Tuesday, December 21, 2021

NewMyths issue # 55 (2021)

New Myths, ed. Susan Shell Winston. Issue 55 (June 2021). Online at newmyths.com.

Reviewed by M.L. Clark

NewMyths’s latest issue offers fiction, poetry, and nonfiction with an overarching connection to science-fiction and fantasy; and yet, the work ranges widely across traditional genre set-ups.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Twisted Moon #5 (2020)

Twisted Moon, ed. Hester J. Rook, P. Edda, Liz Duck-Chong & Selene Maris. Issue 5 (2020). Online at twistedmoonmag.com.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

Twisted Moon is a yearly magazine of speculative erotic poetry based in Australia that has been published online since 2016. Editors Rook, Edda, Duck-Chong and Maris are all also writers (some of whose work we’ve seen and loved elsewhere), and they bring a lover’s touch to the selection and presentation of poems in each issue. The contents are eclectic, as is perhaps inevitable with collections of poetry, and range from delicious, lyrical verses to the most discordant, experimental or opaque of forms, always tantalizing and excruciating and challenging.

Monday, December 06, 2021

Reckoning #5 (2021)

Reckoning, ed. Waverly SM, Giselle Leeb et al. Issue 5 (January–July 2021). Online at reckoning.press.

Reviewed by M.L. Clark

Editor Cécile Cristofari opens Reckoning 5 with a call to action shaped by how pandemic has significantly isolated us from nature; we cannot simply rely on nostalgia to deepen our fight against ongoing natural depreciation from climate change and other human-made devastations. Editor Leah Bobet adds, in her following editorial, that the quest for poetry here was shaped by little intimacies, “flecks of possibility” for reconnection with the world around us, in our most personable and fleeting interactions with the rest of nature.

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Xueting, Sinopticon (2021)

Xueting Christine Ni (ed. and trans.), Sinopticon: A Celebration of Chinese Science Fiction. Solaris Books, 2021. Pp. 448. ISBN 978-1-78108-852-4. $14.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

The 2014 translation of Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem by Ken Liu into English became an unexpected defining moment in the field; there is now only “before” and “after” when talking about Chinese science fiction in the Anglo world. It is significant, then, that in her introduction to Sinopticon: A Celebration of Chinese Science Fiction, that editor Xueting Christine Ni describes her experience looking for science fiction books after walking into a Xinhua bookstore (China’s biggest bookseller chain). She is surprised by the lack of genre fiction aside from Wuxia (historical fiction concerned with martial artists)*, and when she asks for Kehuan (Chinese science fiction) the clerk gestures her towards the children’s section. When Xueting protests and asks if they are really shelving material like Liu there, the clerk responds with “Oh! Why didn’t you say so before?” and leads her where the material is shelved near science education textbooks. This preliminary scene explains the value placed on Kehuan in China: still at the margins of popular culture despite undergoing a remarkable renaissance both at home, and especially, abroad. Xueting’s purpose in editing this volume is to illustrate the wide range of Chinese science fiction, translating thirteen stories that were originally published between 1991 and 2021. This thirty year review, as it were, is not presented chronologically or thematically, but rather lets each work stand against one another for the reader to enjoy. Xueting also provides, after each story, notes that discuss the author as well as context for the story’s creation and contents. Xueting also makes a point of providing gender parity in these selections, with just over half of the authors being women. The overall result is an incredibly solid, thoughtful, and exciting anthology that is genuinely one of the best I’ve read in ages.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The Dark issue #78 (2021)

The Dark Magazine, ed. Sean Wallace & Veronica Giguere. Issue 78 (November 2021). Prime Books. $1.99 or online at thedarkmagazine.com.

Reviewed by M.L. Clark

The Dark magazine’s November 2021 issue offers four stories that address different ways in which we find ourselves swept up by and made complicit in the unconscionable. In all, a binding thread is a perceived lack of agency—in some cases, even when the protagonist has absolutely made choices to do harm to others, too.

Monday, November 01, 2021

Kaleidotrope, Autumn 2021

Kaleidotrope, ed. Fred Coppersmith. Autumn 2021. Online at kaleidotrope.net or Kindle.

Reviewed by Gwen C. Katz

I know I’m not the only one asking “What’s the deal with Kaleidotrope?”

I say that with the utmost admiration. Kaleidotrope is a small penny-a-word publication; I happen to love reading penny-a-word publications, but most readers (and writers) turn up their noses at them in favor of the splashy pro mags. Yet Kaleidotrope consistently appears alongside the likes of Lightspeed and Strange Horizons in reviews, award nominations, and best-of collections—virtually always the only subpro magazine on the list. Luminaries like Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Genevieve Valentine, who could presumably place a story anywhere, still sell their stories to Kaleidotrope for a couple of tenners. What makes it so special?

