- Glimmerglass by Marly Youmans, by
- Youmans’s work, however, goes beyond adaptation and interpretation to comprise a vibrant estranging of genres; simultaneously a smashing-together and a pulling-apart of literary spaces. If the postmodern problem is that everything has been done before, and all we’re left with now is endless reproduction, Youmans’s response is one of reconfiguration.
- The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber, by
- Taken purely within a science fictional context, what The Book of Strange New Things demonstrates most efficiently is how difficult genuinely propulsive, intellectually stimulating, and imaginatively accomplished SFnal conceits and lines of enquiry are to achieve.
- The Apex Book of World SF 3, edited by Lavie Tidhar, by
Maureen Kincaid Speller
- So much depends on two words: "world SF."
- The Martian by Andy Weir, by
- The problem is that this generic Hollywood story-structure starts to rub up against the elements of reality—of authenticity—which Weir has strived so hard to maintain.
- The Angel of Losses by Stephanie Feldman, by
Alix E. Harrow
- They’re rich, strange, fairy-tale histories, and Feldman was apparently born to write rich, strange, fairy-tale histories.
- The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North, by
- The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August occupies an uncertain position somewhere between the two schools of alternate history.
- Clariel by Garth Nix, by
- What does obedience mean if it is given unwillingly? If one's choices are not freely made, do they have any meaning? If you let your nature guide your actions, to what extent do you bear the blame for their consequences?
- Vanamala and the Cephalopod by Shalini Srinivasan, by
- While it makes threats to eat many children and has clearly been expanding its empire, it is hoodwinked pretty fast and doesn’t ever actually do more than wave its tentacles around and shout things like “Insufficient inkpots!” and “Belligerent Bivalves!” and “Valueless vampyromorphida” at those around it.
- The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes, by
- Exactly why someone is doing what to whom is not always perfectly clear.
- Stay by John Clute, by
- Watching other people wield Clute’s idiolect is like watching toddlers play with sex toys: at once funny, gross, and embarrassing.
- The Death House by Sarah Pinborough, by
- What is particularly impressive about The Death House as a science fiction novel, however, is that while the ‘what if’ is the foundation of the story – the titular Death House gives rise to much, if not all, of the action – the novel’s heart is in its characters.
- Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett, by
- By this point, if not before, we may be asking ourselves: why do we recognise this as narrative? What is it that persists, across these differently-named bodies, in varying relations to each other?
- Vampire Diaries: Season 6 , by
- Season 6 of The Vampire Diaries strikes a more somber, reflective mood — refreshing in the way it casts off the plots and villains of its predecessors.
- The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman, by
- In taking this dialect and warping it, in ripping these words from their more conventional, normative, expected bases, Newman has worked a cleaving between signifier and signified, creating a situation where form frequently is meaning: words as music.
- Good Omens, by
- This adaptation of Good Omens is fun, well made, and exceptionally acted — a perfect example of why audio dramas are still being made.
- Birdman, by
- Like the inimitable Boris Johnson, Birdman is kooky, energetic, and visually arresting.
- Night after Night by Phil Rickman, by
- In Night After Night, Phil Rickman reduces the unexplained phenomena haunting an old country house to mere pawns in an argument, meaning the only real tension in the novel lies between believers in the paranormal and non-believers.
- Interstellar , by
- Interstellar is an approachable sci-fi movie that explains the complex science of wormholes and black holes in simple terms without lingering on metaphysics for too long. But underneath all the theoretical science there’s a father-daughter love story tugs heavily at your heart.
- The Talos Principle, by
- The Talos Principle is a journey through quiet optimism and bittersweet melancholy that might challenge existing beliefs or ask you to form entirely new ones in areas you hadn’t considered.
- Paddington, by
- I was so suspicious of Paddington.
- Through the Woods by Emily Carroll, by
- Even as you stare into the pitch-black backgrounds you know you’re not going to see anything. But you also know that there’s something out there.
- New Frontiers by Ben Bova, by
- This is valuable, even essential for a literature of ideas: the ability to relate a concept to a scenario without reducing the idea to a single iteration.
- Black Science, Volume One: How To Fall Forever by Rick Remender, Matteo Scalera, and Dean White, by
- Black Science is an impressive juggling act of drama, powerful characterization, and ray-guns.
- The Swan Book by Alexis Wright, by
- This isn’t all resolved by science fiction, for Wright’s imagined future is not a hopeful one. Australia may be suffering (and suffering less) from climate change, the premier politician and saviour figure of the nation may be Aboriginal, but the more things change ...
- Predestination, by
- When someone mentions time-travel, the room is usually filled with collective groans of not again. We’ve seen all the clichés, all the surprise endings, all the "aha" moments. The End Was The Beginning And None Of This Ever Happened. We loved them, but now we’ve come to hate them. But this smart Australian science-fiction flick doesn’t so much flip these clichés as fill them with bullet holes. Then set them on fire.
- I've Got a Time Bomb by Sybil Lamb, by
- The seeming unreliability of the narrative voice swings away from hyperbole or an alternate-universe, and veers towards truth rendered in a kind of personalized code, less expressionistic than it is at heart a vein of realism.
- The Wilds by Julia Elliott, by
- The Wilds is a short story collection that brims with untamed energy and exalts in the unknowable shadowland between today and tomorrow.
- The Long Mars by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, by
- For a third novel in a series, it has to be said that not very much happens in The Long Mars.
- The Wrenchies by Farel Dalrymple, by
- Airtight worldbuilding isn't responsible for how vivid and real the world of The Wrenchies is. It's something else.
- A Killing in the Sun by Dilman Dila, by
- A Killing in the Sun is punchy and awkward and well worth reading, but there can be a fine line between problematizing and problematic.
- Bitch Planet #1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro, by
- Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro have to tread a damned fine line in their new collaboration: Bitch Planet, an updated, feminist sci-fi riff on the women-in-prison trope, officially described as "Margaret Atwood meets Inglorious Basterds".
- A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar, by
- The relationship A Man Lies Dreaming has with Osama is clear, but in many ways this is a better novel.
- Vintage Visions: Essays on Early Science Fiction, edited by Arthur B. Evans, by
- Vintage Visions is a collection of essays from the pages of the academic journal Science Fiction Studies from the years 1976 to 2010. These sixteen pieces were chosen as ones that covered parts of the history of the field before the Golden Age began in especially interesting and well-written ways.
- The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, by
- Hobbit 3 is like Hobbit 2, but more so—a special effects splurge of weightless, affectless fighting and running around.
- 2014 in Review, by
- We asked our reviewers to pick their SF-related highs and lows of 2014—books, films, TV, anything. This is what they said.
- Bitter Waters by Chaz Brenchley, by
- While most of the stories in this collection focus on the bitter waters of the title, they all start with or hinge upon that breathless hush of characters making a decision.
- Falling Sky by Rajan Khanna, by
- Hey, do you remember that episode of Stargate where an alien disease turned everyone into cavemen, until they cured it with antihistamines? Richard Dean Anderson looked like he was really enjoying his part in that one. Nothing like the...
- The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman, by
A. S. Moser
- Despite a looser, more picaresque plot structure, this may be the best book of the trilogy.
- Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle, by
- In some ways, Wolf in White Van feels a bit like literary fiction's answer to Lev Grossman's The Magicians series.
- Bȇte by Adam Roberts, by
- That Bȇte is a novel rather than an academic exercise in literary references lies in three brilliant coups.
- The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley, by
- On a macro level, as a piece of worldbuilding, plotting, character creation, trope deconstruction, and planning, The Mirror Empire is a major and significant achievement.
- The Peripheral by William Gibson, by
Z. Irene Ying
- What do you do when the future that you predicted arrives?
- We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory, by
Carmen Maria Machado
- We Are All Completely Fine is a horror story about pieces, and itself seems to be a piece of something larger.
- Apocalypse Now Now and Kill Baxter by Charlie Human, by
- Baxter's books, reeking of grit and magic, sometimes feel like they're on a calculated safari, a quest to be as edgy and inappropriate for possible.
- The Blood of Angels by Johanna Sinisalo, by
- At a time when much of science fiction has been criticized for being bland, uncommitted or retrospective, Johanna Sinisalo's The Blood of Angels is a raw, gritty, angry book that is actually about something.
- Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis, by
- Otherbound is a complex book about slavery and freedom, and that means that terrible and wonderful things happen in it.
- Song of the Sea, by
- In Song of the Sea, Moore appears to have found the right balance between a story that is deeply rooted in his country's culture and at the same time is also universally humane and touching.
- A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias, by
- A Darkling Sea is not an easy read, but it's a rewarding one.
- Tyrannia and Other Renditions by Alan DeNiro, by
L. Timmel Duchamp
- Wildness, fierceness, and anarchic imagination are traits to be prized in this book, above beauty, order, and sense.
- Academic Exercises by K. J. Parker, by
- Parker has a fascination with the nuts and bolts of life, both literally and metaphorically; the minute descriptions of how things are made give Parker's world a solidity and a complexity that most fantasy writers cannot hope to achieve.
- Echopraxia by Peter Watts, by
- Watts's fiction is too thoughtful and, frankly, too dour to traffic in human exceptionalism.
- Things We Found During the Autopsy by Kuzhali Manickavel, by
- A key feature of this collection, and of weird fiction in general, is that it both stimulates and frustrates the desire to interpret.
- Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes, by
Alix E. Harrow
- Fear is 99.9% about expectation. And Beukes owns expectation.
- The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine, by
- The Girls as the Kingfisher Club is many things: fairy tale; historical novel; speculative tale. But above all, this is love story.
- Widow's Dozen by Marek Waldorf, by
- Widow's Dozen's very title hints at incompleteness, and that's exactly what we get in its eleven stories and the spaces between them.
- All Those Vanished Engines by Paul Park, by
- If there were any justice in the literary world, Paul Park's most recent novel would win every prize going in 2015, and no matter on what side of the literary/genre divide they cast their particular net.
- The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, by
- Southern Reach are strange pastoral.
- J by Howard Jacobson, by
- Jacobson's novel fits snugly into a genre that he is supposedly a newcomer to.
- My Real Children by Jo Walton, by
Alix E. Harrow
- This is a book about the deeply human fear of time's winged chariot.
- Smiler's Fair by Rebecca Levene, by
- Three-quarters of this book is prologue.
- Tigerman by Nick Harkaway, by
- Tigerman by Nick Harkaway freely steps into and out of the panels of comics, letting the literature of superheroes inform the characters, structure, and theme of the narrative, while still maintaining a large amount of realism.
- The Stonehenge Letters by Harry Karlinsky, by
- This is a charming and erudite book, flawlessly executed.
- This Strange Way of Dying: Stories of Magic, Desire & the Fantastic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, by
- With stories set in the past, the present, and the future, This Strange Way of Dying reads as a poetic journey through time, showcasing Moreno-Garcia's talent for evocative brevity.
- The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen, by
- I think this series wants to be a twenty-first-century Darkover.
- Call and Response by Paul Kincaid, by
- Reviewing a collection of reviews, after a while, begins to feel like a project that sits at the intersection of "self-indulgent" and "self-referential" best expressed as "meta."
- The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, by
- This isn't a book that dips its toes into genre waters; it's immersed in them.
- Short Fiction Snapshot #10: "Dagon's Bargain" by Gehayi, by
- "Dagon's Bargain" is dedicated to creating and knowing characters, and its interest in doing so feels itself fanfictional.
- Genre at Fringe 2014, part 2, by
- Our correspondent's continuing adventures with genre productions at Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
- Fringe 2014, part 1, by
- Our correspondent reports on some speculative and fantasy-tinged productions at this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
- The Madonna and the Starship by James Morrow, by
- James Morrow has a talent for breathing poignancy and life into what might, in less deft hands, read like a ham-handed satirical lecture.
- Half a King by Joe Abercrombie, by
- Half a King draws its influences rather more directly from the coming-of-age narrative so traditional in epic fantasy that it has at times descended into cliché—and then proceeds, neatly and without undue fuss, to subvert several of our expectations for how this sort of story should go.
- Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta, by
- The idea of a future archaeology delving into the objects we present-day people, and our successors, will leave behind, has been explored with care and insight by some of science fiction's finest writers. But the subject has seldom been handled with the grace and style Emmi Itäranta has brought to her debut, Memory of Water.
- Resistance by Samit Basu, by
Z. Irene Ying
- The sequel to Samit Basu's Turbulence, Resistance, much like its preceding volume, is a post-modern, comedic, smart romp through superhero storylines and tropes.
- The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey, by
A. S. Moser
- A writer practiced at his craft and knowledgeable of the field can, from the tail end of a genre's heyday, survey what has come before and produce something inventive and affecting. For the most part, M. R. Carey is such a writer, and his novel The Girl with All the Gifts is very nearly such a book.
