ends rather as expected, but getting there was a good journey. I found the plot less interesting than trying to figure out the society in the story, but still a good start to the anthology.

“Kip, Running” by Genevieve Williams: The story of a race through a future Seattle, where you do whatever it takes to be the first to reach the finish line, and worrying about laws is never among your thoughts, Williams’ tale was entertaining, although not as exciting as I had hoped. Perhaps it was a case of misplaced expectations. I thought it would be a story of action and excitement based on the beginning, but I felt it turned more into a melodrama of Kip’s inability to win the girl.

“The Lonely Heart” by Aliette de Bodard: An intriguing tale of China, child prostitution, and the evils that hide out in the open. This story read really smooth, with a flowing prose that worked perfectly for this tale. I had heard many good things about de Bodard’s work, but had yet to experience it, and this was a welcome pleasure.

“The Flying Squids of Zondor” by Doug Sharp: This movie script follows Commandrix Den Dron as she leads her crew to the planet Zondor, populated by sentient squids. I looked forward to pulp-ish adventure, but instead found an awkward, unenjoyable story. The attempts at comedy weren’t funny, the dialogue was stilted, and while it seemed at times to be on purpose, it failed at its attempt to satirize the earlier periods of the genre. The clunker of the volume.

“Spoiling Veena” by Keyan Bowes: A story of designer children in a world where any physical change can be achieved through surgery, where a couple’s daughter decides that she wants to be their son, instead. Well-written, but I’m not sure if I really found the underlining of the story plausible.

“Man’s Best Enemy” by Janice Hardy: One of the best stories of the volume, this one chronicles man’s struggle for survival in a future in which the world has gone to the dogs, to make a bad joke. It isn’t the first story to fill in that setting, and there is one story (“Fit for a Dog” by Howard L. Myers) that I think was slightly more effective than this one, but Hardy’s tale was still a very engaging one, with strong characters and a fun plot. I’ll be looking for more from Hardy.

“Love, Blood, and Octli” by T.L. Morganfield: A tale that worked myth into narrative in a brilliant way (too bad the Mythopoeic Award is only for novels), this story was great in almost every way. Aztec mythology meets a young girl enjoying her childhood, as she is swept up into a tale of gods and a future worth fighting for. Excellent.

“Dancing by Numbers” by Dario Ciriello: A woman learns that she can explore alternate dimensions from the safety of her own head, and starts to lose her own life in the process, in this tale from our editor. This was an engaging take on the alternate dimension story, one that humanized it while still exploring the infinity of possibilities. It wasn’t the best of the collection, but was still a nice way to wrap up the collection.

Eight Against Reality proves to be a strong new collection, featuring four new stories and four reprints, and bodes well for the future of Panverse Publishing. While not all of the stories worked for me, overall they were strong, and had a very large number that were of high-quality. Fans of science fiction and fantasy short stories should check this one out.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Uncanny X-Men: Divided We Stand

Continuing my exploration of X-Men, I finished X-Men: Messiah CompleX, which did much to really revolutionize the status quo of the series. Following on from that story, I will be picking up the threads with Uncanny X-Men and the newly retitled X-Men: Legacy, as well as occasional interlinked stories not from those titles, and of course work on building up the back catalogue. Lots of work ahead! To start down that road, I picked up Uncanny X-Men: Divided We Stand, which picks up the pieces for the X-Men team after X-Men: Messiah CompleX.

After the shocking events to close out Messiah CompleX, the X-Men are on a bit of a hiatus. Scott Summers and Emma Frost are in the Savage Land on vacation, while Wolverine, Colossus, and Nightcrawler are in Russia, trying to help Colossus get over the grief of the apparent death of his love, Kitty Pryde (over in Astonishing X-Men, which isn’t reviewed here), and Angel, Iceman, Warpath, and Hepzibah head out west on a mission that is rather mysterious. However, no one gets the full relaxation that they need, as old enemies try to take advantage of Colossus and his friends, while the team that headed to San Francisco meets a powerful mutant force that seems to have turned the city back into the sixties.

Uncanny X-Men: Divided We Stand contains: Uncanny X-Men # 495-499

After the big blow-out extravaganza that was Messiah CompleX, the X-Men needed some down time. That was one of the highlights of Claremont’s run, showing us some of the time off for the X-Men. However, in Divided We Stand things don’t work out quite as well. The Summers/Frost storyline quickly pulls back to San Francisco, where the whole flower-power scene gets a little old after a while. The storyline just wasn’t as engaging as I would have liked it. However, it does come to a satisfying conclusion that sounds the call for a new home for the X-Men.

The Wolverine/Colossus/Nightcrawler story was much more engaging of the two, with great dialogue and good action. The story as a whole felt rather unimportant as a whole to the furthering of the X-Men storyline, but it was fun, and worth the read.

All-in-all, this one isn’t the best of the collections out there, but it is worth a pick up for fans of the series.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson, Volume 2: The Queen of Air and Darkness - Part 1

NOTE: The Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson, Volume 2: The Queen of Air and Darkness was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by NESFA Press.

It seems that NESFA Press is trying to educate me my genre of preference. No, it isn’t true that I haven’t read the classics. From Mary Shelley to Jules Verne and H.G. Wells to the pulp era of Hugo Gernsbeck to John W. Capmbell, Jr., Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, A. E. van Vogt, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Ursula K. Le Guin, on to more recent figures, such as Joe Haldeman, Robert Silverberg, etc. I’m obviously missing a host of authors in this bunch, but such is the fate of any list of names like this. Yet, somehow NESFA Press has put up three books in a row that fit right into gaps in my genre education. First James Blish, then Roger Zelazny, and now Poul Anderson. Prior to this, I had a very brief introduction to Poul Anderson, in the form of a single short story and mention of him in I. Asimov, Isaac Asimov’s third volume of his autobiography. So, with the excitement generated from the previous two volumes of NESFA Press collections, I dove into this hefty tome, which I am breaking apart into three reviews, both to focus on the stories a bit more, and to let me get in more reviews for you.

