Short Science Fiction and Fantasy Reviews

The literature section has many full-length reviews of assorted science fiction and fantasy books. This page presents has shorter reviews that don't need an entire page.

"Rated" provides a MPAA-equivalent (movie) assessment of content, with regards to violence, language, drug use, racism, sex, promiscuity, etc.

"Rating" awards up to 5 stars based on how good I thought the book was (primarily based on how much I liked it).

*     - Pretty bad. Avoid it unless you have a very good reason to read it.
**    - Enjoyable by the right, limited audience.
***   - A good read. Most people will find it worthwhile.
****  - Very good book. Highly recommended.
***** - Phenomenal. Rare. Excquisite. Has significant power to change you.

Manfold: Time
by Stephen Baxter
New York: Ballantine (2000)

This is a sprawling, absolutely huge book. And not so much because of its length (although at around 500 pages long, its length is not insignificant). No, this book felt big (in a mostly positive way) because it was jam-packed with so many big ideas. Manifold: Time has about four or five truly novel, fascinating concepts which each could have been the basis for an entire novel. Some of concepts are ones I've never read or heard about in any other fiction. And even those concepts which aren't new here are nevertheless treated in entirely new ways. Although by the end some elements (especially dealing with time travel and resetting time) stretch credibility for a "hard s.f." novel, the whole book is really a breathtaking experience.

The many novel-sized concepts that are packed into this panoramic adventure include: a bold venture by a brilliant and brazen industrialist (Malenfant) to bypass NASA and build a privately funded trip to a nearby asteroid; a genetically-enhanced squid whose progeny become a race more intelligent than humans; individual children showing up all over the world who possess vast intellectual capabilities, and a strange fascination with blue circles; using a super-collider to receive messages sent from the future using anti-neutrinos; the "Carter hypothesis" establishes a mathematical, statistical prediction that the world will end about 200 years from now, a theory which becomes widely accepted the world over and leads to major social change; a portal discovered on an asteroid through which travelers make multiple jumps forward in time to see the whole history of the universe.

The novel deals extensively with the far, far future of the universe and its theorized universal heat death, and how intelligent life might attempt to deal with and survive into and past (?) a slow end to an ever-expanding universe. Yet, in a fascinating juxtoposition, most of the novel deals with very contemporary characters and topics: it mostly takes place just ten years in the future, as very realistic, established physics and economic principles are applied to ideas for jumpstarting man's expansion into space.

Characterization is generally very strong, with believable yet interesting major characters. The novel doesn't stand out as a literary breakthrough, and sometimes the highly divergent big ideas didn't feel like they blended together well. But overall, Manifold: Time is both entertaining, highly readable, and very thought-provoking.

Who should read this: Should have broad appeal for adult science fiction fans; the novel isn't overly technical, but it should hold particular appeal to fans of "hard" science fiction.
Rated, if a movie: R (overall there isn't much that is potentially offense; novel has relatively minimal sex and violence, but it has makes frequent mention of a fictional brand of cola named for a four-letter term for excrement, plus some vulgar language of other forms)
Rating: ****

by Orson Scott Card

This modern retelling of "Sleeping Beauty" is, more importantly, about what happens after the prince kisses the princess and she wakes up. "Happily ever after" is considerably more complex than one might have thought.

Enchantment is a very fresh and unusual novel. It's a page-turning romantic adventure which covers an amazing assortment of new ground with its "magico-realism" depiction of contemporary Ukraine, retired folk deities, Jewish kitchen magic, 10th century Eastern Orthodoxy and the Russian witch Baba Yaga. Bright, fast-paced and very accessible, this may be one of Card's best novels. It should have wide appeal, even to people who don't normally read science fiction or fantasy.

