Book Reviews

Review: "The Dark Wing"

An alien race, following their religious doctrines, shatter their latest peace treaty with the Sol Empire by launching an unprovoked attack against a deep space outpost. This time, however, the war between humans and aliens takes on a far more sinister overtone as the admiral of the Imperial Fleet proclaims himself "The Bringer of The Apocolypse" or The Dark Wing, a Military SF epic from Walter H. Hunt and Tor Books.

Rating: 4 out of 5   [Read more...]

Review: "Far-Seer" by Robert J. Sawyer

In the ancient battle between science and religion over how the universe works, I can't understand why religion hasn't just thrown in the towel already. If I were a boxer (well, ok, let's be honest here - a sumo wrestler) and I got my ass kicked every single match, it wouldn't take long for me to get the hint.   [Read more...]

Letters From the Flesh

You get a phone call. Your best friend, who you haven't seen in a while, is coming over for dinner. She shows up on your doorstep with a "ta-da!" in her voice and a grin that reaches all the way up to her hairline. She asks you if you like her new haircut. Oh, shit. You don't hate it, exactly, but you can feel the saliva in your mouth turning to sand as you contemplate your answer.

My mouth feels like the Sahara right now.

Robert J. Sawyer is one of the Dragon Page's best friends. Besides the fact that he writes ridiculously good science fiction, he has been generous with his time and has given us several great interviews and plugs. Which is why I'm trying to rehydrate my parched lips as I type. I'm giving the first title from his new line of books a thumbs down.

Letters From the Flesh, by Marcos Donnelly tells two stories that are interlaced every other chapter. Every odd chapter reaches back two thousand years to tell "the true Hollywood story" of the conversion of Saul, the bane of the early Christian church, into Paul of Tarsus, Christ's most passionate and most prolific disciple. Every even chapter tells of the modern day conversion of a high school teacher from a man of scientific reason to a man of religious extremism, from the point of view of his cousin Dr. Lillian Uberland, PhD. The two stories are essentially separate until they merge in the final chapter.

The most unusual aspect of the book is that both stories are told in a Screwtape Letters fashion. For those of you who have not read C. S. Lewis' classic, the Screwtape Letters recounts the tale of a young demon, Wormwood, who is given his first human soul to corrupt; and, having some difficulty, he solicits advice from his older uncle, Screwtape. The entire novel is told in the form of letters from Screwtape to his nephew. Wormwood's letters are never shown. In Letters From the Flesh, Paul of Tarsus' story is told in the form of epistles from Paul to those of "[his] kind, the No-Flesh Asarkos." The modern day tale is told in the form of emails from Dr. Lillian Uberland to her wayward cousin.

The Good: What I like the most about Letters From the Flesh is that the two stories, while told in the same letter format, differ in many ways. Though it doesn't sound like it, the story of the conversion of Saul into Paul is definitely a science fiction story. The story of the high school teacher, on the other hand, is a fiction story about science. While one tale is of aliens and wave frequencies and telepathic communication with people's souls, the other discusses Newton's Second Law, entropy, and the scientific method. The book has a very yin-yang feel to it as you switch from one story to the next. This keeps the book interesting, and is a natural way to create suspense, as the story will switch just as things are getting good.

And, come on, a Biblical story with aliens in it? How cool is that?

The Bad: With all the good things to say about this book, and there are quite a few, it still didn't work for me. And it almost all has to do with Dr. Lillian Uberland, the point of view character for the modern day story.

Early in the story, I got a vibe from Dr. Uberland that can only be described as "icky." I didn't like her. I liked many of the points she brought up about the different mindsets that exist between people of science and people of faith. I liked the specific points of debate she brought up when discussing evolution vs. creationism. But, as I kept reading her "emails," I liked her less and less on a personal level. Something was definitely wrong with this woman.

Then, about two-thirds of the way into the book, in a drunken, confessional email, I found out what that something was, and I almost put the book away. "Hell, no! They did not just go there!" I said. And if I didn't, I should have.

I was quite pissed with the turn the book took. "It's a good thing Michael pays me as much as he does," I thought. I gritted my teeth, pressed on, and made it to the end. To be fair, a plot twist did come later that addressed the whole issue, and actually turned it a bit on its head, but for me it was "too little, too late". I couldn't shake the skuzzy feeling.

And not only did I have issues with the fair Dr. Lillian, but the entire point of the book seemed to be that religion's greatest gift to mankind is that it leads to a near suicidal despair for its followers, which the aliens of the book were able to use to mutual advantage. As neat and twisted as the idea is, I'm not sure I can buy it.

So there you have it. Nothing "Ugly" to finish off the review.

One thing I have yet to get used to is writing a review that goes against what most other people are saying. I don't mind so much when I like something everyone else hates, I just figure everyone else is stupid. It's another thing when I can't stand a book that others are raving about. Even though it feels awkward, I just have to accept the truth about situations like this. I'm still right, just ask me.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Letters From the Flesh by Marcos Donnelly
Published by: Robert J. Sawyer Books; April 2004
ISBN: 0889953023
Genre: Science Fiction   [Read more...]

