Monday, December 29, 2014

Harrison, TimeStorm (2014)

Steve Harrison, TimeStorm. Elsewhen Press, 2014. Pp. 359. ISBN 978-1-908168-44-3. £9.99/ €11.99/$17.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

“The past is a strange country” is the sort of metaphor that has a tendency to be overused because it is often so very apt, especially in cases like time travel stories. What better way to immerse a reader than by explaining the foreign language of the commonplace, or exploring geography that was once familiar and is now exotic? Books like Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series have become new classics for how deftly they handle the transition between old and new worlds. Steve Harrison’s new novel, TimeStorm, although it falls a little short of its premise, is an entertaining attempt at an experiment in this vein.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Moreno-Garcia, Signal to Noise (2015)

Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Signal to Noise. Solaris Books, 2015. Pp. 336. ISBN 978-1-7810-8299-7. $9.99.

Reviewed by Valeria Vitale

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, published by Solaris—a small press particularly keen on talent scouting—is a captivating story about friendship, music and magic, set in Mexico City. The book tells the adventures of an improbable group of friends in their teens, Meche, Sebastian and Daniela, who discover they can cast magic spells using music records, and decide to use this ability to improve their lives. Or so they think. Talented author and editor of dark-leaning speculative fiction, Moreno-Garcia has put aside (almost completely) her creepiest tones, and produced an easy to read (and like) debut novel; a pocketable time machine able to awake memories you didn’t think were still so vivid.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Wynne Jones, Deep Secret (2014)

Diana Wynne Jones, Deep Secret. Tor Books, 2014. Pp. 414. ISBN 978-0-7653-3807-5. $16.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

Tor has released a reissue of Diana Wynne Jones’s 1997 novel Deep Secret for American audiences with new artwork, this time sans the cartoonish centaurs that were the hallmarks of other covers. The new cover would seem abstract if Jones’s work weren’t so iconic and if the text itself so tied up in the idea of traveling to other worlds (not quite as obviously stepping through actual doors as Howl’s Moving Castle), but—well, that’s the point of stepping into a good book, isn’t it? Deep Secret carries multiple levels, not the least of which is the “deep secret” referenced in the title itself, but for genre readers, the meta discussions of books and the time spent at the science fiction convention are what will push this book from “cute” to “must read.”

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Leib (ed.), Fierce Family (2014)

Bart R. Leib (ed.), Fierce Family. Crossed Genres Publications, 2014. Pp. 168. ISBN 978-0-6159-5023-5. $11.95.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

This anthology from the praiseworthy Crossed Genres small press, famous for the diversity as well as the quality of their short fiction output, has perhaps the most brilliant concept behind it that I’ve heard all year. Queer families, not dysfunctional, or tragic, or torn apart as so common in genre fiction, but standing together, loyal, strong, fierce. It’s a beautiful concept, and this slim anthology of fifteen short stories does some lovely things with it, bringing an impressive breadth and range to play on the theme. Individual pieces vary in quality, offer stories that sit closer or further away from the central concept, span the spectrum from hard SF, high or urban fantasy, through near-contemporary social speculation, and include both gritty, tragic plots and more light-hearted, fluffy stories. Perhaps a little uneven in overall quality in places, this is nevertheless one of the more memorable SF/F anthologies I’ve read this year.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Roland, Curious Case of H.P. Lovecraft (2014)

Paul Roland, The Curious Case of H.P. Lovecraft. Plexus, 2014. Pp. 136. ISBN 978-0-85965-517-0. £14.99/$19.95.