Who should read this: Everybody.
Rated, if a movie: PG
Rating: *****

Ender's Shadow
by Orson Scott Card

Countless people, web sites, magazines, etc. have reviewed this novel, so I won't say much about it. Ender's Shadow is a "parallel" novel to Orson Scott Card's award-winning (Hugo, Nebula, etc.) classic Ender's Game. This novel tells the story of Bean, the diminutive genius who was Ender's right-hand man for a time in Battle School and then in the fateful battle against the Buggers. The retelling of many events in Battle School from a different perspective is interesting, and surprisingly different. But my favorite part of the novel was the scenes on the streets with Amsterdam with a four-year-old Bean outsmarting gangs of street kids and adults. It sounds highly implausable, but Card makes it thoroughly believable and fascinating. The ending is also very moving. I couldn't put this one down. Highly recommended!

Who should read this: Everybody, especially fans of Ender's Game.
Rated, if a movie: PG
Rating: *****

Serpent Catch
by Dave Wolverton

Wolverton's second full-length novel cemented his position as a formidible, serious talent among s.f. writers. Although some violent and other material renders this novel inappropriate for school-age classroom use, this is a deeply moral fascinating novel. The far-future world created by the author is highly original, believable, and deeply textured.

The novel takes place on Aree, a planet colonized by humans from Earth and turned into a living paleontological zoo. Each of three continents has been populated by geneticists with species from major geological periods: Jurasic, Paleolithic, etc. These starfaring scientists placed natural barriers between the continents to keep their populations separate: gigantic aquatic serpents which devour any dinosaurs which attempt to swim to a different continent. But over one thousand years ago an advanced alien race, the Eridani, swept through Earth's colonized region of space and destroyed all of humanity's ability to travel between the stars. Now Aree is populated by the descendants of the scientists and Neanderthals, the extinct species the scientists had revived.

The novel tells the story of Tull, a child of a Neanderthal mother and a human father. Tull lives in a small outpost town in one of the few remote regions left unconquered by the slave-trading Craal empire. The serpents in the sea by Tull's town have died off, and the town is in danger of being overrun by dangerous beasts. Tull is recruited by the town's leading merchant to go on a "serpent catch." They intend to travel into enemy territory and retrieve enough young serpents (in a massive barrel pulled by a mastodon) to replenish the waters by their town.

This brief description of the premise doesn't begin to do justice to this complex and many-layered story. One of the strengths of the novel is the unparalleled authenticity of the different cultures and races. Wolverton shifts between points of view of various characters, and each has a totally foreign way of thinking and feeling. Each character truly seems alive and a part of their culture and environment. Wolverton allows empathy and understanding even for beings unlike ourselves in every way. Serpent Catch has some of the most original characters you will ever encounter in fiction. One of these is Tull, of course. But another is Phylemon, a thousand-year old descendant of the original geneticists. His skin is bonded to a genetically engineered symbiotic organism which prolongs his life. So long has Phylemon lived that much of the current world's wisdom is attributed to him, and he seems very enigmatic to Tull and the other regular people. Yet Wolverton takes us deep into Phylemon's complicated soul as well.

Who should read this: Adult readers interested in highly innovative s.f. high in both action/adventure as well as deep philosophical/ethical content.
Rated, if a movie: R (for violence, moderate sexual material, some vulgar language)
Rating: ****

X-Men (movie novelization)
by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith
New York: Del Rey (2000)

X-Men, the long-awaited big screen debut of the world's most popular comic book series, was a great film. It succeeded largely because it remained so faithful to its successful source material. Ironically, the novelization by Rusch and Smith fails largely for the same reason: it so faithfully reproduced the film that there is little reason to read the novel.

The X-Men film brought familiar pulp characters to new visual heights and presented an entirely original story. Utilizing the strengths inherent in the medium of film, it brought viewers a new, rewarding experience. But the film's novelization does very little to draw on the potential strengths of a novel. Unlike novelizations which are compelling literature, such as Greg Bear's Star Wars: Episode One: The Phantome Menace or Orson Scott Card's The Abyss, Rusch and Smith's X-Men adds very little depth, insight or background. This novelization seems to be little more than a prose-form screenplay with some set and costume descriptions thrown in. There are three or four short scenes in the novel which weren't in the movie, but those were probably part of the screenplay, and simply ended up on the cutting room floor. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if every additional scene and bit of dialog found in the novel will be found in the director' cut DVD release.