Review: "Team of Darkness" by Tony Ruggiero

In the twenty-first century, amidst six billion people and surveillance equipment able to tell a gnat's sex from outer space, four monsters hid together in caves just outside the city of Kacianik, Kosovo, for nearly a century, until they attacked a captain of the US Army and left witnesses.

General Stone could barely contain himself. Vampires. Real life, blood sucking, coffin dwelling, God damned vampires. What if they could be captured? Studied? What if they could be kept under control and compelled to follow orders?   [Read more...]

Review: The Griffin's Gauntlet

Sharon Amber is your average sixteen year old, with her stern and emotionally unavailable father, her doofus brother, and her secret elfish boyfriend. When said boyfriend, Gerald, asks her to sneak away and meet him in the forest at midnight, she figures there would be a little talking, a bit of cuddling, maybe some lovemaking. […]

The Boys Are Back In Town

Many people who read and write science fiction believe that through the last few decades science fiction has actually prepared society for future technological advances. The idea, some say, is that in science fiction all the pitfalls, moral uncertainties, and roads best not traveled can be discovered and worked out in the pages of entertaining fiction, rather than bitter experience.

So why won't this generation learn? If science fiction has taught us one thing, it's that if you have the ability to go into the past in order to change events and make the world a better place... don't do it! You're just gonna fuck it up.

The Boys Are Back In Town, by Christopher Golden

Will James hates magic so much that he has made his column at the Boston Tribune his pulpit against the mystics, psychics, faith healers and other frauds that bilk the public. At the coaxing of his childhood friend, Ashleigh, he decides to take a break from his little crusade to go back home for his ten-year high school reunion.

But things don't go like he planned at the reunion. Well, that is, they do and they don't. At the same time. Mike Lebo died ten years ago? But I just talked to him last week! How can Ashleigh be barren? I'm her children's godfather!

Will is treated to a disorienting and nausea inducing sensation of his memories fading and new memories crowding in to replace them. Two versions of the past fight for prominence in Will's mind. Until at last, the spell is broken, and the veil is lifted from his eyes.

Back in high school, Will dabbled in black magic and did some terrible things. Now it's come back to bite him in the ass, and he has to go back into the past to change the world back to the way it was.

Son of a bitch!

The Good: If you're a die-hard Buffy fan, you probably know who Christopher Golden is. He writes many Buffy and X-Men tie-in novels and comics, along with writing fiction in his own worlds. He's a very busy man.

Christopher has a great knack for clever ideas. The idea of the potential slayers being killed off one by one in the seventh season of Buffy? Christopher did it first in his Spike & Dru novel. Spike on a submarine on the last season of Angel? Christopher's all "been there, done that."

His vivid imagination doesn't fail him here. In this novel, Christopher may have come up with the first time travel story I have read or seen that doesn't have inconsistencies caused by people changing the past. That's not an easy trick.

He also writes good teenagers, probably because he has so much practice doing it. Best friends one minute, conniving the next, remorseful the next. Needing to borrow the car keys from Mom to go out and do things Mom wouldn't approve of, while still making it home for curfew. He writes them as real people, and not the idealized figures of the WB.

The Bad: The prose is a bit dry, and it's a little too easy to figure out who is behind it all. But not a bad read, nonetheless.

The Ugly: Nothing ugly, really.

Just an interesting side note: Mr. Golden writes extensively in a world with a teen aged witch named Willow who practices black magic at one point. In this novel, he writes about a teen aged witch named William who practices black magic at one point. Coincidence?

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

The Boys Are Back in Town by Christopher Golden
Published by: Bantam; February 3, 2004
ISBN: 0553382071
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Author's Webpage:
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Review: "The DaVinci Code" by Dan Brown

If Alfred Hitchcock produced and directed the television show 24, the end result would be The DaVinci Code, a strap-yourself-in-and-hold-on-for-dear-life of a read that lives up to the hype and does not disappoint.   [Read more...]

On A Pale Horse

This book was originally posted on the Dragon's Den forum, oh, months ago. Then some dickless hacker crashed the site, and the review was lost forever, or so I thought. Amazing what will turn up when you clean your apartment.

The review is posted nearly as-is, with a few spelling corrections, and the addition of rating the book on the one to five scale.

After listening to the interview with Piers Anthony, I decided to try one of the books in his Incarnations of Immortality series. The first book in the series is titled On a Pale Horse.

The book is about a down on his luck photographer named Zane. In his desperation, he allows himself to be swindled out of the love of his life by an unscrupulous magic dealer. Afterwards, alone in his apartment, he decides to end it all, and puts a gun to his head. As he is pulling the trigger, the Grim Reaper enters his apartment to oversee the death. And Zane, instead of shooting himself, shoots death right between the eye sockets.

Zane has killed death. And there's a catch. Now he has to take his place.

It's kind of like The Santa Clause, only cool.

What else happens? Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, monsters, chases, escapes, torture, revenge, true love, miracles, talking horses.

You know, like The Princess Bride meets Mr. Ed, with a big fight - Death vs. Satan to cap it all off.

So much for what the book is about, is it worth the $7.99 plus tax?

