“The Time Traveler’s Almanac” Edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (Tor, 2014)

Time Traveler's Almanac
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If you’re any sort of fan of time travel, whether it’s Back to the Future, H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine, or even Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure; or perhaps you enjoy discussing, debating and at times lambasting the possibility and impossibility of time paradoxes; then you need to get yourself a copy of The Time Traveler’s Almanac.

Well-known editors Ann and Jeff VanderMeer do a magnificent job of grouping the many time travel stories together into categories, and breaking them up with nonfiction articles on different aspects of time travel. The greats are of course included in this fantastic anthology, including Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, H. G. Wells, George R. R. Martin and Ursula K. LeGuin. But there is also a plethora of other, lesser known authors all with their own individual and unique stories on time travel.

There’s the one about a person who travels through time in New Delhi seeing its many forms and the variety of inhabitants throughout its history. The story about a cheap, wonderful apartment in a fancy area of San Francisco, the catch is you have to live in it in the past. One of the most moving stories is “Red Letter Day” set in a world where you receive a letter from your future self on the day of your graduation about how you should lead your life; and what it means for those who don’t receive a letter.

The Time Traveler’s Almanac features 70 stories and has a little bit of everything that can be sampled slowly over time – as I did – or gobbled up as quickly as possible. You’ll be taken to many different worlds, in different times, and no one will be like the other.

Originally written on February 11, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

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“Brave New Worlds” edited by John Joseph Adams (Nightshade Books, 2011)

Brave New Worlds
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1984 came and went without Big Brother rearing his ugly head in quite the way he did in the book; though one could say things got a little hairy during George W. Bush’s eight years of the Patriot Act and Home land Security, and yet in today’s world can you really say that you are completely free to do as you please without feeling like anybody’s watching you?  Perhaps you see this world in a different light: do you use a disposable phone, screen your calls, use “incognito mode” in all your online browsing, and feel like various agencies within the government are watching you constantly, whether it’s where you’re shopping, what you’re eating, or perhaps what books you’re checking out of the library.  If this is the case, you’re going to want to own a copy of Brave New Worlds, and if it’s not, well, you should read it too, because it’s a really fantastic collection of stories of a dystopian future where freedom is a whispered, secret word, not to be uttered aloud to anyone.

John Joseph Adams, bestselling editor of such great anthologies as Wastelands and The Living Dead does a fantastic job of collecting stories of dystopian worlds, covering just about the entire history of the science fiction genre.  Brave New Worlds starts off with “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson – a story many of us became familiar with in high school and college, but can now be read for sheer enjoyment; to Ursula LeGuin’s unforgettable “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” – a story of a paradise where every day is a joy for its citizens, except for one child locked away in a cell in constant suffering.  Many big name authors make the cut, with the likes of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, and Orson Scott Card; as well as some more recent bestselling names of the genre, like Paolo Bacigalupi, Cory Doctorow and Carrie Vaughan.

Some of these dystopian stories are similar, some are completely unique and surprising; all playing on the concept of having our necessary freedoms stripped away from us, leaving us hollow shells; the question is whether we choose to go along blindly and submit, or fight.  Perhaps you’re wondering if there’s a story about a future where young people donate their organs to old people, or looking forward the original short story of Philip K. Dick’s “The Minority Report”; either way,  Brave New Worlds will be an absolute delight for anyone who enjoys a story about a doomed future.

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Originally written on March 6, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

“A Wizard of Earthsea” by Ursula K. LeGuin (Parnassus Press, 1968)

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If you call this a work of classic fantasy, meaning it’s like every other fantasy series with its magic and wizards and made-up worlds, you would be wrong.  If you call this a work of classic fantasy, meaning it’s a great piece of work that set the foundation – like Lord of the Rings­ – for a lot of other series, you would be right.

A Wizard of Earthsea is the first book in the Earthsea series and as all fantasy series should, it begins with a young wizard, Ged, who knows nothing of magic and the ways of being a wizard, other than his innate ability promising him a career as a great wizard.  First he lives with a wise mage, and learns much about the simple things in life and magic and that everything has a cost.  He soon discovers this when he performs a dark spell from a book he shouldn’t have touched.  A deadly shadow is summoned and then banished by his teacher, but Ged knows he will be facing it again.

Ged then travels to the isle of Roke where he spends years becoming a master wizard.  Upon his graduation, he faces the dark shadow once more but is unable to hold against it and flees in terror.  As a renowned wizard now, he travels around the islands, helping those less fortunate, battling dragons and other monsters.  Then once again he faces the shadow and barely survives, fleeing once more.  He returns to his old master, unsure what to do.  The wizened wizard tells him he must face the shadow and in turn face his greatest fear.  And so Ged heads out into the deep sea where none have gone before and there faces the shadow and wages a great battle, finally defeating him.  The book ends with Ged returning to land with his friend, now a true and accomplished wizard with the thousands of islands of Earthsea before him.

What makes LeGuin’s fantasy series more meaningful than most is that all the magic performed here comes at a cost, which the main character has to deal with throughout the book.  It requires time and energy, afterwards one is tired; to create illusions is much easier than to actually change or create matter.  Unlike the world of Harry Potter, here there are rules; not everyone can be a wizard.  Along with this is the magical world of Earthsea with the many islands of different peoples, many of which know little of each other.  And for a wizard to travel from one island to another is a great adventure.  The next book in the series is The Tombs of Atuan.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on January 21st, 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.