PositiveTor.comImagine smashing the groundbreaking, breathtaking science fiction of Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch saga against the salty space opera of The Expanse; The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet lacks the wall-to-wall action of that latter, and some of the former’s finesse, yes—nevertheless, Becky Chambers’ debut is a delight ... The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet feels more like a miniseries than a movie: a smart, Showtime sort of something led not by narrative but by a distinctive and refreshingly diverse cast of characters, each of whom plays a role in the whole in addition to having his or her—or indeed xyr—moment in the speculative spotlight ... It may be more of a soap opera in space than a proper space opera, but the ensemble is sensitively incepted and deftly directed, and in the final summation, the fiction’s sfnal elements, wrapped up as they are in character rather than narrative, feel far from superfluous ... this delightful debut isn’t really about the eponymous angry planet—it’s about the long way there—so whilst I wish its destination had been better developed, the journey? A genuine joy.
MixedTor.comLike The Shadow of the Wind, to which this text bears a deceptive resemblance, Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is at its very best when it taps into our love of literature—and at its very best, it is as remarkable a novel as Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s first for adult audiences: a cryptic diptych, equally smart and sweet, warm and honest, esoteric, intriguing, and wonderfully witty ... Sadly, Sloan struggles to sustain the most effective elements of his debut, indulging instead in lengthy love letters to the aforementioned gods of tomorrow’s technology—among a number of less distracting digressions. That said, these occur so often, and over the course of such a short novel, that an alarming proportion of the whole seems composed of packing peanuts.
Guy Gavriel Kay
RaveTor.comA Brightness Long Ago...is powerful proof, as exquisitely articulated as anything this thoughtful author has put to the page, that there are \'so many stories that can be told\' ... The push and pull at the heart of A Brightness Long Ago’s narrative also informs its structure, which brilliantly resists the tendency of such tales to pick a side and stick with it ... [a] patchwork of perspectives lends such power and presence to the relatively trivial affairs that A Brightness Long Ago is about that they start to matter ... Guy Gavriel Kay...turns his attention to the kinds of characters and conflicts you tend to find sidelined in [fantasy] stories, to truly tremendous effect.
PositiveTor.com... the most hectic episode of the Wayfarers series so far ... regrettably, isn’t going to win over anyone who’s been underwhelmed by these books before. Indeed, it’s never been clearer than it is here that this is a series about people—people as opposed to the things that happen to them, assuming anything happens to them at all. To be sure, a few things do in Record of a Spaceborn Few—there’s a tragic mishap at the outset, and an equally disastrous accident as the text progresses—but the third of Chambers’ loosely-connected Wayfarers works is only interested in events insofar as these events affect the five folks that are the focus of this practically pacific work of fiction ... Chambers is succinct, and sensitive. What happens to Sawyer happens, but its principal purpose isn’t to excite or even to intrigue. Instead, it acts as a rallying cry that motivates Chambers’ credible and compassionately-crafted cast of characters to take full account of their respective futures ... If you’re looking for a story stuffed full of substance, with sex and space battles and betrayals, Record of a Spaceborn Few really isn’t the book for you, but if the idea of a near silent and not at all violent novel about decent people in relatively difficult situations trying to do what’s right for them right then appeals—in other words, if you’ve enjoyed the Wayfarers series in the past—then Becky Chambers’ latest may well be the purest distillation of her characteristically smooth science fiction to date.
MixedTor.comOft-amusing, but only occasionally likely to elicit laughs, and as imaginative as anything he’s ever written, if woefully overburdened by worldbuilding, Fforde’s long-awaited new novel is ultimately a bunch of fun, yet it fails to leave a lasting impression like the likes of Shades of Grey, say ... interesting in the end, and full of neat ideas that hold a far-from-flattering mirror to elements of our own existence, but so poorly paced and plot heavy that the remainder is the rub. Similarly, the setting is engrossing and almost criminally original, but Albion is a world built on the back of interminable info-dumps and masses of jargon. And all this hangs on a central character who might be witty and well-meaning, but proves so exasperatingly passive that even he might as well be asleep ... has a lot to say and, for the most part, says it in an interesting way. The message, in short, is sound—but the medium, in this particular instance? Maybe not so much.
