Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Howard, Touchstones (2014)

John Howard, Touchstones: Essays on the Fantastic. Alchemy Press, 2014. Pp. 294. ISBN 978-0-9573489-7-4. £11.00.

Reviewed by Małgorzata Mika

This troublesome f-word. It appears out of the blue to startle or outrage. It conforms to no norms, pushing and shoving among respectable authors of equally respectable literature. It chews a gum of literary conventions to utter a loud ‘pop’ when a balloon of high literary ideas breaks to be rechewed again. This is the fantastic in all its insolent beauty. The case of John Howard’s collection of essays, one may say, is all the more insulting, concentrating on revolving around the writers whose prose fits into such gutter-born genres as horror, science fiction and fantasy in the stages some might classify as evolving or cult. Probing the darker corners of literature seems hardly surprising since Touchstones: Essays on the Fantastic was released by The Alchemy Press, an award-winning independent publisher well-known for its fantastic proclivities. More so, the prevalence of horror and the weird among a caboodle of twenty-two texts is detectable, without the need of using the services of a professional medium. John Howard’s scholarly interests in the fantastic resulted in a peculiar combination that acquaints a reader with the works of the famous writers who are paragons of fantastic fiction, as well as those whose brilliant texts dissolved in the mist of other literary works. A mixture of the known, unknown and some eerie novelties is inviting, unearthing the talents long buried in the thick soil of 20th century fantastic literature.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Wilchcombe, Neob (2015)

V. E. Wilchcombe, Neob. Austin Macauley Publishers, 2015. Pp. 146. ISBN 978-1-78455-052-3. £6.99.

Reviewed by John Marr

Neob is a fantasy/science-fiction novel by V. E. Wilchcombe, published by Austin Macauley, a small independent publisher based in London. This is the first of an envisaged suite of novels set in the same universe, and very much reads as an introduction to the distant planet Neob, its native inhabitants and its other-worldly interlopers. This is not to say that the novel lacks for action—a remarkable amount of activity is packed into its brief length of 146 pages. However, such brevity is the book’s main downfall, as few of the ideas bursting out of this book are given much room to breathe, sometimes making for a disappointingly shallow read.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Thompson, Rhymer (2014)

Douglas Thompson, The Rhymer: an Heredyssey. Elsewhen Press, 2014. Pp. 192. ISBN 978-1-9081-6841-2. £9.99 pb/ £2.99 e.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

The Rhymer is the eighth novel by Scottish weird and speculative author and editor Douglas Thompson, published by British small press Elsewhen. This novel is one of the more surreal and absurdist tales Thompson has written, parts of which were previously published in serial or standalone form in other fantastic magazines. It is entirely written in a style somewhere between free-association, free-verse, and comic semi-rhyme, which sounds like it would be hard to read, but actually isn’t, although the story does veer wildly and apparently out of control between satire, grotesque, bizarre, mystical and pseudo-scientific allegory. While I felt this novel sometimes sacrifices plot continuity and character consistency in name of moving the story forwards, it is a bit hard to tell to what degree this is the result of lazy writing, and how much a symptom of the rapidly changing realities in the story itself. I confess to not particularly liking any of the characters, or indeed the narrative voice, but I did find it pleasant to read, challenging in the way that literature should be, and sometimes startlingly original.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Darrows, Awesome (2015)

Eva Darrows, The Awesome. Ravenstone Press, 2015. Pp. 246. ISBN 978-1-78108-324-6. $9.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

The Awesome is the sort of profoundly, well, awesome book that makes me resent the fact that the great YA renaissance is taking place while I’m in my thirties. When I was an actual teenager, lo many moons ago, the sort of YA heroines I got were girls who either a) babysat (blah), b) solved mysteries (meh), c) or were dying tragically of cancer (UGH). Eventually I discovered the classic SFF juveniles by Robert Heinlein, Anne McCaffrey, and others, but I’ve been rereading some of them recently, and they are often unforgivably rapey as well as retro. Eva Darrows’ The Awesome, on the other hand, features a heroine I would have given anything to read (and more to just be) when I was fifteen: Maggie Cunningham is a hunter of supernatural creatures under her mother’s tutelage, dispatching monsters by day and night while not-really working on her GED. She’s snarky and badass, and utterly without the sort of girlish polish that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was always gifted with. She wears jeans and combat boots and sweatshirts, finds normal people and boys bewildering, and is consumed with a singular goal: to lose her virginity so that she can finally become a journeyman hunter.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Wilson, Affinities (2015)

