The chronicle of my retirement life continues with a short review of The Faceless Ones by Derek Landy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Teleporters are being murdered. (These are people who can do what a Star Trek transporter does but without the transporter.) Who is killing them and why are the questions skeletal detective Skullduggery Pleasant and his teenage assistant Valkyrie Cain tackle in this third full length novel in the series. Given the title, I don’t suppose it’s a spoiler to say it all has to do with bringing about the return of the Faceless Ones.
This, like the others I’ve read so far, is an enjoyable adventure. It has lots of witty banter and loads of “action” (i.e. superpower hand-to-hand fighting). The characters are distinct and pleasantly quirky, and the plot makes about as much sense as any other fantasy story. It’s a good, quick read. I quite enjoyed it. So, on to the next book in the series….
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I spend a lot of my retirement reading, so, it’s time for another book review. My copy of this one is part of a 9-book boxed set that I bought recently. I think I got a very good deal. It originally sold for £71.91, which equates to about $90.00 US. I paid $58.83. I’m not sure why I’m sharing that, but I do love a bargain. (It’s probably not healthy, but I base a fair amount of my diet around what’s on BOGO sale (buy one get one free) at the supermarket.)
Playing with Fire by Derek Landy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The skeleton detective and his teenage apprentice are back for their second adventure together. This time, they need to stop a sorcerer from bringing back the Faceless Ones (like a bunch of evil gods). Unfortunately, he has minions, magic armor, and possibly an ally (or at least an informant) in the local magical law enforcement organization. The good guys are fun. The bad guys are thoroughly despicable. There’s lots nasty villainous types, loads of witty banter, and several (sometimes too prolonged) superpower fight scenes. This series doesn’t pretend to be great literature. Actually, it doesn’t take itself very seriously at all, which I quite appreciate. My taste in fantasy leans heavily to the light side. This doesn’t have the kinds of insights or real world relevance you often find in a Terry Pratchett novel (for example), but it’s still a quite enjoyable read.
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The God of Lost Words by A.J. Hackwith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Stories have power, which demons crave, which is why Hell’s library is under assault. First, they come for the Arcane wing; next, the Unwritten Branch. The only way to save it, may be to change it, to get other wings of the Library, which are hosted by other afterlife realms, to join them to break free. But to do that, they need a guide, a realm, and a god, and those are in very short supply. In fact, no one has seen an actual god in quite some time.
This is a marvelous fantasy story that reads like a modern creation myth. The characters are delightful and their friendships are inspiring. When I finished reading this final book of the trilogy last night, I experienced something reminiscent of the “Oh, that was wonderful!” feeling I often got at the end of a Terry Pratchett story. That’s a rare thing, indeed. Nicely done, Hackwith. Much appreciated.
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The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It’s been said that everyone has a book in them, a story only they can write, and although the vast majority of these remain unwritten, all are shelved in a library in Hell. Claire is spending her afterlife as its librarian, presumably for her sins. It’s become something of a routine job for her until an unwritten book escapes and she goes to Earth to retrieve it, and she is then confronted by a fallen angel who mistakenly assumes she’s there for something else entirely, which turns out to be true, although she didn’t know it at the time.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable tale. It reminds me of Pratchett and Gaiman’s Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch in that it’s fairly witty, imaginative, has a certain charm, and features mythological characters from the Abrahamic religions and gives them a bit of personality. I found it to be a very good read.
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The Elsewhere Gate is the story of two students from modern America who are plunged into a strange world with unknown creatures, airships, and money based on magic — a place where almost everyone has magic but few have much money. Here, they are pursued by a covetous moneylender who believes they hold the key that will open new worlds for him to exploit.
This book will be released worldwide 1 August 2018.
You can preorder digital editions for 99¢ from:
I’ve published seven books since 2011 and will be publishing another one this year. I write every day, sometimes just for a couple hours, sometimes for eight or more. Admittedly, it feels a bit too much like work at times, but it’s an enjoyable hobby. I especially appreciate every review readers post to Amazon or Goodreads or wherever—even those that aren’t five stars. Honest reviews are how I gauge a book’s success. The number of purchases is secondary, and the money I receive in royalties doesn’t enter into the calculation at all. It’s not about the money. I’d be extremely pleased if my books made a gazillion dollars, but it’s not why I write them.
Being an indie writer, I have a lot of control over the pricing of my books. The prices for my trade paperback editions have to be enough to cover production, shipping, and handling, but since eBooks are cheap to reproduce and cost almost nothing to deliver, I’ve priced most of mine at 99¢. This is mainly because that’s as low as the big distributors will allow. I have managed to convince some retailers to offer a couple of my books free, but Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Sony, and others frown on free eBooks because, unlike me, they measure success in terms of money. Free books don’t make any for them.
There is one notable exception to the 99¢ rule. Smashwords is an online digital publisher that has almost 400,000 books available, both fiction and nonfiction, which can be downloaded in pretty much any format you need (epub, mobi, pdf, rtf, lrf, pdb, txt, or html). They, too, are a business and need to make money to stay in business, but they have a unique entrepreneurial flair to their pricing model. Authors can let readers decide what they want to pay for a book. If the author has selected this as an option, you will see You set the price! at the top right side of the screen just above the Buy button. This isn’t a joke or a bait and switch gimmick. You really can set the price. You’re more than welcome to pay any amount of money you wish, or you can pay nothing. Absolutely nothing, and you get the same book with the same content, in the same format as anyone else who buys it. You decide what that book is worth to you and pay as you see fit. It’s as simple as that.
All of my books on Smashwords, other than those I’ve specifically made free, have this option.* If you wish to pay for them, you may. If you don’t, that’s fine. I don’t mind. Seriously. I really don’t mind. I’d much prefer they be read for nothing than not read at all. It’s not about the money.
The Brane Skip device may allow a spaceship to skip between layers of reality, bypass normal space, and avoid the universal speed limit—the speed of light. Lisa Chang, mission commander for its first crewed test, doesn’t trust it. It seems like magic to her, and she doesn’t believe in magic, not even after the ship skips to a fantasy version of Earth, complete with dragons, orcs, and wizards.
