Friday, September 13, 2019

AE 2.0 (2019)

AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, ed. Helen Michaud et al. Vol 2.0 (Summer 2019). Online at aescifi.ca.

Reviewed by N.A. Jackson

In her editorial, Helen Michaud details the tortuous process of relaunching the Review, which promises “stories and analysis about worlds that might be.” It appears that, after its inception in 2010, AE has been ‘dark’ for the last three years. Clearly, blood has been sweated to produce this collection of fiction and non-fiction. The writing is of a high quality throughout, the illustrations and graphics are beautiful and there’s a good mix of stories essays and reviews. The focus is squarely on Canadian and North American voices. The authors are distinguished sounding, amongst them a philosophy professor, a journalist and a biochemist, all with impressive publishing credits. The majority of the stories featured on the site are dominated by technology and the stories are very much plot-driven. In terms of plot, there’s nothing outstandingly original. What we get is a fresh take on old ideas: alien invasion and time-travel, so the onus is on the writers to take a distinctive approach.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Johnston, The War Beneath (2018)

Timothy S. Johnston, The War Beneath: The Rise of Oceania. ChiZine Publications, 2018. Pp. 300. ISBN 978-1-77148-471-8. CAN$21.99; US$17.99.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

Award-winning author Timothy S. Johnston, who penned futuristic murder mystery/thrillers The Furnace, The Freezer, and The Void, is back with a new book. Johnston’s latest novel The War Beneath, released in December 2018 by Peterborough, Ontario’s ChiZine Publications, takes us below the ocean’s surface as Johnston envisions what life might be like in underwater cities. Johnston’s latest creation is the first in a planned three-book series dubbed The Rise of Oceania. The War Beneath has already garnered accolades. Winner of the 2018 Global Thriller Award in the Action/Adventure category, it was also a finalist for the 2019 Silver Falchion Award, and long-listed for the 2019 Cygnus Awards. Awards are all fine and well, but the real proof in the salt-water pudding is whether the book delivers in terms of interest level and innovation.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Dark Magazine 50 (2019)

The Dark Magazine, ed. Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Michael Kelly, & Sean Wallace. Issue #50 (July 2019). Prime Books. $1.99 or online at thedarkmagazine.com.

Reviewed by Valeria Vitale

The Dark is a monthly e-magazine currently edited by Sean Wallace, Silvia Moreno Garcia and Michael Kelly. According to their guidelines, they specialise in horror and dark fantasy, but I believe that the title reflects a certain preference for those stories that are more disquieting and unsettling than gory. Each month The Dark publishes four stories that can be read for free online or bought as an e-book to be read offline. Although four stories make The Dark a relatively slim publication, this editorial choice also seems to guarantee consistently high standards, allowing the editors to be particularly selective, and leaving the reader (at least this reader!) always wanting for more.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Davies Okungbowa, David Mogo, Godhunter (2019)

Suyi Davies Okungbowa, David Mogo, Godhunter. Abbadon Books, 2019. Pp. 365. ISBN 978-1-7810-8649-0. $9.99/£7.99.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

This debut novel by Arizona-based Nigerian author Davies Okungbowa, published as a stand-alone novel by shared-world genre publisher Abbadon Books, falls somewhere between the genres of urban fantasy and self-defined “godpunk.” A fast-paced, entertaining novel that skates past any plot holes or unevenness in characterization, as it moves relentlessly toward its explosive climax—actually, there are at least two or three such climaxes throughout the book. The setting is refreshing, neither exoticising Africa as so many Anglo-American authors might, nor glossing over or apologising for the faults of Lagos as a city (both real and fictional), and like the demigod protagonist David Mogo, the story storms a larger than life rampage through the rollercoaster turns in the plot and cast of characters. The writing is not flawless, and the novel does not escape the clichés of its genre, but it is on balance a good read, and a great introduction to an author we hope to see more scifi or fantasy from in the future.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Kaleidotrope 44 (2019)

Kaleidotrope, ed. Fred Coppersmith. Issue #44 (Summer 2019). Online at kaleidotrope.net or Kindle.

