Monday, March 20, 2017

Oliver (ed.), Five Stories High (2016)

Jonathan Oliver (ed.), Five Stories High. Solaris Books, 2016. Pp. 435. ISBN 978-1-781083-92-5. £7.99.

Reviewed by Rachel Verkade

I am not going to lie, when I saw the new Jonathan Oliver anthology on this month’s list of titles to review, I all but got on my hands and knees and begged for it to be given to me. I have read all of Oliver’s previous anthologies, and were it not for their low number I would be putting Oliver’s name up there with that of the incomparable Ellen Datlow on my personal list of favourite anthologists. Add to that the fact that this anthology featured five interconnected novellas centered around a haunted house, one of my favourite horror sub-genres, and you had one happy reviewer. So, did my happiness hold?

Let’s start with the basics. Five Stories High is a collection of five novellas, all centered around Irongrove Lodge; a centuries-old building that has been, at different times, a sanitarium, a rest home, a family home, divided into apartments… and in every one of its incarnations, dark, inexplicable events occurred within its walls. These novellas tell the stories of five such events, and are bookended by various ‘Notes on Irongrove Lodge’ written by Oliver. These five stories are all very different and connected only by their setting, so I think it’s best to look at them each individually.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Begay, Edgar Allan Poe: Adult Coloring Book (2016)

Odessa Begay, Edgar Allan Poe: An Adult Coloring Book. Sterling Publishing, 2016. Pp. 96. ISBN 978-1-45492-135-6. $14.95.

Reviewed by Valeria Vitale

Edgar Allan Poe: An Adult Coloring Book by Odessa Begay is a fun experiment in mixing the darkest literature with the playful experience of messing around with colours. The large, coffee-table format, and the very attractive cover with metallic-red details make this book something that won’t go unnoticed. Unfortunately, sometimes the quality of the drawings is not as good as one might hope, and the occasionally careless execution leaves one with the feeling of a missed opportunity.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Clarke, Galactic Empires (2017)

Neil Clarke (ed.), Galactic Empires. Night Shade Books, 2017. Pp. 624. ISBN 978-1-59780-884-2. $17.99.

Reviewed by Don Riggs

I opened Neil Clarke’s anthology Galactic Empires and Jeffty was five again! So many of the dear old exciting space operatic epic short story types but written in a fresh vein, as if tales of, in, and around Galactic Empires had been ongoing and are indeed still evolving! Instead of proceeding methodically from the first story to the last in sequence, I skipped right to the Robert Silverberg, “The Colonel Returns to the Stars,” knowing that the author has developed planets, empires, histories, and tales of people hidden in other people, submerged personalities looking out through the eyes of some apparently other people. He did not disappoint, and brought hints of an ancient empire that had gone long before the current empire arose, resulting in two networks of instantaneous transmission through wormholes from place to place. He uses the trope of that kind of instantaneous travel much as Frank Herbert did in Dune: the threat of a world denied access to those portals describes the ultimate in isolation on the galactic scale: it becomes a world set back on its own resources, denied trade and contact with anyone else besides that world’s own inhabitants, who are stuck with each other. An interesting dilemma.

Monday, February 27, 2017

F(r)iction Magazine #6 (2016)

F(r)iction Magazine, #6 (Fall 2016). Tethered by Letters Press. Pp. 124. $20.00.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

F(r)iction Magazine is a glossy, high quality, fabulously produced journal of literary speculative fiction, and it achieves all of the above in spades. The first thing that strikes you when you unwrap the magazine is the quality of the images; the cover is glossy, textured, beautifully designed and printed on the highest quality materials. This continues inside: each story, poem or feature is accompanied with well-crafted imagery, expertly interacting with the text. At $20 for 124 pages of this, both the artifact and the words are excellent value for money. Production is high throughout, from selection, sequencing, copyediting through to illustration and typesetting of the contents. Most of the content in speculative in one way or another, mostly in the magical realist sense that would not be sneered at in a literary venue; but it is also literary, in the sometimes cold, style over substance, and unsympathetic way that more unapologetically speculative works manage to avoid. Seven short and three very-short stories, almost a dozen poems, a graphic story and an interview and novel extract are crammed into the high-definition, gloss-finished pages of this colorful issue, which feels bigger than it looks from the outside.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Helgadóttir, Asian Monsters (2016)