Reviewed by Andy Sawyer

Paul Roland’s flawed but interesting biography is a record of a flawed but interesting man, designed to fill a need for “a popular but comprehensive biography” as opposed to the plethora of academic/scholarly treatments of Lovecraft which, Roland indicates, weren’t easily accessible outside the USA when he began the project twenty years ago. Now, perhaps, too much is written about Lovecraft, although much of this is partial and partisan, and Roland does his best to steer through some of the controversies and speculations without losing sight of either the facts of the biography and the substance of the fiction. He offers, for instance, the common suggestion that Lovecraft had Asperger syndrome (which of course had not been conceptualised in his lifetime), but notes that for each instance of Lovecraft’s Asperger-like behaviour other explanations can be offered. He several times notes, and is rightly judgemental about, Lovecraft’s attitude to race, which was extreme enough to be commented upon unfavourably in his lifetime. His chronological approach allows him to take Lovecraft’s fiction and comment upon it in the context of his life. This allows attention to be given to those earlier works which seem nowadays to be increasingly overlooked: the “dreamer” fantasies such as “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” and “The White Ship” which are as important to Lovecraft’s rejection of the world as “The Horror at Red Hook” and “The Shadow over Innsmouth”. For those new to Lovecraft, this is interesting and worthwhile.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ramey (ed.), Triangulation: Parch (2014)

Stephen V. Ramey (ed.), Triangulation: Parch. PARSEC Ink, 2014. Pp. 201. ISBN 978-0-9828606-6-3. $15.00 pb/$4.99 e.

Reviewed by Wendy Bousfield

Triangulation: Parch contains twenty lively, intelligent stories on the theme of drought or thirst, actual and symbolic. It is the seventh annual Triangulation collection, produced by Parsec Ink, the publishing division of PARSEC, a Pittsburgh-based science fiction and fantasy organization. In an “Afterward” (sic), editor Stephen V. Ramey describes the mission of the semi-pro Triangulation volumes: “Collections such as ours are useful in working the kinks out of a swing, learning to drive with power, or field your position. We are a stepping stone because we work with authors to improve their craft.” Would-be contributors submit stories in response to a prompt: “Morning After,” “Last Contact,” “End of the Rainbow,” “End of Time,” “Taking Flight,” and “Dark Glass” (subtitles of the previous Triangulations collections). In his headnotes and footnotes to Parch stories, Ramey describes working with contributors through successive drafts and submissions.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Price, Kilgrace and the Singular Situation (2014)

C. Price, Kilgrace and the Singular Situation. Ragged Angel, 2013. Pp. 136. ISBN 978-1-910092-00-2. £3.99 pb/£0.99 e.

Reviewed by Andy Sawyer

This is part of a series involving two scientists trying to get back to their own continuum after becoming stranded in a backwater where “conservation of energy and E-MC² are in effect”—which might take some time to work out, but does make sense! Susan—a humanoid (hints suggest not human) and Cet (“Killgrace”) an alien in a comprehensive life-support system—are not only not the same species, they are at war with each other. They also must co-operate to get back “home”. Here, they find themselves on a spaceship which is engaged in rescuing two “interstellar mega-fauna” from the region surrounding a Black Hole. Passing themselves off as a rescue team (fortunately they are able to hack into all necessary databases to create a plausible cover story) they join in with the operation. It’s rather like Doctor Who, though with a much more equal relationship between the protagonists.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Wells, Stories of the Raksura (2014)

Martha Wells, Stories of the Raksura, Volume 1: The Falling World and The Tale of Indigo and Cloud. Night Shade Books, 2014. pp 206. ISBN 978-1-59780-535-3. $15.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

This is the first of two projected volumes of novellas and short stories set in the world of the Raksura; the other volume’s projected publication date is April 2015. These books follow Wells’s trilogy of The Cloud Roads (2011), The Serpent Sea (2012), and The Siren Depths (2012), though the reader doesn’t necessarily have to have read them in order to enjoy this book. Stories contains two novellas that have never before been published, two short stories that have previously appeared on the author’s website, and three brief appendices detailing the characters and the world of the books. Altogether, the material forms what can be a useful introduction to the Raksura, and a delightful present for fans of the series.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Michaud, Hunter’s Trap (2014)

Anne Michaud, Hunter’s Trap. Sad Ghost Press, 2014. Pp. 256. ISBN 978-1-501008-82-5. $15.99 pb/$3.99 e.