As I was reading the book, two thoughts kept coming back to me. One: Piers Anthony comes up with fantastic stories. Two: Unfortunately, he doesn't tell them that well.

And that's the rub. As much as I want to like Piers Anthony, I can't stand his writing. Several years ago I tried reading his novel Firefly, and couldn't make it past twenty pages. I think the fact that I enjoyed his first Xanth novel many years ago must be a fluke.

First of all, Anthony writes bad dialogue. Worse than bad. Worse than worse. It was actually physically painful to read at times. I almost put the book down at one point when a common thug actually used the word "Hark!" I realize that written dialogue is different from spoken language, and that nobody speaks like a book. But good written dialogue, though not actually like spoken language, should seem like spoken language. Anthony's characters speak b-movie dialogue.

And as for description, Mr. Anthony must never have met an adverb he didn't like. If you removed all the "Tom Swifty's" from the book, it would be five pages shorter. I mean, come on - "She grimaced prettily"? Bleh.

And finally, there is nothing, and I mean nothing, more annoying than knowing what's going on, and waiting for the protagonist to catch up.

On a Pale Horse is the first in a series. Other incarnations have books dedicated to them, i.e. Nature, Time, Fate, etc. But I think this is my last Piers Anthony novel. Not enough Rolaids in the world to go through that again.

Rating: 2 out of 5

On A Pale Horse by Piers Anthony
Published by: Del Rey; September 12, 1986
ISBN: 0345338588
Genre: Fantasy
Author's Webpage:
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Dragon's New Home

I found myself smiling when I finished the last page of Dragon's New Home, by Theresa Chaze. I've read a pretty good number of books in my life, but none have given me quite the mix of emotions that this books has. Let me explain.

The Dragon Page reviews science fiction and fantasy from large publishing houses, small houses, and self-published authors. With few exceptions, a wide gulf separates the large houses' books from the others in terms of the quality of prose. Even when large publishers send me books I don't like, from a purely technical standpoint those books tend to be far better written than the small press stuff. Even the small press books that I like.

Now, Dragon's New Home isn't a well-crafted book. But the book has something that most small press books don't even have a sliver of. Potential. Dragon's New Home feels like a diamond in the rough. I think that given a few hundred thousand more words, Ms. Chaze will become one damn fine author. She's just not quite there yet with this book.

The Gist: Kevin Mitchellson's mother murdered his grandmother. His guilt for letting her get away with the crime is eating him alive, but he will not break his word to his father to protect her secret. So, one night, under the influence of potable spirits, he beckons spirits of another sort to take the problem out of his hands, and expose his mother in a way that cannot be denied. And damn if they didn't hear him.

Rachael Franklin, a Wiccan Priestess, has just won the lottery, and has an inclination to set up a New Age bookstore called Dragon's Den (great name.) She calls on the Goddess to send her to a new home where she can make a difference. She throws a dart at a map and eventually finds herself on the front step of Kevin's grandmother's abandoned house with the local agent from Century 21.

So, in one corner, wearing the red trunks, we have Rachael and her three cats: Merlin, Tara, and Ralph. In the other corner, wearing the blue, is Lady Katheryn, the murder, and the House of Christ, the local Christian cult that thinks that whole "live and let live" thing is for sissies.

And the bell rings.

The Good: Is it right to point out the good points of a novel by pointing out the mistakes the author could have made, but didn't? Forgive me if it's not kosher, but as I write this I can't stop making comparisons in my head between this book and other small press books I have reviewed.

For instance, most first time, small press authors try to tell big stories, and tell them too small (all life on earth my be destroyed by a world wide phenomenon. Let's tell the story of one family driving across country.) Ms. Chaze's story, on the other hand, has a simple, relatable plot, and doesn't skimp on the ensemble needed to tell the story.

Most genre books in general are plot based. This story is character driven, which I have firmly come to believe is the better route to take. Every plot-advancing decision Rachael Franklin makes comes from who she is as a person, not from what decision needs to be made to advance the plot in a certain direction. This gives the book a believability that many sci-fi and fantasy stories lack.

And, finally, it doesn't hurt that the reader might be learning something new. Not being knowledgeable about Wicca myself, I enjoyed reading a book told from the perspective of a philosophy I'm not accustomed to.

The Bad: The book suffers mostly from what most first time authors suffer from - amateur writing syndrome. The dialogue has no real spark. It's too on the nose. The story has no irony. In what could have been a very scary and engrossing story, there was only occasional suspense, and not very strong suspense at that.

Not only that, but the author tends to write too much about things that are obviously important to her, but are not important to the story. At all. Not even a little. It is not hard to see that Ms. Chaze loves animals, but why do why have to plod through pages and pages of Rachael feeding the cats, sleeping with the cats, potty training the dog, etc? Dragon's New Home is the first book of a trilogy. I have the sneaky suspicion that once the series is done, it will be apparent that instead of three short novels, the book could have been one moderately-long novel, if the writing were more focused on the story and less sidetracked by animals, visions, astral projection trips that don't really go anywhere, and the like.

