The Qwillery | category: Retro Reviews


The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

Retro Reviews: The Last Four Things by Paul Hoffman

Retro Reviews: The Last Four Things by Paul Hoffman

The Last Four Things
Author:  Paul Hoffman
Series:  Left Hand of God Trilogy 2
Original Publisher and Date:  Dutton, August 4, 2011
Original Formats:  Hardcover and eBook, 384 pages
Current Formats:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Retro Reviews: The Last Four Things by Paul Hoffman

The epic story of Thomas Cale-introduced so memorably in The Left Hand of God--continues as the Redeemers use his prodigious gifts to further their sacred goal: the extinction of humankind and the end of the world.

To the warrior-monks known as the Redeemers, who rule over massive armies of child slaves, "the last four things" represent the culmination of a faithful life. Death. Judgement. Heaven. Hell. The last four things represent eternal bliss-or endless destruction, permanent chaos, and infinite pain.

Perhaps nowhere are the competing ideas of heaven and hell exhibited more clearly than in the dark and tormented soul of Thomas Cale. Betrayed by his beloved but still marked by a child's innocence, possessed of a remarkable aptitude for violence but capable of extreme tenderness, Cale will lead the Redeemers into a battle for nothing less than the fate of the human race. And though his broken heart foretells the bloody trail he will leave in pursuit of a personal peace he can never achieve, a glimmer of hope remains. The question even Cale can't answer: When it comes time to decide the fate of the world, to ensure the extermination of humankind or spare it, what will he choose? To express God's will on the edge of his sword, or to forgive his fellow man-and himself?

Brannigan's Review

The Last Four Things picks up right after the first book and immediately starts going in a completely different direction than I thought it was heading. This is always enjoyable in a middle book, which can, if written improperly, feel like an extra long chapter to the first book or a story that drags on without anything really happening to the characters.

Paul Hoffman's skill at writing descriptive environments is as strong as ever. The world continues to baffle me. I've decided that it's an alternate Earth where the middle ages went on far longer than ours. I personally don't like alternate Earth settings, so I am a little disappointed, but for those of you who do like them, I think you'll enjoy this one. The world building itself continues to develop and we get a better understanding of the different religious sects as well as the different countries at play in the immediate area.

Hoffman develops his characters more in the second book, especially some of the minor characters from the first book. It's also nice to see this in a second book, instead of continuing to give the majority of the page to the Protagonist. For those of you like me who are fans of Thomas Cale, do not fear, he is not ignored in his own development. I really enjoyed learning more about some the minor characters and their motivations.

The Last Four Things is a great middle book in a series. It takes the story in a completely different direction than I thought it would go and sets things up for a satisfying ending. It's still a darkly themed book as it deals with children soldiers and religious wars. There is violence, language and sexual situations. I would recommend it to adults only.

Retro Reviews: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Retro Reviews: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

A Princess of Mars
Author:  Edgar Rice Burroughs
Series:  Barsoom 1
Original Book Publisher and Date:  A.C. McClurg, October 10, 1917
Still in Print: Yes
Current Formats: Print and eBook
Availability: Yes - used and new

Retro Reviews: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Brief History

Edgar Rice Burroughs was born in Chicago, IL on September 1, 1875 and died in Encino, CA on March 19, 1950. His father was a civil war veteran. In 1911, Burroughs was working as a pencil-sharpener wholesaler when he began to write fiction. In 1912, Burroughs had his first story, Under the Moons of Mars, serialized in The All-Story magazine from February to July 1912. Tarzan is his most famous character with John Carter close behind. Burroughs has written over 80 books in many different genres, including Science Fiction, Adventure, Westerns, Romance and even Historical. Ray Bradbury said of Burroughs in The Paris Review Spring 2010 No. 192, “I love to say it because it upsets everyone terribly—Burroughs is probably the most influential writer in the entire history of the world. By giving romance and adventure to a whole generation of boys, Burroughs caused them to go out and decide to become special. That’s what we have to do for everyone, give the gift of life with our books.”

A Princess of Mars was originally published as a serial in the February-July 1912 issues of All-Story Magazine under the title of Under the Moons of Mars. Burroughs was influenced in his portrayal of Mars by the astronomer Percival Lowell. On October 10, 1917, the first book edition was printed by A.C. McClurg. The book is now in public domain in the United States.


A World to Conquer.

Suddenly projected to Mars, John Carter found himself captive of the savage green men of Thark. With him was Dejah Thoris, lovely Princess of Helium. And between them and rescue lay a thousand miles of deadly enemies and unknown dangers.

Brannigan's Review

This is the second book I've read and reviewed by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I'll be honest I was a little nervous to read it. I wanted to like it and I've heard so many people say how wonderful it was that I was afraid it wouldn't live up to my expectations. So, for you, dear readers, I conquered my fears and read A Princess of Mars.

