Monday, September 18, 2017

Ahmad (ed.), Islamicates (2016)

Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad (ed.), Islamicates. Volume 1. Anthology of Science Fiction Short Stories inspired from Muslim Cultures. Mirza Book Agency, 2016. Pp. 236. ISBN 978-1-5373-7210-5. Free online.

Reviewed by Małgorzata Mika

What motivates us? Us as people? A French writer, Bernard Werber poses this question on the pages of his novel, L’ultime secret, enumerating religion as the tenth out of twelve basic factors defining human existence. His answer may be puzzling, especially for Islamic cultures where religion constitutes the very fabric of life. For Muslims all other elements, such as freedom from pain and fear, sustaining basic needs, wrath, sexual drive, etc., seem to be regulated by culture which is a “frequency through which religion travels” [p. i]. At least, this is the idea which Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad’s anthology Islamicates strongly postulates. Being a resultant of an ongoing project, the book constitutes a collection of stories and novellas with a detectable Muslim undertones, spreading its roots into the world of the fantastic. This includes science fiction regardless of the definition assumed. The presence of religion in the fantastic has usually been encrusted with elements of Christianity and, more vaguely, religions of the East. This anthology, however, is a peculiar experiment, revolving around Islam as a major indicative of the stories’ plot. How does the world of the future appear sieved through the eyes of a Muslim?

Monday, September 11, 2017

Thompson (ed.), SonofaWitch (2017)

Trysh Thompson (ed.), SonofaWitch!. World Weaver Press, 2017. Pp. 161. ISBN 978-0998702230. $11.95.

Reviewed by Don Riggs

SonofaWitch! is a delightful read. It is not serious, although the situations in which the titular witches manage to land themselves are, and although the reader comes very quickly to appreciate the witches’ qualities and even possibly identify with them somewhat, there are no instances of genuine horror to keep one awake at night, twitching at every creak on the staircase and groan of the door. However, the stories in this collection are craftily written, and there is delight for those who appreciate the writer’s craft, and possibly—although this reviewer would not know from personal experience—there may be allusions to conventions or recurring motifs from the world of covens.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Juanita, De Facto Feminism (2016)

Judy Juanita, De Facto Feminism: Essays Straight Outta Oakland. EquiDistance Press, 2016. Pp 226. ISBN 978-0-9716352-1-0. $19.95.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

Judy Juanita’s collection of essays De Facto Feminism: Essays Straight Outta Oakland is a mixture of previously published material from her long career in activism, including poetry, and more recent autobiographical reminiscences that relate to her 2013 novel Virgin Soul. This work does not relate to genre per se (unless we think of being Black in America today as being a dystopian experience, which, to be honest, we might well do). The sixteen essays, half dozen poems, and a collection of digital correspondence span from 1967 to 2015, much of which is drawn from the online magazine The Weeklings, cover expansive territory on Juanita’s career as an activist and an artist: she has been a member of the Black Panther Party, has taught in the first Black Studies program in the US, and is a playwright, poet, novelist and professor. She reminds us that creative work is activism too.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Hutchinson, Europe in Winter (2016)

Dave Hutchinson, Europe in Winter. Solaris, 2016. Pp. 295. ISBN 978-1-78108-463-2. £7.99.

Reviewed by Andy Sawyer

There’s a scene early on in Europe in Winter in which we meet Gwen, a civil servant who is part of a group of conspiracy-theorists whose focus is the Community, the parallel-universe/constructed world to which Hutchinson’s previous two novels Europe in Autumn and Europe in Winter have introduced us. Suddenly, with the revelation of the existence of the Community to Gwen’s baseline world, her superiors are intensely interested in it. “The government was being forced to make up policy towards the vast new European neighbour on the hoof.”

