Monday, March 02, 2015

Gates and Liptak, War Stories (2014)

Jaym Gates and Andrew Liptak, War Stories: New Military Science Fiction. Apex Publications, 2014. Pp. 277. ISBN 978-1-9370-0926-7. $16.95.

Reviewed by Nino Cipri

At fourteen, I very proudly (and obnoxiously, no doubt) declared myself a pacifist. A majority of that decision belonged to the music I was listening to obsessively: Bob Dylan and Ani Difranco, “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” and “Roll With It.” I painted a big red X over the Army logo on a t-shirt from the military surplus store. (Despite my politics, I had a tendency to slant military in my style: combat boots and epaulettes, canvas belts and fatigues. I was ironic before it was cool.) Two years later: September 11. That morning, I’d driven to school with a classmate, and we’d been startled to see a fighter pilot slice through the air above the road, the noise of his engines shaking the car. I lived a six-hour drive from New York City; by plane, it’s forty-five minutes. By that evening, the distance had shrunk to nothing at all. “War is not simply a portion of historical study—it is what we are. The idea of combat—whether it is between two people, whole armies, or even a man with his own demons—shapes the fabric of humanity to its core,” Greg Drobny writes in his introduction to War Stories. Whether or not conflict is at the heart of the human condition, it’s certainly at the heart of fiction.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thompson, Volwys (2015)

Douglas Thompson, Volwys and other stories. Doghorn Press, 2014. Pp. 274. ISBN 978-1-9071-3388-6. £10.99.

Reviewed by Wendy Bousfield

Scottish author Douglas Thompson has published his eighth volume of fiction, a collection that includes nine stories (previously published in magazines), plus a new novella. ‘Twenty Twenty,’ ‘Theonae,’ ‘Postcards from the Future,’ ‘Gravity Wave,’ and the title novella ‘Volwys’ are set in various versions of a dystopian Europe two hundred years in the future: Earth’s ecology has collapsed, and humans are reduced to savagery. In ‘Black Sun,’ ‘Multiplicity,’ and ‘Quasar Rise,’ space travelers enter black holes, experiencing time and space anomalies: characters meet multiple versions of themselves, age rapidly, or are propelled backwards in time to infancy. A steampunk story, ‘Narcissi,’ is the only humorous work. The fictions in Volwys feature cautionary ecological messages, kinky sex, time paradoxes, surrealistic images, and futuristic gadgets. At times frustrating to review because of poor execution and clunky style, Volwys nevertheless contains important subjects and original ideas.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Hawke, Division (2014)

Lee S. Hawke, Division: A collection of science fiction fairytales. Blind Mirror Publishing, 2014. Pp. 114. ISBN 978-1-925299-01-4. $8.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

The fairy tale is a peculiar genre: today we usually think of it as quaint, storybook fodder for small children. In fact, most of the fairy tales we know best grew out of a specific body of speculative literature that developed across the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe. Like science fiction, the fairy tale form could be used to discuss and even mock the politics and social figures of the day. Lee S. Hawke’s collection of what he calls science fiction fairy tales, Division, is very much in the spirit of that old tradition, and each of the seven short stories in this slim volume shines and burns with too sharp observations of our contemporary world.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Riggs, Bilateral Asymmetry (2014)

Don Riggs, Bilateral Asymmetry, Poems. Texture Press, 2014. Pp 114. ISBN 978-0-692-21272-1. $17.00.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

When we discuss genre writing, poetry often gets left out, ignominiously, despite some of the great practitioners of the form: Tolkien, of course, wrote elegiac verse for and in his legendarium; the poems of Ursula K. Le Guin and Jane Yolen echo the concerns and themes of their prose works. Speculative poetry, like speculative fiction, explores possibility through form as well as content. The poems, calligrams, and illustrations in Don Riggs’s new collection Bilateral Asymmetry play with the mythic and the esoteric, inviting closer readings to deceptively short texts.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Samatar, Stranger in Olondria (2013)

Sofia Samatar, A Stranger in Olondria. Small Beer Press, 2013. Pp 300. ISBN 978-1-93152-076-8. $16.00.

Reviewed by Valeria Vitale

A Stranger in Olondria, by Sofia Samatar—winner of the 2014 Campbell Award for Best New Writer—is a book of unusual beauty that glorifies the art of narration in both its form and content. Samatar’s debut novel has the charm of complexity, but devoid of the coldness of intellectualism, every page marked by the rare literary talent of its author. The book is made of smaller and bigger stories, knitted together harmoniously in spite of their diversity; stories about knowledge, languages, love, sorrow, the supernatural. If you’re wondering how it is possible to link them together in a single, unforgettable tale, open this book and prepare to be amazed.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Weaver, Black Hole Bar

Dave Weaver, The Black Hole Bar. Elsewhen Press, 2014. Pp. 241. ISBN 978-1-908168-49-8. £9.99/$17.99.

