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.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Whiteley, Skein Island (2015)

Aliya Whiteley, Skein Island. Dog Horn Publishing, 2015. Pp. 200. ISBN 978-1-907133-85-5. £10.99.

Reviewed by Valeria Vitale

Skein Island, by acclaimed horror and fantasy author Aliya Whiteley, is a supernatural mystery novel that combines the investigation of uncommon events with the investigation of the characters’ feelings and motivations. The story has three main settings, as well as three different narrative streams, each of them featuring detours and digressions, that merge smoothly towards the end. The first is a small island in British waters, the Skein Island the book is named after, where only women are allowed. The place was bought by an eccentric millionaire who had (apparently) used her means to create and maintain a unique retreat where women could focus solely on reaching that self-awareness, strength, or peace of mind they felt was missing from their current lives; a place without men where women could be absolutely safe. The rich woman would offer, cyclically, free two-week stays at the island to a small number of women, selected from among the many applications received. During these two weeks, the women wouldn’t have to worry about anything but their own well being: everything else would be taken care of by an all-female staff.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Kyle, Omega Rising (2016)

Anna Kyle, Omega Rising. World Weaver Press, 2016. Pp. 270. ISBN 978-0-69266-950-1. $13.95.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

Paranormal Romance is a hybrid genre that has flirted with oversaturating the market in recent years, largely because of the Young Adult vampire romance craze that peaked with the Twilight franchise. It then edged into the adult market with the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire series that was popularized through True Blood (though that particular series of books and shows bear less resemblance to one another than one might think), as well as with J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood novels, which surprisingly have not been adapted to screen. While the popularity of vampires has waned in recent years, the genre still flourishes with a multitude of other supernatural creatures that vary from angels to werewolves. Werewolves make up several of the main characters in Omega Rising, Anna Kyle’s debut novel and the first of a series called Wolf King; though this book was released just this past June, the second volume, Skye Falling, is already slated for publication in August. That’s quick turnaround, and I imagine her growing fan-base will be pleased. Omega Rising didn’t feel like the first of a series to me, as Kyle’s worldbuilding is incredibly advanced and a lot was happening; the quick pace, especially in the second half of the volume, made it feel like it should be the third or fourth in a series, not the first. But let me back up, and tell you about the story itself.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Imarisha & brown (ed.), Octavia’s Brood (2015)

Walidah Imarisha & adrienne maree brown (ed.), Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements. AK Press, 2015. Pp. 304. ISBN 978-1-84935-209-3. $18.00.

Reviewed by Kathryn Allan

Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown’s Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements is important. I received my review copy of this short story collection a year ago—although life intervened every time I sat down to write my review, it also gave me the opportunity to think deeply about Octavia’s Brood and the legacy of Octavia Butler’s work. To be honest, I don’t think I could have written this review right after reading the anthology. I needed that extra time to let the vision of Imarisha and brown’s project become clearer to me.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Stufflebeam and Brewer, Strange Monsters (2016)

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam and Peter Brewer, Strange Monsters: A Music & Words Collaboration. Easy Brew Studio, 2016. 57 min. $9.99.

Reviewed by Kate Onyett

Strange Monsters, where narrative dances along the fringes of normalcy, while bowing deeply towards the magical, the strange. The thrust of the tales comes from female perspective: a cursed ballerina, Rumple Stiltskin’s wife, a devotee of a singular love idol, an older woman remembering past loves and lives and a decidedly lycanthropian love story. The poems speak of finding voice, of rising above confusion, of making one’s own way.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Michaud, Whispered Echoes (2015)

Anne Michaud, Whispered Echoes: An urban fantasy. Book One. Sad Ghost Press, 2015. Pp. 195. ISBN 978-1-51726-784-1. £6.55 pb/£0.99 e.

Reviewed by Margrét Helgadóttir

Whispered Echoes by Canadian author Anne Michaud was published in the United States by Sad Ghost Press in late 2015. It’s the first in a YA-series of five books (all published) about ghost seer Alyx. The first book is a dark and thrilling story about Alyx’s escape from the mental institution that has kept her captive for nine years and her way to discover and learn her ghost seer abilities. A fast paced action story, the book is good entertainment and is well worth reading if you like horror, the paranormal genres and young adult stories.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Tidhar, Central Station (2016)

Lavie Tidhar, Central Station. Tachyon Publications, 2016. Pp. 240. ISBN 978-1-61696-214-2. $16.95 pb/$9.99 e.

Reviewed by Wendy Bousfield

Lavie Tidhar’s moving, lyrical, insightful work of speculative fiction, Central Station, extrapolates a future in which humanity is entering a new evolutionary stage, triggered by growing immersion in the Internet. In Tidhar’s world, “nodes,” implanted at conception in “birthing clinics” (there are no natural births), provide direct access to the “Conversation”: “a hundred thousand… voices, channels, music, languages, the high-bandwidth indecipherable toktok of Others, weather reports, confessionals, off-world broadcasts time-lagged from Lunar Port and Tong Yun and the Belt…” (23). Akin to Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, Central Station traces the emergence of children psychically linked to one another and to other minds, both human and mechanical.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

McAllion, Moristoun (2016)

Kevin McAllion, Moristoun. Austin Macauley, 2016. Pp. 360. ISBN 978-1-7845-5284-8. £7.99.

Reviewed by Kate Onyett

This book is a first for two reasons. It is a first novel by a chap previously most involved in sports journalism, and, as far as I know, the first novel dealing with the afterlife of Scottish suicides. Bear with me, it’s not as dour as it sounds! The titular island, set in an interminable sea and reachable only by a portal from the mainland (unless you arrive by the more conventional and terminal method), is a place where suicides have to learn to move beyond their personal demons and spiritually better themselves before they can leave and ‘move on.’ That is not entirely the end, either, as McAllion adds a little Eastern detail to this purgatorial narrative with hints of what lies afterwards; a cycle of rebirths and lives lived as both animals and humans. Woe betide the unrighteous, though. Should further grave offences be added to one’s CV whilst on the island, then a soul is hell-bound for a more directly punishing purification.

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.