The degree to which the novelization simply describes what the reader has already seen on screen begs the question: Why bother to read the book?

Well, if you're a big fan of the film and can't get enough of it, by all means, read this novelization. It's a fairly quick read -- 240 pages of moderately large typeface. It's not a big investment of time. But if you're an X-Men fan in general (not just a fan of the film), you'll probably find more reading pleasure in one of the original novels.

Most of the few "new" scenes in the X-Men novelization are soap operatic discussions between the main characters: Logan and Jean, Jean and Scott, Scott and Logan. There's little there that Days of Our Lives doesn't do better. The only significant extra scenes detail the emergence of Storm's and Cyclops's powers as young people. These are moderately interesting. The book provides some additional understanding about Scott's character, explaining how even with his ruby quartz glasses his power requires him to maintain constant physical and mental control. This color his whole personality and helps explain his somewhat stiff demeanor.

But characterization generally seems like a missed opportunity in this novelization. Even characters as fascinating as Magneto and Charles Xavier are rendered almost one-dimensionally. Mutant-hating Senator Kelly actually comes off less interesting in the book, which strips him of some of his onscreen complexity and paints him as a stock character: a simple bigot and political opportunist without realistic nuance or worthwhile motivation. The comic book version of Senator Kelly is much more readable and compelling.

The novelization even has some bizarre and annoying gaffes. Wolverine is frequently referred to as having four adamantium claws on each hand, instead of three. The location designated for the Canadian scenes is "British Columbia, Alberta." What is that supposed to mean? British Columbia and Alberta are both Canadian provinces. This makes no more sense than saying Rogue was born in "Georgia, Alabama."

If you've seen the X-Men film, then you pretty much know what you'll encounter if you read the novelization. Plotwise, there's not much more, and not much less.

Who should read this: Diehard fans of the X-Men film who want to read the novelization.
Rated, if a movie: PG-13
Rating: **

Generation X: Crossroads
by J. Steven York

I almost can't believe I read this.

Okay, I'm a Generation X fan, but I've never read a comics-based novel until this one. I actually decided to read the thing because it featured Mount Rushmore and Idaho prominently (long story... well, maybe not such a long story, but I'm not going into it anyway). Anyway, it's a very quick read, and fairly painless. There are many genuinely funny scenes. Should definitely appeal to young people, but if a person isn't a fan of the "Generation X" comic book series, I don't think there would be much point in reading this.

Plot: Briefly, the young mutants from Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters (Skin, Synch, Jubilee, Husk, Chamber and M), along with their teachers Sean "Banshee" Cassidy and Emma "White Queen" Frost, buy a couple of RVs in Seattle and embark on a road trip back to New York. En route, they stop a few remaining chapters of M.O.N.S.T.E.R., a college campus-based support group for mutants.

They inadvertantly get embroiled in a terrorist plot and end up going against a group of evil arms dealers, one of whom is in control of a mutant-bashing talk radio show.

There are a lot parallels in all this to tolerance issues (racial, GLBT, etc.), some of which are handled well and some of which are handled somewhat clumsily. The scene where the GenX gals used TEAMWORK to decide which RV to buy made me gag. The last chapter kind of hits you over the head with the idea that mutants should come out of the closet. Overall, it's not an overly preachy book, but a simplistic "moral of the story" is definitely there.

Aside from its brevity, humor, and fast pace, another strong point is the book's characterization. While not vastly deep, the book does get under the skin of its characters (no pun intended), without being tedious or overwrought about it. Even the minor characters and bad guys are surprisingly three-dimensional and realistic for a comic book-based novel.