Friday, July 28, 2017

Pflug, Mountain (2017)

Ursula Pflug, Mountain. Inanna Publications, 2017. Pp. 104. ISBN 978-1-77133-349-8. CAN$19.95.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

Pflug, a Canadian writer who resides in Norwood, Ontario, is an experienced author. Her previous works include novels Green Music and The Alphabet Stones, as well as short story collections After the Fires and Harvesting the Moon. She also has other short stories and novels in the pipeline. Inanna Publications released Mountain in May, 2017 as part of their “Young Feminist Series”. Mountain is billed as a “YA novella”. Without giving any secrets away, let’s just say I’m past the YA age. Still, I found Mountain to be an intriguing and thought-provoking read.

When Amethyst O’Connor, Mountain’s protagonist, clambers out of her mother Laureen’s beat-up truck and looks around the healing camp in northern California, it’s clear that this is the last place she wants to be. Hanging out with “several hundred people camped in a mud puddle with bad food and no medical” (p. 4) isn’t Amethyst’s idea of a good time—she’d rather be at the mall with her rock-star dad’s credit card. But unfortunately for Amethyst, her father Lark O’Connor is busy recording an album, so travelling with her mom remains her only option.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Hook, The Greens (2016)

Andrew Hook, The Greens. Snowbooks Horror Novellas, 2016. Pp. 96. ISBN 978-1-91139-019-0. £4.99.

Reviewed by Nick Jackson

Reading Andrew Hook’s many faceted fantasy novella is a bit like trying to see into the centre of a cut gemstone. One can never be quite sure of what one is looking at. Each facet or viewpoint refracts reality differently until you are unsure of the veracity of any. The overall effect is one of a rather disturbing conundrum.

It begins with a superbly-evoked sequence involving two green-tinted children who turn up in late 1500s England. The narrative then switches to present-day Southwold and the life of a middle-class family, seen through the eyes of Julia and Richard. Julia, it gradually emerges, is an obsessive compulsive who dotes on her two children and semi-consciously weaves a web of protective rituals to protect them. Her husband, a rather dopy antiques dealer with a penchant for family history, begins to unearth details of his wife’s ancestral line and begins to piece together mysterious links involving other members of Julia’s clan who all, it seems, share similar obsessive compulsive rituals and a connection with the green children.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Weintraub, Religions and Extraterrestrial Life (2014)

David A. Weintraub, Religions and Extraterrestrial Life: How will we deal with it? Springer-Praxis, 2014. Pp. xiii+234. ISBN 978-3-319-05055-3. $34.99.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

Weintraub’s Religions and Extraterrestrial Life is a work of popular astronomy and theology, written by an academic astrophysicist and published by an imprint of Springer, one of the large academic publishing multinationals that dominate the market. The core thesis of this volume is that we are within a generation at most of either discovering extraterrestrial life (if not intelligence), or learning that it is extremely rare, at least in our part of the universe. He then sets out to discuss how various major world religions will deal with this scientific knowledge, based primary on the foundation texts and/or mainstream theology of each movement, and ultimately concludes that most faith groups will be largely unshaken by the news (either way)—either because their tenets allow for non-human life, or because they are already in the business of denying science and so will have no qualms about ignoring it. As an astronomer, Weintraub’s chapters popularizing the detection of exoplanets and the possibility of astrobiology are extremely well-written, successful and useful; his forays into theology are more patchy, one-sided, and in many places disappointingly shallow. On the whole this is a valuable and interesting book, both thoughtful for non-specialists interested in extraterrestrial life, and a contribution to the critical discussion about religion and science.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Willett, The Cityborn (2017)

Edward Willett, The Cityborn. DAW Books, 2017. Pp. 416. ISBN 978-0-75641-177-0. $26.00.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

At first, Danyl can’t believe his luck. Raised by Erl in the Middens, the dumping ground for trash from the City that towers above, Danyl’s tired of the hardscrabble life. If only he could strike a lucky find that he can parlay into a city pass! That’s when Alania falls into his life. Alania has led a pampered life in the upper tiers of the City, reserved for Officers and the wealthy. But something goes terribly wrong and Alania ends up inadvertently added to a load of trash dumped from the topmost tiers of the City. When Alania drops from the City, screaming her dismay and enveloped in a bundle of cloth, Danyl sees her as a dream come true. Surely, he thinks, someone will want her back! All he has to do is get her to the Last Chance Market, and—

