Monday, December 19, 2011

Book Review - Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton

Nights of Villjamur
Series: Legends of the Red Sun (Book 1)
Mark Charan Newton
Spectra (2011)
Trade Paperback
464 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0345520852


Murder, mystery, and magic ; a deadly combination, to be sure, but in the hands of Mark Charan Newton it becomes something altogether more entertaining then might be expected. And, while the prose, character development, and pace seem to lack perfect clarification the story itself is strong enough, the plot and characters creative enough, and the new concepts introduced intriguing enough to make this a better than average murder/mystery/fantasy. While I enjoyed the story a great deal there were some plot point, character development, and location problems that were somewhat disappointing. The strength of the back-story got lost in places – tell me more about Caveside, and the Garudas, and the banshees, and the coming ice age (winter/freeze) – and some of the characters’ actions were somewhat unexpected and sometimes illogical. For instance, during a visit with a prostitute, the last person to see one of the murder victims alive, an investigator dismisses a major murder scene clue (blue paint) even though he knows that she’s an artist. Another major plot flaw occurs when one characters’ anger over being overlooked for promotion forces him from the role of minor character to major antagonist. But we are told early on in the narrative that the position he envies have always been reserved for members of a particular race and he doesn’t qualify. The mid-story switch in character standpoint didn’t flow enough for me to overlook those failings. Now, with those flaws pointed out I must add that I was definitely entertained by Nights of Villjamur and while the faults are not quite glaring they may turn some readers off but they certainly did not distract me from the story. And, in the spirit of entertainment and in the telling of a good yarn I’d have to say that there are enough unique and creative ideas in the story to keep even the most jaded readers diverted. Fortunately for Mr. Newton, this first story in the cycle has enough fertile ground and potential to develop into a highly acclaimed series. Let’s hope he’s up to the task.

If you’re the type that enjoys dark fantasies filled with strange alien races, unpredictable magic, murder mystery, and light fantasy then Nights of Villjamur is certainly recommended for you.

3 ½ (4 for originality) out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Nights of Villjamur Extract

Fantasy Hotlist Blog Review

Strange Horizons Review

Author Website

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Works of Jack L. Chalker (Classic Science Fiction Book Series)

In my opinion, one of the most overlooked and under rated Science Fiction writers of the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s was Jack L. Chalker. Jack passed away in 2005 after a two-year illness. He was 60 years old and I can’t help but feel that his body of work was cut much too short and that we are missing so many wonderfully creative stories because of his passing. I have been a long-time fan and would like to take a moment to rate the works of his that I’ve read. What I really enjoyed about Jack’s work is that most of his stories contained a long-term vision. Not a single 300 page story but massive, rolling three or four sometimes even five book epics that were fertile and rich in character, with creative worlds, and unique story-lines. His stories are always entertaining and highly creative and you’ll see by my ratings below that not one of his books rates lower than four stars which should tell you how much I value his work.

If you’re in the mood for some wonderful Science Fiction reading and have somehow disregarded this author I suggest you search out any of his novels. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that many of his books are now out of print but if I were you I’d head out to my favorite used book store and browse the shelves. It’ll be worth the quest. I promise. He is, by far, one of the very best Science Fiction authors that deserved to win both the Hugo and the Nebula Award but never did.

The Saga of the Well World Series


1. Midnight at the Well of Souls, Del Rey, 1977 (ISBN 0-7434-3522-2) 5 stars (one of my all time favorites)

2. Exiles at the Well of Souls, Del Rey, 1978 (ISBN 0-7434-3603-2) 5 stars

3. Quest for the Well of Souls, Del Rey, 1978 (ISBN 0-7434-7153-9) 5 stars

4. The Return of Nathan Brazil, Del Rey, 1980 (ISBN 0-345-28367-8) 4 ½ stars

5. Twilight at the Well of Souls, Del Rey, 1980 (ISBN 0-345-28368-6) 4 ½ stars

6. The Sea is Full of Stars, December, 1999 (ISBN 0-345-39486-0) 4 ½ stars

7. Ghost of the Well of Souls, 2000 (ISBN 0-345-39485-2) 4 ½ stars

The Watchers at the Well Series


1. Echoes of the Well of Souls, Del Rey, trade paperback, May, 1993 (ISBN 0-345-38686-8) 4 ½ stars

2. Shadow of the Well of Souls, Del Rey Feb. 1994 (ISBN 0-345-36202-0) 4 ½ stars

3. Gods of the Well of Souls, Del Rey, 1994 (ISBN 0-345-38850-X) 4 ½ stars

The Four Lords of the Diamond Series


1. Lilith: A Snake in the Grass, Del Rey, 1981 (ISBN 0-345-29369-X) 4 stars

2. Cerberus: A Wolf in the Fold, Del Rey, 1982 (ISBN 0-345-31122-1) 4 stars

3. Charon: A Dragon at the Gate, Del Rey, 1982 (ISBN 0-345-29370-3) 4 stars

4. Medusa: A Tiger by the Tail, Del Rey, 1983 (ISBN 0-345-29372-X) 4 stars

The Four Lords of the Diamond, The Science Fiction Book Club (omnibus edition), 1983