Reviewed by Valeria Vitale

Hunter’s Trap, written by Ann Michaud and published by Sad Ghost Press, is a blood-chilling paranormal thriller unveiling secret dangers and ghostly inhabitants hidden in a snowy wood. Brothers Dayton and Jeremy, aged 17 and 12, investigate what happened to their father, who went out few days earlier for a hunting trip with his friends and never come back, the group of men seeming to have vanished into thin air. Michaud moves smoothly between genres, convincingly mixing elements that belongs to adventure, thriller, and ghost stories, sewing them together with impeccable prose. Unlike other thrillers or mystery stories, where the plot simply leads to the single, final twist or unsuspected truth, Hunter’s Trap offers a more complex and interesting approach.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Witt, Precious Metals (2014)

L.A. Witt, Precious Metals. Riptide Publishing, 2014. Pp. 150. ISBN 978-1-62649-174-8. $4.99.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

Precious Metals is a light, steampunk, gay romance novella, set during the Klondike Gold Rush, featuring a race across frozen landscapes (and in the obligatory brass-and-cog-clad airships), graphic but rather vanilla sex and a hazard-filled crescendo. Aside from the steam and mech technologies, there’s very little that’s fantastic or ahistorical in Witt’s world; even social mores are more or less what we’d expect of the end of the Nineteenth Century. Although perhaps somewhat formulaic and a little flatly written in places, this is a well-paced read that passes the time well enough, with polished writing and professional production values, a pleasant contribution to its genre.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Sriduangkaew, Scale Bright (2014)

Benjanun Sriduangkaew, Scale Bright. Immersion Press, 2014. Pp. 110. ISBN 978-0-9563-9249-7. $14.00.

Reviewed by Su J. Sokol

In Scale Bright, Benjanun Sriduangkaew takes an ancient Chinese legend and pulls it forward into modern-day Hong Kong, crossing centuries, gender and genre along the way. A mythical tale of goddesses and demons, Scale Bright is also an urban fantasy set in the contemporary world, and a coming-of-age new adult story that explores family, love, and courage. That Sriduangkaew can pull this off without too much strain on the reader’s suspension of disbelief is impressive. That she can do this while creating so many moments of literary beauty is what makes this work exceptional. She has also presented a tale that challenges mainstream and western readers to step outside their comfort zones. Winning these readers over is perhaps her biggest challenge.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Brissett, Elysium (2014)

Jennifer Marie Brissett, Elysium. Aqueduct Press, 2014. Pp. 199. ISBN 978-1-61976-053-0. $18.00.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

Elysium is the sort of novel you read once, and then read again to make sure what you think happened was, in fact, what happened. This is a complex, dense book, and reminds me of the best parts of Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life and David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Brissett’s novel, her first, is as ambitious and experimental as those works, and I hope it receives similar attention. As the reader perhaps knows, Elysium is the ancient Greek equivalent of Paradise, reserved for righteous heroes. Usually discussions of Paradise prompt one to ask, “How does one get there?” Rather more interestingly, Brissett asks a different question altogether: “How does it function?”

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Whiteley, Beauty (2014)

Aliya Whiteley, The Beauty. Unsung Stories, 2014. Pp. 99. ISBN 978-1-907389-23-8. £9.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

The Beauty is an elegantly told tale of a sexual apocalypse. What happens when fifty percent of humanity dies, and all of it a single gender? In this case it’s the women; the male survivors are haunted by the PTSD of watching their mothers, wives, and sisters sicken and die, and even more haunted by the question of ‘What next?’ Whiteley treats the subject, and the question, with a mythic care. Above all, this novella is not just about survival, but the uses of language—and how language and stories can help us survive, or bring us to our downfall.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Krasnostein/Rios (edd.), Kaleidoscope (2014)

Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios (edd.), Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA science fiction and fantasy stories. Twelfth Planet Press, 2014. Pp. 439. ISBN 978-1-9221011-1-2. $16.99.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

Kaleidoscope is an anthology of short fiction, published by Twelfth Planet Press, and crowdfunded via the Pozible platform, that collects together twenty stories of “diverse young adult science fiction and fantasy.” One might wish that a theme as broad as “diversity” would be a sine qua non in any work of this size, that twenty short stories around topics of family, coming-of-age and socialization, would be bound to include many examples of protagonists and other characters who are not straight, cis, abled, white, Anglo etc.; as with speculative fiction on the whole, though, we know this just ain’t so. Reading this anthology it becomes clear how unusual it is to really focus on the diverse, on the marginalized, on all the inhabitants of our world, not just the popular and preppy ones. In very few of the stories do we feel that diverse characters or issues have been shoe-horned in—they are there just as they are there in our lives; the stories are about them because they are their stories. There is nothing “worthy” or “dry” or less than entertaining about these tales. They are as suitable for young adults and fans of speculative fiction alike as any other collection of stories. If the word “diverse” weren’t in the title, I wonder how would even notice, except for a sense that this anthology presents a world a little more complete than most.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Baker, The Boost (2014)

Stephen Baker, The Boost. Tor Books, 2014. Pp. 336. ISBN 978-0-7653-3437-4. $24.99.