The Scarecrow’s Brane by D.L. Morrese
You set the price! Words: 79,940. Language: English. Published: July 3, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Adventure, Fiction » Science fiction » Adventure
The spaceship Brane Child emerges from skip-space into a whirlwind and accidentally squashes the only effective protection Emerald City had against the tyrannical Red Witch of the South. Now, Lisa Chang and her crew must make their way through the Wild Lands of Oddz to convince the Blue Wizards to create a new protector for the Republic of Emerald.
The Corporation made him to observe humans and make sure they weren’t up dangerous things like inventing, exploring, or learning to read. But as the years go by and he works with them day after day, century after century, he grows to like them. Is it right to keep them happy but ignorant? Shouldn’t this be a choice they make for themselves?
A different kind of lighthearted science fiction story for epic fantasy fans. On a not so distant planet, a young, naive prince encounters reality and tries to prevent a war.
The Warden War continues the adventures of Prince Donald of Westgrove and completes the lighthearted tale of looming war, subversion, and a terrible magical weapon begun in The Warden Threat. The Warden books are a delight. They are sure to appeal to readers of fantasy and science fiction who may be looking for something fresh and different.
Amy’s Pendant by D.L. Morrese
You set the price! Words: 77,250. Language: English. Published: March 11, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Adventure, Fiction » Young adult or teen » Sci-Fi & fantasy
The antique pendant Amy receives for her fourteenth birthday unlocks an ancient mystery and traps her inside an alien labyrinth populated with strange robots, android animals, and a central intelligence that does not want her to leave.
Disturbing Clockwork by D.L. Morrese
You set the price! Words: 107,520. Language: English. Published: April 21, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Steampunk & retropunk, Fiction » Fantasy » Epic
Benkin, a brilliant but quirky inventor, stumbles upon something extraordinary—clockwork automatons. All he wants is to understand them. Snyde, a fugitive from the king’s justice, has other plans.
*I haven’t made them all free, as opposed to ‘Set your own price’, because I really don’t want to piss off Amazon (which outsells all my other distributors by about 1000 to 1). I also wouldn’t mind making some money out of this. I’d be content if my royalties covered my writing expenses. (e.g. I wore out a keyboard last week and had to buy a new one, which I bought from Amazon)
There are, as I see it, two major subdivisions of speculative fiction.
There’s science fiction, in which the setting and all (or at least most) of the props and trappings have a basis (albeit sometimes implausibly) in known science. Within the context of the story, the aliens, whiz-bang technology, and special effects are presumed to be scientifically explicable. We may not know how to create warp drive or gravity plates, for example, but if the people of a science-fictional universe figured it out, the story implies that they did so using scientific principles and (importantly) without violating any known laws of physics.
And then, there’s fantasy, in which imagination has free rein to disregard physics, or any other scientific constraint if the author so chooses. In fantasy, mythological creatures, mystical forces, and magic dominate the setting, and their scientific inexplicability (or impossibility) is no detriment to their existence within the story.
This is, of course, a purely academic distinction. It defines different genres of fiction, but individual stories are often a mix of several. Fantasy, romance, sci-fi, adventure, comedy, and mystery can all coexist happily in a single and entirely enjoyable story. Star Wars is one well-known example that mixes both science fiction and fantasy. The setting, with its space ships and blasters, looks like science fiction, but it’s the mystical Force that drives the story.* If you want to attach a genre label to it, ‘science fantasy’ works about as well as any.
But, getting back to reality…I mean fantasy, there is a subgenre sometimes referred to as ‘magic realism’. This may sound like an oxymoron, and I suppose in some ways it is, but stories in this subgenre place magic and supernatural elements in a setting that otherwise feels realistic. Within the story, the characters may regard magic as an ordinary part of everyday life. The distinction between natural and supernatural doesn’t exist. While immersed in the story, the reader is encouraged to suspend disbelief and accept that the magic could exist in the real world.
Counter-fantasy is the reverse of that. The stories are set in worlds that feel like traditional fantasy, but either the magic doesn’t work the way characters in the story think it does, or it is clear to the reader that the magic can only exist within the confines of the fictional fantasy universe. Rather than blur the line between fantasy and reality, it emphasizes it.
The idea for counter-fantasy came to me due to the influence of two great writers, Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. For reasons I could not explain at first, their books seemed different from those by other writers. I enjoyed them more, and it wasn’t simply because of the humor. After several re-readings, the underlying reason finally dawned on me**; they don’t ask me to suspend disbelief for the sake of the story. They don’t require that I abandon reason, intellect, or common sense to visit their fictional worlds. It is always clear that their settings are not real and that the reader is not supposed to believe that they could be real. They’re fiction, pure and simple. The stories aren’t to be taken seriously, but, at the same time, they present serious truths beneath the absurdity. They do what traditional fairy tales were intended to do. They provide a clearly fictional example to convey a serious nonfictional point.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a short book about some poor sap named Arthur Dent who hitches a ride with belligerent aliens just as they’re blowing up Earth…but that part of the story is nonsense. The aliens are ridiculous. Their motive of creating a hyperspace bypass is absurd. It’s a surface story, and the reader isn’t supposed to regard it as anything other than that. It is simply an entertaining framework that ties together several observations about humanity, from the soulless momentum of bureaucracy to the human search for meaning in a vast, uncaring universe. Kind of depressing, that, but couched in humor, the point, the ultimate point in the book comes through. Don’t Panic! The universe is what it is, it will do what it does, and if we think we can make much of a difference in that, well, that’s funny.
Terry Pratchett’s Discworld fantasy stories make a different point—several in fact***. They don’t laugh at the ultimate absurdity of human action; they stress its importance. Humans choose what they will do and what they will be. This may not matter to the overall fate of the universe, but it matters to individual people and to those around them. Pratchett’s stories address greed, sexism, prejudice, jingoism, religion, belief, tradition…. And they do so in stories featuring witches and wizards. But unlike magic realism, Pratchett isn’t trying to make the setting feel real. After all, the stories take place on a flat world resting on the backs of four huge elephants standing atop a planet-size turtle. This absurdity provides a constant reminder that the surface story is fiction and shouldn’t be regarded as anything else.
