Monday, December 06, 2021

Reckoning #5 (2021)

Reckoning, ed. Waverly SM, Giselle Leeb et al. Issue 5 (January–July 2021). Online at reckoning.press.

Reviewed by M.L. Clark

Editor Cécile Cristofari opens Reckoning 5 with a call to action shaped by how pandemic has significantly isolated us from nature; we cannot simply rely on nostalgia to deepen our fight against ongoing natural depreciation from climate change and other human-made devastations. Editor Leah Bobet adds, in her following editorial, that the quest for poetry here was shaped by little intimacies, “flecks of possibility” for reconnection with the world around us, in our most personable and fleeting interactions with the rest of nature.

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Xueting, Sinopticon (2021)

Xueting Christine Ni (ed. and trans.), Sinopticon: A Celebration of Chinese Science Fiction. Solaris Books, 2021. Pp. 448. ISBN 978-1-78108-852-4. $14.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

The 2014 translation of Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem by Ken Liu into English became an unexpected defining moment in the field; there is now only “before” and “after” when talking about Chinese science fiction in the Anglo world. It is significant, then, that in her introduction to Sinopticon: A Celebration of Chinese Science Fiction, that editor Xueting Christine Ni describes her experience looking for science fiction books after walking into a Xinhua bookstore (China’s biggest bookseller chain). She is surprised by the lack of genre fiction aside from Wuxia (historical fiction concerned with martial artists)*, and when she asks for Kehuan (Chinese science fiction) the clerk gestures her towards the children’s section. When Xueting protests and asks if they are really shelving material like Liu there, the clerk responds with “Oh! Why didn’t you say so before?” and leads her where the material is shelved near science education textbooks. This preliminary scene explains the value placed on Kehuan in China: still at the margins of popular culture despite undergoing a remarkable renaissance both at home, and especially, abroad. Xueting’s purpose in editing this volume is to illustrate the wide range of Chinese science fiction, translating thirteen stories that were originally published between 1991 and 2021. This thirty year review, as it were, is not presented chronologically or thematically, but rather lets each work stand against one another for the reader to enjoy. Xueting also provides, after each story, notes that discuss the author as well as context for the story’s creation and contents. Xueting also makes a point of providing gender parity in these selections, with just over half of the authors being women. The overall result is an incredibly solid, thoughtful, and exciting anthology that is genuinely one of the best I’ve read in ages.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The Dark issue #78 (2021)

The Dark Magazine, ed. Sean Wallace & Veronica Giguere. Issue 78 (November 2021). Prime Books. $1.99 or online at thedarkmagazine.com.

Reviewed by M.L. Clark

The Dark magazine’s November 2021 issue offers four stories that address different ways in which we find ourselves swept up by and made complicit in the unconscionable. In all, a binding thread is a perceived lack of agency—in some cases, even when the protagonist has absolutely made choices to do harm to others, too.

Monday, November 01, 2021

Kaleidotrope, Autumn 2021

Kaleidotrope, ed. Fred Coppersmith. Autumn 2021. Online at kaleidotrope.net or Kindle.

Reviewed by Gwen C. Katz

I know I’m not the only one asking “What’s the deal with Kaleidotrope?”

I say that with the utmost admiration. Kaleidotrope is a small penny-a-word publication; I happen to love reading penny-a-word publications, but most readers (and writers) turn up their noses at them in favor of the splashy pro mags. Yet Kaleidotrope consistently appears alongside the likes of Lightspeed and Strange Horizons in reviews, award nominations, and best-of collections—virtually always the only subpro magazine on the list. Luminaries like Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Genevieve Valentine, who could presumably place a story anywhere, still sell their stories to Kaleidotrope for a couple of tenners. What makes it so special?

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Gadz, The Workshop of Filthy Creation (2021)

Richard Gadz, The Workshop of Filthy Creation. Deixis Press, 2021. Pp. 258. ISBN 978-1-8384987-3-3. $15.99.

Reviewed by Jason Kahler

In the days leading up to me finishing reading Richard Gadz’s excellent The Workshop of Filthy Creation, my significant other and I braved the COVID-draped movie theater for a special double-feature of the classic (1931) films Dracula and Frankenstein. I’d seen both of those movies before, of course, but I don’t think I’d ever watched them back-to-back, and certainly never on the big screen.

As much as I love both of those films, and appreciate them as important artifacts of film and cultural history, I don’t think I’d understood just how much I prefer Frankenstein until experiencing them in such direct juxtaposition. For starters, Dracula is just so slow, with so much of its menace focused on Bela Lugosi’s eyes just emoting dread. Frankenstein crackles with intensity, with desperation, and ultimately, with deeper questions about the nature of living and humanity. There’s just more on the shelf. Lugosi’s count may win the trophy for best performance between the two (though Karloff really does a great job of showing the monster’s despair through all that make-up), but Frankenstein is just a better movie.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Berman (ed.), Burly Tales (2021)

Steve Berman (ed.), Burly Tales: Finally Fairy Tales for the Hirsute and Hefty Gay Man. Lethe Press, 2021. Pp. 218. ISBN 978-1-5902-1084-0. $15.00.

Reviewed by Gwen C. Katz

It’s official: The LGBT+ community has become a marketing demographic. Every June, the floodgates open as every publisher, film studio, and content producer tries to get in on the rainbow dollar. Obviously, I’m not angry at a trend that boils down to “being queer has become socially acceptable,” but I know I’m not the only one who has a certain nostalgia for a time when queer content was made by us and not at us.

Happily, we have Lethe Press.

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Appel, Assassin’s Orbit (2021)

John Appel, Assassin’s Orbit. Rebellion Publishing, 2021. Pp. 400. ISBN 978-1-78108-915-6. $11.99/£8.99.

