Friday, August 11, 2017

Juanita, De Facto Feminism (2016)

Judy Juanita, De Facto Feminism: Essays Straight Outta Oakland. EquiDistance Press, 2016. Pp 226. ISBN 978-0-9716352-1-0. $19.95.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

Judy Juanita’s collection of essays De Facto Feminism: Essays Straight Outta Oakland is a mixture of previously published material from her long career in activism, including poetry, and more recent autobiographical reminiscences that relate to her 2013 novel Virgin Soul. This work does not relate to genre per se (unless we think of being Black in America today as being a dystopian experience, which, to be honest, we might well do). The sixteen essays, half dozen poems, and a collection of digital correspondence span from 1967 to 2015, much of which is drawn from the online magazine The Weeklings, cover expansive territory on Juanita’s career as an activist and an artist: she has been a member of the Black Panther Party, has taught in the first Black Studies program in the US, and is a playwright, poet, novelist and professor. She reminds us that creative work is activism too.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Hutchinson, Europe in Winter (2016)

Dave Hutchinson, Europe in Winter. Solaris, 2016. Pp. 295. ISBN 978-1-78108-463-2. £7.99.

Reviewed by Andy Sawyer

There’s a scene early on in Europe in Winter in which we meet Gwen, a civil servant who is part of a group of conspiracy-theorists whose focus is the Community, the parallel-universe/constructed world to which Hutchinson’s previous two novels Europe in Autumn and Europe in Winter have introduced us. Suddenly, with the revelation of the existence of the Community to Gwen’s baseline world, her superiors are intensely interested in it. “The government was being forced to make up policy towards the vast new European neighbour on the hoof.”

Friday, July 28, 2017

Pflug, Mountain (2017)

Ursula Pflug, Mountain. Inanna Publications, 2017. Pp. 104. ISBN 978-1-77133-349-8. CAN$19.95.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

Pflug, a Canadian writer who resides in Norwood, Ontario, is an experienced author. Her previous works include novels Green Music and The Alphabet Stones, as well as short story collections After the Fires and Harvesting the Moon. She also has other short stories and novels in the pipeline. Inanna Publications released Mountain in May, 2017 as part of their “Young Feminist Series”. Mountain is billed as a “YA novella”. Without giving any secrets away, let’s just say I’m past the YA age. Still, I found Mountain to be an intriguing and thought-provoking read.

When Amethyst O’Connor, Mountain’s protagonist, clambers out of her mother Laureen’s beat-up truck and looks around the healing camp in northern California, it’s clear that this is the last place she wants to be. Hanging out with “several hundred people camped in a mud puddle with bad food and no medical” (p. 4) isn’t Amethyst’s idea of a good time—she’d rather be at the mall with her rock-star dad’s credit card. But unfortunately for Amethyst, her father Lark O’Connor is busy recording an album, so travelling with her mom remains her only option.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Hook, The Greens (2016)

Andrew Hook, The Greens. Snowbooks Horror Novellas, 2016. Pp. 96. ISBN 978-1-91139-019-0. £4.99.

Reviewed by Nick Jackson

Reading Andrew Hook’s many faceted fantasy novella is a bit like trying to see into the centre of a cut gemstone. One can never be quite sure of what one is looking at. Each facet or viewpoint refracts reality differently until you are unsure of the veracity of any. The overall effect is one of a rather disturbing conundrum.

It begins with a superbly-evoked sequence involving two green-tinted children who turn up in late 1500s England. The narrative then switches to present-day Southwold and the life of a middle-class family, seen through the eyes of Julia and Richard. Julia, it gradually emerges, is an obsessive compulsive who dotes on her two children and semi-consciously weaves a web of protective rituals to protect them. Her husband, a rather dopy antiques dealer with a penchant for family history, begins to unearth details of his wife’s ancestral line and begins to piece together mysterious links involving other members of Julia’s clan who all, it seems, share similar obsessive compulsive rituals and a connection with the green children.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Weintraub, Religions and Extraterrestrial Life (2014)

David A. Weintraub, Religions and Extraterrestrial Life: How will we deal with it? Springer-Praxis, 2014. Pp. xiii+234. ISBN 978-3-319-05055-3. $34.99.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