The Ugly: A nit-picky thing, perhaps, but come on. Xena is spelled with an "X," not a "Z." I don't know if this was done out of ignorance, or because the author wanted to avoid copyright issues, but it is aggravating to no end, especially since the word is used so often (it's the name of the dog.)

Well, I hope I didn't bore you with another long review, but I have a lot of hope for this author, and I wanted to be thorough. This book is a so-so read, but I'd keep my eye out for future books by this scribbler.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Dragon's New Home by Theresa Chaze
Published by: Publish America, Inc.; May 2003
ISBN: 1592863108
Genre: Fantasy, Wicca, Pagan
Author's Webpage:


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Those of My Blood

I don't like romances. I'm not terribly fond of mixing science fiction and fantasy together. I've always found vampire stories that try to give a scientific explanation for the existence of vampires rather silly.

So what do you get when you have a romance novel placed in the future on the moon between a human and a space alien vampire? A pretty good book, actually.

Centuries ago, an alien craft crashed on earth. The aliens hid the crash, and blended into human society. Glimpses of their otherness eventually gave rise to myths of vampires. Now there is a civil war among the vampires of Earth. The Tourists, an elitist association, want the vampire race, the luren, to return to their home planet, and are willing to do so, whatever it takes. Their adversaries, the Residents, believe the humans they live among and hide from have rights and should be respected, and not merely treated like food.

Whether or not the vampires could ever return to their home world has long been only an academic question, until another luren spacecraft crash-lands on the surface of the moon. The multinational Project Hail is developed to try to determine the origin of the craft and maybe, just maybe, send a message to that far away star.

Abbot Nandoha, an old and powerful Tourist, has every intention of helping the humans contact this distant world, with his own imbedded SOS buried in the signal. Titus Shiddehara, a Resident, is sent to stop him at all costs. Too bad Abbot is Titus's father. And too bad there is more to Project Hail than either of them know.

Fortunately, Titus has help. Connie, his Resident connection back on Earth, smuggles him much needed information and blood. And a former lover, Inea, takes up the charge to defeat Abbot and save humanity from a possible luren invasion.

I'm telling you, the book is much better than my description, as I'm trying to keep this review spoiler-free, and if I reveal all the coolness that occurs, you'll be spoiled. The plot has great twists and turns, political intrigue, romance, and familial angst. The story constantly builds on what came before, tightening the screws until the action-filled d?uement.

Certainly not your typical vampire story, Those of My Blood is definitely worth a read if you're looking for something a bit different.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Those of My Blood by Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Published by: BenBella Books; October 1, 2003
ISBN: 1932100091
Genre: Science Fiction
Author's Webpage:
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Tinker by Wen Spencer

If heavily armed elves, a demonic conspiracy, and a girl genius doesn't sound like a wild enough ride, how about Pittsburgh being the epicenter of a dimensional rift. Welcome to Wen Spencer's Tinker, a book that is an adventure worth every page!

Rating: 5 out of 5

Now, here's a serious issue I have with writers who try to combine science fiction with fantasy. Most of the time, it fails...miserably. I really believed you could never truly combine both genres seamlessly without the final work resembling the 80's epic blunder, KRULL. Usually, science fiction and fantasy when meshed together is nothing more than that...a jumbled mesh of devices...

...but Wen Spencer has broken the convention and married both genres together in her latest novel, Tinker, a jam packed, wickedly funny, and thoroughly entertaining adventure that brings Elves and their magic toe-to-toe with hoverbikes and Quantum Physics.

This is the unexpected adventure of the local girl genius who runs a scrapyard in Pittsburgh. Everyone knows her as Tinker, and the girl is gifted. She makes MacGyver look like a pretty boy with a pocket knife. When she's not customizing her own computer system, she's enhancing hoverbikes and resetting the standards of technology. A good deed one night begins a chain of events that make Tinker the most popular girl across the dimensions with Elves, government agents, and ancient creature hell-bent on ruling the world...

...and all this is happening in Pittsburgh which is a dimensional epicenter between Earth and Elfhome. And you thought being a teenager was tough. Try being one living in two universes!

What makes Tinker as real delight is in Spencer's ability to combine both the mystical elves of Elfhome with future Earth. While the elves still hold a control over magical ley lines and mystical tattoo runes, Tinker manages to explain most of it through biochemical and genetic explainations, and even theoretical physics...and all of it makes sense! Spencer's world is clever, desireable, and an extremely fun place to spend some quality time in. Get ready for one wild ride on a hoverbike with Wen Spencer and Tinker!   [Read more...]

SOMETIMES THE MAGIC WORKS: Lessons from a Writing Life by Terry Brooks

Take a sneak peek into the imagination of an amazing writer...and a good guy to boot. Sometimes The Magic Works is a book for everyone who either loves to write, loves to read, or loves to dream.   [Read more...]

Jump Start

Correction added on 12/31/2003. My review contains a remark that implies that Mr. Carter's book is self-published. It is not. His book was published by Publish America, so it would be considered a small press publication.

Mark Twain, among others, is credited with ending a rather long letter to a friend with, "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead." Or something like that, anyway.