Both of these great authors create superbly entertaining stories that readers should not take seriously to convey points that they should. That’s what I saw in them, anyway, and that’s what most impressed me. I have a fairly skeptical nature. I don’t suspend disbelief easily, and both Adams and Pratchett provided meaningful and enjoyable stories that didn’t require me to.
A lot of modern fantasy, and even some science fiction, carries a serious tone that clashes with settings that simply cannot be taken seriously. Basic absurdities are presented as if they are not. It’s as if the author expects the reader not to notice clear violations of the laws of gravity, motion, thermodynamics, or probability. Perhaps I have a hair-trigger BS**** reflex, but things like this tend to ruin the story for me. If the story has a serious tone and I read, for example, that some witch or wizard turned someone into a frog, my immediate reaction is, “Where did all the extra mass go?”*****
The thing is, I like fantasy. I enjoy fairy tales. But a good many of the more recent fantasy stories I’ve read (or began to read and gave up on) seemed to take themselves far too seriously. It was as if the writers forgot the meaning of fantasy. It’s not real.******
So, that’s how I got the idea for counter-fantasy. It’s lighthearted speculative fiction with a fantasy-like feel, but it doesn’t try to make the fantasy elements in the story seem as if they could exist outside of it. It maintains, even emphasizes the lines between natural and supernatural, rational and irrational, and knowledge and belief. This, I hope, allows readers to enjoy the story without triggering their BS reflexes. It’s a bit less immersive, a bit less escapist than some fantasy, but I think it provides a good alternative for readers who like to keep one metaphorical foot grounded in reality even when enjoying a work of speculative fiction.
* I’m fairly sure George Lucas intended Star Wars to be a fairy tale with space ships. “A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away…” is far too much like the traditional fairy tale beginning (“A Long Time Ago, In a Land Far Away…”) to be a coincidence.
**I can be a terribly slow learner at times.
***With over 40 Discworld books in the series, a lot of points can be made.
**** BS, of course, stands for Balderdash & Stupidity. What else could it possible mean?
*****In Pratchett’s story A Hat Full of Sky, a young witch turns an unlucky fellow into a small frog and Sir Terry wisely notes that the extra mass manifests as a pink blob nearby.
******Sometimes, I also suspect that there must be some kind of competition going on to see who can create the darkest, most depressing, and unenjoyable books possible, but that’s a separate issue.
- 2015 Towel Day / Wear the Lilac Day – https://dlmorrese.wordpress.com/2015/05/24/2015-towel-day-wear-the-lilac-day/
- The Difference Between Science Fiction and Fantasy – https://dlmorrese.wordpress.com/2012/04/21/the-difference-between-science-fiction-and-fantasy/
- More on the Difference Between Science Fiction and Fantasy – https://dlmorrese.wordpress.com/2013/10/15/more-on-the-difference-between-science-fiction-and-fantasy/
I wrote my original post on this subject in April 2012. At the time, I realized that some people were hazy on the distinction between these two genres of speculative fiction, but I had no idea it was controversial. I’m still not sure it is, but the question can certainly lead to some heated debate if you stray from the main subject far enough. This is what happened in a Goodreads SciFi and Fantasy Book Club member’s chat entitled, innocuously enough, Fantasy vs Science Fiction. Who knew such a question could be so divisive?
The Goodreads discussion began on December 8, 2012 with this innocent enough distinction:
- Fantasy – magic and/or supernatural creatures and/or a made-up world
- Science fiction – advanced technology (usually set in the future)
That was over ten months ago, and the thread briefly returned to sanity the past weekend after a few months abroad, although I fear it may reverse course yet again. The discussion continues. It is now the length of an epic novel. I’m not kidding. By copying and pasting one page to Word and having it count the number of words, and then multiplying that by the number of pages, I estimated there were over 126,000 words in the posts that are still showing. Depending on the font and page size, this could be as much as 500 pages in a novel, and it does not count the posts written by one of the more active participants, which he afterwards deleted (but I’m getting ahead of myself).
In general, the above definitions provide a fair generalization, and most people agreed on the basic distinction between the two genres. Participants in the discussion offered quotes and aphorisms both famous and obscure, such as:
- “…science fiction, given its grounding in science, is possible; fantasy, which has no grounding in reality, is not.” ~ Isaac Asimov
- “It’s been said that science fiction and fantasy are two different things: science fiction: the improbable made possible; fantasy: the impossible made probable…” ~ Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone
- “Succinctly: there’s discontinuity between our reality and fantasy; there’s continuity between our reality and science fiction.” ~ Robert J. Sawyer
- “A true SF writer is allowed only one unexplained scientific ‘miracle’ per story. Beyond that, SF becomes Fantasy.” ~ A few people participating were familiar with this or something much like it, but no one was entirely sure where it originated.
But wait a second. Don’t those definitions reflect a Western bias toward science (as one participant suggested)?
I don’t personally think so. Science may not be the only method of understanding the world we live in, but it works better than reading entrails, trying to see portents in the positions of stars, prophecies of various kinds, and all the other stuff people have used. This may seem like a cultural bias, but it’s just a recognition of what has worked reasonably well (so far) and what hasn’t. But that’s not really the point. Science fiction implies the use of science. That’s what makes it science fiction.
There seemed to be no violent disagreement over this, so why did the discussion go on?
Well, one of the problems soon becomes obvious when you try to apply the definitions to actual books. People brought up examples of stories they suspected might exist in a gray area between the two. There may be a reasonably clear academic difference between science fiction and fantasy, but it is often difficult to assign one label or the other to a specific story. This is because authors mix genres. One work of speculative fiction may include both science fiction and fantasy elements (along with romance, history, and other things). In cases like this, what genre best applies?
(The discussion did not unfold as linearly as the following account may suggest, but it remained civil… for the most part… at first.)
There was some discussion about what should be considered ‘science’ in science fiction. Some argued that FTL (faster than light) vehicles, time travel, antigravity, and other highly speculative technology should be considered fantasy because they are probably impossible. These, they claimed, were no more ‘scientific’ than hobbits, demons, or dragons. A related point was that since our understanding of reality is imperfect, we can’t know for sure what is possible.
