Friday, January 22, 2016

Goggin, Not Your Mother’s Goose (2015)

Topher Goggin, Not Your Mother’s Goose. CRD Press, 2015. Pp. 68. ISBN 978-0-9909-6440-7. $19.95 pb/$5.88 e.

Reviewed by Kate Onyett

Not Your Mother’s Goose does what it says on the tin; no gentle stroll down paths of literary discussion of fairy tales here, but a rampant gallop through the gossip pages of far, far way and your momma ain’t gonna help ya, either, sweetheart. This is the underbelly of the cute and the twinkly, told with (at least to this British eye) Bronx-ian slant. Following the (also American) Reduced Shakespeare Company’s pioneering work at editing classics for shorter modern attention spans, Goggin has chuffed up a cross between talk-show scandal-mongering and stand-up satire.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Golden, Tales of My Ancestors (2015)

Bruce Edward Golden, Tales of My Ancestors. Shaman Press, 2015. Pp. 218. ISBN 978-1-5194-1454-0. $12.95.

Reviewed by Troy Erickson

What is it that makes a book unique? Is it the quirky nature of its characters? Is it the plot—the basic storyline? How many storylines are really “one of a kind”? Sometimes it’s the tone of a book that makes it stand out. Sometimes it’s a distinctive writing style. In the case of Tales of My Ancestors by Bruce Edward Golden, it’s the basic concept which makes it unlike any other book. On the surface, Tales of My Ancestors is a collection of historically based short stories ranging from the 10th century to the 20th. Though primarily historical fiction, each tale has a hardy helping of fantasy or science fiction—Golden’s usual genre. But there are a number of books that combine historical fiction with speculative fiction. That’s not what makes the book unique. The crowning touch (literally “crowning” because some of Golden’s ancestors were actually kings) is that each story features at least one of his direct ancestors (a great, great … grandfather or grandmother). I’ve searched, and can’t find a single book with all three of these elements. If for no other reason, that makes this volume as singular as you can find.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Patrick, Meditations in Wonderland (2015)

Anna Patrick, Meditations in Wonderland. River Grove Books, 2015. Pp. 227. ISBN 978-1-63299-045-7. $13.95.

Reviewed by Don Riggs

Of the books brought out in time for the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Anna Patrick’s is the most intensely personal and deeply psychological novel that I have seen. Patrick takes Carroll’s Journey through the Belly of the Whale and emphasizes the shamanic potential of it such that Elizabeth, the protagonist, goes through a confrontation with herself with the intention—not necessarily conscious—of grappling with the darkness within herself and resolving whatever issues she has had that have resulted in her living a life in hiding behind the mask that she has fashioned over the years. Carroll’s Alice has been important for her since a child, and her Alice doll leads her on into the rabbit-hole and through the various Stations of the Wonderland, abbreviated from the sequence of places and events in the original novel.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Haven, Mama Cried (2015)

Talia Haven, Mama Cried. Self published, 2015. Pp. 12. ASIN B00S2RKNFU. $0.99.

Reviewed by Valerie Vitale

Mama Cried by Talia Haven is an unusual, well written, short ghost story that builds on folkloric archetypes, presenting them to the reader within a different and fascinating narrative. One of the things that struck me the most about this piece is how the author shapes the different atmospheres that the story evokes, going, gradually but at a fast pace, from a vaguely eerie feeling, to spooky mysteriousness, evolving into proper, overt ghost story, and, eventually, into horror. The tale develops around one main idea, and I think that the form of short story suits it perfectly. Haven avoids the temptation of expanding something that, in my opinion, has in its brevity one of the reasons of its effectiveness.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Anderson/Peart, Clockwork Lives (2015)

Kevin J. Anderson and Neil Peart, Clockwork Lives. ECW Press, 2015. Pp. 396. ISBN 978-1-77041-294-1. $24.95.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

How does one fill the pages of a book?