- Child of a Hidden Sea by A. M. Dellamonica, by
- Child of a Hidden Sea by A. M. Dellamonica joins the list of fantasy novels whose portrayal of science and scientists outstrips anything I have seen from recent science fiction.
- The Race by Nina Allan, by
- Structurally and thematically, and not a little stylistically, Allan is trying something rather unusual with The Race: a distancing novel about drawing in, a science fiction novel aware of its own artifice, a literary fiction impatient with mimesis.
- The Time Traveler's Almanac, edited by Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer, by
- Though it is every bit as heavy as The Weird, I don't think this new anthology quite matches its predecessors. This is partly because no one anthology, no matter how extensive, could hope to contain all of the great time travel stories; but mostly it is because of a series of editorial decisions that seem, to my mind, questionable.
- The Happier Dead by Ivo Stourton, by
- Stourton's future society is presented as a set of disconnected little worlds, which only occasionally interact.
- The Way Inn by Will Wiles, by
- It is genuinely thrilling to discover a book that defies the clichés of the horror genre and charts an original course into new territory. To discover a writer who, instead of wheeling out the same tired leitmotifs, dares to imagine situations, worlds, textures that relate neither to the Victorian ghost story nor to the 80s horror boom but to the cultural and political landscape of our present reality.
- In Other Words, edited by Saira Ali and Julia Rios, by
- In Other words is a chapbook of poetry and flash fiction brought together by editors Saira Ali and Julia Rios to raise funds for Con or Bust.
- Salvage by Alexandra Duncan, by
- Alexandra Duncan's debut, Salvage, stands out from the crowd in that it does not concede to most typical YA genre formulations. Her heroine, Parastrata Ava, is not a particularly kick-ass girl, and though well-rendered, she is mostly notable in her pliant nature and passivity. Acting more as a lens for Duncan's striking future Earth and off-planet environs, Ava, in some ways, resembles more a typical literary heroine than YA hero.
- The Moon King by Neil Williamson, by
- Although The Moon King is accurately described by its publisher as a fantasy, it borrows tropes from many genres.
- The Revolutions by Felix Gilman, by
Alix E. Harrow
- The Revolutions is simultaneously a Sherlock Holmes-ish mystery thriller complete with secret societies of nefarious purpose, a surprising love letter to the golden age of science fiction, and a fantastical vision of England in the 1890s.
- No Harm Can Come to a Good Man by James Smythe, by
- The title of James Smythe's latest novel is taken from Socrates's Apology. It is clearly ironic, suggesting that disaster will indeed befall the novel’s supposed good guy protagonist, Laurence Walker.
- Motherless Child by Glen Hirshberg, by
- Motherless Child is a vampire novel that isn't much interested in vampires.
- Transformers: Age of Extinction, by
- Quite apart from anything else: the film is staggeringly monotonous and unengaging. It commits the worst sin of an action blockbuster. It's boring.
- Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge, by
- Cuckoo's Song is a changeling story told from the viewpoint of the changeling.
- Beowulf: a Translation and Commentary, together with Sellic Spell by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien, by
- There are better translations of Beowulf out there for pretty much any metric of "better" one prefers. We're entitled to ask: who is this book for?
- Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, by
Alix E. Harrow
- If there is a villain in Oyeyemi's clever, bold retelling of Snow White, it's not the stepmother; it's the mirror.
- In Your Eyes, by
- Even if In Your Eyes's script has problems coming together, its individual scenes show Whedon's talent for writing captivating characters and memorable dialogue.
- Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor, by
T. S. Miller
- Above all, Lagoon is a love letter to Lagos, even if Okorafor's idiosyncratic method of expressing her love involves unleashing the destructive chaos of an alien invasion on the city.
- Short Fiction Snapshot #9: "A Dweller in Amenty" by Genevieve Valentine, by
- Genevieve Valentine's "A Dweller in Amenty" is two things: it is food, and it is parentheses.
- Scruffians! Stories of Better Sodomites by Hal Duncan, by
- Duncan doesn't seem at all interested in making the experience of reading his work easy on his readers. This is especially evident in most of the stories in Scruffians! Stories of Better Sodomites; as with the title characters themselves, appearances can be deceiving.
- The Making of Miasma by Henry Escaya, by
Z. Irene Ying
- It's rather surprising that SFF, a genre obsessed with innovative worldbuilding and socio-political environments, only infrequently explores what a truly "futuristic" drug might entail. The Making of Miasma, the first novel by Henry Escaya, serves up an interesting and hallucinatory answer.
- Afterparty by Daryl Gregory, by
- This drug-addled parable finds its footing in time to prove an exhilarating and moderately thoughtful thriller, if not the provocative piece promised.
- The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne, by
- Monica Byrne's debut novel The Girl in the Road is a story that satisfies none of the expectations of the genres it seems at first to merge—thriller, hard science fiction, coming-of-age, near-future dystopia—but is still, in its own unclassifiable, wholly original way, satisfying.
- The House of War and Witness by Mike Carey, Linda Carey, and Louise Carey, by
- While this second offering from the writing team of Mike Carey, Linda Carey, and Louise Carey may be creepy and claustrophobic, it is also shot through with a deeply hopeful and humanist vein.
- Questionable Practices by Eileen Gunn, by
- There are writers who have produced a small number of stories which nevertheless outshine the massive output of others. Has Daniel Keyes ever equaled "Flowers for Algernon"? Has Jerome Bixby equaled "It's a Good Life"? Eileen Gunn is another...
- The Memory Garden by Mary Rickert, by
- We want our old women to be and do certain things—to fit into certain roles—and this story promised to show what sort of stories we can tell when we look anew at these women and who they actually are.
- Edge of Tomorrow, by
- Edge of Tomorrow is characterized by a failure to explore, develop, or even think very deeply about any of the ideas it raises.
- Green Planets: Ecology and Science Fiction, edited by Gerry Canavan and Kim Stanley Robinson, by
- If there is any one thing to praise about Green Planets, it is that it does truly seem to want to create new possibilities at the intersection of ecology and science fiction for future thinkers.
- Descent by Ken MacLeod, by
- MacLeod cooks up any number of false (or not false) trails and any number of possible answers to the questions raised by his story, but ultimately, as the cover blurb says, "Seeing is not believing."
- Binary by Stephanie Saulter, by
- Saulter's debut novel mixed a deep focus on community with the machinery of science fiction dystopia, and threw in more than a dash of allegory. Her second novel is in many respects more traditional in its set-up while being just as resolutely focused on a wide range of characters.
- Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure, edited by Kathryn Allan, by
- Science fiction offers us many alternate ways of imagining the human, the boundaries between the human and technology, and the body in the world, and ought therefore to provide a particularly rich source of narratives pertinent to issues of disability.
- The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, by
- The Goblin Emperor is a novel about abuse and power; about the systematic relationship between these two things, and about the persistently personal nature of the political.
- Sleep Donation by Karen Russell, by
- Karen Russell's Sleep Donation is a tightly written novella that explores the "hydrology of human generosity" in the wake of an epidemic of insomnia.
- Maze by J. M. McDermott, by
- Maze does not read like science fiction most of the time.
- Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older, by
- If there is a unifying theme to all the stories of Long Hidden, it might be that a person doesn't have to be powerful to be the center of a powerful story.
- Under the Skin, by
- Although you can broadly define Under the Skin as science fiction, it's difficult to classify in a straightforward manner.
- The Stone Boatmen by Sarah Tolmie, by
Maureen Kincaid Speller
- By this time, the reader will have realized that The Stone Boatmen itself is not quite what it initially seems. There is a temptation to read it simply as a particularly lyrical fantasy novel. Yet it seems to me that Tolmie is deliberately challenging a very specific science-fictional trope.
- Burial at Sea, by
- You wake from a bad dream. It is the middle of the day but you were asleep at your desk. You are a private investigator, Booker DeWitt, and you have been woken by the arrival of a new client, Elizabeth. She asks you for a light. You press X.
- The Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist, Part 2, by
- Despite starting with heartfelt praise for the judges, I've been unable to forbear shaking my metaphorical fist at the judges' heads just a little.
- The 2014 Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist, Part 1, by
- I daresay that it's because the Clarke award enjoys the esteem it does that it attracts ire in the way other awards tend not to.
- Sunburnt Faces by Shimon Adaf, by
- Shimon Adaf is a poet who also writes novels. In fact he appears to have written twice as many novels as he has poetry collections, but you are not many pages into Sunburnt Faces before you realize that he is more poet than novelist.
- Short Fiction Snapshot #8: "The Days When Papa Takes Me to War" by Rahul Kanakia, by
A. S. Moser
- The story deserves full credit for imagination, choice of protagonist, and clever use of a cameo by Ernest Hemingway, but falls a little short of the possibilities it creates.
- Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall, by
- Mars Evacuees takes place in the wake of a more conventional fix-it SF novel gone wrong.
- Snowpiercer, by
- Snowpiercer is a good film, but that it defies so many of Hollywood's conventions says more about how excruciatingly narrow those conventions have become than about the film's own unconventionality.
- Something More Than Night by Ian Tregillis, by
A. S. Moser
- Ian Tregillis's Something More Than Night is part tongue-in-cheek noir detective story, part ontological examination of the foundations of reality, ever so slightly and amusingly absurd, and dripping with lush, weird descriptions.
- Talus and the Frozen King by Graham Edwards, by
- Talus and the Frozen King is ultimately a novel about stories.
- Philip Pullman's Grimm Tales, by
- Theater always has a fantastic quality, and this rare chance at something like an embodied fantastic encounter should pique the curiosity of many.
- Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, by
- Ancillary Justice is an astoundingly assured and graceful debut novel, wedding a complicated structure to three-dimensional characters and multiple interesting SFnal ideas. The novel's core questions are not new to speculative fiction, but they are combined in ways which shed new light on them, and Leckie never allows anything to resolve into a simple answer.
- Exit Kingdom by Alden Bell, by
- Exit Kingdom is a zombie apocalypse novel written in muscular, minimalist prose reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy's The Road or even something from Faulkner: bleak, spare writing for a bleak, spare world.
- Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson, by
- For all that people want to carve out their own discrete realms, perhaps the greatest gift in Dave Hutchinson's future Europe is the ability to cross borders.
- The Echo by James Smythe, by
- Readers of The Explorer will recognize the shape of its sequel's story. Both novels involve a space mission that goes terribly wrong, both are focused on a thorough examination of a troubled first-person narrator's mind as he buckles under the weight of his circumstances.
- Reflections by Roz Kaveney, by
- Reflections suffers from all the usual problems of a middle volume in a series—too much set-up, not enough action, and no satisfying ending.
- A Calculated Life by Anne Charnock, by
Alix E. Harrow
- For those looking for a summer blockbuster kind of robot story, A Calculated Life is not for you. There are no explosions or fight scenes, and the Fate of Humankind is never once hanging in the balance. But for readers who want a smart, subtle exploration of human emotion and intelligence, this is an excellent choice.
- Astra by Naomi Foyle, by
- Astra is an unusual and appealing novel and does perhaps point towards the emergence of a new breed of core genre British publishing.
- Beacons: stories for our not so distant future, edited by Gregory Norminton, by
- In his introduction to Beacons, editor Gregory Norminton sets out his purpose—"statistics cannot motivate us as stories can."
- Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux, by
- The primary delight of reading Strange Bodies is also the thing that makes it hard to review: you can't really talk about how Theroux manages to incorporate Cold War paranoia, literary obsessions, and Silicon Valley conspiracies involving a very strange man named Jack into a coherent, nail-biting narrative without blowing the lid off the big reveal.
- Orfeo by Richard Powers, by
T. S. Miller
- Readers expecting a biotech thriller may be disappointed with the modest role that biohacking ultimately plays in the novel, but Orfeo challenges us to see that lurking behind the high-octane premise of every technological thriller is a life.
- The Arrows of Time by Greg Egan, by
- This is a novel about scientists discovering the shape of the cosmos in which they live.
- The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris, by
- For all its sly possibilities, it seems that the novel's first subversive move is also its last.
- Almost Human, by
Z. Irene Ying
- Reams of material have been written comparing androids and robots to the human baseline, but Almost Human raises a bigger question: does that baseline exist anymore?
- Beyond the Rift by Peter Watts, by
- Beyond the Rift presents a disconcertingly othering view of women.
- The Age of Ice by J. M. Sidorova, by
- The Age of Ice, the debut novel from J. M. Sidorova, is a very fine historical fiction that makes adroit use of fantasy elements. But I can well imagine readers of historical fiction giving this book a miss because the fantasy clearly belies the primary duty of the historical novelist to imagine the past into life; while fantasy readers are unlikely to be tempted by a novel that traces, in some detail, the last 250 years of Russian history. Such, at least, is the only possible reason why this wonderful novel is not being lauded from the rooftops by all and sundry.
