Thursday, November 15, 2018

Tidhar, Unholy Land (2018)

Lavie Tidhar, Unholy Land. Tachyon Publications, 2018. Pp. 288. ISBN 978-161696-304-0. $15.95.

Reviewed by N.A. Jackson

The narrative of Lavie Tidhar’s novel ducks and dives like a prizefighter, leaving his reader reeling. The protagonist, Tirosh, slips between worlds: the war torn lands of the Middle East, contemporary Berlin and other imagined worlds brought to shimmering life by Tidhar’s close observation. These are the ‘could-have-been’ worlds with elements of historical fact but steeped in mythology and fraught with darker perils and hints of monstrous beings and magical apparitions.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Pflug, Down From (2018)

Ursula Pflug, Down From. Snuggly Books, 2018. Pp. 96. ISBN 978-1-943813-57-5. $10.14.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

Down From is the shortish (a little over 20,000 words, I guess), dreamlike, fabulist fifth novel by Ursula Pflug, published by Snuggly Books, purveyors of bite-sized experimental and neo-decadent fiction. This is a classic unreliable narrator story, offering themes of uncertain memory, revelation, magic and reality, and featuring a viewpoint character who is uncertain about her own history, relationship with the thinly sketched secondary characters, and even which world she is in. The first half of the book unsettles with missing memories, shifting character names, stilted conversations—putting us firmly into the mindset of the discombobulated Sandrine. The second half changes both direction and pace, giving us a quite different story than we may have been expecting, albeit no less fabulist and semi-realist, and leaves as many new mysteries as we started with. After a slow start, this book rewards the faithful reader, especially if they love magic, uncertainty, fierce and unapologetic women, and stories within stories (and art within art).

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Varela, Seas of Distant Stars (2018)

Francesca G. Varela, The Seas of Distant Stars. Owl House Books, 2018. Pp. 232. ISBN 978-1-947003-92-7. $17.95.

Reviewed by Don Riggs

The Seas of Distant Stars is a variation on the alien abduction trope. The protagonist, Aria, is a “preverbal” little girl who is mobile, goes down the steps into the front yard as her parents are resting inside, and is abducted, we don’t see exactly how, and the next we know she is on another planet. One of the first things that we see happen there, on Deeyae, is an annual medical checkup, which we find out later is only for the “exchangers,” or abducted earthlings; apparently the Deeyan scientists are interested in seeing how the abductees develop physiologically—possibly to apply to their own population, as the Deeyans originally came from Earth, known there as “the Water Planet.”

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Moore, Not So Stories (2018)

David Thomas Moore (ed.), Not So Stories. Abbadon Books, 2018. Pp. 320. ISBN 978-1-7810-8612-4. $15.99.

Reviewed by Samira Nadkarni

Meant to address the legacy of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories (1902), Not So Stories (2018) is a set of 14 postcolonial short stories that problematise or confront colonial nostalgia, and what Nikesh Shukla (in his foreword) terms the “feeling that the British Empire was a benign part of the lives of those oppressed.” The collection offers narratives that centre the point of view of those marginalised under British colonialism, responding not only to the racist narratives of Kipling’s original text, but also the persisting bedrock of colonial ideology its popularity once drew, and somehow continues to draw, upon. Shukla notes that these stories are for “children and adults” (his emphasis)—and I’d argue that the majority of the collection’s stories are in fact aimed at adults rather than children.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Forrest, The Inconvenient God (2018)

Francesca Forrest, The Inconvenient God. Annorlunda Books, 2018. Pp. 70. ISBN 978-1-944354-41-1. $7.99 pb/$2.99 e.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

The Inconvenient God is a novelette-length story, approximately 11-12,000 words at my estimate, published as a standalone volume in print and e-book by Annorlunda Books, specialists in bite-sized, diverse novellas and novelettes “that you can finish in an afternoon.” This story is set in a secondary world with approximately contemporary technology and infrastructure (trains, telecommunications, etc. are familiar to a modern reader) in which a multitude of gods literally and visibly walk the earth. Perhaps a flavour of fabulist realism rather than fantasy, the story features a highly bureaucratic and centralized Polity (perhaps loosely Central Asian in flavor?), who send a Decommissioner from the Ministry of Divinity to retire a minor, regional—and waning—god of mischief in the northwestern province.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Blanco, Morgan Le Fay (2017)

Jo-Anne Blanco, Morgan Le Fay: Small Things and Great (Book One of the Fata Morgana Child of the Moon Trilogy). Self-published, 2017. Pp. 288. ISBN 978-1-3658-2824-9. $10.94.