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Gadz, The Workshop of Filthy Creation (2021)

Richard Gadz, The Workshop of Filthy Creation. Deixis Press, 2021. Pp. 258. ISBN 978-1-8384987-3-3. $15.99.

Reviewed by Jason Kahler

In the days leading up to me finishing reading Richard Gadz’s excellent The Workshop of Filthy Creation, my significant other and I braved the COVID-draped movie theater for a special double-feature of the classic (1931) films Dracula and Frankenstein. I’d seen both of those movies before, of course, but I don’t think I’d ever watched them back-to-back, and certainly never on the big screen.

As much as I love both of those films, and appreciate them as important artifacts of film and cultural history, I don’t think I’d understood just how much I prefer Frankenstein until experiencing them in such direct juxtaposition. For starters, Dracula is just so slow, with so much of its menace focused on Bela Lugosi’s eyes just emoting dread. Frankenstein crackles with intensity, with desperation, and ultimately, with deeper questions about the nature of living and humanity. There’s just more on the shelf. Lugosi’s count may win the trophy for best performance between the two (though Karloff really does a great job of showing the monster’s despair through all that make-up), but Frankenstein is just a better movie.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Berman (ed.), Burly Tales (2021)

Steve Berman (ed.), Burly Tales: Finally Fairy Tales for the Hirsute and Hefty Gay Man. Lethe Press, 2021. Pp. 218. ISBN 978-1-5902-1084-0. $15.00.

Reviewed by Gwen C. Katz

It’s official: The LGBT+ community has become a marketing demographic. Every June, the floodgates open as every publisher, film studio, and content producer tries to get in on the rainbow dollar. Obviously, I’m not angry at a trend that boils down to “being queer has become socially acceptable,” but I know I’m not the only one who has a certain nostalgia for a time when queer content was made by us and not at us.

Happily, we have Lethe Press.

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Appel, Assassin’s Orbit (2021)

John Appel, Assassin’s Orbit. Rebellion Publishing, 2021. Pp. 400. ISBN 978-1-78108-915-6. $11.99/£8.99.

Reviewed by M.L. Clark

If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, The Expanse series has a lot to be flattered by in John Appel’s Assassin’s Orbit, a work of mid-flung-future space opera involving multiple perspectives brought together by a mysterious case verging on interstellar incident. The book was even promoted as “The Golden Girls meets The Expanse,” a tagline that intrigued this reviewer, but unfortunately yielded disappointment when it turned out that the “Golden Girls” component was simply… having three major POV characters be older women. (I’d like to see someone try to call The Expanse’s Chrisjen Avasarala a “Golden Girl” simply because of her age.) Appel’s characterization of these women as women falls into tired territory at times, but if you put aside the marketing—and indeed, the whole Golden Girls reference entirely—the characters are still solid, sensible actors moving through a confidently-paced political intrigue.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Lowe, The World Is at War Again (2021)

Simon Lowe, The World Is at War, Again. Elsewhen Press, 2021. Pp. 296. ISBN 978-1-911409-83-0. $20.00.

Reviewed by Don Riggs

Simon Lowe’s wearily titled The World Is at War, Again is not actually a war novel, in that there are no pitched battles on land, sea, or in the air, no ever-more-powerful bombs or other instruments of mass destruction. In fact, the only mention of the War itself is the frequently repeated statement that Things Aren’t Going Too Well With The War, the capitalized words indicating that this is a frequently repeated trope that all have heard many times before and probably will again. The identity of the two sides is unclear, except those on the side of seemingly all of the characters are called the “Unified Nations”—which I at first misread as the United Nations. The characters are all spies, specifically Agent Assassins, or AAs, that come from two families, the Misorovs and the Fandanellis. Mr. and Mrs. Fandanelli, whose son Peter is deposited at (or near) a special school for children of AAs, are in the Volunteer War Over Seas Aid Squad (VWOSAS), stationed on a Cruise Liner, to meet an unknown contact in an unknown manner to receive their instructions.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

GigaNotoSaurus (spring/summer 2021)

GigaNotoSaurus, ed. LaShawn Wanak. Spring/summer 2021 content. Online at giganotosaurus.org.