Reviewed by N.A. Jackson

This is a strong collection of well-written, fresh and original fiction and poetry. The only thing that could have improved the reading experience for me would have been a print copy but Kaleidotrope ceased print publication in 2012 and is now only an on-line zine like many others. I still can’t help enjoying the smell and feel of paper, even while I abhor the waste of resources. Visually this edition is a treat with its faintly disturbing artwork in pink and purple by Patrick King, of ghostly jellyfish looming up against a black ground. The same image is used to good effect as a banner at the conclusion of each piece giving a unity to the collection.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Ghalayini, Palestine +100 (2019)

Basma Ghalayini (ed.), Palestine +100: Stories from a century after the Nakba. Comma Press, 2019. ISBN 978-1-9109-7444-5. £9.99.

Reviewed by Shellie Horst

Palestine +100 won a PEN Translates Award. It consists of twelve stories which explore a Palestinian future set one hundred years after the Nakba, the exile of 700,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1948. Written by acclaimed Palestinian authors, who use a number of subgenres to challenge what westerners take for granted in SF. Each story takes you to another reality, and uses what’s right in front of us to do it. I had a feeling the book would be unique. I wasn’t expecting to be blind-sided.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Sriduangkaew, And Shall Machines Surrender (2019)

Benjanun Sriduangkaew, And Shall Machines Surrender. Prime Books, 2019. Pp. 108. ISBN 978-1-607015-34-5. $9.99.

Reviewed by J. Moufawad-Paul

There is a Julius Eastman composition, “EN,” that uses the constraints of four pianos facing each other, with one pianist directing, each playing a sparse set of themes. Through timed disunity and unity—the latter generated by the directing pianist counting down aloud at key moments—EN is one of the most elegant and complex contemporary compositions. Somehow it manages to generate a stunning depth, lacking in longer pieces with less constraints, despite and because of its minimalist boundaries. I first heard this piece played live at the 2015 Venice Biennale, curated by the late Okwui Enwezor, and was floored by its “less is more” structure.

If we think of Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s novella And Shall Machines Surrender as a composition, it is similar to this Eastman piece. A limited number of characters, two points of view, and a short period in which the present action plays out. At the same time, Sriduangkaew strips down her always beautiful prose: it is less ornate and dense than her other works—a kind of velocity and immediacy are imported into her style so that it becomes stream-lined and slightly spartanized—but still sings. Just like Eastman’s minimalism. Within these constraints something dense and complex coalesces. Something entirely cinematic.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Resnick, Master of Dreams (2019)

Mike Resnick, The Master of Dreams. DAW books, 2019. Pp. 294. ISBN 978-0-7564-1384-2. $26.00.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

Mike Resnick’s fantasy novel The Master of Dreams opens with a seemingly ordinary couple enjoying what starts out as an ordinary day. Protagonist Eddie Raven is strolling the streets of Manhattan, shopping with his girlfriend Lisa. Or rather, Lisa is shopping, with Eddie tagging along good-naturedly, though he can’t resist tossing out mild protests about the need to visit so many stores. The tone of the book shifts when, at Lisa’s insistence, they stop in at a fortune teller’s shop. A tall man who Eddie thinks looks familiar, though he can’t put a name to him, also enters the store just as Eddie and Lisa begin talking to the fortune-teller, who introduces himself as Mako. It’s odd enough that Mako knows Lisa’s name without being told, but when he tells a shocked Lisa, “‘You will die in seconds!’” the tension ratchets up. Mako then turns to Eddie and says, “‘Why did you come here? You know better!’” (7) Initially, Eddie is ready to dismiss Mako’s words as a fortune-teller’s sales pitch to get the customer to shell out money for a reading. That is, until a gunman bursts through the door and shoots both Lisa and Mako. The gun-wielder turns toward a startled Eddie, who has no idea why all this is happening. Just as a shot is fired in Eddie’s direction, the tall man leaps in front of Eddie to take the bullet.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Wolford (ed), Skull and Pestle (2019)

Kate Wolford (ed.), Skull and Pestle: New Tales of Baba Yaga. World Weaver Press, 2019. Pp. 161. ISBN 978-1-7322546-2-6. $13.95.