The first third I’m looking at begins after an editor’s note and an introduction by Mike Resnick. The stories are as follows:

“The Queen of Air and Darkness”: Likely the most famous story of the bunch in this section, it was also the one I liked least. Go figure. After a slow start, this story of a world seemingly populated by creatures from fairy tales picks up a bit, finally reaching a satisfying conclusion. Not bad, but not my favorite.

“Industrial Revolution”: A wonderful story of a moment in time that led to a war between Earth and the citizens of the asteroids. Exciting, intriguing, and fast-paced, this one was a lot of fun.

“Operation Afreet”: Absolutely wonderful. In a modern world with magic bound by the laws of physics and an army of mythical, mystical creatures, a werewolf and a witch set out on a secret mission to stop the linchpin of an Islamic terrorist army’s plans. A great combination of magic as rationalized by physics, this story was engaging, with very fun characters.

“The Longest Voyage”: Another of the more famous stories here, and another that I didn’t love. Fast paced, with an interesting premise, this story of sailors and island natives who discover a messiah from the sky had a conclusion that I found imminently predictable. It reminded me of a Ray Bradbury story, “The Flying Machine” I think is the title, where a man discovers a wondrous new technology to a rather odd reaction from his emperor. Perhaps this one suffers from being immolated too often in the genre, but regardless, it was good, but predictable.

“Brave to Be a King”: Part of Anderson’s Time Patrol series, this story of a man trapped in the Iran of 2500 years ago was very fun and fast paced. This is one to keep you entertained, with a thoroughly explored plot and entertaining characters.

The section also contains one essay:

“Science Fiction and Science: On Imaginary Science”: An interesting look at how stories have used science, stretched science, and warped science, in the name of science fiction.

Also included are a number of poems: “Jennifer’s Lament,” “Cradle Song,” “Upon the Occasion of Being Asked at a Court of Love to Declare That About His Lady Which Pleases Him the Most,” “Midsummer Song,” and “Christa McAuliffe.” Anderson’s work in verse is quite well done.

At the end of this segment of The Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson, Volume 2: The Queen of Air and Darkness, I’m having a lot of fun with this volume. The first story left me a little unsure, but the stories that came after were a lot of fun. I look forward to diving back into this one, and reading the second third, which has a number of stories that look appealing. So far, so good!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Evil Gazebo by Bernie Mojzes

NOTE: The Evil Gazebo was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Dark Quest Books.

In between big books, I like to try and mix in some shorter stuff. I like longer works as much as the next person, but sometimes you need a breather. That, and I think, in the current market driven by novels (novels pay better than short works, and authors have to fill their belly somehow), especially gigantic, overstuffed novels, the shorter works need to see the light of day and a bigger audience. Thus, when a copy of The Evil Gazebo by Bernie Mojzes was slipped in my mailbox, I made sure to dive right in.

In a dreary house, two girls keep watch on the evil gazebo, and nothing ever happens. So when something does appear, they have to go find out what it is. They discover that this creature may be friendly, and may not bite, and they aren’t sure what to make of it. From this, an adventure of sorts grows, as the girls and their new acquaintance explore the girls’ house, and decide what to do about the thing.

That likely isn’t a very cogent description of the plot of the book, but to say any more would be to take away from the pleasant surprise that is The Evil Gazebo. The story seems to flirt with the line between children’s tale and the fairy tale for adults, playing with dark themes, yet in such a way that it is accessible to all ages, and certainly no more gruesome than the Brothers Grimm and their set of tales. Mojzes has crafted just such a story, and it fits the style of dark fairy tale well, without losing any of the style distinct to Mojzes. It reminds this reviewer very much of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, both in style and quality.

Also of note is the plethora of illustrations that round out this volume, adding a bit to each short chapter. They are sufficiently weird to fit the tale quite well, although they may be a little too odd for some peoples’ tastes.

This is a short read, but very much worth picking up. It won’t take long to read, but is a nice way to spend a bit of captured time one quiet afternoon. And it will be one of those books you will want to read again. Numerous times. If you enjoy fables, fairy tales, stories with a lot more going on than you might imagine and that capture the magic in words, don’t hesitate to pick up a copy of this book.


X-Men: Messiah CompleX by Ed Brubaker, Peter David, Craig Kyle & Chris Yost, and Mike Carey

Luke Reviews just explored Uncanny X-Men: The Extremists as we get caught up with today’s X-Men. The Extremists builds up to a major event that sets up a new status quo that informs the stories for the next few years, up through the just-finished X-Men: Second Coming. That event is the birth of a new mutant baby, the first after the events depicted in House of M. Thus begins X-Men: Messiah CompleX.

In Alaska, a baby mutant is born. The Reavers (focused on more in the X-Men series written by Mike Carey) and the Purifiers (seen predominantly in Craig Kyle & Chris Yost’s New X-Men) make the Alaskan town a battle zone in a fight to recover the baby, with the Purifiers wanting to kill the child as an act of religious fervor, and the Reavers wanting to use the child to further their mutant-dominant agenda. The X-Men find out about the birth, but arrive too late to get the child, instead trying to save the people hurt during the battle. As things play out, all of the major X-Men teams come together to try and save the baby, and give mutants and humans alike hope for the future.

X-Men: Messiah Complex contains: X-Men: Messiah Complex one-shot, Uncanny X-Men #492-494, X-Men #205-207, New X-Men #44-46, and X-Factor #25-27.

Crossovers hold a rather infamous place in X-Men and comics history, frequently being nothing more than a way to sell extra books, and having rather pointless storylines that are confusing if you aren’t reading every single x-book out there. Messiah CompleX proved to be the exception rather than the rule. While it is obvious as you are reading through that things have been building up in the other comics (especially in X-Men and New X-Men, it seems, far more so than in Uncanny X-Men), the major points and bits of information are covered, leaving even new readers with a good understanding of what is going on. While some background is necessary to enjoy this, being totally up-to-date on every book isn’t required.