Burroughs does a splendid job of developing characters for a such a short book and considering its time frame. John Carter is a man of principles and doesn't falter from standing up for what's right. He also shows tact and patience in his affections towards Dejah. Even the green martians show depth and evolution as the story progresses. Tars Tarkas and Sola show very little in their relationship at the beginning of the story, but their relationship becomes much more complicated as secrets are revealed.

The world building shows depth and is revealed in such a way that it truly makes the world feel old and on the brink of extinction. Burroughs introduces several different alien flora and fauna. He also takes time to explain the differences between the green and red martians by color and within their own respective groups. It shows a great deal of detail for such a short book.

The pacing was a lot faster than I expected but not as fast as modern books. However, I wasn't bothered or bored since Burroughs did a wonderful job keeping my attention through the story. The fact that there's so many different genres within one book, like western, science-fiction, romance, and adventure, also helped to keep my attention.

A Princess of Mars lives up to all it praise and history. I would call it a foundation stone to the genre. It made me giddy and happy as I became immersed in the pulp. I'd recommend this book to youth and adults. There is minor violence. I'd recommend you buy a copy. It truly is one of the pioneer texts in the science fiction genre and should be read and owned by anyone who professes a love of  science fiction.

Favorite quote from the book

“God help the coward, for cowardice is of a surety its own punishment.” page 7

Retro Reviews: The Weapon From Beyond by Edmond Hamilton

Retro Reviews: The Weapon From Beyond by Edmond Hamilton

The Weapon From Beyond
Series:  Starwolf 1
Author:  Edmond Hamilton
Original Publisher and Date: Ace Books, 1967
Still in Print:  No
Formats and Length:  Mass Market Paperback, 158 pages
Availability: Yes - Used

Retro Reviews: The Weapon From Beyond by Edmond Hamilton
Brief History

Edmond Hamilton (Oct. 21, 1904- Feb. 1, 1977) was born Youngstown, Ohio. He graduated from high school and started at Westminster College at the age of 14. By the age of 17 he left college without a degree. Hamilton's first published story was a short story entitled "The Monster God of Mamurth," in the August 1926 issue of Weird Tales. Some of his most popular Science Fiction series are: Captain Future, Interstellar Patrol, The Star Kings, and Starwolf. From 1946-1966 he wrote for DC Comics, spending most of his time writing stories for Superman, Batman and the Legion of Super-Heroes. He was a well-known science fiction author and comic book writer.


The stars whispered: Die, Starwolf! Die!

Morgan Chane was an Earthman by parentage, but he had been born on the pirate-world Varna, whose heavy gravity had developed strength and incredibly quick reflexes in him. When he was old enough, he joined the raider-ships that looted the starworlds, and fought side by side with the dreaded Starwolves of Varna.

But then there was a fight among them. Chane killed their leader, and the other Starwolves turned on him. He barely got away alive---wounded near death, his Starwolf pursuers following him across the galaxy.

And there was nowhere he could seek refuge, for no world lift a hand to save one of the hated Starwolves.

Brannigan's Review

I found this excellently pulpy science fiction tale at my local bookstore. The cover grabbed my attention immediately, along with the back cover copy giving me a nice slap across my face. I couldn't pass it up, and after reading it, I'm glad it didn't.

Edmond Hamilton was a prolific writer in his time and I can understand why. He knows how to set up an intriguing story with some fun characters. I was hooked right away in its glorious retro future. One of my favorite aspects of the book is the fact it was written before computers were commonplace, making his inventive technology highly entertaining.

The length of the story doesn't leave a lot of time for character development, but Hamilton really knows how to cut out the fat and give you what you need to enjoy the story while still allowing his characters to develop. Morgan Chane, the protagonist, starts off as a space viking turning on his own to be left adrift only to find a new place with a group of mercenaries. He starts off aloof and by the end finds a new identity. The leader of the mercenary group, John Dilullo, also develops as a support character.

Much like the character development, Hamilton doesn't waste time in world building. He introduces three major planets with their own unique life forms as well as a brief history on how humans became space-faring people. He doesn't go into as much detail as I prefer, but I think that was common for books from this time period.

The Weapon From Beyond is an adventure-driven space opera with the perfect amount of pulp. I would definitely buy more books by Edmond Hamilton in the future. There is minor violence and language. I would recommend it to teens and adults. I'd recommend you borrow this book from a friend or the library, and don't be surprised if you spend time hunting for more.

My Favorite Line

“If you stopped to think too much, you could die before you made up your mind.” page 36

Retro Reviews: Foundling by D. M. Cornish

Retro Reviews: Foundling by D. M. Cornish

Author:  D. M. Cornish
Series:  Monster Blood Tattoo 1
Original Publisher and Date:  Putnam, May 18, 2006
Still in Print:  Yes
Current Format and Length: Trade Paperback, 448 pages
Availability:  Yes - New and Used
ISBN:  9780399246388

Retro Reviews: Foundling by D. M. Cornish
Brief History

D. M. Cornish was born in 1972 in Adelaide, Australia. He studied illustration at the University of South Australia. In 2003, he had a chance meeting with a children's book publisher who discovered he had filled journals with drawing and notes about a world he called the “Half-Continent”. The publisher asked him to write 1,000 words about his world. Three years later the book was published. It won Best Young Adult Novel at the 2006 Aurealis Awards. The American Library Association added the book to its 2007 Best Books for Young Adults.


