Sunday, June 29, 2014

Connell, The Galaxy Club (2014)

Brendan Connell, The Galaxy Club. Chômu Press, 2014. Pp. 202. ISBN 978-1-907681-25-7. £10.00.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

The latest short novel by inventive and experimental fantasy author Connell, published by the rather wonderful, weird Chômu Press, is typically hard to categorize. Billed as “noir” in the press pack, the book does indeed involve downbeat, not terribly sympathetic characters in various degrees of chronic struggle or desperation and whose conflict in the story is between letting their lives get even worse or scrabbling to hold on with their fingernails for another day, set in a mid-twentieth century American locale. But on the other hand it is also a road novel, with hitchhikers, car chases, lonely towns to pass through and creepy strangers to pass through them, and even elements of the beatnik, with trippy images, multiple characters popping legal or illegal drugs and drinking excessively, and a sense of reality that verges between magical realist and mythological. Above all these, it boasts unmistakably literary features, including unreliable narrators, multiple irrational and inanimate points-of-view, language deployed to disorient the reader, character and imagery overriding plot, and an unclear, barely satisfying dénouement.
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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Hughes, More Than a Feline (2014)

Rhys Hughes, More Than a Feline: Cat Tales and Poems. Gloomy Seahorse Press, 2013. ISBN 978-1-291-61927-0. £3.99/£4.99.

Reviewed by Kathryn Allan

Touted as “an illustrated volume of cat stories and poems by cult author Rhys Hughes written over the past two decades and collected together for the very first time,” More Than a Feline is a sometimes irreverent, mostly fun book about cats. If you really like cats and have a generous sense of humour, then you will probably enjoy at least a few of the stories in this short collection (27 stories and poems, totalling 103 pages). I had brought More Than a Feline along with me while attending a conference in Orlando, Florida. The home-spun image on the front cover and a quick skim of its contents told me that this is the kind of book best meant for vacation reading.
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Monday, June 23, 2014

Jones (ed.), Psycho Mania (2013)

Stephen Jones (ed.), Psycho Mania. Skyhorse Publishing, 2013. 978-1-628-73816-2. $14.95.

Reviewed by Rachel Verkade

The shadow behind the shower curtain. The figure in the alley. The face behind the mask. The psycho, or homicidal maniac, has been a staple of horror ever since it awakened as a genre. From Norman Bates to Michael Myers and all of their ilk, the “psycho killer” has become one of horror’s most popular tropes. Add one of horror literature’s most celebrated editors and some of its most popular authors (including the original author of Psycho, Robert Bloch) to the mix, and it seems like a match made in heaven. So, does the book live up to the hype?
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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Tieryas Liu, Bald New World (2014)

Peter Tieryas Liu, Bald New World. Perfect Edge, 2014. Pp. 229. ISBN 978-1-7827-9508-7. $16.95.

Reviewed by Kate Onyett

Opening this treasure of a book up, and you are dropped into a decidedly dystopian future, where an unknown global event leaves the entire human population without hair; not even lashes or eyebrows are spared. Overnight the world descends into confusion, recrimination, panic and violence; Liu’s vision is of a futuristic civilisation living on a thin knife-edge of sanity, now fallen into bleak selfishness and depravity. Our guide is Nick, a Chinese-American from a painfully, gods-awful childhood, who yet has grown up into a thoughtful and feeling narrator, hidden behind what could be construed as an instinctive frontage of unengaged existence. When wearing the best type of wig comes with an elevated sense of social position, the lack of hair, the rendering of the bald self, naked and exposed, has sent humanity scuttling to hide behind a million constructed images.
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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Unger, Gag (2014)

Melissa Unger, Gag. Roundfire Books, 2014. Pp. 150. ISBN 978-1-78279-564-3. $13.95/£7.99.

Reviewed by Kate Onyett

This is, effectively, a story of two halves. In the first, we meet Peter, a rich New York drifter, who one day stopped eating and has managed to get along perfectly healthily for fifteen years. Having finally decided to try again, he travels to Paris, as a centre of gourmand delights, to tempt his body back into eating. On the plane he meets Dallas, a hugely fat Southern state gentleman, and then bumps into him again, singing in a queerly feminine voice at a seedy night club. Now for part two: Dallas, knocked down in a hit-and-run, is revealed in hospital to be Claire. Recuperating from her injuries, Claire joins Peter in his apartment, and from here we plunge into an emotional drama as two dysfunctional people try to grasp a sense of normalcy and meaning from the very people that know least about it: each other.
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Saturday, June 07, 2014

Phillips, Recurrence Plot (2014)

Rasheedah Phillips, Recurrence Plot (and Other Time Travel Tales). The AfroFuturist Affair/House of Future Sciences Books, 2014. Pp. 230. ISBN 978-0-9960050-0-5. $12.95.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

Recurrence Plot achieves the delightful symmetry of being a novel about experiencing time out of sequence, with a main character who has faulty memory and incomplete information, and about the discovery and reading of a self-published, postmodern, pseudoscientific, multimedia and multi-genre, portmanteau book, which is told out of sequence, leaving the reader confused and with incomplete information, and in a portmanteau, postmodern and pseudoscientific style. The novel (or mish-mash of related stories, whichever it is) really wants to be interactive fiction, and is slightly unsatisfactory for not quite embracing the possibilities of that medium, but is nevertheless an impressive debut and first installment in what promises to be an interesting ongoing series.
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Sunday, May 04, 2014

Glass & Madera, Once and Future Nerd (2013-)

Zach Glass and Christian Madera, The Once and Future Nerd. Audi-serial, 2013-present. Free online at onceandfuturenerd.com.