- Short Fiction Snapshot #7: "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling" by Ted Chiang, by
- "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling" is trying to do something very typical of Chiang's fiction, using an imaginary technology to make us wonder about the building blocks of our consciousness, and the ways in which that consciousness has already been altered by technology.
- Demonstra by Bryan Thao Worra, by
- Thao Worra's poems revel in their own monstrosity, in their mixing of languages and influences from Laos, the United States, and elsewhere.
- Stranger Still by Laura Madeline Wiseman, by
- Utilizing the recognizable, asexual green Martian form, Wiseman writes not of gender, but instead curiously, humorously and perhaps unintentionally poses a question: what is it like to live without the perspectives of gender roles?
- Mythic Delirium, Issue 30, by
- Out of two dozen-odd poems, only a few stand out for their poetic grace and power.
- Empress of the Sun by Ian McDonald, by
- Starting from its in media res opening paragraphs, in which a multiverse-traveling steampunk dirigible crashes into the forest of a gigantic constructed disk world, Empress of the Sun revels in its pulp adventure milieu.
- Tropic of the Sea by Satoshi Kon, by
- With no chance of new works from Kon, scholars and fans have naturally turned their attention to his early pre-directorial career. This is not only a chance to discover more stories by Kon, but also to discover more pieces in the great puzzle, to reveal more of his legacy which consists of tragically small body of work.
- Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture by Ytasha L. Womack, by
- Afrofuturism, as described by Womack and others, is not only about the future, but it uses the future as a source of energy.
- Wake by Elizabeth Knox, by
- The central achievement of this fine novel lies in confounding many of the clichés of generic horror not by subverting them precisely, but by confronting them head on.
- The Memory Palace by Hari Kunzru, by
- We are meant to be aware that we are looking at approximations and representations of things we were not and are not there to see. We are looking at a memory palace. It evokes something, certainly, and what it evokes is interesting and moving, but it cannot be the original experience; it is something of its own.
- Wolves by Simon Ings, by
- While Wolves can definitely be understood as a re-commitment to science fiction, it is by no means a simple embrace, since Ings seems to be deliberately following in the footsteps of one of the most ambiguously committed men of the genre, M. John Harrison.
- The Cusanus Game by Wolfgang Jeschke, by
- The Cusanus Game provides a lot to chew on, but unfortunately the whole is rather less than the sum of its parts.
- Red Caps: New Fairy Tales for Out of the Ordinary Readers by Steve Berman, by
- Whether facing literal Red Caps or figurative, Berman's boys and girls mostly have the benefit of being able to express their love, jealousy, lust and temptations publicly, with far less fear than they exhibit facing ghosts, vampires and magic books.
- Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, by
- Annihilation is a preternaturally well-poised, unusually intelligent, honest-to-goodnessly discombobulating novel. It is equal parts psychological thriller, science fiction adventure, and dark fantasy horror. It is a literary work which features character development but eschews character, a genre piece which juggles a menagerie of references and tropes in a compelling, addictive, disconcerting pattern. It is a distillation of the Weird; it is, fittingly, also something quite Other.
- The Eidolon by Libby McGugan, by
- The Eidolon reads as undecided about what kind of book it wants to be.
- The Riddles of The Hobbit by Adam Roberts, by
- What makes this book such a delight to read is not a sense that the answers proposed are "correct" in some definitive sense. Rather, it is the sense that this riddling mode of reading gives us a new way of seeing Tolkien's work, and the sprightly and acerbic wit Roberts uses in deploying it.
- Hild by Nicola Griffith, by
T. S. Miller
- Hild, then, is a historical novel driven by political intrigue, but in generic terms it also fundamentally remains a saint's life, that most popular of medieval genres—with the significant difference that this saint's life happens to be written not by a pious medieval churchman, but by a lesbian non-Christian celebrated for her science fiction and fantasy exploring LGBT issues.
- Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer, by
Alix E. Harrow
- Wonderbook is both the practical and technical volume that a new writer needs, and a loving introduction to the wild strangeness of speculative fiction.
- The Book of the Dead, edited by Jared Shurin, by
- Many of the best stories in the collection take as their impetus the complex, uncomfortable historical relationship between the west and Egypt.
- Parasite by Mira Grant, by
- Part conspiracy thriller, part science fiction, part horror and part character study: in Parasite, Mira Grant strives to provide something for everyone, and pretty well succeeds.
- Spring in Geneva by Sylvia Kelso, by
- This novella is mechanically plotted, sloppily researched, and altogether unworthy of its place in a series which celebrates "the grand conversation of feminist SF."
- Earth Star by Janet Edwards, by
- While Jarra Tell Monrath remains a human and relatable YA heroine, I remain unconvinced that she was the right narrator for this story.
- Kabu Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor, by
- Nnedi Okorafor's first short story collection begins and ends with tales that evoke histories and challenge orthodoxies. Both stories are narrative manifestos, fictions that are also metafictions. They exude a hope common to the whole book, a hope in human imagination. We have, these stories suggest, imagined badly, narrowly, oppressively—but just because we have does not mean that we must.
- The Black Spider by Jeremias Gotthelf, by
- Some stories are enjoyable in entirely new and unexpected ways. This is particularly the case for works, like The Black Spider, that predate our modern storytelling rules and, thus, behave in ways that put us off our guard.
- Two Views: Drakenfeld by Mark Charan Newton, by
Martin Lewis and Maria Velazquez
- Martin Lewis: Newton plays straight with the rules of reality but, in every other respect, I felt short-changed.
Maria Velazquez: This is not the kind of gritty mystery that will knock off the reader's socks with its revelations about human depravity, the depths of political corruption, or the impulsive toll of lust. Instead, reading this novel is like sinking into a good massage.
- 2013 in Review, by
- We asked our reviewers to pick their SF-related highs and lows of 2013—books, films, TV, anything. This is what they said.
- Dream London by Tony Ballantyne, by
- Dream London, the city that stands where London once did, is a zone of remixed reality, where the laws of physics are no longer strictly in force. This setting is a large part of what makes Tony Ballantyne's sixth novel tick, and it mostly pays its way as an imaginative spectacle.
- More Than This by Patrick Ness, by
Maureen Kincaid Speller
- In the moments before one dies, one's entire life supposedly flashes before one's eyes. It is also claimed that drowning is a peaceful death. The opening to More Than This, Patrick Ness's latest novel, suggests that this is far from the truth.
- Short Fiction Snapshot #6: "The Insect and the Astronomer: A Love Story" by Kelly Barnhill, by
- When I first encountered "The Insect and the Astronomer: A Love Story," I wasn't sure the story made sense. And yet, it seemed to work. It was that disconnect that drew me back to it.
- She Walks in Darkness by Evangeline Walton, by
- If part of the point of reading is to be opened to the experience of others, to experiences we may not have had, then this book, not generally deep or thoughtful, succeeds thus far: we can feel the frustration and fear of the powerless.
- S. by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst, by
- My thought as I took this book from its slipcase was: "by Paxman's Beard, this must have cost a royal ransom to produce!"
- Two Views: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King, by
Phoebe North and Niall Alexander
- Phoebe North: One might expect Doctor Sleep to offer a unified blend of the commercial and the literary. But while it hits both literary and commercial notes, it's less a seamless mix and more of an uneven soup, undercooked in some parts, over-boiled in others.
Niall Alexander: All too often, Doctor Sleep reads like a composite novel as opposed to a narrative in its own right.
- Cry Murder! In a Small Voice by Greer Gilman, by
- Cry Murder! In A Small Voice is a jewel of novella.
- The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar, by
- Tidhar's new novel, The Violent Century, is his most successful effort yet: a huge and ambitious noir superhero novel that really isn't about superheroes at all.
- The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, by
- Catching Fire has what one might describe as classic middle film problems, but these are compounded by its failure to expand its world and deepen its story's stakes.
- Ghost Spin by Chris Moriarty, by
L. Timmel Duchamp
- The axes of biology and intelligence form the warp of the many stories that unfold within Moriarty's Spin series.
- How the World Became Quiet: Myths of the Past, Present, and Future by Rachel Swirsky, by
T. S. Miller
- In How the World Became Quiet, fables, fairytales, and folktales mix with science fiction and slipstream to their mutual enrichment.
- Maddaddam by Margaret Atwood, by
- I read the first half of Maddaddam broadly struck by Atwood's many and deep excellences as a writer, and I read the second half broadly dispirited by what seemed to me the novel's manifold sillinesses and fallings-away.
- The Beautiful Land by Alan Averill, by
- Alan Averill's The Beautiful Land is a zany first novel of time travel, its over-the-topness kept in check by snappy plotting and the author's sense of humor.
- The Lowest Heaven, edited by Anne C. Perry and Jared Shurin, by
- The Lowest Heaven is part of an art exhibit dedicated to the interaction between art and the beautiful objects that people make in the pursuit of science.
- The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, by
- Black's Cold world is a dangerous one, her vampires just as morally ambiguous, violent and bloodthirsty as they are seductive and beautiful.
- The Last Man Standing by Davide Longo, by
- Could The Last Man Standing be the apocalypse that got away?
- Gemsigns by Stephanie Saulter, by
- This is a novel that defies easy categorization. It is post-dystopian: in a sense, apocalypse recovery as opposed to apocalypse. Its focus on communities, on movements for change, on hope in all its difficulties and triumphs subverts dystopia's pervasive aura of gloom and despair.
- William Gibson by Gary Westfahl, by
- The fact that Westfahl's methodology is hilariously retrograde isn't some abstract, theoretical quibble. Westfahl's folksy, conservative Gibson isn't some pleasant fanzine speculation, no matter how much the tone is designed to trick the reader into believing just that; it is an attempt to determine the course of the future of the genre. William Gibson is a political act.
- Terra by Mitch Benn, by
- With his strong body of song lyrics and stand-up, Benn is, in an obvious and important sense, a writer by trade. Terra deserves to be read as though fiction were his primary genre, rather than with the raised eyebrow rightly given to the blatantly brand-building celebrity cookbook and its ilk.
- A Questionable Shape by Bennett Sims, by
- Knowledge, the undead, return, the familiar: these ideas circle through Sims's magnetic and accomplished debut, which attempts to peer beneath the surface of the "real."
- The Congress, by
- Abandoning the immediate political subtext of Waltz with Bashir, Folman's work on The Congress is more of a fascinating exercise in cinematic philosophy.
- Space is Just a Starry Night by Tanith Lee, by
- "Best of" collections that gather the work of famous authors sometimes suffer because their stories are pulled out of a career that has its own trajectory, dislocated from stylistic periods, plucked from collections that were compiled to work as one book. But in the case of Tanith Lee's Space is Just a Starry Night, the table of contents is compiled with enough care to provide a thematic rhythm to the book.
- Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, by
A. S. Moser
- So far, this sounds not unlike the comics many of us are familiar with. But in Brandon Sanderson's latest novel, Steelheart, he adds a further twist: though supervillains abound, no superheroes step forward to save us.
- Short Fiction Snapshot #5: "Division of Labor" by Benjamin Roy Lambert, by
- "Division of Labor" craftily combines the quintessentially SFnal "what if this goes on?" idea development technique with the "literalized metaphor." The result is something memorable and unsettling, and a perfect example, to my way of thinking, of the kind of effect fantastika is uniquely equipped to generate.
- Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch, by
- Broken Homes is entertaining as it is—but it needs its predecessors.
- The Year of the Ladybird by Graham Joyce, by
- Though The Year of the Ladybird purports to be a ghost story, this description is at best deceptive. At heart, it's only nominally a supernatural novel. It's spooky sometimes, absolutely, and regularly suggestive, but the most unnerving moments develop from material evils as opposed to sinister, insubstantial spirits.
- Parabolas of Science Fiction, edited by Brian Attebery and Veronica Hollinger, by
- In its simplest form, therefore, the idea of the parabola applies to the story arc, what happens in any individual novel, film, television series, computer game, or any other iteration of science fiction. If that was all that the term did, it would be a moderately interesting addition to our critical lexicon, but not much more than that. What Attebery has done, however, that turns the idea into an incredibly powerful critical tool, is look at the way that the science fictional parabola intersects with what we have come to call the "SF megatext."
- Crash by Guy Haley, by
- This is a novel that asks big questions: In times of catastrophe are we better served by a democratic institution or an autocracy? When we experience fear, is it the result of propaganda? Is technology the cause of our undoing as a species?
- Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross, by
- Neptune's Brood is dedicated to "everyone, everywhere who's ever looked at the stars and thought, 'I wonder if we could live there?'" and invites its readers to delight in futuristic swashbuckling, but the infrastructure that made all that possible has come hand in hand with gross inequality.