Set in the world of the Half-Continent—a land of tri-corner hats and flintlock pistols—the Monster Blood Tattoo trilogy is a world of predatory monsters, chemical potions and surgically altered people. Foundling begins the journey of Rossamund, a boy with a girl’s name, who is just about to begin a dangerous life in the service of the Emperor. What starts as a simple journey is threatened by encounters with monsters—and people, who may be worse. Learning who to trust and who to fear is neither easy nor without its perils, and Rossamund must choose his path carefully.

Complete with appendices, maps, illustrations, and a glossary, Monster Blood Tattoo grabs readers from the first sentence and immerses them in an entirely original fantasy world with its own language and lore.

Brannigan's Review

I've been looking forward to reading this book ever since it came out, but never seemed to find the time. I checked the book out recently at my local library to take with me on my Thanksgiving trip back home and found myself enjoying a great book.

Foundling is a nice mixture of fantasy, horror and Dickens. From the start of the book, D. M. Cornish grabbed my attention with his inventive world building and strong character development. Rossamund, a boy orphan apprenticed to the lamplighter's guild, starts off his career with an adventure. He has to leave his orphanage and make his way down a river to a small town on the edge of the empire, where he will be a lamplighter. He knows no one and doesn't even know what a lamplighter does. He wanted to a be a sailor and live the life of adventure. It's easy to relate to Rossamund and his desire for adventure. He also goes through many difficult challenges along the way and shows real growth as a character.

Cornish uses the journey to explore the world he's created and ignite curiosity. Even with all that he reveals about his world, there are still many more questions I asked myself as I read, which, for me, is a positive thing in the first book of a series. Cornish shows a lot of original creation in professions and creatures in the book that I've never seen in other books. The one aspect I didn't particularly like about his creatures is some of them take on a muppetish description at times. They aren't all scary and some take on human characteristics, like wearing clothes and talking clearly. I understand the book's target audience is teenagers, and so I looked past this small choice in his world building.

Foundling is a refreshing genre blend between fantasy and horror. It offers a new take on a world filled with monsters and humanoids and how they coexist. Even though the book wasn't as scary as I had hoped it would be, I'm definitely going to make time to complete the trilogy. There is minor violence and horror. I would recommend it to teens and adults. I'd recommend you borrow this book from a friend or the library.

My Favorite Line:

“[T]he letter addressed to him personally. It was like a sweet song to his tired soul, an encouragement from those far off---he was still thought of, he was remembered.” page 308

Retro Reviews: Kill the Dead by Tanith Lee

Retro Reviews: Kill the Dead by Tanith Lee

Kill the Dead
Author:  Tanith Lee
Original Publisher and Date:  DAW September 2, 1980
Still in Print:  No
Formats and Length:  Trade Paperback and Mass Market Paperback
Availability:  Yes - Used.
ISBN:  9780879975623

Retro Reviews: Kill the Dead by Tanith Lee
Brief History 

Tanith Lee (19 September 1947 – 24 May 2015) lived in England. Her parents were both dancers and they moved around a lot. She dropped out of college and held several different jobs. In 1971, she published her first novel The Dragon Hoard. By 1975, she was able to write full time. In 1980, she was the first woman to win the British Fantasy Award for the novel Death's Master. She wrote 90 novels and 300 short stories.


Out of the dusk he comes striding, the stranger, the man in black, inevitable as death itself: Parl Dro—Ghost Slayer.

Some have bought his services for gold, and some have blessed him for his work. But not everyone welcomes an exorcist who will remorselessly deprive them of their beloved dead.

Dro began his vocation at an early age. And now he will not be turned aside, no matter how you may threaten, curse or weep. He is seeking too the greatest stronghold of the deadalive: Ghyste Mortua, the ghost town in the mountains, and he means to destroy it.

If he will face that, what use the pleas of the desperate sisters, Cilny and Ciddey, what use the rage of Myal, with his genius for music and his imperfect talent for crime?

Only one thing, it seems, motivates Parl Dro.

His determination to kill the dead.

"Tanith Lee is one of the most powerful and intelligent writers in fantasy." —Publishers Weekly

"With Lee… expect the unexpected." —Starburst

Brannigan's Review

While browsing my local used bookstore I came across this beauty. I saw the title and immediately fell in love with it. Once I pulled it off the shelf and saw the cover I knew this would be a good book. It just screams classy retro, the double necked guitar at the feet of a man who could be a hero or late seventies rock star. The ghosts on the cover were amazing, a skeleton without a head, a naked lady ghost and the goblin ghost that appears to have a real brain floating in his ghost skull. The triple threat was the awesome back cover description.

