PositiveThe Wall Street JournalChristopher Paolini’s To Sleep in a Sea of Stars...is what Tolkien called a wish beyond hope ... Mr. Paolini keeps reaching deeper and deeper, slowly uncovering the history and nature of each alien group ... Mr. Paolini’s reading seems to have gone well beyond sci-fi classics, however. Undset Station? Is that a nod to the author of the Norwegian epic Kristin Lavransdatter? Jeeves and Wooster fans also will be delighted to learn of Fink-Nottle’s Pious Newt Emporium. Fans of all kinds, one can be sure, will come to question, and stay to explore.
Mary Robinette Kowal
RaveThe Wall Street JournalNo one can beat Ms. Kowal on the finely imagined details of how to disrupt Earth’s toehold in the unforgiving conditions of the Moon, and how to guard against it ... \'Relentless\' is the right word for Ms. Kowal’s book. It reminds us that space is about finance and politics, not just technology. But the technology is vital just the same. Her award-winning sequence has revived the old sci-fi dream. The premise is a \'might have been\' scenario, but the series is also a blueprint for \'what could be yet.\' Arthur C. Clarke would have loved it.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... it gets complicated—maybe too complicated ... Wolfe fans will spend a lot of time discussing this. All the best detective stories have clues buried deep in them. You need to look back and check for the ones you missed. It’s an enigmatic final note from sci-fi’s most enigmatic author.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalKyle needs to deal with dinosaurs but also navigate the power struggles of the colonists, who deviously pack committees and dominate meetings. This element of the story raises Hella above the level of a Young Adult adventure story. In everyday life we don’t cope with dinosaurs, but we do cope with bureaucrats and finaglers. Mr. Gerrold makes it plain that there’s as much drama and danger in office politics as there is in dealing with wild beasts. It’s just that in a survival scenario, the stakes are higher, and losers find they’re collected much more promptly.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalPeter Quince, superseded as stage-director by Pocket, insists that the mechanicals’ play remains \'completely suitable for ladies and children,\' which is not entirely true of Mr. Moore’s story. Pocket proves to be a master of inventive verbal rudeness, and there is a good deal of fairy frolicking, but no one could call it anything but lighthearted. Christopher Moore has written a wonderful diversion for hard times. Even Shakespeare would have appreciated the jokes. Maybe.
Sarah J. Maas
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... not a work for the fantasy purist, but its eclecticism—names borrowed from Old Norse and the Bible, creatures from every corner of folk tale—keeps you guessing, and the clashes between the mundane and the magical are often funny as well as provocative. Moreover, Ms. Maas has the main talent a fantasy author needs: continuous invention, new twists all the time.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThe last words of the novel are \'trying to make it out,\' and Ms. Perry says she’s pleased when people come away with totally different ideas about what she intended. Is the novel an allegory of climate change? Or maybe one of those stories, like William Golding’s \'Pincher Martin,\' where the central character dies at the start and is undergoing a kind of penance or purgatory? ... Horror is introspective. Sprites, gnomes, dragons—we can cope with them. Fears in the head aren’t so easy. After Me Comes the Flood is a notable experiment in inner Gothic: atmospheric, haunting, disturbing.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThis is fantasy in an old tradition, that of folktale and Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, very different from the rough-and-tumble of modern epic fantasy. Its heroes, in a way, are the forest and the land, threatened by the humans, protected by the faeries. The author asks you to sympathize with both sides, for both villagers and faeries are in their turn menaced by the forces of order and progress ... There’s a longing in the book for a wider and more inclusive world that seems long lost. Well, maybe not quite, for some like Ms. Atwood remember, and can bring it back to life.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalCixin Liu is the champion of Chinese sci-fi, and his The Three-Body Problem... is The War of the Worlds for the 21st century ... What makes Mr. Liu’s novel different from its Western competitors in the alien-invasion line is not its hardware (though it is full of strange ideas, like how to construct a human computer using 30 million people, each with a white and a black flag ...The difference seems to be a kind of patience, seeing things long-term ... One can’t fault the ambition, nor the still-unshaken conviction in the powers of science. Sci-fi fans often boast about their favorite genre’s diversity and universality. Now they have a classic example to point to. Not a page-turner, but packed with a sense of wonder, coupled to human experiences few of us have had to face.