Who should read this: Fans of the Generation X comic book.
Rated, if a movie: PG
Rating: **

Little Fuzzy
by H. Beam Piper

This was a great book. Little Fuzzy is the first of three novels by Piper about the "Fuzzies." All three are currently available in an omnibus edition: The Complete Fuzzy (Ace Books). The book I read was an earlier omnibus publication of just the first two: Little Fuzzy and The Other Human Race (a.k.a. Fuzzy Sapiens). The third book is Fuzzies and Other People, which was actually never published while Piper was alive: the manuscript was found among his belongings after his death.

I actually read Little Fuzzy because I'd heard there were similarities between it and M. Shayne Bell's novel Nicoji. These are two very different books, but both take a look at humanity's encounter with an indigenous, primitive but perhaps sentient race on an alien planet. Reading both is a fascinating experience.

Little Fuzzy is a fast-paced tale with wonderfully realistic and interesting characters. The main character is an independent prospector named Jack who first encounters the primate-like Fuzzies on the colony planet of Zarathustra. As he shows them off to associates and observes them, it becomes clear that the Fuzzies are remarkably intelligent, and the question must be asked: are they sentient? The answer will have significant ramifications, because if the Fuzzies are sentient, the private company that controls the planet will have to give up its nearly limitless power to develop the planet and cull its resources. The company executives realize this early on, and set in motion plans to declare the Fuzzies mere non-sentient animals.

One of the fascinating aspects of Little Fuzzy is that it's set entirely within a well-developed, functioning society and the adventure comes from the political, scientific, and corporate intrigue. The book is full of complex people, issues, and situations, but is never convoluted. I continually found myself in awe at the sophistication of the storytelling and the book's handling of fascinating, complex issues. The very nature of sentience or sapience is grappled with from a variety of perspectives. Legal and commercial questions are dealt with very three-dimensionally and believably. I frequently wondered why I'd never heard of Piper or the Fuzzy novels before. It may be because he died in 1964. If Little Fuzzy is mostly unknown today, then it is truly a "lost treasure."

Who should read this: Everybody should like this.
Rated, if a movie: PG
Rating: ****

I Hated Heaven
by Kenny Kemp

I Hated Heaven is filmmaker Kenny Kemp's first novel. While reading it I frequently thought it would make a great movie, and it probably will be made into one before too long. Although the subject matter bears a surface similarity to the Robin Williams film "What Dreams May Come," this novel presents a very different vision of the afterlife, and tells a very different story.

Tom, the book's protagonist, is a devoted Christian married to April, an essentially agnostic nonbeliever. They have a surprisingly good marriage, however, and when Tom suddenly succumbs to cancer April begs him to promise to come back and tell her if there really is an afterlife.

Tom soon finds out there is an afterlife, but it's nothing like he could have imagined. Tom finds himself not in Heaven, as he had expected, but in Paradise, apparently an immense bureaucracy which people must pass through before moving on. Much of the novel depicts Tom's experiences as he learns what Paradise is really like. Unfortunately, the more he sees, the less he likes it. Tom desperately desires to make a quick return visit to his wife to fulfill his promise to her, and hopefully turn her into a believer, but he's constantly thwarted by obstacles such as impassable committees, serpentine regulations, and request forms which run for hundreds of pages.

I Hated Heaven is a devious little book in that it should be loved by most non-religious people, because of the way it satirizes religious beliefs, and it should be loved by most religious people because of the way it affirms those beliefs. Really, the book is very pro-religion and pro-Christian, but non-religious readers will find it enjoyable as well, as it is, more than anything, very pro-people.

