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.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Burdon, Almost Invincible (2014)

Suzanne Burdon, Almost Invincible: a biographical novel of Mary Shelley. Criteria Publishing, 2014. Pp. 339. ISBN 978-0-9923540-0-8. £12.99.

Reviewed by Andy Sawyer

You couldn’t make it up. You really couldn’t. Three young people, filled with new-agey dreams of free love and liberal communitarianism, run away to Switzerland. One of them (who in a couple of years is going to write one of the greatest and certainly most paradigm-shifting novels ever written) is the teenage daughter of the greatest female political writer of her age, forever haunted by guilt stemming from her mother’s death shortly after childbirth. She was brought up by a father whose celebrated philosophical anarchism was a magnet to the young man who has just deserted his wife and child for her: a poet already notorious for atheism and revolutionary views, as well as an almost godlike personal charm. The third (in some ways the most interesting character) is the stepsister of the first: a young woman almost certainly in love with the second but who seemed to have reserved a scarcely sane fangirl obsession for the man whom they are destined to meet: an older and more cynical poet “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.”

Friday, November 06, 2015

James (ed.), Far Orbit Apogee (2015)

Bascomb James (ed.), Far Orbit Apogee. World Weaver Press, 2015. Pp. 306. ISBN 978-0-6925-0976-0. $14.95.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

Far Orbit Apogee is the second in a series of anthologies dedicated to space adventures edited by Bascomb James, with two more books slated as forthcoming in 2016. The aim of the series, James explains in the introduction, is dedication to “Grand Tradition storytelling for a modern audience,” with Grand Tradition defined as “a writing and storytelling style popular in mid-century SF publications composed of plot-driven fun-to-read adventure stories with a positive message and a sense of wonder” (5). Reading this volume with a critical eye, I honestly wasn’t sure if this collection was meant to participate in the ongoing schisms in genre fandom personified by the recent Puppygate crisis, or if it was only trying to appeal to new or nostalgic readers. “Grand Tradition” is a known phrase but one seldom used; outside of the occasional brief review blurb, the only other times I’ve seen it used was in a pair of anthologies edited by Gardner Dozois in the 1990s (The Good Old Stuff, containing classic reprints and published in 1998, and The Good New Stuff, a collection containing contemporary writers published in 1999). Nonetheless, James does provide what he aims to deliver: a diverse series of stories.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Mullaney, Eternal Blue Sky (2015)

Marguerite Mullaney, Eternal Blue Sky. SGW Books, 2015. Pp. 262. ISBN 978-0-69245-217-2. $12.00 pb/$6.99 e.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

Eternal Blue Sky is an indie-published historical adventure/fantasy novel involving slightly far-fetched technology and time travel to the crucial period of Mongolian history. The land and skies of Mongolia are almost a character in themselves, which is just as well since most of the human characters range between unsympathetic and downright repugnant; it really is a strikingly unromantic view of the exotic past. Despite some writing flaws and slightly grating cultural appropriation, and the fact that many of the basic elements of this book were not really my cup of tea (it is an historical fantasy adventure/thriller with an ostensibly science fictional setting, rather than fiction about the science or even social themes), the premise itself is interesting, and the adventure at times exciting and gripping.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Holland, Dragon Heart (2015)

Cecelia Holland, Dragon Heart. Tor Books, 2015. Pp. 286. ISBN 978-0-7653-3794-8. $25.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

For the first time in ages, I’ve recently joined a writing group. Thus far we’ve had several conversations about writing genre, and what that means, both online and face-to-face. One of the things I’ve found puzzling, in both the teaching of writing and of speculative literature, is the difficulties that abound in describing what makes a genre, any genre, a member of a specific category. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? Romance stories obviously have love as a consistent theme, mysteries a puzzle or murder to solve, science fiction has rocket ships (unless, of course, it doesn’t), fantasy has magic, and history has, well, history. But if we look more closely, it’s amazing how quickly these supposed walls disappear, and how excellent writers can take a hoary staple and utterly subvert it. Further, as the popularity of Young Adult literature has shown, genre mash-ups create entirely new sub-genres like dystopian romances or historic fantasy, among many others. And it’s with these thoughts in mind that I started reading Cecelia Holland’s Dragon Heart, a fantasy novel by a writer who has made her mark in historical fiction.