The story is fast-paced, working through a huge number of different plot threads, yet managing to tie them all back together very nicely at the end. Everyone gets some face time, each of the teams plays a role, and the story flows right along without a hitch. The large cast of characters may seem overwhelming, but it works out well in the end, and is a lot of fun.

Those looking for a crossover with actual implications will find it here as well. New X-Men ended, and spawned the short-lived Young X-Men, while X-Men changed its name to X-Men: Legacy. We see the creation of X-Force, which gets its own series, X-Force, and Cable returns to a prominent role, entering his own new series, Cable. The whole status quo is revamped, and things are all-new all over again.

If you are looking for a fast paced story that wraps up old plot-lines and starts new ones, this is the place to be. Although perhaps not the best book for first-timers.


Uncanny X-Men: The Extremists by Ed Brubaker

Continuing the reading of X-Men, I finished Uncanny X-Men: Rise & Fall of the Shi’Ar Empire, which I loved. The ending left plenty still up in the air, with the team divided and the Shi’Ar Empire under new leadership. Those interested in following the story in space should check out the now out-of-print X-Men: Emperor Vulcan, then move on to X-Men: Kingbreaker, which is contained in War of Kings: Road to War of Kings, then move on to War of Kings and Realm of Kings. I moved on instead with the main X-Men group, and so continued on in Uncanny X-Men with Uncanny X-Men: The Extremists.

After an accident in the underground tunnels that are home to a group of grotesque and deformed mutants, one young mutant is kidnapped, while another barely survives, and makes his way to the home of the X-Men. His arrival leads to a team of X-Men, including “guest star” and returning X-Man Storm, heading underground to confront a secret mutant terrorist cult that wants to reassert mutants as a dangerous threat.

Uncanny X-Men: The Extremists contains: Uncanny X-Men #487-491

Brubaker follows up his epic-scale space opera with a much shorter tale that lies closer to home, featuring the return of a number of characters. This tale manages to be fun, although it also at times feels like a short tale to fill the space between Uncanny X-Men: Rise & Fall of the Shi’Ar Empire and X-Men: Messiah CompleX, working as a bridge that moves the different characters where they need to be for the next major confrontation.

Regardless of that, however, Brubaker delivers a tale that is fun and a fast read, and will leave you excited for the next installment.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Demons edited by Jason M. Waltz

NOTE: Demons was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Rogue Blades Entertainment.

Editor Jason Waltz is turning his publishing house, Rogue Blades Entertainment, into a real go to source for strong modern sword and sorcery action fantasy. He runs a couple of lines of anthologies, the first being the yearly RBE Signature anthologies, which so far consist of Return of the Sword and Rage of the Behemoth, which was reviewed here at Luke Reviews not too long ago, receiving a top notch mark. The second line he is introducing is actually one he has recovered from another publisher. Carnifex Press had a line of anthologies entitled Clash of Steel. However, after Carnifex Press had to close its doors, the series wound up in the hands of Waltz, a huge fan. He retooled the series, taking stories from the original volumes and mixing in new ones, and putting these newly redone anthologies back into the market. Thus, Clash of Steel: Demon, edited by Armand Rosamilia, became Demons: A Clash of Steel Anthology, edited by Jason M. Waltz.

After acknowledgements from Waltz, and an introduction from the original series editor Armand Rosamilia, the stories begin:

“The Man with the Webbed Throat” by Steve Moody: When a bloody man enters a chapel, his discussion with the local priest leads to a startling revelation. An interesting thought piece on free will that seems to espouse a number of beliefs deeply held in the S&S genre, but not the best choice to open the anthology with in my opinion, being low on the “clash of steel” the anthology purports to be all about.

“Imprisoned” by Carl Walmsley: Walmsley’s previous tale, “Serpents beneath the Ice” in Rage of the Behemoth, wasn’t my favorite, and neither was this one. A man who keeps demons trapped in his mind loses one, and must fit to get it back. Walmsley’s style doesn’t engage me as much as a number of the other authors here, but the excitement is there for fans of Walmsley’s work.

“Toxic” by Steven L. Shrewsbury: When a woman comes to town with a demon in tow, who do you run to in hopes of being saved? The comedian?! A fun story that was humorous without going too far, and still contained action and a nice bit of ingenuity. A solid addition to the collection.

“Azieran: Bound by Virtue” by Christopher Heath: An engaging tale of a mage who summons a demon to combat another one on its way to kill him. Heath’s world of Azieran (which comes back later in this volume) seems to have some nice possibilities.

“Bodyguard of the Dead” by C.L. Werner: Shintaro Oba returns in this story of immortals and revenge. Werner presents one of the best stories in this volume, and one of the best stories from 2010 I have read so far.

“Kron Darkbow” by Ty Johnston: An engaging story of a man-for-hire seeking a magical artifact, Johnston has given another entertaining addition to the anthology.

“The Vengance of Tibor” by Ron Shiflet: Another solid story, this time of the lengths a man will go to kill the demon that slaughtered his family.

“The Beast of Lyoness” by Christopher Stires: A man with a troubled past sets out to save as city from a monster that is more than willing to fight fair, this one has a satisfying end that likely won’t be what you expected.

“Fifteen Breaths” by Phil Emery: Not what I was expecting in this anthology, but intriguing nonetheless, this story is of a man looking for something to believe in, and the price he pays to prove it. An interesting piece.

“The Pact” by Jonathan Green: A tale of epic war with Hell, this one had a “surprise” ending that I guessed before it appeared, but still was well-written and fun.

“Blood Ties” by Trista Robichaud: A prostitute and a mercenary set out on a unique rescue mission. A very fun tale with characters I would like to read more about.

“Zeerembuk” by Steve Goble: A demon makes the best of a bad situation in this tale from Goble, which is very engaging, with an ending that works perfectly for his story.

“The Fearsome Hunger” by Rob Mancebo: A Celtic-inspired tale of a man far darker than he seems, and an evil that plagues a town. Yet another great story in this volume.

