More than 10,000 books and stories rated and reviewed! - About this site

Home A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W Y Z Pen names
reviews of books and stories by author's name
SF&F Timeline 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000-Now Best!
retrospective look at sf&f year-by-year
The Ultimate Guide to New SF&F Writers (from 1990 till now)

The Wonder Spyglass - 1

Part 1 - July

Read other issues here

Retrospective Fiction Reviews
This month in the fantastic literature:
going back by 10-year jumps.

Only includes the stories I've read personally. Click on the thumbnails to enlarge cover images.

This is a retrospective, designed to celebrate the evolution and variety of the fantastic literature, capturing the highlights, enjoying the wonders and ideas, as we travel through time and SF&F genre history.


ONE YEAR AGO: July 2005


Alastair Reynolds
"Pushing Ice" (nv)

(Spican Structure # 1)
© Gollanz, 2005
--novel : 2005 Arthur Clarke Award
--/ second place space sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award
--/ idea award: cosmic structure
--/ awesome scale

A major space adventure that I've been hungering for. All the classic wonder and meta-galactic scale, all the tension and beauty of space exploration are here, plus believable human characters, and drama. Not ideal writing, mind you (a little dry - could welcome more polished, soaring style), but adequate enough to keep me enthralled for some time.

My review of this would be biased, I suppose, as most of the book's action unfolded inside my head, enhancing the prose (I am happened to be blessed with a vivid imagination), and the boundless vistas from this book will easily give Hollywood a run for its money. But first, it all starts as a gritty, tough adventure story, claustrophobic even: most action happens inside the ship chasing a runaway planet, while its crew feels trapped and entangled in their own petty fights. Then the book focuses solely on human conflict, and the evil corporate types start springing to life with astonishing clarity (perhaps Reynolds drew on his own experiences in a cubicle "Office Space" phase of his career?)

The perspectives and the landscapes begin to widen again, once our tough miners land on the artificial alien planet (which turns out to be Janus, the ice-clad moon of Saturn). And then the plot shifts into overdrive after this moon does not stop at the expected destination, but accelerates on, and on... to finally enter... a cosmological structure, which description would twist a human mind into painful knots, which only Reynolds can safely to unravel.

It is all on a grand scale, folks, and I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series (if it is planned, of course)
review: 09-Jul-06 (read in 2006)


TEN YEARS AGO: July 1996


"The Reality Dysfunction - Emergence" (nv)
(Night's Dawn Trilogy, Book 1, Part 1)
© 1996, Warner / McMillan
--sf novel : 1998 Locus /11
--/ fourth place space sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award
--/ awesome scale

"The Reality Dysfunction - Expansion" (nv)
(Night's Dawn Trilogy, Book 1, Part 2)
© 1996, Warner / McMillan
--sf novel : 1998 Locus /11
--/ cool space sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ awesome scale

Here is an epic, which is almost too big for its own good. Yes, I enjoyed occasional "sense-of-wonder" brilliant episodes, and a general sense of "great wide yonder", but in the end I got tangled up in knots of multiple character wanderings, many of them without any sense or purpose... it's almost like reading the record of some people's life - unedited chunks of just... happenings.. talks...whatever. Not to be too harsh, there is a wonderful creepiness and gloom hanging over this whole picture: when the undefeatable dead come to life and put all the living in the universe in a serious situation. This is like a horror movie on a space opera scale, and I enjoyed that part of it. (some echoes of Colin Wilson, and even Lovecraft) Great depictions of a forested planet colony and the pioneer lifestyle there, biological spaceships and organic technology, mining asteroids and cities in space - all that is nifty stuff. But, I as said, I got mired in this overblown narrative, and - seriously- not sure if I can ever finish it. So this review is for only the first two books of the six-book series. Oh well.
review: 09-Jul-06 (read in 2005)


Bruce Sterling
"Bicycle Repairman"
(Chattanooga series)
© Intersections, ed. J. Kessel, 1996
A Good Old-Fashioned Future, 1999
--novelette : 1997 Hugo W
--long list : 1997 Tiptree
--novelette : 1997 Locus /4
--novelette : 1997 SF Chronicle W
--/ cool sf novella
--/ wonder award

A bit muddy, not very clear on the plot. A sort of sequel to "Deep Eddy", it involves a strange set-top cable box and a break-in at a bicycle repairman's shop in a Chattanooga, Tenn., slum neighborhood.
review: 09-Jul-06 (read in 2004)




Robert Charles Wilson
"A Knight of Antiquity"
© F&SF, Jul 1986
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ style award
--/ rare find

