Monday, May 25, 2015

Wilson, Affinities (2015)

Robert Charles Wilson, The Affinities. Tor Books, 2015. Pp. 304. ISBN 978-0-7653-3262-2. $25.99.

Reviewed by Don Riggs

When I first started reading this very readable novel, I thought, this isn’t science fiction; it’s a very well-written mainstream novel set in contemporary Canada and U.S. Then as I was sucked into the narrator and his family, then substitute family, I saw many of the frustrations that I, and I assume many of us have had with families and neighbors who just don’t get us. It was only then, when the protagonist takes a series of diagnostic “exams” for a corporation called InterAlia Inc., that I began to recognize my own experiences with eHarmony and similar matchmaking organizations, and was prepared to go the extra step with this setup to see where it was going to lead.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Philips, Black Quantum Futurism (2015)

Rasheedah Philips, Black Quantum Futurism: Theory and Practice Volume I. Afrofuturist Affair, 2015. Pp. 84. ISBN 978-0-9960-0503-6. $8.00.

Reviewed by Ashley O’Brien

Black Quantum Futurism: Theory and Practice Volume 1 is a unique collection of essays and ideas that promises something beyond the ordinary. The basic premise of this collection, compiled by Rasheeda Phillips, who is also a contributor, and published in 2015 by AfroFuturist Affair, is that something very special happens when combining quantum physics, futurist traditions, and Black/African cultural traditions, namely that African descended people can see and change the future. All the rules, even common sense, break down, when looking at things on the quantum level. Even time can lose its meaning. So the idea that a particular tradition of thought, one from a culture or a religion, as an example, could prepare people for the strange mysteries of quantum mechanics is incredibly exciting, and worthy of exploration.

Friday, May 15, 2015

O’Flaherty, King of the Cracksmen (2015)

Dennis O’Flaherty, King of the Cracksmen. Night Shade Books, 2015. Pp. 326. ISBN 978-1-59780-551-3. $15.99.

Reviewed by Wendy Bousfield

Subtitled “A Steampunk Entertainment,” Dennis O’Flaherty’s first novel is set in an alternate, post-Civil War America. Lincoln’s Secretary of Defense, Edwin M. Stanton, has become de facto president after John Wilkes Booth’s unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Lincoln. (Though he survived the assassination attempt, Lincoln has mysteriously disappeared from public life.) Through surveillance and intimidation, Stanton is rapidly creating a fascist dictatorship. Spanning only a few weeks (June 19th to July 2nd, 1877—the novel is precise about dates), the story follows Irish safecracker, Liam McCool, who serves as an undercover agent for the Pilkington detective agency (“Pinkerton,” in “our reality”). A gifted but unwilling detective, McCool has been blackmailed into becoming one of “Stanton’s Eyes.” Because Pilkington detectives are trained to perform carefully scripted roles tailored to their undercover missions, Stanton employs them as spies and strikebreakers.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Helgadóttir & Thomas, European Monsters (2014)

Margrét Helgadóttir and Jo Thomas (edd.), European Monsters. Fox Spirit Books, 2014. Pp. 159. ISBN 978-1-909348-72-1. £10.00/$15.00.

Reviewed by Valeria Vitale

European Monsters is an illustrated anthology published by Fox Spirit Books and edited by Margrét Helgadóttir and Jo Thomas, featuring thirteen stories and two short comics. As the title suggests, they are all built around one or more monstrous creatures, and have Europe (in the past, present or speculative alter-times) as setting. The quality of the stories collected is consistently good and makes the slim book rather pleasant reading.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Mosley, Inside a Silver Box (2015)

Walter Mosley, Inside a Silver Box. Tor Books, 2015. Pp. 304. ISBN 978-0-7653-7521-6. $15.99.

Reviewed by Redfern Jon Barrett

I’m a fan of ambitious tales. Nothing is more satisfying than a grand, sweeping narrative which explores vast worlds and strange, intricate cultures. It can be a risk, but a macrocosmic viewpoint can help us understand ourselves and our shared humanity. So when I learned of Walter Mosley’s new novel—a novel which spans billions of years, and as many species, I was more than a little enthusiastic. Proposing to probe the meaning of life alongside the nature of good and evil, Inside a Silver Box makes some difficult promises. Walter Mosley may be a prolifically successful author, but can his latest work meet this task, or is it too wide in scope for such a short text? More importantly: does it risk sacrificing plot and character development on the altar of philosophy?

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.