“The Furnace” by Sandro G. Franco: Up there with Werner’s contribution, this is one of the highlights of the collection, doing a great job of presenting solid characters and an engaging plot. A man sent to hunt down a witch finds far more at stake when he enters a world overrun by demons.

“The First League Out From Land” by Brian Dolton: Not the best of the bunch, but still good, this story of a thief who may have bitten off more than she can chew moved a little slow at first for me, but picked up with a solid, if predictable, conclusion.

“The Sacrifice” by Jason Irrgang: A fast-paced tale of a last stand against the armies of Hell, Irrgang’s story is engaging, exciting, and pulled off a conclusion that was neither neat nor clean, thus perfect for the tale. Well done.

“Son of the Rock” by Laura J. Underwood: A story that seems set in a world the author may have further developed elsewhere, this story of a mage and a warrior exploring a mystery hidden in a deserted town was well written and, as so many of the stories here, very engaging.

“Into Shards” by Murray J.D. Leeder: A king haunted by his impending death seeks the help of a witch n this tale from Leeder, which wasn’t my favorite, but even the stories that don’t top this collection are still among the better half of what I’ve read from the year.

“Through the Dark” by Darla J. Bowen: A half-human woman sets out to rescue a kidnapped girl. Bowen paints an engaging setting and a tense plot.

“Joenna’s Ax” by Elaine Isaak: A brilliant story of one woman’s quest for revenge for her son, and her struggle against discrimination. Very well done; I will be looking for more from Isaak, who has other stories set in this world setting.

“The Lesser: A Sword of the Daemor Tale” by Patrick Thomas: Terrorbelle is given a very difficult choice between the lesser of two evils in this very well written tale from Thomas. Look back here for a review of Thomas’ Mystic Investigators, which contains another Terrorbelle story. A very fun story.

“When the Darkness Grows” by Frederick Tor: RBE’s house author gives us another tale of Kaimer, this time as he seeks down a secret cult that threatens all of Skovolis. An ending that, while it didn’t have the surprise effect I think was intended, was still very satisfying capped off another solid effort from “Frederick Tor.”

“Demon Heart” by Bryan Lindenberger: A knight and a wizard find themselves in competition for far more than the pride of a hunt in this story. Lindenberger gives us a very fun tale.

“Azieran: Racked upon the Altar of Eeyuu” by Christopher Heath: In my mind, this tale isn’t as engaging as Heath’s other Azieran tale in this volume, it still is a fun story of one man who sets out to unite the tribes against a future evil, and the toll fate plays on him. This one hits some metaphysical depths that are certainly intriguing, mainly that of the role we play in destiny.

“Born Warriors” by T.W. Williams: The typical “beware making bargains with a [insert bad bargain maker here]” is given the demon treatment. While this one held no surprises, it was well-written.

“Mistaken Identity” by Robert J. Santa: A story with some mixed roles reminiscent of Twelfth Night, this story of a man trapped in a demon’s body has very solid characterization. I would love to read more about these two.

“Box of Bones” by Jonathan Moeller: A great story of a demon hunter/ spoiled drunkard son was very well written, containing great action scenes. Moeller has created a character I think could carry a series (if he doesn’t already), and is a lot of fun to follow.

“By Hellish Means” by Bill Ward: My least favorite of the anthology happen to also be the last, in this tale of a woman setting out to save a world overrun by Hell. I found myself having a hard time getting wrapped up in this one, although it had exciting action scenes and a plot twist that is satisfying if a little expected.

After having viewed a couple of Rogue Blades Entertainment’s anthologies now, and seeing what they have on the horizon, I can say without hesitation that Jason Waltz and RBE are among the most important forces working in Sword & Sorcery today, if not on top of that list. Demons continues the trend of anthologies mixing well-known names with relative newcomers, and rounding out an anthology that is nothing short of stellar. No one agrees or loves every story in an anthology, but no editor has come closer to getting me to that mark than Waltz, and if he pulled it off it wouldn’t surprise me.

You can’t go wrong picking up an RBE book, and Demons is up there with the best. Also be sure to keep tabs on the other upcoming works from RBE, including Assassins, the next Clash of Steel anthology. After reading this one, you won’t want to miss the next one, and you will have a whole handful of new authors to check out. If you like Sword & Sorcery, heroic fantasy, fantasy in general, or fast-paced action stories of any genre, especially those that manage to be intelligent as well, don’t think twice about picking up Demons or any other RBE anthology.


Uncanny X-Men: Rise & Fall of the Shi’Ar Empire by Ed Brubaker

As Luke Reviews fans know, I’m digging into X-Men, trying to get caught up to the current releases, and exploring the stuff I loved at a much younger age. My last stop was Ed Brubaker’s X-Men: Deadly Genesis, which was good, if not great, but seemed to do quite a bit to set up Brubaker’s run on Uncanny X-Men. After wrapping up Deadly Genesis, it was time to see the next title, Uncanny X-Men: Rise & Fall of the Shi’Ar Empire, Brubaker’s first under the Uncanny X-Men banner.

After the events of X-Men: Deadly Genesis, Vulcan flies out to space, intent on wreaking revenge on the man who killed his mother: D’Ken, the comatose former emperor of the Shi’Ar Empire. Professor Xavier doesn’t want to add more carnage to the wrath of his greatest mistake, so he gathers a team of X-Men consisting of Marvel Girl, Warpath, Nightcrawler, Havok, Polaris, and Darwin (introduced in Deadly Genesis) to race against time to warn Empress Lilandra that her Empire will soon fall under attack from one of the most powerful, and most dangerous, mutants alive.

Uncanny X-Men: Rise & Fall of the Shi’Ar Empire contains: Uncanny X-Men #475 (“Plan B”), #476 (“The Things They Left Behind”), #477 (“Vulcan’s Progress”), #478 (“Castaways”), #479 (“Double-Edged”), #480 (“Vulcan’s Progress (Redux)”), #481 (“Crossing the Rubicon”), #482 (“Imperial Rescue”), #483 (“Vulcan’s Descent”), #484 (“In Exile”), #485 (“The End of All That Is”), #486 (“Endings and Beginnings”), as well as sketches, a diagram of the ship used by the X-Men team, and an interview with Ed Brubaker and artist Billy Tan from an uncredited issue of Marvel Spotlight.

