Thursday, December 18, 2014

Leib (ed.), Fierce Family (2014)

Bart R. Leib (ed.), Fierce Family. Crossed Genres Publications, 2014. Pp. 168. ISBN 978-0-6159-5023-5. $11.95.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

This anthology from the praiseworthy Crossed Genres small press, famous for the diversity as well as the quality of their short fiction output, has perhaps the most brilliant concept behind it that I’ve heard all year. Queer families, not dysfunctional, or tragic, or torn apart as so common in genre fiction, but standing together, loyal, strong, fierce. It’s a beautiful concept, and this slim anthology of fifteen short stories does some lovely things with it, bringing an impressive breadth and range to play on the theme. Individual pieces vary in quality, offer stories that sit closer or further away from the central concept, span the spectrum from hard SF, high or urban fantasy, through near-contemporary social speculation, and include both gritty, tragic plots and more light-hearted, fluffy stories. Perhaps a little uneven in overall quality in places, this is nevertheless one of the more memorable SF/F anthologies I’ve read this year.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Roland, Curious Case of H.P. Lovecraft (2014)

Paul Roland, The Curious Case of H.P. Lovecraft. Plexus, 2014. Pp. 136. ISBN 978-0-85965-517-0. £14.99/$19.95.

Reviewed by Andy Sawyer

Paul Roland’s flawed but interesting biography is a record of a flawed but interesting man, designed to fill a need for “a popular but comprehensive biography” as opposed to the plethora of academic/scholarly treatments of Lovecraft which, Roland indicates, weren’t easily accessible outside the USA when he began the project twenty years ago. Now, perhaps, too much is written about Lovecraft, although much of this is partial and partisan, and Roland does his best to steer through some of the controversies and speculations without losing sight of either the facts of the biography and the substance of the fiction. He offers, for instance, the common suggestion that Lovecraft had Asperger syndrome (which of course had not been conceptualised in his lifetime), but notes that for each instance of Lovecraft’s Asperger-like behaviour other explanations can be offered. He several times notes, and is rightly judgemental about, Lovecraft’s attitude to race, which was extreme enough to be commented upon unfavourably in his lifetime. His chronological approach allows him to take Lovecraft’s fiction and comment upon it in the context of his life. This allows attention to be given to those earlier works which seem nowadays to be increasingly overlooked: the “dreamer” fantasies such as “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” and “The White Ship” which are as important to Lovecraft’s rejection of the world as “The Horror at Red Hook” and “The Shadow over Innsmouth”. For those new to Lovecraft, this is interesting and worthwhile.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ramey (ed.), Triangulation: Parch (2014)

Stephen V. Ramey (ed.), Triangulation: Parch. PARSEC Ink, 2014. Pp. 201. ISBN 978-0-9828606-6-3. $15.00 pb/$4.99 e.

Reviewed by Wendy Bousfield

Triangulation: Parch contains twenty lively, intelligent stories on the theme of drought or thirst, actual and symbolic. It is the seventh annual Triangulation collection, produced by Parsec Ink, the publishing division of PARSEC, a Pittsburgh-based science fiction and fantasy organization. In an “Afterward” (sic), editor Stephen V. Ramey describes the mission of the semi-pro Triangulation volumes: “Collections such as ours are useful in working the kinks out of a swing, learning to drive with power, or field your position. We are a stepping stone because we work with authors to improve their craft.” Would-be contributors submit stories in response to a prompt: “Morning After,” “Last Contact,” “End of the Rainbow,” “End of Time,” “Taking Flight,” and “Dark Glass” (subtitles of the previous Triangulations collections). In his headnotes and footnotes to Parch stories, Ramey describes working with contributors through successive drafts and submissions.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Price, Kilgrace and the Singular Situation (2014)

