Monday, April 19, 2021

Bestwick, A Different Kind of Light (2021)

Simon Bestwick, A Different Kind of Light. Black Shuck Books, 2021. Pp. 167. ISBN 978-1-913038-61-8. £7.99.

Reviewed by Rachel Verkade

If you are at all familiar with automobile racing, you will likely have heard of the Le Mans disaster, considered the worst catastrophe in the history of the sport. On the 11th of June 1955 during the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, driver Pierre Levegh rear-ended the car of fellow competitor, Lance Macklin. Levegh’s Mercedes-Benz flew into the air, over the bern, and smashed into pieces upon hitting the ground. The flaming debris flew into the packed grandstands, killing 84 people and injuring 120 more. The accident resulted in ground-breaking safety measures in the sport, and in Mercedes-Benz withdrawing from racing for the next 34 years. Newsreel footage exists showing both the crash itself and its aftermath, but much of it was too graphic to be released. Considering the available footage includes images of gendarmes extinguishing flames on Levegh’s smouldering corpse, one can only imagine how horrific the lost films might be.

It is upon this framework that Simon Bestwick’s A Different Kind of Light is built.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Sokol, Zee (2020)

Su J. Sokol, Zee. Mouton noir Acadie, 2020. Pp. 178. ISBN 978-2-89750-255-3. $14.95.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

Montréal resident Su J. Sokol’s novel Zee follows the life of a girl named Zee from birth to young adulthood as she struggles to deal with her talent for ESP. Sokol’s book delves into the feelings and the experiences of the title protagonist, as well as the four adults who care about her. Zee is not the author’s first published work; in addition to several short stories, Sokol has also penned two other novels, Cycling to Asylum, which has been optioned for development into a feature-length film, and Run J Run, published in 2019 by Renaissance Press. Zee’s publisher, Mouton noir Acadie, is an imprint of New Brunswick-based Bouton d’or Acadie Publishing. Bouton d’or Acadie declares “inclusion, accessibility and diversity” to be core values. Zee aligns well with these those ideals, featuring racial diversity among its key characters, and depicting queer relationships in a positive and matter-of-fact light.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Apex #122 (March 2021)

Apex Magazine, ed. Jason Sizemore. Issue #122 (March 2021). $4.99.

Reviewed by Gwen C. Katz

Apex, one of the champion racehorses of the SFF promag world, has been out to pasture for a couple of years, and many of us have been eagerly awaiting its return to see if it’s still a winner or if it’s lost that spark. (Yes, I have discovered metaphors. No, I will not apologize.) Well, I was in the press box, and I’m happy to report: Apex has still got it.

With one notable exception, the collection focuses on intimate, personal stories, often exploring people with marginal places in society, almost all women. The stories are mostly on the long side, speculative elements are given a back seat to the exploration of themes and emotions, which is the correct choice, though no doubt it will draw harrumphs from some of the hard-sci-fi old guard.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Roanhorse, Black Sun (2021)

Rebecca Roanhorse, Black Sun. Solaris Press (UK edition), 2021. Pp 436. ISBN 978-1-78108-947-7. £8.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

Rebecca Roanhorse’s novel Black Sun is an epic fantasy drawing on the pre-Columbian cultures of the Americas for its world-building, social structures, mythos, and terminology. Like other fantasies that draw on history at a slant, it makes the familiar strange and the strange familiar. It is a true masterpiece of suspense and storytelling, and is simply the best new novel I’ve read in ages. Roanhorse structures the story in shifting times, and across several characters, leading up to the Winter Solstice and a celestial convergence leading to a solar eclipse that creates the titular Black Sun. The story moves forwards, backwards, and forwards again to illuminate what various characters know and when they know it, and providing new readings for different characters. If this novel were a film we would think of it as an homage to Tarantino; in the context of this story, in which scenes are placed against quoted texts, it is more like if Frank Herbert’s Dune series had dialed the anti-imperialist message all the way up.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Eason, How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse (2019)

K. Eason, How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse: Book One of the Thorne Chronicles. DAW books, 2019. Pp. 408. ISBN 978-0-7564-1529-7. $26.00.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

For those who are tired of books and movies about hapless princesses who sit on their hands and wait for a prince to rescue them, K. Eason’s space opera How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse provides a welcome breath of fresh air. Released in 2019, the novel serves as book one of the Thorne Chronicles. Book two, titled How the Multiverse Got Its Revenge, appeared in 2020.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

McCoy, A Promise of Iron; Sullivan, Bound; Gilholy, Game of Mass Destruction (2020)

Self-Published e-Book Round-Up:
Brandon McCoy, A Promise of Iron (Echoes of Illyria #1). Self-published, 2020. Pp. 355. ASIN B08R6CHF4J. $7.99.
P.L. Sullivan, Bound. Self-published, 2020. Pp. 420. ISBN 979-8-57794-744-6. $2.99.
Chloe Gilholy, Game of Mass Destruction. Self-published, 2020. Pp. 227. ISBN 978-1-5272-3388-1. £5.99 pb/£0.99 e.