Someone suggested the concept of a continuous line between science fiction and fantasy, that many speculative fiction stories fall somewhere between the two ends, and therefore could be placed in either genre. Others disagreed. They insisted that it is simple to make a clear call by being stringent about the exclusion of fantasy elements in science fiction. It seemed to bother no one to have a fantasy story include science-like elements, but some people argued that once an element of fantasy entered a science fiction story, that story should be considered fantasy, rather the way adding one red towel to a wash-load of white towels turns everything pink. Such stories could, however, possibly be labeled in a subgenre of fantasy such as ‘science-fantasy.’
There was some talk about the relationship of science fiction and fantasy to other genres, including romance, horror, comedy, and even history and religion. Once religion entered the discussion, all hell broke loose (figuratively speaking). One participant (the one who originally brought religion into the discussion and who later deleted all of his posts) said a plot hinging on divine miracles should not make a fictional story fantasy because many people believe in them. I think that was the point he was trying to make, anyway. It was never clear to most of us, but he did succeed in diverting the conversation onto religion for a long time and ended up repeatedly insulting a number of other people. Finally, a moderator intervened and he went away. That was a few days ago. The discussion became far more sedate after this, but he returned on Tuesday and things got lively for a while. The moderator intervened again early Wednesday morning. The poster deleted all his new posts and the moderator banned further references to religious texts from the discussion.
I think part of the problem, as someone in the forum pointed out, was that different people were using the same words but held different ideas about what they meant. That made sense to me, so I provided the following definitions from Wikipedia: (It’s not a definitive reference source, but it’s the first one that came up, and I felt that the definitions I found there would suffice.)
‘Science (from Latin scientia, meaning “knowledge”) is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.’
The same source defines fiction as ‘the form of any work that deals, in part or in whole, with information or events that are not real, but rather, imaginary and theoretical—that is, invented by the author.’
At the time, I did not feel it was necessary to define fantasy, but for the sake of thoroughness, I’ll do so now (again using Wikipedia). ‘Fantasy is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary plot element, theme, or setting. Many works within the genre take place in imaginary worlds where magic and magical creatures are common. Fantasy is generally distinguished from the genres of science fiction and horror by the expectation that it steers clear of scientific and macabre themes, respectively, though there is a great deal of overlap between the three, all of which are subgenres of speculative fiction.’
I did not participate in any way in writing these definitions, but I do consider them a fine place to begin. Judging from recent experience, I suspect some people may find them controversial. I’m beginning to wonder if there is anything, no matter how straightforward, that enjoys universal agreement. Be that as it may, a word means what people agree it means. These definitions seem common enough, and I think they provide a way to better define what can be considered science fiction and, by exclusion, what can be considered fantasy.
First of all, I want to stress that the two things we are differentiating are categories of fiction. They are made up. They aren’t real. Some confusion may have occurred in the Goodreads discussion because the word ‘fantasy’ is also used as an antonym of ‘reality,’ and so, by implication, science fiction should be more ‘real’ than fantasy. The question we were attempting to answer wasn’t about fantasy as opposed to reality, though, but fantasy as a genre of fiction. While it is true that science fiction must be grounded in science whereas fantasy can float free of any anchor to mundane reality, this does not imply that everything in science fiction must be possible or that everything in fantasy must be impossible. Both are fiction. They both tell stories about people and things that do not exist, things that may not even be able to exist. This is true for both genres. (Yes, I’m disagreeing with the late great Isaac Asimov on this. It’s not something I do lightly, but I have a reason.)
To define science fiction, it’s important to understand what science is and what it is not. Science is not a collection of known facts. It is a process for revealing facts about the cosmos, or at least for identifying things that can be regarded as true. The popularity of an idea or the number of believers it has is irrelevant. That’s not how science works.
The defining characteristic of science as opposed to other ways of trying to understand the natural universe is the concept of systematic observation and testing, the scientific method, and this, I think, can provide the key for a clear distinction between science fiction and fantasy.
If, within the context of a story, it is stated or implied that all the fantastic things described—spaceships, androids, warp drive, whatever—came about using the procedures of science, it can be science fiction. In the world of the story, these things are natural (as opposed to supernatural) and explicable to science. Science fiction requires an anchor in this world, but to insist that everything in science fiction should be possible, some even argue probable, is far too restrictive, I think.
Fantasy, on the other hand, can include anything—magic wands, dragons, mystical powers—anything, without any implication of how they came to be or how they relate to the world the reader calls home. In this sense, science fiction is more restrictive than fantasy.
But this allows things that are clearly impossible to enter science fiction. Surely that can’t be right, right?
Remember, this is fiction. Impossible things happen all the time in all genres of fiction, and we may not even notice. Take, for example, a car exploding after a crash. You’ve probably seen it a hundred times. But you’ve seen it in fiction. In the real world, a car might catch fire, but unless there’s a bomb (or explosive chemicals or the like) inside, it’s not going to explode. The probability of the events described in a speculative fiction story happening in the real world is irrelevant. The story doesn’t take place in the real world. But the rules of science must apply within the context of the fictional story for it to be considered science fiction because those rules are science. Without them, the scientific element of the story does not exist and it’s not science fiction.
But this leads to another point. Not all science fiction is created equal. If something in a science fiction story violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics, it’s almost certainly bad science, which means it’s probably bad science fiction, although not everyone is going to notice, just as they don’t notice that cars don’t explode on their own outside of stories. Sometimes a bit of scientific implausibility does not hurt. If an author wants to include dragons of the big, fire-breathing and flying variety in a book, and provides techno-babble to explain how this is possible, many readers will let it pass. An aeronautical engineer probably won’t, but that does not mean it’s not science fiction. It may even be a great story. But take the example of clockwork robots winding themselves (or one another for that matter). I’ve actually seen this in a couple stories. The fact that this is scientifically impossible does not, by itself, mean that the story is not science fiction, but it does suggest that it is not good science fiction. It goes from scientifically implausible, which I’m willing to let pass for the sake of an otherwise good story, to scientifically impossible, which I’m usually not, with one notable exception. If the science fiction story is intended to be funny or intentionally absurd, then I’m Okay with scientific impossibilities for the sake of humor. Scientifically impossible things in a humorous novel remind us that the story is just a story. It doesn’t take itself seriously and neither should the reader.