The Dancing Gods Series


1. The River of Dancing Gods, Del Rey, 1984 (ISBN 0-345-30892-1) 4 stars

2. Demons of the Dancing Gods, Del Rey, 1984 (ISBN 0-345-30893-X) 4 stars

3. Vengeance of the Dancing Gods, Del Rey, July, 1985 (ISBN 0-345-31549-9) 4 stars

4. Songs of the Dancing Gods, Del Rey, August, 1990 (ISBN 0-345-34799-4) 4 stars

5. Horrors of the Dancing Gods, 1994 (ISBN 0-345-37692-7) 4 stars

The Dancing Gods: Part One, Del Rey, November, 1995 (ISBN 0-345-40246-4)

The Dancing Gods II, Del Rey, September, 1996 (ISBN 0-345-40771-7)

The Soul Rider Series


1. Spirits of Flux and Anchor, Tor Books, 1984 (ISBN 0-8125-3320-8) 4 stars

2. Empires of Flux and Anchor, Tor Books, 1984 (ISBN 0-8125-3329-1) 4 stars

3. Masters of Flux and Anchor, Tor Books, January, 1985 (ISBN 0-8125-3281-3) 4 stars

4. The Birth of Flux and Anchor, Tor Books, 1985 (ISBN 0-8125-2292-3) 4 stars

5. Children of Flux and Anchor, Tor Books, September, 1986 (ISBN 0-8125-2340-7) 4 stars

The Rings of the Master Series


1. Lords of the Middle Dark Del Rey Books, May, 1986 (ISBN 0-345-32560-5) 4 stars

2. Pirates of the Thunder, Del Rey Books, March, 1987 (ISBN 0-345-32561-3) 4 stars

3. Warriors of the Storm, Del Rey Books, August, 1987 (ISBN 0-345-32562-1) 4 stars

4. Masks of the Martyrs, Del Rey, February, 1988 (ISBN 0-345-34309-3) 4 stars

The G.O.D. Inc Series


1. The Labyrinth of Dreams. Tor Books, March, 1987 (ISBN 0-8125-3306-2) 4 stars

2. The Shadow Dancers, Tor Books, July, 1987 (ISBN 0-812-53308-9) 4 stars

3. The Maze in the Mirror, Tor Books, January, 1989 (ISBN 0-8125-2069-6) 4 stars

The Changewinds Series


1. When the Changewinds Blow, Ace - Putnams, September, 1987 4 stars

2. Riders of the Winds, Ace Books, May, 1988 4 stars

3. War of the Maelstrom, Ace - Putnams, October, 1988 (ISBN 0-441-10268-9) 4 stars

The Quintara Marathon Series


1. The Demons at Rainbow Bridge, Ace-Putnam's, hardcover, September, 1989 (ISBN 0-441-69992-8) 4 stars

2. The Run to Chaos Keep, Ace - Putnams, May, 1991 (ISBN 0-441-69348-2) 4 stars

3. The Ninety Trillion Fausts (a.k.a. 90 Trillion Fausts), Ace - Putnams, October 1991 (ISBN 0-441-58103-X) 4 stars

The Wonderland Gambit Series


1. The Cybernetic Walrus, Del Rey, trade pb in November, 1995 4 stars

2. The March Hare Network, 1996 4 stars

3. The Hot-Wired Dodo, Del Rey, Feb. 1997 4 stars

The Three Kings Series


1. Balshazzar's Serpent, Baen Books 1999 4 stars

2. Melchior's Fire, Baen Books, 2001. 4 stars

3. Kaspar's Box, 2003 4 stars

Stand-alone Novels

A Jungle of Stars, Ballantine, Del Rey, 1976 (ISBN 0-345-28960-9) 4 ½ stars

The Web of the Chozen, Del Rey, 1978 (ISBN 0-345-27376-1) 5 stars

And the Devil Will Drag You Under, Del Rey, 1979 (ISBN 0-345-30504-3) 5 stars

A War of Shadows, Ace: An Analog Book, 1979 4 ½ stars

Dancers in the Afterglow, Del Rey, 1979, 1982 (ISBN 0-345-30493-4) 5 stars

The Devil's Voyage, Doubleday, 1980 4 stars

The Identity Matrix, Timescape: Pocket Books, 1982 (ISBN 0-671-65547-7) 4 stars

Downtiming the Night Side, Tor Books, May, 1985 (ISBN 0-8125-3288-0) 4 ½ stars

The Messiah Choice, St. Martins - Blue Jay, May, 1985 4 stars

The Red Tape War (with Mike Resnick and George Alec Effinger). Tor hardcover, April, 1991 (not read)

Priam's Lens, Del Rey 1997 (ISBN 0-345-40294-4) 4 stars

The Moreau Factor, Del Rey Feb., 2000 4 stars

Chameleon (partially completed at time of death) (not read)

Collections and Anthologies

Dance Band on the Titanic, Del Rey Books, July, 1988 (short stories) 4 stars

Hotel Andromeda [edited by], Ace, 1994 (ISBN 0-441-00010-X) (not read)

Additional Reading:

Jack L. Chalker Wikipedia Entry

NNDB Jack L. Chalker Site

Fantastic Fiction Jack L. Chalker Page

Baen Books Jack L. Chalker Page

Darrell K. Sweet (Artist) Site