Michael Crichton and Daniel H. Wilson
RaveThe Wall Street JournalThere’s tension at every level, with one totally unexpected event after another, and ever-larger perspectives opening up. The mode of narration makes the events seem much more plausible, with heavy doses of technical detail (including four pages of heavyweight endnotes), and the whole story presented as a retrospective, created after the event from logbooks, reports, interviews, information from drones. All the action is related from the limited viewpoints of the participants, none of whom know the whole story ... Michael Crichton’s own mantra was that science fiction could mature into science, and that’s almost what is happening here. There’s a shock or a cliff-hanger every few pages, all rigorously controlled. Believe it or not, it’s even better than the original.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalAt the core of Mr. Khoury’s complex multi-plot...is his vision of a modern Islamic state, with its good points—the duty of charity for all believers, without the indignity of street-begging—and its bad ones: rigorous repression, public beheadings. Good idea, bad idea? As with sci-fi at its best, the real excitement comes not from the thrills on the surface, but from the ideas underneath.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalThis is techno sci-fi at a level even Arthur Clarke never achieved. It\'s also a celebration of human ingenuity ... But human ingenuity, as Mr. Weir demonstrates, can do things you wouldn\'t believe possible. Like take off from Mars on a booster patched up with canvas. Just do the math. The Martian must be the purest example of real-science sci-fi for many years. Just one character most of the time, no dialogue. It\'s utterly compelling.
MixedThe Wall Street Journal... factional fighting all the way, as well as politics, and legal issues to be played out in courtroom drama ... Mr. Proehl tests all the options, and embodies them in characters across the whole range not only of abilities, but also of self-control. There are no easy answers, but one question never quite comes into focus. Has anyone got a theory about how ESP works? Time was, that was a big issue in sci-fi. But we have moved, it seems, into a more skeptical age.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalWhat fantasies need above all is depth, the sense of a complete world with its own rules, and Mr. Swanwick’s creation has this more than any other fantasy world since Tolkien’s Middle-earth. But because of bleed-over, it’s tantalizing: Just one more clue, you think, and I can figure this out . . . Meanwhile you’re there with the crones and the luck-eaters, the glamours and the geases, the haughty elf-dowagers and the strange artifacts left over from Creation. It is, in every sense, a fantastic achievement.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal...a classic nerve-shredder, written with all the pace and sudden switches you would expect from a screenwriter like Mr. Koepp ... The threat builds exponentially ...We get to see things the way the fungus sees them as well, or anyway perceives them. If there’s a moral, it’s a good sci-fi one: We’ve gotten used to things being OK, but humanity can’t afford to drop its guard. Not all fungi move slow.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal\"...Rule of Capture... is set in the same world as the earlier novel but at the other end of the social spectrum, in Washington among the lawyers and the politicians. The threat is still the same: an overbearing security state, established in response to the U.S. having lost the satellite war in near-space amid rising Chinese domination ... Rule of Capture is not just sci-fi, it’s also a legal thriller. Its author is himself a lawyer, just like John Grisham, and he has a grip on detail that full-time sci-fi authors can’t match.
Erin A Craig
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalAll very Freudian, one might say, but unlike the Grimms’ princesses, Annaleigh and her sisters don’t need a brave little soldier to rescue them. They figure things out for themselves, and she figures out who’s doing it too. It isn’t rocket science, and it isn’t all magic either. But if the gender bias of the Grimms is exposed and rejected, their class orientation toward brave sailors rather than princes, and poor old women rather than duchesses, is magnified and applauded ... It’s a fairy tale, a young-adult romance (though gothic enough for adult readers) and a whodunit too. Erin Craig works them all together with the modern storyteller’s more complex craft. The Grimms provided the blueprint, one might say, and a very good blueprint it is, but after two centuries of dominance by the realistic novel, we need more than the sketch of a fairy tale. We need personalities, we need individuals, we need to understand the heroine’s interior life, all engagingly presented in this charming remake.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalIt’s a Road novel...with all the shocks and adventures of the genre ... Mr. King looks at all our upcoming problems, and imagines a local reaction to each one. The result is often funny, usually sardonic and always imaginative, what with all the mole rats, flesh drones, dimeheads, and especially \'The Grifter’s Guide to the Territories FKA USA,\' a notable addition to the line of imaginary authorities.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalStephenson has long shown himself able to puncture sci-fi clichés and expose hidden drawbacks ... It seems that each section of Mr. Stephenson’s 11-part, 900-page novel could be read as a work on its own. What holds them together is the deep, challenging, often frightening vision of what the digital world is really going to do to us ... English professors love to tell us that reading James Joyce is difficult but rewarding. Ulysses is a walk in the park for difficulty compared with Fall, but Mr. Stephenson isn’t just playing with words, he’s playing with ideas, and he isn’t joking either. He is sci-fi’s great contrarian, and Fall deserves to be rated as one of the great novels of our time, prophetically and philosophically.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalDaniel Suarez’s hugely impressive Delta-v...fuses the real world with sci-fi, giving the space genre a new boost and new hope ... The philosophy of Nathan Joyce, Mr. Suarez’s financier-hero, is to send humans up to solve problems on the spot that pre-programmed AIs couldn’t. The risks they run provide the narrative excitement: technical failures and rival billionaire-projects in space, creditor takeovers and angry governments back on earth. Even more exciting, though, is the sense of what could and can be done ... This is the High Frontier for financiers and politicians as well as for fans.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalSci-fi as social commentary is another venerable tradition, like the novella, and Cory Doctorow is the current master of it. Sharp, wry, horribly plausible, he writes like Frederik Pohl used to, and who can say better than that?
