Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Michael Winter, Periphery (2019)

Michael Winter, Periphery. Self-published, 2019. Pp. 369. ISBN 978-1-7333664-0-3. $13.99.

Reviewed by Rachel Verkade

Upon receiving my copy of Periphery, I immediately turned it over to read the blurb on the back cover. There I learned about John Tate, and how “one summer afternoon he returned home covered in blood, ranting about bizarre creatures hiding in plain sight and declaring his intention to move out in order to protect his wife and son from the horrors now stocking him.” (sic) (my emphasis)

It was not an auspicious beginning.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Blue (ed.), Dragon Bike (2020)

Elly Blue (ed.), Dragon Bike: Fantastical Stories of Bicycling, Feminism, and Dragons. Microcosm Publishing, 2020. Pp. 160. ISBN 978-1-62106-047-5. $11.95.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

Elly Blue’s Dragon Bike: Fantastical Stories of Bicycling, Feminism, and Dragons is part of a new crop of anthologies crowdfunded through online platforms such as Kickstarter, enabling small presses to more easily print diverse new content and pay their contributors. It is also the sixth annual volume of genre stories edited by Blue focused on bicycling and feminism. This is a slight book of fifteen short stories, all sharing the same prompt of bicycles and dragons. Each author, however, takes it on in their own direction, with some stories playful, some dramatic, and some in-between.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Blue (ed.), Bikes Not Rockets (2018)

Elly Blue (ed.), Bikes Not Rockets: Intersectional Feminist Bicycle Science Fiction Stories (Bikes in Space vol #5). Microcosm Publishing, 2018. Pp. 160. ISBN 978-1-62106-543-2. $11.95.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

A trainee starpilot in a lonely tower. A high-stakes bicycle race across four worlds. Coastal cities, submerged. These are just some of the scenarios editor Elly Blue brings us in Bikes Not Rockets: Intersectional Feminist Bicycle Science Fiction Stories, the fifth volume in the Bikes in Space series. While this 11-story anthology contained some pieces I enjoyed more than others, all of the stories were of a decent quality. The stories were tightly written, containing just the right amount of information without bogging down the pace. “There Were One and Many,” “The Tower,” and “At the Crossroads” were among my personal favorites.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Willett, Master of the World (2019)

Edward Willett, Master of the World (Worldshapers book 2). Daw Books, 2019. Pp. 384. ISBN 978-0-75641-364-4. $16.00.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

Prolific author Edward Willett, who has authored or co-authored more than 60 books, has released the newest entry in his Worldshapers series, Master of the World. Like Worldshaper, the first book in the series, Master of the World was published by Daw Books. Billed as portal fantasies, the Worldshaper books whisk us off to a universe in which Shapers, who were trained by an alien known as Ygrair, can form and populate worlds within a massive construct known as the Labyrinth. Protagonist Shawna Keys, to whom we were introduced in Worldshaper, continues her quest to collect the hokhmah, or knowledge of how each world was Shaped, from as many of the Shapers as possible. Only in this way can the Labyrinth and all of its millions of inhabitants be spared from the Adversary, an alien antagonist who is diametrically opposed to Ygrair and all she represents.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Allegory issue 35/62 (2019)

Allegory, ed. Ty Drago. Vol. 35/62 (Spring/summer 2019). Online at allegoryezine.com.

Reviewed by M.L. Clark

In 1972, Charles E. Fritch published a short story, “If at First You Don’t Succeed, to Hell with It!”, that spoofed the inundation of SF&F submissions queues with “deal with the devil” manuscripts. As the fictional editor in this story writes in a rejection, “I don’t intend on running another pact-with-the-devil story for at least ninety-nine years.” Such was the exhaustion, even forty years ago, with certain tropes in the genre.

Allegory’s Spring/Summer 2019 iteration, Volume 35/62, covers quite a bit of familiar ground. Two stories in the Fiction section involve the Devil, another stars Death, two more have female sex objects (one literal, one a more enigmatic fantasy-realm character who lures a man to his doom), and five other tales use seasoned premises: an old man who sacrifices himself that a young boy might live; a man who goes mad in his bereavement; a woman gradually discovering she’s married an abuser; a child who doesn’t heed her family’s warnings and pays the price; and a rodeo rider with a rival to show up. Only one of the pieces, the story of a guilt-ridden youth who learns the value of life after running into a necromancer, offers a different take on well-travelled themes.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Vanderhooft, Ebenezer (2013)

JoSelle Vanderhooft, Ebenezer. Zumaya Boundless, 2013. Pp. 268. ISBN 978-1-61271-068-6. $15.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

For a while there it felt like the blazing summer was never going to end, and I was craving something suitable for colder temperatures—ideally something cozy to read so that I could at least pretend it was cool out, or that I wanted hot chocolate. JoSelle Vanderhooft’s Ebenezer suited that mood very well; as you might imagine from the title, it’s a retelling of Charles Dickens’s classic A Christmas Carol, revised for a very modern sensibility.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Parrish, Grim Grit and Gasoline (2019)

Rhonda Parrish (ed.), Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline. World Weaver Press, 2019. Pp. 293. ISBN 978-1-7322546-6-4. £14.95.