Reviewed by Regina de Búrca

This retelling of the Arthurian legend, the first in a trilogy, is told from the point of view of a five-year-old Morgan le Fay—a young girl coming to terms with her powers and the confines of the world she lives in. Traditionally seen as a villain of the story, it is refreshing to read a story from her perspective: that of a powerful female in a patriarchal world. Morgan’s childhood is interrupted as she experiences visions and shortly afterwards, is tasked with saving the souls of lost children. Compelled to travel to the secret and dangerous faerie realm, Morgan encounters magical creatures for the first time. The descriptions of these encounters are very enjoyable—the faeries are at once beautiful and creepy.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Kuppers, Studying Disability Arts and Culture (2014)

Petra Kuppers, Studying Disability Arts and Culture: An Introduction. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. Pp. 186. ISBN 978-1-137-41346-8. $37.99.

Reviewed by Kathryn Allan

Petra Kuppers is a well-known and respected figure in the disability community at large, her work encompassing (and transgressing) the realms of academia, theatre and dance, literature, and activism. It is no surprise then that her handbook, Studying Disability Arts and Culture: An Introduction, brings all of these various backgrounds together to guide those interested in learning about “the work of disabled artists and their allies” and “artful responses to living with physical, cognitive, emotional or sensory difference” (back cover). Primarily marketed as an undergraduate text, Studying Disability Arts and Culture is a useful arts-based learning tool for anyone who wants to explore “disabled bodies and minds in theatre, performance, creative writing, art and dance” (back cover). As a past university educator and current independent scholar who sometimes dabbles in creative writing, I found Kuppers’ text admirably accessible and comprehensive—for someone new to disability studies in general or to disability-centred art practices specifically, this handbook is a useful resource.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Willett, Paths to the Stars (2018)

Edward Willett, Paths to the Stars. Self-published, 2018. Pp. 310. ISBN 978-1-9993827-0-4. US$15.95/CAN$19.95.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

An ex-actor who has his own reasons for no longer wanting to be involved in theatre is coerced into directing a production of The Sound of Music aboard a passenger ship. Two translators overcome their mutual feelings of revulsion to work together for the greater good. Odd vegetables cause an explosive situation in a small Saskatchewan community. These are just a few of plot lines featured in Paths to the Stars, a short story collection by Edward Willett. Author of over 60 books, ranging from science fiction and fantasy to non-fiction, and better known as a novelist than a short story writer, Willett has nevertheless written shorter pieces at various points along the way. Paths to the Stars gathers together 22 of Willett’s short stories, roughly a quarter of which are previously unpublished. The book was issued by Shadowpaw Press, an independent publisher established by Willett.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Kuppers, Pearl Stitch (2016)

Petra Kuppers, Pearl Stitch. Spuyten Duyvil, 2016. Pp. 102. ISBN 978-1-944682-06-4. $15.00.

Reviewed by Kathryn Allan

I first read Petra Kuppers’ poetry collection, Pearl Stitch, on a plane while en route to a conference on the fantastic arts. I don’t normally reach for poetry as my go-to travel reading but given my previous encounters with Kuppers’ writing—buying her short story “Playa Song” for Accessing the Future and thoroughly enjoying her short story collection, Ice Bar—I felt that reading something a bit out of the ordinary, as her story-telling always is, would fit the bill. I was not disappointed.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Warren, Museum of Second Chances (2018)

A.E. Warren, The Museum of Second Chances. Locutions Press, 2018. Pp. 319. ISBN 978-1-9999199-0-0. $11.99 pb/$3.99 e.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

Imagine visiting a museum that houses woolly mammoths and sabre-tooth tigers, giant sloths and Neanderthal Man—not just as displays, but as living, breathing entities. You may not be able to go there physically—at least, not yet—but A.E. Warren’s futuristic novel The Museum of Second Chances will transport you there in the world of imagination. The time setting for The Museum of Second Chances is set isn’t stated explicitly. What we do know is that it’s almost 200 years after the extinction of the chameleon. Since just over a third of our world’s chameleon species are endangered currently, that may not be so far away as we think.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Lodi-Ribeiro (ed.), Solarpunk (2018)

Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro (ed.) & Fábio Fernandes (trans.), Solarpunk: Ecological and Fantastical Stories in a Sustainable World. World Weaver Press, 2018. Pp. 271. ISBN 978-0-9987022-9-2. $14.95.

