Monday, March 30, 2015

Mountfort, Future Perfect (2014)

Katrina Mountfort, Future Perfect. Elsewhen Press, 2014. Pp. 288. ISBN 978-1-90816-845-0. £9.99 pb/£2.99 e.

Reviewed by Ashley O’Brien

Written by Katrina Mountfort and published by Elsewhen Press, Future Perfect takes place in what appears to be a future utopia; there is little conflict, no fighting, no breaking up. People work, they socialize, they exercise. Everything is fine because everyone lives safely and happily inside a Citidome, a false habitat created to protect people from a virus. Mountfort retells a classic tale about a young woman finding herself, against a futuristic backdrop. This young adult dystopian novel blends technology, genetics and big brother oppression to create an exciting and surprising tale.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Helgadóttir, Stars Seem So Far Away (2015)

Margrét Helgadóttir, The Stars Seem So Far Away. Fox Spirit Books, 2015. Pp. 160. ISBN 978-1-909348-76-9. £5.00.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

Margrét Helgadóttir’s debut book is a mosaic novel describing the lives of a disparate group of survivors in a future that seems to be coming closer every day. I read The Stars Seem So Far Away the same week that science reports confirmed that the East Antarctic ice sheets are melting more than previously thought, that the previous year’s worldwide weather temperatures were the hottest on record, and that the Amazon rainforests are starting to fail in soaking up carbon dioxide. Turning from news reports to a science fiction novel about climate collapse was heartening and disheartening at the same time, for Helgadóttir does not ask whether humanity will survive, but how they will do so.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Constans, Zen Master Tova (2014)

Gabriel Constans, Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire. Fountain Blue Publishing, 2014. Pp. 114. ISBN 978-1-62868-045-4. $6.99.

Reviewed by Don Riggs

In the 1970s, I treasured the small paperback book of Japanese crazy wisdom Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, compiled and translated by Paul Reps and D. T. Suzuki; in addition, the Sufi paperback, translated by Idries Shah, The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasruddin. Both collections had wisdom stories that often confused and perplexed, but if you thought about them enough, they would make a kind of sense. Well, usually. Zen Master Tova Tarantino Tobshiba is a contemporary companion to, or descendant of, the two collections mentioned above. Like them, the book has mostly quite brief narratives or sometimes koan-like sayings. However, they also seem to have a contemporary American spin on them, and at times the “point” is so obscure—at least, to this reader—that one must assume that either 1) it is working its way against the logical mental grain within, or 2) one just doesn’t get it. Sometimes, I think that the point is that there is no point.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Wearing, Girl at the End of the World 1 (2014)

Adele Wearing (ed.), The Girl at the End of the World: Volume one. Fox Spirit Books, 2014. Pp. 358. ISBN 978-1-909348-55-4. £8.50.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

The very cool small press Fox Spirit Books have brought out an anthology of apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic stories with women protagonists in two volumes. Edited by Adele Wearing, the generally high-quality The Girl at the End of the World (or at least the first volume, which is all that I have read—a review of volume two will follow from another reviewer) covers several different areas beneath the umbrella of apocalypse, from the personal to the world-shattering, from the absurd to the terrifying. The quality of stories may be patchy, and the selection sometimes a bit baffling (one story only seems to be about “the end of the world” from the most parochial American perspective), but there are enough very good and even excellent stories in this volume to reward persistence. It’s not my place to criticize this book for not being the anthology I would have made, but if the editor had bitten the bullet and culled this somewhat bloated collection to a single, tighter volume, I expect she would have promoted it from a good anthology to an excellent one.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Gates and Liptak, War Stories (2014)

Jaym Gates and Andrew Liptak, War Stories: New Military Science Fiction. Apex Publications, 2014. Pp. 277. ISBN 978-1-9370-0926-7. $16.95.

Reviewed by Nino Cipri

At fourteen, I very proudly (and obnoxiously, no doubt) declared myself a pacifist. A majority of that decision belonged to the music I was listening to obsessively: Bob Dylan and Ani Difranco, “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” and “Roll With It.” I painted a big red X over the Army logo on a t-shirt from the military surplus store. (Despite my politics, I had a tendency to slant military in my style: combat boots and epaulettes, canvas belts and fatigues. I was ironic before it was cool.) Two years later: September 11. That morning, I’d driven to school with a classmate, and we’d been startled to see a fighter pilot slice through the air above the road, the noise of his engines shaking the car. I lived a six-hour drive from New York City; by plane, it’s forty-five minutes. By that evening, the distance had shrunk to nothing at all. “War is not simply a portion of historical study—it is what we are. The idea of combat—whether it is between two people, whole armies, or even a man with his own demons—shapes the fabric of humanity to its core,” Greg Drobny writes in his introduction to War Stories. Whether or not conflict is at the heart of the human condition, it’s certainly at the heart of fiction.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thompson, Volwys (2015)

Douglas Thompson, Volwys and other stories. Doghorn Press, 2014. Pp. 274. ISBN 978-1-9071-3388-6. £10.99.