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Book Reviews - The Morningstar Strain by Z. A. Recht

The Morningstar Strain Book 1 - Plague of the Dead
Z. A. Recht
Permuted Press
Trade Paperback
303 pages


Plague of the Dead, the first book in the Morningstar Saga by Z. A. Recht, is perhaps, one of the better zombie stories I’ve read in a long time (and I’ve read my share.) Every character is believable, the zombies are both hideous and understated, and the action is mile-a-minute fast and succinctly described. While there are some questionable events – a general stuck in a tree for lack of planning, for instance - the book is a very good read and is reminiscent in some ways and has the same feel as Justin Cronin’s Passage. Not quite an instant classic Plague of the Dead will, nonetheless, entertain.

Two story lines come together in Plague of the Dead to form one cohesive and entertaining story. In the first, a rag tag group of defunct soldiers and civilian survivors of a brutal plague that began in Africa set off on a quest to reach a U. S. Government medical facility in Omaha, Nebraska. In the second, a medical researcher who was studying the Morningstar Strain pre-plague, a journalist who leaked the story, and an FBI agent who detained them both escape a government prison on the east coast and trek west to meet up with the first group. This secret facility, dedicated to researching the plague, is the designated meeting-place where the leader of the soldiers and the doctor believe they may find a cure for the virus that has caused the plague. Unfortunately, the infected victims suffer from symptoms often described as appearing zombie-like and each trek is fraught with danger. Zombies, bandits, and the last remaining government agents make each journey difficult and the losses heavy.

Recommended for post-apocalyptic fiction fans, action-adventure lovers, and zombie phreaks from all shambling walks of life.

4 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

The Morningstar Strain Book 2 - Thunder and Ashes
Z. A. Recht
Permuted Press
Trade Paperback
297 pages


Thunder and Ashes is a continuation of the first book in the series and is every bit as good. The pace is as whirlwind fast as Plague of the Dead and the narrative will keep you turning through action-packed pages to find out what happens next. I enjoyed the two party quest motifs, flipping back and forth from one group of survivors to the other, and was impressed by Recht’s unique two types of zombies - the quick and the dead. Yes, some of the zombies in this series have not completely succumbed to the virus and are as quick and lithe on their feet as normal human beings. The dead zombies? Not so much. They shamble, they crawl, they drag themselves towards humanity as expected but as a force the two zombie groups are as dangerous together as an entire city full of “normal” zombies.

With that said, Thunder and Ashes, lived up to my expectations and in some ways exceeded the story presented in Plague of the Dead. The characters, now familiar, continue their quest and the action is even heavier than the first book. All in all, a very entertaining read.

4 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Note: The third book in the series, Survivors, was left unfinished at the time of Z. A Recht’s death (at the tender age of 26) but is still scheduled for release on May 5, 2012. It will be completed by a ghost writer.

Additional Reading:

Morningstar Website

(Note: Click on “LINKS” at the bottom of the main page to find a short list of other Zombie stories, websites, books, and movies. Highly entertaining Zombie faire to bite in to.)

Z. A. Recht Interview

Plague of the Dead Review

Z. A. Recht Wikipedia Entry

Z. A. Recht Remembered