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.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Kaleidotrope 44 (2019)

Kaleidotrope, ed. Fred Coppersmith. Issue #44 (Summer 2019). Online at kaleidotrope.net or Kindle.

Reviewed by N.A. Jackson

This is a strong collection of well-written, fresh and original fiction and poetry. The only thing that could have improved the reading experience for me would have been a print copy but Kaleidotrope ceased print publication in 2012 and is now only an on-line zine like many others. I still can’t help enjoying the smell and feel of paper, even while I abhor the waste of resources. Visually this edition is a treat with its faintly disturbing artwork in pink and purple by Patrick King, of ghostly jellyfish looming up against a black ground. The same image is used to good effect as a banner at the conclusion of each piece giving a unity to the collection.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Ghalayini, Palestine +100 (2019)

Basma Ghalayini (ed.), Palestine +100: Stories from a century after the Nakba. Comma Press, 2019. ISBN 978-1-9109-7444-5. £9.99.

Reviewed by Shellie Horst

Palestine +100 won a PEN Translates Award. It consists of twelve stories which explore a Palestinian future set one hundred years after the Nakba, the exile of 700,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1948. Written by acclaimed Palestinian authors, who use a number of subgenres to challenge what westerners take for granted in SF. Each story takes you to another reality, and uses what’s right in front of us to do it. I had a feeling the book would be unique. I wasn’t expecting to be blind-sided.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Sriduangkaew, And Shall Machines Surrender (2019)

Benjanun Sriduangkaew, And Shall Machines Surrender. Prime Books, 2019. Pp. 108. ISBN 978-1-607015-34-5. $9.99.

Reviewed by J. Moufawad-Paul

There is a Julius Eastman composition, “EN,” that uses the constraints of four pianos facing each other, with one pianist directing, each playing a sparse set of themes. Through timed disunity and unity—the latter generated by the directing pianist counting down aloud at key moments—EN is one of the most elegant and complex contemporary compositions. Somehow it manages to generate a stunning depth, lacking in longer pieces with less constraints, despite and because of its minimalist boundaries. I first heard this piece played live at the 2015 Venice Biennale, curated by the late Okwui Enwezor, and was floored by its “less is more” structure.

If we think of Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s novella And Shall Machines Surrender as a composition, it is similar to this Eastman piece. A limited number of characters, two points of view, and a short period in which the present action plays out. At the same time, Sriduangkaew strips down her always beautiful prose: it is less ornate and dense than her other works—a kind of velocity and immediacy are imported into her style so that it becomes stream-lined and slightly spartanized—but still sings. Just like Eastman’s minimalism. Within these constraints something dense and complex coalesces. Something entirely cinematic.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Resnick, Master of Dreams (2019)

Mike Resnick, The Master of Dreams. DAW books, 2019. Pp. 294. ISBN 978-0-7564-1384-2. $26.00.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

Mike Resnick’s fantasy novel The Master of Dreams opens with a seemingly ordinary couple enjoying what starts out as an ordinary day. Protagonist Eddie Raven is strolling the streets of Manhattan, shopping with his girlfriend Lisa. Or rather, Lisa is shopping, with Eddie tagging along good-naturedly, though he can’t resist tossing out mild protests about the need to visit so many stores. The tone of the book shifts when, at Lisa’s insistence, they stop in at a fortune teller’s shop. A tall man who Eddie thinks looks familiar, though he can’t put a name to him, also enters the store just as Eddie and Lisa begin talking to the fortune-teller, who introduces himself as Mako. It’s odd enough that Mako knows Lisa’s name without being told, but when he tells a shocked Lisa, “‘You will die in seconds!’” the tension ratchets up. Mako then turns to Eddie and says, “‘Why did you come here? You know better!’” (7) Initially, Eddie is ready to dismiss Mako’s words as a fortune-teller’s sales pitch to get the customer to shell out money for a reading. That is, until a gunman bursts through the door and shoots both Lisa and Mako. The gun-wielder turns toward a startled Eddie, who has no idea why all this is happening. Just as a shot is fired in Eddie’s direction, the tall man leaps in front of Eddie to take the bullet.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Wolford (ed), Skull and Pestle (2019)

Kate Wolford (ed.), Skull and Pestle: New Tales of Baba Yaga. World Weaver Press, 2019. Pp. 161. ISBN 978-1-7322546-2-6. $13.95.

