Instructions should be printed out and folded into a neat square to reside in your back pocket. You never know when a dusty wardrobe or a break in a darkened trellis will become a doorway into the world of faerie. If you should find yourself suddenly transported far away from a cellphone tower, take these instructions out of your pocket and breath a sigh of relief. All is well.
The original poem was lush with descriptive words that evoked imagery of forgotten tales in one’s mind. They were steeped in the fairytales of the UK and many fans of those folktales found a comfortable home within the pages of the book. From spirit animals to ferryman with questions, witches to ogres, and forgotten kingdoms with their untrustworthy daughters, Instructions is a delight to read.
The illustrations take the story to another level of excellence. They don’t simply illustrate the story, but add to the mythology and world that the reader walks through while they read. Originally, the main character was a young man, but according to Vess this was changed to a more Puss-in-boots style character to allow for both boys and girls to relate with the story.
Instructions features some of Vess’ best work to date. The muted color palette that Vess prefers lends itself well to the “Once upon a time” feel of the story. Here and there is a hint of Rackham, but the work is all Charles Vess. Even the borders are whimsically decorative without being intrusive.
Instructions by Neil Gaiman is a prized part of my collection, and I was delighted that all my daughters enjoyed it, even the older ones. I definitely recommend picking up a copy.
Release Date: April 27, 2010 (USA)
ISBNs: 0061960306 (9780061960307)
Violence: 1 (some scary imagery)
Brian Thomas Schmidt has gathered eighteen stories from newer and established authors in his Beyond the Sun anthology, and he did an excellent job selecting these works. It’s not often that I thoroughly enjoy so many of the stories in an anthology.
I original purchased this anthology because I was friends with two of the authors. Brad R. Torgersen created an interesting and hopeful prison planet story with “The Bricks of Cassiopeiae”. The main character, Ladouceur, was very believable and sympathetic, and I enjoyed how the plot was tied up nicely at the end of the story.
On the opposite end of the cheerfulness spectrum is Jaleta Clegg’s sinister “One-Way Ticket to Paradise”, a horticultural cautionary tale where not everything is bright and beautiful on the idyllic planet of Eden. This story made me think of some of the stories of the unknown from authors such as A.E. Van Vogt and James H. Schmitz.
Nancy Fulda drew me into the world of the slythii in “A Soaring Pillar of Brightness”. It caused me to reflect on just how much I actually understand of the world around me, and whether I sometimes try to fix things which aren’t actually broken. “Dust Angels” by Jennifer Brozek also addresses interaction with the unknown and not jumping to conclusions. It was also a very enjoyable tale of life on the frontier of human space and how it might be similar to life on the American frontier of the mid-to-late 1800s.
My least favorite story in the Beyond the Sun anthology is “The Gambrels of the Sky” by Erin Hoffman. The tense used by Hoffman switches between third person omniscient past tense to third person omniscient present tense, which is somewhat strange and messes with the flow of the story. I spent so much time being bothered by this that the story just never really clicked with me.
The final two stories are from established masters of science fiction: “The Dybbyk of Mazel Tov IV” by Robert Silverberg and “Observation Post” by Mike Reznik. They both use humor to great effect, and they both made a great ending to an excellent collection about those who paved the way in the far future.
Overall, this was a very strong anthology, something which has been more rare lately (or I’m just picking the wrong collections). Thirteen of the eighteen stories I rated at a four or above, and I have never done that before on any other anthology. I highly recommend the Beyond the Sun anthology. It is well worth your time.
Release Date: August 1, 2013 (USA)
ISBNs: 1933846380 (9781933846385)
Publisher: Fairwood Press
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (occasional, mostly social)
Language: 1 (occasional, mostly minor)
Sexuality: 1 (some minor innuendo, some minor references)
Violence: 2 (some fisticuffs, murder, scary descriptions, death)
As a story, “All You Need Is Kill” was very gripping, with quick pacing, unrelenting action, and an intriguing premise, but it was unevenly written. This might be due to translation, but a few things turned me off over and over again, as repetitively as Keiji’s time loop.
I liked the book’s concepts: mecha “Jackets” that give soldiers super strength, an alien species terraforming Earth while we are still on it, time travel a la Groundhog Day, and a main character who dies over and over again.
Just like in a video game, Keiji keeps improving and improving with each continue until he becomes a formidable–nay, superhuman–force on the battlefield. I enjoyed how Keiji worked out a schedule that he followed every loop to allow for maximum learning. The premise of Earth being terraformed while humans fought for survival was novel, as was the use of time travel to become better and better at winning. Who wouldn’t want a redo in real life?
But past those concepts, the story runs into problems. It’s too thin. So much was left unexplored because of the story’s pace and brevity. Rita, an American soldier who is also caught in time loops, gives Keiji somebody to learn from, but their relationship felt constrained. I wanted the time loops to be consistent, but because the author decided to end the story the day after Keiji and Rita met, there was a realistic limit on how close they could get, especially since Keiji had to reintroduce himself every time the loop started over.