I have to make the same apology for my review of Gary Carter's Jump Start. I wanted to get this review done before the holidays, as Mr. Carter has waited forever for me to get my act together and read his book. I wasn't sure how to begin, so I used my old The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly format, and this is what came out, a 1500 word review. But I don't have the time to make it any shorter. Sorry.

The Gist: Jacob Malfusco's "career as a botanist had long ago dried up, and his career as a paleontologist had never gotten off the ground". That is, until he and his class from San Diego State have a weekend dig in Death Valley and uncover the bones of what can only be a dragon, a dragon that dates back a measly nine thousand years ago.

Marsha Kimbrough is a crack-pot archeologist with theories of space astronauts visiting the earth and being the cause of just about every unexplained phenomenon in earth's history: Stonehenge, the extinction of the mammoth, the pyramids, the extinction of the Neanderthals. She is taken seriously by few of her peers until she and her daughter discover what appears to be an Egyptian pyramid in the middle of the Australian desert.

Papalov Ulysses Darringer, an astronomer working out of Mt. Palomar, has discovered that the world is going to end when a meteor storm of epic proportions is going to smash the earth in less than a year.

When the meteors turn out to be dragon eggs, sent to earth because our planet is the equivalent of an interstellar smorgasbord, the two down-and-out-scientist-turned-celebrity-experts must help the president push back a plague of biblical proportions, as millions and millions of flying lizards start feeding on us natives.

The Good: To me, the idea that dragons are alien livestock, and that life on earth becomes feed for them periodically over the history of the planet, is fiendishly clever.

The author certainly has done some homework, as various objections that kept cropping up in my mind as I read the book were addressed and answered later on. Though I wouldn't call this book "hard" science fiction, he doesn't just tell the story the way he wants, while ignoring all the "hey, what about..." questions such a story creates. It is a bit grating to have the question floating around in your head from the beginning of the book, only to have it addressed near the end, but what are you going to do?

And I noticed in this book something that I have noticed in many of the first time author/self published books I've reviewed. The writing got noticeably better as the book went along. Clunky at the beginning, the writing became much smoother later on, with the exception of the last two chapters, which I'll get to later.

All in all, though I think the book is flawed, I wanted to keep reading. I wanted to see how the story ended, which is a lot more I can say about other books I've reviewed.

The Bad:

1. The Dialogue: When it comes to both books and movies, I'm a big, BIG dialogue freak. Give me Tarantino! Give me Kevin Smith! Give me Mamet, over and over and over again. Reading many first time authors, I've come to the conclusion that dialogue simply must be a difficult aspect of writing to learn, because many of these authors are quite bad at it.

The book begins and ends with exposition done in the "As you know Bob" tradition, where people stand around telling each other things they already know, so the reader is clued in to what's going on. Though Mr. Carter does not indulge in this hackneyed technique often, his characters do speak throughout the book in a stilted, unnatural way that sounds like it came off a keyboard.

2. Stupid protagonists: One of the keys to the plot working in the novel is that the dragons appear right out of the oceans one day, and start their feeding frenzy, and the whole world is completely taken by surprise.

But, the world is only taken by surprise because all of the world's governments and scientific institutions are full of idiots. When the dragon egg "meteors" were still a year out, the scientists knew that they were behaving in a way that simply wasn't natural, but no one seriously considered the idea that they might be guided. When the meteors, which were expected to be swallowed up in Jupiter's gravity well, split up, went around it, and regrouped on the other side, the scientists simply mumbled "weird meteors, ain't they?" Nobody seemed to entertain the idea that these might be guided objects till they landed on earth, and every single one of them went into the sea. Finally, people said, "hey, that ain't right," but they still don't take any measures to prepare the military or civilian population for a possible attack, or first contact.

I cannot believe that this would actually happen. If the world were actually under this kind of threat, there would be world meetings. Every single scientist remotely qualified would be consulted, and the suggestion that the objects were being guided would have been brought up and taken seriously from the start, and most countries would have started beefing up their militaries within the month.

3. Lack of Scope: Let me just say that if you have an end of the world novel, which is only one hundred seventy-seven pages long, you're leaving too much out. The book follows only Malfusco, Kimbrough, and Darringer as they advise the President, and drive home to San Diego. That, along with five to ten pages devoted to a little girl in Japan, is it. Though I think this would work in a movie or novella, there needs to be more for a novel. The book abounds with subplots that could have been, but weren't. There was not one international conference. No religious doomsayers. No increase in crime. No political ramifications. Is there nothing of interest going on at all in the world besides three scientists on a road trip from Colorado to California to look for Kimbrough's daughter, who's probably already dead?

4. Improbable science and scenarios:

a. Even with the existence of the human species at stake, I cannot believe it possible that within five months, a SUBTERRANEAN lunar colony is built, and a ship is sent to Mars, with the intent of setting up a colony there as well.

b. Human "intelligence" began about nine thousand years ago. One premise that provides the foundation of the book is that humans were "Jump Started" by aliens about nine thousand years ago, in order for the population to grow to the ridiculous size it has so there is lots of food for the next time the dragons are sent. This is Kimbrough's theory from the start, and events prove her theory correct. However, there is no real reason given in the books to believe the theory in the first place. Several times it is stated that human culture started all around the world at "around" the same time, but that's only true if you're willing to seriously dick around with the numbers.

