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.

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.