Reviewed by Cat Coker

Solarpunk is the latest in a series of themed anthologies—previous installments include Vaporpunk (2010) and Dieselpunk (2011)—edited by Brazilian SF author Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro. First published in Portuguese in 2012, the English edition was funded through a Kickstarter in 2017, and it provides an intriguing window not only into Brazilian genre writing but into the complicated politics of sustainability. “Solarpunk” as a genre has emerged in the 2010s as one of numerous forms of climate fiction, even as climate reality continues to change and converge a number of preoccupations. It has also promised a form of optimism at odds with popular dystopia, managing to combine hopeful science with a cynicism regarding human nature itself. As Sarena Ulibarri notes in the preface, while Americans view even the idea of a world economy of renewable energy as inherently utopian, in other countries it is a matter of necessity and survival: Brazil is one of the world’s leaders in renewable energy with 76% of its energy drawn from wind, solar, and hydropower, but it is far, far from being a liberal utopia. Consequently, the stories collected here run an emotional and genre gamut that is highlighted by the accompanying art work by José Baetas.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Bashe, Gift of Your Love (2018)

Kayla Bashe, The Gift of Your Love. Less Than Three Press, 2018. Pp. 69. ISBN 978-1-684313-00-6. $2.99.

Reviewed by Psyche Z. Ready

Kayla Bashe has written over a dozen books, most of them queer romance/speculative fiction. Bashe is also a gifted poet, and the internet is positively littered with their poetry and short fiction. They self-describe as a “disabled queer badass” who writes about “themes of hope and community.” They have a small but loyal following, decent tumblr fame, and after reading this book, I can understand why. The Gift of Your Love is a quick, fun adventure romp that left me feeling good and I can’t wait to read more. But for me, the strength of this novella is its honest and heartening portrayal of neurodiversity.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Meikle, Ghost Club (2017)

William Meikle, The Ghost Club: Newly Found Tales of Victorian Terror. Crystal Lake Publishing, 2017. Pp. 189. ISBN 978-1-642049-31-2. $14.99.

Reviewed by Valeria Vitale

The Ghost Club by William Meikle is an unusual collection of ghost-themed short stories, that is something in between an homage and a divertissement. The idea behind the book is quite bold, but also very endearing: each of the stories here gathered are written by one single author, but in the style of a different famous writer of ghost stories of the past (mostly, but not only, from the British Victorian era). In other words, it is a collection that pretends to be an anthology. The explicit fakery is one of the things that attracted me to the book in the first place. Editorially, the stories are presented as if they were written by authors such as R.L. Stevenson or Bram Stoker. In this way, Meikle actually combines two of my passions: falsification and ghosts. How could I resist?

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Johnstone, How I Learned the Truth About Krampus (2017)

Tom Johnstone, How I Learned the Truth About Krampus. Eibonvale Press, 2017. Pp. 36. ISBN 978-1-908125-58-3. £6.00.

Reviewed by Andy Sawyer

A young academic researching folkloric traditions becomes fascinated by the figure of Krampus, the horned monstrous companion to St Nicholas who, in Austrian tradition, punishes naughty children. We are reading his letter to his wife, written as he is awaiting arrest: their baby has disappeared; and the narrator is attempting to explain (and/or justify) what really happened following his trip to Germany to follow up the work of an expert on Central European folklore whose work was excluded from the most important work on traditional folk performance customs. He learns that Holger, the German academic had, apparently, strayed too far into the territory of "what one might call cryptozoology." Holger's former partner Claudia takes the narrator into the Tyrol, where they find Holger's tent and a weird, intricate carving which he takes back to England and gives to his fiancée. After their marriage, dreams of her "straddling" the monstrous carving, which sometimes bears the face of the narrator's friend Mike, sometimes his own face, haunt him. When their child is born his wrinkled skin and deep black eyes remind him of something he saw in Germany. The police have their own theory…

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Gable & Dombrowski, Ride the Star Wind (2017)

​Scott Gable & C. Dombrowski (edd.), Ride the Star Wind: Cthulhu, Space Opera, and the Cosmic Weird. Broken Eye Books, 2017. Pp. ix+445. ISBN 978-1-940372-25-9. $23.99.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

