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.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Jääskeläinen, Rabbit Back Literature Society (2013)

Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen, The Rabbit Back Literature Society. Translated from Finnish by Lola M. Rogers. Puskin Press, 2013. Pp. 346. ISBN 978-1-90896-898-2. £8.92 hc/£4.19 e.

Reviewed by Margrét Helgadóttir

The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Finnish author Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen, was first published by Atena Kustannus in Finland in 2006 as Lumikko ja yhdeksän muuta, then in English translation in 2013 by Puskin Press. The first of Jääskeläinen’s novels translated to English, Rabbit Back is a mesmerising book about secrets and riddles, human desires, a highly contagious book virus, a literary society and an author disappearing in an snow whirlwind. The book is both a crime story and a fantasy, and is convincingly balancing between the dark, bizarre and the realistic. A pleasant surprise and an entertaining book, it is well worth reading.

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.