Monday, October 05, 2015

James, Mesmerist’s Daughter (2015)

Heidi James, The Mesmerist’s Daughter. Neon Books, 2015. Pp. 28. ISBN 978-1-3113-6569-9. £4.00.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

Nicola’s mother is a wolf. Maybe a werewolf, maybe a wolf disguised as a human during the day, maybe a magician or mesmerist of some kind who is able to pull the sheep’s clothing-wool over people’s eyes at will. During the day she is a sarcastic, dissatisfied, compulsive liar, somewhat bullying mother and unfaithful wife; at night she sloughs her human skin and voraciously attacks Nicola in her bed. Afraid that she is not able to control her voice and keep her mother’s secret, Nicola stops speaking altogether after the age of 4, and goes through her whole childhood voluntarily mute, thereby treated like an idiot by the world and especially her lycanthrope mother. The story of this semi-real life is interspersed with scenes from Nicola’s later stays in a psychiatric institution, where she reflects with the benefit of hindsight on her paranormal childhood. This short novella by Heidi James, author of the well-received spousal-angst novel Wounding, reprinted by Neon Books who specialize in poetic and slipstream chapbooks, tells a story full of unsettling developments and leads to the bathetic, inevitable climax. This is not the first story to use monstrous imagery to describe an unhappy childhood, nor does it break new ground in its use of unreliable, potentially psychotic narrator, but it is a refreshingly unapologetic combination of absurdist, surrealist, and nightmarish content in the service of a genuinely emotive story.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Prokopiev, Homunculus (2015)

Aleksandar Prokopiev, Homunculus: Fairy Tales from the Left Pocket. Istros Books, 2015. Pp. 140. ISBN 978-1-9082-3623-4. £9.99 pb/$4.99 e.

Reviewed by Małgorzata Mika

Today, I shall tell you a fairy-tale; not the bedtime story that allows you to safely drift into the realm of dreams; nor will it be shaped in the image of a Disney princess whose amygdaliform eyes filter out all the symbolic content to leave you with a B-Smart version of the original story. The Western consuming approach to literary left the legacy of our ancestors in a rather consumptive condition. It coughs and spits emptiness into the cartoon-shaped chimeras of once lost three-dimensional treasures. A common reader may find it doubtful that a different kingdom expands beyond the barbed wire of our prison camp. In fact, seven seas and seven forests can bring us to the place where the true jewels can be found, if you travel long enough. The collection of stories Homunculus: Fairy Tales from the Left Pocket is one of them.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Poelsma, Fly (2015)

Anneliese Poelsma, Fly and other stories. Self-published, 2015. Pp. 68. ASIN B00S5Z5XUE. $3.99.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

This short collection of dark stories by Australian artist and writer Poelsma, touches on several themes including domestic horror, delusion and mental illness, queer characters, and the unreliable narrator, or narrative as seen from inside the protagonist’s head, rather than objective reality. While the six stories themselves are rather mixed in quality, there is a coherence of theme, combined with fiction that cosily hugs the border between genre horror and literary. This collection sometimes edges dangerously close to exploitation and stigmatization of mental illness, but is written with a crystal-clear competence and control of prose, and an uncommon sensitivity to character, especially marginalized or self-loathing personalities. Some of these stories made me uncomfortable with the subject matter, but all made me uncomfortable with the wider world, which is an achievement of the writer, especially in a somewhat risky crossover of genres like this one.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Öberg (ed.), Waiting for the Machines to Fall Asleep (2015)

Peter Öberg (ed.), Waiting for the Machines to Fall Asleep. Affront Publishing, 2015. Pp. 324. ISBN 978-91-87585-31-9. $17.50.

