Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Helgadóttir (ed.), Pacific Monsters (2017)

Margrét Helgadóttir (ed.), Pacific Monsters. Fox Spirit Books, 2017. Pp. 182. ISBN 978-1-91046-212-6. £10.00/$15.00.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

Pacific Monsters is the fourth volume in Fox Spirit Books’ Books of Monsters series; previous volumes include African Monsters (2015) and Asian Monsters (2016), and projected volumes will include American Monsters and Eurasian Monsters. The goal of these books (all edited by the capable and prolific Margrét Helgadóttir, sometimes with Jo Thomas as co-editor) is to effectively decolonize the monstrous of the popular imagination and pop culture from the familiar parade of western-inspired demons, werewolves, vampires, and zombies. Instead, Helgadóttir’s anthologies showcase fiction across the spectrum of speculative fiction genres that feature creatures drawn from the localized myth and folklore of other cultures, almost all of which are written by writers and artists from, or with strong connections to, those countries. Each volume is a softcover coffee table book, oversized and illustrated in black and white; several of the entries include stories told through comics rather than prose. Ultimately this series is a needed intervention into Anglo-American-centric monster stories, and Pacific Monsters particularly stands out as it encompasses nations and populations that are too often neglected altogether.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Greenfield, The Time Machine (2017)

James W. Greenfield, The Time Machine. 89 minutes. Starring Don McCorkindale, Michael Orenstein, Nathan Nasby, Juliet Lyons. $14.99.

Reviewed by Andy Sawyer

Apparently inspired by Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, audio engineer/musician Greenfield’s double album takes H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine and re-interprets it as a musical project, loosely adapting the text and offering musical interpretations.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Muslim, The Drone Outside (2017)

Kristine Ong Muslim, The Drone Outside. Eibonvale Chapbook Line #1, 2017. Pp. 49. ISBN 978-1-908125-53-8. £6.00 pb/£12.00 hc.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad.

Eibonvale Press have started a line of Chapbooks to complement their high-quality catalogue of speculative fiction novels and story collections, kicking off with this volume of nine interrelated flash stories by Philippine author and poet Kristine Ong Muslim. The Drone Outside is a series of snippets of life during or after the apocalypse, told from unusual points of view, or with surreal narrative, or or evidencing unexpected scenarios of death, destruction and post-humanity. There are several threads that weave and recur through this small book, but ultimately it does not tell a single story with a plot arc and satisfactory dénouement, there are no real POV characters or protagonists. These are all prose stories, but at times the writing reaches the stylized and beautiful heights of Muslim’s science-fictional poetry; at others it is grimly, defiantly prosaic (or dramatic, or epistolary) as the setting requires. The Drone Outside sets a scene, builds an atmosphere, reminds us that the end of humanity is unlikely to be glamorous or exciting or full of Golden-Age heroism and action sequences. Sometimes a lot of fun, always gorgeous and enlightening, but also surprisingly heavy for such short pieces.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Nayman, The Multiverse is a Nice Place to Visit (2017)

Ira Nayman, The Multiverse is a Nice Place to Visit, But I Wouldn’t Want to Live There (Book 5 of the Transdimensional Authority series). Elsewhen Press, 2017. Pp. 320. ISBN 978-1-91140-909-0. £9.99 pb/£2.99 e.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

A Canadian named Jim Smith finds himself in a place where linear causality has broken down. Three actors performing onstage at Stratford Theatre suddenly swap places with locals from a rustic village. The bridge crew of the Universal Space Armada ship Star Blap are locked in suspended animation, unable to respond to the menace of an approaching Klippon battle-boat. This trio of odd occurrences can mean only one thing: someone’s been facilitating unauthorized travel between the multiverses. But who? And why? Unravelling that particular mystery will require the resources of the Transdimensional Authority, whose investigators promptly set off on a goose-chase of epic proportions.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Sumra, Wages of Sin (2017)

Zoë Sumra, The Wages of Sin. Elsewhen Press, 2017. Pp. 312. ISBN 978-1-91140-905-2. £9.99 pb/£2.99 e.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

The Wages of Sin is the second novel by British SF author Zoë Sumra, published by the small speculative Elsewhen Press, a far future political thriller involving gangland turf wars on an ultra-violent, distant planet. While there is some genuine and well-sketched alienness in both the setting and the personae, much of the violence and organized crime in this novel are very familiar both from contemporary crime literature and indeed recent history. While the hallmarks of the small press sometimes show through in production quality, this is an enjoyable and largely effective magical space opera romp, which fully succeeds on its own terms.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Miller & Miller, Unearthly Science Fiction (2017)

Rob Miller & John G. Miller (eds.), Unearthly Science Fiction. Braw Books, 2017. Pp. 82. No ISBN. £5.99.