Weintraub’s Religions and Extraterrestrial Life is a work of popular astronomy and theology, written by an academic astrophysicist and published by an imprint of Springer, one of the large academic publishing multinationals that dominate the market. The core thesis of this volume is that we are within a generation at most of either discovering extraterrestrial life (if not intelligence), or learning that it is extremely rare, at least in our part of the universe. He then sets out to discuss how various major world religions will deal with this scientific knowledge, based primary on the foundation texts and/or mainstream theology of each movement, and ultimately concludes that most faith groups will be largely unshaken by the news (either way)—either because their tenets allow for non-human life, or because they are already in the business of denying science and so will have no qualms about ignoring it. As an astronomer, Weintraub’s chapters popularizing the detection of exoplanets and the possibility of astrobiology are extremely well-written, successful and useful; his forays into theology are more patchy, one-sided, and in many places disappointingly shallow. On the whole this is a valuable and interesting book, both thoughtful for non-specialists interested in extraterrestrial life, and a contribution to the critical discussion about religion and science.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Willett, The Cityborn (2017)

Edward Willett, The Cityborn. DAW Books, 2017. Pp. 416. ISBN 978-0-75641-177-0. $26.00.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

At first, Danyl can’t believe his luck. Raised by Erl in the Middens, the dumping ground for trash from the City that towers above, Danyl’s tired of the hardscrabble life. If only he could strike a lucky find that he can parlay into a city pass! That’s when Alania falls into his life. Alania has led a pampered life in the upper tiers of the City, reserved for Officers and the wealthy. But something goes terribly wrong and Alania ends up inadvertently added to a load of trash dumped from the topmost tiers of the City. When Alania drops from the City, screaming her dismay and enveloped in a bundle of cloth, Danyl sees her as a dream come true. Surely, he thinks, someone will want her back! All he has to do is get her to the Last Chance Market, and—

Friday, June 30, 2017

Khaw, Food of the Gods (2017)

Cassandra Khaw, Food of the Gods. Abaddon Books, 2017. Pp. 238. ISBN 978-1-78108-519-6. $15.00.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

I finished reading Food of the Gods shortly after seeing the season finale of American Gods, and while some of the entries in Khaw’s collection were previously published, it’s hard not to think about what’s in the air that draws genre writers to recast myth in terms of the daily grind. (And I do know this isn’t exactly a novel idea, but these are the two texts that are on my mind immediately right now, so please bear with me.) Neil Gaiman’s original novel focused on gods-as-immigrants to America, with all the challenges that entails, as well as being a paean to steadily vanishing roadside kitsch; the TV series keeps the immigration story, but adds the violent intersection of race in contemporary America to the story that is, frankly, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it element of the novel. Khaw is, like the younger Gaiman, a London-based writer, but unlike him she has her roots in Southeast Asia, and unlike American Gods, Food of the Gods goes back and forth between London and Kuala Lumpur. Her hero/not-hero (but not anti-hero) is Rupert Wong, a former gangster who has become a chef to the literal underworld to save his karma, such as it is.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Low, Vanity in Dust (2017)

Cheryl Low, Vanity in Dust. World Weaver Press, 2017. Pp. 305. ISBN 978-0-99870-221-6. $13.95 pb/$4.99 e.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

Vanity in Dust—the debut novel from Sweden-based American author Cheryl Low—is a decadent, violent fantasy that simultaneously revels in the beauty of high society elegance and sickens with representation of the immoral soullessness of the filthy rich. Set in an isolated kingdom that is a heavy-handed dystopian allegory for the lack of social mobility in our own world, the rich are literally immortal and the poor can literally be killed for sport, the only unforgivable crime for the upper classes is disloyalty to the omnipotent Queen. All the characters, rich and less-rich alike (there are no truly poor characters) are pretty unlikeable, even by the standards of the genre’s “decadent antihero,” and even as the reader eventually comes to care about the outcome of the mystery behind the plot, we never truly care about the people who drive or are affected by it. The writing is strong, the world-building and magical system inventive, and one may hope for a trilogy to follow that would deliver some of the promised disruptive rebellion against the system that is only hinted at in this novel.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Moedriach, Prydori: Perfection is Us (2016)

T.H. Moedriach, Prydori: Perfection is Us. Zaloznistvo Jerneja Jezernik, 2016. Pp. 180. ISBN 978-961-94032-4-2. $16.90.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

When I first held the book Prydori: Perfection is Us in my hands, I knew I was dealing with something different. The small (4 inches by 7 1/4 inches) hardcover volume seemed an unusual size, at least compared to what I’m familiar with, but I found it a very user-friendly setup for reading. The format provides great portability, and the nicely legible type on the small pages makes it seem, on the one hand, like you’re flying through the material. Countering that sensation of speed was the “weight” of the thoughts expressed, for I found Prydori to be a philosophical sort of book rather than a space-opera-type page-turner.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Hardinge, Face Like Glass (2017)

