Krabat by Otfried Preussler

First published in 1971, Preussler’s Krabat is a retelling of a Wendish fairy tale. Translated from German by Anthea Bell, the novel follows the titular character in 18th century Saxony as he is lured to a strange mill and inducted into a Black School of sorcery under the miller. Thankful for a roof over his head and regular meals, Krabat struggles to understand the oddities and ominous signs that surround him until his friend, Tonda, dies under mysterious circumstances and he slowly begins to uncover the true horror at the heart of the mill.

Based on folklore and fairy tales, there is a depth of history in the story. The magic has a weight to it. The lives of Krabat and his fellow apprentices and journeymen are described in great detail, but are never boring. The mill feels lived in and brooding. Preussler is a master of slowly developing tension, of a growing unease that grips the characters and readers alike.

Krabat is an industrious and clever young man with a rebellious spirit, and a great sadness. He develops friendships cautiously and finds unexpected allies in his bid for freedom and revenge. The eleven other journeymen are occasionally difficult to tell apart, but one or two have an important role to play. The miller himself is a distant, almost indifferent figure, whose motivations hopes and dreams are not revealed until the end.

This is a dark and engrossing fairytale. Even in translation, the prose grabs the reader and draws them into Krabat’s world of dark magic, hidden loves, and survival. No wonder it has remained in print for so many years. A masterful retelling of a tale I had never heard before.


 

Krabat can be found here on Amazon.

Received a Copy From NetGalley For Review

Infinite Science Fiction One by Dany G. Zuwen

As with any short story anthology, Infinite Science Fiction One is a solid if variable collection of science fiction stories from around the world. Zuwen has pulled together a number of different authors and ideas of varying lengths and quality. Of the fifteen stories there were five standouts—Tin Soul by Elizabeth Bannon; Slow by Jay Wilburn; Nothing Beside Remains by Matthew S. Dent; Message of War by Michaele Jordan; and Infinity by J.B. Rockwell.

Bannon’s Tin Soul explores robophobia and how it ruins a man’s life and his relationship with his family. It is structured around an emotional reveal that, while slightly manipulative, elevates the story and posits a tragically plausible intersection between humans, robots, and the perils of the uncanny valley.

Wilburn’s Slow is a slice of good old-fashioned body horror. On a distant world, an astronaut slowly succumbs to an alien parasite as it consumes him and transforms him. There is an immediacy, and horrible precision to the story and the astronaut’s experiences. There is nothing particularly original, but it showcases an author in command of his craft.

Dent’s Nothing Beside Remains is the sad and oddly touching story of a Mars Rover continuing to perform its function and report to its distant creators, century after century with no reply. A simple idea, powerfully rendered, the melancholy stuck in my mind.

Jordan’s Message of War is an odd, almost fantastical tale of matriarchal power, assimilation and forgetting. There is a strong anti-war message that is complicated by a depiction of genocide and the power to erase an entire people from memory. A thought-provoking science fiction fable.

Rockwell’s Infinity is another tale of technology, steadfastly, and tragically going about its purpose. A battered, crippled battleship dreams and tries desperately to save its crew in hibernation, unable to determine if they are even alive.

Of the remaining stories, Tim Major’s By the Numbers which explored society’s obsession with personal data had an interesting concept was too short to fully engage with its own ideas. Janka Hobbs’ Real was a character study of a robot child but the human characters and their motivations were a little too confused.

Dany G. Zuwen compiled a fairly solid anthology with a number of standouts. I look forward to Infinite Science Fiction Two.

 


 

Infinite Science Fiction One can be found here on Amazon.

Received a Copy From NetGalley For Review

Willful Child by Steven Erikson

Steven Erikson’s Willful Child wears its influences boldly on its sleeve. Captain Hadrian Sawback is the youngest captain in the fleet. He solved the nearly insolvable Mishmash Paradox by cheating, and the Admiralty is determined to prove it. In the meantime Captain Sawback has command of the ASF Willful Child on its maiden voyage. Hotheaded and arrogant, Sawback leads his handpicked crew, chosen in large part for their attractiveness, on a number of familiar sounding adventures—first contact, time travel,smugglers, galactic invasion, AIs run amok, and the Exclusion Zone. Sawback leads every away mission and somehow contrives to rip his shirt and break his knuckles at every available opportunity, and has never met a woman, human or otherwise, that he doesn’t want to sleep with. This is not a particularly subtle parody of Star Trek in all its ridiculous glory.