Touching and very human; great writing style - I would definitely try to read more of this writer. He reminds me of Theodore Sturgeon in top form.. some compliment, eh?
review: 09-Jul-06 (read in 2002)


Tanith Lee
"Dreams of Dark and Light" (coll)
© Arkham House, 1986
--collection/anthology : 1987 World Fantasy
--collection : 1987 Locus /14
--/ third place f collection
--/ wonder award
--/ style award
--/ emotion award

Definitive Tanith Lee collection; I would recommend to start with this book, if you are interested in this writer: very well crafted stories, some are fantasy masterpieces. It is only fitting that the book is published by renowned Arkham House - they did beautiful packaging. If only Tanith Lee would maintain such quality... the classic masters would be proud of such effort. But you know what happened later...
review: 09-Jul-06 (read in 1992)

(image credit: Souleage)


John Farris
"Wildwood" (nv)
© 1986, Tor Books
--/ fourth place dark f novel
--/ wonder award
--/ emotion award
--/ shock value

Superior fantasy horror novel, much better than most recent offerings. Highly recommended. It is the story of a densely wooded land near the Smoky Mountains called Wildwood. It is a place where twisted creatures, part animal and part man, roam; both beautiful and terrifying. Maybe even the best novel in exploring dark possibilities of the obscure woods.
review: 07-Jul-06 (read in 1986)


Carl Sagan
"Contact" (nv)
© 1986, Harper Collins
--first novel : 1986 Locus W
--sf novel : 1986 Locus /15

This novel is good in conveying the cosmological scale of our existence, the yearning for contact beyond our little world, but it failed to produce in me any sizeable enthusiasm. It is more like a treatise, than a work of fiction.
review: 07-Jul-06 (read in 1989)


Dean R. Koontz
"Strangers" (nv)
© 1986, Berkley Books
--novel : 1987 World Fantasy
--/ cool sf novel
--/ wonder award

The definitive novel about UFO conspiracies, ESP conspiracies, fads and fans of surrounding movements. Has some genuine moments of scare and suspense in Arizona deserts and motels. I actually enjoyed it, except it suffers from the usual Koontz over-production.
review: 10-Jul-06 (read in 1989)


John Crowley
"Aegypt" (nv)
© 1986, Putnam
--novel : 1988 World Fantasy
--shortlist : 1988 Clarke
--fantasy novel : 1988 Locus /6
--international fiction : 1989 Ditmar
--/ cool f novel
--/ wonder award

The rich and rewarding novel about the "hidden history" of the world. As such, it echoes many "conspiracy-theory" novels like Illuminati, and Da Vinci Code. This one is for all interested in esoteric knowledge and magical symbolism, a distracting read, not to be taken seriously. It's a mind puzzle, a "melting pot" of different styles and plots, not a manual or textbook to learn from. There is an excellent review of this book, here
review: 10-Jul-06 (read in 1989)


Robert Reed
(as Robert Touzalin)
© 1986, Writers of the Future # 2
--Gold Prize Winner story
--1987 Campbell New Writer
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ wonder award

The first story by Robert Reed is a very lively one, with intensity of thought and style that I quite liked... I did not know that he will become a star of SF field, but could tell the potential.
review: 09-Jul-06 (read in 1987)


In 1986 a beautiful book came out: the original anthology "Universe #16", edited by Terry Carr. Two stories from this book ended up on SECOND PLACE in my ratings. The quality is astonishing. Too bad this anthology is out-of-print in its entirety. For reviews of stories included, go to this page


in the meantime, in 1986 in the fantasy field...

J. R. R. Tolkien
"The Lays of Beleriand" (coll)
(Middle-Earth: history 4)
© Allen & Unwin, 1986
--/ FIRST place f collection
--/ awesome scale
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award
--/ adventure award
--/ style award
--/ romance award
--/ emotion award
--/ shock value

No words necessary. For those who love "high fantasy" there could be no better catalyst to the imagination than these epic poems, in every line of which we find LIFE, DEATH, LOVE concentrated. Closest thing to the Bible (I mean the whole Middle-Earth series) For sheer intensity of legends, implied beauty and depths of destruction, this is it.
review: 09-Jul-06 (read in 2003)


Terry Bisson
"Talking Man" (nv)

© 1986, Arbor House
--novel : 1987 World Fantasy
--fantasy novel : 1987 Locus /27
--/ fourth place f novel
--/ wonder award
--/ style award