Gable and Dombrowski have edited several science fiction and horror anthologies for Broken Eye Books, several of them on Lovecraftian or “Cthulhu Mythos” themes. Ride the Star Wind is in this tradition, bringing together twenty-nine short stories that combine elements of Weird, space opera in the truest, far-future, laser-gun, television traditions, and the claustrophobic, existential terror in the face of the true alien: the alien that is like a god that cares no more for us than we care for the wellbeing of potatoes or ethical behavior of nematodes. In fact—and this is no criticism—this blend of cosmic and weird is not so unusual (in either space opera or Cthulhu circles), but it sure is a fun genre, so it’s always good to see more stories and anthologies like this. There is a striking variety of content in Ride the Star Wind, from gutsy horror, gritty war, grueling dystopian, through goofy comedy and nightmarish surrealism, such that most readers will find something to tickle their fancy. While to my taste there were only a couple of excellent and a few very good pieces, a relatively light dusting of brilliance on what is an unusually thick anthology of stories, there are no absolute stinkers or lead balloons in this volume.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Swift, Paris Adrift (2018)

E.J. Swift, Paris Adrift. Solaris Books, 2018. Pp. 320. ISBN 978-1-78108-593-6. $10.99.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

The Communards. Cellist Rachel Clouatre. The Catacombs of Paris. Sacré-Coeur Basilica. The Moulin Vert. All are mentioned in E.J. Swift’s time travel story Paris Adrift in convincing detail. After reading the novel, I couldn’t resist doing a quick internet search to discern fact from fiction—which is a credit to Swift’s ability to build authentic-seeming descriptions of imaginary events. Paris Adrift starts out in 2318, focussing on a small group of individuals huddling in a fallout shelter as they witness the final stages of a catastrophic war. It’s a fate that they, like many they share the world with, would prefer to alter. Unlike the rest of the population, they have the means to do just that. The individuals we are introduced to at the book’s opening are no ordinary people, but rather, members of a select group that call themselves Janus—and they are capable of time travel.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Broughton, Cassell & Hall, Sussex Horrors (2018)

Jonathan Broughton, Mark Cassell & Rayne Hall, Sussex Horrors: Stories of Coastal Terror and Other Seaside Haunts. Herbs House, 2018. Pp. 128. ISBN 978-0-99306-015-1. $12.99/£7.99.

Reviewed by Rachel Verkade

Themed anothologies are a staple, not just of the horror genre, but just about every class of speculative fiction. And since moving to Britain, I've encountered an increasing number of collections based around particular areas, most notably the Terror Tales of… series, edited by Paul Finch (Terror Tales of the Cotswolds, Terror Tales of East Anglia, Terror Tales of Wales, etc.). When I picked up Sussex Horrors I was expecting a similar premise; a collection of stories from various authors about terrors somehow centered around or unique to Sussex county. In that respect, I was mistaken; Sussex Horrors, rather than being quilted together by a single editor out of many contributions by different writers, is the lovechild of a menage-a-trois made up of authors Jonathan Broughton, Mark Cassell, and Rayne Hall. These three authors wrote each of the twelve stories comprising the book (four per author), and presumably also served as mutual editors. I will admit to a pang of disappointment when I picked the book up; the variety of authors, writing styles, and themes in an anthology is one of the things I treasure most about them. But I have to concede the novelty of the idea. However, the value in novelty only lies in how successful it is. And was this book successful?

Monday, March 26, 2018

Moore (ed.), Dracula: Rise of the Beast (2018)

David Thomas Moore (ed.), Dracula: Rise of the Beast. Abaddon Books, 2018. Pp. 308. ISBN 978-1-78108-666-7. $15.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

Dracula: Rise of the Beast is an interesting and almost undefinable book. It is not a conventional fiction anthology, as all of the stories presented are held together through a joint framing device, but neither is it a mosaic novel, as the stories do not altogether cohere. That said, it’s a fascinating collection that talks back—not just speaks, but explicitly talks back—to Bram Stoker’s classic 1897 novel. Stoker’s Dracula was a figure as exoticized as he was threatening, playing on a number of English cultural anxieties ranging from immigration and anti-semitism to homosexuality and women’s roles in the new industrialist age. Moore and his stable of writers here—Adrian Tchaikovsky, Milena Benini, Bogi Takács, Emil Minchev, and Caren Gussoff Sumption—respond not just to the fictional figure and his historical counterpart, but to the cultural conversations around him as well.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Parrish (ed.), Equus (2017)

Rhonda Parrish (ed.), Equus. World Weaver Press, 2017. Pp. 318. ISBN 978-154-489-6809. $12.99.