- A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar, by
- To write a review of A Stranger in Olondria, Sofia Samatar's sparkling debut fantasy of travel, books, and self-discovery, is to go to war with oneself. Specifically, it is to battle the desire to simply quote huge chunks of the text, and point to it, exclaiming, "This! This is why you should read it!"
- Death by Silver by Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold, by
- Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold's Death by Silver is billed as a "fantasy/mystery." It is, perhaps, more heavily weighted to the latter than to the former.
- The Legend of Broken by Caleb Carr, by
Maureen Kincaid Speller
- This is not a full-blown hoax but a highly enjoyable piece of scholarly entertainment.
- The 2013 Man Booker Prize Shortlist, by
- Reviewing this year's Man Booker prize shortlist for a science fiction and fantasy venue perhaps approaches the logic of Monty Python's "News for Parrots." Sifting through the six titles for SFnal tropes, novums or—even more vaguely—for some evanescent genre "quality" surely applies an artificial set of criteria to a prize that not does not select for genre, but in fact has historically shown an active aversion to the SFnal. But this year's shortlist is different, for it includes a remarkably high quotient of the fantastic.
- Turbulence by Samit Basu, by
- Turbulence, refreshingly, is an aptly named book about people reacting to the tumult of a world that is, howsoever magical their ability, far greater and more complex and out of their collective grasp.
- The City of Devi by Manil Suri, by
- The City of Devi rams popular genre bombast and apocalyptic speculation into the long-established tradition of Indian English-language literary fiction writers like Jhumpa Lahiri and Amitav Ghosh. A worthy aim, but not quite successful.
- Sultana's Dream by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, by
- Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain's Sultana's Dream was first published in the Indian Ladies Magazine in Madras in 1905, and as a standalone book in 1908, and is among the earliest known works of Indian science fiction—certainly of Indian science fiction in English.
- Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox, by
- On one level, Mortal Fire feels remarkably old-fashioned for a YA novel.
- Goldenland Past Dark by Chandler Klang Smith, by
- Circus novels are now numerous enough to classify as a sub-genre.
- Dream Castles: The Early Jack Vance, Volume Two, edited by Terry Dowling and Jonathan Strahan, by
- Dream Castles is the second of Subterranean's Early Jack Vance collections, but it's not entirely clear what "early" Vance entails.
- Here Be Dragons: Exploring Fantasy Maps and Settings by Stefan Ekman, by
- Here Be Dragons starts with promise, but unfortunately meanders into familiar territory.
- Terra Nova: An Anthology of Contemporary Spanish Science Fiction, edited by Mariano Villareal, by
- This is an eclectic anthology. It suggests that place can have a major influence on fiction, but also that some science fictional ideas transcend place.
- The World of the End by Ofir Touché Gafla, by
- For all that The World of the End's parts can be delightful, they don't quite add up to a satisfying whole. Leave the mystery to one side, though, and some more interesting aspects emerge from Gafla's novel.
- Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell, by
- In Vampires in the Lemon Grove, her third book and second collection of short stories, Karen Russell does not deviate very far from those characters and themes familiar to readers of her previous work. For some, this will be a disappointment. For some, a delight.
- Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch, by
Maureen Kincaid Speller
- Before discussing Moon Over Soho, the second novel in the sequence, it's worth considering the nature of the magic at work in the series in greater detail.
- Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City by Dung Kai-cheung, by
- Atlas is a novel that couldn't exist without fantasy, without imaginary maps, fictional scholarship, and bizarre biographies. The implication, of course, is: neither could Hong Kong.
- Dark Waters of Hagwood by Robin Jarvis, by
- Dark Waters of Hagwood is the closest Jarvis has come to writing epic fantasy.
- NOS4R2 by Joe Hill, by
- Does Joe Hill hate Christmas? I don't know for sure, but whatever his personal feelings, in NOS4R2 he has created the perfect Christmas book for Christmas-haters.
- The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig, by
- There's a threefold problem with the portrayal of women in The Blue Blazes: their representation, motivation, and deployment within the narrative.
- Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear, by
- Shattered Pillars needs to be taken in stages, despite its cresting pace, to absorb the impact of its language.
- Finches of Mars by Brian Aldiss, by
- While intriguing, this is a deeply uneven novel, with no one theme or idea explored to completion.
- Black Feathers by Joseph D'Lacey, by
- When it comes to human brutality, Black Feathers goes too far. When it comes to environmental disasters, it does not go far enough.
- Sea of Ghosts by Alan Campbell, by
- Alan Campbell might well be the best writer of adventure fiction in the UK at the moment.
- Short Fiction Snapshot #4: "A Visit to the House on Terminal Hill" by Elizabeth Knox, by
- Knox's story is both intensely affecting and highly amusing. At its core it is driven by a righteous anger that maintained its strength throughout my three readings and remains with me still. The fact that I did not once feel preached at will perhaps give some indication of the power and humor and cleverness of this concise yet deeply intricate tale.
- The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker, by
- What does this novel gain by being fantastic?
- Universes by Stephen Baxter and A Very British History by Paul McAuley, by
- For both authors, the principal characteristic of the Far Future is its essential difference, our irrevocable redundancy.
- From Mountains of Ice by Lorina Stephens, by
- The subtitle of this review could have been, "And why should I care?"
- Shackleton's Man Goes South by Tony White, by
- This is not so much a novel as an assemblage of material from which the reader is asked to take meaning. The desire to find sense in the material and to believe that the author put it there is twinned with the fear that there is no meaning at all, that this volume is pure Rorsach blot.
- The Queen, the Cambion, and Seven Others by Richard Bowes, by
- This book is thin, yet manages to contain an earnest, appealing, welcome contribution to the fairy-tale tradition.
- The Adjacent by Christopher Priest, by
- Reading The Adjacent is like taking a grand tour of the larger canon Christopher Priest has established over the course of his forty-year career.
- The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson, by
A. S. Moser
- What truly sets this work apart are the larger philosophical questions the text deals with on the nature of art, the role of artists, and who art belongs to.
- Spin by Nina Allan, by
- There is undoubtedly room in the world of Spin for many more stories than this single novella gives us.
- Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh, by
T. S. Miller
- The extent to which Love Minus Eighty succeeds or fails must, I think, depend on our answer to the question of whether the light romantic comedy was really the most suitable vehicle for this exercise in quite serious social science fiction.
- The History of Luminous Motion by Scott Bradfield, by
- The History of Luminous Motion could loosely be described as the story of an ordinarily dysfunctional American family. That this story is filtered through the gaze and narrative voice of Phillip Davis—eight years old, miraculously precocious, probably psychotic and possibly a murderer—is just one of the things that makes this novel so beautifully crazy, so original and so disturbing and such a significant addition to the canon of the unreliable narrator.
- What Lot's Wife Saw by Ioanna Bourazopoulou, by
- Bourazopoulou has created a post-apocalyptic world, and seems to set out to answer a question—how bad can it get when a mega-corporation can operate free of control, when it can exploit people who have nowhere else to turn?
- Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter, by
- Nights at the Circus is a text that collects images as much as it fashions a narrative, teases with allusions to theory as much as it develops an argument; it is a jumble waiting for a reader to impose meaning. It sparkles, but is cut rough.
- Big Mama Stories by Eleanor Arnason, by
- The stories revolve around the Big Mamas traipsing through time and space, observing, and sometimes causing, trouble for their own and other species, bumping up against other Big Parents, and then trying to unravel the whole mess. The result feels like a cross between the Brer Rabbit stories and Doctor Who.
- Stardust by Nina Allan, by
- While there are hints of common elements running through the six short stories here, they work very well or better as standalones.
- The Warrior Who Carried Life by Geoff Ryman, by
- Considered merely for its surface story, The Warrior Who Carried Life is an interesting failure, but it's readers interested in gender issues and who enjoy excavating meaning out of a complicated text that will get the most of out the novel.
- The Scrivener's Tale by Fiona McIntosh, by
- The Scrivener's Tale has a good enough plot to be a decent read, but therein lies the problem: the novel is so driven by its plot that all its other aspects suffer in comparison.
- Life on the Preservation by Jack Skillingstead, by
- No matter how interesting the puzzle is from an intellectual perspective, the novel's ultimate focus is the characters' emotions, how they respond to their uniquely SFnal predicament.
- Empty Space by M. John Harrison, by
- As much as they enjoy playing around with science fictional icons, relics, and vestments, the Kefahuchi Tract books in general, and Empty Space in particular, don't actually seem to believe in science fiction.
- Other Seasons: The Best of Neal Barrett Jr., by
- There are certain SF authors whose roots are firmly in the pulp tradition and who, without ever quite leaving that tradition behind, somehow transcend it and produce work of genuine originality and style. Neal Barrett Jr. certainly belongs to this group.
- Where Thy Dark Eye Glances: Queering Edgar Allan Poe, edited by Steve Berman, by
- In works of prose and poetry, twenty-six authors take up editor Berman's challenge: find the queer side of Poe and his work.
- Mending the Moon by Susan Palwick, by
- Mending the Moon is a murder mystery that is never solved, except it's not the how or who that goes unsolved, but the why.
- Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee, by
- These aren't historical fantasies, but rather history fantasies: stories that engage with the idea of history by employing the fantastic.
- Clockwork Phoenix 4, edited by Mike Allen, by
- There are eighteen stories here, and of course not all of them work, but even those that fail do so in ways which indicate significant ambition on the part of the authors.
- The Peacock Cloak by Chris Beckett, by
- Many SF writers seem to have their own territory marked out—neo space opera, dystopia, far future, near future, imaginative aliens. Beckett's strength is that he has more than one of these territories and is equally adept at exploring them.
- Solaris Rising 2, edited by Ian Whates, by
- The intriguing, the fascinating, the evocative and curious outweigh the banal or pointless.
- Reviver by Seth Patrick, by
- On paper, Reviver has all the elements of a solid, engaging thriller.
- Short Fiction Snapshot #3: "In Metal, In Bone" by An Owomoyela, by
- "In Metal, In Bone" is a story about excavation in more ways than one, about recognizing and examining—or not—your reactions to a situation much larger than any individual.
- Menial: Skilled Labor in Science Fiction, edited by Kelly Jennings and Shay Darrach, by
- Menial is the future of science fiction.
- Emilie and the Hollow World by Martha Wells, by
- Emilie and the Hollow World, the young adult debut from well-known fantasist Martha Wells, is a study in nostalgia.
- Unexplained Fevers by Jeannine Hall Gailey, by
- When the stories we tell about ourselves crack, the breakage is bewildering and painful, even when the results seem happy to outsiders. Jeannine Hall Gailey's third poetry collection, Unexplained Fevers, focuses on such moments of narrative crisis.
- Anthology of European Speculative Fiction, edited by Cristian Tamaş and Roberto Mendes, by
- If this collection is representative of the state of speculative fiction in Europe, there is every reason to be optimistic.
- A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan, by
- In Brennan's world, dragons (and the quest to understand them), are the longed-for love object.
- The Alteration and The Green Man by Kingsley Amis, by
- In his treatment of speculative themes, Kingsley Amis shows himself to be simultaneously well clued up and deliciously irreverent.
- Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards, by
- Scourge of the Betrayer self-consciously portrays itself as the grimmest and darkest of grimdark in a straight and even boastful fashion.
- The Disestablishment of Paradise by Phillip Mann, by
- The novel's voice seems more childish than aimed at children. It is dismayingly certain about the solidity of categories that are better understood as fluid and fuzzy; a stance that is most damaging when it comes to matters cultural and ecological.
- The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord, by
L. Timmel Duchamp
- The Best of All Possible Worlds is a different kind of road trip story, for neither exploration of a planet nor a hard-won, often delayed arrival at a final destination is the narrative point of the trip, but the development and consummation of a romance.
- The Curve of the Earth by Simon Morden, by
- Morden's novel is an entertaining, highly irreverent quest travelogue through an imaginatively created near future, peopled with memorable and highly idiosyncratic characters who thoroughly believe in the rightness of their cause.
- Errantry: Strange Stories by Elizabeth Hand, by
- With one exception, the stories in Errantry are very much of a piece: low-key tales of the fantastical lurking on the edges of the everyday.
- Two Views: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes, by
Jesse Bullington and Dan Hartland
- Jesse Bullington: With The Shining Girls, Lauren Beukes delivers the best-case time travel tale scenario: a work that does everything right, teasing the reader with potential paradoxes yet always restoring a consistent narrative, and one where the time travel element never overshadows the emotional core of the novel yet is essential to the plot.
Dan Hartland: The Shining Girls often reads like the shooting script of its own adaptation—sharp, terse, summative—and while this lends it an enviable economy and addictive impetus, it also lends even its tenderer, quieter scenes an air of the artificial.