Reviewed by Margrét Helgadóttir

This anthology, edited by Peter Öberg and published by Affront Publishing in 2015, is a collection of twenty-six stories within the speculative genres, all written by authors from Sweden. As the title of the collection indicates, you will find plenty of stories in it about robots, cyborgs and machines, but the book actually covers quite a broad range of themes, plots and subgenres, stretching from steampunk, horror, fantasy, weird, post apocalypse to space colonies and space travelling. Many of the tales circle around ethical questions connected to the relationship between humans and machines. Though there is disappointingly little about this book that screams “Swedish”, except for the nationality of the authors and the editor, I would still recommend the book for all lovers of science fiction, because the tales told are a really good read.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Ashley (ed.), Sensorama (2015)

Allen Ashley (ed.), Sensorama. Eibonvale Press, 2015. Pp. 290. ISBN 978-1-9081-2537-8. £9.50.

Reviewed by Wendy Bousfield

Sensorama’s twenty-one original stories, mostly by British contributors, extrapolate changes in the human (or humanoid) sensory apparatus. Though he does not describe the book’s origins, editor Allen Ashley must have given would-be contributors a writing prompt: What if touch, sight, taste, smell, or hearing were augmented, blocked, or altered? Set in the near future, Sensorama stories have no alien extra-terrestrials. With three exceptions, discussed below, characters are human beings like ourselves.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Rauch, What if I got down on my knees? (2015)

Tony Rauch, What if I got down on my knees? Whistling Shade Press, 2015. Pp. 200. ISBN 978-0-9829335-5-8. $12.00.

Reviewed by Kate Onyett

Rauch is a name not unknown on the speculative fiction circuit, where he publishes in anthologies and magazines. He has, to my knowledge, tackled morality and fairy tale formats with great aplomb, creating an interrogative space of uncompromisingly active engagement between story and reader. His stories will make you think, whether you realise it or not. As the master Terry Pratchett said, “fantasy is an exercise bicycle for the mind. It might not take you anywhere, but it tones up the muscles that can.” Rauch may move into out-and-out surrealism on occasion, but his stories remain true to Pratchett’s idea: they work mental muscles, and blessedly, it is a highly satisfying exercise to be put through.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Nayman, What the Hell Were You Thinking (2015)

Ira Nayman, What the Hell Were You Thinking?: Good Advice for People Who Make Bad Decisions: volume 6 (Alternate Reality News Service). Aardvarks Eyes Press, 2015. Pp 362. ISBN 978-1-9276-4506-2. $14.99.

Reviewed by Ashley O'Brien

What the Hell Were You Thinking? Good Advice for People Who Make Bad Decisions! is a curious and fanciful good time. The book consists of a collection of advice columns in an alternate science fiction universe, where the greatest technological feats and most unusual discoveries have already taken place: virtual consciences, genetically modified beings, aliens, and more. The advice columns showcase a complex and rich world of scientific achievement and exploration, the stories in the letters range from bizarre to ludicrous, while always being fun or funny.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Roberts & Wessely, Cranky Ladies of History (2015)

Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely (eds.), Cranky Ladies of History. FableCroft Publishing, 2015. Pp. 320. ISBN 978-0-9925534-5-6. AUD$34.95.

Reviewed by Valeria Vitale

Cranky Ladies of History, edited by Tehani Wessely and Tansy Rayner Roberts, and published by FableCroft, is the literary outcome of a crowdfunding campaign in March 2014. The theme, as the fundraiser announced, are the stories of women who have challenged (and sometimes changed) the expectations of what sort of behaviour was acceptable or appropriate for them, from ancient to more recent times. I was fond of this project even before reading the book. I liked the idea that these stories would contribute to make women in history a little more visible, to remind us that these protagonists (and many others like them) were not mere accessories or docile companions. In other words, in spite of what history written by men wants us to believe, this anthology points out that women existed and had agency, not only as daughters or wives or mothers of someone else.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Kendall, Stranger Days (2015)

Rachel Kendall, Stranger Days. Oneiros Books, 2015. Pp 149. ISBN 978-1-329-17123-7. $11.36.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

Halfway through Rachel Kendall’s Stranger Days the characters have a debate about the nature and making of art. The unnamed protagonist (who sometimes likes to act out another version of herself called ‘Charlotte’) declares, ‘Artwork is private until it’s put up for sale, then it’s public. A diary might become art once it’s published. Just because it’s a private life, doesn’t mean it can’t be a commodity’ (97). Stranger Days is a short novel presented as though it was a diary, written over the course of a hot summer in Paris while the protagonist works on a novel, argues with her boyfriend Z, and develops an intense crush on a mysterious woman called Elodie. The conversations about art and performance are reflected both in the form the story takes and in the actions of the characters. The book is billed as being existentialist in nature; the questions it asks are not only “What is art?” but also “What is experience?”