Reviewed by Shellie Horst

There’s a certain amount of irony in the comparative name sake of this zine. GigaNotoSaurus, like the theropod of the same name, is a not-quite short story zine with stories that leave a ginormous footprint in your memory. Sure, those who know the industry will recognise familiar names who have and continue to work with the site curating an excellent library of tales that go beyond the usual fare of white, cis, and western influenced stories. I’m not in favour of name dropping to impress, but you are in safe hands with LaShawn Wanak. Wanak had already had work published in plenty of SFF staples inlcuding Uncanny and Lightspeed Magazine before the previous editor Annie Leckie handed her the reins. The combined expertise of the staff is paid forward to upcoming authors.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Arsenika #8 (2021)

Arsenika, ed. S. Qiouyi Lu. Issue 8 (Spring 2021). Online at arsenika.ink.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

Arsenika is a small, very personal, even idiosyncratic zine that ran for eight issues over five years, edited by S. Qiouyi Lu, who started the zine in 2016 “to find work that called out to” aer, and by all accounts did so very successfully (and found work that called out to many other readers besides). As well as a personal aesthetic, the zine came to showcase flash fiction and poems with “queer elements … steeped in non-White cultures … that experiments with form and narrative.” This final issue of Arsenika is no exception, and makes no apologies—if you have enjoyed the work that has appeared here over the years, you will love this one. The issue contains two pieces of flash fiction and three poems (one of which is very long), and a hot tonne of creativity.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Addison, The Witness for the Dead (2021)

Katherine Addison, The Witness for the Dead. Rebellion Publishing, 2021. Pp. 315. ISBN 978-1-78108-951-4. £8.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

Katherine Addison’s The Witness for the Dead is a sequel of sorts to The Goblin Emperor (2014). The latter was one of my favorite fantasy novels from the last decade; a low fantasy with steampunk elements, it does incredibly interesting things with racing elves and goblins, while also telling a solid story of a young man’s coming-to-power and of age. The Witness for the Dead picks up shortly afterwards and stars a minor character from the previous book, Thara Celehar, as he tracks down a murderer. I’m not much of a mystery reader, but this is an effective genre mash-up that left me pleased with how smoothly all the story elements came together and wanting more books just like it. It’s also a standalone novel that will easily make sense to someone who hasn’t read Goblin.

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Jones, Mirrormaze (2021)

Cliff Jones Jr. (ed.), Mirrormaze: A Dreampunk Anthology. Fractured Mirror Publishing, 2021. Pp. 384. ISBN 978-1-7352171-3-0. $16.99 pb/$8.99 e.

Reviewed by Gwen C. Katz

Fractured Mirror, a newcomer in the publishing scene, has turned out one of the most intriguing and unusual anthologies of the year with Mirrormaze: A Dreampunk Anthology. Dreampunk, coined for this anthology, is an intentionally slippery term to define, but it centers on the sense of unreality created by dreams. It has the deliberately exaggerated aesthetic associated with other punk subgenres, but instead of being defined by a particular era or type of technology, the commonality is the delirious imagery and the underlying feel of not-quite-rightness. It is surreal not just in the colloquial sense of “weird stuff,” but in the original sense of a Jungian journey into the subconscious. Bringing together 20-odd different authors around a concept this nebulous is an ambitious achievement, and I was impressed by how coherent the resultant anthology turned out to be. While I’d never heard the term “dreampunk” before picking up Mirrormaze, within the first couple of stories I immediately had a sense of what it entailed.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Aftermath #2 (2020)

Aftermath, ed. Jan Bee Landman. Issue 2 (2020). Online at aftermathmag.org.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

In addition to articles, essays and opinion on the subjects of climate change and environmental degradation, Aftermath publishes the results of an annual short story contest titled “The End of Our World.” The second installment contains the three winners of the 2020 contest (who shared $1400 in prize money), plus seven honorable mentions. The overarching theme of these stories, as one might expect from what is effectively an activism site, is pessimistic environmental fiction—ranging from desperate realism to post-apocalyptic terror. You’ll find no solarpunk or eco-topia stories in this volume. Additionally the stories tend toward the literary rather than genre aesthetic, meaning there is a lot of grim introspection, unreliable or unsympathetic narration, hopelessness is much more likely than derring-do action, and happy endings would be considered downright gauche (which is not to say that many of the endings of this type of story are not powerful and even satisfying). One recalls the argument that “Climate Fiction” is not science fiction, and—much as I like to disagree with almost any statement in the form “X is not SF”—from the point of view of genre aesthetic, this collection indicates there is some truth to it.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Fusion Fragment #6 (May 2021)

Fusion Fragment, ed. Cavan Terrill. Issue #6 (May 2021). Online at fusionfragment.com.