Reviewed by M.L. Clark

The aim of this column is to discuss recent SF&F self-published works, and to explore topics more relevant to books produced in this fashion. Self-publishing frees up authors from certain industry constraints, not least of which being beholden to the trend cycles established by larger presses. However, it also presents new challenges, including the author taking on the full costs of cover-art, editing, and marketing, with no guaranteed return on investment. Self-published works are rarely professionally reviewed, and many venues that do review are pay-to-play. This makes it especially difficult for texts to find an audience, and for authors to learn from the publishing experience. Today I’ll be reviewing three recent texts, Brandon McCoy’s A Promise of Iron: Echoes of Illyria: Book One (2020), P. L. Sullivan’s Bound (2020), and Chloe Gilholy’s Game of Mass Destruction (2020): in part, to offer constructive comment on the contents and their delivery; in equal part, to suggest a target audience for the works in question.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Helgadóttir ed., Eurasian Monsters (2020)

Margrét Helgadóttir (ed.), Eurasian Monsters. Fox Spirit Books, 2020. Pp. 182. ISBN 978-1-910462-31-7. £10.00.

Reviewed by Rachel Verkade

When I was thirteen, one of my favourite video games was Shadows of Darkness, the fourth entry in the Quest for Glory series. It was my introduction to Slavic folklore. Creatures like the rusalka, the leshy, the domovoi, and Baba Yaga featured prominently, and were a revelation to a Canadian girl who barely knew what Cyrillic looked like. An entire new mythology to explore, and one I was delighted to revisit in Eurasian Monsters.

This is the seventh and final book in Helgadottir’s “Monsters” series, consisting of European Monsters, African Monsters, Asian Monsters, Pacific Monsters, American Monsters I & II, and now Eurasian Monsters. I have previously reviewed (and enormously enjoyed) Asian Monsters, and have American Monsters I on my bookshelf. I’m sad that the series has come to a close, but I guess Antarctic Monsters was just too much to hope for. So, was Eurasian Monsters a fitting end?

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Luna Station Quarterly #41 (2020)

Luna Station Quarterly, ed. Jennifer Lyn Parsons. Issue 41 (March 2020). Online at lunastationquarterly.com.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

Luna Station Quarterly, which has been in operation for just over a decade, has as its mission “to display the vast and varied talents of women-identified speculative fiction writers.” Issue 41 of the Quarterly, published in March 2020, includes 15 stories, with a roughly even split between fantasy and science fiction.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Cohen, Nick Bones Underground (2019)

Philip M. Cohen, Nick Bones Underground. Koehler Books, 2019. Pp. 371. ISBN 978-1-63393-920-2. $19.95.

Reviewed by Don Riggs

Nick Bones Underground is a slipstream novel, combining elements of Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy, and the Crime/Detection genre. It is set in a vague time frame, given that at least one of the characters is a Holocaust survivor, albeit a very old one, and computer technology has advanced into the realm of Artificial Intelligence, which impacts the daily life of the narrator-protagonist, Nicholas Friedman, a professor of Comparative Religions at a university in New York City. Life in the city has been inflected by something which is referred to as the “Great Debacle,” which is never completely explained or defined except at one point as having had to do with computers’ developing a degree of free will and acting in unpredictable ways. The most evident example of this cybernetic behavior comes in the form of Maggie, the A.I. in the apartment of the narrator, who, having become a transgender computer, now yearns to become an incarnation of Marlene Dietrich.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Mythaxis #24 (Dec 2020)

Mythaxis, ed. Andrew Leon Hudson. Issue 24 (Dec 2020). Online at mythaxis.co.uk.

Reviewed by Gwen C. Katz

Among the token magazines I’ve always been fond of Mythaxis. It’s one of the longest-running token magazines, running since 2008, and its current editor, Andrew Leon Hudson, impresses me with his keen editorial sense and down-to-earth attitude. But the proof is in the proverbial pudding, so let’s make like Paul Hollywood and take a slice. The genres are an enjoyable mix of adventure SFF and mild horror, and the stories themselves… well, it’s a mixed bag. Like most layered desserts, there are bits that I found delicious and bits that weren’t to my taste.

Monday, February 08, 2021

Attlee, Harper & Smith, Gross Ideas (2020)

Edwina Attlee, Phineas Harper & Maria Smith (eds), Gross Ideas: Tales of Tomorrow’s Architecture. The Architecture Foundation, 2020. Pp. 208. ISBN 978-1-9996462-3-3. £12.90.

