Category Archives: Words

Demons of Eden

I know I was just complaining about how these Deathlands books are just extruding titles now, but maybe someone else thought the same thing lo these 27 years ago? Because Demons of Eden is basically on the nose. I could wish the editors were better about paying attention to character continuity now that there are multiple authors, or for that matter about scene continuity within a single volume.

And I could especially wish the books had not suddenly remembered their genre and started turning all male gazey. 38 books in, plus owning all of them, I’m not likely to stop now. But I miss being able to recommend them with almost no reservations[1], back when they were subverting the expectations of their audience instead of pandering to it, and back when there was a little more science in my speculative fiction.

But my original point was that at least the plotting is a bit more interesting and on track and acting like it and the title are related, which is not nothing. This time, our heroes tackle ancient Sioux and conquistador legends about lost cities of gold, which might also hold the key to undoing a century of nuclear damage to the entire planet. But if the only way to reach that end is to despoil one of the last idyllic locales in the post-holocaust world, is it worth it?

In conclusion, ley lines and Gaia and leaning more into earth-based fantasy plotting is all well and good, but I miss when the characters were jumping into government funded teleporters all the time.

[1] Way too detailed about guns in use, which is its own kind of uncomfortable in these fallen times, and some pretty explicit violence on the regular. But otherwise? A+, for a long run of books.

Nona the Ninth

It is my understanding that Tamsyn Muir wanted to name this book Nona, rather than Nona the Ninth, but her editor and/or publisher told her she couldn’t if she expected people to find the book and continue reading the series. The compromise position they reached was Nona the Ninth, and to my regret, this is not something I can reflect in the post name. So just be aware I would have if I could have.

Nona was much easier to read than Harrow, but I find that it is much harder to describe without spoilers. Part of that is because it is the third book in a nominally four book series, of course. Part of it is because Tamsyn Muir never met a plotline (or a character development) she couldn’t obfuscate inside out and backward[1].

So let’s see. If Gideon is a book written from the perspective of the Nine Houses, and Harrow is a book written from the perspective of The Emperor and his Divine Saints, then Nona is a book written from the perspective of the citizenry of the Empire that exist outside the Houses[2]. Nona and her friends (and the citizenry that surround them) live in a city on a planet under siege. Under siege by the [let’s say] terrorist organization Blood of Eden, under siege by the Empire, under siege by the glowing blue light in the sky. Within five days (as heavily implied by the early text of the book), everything is going to go straight to hell, and Nona (and her friends, let us not forget) must balance the razorwire to make it through those five days. Also, not for nothing, that’s when Nona’s birthday is!

Before I go, I will introduce you to Nona, by telling you that her primary concerns are her job at school, and her upcoming birthday, and dogs, and absolutely none of the dangers that surround her. (And her friends.)

[1] To be clear, this is a compliment. I think a grudging one, and that is probably what makes it not be clear, but a compliment nonetheless.
[2] Which is already sort of a spoiler for the series, because as far as I could tell reading Gideon, the Nine Houses were the entirety of the Empire; I had no idea a separate citizenry existed!

If This Book Exists, You’re in the Wrong Universe

I just really like these John and David books, okay?

That said, I think this is the best one. First book: suffered from first book syndrome, and especially from being written episodically on the internet before it was bundled into a book. Second book: too many spiders. Third book: a little too much depression therapy, though if it helped anybody, that’s really great news.

If This Book Exists, You’re in the Wrong Universe covers multiversal time travel, tamagotchis, questions of determinism, and more, all through the lens(es?) of the losers who are all that stand between us and fourth wall-breaking, world-ending dangers. It also serves as a different kind of therapy than the prior book, I think, and it incrementally advances our knowledge of the narrator[1], in new and troubling ways.

There are definitely things[2] about the book that make it appear, impossibly, as though the whole series has been planned out from front to eventual back, from which I can glean both appreciation of the writing craft involved and also make some shrewd guesses about as yet unwritten events to come.

But then again, questions of determinism, I believe I mentioned? Recommended, would read for the first time again.