Kill the Dead is so much more than I expected. I was thinking it would be a Conan-esq character but fighting ghosts with maybe some cheesy horror or fantasy cliches. Instead, it was the perfect blend of fantasy and horror. When I think of Gothic, this is what comes to mind. It was very much a mood read. Each sentence seemed to be written to evoke foreboding doom. I loved every minute of it.

Parl Dro is the dark mysterious hero hunting and destroying ghosts. He's a man on a mission to find and destroy Ghyste Mortua, an entire town of ghosts. Along the way, he discovers a small village with a decrepit home with two sisters in it. However, one sister is a ghost. Parl does what a ghost killer does, which causes the other sister to vow revenge on Parl. At the same time, a minstrel down on his luck crosses paths with both the vengeful sister and Parl. The three of them find themselves at odds throughout most of the book.

Tanith Lee does an amazing job of introducing each of the characters and slowly but steadily unveiling their backstory as well as their true motivations. The care and timing of the character reveals is something I feel we are missing in today's stories. Things seem to move much faster now, which isn't a good or bad thing, but I do enjoy a slow build up when done right and Lee does it right. Each of the characters add to the mood of unease, as none of them are truly good or evil. They each have multiple layers to them, which ache with reality. It adds to the tone of the overall story, this sense of something being slightly off.

Lee's world blends well with the characters and mood of the tale. It's worn out and in ruin. I don't think there’s anything new or shiny in this world. It has a dull tone and color palette. Even the ivory white bones inlaid in Myal's double necked guitar are stained yellow with time. With all of this ugliness Lee is still able to bring a lot of beauty to the book with her lyrical prose.

Kill the Dead is a haunting fantasy that, once finished, demands to be reread. The ending will leave you surprised and rewarded. I want to reread it just to see if I can find any clues Lee might have left out in the open for me. The pacing is slower than most modern stories, but I would ask you to embrace it and allow it to take you on this journey. There is minor violence, language and implied sexual situations. I would recommend it to teens and adults. I'd recommend you add this book to your personal library.

My Favorite Line:

“'Lend me your knife,' Myal said slowly. 'I can kill you with it. It won't take a minute. I'll clean it after.'” page 55

Retro Reviews: The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman

Retro Reviews: The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman

The Left Hand of God
Author:  Paul Hoffman
Series:  The Left Hand of God Trilogy 1
First Edition:  Hardcover, Dutton (June 15, 2010)
Also Available:  Trade Paperback (NAL, July 5, 2011)
     and eBook (May 26, 2010)
Availability:  Online and in stores
ISBN:  9780451231888

Brief History

Retro Reviews: The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman
Paul Hoffman was born in 1953 in England. He spent his childhood traveling the world as his father was a pioneer in the sport of parachuting. He went to school at New College, Oxford. He had several odd jobs until he became a senior film censor at the British Board of Film Classification. It was there that he wrote his first book The Wisdom of Crocodiles in 2000. The Left Hand of God is his third novel. Five of his books have been published to date.

The Left Hand of God is the first book in The Left Hand of God trilogy, followed by The Last Four Things and The Beating of His Wings.


Raised from early childhood in the Redeemer Sanctuary, the stronghold of a secretive sect of warrior monks, Thomas Cale has known only deprivation, punishment, and grueling training. When he escapes to the outside world, Cale learns that his embittered heart is still capable of loving- and breaking.

But the Redeemers won’t accept the defection of their prized pupil without a fight…

Brannigan's Review

I've been wanting to read this book for a while now, but as we all do from time to time I passed on it for other books. Then, I got the second book in the series to read and review and found the perfect reason to pick up this, the first book in the series.

Right away Paul Hoffman's writing drew me into his story. His characters and world were all very interesting. He has a way of writing that brings in an atmosphere almost immediately. While reading about the Sanctuary filled with abusive clergy and forgotten and abandoned children, I felt a dampness, and in my peripheral vision I saw the fog. Outside of my home, I was surrounded by miles of bogs. This is what I want when I read. I want to feel the environment of the book closing in around me.

Thomas Cale and his two friends, for lack of a better word, have a wonderful dynamic. None of them truly like each other or even trust each other, because they were taught never to trust another person, but somehow they are able to work together and escape only to find a stranger world outside of the Sanctuary. I immediately latched onto Thomas and felt sorry for his past. He's strong and I love a strong hero, but he's leery of helping and trusting others, so he has his faults.

Hoffman's setting is odd. It's obviously set in a European-type middle ages. He borrows from familiar cultures like England, Rome and even Japan. The Materazzi reminded me of Samurai at times with their sense of honor in battle. Then, at the oddest moments he uses cities and countries and even religions from our world. Memphis, Kiev, Jerusalem, Norwegian, Jesus of Nazareth, Rabbis. So I'm still confused if it's our actual world but in a future where something apocalyptic sent us back into a dark age, or if his world is an alternate Earth that never left the middle ages and kept going for thousands of years. I wouldn't mind either, but I sure would like to know which one it is, so I wasn't being thrown out of the story each time he brought in another city or person from my world.

