Betwixt and Between: A Review of Within Without, by Jeff Noon

The crossing of a border is a sacred act, a transgression representing a metamorphosis from one state to another.  To most, borders represent the barriers between nations, or states, the crossing between one civilization and another.  But there are many more borders in our everyday lives.  The crossing of the threshold from within your home to without it.  The crossing from a street to inside an apartment building to inside a singular apartment, and in reverse.  But most borders are not physical objects, until we bring them into being.  Without a human mind, there are no borders anywhere.  One world stretches and encompasses everything.  It is us who gives borders their significance and power.  Borders are not just for people either, but ideas.  There are borders of the mind that welcome you across, and borders that bar your entry.  Thoughts come to us unbidden across closed borders, but so too much mental borders be crossed in order to grow and learn.

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Suneater: A Review of Black Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse

Epics are a form of literature as old as storytelling itself and continues to be just as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago when The Epic of Gilgamesh was first told.  Every culture has its own tales, passed down from generation to generation, and literature has continued to keep this particular genre relevant.  Even today, modern authors still write epic fiction, even if the format has changed from poetry to prose.  No one could look at The Lord of the Rings trilogy or A Song of Ice and Fire as anything other than modern epic stories, but those are far from the only ones.  All epics share a few common characteristics.  An epic will feature multiple main characters, each on their own important journey.  Sometimes this journey will take them across several locales, other times the journey will not a physical one.  Magic may play a part, but it is usually rare and, when it does appear, can be exceedingly powerful.  Often, the stakes will threaten the world, but the characters growth is just as important to the story as the plot.

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Destroyer: A Review of The Burning God, by R. F. Kuang

Not every story requires a happy ending, the kind of ending where the main characters walk off into the sunset.  The type of ending where the plot has been neatly wrapped up with the villains defeated.  Peace reigns, and the book ends tidily, trying to leave readers with a sense of satisfaction.  However, entertainment is not limited to just that type of ending, and it can also be satisfying to see a book or series reach its most logical conclusion.  We want to complete a book and feel the overwhelming emotion that the author wishes to depart, even if that emotion is sadness, for sadness itself can be cathartic. 

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Courtly Manners: A Review of The Frozen Crown, by Greta Kelly

Not every novel needs to be a masterpiece.  Most books will not become the next great American novel, or spawn a never-ending franchise, or elicit well-reasoned think pieces and critical analysis.  Most are written, and read, for pure entertainment.  More often than not, these are the books that I prefer to read.  Books that do not require you to think about them too hard, but draw you in with well-told, interesting stories and entertaining characters.  The literary equivalent of a popcorn movie.  And it is perfectly acceptable to enjoy these stories for what they are.  No reader should ever be judged for choosing to read something for fun, or to escape from reality for a few days to weeks.  In the middle of a global pandemic, this sort of escapism can be more important than ever.  However, just because a book is meant for pure entertainment does not mean that the construction should always be overlooked.

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Practical Villainy: A Review of Hench, by Natalie Zina Walschots

This is no longer the Golden Age of Superheroes.  We are long passed the silver and bronze ages as well.  In the world of comic books, and superheroes in particular, we currently find ourselves the Modern Age.  A literary and creative time period where superheroes cannot be taken at face value anymore, where the implications of people with extraordinary powers must be considered and no longer ignored.  We have seen this trend in both comic books and film, where a certain practicality has been applied to thinking about superheroes and their effects on the world.  Readers and consumers of superhero fiction are not content with just watching Superman demolish buildings in order to stop the latest villain’s world-ending plot.  We need creators to consider the people in those buildings.  There are generations of people today—like millennials and gen Z—who have been raised on tragedy and destruction.  Terrorist attacks, never ending school shootings, and plagues were out childhood.  Like these disasters, literature cannot ignore the destruction and death caused just off-page when superheroes and supervillains clash.  Because, when you truly think about it, the idea of a superman in real life is horrifying.