Reviewed by Rachel Verkade

I’m going to be completely honest: before picking up this book I had never heard of “dieselpunk” or “decopunk.” I was born in the 80s, folks. When I was a kid my spec fic hauled its broadsword and steel bikinis and dwarves twenty miles barefoot through the snow. We hardly knew what to make of steampunk when it came ’round with its clockwork and corsets and coalsmoke. So for those old greybeards like myself who have no idea what the kids are doing these days, dieselpunk and decopunk are to World War I and II what steampunk is to the Victorian era. And why not? The Victorian era doesn’t have some monopoly on story potential. Why not weave some spec fic into two of the most tumultuous and historically interesting periods of the 20th century? And why not retell and reimagine well-loved fairy tales so that they take place in those periods? It’s the kind of creativity that reminds me why I love speculative fiction.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Omenana #13 (2019)

Omenana: Speculative Fiction Magazine, ed. Mazi Nwonwu and Chinelo Onwualu. Issue #13: Urban Legend (May 2019). Online at omenana.com.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

This issue of Omenana: Speculative Fiction Magazine is, as the editorial tells us, both the last to be co-edited by founder Chinelo Onwualu, who is retiring to focus on her own work, and the first issue to be on a tight theme. The editorial also welcomes guest editor Iquo Dianabasi, and introduces the theme of Urban Legend—hard, and thankless, to define, but including a mix of modern mythology, almost-believable monsters and cryptids, stories told to scare one another at night… The one nonfiction essay in this issue, “Urban Legends as an Outlet for the Modern African Writer of the Speculative” by Nigerian comics author and editor Hannu Afere, serves almost as a secondary editorial commentary. Afere muses on some of the ways in which the belief in or symbolic functions of urban legend or contemporary supernatural stories are particular to the African continent and peoples, whether cautionary tales, explanations for tragedy, or consolation. The stories in this issue approach this theme in very different ways, and with varying success, but in combination do a very effective job of illustrating the concept the editors have chosen.

Friday, September 13, 2019

AE 2.0 (2019)

AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, ed. Helen Michaud et al. Vol 2.0 (Summer 2019). Online at aescifi.ca.

Reviewed by N.A. Jackson

In her editorial, Helen Michaud details the tortuous process of relaunching the Review, which promises “stories and analysis about worlds that might be.” It appears that, after its inception in 2010, AE has been ‘dark’ for the last three years. Clearly, blood has been sweated to produce this collection of fiction and non-fiction. The writing is of a high quality throughout, the illustrations and graphics are beautiful and there’s a good mix of stories essays and reviews. The focus is squarely on Canadian and North American voices. The authors are distinguished sounding, amongst them a philosophy professor, a journalist and a biochemist, all with impressive publishing credits. The majority of the stories featured on the site are dominated by technology and the stories are very much plot-driven. In terms of plot, there’s nothing outstandingly original. What we get is a fresh take on old ideas: alien invasion and time-travel, so the onus is on the writers to take a distinctive approach.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Johnston, The War Beneath (2018)

Timothy S. Johnston, The War Beneath: The Rise of Oceania. ChiZine Publications, 2018. Pp. 300. ISBN 978-1-77148-471-8. CAN$21.99; US$17.99.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

Award-winning author Timothy S. Johnston, who penned futuristic murder mystery/thrillers The Furnace, The Freezer, and The Void, is back with a new book. Johnston’s latest novel The War Beneath, released in December 2018 by Peterborough, Ontario’s ChiZine Publications, takes us below the ocean’s surface as Johnston envisions what life might be like in underwater cities. Johnston’s latest creation is the first in a planned three-book series dubbed The Rise of Oceania. The War Beneath has already garnered accolades. Winner of the 2018 Global Thriller Award in the Action/Adventure category, it was also a finalist for the 2019 Silver Falchion Award, and long-listed for the 2019 Cygnus Awards. Awards are all fine and well, but the real proof in the salt-water pudding is whether the book delivers in terms of interest level and innovation.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Dark Magazine 50 (2019)

The Dark Magazine, ed. Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Michael Kelly, & Sean Wallace. Issue #50 (July 2019). Prime Books. $1.99 or online at thedarkmagazine.com.

Reviewed by Valeria Vitale

The Dark is a monthly e-magazine currently edited by Sean Wallace, Silvia Moreno Garcia and Michael Kelly. According to their guidelines, they specialise in horror and dark fantasy, but I believe that the title reflects a certain preference for those stories that are more disquieting and unsettling than gory. Each month The Dark publishes four stories that can be read for free online or bought as an e-book to be read offline. Although four stories make The Dark a relatively slim publication, this editorial choice also seems to guarantee consistently high standards, allowing the editors to be particularly selective, and leaving the reader (at least this reader!) always wanting for more.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Davies Okungbowa, David Mogo, Godhunter (2019)

Suyi Davies Okungbowa, David Mogo, Godhunter. Abbadon Books, 2019. Pp. 365. ISBN 978-1-7810-8649-0. $9.99/£7.99.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

This debut novel by Arizona-based Nigerian author Davies Okungbowa, published as a stand-alone novel by shared-world genre publisher Abbadon Books, falls somewhere between the genres of urban fantasy and self-defined “godpunk.” A fast-paced, entertaining novel that skates past any plot holes or unevenness in characterization, as it moves relentlessly toward its explosive climax—actually, there are at least two or three such climaxes throughout the book. The setting is refreshing, neither exoticising Africa as so many Anglo-American authors might, nor glossing over or apologising for the faults of Lagos as a city (both real and fictional), and like the demigod protagonist David Mogo, the story storms a larger than life rampage through the rollercoaster turns in the plot and cast of characters. The writing is not flawless, and the novel does not escape the clichés of its genre, but it is on balance a good read, and a great introduction to an author we hope to see more scifi or fantasy from in the future.