Reviewed by Julie Reeser

Fusion Fragment was re-launched in March 2020 as a semi-pro SF market. The cost of the current issue is pay-what-you-can for digital, and back issues are free to read on the website; backing the FF Patreon also serves as a (print or digital) subscription. My copy came as white lettering on a black background with single-spaced lines, which at times was difficult to read even with the zoom function. Each story is followed by an interesting Q&A with the author. At the very end of the issue, each author lists two books they recommend to readers, as well as links with where to find more of their work.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Bain et al (edd.), ProleSCARYet (2021)

Ian A. Bain, Anthony Engebretson, J.R. Handfield, Eric Raglin & Marcus Woodman (edd.), ProleSCARYet: Tales of Horror and Class Warfare. Rad Flesh Press, 2021. Pp. 234. ISBN 978-1-7369-5321-1. $12.02 pb/$5.99 e.

Reviewed by Gwen C. Katz

Few anthologies have managed to be the right idea at the right time as well as Prolescaryet. Percolating through COVID and BLM, it lands in our hands just as the powers that be demand a return to normalcy from a population for whom not much has changed. I, for one, am ready for a hot, steaming cup of “Fuck you” aimed at the corporate overlords. And that’s exactly what we get.

Monday, July 05, 2021

Goodwater, The Liar of Red Valley (2021)

Walter Goodwater, The Liar of Red Valley. Solaris, 2021. Pp. 367. ISBN 978-1-78108-911-8. $14.99.

Reviewed by Rachel Verkade


These were the words that greeted me upon opening my parcel from Solaris Publishing, stark white across a russet-red cover. To say I was intrigued was putting it mildly.

The Liar of Red Valley introduces us to the titular town of Red Valley, a small American settlement in which these three rules are sacrosanct. In this place, magic (and the King) reigns; shadows walk the streets, demons possess and destroy the bodies and minds of the naïve and disenfranchised, an immortal and indestructable oak tree grows in the middle of the town diner, and ghosts linger in the shadows. And in the world of Red Valley, the Liar is both revered and loathed. A woman with the power to make a lie, any lie, be it as petty “I am not going bald” or as huge as “My child never died,” seem the truth… but only within the town’s limits, and only if you are willing to pay her price. And her price is a dreadful one.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Café Irreal #78 (2021)

The Café Irreal, International Imagination, ed. G.S. Evans and Alice Whittenburg. Issue 78 (May 2021). Online at cafeirreal.com.

Reviewed by Julie Reeser

The Café Irreal
has been publishing irrrealist fiction as a quarterly webzine for over twenty years. The editor team of G.S. Evans and Alice Whittenburg have a long history of cultivating unusual voices, and rightfully take pride in authors returning to them for publication. Irrealism is a philosophical perspective wherein there is no accepted reality, but rather a search for meaning inside the Sartrean fantastic. I visualize it as if a Magritte painting could be navigated, and indeed, the magazine has a superb collection of ekphrastic images on their Pinterest site if one is seeking inspiration and understanding, and there’s more on the site on how the editors define irrealism.

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Kearns, The Night Has Seen Your Mind (2021)

Simon Kearns, The Night Has Seen Your Mind. Elsewhen Press, 2021. Pp. 326. ISBN 978-1-911409-65-6. $20.00 pb/$3.99 e.

Reviewed by Jason Kahler

How would House on Haunted Hill have been different if instead of Vincent Price, it was Elon Musk who offered folks a bunch of money to hang out somewhere, and instead of a haunted house, that somewhere were a high-tech outpost in the Arctic Circle? The answer to that question, after a fashion, is The Night Has Seen Your Mind, a novel that replaces the supernatural chills with technological imposition, but still relies on the psychological impact of new places, strange thoughts, and the nearness of strangers to drive its plot and enforce its mood. The book, by Simon Kearns, offers some thought-provoking questions and interesting moments, but its ultimate success will depend upon how well you connect with the characters as they come to terms with their situation.

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Ombak issue #3 (October 2020)

Ombak: Southeast Asia's Weird Fiction Journal, ed. Aden Ng. Issue #3 (October 2020). Online at ombak.org.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

Ombak is at first glance a funny little journal, seeming to appear about once a year, slender in pages, and with the front cover missing from the downloadable PDF and e-book formats; there is no editorial or attribution of the editor·s, and no table of contents given (masthead and stories are only printed on the front cover), just the (four, in this issue) stories, one after the other. Although it is billed as a Southeast Asian journal, this issue of Ombak covers international themes: stories are set in Africa, Japan, a non-specific Anglophone setting, and Singapore respectively. The blurb on the website promises themes of life, death and rebirth, and certainly there is a recurring trope of cheating (or trying to cheat) death throughout the pieces in this issue.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Piper, Unfortunate Elements of My Anatomy (2021)

Hailey Piper, Unfortunate Elements of My Anatomy. The Seventh Terrace, 2021. Pp. 253. ISBN 978-1-9900-8201-6. $14.99 pb/$4.99 e.