Reviewed by Rachel Verkade

Equus is the fifth book in Rhonda Parrish’s “Magical Menagerie” series. One of the previous volumes in the series is Sirens, which I reviewed back in October, and I enjoyed that book enough to request Equus when it came out. This is a special theme for me as well; I have been a horsewoman for most of my life, and find these powerful animals both fascinating and beautiful. In addition, the rich variety of horse myths and monsters makes up a cornucopia of wonders. Almost every culture in the world have their equine legends or gods, from the Norse Sleipnir to the Scottish Kelpie to the Buddhist Kanthaka to the Hindu Uchchaihshravas to the Greek Pegasus to the Japanese Ama no Fuchigoma to the Chilean Caballo marino chilote to the Turkish Tulpar to the Central American Wihwin to the Philippine Tikbalang to the European unicorn… the fact that I could go on should tell you something. Myths and legends about horses and horse-like creatures are as old and as varied as human history, and provides a wealth of material for any aspiring author. Given that, I was eager to see what treasures the contributing authors of Equus had to offer.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Crowley, 100 Best Video Games (2017)

Nate Crowley, 100 Best Video Games (That Never Existed). Solaris Books, 2017. Pp. 260. ISBN 978-1-78108-614-8. $17.99/£12.99.

Reviewed by Valeria Vitale

Literature is full of entertaining anecdotes on how books were born: unforgettable personal experiences, reminiscences of a dream, an unusual meeting, surreal coincidences, a strike of inspiration… you name it. This book was born on the internet and, more precisely, on Twitter. Emerging SF writer and game geek Nate Crowley promised a video game concept for each “like” received. The idea was so successful that the thread rapidly got out of hand. Luckily, someone thought that there were enough good seeds there to craft an entire book out of them. The author took things further and didn’t stop at the simple description of the made-up video games, but teamed up with real game designers to sketch very convincing features and even graphics, making this amusing fakery completely believable.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Salustro, Star Hunters (2015)

K.N. Salustro, The Star Hunters: Unbroken Light. Self-published, 2015. Pp. 292. ISBN 978-1-51773-515-9. $10.95 pb/$3.99 e.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

Unbroken Light, the second book in K.N. Salustro’s “Star Hunters” series, picks up right where the initial book, Chasing Shadows, left off. Former Star Federation Fleet Commander Lance Ashburn is now a fugitive from the organization that previously claimed his allegiance. Rated as a “beta” criminal, he needs to stay undercover. That won’t be easy, because what he’s set out to do isn’t exactly low-profile. He needs to spring bounty hunter Lissa from the clutches of the militarized extremist Neo-Andromedan group, the Seventh Sun. Then, he and Lissa must do their best to interfere with the Seventh Sun’s machinations before they embroil the galaxy in chaos.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Helgadóttir (ed.), Pacific Monsters (2017)

Margrét Helgadóttir (ed.), Pacific Monsters. Fox Spirit Books, 2017. Pp. 182. ISBN 978-1-91046-212-6. £10.00/$15.00.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

Pacific Monsters is the fourth volume in Fox Spirit Books’ Books of Monsters series; previous volumes include African Monsters (2015) and Asian Monsters (2016), and projected volumes will include American Monsters and Eurasian Monsters. The goal of these books (all edited by the capable and prolific Margrét Helgadóttir, sometimes with Jo Thomas as co-editor) is to effectively decolonize the monstrous of the popular imagination and pop culture from the familiar parade of western-inspired demons, werewolves, vampires, and zombies. Instead, Helgadóttir’s anthologies showcase fiction across the spectrum of speculative fiction genres that feature creatures drawn from the localized myth and folklore of other cultures, almost all of which are written by writers and artists from, or with strong connections to, those countries. Each volume is a softcover coffee table book, oversized and illustrated in black and white; several of the entries include stories told through comics rather than prose. Ultimately this series is a needed intervention into Anglo-American-centric monster stories, and Pacific Monsters particularly stands out as it encompasses nations and populations that are too often neglected altogether.