One of the best post-modern fantasy novels. Here is a review from "Publishers Weekly", could not say it better - "Having dreamt this world into being, the wizard called "Talking Man'' falls in love with what he has made and retires there. He lives in a house trailer on a Kentucky hillside close by his junkyard, and he only uses magic on the rare occasions he can't fix a car the other way. He'd be there still if his jealous codreamer Dgene hadn't decided to undo his creation and return this world to nothingness. When Talking Man lights out to stop her, he gives chase into a West that changes around them. The geography shimmers and melts, catfish big as boats are pulled from the Mississippi, the moon crumbles into luminous rings and refugees from burning cities choke the highways. A novel of the new South with a liberal dose of the old, fantastic and gothic, a road novel leading to the city at the end of time, a postmodern apocalypse you can drive to in a '62 Chrysler New Yorker... this is a charming, literate, laconic tale, deceptively brief, teasingly allusive and very entertaining."
review: 09-Jul-06 (read in 2003)


...continuing our travel in time for a monthly retrospective:



J. G. Ballard
"Notes Towards
a Mental Breakdown"

(also as "The Death Module")
(part of "The Atrocity Expedition")

© New Worlds, July 1967
Bananas, Jul 1976
War Fever, 1991
--/ style award
--/ emotion award

Clinically observes the breakdown of the modern psyche. Subsequently been incorporated into a fix-up novel "The Atrocity Exhibition". The story presents a single sentence with a footnote on every word; these footnotes make up the narrative. In 1992, Murry C. Christensen created a hyperbook from this story by combining the text with illustrations from Max Ernst's "Une Semaine de Bont" (1934), see below.
review: 09-Jul-06 (read in 1992)


Jo Haldeman
© Analog, Jul 1976
Infinite Dreams, 1978
--short story : 1977 Hugo W
--short story : 1977 Nebula
--short story : 1977 Locus W
--/ cool space sf story

A story about a spaceship that got its engines stuck in the "on" position. Plus, relativistic physics: you can look at a black hole for an eternity and see something being "very slowly" sucked in and stretching out, which in reality happens in an instant. All these ideas are nice, but the story failed to grab me.
review: 09-Jul-06 (read in 1992)


Ursula K. Le Guin
"Orsinian Tales" (coll)
(Orsinian / Malafena)
© 1976, Harper books
--/ cool f collection
--/ style award

The setting is a fictional Eastern European country (same setting as in "Malafrena" novel), at different periods in time ranging from the Middle Ages to the 1960s. Middle Ages period stories will hold some enchantment for fantasy fans, and there is no denying the power of "understatement" these stories have. However, my starved for glorious vistas soul could not find enough color in this collection. Even though I appreciate the refreshingly "minimalist" approach to fantasy, bordering on mainstream, that she took here.
review: 09-Jul-06 (read in 1985)


Ursula K. Le Guin
"The Diary Of The Rose"
© Future Power, ed.J.Dann, 1976
The Compass Rose, 1982
--novelette : 1977 Hugo
--novelette : 1977 Nebula
--novelette : 1977 Locus /2
--novelette : 1977 Jupiter W
--/ cool sf story

In this story a therapist comes inexorably to the discovery that the madman whose mind she is exploring is a political prisoner and his illness is dissent. I can certainly relate to that subject matter, having experienced totalitarian state domination myself.
review: 09-Jul-06 (read in 1992)


Gene Wolfe
"The Eyeflash Miracles"
© Future Power, ed. by J. Dann, 1976
The Island Of Dr. Death And Others, 1980
--novella : 1977 Nebula
--novella : 1977 Locus /5
--/ cool sf story

In typical Gene Wolfe dense, but rewarding style - a bit overlong story about a hobo character who turns out to be a type of "Wizard of Oz"; with many psychological ramifications. The whole story is told from a blind boy's point of view, so it requires a bit of an effort.
review: 09-Jul-06 (read in 1992)


Bob Shaw
"Cosmic Kaleidoscope" (coll)
© 1976, Gollancz
--/ third place sf collection
--/ wonder award
--/ style award

Exceptional quality collection, where every story shines. Highly recommended as a showcase of sf delights.
review: 09-Jul-06 (read in 1988)


Isaac Asimov
"The Bicentennial Man"
© Stellar # 2, 1976
The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories, 1976
--novelette : 1977 Hugo W
--novelette : 1977 Nebula W
--novelette : 1977 Locus W
--novelette : 1999 Locus All-Time Poll /5
--/ cool sf novella

A little trivia: "The Bicentennial Man " is the third most anthologised of all the Hugo/Nebula winning short fiction (beaten only by Harlan Ellison's "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman", and by the original shorter version of Daniel Keyes' "Flowers for Algernon"). Robert Silverberg expanded the story to a novel "The Positronic Man" and it was filmed in 1999 starring Robin Williams. The idea is that a robot declares himself legally human and is allowed to die a "natural death" at the end of his cycle. I personally found the story emotionally uninvolving and dry (a better word for "boring") in a typical Asimov fashion. Of course, it is a dignified treatise in itself, as well.
review: 09-Jul-06 (read in 1988)

(art copyright: Donato Giancola)


Read other issues here



Click to go to "Dark Roasted Blend" site



Post a Comment

<< Home


Collecting Pulp Magazines

Ephemera Interview with Avi Abrams

Enchanting Victorian Fairy Tale Art

"Then world behind and home ahead..."