The secret about the book is that the fascinating and bizarre afterlife depicted by Kemp isn't really one that he made up. Essentially, Kemp has taken Latter-day Saint beliefs (both folk beliefs and scripturally-based teachings) and depicted them as glaring reality, adding detail as necessary to flesh things out. Anybody who enjoyed Samuel Taylor's classic and hilarious Heaven Knows Why! will also like I Hated Heaven. Those few who find Jack Weyland too racy would hate I Hated Heaven and they're smart enough to know they would hate it and they won't read it. But Latter-day Saints who are not bothered by reading Card or Hickman can certainly read I Hated Heaven. In fact, they'll love it more than anybody, which would surprise some non-religious readers. (The book is sold in Deseret Book stores, which may surprise some people, but apparently the Deseret Book buyers got the joke and realizes the intent of Kemp's satire. I Hated Heaven is also sold by Christian book stores, of course, and even some New Age/Alternative places. I Hated Heaven was on the American Library Association's selected Christian fiction list.)

Who should read this: Anybody who is a romantic at heart, and anybody who loves, hates, or is interested in religion.
Rated, if a movie: PG
Rating: ****

Way Station
by Clifford D. Simak

This is one of the finest, most enthralling novels I've read. Quiet, reflective, yet full of fascinating ideas, Way Station is classic s.f. in the truest sense. It's not very long, not part of any series, and well worth the investment in time to read it.

The novel is about a Civil War veteren who was recruited some years ago to be the guardian of a galactic "way station," a stop along a massive interplanetary highway of sorts. Aliens of all sorts transport into and out of his station in rural Wisconsin. He does not age while in the way station, and has lived, unchanging into the present time. After many decades, some investigators from the federal government have finally realized that something is going on in this out of the way place. This is a beautiful, haunting novel that depicts joy, wonder, peace, and loneliness of a simple, decent man caught up in extraordinary and important circumstances.

Who should read this: Everybody.
Rated, if a movie: PG
Rating: *****

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: What You Leave Behind
by Diane Carey
Pocket Books, 1999

5 September 2001 - Carey is one of the finest authors of Star Trek novels, but this novelization apparently gave her little room to work in. The book is a fairly perfunctory novelization based on the script to the final two-hour episode of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In a few places the book offers more insight into the scenes from the episode. (Notably there is a somewhat odd scene in which Kira is delirious with a concussion and imagines herself having a conversation with a Cardassian rat.) But for the most part, what you saw in the episode is what is in the novel. And there are even a few things in the episode that are not in the novel, such as the extended scene between Julian Bashir and Miles O'Brien as they remember their times together.

The novel makes no attempt to fill in details or provide background. I can only imagine that a reader who had never seen the TV series would be completely lost and have little understanding about the events or characters in the novel. I thoroughly enjoyed the Deep Space Nine series in general, and the final episode in particular. The novel, a quick read at just over 200 pages, was an enjoyable enough way to remember the final episode and recall the characters. But the book doesn't really stand on its own as literature, nor does it try to do so.

Who should read this: Strictly for fans of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine TV series
Rated, if a movie: PG
Rating: **

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Demons of Air and Darkness
by Keith R.A. DeCandido
Pocket Books, 2001

14 November 2001 - Not a great novel, but pretty good as Star Trek novels go. I finished it, which is more than I can say for most Star Trek novels. Demons of Air and Darkness is actually the 4th book in the 7-part "Gateways" crossover, which each book focusing on the cast from a single Star Trek show. This was also part of a continuing, evolving narrative about events that take place after the final season of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine television series. This novel actually made me want to read the preceding books about these same new-to-DS9 characters: Avatar books 1 and II, and Section 31: Abyss. So I guess that says something for DeCandido's novel -- if it made me want to read more.