The last thing I want to mention is the pacing of the story. It's not slow as in when will this end, but it's definitely not fast. I enjoyed the pacing and took my time with the book as I enjoyed Hoffman's world and characters. However, I do feel it's worth mentioning, since I know a lot of readers that only enjoy reading books that grab you by the neck and drag you kicking and grinning.

The Left Hand of God is an intriguing first book in a trilogy. Nothing is as it appears. The pacing can be slow at times and it has an odd setting, but the protagonist Thomas Cale is too interesting to give up on. I'll be reading book 2 next and seeing if some of my questions can be answered, but at the very least I'm sure to enjoy spending more time with Cale. There is violence, language and minor sexual situations. I would recommend it to adults only. As of right now I would recommend you borrow the book from a friend or library. This recommendation might change once I've read more of the series.

Retro Reviews: The Baalbak Quest by David J. Kelly

Retro Reviews: The Baalbak Quest by David J. Kelly

The Baalbak Quest
Author:  David J. Kelly
Original Publisher and Date:  American Art Enterprises, 1980
   Carousel Science Fantasy # 70039
Still in Print:  No
Format and Length: Mass Market Paperback, 159 pages
Availability:  Used

Brief History

David J. Kelly is my first officially forgotten author. I can't find anything on him. Amazon has him tied to a David James Kelly, but without a second source to confirm it, I won't state it here as fact. Even the press Amazon mentions doesn't have a working website. I can say for certain that David J. Kelly wrote a second book that is a sequel to this book entitled Tower of Despair. I wish I had more to share with you about this author, but for now it remains a mystery.

Back Cover Description

ERON KILLSTAR. Fighter, lover, thief... ERON KILLSTAR. Created from the body of a murdered prince... ERON KILLSTAR. Hero of the sword-and-sorcery school of survival... ERON KILLSTAR.

His destiny is to locate the coveted Book of Baalbak, a volume of knowledge and magic as old as time, then use its power to destroy Sargon Arcturion, the murderous Sorcerer-Emperor of the many Earths.

But Sargon, too, quests for the book; he pursues Killstar with awesome evil spells and the military might of the deadly Dred Elite. The Killstar-Sargon conflict explodes in an exiting mixture of fantasy, magic, and heavy-metal blood violence-with the fate of mankind to the whim of the victor!

Brannigan's Review

I was first attracted to this book because of its amazing cover by an A. Bennett. It presumably shows Eron Killstar atop a boulder carved into a skull. Eron is wrapped up a lot like Mumm-Ra, and on the back of the book it mentions “heavy-metal blood violence” so how could I not get it. Damn those clever marketers.

The Baalbak Quest is a true blend of Science-Fiction and Fantasy. We have a multitude of worlds sharing a galaxy with aliens and humans alike, all of them ruled by a king on Elder Earth. The worlds are connected by gateways of both science and magic. The king we discover is killed by his eldest son, Sargon, and some aliens. The other children of the slain king rise up against their evil brother, but are killed. One of the brothers, Grendel Eron, tells a wizard that if he should die the wizard is to cut his hand off and take it to a different earth and use it to make a clone. It would be that clone's duty to kill Sargon. Eron Killstar is that clone, however something goes wrong, which makes him unable to fulfill his mission. We speed forward a thousand years to find Eron Killstar and his companion Merecastle living as thieves and scoundrels. They are sent on a mission to find a book by the name of Baalbak, which promises to unlock Eron Killstar's destiny and save a village enslaved to a blind wizard.

Kelly shows some amazing talent in world building and creating some interesting characters, excluding their names. There are some genuinely cool ideas in this book and I really love the way he mixes the two speculative genres together. The only problem is he doesn't seem to know what to do with all of these great ideas. The setups have a lot of promise, but everything falls apart quickly. Eron is unlikeable as a character and his sidekick Merecastle is left undeveloped beyond his desire to steal things and lay with women. The world is ignored and the things that showed the most promise at the beginning are soon lost as the story takes on a very generic quest.

The book ends with the capture of the book, but then it is quickly lost again and we are left with Eron Killstar on his own. We can only imagine that the next book takes up the quest, but now that I know there is only one other book I don't have enough faith that the story will find any overwhelming completion or satisfaction to continue on.

The Baalbak Quest is a perfect example of a cool idea that Kelly needed to spend more time developing or editing to truly develop. I wish I could say that my first true forgotten author deserved to be rediscovered, but now it makes more sense why I can't find anything about him, which is a stark reminder to all of us who wish to write to do it right the first time. We only have one chance to make a first impression, or at least to leave a lost treasure worth discovering in the future. There is minor violence, language and only implied sexual situations. It's a safe read for teens or adults, but I would recommend you pass on this book if you find it at your local used book store.