Friday, June 30, 2017

Khaw, Food of the Gods (2017)

Cassandra Khaw, Food of the Gods. Abaddon Books, 2017. Pp. 238. ISBN 978-1-78108-519-6. $15.00.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

I finished reading Food of the Gods shortly after seeing the season finale of American Gods, and while some of the entries in Khaw’s collection were previously published, it’s hard not to think about what’s in the air that draws genre writers to recast myth in terms of the daily grind. (And I do know this isn’t exactly a novel idea, but these are the two texts that are on my mind immediately right now, so please bear with me.) Neil Gaiman’s original novel focused on gods-as-immigrants to America, with all the challenges that entails, as well as being a paean to steadily vanishing roadside kitsch; the TV series keeps the immigration story, but adds the violent intersection of race in contemporary America to the story that is, frankly, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it element of the novel. Khaw is, like the younger Gaiman, a London-based writer, but unlike him she has her roots in Southeast Asia, and unlike American Gods, Food of the Gods goes back and forth between London and Kuala Lumpur. Her hero/not-hero (but not anti-hero) is Rupert Wong, a former gangster who has become a chef to the literal underworld to save his karma, such as it is.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Low, Vanity in Dust (2017)

Cheryl Low, Vanity in Dust. World Weaver Press, 2017. Pp. 305. ISBN 978-0-99870-221-6. $13.95 pb/$4.99 e.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

Vanity in Dust—the debut novel from Sweden-based American author Cheryl Low—is a decadent, violent fantasy that simultaneously revels in the beauty of high society elegance and sickens with representation of the immoral soullessness of the filthy rich. Set in an isolated kingdom that is a heavy-handed dystopian allegory for the lack of social mobility in our own world, the rich are literally immortal and the poor can literally be killed for sport, the only unforgivable crime for the upper classes is disloyalty to the omnipotent Queen. All the characters, rich and less-rich alike (there are no truly poor characters) are pretty unlikeable, even by the standards of the genre’s “decadent antihero,” and even as the reader eventually comes to care about the outcome of the mystery behind the plot, we never truly care about the people who drive or are affected by it. The writing is strong, the world-building and magical system inventive, and one may hope for a trilogy to follow that would deliver some of the promised disruptive rebellion against the system that is only hinted at in this novel.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Moedriach, Prydori: Perfection is Us (2016)

T.H. Moedriach, Prydori: Perfection is Us. Zaloznistvo Jerneja Jezernik, 2016. Pp. 180. ISBN 978-961-94032-4-2. $16.90.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

When I first held the book Prydori: Perfection is Us in my hands, I knew I was dealing with something different. The small (4 inches by 7 1/4 inches) hardcover volume seemed an unusual size, at least compared to what I’m familiar with, but I found it a very user-friendly setup for reading. The format provides great portability, and the nicely legible type on the small pages makes it seem, on the one hand, like you’re flying through the material. Countering that sensation of speed was the “weight” of the thoughts expressed, for I found Prydori to be a philosophical sort of book rather than a space-opera-type page-turner.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Hardinge, Face Like Glass (2017)

Frances Hardinge, A Face Like Glass. Amulet Books, 2017. Pp 487. ISBN.978-1-4197-2484-8. $19.95.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

Frances Hardinge’s A Face Like Glass first appeared in the UK in 2012 and has only just arrived in the US this spring. It straddles the gap between children’s literature and the young adult genre uneasily; the protagonist is a preteen girl named Neverfell, who is too young to be interested in the romance or nascent sexuality that is usually a hallmark of YA, and yet she is witness to the aftermath of numerous murders, and the threat of violence is often just off-page. And yet Hardinge loves playing with language in a way that recalls some of (what I think, anyway) is the finest children’s lit like The Phantom Tollbooth, The Neverending Story, or Alice in Wonderland—the latter of which the author has a small homage to when Neverfell follows a rabbit up rather than down, discovering a wider and scarier world in the process.