Exceptional British Scifi Artwork from the 1950s

Space Pulp Art by Ron Turner and other British artists

Pulp Pleasures: Eando Binder

Great space adventure fiction from the 1930s
"Where Eternity Ends" and other rare gems

Epic Fantasy: the Start of the Journey

Part 2 of our "Best Classic Fantasy" series
incl. works by Henry Kuttner, Tolkien, etc.

Strange Shadows: Best Classic Fantasy

Fantasy "glitches in the matrix",
...lovely baroque magical lands, and more

Classic Cyberpunk SF Novels: Reviews

Neal Stephenson, William Gibson, K. W. Jeter, et al
(awesome must-reads)

10 Possible Sources of "Avatar" in Classic Science Fiction

Going beyond the obvious "Dances with Smurfs"...
(many stories worth reading)

"Steampunk" Anthology: Full Review

some truly crazed stories in there...
(plus artwork by John Coulthart)

"Dune", Plus Often-Neglected
Other Novels by Frank Herbert

"Dune", plus some overlooked gems:
"The Santaroga Barrier" and "The Green Brain"

Universe at Play:
Two Must-Read Novels of the Fantastic

"The Yiddish Policemen's Union" by Michael Chabon...
and David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas"

Two of the Most Entertaining SF Novels from the 1980s

"Vacuum Flowers" by Michael Swanwick...
and Tim Power's "The Anubis Gates", of course!

"The Body Snatchers" and Other Alien Pods

Fiction by Jack Finney, Vance, Simak and Bloch
mind impostors and emotion imitators

Exploring the Noir and the Grotesque

Jack O'Connell "The Resurrectionist"
and other newest examples of the bizarre

Overpopulation, Sex and Sensibility

Robert Silverberg's "The World Inside"
and other classic sf blasts

H. P. Lovecraft "At the Mountains of Madness"

and other masterpieces of terror
including original illustrations

"Constellations", edited by Peter Crowther

original anthology, 2005
full review: mind-bending stories

The Ultimate Guide to New Writers of SF&F

more than 2,000 writers, 1990-2009
Ratings, awards, web links

The Surreal Office

"The Situation", "The Cookie Monster"
Weird fiction by Jeff VanderMeer and Vernor Vinge

Mind-shattering Novels of Philip K. Dick

"UBIK", "Now Wait for Last Year", etc.

Theodore Sturgeon's "More Than Human"

There’s a problem with this new gestalt being: needs a conscience.

Jack Williamson's "Legion of Space" Series

Classic Space Opera
The ultimate weapon, controlled by a gorgeous woman

Astounding Stories, August 1934

Jack Williamson, Nat Schachner, "Doc" Smith
Epic space opera gems and horror surprises

Rare Pulp SF&F, Issue 3

Leigh Brackett, Fritz Leiber, Vic Phillips
Rediscovered gems of wonder & adventure

William Gibson's Novels

"Pattern Recognition", "Neuromancer"
A Fractured Delight...

Alfred Bester "The Computer Connection"

"Bester was the mountain, all the rest of us..."
Pyrokinetic writing in one neat package

Two Novels by Samuel R. Delany

"Nova" and "Babel-17"
New Wave Milestones, and then some.

Theodore Sturgeon's "The Cosmic Rape"

(and more reviews of his fiction)
Classic SF at its best and most humane

Travel Distant Worlds!

Vintage Space Travel Posters, and more.
Part 3 of Pulp Sf art series...

Alastair Reynolds' Epic Novels

"Chasm City" and "Revelation Space"
And it's only the beginning...

Rare Fantasy Gems by C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner

Hidden Gems of Pulp Fiction
When two star writers become husband and wife

Grand Old Times... in the Future

Overview of Pulp Art
A Loudly Lurid Universe of Sci-Fi Illustration

Exclusive: Interview with Nancy Kress

From High Fantasy to Hard Science Fiction
A Spectrum of Wonder

Jack Vance

"To Live Forever"
and other Vance extravaganzas

Alastair Reynolds

"Pushing Ice"
Cosmological "noir" chase across space

Charles Stross

"Missile Gap"
Mind-bending Cold War world-building

Hidden Gems of Pulp SF, Part 2

Rare stories from the "Age of Wonder"
incl. David Keller, Horace Gold etc.

