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I went into Fuzzy Nation unsure of what to expect - I mean a novel reboot? - but I trusted in Scalzi. And he didn’t let me down. This is a smart, compelling science fiction novel with a bit of an offbeat nature. Far from the galaxy-wide military science fiction of Scalzi’s previous books, Fuzzy Nation concentrates on the fate of one small planet, on the fate of one small people, on the evaluation of what makes a species sentient or not. The varied, intelligent characters are effortlessly engaging carry us through this well executed story. It’s not perfect, but Scalzi’s latest comes close: diverse, thoughtful and just plain entertaining.

I usually make use of this paragraph to preface and somewhat summarize the review to follow, but I feel I’ve gone into enough details in by criticism below to warrant a shortened introduction. George Mann, most famous for his delightful victorian steampunk series of ‘Newbury & Hobbes Investigations’ comes back with the second volume of his New York based steampunk superhero saga, Ghosts of War. Though on the whole more enjoyable than not, this second volume suffers many of the same pitfalls as its predecessor though it does show hope for progress. Read on past the blurb for a more comprehensive explanation.

Coming from renewed The Dark Knight writer and comic-book author David S. Goyer and television producer Michael Cassutt is Heaven’s Shadow, a blend of modern space exploration and alien contact, but neither quite like we would expect. No brilliantly innovative piece of science fiction, Heaven’s Shadow is nevertheless an entertaining read not unlike a Hollywood film, with noteworthy characters and its fair share of intrigue. We see characters pushed to the limits while attempting to survive in a unforgiving environment and intraterrestrial and extraterrestrial tensions mount - all in all a more than decent, heart-thumping space saga.

Mark Lawrence is a new name in fantasy, yet his presence on the online scene and the amount of hype surrounding his debut, Prince of Thorns, would make you think otherwise. Even more so the quality of that first novel. An utterly ruthless read, in its relatively short length its ferocity will shock you, its characters will astound you and its tale will entrance you. Prince of Thorns is a vastly compelling, fast-pace read - once the end has come, Lawrence will leave you wishing for more.

Darren J. Guest’s debut horror novel, Dark Heart, is not quite what one might expect. Instead of telling one of the more violent, macabre horror stories, Guest opts for the more personal tale, one that is more emotionally terrifying than outright horrifying. Leo Stamp may be a disturbed individual, but Guest makes him, to our pleasure, an appealingly disturbed individual. A tale containing a mix of absolution and age-old strife with a slight bit of mystery, Dark Heart is touching book, and a very satisfying debut for Guest.

(Art by Steve Stone via Orbit )

I'm part way through T.C. McCarthy's first novel, Germline, right now and very much enjoying it. Though it's set for release in August, Orbit have already revealed the cover art for the second title in the series, Exogene. I'm not usually a big fan of these realistic covers, but knowing from the first book what the cover is meant to depict - both the character and the mood - I can say that it's a good fit. Head on over to Orbit's website to read their Creative, Lauren Panepinto's, thoughts on the artwork. Also, catch the blurb for Exogene after the jump.

Ari Marmell’s third original novel, the Pyr-published The Goblin Corps, is an unapologetic fantasy of the best kind. The Goblin Corps is a grand scale sword & sorcery adventure, the likes of which are rarely seen anymore. An Abercrombian take on well-worn fantasy tropes with more than a tad of humor, this is a novel singly meant to entertain. And it does just that. At times equally gruesome, humorous, outlandish and thrilling, The Goblin Corps can be summed up in a word: awesome. Or at least, that’s how I imagine most dedicated fantasy fans will see it.

Steampunk has been know - and celebrated - for it’s fun-oriented nature. I’ve often seen it as nothing other than an excuse to tinker further with Jules Verne’s and H.G. Wells’ inventions, the chance to explore an alternate version of our past, and usually as a means of rekindling the great sense of wonder and adventure found in the tales of those previously mentioned masters. In his first two ‘Newbury & Hobbes Investigations’ Mann offered us ever so slightly shallow - if extremely pleasant - renderings of those ambitions, but with his latest, The Immorality Engine, he chooses to delve deeper into his characters, rendering a novel that retains all the fun of its predecessors while gaining unprecedented depth.

Degrees of Freedom is the final volume of Simon Morden’s initial Petrovitch/Metrozone series. The first of these, Equations of Life, was an entertaining cyberpunk but the sequel, Theories of Flight, alright showed signs of repetitiveness and lack progression between the novels. Degrees of Freedom, sadly, confirms this trend. It is by no means a bad novel, but it’s resemblance to the first two in how its story is built and executed leaves too strong a sense of déja vu for it not to negatively impact my enjoyment of the novel. For this reason, this review will be kept a bit short since a few different plot points apart, Degrees of Freedom felt somewhat like a remake of the previous two and I feel no need of desire to reiterate some the points I made there.

You may have noticed a lack of presence on my part over the past week and particularly this past weekend. That's entirely my fault, as I've had quite a planned out (music festivals and such) which took over a considerable amount of my time. Yes, that means I was absent on the 1st of July and missed posting LBR's Chosen Few for the coming month. Never fear, though late, my selection of SFF novels is all ready for your perusal. You'll notice this is quite a hefty selection, but I do plan on having more time to dedicate to reading, so hopefully I'll be getting through all of it. Before reviews of any new releases, you'll find some reviews that I originally intended for June - the books are already read, so you'll soon see reviews of Darren J. Guest's Dark Heart, Andrew Mayer's The Falling Machine and Simon Morden's Degrees of Freedom. I think everyone can guess which is the biggest title below, without a doubt George R.R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons, but the new M.D. Lachlan, Jon Sprunk and Col Buchanan - amongst others - will, I expect hold their own.