Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Whiteley, Skein Island (2015)

Aliya Whiteley, Skein Island. Dog Horn Publishing, 2015. Pp. 200. ISBN 978-1-907133-85-5. £10.99.

Reviewed by Valeria Vitale

Skein Island, by acclaimed horror and fantasy author Aliya Whiteley, is a supernatural mystery novel that combines the investigation of uncommon events with the investigation of the characters’ feelings and motivations. The story has three main settings, as well as three different narrative streams, each of them featuring detours and digressions, that merge smoothly towards the end. The first is a small island in British waters, the Skein Island the book is named after, where only women are allowed. The place was bought by an eccentric millionaire who had (apparently) used her means to create and maintain a unique retreat where women could focus solely on reaching that self-awareness, strength, or peace of mind they felt was missing from their current lives; a place without men where women could be absolutely safe. The rich woman would offer, cyclically, free two-week stays at the island to a small number of women, selected from among the many applications received. During these two weeks, the women wouldn’t have to worry about anything but their own well being: everything else would be taken care of by an all-female staff.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Kyle, Omega Rising (2016)

Anna Kyle, Omega Rising. World Weaver Press, 2016. Pp. 270. ISBN 978-0-69266-950-1. $13.95.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

Paranormal Romance is a hybrid genre that has flirted with oversaturating the market in recent years, largely because of the Young Adult vampire romance craze that peaked with the Twilight franchise. It then edged into the adult market with the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire series that was popularized through True Blood (though that particular series of books and shows bear less resemblance to one another than one might think), as well as with J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood novels, which surprisingly have not been adapted to screen. While the popularity of vampires has waned in recent years, the genre still flourishes with a multitude of other supernatural creatures that vary from angels to werewolves. Werewolves make up several of the main characters in Omega Rising, Anna Kyle’s debut novel and the first of a series called Wolf King; though this book was released just this past June, the second volume, Skye Falling, is already slated for publication in August. That’s quick turnaround, and I imagine her growing fan-base will be pleased. Omega Rising didn’t feel like the first of a series to me, as Kyle’s worldbuilding is incredibly advanced and a lot was happening; the quick pace, especially in the second half of the volume, made it feel like it should be the third or fourth in a series, not the first. But let me back up, and tell you about the story itself.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Imarisha & brown (ed.), Octavia’s Brood (2015)

Walidah Imarisha & adrienne maree brown (ed.), Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements. AK Press, 2015. Pp. 304. ISBN 978-1-84935-209-3. $18.00.

Reviewed by Kathryn Allan

Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown’s Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements is important. I received my review copy of this short story collection a year ago—although life intervened every time I sat down to write my review, it also gave me the opportunity to think deeply about Octavia’s Brood and the legacy of Octavia Butler’s work. To be honest, I don’t think I could have written this review right after reading the anthology. I needed that extra time to let the vision of Imarisha and brown’s project become clearer to me.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Stufflebeam and Brewer, Strange Monsters (2016)

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam and Peter Brewer, Strange Monsters: A Music & Words Collaboration. Easy Brew Studio, 2016. 57 min. $9.99.

Reviewed by Kate Onyett

Strange Monsters, where narrative dances along the fringes of normalcy, while bowing deeply towards the magical, the strange. The thrust of the tales comes from female perspective: a cursed ballerina, Rumple Stiltskin’s wife, a devotee of a singular love idol, an older woman remembering past loves and lives and a decidedly lycanthropian love story. The poems speak of finding voice, of rising above confusion, of making one’s own way.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Michaud, Whispered Echoes (2015)

Anne Michaud, Whispered Echoes: An urban fantasy. Book One. Sad Ghost Press, 2015. Pp. 195. ISBN 978-1-51726-784-1. £6.55 pb/£0.99 e.