MixedThe Wall Street JournalNaturally, the sex-quarantining breaks down, and all the little guinea pigs end up \'spoiled rotten.\' In real sci-fi, one can’t help thinking, there would be more interest in what all the child-geniuses were supposed to do. Design a starship, control climate, achieve immortality? As it is, they discover sex. Happens all the time.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal\"Immediately one sees parallels with Isaac Asimov’s 1953 classic The Caves of Steel, in which the detective hero was partnered with a robot. OWEN, however, is not at all like Asimov’s deferential R. Daneel Olivaw. He’s an AI with attitude, quick to point out that his human partner is just \'a bipedal ape with high manual dexterity,\' whose brain is remarkable only because he grew it himself ... The clashes between OWEN and Henry, between Suitland and Metropolis, turn into a conflict of philosophies, in which the right side is never clear. AIs are good at helping, in unexpected and sometimes comic ways, but in the end a city has to be \'organized around human relationships.\' The Municipalists is a new and irreverent take on both real-world politics and sci-fi history.\
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal\"Breathless, yet, and no place for the reader to stop and catch up, as we are drawn deeper and deeper into a world with its own rules and its own personnel: god-kings, firebloods, shadowdancers and more to come, laid out tantalizingly in footnotes and glossary and addenda ... Ms. Lyons is all set to take her readers on a long journey indeed, unfolding and unfolding like brilliant origami. So far, though, not a hairy chest in sight, nor a languishing maiden. Fantasy has moved on, and is all the better for it.\
RaveThe Wall Street JournalLike all the best sci-fi authors, Mr. Benford really means it. The quantum world, he insists, is the real world ... That’s what sci-fi is all about, \'vistas unknown\' and \'times untouched,\' and that’s why reading it is a unique literary experience. When it’s done full-throttle, the way Mr. Benford does it.
Kim Stanley Robinson
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalSci-fi fans will love the detail and the optimism about humanity’s future in space. Not so comforting are the penetrating comments about politics on Earth. But in grown-up sci fi, of which Mr. Robinson is the pre-eminent producer, it’s all about mozhe shitou guo he—\'crossing the river by feeling the stones,\' the author’s enigmatic quote from Deng Xiaoping.
Peter F Hamilton
PositiveWall Street JournalMr. Hamilton paints with a very broad brush, skipping from planet to planet and plotline to plotline, but each strand is at the same time finely detailed...The Old Masters of sci-fi would admire the scope and sweep of “Salvation,” but marvel even more at the amount of thought that now has to go into making futures plausible.
David R. Bunch
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal\"[The stories] give a strange image of post-humanity, as imagined before the e-revolution took off: cyberpunk on floppy disks ... The progenitor of cyberpunk? Bunch certainly pioneered the irreverence. What he didn’t have was any feel for \'life on the street,\' since in his vision, there were no streets, let alone street-people. As a prophet, he scores low—but, thinking of sheets of plastic covering the oceans, not quite zero. Just the same, he created a classic of sci-fi history, sharp, quirky, contrarian, screaming for attention.\
Cixin Liu, Trans. by Joel Martinsen
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMost sci-fi authors these days lean toward the focus on people ... Cixin Liu’s Ball Lightning (Tor, 384 pages, $28.99), translated from the Chinese by Joel Martinsen, swings firmly the other way ... Yes, there is a human story buried in the techno-political struggle, for only an obsessive with a reason for his obsession would keep pursuing such a mystery. Nevertheless, it’s science that commands the high ground of the action ... In this stand-alone novel he has taken sci-fi back to its origins in fear and hope and mystery.
Sarah Beth Durst
RaveThe Wall Street JournalIt’s the spirits that make Sarah Beth Durst’s world of Renthia distinctive in The Queen of Sorrow ... The idea that nature is animate is all but universal, of course. But Ms. Durst’s spirits aren’t like the flimsy oreads and dryads of Greek myth. They are not in harmony with humans, but bitterly hostile ... The Renthia trilogy stands old beliefs, and even old myths, on their heads. Ms. Durst has given us a refreshing, provocative and ultimately convincing remake of modern fantasy conventions. The wonder is that we ever saw things the other way round.