Also, despite the story’s brevity, time was spent on Rita’s back story, which felt hastily fleshed out, as if the author was anxious to get back to the good stuff. The author also spent time on the aliens’ back story. This let us understand their motives, but at the cost of narrative consistency. Whose story was this? Keiji’s? Rita’s? The aliens’?
Additionally, the aliens’ back story was unadulterated exposition, not information anybody would know except the author. I also felt that scientists would have explored the reason for the time loop more than they did. And why would the alien terraforming machines bother hyper-evolving starfish to eat the Earth and poop it into a toxic wasteland if they had nanobots—those microscopic wizards of science fiction that can do anything the plot calls for?
Lastly, I wonder how vulgar the original story was, compared to the salty prose of the translator. This is not a story for those with a low tolerance for profanity. F–words were as innumerable as the stars. I’ve known military grunts and officers, and certainly their language could be salty, but nothing like in this book.
Still, I couldn’t put the book down, despite its flaws. Military and hard science fiction fans will likely enjoy All You Need Is Kill because of the concepts introduced.
Release Date: July 21, 2009 (USA)
ISBNs: 1421527618 (9781421527611)
Original Release Date: December 18, 2004 (Japan)
Original Title: All You Need Is Kill (オール ユー ニード イズ キル)
Original Language: Japanese
Alcohol/Drugs: 4 (frequent references to alcohol and drinking)
Language: 5 (bad enough to make Marines blush)
Sexuality: 3 (multiple references to having sex, but no sex scenes)
Violence: 4 (war, alien attacks, brutal violence, death)
I enjoyed the first short, featuring a penguin who longs for warmer climes and spends all his time dreaming up schemes to keep himself warm. They usually backfire and cause him problems, however, so he carves out a boat of ice and heads north to the Galapagos.
My favorite segment was “The Flying Gauchito”, featuring a young boy who finds a flying donkey (whom he names “Burrito”) while exploring the Andes near his home. The boy trains Burrito so he can win a race with a large prize purse.
The Brasilian parrot, José Carioca, makes his return and guides Donald through an adventure in Baía (or Bahia) in Brasil after José shrinks Donald so they can enter the pictures in the book that is his present to Donald.
The third segment features the excitable rooster, Panchito Pistoles (a decidedly un-PC name for a character representing Mexico). He takes Donald and José on a tour of all the famous Mexican hotspots via a flying sarape (the colorful traditional blankets often worn over the shoulder, usually by men).
I enjoyed The Three Caballeros more than Saludos Amigos, mainly because of the shorts I mentioned above. It is also one which likely won’t ever make it onto a list of the best ever Disney animated features, but it’s still a fun one to watch. It’s worth getting just to enjoy the fun and interesting adventure through a number of different Latin American cultures, especially when you can get it in the double feature with Saludos Amigos.
Release Date: December 21, 1944 (USA)
MPAA Rating: G
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (mild social drinking, mostly for comedic effect)
Sexuality: 1 (mild innuendo and sexy dancing)
Violence: 0 (though Panchito does shoot off his pistols a lot)
Vicky Peterwald is the spoiled and demanding daughter of the Emperor of Greenfeld. After she attempted to kill Kris Longknife in Audacious as revenge for Kris apparently causing the death of her brother, Vicky spent several months with Kris aboard her ship and gained a new respect for her. She even matured a little.
In Target, Vicky is trying to avoid all the assassins sent after her by her stepmother, the Empress of Greenfeld. Vicky doesn’t know if her father knows anything about these attempts on her life, but he doesn’t seem to be doing anything to stop them. Meanwhile, the Empress is consolidating power and building an army in a secret bid to take over the empire.
I really enjoyed the story as it unfolded in Vicky Peterwald – Target. Shepherd does a great job creating interesting and believable characters and placing them in difficult situations just to see how they will handle them. I have enjoyed the Kris Longknife series for a few years now, and I had high hopes for Target.
Outside of the plot and story progression, however, I was disappointed. Shepherd chose to make this book into a trashy romance novel with military science fiction trappings. I really enjoyed the trappings, but the rest came as a bit of a shock after an almost complete lack of the same in the Kris Longknife books.
The target audience is obviously the same, but the graphic descriptions of adult situations and sexual escapades, along with the frequent and unnecessary innuendo, made me think I was back in high school. Seriously, who turns every conversation into a sexual reference? I know Shepherd knows how to write very interesting stories without all this unneeded and uncalled-for baggage. Vicky may have been raised to use sex as a tool, but there is no need to turn a good story into a trashy one just to beat the reader over the head with it.
I don’t recommend Vicky Peterwald – Target, even though I would have liked to. I do strongly recommend the Kris Longknife books, however, so go pick up one of those instead of this one. I will not be reading the rest of this series.
Release Date: June 24, 2014 (USA)
ISBNs: 0425266575 (9780425266571)
Publisher: Ace Books
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (social drinking, sleeper drugs)
Language: 2 (a wide range of them, somewhat frequent usage)
Sexuality: 4 (graphic descriptions of sex, frequent strong innuendo)
Violence: 3 (attempted rape, infrequent graphic and brutal violence, death)