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.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Wood, Azanian Bridges (2016)

Nick Wood, Azanian Bridges. Newcon Press, 2016. Pp. 211. ISBN 978-1-910935-12-5. £11.99/$15.99.

Reviewed by Andy Sawyer

Early in Azanian Bridges, when the two main characters who are drawn somewhat against their wills into standing up against the political system which surrounds them first use the “Empathy Enhancer” which is central to the plot of this fast-moving thriller, there’s a significant moment which sets the tone of what is to follow and raises the book’s level of intelligence above the level of simply “fast-moving thriller”. Martin, a clinical psychologist who has co-developed a device which will capture, record, and interpret human thoughts, needs to know if it will actually work, and decides to test it on one of his patients: Sibusiso, a troubled young amaZulu student who has had a breakdown after witnessing the killing of a friend at a political rally.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Gardiner, The Law of Chaos (2015)

Jeff Gardiner, The Law of Chaos: the Multiverse of Michael Moorcock. Headpress, 2015. Pp. 170. ISBN 978-1-9093-9419-3. $19.95.

Reviewed by Wendy Bousfield

Better known in the twentieth century than today, Michael Moorcock, now in his mid-70s, began his career as a teenager with stories in pulp magazines, and has had an extraordinarily long and diverse career. “Moorcock is a protean writer,” Jeff Gardiner notes in The Law of Chaos, “whose work transcends literary and generic boundaries … [H]is novels are, paradoxically, both popular and literary. His writing covers fields as far ranging as romance, heroic fantasy, science fiction, fabulation, surrealism, popular fiction, satire, allegory, fantastic realism, postmodernism, magic realism, non-fiction, rock’n’roll, comics and even cinema” (8). Most science fiction and fantasy readers probably know Michael Moorcock for his genre writing: sword and sorcery (saga of Elric of Melniboné and his sword Stormbringer), Edgar Rice Burroughs pastiches (Masters of the Pit), alternate histories (Warlord of the Air), and time travel (Dancers at the End of Time trilogy). As editor of New Worlds during the 1960s and 70s, he helped to transform space opera into innovative, intellectually engaging speculative fiction. A professional musician, Moorcock has for decades been a performer and lyricist for the rock bands Deep Fix and Hawkwind. In the 1980s, Moorcock began to write such self-consciously literary novels as Mother London and Byzantium. In 2012, Moorcock published London Peculiar, a collection of non-fiction essays, including accounts of his childhood during the London blitz, a period that profoundly influenced his writing. Recently, he has authored comic books; a computer game; and the first volume of a trilogy, The Whispering Swarm.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Duncan, Testament (2015)

Hal Duncan, Testament. Eibonvale Press, 2015. Pp 398. ISBN 978-1-908125-42-2. £25.00 hb/£10.00 pb.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

Speculative stories that rewrite the Bible (or its offshoots) are common enough to be nearly a dime a dozen; the sort of short story that begins with marooned astronauts on a hostile planet named Adam and Eve is a risible cliché for a reason. In Testament, Hal Duncan rewrites and intersperses the Gospels with commentary from an unnamed author, and if the product is not necessarily new, it is nonetheless absorbing.

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.