N.J. Alexander, Past Present Future: A social network thriller. Roundfire Books, 2013. Pp. 309. ISBN 978-1-846949-70-8. $20.95 / £11.99.
Reviewed by Rochelle Spencer
N.J. Alexander’s “social media thriller,” Past Present Future is both fascinating and frustrating. What fascinates: set in the UK, in 2008, against the backdrop of the beginnings of a global recession and the rise of Facebook and Twitter, Alexander’s novel reveals our worst fears about the economy and technology. What frustrates: most of the book’s most thrilling moments occur online, as the protagonist, Nicole, reads the Facebook messages of Anthony Hope, a moderately successful American singer and former co-worker who may—or may not—be stalking her. Alexander has a talent for blending classic surreal imagery with an exploration of the dangers of modern technology, and readers will enjoy how many of Anthony and Nicole’s Facebook posts reference Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Still, despite this psychological tension, I wanted to see more of these characters, particularly Nicole, in real life. In other words, while I love that this book pays so much attention to our virtual lives, the problem with having few in-person moments is that it becomes difficult to understand Nicole and Anthony’s characters. Readers will recognize, for instance, that we present a more glamorous image of our online lives, that our Facebook pages omit or downplay moments that show us as less than clever, witty, or strong. So, every time Anthony posts to his Facebook page, it’s hard to figure out if he’s sending Nicole a veiled message (this is her belief) or if it’s just an innocuous coincidence. And, without real-life action, the reader views Nicole and Anthony as online strangers, not as actual friends we care about, and it becomes hard to understand or sympathize with either of them. Read more
Steven Savile & David Parish-Whittaker, Leviathans in the Clouds. Untreed Reads, 2013. Pp. 90. ISBN 978-1-6118756-7-6. $2.99.
Reviewed by Kate Onyett
And so it is ho! for adventure in the skies and on the boggy wetlands of Venus. Space 1889: the small, but cheerfully championed, series of novellas based on the premise of a classic role-playing game have entered their second season, continuing the cross-solar system exploits of Nathanial and Annabelle. Fundamentally a sequence of steam-punk escapades in outer space, told with the enthusiasm of Boys’ Own serials, the stories are fun escapism for anyone who likes a cheerfully outlandish alternate history premise, served with dollops of action. Read more
D.F. Lewis (ed.), Horror Without Victims. Megazanthus Press, 2013. ISBN 978-1-291-45143-6. $14.64.
Reviewed by Rachel Verkade
Can you truly have horror without there being a victim?
It’s an interesting question, and one that comes down to the very definition of horror as a genre. As my husband put it, does horror naturally have to consist of bad things happening to people? I couldn’t think of a single example of horror that did not consist of bad things happening to people, even if they were not physically harmed. Surely even if someone’s wounds are purely emotional/psychological, they still count as a victim? Or, for that matter, what if the horror happens to others, only vaguely affecting our characters? At what point does a character become important or developed enough for their suffering to qualify them to be victims? Read more
Ellen Larson, In Retrospect. Five Star Publishing, 2013. ISBN 978-1-4328-2733-5. $25.95.
Reviewed by Su J. Sokol
The publisher identifies Ellen Larson’s novel In Retrospect as a dystopian murder mystery, but it could also be described it as a post-apocalyptic, post-colonial time travel whodunit. Living up to the demands of each of these sub-genres is an ambitious undertaking. Its success or failure lies in how the story, with all of its themes and elements, does or does not hold together. Efficient storytelling and strong (if occasionally stock) characters make this a very promising start, but the world-building is sometimes lacking in the details. As a novel this ultimately satisfies, despite some flaws. Read more
Aliya Whiteley, Witchcraft in the Harem. Dog Horn Publishing, 2013. Pp. 132. ISBN 978-1-9071334-0-4. $12.61.
Reviewed by Margrét Helgadóttir
Witchcraft in the Harem, by the UK-based author Aliya Whiteley, was published by Dog Horn Publishing earlier this year. This is a well-crafted collection of seventeen stories that were originally published in different magazines and anthologies between 2003 and 2012. Though one of the dominant themes is motherhood, the book has a broad range of themes and plots, and travels across all the speculative genres. The majority of the main characters in the stories are women and they deal with issues like the awful husband, the boyfriend, the unwanted child, the yearn for a child, the boss, the mother, the miserable life as housewife and so on. It might sound trivial, but these are some of the best stories I have read for quite a while. These tales are weird, terrifying, beautiful, disturbing and funny. They are exceptionally well written and very entertaining. Read more
Alex Witney, Zombies: They're Not All Brain-Eaters. DMPP, 2013. Pp. 170. ISBN 978-1-4839527-6-5. £2.99 (kindle)/£6.99 (paperback).