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Howard, Touchstones (2014)

John Howard, Touchstones: Essays on the Fantastic. Alchemy Press, 2014. Pp. 294. ISBN 978-0-9573489-7-4. £11.00.

Reviewed by Małgorzata Mika

This troublesome f-word. It appears out of the blue to startle or outrage. It conforms to no norms, pushing and shoving among respectable authors of equally respectable literature. It chews a gum of literary conventions to utter a loud ‘pop’ when a balloon of high literary ideas breaks to be rechewed again. This is the fantastic in all its insolent beauty. The case of John Howard’s collection of essays, one may say, is all the more insulting, concentrating on revolving around the writers whose prose fits into such gutter-born genres as horror, science fiction and fantasy in the stages some might classify as evolving or cult. Probing the darker corners of literature seems hardly surprising since Touchstones: Essays on the Fantastic was released by The Alchemy Press, an award-winning independent publisher well-known for its fantastic proclivities. More so, the prevalence of horror and the weird among a caboodle of twenty-two texts is detectable, without the need of using the services of a professional medium. John Howard’s scholarly interests in the fantastic resulted in a peculiar combination that acquaints a reader with the works of the famous writers who are paragons of fantastic fiction, as well as those whose brilliant texts dissolved in the mist of other literary works. A mixture of the known, unknown and some eerie novelties is inviting, unearthing the talents long buried in the thick soil of 20th century fantastic literature.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Wilchcombe, Neob (2015)

V. E. Wilchcombe, Neob. Austin Macauley Publishers, 2015. Pp. 146. ISBN 978-1-78455-052-3. £6.99.

Reviewed by John Marr

Neob is a fantasy/science-fiction novel by V. E. Wilchcombe, published by Austin Macauley, a small independent publisher based in London. This is the first of an envisaged suite of novels set in the same universe, and very much reads as an introduction to the distant planet Neob, its native inhabitants and its other-worldly interlopers. This is not to say that the novel lacks for action—a remarkable amount of activity is packed into its brief length of 146 pages. However, such brevity is the book’s main downfall, as few of the ideas bursting out of this book are given much room to breathe, sometimes making for a disappointingly shallow read.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Thompson, Rhymer (2014)

Douglas Thompson, The Rhymer: an Heredyssey. Elsewhen Press, 2014. Pp. 192. ISBN 978-1-9081-6841-2. £9.99 pb/ £2.99 e.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

The Rhymer is the eighth novel by Scottish weird and speculative author and editor Douglas Thompson, published by British small press Elsewhen. This novel is one of the more surreal and absurdist tales Thompson has written, parts of which were previously published in serial or standalone form in other fantastic magazines. It is entirely written in a style somewhere between free-association, free-verse, and comic semi-rhyme, which sounds like it would be hard to read, but actually isn’t, although the story does veer wildly and apparently out of control between satire, grotesque, bizarre, mystical and pseudo-scientific allegory. While I felt this novel sometimes sacrifices plot continuity and character consistency in name of moving the story forwards, it is a bit hard to tell to what degree this is the result of lazy writing, and how much a symptom of the rapidly changing realities in the story itself. I confess to not particularly liking any of the characters, or indeed the narrative voice, but I did find it pleasant to read, challenging in the way that literature should be, and sometimes startlingly original.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Darrows, Awesome (2015)

Eva Darrows, The Awesome. Ravenstone Press, 2015. Pp. 246. ISBN 978-1-78108-324-6. $9.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

The Awesome is the sort of profoundly, well, awesome book that makes me resent the fact that the great YA renaissance is taking place while I’m in my thirties. When I was an actual teenager, lo many moons ago, the sort of YA heroines I got were girls who either a) babysat (blah), b) solved mysteries (meh), c) or were dying tragically of cancer (UGH). Eventually I discovered the classic SFF juveniles by Robert Heinlein, Anne McCaffrey, and others, but I’ve been rereading some of them recently, and they are often unforgivably rapey as well as retro. Eva Darrows’ The Awesome, on the other hand, features a heroine I would have given anything to read (and more to just be) when I was fifteen: Maggie Cunningham is a hunter of supernatural creatures under her mother’s tutelage, dispatching monsters by day and night while not-really working on her GED. She’s snarky and badass, and utterly without the sort of girlish polish that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was always gifted with. She wears jeans and combat boots and sweatshirts, finds normal people and boys bewildering, and is consumed with a singular goal: to lose her virginity so that she can finally become a journeyman hunter.

