Tag Archive: Tor Books


Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

I’ve raved about Curtis Craddock’s The Risen Kingdoms series since he first dazzled us with his debut An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors (which I reviewed here) and A Labyrinth of Scions and Sorcery (reviewed here).  Now he’s taking us on the final, most swashbuckling adventure yet in The Last Uncharted Sky.

After you get over the initial disappointment of learning this is the final book in the series, now revealed to be a trilogy (sob!), you’ll find yourself setting sail with Capitaine Isabelle, Musketeer Jean Claude, Marie, Major Bitterlich, and a handful of new faces as they head for the ends of the earth aboard the airship Thunderclap.  Taking up the mission introduced in the final moments of Book 2, they are searching for the Craton Auroborea, a mysterious landmass in uncharted territory, to claim it as a new colony for l’Empire Celeste.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In Architects of Memory, first-time sci-fi writer Karen Osborne creates an Alien-esque, Weyland-Yutani-inspired construct in outer space in Earth’s future, where corporations are competing for market share as salvagers acquire a laundry list of weapons of terrorism to pursue a pathway toward citizenship.  A race of unknown and unseen aliens (like those seen in Ender’s Game and Starship Troopers) are the threat, yet it may very well be the corporations themselves are humanity’s worst enemy.  Mad science has concocted the ultimate weapon.  Gruesome and invasive, humans become the experiment and the conduit to deliver destruction to the alien race, as a group of strong women struggle to understand their role in the corporations’ schemes.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Rod Serling, eat your heart out.  Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone writers could take some pointers from Eddie Robson′s new novel, Hearts of Oak It’s a far-out science fiction novel with all the right notes of a good supernatural fantasy.  And it has an easy pace and an impending, looming darkness waiting ahead that will keep you planted firmly in your seat until you get to the last page.  Borrowing its title from the popular, age-old song of the British Navy, here the cryptic “hearts of oak” says a lot about the rollercoaster ride for readers that lies ahead.

Taking a cue from the stark, detached, and quirky science fiction mysteries of Adam Christopher’s robot detective in books like Killing is My Business (reviewed previously here at borg), readers, and the protagonists, never quite know what is real and who is real.  What we do know is Iona Taylor has been an architect so long everyone knows her and respects her as the very best there is.  But she is having a particularly bad week as her colleague has died in the collapse of a building.  As she contemplates attending his funeral a new student inquires about private tutoring, and when the student leaves her hat behind the feeling of felt texture in the hat conjures something surreal for Iona–a strange feeling tugging at her, maybe even loosening some long forgotten memories.  After a strange event at the funeral and the destruction of yet another building, Iona is called by the authorities not for her advice, but for questioning, becoming a target of the investigation.  When the prospective student vanishes, Iona must play detective to clear herself, but she might not like what she finds.

Eddie Robson, a writer of Doctor Who and other radio plays and non-fiction works about movies, is a good storyteller.  His narrative reads like a fantasy fable of a king with a talking cat who advises him, in an enchanted city of expansive buildings and replenished resources centered around creating ever higher architecture so the king may relocate his rooms at the very top.  The book evokes parts of great science fiction stories and films of the past without pulling too much from any of them.  But fans of all these works will find some surprisingly good fun in Hearts of Oak: Planet of the Apes, Tron: Legacy, Humans, Alien, Snowpiercer, The Truman Show, Philip K. Dick’s Time Out of Joint, a flip on Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan and The Matrix, and a few episodes of your favorite sci-fi TV shows, especially The Twilight Zone.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

To understand the scope of celebrated Chinese author Cixin Liu′s 2005 novel Supernova Era, finally available to Western audiences in an English translated edition by Joel Martinsen, it helps to look back to its influences, and those works published since its original publication in China.  At its core, this is a classic science fiction novel of the Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ray Bradbury school.  It’s a work of speculative fiction, at once arguably both optimistic and dystopian that reads almost like an alternate history in the vein of Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.  Disturbing and horrifying at points, philosophical, and filled with global, international, and political intrigue, it’s also squarely a young adult title, featuring almost exclusively middle grade aged kids tasked with surviving an interstellar holocaust–the actual “supernova” of the title–that quickly fries the DNA of anyone older than the age of thirteen.  The solution?  In the face of their imminent deaths, the world’s adult leaders begin to select youth leadership based on the classic “model United Nations” competitions.  It’s a jarring, but ultimately interesting and clever mash-up of some great tropes of science fiction.