C. Price, Kilgrace and the Singular Situation. Ragged Angel, 2013. Pp. 136. ISBN 978-1-910092-00-2. £3.99 pb/£0.99 e.

Reviewed by Andy Sawyer

This is part of a series involving two scientists trying to get back to their own continuum after becoming stranded in a backwater where “conservation of energy and E-MC² are in effect”—which might take some time to work out, but does make sense! Susan—a humanoid (hints suggest not human) and Cet (“Killgrace”) an alien in a comprehensive life-support system—are not only not the same species, they are at war with each other. They also must co-operate to get back “home”. Here, they find themselves on a spaceship which is engaged in rescuing two “interstellar mega-fauna” from the region surrounding a Black Hole. Passing themselves off as a rescue team (fortunately they are able to hack into all necessary databases to create a plausible cover story) they join in with the operation. It’s rather like Doctor Who, though with a much more equal relationship between the protagonists.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Wells, Stories of the Raksura (2014)

Martha Wells, Stories of the Raksura, Volume 1: The Falling World and The Tale of Indigo and Cloud. Night Shade Books, 2014. pp 206. ISBN 978-1-59780-535-3. $15.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

This is the first of two projected volumes of novellas and short stories set in the world of the Raksura; the other volume’s projected publication date is April 2015. These books follow Wells’s trilogy of The Cloud Roads (2011), The Serpent Sea (2012), and The Siren Depths (2012), though the reader doesn’t necessarily have to have read them in order to enjoy this book. Stories contains two novellas that have never before been published, two short stories that have previously appeared on the author’s website, and three brief appendices detailing the characters and the world of the books. Altogether, the material forms what can be a useful introduction to the Raksura, and a delightful present for fans of the series.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Michaud, Hunter’s Trap (2014)

Anne Michaud, Hunter’s Trap. Sad Ghost Press, 2014. Pp. 256. ISBN 978-1-501008-82-5. $15.99 pb/$3.99 e.

Reviewed by Valeria Vitale

Hunter’s Trap, written by Ann Michaud and published by Sad Ghost Press, is a blood-chilling paranormal thriller unveiling secret dangers and ghostly inhabitants hidden in a snowy wood. Brothers Dayton and Jeremy, aged 17 and 12, investigate what happened to their father, who went out few days earlier for a hunting trip with his friends and never come back, the group of men seeming to have vanished into thin air. Michaud moves smoothly between genres, convincingly mixing elements that belongs to adventure, thriller, and ghost stories, sewing them together with impeccable prose. Unlike other thrillers or mystery stories, where the plot simply leads to the single, final twist or unsuspected truth, Hunter’s Trap offers a more complex and interesting approach.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Witt, Precious Metals (2014)

L.A. Witt, Precious Metals. Riptide Publishing, 2014. Pp. 150. ISBN 978-1-62649-174-8. $4.99.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

Precious Metals is a light, steampunk, gay romance novella, set during the Klondike Gold Rush, featuring a race across frozen landscapes (and in the obligatory brass-and-cog-clad airships), graphic but rather vanilla sex and a hazard-filled crescendo. Aside from the steam and mech technologies, there’s very little that’s fantastic or ahistorical in Witt’s world; even social mores are more or less what we’d expect of the end of the Nineteenth Century. Although perhaps somewhat formulaic and a little flatly written in places, this is a well-paced read that passes the time well enough, with polished writing and professional production values, a pleasant contribution to its genre.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Sriduangkaew, Scale Bright (2014)

Benjanun Sriduangkaew, Scale Bright. Immersion Press, 2014. Pp. 110. ISBN 978-0-9563-9249-7. $14.00.