Margrét Helgadóttir (ed.), Asian Monsters. Fox Spirit Books, 2016. Pp. 167. ISBN 978-1-9093-4899-8. £10.00.

Reviewed by Rachel Verkade

The problem with being a horror fan since you were a small child is that you tend to get jaded pretty quickly. I first watched An American Werewolf in London when I was eight years old, but even before that I had been inundated with vampires, werewolves, zombies, and all other traditional “western” monsters. They were everywhere, from greeting cards to comics to Sesame Street. So by the time I was in my late teens, I felt as though I had seen it all in terms of monsters. It wasn’t until much later in my life, when I discovered the wonders of the internet, that I discovered there was a whole other world of monsters out there to discover. And some of the most bizarre, gruesome, and frightening come from Asia.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Salaam, When the World Wounds (2016)

Kiini Ibura Salaam, When the World Wounds. Third Man Books, 2016. Pp. 184. ISBN 978-0-9913361-5-9. $15.95.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

Kiini Ibura Salaam is an American writer of speculative fiction that directly engages with women and race in ways that are both thoughtful and disturbing. This is her second collection of short fiction; the first, Ancient, Ancient (2012) won the James Tiptree Jr. Award for that year. Salaam is a writer of short pieces that have largely previously appeared in collections; When the World Wounds consists of three short stories, two novelettes and a novella, only one of which is reprinted (and has been edited from the previous version). As such this collection will be of emphatic interest to her fans, and provide much food for thought for new readers.

Monday, February 06, 2017

carrington, Speculative Blackness (2016)

andré m. carrington, Speculative Blackness: The Future of Race in Science Fiction. University of Minnesota Press, 2016. Pp. 288. ISBN 978-0-8166-7896-9. $25.00.

Reviewed by Don Riggs

Professor carrington’s focus in Speculative Blackness is on the interactions among not only science fiction, but other speculative fiction categories such as “fantasy, horror, utopia and dystopia, paranormal romance, counterfactual history, magical realism, and so on” (23). The thrust of his book is that the “Whiteness of Science Fiction” or the identification of speculative fiction as a White cultural tradition marks “alienation as a signal feature of Black experiences with the genre” (17-18). To support and illustrate these generalizations, the author presents an array of studies of presence and absence of African Americans in fandom, as demonstrated in fanzines, television’s original Star Trek series, comics, Deep Space Nine and its novelizations, and in a final chapter, he moves into online fanfiction archives involving “Black British-diasporic characters in Harry Potter,” extending his reach beyond the African-American sphere. He does a great deal of investigative work that reveals little-known aspects of the history of fandoms, of fans’ influence on the Speculative Fictional products (books, television shows, films, comics, etc.) that evolve in relation to the fans’ responses to them. As such, this is a reception study, except in the sense that the reception in turn becomes an influence on the subsequent development of the fiction.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Littlewood, The Hidden People (2016)

Alison Littlewood, The Hidden People. Jo Fletcher Books, 2016. Pp. 384. ISBN 978-1-84866-990-1. £14.99.