Reviewed by Psyche Z. Ready

Who doesn’t love Baba Yaga? In this golden age of Folktale retellings, the witch of Russian folklore has been a favorite subject, and dozens of recent novels in a variety of genres draw inspiration from this feared and beloved character. Audiences have been fascinated by her for centuries—Baba Yaga appears in numerous tales in A.N. Afanas’ev’s nineteenth-century collection Complete Folktales, the largest and most well-known collection of regional Russian folktales. Skull and Pestle: New Tales of Baba Yaga is a collection of new retellings of these tales and new narratives imagined around this character. The collection will be a perfect introduction to Baba Yaga for those who have not yet heard stories of the grandmother witch in the woods, and there are several gems for those who are more familiar with her tales, although many do not depart too significantly from the folktales.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

DreamForge issue #1 (2019)

DreamForge Magazine, ed. Scot Noel. Issue #1 (spring 2019). DreamForge Press, LLC, 2019. Pp. 60. ISSN 2614-2543. $10.00.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

The first issue of this glossy and well-made magazine, DreamForge #1 bills itself as bearing “tales of hope in the universe,” and so joins a growing movement for optimistic or bright futures in SF. The editor’s preface further clarifies the zine’s agenda, beginning, “The world has been coming to an end for a long time,” and characterizing as “doomsayers” those who worry about our future. Worse, Noel dismisses climate crisis fears as an atavistic “fight or flight” response, and suggests that any harm we do now will be fixed by science in five hundred years. This is clearly not the optimistic SF of the hopepunk or solarpunk movements, where daring to dream of how we can really reverse the current moribund politics of our planet is a radical act, but rather a harking back to the glib futurism of golden age SF. The contents of this issue, ten stories, two poems and an article, are a more mixed offering—and widely varying in quality—than this initial assessment may suggest.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Kingston, Is This Planet Earth (2019)

Is This Planet Earth? Curated by Angela Kingston. Ferens Art Gallery, Hull. May 4–July 28, 2019.

Reviewed by Shellie Horst

Spoiler alert: Anyone hoping to find Iron Man on the walls is going to be hugely disappointed.

It’s hard not to have preconceptions about things. Our lives are surrounded by biases passed to us from family, friends and society. The speculative genres have more than enough internal issues to keep us busy. If someone says “Sci-Fi-inspired Art” to me, my head fills with the artwork of book covers, film posters and related paraphernalia. When I heard about a Sci-Fi-inspired exhibition. I secretly hoped I’d find some reference to the artwork I connect to science fiction.

However, the greatest strengths of Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror are that they have a story to suit everyone. The genre can be enjoyed by all ages and all walks of life. It’s often the first to question truths about society. It can cross genres. It does open doors. You don’t need to have any qualifications to join in.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Meloy, Adornments of the Storm (2019)

Paul Meloy, Adornments of the Storm. Rebellion Publishing (Solaris imprint), 2019. Pp. 250. ISBN 978-1-781085-95-0. £7.99.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

Four years ago, Paul Meloy’s debut novel The Night Clock provided a riveting and imaginative story featuring a battle between forces of good and evil. Now, the tiger Bronze John, the saluki Bix, the towering, enigmatic Bismuth, and many other familiar characters from Meloy’s first novel are back in a sequel titled Adornments of the Storm, billed as horror/dark fantasy, and which begins seven years after the events of The Night Clock. At the end of first novel, the Firmament Surgeons and their allies thought they had vanquished their adversary, the devil-in-dreams. But as the early chapters of Adornments of the Storm begin to unfold, it becomes clear that victory celebrations may have been premature. The devil-in-dreams has merely been constrained—and the constraint may not last. The characters realize “there’s a crack in the containment somewhere … we have to close it up” (15).