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review 2017-07-31 06:21
The Book of Skulls - Robert Silverberg

As some reviewers have already mentioned, this book is hard to ascribe to any one genre. I wouldn't call it truly science fiction, but neither would I call it horror, as some have. And it doesn't truly fit the mold for fantasy. I would argue that is has elements of all three. One reviewer described it as speculative fiction.

 

Either way, to the story itself. This is a story about four college buddies and roomates (a Jew, a jock, a rich kid and a homosexual) on a road trip across the country in hopes of finding immortality. The trip is all based on a manuscript, the Book of Skulls, one of them, Eli, found and translated in the library. They are seeking the Brotherhood of the Skull monastery, which is reportedly located just outside Pheonix, Arizona. The idea is that a group of four is required, but the catch is one must commit suicide and one must be murdered in order for the other two to attain immortality.

 

The story is told as quick snippets from the viewpoint of each of the four main protagonists. For some reason, I really liked this style of storytelling although the story wasn't what I was expecting. Up until the end the story was all about the soul searching spiritual journey of the four protagonists. There was a surprise ending to the story, at least to me.

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review 2017-01-27 19:12
Thebes of the Hundred Gates
Thebes of the Hundred Gates - Robert Silverberg

 A short novel – 30,000 words or so, hardly more than a novella – by one of the grand masters of the genre.

 

In Thebes of the Hundred Gates, the Time Service in Home Era (like NOW) sends a young "volunteer" (none of the more experienced operatives will touch it) back to ancient Egypt in search of two of their own who overshot the mark and got lost in time a year and a half earlier. Now Service investigators have managed to pinpoint them in Thebes – Thebes at the height of its splendour, under Amenhotep III. That's the pharaoh whose son, Amenhotep IV, is better known as the great heretic Akhenaten, husband of Nefertiti. (I have a couple of books about those two I want to review here some time.)

 

Edward Davis materialises in the heat and dirt of a secluded back alley and immediately falls ill. Not because of the filth ...

 

Two donkeys stood just in front of him, chewing on straw, studying him with no great curiosity. A dozen yards or so behind him was some sort of rubble-heap, filling the alley almost completely. His sandal-clad left foot was inches from a row of warm green turds that one of the donkeys must have laid down not very long before. To the right flowed a thin runnel of brownish water so foul that it seemed to him he could make out the movements of giant microorganisms in it, huge amoebas and paramecia, grim predatory rotifers swimming amgrily against the tide.

 

But he had been innoculated against anything Thebes might come up with. No, it was temporal shock – it's like "a parachute jump without the parachute", they had told him, jumping so far uptime, "but if you live through the first five minutes you'll be okay." He had been back 600 years before, but never anything like this.

 

He loses consciousness, and when he wakes up, finds himself in a temple, and in the capable hands of Nefret, Priestess of Isis. However, she seems only to want to be rid of him. As soon as he recovers, she arranges for him to live and work among the embalmers, the mummifiers, in the necropolis on the other side of the Nile.

 

A refuge, yes. But he is little more than a slave there, and he has only thirty days – twenty-eight left now – before his rendez-vous for pick-up at exactly midday back in that alley. How can he hope to track down the missing time travellers from there, on the wrong side of the river?

 

A wonderful glimpse, not only of the world of the future where people travel uptime and back downtime – it is still, obviously, the early days of time travel – but also of the past, of Thebes of the Hundred Gates, teeming with people, all of them, in the childhood of the world, concerned with only one thing: death, and the afterlife; and reincarnation.

 

This little book is perfect.

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text 2017-01-23 23:10
7 Horror(ish) Novels That Set My Tail A-Waggin'
The Arabian Nightmare - Robert Irwin
Needful Things - Stephen King
The Book of Skulls - Robert Silverberg
The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson,Laura Miller
The Off Season - Jack Cady
The Tomb (Adversary Cycle, #2) - F. Paul Wilson
The Club Dumas - Arturo Pérez-Reverte,Sonia Soto

Okay, I've established that I like me some horror. I don't really like definitive "Ten Best" lists (writing them anyway; I love reading them), so I'll just talk about seven I really like. Some are only loosely horror, but it's my list, so there!

 

1. The Arabian Nightmare - Robert Irwin  The Arabian Nightmare - Robert Irwin  

 

    What a weird-ass book this is. A young Englishman comes to medieval Cairo during an epidemic. The victims fall into a never-ending nightmare that they can't remember if and when they wake. Balian, our protagonist, runs into various bizarre characters, such as Dirty Yoll the story-teller (who is also our narrator), possibly comes down with the nightmare, is victim of various conspiracies... It gets very strange, not least when the narrator dies, but keeps telling the story, and then gets better... maybe.

 

2. Needful Things - Stephen King  Needful Things - Stephen King  

 

    Look, I know many people think of this as one of King's worst works, but I love it. Besides, do you need yet another person extolling the virtues of ITThe Shining, or 'Salem's Lot? Of course not.

So, the devil comes to Castle Rock, promising the citizens their fondest wish if they'll just do him one small favor... The premise is awesome, the characters incredible, and some of the writing (particularly the prologue) is the best King has ever published. Scoff if you must, I love this  book.