Retro Reviews: Thunderworld by Zach Hughes

Retro Reviews: Thunderworld by Zach Hughes

Author:  Zach Hughes
Original Publisher and Date:  Signet, January 5, 1982
Still in Print:  No
Format:  Mass Market Paperback, 151 pages
Availability:  Yes (used) and online
ISBN:  9780451112903

Brief History

Retro Reviews: Thunderworld by Zach Hughes
Zach Hughes is a pen name for Hugh Zachary. Zachary was born January 12, 1928 in Oklahoma. He went to school at University North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He ran a book factory with his wife Elizabeth in North Carolina. He also worked in radio and TV broadcasting, and as a newspaper writer, carpenter, charter fishing boat, commercial fishing, and served as a mate on an anchor-handling tugboat in the North Sea. He quit working full time in 1963 and focused on writing. As far as I can tell his first book was One Day in Hell published in 1960, and the most recently published work is Munday in 2003. Besides using Zach Hughes, he as also written under the names of Peter Kanto, Peter Danielson and Evan Innes. He's published at least 50 books that I could find under his pen names.


When the crew of the four-person scout ship Santa Maria first sighted the new life-zone planet, they dubbed it “Worthless.” A little too far from its mother sun for comfort, caught in the grip of conflicting gravitational pulls, Worthless was a planet in constant upheaval, not at all the sort of world fit for human colonization. Still, time was running short for the people of Earth to fine a new home, and this was the first place that even approached livable conditions, So Don, Zees decided to do a close-up study of the planet's surface while Breed and Ellen stayed in orbit overhead. But shortly after they landed, there was a cataclysmic upheaval, a worldwide convulsion that brought death to many of the primitive life forms and left Don and Zees stranded. Forced to go native and live off the land till their shipmates could find them, neither of the humans could guess that the next meal they ate would change the future of a planet...

Brannigan's Review

I'll admit that the cover is what grabbed me while shopping at my favorite used book store. It's full of action and tension with an awesome retro rocket. I also love the title, THUNDERWORLD. It really demands all caps. I was ecstatic to discover the story inside was both entertaining as well as engaging.

Zach Hughes (I'll use the pen name) is an author with great skills. With only 151 pages he doesn't have a lot of room to waste time, and he doesn't. From the first page, I was sucked in and immediately caught off guard by an odd entity known as Goroin Melt of Roag, an alien creature of some kind that is looking for a new body. Even though this was not how I expected the book to start, I was fascinated. Hughes doesn't give a lot of clues about Goroin at first and when he does he sprinkles it out over their first 50 pages as he searches for a new body and his desire for revenge. Intermixed with these chapters I was on mission with the four-person crew of the Santa Maria. They've been on a deep space mission for over two years looking for a new livable planet. Earth is overpopulated and constantly on the brink of war.

Out of the crew, Don and Zees are the two characters that Hughes focuses on the most. He also doesn't spend a lot of time giving a very complex back story for the characters, but once the action starts I learn all I need to know about them by their actions, which is a great way to develop character when there aren't a lot of pages.

I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying that Goroin, Don and Zees find themselves interacting. I won't give to much detail about this as it was the most enjoyable part of the story for me. Goroin is the most unique and fresh take on an alien I've ever read. Granted, I'm still pretty new to Science Fiction novels, but I couldn't get enough of him and his community once he finds them. Don, Zees and Goroin soon find a working relationship and help the survivors of a massive earthquake prepare for the next big stage in the planet's evolution. Then, just as everything appears to be wrapping up in a nice little bow, Hughes completely sideswiped me and didn't stop to trade insurance information. He just took the story in a completely different direction that I didn't see coming and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Along with everything else that's great about this book, Hughes finds time to delve into some great topics regarding population control, freedom, human relations and environmentalism. He handles each of them so gently you won't even notice if you don't want to, but for those of you who like to see different perspectives and philosophy, you'll get a little treat.

Thunderworld is a one of those finds that reignites the adventurous spirit in me to continue to dig deep in the used book store or library to find hidden treasures. I can't recommend this book enough. There are a few minor moments of violence, and only implied adult situations, so I have no problem recommending this book to teens or adults. If you're a fan of thoughtful, imaginative science fiction, go find a copy of this book or buy it online.

Retro Reviews: The Lost Continent by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Retro Reviews: The Lost Continent by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The Lost Continent
Author:  Edgar Rice Burroughs
Original Publisher and Date:  Street & Smith Publications, Inc., 1916
Still in Print:  Yes
Current Formats: Hardcover, Trade Paperback, Mass Market Paperback, and eBook
Availability:  Online and in book stores
ISBN:  various including 9781600961502 (Waking Lion Press, August 17, 2006)

Brief History

Retro Reviews: The Lost Continent by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Edgar Rice Burroughs was born in Chicago on September 1, 1875 and died in Encino, CA on March 19, 1950. His father was a civil war veteran. In 1911, Burroughs was working as a pencil-sharpener wholesaler when he began to write fiction. In 1912, Burroughs had his first story, Under the Moons of Mars, serialized in The All-Story from February to July 1912. Tarzan is his most famous character with John Carter close behind. There is a Tarzana, California and a Tarzan, TX both named after the character. Burroughs has written over 80 books in many different genres, including Science-Fiction, Adventure, Westerns, Romance and even Historical. Ray Bradbury said of Burroughs in The Paris Review Spring 2010 No. 192, “I love to say it because it upsets everyone terribly—Burroughs is probably the most influential writer in the entire history of the world. By giving romance and adventure to a whole generation of boys, Burroughs caused them to go out and decide to become special. That’s what we have to do for everyone, give the gift of life with our books.”