Reviewed by N.A. Jackson

John G. Miller, editor-in-chief of Braw Books describes himself as an underground maestro and comics mastermind. This ‘one shot’ foray into science fiction promises ‘startling stories and comic strips from Andrew J. Wilson, Ian Wark, Malcy Duff, John Rafferty, Simnel and Adam J. Smith with striking space illustrations throughout by Neil Beattie and Rob Miller.’ It’s got a hand-drawn feel to it, evoking the luridly coloured science fiction mags of the sixties, which I am just old enough to remember.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Bryant, Face the Change (2017)

Samantha Bryant, Face the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel, Book Three. Curiosity Quills Press, 2017. Pp. 254. ISBN 978-1-54868-605-5. $16.99 pb/$5.99 e.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

When I read that Face the Change was a “Menopausal Superhero” novel, I was intrigued enough to request a review copy. After all, menopausal superheroes aren’t something you run across every day—although the concept sounded like fertile ground for putting characters into new predicaments and leveraging age-related humor.

The first character the reader meets is Cindy Liu, who is on the run in a stolen car with her body-hopping father Anton in the back seat. Bryant piqued my curiosity with her description of Cindy as having “the driver’s license of a sixty-seven-year-old scientist and fugitive of justice and the visage of a thirteen-year-old Eurasian girl.” (6) We learn that Cindy has managed to reverse the aging process, but aside from the obvious benefits, Cindy is finding that the resultant change has its drawbacks—such as the need to behave in a manner consistent with outward appearance, in order to avoid arousing suspicion.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Chng, Water Into Wine (2017)

Joyce Chng, Water Into Wine. Annorlunda Books, 2017. Pp 138. ISBN 978-1-944354-30-5. $8.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker


I wonder how the wine will taste. Will people taste the fear—the terror and anxiety—when they drink? A tart wine with hints of berry and blood? A spicy wine with cinnamon and gunpowder, great for a summer evening? (46)
Space opera is usually defined by its great battles for great causes, and the adventures of a small group of characters who become a family. Joyce Chng’s Water Into Wine is space opera writ dirtside, where the great battles are all overhead, daily, nightly, and the small group of characters are an actual family trying to survive.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Devlin, You Will Grow Into Them (2017)

Malcolm Devlin, You Will Grow Into Them. Unsung Stories, 2017. Pp. 244. ISBN 978-1-9073-43-6. £9.99.

Reviewed by Valeria Vitale

You Will Grow Into Them is a collection of stories by Malcolm Devlin, published together for the first time by Unsung Stories. All labeled as “weird,” the tales gathered in this book offer an interesting range of themes as well as styles, from the gruesome demon-hunting scenes to the subtle, diffuse inquietude that crawls under the skin. As the title suggests, the common thread of these stories is change, and the unsettling feeling that follows all transformations, the small like the big ones. The changes that are narrated in these pages are sometimes metaphorical, like the process of coming of age, but more often involve proper and complete reshaping of bodies and environments. The “weirdness” that populates Devlin’s stories is the kind that I enjoy the most: not necessarily the gory and horrific but more the sinister, the ambiguous, the eerie, the unexplained and the inexplicable.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Notice: Ratcliffe, Murthen Island (2015)

Marianne Ratcliffe, Murthen Island. Self-published, 2015. Pp. 32. ISBN 978-0-99340-010-0. £2.99.

Notice by Psyche Z. Ready

Murthen Island is the second in a series of female-led fantasy novels, the third forthcoming in September 2017. The protagonist is refreshingly notable in two ways: not only is she a smart and courageous young woman, she also lives in a magical world but does not possess magical powers; she’s a relatable hero for young women readers. Another striking quality of Golmeira, the world of the novel, is the unapologetic existence of healthy queer relationships. Murthen Island features depictions of slavery that may be troubling to some readers.

[This is a brief notice of publication, not a full review.]

Monday, September 25, 2017

Evans, More of Me (2017)

Kathryn Evans, More of Me. Amulet Books, 2017. Pp. 312. ISBN 978-1-4197-2372-8. $17.95.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

In my experience of reading YA, many authors adopt just enough SFF elements (whether climate catastrophe, vampires and werewolves, or spaceships) to provide a decorative veneer for the romance they’re actually telling. Kathryn Evans’s More of Me does the exact opposite, adopting a teenage girl protagonist and her messy high school life as cover for a story about genetic engineering and cloning. It’s not a particularly deep story: the science is hand-wavey, the plot twists are predictable, the characters are teenagers, but for all that it is compulsively readable.

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?