Demons of Air and Darkness deals with a fairly large cast of important characters, none of whom is really central: Kira, Nog, Quark, Taran'atar (a Jem'Hadar stationed on DS9 as a cultural observer), Ezri Dax, Commander Vaughn (Kira's 2nd in command), Ro (DS9's new chief of security now that Odo is gone) and Thirishar ch'Thane (a young Andorian science officer whose mother sits on the Federation Council). The basic plot for this novel revolves around a crisis that occurs when a Malon waste freighter from the Delta Quadrant dumps its highly radioactive cargo through a newly formed gateway, sending it directly at the independent Earth-settled world of Europa Nova. Oddly enough, Federation scientists and engineers can't prevent the waste from reaching the world with its deadly effects, so the novel's DS9 characters must coordinate a complete evacuation of the planet's 3 million inhabitants. The gateway that the Malon used, by the way, is just one of apparently hundreds (or more) that have suddenly popped into existence, apparently at the control of the ancient Iconians. The secondary plot of this novel revolves around Iconian representatives offering to sell control of these gateways to the highest bidder.

Fun to read, especially if you're a Deep Space Nine fan. I had not read preceding novels in either the post-series DS9 books, or the Gateway books, but that didn't matter. Demons of Air and Darkness is complex, but written well so that it is easy to follow. Lots of great character moments. Nice to see Nog and Ezri trying to fit into leadership roles. Quark is very amusing. Cousin Gaila makes an appearance. The fight between the Jem'Hadar and the Hirogen hunter is pretty exciting. Like I said, it may not be very ground-breaking "literary," but Demons of Air and Darkness is pretty good for a Star Trek novel.

Who should read this: Strictly for fans of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine TV series
Rated, if a movie: PG-13
Rating: ***

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Q-in-Law
by Peter David
Pocket Books, 1991

17 January 2001 - Every time I read a little in a book by Peter David, I find I can't stop until I finish. Q-in-Law is yet another Peter David "Star Trek" novel featuring Q. Q-in-Law isn't quite as unusual and brilliant as David's later novel I, Q (co-authored with Q actor John de Lancie). But Q-in-Law proves once again that Peter David is the best "Star Trek" novelist ever.

With Picard, Q, and Lwaxana on the cover, it's no secret who the novel focuses on. The omnipotent and impetuous Q pays a visit to the Enterprise at the same time that Lwaxana is there attending a historic wedding. The celebrated event is intended to bring together two warring houses of the space-faring Tizarin, gypsy-like traders the Federation considers important enough to grant them use of the Enterprise for the occasion.

When Q meets Lwaxana at a pre-ceremony reception, Captain Picard, Lwaxana's daughter Deanna Troi and the rest of the crew fear the worst. When Lwaxana maintains that she and Q are becoming something of an item, Deanna and Picard wonder what Q is up to, but are helpless to stop it. Q professes great dismay that despite his attempts to be on his best behavior, Picard and his crew refuse to believe that he has turned over a new leaf and simply wants to observe.

The Tizarin also play a prominent, often comical part in the novel. Wesley does a favor for Sehla, the bride-to-be, and finds himself "rewarded" with a beautiful (and eager) Tizarin servant. But the best part of the novel is the humor associated with Q. His own dialog as well as people's reactions to his whimsical displays of omnipotence, make this a very funny book. Q-in-Law is mostly light-hearted, but it isn't simply fluff. Some interesting issues are explored, including the love, relationships, morality, and what it means to have the power of a god. Wesley grapples with temptation as his Tizarin servant throws her barely-clad self at him. The book is frequently subversive, derailing commonly held notions, and then becomes doubly-subversive, subverting its own subversions.

Q-in-Law is one of those rare "Star Trek" novels that I would recommend to general readers, not just die hard fans.

Who should read this: "Star Trek" fans will find it one of the best Trek novels. General science fiction readers should enjoy it as well.
Rated, if a movie: PG
Rating: ***

Spider-Man: Emerald Mystery
by Dean Wesley Smith
New York: Berkeley Boulevard Books (2000)

This is a peculiar book. It almost seems like an exercise in tedium. How tedious and repetitious can a super-hero novel actually be? At times I wondered if the author was writing this book as a test to see if his editors actually read what he was submitting to them. I know this isn't the case, but there is much about this book that is surprising -- and not all of that is a bad thing.

