Thursday, October 20, 2016

Zinos-Amaro/Silverberg, Traveler of Worlds (2016)

Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Traveler of Worlds: Conversations With Robert Silverberg. Fairwood Press, 2016. Pp. 280. ISBN 978-1-933846-63-7. $16.99.

Reviewed by Andy Sawyer

Robert Silverberg is a writer I have read far too little of. But then, Silverberg is a writer everyone has read far too little of. One of the most prolific writers in our field, he began selling to the science fiction magazines (interestingly, for the British mag Nebula) in 1955: a mere three years, as he notes in one of his conversations here, after Philip K. Dick began publishing. In his first incarnation, he dedicated himself unflinchingly to writing and selling science fiction for the market, writing stories at breakneck speed (49 in 1956 alone), sometimes in partnership with Randall Garrett, sometimes under a bewildering array of house-names. During the late 60s and into the 70s (when I first came across his work), he changed tack, taking advantage of the increasing openness of the field to new styles and ideas. His work during that period alone would put many lesser writers to shame, both in quantity and quality. Among a series of astonishing stand-alone novels that ought to be on anyone’s bookshelf, Dying Inside (1972) stands out for its dark (some might say metaphorical) exploration of a telepath’s gradual decline of his powers.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Cirsova #2 (Summer 2016)

Cirsova: Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine #2 (Summer 2016). Pp. 104. ISBN 978-1533557056. $7.50.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

Cirsova is a new fantasy and science fiction magazine that pays semi-pro rates and focuses on golden-age adventure, sword and planet, heroic fantasy and old-fashioned romantic fantasy genres. One gets the feeling that editor P. Alexander is going for a classic feel, but the word I would choose would be “retro”—along with the larger-than-life heroes, exotic locales and lack of concern for “scientific accuracy,” this issue seems to come from an age before gender or representation had much of a place in escapist fiction. There is a good mix of genres in this slim volume, from very short stories to forty-page novella, by way of poetry, nonfiction and a mock RPG adventure, and from comic-fantasy to shattered far future, by way of faeries, eldrich death spirits and contemporary shark horror. Readers who hark back to this kind of vaguely juvenile fantasy will find a varied, generally well-written and edited collection of seven stories.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Rhonda Parrish, Sirens (2016)

Rhonda Parrish (ed.), Sirens. World Weaver Press, 2016. Pp. 264. ISBN 978-0-69268-720-8. $12.95.

Reviewed by Rachel Verkade

Ironically, just as I sat down to write this review, a 2010 movie entitled Siren came on TV. The film told the story of a newly-married couple and their male friend taking a boating trip in Greece, purportedly to see “the island featured in ‘The Odyssey’” where Odysseus encountered the Sirens. Once there, they encounter a strange young girl (age never known, but implied to be in her late teens) who is, of course, more than she seems. It wasn’t a great movie, but ironically it actually touched on a number of the themes explored in the Sirens anthology: sex as weapon and compulsion, the intermingling of sex and violence, the awakening of one’s unknown erotic urges, and, perhaps most compelling, the sexual war between genders imposed by society upon heterosexual relationships. The titular siren’s voice works on all three protagonists, male and female, but the men are plagued by visions of and compulsions towards violence, whereas the siren’s gentler, more sensual side is reserved for the heroine. This is juxtaposed by the inadvertent violence that the men, the heroine’s lover and friend, show towards both women; a rape fantasy game played at the film’s opening, leering jokes about sexual violence towards the young girl (including a particularly nasty “joke” about how perhaps a threesome would help her get over her apparent trauma), and sexual speculation about her age (“How old do you think she is?” “Old enough.”). This sort of supposed inherent aggression between the sexes is the true basis for the myth of the sirens, the predatory women who use the same physical attributes used to oppress them to lure their male oppressors to their deaths.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Hemstreet, God Wave (2016)

Patrick Hemstreet, The God Wave. HarperVoyager, 2016. Pp 401. ISBN 978-0-06-241950-7. $24.99.

