Insurrection: A Review of Tiamat’s Wrath, by James S. A. Corey

This month we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, where the first humans in history stepped foot on the Moon.  The first steps a human took on a celestial body other than the Earth.  For all of known history, we have looked to the stars and wondered what was out there.  Today, we know more than we ever have about the worlds beyond our own, but that has does nothing to stop people’s imaginations from filling in the blanks.  Tiamat’s Wrath is the latest novel in James S. A. Corey’s ground-breaking science fiction series, The Expanse.  Beginning in 2011 with Leviathan Wakes, these books have taken a realistic approach to fictional space travel, using the technology of today to extrapolate and imagine what space exploration may look like in the future.  It is not an exaggeration to say that The Expanse is one of the greatest works of modern science-fiction.

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King and Monster: A Review of Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James

Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a tome of a book.  Well over six hundred pages, this is a fantasy epic with a modern writing style.  This book is not a quick read.  It is dense, and every page is packed with beautiful prose, fascinating characters, and different worlds.  This is the type of book that transports you easily and refuses to let you go, making sure you dwell in the world it is building.  The density of the novel does not end up being a drawback, and you can feel the journey the characters have taken by the time you close it on page six hundred twenty.  This is the kind of density that submerges you fully in the narrative, and transports you to a world so unlike other mainstream fantasy.  This review will not do the novel justice.  Only reading it can.

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Steampunk for the Modern Age: A Review of The Queen of all Crows, by Rod Duncan

Steampunk is one of the more niche genres of fiction around, never having made it into the mainstream lexicon of literature.  Steampunk as a genre is defined by setting and technology.  Imagine a world where steam-power became the dominate energy source and defined the aesthetic for the world.  Grimy cities full of pipes and fog.  Electrical contraptions plucked straight from the mind of Nikola Tesla.  Airships dominating the sky as the primary form of transportation.  Steampunk as a genre is what happens when creators take the inherent fascination with everything Victorian and turn-of-the-century, and imagine a world where technology continued upon that path.  Victorian sensibilities and imperialism coupled with science-fiction technologies.  Overall, the steampunk aesthetic is one of the most fascinating.

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No More Heroes: A Review of the Reign of the Kingfisher, by T. J. Martinson

Superheroes hold a special place in our hearts.  There is a certain allure to watching men and women with super powers fight evil and save the world time and again.  Even since their inception in the pages of comic books and novels, superheroes have dominated our pop culture.  Everyone knows Batman, Superman, Captain America, and Spider-Man.  The Marvel Cinematic Universe reintroduced us to Iron Man, Captain Marvel, Black Panther, and more.  Today, superheroes dominate.  Part of our allure is the power fantasy.  We want to be these people and posses their powers.  Part of it is pure spectacle.  The Battle of New York in the first Avengers film remains an action masterpiece.  But part of our attention revolves around the story of Icarus.  We enjoy watching these powerful people come low and being reminded that they are still mortal.

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Twilight of the Witch: A Review of The Winter of the Witch, by Katherine Arden

Vasilia Petrovna has been branded a witch.  Since she was a child, she could see and speak with the chyerti, spirits from Eastern European, whom the people around Vasya seems to have forgotten.  Vasilia is forced to leave home after defending her village from Medved, the bear, the spirit of chaos and life, in Katherine Arden’s first novel, The Bear and the Nightingale.  In her second novel, The Girl in the Tower, Vasilia travels to Moscow in the guise of a boy and a hero to the Russian people after assisting the Grand Prince destroy a group of bandits.  Vasilia helped save the city, but not before her arrogance and lack of caution exposed her disguise to disguise.  While the city is safe, the danger Vasilia is greater than ever at the start of The Winter of the Witch.

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Day of the Witch: A Review of The Girl in the Tower, by Katherine Arden

Vasilia Petrovna is a witch.  She sees spirits where others see only shadows.  She talks to her horse, and understands his responses.  She has met Morozko, the Winter king and spirit of death, and Medved, the Bear and the Eater.  She remembers the old ways, the chyerti, even as the Russia around her steadily embraces Christianity.  She is wild and free while other women are trapped in marriage or convents.  Vasya is the heroine of Katherine Arden’s Winternight Trilogy and one of several girls in towers in The Girl in the Tower, part two of Arden’s fairy tale inspired trilogy.  At the end of the first novel, The Bear and the Nightingale, Vasya saved her village and helped seal away Medved, the Bear.  Because of both her abilities and personality, Vasya has been forced from home and branded a witch.

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Dawn of the Witch: A Review of The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden

European folklore has always been a major inspiration for modern fantasy, but there is something special about the folklore from Eastern Europe and Russia.  Cold winters and dark forests have proved to be a fertile breeding ground for all manner of fireside tales.  Baba Yaga roams the woods, flying on her pestle or controlling her house walking on chicken legs.  Chernobog haunts both nightmares and Disney movies, making an unforgettable appearance in Fantasia.  The land can be cold and inhospitable, but this same land brought us the domovoi, guardian of the hearth, and the vazilda, guardian of horses.  The land can be cold, but the one who inhabit it can be very warm.

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Doctor Who vs the Devil: A Review of Doctor Who: Scratchman, by Tom Baker

The first episode of Doctor Who aired on November 23rd, 1963.  William Hartnell starred as The First Doctor, although he would not known to be only the first until a couple years later when, as part of a plot device, the Doctor regenerated into another body played by another actor.  This is a character who travels through time with their companions, solving problems and resolving conflicts.  There have been Thirteen doctors to date, with a few unnumbered appearing in small roles.  The latest episode aired on January 1st, 2019.  Like the title character, Doctor Who transforms itself for newer generations while maintaining a place in the heart of pop culture.  This is a show that means so much to so many and the world is better for it.

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The Space Princess and the Wanted Criminal: A Review of Polaris Rising, by Jessie Mihalik

Science-fiction takes many forms, but there are two archetypes which nearly all science-fiction stories fall into.  First, there is the hard sci-fi.  The Expanse, The Three-Body Problem, anything by Robert A. Heinlein.  These are the stories which pay extra attention to the technologies of the future and go to great lengths to explain exactly how races have progressed to their points.  This type of science-fiction can be literary, it can be intellectual, and it can be gritty.  On the other end of the spectrum is the space opera.  Star Wars, Firefly, A Princess of Mars.  In space operas the technology is present, but is not central to the story.  These stories are all about the characters.  Where hard sci-fi series can fluctuate between multiple viewpoints, space operas relish in following an individual or a group of characters throughout their adventure.  As our world changes and progresses, hard science-fiction and sometimes feel outdated, but space operas are timeless.  Polaris Rising is very much a space opera.

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Moon of the Setting Sun: A Review of “The Wolf in the Whale,” by Jordanna Max Brodsky

The history of European contact with the New World is full of exaggerated tales of discovery and colonization, and lacking in tales of conquest and enslavement.  The Spanish and Portuguese carved up South America while England and France moved into North America and established their own colonies.  Native tribes all over the continent fell to steel and industry until only shadows remained of their former empires.  But, over four hundred years before these Europeans “discovered” the New World, there were the Vikings, and they did not stay for long.

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