So, what’s the bottom line? Well, two short proposed definitions:
- Fantasy is a subgenre of speculative fiction that includes forces or entities for which no natural and testable explanation is implied within the context of the story.
- Science fiction is a subgenre of speculative fiction that includes creatures or technologies of a speculative nature that are governed by natural laws based on those of the real world and which are scientifically explicable within the context of the story.
What I tried to do here is separate the two genres, making the application of science the key differentiating point while still allowing for highly speculative and varied worlds to be included in the realm of science fiction. I’m not sure if I’ve succeeded, but I am sure this won’t end the discussion.
Related Post: The Difference Between Science Fiction and Fantasy
For Further Reading: The Difference Between Science Fiction and Fantasy? (by David Brin)
This is the fifth short novel in the continuing contemporary fantasy series featuring the rock band The Banned Underground. The band members include four dwarfs, a green bog troll, and a bass playing dragon. In this episode, we find them as almost a backdrop to the main plot in which the British government is working with the Edern (think elves or fairies) to develop a future-telling system that will help the government pull the British economy out of trouble. The Dark Lord wants to hack into this system for his own (evil) purposes, and he sends a team to the ostensibly secure Edern laboratories during a fund-raising event at which the Banned are playing. The Dark Lord’s minions are there to install a computer virus. Meanwhile, the dwarves are after those same minions for an unpaid bar tab. (Confused yet?)
The SatNav of Doom is a comic slapstick farce along the lines of Robert Asprin or Piers Anthony, full of puns, word-play, and references to old rock tunes. Now, I can’t say this kind of humor normally has great appeal for me. I’m more of a science fiction than a fantasy reader, and when I do read humorous fantasy, I prefer something with a bit more satirical or philosophical content (e.g. Terry Pratchett), but in the subgenre this book represents, it’s pretty good. The characters are all clowns, but they can be funny in a burned trousers kind of way (Yes – there is such a scene). The copy editing is adequate, and whereas the prose is sparse and could not be considered literary in any sense, it is serviceable for the type of book this is. I also enjoyed the Doctor Who twist at the end.
I will caution that some may not ‘get’ some of the references (old rock songs and Doctor Who, for example). Also, this is not the book to start with in the series because the character development occurs mainly in the previous offerings. If you have read and enjoyed the others, though, you’ll like this one, too.
Disclosure: I received a pre-publication promotional copy of the eBook edition from the author.
This is not so much a single novel as it is a series of related adventures centered on the thief, Gaspar; the lovely Marna, a fellow thief and Gaspar’s volatile love interest; and their ‘spellbroker’ associate, Hubris. Their escapades (most often not as successful as they hope) and misadventures provide the basis for the ten chapters of the book.
The characters are engaging, but not exactly likeable. Their highest goal seems to be to abscond with as much loot as safely as possible, with little compassion over the fate of the loot’s current owner. Gaspar and his companions aren’t murderous rogues, but they are clearly rogues.
Written from a limited omniscient point of view, the prose, grammar, and vocabulary in this book are a notch above the norm that I’ve personally found in light fantasy. The characters are uncomplicated but not stupid. The world building is quite good and creates a believable fantasy setting full of dirty cities, filthy gutters, crumbling castles, guilds, inns, taverns, and the occasional bawdy house.
This book is not so much comedy as it is light fantasy. The setting and characters reminded by of the Thraxas books by Martin Scott (AKA Martin Millar) — kind of a late Medieval world with personality-flawed characters, magic, and mythical creatures.
I can’t say this book is innovative in any way, but it is an enjoyable read. I recommend it for readers of light fantasy.
This is a Dungeons and Dragons type fantasy with a team of adventurers competing with others to overcome monsters in a series of contest events. A unifying thread of political intrigue and even a touch of romance provide the plot.
The heroes are likeable and the bad guys have motives beyond just wanting to take over the world (Mwa-ha-ha). The name of place where the story begins, Foeny Balognia, adds to the sense of comic adventure, letting the reader know this is not to be taken too seriously. There is nothing deep about this— no cultural satire or philosophical insights, but the prose, editing, pacing, and other technical details are done well, making for an enjoyable, light read.
My only issue is that serendipitous events, such as finding a ladder or a jar laying around just when such things would come in handy, or happening to be on the right rooftop that just happens to collapse at the right time, strained my ability to suspend disbelief. Other than that, this is a fine story. I can recommend it.
The similarities to Fahrenheit 451 are obvious. The Pickup Artist is set in a near future America in which art in all forms — music, literature, painting, movies — is being purged to alleviate the glut of such things and allow space for new creative endeavors. When a work, author, or artist is placed on the deletion list, all originals and copies of the applicable art forms are collected and destroyed.
The first-person narrator of this story is a pickup artist, a person working for the Bureau of Arts and Information who confiscates (normally with compensation) books, albums, tapes, CDs and the like from those who own them. One day, he collects a vinyl album by Hark Williams. It reminds him of his father, and he becomes obsessed with listening to it, but first he needs to locate a record player. His search for one brings him into contact with two factions of the Alexandrians, both of which have their roots in the movement that brought about the policy of cultural purging but now have diametrically opposed goals.
The first-person narrative is interspaced with short historical bits on how this policy of cultural deletion came about.
The premise almost works as a bit of cultural satire, but it is too absurd to have the impact of a cautionary tale like Fahrenheit 451.There are also elements such as the cloned Indians, talking dog, and mature baby that I assume were supposed to have some symbolic significance but, whatever that was, it eluded me.
The characters are believable enough to evoke some empathy, and the setting is not so bizarre that it prevents suspension of disbelief for the sake of the story. The book is different and interesting, but I can’t recommend it as a particularly enjoyable read.
Why I chose to read this: I picked this up at the library because it was near an older book by the same writer, which looked interesting.
The Banned Underground is a band. A rock band. Not terribly famous. Not original. Well, their music isn’t. Mainly they do covers of old rock tunes and play gigs at pubs and such. But few bands, even in this fantasy version of present day England, consist of four dwarfs, a green bog troll, and a bass playing dragon.