I feel as though I can hear thousands of weary sighs from people at their keyboards following the conclusion of National Novel Writing Month, but in the case of Anderson and Peart’s collaborative novel Clockwork Lives, the answer is literally blood and tears. Marinda Peake’s deceased father has bequeathed her a blank alchemy book and a mission: to leave behind the comfortable life she has always known and fill the volume with the stories of others. Though billed as a steampunk Canterbury Tales, this novel has more in common with Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story in both form and concept. The tale itself expertly connects Marinda’s story with those that she collects, and the physical volume, bound in embossed faux-leather with marbled endpapers and filled with tinted, patterned pages to recall handmade papers, is a bibliophile’s delight. (An archival one too: the case binding with sewn endbands is absolutely going to last longer than your average mass-market hardback!) It also contains over a dozen full-page illustrations by Nick Robles to introduce each of the stories that Marinda collects via drops of blood provided by those she speaks with; each of the tales’ chapter headings includes an evocative blood splat and a shading from red-to-black as the “blood” becomes print. It’s a fun graphic design element, recalling the dual red and green inks used in Ende’s book to denote what story sections take place in the “real” and “imaginary” worlds.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Johansson, Googolplex (2015)

K.G. Johansson, Googolplex. Affront Publishing, 2015. Pp. 206. ISBN 978-91-87585-35-7. $12.90.

Reviewed by Kate Onyett

A googolplex is a large number. A vast number. It is a one followed by 10,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000 zeros. If you considered it in terms of, say, a number of particles, it would be more particles than is contained in the universe! It’s so insanely huge, that most human brains (e.g. those not involved in eye-watering, teeth-swallowing mathematics), would consider it to be damn close to infinity. And trying to count anything in terms of googolplexes, plural, becomes a close run-in with insanity when trying to conceptualize such vast numbers of things. So instead, as Johansson has done, we are invited to think of googolplex as the description of the number of possibilities. That is, pretty much limitless numbers of alternative universes to our own. ‘Quantum’ seems to be the catchall phrase in science fiction now for anything involving differential potentials. Within the explicatory vindication of ‘quantum’ multitudes of probabilities opening out as new vistas for speculative fiction to explore. But Johansson, while his story remains rooted in the concept of multiverses, refrains from heavy-handed science-fiction quantum explanations. He even hardly uses the word at all. This is a huge story about just one man.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Reed, Where (2015)

Kit Reed, Where: A Novel. Tom Doherty Associates, 2015. Pp. 236. ISBN 978-0-7653-7982-5. $25.99.

Reviewed by Wendy Bousfeld

By eighty-three-year-old Kit Reed, prolific author of fantasy, speculative fiction, and psychological thrillers, Where is a page-turner! It is set on Kraven, an island off the coast of South Carolina. Close-knit and backward-looking, Kraven residents glorify their antebellum Southern heritage, passing down to their children cherished Civil War photos and heirlooms. An enigmatic developer, Rawson Steele, appears, charming some residents and alienating others with promises of “new buildings and renovations” (11). Shortly after Steele’s arrival, Kraven residents wake up to find themselves in “Anywhen”: “a square of gleaming, featureless buildings in a dead desert town where nothing grows” (38). Though the layout of streets and houses is identical to Kraven, the islanders’ habitats have been stripped of color and personal possessions. In the plaza, a giant TV streams newsreels of Kraven, now deserted except for search parties. Without any clue to their whereabouts, most stunned islanders remain in their assigned quarters, unwilling to brave scorching hot days and dangerously cold nights. Every morning, dumbwaiters supply each household with food (never described) and fresh scrubs to wear.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Burdon, Almost Invincible (2014)

Suzanne Burdon, Almost Invincible: a biographical novel of Mary Shelley. Criteria Publishing, 2014. Pp. 339. ISBN 978-0-9923540-0-8. £12.99.

Reviewed by Andy Sawyer

You couldn’t make it up. You really couldn’t. Three young people, filled with new-agey dreams of free love and liberal communitarianism, run away to Switzerland. One of them (who in a couple of years is going to write one of the greatest and certainly most paradigm-shifting novels ever written) is the teenage daughter of the greatest female political writer of her age, forever haunted by guilt stemming from her mother’s death shortly after childbirth. She was brought up by a father whose celebrated philosophical anarchism was a magnet to the young man who has just deserted his wife and child for her: a poet already notorious for atheism and revolutionary views, as well as an almost godlike personal charm. The third (in some ways the most interesting character) is the stepsister of the first: a young woman almost certainly in love with the second but who seemed to have reserved a scarcely sane fangirl obsession for the man whom they are destined to meet: an older and more cynical poet “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.”