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The Heist: A Review of Enemy of All Mankind, by Steven Johnson

The nature of pirates and piracy in popular culture has enjoyed a romanticization beyond nearly any other historical group of individuals.  We know many of their names, from Blackbeard to Anne Bonny, and when they appear in movies, television shows, and novels, they are portrayed as free men and women of the sea.  Believing in democracy and freedom and fighting against the tyranny of England and the other empires of the time.  For the epitome of this effect, look no farther than Jack Sparrow from The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.  First seen as morally grey, he is quickly changed to have a heart of gold.  Even the villain of the first film quickly becomes one of its central heroes.  However, historical pirates enjoyed a well-earned notoriety upon the high seas, and Steven Johnson’s Enemy of Mankind: A True Story of Piracy, Power, and History’s First Global Manhunt goes through great pains to disassemble these myths and portray the most successful pirate of the Golden Age as he truly was.

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All Saints’ Day: A Review of Creeping Jenny, by Jeff Noon

Detective fiction takes many forms in literature, and indeed can encompass many other genres as well.  Some prefer the straight-forward, hard-boiled mystery novels featuring rugged private eyes taking on shadowy government agencies or powerful corporations.  Others prefer the more humorous satires, or the always enjoyable mixtures with fantasy.  Sometimes, the mystery takes place in the modern day, other times in a far-flung science-fiction setting.  Others, such as the tales woven by Jeff Noon, prefer to focus on the slightly supernatural, but always mind bending.  The mysteries can be likened to the stories written by authors such as H.P. Lovecraft, whose mortal main characters frequently questioned, or lost, their sanity in the face of such unknowable mysteries.

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Victorian Robin Hood: A Review of Spellbreaker, by Charlie N. Holmberg

Western fiction, English and American, possess an endless fascination with the Victorian era of England’s recent history.  With a reign lasting from 1837 to 1901, Queen Victoria was the longest reigning English monarch until the current Queen Elizabeth II.  During that time, the British Empire rose to what could be considered its height, with the East India Company conquering India and the empire subjugating people around the globe.  Yet, this was also a transformative time for England and much of the world.  Electrical power began to be harnessed, with lightbulbs becoming widespread by the end of the century.  It was the beginning of modern medicine, when the United States finally threw of the evil shackles of slavery, and more.  More than any other time period in England’s past, authors have enjoyed setting tales of science-fiction and fantasy in the Victorian era.  Maybe it has something to do with the advent of such stories during this time, or it could just be fun to juxtapose the uptight era with the absurdity of magic.  Whatever the case may be, Charlie N. Holmberg’s excellent Spellbreaker is the newest in Victorian fantasy.

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Holy Wars: A Review of The Tower of Fools, by Andrzej Sapkowski

Historical fiction can be defined as any work of fiction that takes place in the past, anywhere from the distant to the recent.  One of the most common forms of fiction in the history of storytelling, historical fiction often goes through great pains to portray the attitudes, manners, and popular beliefs of the people set in the chosen time period.  This can result in a more grounded or realistic work of fiction that many pure fantasy novels, making historical fiction both easier and more difficult to write.  Unlike a fantasy novel where much is left up to the writer’s imagination, historical fiction offers many more resources to build the setting, although the sheer amount of research required to portray the chosen time period accurately can appear daunting.  While some authors may choose to take liberties with the time period in order to write the story they wish to write, Andrzej Sapkowski, author of the world-famous Witcher series, wholeheartedly submerged himself in the fifteenth century for The Tower of Fools.

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Apex Predator: A Review of Devolution – A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre, by Max Brooks

The line between fiction and non-fiction is usually a obvious one in literature.  Unless the non-fiction in question is written as a literary story, the difference lies in the presentation and advertisement of the work.  Non-fiction can be presented as a memoir, journal, essay, selection of interviews, or more.  The books usually have very long, very descriptive titles.  Fiction, on the other hand, is something you immediately know when you see it.  At least it is now.  Once upon a time, the lines were much more blurred.  Books like Gulliver’s Travels or Utopia were believed to be true by some when they were published.  Nowadays, it can be popular to present fiction as non-fiction, as seen in the mockumentary style of film.  It is about presenting the material as realistically and believably as possible, no matter how absurd the material may be.

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