Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Guns of Avalon by Roger Zelazny

(hb; 1972: second novelette in The Chronicles of Amber quintology)

From the inside

"Across the worlds of Shadow, Corwin, prince of blood royal, heir to the throne of Amber, gathers his forces for an assault that will yield up to him the crown that is rightfully his. But, a growing darkness of his own doing threatens his plans, an evil that stretches to the heart of the perfect kingdom itself where the demonic forces of Chaos mass to annihilate Amber and all who would rule there."


The first follow-up to Nine Princes in Amber picks up shortly after the ending of the first book. Corwin seeks to consolidate his seizing of the throne held by his cruel brother (Eric), with help from Ganelon (an exiled traitor-turned-minor-monarch). Along the way, he encounters two of his friendlier siblings, Benedict (who gives him temporary shelter) and Gérard (who reluctantly places faith in Corwin’s word), as well as Dara, Benedict’s curious, mysterious and seductive niece.

Like Nine, Guns is a fast-moving, action-packed urban fantasy, with its blink-it-and-miss-it transitions and explanations. Readers used to detailed, spell-it-out writing may be confused by and put off by Zelazny’s lightning-swift editing and character shifts. For the rest of us, the Amber quintology is a breath of fresh air, one worth owning. Followed by Sign of the Unicorn.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

(hb; 2017: science, nonfiction)

From the inside flap

"What is the nature of space and time? How do we fit within the universe? How does the universe fit within us? There’s no better guide through these mind-expanding questions than acclaimed astrophysicist and best-selling author Neil deGrasse Tyson.

"But today, few of us have time to contemplate the cosmos. So Tyson brings the universe down to Earth succinctly and clearly, with sparkling wit, in tasty chapters consumable anytime and anywhere in your busy day.

"While you wait for your morning coffee to brew, for the bus, the train, or a plane to arrive, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry will reveal just what you need to be fluent and ready for the next cosmic headlines: from the Big Bang to black holes, from quarks to quantum mechanics, and from the search for planets to the search for life in the universe.


Astrophysics is an excellent, wonder-minded scientific work that boils down its subject matter in a way that it is easily understood by those of us who are not scientists, those of who have little practical understanding regarding neutrons, stars, planets and other components of the universe. Tyson, through humor, relatable visual examples and everyday, non-science geek language, gives a sometimes mind-blowing overview of how we may have begun, and how our world, as we currently view it, may end (not necessarily a bad thing) ─ unlike some things and institutions, worthwhile scientists understand that expanding one’s knowledge, even as the universe expands around us, is a worthwhile and necessary pursuit.

That said, Astophysics is not a rush-through read. It is worth taking one’s time, a chapter or a few a day, to allow the scientific and often practical implications to fully take root in one’s awareness.

Most books I read are one-time events ─ I rarely re-read books. This is one of the few exceptions to my once-read rule, a book that I hope to pick up again in the near-ish future, to catch what I may have missed the first time around. For this and other reasons, Astrophysics is worth owning.

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Thirst by Jo Nesbø

(hb; 2017: eleventh novel in the Inspector Harry Hole series – Translated from the Norwegian by Neil Smith.)

From the inside flap

"In Police—the last novel featuring Jo Nesbø's hard-bitten, maverick Oslo detective—a killer wreaking revenge on the police had Harry Hole fighting for the safety of the people closest to him. Now, in The Thirst, the story continues as Harry is inextricably drawn back into the Oslo police force. A serial murderer has begun targeting Tinder daters—a murderer whose MO reignites Harry's hunt for a nemesis of his past."


Warning: possible -- if mild -- spoilers in this review.

Thirst is a mostly excellent thriller that moves along at a breakneck pace, continuing plot threads from the last two novels, as well as bringing in previous villains ─ Valetin Gjerten and Svein “the Fiancé” Finne ─ to cause further mayhem. Like some of the better Harry Hole books, it is a character-rich, intriguing and plot-pretzelesque read until its disingenuous Thin Man-esque Reveal scene [hint: do not leave loaded weapons lying near the bad guy you are outing!]. This minor nit aside, this is a worthwhile entry in this long-running series.

14 by Peter Clines

(hb; 2012)

From the inside flap

"Padlocked doors. Strange light fixtures. Mutant cockroaches.

"There are some odd things about Nate’s new apartment.

"Of course, he has other things on his mind. He hates his job. He has no money in the bank. No girlfriend. No plans for the future. So while his new home isn’t perfect, it’s livable. The rent is low, the property managers are friendly, and the odd little mysteries don’t nag at him too much.

"At least, not until he meets Mandy, his neighbour across the hall, and notices something unusual about her apartment. And Xela’s apartment. And Tim’s. And Veek’s. Because every room in this old Los Angeles brownstone has a mystery or two. Mysteries that stretch back over a hundred years. Some of them are in plain sight. Some are behind locked doors. And all together these mysteries could mean the end of Nate and his friends.  Or the end of everything."