Reviewed by Margrét Helgadóttir

Whispered Echoes by Canadian author Anne Michaud was published in the United States by Sad Ghost Press in late 2015. It’s the first in a YA-series of five books (all published) about ghost seer Alyx. The first book is a dark and thrilling story about Alyx’s escape from the mental institution that has kept her captive for nine years and her way to discover and learn her ghost seer abilities. A fast paced action story, the book is good entertainment and is well worth reading if you like horror, the paranormal genres and young adult stories.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Tidhar, Central Station (2016)

Lavie Tidhar, Central Station. Tachyon Publications, 2016. Pp. 240. ISBN 978-1-61696-214-2. $16.95 pb/$9.99 e.

Reviewed by Wendy Bousfield

Lavie Tidhar’s moving, lyrical, insightful work of speculative fiction, Central Station, extrapolates a future in which humanity is entering a new evolutionary stage, triggered by growing immersion in the Internet. In Tidhar’s world, “nodes,” implanted at conception in “birthing clinics” (there are no natural births), provide direct access to the “Conversation”: “a hundred thousand… voices, channels, music, languages, the high-bandwidth indecipherable toktok of Others, weather reports, confessionals, off-world broadcasts time-lagged from Lunar Port and Tong Yun and the Belt…” (23). Akin to Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, Central Station traces the emergence of children psychically linked to one another and to other minds, both human and mechanical.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

McAllion, Moristoun (2016)

Kevin McAllion, Moristoun. Austin Macauley, 2016. Pp. 360. ISBN 978-1-7845-5284-8. £7.99.

Reviewed by Kate Onyett

This book is a first for two reasons. It is a first novel by a chap previously most involved in sports journalism, and, as far as I know, the first novel dealing with the afterlife of Scottish suicides. Bear with me, it’s not as dour as it sounds! The titular island, set in an interminable sea and reachable only by a portal from the mainland (unless you arrive by the more conventional and terminal method), is a place where suicides have to learn to move beyond their personal demons and spiritually better themselves before they can leave and ‘move on.’ That is not entirely the end, either, as McAllion adds a little Eastern detail to this purgatorial narrative with hints of what lies afterwards; a cycle of rebirths and lives lived as both animals and humans. Woe betide the unrighteous, though. Should further grave offences be added to one’s CV whilst on the island, then a soul is hell-bound for a more directly punishing purification.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Matronic, Robot Universe (2015)

Ana Matronic, Robot Universe. Legendary Automatons and Androids from the Ancient World to the Distant Future. Sterling Publishing, 2015. Pp. 224. ISBN 978-1-4549-1821-9. $19.95.

Reviewed by Małgorzata Mika

When choosing some books as your mental pabulum, one needs to prepare for a surprise. Ana Matronic’s Robot Universe: Legendary Automatons and Androids From the Ancient World to the Distant Future, offered as many as three surprises: 1) the title’s complexity is reminiscent of that encountered in doctoral dissertations, 2) the author is not an academic, but a singer and a fervent AI aficionado, and 3) the book’s hardcover edition is deftly designed and adorned with a multitude of beautiful illustrations. After a quick peek into the book, a tentative idea could be formulated, as both well-known and alien characters appear throughout the pages, promising variegated but not reader-intimidating content.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Lane, Scar City

Joel Lane, Scar City. Eibonvale Books, 2016. Pp. 230. ISBN 978-1-9081-2539-2. £8.50.

Reviewed by Rachel Verkade

Joel Lane was an odd duck even in the annals of weird fiction. His stories were often surreal, focusing on imagery and emotions rather than plot. Many, if pressed, would place his work in the magic realism niche, but often his tales have a darkness and brute nihilism that seem out of place in that area. The creeping sense of dread and hopelessness that pervaded his tales seemed to steer them towards the direction of horror, yet few of his stories featured gore, or even supernatural elements, and a black sense of twisted and bitter humour overhung all. And the meandering, seemingly directionless nature of these tales, with open endings, questions forever unanswered, and characters left in grey and lonely limbos, often tended to alienate the typical readers of genre fiction. But Joel Lane is considered, among the connoisseurs of the strange and morbid, to be a rare and all too often undiscovered gem. Preferring the short story, Lane wrote five story collections, four books of poetry, and was struggling to publish the last novel in a trilogy when he died in 2013, at only 50 years old. This collection, Scar City, was his last, published two years after his death.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Tieryas, United States of Japan (2016)

Peter Tieryas, United States of Japan. Angry Robot Books, 2016. Pp. 377. ISBN 978-0-85766-532-4. £8.99.