Frances Hardinge, A Face Like Glass. Amulet Books, 2017. Pp 487. ISBN.978-1-4197-2484-8. $19.95.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

Frances Hardinge’s A Face Like Glass first appeared in the UK in 2012 and has only just arrived in the US this spring. It straddles the gap between children’s literature and the young adult genre uneasily; the protagonist is a preteen girl named Neverfell, who is too young to be interested in the romance or nascent sexuality that is usually a hallmark of YA, and yet she is witness to the aftermath of numerous murders, and the threat of violence is often just off-page. And yet Hardinge loves playing with language in a way that recalls some of (what I think, anyway) is the finest children’s lit like The Phantom Tollbooth, The Neverending Story, or Alice in Wonderland—the latter of which the author has a small homage to when Neverfell follows a rabbit up rather than down, discovering a wider and scarier world in the process.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Yardley, Beautiful Sorrows (2017)

Mercedes M. Yardley, Beautiful Sorrows. Apex Publications, 2017. Pp. 156. ISBN 978-1-93700-953-3. $13.99.

Reviewed by Valeria Vitale

Beautiful Sorrows is a collection of fantasy, weird and horror stories by Mercedes M. Yardley that has been recently re-published by Apex Books, after its first appearance for Shock Totem Publications. The collection gathers twenty seven stories of different lengths, from very short flash pieces that do not last more than couple lines, to longer and more complex ones. The book comes with an enthusiastic introduction by P. Gardner Goldsmith that it is, I believe, what every author dreams of reading in the opening words that accompany their book. Beautiful Sorrows is not only described using a long list of superlatives, but is compared to nothing less than the songs of the Sirens.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Novakova (ed.), Dreams From Beyond (2016)

Julie Novakova (ed.), Dreams From Beyond: Anthology of Czech Speculative Fiction. Julie Novakova, 2016. Pp. 189. No ISBN. Free e-book.

Reviewed by Małgorzata Mika

“How many copies make a bestseller? What does an author need to do in order to have a novel accepted by a publishing house?” (181) Julia Novakova, the Czech writer of science fiction contemplates these questions at the end of her Eurocon anthology, Dreams from Beyond: Anthology of Czech Speculative Fiction. Such vibrant writing, narratives from former USSR countries, with the exception of such authors as Karel Čapek, Jiří Kulhánek, Josef Nesvadba (and of course Stanisław Lem from Poland), have been frequently cut off from the Anglo-Saxon world by the Iron Curtain of unrecognition. The works have remained mostly unknown due to a lack of translations into other languages. Julie Novakova’s Eurocon 2016 anthology gathers short stories and novellas from a group of contemporary writers: those stepping into the world of fantastic, as well as those whose literary presence has been accepted by the Czech world of speculative fiction.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Piper, Luminous Dreams (2016)

Alexa Piper, Luminous Dreams. World Weaver Press, 2016. Pp. 142. ISBN 978-0-9977-8885-3. $9.99.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

This short collection from World Weaver Press was first published by Red Moon Romance (a small press now absorbed by WWP) a couple years ago, and has acquired one additional story in the process of being reprinted. Luminous Dreams now contains nine short stories of speculative romance and erotica by Alexa Piper, who has a handful of paranormal romance short stories in anthologies, and additionally has a background in fanfic and other popular writing communities. The writing is fun and lively, varied in genre and setting (if not so much in style), and features a parade of women who know and are unashamed of what they want—even if what they want is mostly pretty vanilla sex with dominating, bordering on the creepy, men who are so handsome that the protagonists flush and almost lose control on first seeing them. The romance themes are often a bit limited, and the sex only occasionally sexy… to this reader—although as a bisexual girlfriend once pointed out on being disappointed at reading the legendary Anaïs Nin, erotica is so personal, that anything a little bit edgy is not going to be to everyone’s sexual tastes. A few of the stories are genuinely original and interesting in their setting and narrative (beyond providing a backdrop for a couple of fucks).