S M Stirling
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalAs a spy thriller, Black Chamber stacks up with the old classics of Kipling and John Buchan. As sci-fi, it comes off as terribly plausible, with Tom Clancy-like mastery of old weapons and potential ones ... Alternate histories run on details, true facts you didn’t know, factoids that might have been true, challenging you to tell them apart. Black Chamber combines them on every level—political, historical and scientific—all worked into a tension-filled tearaway plot.
Mary Robinette Kowal
PositiveWall Street JournalMs. Kowal’s heroine, Elma, is a wartime ferry pilot and also a crack number-cruncher—just what’s needed. But this is the 1950s. The Calculating Stars traces Elma’s progress through astronaut training, but her real struggle is for acceptance in a world where woman = homemaker ... This is what NASA never had, a heroine with attitude.
RaveThe Wall Street Journalis a world where Spiritualism works—the whole nine yards, ectoplasm, spirit mediums and all ... Mr. Rajaniemi keeps pulling new ideas out of his hat, each one making you think, with a shudder, \'Of course—but who would have thought of that?\' This stand-alone novel makes him the all-time great of unintended consequences as well. Summerland is a masterpiece, set to be a classic—but not by any means a comfortable one.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThe Brothers Grimm gave us the fairy tales; many years later Tanith Lee gave us Tales From the Sisters Grimmer. In this astonishing debut, Ms. Fine bids fair to be the Sister Grimmest.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalWe’re in Raymond Chandler country straight away, but is this sci-fi? ... In the end the sci-fi content of Noir is fairly small, but the exuberance of the Chandler pastiche never flags ... Noir is worth reading just for its similes and metaphors ... Not serious, but fun.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalSci-fi authors love to imagine ever more violent entertainments being used to pacify the masses. In John Scalzi’s Head On, the game is 'Hilketa.' Two sides slug it out with swords and warhammers, with the aim of decapitating a player on the opposite side—the randomly designated 'goat'—and throwing his head through the goal or hoop ... Crime in the Scalzi world is like chess in three dimensions, in a game expertly controlled by the author.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThe Oracle Year raises many questions, but adds constant twists of plot. Where did those predictions come from? Were they sent by a genie? Or a demon? If you’re told what you’re going to do in advance, can you just refuse to do it? If it happens anyway, are we looking at providence? Someone, or something, must have had a plan.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalJames Rollins’s riveting The Demon Crown is a mix of biology, techno-thriller and archaeology ... The biology element centers on insects, the most dangerous creatures on earth... The techno-thriller part involves, of course, a plot to take over the world by unleashing 'a biological Pearl Harbor.' But it may be the archaeology which is most factual and most fascinating ... The nuggets of hard information, often accompanied by illustrations, are what make the story, but plot revelations keep coming and the pace never slows. Just the thing for a post-holiday booster shot.
Chandler Klang Smith
RaveThe Wall Street JournalIt’s a mesmeric world, comic in the way teenage voyages of self-discovery inevitably are, but with an undertone of menace, horror, even hints of allegory. Satire, too ... Fantasy, sure, but recognitions flare. Ms. Smith’s imagination is inexhaustible. The Sky Is Yours is a great and disturbing debut, which colonizes a new realm of the magic city.
S. A. Chakraborty
RaveThe Wall Street JournalAnyone who has read The Arabian Nights will remember, at least dimly, that Suleiman the Wise—the King Solomon of the Bible—had power over spirits, and imprisoned many of the most recalcitrant in bottles, or lamps like Aladdin’s. In the West they are simply called 'genies,' but S.A. Chakraborty’s The City of Brass makes the mythological situation clearer, if much more complex ... This is a great debut novel, with strikingly different setting and cast—nary an elf or an orc in sight. Not only does it open up an imaginative space we had all but lost, it raises important issues of inclusion and diversity with engaging flair.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal...just as Andy Weir’s first novel, The Martian, breathed new life into the old Robinson-Crusoe-on-Mars plot, now his second, Artemis, has revitalized the Lunar-colony scenario, with the author’s characteristic blend of engineering know-how and survival suspense ... You finish the novel thinking, as you do with the very best sci-fi: Well, maybe this is the way things are going to happen. Because the scenario, and the plot, is constrained by the kind of hard facts, financial and technological, most of us aren’t even aware of. It all seems just about possible, which is a comforting thought after decades of disappointment following the old Clarke-and-Heinlein era of imagined space travel. Finally, Jazz is a great heroine, tough with a soft core, crooked with inner honesty. A big improvement on Heinlein’s Podkayne, sci-fi sacrilege though it is to say so.