14 is a fun, if chatty, Lovecraftian (minus the racism) science fictionish/mystery novel with steam punkesque elements. The bad guys are obvious from the get-go, the apocalyptic aspects near the end run a bit long, but it is a good, hybrid-genre book that is worth reading, if you can overlook the aforementioned nits.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny

(hb; 1970: first novelette in The Chronicles in Amber quintology)

From the inside flap

"Amber, the one real world, wherein all others, including our own Earth, are but Shadows. Amber burns in Corwin's blood. Exiled on Shadow Earth for centuries, the prince is about to return to Amber to make a mad and desperate rush upon the throne. From Arden to the blood-slippery Stairway into the Sea, the air is electrified with the powers of Eric, Random, Bleys, Caine, and all the princes of Amber whom Corwin must overcome. Yet, his savage path is blocked and guarded by eerie structures beyond imagining; impossible realities forged by demonic assassins and staggering horrors to challenge the might of Corwin's superhuman fury.' to 'Awakening in an Earth hospital unable to remember who he is or where he came from, Corwin is amazed to learn that he is one of the sons of Oberon, King of Amber, and is the rightful successor to the crown in a parallel world."


Princes is a fun, barebones and plot-swift urban fantasy novelette that wastes zero words, with characters who deftly adapt to shifting dimensions and identities with an aplomb that may put off some readers, who are used to “epic” [read: often overlong] works within the same genre. This is an excellent, scene-vivid, and sometimes humorous read, one worth owning. When reading Princes, you might want to make sure you have its first sequel, The Guns of Avalon, on hand, because Princes ─ with its not-quite-cliffhanger ending ─ is an opening arc in a five-book storyline.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Feverish Fiction Vol. #1 edited by Sophia Faun

(pb; 2012: horror microstory anthology. Published by Hyperpyrexia Press.)

Overall review

This is a solid, gory B-movie story collection. Most of the forty-two entries published here have something to recommend them. (In an anthology this size, there are bound to be a few tales that are less wonderful than others.) Worth checking out, this.

Standout stories

1.Devil’s Commisary” – Michael Faun: A demon cockroach attempts to elevate his staus through especially treacherous means. Fans of late Sixties rock ‘n’ roll may appreciate this story.

2.The Avid Collector” – Michael Bergamotte: The employee of a wealthy family recounts the horrible tale of the family’s deviant son.

3. Destiny of Lobster Boy” – Michael Faun: Short, sharp microtale about odious appetites and fast revenge, revolving around canries and a grotesque, wealthy man.

4.Through the Lens of Insanity” – Michael Faun: A questionable monacle inspires alarm and murder ─ are the visions it reveals real? Fun, supernatural crime work.

5.Destiny” – Michael Bergamotte: Memorable, excellent piece about a totalitarian government, a strange stone and a supposed criminal.

6.The Sodomite of Seville” – Michael Faun: During the Spanish Inquistion, demonic doings disrupt the religious-toned purge. Excellent, blasphemous and worth remembering.

7. The Dread at Scarfolk Cove” – Michael Bergamotte: Atmospheric, solid Lovecraftian microstory about a missing boy, a desperate father and an eerie seaside village.

8.Trent Must Vent” – Michael Faun: Darkly funny piece about a man’s “therapy sessions” and his Autophagic therapist (of sorts).

9. “Elixir” – Greg Cole: Youthful rejuvenation takes a messy, stinking turn. Fun microwork.

10. The Annual Olfactophilian Award” – Michael Faun: Laugh-out-loud, perverted read about panty-lovers.

11. Possession” – M.T. Mathieson: The supernatural and the criminal are merged int his one. Fun stuff.

12.The Killing Frequenzy” – Michael Faun: In 1968, a bullied student completes his odd, musical revenge. Especially entertaining entry in this collection.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

What Does This Button Do?: An Autobiography by Bruce Dickinson

(hb; 2017: autobiography)

From the inside flap

"A long-awaited memoir from the larger-than-life, multifaceted lead vocalist of Iron Maiden, one of the most successful, influential and enduring rock bands ever.

"Pioneers of Britain’s nascent Rock & Metal scene back in the late 1970s, Iron Maiden smashed its way to the top, thanks in no small part to the high-octane performances, operatic singing style, and stage presence of its second, but twice-longest-serving, lead singer, Bruce Dickinson. As Iron Maiden’s front man—first from 1981 to 1993, and then from 1999 to the present—Dickinson has been, and remains, a man of legend.

"But OTT front man is just one of the many hats Bruce wears. In addition to being one of the world’s most storied and well-respected singers and songwriters, he is an airline captain, aviation entrepreneur, motivational speaker, beer brewer, novelist, radio presenter, and film scriptwriter. He has also competed as a world-class level fencer. Often credited as a genuine polymath Bruce, in his own words (and handwritten script in the first instance!), sets forth many personal observations guaranteed to inspire curious souls and hard-core fans alike.

"Dickinson turns his unbridled creativity, passion, and anarchic humour to reveal some fascinating stories from his life, including his thirty years with Maiden, his solo career, his childhood within the eccentric British school system, his early bands, fatherhood and family, and his recent battle with cancer."


Button is a light, fast, highlights-of-Dickinson’s-life read that focuses on the events, elements and people who shaped his life, his musical beginnings and career, and his other interests (flying airplanes, writing sex farce novels and fencing). If you are looking for details about his and others’ romantic relationships, dirt on other people, and other sleazy aspects of the rock ‘n’ roll world, you are likely to be disappointed. While there are mentions of sex and drugs (briefly mentioned, usually indulged by others) and profanity, from time to time, this is a relatively clean and respectful-of-others read that timelines Dickinson’s life thus far.

Button is a good offering for what it is, a fast-moving book that often feels like Dickinson is a tour guide focusing on the positive, not the salacious ─ a wise choice, considering how much it has allowed him to accomplish in his life.

<em>Dead Heat with the Reaper</em> by William E. Wallace

(pb; 2015: two-novella pulp collection) Overall review Dead Heat is a masterful collection of East Bay, California stories that are...