Emerald Mystery takes place over the course of two weeks. The plot revolves around the appearance of "zombie robbers" -- ordinary, law-abiding New Yorkers who for no apparent reason suddenly use handguns to attempt to rob banks, stores, and other places with money. Peter Parker happens to be in his bank when one of the first such robberies occurs, a robbery he easily foils without resorting to becoming Spider-Man. This happens soon after the novel's opening scene, in which Spider-Man hears a gunshot and arrives at the scene of a dead body too late to see who the killer was. But Spider-Man does run into the novel's only other major character, the victim's employer, Barb Lightner. Lightner is a hard-boiled female private detective who is so stereotypical and uninteresting as a character that she seems almost an intellectual exercise in non-creativity.

Both of these opening events are rather low-key, and that's how most of the novel is: low-key. All of this may sound like a harsh indictment, but the novel was interesting enough that I kept reading, and I have often stopped reading comic book-based novels or Star Trek novels (the author's main genres) long before finishing them.

The novel features at least twenty descriptions of "zombie robberies" foiled by Spider-Man, Peter Parker, and/or cops. And there are the amazingly repetitive visits of Spider-Man to the hard boiled detective offices of Barb Lightner. At least four times he visits her office without having any leads in the case of the murder of Lightner's young partner, but he asks her what new information she has found. I think if I had been Spidey I would have been embarrassed to continually show up, promise to help, but have no news for Lightner. It was almost surreal to see such similar scenes played out over and over again. But it was realistic. Other than the central genre conceits of Spider-Man and his powers, and the villain with his power to control people's minds, the whole novel could almost be a deliberate attempt to write as realistic a super-hero novel as possible. The result is a detailed look at how tedious Spider-Man's cases really must be: lots of waiting for bad guys to show up at secret places, lots of listening to police scanners, lots of patrolling the city looking for a specific bad guy without ever finding him. All of this makes for a rather unusual super-hero tale -- as if this novel represents a "typical" Spider-Man adventure, the type which usually doesn't get printed in the comics or novels because it is too uninteresting.

Even the ending is unusually low-key. With one-fourth of the novel's 206 pages left, the bad guy is cornered in the penthouse of a hotel. It turns out that the guy in the penthouse really is the bad guy, and he really is essentially trapped there. He has a jewel which gives him the power to control people's minds, so that makes him a bit dangerous. But that's it. It turns out he really isn't even a very bright villain -- just a petty thief who found the jewel. With Spider-Man joining forces with the combined might of the New York City police department, it doesn't seem like such a daunting task to get to the guy. The police and Spider-Man are very careful, but they do eventually, ploddingly, methodically get the jewel away from him and capture him. Although they have some difficulties doing so, I could think of dozens of ways they could have resolved the problem. Although there were some interesting bits along the way, it was almost an anti-climax when the novel's villain, "The Jewel," was finally apprehended.

The novel is told in first-person from Spider-Man/Peter Parker's perspective, which makes it even more realistic. There is little insight into the villain, or even into the "guest star" Barb Lightner. There is no real character development in anybody, including Spider-Man. In a way, even this is quite realistic, because in the real world people rarely change very much over the course of just two weeks. Spider-Man is likable. He makes it home for a few hours each day so we meet his wife, Mary Jane Watson. She's likable as far as we can tell. Barb Lightner is likable. We assume the villain is not likable because he so stupidly tries to use his new-found power to rob people, and he ends up getting a few people killed. But we never learn very much about the villain, so it's impossible to say what he's really like.

Spider-Man: Emerald Mystery is not a great novel, but by no means is it a bad novel. It really is interesting -- precisely because it so resolutely rejects obvious attempts to artificially become "interesting", "action-packed", "exciting" or anything typically associated with its genre.

Who should read this: Fans of Spider-Man novels.
Rated, if a movie: PG
Rating: **

Web page created 19 July 2000. Last modified 12 August 2002.