Reviewed by RJ Blain

The Boost by Stephen Baker is a science fiction thriller, delving into how society could change if everyone was always connected to the internet—or something similar to the internet: an intricate network accessed by brain-implanted chips. In this world, ‘wilds’ are those who have chosen—or have been forced—to live outside of the network. The boost offers individuals non-stop access to information and virtual reality, augmenting their real lives with a super-enhanced version of the internet. But underneath the veneer of a technological utopia is a risk few expect: The Chinese have included special code in the Americans’ boost code, which could leave the world without any privacy—and worse. When Ralf, a software developing prodigy, tries to protect society from the new code being uploaded into boosts all around the world, he’s caught and his boost is ripped out of his head. Forced to live as a wild, he must join with those who share his dilemma, not only for his sake, but for the freedom of everyone using the boost. The boost is an interesting take on a thriller novel, marrying dramatic excitement with social and political issues relevant to a world dominated by virtual reality.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sutter, Hobo Fires (2014)

Robert Earl Sutter III, Hobo Fires. Self-published, 2014. Pp 336. ISBN 978-0-692-20603-4. $30.00.

Reviewed by Nino Cipri

The universe began when a flood burst thru a dam. Matter flowed forth. It was darkness. As the flood matter it also coalesced & became the stars & planets & galaxies. You can still see the flow today in the way that galaxies are strung together across the universe. Or in the flowers on a tangled vine.

In 2137, hobos have evolved, just like the rest of the world. The characters in Robert Earl Sutter III’s graphic novel Hobo Fires have hacked a system that is made to entrap them into a life of drudgery and unquestioned consumption. The main character, Poenee, hitches rides on robotic freight trains with a smartphone-like technology that seems almost as good as a sonic screwdriver. Railroad bulls and many police officers have been replaced by androids. Surveillance technology has been fully incorporated into society. She meets a number of people on the road, most importantly Raukkus, a fellow hobo who becomes her companion.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Dworkin, The Commons (2014)

Susan Dworkin, The Commons. Self-published, 2014. Pp. 208. ISBN 978-0-9892-8484-4. $14.99/$5.15.

Reviewed by Kate Onyett

In an authoritarian-controlled future, a fight against disaster is being fought on many fronts, on a grossly depopulated Earth. Thanks to wars, environmental damage and sickness, a scattered and paranoid humanity, broken into separate geopolitical blocs is facing an insidious new menace. A wheat-blight, long thought gone, stirs and is reborn in high-altitude experimental farm fields, and the remaining population’s food supply is now under serious threat. A band of very disparate individuals from across boarders and political affiliations will work together for the sake of the common good: for survival, against powerful, all too human forces that would seek to own and control every last need.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Lauricella, 2094 (2014)

John Lauricella, 2094. Irving Place Editions, 2014. Pp. 390. ISBN 978-0-6158-6881-3. $14.00.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

This self-published novel is a none-too-subtle pastiche of 1984, also riddled with internal references to Brave New World and other classic dystopias. Featuring a prodigious cast of characters and range of subplots, some of which impact directly on the core story, others contribute to the tone and themes on through flavor and imagery, and some apparently neither. Set less than one hundred years in our own future, the world has become a labor-free, immortal utopia—for the very few. And at a great cost. Although the novel contains patchy writing and characterization, and sometimes unconscionable stereotyping, it is an ambitious vision from a promising new writer who will no doubt continue to produce interesting work.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Thompson, Brahan Seer (2014)

Douglas Thompson, The Brahan Seer. Acair Books, 2014. Pp. 164. ISBN 978-0-86152-562-1. £9.99.