- The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu, by
- Wesley Chu's debut novel The Lives of Tao is a fun book that will appeal directly to those who enjoy Charles Stross's Laundry novels.
- River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay, by
- Despite its ambition and length, and the clearly painstaking research behind it, River of Stars is never showy.
- Deprivation by Alex Jeffers, by
- Deprivation presents itself primarily as an immersion in language and dream, rather than a journey along a narrative arc.
- Queen Victoria's Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy, edited by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow, by
- The collected stories may owe more to Austen and Thackeray than to Tolkien, as the editors point out, but they also owe a great deal more to Dunsany and the Rossettis and Andrew Lang than to Jules Verne.
- Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon, by
- Zenn Scarlett is a novel that disappoints on multiple levels.
- Utopia, Season 1, by
- As the program throws together a heady cocktail of biological weapons, mad scientists, conspiracy theories, spies, torturers, attempted genocide, deserted mansions, long lost family members and assorted other improbable elements besides, Utopia becomes a dizzying and intricate balancing act which always seems one moment away from collapse.
- The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke, by
- This is a novel that wants to be a character study first, a romance second, and speculative fiction a distant third.
- Necessary Ill by Deb Taber, by
- In Taber's construction, gender is destiny.
- Adam Robots by Adam Roberts, by
- The title Adam Robots is a giveaway. Is this a joke? splutters the unwary reader. Well, yes.
- No Return by Zachary Jernigan, by
- Quietly, without any fuss, the New Weird has won.
- The Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist, Part 2, by
- So, is the 2013 Clarke shortlist any good?
- The 2013 Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist, Part 1, by
- The judges for the 2013 Clarke award faced an extra challenge. This year, on top of all the usual tasks, it was incumbent upon them to produce a shortlist that would prove that we have not, in fact, lived and fought in vain.
- Queen of Nowhere by Jaine Fenn, by
- In Queen of Nowhere, Jaine Fenn opens a window on a fascinating and vivid science fictional world, seen through the lens of an intriguing character—a world which, ultimately, proves more vivid and coherent than our protagonist.
- Two Views: The Story Until Now: A Great Big Book of Stories by Kit Reed, by
Paul Kincaid and Chris Kammerud
- Paul Kincaid: Why is Reed's work so regularly praised, yet so rarely in receipt of the various honours given out to genre fiction? This superb retrospective collection might provide a few clues.
Chris Kammerud: Kit Reed's stories confront us again and again with the prisons of human existence—guilt, love, family, sex, gender. Her narratives turn on how her characters respond—revolution or acceptance? Delusion or daring escape?
- Short Fiction Snapshot #2: "Boat in Shadows, Crossing" by Tori Truslow, by
- "Boat in Shadows, Crossing" is a story in which words often don't mean quite what we expect them to, and keeping track of that slipperiness requires a close and attentive reading.
- The Twyning by Terence Blacker, by
- If I had to qualify it quickly, I would say that there is a sort of inestimable cuteness to this book.
- Trafalgar by Angélica Gorodischer, by
T. S. Miller
- All in all, I found the richly imaginative narratives of adventure in Trafalgar perfectly enjoyable to read, but the unrelenting spirit of whimsy, even archness, running through the collection may also make them too insubstantial, too easily forgettable.
- Rapture by Kameron Hurley, by
- Nyxnissa accepts that her world is not just governed but activated by violence, that the gunshot or the gut wound is the currency with which it is possible to get things done. She is gloriously self-possessed, repellently amoral, and thoroughly original. She is a woman in a man's grimdark world.
- Futuredaze: An Anthology of YA Science Fiction, edited by Hannah Strom-Martin and Erin Underwood, by
- While this volume may give already-interested teens a decent overview of some of the different themes that the field explores, I would be surprised if many readers twenty or thirty years down the line cite this anthology as their gateway drug, as a moment when the genre's sense of wonder opened up for them.
- The Testimony by James Smythe, by
- The Testimony is beautifully written, takes risks with form, speculates adventurously and productively across the whole gamut of scientific, political, spiritual and sociological possibilities. And yes, we could get there from here, no question at all. Indeed readers of The Testimony could rightly be forgiven for mistaking whole chunks of this work of fiction for next year's news headlines.
- The Best of Joe Haldeman, edited by Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe, by
A. S. Moser
- Easy as it may seem to categorize Haldeman—these are war-haunted stories, those are focused on the temptations of technology—we must resist the urge, because such descriptions reduce complexity to simplicity, and we lose part of the ineffable Haldeman magic in the process.
- A Pretty Mouth by Molly Tanzer, by
- Some of the places and times in A Pretty Mouth are evoked more effectively than others; sadly, none of them are ever made truly vivid or believable.
- Midnight Blue-Light Special by Seanan McGuire, by
- Despite a strong beginning and several good moments afterwards, the whole of Midnight Blud-Light Special is, well . . . disorganized.
- The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates, by
- In The Accursed, the powerful are the damned.
- The Rise of Ransom City by Felix Gilman, by
- Gilman's choice to avoid telling the story demanded by The Half-Made World's ending, instead concentrating on a new character whose dreams and aspirations are by no means guaranteed any particular resolution, is a wise one.
- AfroSF, edited by Ivor W. Hartmann, by
- This historic volume is the first science fiction anthology focused on work produced by African authors.
- The Explorer by James Smythe, by
- The Explorer is by turns a time travel story, a horror story, and a deeply science fictional space adventure story, but also a quiet, claustrophobic examination of one man's grief and regret.
- Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins, by
- Whether Wolfhound Century's close fictional relationship with historical fact serves the reader well is open to argument.
- Dark Eden by Chris Beckett, by
- Dark Eden partially redeems its formula through the inventiveness of its worldbuilding and its deep uneasiness with the tropes it has called into service. Still, in the end, I was left wondering whether the novel had gone far enough.
- The Folly of the World by Jesse Bullington, by
- Jesse Bullington’s new novel The Folly of the World lives up to its title, presenting life and death as mysteries incomprehensible to a foolish, clueless humanity.
- Confessions of a Five-Chambered Heart by Caitlín R. Kiernan, by
- Confessions of a Five-Chambered Heart, Caitlín R. Kiernan’s eighth collection of short fiction, is subtitled 25 Tales of Weird Romance. At first glance, that seems rather contradictory. Kiernan's introduction changes Weird Romance to Weird Erotica, but, while that is more descriptive of the stories collected, it doesn’t seem much simpler.
- Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels, 1985-2010 by Damien Broderick and Paul Di Filippo, by
- I'm sure if Broderick and Di Filippo had a couple of thousand words to write about any of these individual novels or any of the themes they touch on then they would acquit themselves admirably. But their task was something else and, thankless though it was, they were not equal to it.
- Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman, by
- The story is awkwardly paced and unsatisfyingly resolved, but more than that, it's overburdened.
- Metal Hurlant Chronicles, by
- Since its founding in 1974 by the late Jean "Moebius" Giraud, the legacy of the French comic magazine Metal Hurtlant has been deeply coded within the imagery of science fiction and fantasy. Now comes Metal Hurlant Chronicles, a Franco-Belgian live action television series which adapts selected stories from the magazine.
- When We Wake by Karen Healey, by
- In her new novel, When We Wake, Karen Healey puts a modern science fiction spin on the classic story of Rip Van Winkle and comes up with something exciting and powerful.
- Zero and Other Fictions by Huang Fan, by
- It is striking how much more interested Huang's novella is in the science-fictional question of how the world ended up where it is than most other canonical dystopias.
- The Time Ship by Enrique Gaspar, by
- This is a lovely little slice of genre history.
- Hair Side, Flesh Side by Helen Marshall, by
- Despite all rumor to the contrary, horror continues not only to produce enduring classics, but to inspire new writers and showcase unusual talent and original approaches. If further proof of this were needed, Helen Marshall's debut collection is it.
- Short Fiction Snapshot #1: "Intestate" by Charlie Jane Anders, by
- "Intestate" is a story about being the child of a mad scientist, and about being the child of a parent you don't understand.
- Lois McMaster Bujold: Essays on a Modern Master of Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Janet Brennan Croft, by
- Perhaps I wrong the contributors to this volume by suggesting that half of them were either phoning it in or just bloody bad at writing.
- Nexus by Ramez Naam, by
- Upon reflection, I was able to pinpoint a reading that summed up Nexus's flaws and strengths: as a modern-day Edisonade.
- The Receptionist and Other Tales: Poems by Lesley Wheeler, by
Sally Rosen Kindred
- The Receptionist and Other Tales is a bit of a risk in terms of genre, but it's one that pays off for the reader who loves word-play, women's lives, and the immersive world of the Quest, echoed in well-known fantasy and science fiction stories.
- The Heretic Land by Tim Lebbon, by
- In an age where trilogies, tetralogies, and beyond are the name of the epic fantasy game, there's something refreshing about a novel which fulfills all the promise of the genre in a tidy, standalone package. With The Heretic Land, Tim Lebbon manages to introduce a rich world that is at once familiar and fantastic, develop a cast of intriguing characters, and spin a sprawling yarn filled with adventure, horror, and wonder, all in less than five hundred pages.
- Town of Shadows by Lindsay Stern, by
- Stern's book is surreal, and her style ranges from breathtakingly numinous to bizarrely horrifying.
- The Crossing by Mandy Hager, by
- Few authors are capable of Atwood's complex and strikingly real worldbuilding, much less the sophistication of her critique on of both the patriarchy and the religious institutions that support it. But Mandy Hager's The Crossing comes closest. Conceptually, it flies in much the same manner as Atwood's dystopian classic. And yet Hager's novel proves that conceptual similarity to a classic is not nearly enough.
- Tears in Rain by Rosa Montero, by
- Blade Runner is a general reference point rather than a specific one; its mention prepares us to enter a certain kind of future—a hi-tech, impersonal, flashy-yet-dingy urban future that exists at the back of our minds as a fictional archetype. It's a future so familiar that Montero barely needs to describe it.
- That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote by K. J. Bishop, by
- That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote spans Bishop's career, and feels more like an anthology than a single-author collection—a tribute to Bishop's technical versatility and emotional range.
- The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi, by
- It is even more ambitious a novel than the first on many fronts, but this comes at the expense of some of The Quantum Thief's best qualities—in particular, the balance it struck between big galactic politics, jargon-saturated description, and comprehensible action.
- The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, by
A. S. Moser
- By the end of this novel, most readers will no longer wonder whether this book is literary or speculative, or where the line is drawn, because they will no longer care.
- Slow Apocalypse by John Varley, by
T. S. Miller
- Both more accessible to a mainstream audience and less compellingly inventive than the high-concept science fiction for which Varley has become best known, Slow Apocalypse is finally a run of the mill apocalyptic thriller redeemed by a few outstanding set pieces and occasional moments of deep sociological insight.
- The Dog Stars by Peter Heller, by
- The sad truth is that every scene of what passes for apocalyptic drama in The Dog Stars feels unconvincing.
- The City's Son by Tom Pollock, by
- Debut novelist Tom Pollock is telling a story with a familiar shape, a story of secret London.
- Bullettime by Nick Mamatas, by
- While the school shooting element is inevitably what will garner Bullettime much of its attention, the novel is much, much more than a fictional account of yet another quintessentially American modern tragedy.
- Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version by Philip Pullman, by
- You almost certainly know whether or not you might be interested in reading Philip Pullman's star-powered translation of Grimm's Fairy Tales. What remains for this review, then, is to evaluate Pullman's choices in his translation, and to compare him to his "competitors."
- The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters, by
- The Last Policeman is more of a premise than a novel, but at least the premise is an eye-catching one: In six months, an asteroid is going to collide with Earth and, most likely, wipe out all of human civilization; first, though, Detective Hank Palace has a murder to solve.
- Wreck-It Ralph, by
- Wreck-It Ralph sometimes feels like an exercise in genetic engineering, as if the producers tried to splice together everything that works in today's American animation. Fortunately, it's a successful experiment.
- 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson, by
L. Timmel Duchamp
- Reading a novel as persuasive as 2312 in 2012, a year which saw the possibility of saving the world from the future ravages of global warming receding ever farther, I find myself wondering if the hope Robinson places in the collective possibilities of not science but scientists might be the only possible one left to us.
- The Ravenglass Eye by Tom Fletcher, by
- As an exemplar of esoteric terror, insidiously articulated, the latest from this prodigiously promising author does not disappoint.
- Year Zero by Rob Reid, by
- Year Zero is out to make the reader laugh, and its primary weapon is the inherent absurdity of an otherwise completely superior alien civilization that simply can't get enough of Olivia Newton John and Ozzy Osbourne. From this comedic foundation Year Zero carries out a surprisingly thorough worldbuilding project.
- Blackwood by Gwenda Bond, by
- Blackwood is not quite unputdownable, but it's close, though its predictability and logical flaws become obvious as soon as it releases its grip, and are jarring even before that point.
- Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck, by
- Tidbeck's prose is remarkably strong and uncluttered, resting not only in the space between genre and literary fiction, but at the interstices between further ill-defined generic subdivisions like science-fiction, fantasy, steampunk and the rapidly growing fungal bud of weird fiction. Jagannath proves that under all the pontificating and arguing about genres and their hierarchical worth, what ultimately defines literary value is good writing.
- 2012 in Review, by
- We asked our reviewers to pick their SF-related highs and lows of 2012—books, films, tv, anything. This is what they said.
- Point of Knives by Melissa Scott, by
- It's good to see original fiction from Melissa Scott again after more than a decade of waiting.
- Constellation Games by Leonard Richardson, by
- Constellation Games starts from a clever premise but it doesn't get stuck there.
- Rocket Science, edited by Ian Sales, by
- What perhaps is refreshing about the approaches taken by Sales's writers, however, is their abandoning of the jargon of SF.
- Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia A. McKillip, by
- In so much of McKillip's work, as in so many of the stories collected in Wonders of the Invisible World, there is, again and again, this seeking out of a world beyond the world we see, a world at once more primal and impossible, a world of wizards and elf fire, of mermaids and monsters.
- Every Day by David Levithan, by
- The protagonist of David Levithan's Every Day, A, is a different person every day.
- Gothic High-Tech by Bruce Sterling, by
Paul Graham Raven
- I find it harder and harder to recommend Sterling stories as the years go by—not because they're no good, but because they demand an effort from the reader that few seem willing to give.
- Robot and Frank, by
- Robot and Frank presents us with a perfect world filled with flawed people.
- Shoggoths in Bloom by Elizabeth Bear, by
- As I read through these very different stories, I was slowly drawn into a world that both repelled and fascinated me: an inaccurate, sugar-coated world that, despite my native proclivities, eventually managed to charm and delight me.
- Silent Hill: Revelation 3D, by
- If genre is anything, then it is a preemptive realignment of its consumers' prejudices, and I think you would enjoy Silent Hill: Revelation 3D much more if you realized going in that it isn't a horror movie.
- Bad Glass by Richard E. Gropp, by
- Richard E. Gropp's debut novel, Bad Glass, is survival horror of a kind that is much more common in video games, "found-footage" horror films, and websites than in novels.
- Channel Sk1n by Jeff Noon, by
- The narrative aims at an immersive experience, capturing the feelings of connection and disconnection as much in the medium as in the message. Unfortunately this does detract from its accessibility.
- Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone, by
- Where would a legal thriller—and Three Parts Dead is recognizably a legal thriller, of an astoundingly innovative, fantastic bent—be without dangerous undercurrents, complicated history, and unreliable allies?
- Chrysanthe by Yves Meynard, by
- This intriguing novel is marred by its author's odd fixation on rape as a kind of imagined event.
- Permeable Borders by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, by
- Hoffman's contemplative approach perfectly complements her gift for fun, quirky dialogue to achieve a kind of spellbinding cadence.
- Nod by Adrian Barnes, by
- Although the apocalypse is coming, it is time-limited, and one can plan for its end.
- Two Views: The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, by
Niall Harrison and Abigail Nussbaum
- Abigail Nussbaum: There's a temptation, when reviewing a novel like The Long Earth, to dissect it.
Niall Harrison: While this gentle, flawed novel may not be the best of either of its authors, on balance it seems a book that neither could have written alone.
- The Grass King's Concubine by Kari Sperring, by
- The Grass King's Concubine has the logic of folktales at its heart, but surrounds its tale of magical bargains with a modern story of power, poverty, and the price that our heroine must pay for her ancestors' sins.
- Birds and Birthdays by Christopher Barzak, by
- In under one hundred pages, this volume delivers a neat package of beauty, information, and interpretation.
- Sorry Please Thank You: Stories by Charles Yu, by
- All of the stories in Charles Yu's second collection, Sorry Please Thank You, are clever. Their cleverness lies most directly in how Yu filters human dilemmas through the language and concepts of science, showing how our sciences reflect our understandings of those dilemmas.
- Outlaw Bodies, edited by Lori Selke and Djibril al-Ayad, by
- Outlaw Bodies is not a comfortable read; nor should it be. Its subject matter is, after all, the body's relationship with law, society and culture. Exploring this means showing bodies mistreated, disregarded and denied autonomy; it means showing conflicts where the body is the battleground.
- Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson, by
- Alif the Unseen reads like the work of a writer who will go on to do great things.
- Cloud Atlas, by
- Cloud Atlas undermines its own idealism with its cowardice.
- The Woman Who Married a Cloud: The Collected Short Stories of Jonathan Carroll, by
- The Woman Who Married a Cloud contains all of Carroll's stories from his previous collection, plus all those written since and previously uncollected. It is the perfect one-volume exemplar of the whole great Carroll conundrum.
- The Constantine Affliction by T. Aaron Payton, by
- T. Aaron Payton has written a novel that spits in the eye of any attempt to pigeonhole its genre.
- Gravity Falls, by
- The most tightly written speculative fiction TV show presently running is animated, a cross between The X-Files, Twin Peaks, and Eerie, Indiana, aimed at nine-to-twelve-year-olds, and airing on the Disney Channel.
- Black Bottle by Anthony Huso, by
- Black Bottle very quickly establishes where it stands on the matter of pretending to contemporary relevance: it will prefer to play generic games and paint comic book cover pictures.
- The Evolution of Inanimate Objects by Harry Karlinsky, by
- The book is constantly teetering on the edge of fiction and fact—and of whether its protagonist has a coherent alternative to scientific orthodoxy, or is deluded.
- Looper, by
- As in other science fiction films where the filmmaker doesn't seem particularly committed to the genre, style overwhelms believability and even common sense.
- The Croning by Laird Barron, by
- The Croning is an unspeakably intimate novel of cosmic horror.
- The Broken Kingdoms and The Kingdom of Gods by N. K. Jemisin, by
- If there is a unifying theme to the trilogy it is the use and abuse of power, whether that be in inter-personal relationships or on the wider canvas of running a world empire.
- Earth Girl by Janet Edwards, by
- Earth Girl is so totally voice-driven that the plot often loses focus.
- Starboard Wine: More Notes on the Language of Science Fiction by Samuel R. Delany, by
T. S. Miller
- Delany's earlier collection The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction remains frequently cited by SF scholars and non-academic fans alike, but Starboard Wine has received considerably less attention despite its more nuanced arguments and wider scope.
- Be My Enemy by Ian McDonald, by
- The Everness series may be aimed at a younger reader than McDonald's Brasyl but it is a thematic sequel and, to my mind, delivers the narrative punch of quantum possibilities better than that novel did.
- Osiris by E. J. Swift, by
- Rather than confronting the central dilemma that Swift's frame presents, we instead have to address a rather more basic question: what do the protagonists want?
- Ancient, Ancient by Kiini Ibura Salaam, by
- The stories in Kiini Ibura Salaam's debut collection, Ancient, Ancient, are imbued with the urgency and expansive scope of imagination that we've come to expect from the best of science fiction.
- At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson, by
- In Johnson's short stories, the ineffable is repeatedly evoked without ever quite being literally present—that is, the stuff of estrangement is referred to rather than described.
- The Eternal Flame by Greg Egan, by
- This book has a lot to offer those who are willing to invest some time in opening themselves to what pure science, placed into a social context where it is of critical importance, has to offer.
- The Map of Time by Félix J. Palma, by
- Félix J. Palma writes a rich Victorian England and an exuberantly inventive future, and the giants of genre fiction's past grace his pages as allusions, inspirations, and even viewpoint characters. All of this promise is, however, rather let down by Palma's fondness for yanking the rug out from under the reader and by his horrific treatment of gender.
- Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher, by
- Adam Christopher's second novel would have been a much better book if it had managed to draw a unifying thematic thread or two through its dizzyingly frenetic scenes and multiparous events. Like a Hollywood blockbuster, it glitters with excitement, and—like most Hollywood blockbusters—it proves itself ultimately superficial.
- Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff, by
- While the setting of Jay Kristoff's debut novel involves much that will seem fresh to western audiences, its story sticks very close to established formulas.
- vN by Madeline Ashby, by
- Though Ashby's characters are complicated and thought out, the world they inhabit is less intricately constructed.
- Rituals by Roz Kaveney, by
- Rituals is a fine fantasy novel: dark, twisted, and a lot of fun.
- Salsa Nocturna by Daniel José Older, by
- There are moments of genuine unease in Older's stories. What I find less convincing is Older's concept of the afterlife as a paradigm of our own world, complete with a more or less identical set of injustices and social evils.
- Lost Everything by Brian Francis Slattery, by
- Brian Francis Slattery has, it seems, a predilection for apocalypse and revelation.
- A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge, by
- A Face Like Glass is a novel that does two things simultaneously: it shows us a protagonist learning to see things clearly, and it shows readers that the appearance of the very story they are reading may be just that, and that there may be other possible readings to it.
- Faith by John Love, by
- Love's story suggests that there is a kind of knowledge that can be dangerous to the people who learn it—a kind of knowledge that can rewrite a person's view of the universe in such a way as to make life intolerable.
- Beasts of the Southern Wild, by
- What the filmmakers are getting at is not so much concepts as the process by which places gain significance. How here comes to be delineated from there, us from them.
- The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett, by
- Bennett's ambitious third novel works best when it not just acknowledges, but revels in, the absurdity of both its premise and its characters.
- Three Science Fiction Novellas by J.-H. Rosny aîné, by
- The three novellas by J.-H. Rosny aîné, newly translated, introduced, annotated, and presented by Danièle Chatelain and George Slusser in a beautiful edition by Wesleyan Press, are not only almost as important to the development of science fiction, and specifically of hard science fiction, as those worthies claim they are; they are also cheerfully, simply, infectiously readable, with a flowing and involving sense of storyline and a noteworthy and distinctive tone and atmosphere.
- Isles of the Forsaken by Carolyn Ives Gilman, by
- This is a book about the big structures, not the details.
- Radiant Days by Elizabeth Hand, by
- The artist as an outsider hero has been a staple of literature since at least the days of Wordsworth and Coleridge. Elizabeth Hand's particular take on this romantic trope is to make the artist a punk.
- Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce, by
- The defect of this book is really that Joyce is a fantastic writer who wrote the wrong book.
- The Mongoliad: Book One by Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Mark Teppo, E. D. deBirmingham, Erik Bear, Joseph Brassey, and Cooper Moo, by
- There are some big names on the title page of The Mongoliad: Book One, and some big hopes raised by the back cover, which tells us this is the first of "a trilogy about the complex, bloody history of Western martial arts." Some of the promises of the cover are delivered—this is a book with a great deal of fighting—but I'm not sure I see much sign of building a history of martial arts, nor of definitive input from all the listed authors.
- The Apex Book of World SF 2, edited by Lavie Tidhar, by
- World SF is not a specific kind of fiction practised beyond the US-UK literary axis; nor is it specifically opposed to that kind of fiction. World SF exists, essentially, by its exclusion from the dominant discourse, and a better understanding of what it can offer is achieved simply by realizing that it is there—and that it is not what you expected.
- Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore, by
- Even with her royal blood, Bitterblue is the most ordinary of Cashore's heroines.
- The Courier's New Bicycle by Kim Westwood, by
- Kim Westwood's second novel, The Courier's New Bicycle, is perhaps more than anything else a story about identity, about the tension between who you say you are and who they say you are.
- Communion Town by Sam Thompson, by
- Far from having a laugh at genre's expense, the stories in Communion Town are more like love letters, declarations of allegiance in which Thompson demonstrates that he is a writer of genuine quality.
- Sharps by K. J. Parker, by
- More than it is about either the Cold War or the Arab Spring, Sharps is a novel about sword fighting.
- Iron Sky, by
- I haven't laughed so much at a film that wanted me to laugh at it in years.
- Blue Magic by A. M. Dellamonica, by
- A. M. Dellamonica's diptych has been dubbed "ecofantasy" by some, an interesting label that does not quite hold up to scrutiny, despite the book touching on some big environmental questions.
- The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin, by
- To say Jemisin's worldbuilding is superb is an understatement.
- Intrusion by Ken MacLeod, by
- Intrusion offers a more interesting definition of a cosy catastrophe: the silent collapse, the destruction of a civilisation from within, in such a way that those inside the bubble have no sense of what it is they have lost.
- The Folded World by Catherynne M. Valente, by
- The Folded World's manifold strengths make its limitations stand out more strongly.
- Death Sentences by Kawamata Chiaki, by
- This is the first of Kawamata's works to be translated into English. That it has taken this superb little novel almost twenty years to reach us is something of a mystery. We can at least be grateful that it's finally here.