Reviewed by Psyche Z. Ready

Who doesn’t love Baba Yaga? In this golden age of Folktale retellings, the witch of Russian folklore has been a favorite subject, and dozens of recent novels in a variety of genres draw inspiration from this feared and beloved character. Audiences have been fascinated by her for centuries—Baba Yaga appears in numerous tales in A.N. Afanas’ev’s nineteenth-century collection Complete Folktales, the largest and most well-known collection of regional Russian folktales. Skull and Pestle: New Tales of Baba Yaga is a collection of new retellings of these tales and new narratives imagined around this character. The collection will be a perfect introduction to Baba Yaga for those who have not yet heard stories of the grandmother witch in the woods, and there are several gems for those who are more familiar with her tales, although many do not depart too significantly from the folktales.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

DreamForge issue #1 (2019)

DreamForge Magazine, ed. Scot Noel. Issue #1 (spring 2019). DreamForge Press, LLC, 2019. Pp. 60. ISSN 2614-2543. $10.00.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

The first issue of this glossy and well-made magazine, DreamForge #1 bills itself as bearing “tales of hope in the universe,” and so joins a growing movement for optimistic or bright futures in SF. The editor’s preface further clarifies the zine’s agenda, beginning, “The world has been coming to an end for a long time,” and characterizing as “doomsayers” those who worry about our future. Worse, Noel dismisses climate crisis fears as an atavistic “fight or flight” response, and suggests that any harm we do now will be fixed by science in five hundred years. This is clearly not the optimistic SF of the hopepunk or solarpunk movements, where daring to dream of how we can really reverse the current moribund politics of our planet is a radical act, but rather a harking back to the glib futurism of golden age SF. The contents of this issue, ten stories, two poems and an article, are a more mixed offering—and widely varying in quality—than this initial assessment may suggest.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Kingston, Is This Planet Earth (2019)

Is This Planet Earth? Curated by Angela Kingston. Ferens Art Gallery, Hull. May 4–July 28, 2019.

Reviewed by Shellie Horst

Spoiler alert: Anyone hoping to find Iron Man on the walls is going to be hugely disappointed.

It’s hard not to have preconceptions about things. Our lives are surrounded by biases passed to us from family, friends and society. The speculative genres have more than enough internal issues to keep us busy. If someone says “Sci-Fi-inspired Art” to me, my head fills with the artwork of book covers, film posters and related paraphernalia. When I heard about a Sci-Fi-inspired exhibition. I secretly hoped I’d find some reference to the artwork I connect to science fiction.

However, the greatest strengths of Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror are that they have a story to suit everyone. The genre can be enjoyed by all ages and all walks of life. It’s often the first to question truths about society. It can cross genres. It does open doors. You don’t need to have any qualifications to join in.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Meloy, Adornments of the Storm (2019)

Paul Meloy, Adornments of the Storm. Rebellion Publishing (Solaris imprint), 2019. Pp. 250. ISBN 978-1-781085-95-0. £7.99.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

Four years ago, Paul Meloy’s debut novel The Night Clock provided a riveting and imaginative story featuring a battle between forces of good and evil. Now, the tiger Bronze John, the saluki Bix, the towering, enigmatic Bismuth, and many other familiar characters from Meloy’s first novel are back in a sequel titled Adornments of the Storm, billed as horror/dark fantasy, and which begins seven years after the events of The Night Clock. At the end of first novel, the Firmament Surgeons and their allies thought they had vanquished their adversary, the devil-in-dreams. But as the early chapters of Adornments of the Storm begin to unfold, it becomes clear that victory celebrations may have been premature. The devil-in-dreams has merely been constrained—and the constraint may not last. The characters realize “there’s a crack in the containment somewhere … we have to close it up” (15).