Reviewed by Andy Sawyer

In his dedication, the author points to Philip K. Dick as one of the “Phils” who changed his life; and it is immediately clear that this is a reference to The Man in the High Castle as an inspiration for United States of Japan, We can see Tieryas’ debt in the basic scenario in which Japan won WW2 and the United States of America is divided between a militaristic Japanese empire and Nazi Germany. Here, though, instead of a book offering a vision of a better alternative where the USA won (in the shape of a book or, in the case of Amazon’s recent series, a film), the people of the defeated country are shown—and encouraged to play—a game which shows the US taking on and defeating Japan. This is in itself an interesting nudge at the idea of dominant/hegemonic forms of cultural media, although it is, of course a kind of game that we are playing once we entertain the idea itself. It does, though, in a meaningful way, mould our response to the novel, as do a number of ways in which Tieryas constructs the nature of his future. And so, it is fair to say that I found the novel inferior to Dick’s, but also that many of its readers will be of the age I was when I first read High Castle, and Tieryas’ moulding and construction will be as normal and obvious as Dick’s was to me. I cannot, though, fail to read it through the lens of Dick, and, as the publishers emphasise this novel’s status as one “in the vein of” Dick’s, I am probably not expected to.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Forsyth, The Rebirth of Rapunzel (2016)

Kate Forsyth, The Rebirth of Rapunzel: A Mythic Biography of the Maiden in the Tower. Fablecroft Publishing, 2016. Pp 272. ISBN 978-0-9925534-9-4. $29.95.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

I’ve always been fascinated by fairy tales, and the more so when I was old enough to understand the history behind the genre. Though some of the stories find their antecedents in oral folklore, many emerged as part of a literary trend in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries—a trend that was pioneered by numerous women writers at the French court just prior to the Enlightenment. If you’ve ever wondered why so many tales involve young women who are forced to marry beasts or who are abused by tyrannical step-mothers, it’s because their proto-feminist authors were writing from experience, and the “happily ever afters” that were promised were the ultimate in wish-fulfillment. Kate Forsyth played with both of these elements in her 2012 novel Bitter Greens, interweaving a retelling of the Rapunzel story with that of its seventeenth century author, Charlotte-Rose de la Force. In The Rebirth of Rapunzel, Forsyth revisits both the original tale and her own rewriting of it, and explores numerous other versions of the story along the way. In what she and scholars call a mythic biography, she closely examines the history and transformations of Rapunzel, and what they mean to her as a writer.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Durasow, Endless Running Games (2015)

Gareth Durasow, Endless Running Games. Dog Horn Publishing, 2015. Pp. 72. ISBN 978-1-907133-90-9. £8.99.

Reviewed by Małgorzata Mika

Clandestine clusters of texts, casting shadows of the avaricious past between the verses—the future can be transfixing and dark as countless SF/dystopian hybrids have pictured it. As the history of the fantastic reveals, a simple ‘SF’ acronym can stretch its meaning far beyond the burgeoning landscapes of prose-oriented fiction. To a large extent ‘SF’ proves to be more ‘speculative’ in choosing a vehicle for containing its variegated content. Thus, extrapolating into poetry, the vibe of secure sentences is replaced by a much more challenging (for writers and readers alike) and alienated world of figures of speech. Despite changing tides of opinions regarding its quality, the so-called ‘speculative poetry’ has established its own, slightly estranged, niche that acts as a portal to a new Wonderland. Its creation has been aided by such famous writers as Craig Raine, Bruce Boston, Steve Sneyd and Mike Ashley; among them emerges Gareth Durasow with Endless Running Games, his newest collection of poems which invites a reader into a world which Alice would find more daunting than the Queen’s Croquet Ground.