Reviewed by Andy Sawyer

The Black Hole Bar is an interesting combination—depending upon how you look at it—of mediocre-to-quite entertaining short stories and unusually-structured novel and actually successful novel, which gradually exposes the nature of the world in which it is set. The back-cover blurb references Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Boccaccio’s Decameron to rather startling effect. Any reader who knows these works (especially anyone who notices that “Boccaccio” is actually misspelled here) is going to be ironic at the expense of the author, because to the most cursory or charitable reading The Black Hole Bar is not as good a story-cycle as the works of Chaucer and Boccaccio, nor do the stories offer as sharp a satire on their tellers and times. That said—and I’d be surprised if I had been lead to any other conclusion—Weaver hasn’t disgraced himself, and deserves better.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Hall, Prosperity (2014)

Alexis Hall, Prosperity. Riptide Publishing, 2014. Pp. 226. ISBN 978-1-62649-176-2. $4.99.

Reviewed by Ashley O’Brien

Prosperity, written by Alexis Hall and published by Riptide Publishing, is a delightful, wacky novel that challenges every existing genre. Readers follow the protagonist and narrator, a young petty criminal with a heart of gold, as he battles clockwork exes and flies across the universe, fleeing monsters. Piccadilly, as he named himself, doesn’t mean anyone any particular harm but has more fun getting into trouble than anything else. He leaves a dingy, hopeless underground ghetto known as Gaslight, and travels to Prosperity, a lawless skytown somewhere over England kept in place miraculously through skyhooks. Strength and force are the only rules in this lawless region, which attracts people from every unsavory walk of life, including our protagonist Piccadilly. Though lovable, Piccadilly would be any other card sharp/thief/prostitute, if he hadn’t ripped off the wrong man and triggered a set of events sending him off on marvelous adventures with the absurd, ragtag crew aboard the beautiful and impossible aethership, Shadowless.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Harrison, TimeStorm (2014)

Steve Harrison, TimeStorm. Elsewhen Press, 2014. Pp. 359. ISBN 978-1-908168-44-3. £9.99/ €11.99/$17.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

“The past is a strange country” is the sort of metaphor that has a tendency to be overused because it is often so very apt, especially in cases like time travel stories. What better way to immerse a reader than by explaining the foreign language of the commonplace, or exploring geography that was once familiar and is now exotic? Books like Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series have become new classics for how deftly they handle the transition between old and new worlds. Steve Harrison’s new novel, TimeStorm, although it falls a little short of its premise, is an entertaining attempt at an experiment in this vein.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Moreno-Garcia, Signal to Noise (2015)

Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Signal to Noise. Solaris Books, 2015. Pp. 336. ISBN 978-1-7810-8299-7. $9.99.

Reviewed by Valeria Vitale

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, published by Solaris—a small press particularly keen on talent scouting—is a captivating story about friendship, music and magic, set in Mexico City. The book tells the adventures of an improbable group of friends in their teens, Meche, Sebastian and Daniela, who discover they can cast magic spells using music records, and decide to use this ability to improve their lives. Or so they think. Talented author and editor of dark-leaning speculative fiction, Moreno-Garcia has put aside (almost completely) her creepiest tones, and produced an easy to read (and like) debut novel; a pocketable time machine able to awake memories you didn’t think were still so vivid.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Wynne Jones, Deep Secret (2014)

Diana Wynne Jones, Deep Secret. Tor Books, 2014. Pp. 414. ISBN 978-0-7653-3807-5. $16.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

Tor has released a reissue of Diana Wynne Jones’s 1997 novel Deep Secret for American audiences with new artwork, this time sans the cartoonish centaurs that were the hallmarks of other covers. The new cover would seem abstract if Jones’s work weren’t so iconic and if the text itself so tied up in the idea of traveling to other worlds (not quite as obviously stepping through actual doors as Howl’s Moving Castle), but—well, that’s the point of stepping into a good book, isn’t it? Deep Secret carries multiple levels, not the least of which is the “deep secret” referenced in the title itself, but for genre readers, the meta discussions of books and the time spent at the science fiction convention are what will push this book from “cute” to “must read.”

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.