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Malikyte, Echoes of Olympus Mons (2019)

Eric Malikyte, Echoes of Olympus Mons. Self-published, 2019. Pp. 270. ASIN B07MCMD2GN. $11.99/$3.02.

Reviewed by Andy Sawyer

Geraldo “Hal” Leon and his roommate Akio Sato, students at Olympus One (a Martian University) have invented a kind of camera that detects dark matter. Not only do they face the opposition of their hidebound teachers, they find that they have somehow summoned a kind of consciousness that proceeds to slay their fellow-students and staff. Are the shapes that they see a kind of re-creation of something traumatic that happened to Mars?

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Price, By the Feet of Men (2019)

Grant Price, By the Feet of Men. Cosmic Egg Press, 2019. Pp. 344. ISBN 978-1-789041-45-3. £12.99.

Reviewed by Michael Hock

Post-apocalyptic stories are nothing new: it seems as if we’ve always had an obsession with wanting to see how it all ends, while hopefully not being there. We’ve dreamed up all types of scenarios involving things that may or may not happen. By The Feet of Men by Grant Price is another in a long string of fiction that explores what happens to the world after… well, everything, but manages to do so in a unique, character-driven way.

By The Feet of Men focuses on a team of “Runners”—truck drivers who deliver cargo—named Cassady and Ghazi. They are tasked with bringing medical supplies to a group of scientists who may have the key to reversing “The Change,” which is the name of this particular event that caused the whole world to be terrible. Joining them are a group of other Runners you’ll get to know through out the book, but the central focus is on Cassady and Ghazi, and their relationship is what separates this book from being just another post-apocalyptic story involving having to get something important from point A to point B. Of course, standing in their way is all of what you would come to expect from these types of stories, such as marauders, what’s left of cities, and terrible, terrible weather, all resulting from the Change.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Allan, Empty Throne (2018)

David M Allan, The Empty Throne. Elsewhen Press, 2018. Pp. 304. ISBN 978-1-9114-0925-0. £9.99 pb/£2.99 e.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

In fiction, gateways and portals into other worlds are often seen as a way to access new worlds for adventure and exploration. David M. Allan turns that trope on his ear in his book The Empty Throne, in which a Gateway is called into being by three Mesters, specialists in crafting stone, metal, and wood. But rather than being a portal into Paradise, or at the very least, into a world inhabitable by humans, this particular Gateway opens up into trouble.

The newly-accessed world is occupied by insubstantial-seeming but lethal creatures called rajuk, paher, and kulun. Rajuk are “puffs of slightly luminous green smoke” (30), while paher are “roughly cylindrical” (31), also smoke-like although much larger than rajuk, and equipped with tentacles. Both rajuk and paher “caused horrible wounds when they touched flesh and swathes of devastation through the vegetation” (48). The one positive aspect is that both of these creatures can be killed using swords. Kulun, on the other hand, appear as a pale blue haze and are “so insubstantial that a sword didn’t affect them at all” (48). Kulun are intelligent, able to possess humans and other living creatures, and can only be killed by a crafting, such as a missile, fashioned by a Mester.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Shawl (ed.), New Suns (2019)

Nisi Shawl (ed.), New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Colour. Rebellion Publishing, 2019. Pp. 308. ISBN 978-1-78108-638-4. £8.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