Reviewed by M.L. Clark

If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, The Expanse series has a lot to be flattered by in John Appel’s Assassin’s Orbit, a work of mid-flung-future space opera involving multiple perspectives brought together by a mysterious case verging on interstellar incident. The book was even promoted as “The Golden Girls meets The Expanse,” a tagline that intrigued this reviewer, but unfortunately yielded disappointment when it turned out that the “Golden Girls” component was simply… having three major POV characters be older women. (I’d like to see someone try to call The Expanse’s Chrisjen Avasarala a “Golden Girl” simply because of her age.) Appel’s characterization of these women as women falls into tired territory at times, but if you put aside the marketing—and indeed, the whole Golden Girls reference entirely—the characters are still solid, sensible actors moving through a confidently-paced political intrigue.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Lowe, The World Is at War Again (2021)

Simon Lowe, The World Is at War, Again. Elsewhen Press, 2021. Pp. 296. ISBN 978-1-911409-83-0. $20.00.

Reviewed by Don Riggs

Simon Lowe’s wearily titled The World Is at War, Again is not actually a war novel, in that there are no pitched battles on land, sea, or in the air, no ever-more-powerful bombs or other instruments of mass destruction. In fact, the only mention of the War itself is the frequently repeated statement that Things Aren’t Going Too Well With The War, the capitalized words indicating that this is a frequently repeated trope that all have heard many times before and probably will again. The identity of the two sides is unclear, except those on the side of seemingly all of the characters are called the “Unified Nations”—which I at first misread as the United Nations. The characters are all spies, specifically Agent Assassins, or AAs, that come from two families, the Misorovs and the Fandanellis. Mr. and Mrs. Fandanelli, whose son Peter is deposited at (or near) a special school for children of AAs, are in the Volunteer War Over Seas Aid Squad (VWOSAS), stationed on a Cruise Liner, to meet an unknown contact in an unknown manner to receive their instructions.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

GigaNotoSaurus (spring/summer 2021)

GigaNotoSaurus, ed. LaShawn Wanak. Spring/summer 2021 content. Online at giganotosaurus.org.

Reviewed by Shellie Horst

There’s a certain amount of irony in the comparative name sake of this zine. GigaNotoSaurus, like the theropod of the same name, is a not-quite short story zine with stories that leave a ginormous footprint in your memory. Sure, those who know the industry will recognise familiar names who have and continue to work with the site curating an excellent library of tales that go beyond the usual fare of white, cis, and western influenced stories. I’m not in favour of name dropping to impress, but you are in safe hands with LaShawn Wanak. Wanak had already had work published in plenty of SFF staples inlcuding Uncanny and Lightspeed Magazine before the previous editor Annie Leckie handed her the reins. The combined expertise of the staff is paid forward to upcoming authors.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Arsenika #8 (2021)

Arsenika, ed. S. Qiouyi Lu. Issue 8 (Spring 2021). Online at arsenika.ink.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

Arsenika is a small, very personal, even idiosyncratic zine that ran for eight issues over five years, edited by S. Qiouyi Lu, who started the zine in 2016 “to find work that called out to” aer, and by all accounts did so very successfully (and found work that called out to many other readers besides). As well as a personal aesthetic, the zine came to showcase flash fiction and poems with “queer elements … steeped in non-White cultures … that experiments with form and narrative.” This final issue of Arsenika is no exception, and makes no apologies—if you have enjoyed the work that has appeared here over the years, you will love this one. The issue contains two pieces of flash fiction and three poems (one of which is very long), and a hot tonne of creativity.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Addison, The Witness for the Dead (2021)

Katherine Addison, The Witness for the Dead. Rebellion Publishing, 2021. Pp. 315. ISBN 978-1-78108-951-4. £8.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

Katherine Addison’s The Witness for the Dead is a sequel of sorts to The Goblin Emperor (2014). The latter was one of my favorite fantasy novels from the last decade; a low fantasy with steampunk elements, it does incredibly interesting things with racing elves and goblins, while also telling a solid story of a young man’s coming-to-power and of age. The Witness for the Dead picks up shortly afterwards and stars a minor character from the previous book, Thara Celehar, as he tracks down a murderer. I’m not much of a mystery reader, but this is an effective genre mash-up that left me pleased with how smoothly all the story elements came together and wanting more books just like it. It’s also a standalone novel that will easily make sense to someone who hasn’t read Goblin.

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Jones, Mirrormaze (2021)

Cliff Jones Jr. (ed.), Mirrormaze: A Dreampunk Anthology. Fractured Mirror Publishing, 2021. Pp. 384. ISBN 978-1-7352171-3-0. $16.99 pb/$8.99 e.

Reviewed by Gwen C. Katz

Fractured Mirror, a newcomer in the publishing scene, has turned out one of the most intriguing and unusual anthologies of the year with Mirrormaze: A Dreampunk Anthology. Dreampunk, coined for this anthology, is an intentionally slippery term to define, but it centers on the sense of unreality created by dreams. It has the deliberately exaggerated aesthetic associated with other punk subgenres, but instead of being defined by a particular era or type of technology, the commonality is the delirious imagery and the underlying feel of not-quite-rightness. It is surreal not just in the colloquial sense of “weird stuff,” but in the original sense of a Jungian journey into the subconscious. Bringing together 20-odd different authors around a concept this nebulous is an ambitious achievement, and I was impressed by how coherent the resultant anthology turned out to be. While I’d never heard the term “dreampunk” before picking up Mirrormaze, within the first couple of stories I immediately had a sense of what it entailed.