Reviewed by Gwen C. Katz

Am I the only one who’s gotten really into horror during the pandemic? Maybe going through our own gnarly experience has made me empathize with fictional gnarly experiences more; maybe watching someone get chainsawed apart just puts my life into perspective. Whatever the reason, I’m absolutely inhaling horror right now. But more than any other genre, horror absolutely must have resonant themes for me to enjoy it. A fantasy story that’s kinda parochial and regressive? I can deal. (I, too, read Lord of the Rings.) But if it’s a horror story? I’m out.

Enter Hailey Piper and her new collection Unfortunate Elements of My Anatomy. Smart, feminist, and chock-full of queer themes (especially trans themes), it’s just the thing if the past year has pushed you into “screw it” territory.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Addison, The Angel of the Crows (2020)

Katherine Addison, The Angel of the Crows. Tor Books, 2020. Pp. 448. ISBN 978-0-7653-8739-4. $24.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

The Angel of the Crows is the sort of high concept story which should be ridiculous and yet totally works: Sherlock Holmes meets “war in Heaven,” or rather, its aftermath. Nineteenth century Afghanistan remains Afghanistan, but now with fallen angels and hellhounds. (The BBC Sherlock, another recent albeit problematic retelling of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s eponymous detective stories, similarly played with a background conflict in Afghanistan that was specifically twenty-first century.) Addison’s novel isn’t a straightforward retelling of Sherlock or Doyle, but nonetheless riffs cleverly on familiar plot beats to tell a story at a slant. Sherlock is an angel called Crow and Watson is called Doyle; neither of them are the characters that we already know so well, except for how they are.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Künsken, The House of Styx (2021)

Derek Künsken, The House of Styx (Venus Ascendant book #1). Rebellion Publishing, 2021. Pp. 608. ISBN 978-1-78108-805-0. $27.99.

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

Set in 2255 C.E., The House of Styx provides an intriguing view of what a human colony on—or rather, above—Venus might look like a couple of centuries into the future. The novel, slated to be the first in the Venus Ascendant series, is set 250 years before Künsken’s The Quantum Magician. The House of Styx revolves around the D’Aquillon family. George-Étienne D’Aquillon, his sons Jean-Eudes and Pascal, and his grandson Alexis live on the Causapscal des Profondeurs, a habitat fashioned, as are many of the living places in Venus’s clouds, within one of the Venusian cloud-dwelling plants called trawlers.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Little Blue Marble (Jan–Apr 2021)

Little Blue Marble, ed. Katrina Archer. Fiction from 2021 (Jan–Apr). Online at littlebluemarble.ca.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

Little Blue Marble is both a free, online magazine of news, opinion, fiction and poetry related to climate change and other environmental issues, and an annual print anthology of climate fiction. Published and self-funded by Canadian editor Katrina Archer, the web version is glossy and professionally designed, and apart from a small glitch in the responsive template that causes story illustration to suddenly pop up and hide text when scrolling down the page, it is pleasant and easy to navigate. Fiction is published sporadically throughout the year, and it’s not clear to me whether the end-of-year anthology will contain all or just a selection of the fiction, so this review will address just the fiction and poetry published between January and April of 2021. There is a nice mix in here, some (as might be expected in a venue that prioritizes activism, not literature) a little heavy-handed, but most enjoyable and some very high quality indeed.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Parrish ed., Clockwork, Curses, and Coal (2021)

Rhonda Parrish (ed.), Clockwork, Curses, and Coal: Steampunk and Gaslamp Fairy Tales. World Weaver Press, 2021. Pp. 200. ISBN 978-1-7340-5451-4. $15.95 pb/$4.99 e.

Reviewed by Gwen C. Katz

Rhonda Parrish, the patron saint of short spec fic, is back with Clockwork, Curses, and Coal, the second in her Punked-Up Fairy Tales anthology series. Parrish is a prolific editor, and her new anthologies are eagerly anticipated by readers and writers alike. The first installment in this series, Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline, even netted a star from Publishers Weekly—a rare distinction for a small-press anthology.

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.