Since the initial publication of Supernova Era in China, we’ve seen parts of the story replayed–possibly even inspiring–many other genre works:  Only last year in we saw Jeff Lemire’s Sentient–a comic book series where the adults on a ship are killed in a sabotage leaving kids to run a spaceship.  Here, we follow two small groups of children, the cabinet who must lead China and the cabinet who leads the United States, without the help, advice, education, and other benefits of adults or adulthood, on a global stage.   At first, the children default to letting an Internet-like artificial intelligence computer–the Digital Domain–help keep society in order, something like the robot in last year’s Netflix movie, I Am Mother, where a computer system’s robotic surrogate fulfills all parental duties to children.

When the daily toil of work grinds the kids in the Supernova Era into a state of boredom, they reach out to a massively multi-player online roleplaying game (MMPORG) and begin to build their real lives around it, as we saw in Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel, Ready Player One, where a future society allows itself to give up life in the real world to become lost inside a virtual reality MMPORG.  And the world’s kid leadership ultimately decide they need to compete with other nations, creating a worldwide version of Suzanne Collins’ 2008 novel The Hunger Games (also inspired by Stephen King’s novel, The Running Man) with a society relying on a new world construct with quirky contrived, artificial new rules of survival, battling wars with gameboard rules to the death.  Were these authors aware of Liu’s internationally known and respected work?  Possibly, but it’s the earlier works that served at least in part as influences on Liu’s novel.

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Our borg Best of 2019 list continues today with the Best Books of 2019.  If you missed them, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2019 here, the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2019 here, the Best in Television 2019 here, and the Best Comics of 2019 here.

We reviewed more than 100 books that we recommended to our readers this year, and some even made it onto our favorites shelf.  We don’t print reviews of books that we read and don’t recommend, so this shortlist reflects only this year’s cream of the crop.

So let’s get going.  Here are our selections for this year:

Best Read, Best Fantasy Read, Best New Edition of Previous Published Work, Best Translated Work – A Hero Born: Legends of the Condor Heroes 1 by Jin Yong, translated by Anna Holmwood (St. Martin’s Press).  The first book in one of the most read books of all time finally makes its way to the U.S. after its premiere in Great Britain.  Readers will learn why George Lucas pulled its concepts for his Skywalker saga, and why generations of Chinese fans of fantasy of flocked to its heroes and villains.  Honorable mention for Best Fantasy Read: A Labyrinth of Scions and Sorcery by Curtis Craddock (Tor Books), The Dark Lord Clementine by Sarah Jean Horwitz (Algonquin Young Readers).

Best New Novel, Best Horror Novel, Best Historical Novel, Best Mystery Novel – The Cthulhu Casebooks: Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils by James Lovegrove (Titan Books).  A truly literary work combining a smart Holmesian adventure and the dark mind of H.P. Lovecraft.  Readers will love Lovegrove’s approach, Holmes and Watson’s journey, and all the creepy surprises.

Best Sci-Fi Novel, Best Thriller – The Andromeda Evolution by Daniel H. Wilson (HarperCollins).  Wilson successfully conjured the spirit of Michael Crichton for this smart, creepy, and oddly current sci-fi sequel to The Andromeda Strain.  A cast of characters just like Crichton would have put together, and a must-read.

Best Franchise Tie-In Novel – Firefly: Magnificent Nine by James Lovegrove (Titan Books).  One of the best authors around crafts a worthy story to expand the Firefly canon and give fans their own new movie of sorts for the franchise.  Runner-up: Alien: Prototype by Tim Waggoner (Titan Books).  Honorable Mention: Death of the Planet of the Apes by Andrew E.C. Gaska (Titan Books).