[1] Complete tangent, but I think my favorite thing about David Wong is that he thinks John is the main character.
[2] and by things I mean retcons


‘Tis the season, by which I mean autumn and time for the annual (or more) Stephen Kjng book. Like the other books written in which Holly Gibney solves (or helps to solve, the first time out) mysteries, this book is not a mystery for the reader to solve, but rather, to watch the characters solve. Usually, the tension to a mystery novel where you already know whodunnit is in watching your hero (or heroes) work it out. Yes, they’ll solve it, but how? And will it be in time to save… well, no, too late for them, but what about… okay, but surely in time to save, well, whoever you want to see survive after the halfway point of the book.

But this is Stephen King, and he has named the book after its main character. So in this case, the tension is in whether Holly will solve the mystery before the mystery solves her! … Alright, that one got away from me. But seriously, I was nervous on page 1, and I was nervous on page 301[1].

I suppose I’ve said nothing about the plot. The book opens on the very worst night of a Hispanic literature professor’s life, and proceeds forward over the course of several years and several victims of a pair of undetected serial killers, in parallel with Holly’s present-day travails in the age of Covid, until, inevitably, they cross paths via a missing person’s case her detective agency is hired to solve.

Which reminds me of something I’d already suppressed over the last few days since I finished the book, which is… King is maybe too political for my tastes here. And I say this as someone who shares his politics, but, wow, fully justified, pre-established viewpoint character or not, this was the most polemical work of fiction I’ve read this side of Terry Goodkind. I wonder if it will hurt his sales. I also wonder if it will read differently with the passage of time, by which I mean, will it hit the same when people aren’t still being constantly infected by this thing? Maybe it won’t feel quite as cartoonishly diatribical when people aren’t still glaring dismissively at each other in real time.

I feel like I’m complaining here. Ultimately, this did not hurt my enjoyment of the book, it just started out so strongly positioned, in a way I’m not used to thinking about his fiction ever being. And I don’t want to be complaining, particularly when I don’t know how many new King novels I have left to read. Which is I suppose an appropriate mix of maudlin and morbid, for both the subject matter and the season which I so recently ’tissed.

[1] Pagination simulated for effect


As you certainly know if you know what book I’m reviewing based on the title alone, the Vlad Taltos books bounce around in chronology, with gleeful abandon. Whether this is part of some grand design on the part of the author, or whether he just writes a new story whenever he thinks of one, and drops it in wherever it happens to fit? Not only do I have no idea, I’m not sure it’s possible to know the answer. (Probably Brust knows, but given his utility at writing a character like Vlad, could you ever fully trust his response?)

Tsalmoth goes back nearly to the beginning, interleaving wedding planning with… well, if you don’t know Vlad, and this is for some reason your first exposure, he is a talented assassin who has leveraged that skill (and the money it brings) into a low level boss position in a criminal enterprise[1]. So when I say his concern is with a simple collections job, you understand the kind of collections I’m talking about. Anyway: the book interleaves planning for Vlad’s wedding to Cawti (also a talented assassin, among other things) with his concern about a simple collections job with a twist: the person who owes him money is recently dead.

That’s the superficial plot summary, but what I’m interested in from the 16th book in a (I’m estimating here) 19 book series (not counting an extensive spinoff selection) is the stuff beneath the surface, which of course means spoilers not only for this book but for a lot of other incidental books. Hence, a cut.

[1] Boy is there ever a lot more to it than that, but I’m doing a baseline introduction here.

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I have mentioned, on occasion while justifying the snail’s pace at which I read the books I review, that I also read a lot of books to my son. Board books, picture books, and lately early chapter books[1]. 80-100 pages, almost always exactly 10 chapters, almost always with characters that are 7 or 8 years old, the kind of thing that makes it truly and painfully obvious who they are aimed at. And I mean, he cannot read them, but boy does he love them.

I, on the other hand, do not. I mean, they’re mostly fine, but they are not worth writing a review over, any more than each comic I read is. This is both in consideration of time and of content. It would be different if this were a kidbook or a comic review site, but since it isn’t, well.