Robert Charles Wilson, The Affinities. Tor Books, 2015. Pp. 304. ISBN 978-0-7653-3262-2. $25.99.

Reviewed by Don Riggs

When I first started reading this very readable novel, I thought, this isn’t science fiction; it’s a very well-written mainstream novel set in contemporary Canada and U.S. Then as I was sucked into the narrator and his family, then substitute family, I saw many of the frustrations that I, and I assume many of us have had with families and neighbors who just don’t get us. It was only then, when the protagonist takes a series of diagnostic “exams” for a corporation called InterAlia Inc., that I began to recognize my own experiences with eHarmony and similar matchmaking organizations, and was prepared to go the extra step with this setup to see where it was going to lead.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Philips, Black Quantum Futurism (2015)

Rasheedah Philips, Black Quantum Futurism: Theory and Practice Volume I. Afrofuturist Affair, 2015. Pp. 84. ISBN 978-0-9960-0503-6. $8.00.

Reviewed by Ashley O’Brien

Black Quantum Futurism: Theory and Practice Volume 1 is a unique collection of essays and ideas that promises something beyond the ordinary. The basic premise of this collection, compiled by Rasheeda Phillips, who is also a contributor, and published in 2015 by AfroFuturist Affair, is that something very special happens when combining quantum physics, futurist traditions, and Black/African cultural traditions, namely that African descended people can see and change the future. All the rules, even common sense, break down, when looking at things on the quantum level. Even time can lose its meaning. So the idea that a particular tradition of thought, one from a culture or a religion, as an example, could prepare people for the strange mysteries of quantum mechanics is incredibly exciting, and worthy of exploration.

Friday, May 15, 2015

O’Flaherty, King of the Cracksmen (2015)

Dennis O’Flaherty, King of the Cracksmen. Night Shade Books, 2015. Pp. 326. ISBN 978-1-59780-551-3. $15.99.

Reviewed by Wendy Bousfield

Subtitled “A Steampunk Entertainment,” Dennis O’Flaherty’s first novel is set in an alternate, post-Civil War America. Lincoln’s Secretary of Defense, Edwin M. Stanton, has become de facto president after John Wilkes Booth’s unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Lincoln. (Though he survived the assassination attempt, Lincoln has mysteriously disappeared from public life.) Through surveillance and intimidation, Stanton is rapidly creating a fascist dictatorship. Spanning only a few weeks (June 19th to July 2nd, 1877—the novel is precise about dates), the story follows Irish safecracker, Liam McCool, who serves as an undercover agent for the Pilkington detective agency (“Pinkerton,” in “our reality”). A gifted but unwilling detective, McCool has been blackmailed into becoming one of “Stanton’s Eyes.” Because Pilkington detectives are trained to perform carefully scripted roles tailored to their undercover missions, Stanton employs them as spies and strikebreakers.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Helgadóttir & Thomas, European Monsters (2014)

Margrét Helgadóttir and Jo Thomas (edd.), European Monsters. Fox Spirit Books, 2014. Pp. 159. ISBN 978-1-909348-72-1. £10.00/$15.00.

Reviewed by Valeria Vitale

European Monsters is an illustrated anthology published by Fox Spirit Books and edited by Margrét Helgadóttir and Jo Thomas, featuring thirteen stories and two short comics. As the title suggests, they are all built around one or more monstrous creatures, and have Europe (in the past, present or speculative alter-times) as setting. The quality of the stories collected is consistently good and makes the slim book rather pleasant reading.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Mosley, Inside a Silver Box (2015)

Walter Mosley, Inside a Silver Box. Tor Books, 2015. Pp. 304. ISBN 978-0-7653-7521-6. $15.99.