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Salustro, Chasing Shadows (2014)

K.N. Salustro, Chasing Shadows (The Star Hunters, Book 1). Self-published, 2014. Pp. 234. ISBN: 1-50042-595-8. $7.55.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

I’ll admit, when I was waiting for my review copy of Chasing Shadows to arrive in the mail, I wasn’t sure what to expect. After all, author K.N. Salustro opted, in this case, to self-publish—not that I have a problem with that, since I self-published a work of my own (creative non-fiction and poetry, in that case). Still, self-published offerings can run the gamut. I’m pleased to say that in the case of Chasing Shadows, the story delivered in a number of ways.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Spinrad, People’s Police (2017)

Norman Spinrad, The People’s Police. Tor Books, 2017. Pp 284. ISBN 978-0-7653-8427-0. $27.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

The very best satires have enough truth at the core of their fiction to make them uncomfortable reading, and so is the case with Norman Spinrad’s The People’s Police. Spinrad is perhaps best known for his self-proclaimed anarchic ideals in his fiction, which fully come into play here: the central question asked is “Suppose the people and the police, who are so often on opposing sides in the US, actually came together for the benefit of all?” In this world, the order of government authority (and business world corruption) is at odds with everyday people and with the chaotic loa spirits, with the soul of New Orleans itself at stake: does the city belong to its everyday inhabitants or to the distant politicians and visiting tourists?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Oliver (ed.), Five Stories High (2016)

Jonathan Oliver (ed.), Five Stories High. Solaris Books, 2016. Pp. 435. ISBN 978-1-781083-92-5. £7.99.

Reviewed by Rachel Verkade

I am not going to lie, when I saw the new Jonathan Oliver anthology on this month’s list of titles to review, I all but got on my hands and knees and begged for it to be given to me. I have read all of Oliver’s previous anthologies, and were it not for their low number I would be putting Oliver’s name up there with that of the incomparable Ellen Datlow on my personal list of favourite anthologists. Add to that the fact that this anthology featured five interconnected novellas centered around a haunted house, one of my favourite horror sub-genres, and you had one happy reviewer. So, did my happiness hold?

Let’s start with the basics. Five Stories High is a collection of five novellas, all centered around Irongrove Lodge; a centuries-old building that has been, at different times, a sanitarium, a rest home, a family home, divided into apartments… and in every one of its incarnations, dark, inexplicable events occurred within its walls. These novellas tell the stories of five such events, and are bookended by various ‘Notes on Irongrove Lodge’ written by Oliver. These five stories are all very different and connected only by their setting, so I think it’s best to look at them each individually.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Begay, Edgar Allan Poe: Adult Coloring Book (2016)

Odessa Begay, Edgar Allan Poe: An Adult Coloring Book. Sterling Publishing, 2016. Pp. 96. ISBN 978-1-45492-135-6. $14.95.

Reviewed by Valeria Vitale

Edgar Allan Poe: An Adult Coloring Book by Odessa Begay is a fun experiment in mixing the darkest literature with the playful experience of messing around with colours. The large, coffee-table format, and the very attractive cover with metallic-red details make this book something that won’t go unnoticed. Unfortunately, sometimes the quality of the drawings is not as good as one might hope, and the occasionally careless execution leaves one with the feeling of a missed opportunity.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Clarke, Galactic Empires (2017)

Neil Clarke (ed.), Galactic Empires. Night Shade Books, 2017. Pp. 624. ISBN 978-1-59780-884-2. $17.99.

Reviewed by Don Riggs

I opened Neil Clarke’s anthology Galactic Empires and Jeffty was five again! So many of the dear old exciting space operatic epic short story types but written in a fresh vein, as if tales of, in, and around Galactic Empires had been ongoing and are indeed still evolving! Instead of proceeding methodically from the first story to the last in sequence, I skipped right to the Robert Silverberg, “The Colonel Returns to the Stars,” knowing that the author has developed planets, empires, histories, and tales of people hidden in other people, submerged personalities looking out through the eyes of some apparently other people. He did not disappoint, and brought hints of an ancient empire that had gone long before the current empire arose, resulting in two networks of instantaneous transmission through wormholes from place to place. He uses the trope of that kind of instantaneous travel much as Frank Herbert did in Dune: the threat of a world denied access to those portals describes the ultimate in isolation on the galactic scale: it becomes a world set back on its own resources, denied trade and contact with anyone else besides that world’s own inhabitants, who are stuck with each other. An interesting dilemma.