Reviewed by Wendy Bousfield

Scottish author Douglas Thompson has published his eighth volume of fiction, a collection that includes nine stories (previously published in magazines), plus a new novella. ‘Twenty Twenty,’ ‘Theonae,’ ‘Postcards from the Future,’ ‘Gravity Wave,’ and the title novella ‘Volwys’ are set in various versions of a dystopian Europe two hundred years in the future: Earth’s ecology has collapsed, and humans are reduced to savagery. In ‘Black Sun,’ ‘Multiplicity,’ and ‘Quasar Rise,’ space travelers enter black holes, experiencing time and space anomalies: characters meet multiple versions of themselves, age rapidly, or are propelled backwards in time to infancy. A steampunk story, ‘Narcissi,’ is the only humorous work. The fictions in Volwys feature cautionary ecological messages, kinky sex, time paradoxes, surrealistic images, and futuristic gadgets. At times frustrating to review because of poor execution and clunky style, Volwys nevertheless contains important subjects and original ideas.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Hawke, Division (2014)

Lee S. Hawke, Division: A collection of science fiction fairytales. Blind Mirror Publishing, 2014. Pp. 114. ISBN 978-1-925299-01-4. $8.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

The fairy tale is a peculiar genre: today we usually think of it as quaint, storybook fodder for small children. In fact, most of the fairy tales we know best grew out of a specific body of speculative literature that developed across the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe. Like science fiction, the fairy tale form could be used to discuss and even mock the politics and social figures of the day. Lee S. Hawke’s collection of what he calls science fiction fairy tales, Division, is very much in the spirit of that old tradition, and each of the seven short stories in this slim volume shines and burns with too sharp observations of our contemporary world.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Riggs, Bilateral Asymmetry (2014)

Don Riggs, Bilateral Asymmetry, Poems. Texture Press, 2014. Pp 114. ISBN 978-0-692-21272-1. $17.00.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

When we discuss genre writing, poetry often gets left out, ignominiously, despite some of the great practitioners of the form: Tolkien, of course, wrote elegiac verse for and in his legendarium; the poems of Ursula K. Le Guin and Jane Yolen echo the concerns and themes of their prose works. Speculative poetry, like speculative fiction, explores possibility through form as well as content. The poems, calligrams, and illustrations in Don Riggs’s new collection Bilateral Asymmetry play with the mythic and the esoteric, inviting closer readings to deceptively short texts.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Samatar, Stranger in Olondria (2013)

Sofia Samatar, A Stranger in Olondria. Small Beer Press, 2013. Pp 300. ISBN 978-1-93152-076-8. $16.00.

Reviewed by Valeria Vitale

A Stranger in Olondria, by Sofia Samatar—winner of the 2014 Campbell Award for Best New Writer—is a book of unusual beauty that glorifies the art of narration in both its form and content. Samatar’s debut novel has the charm of complexity, but devoid of the coldness of intellectualism, every page marked by the rare literary talent of its author. The book is made of smaller and bigger stories, knitted together harmoniously in spite of their diversity; stories about knowledge, languages, love, sorrow, the supernatural. If you’re wondering how it is possible to link them together in a single, unforgettable tale, open this book and prepare to be amazed.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Weaver, Black Hole Bar

Dave Weaver, The Black Hole Bar. Elsewhen Press, 2014. Pp. 241. ISBN 978-1-908168-49-8. £9.99/$17.99.

Reviewed by Andy Sawyer

The Black Hole Bar is an interesting combination—depending upon how you look at it—of mediocre-to-quite entertaining short stories and unusually-structured novel and actually successful novel, which gradually exposes the nature of the world in which it is set. The back-cover blurb references Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Boccaccio’s Decameron to rather startling effect. Any reader who knows these works (especially anyone who notices that “Boccaccio” is actually misspelled here) is going to be ironic at the expense of the author, because to the most cursory or charitable reading The Black Hole Bar is not as good a story-cycle as the works of Chaucer and Boccaccio, nor do the stories offer as sharp a satire on their tellers and times. That said—and I’d be surprised if I had been lead to any other conclusion—Weaver hasn’t disgraced himself, and deserves better.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Hall, Prosperity (2014)

Alexis Hall, Prosperity. Riptide Publishing, 2014. Pp. 226. ISBN 978-1-62649-176-2. $4.99.

Reviewed by Ashley O’Brien

Prosperity, written by Alexis Hall and published by Riptide Publishing, is a delightful, wacky novel that challenges every existing genre. Readers follow the protagonist and narrator, a young petty criminal with a heart of gold, as he battles clockwork exes and flies across the universe, fleeing monsters. Piccadilly, as he named himself, doesn’t mean anyone any particular harm but has more fun getting into trouble than anything else. He leaves a dingy, hopeless underground ghetto known as Gaslight, and travels to Prosperity, a lawless skytown somewhere over England kept in place miraculously through skyhooks. Strength and force are the only rules in this lawless region, which attracts people from every unsavory walk of life, including our protagonist Piccadilly. Though lovable, Piccadilly would be any other card sharp/thief/prostitute, if he hadn’t ripped off the wrong man and triggered a set of events sending him off on marvelous adventures with the absurd, ragtag crew aboard the beautiful and impossible aethership, Shadowless.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Harrison, TimeStorm (2014)

Steve Harrison, TimeStorm. Elsewhen Press, 2014. Pp. 359. ISBN 978-1-908168-44-3. £9.99/ €11.99/$17.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

“The past is a strange country” is the sort of metaphor that has a tendency to be overused because it is often so very apt, especially in cases like time travel stories. What better way to immerse a reader than by explaining the foreign language of the commonplace, or exploring geography that was once familiar and is now exotic? Books like Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series have become new classics for how deftly they handle the transition between old and new worlds. Steve Harrison’s new novel, TimeStorm, although it falls a little short of its premise, is an entertaining attempt at an experiment in this vein.