Reviewed by Kate Onyett
This is a novel that relies very much on the ground-breaking themes of previous popular self-referential modern fantasy and sci-fi, as well as notable cult favourites, and it knows it. With direct shout-outs to zombie films, Beetlejuice, The Hitchhiker’s Guide and even Dr Who (I think), among others, this is a ‘post modern’ take on zombies. Ho, ho, ho, let’s make a zombie-human buddy book, eh? The reader is encouraged to pick up the idea and run with it. To do him credit, Witney does do this with a cheeky wide-boy charm that makes for a fun, if uneven, read. Read more
J. Damask, Wolf at the Door. Lyrical Press, 2011. Pp. 125. ISBN 978-1-6165025-6-0. $7.99 pb/$4.14 e-book.
Reviewed by Kate Onyett
Written by a native Singaporean, and set there, this novel is crafted with a deal of clear personal investment. Damask knows her city, and her customs, and celebrates them with a casual elegance in the details of her writing. She also invests a set of beliefs that will be alien to many of her readers with a sense of supernatural naturalism that makes the superstitions and rituals of the East seem very necessary, and furthermore, reciprocated, by the weird and wonderful beyond human scope. Read more
Rhys Hughes, The Abnormalities of Stringent Strange. Meteor House, 2013. Pp. 205. ISBN 978-0-9837461-3-3. $25.00.
Reviewed by Kate Onyett
We begin pre-WWII, the heady days of America in 1930s, when it was just starting to discover its gung-ho attitude. Stringent, a test pilot of great skill and odd appearance is about to witness the kidnapping of his adoptive father and professional mentor, Professor Crinkle, by a batch of ‘proto-Nazis’ (‘proto’ signifying the full-blown WWII kind, although, historically, they are already in power in Germany at this stage). The ‘proto-Nazis’ want different aeronautic genius, but snaffle Crinkle under a case of mistaken identity. Desirous of getting his father back, Stringent flies an experimental, chronologically-powered plane a little too fast and powers into an alternative future—around 200 years into the future, to be precise. In a world of strange beings, stranger cyborgs and interplanetary high-jinks, Stringent will set course for an improbable adventure to find a super-gun to fend off an alien invasion, travel the exotic forests of deepest Africa, and satisfy a planet of nymphomaniacs, while his travelling companions do gladiatorial combat for the entertainment of extraterrestrial dinosaurs, fighting against resurrected writing legends. Read more
Jeff Vande Zande, Parable of Weeds. Untreed Reads, 2013. Pp. 51. ISBN 978-1-6118759-3-5. $1.99.
Reviewed by Kate Onyett
Zande’s powerful novella is of grave social warning, and for its size, it carries one hell of a wallop. In the future, in what amounts to a two-tier social system, dystopian for the greater number of have-nots, Ian is an over-worked marketing analyst in a global conglomerate, his life a blur of red-eye flights, hotels and presentations. A widower, his only son is growing up without him in a secure, high-end community. A chance meeting on a plane and an even chancier adoption of a homeless, hungry man beyond the wall that surrounds his commune forces Ian to start showing alarmingly human emotions of compassion and curiosity in a regulated, desensitised world He starts to take terrible risks that could bring his hard-won world crashing down around his ears. Read more
Vacuity, dir. Michael Matzur. Montana State University, 2013. Starring Michael Steppe. 14 minutes.
Reviewed by Brian Eisley
Vacuity is a beautifully-made short SF film that functions both as a thoughtful character study and as a suspenseful thriller. Shot on a very minimal set, with a single camera and a nonexistent budget, Vacuity nevertheless manages to pack more story into its 14 minutes than many films ten times its length.
Alan Brahm (Michael Steppe) works as an engineer on the XOEH space station. As the story begins, he awakens in an airlock where he had been preparing for an EVA. His computer terminal displays error messages: hydraulics, pneumatics, airlock systems. Alan soon discovers that the station has suffered catastrophic damage, his teammates are dead or unaccounted for, his suit is damaged, and he is trapped in the airlock—with the computer stuck in its decompression sequence. Read more
Shlok Vaidya, The Rise of Siri. Self published, 2012. Pp. 115. $2.99.
Reviewed by Paul Wilks
The Rise of Siri is a technology-centred dystopia based in the near future. In this self-published novel, China shuts itself off from the rest of the world, essentially withdrawing from international trade and assuming ownership of all assets within its borders; people included. The story focuses wholly on Apple Inc. and how as a company it contends this international development in subsequent months. While the book is set in the speculative future, the main characters are real-life developers, executives and designers. Anyone familiar with Apple as a company might also be aware of Jony Ive, Tim Cook and Scott Forstall—all of whom feature in the novel. In many ways, it almost makes the story a piece of fan-fiction. The characters are given a huge amount of textual respect and are often spoken of in frothily glowing terms. Read more
Josie Brown (ed.), Daughters of Icarus: New feminist science fiction and fantasy. Pink Narcissus Press, 2013. Pp. 372. ISBN 978-1-939056-00-9. $17.00.
Reviewed by Djibrl al-Ayad
The Daughters of Icarus anthology, published by the inclusive and experimental small press Pink Narcissus, and edited by American writer and scholar of political theory Josie Brown, labels itself, “New feminist science fiction and fantasy”. The cover (but not the title page) also carries the line, “Women’s Wings Unfurled”, an unofficial subtitle highlighting the editor’s intention that the stories explore the common tropes and adventures of science fiction if women take the initiative in them. While there are indeed some excellent examples of this kind of fiction, the anthology as a whole is a disappointingly mixed bag, including some poorer quality pieces, some that fail on various important levels (notably issues of intersectionality), and some frankly baffling inclusions. Measured as a venue for science fiction and fantasy, Daughters of Icarus contains enough magic to warrant classing it as one of the better examples of this kind of beast; as a coherent whole on the terms it seems to define for itself, it is somewhat less satisfying. Read more
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