The Lost Continent was originally published in the February 1916 issue of All-Around Magazine and titled Beyond Thirty. In 1955, the first book edition was printed by Lloyd Arthur Eshbach's Fantasy Press fanzine. In 1963, ACE printing published the book as The Lost Continent. Bison Books published their own edition in 2001 under the original name. The copyright of this book has expired and is in public domain.

Back Cover Description

For two hundred years, a civilized America had cut off all contact with the war-ruined Eastern Hemisphere until such places as Europe and Great Britain had become mere legends.

Then Jefferson Turck dared take his U.S. Aero-sub across the 30th longitude west on the mission of a new Columbus, and a fascinating voyage of discovery.

Brannigan's Review

I've read Edgar Rice Burrough's Tarzan of the Apes and loved it. I've been eying the Barsoom (John Carter of Mars) series, but then at this year's WonderCon in Anaheim I sat in on a Burrough's panel and they mentioned The Lost Continent and it grabbed my attention. I was happy to find it at my local used book store. It's a short book, but it holds a rich story.

The back cover is a little misleading, so I'll give a quick story recap. The book is what we now refer to as an Alternate History story, which is a sub-genre under the Science Fiction genre. It explores the idea of what would happen if America didn't get involved in Word War I, and, by staying neutral, England, Germany, and most of Eurasia is completely destroyed. In fact, America is so neutral they close off any contact east past the 30th longitude west and west of the 175th longitude west. This isolation lasts for 200 years, making the current year 2137. Jefferson Turck is the captain of an Aero-sub that's on patrol in the Atlantic when a nasty storm leaves his ship with no power, and it drifts past the 30th longitude, which is strictly illegal and in enforced with a death penalty. Turck and a few sailors, after several misfortunes, get separated from their ship and are left with no choice but to take their smaller boat to England in search of aid. Then, the real adventures begin.

Burroughs is a master of creating suspense and giving a sense of wonder to his world. He's able to quickly breathe life into his world and main characters. He has a gift of knowing just how much backstory and personality he needs to give a main character to help the reader connect to them. That being said, all the supporting cast of characters are only names and sex, but I didn't care as I knew they weren't important—in fact, they knew it as well and stayed out of the way, only popping up to deliver bad news or offer minor support. I have to give Burroughs some credit for his female character, Victory. She was a very strong and independent female character for a book that came out in 1916. She still has some of those basic stock issues of being a little helpless at times and needing the love of a strong man, but she does wield a wicked dagger with skill several times, so props to Burroughs.

The story itself was very interesting. Burroughs came up with some great ideas on how a world might look after a devastating war. The story took a couple turns I didn't see coming, and I was drawn into it quickly and stayed invested until the end.

The Lost Continent is a perfect break from epic overload. It makes me wish we still had authors putting out short novels that still held a quality story. I'd recommend this book to youth and adults. There is minor violence, no language and only implied sexual situations. If you're a Burroughs fan, I'd recommend you buy a copy. Otherwise, I recommend you borrow the book from a friend or library. It's the perfect book for fans of Alternate History and anyone who likes a quick adventure.

Favorite quotes from the book

“To remain at sea is to perish. None of us ever will see home again. Let us make the best of it, and enjoy while we do live that which is forbidden the balance of our race---the adventure and mystery which lie beyond thirty.” Turck, page 31.

“[T]hough I had no wish to die, I must confess that I rather wished the ordeal over and the peace of oblivion upon me.” Turck, page 74.

“Those who did not fight were the only ones to reap any of the rewards that are supposed to belong to victory. The combatants reaped naught but annihilation. You have seen—better than any man you must realize that there was no victory for any nation embroiled in that frightful war.” Chinese Emperor, page 140.

Retro Reviews: Starfinder by John Marco

Retro Reviews: Starfinder by John Marco

Author:  John Marco
Series:  Skylords 1
Original Publisher and Date:  DAW, May 5, 2009
Still in Print:  Yes
Current Formats and Length: Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 336 pages
Availability:  Online and in Bookstores
ISBN:  9780756406103 (Mass Market Paperback)

Retro Reviews: Starfinder by John Marco
Brief History

John Marco was born and raised in Long Island, NY. He worked as a technical writer before being published. In 1994, he started working on his first novel, and in 1999 his first book, The Jackal of Nar, was published in 1999. He has published eight novels to date with his ninth book, The Bloody Chorus (Bloody Chorus 1) coming out in November.

Starfinder was meant to be the first of a young adult series. It was published in 2009 as a hardback. It is still available in eBook and Mass Market Paperback. The publisher chose not to continue the series.