The mammoths went extinct ten thousand years ago, or so we think. But what if it was really more like nine thousand? Neanderthals went extinct about thirty thousand years ago, but what if it was really thirty-six, or twenty-seven? It's not a big stretch to think that an event like the extinction of the mammoths, that current theory states happened ten thousand years ago (according to the book) actually happened only nine thousand years ago. However it isn't reasonable to believe that this same event occurred at the same time as events we believe to be six and a half or seven thousand years ago, like Stonehenge. In a timeline that is only nine or ten thousand years long, our scientists and historians have placed events that occur at the same time three thousand years apart? We can't be THAT far off. But these leaps are made to make this basic theory work, and only to make the theory work, with no proof given.

5. Chauvinism: All of the female characters are portrayed as emotionally weak in this novel. While the men are characterized as decisive, stoic, making the tough decisions, the women are characterized as overly sentimental, hysterical and distraught. The only people opposed to the president using excessive force, when all other options have been used up, are his female advisors, who have to be shouted down. Kimbough is insanely determined to reach San Diego. She knows the place is destroyed, and she has no reason to believe that her daughter is even there in the first place. But when stopped at a roadblock in Arizona, she yells at her husband not to be a wimp when a soldier stops them by pointing an M-16 at his chest. She wants to go home NOW! Good Lord.

6. Anti-climatic ending: The world is doomed. The dragons are overrunning the world; the alien spacecrafts are on their way. This is it--don't get scared.

And then... the book ends a little disappointingly.

And finally, the ugly: This alone almost made me put the book down around page forty or so.

What do the U.S.'s top astronomers advise the President to do when it looks like the earth is going to be smashed into oblivion? Put a colony on the moon that faces away from the meteor shower. It should be safe from impact cause the moon doesn't rotate, you see.

The moon doesn't rotate?

Oh. My. God.

I feel a bit flummoxed when it comes to rating this book. I enjoyed reading it, I don't deny that, but the entire time I'm also thinking how much better it could be. Since I'm torn down the middle, I'll tear the rating down the middle as well.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Jump Start by Gary Carter
Published by: PublishAmerica; October 2003
ISBN: 0765307669
Genre: Science Fiction
Author's Webpage:
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The Hunter's Blades Trilogy

You may not know this about me, but I have a tendency to speak before I truly know what I'm talking about. Going all the way back to this big Stryper incident between me and my friend Ross back in high school, I have a history of criticizing something, then having to come back and say "My bad," when I find out I didn't have a clue.

For instance, in my review of Morevi, I rant about characters living in medieval England using the words "pistols" and "bullets" instead of "muskets" and "musket balls." Well, turns out I should have done some research before blabbing away like that, as I later found out (with Tee's help) than muskets and pistols are two different things.

Which brings me to The Hunter's Blades Trilogy. After reading the first twenty pages of The Thousand Orcs I thought, "Is this a joke? Dwarves, Elves, Giants? Orcs, for chrissakes? If Tolkein were alive today, he'd clean up in the lawsuit."

I bitched to Evo. I bitched to Tee. I couldn't believe I was even considering reading these books. If I wanted elves and dwarves, I still had Return of the King to read. But c'mon, I thought, it's R. A. Salvatore, and The Thousand Orcs made the New York Times best-seller list. So I trudged on.

By page fifty, I was still reading. By page one hundred? well, you know, I really should learn to keep my mouth shut.

The Thousand Orcs, The Hunter's Blades Trilogy - Book I

Gandalug Battlehammer, the First King and Ninth King of Mithral Hall, has died. Bruenor Battlehammer and his clan must return to Mithral Hall so he can take his rightful place as King of the Dwarves, whether he wants to or not.

Along with his band of five thousand Dwarf warriors, Bruenor's closest companions accompany him: Regis the Halfling, Wulfgar the Barbarian, Catti-Brie, Bruenor's human adopted-daughter, and Drizzt Do'Urden. Drizzt the deadly. Drizzt the loved. Drizzt the reviled. Drizzt the dark Drow Elf.

As they travel home, the convoy encounters Orc raiders in larger and larger numbers. Obould, the King of the Orcs, as allied himself with Gerti, Queen of the Giants. Soon, open war is declared on the lands of the Dwarves.

Held up in the town of Shallows, the Orcs and Giants battle the horribly outnumbered Dwarves. Drizzt watches from within enemy territory as the city and his beloved king fall in battle. Now he is the only one left between Mithral Hall and the thousand Orcs.

How much does this book rock? About as much as my description of it sucks. Seriously, the book far outshines my synopsis.

Like most good fantasy, this is a dense book, filled with great characters and intricate plotting. Every individual character, like little pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, moves around and joins together with others, creating an intricate final picture. No characters are wasted. If any of them would have been omitted, the book would have had to end differently. Authors should take lessons on weaving a plot together this well.