After the okay but not stellar performance in Deadly Genesis, I was a little hesitant about diving into this rather large story, but it turned out that I had absolutely no reason to be. Brubaker has created a fast-paced story that still maintains an epic scope. His storytelling is spot on, throwing wrenches into the plans of the X-Men at every turn, mixing action and solid plot together very well.

His characterization is also spot on. He reworks old character Warpath, and makes him a very engaging and exciting person to follow, and his work on new character Darwin is also top notch, making him a solid addition to the X-Men team, and very much an individual. His exploration of Vulcan gets a bit better, although it still felt a little weak for a villain taking up such a huge amount of the X-Men’s time.

Uncanny X-Men: Rise & Fall of the Shi’Ar Empire is space opera at its most fun, with an engaging cast of characters, plenty of space flight, and no lack of action and excitement. A very fun read.


The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

Fans of Luke Reviews know it: When it comes to Agatha Christie, I am a fan. She is a brilliant author, who can do so much in such a short number of pages, and really make every mystery one to draw you in. So why has it been so long since I last looked at her work? I certainly can’t think of a good reason for it. I set out to rectify this with the next of her Hercule Poirot books that I am reading through in order of publication, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

In a small country village, one person’s business is everyone’s business. So when a rich widow commits suicide, everyone knows about it, and speculates as to the reason why. And everyone wonders, does it have anything to do with her new paramour, Roger Ackroyd? However, when Ackroyd is found murdered after a mysterious phone call to the local doctor, it is up to Poirot to solve a case in which everyone seems to have had the chance, the motive…or both.

This one has all of the traits that make me love Christie’s work: strong characterization of everyone in the novel, very tightly written plotting, with no wasted verbiage and lots of plot details and twists, and the ability to piece together the crime and follow the clues, if you are quick witted enough to keep up with Poirot.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd also has what is likely to be Christie’s most controversial ending in any of her novels or short stories. It is one that readers will either love or hate, or in some cases (like with this reviewer), not be entirely sure how you feel about it. Christie pulls a trick out of her hat that is both brilliant and infuriating, and quite over the top. It is believable, well-explained, and yet to some will feel like a cheat. I certainly still don’t know what to think of it.

Despite that, or perhaps because of it, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd has become a classic of the mystery genre, and the novel that really sent Christie to literary fame. It is a fast paced, thoroughly engaging novel that readers will find hard to put down, and a cornerstone of a genre. Fans of great storytelling, mysteries, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle shouldn’t miss this one.


The Harrowing by Alexandra Sokoloff

It has been quite some time since I have indulged in a horror novel, and I can never really figure out why I go so long without reading them, when I know I am a fan of the genre. Wanting to correct this, I pulled a book off my shelf I have owned for a little while, The Harrowing by Alexandra Sokoloff, with the hopes of discovering a new author worth following in the horror genre.

Robin is staying at her dorm over thanksgiving break, because she can’t take going home to her alcoholic, emotionally abusive mother. She expects a long weekend alone, but in fact finds that four other students are staying as well. However, after a ferocious storm knocks out the pair, the five students begin a game that turns out to have very deadly consequences. And when the weekend ends, they realize that their terror has only just begun.

Sokoloff’s novel began a little slowly, with a bit of extreme angst, as Robin falls into a deep, suicidal depression, but after the first few chapters, the story really kicks in, and the pages fly by. The character’s are very fun, and all feel rather well fleshed out. The story also manages to play both as a ghost story, as well as pulling in some religious mysticism, and both elements work very well. The story alternates between researching the past to find out what the students are dealing with, and struggling with the paranormal entity.

Sokoloff’s debut novel is a thriller of a horror novel, and an absolute joy to read. I would definitely recommend this one to fans of the genre, but also to those interested in the genre but looking for a nice entry point. A solid short novel.


Friday, July 30, 2010

X-Men: Deadly Genesis by Ed Brubaker

Everything is all about energy. So when millions of mutants with the power to alter and control Earth’s energies lose their abilities, where does all of that energy go? This was hinted at in the final pages of Brian Michael Bendis’ House of M, and Brubaker’s first story as scribe of the X-Men picks up right after House of M, with that same question, and its dark answer.

After the drastic change of the status quo of the Marvel Universe, a large wave of energy is released, the culmination of the powers lost by the former mutants. This wave tears into a space shuttle, killing everyone, but also has an effect less apparent at first. It hits a large mass in space, and awakens someone living inside it. Shocked at the date, he heads to Earth. The X-men, meanwhile, are still living with the realities of a post-House of M world, and things begin to heap upon them as ghosts of the past appear before their very eyes. After reading a strange energy source, a team heads out to find it, and finds far more, starting a fight that will tear open old wounds, expose betrayals, and set up a new era for the X-Men.

This volume collects X-Men: Deadly Genesis #1-6, which includes the main story, plus five back up stories that add more depth and character background to the new characters introduced, “Petra,” “Darwin,” “Sway,” “Kid Vulcan,” and “What Emma Doesn’t Know.”

Brubaker has gradually been garnering a name for himself in the comics world, so there was a lot of excitement when it was announced that he was moving to Uncanny X-Men. He wanted to start things out with a bang, shaking up the major mythos of the X-Men canon with his opening mini-series. While he has indeed done that, digging back to old storylines from decades ago, it wasn’t the smoothest work it could have been.

Vulcan comes across as a very flat villain, no real emotional rationale for his actions. He seemingly takes on all of the X-Men simply because he is angry with one person, and his plans seem a touch contradictory at times.

However, the story itself is fun, doing a good job of getting new readers up to speed, and reacquainting old readers with the status quo. The characters seem to stay in character, the action is fun, and there is plenty of drama to keep the story moving along, while at the same time introducing a number of new characters.