- Of Blood and Honey and And Blue Skies from Pain by Stina Leicht, by
- Many of the things that kept shoving me out of the narrative had to do with my sense that Leicht had no real understanding of the landscape—psychological and physical—of her chosen milieu.
- The Legend of Korra, Season 1, by
- The Legend of Korra's producers should be applauded for attempting to take things in a very different direction—even if they pretty much failed in producing something as entertaining and engaging as their previous show.
- In the House of the Seven Librarians by Ellen Klages, by
- Like other magical small spaces—the wardrobes and rabbit holes of fantastic literature—Klages's House is bigger on the inside.
- Paradise Tales by Geoff Ryman, by
T. S. Miller
- The stories gathered here from across Ryman's career narrate paradise and its stories in ways that are far from conventionally utopian.
- Time and Robbery by Rebecca Ore, by
- Rebecca Ore's Time and Robbery is classic science fictional novel of ideas, and not much else.
- The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson, by
- The Chaos begins in a somewhat formulaic, teen-friendly fashion, but rapidly goes off the rails in a variety of wonderful and unexpected ways.
- Necropolis by Michael Dempsey, by
- In his debut novel, Necropolis, Michael Dempsey contributes to a long history of hybridization within science fiction.
- Deadfall Hotel by Steve Rasnic Tem, by
- It is tempting to describe Deadfall Hotel as a book that uses supernatural events as metaphors; to assume that, as we are led through its myriad and ever-changing corridors, as we meet its twisted and inhuman denizens, as its protagonists are thrown into deeper and darker conundrums as the hotel morphs around them, we are seeing nothing more than surface metaphors for deeper permutations of emotion.
- The Black Opera by Mary Gentle, by
- The Black Opera, Mary Gentle's first novel in six years, raises a rather vexing question: how can a novel that features volcanoes, zombies, ghosts, love triangles, secret societies, the Inquisition, women dressing as men in order to pursue traditionally masculine professions, a "let's put on a show" plot in which the lives of many thousands depend on the enterprise's success, a guest appearance by Napoleon Bonaparte, and a hell of a lot of opera, be so singularly devoid of tension?
- Boneyards by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, by
- It was very easy to come in to Boneyards with basically no knowledge of either the context or the characters and still enjoy what was happening, which is quite an accomplishment for a third novel in a series.
- The Liminal People by Ayize Jama-Everett, by
- This is a book that stands or falls on its quirks, its turns of phrase, its flung-aside, half-unnoticed details.
- The Dragon Griaule by Lucius Shepard, by
- Lucius Shepard published his first story of the immobilized, mountainous dragon named Griaule in 1984, and each of the four stories since "The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule" has furthered the purpose of showing up the evasive, escapist stupidities at the heart of the phrase once upon a time.
- The Games by Ted Kosmatka, by
- For all its nods towards the literature of ideas that science fiction can be, The Games succeeds best as straightforward, thrilling monster fiction.
- 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson, by
Ernest J. Yanarella
- As a continuing friendly critic of the author, I approached Robinson's latest book with hope and trepidation.
- The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi, by
- The Drowned Cities feels like Bacigalupi's most relevant book yet.
- Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds, by
- There's always something of the Volvo about an Alastair Reynolds novel.
- The Sacred Band by David Anthony Durham, by
- When the Acacia trilogy's concluding volume, The Sacred Band, begins, the entire world seems on the verge of being consumed in catastrophic warfare.
- Krabat by Otfried Preußler, by
- Krabat, by Czech-German writer Otfried Preußler, is a 1971 novelization of an old central and east-European folktale.
- Hitchers by Will McIntosh, by
- The only solid indication that Hitchers is not meant to be comedic is that it never is; its events never bear out the lightness of its tone, and even work against it.
- The Avengers, by
- When writing about The Avengers, there's a temptation to get hung up on logistics.
- Planesrunner by Ian McDonald, by
L. Timmel Duchamp
- Many seasoned adults readers will inhale the crisply written Planesrunner, though their reading will likely involve a dual perception: on the one side, nostalgia, imbued with the hope of slipping back into the delights and pleasures recalled from childhood, on the other side in adult reading mode, always full of the hope of encountering something a little different, something that might appeal to a more mature palate.
- Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway, by
- Harkaway's fatal flaw is the one Priest identifies: he never stops.
- Sea Hearts/The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan, by
- Margo Lanagan's Sea Hearts renews the selkie myth by pushing back its borders.
- A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, by
- A Discovery of Witches is full of contradictions such as these, in which the text states that its supernatural characters are one thing, while showing us the exact opposite.
- The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, by
- The Weird has no synecdoche: to review a few of its stories is to fail to capture the collection; to review the collection is to sand over the innumerable rough peaks of story which spit, fittingly ill-fitting, from its roiling surface.
- The Hunger Games, by
- The Hunger Games succeeds on almost all fronts.
- The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman, by
- About the most overt type of racism—the outright belief that people of another race are inherently different and inferior to those of own's own—The Freedom Maze delivers a clear, strong message of condemnation.
- The Drowning Girl: A Memoir by Caitlín R. Kiernan, by
- Caitlín R. Kiernan's latest and arguably, yes, her greatest, is rife with wrongness.
- Dangerous Waters and Darkening Skies by Juliet E. McKenna, by
- Dangerous Waters and Darkening Skies rather failed to live up to their interesting premise.
- Artemis by Philip Palmer, by
- As it happens, I agree with Eric Brown's assessment in the Guardian that no one writes SF quite like Palmer. I just can't work out whether that is a good thing.
- The Books of the Raksura: The Cloud Roads and The Serpent Sea, by Martha Wells, by
- Wells remains a compelling storyteller whose clear prose, goal-driven plotting, and witty, companionable characters should win her fans among those who enjoy the works of writers such as John Scalzi and Lois McMaster Bujold.
- In the Mouth of the Whale by Paul McAuley, by
- The inevitable and inescapable state of humankind is war. Such, at least, seems to be the conclusion we must draw from the third part in Paul McAuley's ongoing series.
- The Magician King by Lev Grossman, by
- In The Magician King Grossman carries on the story of The Magicians, delving deeper into his fantastic world, in a book as compulsively, pleasurably readable as the first, written with the same intelligence and imagination, but fuller, richer, and done with a surer touch.
- The Arthur C. Clarke Shortlist, Part 2, by
- I await the decision of the Clarkemind. I daresay it will prove me wrong.
- The 2012 Arthur C. Clarke Shortlist, Part 1, by
- There have been many attempts before to plumb the mysteries of the Clarkemind, though few of these have reached any satisfying conclusions.
- The Last Letter by Fiona Lehn, by
- Ecology and psychology are the sciences featured in this work of science fiction.
- A Glass of Shadow by Liz Williams, by
- Liz Williams's A Glass of Shadow is an anthology of quiet surprises.
- The Straight Razor Cure/Low Town by Daniel Polansky, by
- In an urban, faux-London setting appropriated from Dickens via Pratchett, with extra grit from The Wire sprinkled on top, the Warden, a former street-kid, the semi-ward of a powerful sorcerer, a grunt soldier turned army lieutenant turned police inspector turned special forces agent turned renegade drug dealer and respected criminal force (and publican), uses his lackluster sarcastic quips, street fighting ability, ballistics training, convenient connections with mages, nobles, government employees, and law enforcement personnel, drug dealing skillz, knowledge of many languages, amaaaaazing detecting abilities, cultural awareness and superior tolerance of those different from him, and anachronistic modern worldview to consistently bungle solving a crime.
- The Great Lover by Michael Cisco, by
- The Great Lover is at various points dreamscape, poetry, fight-scene, and toilet humour, and more than likely to titillate fans of the Weird.
- The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe, by
- The shallowness of the worldbuilding is signaled straight away by the presence of the Standard Fantasyland Map; this wouldn't be an insuperable problem if it were not echoed and reinforced by a shallowness in the characterization and a dullness in the prose that does nothing to dress up what is, after all, a retread of a story any high fantasy fan will have read many times before.
- The Clockwork Rocket by Greg Egan, by
- As a reviewer I have on more than one occasion used some variation on the phrase "This novel is not for everyone," and this is certainly the case for The Clockwork Rocket.
- Diving Belles by Lucy Wood, by
- Lucy Wood presents in her debut collection a set of stories which bring elements of Cornish folklore into a contemporary setting.
- The Incal by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Moebius, by
- The recent passing of French comics artist Jean "Moebius" Giraud was a painful reminder of just how little of his work is available for today's readers in the English-speaking world. One of the greatest delights in reading the new edition of Giraud's epic series The Incal is that it reveals the huge debt that many iconic genre visual works have owed to it since its original publication between 1981 and 1988.
- Distrust That Particular Flavor by William Gibson, by
- Distrust That Particular Flavor is a book that not just every SF fan but every citizen of the twenty-first century should read.
- Bright's Passage by Josh Ritter, by
- Josh Ritter is best known for his music: since 1999, he's released six albums, each filled with fantastic stories set to music. Now, Ritter has turned his talents to the literary sphere with his first novel, Bright's Passage, which draws on his skills as a storyteller, and is, like his music, subtly rooted in the speculative fiction genres.
- Never at Home by L. Timmel Ducamp, by
- The tone, pacing, and quality of the stories vary greatly. Some stories sparkle off the page while most drag on and seem to arrive nowhere.
- When We Were Executioners by J. M. McDermott, by
- J. M. McDermott's Never Knew Another (2011), the first entry in his fantastical Dogsland Trilogy, packed an epic's worth of punch into a scant 232 pages. The near-perfection of that trilogy-opener raised my hopes to dangerously lofty heights for McDermott's second entry in the trilogy, When We Were Executioners, but for the most part McDermott manages to meet these expectations.
- Regicide by Nicholas Royle, by
- Regicide is the kind of novel that promises to leave you puzzling, not to mention spooked—which is what makes its ultimate lack of direction so frustrating.
- The Secret World of Arrietty, by
- While it doesn't reach the imaginative heights of classic Miyazaki, Arrietty still retains enough of a sense of wonder in exploring a new world to carry his distinct tone.
- Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed, by
- Ahmed's Dhamsawaat has the flavour of the Baghdad of Hārūn al-Rashīd, or the Cairo of the Fatimid Caliphate: dusty, thronged, cosmopolitan, vibrant.
- The Thorn and the Blossom by Theodora Goss, by
- Packaged in a handsomely illustrated slipcase, The Thorn and the Blossom is a book without a spine. Instead, it opens up in the manner of an accordion, first from one end and then from another. Its double-sided pages, splaying backwards and forwards in a concertina of story, offer the reader the pleasure that all true bibliophiles have sometimes wished to have: the opportunity to read their book again.
- The Mirage by Matt Ruff, by
- This isn't really an alternate history. It's a mirror.
- Bronze Summer by Stephen Baxter, by
- Can an ever-present threat, a common threat, actually form the key to a durable, functioning society? Or can such self-absorption leave a people vulnerable to races whose principal occupation is not maintenance but war?
- ODD? Volume 1, edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, by
- ODD? encompasses a fairly wide variety of fiction, more than enough to bewilder the neophyte and—except for the most experienced readers of the Weird—plenty material to give seasoned hands glimpses of strange vistas yet unseen.
- An Exile on Planet Earth: Articles and Reflections by Brian Aldiss, by
- Five of the twelve essays gathered here are original to this volume, and of the others the oldest dates from 2002. Yet, though recent, there is a nostalgic feel to these pieces, returning again and again to the early years of Aldiss's career.
- Blood Red Road by Moira Young, by
- As is so depressingly common in a genre that prides itself on its imagination, the world of Blood Red Road is both thin and narrow.
- Bringer of Light by Jaine Fenn, by
- Whilst not a great leap in Fenn's work, Bringer of Light is a good point to catch up with the Hidden Empire.
- Empire State by Adam Christopher, by
- The main problem here is that Empire State never feels fully realized, because Christopher doesn't move beyond the convenience of having his novel set in a half-ass bubble universe.
- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, by
- Ready Player One succeeds as a lovable, super-referential romp through a simulated world of '80s geek chic. Ultimately, however, it never quite lives up to the source material which it exists to celebrate.
- Germline by T. C. McCarthy, by
- McCarthy has created violent, competent, super-strong women whose abilities appear designed largely to make them attractive to his male protagonist.
- The Company Man by Robert Jackson Bennett, by
- This is our modern world as horror.
- Misfits, Season 3, by
- In its first two seasons, the UK series Misfits was a cleverly written, unevenly characterized, and brilliantly acted drama, subversive in how it drew upon and deconstructed common superhero tropes. In its latest season, Misfits remains a remarkable series, but for a wholly different reason: there is no other series I can recall that started so brilliantly, and devolved, in just one season, to such baffling mediocrity.