Reviewed by Kate Onyett

Comic-fantasy audio-serial The Once and Future Nerd (TOAFN) is the brainchild of two unashamedly nerdy friends: Zach Glass, a bioengineer, and Christian Madera, a film editor. Madera came up with the initial idea, and roped in Glass to help write and develop it. Between them, they gathered a group of performers, musicians and sound engineers to create a continuing audio series, with free, downloadable episodes faithfully released every two weeks and extra material loaded up onto a dedicated webpage. As an unpaid project, it’s a labour of love, and if the cast and crew biographies on the webpage are anything to go by, enthusiastically supported by all doing it.
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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fox & Older eds., Long Hidden (2014)

Rose Fox and Daniel José Older (eds.), Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History. Crossed Genres Publications, 2014. Pp. 363. ISBN 978-0-9913921-0-0. $19.95.

Reviewed by Nicole Cipri

I was incredibly excited to read Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History. I first heard about it over a year ago, during its wildly successful Kickstarter campaign. I loved everything about the project: the editors (Rose Fox and Daniel José Older), the publisher (Crossed Genres), the authors that had been invited to submit (far too many to name). Most of all, I loved the raison d’être of the anthology: resisting the erasure of marginalized people, both from history and from speculative fiction.
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Saturday, April 12, 2014

George, Tip Jar (2014)

Carol Lynn George, The Tip Jar. Self-published, 2014. Pp. 57. ISBN 978-1-3120-1522-7. $6.99 e-book/$24.38 hardcover.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

This self-published short collection of stories is billed by the author as “science fiction”, but the synopsis makes it clear that this is only in the sense of fiction (largely “realistic”) that engages overtly with “science, technology and medicine”. Most of the stories are not about science or scientists per se, and certainly are not “scientific adventure” or “scientific romance”, but are rather light-weight but heavy-handed allegories for issues around medical or professional ethics, healthcare controversies, and the like. I may have received a pre-publication digital ARC, which would account for the shoddy formatting and proofreading in the volume, but other issues with language, phrasing and editing suggest that the intervention of a good publisher would have made this a more professional collection.
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Monday, March 10, 2014

Duncan & Kelso (edd.), Caledonia Dreamin' (2013)

Hal Duncan and Chris Kelso (edd.), Caledonia Dreamin’: Strange fiction of Scottish descent. Eibonvale Press, 2013. Pp. 274. ISBN 978-1-90-81253-0-9. £9.50.

Reviewed by Margrét Helgadóttir

The anthology, edited by Hal Duncan and Chris Kelso and published by Eibonvale Press in December 2013, is a well-crafted collection of seventeen stories that all have been written on the basis of a single Scottish word. The Scottish language and culture is the dominant frame of this book, but it has a broad range of themes and plots and travel across all the speculative genres. The characters in these stories deal with issues like a sudden urge to bathe in the muddy water, the complaining dead mother, the hungry newborn child, the yearning for knowledge, the fear of turning into an animal, a longing for the homeland, or not wanting to go home but to keep wandering. These tales are weird, terrifying, dark, beautiful, disturbing and funny. It was quite a thought-provoking read. Some of these stories are amongst the best stories I have read for quite a while and I recommend the book for not only the lovers of Scotland, the Scots language or linguistics in general, but for all fans of the weird and unexplainable, or people who enjoys plain good writing.
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Saturday, March 08, 2014

Biddle, Atheist’s Prayer (2014)

Amy R. Biddle, The Atheist’s Prayer. Perfect Edge Books, 2014. Pp. 234. ISBN 978-1-78099-582-3. $16.95/£9.99.

Reviewed by Kate Onyett

In a vibrant and gripping first novel, Biddle has produced a strong satirical critique of human behaviour; specifically the behaviour that surrounds belief and what we do to sustain it. In a tale of ordinary folk in a dingy, Southern-State American town from very different backgrounds, their lives intertwine in a series of events culminating in near-tragedy. Lizzie is a single mother of Kevin, a somewhat precociously curious little seven-year old. Kevin makes friends at Sunday school with eleven-year-old Luna, whose psychologically broken mother, Heather, is part of a fairy-believing cult. Buying hallucinogenic mushrooms from Candy, a tattooed stripper, Heather draws the children into a dangerous ritual, from which only Candy and Hank, a barroom rat, can save them.
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Saturday, March 01, 2014

Wimpress, Weeks in Naviras (2013)

Chris Wimpress, Weeks in Naviras. Self-published, 2013. Pp. 255. ISBN 978-1-31079-670-8. $2.99.

Reviewed by Paul Wilks

Ellie Weeks, the main protagonist in Chris Wimpress’ Weeks in Naviras is killed in a terrorist attack. However, shortly afterwards she wakes to find herself in a unique afterlife based on her experiences of Naviras, a quiet Portuguese fishing village which she had fallen in love with many years before. The story is split into two narratives which generally alternate with each chapter. It begins with Ellie’s afterlife experience but then also provides the background of her life and how she came to be killed. The book is well-structured with this evocative trick that keeps you reading, even in the more pedestrian sections of the narrative where you’re not quite sure what the story is driving towards.
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