A new fantasy series from the author of The Sword of Angels.

Steam trains and electricity are rapidly changing the world. Moth of Calio is obsessed with the airships developed by his friend Fiona's grandfather Rendor, and dreams of taking to the air one day like his heroes, the Skyknights.

But not everyone is happy to see humans reach the skies. For thousands of years, the mysterious and powerful race known as the Skylords have jealously guarded their heavenly domain. But Moth and Fiona are about to breach the magical boundary between the world of humans and the world of the Skylords.

Brannigan's Review

I've been a big fan of John Marco ever since I read The Jackal of Nar. I bought my copy of Starfinder when it came out. I didn't immediately read it, as I have a weird tick about reading ongoing series. I kept waiting to see if any additional books would be published and, over time, got caught up in reading other books. Once again, Retro Reviews has presented me with an opportunity to right my wrongs.

John Marco is a master of character creation and world building. It didn't take long before I became immersed in a sense of wonder reading Starfinder. I found more enjoyment reading this particular young adult novel than I have in most. It doesn't force you to relive teenage angst, but instead touches on those monumental events we all deal with in our youth. It reminded me of the excitement I found as a youth exploring fantasy worlds in literature—discovering new creatures and strange lands that can only live in imagination. Marco has built a world and characters that feel real while keeping the story short and simple enough to be inviting to any age.

Moth, the main character, is a young orphan boy. He lives with Leroux, a kind old Eldrin Knight who's part of an Order that's fading into history. He fills Moth's head with stories of adventures at night. By day, Moth works as a custodian at the airfield. Fiona is a girl a few years older than Moth and the granddaughter of Rendor, a man who invented air travel as the world knows it and aspires to even more. Even the villains are interesting as characters. Marco has a gift of making his villains relatable, and even hints that they might be redeemable. It makes me mourn for them rather than hate them, creating a more satisfying and realistic villain.

The world is split into two continents. One side is comparable to a European country set around the 17th Century. Marco brings in a wonderful twist by creating dragonflies—an early aircraft that looks more like an early helicopter, in my mind, with four glass wings on the top. There are also massive airships that look like over-sized zeppelins. These planes give the story a steam-punk feel, without any actual steam or gears being mentioned. There appears to be no magic on this half of the world. The other side of the world is all magic. It's a land of talking dragons, mermaids, and centaurs. We revel in the wonder of it all with Moth and Fiona as they discover this land. We also soon learn that on this side of the world, birds don't fly, the sky is left for the Skylord's and their slaves. The Reach is the only thing separating the two halves—an ocean of fog that's nearly impossible to cross. I loved the imagery of a ocean of fog rather than water separating two continents.

The overall storyline is a familiar quest story, but the added character depth and world building gave the story originality. The pacing is fast with short chapters, which made it hard for me to set it down, because I knew I could stay up just a little longer and read another chapter.

Since the book was supposed to be the first in a series, I was worried there would be a lot of unanswered questions, however Marco did a great wrap up to the story while still alluding to future stories. After finishing the book, I've tried to think up several ways in which I might be able to coax DAW into letting Marco finish the series. I think the only true way would be to bombard DAW headquarters with as many moths and dragonflies as possible until they beg Marco to finish the series. I'm just afraid PETA might get mad at me if I suggest this idea too strongly.

Starfinder is a wonderfully entertaining young adult fantasy book that was sadly published just before the big YA boom. I know it would have been a smash hit otherwise. Please don't let the fact that it's the first book in a series that may never be finished stop you from enjoying it. The story is complete and worth your time and money to read. It lives up to John Marco's talent and gift as a writer. There are a few minor moments of violence, but I have no problem recommending this book to teens or adults. If you're a fan of John Marco and haven't read this book, go buy a copy and add it to your collection. If you're a fan of fantasy and steampunk this is a great bridge between both genres. It's also a perfect way to remind yourself why you fell in love with fantasy in the first place. It's definitely a book I'll read to my kids once they get a little older.

Favorite quotes from the book

“The wind whistled as it swam between the towers, but not another voice reached them, not a single blinking eye.” page 142.

“Even if we had wings, some of us would be pigeons.” spoken by Rendor page 162.

“To end the human dream.” spoken by Alis page 238.

“The drums were now silent; Moth could hear the wind rustling in the grass as he awaited Jorian's call. Tonight, he and Fiona would be warriors.” page 284.

Retro Reviews: The Last Four Things by Paul HoffmanRetro Reviews: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice BurroughsRetro Reviews: The Weapon From Beyond by Edmond HamiltonRetro Reviews: Foundling by D. M. CornishRetro Reviews: Kill the Dead by Tanith LeeRetro Reviews: The Left Hand of God by Paul HoffmanRetro Reviews: The Baalbak Quest by David J. KellyRetro Reviews: Thunderworld by Zach HughesRetro Reviews: The Lost Continent by Edgar Rice BurroughsRetro Reviews: Starfinder by John Marco

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