In this edition of their continuing quest for good-paying gigs, their scaly, fire-breathing bass player has gone missing, and a slinky, mysterious, scooter-riding woman in black leather fills in. She’s pretty hot, and her bass playing isn’t bad either, but she has ulterior motives.
Mayhem ensues involving a Dark Lord accountant, a record executive, some Kali-worshipping thugs, and associated minions. Oh, and a roadie who says nothing but ‘Der,’ although his meaning is clear to those who know him well. He reminds me a bit of the librarian in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, who only says ‘Ook.’ And, of course, there are some superficial parallels to Pratchett’s book Soul Music in that it is a fantasy story staring a rock band.
I grinned all the way through this short novel. It has a good deal of clever word play, some terrible puns (which ones aren’t?), slapstick humor, and generally likeable comic characters. There is also some fiery dragon romance. I also liked the bits of author (and even publisher) intrusion into the story narrative. Most guidance on fiction writing warns not to do this, but it can work in humor, and here it does.
This isn’t great literature. It’s not cultural satire. There is no single main character, and the plot is not exactly spellbinding (although there are some magical spells), but as a comic farce, this is quite entertaining. I recommend it as a quick, light read for all fans of comic fantasy.
Disclosure: I received a pre-publication promotional copy of the eBook edition from the author.
Lucretia makes hats. She also assists her brother, a noted astronomer. Her other brother is an inventor. Their lives change when they are summoned to build a large telescope for the king. There are setbacks. There is some rather nasty court intrigue. There is a bit of romance. There are also a couple of far too clever animals, impossible clockwork automatons, seven hardworking short guys and their giant of a boss, and, well, a supporting cast of characters, all with exaggerated quirkiness, which lets you know that this story is not to be taken seriously — at least not on the surface. It is supposed to be fun, and it is.
The characters and the prose style of this charming little book give it the feel of a children’s story from early in the last century, something along the lines of Alice in Wonderland or Winnie the Pooh. Today, I think it would be appropriately categorized as Young Adult Steampunk with a touch of fantasy. The steampunk element is provided by the quasi-Victorian tech, such as clockwork automatons and Lucretia’s eyepiece. The fantasy bit comes from the use of living things as ‘animators’ for clockwork mechanisms and from the unbelievable intelligence of Lucretia’s animal companions. It all works together well in the story, though.
It does commit the one, single most unforgivable transgression that I’ve seen now in a few steampunk novels. At one point, it has one of the mechanisms wind itself. I admit that I may be being inconsistent in my capacity for suspending disbelief. For the sake of a good, humorous story, I’m perfectly willing to accept that a potted plant can animate a mechanical butler, but a clockwork bird CANNOT wind itself by flapping its wings. Sorry, but that just crosses my credulity line. I’m willing to overlook it this time, but please don’t let it happen again.
The scenes, especially at the beginning, were sparsely sketched, making it difficult to visualize or even to be sure what was happening or why much of the time. There were also a few minor technical issues with word usage and punctuation, I think, but I only noticed one obvious typo (‘smiled’ instead of ‘smile’).
On the whole, I found this book well-written, adequately edited, and quite enjoyable. I recommend it for readers of all ages. It is the kind of light and charming story that is perfect to fill a rainy afternoon.
He says he’s a villain, and he considers himself a good one — or would that a bad one? But he’s not. Not really. Not at heart. At his core, it seems that the Dark Lord Arkus (AKA the Lakeland Knight) is a hero in denial. In the course of this story, circumstances, and his reactions to them, make it increasingly difficult for him to ignore this.
To avoid spoilers, I’ll say little more about the plot.
The setting is a traditional fantasy world with kings, princes, knights, an evil necromancer with skeleton minions, and even a damsel in distress at one point. Then, there are the gormarks and the sparklings. They are described as ‘spirits,’ although they seem more like fairies or something like that to me. Of course, there are no good, commonly accepted scientific definitions for fantasy creatures like these. After all, they’re imaginary, but I tend to think of ‘spirits’ as a synonym for ‘ghosts,’ whereas the gormarks and sparklings definitely can take a physical form, and Arkus ends up with two of them physically following him. One of them is of the ‘evil’ gormark variety, and it wants to kill him. The other is a ‘sparkling,’ which everyone knows only attach themselves to true heroes.
The story is told in first person, with Arkus as the narrator, and the prose style makes it read almost like a journal or a letter (or, these days, a blog post). The vocabulary is simple, and although there were a few places where word choice or syntax seemed odd to me, overall the prose is well executed given the style.
An added bonus in this book is the artwork. There are several sketches of scenes, normally between chapters, and they are well done in an appropriate fantasy style. They are a nice addition to the story.
This is not a sophisticated book. It’s a fairytale. The simple message is that it is better to be loved than feared. It is better to help than to harm. There is little by way of satire, social commentary, or philosophical insight, but these timeless truths are worth repeating. The prose, straightforward plot, and length put this short book firmly in the YA category. Nonetheless, I think many older readers will enjoy it. I did. There is a good bit of innocent humor and it is a lot of fun. I recommend it for those who like to read about true heroes.
This is the sixth installment in American fantasy writer L.E. Modesitt’s Imager series. In it, Quaeryt continues to advance his goals of making the continent of Lydar a safe place for imagers (the magicians of this world), Pharsi (an ethnic minority), and scholars (a much maligned group of scribes and thinkers). Quareyt is a member of all three in one way or another.
Bhayar, Lord of Telaryn, considers Quaeryt a friend and a competent ally. He is also his brother-in-law, but it is mainly for his imaging abilities, loyalty, and intelligence that Bhayar makes him a subcommander in his army.
In this book, Quaeryt is nurturing a small group of other imagers who are junior officers under his command. They, and the rest of Bhayar’s army, are invading the neighboring kingdom of Bovaria, which is ruled by the ambitious and thoroughly despicable Rex Kharst.
The story is essentially a five hundred-page narrative of the military campaign that brings Bhayar’s army to the capital of Bovaria. It relates, sometimes with almost too much attention to detail, Quaeryt’s journey, his stays at inns, his consumption of lager (for mostly medicinal purposes), and the magically augmented scouting missions, engineering efforts, skirmishes, and battles in which he is involved.