Reviewed by Don Riggs

Patrick Hemstreet’s first novel, The God Wave, is a fast read, even though my time for reading it was limited to the bus rides to and from work mornings and evenings, and I was usually writing in my copy with a ballpoint pen during those half-hour intervals. I was writing because I was marking sample passages for this review much as I do when teaching a book in a science fiction class, one of which I was teaching as I was reading The God Wave. As a result, many of my initial impressions came from the relationships between Hemstreet’s novel and what I had been teaching in class recently. My first reaction was: a Golden Age SF story, both from the standpoint of style and from its definite status as a “hard science fiction” novel. In certain ways, I was reminded of Asimov et al., both in positive and negative ways.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Vaughn, Kiss for a Dead Film Star (2016)

Karen Vaughn, A Kiss for a Dead Film Star and Other Stories. Brain Mill Press, 2016. Pp. 111. ISBN 978-1-94208-338-2. $12.95.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

The seeming inextricability of the forces of love and death, of eros and thanatos, are ones that have haunted the human condition since before stylus was put to clay. They are almost cliché at this point, but Karen Vaughn takes these ideas, pulling them this way and that, until she has this book—a collection of short stories that, each in their own way, confront the possibilities of the ineffable.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Andrew Hook, punkPunk! (2015)

Andrew Hook (ed.), punkPunk!. Dog Horn Publishing, 2015. Pp. 218. ISBN 978-1-90713-389-3. £12.99.

Reviewed by Małgorzata Mika

Published in January 2015 by DogHorn Publishing, punkPunk! is a collection of short stories unified by a peculiar cultural phenomenon whose name formulates the title of the book. Defined as an “eclectic mix of stories” (7), its main purpose is to present punk “not simply [as]a static component of history, but a process of evolution and revolution.” Such a statement holds the promise of entanglement and literary engagement far exceeding the chronological reiteration of forms and styles.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Fogg, Lilies of Dawn (2016)

Vanessa Fogg, The Lilies of Dawn. Annorlunda Books, 2016. Pp 71. ISBN 978-1-94435-412-1. $7.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

The novella is an underappreciated form; too often a reader can look up from a novel’s “soggy middle” and wish that some content had been streamlined, or finish a short story and wish that there had only been more. Vanessa Fogg’s The Lilies of Dawn is exactly the right size for the story that it wants to tell, a deliciously atmospheric tale that blends fairy tale and fantasy. I read it through in one sitting and you should consider doing the same.

The eponymous lilies of dawn grow in splendid isolation in the countryside, treasured for their use in medicines, and watched over by the Dawn Priestess. Kai is the latest in the long line of such priestesses, but she is preoccupied with a flock of destructive, mystical cranes that are slowly destroying each year’s crop, and the failing health of her mother. Without the medicine distilled from the lilies’ nectar, her mother, and many others, will die.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Ratnayake, Red Soil Through Our Fingers (2016)

N.A. Ratnayake, Red Soil Through Our Fingers. Self-published, 2016. Pp. 154. ISBN 978-1-3105-3686-1. $2.99.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

Red Soil is the first in a series of short SF novels self-published by high-school physics teacher N.A. Ratnayake (whose short story “Remembering Turinam” we published in We See a Different Frontier a couple years ago). A corporate dystopia set on a “frontier” Mars, with protagonists who are agri-pioneers, and antagonists in the predatory megacorp that owns most of the land and tech they rely on, this is very much a story about exploitation, colonialism, runaway capitalism, and the solidarity and companionship with which we can hope to survive it. While uneven in some places, as I’ll point out below, this ambitious and imaginative novel is a promising start to an epic series.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Hastings, Song of the Deep (2016)

Brian Hastings, Song of the Deep. Sterling Children’s Books, 2016. Pp 170. ISBN 978-1-4549-2096-0. $12.95.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