Reviewed by Redfern Jon Barrett

I’m a fan of ambitious tales. Nothing is more satisfying than a grand, sweeping narrative which explores vast worlds and strange, intricate cultures. It can be a risk, but a macrocosmic viewpoint can help us understand ourselves and our shared humanity. So when I learned of Walter Mosley’s new novel—a novel which spans billions of years, and as many species, I was more than a little enthusiastic. Proposing to probe the meaning of life alongside the nature of good and evil, Inside a Silver Box makes some difficult promises. Walter Mosley may be a prolifically successful author, but can his latest work meet this task, or is it too wide in scope for such a short text? More importantly: does it risk sacrificing plot and character development on the altar of philosophy?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Wearing, Girl at the End of the World 2

Adele Wearing (ed.), The Girl at the End of the World: Book II. Fox Spirit Books, 2014. Pp. 434. ISBN 978-1-909348-58-8. £9.50.

Reviewed by Don Riggs

I have happily read many a trilogy or other sequence of books out of order, and this second volume of end-of-the-world stories by various authors is no different: not having read volume 1, I was at no disadvantage reading the second book. Indeed, except for a recurring set of motifs of various sorts of destruction and lawlessness, these stories could all stand alone. However, they do gain a certain quality of “strength in numbers” that gives the reader a sense of doing research in a certain genre. The stories in this anthology are by various writers, some of them professionals in the writing/editing/publishing field, some of them professionals in some other field, writing as fans of the genre, which straddles science fiction and fantasy. The postapocalyptic survival genre has long been associated with science fiction because generally the “end of the world” is the result of a superweapon or environmental catastrophe, but there is at least one story in this collection, “Dawn of Demons” by Eric Scott, which depends on a fantasy-supernatural infestation of demons, and where certain of the survivors know how to exorcise them from possessed humans.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Love, Evensong (2015)

John Love, Evensong. New Shade Books, 2015. Pp. 366. ISBN:978-1-59780-552-0. $15.99.

Reviewed by Małgorzata Mika

Awe, astonishment, amazement… A litany of bewilderment has flown through my mind during the reading of John Love’s second novel, Evensong. Published by a small press company, New Shade Books, in January this year, the novel has been labelled a “love letter to political fiction” (citation from back cover of the book). Anticipating a fusion of cyberpunk in the style of William Gibson and Richard K. Morgan, I expected this compact publication to wire a dystopian circuitry with James Bond ruthlessness and gadget-abundant stunts. This would probably result in giving birth to an algid narrative with one of two literary outcomes: a de-humanized future of shifting identities, or a simplified secret service tale of technological warfare. Both of these scenarios augured a rather exhausting and/or disappointing reading. Ingratiating myself with these superfluous assumptions, I have been tempted to mis-classify the British author as one of those many second-league craftsmen who write their way through a market of the fantastic, offering a literary hamburger of clichéd ideas. Though not totally free from this affliction, Love’s posthuman novel expands beyond a postmodern reproduction of well-trodden conventions; he chooses to replicate them to convey a (double) meaning imperceptible at first glance.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Cathcart, Fugazi of Room 39 (2014)

M.K. Cathcart, The Fugazi of Room 39. Self-published, 2014. Pp. 161. ISBN 978-1-5054-3472-9. £5.99.

Reviewed by John Marr

The Fugazi of Room 39 is the debut, self-published novel from author M.K. Cathcart, a dystopic science fiction thriller set in a future United States following a second Korean War. So what, exactly, is a fugazi, as referred to in the title of this work? Unfortunately, having striven to the end of this short work, I’m afraid to report that I am still none the wiser. There is an awful lot that remains unclear after turning the final page of this book, but these lingering mysteries owe more to the poor quality of the prose than misdirection or subtle plotting.