The story does end without a very solid conclusion, which works well to start the next installment, Uncanny X-Men: Rise & Fall of the Shi’ar Empire, but means that this one doesn’t stand alone very well.

A fun story, and a nice introduction to a new run on Uncanny X-Men, although not the best work from that series. Worth a look to get started on the road to getting caught up.


House of M by Brian Michael Bendis

Those of you who read my essay, “The Post-X-Men vs. Apocalypse X-Men,” will recall that this is where I proposed to start my project of getting caught up with X-Men. Many people seem to have low opinions of X-Men because of its status as a comic book, but it tells stories just as engaging and entertaining as most of the novels I read, and at times (such as the brilliant God Loves, Man Kills written by Chris Claremont) really reaches towards the best of storytelling, regardless of genre or format. So, with plenty of excitement, I dove into the event that in large part launched the last few years of X-Men comics, House of M.

Magneto’s daughter Wanda is slowly losing her grip on reality, and her powers are just enough that this is a big problem. The first time she lost her grip, three people died. Under control again, the X-Men and the Avengers join together to decide the fate of their friend and former hero. However, before they can make a choice, tragedy strikes, and in a flash of white, the world changes. Magneto is king of the most powerful nation in the world, mutants are the upper class, and the X-Men and Avengers don’t exist. However, one man remembers the truth, and sets out to overthrow an entire world, and set things back on the right path.

Brian Michael Bendis is a very solid storyteller, and he doesn’t falter here. His sweeping story manages to showcase the drastic new direction the world has taken, while at the same time giving us a cast of characters to follow. He manages to hit some interesting depths as well, including a discussion on the ethical “rightness” of destroying one world, even if it is artificially constructed, for the sake of returning things to the original world. Combining action and a great plot, Bendis makes this one a real winner, and a great jumping on point for new readers. A great start to my surge into the newer X-Men series.


A Cup of Normal by Devon Monk

NOTE: A Cup of Normal was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Fairwood Press.

Devon Monk is a new author for me. I have seen a few of her books at the store from time to time, but not being much of a fan of urban fantasy, I never gave them a look. However, when I received a copy of her first short story collection, A Cup of Normal, it looked to be quite different than her novels, and, intrigued, I dove into the stories.

“Dusi”: This story of a mythological monster with a case of the lonlies was a light, fun tale, and a solid start to the collection.

“Beer with a Hamster Chaser”: Another light story, this time of a science experiment and an awkward guy, this one was also fun, but brief.

“Probe”: Machines and robots work to avert catastrophe in this solid tale.

“That Saturday”: A story of a girl, her undead dog, and living stone heads. Okay, but a little too much on the stupid side of silly for my tastes.

“The Wishing Time”: The first of a couple of anti-Santa Christmas stories, this one is of a troll who wants his family back. Okay, but the light and brief tale is starting to suffer from too much lack of depth.

“Bearing Life”: The best story of the volume, this tale explores a queen who is in an unwinnable war. Nice character depth and solid storytelling.

“Stitchery”: A good story, this quirky tale of a woman whose animal dies manages to be both fun and engaging.

“Last Tour of Duty”: A ghost war story, this one is another strong contribution to the collection.

“Oldblade”: The story of a sword held by an evil, undeserving man, this one seemed a little too excited about the concept of the sword’s point of view, and not enough of a full, good story, but wasn’t too bad.

“Skein of Sunlight”: While the vampire romance subgenre isn’t too much to my liking, this one managed to be just quirky enough to be endearing, and a fun story. Not my favorite denouement, but not bad.

“Stringing Tomorrow”: A story of a working man in the future, this one just didn’t grasp me much at all. Too little to like in this one.

“X-Day”: Another story that leaves Santa in a bad light, this tale of a girl and her cherished doll had too little detail to back up the “What?”s and “Why?”s to be much more than a forgettable if mildly entertaining short.

“Menders”: An odd little tail of aliens and slavery, this one was okay without ever hitting really good.

“Leeward to the Sky”: Her self-described “rhythmic fairytale” captured none of the magic of fairytales, and wasn’t an engaging story. Very short, but still one I decided wasn’t worth finishing.

“Fishing the Edge of the World”: A story that captured a neat style and mood, this post-death story of a suicide victim was, as became a trend, simply okay.

“Moonlighting”: A fun story in the midst of some downers, this was a welcome change up, and was an engaging story of a pixie and an ogre.

“Christmas Card”: Another okay one, this story of Christmas and a magical deck of cards didn’t do much for me.

“Ducks in a Row”: A good, almost Matheson-esque story of a kid at a carnival with a dark past was one of the most engaging in the collection.

“Singing Down the Sun”: This one flopped for me. A myth of sorts, on the origin of music, I couldn’t get through it.

“Here After Life”: Another after-death story, in a way, this one was engaging, and had an impact to it that I felt much of this collection was lacking.

“Falling with Wings”: Another story that I found too hard to get into, so I let it go. A weak end to the collection.

“When a Train Calls Lonely”: See the one directly above. Same thoughts for this one, verbatim.

This collection had some very entertaining stories, but they were far too few. Many of these pieces were just light fluff, and while that is good some of the time, too much of it made it suffer, similar to what happened when I read The Holler by Marge Fulton. There aren’t characters to connect with. There isn’t enough plot or detail to make the actions matter to me. And the ones that did have that had too weak of a story to make them very readable.

The biggest problem with this collection was that it simply suffered from being very okay, but not anything better overall. The layout was odd as well, with a lot of upbeat stories at the beginning, and closing out with a number of depressing tales that clashed badly with the opening pieces. All in all, this may appeal to people who are big fans of Monk’s novels, but I didn’t find enough here to recommend it to the average reader.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Sword of Justice by Chris Wraight

NOTE: Sword of Justice was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by the Black Library.