Rating: 4 out of 5

The Lone Drow - The Hunter's Blades Trilogy - Book II

You didn't really think that Bruenor and all the dwarves died did you? Due to some from some unlikely allies, the dwarves escape the Shallows and make their way back to the king's palace. And the battle for Helm's Dee? I mean, Mithral Hall, begins.

This second installment in the trilogy is essentially entails one LONG battle between the Dwarves and Orcs at Mithral Hall, intercut with the story of the now deeply despondent Drizzt, who has become a one Drow army, attacking the Orcs from the rear. His sole goal in life is to destroy Obould, who the dark elf believes has killed all of his friends. Unfortunately the Orc king, through magic, sacrifices, and a new impenetrable armor, has become a god. Go figure.

This is definitely a "middle book," the action has increased, and the stage is definitely set for the final book.

Rating 3.9 out of 5
(I couldn't give it a four, it wasn't quite as good as the first installment, but it was close.)

These are the first books by R. A. Salvatore that I've read. Now I know why he is a best seller. These books are not profound. They are not really awe-inspiring, even given the scope of the story. Aside from some journal entries by Drizzt, there is very little that is "deep" in these books.

But, they are a hell of a lot of fun to read, and surprisingly well written. I'm thinking I may have to check and see if he could indeed have written a good book based on Star Wars: Episode II.

The Hunter's Blades Trilogy, a trilogy by R. A. Salvatore
Published by: Wizards of the Coast
Genre: Fantasy
Author's Webpage:

The Thousand Orcs
Published on: July 2003
Mass Market Paperback
ISBN: 0786929804
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The Lone Drow
Published on: October 2003
ISBN: 0786930128
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The Two Swords
Coming: October 2004
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The Darkest Part of the Woods

Have you ever had a sore spot like an aching tooth, an ingrown toenail, or a spot on your arm where you just got a shot? You know, some place that kisses you with a sharp pain if you don't leave well enough alone? What do you do? You touch it, squeeze it, push on it. There you go, a grown-up, intelligent human being with a toothache, and you'll actually bite down hard. When you can't take the pain anymore you let up and wonder at your stupidity. Then, you go and do the same thing again half an hour later.

The Darkest Part of the Woods, by Ramsey Campbell, was a toothache I wouldn't stop biting down on. I don't know how many times I set the book down after an hour of reading, completely bored, totally uninterested... just to pick up the book again the next day.

I kept asking myself, "Why are you doing this to yourself? This gig as a book reviewer has certainly not gotten me the chicks that Michael and Evo promised it would, so why torment yourself like this?" Well, I'll tell you. TOR books published The Darkest Part of the Woods.

I love TOR. TOR puts out a nice chunk of the best science fiction, fantasy, and horror around. When I look at TOR's author list, I get a semi. And, to add sugar to the tea, now that I review for the Dragon Page, TOR sends me free books, and I sure as hell don't want that to stop. With that in mind, I figured it would benefit my cause better to suffer through this wreck and write an honest negative review, to show them that I've read the submission, than not review the book at all, and have TOR think I don't read the books they send me. So, basically, I'm writing this review 'cause I'm a book whore.

The story centers on the Price family, who live in a small English town called Goodmanswood. Lennox Price moved to the village way back when to study what appeared to be a history of mass hallucinations in the village, and found a psychedelic moss that grew on the bark of the trees of Goodmanswood, the mile-square forest the town is named after. The discovery only cost Lennox his sanity.

Lennox's daughter, Heather, runs the library at the local college. Her son Sam works at a science fiction store and hugs trees in his spare time. Heather's American-raised sister, Sylvie, is an adventurer/writer. The mother, Margo, sculpts.

Goodmanswood, the town, has the unique property in that the forest, which is considered bad luck and a place to avoid, is visible from every single window and street in the entire town. Heather looks out her bedroom window. The forest looks scary. Sam drives down the highway, and looks to the forest, and the trees look ominous, and scary. Sylvie returns to visit her sister from the last adventure, and likes to take walks in the woods, which the neighbors don't like at all, cause the woods are scary. Little girls see a scary man walking around in the scary woods.

And the book drones on for three hundred and sixty-four pages. Sylvie and Sam find the journal of an evil magician who created a demon that haunts the scary woods. Sam can't seem to get away from the scary woods. Margo takes scary videos in the scary woods. Sylvie goes missing, and Heather goes out to find her in the scary woods. And, Oh.My.God, what she finds!

Think I'm being a bit monotonous? I'm not. Page after page of the trees reaching up as if trying to block out the sun; of the trees seeming to move closer; of the goddamn trees being really, really, really scary.

I can only think that Campbell was trying to write a horror story that was all about mood, all about building tension slowly, rather than trying to startle or gross-out the reader to scare him. He failed.

This is a horror novel that isn't scary, written about people I couldn't care less for. Sorry, I guess I could have just lead with that and spared you the other six hundred and seventy-one words.