PositiveTor.comThe Monster gets off to a deliberate and demanding start, but from this point in the novel on, with the busywork of worldbuilding and whatnot behind him, Dickinson truly lets loose. A great many pieces of the puzzle come together, ramping up in parallel towards a crushing conclusion ... though I hate to say it, [Dickinson] lets his grip slip a little, but beyond the bumps in the road...it’s back to business as usual—and in these books, business as usual boils down to heart-breaking, brutal, shrewd and often shocking storytelling. A fiendishly clever psychological thriller with sharp speculative edges, The Monster Baru Cormorant is morally abhorrent, yet massively satisfying.
Kim Stanley Robinson
PanTor.com\"... torturous ... Qi and Fred’s friendship is the closest thing Red Moon has to a heart. But for their relatively small role in the whole, it’s a stone-cold story far less interested in humour and humanity than in depicting a familiar future history Robinson has explored more potently before ... at the same time as it is robust and original, as it can be at its best, it is, at its worst, weak and dreadfully derivative. And coming as it does from Kim Stanley Robinson, a visionary voice in the genre if ever there was one... that dearth of delight and insight is Red Moon’s most frustrating facet.\
RaveTor.com\"... the seasoned storyteller opts to tread lightly, telling an unexpectedly touching tale about how we can be better together ... That’s not to say Elevation lacks a speculative element. It’s even somewhat spooky ... Over the course of Elevation, King threads these two tales together expertly... By the time this brief book is concluded on the back of the annual Turkey Trot, a charity 12k both Scott and Deirdre compete in, the two tales have become one, to excellent effect. Elevation’s excellence is also evident from earlier on in the novella. Though they spring fully-formed from the Stephen King playbook, its characters... are relatable right out of the gate, and so deftly developed over the story’s course that their respective destinations appear inevitable in retrospect.\
MixedTor\"Bloody Rose, the second of the Books of the Band, is a bigger and by some measures better book than its predecessor. I say \'some\' because, as a sequel of sorts—a standalone set in the same world and featuring some of the same characters—it’s inherently less surprising than said, and like Kings of the Wyld, it’s awfully slow to start. That’s a far harder thing to accept here than it was there—but by all other accounts, Bloody Rose is bloody good fun.
PanTor.comKatherine is a grating addition to the core cast of Neuvel’s novels, but given her role in the whole, I gave her irritating characterisation the benefit of the doubt in the beginning. Unfortunately, she might be the most memorable thing about Only Human ... [The other characters], for their part, spend the vast majority of Only Human waiting, exasperatingly passively, for something to happen, and as readers, we do too ... It’s a case of too little, too late when the plot eventually picks up the pace, though I will say that the last act is positively action-packed ... the state of the world is resolved, albeit rather cheaply; and there’s a momentarily impactful sacrifice—undermined, admittedly, by a last-minute twist that robs Only Human of what little emotional weight it wields.
RaveTor.comHaving dealt so memorably with death in The End of the Day, Claire North sets her sights on life in 84K, a powerful and provocative novel that nods to George Orwell at the same time as narrating a tale not even he could tell so well. It’s not an easy read—not that you’d take Nineteen Eighty-Four to the beach either—but buckle up, because what it is is brilliant ... both stylistically and structurally, North goes out of her way in 84K to stress the disconnectedness of her new world. In this future—a future that is not so far removed from our own as we might like to tell ourselves—people have become disconnected from one another, and some, such as Theo, have become disconnected from themselves, from their own thoughts and feelings and ambitions and beliefs ... It’s a brutal but truthful book about losing touch with what matters most, and maybe, just maybe, finding it again.