Friday, November 06, 2015

James (ed.), Far Orbit Apogee (2015)

Bascomb James (ed.), Far Orbit Apogee. World Weaver Press, 2015. Pp. 306. ISBN 978-0-6925-0976-0. $14.95.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

Far Orbit Apogee is the second in a series of anthologies dedicated to space adventures edited by Bascomb James, with two more books slated as forthcoming in 2016. The aim of the series, James explains in the introduction, is dedication to “Grand Tradition storytelling for a modern audience,” with Grand Tradition defined as “a writing and storytelling style popular in mid-century SF publications composed of plot-driven fun-to-read adventure stories with a positive message and a sense of wonder” (5). Reading this volume with a critical eye, I honestly wasn’t sure if this collection was meant to participate in the ongoing schisms in genre fandom personified by the recent Puppygate crisis, or if it was only trying to appeal to new or nostalgic readers. “Grand Tradition” is a known phrase but one seldom used; outside of the occasional brief review blurb, the only other times I’ve seen it used was in a pair of anthologies edited by Gardner Dozois in the 1990s (The Good Old Stuff, containing classic reprints and published in 1998, and The Good New Stuff, a collection containing contemporary writers published in 1999). Nonetheless, James does provide what he aims to deliver: a diverse series of stories.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Mullaney, Eternal Blue Sky (2015)

Marguerite Mullaney, Eternal Blue Sky. SGW Books, 2015. Pp. 262. ISBN 978-0-69245-217-2. $12.00 pb/$6.99 e.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

Eternal Blue Sky is an indie-published historical adventure/fantasy novel involving slightly far-fetched technology and time travel to the crucial period of Mongolian history. The land and skies of Mongolia are almost a character in themselves, which is just as well since most of the human characters range between unsympathetic and downright repugnant; it really is a strikingly unromantic view of the exotic past. Despite some writing flaws and slightly grating cultural appropriation, and the fact that many of the basic elements of this book were not really my cup of tea (it is an historical fantasy adventure/thriller with an ostensibly science fictional setting, rather than fiction about the science or even social themes), the premise itself is interesting, and the adventure at times exciting and gripping.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Holland, Dragon Heart (2015)

Cecelia Holland, Dragon Heart. Tor Books, 2015. Pp. 286. ISBN 978-0-7653-3794-8. $25.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

For the first time in ages, I’ve recently joined a writing group. Thus far we’ve had several conversations about writing genre, and what that means, both online and face-to-face. One of the things I’ve found puzzling, in both the teaching of writing and of speculative literature, is the difficulties that abound in describing what makes a genre, any genre, a member of a specific category. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? Romance stories obviously have love as a consistent theme, mysteries a puzzle or murder to solve, science fiction has rocket ships (unless, of course, it doesn’t), fantasy has magic, and history has, well, history. But if we look more closely, it’s amazing how quickly these supposed walls disappear, and how excellent writers can take a hoary staple and utterly subvert it. Further, as the popularity of Young Adult literature has shown, genre mash-ups create entirely new sub-genres like dystopian romances or historic fantasy, among many others. And it’s with these thoughts in mind that I started reading Cecelia Holland’s Dragon Heart, a fantasy novel by a writer who has made her mark in historical fiction.

Monday, October 05, 2015

James, Mesmerist’s Daughter (2015)

Heidi James, The Mesmerist’s Daughter. Neon Books, 2015. Pp. 28. ISBN 978-1-3113-6569-9. £4.00.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

Nicola’s mother is a wolf. Maybe a werewolf, maybe a wolf disguised as a human during the day, maybe a magician or mesmerist of some kind who is able to pull the sheep’s clothing-wool over people’s eyes at will. During the day she is a sarcastic, dissatisfied, compulsive liar, somewhat bullying mother and unfaithful wife; at night she sloughs her human skin and voraciously attacks Nicola in her bed. Afraid that she is not able to control her voice and keep her mother’s secret, Nicola stops speaking altogether after the age of 4, and goes through her whole childhood voluntarily mute, thereby treated like an idiot by the world and especially her lycanthrope mother. The story of this semi-real life is interspersed with scenes from Nicola’s later stays in a psychiatric institution, where she reflects with the benefit of hindsight on her paranormal childhood. This short novella by Heidi James, author of the well-received spousal-angst novel Wounding, reprinted by Neon Books who specialize in poetic and slipstream chapbooks, tells a story full of unsettling developments and leads to the bathetic, inevitable climax. This is not the first story to use monstrous imagery to describe an unhappy childhood, nor does it break new ground in its use of unreliable, potentially psychotic narrator, but it is a refreshingly unapologetic combination of absurdist, surrealist, and nightmarish content in the service of a genuinely emotive story.