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.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Wearing, Girl at the End of the World 1 (2014)

Adele Wearing (ed.), The Girl at the End of the World: Volume one. Fox Spirit Books, 2014. Pp. 358. ISBN 978-1-909348-55-4. £8.50.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

The very cool small press Fox Spirit Books have brought out an anthology of apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic stories with women protagonists in two volumes. Edited by Adele Wearing, the generally high-quality The Girl at the End of the World (or at least the first volume, which is all that I have read—a review of volume two will follow from another reviewer) covers several different areas beneath the umbrella of apocalypse, from the personal to the world-shattering, from the absurd to the terrifying. The quality of stories may be patchy, and the selection sometimes a bit baffling (one story only seems to be about “the end of the world” from the most parochial American perspective), but there are enough very good and even excellent stories in this volume to reward persistence. It’s not my place to criticize this book for not being the anthology I would have made, but if the editor had bitten the bullet and culled this somewhat bloated collection to a single, tighter volume, I expect she would have promoted it from a good anthology to an excellent one.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Gates and Liptak, War Stories (2014)

Jaym Gates and Andrew Liptak, War Stories: New Military Science Fiction. Apex Publications, 2014. Pp. 277. ISBN 978-1-9370-0926-7. $16.95.

Reviewed by Nino Cipri

At fourteen, I very proudly (and obnoxiously, no doubt) declared myself a pacifist. A majority of that decision belonged to the music I was listening to obsessively: Bob Dylan and Ani Difranco, “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” and “Roll With It.” I painted a big red X over the Army logo on a t-shirt from the military surplus store. (Despite my politics, I had a tendency to slant military in my style: combat boots and epaulettes, canvas belts and fatigues. I was ironic before it was cool.) Two years later: September 11. That morning, I’d driven to school with a classmate, and we’d been startled to see a fighter pilot slice through the air above the road, the noise of his engines shaking the car. I lived a six-hour drive from New York City; by plane, it’s forty-five minutes. By that evening, the distance had shrunk to nothing at all. “War is not simply a portion of historical study—it is what we are. The idea of combat—whether it is between two people, whole armies, or even a man with his own demons—shapes the fabric of humanity to its core,” Greg Drobny writes in his introduction to War Stories. Whether or not conflict is at the heart of the human condition, it’s certainly at the heart of fiction.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thompson, Volwys (2015)

Douglas Thompson, Volwys and other stories. Doghorn Press, 2014. Pp. 274. ISBN 978-1-9071-3388-6. £10.99.

Reviewed by Wendy Bousfield

Scottish author Douglas Thompson has published his eighth volume of fiction, a collection that includes nine stories (previously published in magazines), plus a new novella. ‘Twenty Twenty,’ ‘Theonae,’ ‘Postcards from the Future,’ ‘Gravity Wave,’ and the title novella ‘Volwys’ are set in various versions of a dystopian Europe two hundred years in the future: Earth’s ecology has collapsed, and humans are reduced to savagery. In ‘Black Sun,’ ‘Multiplicity,’ and ‘Quasar Rise,’ space travelers enter black holes, experiencing time and space anomalies: characters meet multiple versions of themselves, age rapidly, or are propelled backwards in time to infancy. A steampunk story, ‘Narcissi,’ is the only humorous work. The fictions in Volwys feature cautionary ecological messages, kinky sex, time paradoxes, surrealistic images, and futuristic gadgets. At times frustrating to review because of poor execution and clunky style, Volwys nevertheless contains important subjects and original ideas.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Hawke, Division (2014)