In her Afterword to New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Colour, editor Nisi Shawl explains the genesis of this anthology as stemming from a thwarted suggestion, years ago, to have a class of the Clarion West Writers Workshop consist of all students of color. Other committee members opposed the idea, including one who argued that they would “use them all up” in a single year and therefore it made sense to spread out nonwhite attendees for other years. The persistent belief, reflected in this account, that SFF is a genre primarily by and for white people has only recently begun to be dismantled, making collections like this one both a celebration of POC writers and a useful remedy for readers. The book is also firmly reflective of the political moment in America, going beyond the crises in popular culture from Racefail to Puppygate, with veiled (and not so veiled) references to Trump’s demagoguery and other sociopolitical tensions. The collection also encompasses both fantasy and science fiction stories, providing stories that hint at hope and at dystopia.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Bosman, Gay Noir (2018)

Olivier Bosman, Gay Noir: Three noir mysteries with a gay twist. Self-published, 2018. Pp. 336. ISBN 978-1-726364-30-0. $12.99.

Reviewed by N.A. Jackson

This collection of three novellas by Olivier Bosman lives up to its title: the stories all feature gay characters, they are very noirish and pretty mysterious, although like all detective fiction, the mysteries are fully revealed in the end. There’s something dated about, Bosman’s fiction that’s to do with more than his historical settings. His style is reminiscent of the pulp fiction writers of the 40s and 50s, authentically spare and undescriptive. The action proceeds in relentless black, white and sepia tones, few are the flashes of colour or flickers of humour that leaven the characters’ moods as they saunter, swagger or rush purposefully from one scene to the next. And this does make it very ‘noir.’ For purists, this treatment will doubtless appeal. And there’s something undeniably satisfying about the way, his protagonists circumvent plot obstacles by making a sudden fortuitous discovery or winking at the right person.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Leib & Holt (edd.), Resist Fascism (2018)

Bart R. Leib & Kay T. Holt (edd.), Resist Fascism. Crossed Genres Publications, 2018. Pp. 95. ISBN 978-0-9913921-4-8. $9.99.

Reviewed by Valeria Vitale

Resist Fascism is a micro-anthology, published by Crossed Genres last November after a successful Kickstarter. The idea was to put together a little squad of rebellious stories to be distributed just in time for the US midterm election. What I liked the most in this project is that, as editors Leib and Holt explain on the back cover, the anthology is based on the principle that you don’t need to be a hero to resist, and even actively oppose, fascism. Fighting oppressive and unjust regimes does not necessarily mean joining an armed guerrilla and blowing up bridges; it can be a small act of disobedience, or any other way in which someone chins up and refuses to follow a law or a system they believe unfair. In other words, resistance is for everyone. We don’t need to wait until we are ready, we already are.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Rooke, The Space Between (2017)

Susan Rooke, The Space Between: The Prophecy of the Faeries. Self-published, 2017. Pp. 435. ASIN B074Q4Y6PQ. $16.95.

Reviewed by Psyche Z. Ready

Rooke is a deft writer. Her prose in this, her first novel, is graceful, poetic, and readable. The plot is well-arranged, compelling, and surprising. For such a complex story, the world-building is not cumbersome, a difficult feat to pull off. Another strength of this book is its unique amalgamation of Christian narratives and faerie folklore. It’s an exciting idea, and Rooke weaves them together so that it seems natural. Her novel is imaginative, well-written, and well-plotted. I expect that Rooke has a writing future ahead of her; in fact, the sequel to The Space Between is due out in January 2019.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Barbini (ed.), Evolution of African Fantasy and Science Fiction (2018)

Francesca T. Barbini (ed.), The Evolution of African Fantasy and Science Fiction. Luna Press, 2018. Pp. 111. ISBN 978-1-911143-51-2. $15.99.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

This short book, published under the Academia Lunare imprint of Luna Press Publishing, contains five essays on aspects of SFF created by Africans, in Africa, or containing representations of Africa or Africans. It is not really a book about “evolution” of African speculative fiction, although the first three papers do discuss historical writing and modern developments, but it is nevertheless a fascinating and important first step in a history of scholarship of this under-appreciated section of the genre. I would like to see a dedicated academic journal publishing an issue of this scale once or twice per year (and emphatically not only in English).