RaveTor\"Neither half of The Outsider is likely to stand shoulder to should with King’s very best efforts, be they conventional or speculative, but together, they make for one hell of a hybrid. Markedly more successful in splitting the difference and certainly more satisfying from a story standpoint than the back end of the Bill Hodges books which saw King try to do the same thing, The Outsider represents a rewarding return to form after a run of recent disappointments ... That it’s not what you think it is is part of its power. The rest of its appeal comes down to King himself, who can be counted on, in terms of his narratives and his characters, to rise to the occasion when he’s hit on a particularly appealing idea—and it’s my pleasure to tell you, Constant Reader, that he clearly has here.\
RaveTor.comConstructed like Cloud Atlas — and at least as long — its vast canvas takes in tales of inexplicable ancient history, our appallingly prescient present and, fittingly, the far flung future, all of which orbit Gnomon’s central Orwellian thread like spy satellites on an imminent collision course ... Harkaway delivers these \'fleshed, persuasive histories\' as novella-length digressions, interrupted on occasion ostensibly so that Neith can come up for air — and if I’m to find a fault in Gnomon, it’s that these sections frequently feel like cheat sheets. There’s something ingenious going on here, you see ... a monolithic novel are of critical import to the enraptured reader, and picking out the pivotal parts — particularly the recurring themes and memes — is a puzzle that proves a pleasure to pursue ... In its cautionary characters and in its careful construction, in its incredible creativity and in its conversely very credible commentary, Harkaway’s latest is likely his greatest.
MixedTor...readers [of The Martian] will be over the moon to hear that Artemis is, in its attention to technical detail and its prioritisation of play as the order of the day, The Martian’s perfect partner, though more demanding fans of the form are likely to find it slight: derivative, dreadfully slow to start, and rather lacking in the heart department. But for better or for worse, Weir’s new novel is in many ways more of the same problem-solving stuff that made him a household name ... There are parts of Artemis—such as the set-piece this call to arms segues into—that recall the best and smartest chapters of The Martian, but these are few and far between, I’m afraid, and gathered oddly towards the end of the novel ... This isn’t a bad book by any means. But it isn’t, in my view, a good book either. It’s fun for a few hundred pages and almost tolerable in between times. Readers who utterly loved The Martian might quite like it, though folks who found Artemis’ leaps-and-bounds-better predecessor to be less than perfect will have a harder time forgiving its various failings.
PositiveTorA striking selection of novellas ranging from the playfully apocalyptic to the wickedly political ... It’s telling that 'Aloft' and 'Loaded' are Strange Weather‘s strongest stories: their ambiguous endings allow them to live past their last pages. That one is wacky and wonderful while the other’s twisted tragedy proves all too easy to believe evidences the tremendous diversity of this collection. If NOS4A2 and The Fireman were Hill’s Salem’s Lot and The Stand, then this, dear readers, is his Different Seasons: a demonstration of his range and readiness to tell the hell out of any tale, be it supernatural or straight, silly or completely serious.
RaveTorThe first half is eventful enough, no question—it’s positively action-packed, in fact—and it allows Alderman ample opportunity to shrewdly introduce the people and the plot points that come into play later. The story as a whole takes rather a long time to come together, however. It’s only when The Power’s characters begin to commingle that Alderman explains the game she’s playing. And it’s a truly great game—more, if I may, like chess than checkers, in that it’s not just strategic, it’s sneaky. You see, The Power isn’t what it appears to be … Superficially, The Power is a study of what changes when the balance of power is inverted, but beneath its speculative surface, it reveals itself to be an investigation into what doesn’t change, and why. It’s powerful, paradigm-shifting stuff.
RaveTor.comJoyland is the second story King has written for Hard Case Crime, and like The Colorado Kid...it comes complete with throwback cover art and a fantastic, nostalgic narrative ...takes the form of a tale told by an old man looking back on the last year of his youth ... It’s rather more reminiscent of Duma Key and Different Seasons than the aforementioned classic, and more interested, in the main, in natural characters than supernatural factors, but be that as it may, Joyland bears its fair share of thrills and chills ... What we have here is a coming of age tale, primarily; a beautiful book, warm and honest, about a boy becoming a man, and his tempered transformation really does pack a punch ... In short, Joyland is a joy. A gem whatever its genre.
Stephen King & Owen King
MixedTor.com... long, long novel that places a vast cast of characters at the mercy of a speculative premise: a sleeping sickness that knocks all the women of the world out for the count, leaving the men to fend for themselves ... It’s Under the Dome part deux, in other words, except that this time, the Constant Writer has roped one of his sons in on the fun ...as tough as it is to tell where one King ends and the other begins, Sleeping Beauties is such a slog that it hardly matters ... Neither of this door-stopper of a novel’s authors have ever been much for subtlety, but in this instance, a little thought about something other than plot may have gone a long way ...a tedious read, full of gratuitous shooting and shouting but empty in every other sense. It’s such a big book that you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s a lot going on, but there’s not.