Lee S. Hawke, Division: A collection of science fiction fairytales. Blind Mirror Publishing, 2014. Pp. 114. ISBN 978-1-925299-01-4. $8.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

The fairy tale is a peculiar genre: today we usually think of it as quaint, storybook fodder for small children. In fact, most of the fairy tales we know best grew out of a specific body of speculative literature that developed across the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe. Like science fiction, the fairy tale form could be used to discuss and even mock the politics and social figures of the day. Lee S. Hawke’s collection of what he calls science fiction fairy tales, Division, is very much in the spirit of that old tradition, and each of the seven short stories in this slim volume shines and burns with too sharp observations of our contemporary world.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Riggs, Bilateral Asymmetry (2014)

Don Riggs, Bilateral Asymmetry, Poems. Texture Press, 2014. Pp 114. ISBN 978-0-692-21272-1. $17.00.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

When we discuss genre writing, poetry often gets left out, ignominiously, despite some of the great practitioners of the form: Tolkien, of course, wrote elegiac verse for and in his legendarium; the poems of Ursula K. Le Guin and Jane Yolen echo the concerns and themes of their prose works. Speculative poetry, like speculative fiction, explores possibility through form as well as content. The poems, calligrams, and illustrations in Don Riggs’s new collection Bilateral Asymmetry play with the mythic and the esoteric, inviting closer readings to deceptively short texts.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Samatar, Stranger in Olondria (2013)

Sofia Samatar, A Stranger in Olondria. Small Beer Press, 2013. Pp 300. ISBN 978-1-93152-076-8. $16.00.

Reviewed by Valeria Vitale

A Stranger in Olondria, by Sofia Samatar—winner of the 2014 Campbell Award for Best New Writer—is a book of unusual beauty that glorifies the art of narration in both its form and content. Samatar’s debut novel has the charm of complexity, but devoid of the coldness of intellectualism, every page marked by the rare literary talent of its author. The book is made of smaller and bigger stories, knitted together harmoniously in spite of their diversity; stories about knowledge, languages, love, sorrow, the supernatural. If you’re wondering how it is possible to link them together in a single, unforgettable tale, open this book and prepare to be amazed.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Weaver, Black Hole Bar

Dave Weaver, The Black Hole Bar. Elsewhen Press, 2014. Pp. 241. ISBN 978-1-908168-49-8. £9.99/$17.99.

Reviewed by Andy Sawyer

The Black Hole Bar is an interesting combination—depending upon how you look at it—of mediocre-to-quite entertaining short stories and unusually-structured novel and actually successful novel, which gradually exposes the nature of the world in which it is set. The back-cover blurb references Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Boccaccio’s Decameron to rather startling effect. Any reader who knows these works (especially anyone who notices that “Boccaccio” is actually misspelled here) is going to be ironic at the expense of the author, because to the most cursory or charitable reading The Black Hole Bar is not as good a story-cycle as the works of Chaucer and Boccaccio, nor do the stories offer as sharp a satire on their tellers and times. That said—and I’d be surprised if I had been lead to any other conclusion—Weaver hasn’t disgraced himself, and deserves better.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Hall, Prosperity (2014)

Alexis Hall, Prosperity. Riptide Publishing, 2014. Pp. 226. ISBN 978-1-62649-176-2. $4.99.

Reviewed by Ashley O’Brien

Prosperity, written by Alexis Hall and published by Riptide Publishing, is a delightful, wacky novel that challenges every existing genre. Readers follow the protagonist and narrator, a young petty criminal with a heart of gold, as he battles clockwork exes and flies across the universe, fleeing monsters. Piccadilly, as he named himself, doesn’t mean anyone any particular harm but has more fun getting into trouble than anything else. He leaves a dingy, hopeless underground ghetto known as Gaslight, and travels to Prosperity, a lawless skytown somewhere over England kept in place miraculously through skyhooks. Strength and force are the only rules in this lawless region, which attracts people from every unsavory walk of life, including our protagonist Piccadilly. Though lovable, Piccadilly would be any other card sharp/thief/prostitute, if he hadn’t ripped off the wrong man and triggered a set of events sending him off on marvelous adventures with the absurd, ragtag crew aboard the beautiful and impossible aethership, Shadowless.