Reviewed by Valeria Vitale

Gross Ideas is a book unlike many others, for a number of reasons. First of all it is the companion publication of an architecture exhibition, the Oslo Architecture Triennale. But rather than a traditional catalogue it is an anthology of seventeen stories about future cities. The other peculiarity is that only some of the authors of these stories are fiction writers, the others are architects and engineers. So, if you like the challenge of something unusual, this book might be the right one for you.

Monday, February 01, 2021

Willett (ed.), Shapers of Worlds (2020)

Edward Willett (ed.), Shapers of Worlds. Shadowpaw Press, 2020. Pp. 368. ISBN 978-1-989398-06-7. $17.95.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

Shapers of Worlds is an anthology of 18 short stories ranging from military science fiction and space opera to fantasy and steampunk, edited by Edward Willett, which offers nine new stories by authors such as Tanya Huff, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., and Seanan McGuire, and an equal number of previously-published tales from John Scalzi, Julie E. Czerneda, Joe Haldeman, and others. Willett, a freelance writer residing in Regina, Saskatchewan, is himself the author of more than 60 books all told, ranging from nonfiction to science fiction and fantasy. He also hosts a podcast titled The Worldshapers, which features interviews with science fiction and fantasy authors. It is involvement in this podcast that provides the link between the offerings, with each of the authors whose work is included having been featured during the first year of The Worldshapers.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Whiteley, Skyward Inn (2021)

Aliya Whiteley, Skyward Inn. Solaris, 2021. Pp. 255. ISBN 978-1-78108-882-1. $24.99/£13.19.

Reviewed by Don Riggs

Reading Skyward Inn now gives me a sense of how it must have felt in the 1960s to read the Nouveaux Romans of Michel Butor, Robbe-Grillet and Marguerite Duras: no intrusive narrator framing the dialogue and events of the fictional world, a radical reduction to just what was happening, or just what was going through the principal character’s mind. In science fiction terms, this means no infodump, no appendixes outlining the background, no maps, no glossary. All we have is Jem, short for Jemima; Isley, who it turns out is from the planet Qita; Jem’s son Fosse; and the people in the Skyward Inn, which is somewhere in the Western Protectorate. This last seems to be separate from… well, the rest of the world, I think, and is not far from the Kissing Gate, which I take to be a portal through which spaceships can travel to the planet Qita.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Three-Lobed Burning Eye #32 (2020)

Three-Lobed Burning Eye, ed. Andrew S. Fuller. issue #32 (November 2020). Online at 3lobedmag.com.

Reviewed by Gwen C. Katz

I was first attracted to the newest issue of Three-Lobed Burning Eye because of the story “A Consensus Told in Chromatophores” by Andi C. Buchanan, a story about a democratic civilization of cuttlefish, and if you’re surprised I’m interested in a democratic cuttlefish story, you don’t know me very well. It’s not only a fantastically creative story, it’s also a beautifully moving meditation on the meaning of democracy. For me, that’s a perfect combination.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Hexagon #3 (Winter 2020)

Hexagon, ed. J.W. Stebner. Issue 3 (winter 2020). Online at hexagonmagazine.ca.

Reviewed by Jason Kahler

In his opening letter for Hexagon issue #3, editor J.W. Stebner claims that his magazine is un-themed, but the five stories he’s collected for this installment each tell a tale of love and heartbreak. Stebner says his selections tend to coincide with the rhythm of the season. Maybe, as the difficult year 2020 winds down, we just all find some comfort in thinking that someone, somewhere, might have more emotional pain than us. The stories contained in the issue are sometimes clever, sometimes haunting, always pointing to the powerful perseverance of the human heart.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Kewin, Eye Collectors (2020)

Simon Kewin, The Eye Collectors (a story of her Majesty’s Office of the Witchfinder General, protecting the public from the unnatural since 1645). Elsewhen Press, 2020. Pp. 288. ISBN 978-1-91140-964-9. £10.00 pb/£2.99 e.

Reviewed by Andy Sawyer

The “Magic Police” is a firmly-established sub-genre by now, but Danesh Shazan of Her Majesty’s Office of the Witchfinder General is an interesting addition to their ranks. Most people think that the “office” is a historical anomaly, “a ridiculous piece of quasi-mediaeval pagentry, like so much of the British governmental and judicial systems,” but in fact it exists to protect the public from unutterable and eldritch powers from Beyond. Danesh, a recently-recruited Acolyte in the Welsh branch of the office, headed by the terrifying Campbell Hardknott-Lewis, works with mundane cops on cases which have a flavour of the supernatural about them. And when he’s called in by D.I. Nikola Zubrasky to investigate a murder in Cardiff, this “flavour” is worth at least three Michelin Stars.