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Science Fiction & Fantasy: SF & Fantasy Reviews

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The Last Plane to Heaven

The Last Plane to Heave: The Final Collection by Jay Lake

Short story collections can be a hard sell. Unless you’re a reader who already enjoys them, lovers of a longer story often dismiss their briefer cousins and  I admit that I am one of those readers. Even with an intriguing title, I’ll stay on the fence until the end of the first few stories. Science fiction author Gene Wolfe, in his introduction to this collection, acknowledges such readers, and begs us to stay for at least the eponymous story “The Last Plane to Heaven,” if only because this collection truly is the last from Jay Lake, who passed away from cancer in 2014 and because, as the author says in the dedication, “In the end, words are all that survive us.”  Read more ...

The Southern Reach trilogy

The Southern Reach Trilogy by James VanderMeer

Annihilation_by_jeff_vandermeerArea X. Engulfing an ill-defined swath of land, sea and sky in the southern U.S., it appeared suddenly, cutting off all connections – human, animal and otherwise – from the rest of the world. The government sends team after team – scientific and military – into Area X. Some disappear without a trace, others return badly damaged and still others return seemingly unharmed, only to die weeks or months later. Most communication and recording instruments are rendered useless once the border is crossed, the footage that does survive only deepens the mystery – and the growing horror – of Area X. Still, the agency that oversees each of these doomed expeditions – The Southern Reach – prepares a twelfth  expedition. Read more ...


Reviews of science fiction, fantasy and YA written long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

Love in the Time of Global Warming

I picked up Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block expecting a standard YA end-of-the-world survival story, with some teenage love drama thrown in. While there is a world-ending catastrophe and romance, the book was anything but standard. Drawing on Homer's "Odyssey" (which, I'll be honest, I only skimmed in high school. It isn't necessary to be familiar with the tales, but, I appreciated Block's book more after a little review) the story begins when a cataclysmic earthquake destroys the West Coast and a wall of water sweeps seventeen-year-old Penelope's family away. After narrowly escaping death at the hands of looters, Pen sets off on a perilous journey to find her family, encountering human-devouring giants, sirens,  lotus-eaters and witches, and gathering three companions to aid her quest. Magic and the fantastic is woven throughout the narrative, which skims back and forth from Pen's present journey to her life before the Earth Shaker, when she was just on the precipice of discovering her sexuality. Even though the book wasn't at all what I though it was, I was enchanted by the magical realism and love that suffused the story.

World War Z by Max Brooks

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War & The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks - I'll admit, I'm not a big fan of zombies. I avoid books and movies about them, since they tend to emphasize the gore factor a bit too much for my taste. But then I heard that a movie was being made based on the book, and that fans of the book were up in arms about it. I had to read it.

World War Z (the book) is told, true to it's subtitle, as an oral history. Divided into chronological sections, the story is told through interviews with survivors of the war. The people interviewed range from military to doctors to ordinary people, and follow the spread of the plague, the governments' responses (or lack thereof) and how people managed to survive and, ultimately, beat back the zombie hoards. The first-person narration is gripping and brings you to the heart of the crisis. The raw terror, the helplessness and the desperation are tangible, as is the toll both the war and the terrible solution that won it took on what remains of humanity.

Brooks' companion nonfiction book, The Zombie Survival Guide, is referred to a few times as a "civilian survival manual" during World War Z and is written as such. Offering practical advice from where to go to what to bring with you, the guide is written in the same world as World War Z. It also offers more information about the virus that causes people to turn and a retrospective of recorded attacks dating back to 60,000 B.C. to the attacks that set off the global war. I'd recommend reading it after you've finished World War Z, as the history, advice and scenarios will hold more meaning.

WOOL & Shift by Hugh Howey

Wool: Omnibus & the Shift series by Hugh Howey
The Wool series began as a one-off Kindle single by science fiction writer Howey. But, as the novella became a best seller, fans demanded more. Wool: Omnibus collects the five novellas that have been published so far. Howey has also written two short stories in a planned trilogy (the Shift series) that fill in the history of the world of Wool. As a bonus, the Kindle edition of Wool 1 is now free!

Wool takes place in an underground silo where generations of people have lived after an unknown global catastrophe made the surface of the planet uninhabitable and deadly. The story of Wool 1 begins with the sheriff of the silo, Holston. Beyond that, it's difficult to describe further without giving major spoilers. One hint, though: people do leave the silo for "cleaning," however, they do not come back. And often times, they volunteer.

The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster

The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster - Written in 1909, this short story is amazingly prescient. Forster imagines a world in which people live in vast underground structures and have lost the ability to live independently. People are dependent on the Machine, which cares for their every need, and the vast majority of life is spent in isolated cells. Exile from the Machine means death and very few question the Machine's existence or actions. The story follows Vashti and her son Kuno, who wants to see the world outside of the Machine. And, as the Machine begins to malfunction, Kuno might get his wish. It's a great story, especially considering it was written 103 years ago, and it's available for as a PDF EPUB or Kindle book.