Rating: 1 out of 5

The Darkest Part of the Woods by Ramsey Campbell
Published by: Tor Books; October 2003
ISBN: 0765307669
Genre: Horror
Author's Webpage:
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The Neanderthal Parallax

"The biggest job of science fiction is to portray the Other. To help us imagine the strange and see the familiar in eerie ways. Nobody explores this territory more boldly than Robert Sawyer." --David Brin on Humans

If you have never read my reviews before, I have to warn you of something ahead of time. I love Robert J. Sawyer's writing. Sometimes I think that next to him, everyone else is playing with the net down. You cannot give yourself a better present than an afternoon with one of his books.

Hominids begins with a scientific experiment conducted in an alternate universe goes awry. Ponter Boddit, a Neanderthal physicist, is conducting a quantum computing experiment. He and his man-mate, Adikor, has developed a quantum computer that can reach out to similar computers in alternate dimensions, and use their combined power to perform mathematical calculations that were previously beyond reckoning. The two Neanderthals enter the calculation, the computer reaches into other dimensions... and Ponter disappears.

He reappears in a quantum telescope facility in another dimension. A strange world in which his form of humanity had become extinct thousands of years ago, and his genetic cousins, Homo Sapiens, have become the dominant intelligence on the planet. And he has no idea how to get back home.

And back home, Adikor has no idea what happened to Ponter. Unfortunately for him, the authorities don't believe him. Between Ponter's disappearance, and Adikor's history of violence, he winds up facing murder charges, and has no defense but a ridiculous hypothesis of how a man can simply disappear from an empty room without a trace.

Several Homo Sapien scientists befriend Ponter, including Mary Vaughn, a geneticist who verifies that Ponter is in fact a Neanderthal. Through Mary, Ponter learns of an Earth radically different from his own. An Earth worth learning about. So, when Adikor manages to reopen the portal between the two dimensions, and Ponter returns to his home, the two men discuss ways to open the portal on a permanent basis.

Humans begins about three months after then end of Hominids. Ponter and Adikor, after much debate with the world government, have permission to reopen the portal between the two dimensions. The quantum computer is activated, and a tunnel is slid into the portal, and expanded to full size, making it possible for people to simply walk through the tunnel from one reality into the other. Ponter returns to our version of reality with Tukana Prat, a Neanderthal diplomat. And negotiations between Gliksins (us) and Barasts (the Neanderthals) begins.

During those three months before the portal reawoke, Mary moved to the US to join the Synergy Group, a "think tank" designed to create protocols to set in place if the portal is ever reopened. Mary studies Ponter's blood samples to create a test to differentiate between Homo Sapien and Neanderthal DNA. And in doing so, Mary answers a decades-old debate. Are Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals subsets of the same species, or are they different species altogether? (No, I'm not going to tell you! You have to read the book.

Mary and Ponter are finally reunited, and they struggle. The two races are so different. How were they going to come to terms with the fact that they were in love?

And meanwhile, back at the Synergy Group, a threat is discovered that may "crash" human consciousness on a planetary scale. Can the Neanderthals, who have already survived the anomaly in their reality with no ill effects, help the humans do the same?

In Hybrids , the trade of knowledge and goods goes well between the two worlds. Tukana has brought over several experts in the sciences, music, sports, and art, to offer a free exchange of ideas across cultures, and both sides are eating it up. Ponter and Adikor begin work with Gliksin physicists to open a new portal that connects to the Neanderthal world directly from the UN. Things couldn't be going better.

Mary and Ponter want to have a baby! But unfortunately for them, they can't do it the old fashioned way. They need a little help from some illegal Neanderthal technology. So they search for Vissan Lennet, a Neanderthal geneticist who left Neanderthal society when her codon writer was banned by the government.

What does her codon writer do? It makes DNA. Want to make a fertilized egg with Gliksin/Barast hybrid DNA? No problem. Want to have a sperm cells made from the blood of your sterile husband? Piece of cake. Want to correct genetic congenital diseases? Step right up. Want to create a secret virus designed to kill off the entire Neanderthal population, leaving their pristine world for the taking? It can do that too. "Think tank" my hairy ass.

Will the Synergy Group commit genocide against the Neanderthals? Will a shift in the magnetic field of the earth destroy human consciousness? Will Mary and Ponter live happily ever after? You'll have to get these books and find out. You'll thank me after you do.

I find it very difficult to write about these books without gushing. As much as I've given you in the synopses, there is more that I left out. What I found in Sawyer's Neanderthal reality is a world society that is fundamentally different from our own. What would humanity be like if there was no racism? How would the earth be different if zero population growth was a top priority? What kind of culture would humanity have if we had never developed a belief in the supernatural? What if children were born only every ten years? What if bisexuality was the norm?

And, unlike much science fiction that is based on a "really cool" idea, Sawyer also manages to write complex characters that I grew to care about deeply. The books ripped my heart out at times, made me laugh at times, and kept me at the edge of my seat till the very end. Very little science fiction out there can do all that.

Rating: 5 out of 5

The Neanderthal Parallax, a trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer
Published by: Tor Science Fiction
Genre: Science Fiction
Author's Webpage:

Published on: February 2003
Mass Market Paperback
ISBN: 0765345005
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Published on: September 2003
ISBN: 0765346753
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Published on: September 2003
ISBN: 0312876904
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