Modesitt’s strength is his world building. The setting has a solid feel, as if it might really be able to exist in some alternate reality with slightly different physical laws. The magic system used is interesting. It’s not just wand waving and reciting bits of mock-Latin. There is some effort to maintain the basic principle of conservation of energy, although in this book I thought this was being stretched by instances of impressive dirt shifting and bridge building. Any details on those would involve spoilers, though, so I’ll say no more about them — or about the ending, which I thought could have benefited from a final confrontation with Kharst.
The prose, however, is unexceptional. The writing is serviceable but not elegant. It certainly isn’t beautiful. There are few, if any, instances of clever word play or poetic imagery, and there is no attempt at humor. The characters are stiff, formal, and their dialog is comparable to that in the old TV series ‘Dragnet.’
There are also no grand ideas floating beneath the surface. The book conveys no deep, philosophical insights and little by way of social commentary. Quaeryt is portrayed as being less prejudiced, more considerate, and more intelligent than most other characters in the book, which places him on the moral high ground and which is why the reader cares about him and his success.
I would not call this a great book, but it is engaging enough to keep you entertained for a few evenings. If you’ve read the others, you’ll want to read this one. I did, and I’ll probably read the next.
Related Post: Book Review – Princeps by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
It always takes me a while to get into a Thursday Next novel because the setting is so odd. It’s a world, well, a couple of different, overlapping worlds actually, in which the line between fiction and reality is much blurrier than it is in our mundane world. If you wish to know more about these, read the earlier Thursday Next books. Now, on with our review.
This book is set in Fforde’s alternate England. It is not as strange as the book world setting, but even here fiction affects reality in a very, well, real way. Opinion and belief can change what happens and even what exists. For example, in this book, belief that an asteroid will impact Earth and cause human extinction changes the probability that it will occur. The more people that think it will happen, the more likely it is that it really will. When children create imaginary friends, those friends actually have a separate existence. When people believe in a vengeful god, it reveals itself and begins smiting.
This happens in our world too, of course. Fiction can change reality here, but it does so far more subtly. In Fforde’s alternate version, the effects are direct, obvious, and calculable.
The unique settings of Fforde’s books especially appeal to me. It makes them different. It takes a little more mental gymnastics to bend my mind around a Thursday Next story than it does with most others, and a good mental stretch always feels great.
As with the previous Thursday Next novels, this one includes literary references, some of which I’m sure I missed. These are like special gifts to the bibliophiles who read his books, and from what I’ve seen in other reviews, they are duly appreciative.
As for the plot, well, it sort of has one. It’s about Thursday and what she does Next (sorry – lame pun). Actually, this book is more of a series of threads. There is the mystery of the alternate Thursdays (Not every other Thursday — fake Thursdays that sometimes replace her.) There is the underlying question of the Dark Reading Matter and what it is. There is the lingering mind worm that makes Thursday believe she has daughter she doesn’t actually have. There is the suspense surrounding a scheduled God smiting and the question of whether or not Thursday’s daughter can get the smite shield working in time. There is the thread about the evil Goliath Corporation and its intentions. And then there is the human story of Thursday getting old and feeble and her kids growing up and leading their own lives. I suspect the story takes this form because it is intended primarily as a way of setting up the next Next novel. It hangs together well enough on it’s own, though.
All in all, it’s an enjoyable read. If you are a Thursday Next fan, this one is a must. It ties up some loose ends, sets up some new characters, and foreshadows yet another odd setting — The Dark Reading Matter.
I confess to being a diehard Discworld fan. I have been ever since the 1980s, which was before the earlier books in the series were available in the U.S. Consequently, seven of Discworld books I own are the U.K./Canadian editions. Mort is one of these. The copy I have (pictured here) came from Canada. I was living outside Detroit when I bought it, and Ontario is just across the river. This was fortunate for me because waiting for an American publisher to recognize that there was an audience here for Terry Pratchett’s unique kind of intelligent humor would have been unbearable. Harper Collins has since corrected this terrible oversight, and now all Discworld books are available in the U.S., although with much less cool covers.
I pulled this dusty old gem off my bookshelves a few days ago because the SciFi and Fantasy Bookclub on Goodreads chose it as their selection to read for January 2013. I tried to pace myself, taking three days to read it in order to prolong the enjoyment. I had forgotten how incredibly good it is.
Mort is the story of a gangly young man who becomes Death’s apprentice. If you are familiar with Discworld, you may know Death – tall guy, boney, wears a black cloak, often seen with a scythe and in the company of a white horse named Binky. He is the anthropomorphic personification of the ultimate and final reality – and he likes kittens.
In this story, Death apparently wants an apprentice for two reasons. One is that he has an adopted daughter, Ysabell, whom he thinks could use some company. The backstory for this is vague, but it seems that Death either took pity on her or was simply curious after he ‘collected’ her parents. It’s hard to tell with him sometimes. He has a wonderfully odd way of looking at things.
The other reason to have an apprentice is that he wants a break from the ‘duty.’ This turns out less well than Death might have hoped. On his first solo mission to free souls from their mortal anchors, Mort does something wrong. He saves a young princess from the knife of the assassin fated to kill her, and this disrupts the interrelated web of causality and creates a cosmic paradox. The world thinks she’s dead, but because of Mort’s intervention, she’s not, at least not from a biological perspective. This leads to complications.
Like many of Pratchett’s books, Mort is full of clever wordplay and philosophical humor. For example, at one point Mort says, “I’ve heard about boredom, but I’ve never had a chance to try it.” This cracks me up because it’s dryly funny in the context of the story, but it also philosophically insightful, or at least I found it so. This book is filled with such little Easter eggs, little bits of prose that provoke a smile in passing but can be opened to find even more inside them.
This, in my opinion, is one of the best of Pratchett’s books, the worst of which are some of the most enjoyable stories I’ve ever read. I highly recommend it.