Best Retro Read – Mike Hammer: Murder, My Love, by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (Titan Books).  Collins continues to bring Spillane’s characters to life with thrilling prose and all the best pieces of noir drama and action.  Honorable mention: Brothers Keepers by Donald E. Westlake (Hard Case Crime).

Best Genre Non-Fiction – Industrial Light & Magic Presents: Making of Solo: A Star Wars Story by Rob Bredow (Harry N. Abrams).  Bredow’s unique access to the production made for a rare opportunity in any production to see details of the filmmaking process.  Every movie should have such a great deep dive behind the scenes.  Honorable mention: The Making of Alien by J.W. Rinzler (Titan Books).

There’s much more of our selections for 2019’s Best in Print to go…

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Nearly one hundred years after Bushnell’s Turtle (the submersible, not the sandwich shop), Jules Verne introduced the world to his futuristic advanced submarine the Nautilus.  In the pages of his novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, an expedition is investigating a giant sea monster that ends up being Captain Nemo’s famous submarine.   A predecessor to modern steampunk stories, 20,000 Leagues gets a sequel 145 years later in C. Courtney Joyner’s new steampunk novel Nemo Rising

Pushing aside Verne’s own sequel The Mysterious Island, Nemo Rising finds Captain Nemo a prisoner of the United States, jailed in a vault in Virginia in a form of solitary confinement and set to be hanged for destroying the USS Abraham Lincoln.  Partially destroyed but slightly rebuilt and sitting in drydock, the Nautilus would seem to be calling for its captain as a bevy of sea monsters begins to destroy European vessels in the Atlantic.  U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant is eager to hang Nemo, but realizes he needs to negotiate a deal for Nemo’s cooperation to prove that these sea monsters are causing the destruction to get the international community off his back.  As the President dodges assassination attempts riding his trusty horse Cincinnati, he finally resorts to using a new invention, an airship, to redouble the efforts to see that Nemo completes his mission and learns the truth behind these attacks.  Accompanied against his wishes by the airship inventor’s intrepid daughter, Nemo seeks his own form of payback as he takes the choice of the mission over the gallows.  The result is a classic seafaring adventure any fan of classic science fiction or pirate tales will love.

First edition of the original Jules Verne Captain Nemo novel, 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas.

With the pacing and action level of Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October, Nemo Rising reveals a brother-in-arms of Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab on the footing of a modern vengeance story as found in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 or Netflix’s The Punisher.  This Captain Nemo story is a fun read that will be gobbled up by fans of Verne (especially his novel Master of the World) and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.  It also reflects the realism of living and working at sea, but without all the precise detail like you’d find in C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower, the Patrick O’Brian Jack Aubrey books, or the famous mutiny stories–it’s more like watching their television adaptations.

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Our borg.com Best of 2017 list continues today with the Best in Print.  If you missed them, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2017 here, the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2017 here, and the Best in Television here.

So let’s get going.  Here are our selections for this year’s Best in Print:

Best New Edition of Previous Published WorkThe Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame, David Petersen (IDW Publishing).  David Petersen’s artwork was the perfect excuse to get Kenneth Grahame’s wonderful classic The Wind in the Willows into the hands of new readers.  The new edition from IDW Publishing was the perfect storybook, and Petersen, known best for his Mouse Guard series, showed his understanding of these characters and their natural world full of wonder through his fantasy images.

Best Read, Best Retro Read – Forever and a Death, Donald E. Westlake (Hard Case Crime).  Not every good idea comes to fruition.  Not every excellent project gets off the ground.  Not every great book gets published.  The Hard Case Crime imprint of Titan Books came through again, seizing the opportunity to take a lost, never before published work of Donald E. Westlake--Forever and a Death--and brought it to life.  And what a great adventure!  Originally the story commissioned to be the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, the projected was shelved, and only now do we get fantastic characters (like environmental activist and diver Kim Baldur) in a very Bondian situation–destroying Hong Kong as payback for China taking it back from Great Britain.  Honorable mention for Best Retro Read: Turn on the Heat, Erle Stanley Gardner, and Dragon Teeth, Michael Crichton.