Reviewed by Rachel Verkade

I’m going to make this clear right out of the gate; I went into this book with a certain amount of trepidation. Some time ago, I read Littlewood’s first novel, A Cold Season, and I honestly wasn’t impressed. I found it predictable, riddled with plotholes, and starring a heroine whose decisions I could not fathom. On the other hand, I’d encountered a number of Littlewood’s short stories in the pages of various Best New Horror and Best Horror of the Year volumes, and frequently found them amongst the most enjoyable in the books. Well, let it never be said that I am a woman with a closed mind; I decided to give Littlewood a second chance. And a dark, gothic, period novel featuring a murder, faeries, and mysterious pregnancies seemed like just the ticket.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Priest, The Family Plot (2016)

Cherie Priest, The Family Plot. Tor Books, 2016. Pp. 365. ISBN 978-0-7653-7824-8. $25.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

I spent this past Halloween carefully reading Cherie Priest’s new novel, The Family Plot, in the daylight hours. Confession: I love ghost stories, but I also have a hyperactive imagination and am kind of a wimp, so I do my best to choose wisely when the season demands spookiness. Priest delivers the perfect kind of spookiness, familiar to everyone who has been in an old house (or any other building, for that matter) and felt sure that its past inhabitants have left something of themselves behind that is extraphysical. The action glides along smoothly, and I only ever put it down when the sunlight faded.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Scott & Rose, Mirror Image (2016)

Michael Scott & Melanie Ruth Rose, Mirror Image. Tor Books, 2016. Pp. 352. ISBN 978-0-7653-8522-2. $25.99 hc/$12.99 e.

Reviewed by Rachel Verkade

There have always been legends and stories about mirrors. From the magic mirror that Snow White’s evil stepmother chanted into to the mystic pool of Galadriel to the dark glass hidden in the back of a museum in Stephen King’s The Reaper’s Image, it seems that ever since mankind had thought to polish a piece of reflective metal the consequences of gazing too deeply within occurred to them. And the latest consequences come in the form of Mirror Image, a dark horror novel coming to us from authors Michael Scott and Melanie Ruth Rose.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Jacobson (ed.), Dear Robot (2015)

Kelly Ann Jacobson (ed.), Dear Robot: An Anthology of Epistolary Science Fiction. Self-published, 2015. Pp. 126. ISBN 978-1-5176-0196-6. $9.99.

Reviewed by Małgorzata Mika

A marriage of science fiction and epistolary fiction appears to be an oxymoron; to merge that which alludes to romantic spirituality with visions of state-of-the-art technology, societies and relationships in silico may generate a feeling of awkwardness. Yet, there is nothing more misleading! Examples such as Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon, Herbert’s Dune and Meyer’s Twilight series prove that the fantastic allows itself to be imbued with literary influences bequeathed after the era of Romanticism. The chimera of The Sorrows of Young Werther should not be dreaded though, as each of the novels, remembered for its more or less insightful probing of the characters, has forged a unique bond with the readers. Kelly Ann Jacobson’s book, Dear Robot: An Anthology of Epistolary Science Fiction, is no exception to this pattern.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Zinos-Amaro/Silverberg, Traveler of Worlds (2016)

Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Traveler of Worlds: Conversations With Robert Silverberg. Fairwood Press, 2016. Pp. 280. ISBN 978-1-933846-63-7. $16.99.

Reviewed by Andy Sawyer

Robert Silverberg is a writer I have read far too little of. But then, Silverberg is a writer everyone has read far too little of. One of the most prolific writers in our field, he began selling to the science fiction magazines (interestingly, for the British mag Nebula) in 1955: a mere three years, as he notes in one of his conversations here, after Philip K. Dick began publishing. In his first incarnation, he dedicated himself unflinchingly to writing and selling science fiction for the market, writing stories at breakneck speed (49 in 1956 alone), sometimes in partnership with Randall Garrett, sometimes under a bewildering array of house-names. During the late 60s and into the 70s (when I first came across his work), he changed tack, taking advantage of the increasing openness of the field to new styles and ideas. His work during that period alone would put many lesser writers to shame, both in quantity and quality. Among a series of astonishing stand-alone novels that ought to be on anyone’s bookshelf, Dying Inside (1972) stands out for its dark (some might say metaphorical) exploration of a telepath’s gradual decline of his powers.