 

3. The Book of Skulls - Robert Silverberg  The Book of Skulls - Robert Silverberg 

 

    Four college kids go to the desert, seeking the cure for mortality. Two must die, so the others may live forever. Dark, hedonistic, philosophical, and amazing. Told from four different, first-person perspectives in such a way that you never get confused as to who is currently narrating. Brilliant.

 

4. The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson,Laura Miller  The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson,Laura Miller  

 

    If you know anything about horror fiction, you've heard of this. Do yourself a favor and read it. Probably the best haunted house novel I've ever read.

 

5. The Off Season - Jack Cady  The Off Season - Jack Cady  

 

    Another strange one. A wanderer comes to town, along with a cat who purrs in several languages. A Victorian-era madman comes back to life, promising to help the citizens make mucho moolah in the tourist trade by exploiting their many ghosts. There's a parsonage that never stays in the same place, only to become  a flying fortress during the final battle. Whoa.

 

6. The Tomb (Adversary Cycle, #2) - F. Paul Wilson  The Tomb (Adversary Cycle, #2) - F. Paul Wilson  

 

    First, and best, of the Repairman Jack series. Jack is hired to retrieve a strange necklace for an ancient Indian woman as all hell breaks loose in NYC. Action-packed with many memorable characters.

 

7. The Club Dumas - Arturo Pérez-Reverte,Sonia Soto  The Club Dumas - Arturo Pérez-Reverte,Sonia Soto  

 

    Got into this book after seeing the movie The Ninth Gate, which was loosely based on this.

A rare book dealer is hired for two different jobs: to track down the manuscript of a certain chapter from The Three Musketeers; and to find out which, if any, of the three remaining copies off an evil tome is the original, for unknown reasons. Dark, funny, suspenseful, this introduced me to one of my favorite authors. If you like swashbucklers, check out his Captain Alatriste novels.

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review 2016-12-20 03:02
Lord Valentine's Castle by Robert Silverberg
Lord Valentine's Castle - Robert Silverberg

** spoiler alert ** I know there are some silly scenes. But I like Majipoor. It's an adventure story. And I can't help getting that good feeling when Lord Valentine climbs up Castle Mount to regain his throne. I would read this book again.

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review 2016-05-31 00:00
Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery
Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery - Tanith Lee,Garth Nix,Robert Silverberg,Bill Willingham,C.J. Cherryh,Caitlín R. Kiernan,Gene Wolfe,Glen Cook,Greg Keyes,Michael Moorcock,Tim Lebbon,Jonathan Strahan,Steven Erikson,Michael Shea,Lou Anders,Scott Lynch,K.J. Parker,Joe Abercrombie,James Enge Please note: this review will be updated as I read more stories from the anthology.

So as I mentioned this is an anthology of short fantasy (presumably sword and sorcery, but you really have to stretch the definition) stories. While we are here let us give a tribute to the grandfather of the genre who is still the unsurpassed badass:
Conan
The collection consists of the following:

Goats of Glory by Steven Erikson.
Five surviving soldiers came to a quiet backwater village to have a restful sleep. It turns out, something is not quite right in there and poor guys got every fun imaginable - including desperate fights for their lives - except for rest and relaxation.

This does not have anything to do with Malazan. I finished his magnum opus and it left me relatively cold. It turns out when Erikson is severely limited by the length of the story he writes (these are not called short stories for nothing) he can be great. No people whining non-stop about the miseries of life for 900+ pages, no endless wanderings in a handy desert, but good action. It is still typical Erikson which means I could predict even the last line of the tale had I thought about it, but it is still worth 4 stars.

Tides Elba: A Tale of the Black Company by Glen Cook.
The tale takes part between the first and the second books of the main series. A whole lot of familiar faces are back, including Captain, Lieutenant, Elmo, Silent, Otto, Hagop, Goblin, and One-Eye. It turns out the last two had an apprentice called Third! Poor guy. Croaker often mentioned that the Company is not nice, but he rarely shows really nasty parts. This one is one of such rare moments.

This was the reason I got my hands on this anthology. People familiar with my reviews know I love the series. The only catch is you need to be already familiar with the characters to fully enjoy the story. One-Eye winning in cards alone worth the whole book. Add to this great dialog and Croaker narration and you have 4 stars - if you have read at least the first book of the main series.

Red Pearls: An Elric Story by Michael Moorcock.
Elric travels to the other side of the world (make it whatever you want from this description) in search of something. The other side turned out to be quite strange. There are some people/creatures to kill and some souls to drink with the fabled Stormbringer.

This one was a mild disappointment. On one hand, it was too weird even for an Elrik story. On the other hand, it is too ordinary for an Elrik story. Sounds confusing, but this is exactly my impression. Oh, and the final resolution was way too simplistic. 3 stars on the weak side of 3.

The Fool Jobs by Joe Abercrombie.
A band of ragtag northern barbarians led by a guy named Craw who appears in Heroes (the best book of the series, in my opinion) is about to commit a heist. What could possibly go wrong? Let me give you a hint: everything.

This could have been excellent, but it does have a big problem: the story itself cannot decide whether it is humorous, or grimdark. It started kind of funny, but quickly developed into a good old massacre. As a result it does not quite succeed in either. 3.5 stars rounded up to 4 just because Craw is my favorite character of the favorite book of the series.

So the final rating for now is 4 stars which I will update later with review of more stories.
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