The plot is paper thin. Erikson seems to be running through as many Star Trek plots as possible in 240 pages and filling the space in between with satire and jokes. There is some effort and social commentary and a critique of the manifest destiny inherent in Star Trek, but these larger points are swallowed under the avalanche of jokes.

As a lifelong Trekie, I appreciate the patently ridiculous nature of Star Trek even when it’s discussing serious topics. Erikson pushes the boundaries with obvious love, but Willful Child never aspires to anything more. Comedic novels are often the hardest to review. There isn’t always a great deal to say, and ultimately humor is subjective. I, personally, found it amusing but never laugh out loud funny. An enjoyable, loving, if unambitious parody.

 


 

Willful Child can be found here on Amazon.

Received a Copy From NetGalley For Review

Quozl by Alan Dean Foster: Book Review

First published in 1989 and recently released in a new edition, Alan Dean Foster’s Quozl is the comic tale of a race of extraterrestrial rabbits who intend to colonize the third planet from the sun, only to discover it is already occupied, by humans.

Foster spends a good portion of the novel developing the Quozl into a fully functional society with traditions, history, and a philosophy all their own. The Quozl have dispatched multiple colony ships in a desperate attempt to solve the problems of overcrowding at home. They do, in fact, literally breed like rabbits, although efforts have been taken on board the generation ships to limit births. They have a long history of violence and war, although they have since developed a more peaceful, rigid society. Violent impulses are mitigated through ritual combat—physical and verbal—where drawing blood is the ultimate humiliation.

Polite and hierarchical, they are initially ill-equipped to understand human nature. Having long believed themselves the only intelligent life forms, the Quozl find humans barbaric and often inexplicable. Arriving during the height of WWII, and with a return trip impossible, they resolve to live on Earth in secret until they deem humanity mature enough for peaceful contact—a few centuries perhaps. Unfortunately fate intervenes.

The Quozl are a delightful creation. Foster extrapolates a great deal from rabbit physiology and presents an intricate and even realistic society, or at least, as realistic as possible for extraterrestrial colonizing rabbits. They are a species full of contradictions, and their initial exploration of Earth and theories about humanity are a joy to read. First contact is also presented with a fresh spin, avoiding the usual military and political path.

Nevertheless, for all its promise, Quozl is ultimately disappointing. It has the potential to be a surreal and insightful satirical masterpiece, and while it is often satirical, the climax is rushed. Foster covers decades in the novel, and the time jumps are not always handled as skillfully as possible. I enjoyed Quozl, and I’m glad I read it, but I had perhaps unreasonably high hopes.

 


Quozl can be found here on Amazon.

Received a Copy From NetGalley For Review

The Glass Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

Charlie N. Holmberg’s The Glass Magician is a sequel to The Paper Magician and picks up more or less where the previous novel ended. Ceony Twill has embraced paper magic and finds herself increasingly drawn to her teacher, Emery Thane. Having saved his life, she hopes they can settle down and that he will one day reciprocate her feelings. An old enemy, however, threatens her new life, believing she has a secret, a secret that could change the world of magic forever.

The first novel was a charming, but slight steampunk fantasy. Its greatest strength was its original magic system that turned origami, paper mache, and storytelling into a reasonably coherent form of sorcery. Holmberg attempts to transform mirrors and glass into a similar system with mixed results. Indeed, the magical world is paradoxically less clear in this installment. There is a complex master-apprentice system, and a vaguely defined magical government.

This novel is even more interested in the relationship between Ceony and Thane. Thane, however, remains more an idea than a fully-fledged character, for all that he is the object of Ceony’s affections and a major portion of both novels is spent examining him.

The Glass Magician shows a great deal of promise. It offers light steampunk romance with an engaging heroine, and the seeds of a fascinating world, but was not as engaging as I had hoped.


The Glass Magician can be found here on Amazon.

Received a Copy From NetGalley For Review