Reviewed by Kate Onyett

Sandwiched between Events of Note: the euphoria of the Commonwealth Games and the political wind-up to the Scottish independence vote, here comes a simple and humble tale of a minor Scots prophet. Subject to lurid visions of frightening colour and intensity, Coinneach Odhar is credited, in such tales as still exist, with foreseeing major events up to and even beyond WWII—four hundred years in his future. This subject is ladled in myth and legend. Remaining sources are themselves suspect writings: more amazement than actuality. However, this is not a Scot driving his people to independence; this is no angry, bloody warlord. Indeed, he is a simple peasant, and Thompson’s angle is of a man a victim to his visions. Saved by a blinding flash of insight from a nasty case of poisoning when just a lad, the seer’s life is informed with these demanding, effortful mental experiences that break through an otherwise unremarkable labouring life. Transposed by a gathering number of amazed followers, he becomes a wandering prophet, drawing crowds of amazed villagers at each place he lands up. However, a compulsion to truth, which cost his mother her life, leads him to an inevitable, terrible end.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

James (ed.), Far Orbit (2014)

Bascomb James (ed.), Far Orbit: Speculative Space Adventures. World Weaver Press, 2014. Pp. 280. ISBN: 978-0-6159-5924-5. $13.19.

Reviewed by Margrét Helgadóttir

The anthology, edited by Bascomb James and published by World Weaver Press in April 2014, is a well-crafted collection of thirteen stories, each with elements from Grand Tradition—science fiction usually associated with the 1940s-1960s, optimism, wonder, adventure and respect for science. Space and space adventure is the dominant frame of this book, but it has a broad range of themes and plots. In addition to asteroid hunting and crashing space ships, the characters in this book deal with issues like alien bunnies, walking plants, a spaceship landing behind your trailer when your ex-wife stands at your front door, war-traumatized alien babysitters who associate microwave sound with sonic weapons, space pirates at Saturn, a poker game with high stakes and something old awakening in the alien graveyard at Necropolis. These tales are grand, terrifying, dark, beautiful, disturbing and funny. I recommend the book for lovers of science fiction set in the far orbit and for all who want to read fiction filled with enthusiasm, adventure and exploring of new worlds.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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 Nino 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Smith, Purified (2014)

Brian Robert Smith, Purified. 323 Books, 2014. Pp. 320. ISBN 978-0-99204-830-3. $2.99.

Reviewed by Kate Onyett

In a small-ish mid-western town, two body-snatchers are at work in a funeral home, removing the late lamented wife of a local cop—but she is considerably less dead than previously supposed. In the middle of no-where, Mason Bushing escapes from a secret installation, revived and bouncing after he thought he was dead. A scientific genius has discovered a way to cheat death, but Mason will not willingly become just any old medical guinea-pig, and with the desire to rekindle his old life anew, he sets off across the corn fields…

Smith has aimed for action, humanity and draws out (whether he realises it or not) comparisons to the modern monster parable, creating a Frankenstein story for modern medical technology. Smith appears to touch on questions on human existence, such as; what is identity? When our living life is taken away, who are we? How do we live? His protagonist, Mason, is our focus of attention, the Frankenstein Creature with a name and a past and enough machismo to take to his fists to solve some sticky situations. Unfortunately, Smith’s skill does not match the bravado and breadth of his project. The book has great potential, but has been ‘sent out into this breathing world, scarce half made up’, as the Poet might say. It’s a shame; there is a lot here to tickle the imagination.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Whitmore, Bank of the Dead (2013)

Steve Whitmore, Bank of the Dead. Abysswinksback Books, 2013. Pp. 24. ASIN B00HDOD7VK. $1.27.

Reviewed by Kate Onyett

Whitmore is a funny man. No, really, he is. Funny that is daft, yet surprisingly literate at the same time. Specialising in the lightest, shallowest of nonsense stuff, he prefers his fantasies to take a large dollop of comic-book caper, mash it up with semi-mythological tropes and serve on a bed of contemporary contiguousness, sprinkled with a garnish of outrageous wordage. This time he is taking a swipe at banks, greed, and the power of the people. Well, the dead ones, anyway.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Ellis/Thomas, Queers Dig Time Lords (2013)

Sigrid Ellis and Michael Damian Thomas (eds), Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It. Mad Norwegian Press, 2013. Pp. 240. ISBN 978-1-9352341-4-2. $17.95.