Ultra-Rare Serials from "Fantasy Magazine"

"Cosmos" + "Challenge From Beyond"
incredible line-up of writers

Hidden Gems of Pulp SF, Part 1

Neat & Rare Stories
incl. the mad rally story "The Racer"

Astounding Stories, June 1935

Full Issue Review
incl. Gallun, Schachner, Campbell

Astounding Stories, May 1941

Full Issue Review
incl. Heinlein, Asimov, Eric Frank Russell

Horace Gold; P. Schuyler Miller

"Apocalyptic Blockbusters"
"Inflexure" and "Spawn": guilty pleasure

Interview with John C. Wright

Plus his advice to new writers
Adventures in Space & Magic

Frank Belknap Long

"The Horror from the Hills"
Great Lovecraftian Weird Novella

Interview with Jeff VanderMeer

Plus his Recommended Reading List
A Triumph of the Bizarre

Alastair Reynolds, Part 2

More "Galactic North" Stories
A Mixture of Hard Sf, James Bond & Jaws...

Alastair Reynolds Review

"Galactic North"
staring down infinity...

Most Shocking Article

"Holey Fools" by M. Christian
Warning: Gross Subject Matter

Alfred Bester Review

"The Stars My Destination"
"...nail it to the Retro Hugo voting board..."

Larry Niven Review

"Neutron Star"
"better get GP alien ship hull"

Poul Anderson Review

"Ensign Flandry"
"or how to start a sub-genre..."

Thomas M. Disch Review

"The Squirrel Cage"
"...seriously mind-bending stuff..."

Henry Kuttner Review

"Mimsy Were the Borogoves" (The Last Mimzy)
"...great storyline for a pretty average movie..."

Robert A. Heinlein Review

"The Moon is the Harsh Mistress"
" caused a tooth ache, and put my brain on freeze..."

Frank Herbert Review

"Destination: Void"
"...a layered cake of ideas and a scientific extrapolation on a genius level..."

Harlan Ellison Review

"The Abnormals"
"...editors slapped the most outrageous titles on his stories..."

James White Review

"All Judgement Fled"
"...the tension is palpable, soon to grow almost unbearable..."

Grand Adventure Strikes Again

Space Opera Article, by Avi Abrams
Based on Arthur Clarke's "Against the Fall of Night"

William Gibson Review

"Burning Chrome"
"...sheer pyrotechnics and exuberance of style..."

Ace Double: Murray Leinster

"The Pirates of Ersatz /The Mutant Weapon"
"...the characters might as well be cats or hamsters..."

Astounding Stories, May 1935

Pulp SF Magazine Review
with many original illustrations

Also read recent posts:
Author's Pen Names - Most Complete List Ever
The Wonder Timeline: SF&F Restrospective
Space Adventure Article



"SF&F Reading Experience" is part of "Dark Roasted Blend / Thrilling Wonder" family of sites. We try to highlight the most entertaining and rewarding science fiction and fantasy, with emphasis on memorable reader experience, not necessarily general acceptance by the critics. Have fun, and delve into our extensive ratings and reviews!

Most reviews are written by Avi Abrams, unless otherwise noted. Reviews also appear on our unique historical retrospective page Wonder Timeline of Science Fiction. Feel free to submit your own review, if a particular story is not listed here.

All major OFFICIAL AWARDS are highlighted in BLUE
("winner" has a letter "W" by it, otherwise it is a runner-up only)

Our PERSONAL AWARDS (ratings) are highlighted in RED and PURPLE:
--/ first place :
--/ second place :
--/ third place :

--/ fourth place :

--/ cool : (equal to fifth place)

These awards are given in the following categories:
- novel :
- series :
- novella :
- story :
- collection :

Also, there are our personal STYLE / GENRE SPECIFIC AWARDS. These reflect the story's content and the lasting impression on the reader:

--/ wonder award
sense-of-wonder, "visual intensity" and inventiveness

--/ idea award
originality of idea / concept

--/ adventure award
exhilarating plot, excitement / action

--/ style award
outstanding literary qualities, inimitable style

--/ romance award
intense and beautiful love / relationships

--/ humour award
funny and cool

--/ emotion award
touching, lasting impression, sensitivity

--/ shock value
altogether wild

--/ awesome scale
mind-boggling; further enhances sense-of-wonder

--/ rare find
very hard to locate, mostly from old pulps, never reprinted, etc.

Again, please feel free to leave your own review or comment under every writer's entry; also recommend us other stories you liked.