MixedTorCronin’s core cast members have moved on. They’re all over the place, both figuratively and literally—and so too, in turn, is The Twelve. A stupendous proportion of it is spent simply getting the gang back together; adding insult to injury, almost nothing of note happens until they are. And then? … Excepting sections at the very beginning and end of the text, Cronin’s prose is considerably less… considered than it was at the outset of his epic. Characters new and old are developed in broad strokes only; the plot progresses in frustrating fits and starts; the sense of tension prevalent in The Passage is practically absent. Book two of this trilogy just hasn’t the heart of the first part. Credit to the author, then, that even in light of this laundry list of issues, The Twelve compels—to the point that I had a hard time putting it down.
N. K. Jemisin
RaveTor\"As the conclusion to a trilogy that started strong and then stopped, The Stone Sky gave me everything that I wanted, and then it gave me more. It’s devastating. Poignant and personal and almost impossibly powerful. If my faith in N. K. Jemisin as one of our generation’s most able creators was in any way shaken by The Obelisk Gate—and I confess that it was, somewhat—then The Stone Sky has decimated those doubts. The Broken Earth is in totality one of the great trilogies of our time, and if all is well with the world, its thoroughly thrilling third volume should surely secure N. K. Jemisin a third Hugo Award.\
RaveTorA biologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor, and a psychologist venture into Area X. Sounds like the setup for a joke, doesn’t it? Well halt that thought, because Annihilation is no laughing matter. On the contrary: Jeff VanderMeer’s first new novel since Finch is a nightmarish narrative about the fungus among us which trades in terror and tension rather than simple titters. It’s the award-winning author’s most accessible text yet… though there’s a very real chance the Southern Reach series will leave you with weird dreams for years.
Haruki Murakami, Trans. by Philip Gabriel & Ted Goossen
PanTor...whilst I wish I could tell you their haunting quality makes up for their wanting quantity, so many of said struck me as uneventful retreads that I can only recommend this collection with a planter of caveats ... alas, most of these stories are inescapably bland: repetitive and rambling accounts of the unremarkable that round the same sorts of scenarios and characters again and again, only to end utterly abruptly just as Murakami finally makes his presence felt ... Though it has its Murakami moments—a few fragrant flowers struggling to push through the kudzu, if you’ll permit me to fiddle with the author’s own imagery—Men Without Women feels to this reader like a garden in desperate need of weeding.
RaveTor...a surprisingly beautiful book ... VanderMeer’s focus on the magical and the miserable moments of motherhood is so fine that by the time Borne is grown, it feels like a life has been lived, and an unbreakable bond formed ... At heart, Borne is a small story, a sweet story, a sad story; a cunningly punning, playful and flavourful exploration of parenthood more interested in feelings and in fun than fungus. It’s definitely one of the weirdest books I’ve ever read, and it may well be one of the best. Bravo.
MixedTor...explodes the exceptional premise of its predecessor at the same time as falling short of fulfilling its awesome promise ... ultimately, the atrophied angels after which this novel is named just aren’t as effective a focus as the Vorrh was...Unfortunately, as fascinating as the Erstwhile are in the abstract, in practice, they’re baffling ... inasmuch as this distance serves to broaden the overall scope of the series, it also places readers at a regrettable remove from the richness and resonance of the grotesque garden at its centre ... The Erstwhile is a good book, to be sure, but great it ain’t, I’m afraid. In that—and in lieu, too, of either a bona fide beginning or anything resembling an ending—it’s very much a middling middle volume.
RaveTorA Closed and Common Orbit is entirely standalone—unlike so many of the struggling sequels that insist on this—although a passing familiarity with the larger canvas of said series is sure to prove a plus ... it doubles down on the small, character-focused moments that made its predecessor such an unfettered pleasure, and in that respect, it’s no less of a success ... A Closed and Common Orbit may be smaller in scope than the book before it, but in its focus and its force, in the sheer delight it takes in the discoveries it documents, it’s as fine and as fantastical and as fun as Chambers’ absolute darling of a debut.