Reviewed by Tracie Welser

Queers Dig Time Lords, edited by Sigrid Ellis and Michael Damian Thomas, was released last summer by Mad Norwegian Press. This small press is the same publisher behind the Hugo Award-winning Chicks Dig Time Lords, as well as Chicks Unravel Time and a slew of other Doctor Who and Whedonverse-related unofficial guides and commentary.

I, for one, enjoy critical work about pop culture. Works like What Would Buffy Do? deploy pop culture as a strategy for teaching philosophy and a provide a fandom-specific lens for examining society. We can geek out while turning a critical eye to our favorite works. Books of this sort are stimulating reading but can be a little didactic. But this book, like Chicks Dig Time Lords, is about fandom itself, and does a service to fandom. It’s a bit like being welcomed to a conversation in which a multiplicity of voices within fandom are asked why this universe and its occupants are so meaningful to so many.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Connell, Miss Homicide Plays the Flute (2013)

Brendan Connell, Miss Homicide Plays the Flute. Eibonvale Press, 2013. Pp. 176. ISBN 978-1-90-81252-2-4. £8.99.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

This strange little title is the eighth book published by prolific and acclaimed author Brendan Connell, in a typically high quality and quirkily packaged edition by Eibonvale Press. To all intents and purposes this is a crime novel, featuring a sociopathic assassin, art thefts, family feuds and sexual transgression, but it is so full of experimental features, nonlinear digressions, dreamlike descriptions and rambling, pedantic detail that I suspect it rather thinks of itself as "literary" in genre. The protagonist is a female assassin with expensive tastes, an obsession with music, a master of disguise and poisons, a seductress and cold-hearted killer, pretty much your classic femme fatale. Nevertheless Connell manages to subvert pretty much every cliché in the book (and for such a small book, he sure does have a lot of them to subvert). Sometimes hard to read, especially when lists of classical citations and cultural references are not even disguised in the form of running prose, this novel is almost painfully self-aware, but nevertheless, and despite unappealing characters, keeps the pages turning to see how the story ends. It's a complicated, highly crafted book, not without flaws, but also not without that spark of genius that dares to take this sort of a risk.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Beatty, Heron Fleet (2013)

Paul Beatty, Heron Fleet. Matador Press, 2013. Pp. 251. ISBN 978-1-78088-443-1. ₤8.99 print/£3.99 ebook.

Reviewed by Nino Cipri

In speculative fiction, the post-apocalyptic novel is probably a direct descendent of the utopian novel. The latter focus on societies that are somehow free from the influence of the outside world, while the former exist in the tabula rasa of a ruined world. In a globalized world, a planetary cataclysm is easier to imagine than an undiscovered island culture without radio, wifi, an intrusive anthropologist, or a White Savior, a la Kevin Costner in Dances With Wolves and all its derivatives. Post-apocalyptic stories inherited the same problems that infested utopian allegories and still plague dystopian novels: their moral certitude, and their lack of ambiguity for example. It’s always easy to see where the author’s prejudices and presumptions lie.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Fox et al., Journeys in the Winterlands (2013)

Dylan Fox, C. Allegra Hawksmoor and John Reppion, Journeys in the Winterlands. Vagrants Among Ruins, 2013. Pp. 52. ISBN 978-0-9574872-0-8. £2.00 (digital)/£4.00 (print).

Reviewed by Su J. Sokol

Journeys in the Winterlands are three connected short stories that take place in a post-steampunk wintery apocalypse, or, as it’s been described, a “snowpocalypse.” Living in Montréal and in the middle of an intense cold snap, I couldn’t resist reading and reviewing such a book. I was not disappointed. Although the book felt a little incomplete, and at times and seemed to be missing connections, it is amazingly rich in world-building, atmosphere and character development. This is a particularly impressive achievement for a book of its brevity. Another challenge for this writing project is the fact that it’s a collaboration between three different writers. As co-author Dylan Fox remarked, the aim was to “make something greater than the sum of us as individuals.” The question is whether they succeeded, and if so, what that something is.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Stott, Past Un-Earthed (2012)

Jeff Stott, Past Un-Earthed. Self-published, 2012. Pp. 300. ISBN 978-1-3017-9957-2. $2.99.