Monday, February 27, 2017

F(r)iction Magazine #6 (2016)

F(r)iction Magazine, #6 (Fall 2016). Tethered by Letters Press. Pp. 124. $20.00.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

F(r)iction Magazine is a glossy, high quality, fabulously produced journal of literary speculative fiction, and it achieves all of the above in spades. The first thing that strikes you when you unwrap the magazine is the quality of the images; the cover is glossy, textured, beautifully designed and printed on the highest quality materials. This continues inside: each story, poem or feature is accompanied with well-crafted imagery, expertly interacting with the text. At $20 for 124 pages of this, both the artifact and the words are excellent value for money. Production is high throughout, from selection, sequencing, copyediting through to illustration and typesetting of the contents. Most of the content in speculative in one way or another, mostly in the magical realist sense that would not be sneered at in a literary venue; but it is also literary, in the sometimes cold, style over substance, and unsympathetic way that more unapologetically speculative works manage to avoid. Seven short and three very-short stories, almost a dozen poems, a graphic story and an interview and novel extract are crammed into the high-definition, gloss-finished pages of this colorful issue, which feels bigger than it looks from the outside.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Helgadóttir, Asian Monsters (2016)

Margrét Helgadóttir (ed.), Asian Monsters. Fox Spirit Books, 2016. Pp. 167. ISBN 978-1-9093-4899-8. £10.00.

Reviewed by Rachel Verkade

The problem with being a horror fan since you were a small child is that you tend to get jaded pretty quickly. I first watched An American Werewolf in London when I was eight years old, but even before that I had been inundated with vampires, werewolves, zombies, and all other traditional “western” monsters. They were everywhere, from greeting cards to comics to Sesame Street. So by the time I was in my late teens, I felt as though I had seen it all in terms of monsters. It wasn’t until much later in my life, when I discovered the wonders of the internet, that I discovered there was a whole other world of monsters out there to discover. And some of the most bizarre, gruesome, and frightening come from Asia.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Salaam, When the World Wounds (2016)

Kiini Ibura Salaam, When the World Wounds. Third Man Books, 2016. Pp. 184. ISBN 978-0-9913361-5-9. $15.95.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

Kiini Ibura Salaam is an American writer of speculative fiction that directly engages with women and race in ways that are both thoughtful and disturbing. This is her second collection of short fiction; the first, Ancient, Ancient (2012) won the James Tiptree Jr. Award for that year. Salaam is a writer of short pieces that have largely previously appeared in collections; When the World Wounds consists of three short stories, two novelettes and a novella, only one of which is reprinted (and has been edited from the previous version). As such this collection will be of emphatic interest to her fans, and provide much food for thought for new readers.

Monday, February 06, 2017

carrington, Speculative Blackness (2016)

andré m. carrington, Speculative Blackness: The Future of Race in Science Fiction. University of Minnesota Press, 2016. Pp. 288. ISBN 978-0-8166-7896-9. $25.00.

Reviewed by Don Riggs

Professor carrington’s focus in Speculative Blackness is on the interactions among not only science fiction, but other speculative fiction categories such as “fantasy, horror, utopia and dystopia, paranormal romance, counterfactual history, magical realism, and so on” (23). The thrust of his book is that the “Whiteness of Science Fiction” or the identification of speculative fiction as a White cultural tradition marks “alienation as a signal feature of Black experiences with the genre” (17-18). To support and illustrate these generalizations, the author presents an array of studies of presence and absence of African Americans in fandom, as demonstrated in fanzines, television’s original Star Trek series, comics, Deep Space Nine and its novelizations, and in a final chapter, he moves into online fanfiction archives involving “Black British-diasporic characters in Harry Potter,” extending his reach beyond the African-American sphere. He does a great deal of investigative work that reveals little-known aspects of the history of fandoms, of fans’ influence on the Speculative Fictional products (books, television shows, films, comics, etc.) that evolve in relation to the fans’ responses to them. As such, this is a reception study, except in the sense that the reception in turn becomes an influence on the subsequent development of the fiction.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Littlewood, The Hidden People (2016)

Alison Littlewood, The Hidden People. Jo Fletcher Books, 2016. Pp. 384. ISBN 978-1-84866-990-1. £14.99.

Reviewed by Rachel Verkade

I’m going to make this clear right out of the gate; I went into this book with a certain amount of trepidation. Some time ago, I read Littlewood’s first novel, A Cold Season, and I honestly wasn’t impressed. I found it predictable, riddled with plotholes, and starring a heroine whose decisions I could not fathom. On the other hand, I’d encountered a number of Littlewood’s short stories in the pages of various Best New Horror and Best Horror of the Year volumes, and frequently found them amongst the most enjoyable in the books. Well, let it never be said that I am a woman with a closed mind; I decided to give Littlewood a second chance. And a dark, gothic, period novel featuring a murder, faeries, and mysterious pregnancies seemed like just the ticket.