MixedTorA work of fiction twined around a twist that is, shall we say, entangled with something supernatural, Behind Her Eyes is likely to elicit a few screams of 'Don’t cross the streams!' And understandably so, I suppose ... Like The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl before it, Behind Her Eyes is a book that you don’t so much read as ride. It’s a little slow for a rollercoaster, though. The first act, in fact, is all superficial setup ... there are two twists, in truth, and the first isn’t far off. But rest assured that it turns this text into something else. Something markedly more interesting than either the grip-lit of its underpinnings or the dark fantasies Pinborough has purveyed in the past ... Behind Her Eyes isn’t quite as clever as it thinks it is; its central perspectives are initially rather rote; its beginning is at bottom boring—and that’s quite the laundry list of issues. But they’re issues Pinborough saves face by putting in their place later, when the song and dance of the secrets at the dark heart of this narrative is done. Would that I could talk more openly about those, but to do so would deny you the undeniable delight of discovery, and that’s what Behind Her Eyes is about, at bottom: shocking your comfy cotton socks off. And it does that, dear reader. It does that as well as any novel I remember.
RaveTor...a marvellously mystifying novella that wants to know what it means to be human in a world where people can be constructed like sculptures shaped from clay ... The Warren‘s broken story mirrors the broken being at its breast brilliantly, revealing fragments of fantastical narrative in the same breath as expanding our understanding of X as a character ... I’ve had my ups and downs with Brian Evenson’s work over the years, particularly with his tiresome tie-ins, but The Warren has all the intensity and intelligence of his tremendous 2009 novel Last Days. It may well be the best thing he’s written since.
MixedTorTo a greater or lesser extent, each of its short chapters progresses the text’s central threads but the bulk of the book is given over to barbed banter that, however eye-opening or entertaining, adds little but length to Normal‘s narrative. Similarly, its cast of characters, though conceptually clever and immediately either appealing or appalling, are mostly mouthpieces in practice—a problem perhaps exacerbated by the fact that there are so very many of them ... That Normal is nevertheless violently insightful and at times dangerously entertaining is no mean feat given its various failings, many of which, I fear, follow from its form: from the stranding of a novel’s worth of characters and the plot of a short in a novella that needs focus as opposed to filler.
PositiveTorThe Gradual doesn’t satisfy in the classic fashion. It’s relatively eventful at the outset, but less and less as the novel progresses. It doesn’t have much momentum, and in its slow moments seems positively stodgy. It’s confusing before it’s clear, maddening before it’s mysterious. You’ll come out of the singular experience of reading it with more questions than you went in with—but read it you should, to be sure, because like a dream, baffling though it may be, it really could renew you. Intellectually, yes—the extraordinary ideas The Gradual explores are, as ever, brilliantly belied by the plainness of Priest’s prose—but also intimately ... The Gradual is a great many things—exhilarating, frustrating, hypnotic, semiotic—but above all else, it’s an inspiring novel about inspiration.
Cixin Liu, Trans. by Ken Liu
PositiveTor\"...as expansive a narrative as any I’ve ever read ... Death’s End is so stupidly full of electrifying ideas that a good many of them are roundly erased mere pages after they’ve been raised...That said, some of Death’s End‘s overabundance of substance rather drags ... Ultimately, it’s the ideas Cixin Liu tends to in Death’s End that are going to grab you, rather than its protagonist. It’s the incredible ambition of this book that you’re going to write home about, as opposed to its fleeting focus on the minor moments. And that’s...disappointing, I dare say. But it’s nowhere near a deal-breaker.\
N. K. Jemisin
MixedTorMiddle volume syndrome sets in in the surprisingly circumspect sequel to one of the best and bravest books of 2015. Though the world remains remarkable, and the characters at the heart of the narrative are as rich and resonant as ever, The Obelisk Gate sacrifices The Fifth Season‘s substance and sense of momentum for a far slighter and slower story ... a sedentary, albeit completely readable sequel.