PanThe Wall Street JournalEmbassytown creates yet another memorable city, this time in a more recognizably science-fiction setting: a distant planet recently reached by human colonizers. Embassytown is their tenuous toe-hold in this new world … Embassytown is, in its way, the story of a Fall. The winged Hosts are like angels exposed to a new original sin brought to them from outside by mysterious strangers with names like EzRa and CalVin. To some readers, this may seem philosophically very deep. But Mr. Mieville never really integrates the intellectual complexities with a compelling narrative. One problem is that the ideas that preoccupy the author here have to do with language itself. Language about language must always be in some sense secondhand, and the Host language is presented as essentially untranslatable. This makes the
goings-on in Embassytown—and the characters—hard to relate to.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Hutton’s study has little to say about the immediate present. J.K. Rowling and Pratchett do not appear in his index, nor does Salem, and even Shakespeare gets very little space. What he has done very valuably, though, is to put what most of us know already into a far wider context, both geographically and historically. It’s up to us then to examine our own notions of witches and witchcraft—no longer threatening, but still perfectly familiar.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal…[a] world brilliantly re-created by Ms. Hartsuyker … Ms. Hartsuyker captures the sense of saga times and saga heroes: violent but litigious, treacherous but honorable, impetuous but crafty. Ragnvald, Harald and Hakon all play off one another, as do the striking Svanhild, her stepmother Vigdis and—only just coming into the picture—Gyda, whose proud refusal of Harald created Norway.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThat vision will resonate with a lot of voters in the big square states, who might agree that politics offers only a choice between 'regular and decaf oligarchs,' in Mr. Brown’s phrase. As for the idea that the Constitution keeps executive power in check, that’s fine except that the law now serves power like 'the devil’s butler' ... Tropic of Kansas is good at projecting pain and bitterness. Finding a cure isn’t so easy, even for sci-fi. But the first step is recognizing that something’s wrong.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Doctorow’s philosophy is passionately argued, like his earlier anthems to communal action in Homeland and Little Brother. Provocative ideas keep popping up, such as his explanation of World War I: It was caused by primogeniture. Once the second sons of aristocratic Europe ran out of places in Asia and Africa and Oceania to take over and be governors of, they turned on one another. So the thinking is lively, but the characters? What they are is basically trustafarians, faux-hemians, kids in designer jeans. The trouble with those people, some would say, is, sure, they walk away. But they know they can always walk back. Is that a good basis for a stable new world?
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Mastai’s story is a long riff on the time paradoxes lovingly explored in previous sci-fi. It’s also underpinned by love triangles, one of them converted by time paradoxes into a quadrangle, or perhaps (they’re complicated) a double triangle ... Bafflement is kept at bay by the fact that Mr. Mastai’s model, openly acknowledged, is Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, with its short chapters and snappy punchlines. He has caught the tone very well: a narrative voice at once wise and naïve, indignant and resigned, flip and deeply sad.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal\"Mr. Gaiman milks such situations for all their humor and incongruity, very much in the spirit of the originals. For a modern audience, though, he has to spell things out ... Mr. Gaiman has produced what the modern world likes: a clear, continuous narrative, with big scenes the same as they always were but with emotional pointers added. Yet he can feel the undercurrents as well: the jealousies and betrayals, the sense that Odin is always playing a long game revealed to no one.\
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal'Alternate worlds' and 'the corridors of time' are established sci-fi motifs, but Mr. Crouch has invested them with scientific plausibility, and more unusually, with emotional depth. His book is a meditation on personality and identity. It draws on questions and anxieties we all wrestle with in the dark hours.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalNight of the Animals is by turns visionary, ironic, satirical and deeply remorseful. The felled woodlands, the erased species, a new Great Extinction—all happen within one long lifetime. It’s a rich addition to the literature of lament, viewed with sympathy and longing.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalNo summary can catch the air of confusion, uncertainty and loss that pervades Mr. Levi’s narrative. As one of the characters says, 'No one sees Septimania for what it is.' It makes other conspiracy theories seem under-plotted ... Septimania has the format of a novel, but it has roots in the folk-tales of The Arabian Nights. It reaches out to epic, in the form of Dante’s Divine Comedy, and to Wordsworth’s Newton, 'voyaging through strange seas of thought, alone.' It takes in the sad modern world of refugees and terrorism, plots and code-breakers. And it’s a love story, too. More than one reading will be needed to digest Mr. Levi’s comprehensive, many-branching vision. It adds new dimensions to the idea of the novel.