I am beginning to suspect that the most original and enjoyable new authors are self-published. This book is a good example. Yeager’s writing is lighthearted, his characters are quirky and enjoyable, and his magic system is imaginative. This character driven fantasy is unlike most I have seen recently, although parts of it remind me a bit of Terry Pratchett’s young adult books about Tiffany Aching. This isn’t specifically a Young Adult book, though. I would put it in the category of being suitable for all ages.
On the world in which Wysteria resides, there are a number of island nations, each with its own race and magic. Wysteria commands plant magic. The plants on this planet, however, are not like those of Earth. In this fantasy world, the plants have various levels of awareness, with trees being the most sentient, and they have a special symbiotic relationship with the women of Wysteria. The relatively short-lived men of this island do not share this ability. They have little social status and seem to be regarded as property. This does not mean they are uninteresting. Two male Wysterians play a major role in this book. One is typical of his race, a bony-shouldered, domestic engineer by the name of Alder. He plays the unlikely role of a true hero. The other is a soldier named Privet. He’s the opposite of Alder in many ways, but he also has admirable traits and some emotional depth.
They are not the main characters, though. That role belongs to the Wysterian princess Athel. Like her two male countrymen, she is not content with the role her society has placed on her, and she has chosen to take a short hiatus by joining the Federal Navy, a force of magically levitated airships supported by all nations. Its mission is to protect the islands from sky pirates and similar threats.
The story follows Athel’s adventures as a crewmember on the Dreadnaught, a misnamed naval vessel with an atypical captain and a small crew of quirky characters. In their battle against pirate guilds, they stumble upon an implied threat that may be greater than any pirates and which may be the reason that Athel’s mother has decided to break Wysteria away from the Federation. This, I assume, will be the story of a following book.
I enjoyed reading Isle of Wysteria. The characters are charming, the setting is creative, and the prose is well above average. I recommend this story for readers who enjoy lighthearted books with goodhearted characters.
Zachary & Jenna are having breakfast when suddenly there is a shimmering in the air and their parents disappear. What are two bright middle school kids to do but jump through after them? Well….
It’s certainly noble, but they are just kids, so they don’t even pack a lunch, a change of clothes, a flashlight, or even a toothbrush (which made me wonder how bright they really were).
They find themselves transported to another world and almost run over by a pair of transparent (literally) people who seemingly don’t welcome their presence and encourage them to leave through another shimmering portal. Thus, their adventure begins, jumping through portals in search of their parents, and finding themselves in different worlds populated with strange and often dangerous creatures.
Each encounter provides a simple, ethical lesson about cooperation, overcoming prejudice, positive thinking, intelligence, loyalty, caring, responsibility, or understanding. These aren’t quite ‘bang you over the head’ morality tales, but they are definitely geared toward younger readers. Still, they are endearing and entertaining to even older readers.
So far, so good. The characters are simple but believable, the settings are well constructed, the plot flows smoothly and logically… for about 80% of the way through.
If you don’t want a spoiler, stop reading this review now.
Still with me? You sure? I’m going to reveal the ending. I don’t often do this, but this one rather bugged me. If you don’t want to know, stop reading this.
Okay. You can’t say I didn’t warn you.
It’s all ‘magic.’ The beings that abducted their parents used ‘magic,’ and they don’t know how it (or much of anything else) works. That’s about all the explanation we get. It’s not quite as bad as saying it was all a dream, but it’s close. There is nothing about parallel worlds, multiple dimensions, or holes in space-time. All we get for an explanation for how all this happened is that it was ‘magic.’ Humans can do magic too, but the Earth has an anti-magic field around it that makes it almost impossible. Oh, and the San Andreas Fault is not really a geological fault line between continental plates; it’s a magically sensitive area that will rupture if the aliens prevent portals from opening between their world and ours.
After the first 80% of the book in which our two heroes act with bravery, reason out problems, and demonstrate a considerable amount of highly ethical behavior, to have this all trumped by ‘magic’ was something of a letdown and, at least to me, seemed to nullify the moral lessons in the book. Yes, learning, reasoning, and ethical behavior are fine, but magic is easier and so much more convenient. If you have magic, you don’t need all that other stuff. That’s how the aliens live, in any case, and humans can be just like them.
I found the first part of this book engaging and well done for a middle grade book. The ending, I felt, was something of a cop out.
This is, of course, my personal opinion, and I do tend to be a bit tough when it comes to fantasy novels.
This comic farce follows a rock band of (mostly) dwarves on a quest to obtain a replacement for a magical throne they inadvertently destroyed during a gig. Their efforts are complicated by a group of evil, magic using accountants that wants to stop them in order to weaken and then invade the underground dwarfish kingdom, and a strange religious cult that wants to take over the world, or at least Wales, and skim some profits from the endeavor. There are also a couple of dragons, a few humans, and a testy witch who resolves disputes by turning her opposition into frogs.
The book is set in a fantasy version of contemporary Britain. As an American reader who last visited England at about the time of the first Moon landing, some of the references escaped me, although I don’t necessarily consider this a detractor. I’ve never visited Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, at least not physically, but I still enjoy reading about it. I just thought I should mention this for my countrymen because this book does assume the reader is familiar with British geography and jargon.
The Mystic Accountants is a zany romp that sometimes reminded me of The Three Stooges because of its slapstick humor or It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in that it has a large cast of quirky characters and unlikely car chases. The central plot, that of finding and procuring a new throne, takes a backseat to the antics of the characters, which are sometimes quite funny. They are more like clowns than they are believable individuals, though. There is some very clever wordplay, but the dialog felt contrived for the sake of a joke at times.
Witty banter is probably the strongest aspect of this book, although it may be being called upon to do too much. I saw several places in which dialog between characters was the primary method for conveying the action and describing the setting, which made these scenes difficult to visualize, at least for me. There were also cases in which the scene shifted without an obvious scene break using a blank line or some other convention.
The book contains footnotes, an obvious nod to Terry Pratchett, but, at least in the Kindle version I read, these were placed at the end of the book rather than the bottom of the applicable page, making them less accessible to enhance the scenes they referred to.
Whereas I would not group this book in the same category as Pratchett’s witty satire, it has its moments. Fans of zany slapstick, especially those with a fondness for popular music from the 1960s and 1970s, might want to try it.