Song of the Deep by Brian Hastings is an illustrated chapter book for younger readers and a tie-in to the video game of the same name. Impressively, it absolutely stands on its own, with none of the awkward gimmickiness that can afflict tie-in material to other formats. Illustrated throughout and with accompanying maps on the endpapers, as well as sturdy hardback covers and a sewn binding, this is a book that can be read by youngsters over and over again and survive the rereading (and I do not say this lightly, having several nephews). It is also a surprisingly deep fairy tale about family, the lingering effects of war, and ecology—all written with a light hand such that children reading it now will still appreciate it in decades to come.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Helgadóttir, Winter Tales (2016)

Margrét Helgadóttir (ed.), Winter Tales. Fox Spirit Books, 2016. Pp. 234. ISBN 978-1-909348-88-2. $11.00/£7.99.

Reviewed by Wendy Bousfield

(Some spoilers below.)

A thematic collection of stories and poems by little known writers, Winter Tales includes (mostly) dark fantasies with folkloric elements. Editor Margrét Helgadóttir is a Norwegian-Icelandic writer and editor, writing in English, and author of The Stars Seem So Far Away (2015), a collection of thematically linked short stories, set in a post-apocalyptic Earth, whose survivors have fled to the poles to escape ecological devastation. Prior to Winter Tales, Helgadóttir co-edited two thematic collections of art and stories, European Monsters (2014) and the BFA-nominated African Monsters (2015), all of which are published by Fox Spirit Books, a small press that favors “weird noir” fiction. Winter Tales employs winter cold as what Stephen King called the “phobic pressure point” (Danse Macabre). Winter Tales, in this reviewer’s opinion, is weakened by several stories that fail to resolve fundamental problems raised by the plot.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Johnson, Vacui Magia (2016)

L.S. Johnson, Vacui Magia: Stories. Traversing Z Press, 2016. Pp. 220. ISBN 978-0-6926463-8-0. $8.99.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

Vacui Magia is an remarkably strong self-published collection of reprints by California-based author L.S. Johnson, who has built up quite an impressive publication record over the past four years or so, and who presents us here with a rich handful of stories that first appeared in some of the more reliable venues of our field such as Crossed Genres Magazine, Strange Horizons and Interzone. Most of the pieces herein range across horror and dark fantasy, with just a sprinkling of science fictional or historical settings, and a tendency toward dark and mythic tones, with themes that include women’s struggling in an ugly, abusive world; sometimes magic is an escape from this abuse, but sometimes magic is just another layer of ugliness to be survived. This volume impresses not only because of the richness and quality that is all drawn from just four years of publishing, but even more so because of the variety of content and yet consistency of spirit that suffuses this short collection of eight stories.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Helgadóttir and Thomas, African Monsters (2015)

Margrét Helgadóttir and Jo Thomas (eds.), African Monsters. Fox Spirit Books, 2015. Pp. 198. ISBN 9781909348844. $15.00.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

African Monsters is the second volume of Fox Spirit’s monster anthologies; the first, European Monsters, was released in 2014. All of the contributing authors (and many of the artists) of African Monsters are from or have lived on that continent, and so the anthology draws on authentic and widely varying experiences of the countries represented rather than on a purely exotified collection. The book has also been nominated for Best Anthology in the 2016 British Fantasy Awards, a powerful acknowledgement of its quality as a collection in general. Most interestingly to me, in their introduction Helgadóttir and Thomas write that one of their goals with this series is to ‘rescue monsters’ and to return them to the ‘work for which they were originally designed: putting terror into people’s hearts’ (7). I find this striking in comparison to the current trend to “rescue” monsters by revising them, perhaps most notably in the guise of romantic and sexy vampires. While the transformational approach is one that has often been used to explore cultural anxieties, the engagement used here is to contrast folkloric tradition with contemporary experiences. As such, and in combination with the striking visual art integrated throughout the text, African Monsters provides a very different approach to content and to voices.