All of that to say, over a period of a couple of weeks, I read Grounded to the boy, and, okay, yes it is still a kidbook, this time aimed at a tween audience either to show them Muslim-American culture or to make them feel seen as Muslim-Americans. (I couldn’t tell you which, if either, was the goal of the authors; but it was more likely the second one, based on how little hand-holding they offered for the religious terminology.) It seems to be written in “pass the typewriter” style among them, with each taking the reins of one of the four main characters, children trapped in an airport due to inclement weather after a cultural/religious conference. Said children are in search of a missing cat, which provides the narrative propulsion against which backdrop their forming friendships and individual problems (too-early adult responsibilities; replacement of a dead mother; navigating junior high in the age of social media; not-quite crippling anxiety) are projected.

If I’m being real, it reminded me of nothing so much as Stand by Me (or more properly, The Body) by Stephen King, modernized and written from a non-white perspective. There’s virtually no way this was an actual influence, so whether this says something more about my own, er, cultural background or about my low-grade obsession with King is left as an exercise for the audience.

It was, despite anything I may have said or implied up to this point, definitely a book aimed at children of a certain age[2], with the pitfalls that implies to a more discerning audience. But still. There was an emotional climax to Feek’s[3] story that made it hard for me to keep reading, both in the voice and in the eyes, if you know what I mean. (And it paid off Chekhov’s Rhyme from all the way back in chapter one, to boot.)

It’s hard to imagine recommending this to anyone who is likely to see the review, but it really is recommendable, if you know anyone in an appropriate age range.

[1] I do not understand the derivation of “chapter book”. Well, no, I mean it’s obvious what it means, what I don’t understand is how it came into vogue. Once you get past Dick and Jane and Grinches and Green Eggs and Nights before Christmas, pretty much anything more advanced has always had chapters. Why are we calling out that graduation to more advanced books now?
[2] This review is not a vehicle to showcase that my three year-old is comprehending at a twelve year-old level. He just cared about if the kids found the cat or not, and if they got in trouble or not. But it’s not not to showcase his attention span. I don’t think a ton of kids his age will sit still for 75% of a 272 page book. (I don’t want to exaggerate the accomplishment; sometimes he was all jittery, but never enough that my threats to stop reading were fulfilled.)
[3] One of the four narrators, Rafiq.

Phoebe and Her Unicorn

I have been making much of the fact that I’m basically reading nothing, or at a snail’s pace, or what have you. This is not entirely accurate, as a) I read rather a lot of comics (currently summer 1987, Marvel time) and b) I read rather a lot of kid books, mostly to the boy.[1] So many, in fact, that if I tried to write reviews for all of them, I would frankly have little or no leisure time left for anything else. Plus, kidbook reviews really don’t fit the aesthetic of Shards of Delirium, so I’d also need a new site (easy) and a new writing style (erm, less easy) to make it happen, and long story short, I opted not to go that way.

Plus also, imagine if I included a review per reread? Yeesh.

The difference, then, with Phoebe and Her Unicorn is that I did not read it to anyone but myself, egged on by Peter S. Beagle’s[2] effusive introduction. This is one of those comic strip collections, so my categorization may be off I suppose? Also, I have no idea where the comic strip exists. Newspapers? A website? Couldn’t tell you, unless maybe if I did research. A little girl is skipping rocks, and hits a unicorn in the nose, knocking her out of her narcissistic contemplation of her own reflection. For this favor, the unicorn offers to grant a wish, and the wish that comes out is for the unicorn to be the little girl’s best friend. Is it Calvin and Hobbes but for girls? Yeah, maybe, but is that fine? Yes, yes it is.

The book is endearing, sweet, and occasionally quite funny. I do not regret the 40 minutes or so I spent reading this first collection, and if more of them appear, I’ll probably read those too.

[1] I have really complicated feelings about how we started reading to the girl a lot later than to the boy, such that she has a hard time sitting still for it, which makes it hard to read to her, especially when someone else is competing for attention. Complicated feelings, also, about how this is an obvious self-perpetuating cycle. That is the number one thing I would change about how we have parented up to this point, if I could.
[2] The Last Unicorn guy

Harrow the Ninth

I have been reading one book for the entire summer. I just… what even is this? And it did not help that I found Harrow the Ninth extremely difficult to read. If I had not come off the high of Gideon, I might have just quit a few chapters in. But then again, it’s the act of reading the first book that made this one so distasteful to me. It’s hard to explain without spoilers.