Best Sci-Fi Read – Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: A Novel of Retropolis, Bradley W. Schenck (Tor Books).  Imaginative, new, and fun, Schenck took us into a timeless world full of nostalgia and classic science fiction.  Great tech, and a sprawling story.  Interesting characters and great world-building, this novel will be a great surprise for sci-fi readers.  Honorable mention: War for the Planet of the Apes: Revelations, Greg Keyes.

Best Fantasy Read – An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors, Curtis Craddock (Tor Books).  The plot of this debut novel is labyrinthine and action-packed, full of assassination attempts from all quarters, courtly intrigue galore, grandiose philosophies, and a cast of characters anchored by the strong, smart, resourceful, and eminently likeable heroes.  Supporting everything is Craddock’s strong, confident, often-funny, and sharply observant writing that goes from heart-wrenching to hilarious on a single page without missing a beat.  A dazzling debut.

Best Genre Non-fiction – Middle-Earth: From Script to Screen, Daniel Falconer (Harper Design).  We wish every genre franchise had such a magnificent, thorough, monumental guide.  Falconer’s guide to Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies is full of interviews at all levels of the creative process, and supported by concept art, photographs, maps, and so much more.  Worthy of the six films it covers, it’s the ultimate fan book and a model for any franchise attempting to put everything fans could want into a single volume.

There’s much more of our selections for 2017’s Best in Print and more, after the jump…

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Both were pulled from Special Forces units.  Dakota Prentiss is an ex-Ranger.  She’s tough, rough, crude, and been through it all.  Then new worker Matt Salem is brought onto her security team.  He’s ex-Navy SEAL and she can’t help falling for him, something she’s never quite had time for with her lifetime committed to always fulfilling the mission, and now she’s bound herself for life to a private corporation where you keep secrets or you die.  In Nat Cassidy’s novelization of Mac Rogers’ dramatic podcast series, Steal the Stars, we get a first person account of bad choices that only get worse from Dakota aka “Dak” in a science fiction noir style that takes place on an Earth where corporations have gained far too much power and the CEO of one giant company has the power over life and death.

And it’s also a heist story.  Dak determines the only way out of the mess she has gotten into by violating company fraternization policy with Matt is to steal the very thing her team is guarding–a UFO that crashed a decade ago and the alien inside that may or may not be dead–and sell these secrets to China.  Dak is every bit the tough and in-charge leader like Hannah-John Kamen’s Dutch in the Syfy series Killjoys, including her ability for falling for the next guy who joins her team.  The company follows rigorous protocols in their own variation on Warehouse 13 to maintain the safety of the UFO and its harp-shaped power drive, which they soon learn has power so great whoever controls it could control everything.  The alien inside, called Moss for its slowly diminishing moss-like covering, simply stares off into nothing as if dead.  But why does he still seem to have body heat?

Another entry from The X-Files?  Sure.  It’s also heavily influenced by other alien arrival stories, especially the most recent Oscar-winning film about first contact, 2016’s Arrival, with its focus on the process and set-up for quarantining such a discovery.  Also a mash-up of They Live and Bonnie and Clyde and even Philip K. Dick’s short story “Paycheck,” Steal the Stars pulls bits and pieces of sci-fi from all angles to create a compelling read that will keep you onboard for all of its 416 pages.

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Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

A contender for this year’s best fantasy novel is Curtis Craddock’s debut fantasy An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors.  Don’t let the cumbersome title fool you—this is a smoothly written, elegantly crafted, and highly entertaining read!  Poised as the first in a series, An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors is a political fantasy–and historical fantasy–reminiscent of classic Guy Gavriel Kay novels like A Song for Arbonne or Tigana.  Set in the fantasy world of The Risen Kingdoms, with superficial similarities to Europe’s 17th century Baroque era, An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors presents a world constantly on the brink of war, twisted with layer upon layer of intrigue, with only one firm villain and two clear heroes—and a whole cast of in-betweens, whose shifting loyalties form the uncertain foundation of the tale.