Reviewed by Kate Onyett

It takes a while for the penny to drop, but once it does, it’s a doozy. This is the story of two young people who met, fell in love and then had to face the consequences of their choices. On a relatively simple premise, Stott has built a moving and highly plausible science-fictional romance. Joshua is an Earth lad with stress-induced powers of strength and recuperation. Orphaned at fourteen and subsequently emotionally shut off from the world, he falls for beautiful Mari, and starts a wonderful romance, only to discover she has secrets, one of which is a pregnancy he had no hand in. Mari—or rather, Lara—is a naive girl from the planet Lateo, one of an advanced race, among which a devastating disease among the planet’s children is being blamed on exposure to Earth. In a high-powered political existence, Lara has her black-and-white preconceptions about politics and her father’s moral purity ripped away. Forced into marriage with the opposition leader, she flees to Earth. Once there, she strives to find the one member of the original exploration mission who stayed and fell in love with a ‘mere’ human. Instead she finds instead his reclusive son, and comes to realise that the most pervasive of ‘infections’ is this thing called love.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Watasin, Sundark (2013)

Elizabeth Watasin, Sundark: An Elle Black Penny Dread. A-Girl Studio, 2013. Pp. 184. ISBN 978-1-9366-2205-4. $11.99.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

Contributing to a proud tradition of self-published steampunk serials that are simultaneously genre-bending and hark back to the most staid media of the Victorian period, Sundark is an odd little novel that manages to be charming and unsettling in equal measure. Watasin herself evokes the "penny dread[ful]", the cheap, short, popular and disposable stories that helped bring literature down from its preserve of the moneyed and educated classes to a wider audience. An odd mix of progressive and traditional elements, both stylistically and ethically speaking, and an uneven, sometimes predictable plot, means I can't unequivocally praise this book. Engaging characters and some lovely scene-setting do make this an enjoyable read, however, and the author's prolific output promises much more of the same to follow.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Turner, How to be Dead (2013)

Dave Turner, How to be Dead. Aim For The Head Books, 2013. Pp. 75. ASIN B00H17V7OS. £0.99/ $1.63.

Reviewed by Kate Onyett

Dave is not an obvious hero. He’s a bit of an apathetic worker; just marking time perma-temping at a big business. He knows how to handle the pushy behaviour of his manager, but goes to pieces over Melanie—the girl of his dreams and office hottie. Oh, and he can see ghosts. While saving Melanie’s life on a Halloween night out, he is hit by a car and has a near-Death experience. Literally. He and Death go to a pub and Death offers him a new career opportunity. Revived, and with a greater zest for life (primarily due to the life-flashing-before-his-eyes thing being just a sequence of mundane nothingness he wants to seriously improve), Dave decides to see what Death was on about. However, his heroics have made a hit at work, and progression into the ranks of upper management, with his own office and no clue as to what he should be doing beckons Dave with golden temptation. Will he make a deal with Death and agree to help lay tormented undead to rest? Will he strike lucky with Melanie? Will he ever get to grips with his computer?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Hensley, Filipino Vampire (2011)

Raymund Hensley, Filipino Vampire. Self-published, 2011. Pp. 74. ISBN 978-1-4581-2012-0. $0.99.

Reviewed by Kate Onyett

I had no idea what to expect with this one. The cover suggests a dark, moody piece; gothic with a ‘k’, all dripping candles and mood dry ice. Instead Hensley’s social gothic explodes onto the screen with amazing vivacity and verve. Commencing as a picture of an abusive childhood at the hands of a semi-psychotic, single, drunken mother, the story, told from the viewpoint of a teenage girl, never named, swerves left at the traffic lights into a full-on assault of horror, drenched in gore and astonishing imagery, sufficed with the shriek of the aswang; a Philippine mythological beast that feasts on flesh and blood, a flying torso that strikes at night on children. This is the vampire of Filipino cinema, and aswang films are a popular horror staple.