Warhammer Fantasy has a lot of famous characters: Gotrek & Felix, Malus Darkblade, The Blackhearts, etc. However, a number of characters from the game haven’t received much face time from Black Library, and they are working to alleviate that gap with their new series, Warhammer Heroes. Each book focuses on a major figure in the Warhammer Fantasy setting, and gives some more depth into their background and story. The first volume, Sword of Justice, follows Ludwig Schwarzhelm, champion of the Emperor. It looked like a neat idea for a series, and an exciting starting novel.

However, I jumped in and found it not at all to my liking. The beginning is an extended fight scene with no rationale. Why are the imperial warriors, gathered from the dregs of what was left with another army on campaign, at this location? Why was it critical to the war effort? Why were the beastmen attacking? These and a host of other questions left me baffled without answer, and it didn’t help that the beginning hardly featured Ludwig Schwarzhelm, who took his own time showing up, and didn’t make a huge splash.

This novel turned out to be not at all what I was expecting, and not much to my liking. Some reason for the huge violence of a story is necessary for me. I like fight scenes as much as the next person, but without some reason behind it, it becomes a pointless and meaningless part that doesn’t do much for me at all. I found this one unfinishable. Let it go, but keep your eyes peeled for the next one, by C.L. Werner, which has quite a bit of potential.

The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Volume One: Threshold by Roger Zelazny

NOTE: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Volume One: Threshold was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by NESFA Press.

The New Wave of science fiction was a movement that revolutionized the genre, moving away from the pulp and towards a new, highbrow literary style. Michael Moorcock’s work as editor of New Worlds really ushered in the movement, with authors such as Samuel R. Delany (Dhalgren), Brian Aldiss (Report on Probability A), Thomas M. Disch, Philip Jose Farmer, and Harlan Ellison (both as author and as editor of the core New Wave anthology, Dangerous Visions), among many others, contributing to this new mood in the genre. The movement rocked genre fiction, and changed the face of it permanently, even after its decline, when it was replaced with the new burst of Hard SF led by Gregory Benford, Greg Bear, and David Brin, and the cyberpunk movement epitomized by William Gibson’s Neuromancer.

One of the key figures of this era of science fiction was Roger Zelazny, who exploded on the scene, putting out classic stories early and often. NESFA Press has recently released a six volume set of the complete short works of Roger Zelazny, from his early beginnings through to the end of his career. Each volume contains a huge amount of content, and is a treasure trove of classic works. I jumped in right at the first volume. The stories begin after an editorial note and two introductions, “Out of Nowhere” by Robert Silverberg and “Before Amber” by Carl B. Yoke.

“A Rose for Ecclesiastes”: This was my introduction to Zelazny, as I was reading The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One. I was curious how it would hold up on re-reading, and it acquitted itself quite well. This tale of a poet on Mars is a very well-wrought piece.

“And the Darkness is Harsh”: The first of Zelazny’s high school tales, this one is quite forgettable. I can’t explain much without giving away all of this two page story.

“Mr. Fuller’s Revolt”: Another of the high school era tales, this one follows Mr. Fuller in a post-life utopia of sorts, and shows some of the depth and irony that would infuse later works.

“Youth Eternal”: Another high school age story, and another forgettable one. A rendition of the over-done “Them darn kids!” stories.

“The Outward Sign”: The only college-age tale of Zelazny (who was focusing on poetry at the time), this one also proves to be rather unimpressive, but the fable-like style of this story of a holy man turned to sin becomes important in later Zelazny works, such as Lord of Light.

“Passion Play”: Finally reaching Zelazny’s professional career stories, we get this tale of robots enacting a very unique religious celebration. It isn’t on the same level as many of the other stories, but it is still entertaining.

“The Graveyard Heart”: Another Zelazny classic, this story of cold sleep through the ages weaves an intriguing love story with a crushing ending through intense emotional responses to outliving what you created. A solid piece of work.

“Horseman!”: While almost overly-stylized at times, with incessant and uncontrolled metaphors, this story takes a nice twist to that of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, when a horseman arrives in town and can’t find his companions.

“The Teachers Rode a Wheel of Fire”: A very good story of aliens trying to teach another species about technology, and what they didn’t mean to teach him but did anyway. A nice tale with a nice ending.

“Moonless in Byzantium”: In the robot controlled future, one man feels the poetry in his heart, and may die for sharing it. This is a fun story, and a nice tip of the hat to William Butler Yeats.

“On the Road to Splenoba”: A fun combination of war in Russia and country vampires, this tale works on tying the two together, with an ending that worked quite nicely.

“Final Dining”: An artist uses a material that may be more than just the ground rock he thought it was, in this tale of betrayal and tragedy. Not my favorite of the pieces at first, the end makes up for some of the weaker points at the beginning.

“The Borgia Hand”: An intriguing tale with a nice twist that runs throughout, but may only be caught by a few readers before the notes at the end explain it, this tale does a nice job of combining the legend of the Wandering Jew and…a man not known for being a lover of Jews. Well written.

“Nine Starships Waiting”: To my mind, this was the low point of the Zelazny stories post-college. An at times overly obscure tale of a formerly-dead assassin who is sent to stop an uprising, this one just flopped. I can understand why this one was previously uncollected.

“Circe Has Her Problems”: A fun, fast, and flippant tale of Circe, post-Odyssey, who has moved into space and seeks to find a man who can overcome the curse of Sappho.

“The Malatesta Collection”: A very engaging tale of a future that is strangled by censorship, and finds that the works of the past may be too much for “modern” sensibilities. A nice combination of many literary names and titles and a bid against censorship.

“The Stainless Steel Leech”: A vampiric robot in a civilization of robots finds only one companion: an actual vampire. A nice story, although not as emotionally effecting as I had thought it could be.

“The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth”: For my money, this is the best story in the collection. Zelazny’s story is like a Moby Dick on a Venus of the pulp era, but manages to be all Zelazny at the same time. A man becomes obsessed with capturing an Ikky, the great sea beast of the seas of Venus. Exciting, engaging, and powerfully written, this one is everything that is good about Zelazny.

“A Thing of Terrible Beauty”: A being in the mind of a drama critic tries to discover the meaning of pity, as the clock ticks down on planet Earth. A tale that uses emotional depth, or lack thereof, to great effect.