Onto this stage steps Princess Isabelle des Zephyrs of l’Empire Celeste.  Born with a physical disfigurement, Isabelle has grown up in her father’s court, suffering his abuse and brutal magic, almost entirely friendless and alone, and nearly ignored.  In this atmosphere, she’s able to pursue her true passions of science and mathematics, becoming (secretly) one of the foremost mathematicians of her day.  Her only loyal companions are the man charged with guarding her since birth, King’s Own Musketeer Jean-Claude; and a curious handmaiden, Marie.

Thanks to her disfigurement and low esteem at her father’s court, Isabelle believes life will hold no more than this—until foreign machinations thrust her into international politics.  Talked into accepting Principe Julio de Aragoth’s marriage proposal, and believing this is her chance for peace and love, Isabelle and Jean-Claude set sail into a more treacherous journey than they bargained for.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

As professional baseball takes us into the playoffs this week, we could have a repeat of last year’s World Series, with the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians again vying for the championship.   Just in time, a new Harry Turtledove novel is now in bookstores that will take baseball fans backward in time with a bird’s-eye view of life as a farm team ball player during the Great Depression.  The House of Daniel follows a down on his luck “Okie” as he plays a season of semipro baseball on a team based on the real church-sponsored team called The House of David, known for its religious flavor and long-haired players–an early take on the Harlem Globetrotters but without the theatrics.  During the Great Depression the team barnstormed the country along with dozens of other teams that sprouted out in every corner of small town America, providing a source of income for players and providing the average American a few hours of respite from a bleak reality, all for a few cents per ticket.  Hugo Award winner Turtledove’s account of player Jack Spivey is a fictionalized one, but his knowledge of farm teams and forgotten byways reflects a historic realism that will make you forget this is also a supernatural tale.  Turtledove is known for his alternate histories, and this time he throws in a past with a Kim Newman style change-up, with vampires, wizards, werewolves, voodoo, UFOs, and zombies interspersed in what would otherwise be a typical work of historical fiction.

Baseball fanatics will be impressed, but fantasy readers may not find enough here to satisfy.  In fact, about 100 pages into the novel only the slightest mention of a fantastical element will remind the reader this isn’t entirely straight fiction.  The fantasy elements could easily be excised leaving behind the kind of account that will have you thinking you’ve picked up a lost John Steinbeck novel.  Spivey is a semipro baseball player.  Everyone everywhere is poor, except for the few with power and influence to control the rest.  Spivey is asked to work over a guy by the man who controls him–the price for a bit of protection and relief money, but when Spivey arrives and finds the target of his thuggery is a woman, he tells her to get out of town and he looks for a way out.  Fortunately for him, two ball players for the well-known barnstorming team called The House of Daniel literally collide while fielding a pop fly into the outfield, leaving an opening for Spivey to join up.  Thus begins a long, really-small-town by really-small-town-travelogue, told first person by Spivey, as the team bus takes him and his team across every bump of every gravel highway, into every diner, into every small field, and bunked at every boarding room between Enid, Oklahoma, and Denver, between Salt Lake City and Idaho Falls, and between Seattle and San Diego.  But first Spivey needs to wear a wig and glue on a fake beard until he can grow his own.

Long-haired baseball players from the real House of David team that inspired Turtledove’s House of Daniel team in his novel.

Spivey infrequently looks over his shoulder for the mobster’s hitman who could show up any day to claim his pound of flesh.  Meanwhile we follow Spivey and get to know him and his Southern Oklahoman accent thanks to Turtledove’s believable dialect forged from the Tom Sawyer school of talkin’.  After a few chapters the reader gets the hang of his colloquialisms and from then on it’s hard not to get sucked in.  The road and player’s life on it becomes “old hat” for Spivey, and whenever the meandering, wandering from town to town (with the ultimate destination a tournament in Denver) becomes a bit stale, Turtledove inserts his fantasy bits.  Like a couple of encounters with Depression era vampires trying to con their way into an invitation to the current boarding house.  Or strange lights in the night sky over a small town in New Mexico.  Or zombies, who have replaced slave laborers in some parts of the country.

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