Reviewed by Su J. Sokol

In Scale Bright, Benjanun Sriduangkaew takes an ancient Chinese legend and pulls it forward into modern-day Hong Kong, crossing centuries, gender and genre along the way. A mythical tale of goddesses and demons, Scale Bright is also an urban fantasy set in the contemporary world, and a coming-of-age new adult story that explores family, love, and courage. That Sriduangkaew can pull this off without too much strain on the reader’s suspension of disbelief is impressive. That she can do this while creating so many moments of literary beauty is what makes this work exceptional. She has also presented a tale that challenges mainstream and western readers to step outside their comfort zones. Winning these readers over is perhaps her biggest challenge.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Brissett, Elysium (2014)

Jennifer Marie Brissett, Elysium. Aqueduct Press, 2014. Pp. 199. ISBN 978-1-61976-053-0. $18.00.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

Elysium is the sort of novel you read once, and then read again to make sure what you think happened was, in fact, what happened. This is a complex, dense book, and reminds me of the best parts of Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life and David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Brissett’s novel, her first, is as ambitious and experimental as those works, and I hope it receives similar attention. As the reader perhaps knows, Elysium is the ancient Greek equivalent of Paradise, reserved for righteous heroes. Usually discussions of Paradise prompt one to ask, “How does one get there?” Rather more interestingly, Brissett asks a different question altogether: “How does it function?”

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Whiteley, Beauty (2014)

Aliya Whiteley, The Beauty. Unsung Stories, 2014. Pp. 99. ISBN 978-1-907389-23-8. £9.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

The Beauty is an elegantly told tale of a sexual apocalypse. What happens when fifty percent of humanity dies, and all of it a single gender? In this case it’s the women; the male survivors are haunted by the PTSD of watching their mothers, wives, and sisters sicken and die, and even more haunted by the question of ‘What next?’ Whiteley treats the subject, and the question, with a mythic care. Above all, this novella is not just about survival, but the uses of language—and how language and stories can help us survive, or bring us to our downfall.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Krasnostein/Rios (edd.), Kaleidoscope (2014)

Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios (edd.), Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA science fiction and fantasy stories. Twelfth Planet Press, 2014. Pp. 439. ISBN 978-1-9221011-1-2. $16.99.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

Kaleidoscope is an anthology of short fiction, published by Twelfth Planet Press, and crowdfunded via the Pozible platform, that collects together twenty stories of “diverse young adult science fiction and fantasy.” One might wish that a theme as broad as “diversity” would be a sine qua non in any work of this size, that twenty short stories around topics of family, coming-of-age and socialization, would be bound to include many examples of protagonists and other characters who are not straight, cis, abled, white, Anglo etc.; as with speculative fiction on the whole, though, we know this just ain’t so. Reading this anthology it becomes clear how unusual it is to really focus on the diverse, on the marginalized, on all the inhabitants of our world, not just the popular and preppy ones. In very few of the stories do we feel that diverse characters or issues have been shoe-horned in—they are there just as they are there in our lives; the stories are about them because they are their stories. There is nothing “worthy” or “dry” or less than entertaining about these tales. They are as suitable for young adults and fans of speculative fiction alike as any other collection of stories. If the word “diverse” weren’t in the title, I wonder how would even notice, except for a sense that this anthology presents a world a little more complete than most.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Baker, The Boost (2014)

Stephen Baker, The Boost. Tor Books, 2014. Pp. 336. ISBN 978-0-7653-3437-4. $24.99.

Reviewed by RJ Blain

The Boost by Stephen Baker is a science fiction thriller, delving into how society could change if everyone was always connected to the internet—or something similar to the internet: an intricate network accessed by brain-implanted chips. In this world, ‘wilds’ are those who have chosen—or have been forced—to live outside of the network. The boost offers individuals non-stop access to information and virtual reality, augmenting their real lives with a super-enhanced version of the internet. But underneath the veneer of a technological utopia is a risk few expect: The Chinese have included special code in the Americans’ boost code, which could leave the world without any privacy—and worse. When Ralf, a software developing prodigy, tries to protect society from the new code being uploaded into boosts all around the world, he’s caught and his boost is ripped out of his head. Forced to live as a wild, he must join with those who share his dilemma, not only for his sake, but for the freedom of everyone using the boost. The boost is an interesting take on a thriller novel, marrying dramatic excitement with social and political issues relevant to a world dominated by virtual reality.