“Monologue for Two”: The gimmick of using nothing but one person’s side of a conversation works well here, in this story of a woman who finds a doctor that owes her a spot of revenge. Very good.

“Threshold of the Prophet”: A tale of the poet Hart Crane in the future, this one was okay, but didn’t do a whole lot for me.

“A Museum Piece”: A man decides that, if his art doesn’t imitate life, then his life will imitate art. A bizarre story that was, again, okay but not great.

“Mine Is the Kingdom”: The story of the last man on Earth, an unwilling ambassador to the alien Puffy race. This story was engaging, but not the best.

“King Solomon’s Ring”: A man who has “the gift of tongues” goes out to meet and communicate with alien races, but finds his mental match. A good story, although I’m not sure that the extended letter pastoral style was the most effective way to put this story.

“The Misfit”: The story of a man conscious of the fact that he is trapped in his dreams, with an ending I loved. A nice story, neatly wrapped up.

“The Great Slow Kings”: A fun story of two ancient kings who live life at a very slow pace, and their sole subject: a patient robot. Nice humor makes this one a winner.

“Collector’s Fever”: The story of a man who finds a sentient rock. Okay, but not great.

“The Night Has 999 Eyes”: In all honesty, I didn’t really get this one. Overly dense, with a page-long sentence, this one did nothing for me at all.

“He Who Shapes”: A very long novella about a man who shapes dreams as a psychiatric technique, it manages to be the most densely crowded with allusions, metaphors, legends, etc., of the stories in this volume, but also, behind “The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of his Mouth,” one of the most engaging contained here. A very intricate plot makes this one resonate well when finished.

Intermixed with the stories are selections of Zelazny’s poetry. Volume one contains the following poems: “Braxa,” “Ecclesiastes’ Epilogue,” “Bok,” “Diet,” “Slush, Slush, Slush,” “The Agnostic’s Prayer,” “On May 13, 1937,” “The Cactus King,” “One Wintered Way Through Evening, and Burning Bushes Along It,” “In the Dogged House,” “Future, Be Not Impatient,” “Flight,” “Sense and Sensibility,” “The World of Stat’s a Drunken Bat,” “The Cat Licks Her Coat,” “From a Seat in the Chill Park,” “Rodin’s ‘The Kiss’,” “To His Morbid Mistress,” “Old Ohio Folkrag,” “How a Poem Means,” “Concert,” “Iceage,” “Hart Crane…,” “Southern Cross,” “I Used to Think in Lines That Were Irregular to the Right,” “Hybris, or The Danger of Hilltops,” “St. Secaire’s,” “In Pheleney’s Garage,” “The Black Boy’s Reply to William Butler Yeats,” “Rite of Spring,” “Decade Plus One of Roses,” and “See You Later, Maybe…” I’m not brilliant at explaining why I do or don’t like a poem, but I can say, without whys, that the poetry collected here is very enjoyable, and worth a read.

After the stories and poems, we have two articles:

“Sundry Notes on Dybology and Suchlike”: This essay doesn’t do a whole lot on the proposed subject of writing science fiction and fantasy, and is rather unimpressive, in all honesty.

“‘…And Call Me Roger’: The Literary Life of Roger Zelazny, Part 1” by Christopher S. Kovacs, MD: A very well done biographical piece that covers the same portion of Zelazny’s career as covered by the stories in this volume. A large number of references allowed for direct quotes of Zelazny to make up a nice chunk of the content, adding a lot to the otherwise well-researched and well written segment. The only downside to this that I saw was that it seemed to repeat content contained in the afterwards on occasion. While that isn’t necessarily a bad thing on its own, having sat down to read through the book, it meant that those afterwards were still fresh in my mind, and thus I felt it detracted a bit from the otherwise good biographical segment.

Things are then wrapped up with a few “Curiosities”:

“Conditional Benefit”: The first part of the earliest Zelazny story on file, this one certainly reads like he was very young at the time, but it is still not a bad piece, nevertheless. An insurance man on Venus finds an interesting client.

“Hand of the Master”: Another fragment, this time concerning a dead man brought into a new body hundreds of year in his future. Not enough here to make any real judgment on it.

“The Great Selchie of San Francisco Bay”: Part of a script for a story about a selchie, or “sea-folk,” who has a love that visits a coffee house. Again, not much content to go on here.

“Studies in Saviory”: A long story about two monsters, Zlaz and Yok, who must stop Hell from unleashing its armies on the city of monsters above it. A very fun tale, indeed.

That is a lot of content to cover in one review, but here is the overall look: This is a collection that fans of the genre need. Not those who just like the occasional science fiction or fantasy, but those who are interested in the history of the genre, in the movements of it. Fans of Roger Zelazny will get a lot out of this as well, as the presentation of his stories in the order they were written and/or published gives a whole new perspective on Zelazny’s growth as an author. While there are stories above that I said weren’t too excellent, they really showed how the author was emerging, how he was taking elements of okay stories and tying them together to make great ones. There are lots of bits and pieces of his life tied in as well, which do a lot to add to his story as a whole.

Those looking for a fast-paced, exciting story won’t find that here. Zelazny piles on the references, allusions, subtleties, and detailed in-jokes to the extent that, even with the notes after each story (which were a godsend), I still doubt I got everything out of them. However, you don’t need to get all of the references (or any of them really) to enjoy the stories, in most cases. And with the notes, everyone can piece together even the most dense of passages. Zelazny wrote engaging, intriguing, thought provoking stories. One is likely to get the most out of this by reading these through over a longer period, enjoying a couple, then coming back, instead of over-indulging, although immersing yourself in his rich fiction has a joy all of its own. This is for those who are looking for the non-straight-forward, deep thinking science fiction and fantasy, ones that you may read a few times before you fully get it, but that reward you each time for the reading. Any collection of Zelazny is far more than the sum of its parts.

Pick up a copy of this, and see the birth of one of science fiction and fantasy’s most important authors. It won’t be an experience that you will soon forget.