I mean, everything about this book is hard to explain without spoilers. In the first book, the necromantic flowers of the Nine Houses, and the cavaliers who defend them, are called to the God-Emperor’s home to become the new round of Lyctors, his hands who help him, I don’t know, run the empire or something? This has not happened in 10,000 years, so it’s kind of a big deal. But then they start <spoiler>ing.

This book picks up with the newly graduated(?) Lyctors, learning what it is exactly that the Emperor needs them for, and how to deal with their new jobs as well as the endless aeons of immortality that await them. Simple as far as it goes, except… yeah, legitimately anything I said by way of explanation would be a spoiler of the book’s central conceit. I compared the prior book to Rendezvous with Rama, and I stand by that. Half the joy of both books so far is in the act of discovery under an almost entirely alien set of circumstances; well, “joy” for the reader, I’m not sure that word plausibly applies for the characters, but still, the similarity is real.

Still though, I simply must get this off my chest, and so the rest goes under the spoiler-cut line. But I’ll say this one other thing: half the book is written in second-person. This is awkward and difficult to get used to, far moreso than I’d ever have guessed. A good friend, lost to me for seven years, used to joke about making a second-person shooter video game, and while the untenability of that is obvious… second-person narration is nearly as off-putting. The only difference between this and the game concept is, you can eventually get used to it in print. Or maybe I’m wrong, and you could eventually get used to having to turn around constantly to affect whatever is coming up behind you, or to walking backwards through the places you’re meant to go. I guess the mind can acclimate to anything, given sufficient time and cause.

Oh, actual last thing: I sort of think that saying whether I liked the book or not would still count as a spoiler, for reasons that would probably be obvious to you if you loved the first book and were only a few chapters into this one. But I will say that I have every intention of reading the next book.

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I have a feeling that, with the loss of the original author, there’s at least a decent chance I have something like eighty Deathlands books left to read that all have randomly extruded titles. The somewhat better news is that the new author[1] has a better handle on the characters than in the last book.

Skydark does raise a logistical problem as the series gets ever longer. There are only so many years and so much geography in the continental (former) United States, for Ryan Cawdor to have history everywhere they go. Unless we are operating on Marvel time, it’s already straining credulity. Apparent solutions are a) talk about the pasts of the other characters from this time and place or b) continue on with recycled enemies and NPCs occasionally or c) you know, go somewhere and the characters don’t have a history there. And to be fair, b and c already happen with some regularity. Which leaves me sad about the broad absence of a.

This time out, anyway, the band of violent wrong-righters encounters a mutant who for once got himself a fairly beneficial mutation, as a result of which he leads an army of the most terrifying of all human mutations, the stickies, in numbers never before seen. The story is fine[2], but the science part of the science fiction went a bit off the rails, and you can tell that the last two chapters were reserved for the editor fixing some of the logistical and characterization continuity errors that this author introduced into the series.

Which was a relief, as I came into the final stretch of the book prepared to be pretty scathing and concerned about how many of these books I own. But now I think we’ll be back on the rails soon. I approve of gradually more epic plots, as long as the characters and the rules don’t change drastically. It’s a little late in the game for that, is all.

Last thing: I want to give a shoutout to the meaningless blurb phrases on each cover. Like, they’re always the most enigmatic version of a fortune cookie, but this one is just special. “When all is lost, there is always the future.”

I’d say you can’t write this stuff, but objectively, someone could.

[1] Or another, newer author? Ugh. I don’t think I’m going to look it up every single time.
[2] my complaints about Ryan’s overstuffed past notwithstanding

Gideon the Ninth

On paper[1], Gideon the Ninth seems tailor-made for me to love it. It’s like someone took Rendezvous with Rama, decades of D&D necromancer jokes, and a modern snarky television teenager, and threw them all in a blender, then poured the puree into a puzzle box that is, if probably not solvable for any given reader, at least has a satisfying solution.

And I want to be clear that even though the first few chapters were a slow, uphill start, it turns out I really did enjoy every single one of those elements, disparately and in conjunction. Nevertheless, I have big, complicated feelings about this book, which are impossible to get into without massive story-destroying spoilers. And so, a cut!

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