- Chronicle, by
- Chronicle is a found-footage superhero movie, which is to say that it takes a tired, overused premise and tells it in a tired, overused style. Implausibly, the result is something fresh and immediate.
- The Man Who Rained by Ali Shaw, by
- Both Fact and Faerie in The Man Who Rained remain insufficiently defined, and consequently neither feels completely real.
- Songs of the Earth by Elspeth Cooper, by
- The problem with Songs of the Earth is that it lacks any sort of self awareness.
- The Bone Spindle by Anne Sheldon, by
- Anne Sheldon's The Bone Spindle collects fourteen short pieces, mostly poetry, on the subject of women and the cloth-making arts: spinning, weaving and knitting. Each piece responds to a story—usually a fairy tale, though Sheldon also engages with Dickens, a history of textiles and an overheard story from the University of Chicago. The result is a book whose form expresses its content: it feels woven, with various story-threads combined into whole cloth.
- Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzru, by
Maureen Kincaid Speller
- I would rather have a novel that continues to unfold its meanings rather than one which has a clear, unambiguous narrative thread, and Gods Without Men undoubtedly satisfies that need.
- The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge, by
- Children is a vast tapestry of political manipulation, but does it deliver the same scope, and the same bangs, as its predecessor?
- By Light Alone by Adam Roberts, by
- Roberts is a deeply self-aware—and self-reflexive—satirist, who seeks to challenge and even alienate as much as he does to entertain. It is not so much that he doesn't take his own characters and stories seriously, but rather that he is deeply invested in the project of deconstructing them before our eyes.
- I, Robot: To Protect by Mickey Zucker Reichert, by
- Numerous authors have developed Asimov's Robot/Foundation universe over the last two decades, with varying degrees of success. The selling point of this first volume in a new trilogy is that it takes us back to the early days of Susan Calvin.
- Wind Angels by Leigh Kennedy, by
- One of the most invigorating aspects of a Kennedy story is that you can start on page one confident only in the knowledge that you have no idea of where this writer is going to take you.
- Cloud Permutations by Lavie Tidhar, by
- Cloud Permutations is fascinating and infuriating because it is about its own failure to tell its story.
- All Men of Genius by Lev A. C. Rosen, by
- Rosen is interested in the small events: getting accepted to your dream school, choosing what to wear, first love. And he is interested in the small players of Victorian times: women, servants, unknown scientists in basements.
- American Horror Story, Season 1, by
- If it had jokes, American Horror Story would be a situation comedy, albeit one with rape, torture, vivisection, and massacre.
- Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan, by
- Michael J. Sullivan is that rare beast, a man who self-published six books to moderate financial success, and parlayed that success into a deal with a major publisher. As of this writing, I want to hunt down every single soul associated with the decision to give this series the imprimatur of a major publishing house and rub their noses in it like a bad puppy.
- Further Conflicts, edited by Ian Whates, by
- Further Conflicts does not attempt to define a genre or make any particular point about war or the way war is dealt with in SF, but rather to allow its thirteen authors to ring the changes on war as theme, setting, and subject matter.
- Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear, by
- Hull Zero Three is further proof that Bear is one of the best writers of science fiction out there.
- The Highest Frontier by Joan Slonczewski, by
- The Highest Frontier takes the experience of college and amplifies it, transforming a campus into a place where young minds have to use their privileged position to try and figure out how to save the world. Literally.
- After the Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh, by
- Maureen McHugh's approach to the apocalypse is oblique, a concern with the personal, the individual or family unit, rather than the devastation that surrounds them.
- 2011 In Review, by
- We asked our reviewers to pick their SF-related highs and lows of 2011—books, films, tv, anything. This is what they said.
- Count to a Trillion by John C. Wright, by
- One imagines Wright thought long and hard about how a fictional universe might bear the weight of his own reactionary politics. It is weirdly to his credit that he has envisioned one—the milieu he conjures provides a fitting forum in which he can interrogate a variety of his favourite bugbears, from liberal democracy to Darwinian evolution. His rather awkward future nevertheless attempts to head off at the pass his more sceptical readers: put bluntly, Wright’s world fits his politics. It is this which piqued my interest.
- Attack the Block, by
- Attack the Block is a low budget British film with, at its heart, a Hollywood blockbuster storyline.
- After the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn, by
L. Timmel Duchamp
- The comic book setting and characters and situation could have delivered a satisfying read if the narrative style had been fun and playful. But beyond occasionally mentioning small domestic details, the narrative does little with the comic-book elements, perhaps because it is related in the dreariest of realist styles.
- The Janus Tree and Other Stories by Glen Hirshberg, by
- Glen Hirshberg has made a name for himself in literary horror as a writer of subtle, creepy stories with high emotional impact, and this holds true in his third collection.
- Mylo Xyloto, by Coldplay, by
- Coldplay's new release is the latest in a long line: a concept album set in a futuristic and oppressive dystopia, in which young tearaways utilise the respective powers of love and music to liberate themselves. It won't be nominated for a Hugo; but it is part of a vigorous tradition.
- Two by Kate Elliott: Traitors' Gate and Cold Fire, by
Kari Sperring and Liz Bourke
- Kari Sperring: Writers of epic fantasy—and writers who are female—all too often face the accusation of conservatism, of self-indulgent faux-nostalgic thinking, of excess romanticism, of concentration on the small issues of emotion and personal fulfillment, of treading and re-treading the same over-familiar path of missing heirs and magic rings, farmboy kings and tavern-girl mages, romance and happily-ever-after royal endings. Yet this has never been Elliott's territory.
Liz Bourke: Cold Fire deals with the consequences of Cold Magic, and introduces fresh complications.
- Master of the House of Darts by Aliette de Bodard, by
- It isn't necessary to have read the two previous volumes to enjoy the final volume of the Obsidian and Blood trilogy, Master of the House of Darts, since the important points are recapped early on. Given the author's growth as writer over the past year, the earlier books may come as a disappointment.
- Rule 34 by Charles Stross, by
- Rule 34 states that if you can think of it, there's porn of it on the Internet. While porn—its consumption and policing—plays a role in Charles Stross's latest novel, it is by no means its focus. Instead, the central issue is that other main use of the Internet: spam.
- In Time, by
- If none of Niccol's films in the last decade, whether within genre or outside it, featured the unique voice of Gattaca and the script for The Truman Show, at the very least they aimed high. The same is true for his latest film, In Time—a visually slick futuristic tale with an interesting premise and disappointing execution.
- Utopia by Ahmed Khaled Towfik, by
- Utopia, the first novel by the prolific and popular Towfik to be translated into English, was published in Cairo in 2008. It was an instant bestseller, and has been reprinted four times. Set in 2023, it depicts a bleak Egypt divided into the pampered inhabitants of Utopia, and the Others.
- Another Earth, by
- Another Earth feels like a story that needed at least one more round of editing. It's a movie that wants to be Tarkovskiy's Solaris (1972), stylish, languorous and moody, or at the very least Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), full of impact if more aesthetically conventional, but in fact manages to be something far simpler than both of these films.
- Conan's Brethren and Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures by Robert E. Howard, by
- When Robert E. Howard died by his own hand at a mere 30 years of age, the world lost not only an intensely imaginative fantasist, practically the creator of an entire sub-genre (sword and sorcery), but also an adept writer of historical fiction, in the same highly-colored, highly-charged mode as his fantasy. Two recent collections make available this lesser-known side of his work.
- The Wolf's Hour and The Hunter from the Woods by Robert McCammon, by
- Summing up the adventures of the lycanthropic secret agent Michael Gallatin in one sentence is not hard at all: the novel The Wolf's Hour and the short stories collected in The Hunter from the Woods are about James Bond fighting World War Two, only James Bond turns into a four legged Nazi-killing machine every once in a while.
- The Uncertain Places by Lisa Goldstein, by
- The fairy tale, retold, riffed on, changed around or simply modernized, is one of the great standards of fantasy literature. It's a sub-field in which it is rare to find anything really new, since there is a ready-made field of clichés. Goldstein does not move beyond these clichés, or reinterpret them significantly.
- Seed by Rob Ziegler, by
- Seed, Rob Ziegler's first novel, is the latest science fiction novel to show us a future in which climate change is no longer a threat on the horizon but a reality to be endured.
- Version 43 and Hellship by Philip Palmer, by
- Palmer attacks his subject matter with the same whimsical humor as his contemporary John Scalzi and a good dose of the late Douglas Adams's love of outlandish and improbable plot twists.
- Infidel by Kameron Hurley, by
- One of the qualities that defines a good science fiction novel for me is whether or not it shows me something I've never seen before. By this measure, Infidel by Kameron Hurley is a complete success.
- Future Media, edited by Rick Wilber, by
T. S. Miller
- Rather than presenting the latest cutting-edge speculations on the future of media from a vantage point in the age of YouTube and Twitter, the fiction and essays collected in Future Media instead offer more of a historical panorama of such speculations throughout the past century or so.
- Bricks by Leon Jenner, by
- At once stylistically challenging and conceptually dense, Jenner's short philosophical and historical re-imagining the fall of the Celts and the rise of the Roman Empire is a unique literary adventure. Historicists may find the book compelling for Jenner's attempts to root his story in actual historical accounts of the druids—largely related to us by the Romans. Fantasists, however, may be drawn in by the narrator.
- Deadline by Mira Grant, by
Maureen Kincaid Speller
- Deadline, like its predecessor, is frustratingly superficial in many respects, and indeed throws the flaws of the first novel into even sharper relief.
- Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson, by
- Rather than offering anything as sophisticated as the positronic brain or the Laws of Robotics, Wilson instead gives readers dull action sequences, wooden prose, and characters so superficial they might as well be made of plastic.
- Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts, by
- Seldom have I felt such a disparity between the book I eagerly started and the book I still more eagerly, but for the wrong reasons, finished.
- Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, by
- There is a sense in which Mechanique and The Night Circus work better as a paired reading than individually. One novel's flaws highlight the other's strengths, and vice versa.
- 21st Century Gothic, edited by Danel Olson, by
- One cannot skim this book, nor blindly use it as a reference text, because one never knows whether one will be reading something so far from publishable quality as to be an embarrassment, or something brilliant and insightful.
- The Silver Wind by Nina Allan, by
- The Silver Wind as a whole is quite different from the sum of its parts.
- Sword of Fire and Sea by Erin Hoffman, by
- Sword of Fire and Sea straddles the line between the poles of dark and light: serious, but not grim; earnest, but not unwilling to raise an eyebrow at absurdity. It's pacey. And it is absolutely full of Cool ShitTM.
- The Enterprise of Death by Jesse Bullington, by
- This is necromancy as revolution.
- Zone One by Colson Whitehead, by
- Zone One may not reinvent zombies, but it does push them, as earlier masters of the genre did before, to someplace modern and adjacent: a place ripe for metaphorical and emotional exploit.
- Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, by
- Carson is trying to say something about keeping faith in God in the face of suffering, and trusting that the most seemingly random events are part of his plan, which is a common message in real-world religious writings, but is never very convincing in fiction, where "God" is another word for "the author."
- Reamde by Neal Stephenson, by
- This is pulp. Smart pulp, but pulp all the same.
- In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood, by
- Well, hats off to the science fiction community, you have successfully goaded Margaret Atwood into producing a volume of SF criticism.
- Engines of Desire: Tales of Love & Other Horrors by Livia Llewellyn, by
- The subtitle of this book should be taken literally. Love is a horror for Llewellyn's characters, and sex is one of the tools the writer uses to produce an atmosphere of claustrophobia and madness.
- The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers, by
- The Testament of Jessie Lamb is a test for us, filtered through what is, despite its plainness, one of the most challenging young adult voices I've encountered for some time.
- The Adjustment Team: The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Volume 2, by
T. S. Miller
- Although the desire to keep all of Dick's short fiction in print is certainly a reasonable one, I'll admit that I find the editorial approach taken in this new five-volume edition by Subterranean Press somewhat puzzling, even alarming at times.
- The Great Night by Chris Adrian, by
- What we are reading, of course, is a distorted reimagining of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
- Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord, by
- Nalo Hopkinson has called Karen Lord "the impish love child of Tutuola and Garcia Marquez" and she has it there. Redemption in Indigo is a wonderfully strange Frankenstein of a book, composed with organs and limbs harvested from innumerable literary traditions and cultures.
- Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi, by
- This is not a conventional novel of adultery, but nor is it a conventional fantasy.
- Yellowcake by Margo Lanagan, by
- As with her previous collections, these ten stories showcase Lanagan's ability to use strange settings and devious narratives to depict life in all its beauty and horror.
- The Islanders by Christopher Priest, by
- Whatever you think The Islanders is, think again.
- Redwood and Wilfire by Andrea Hairston and Galore by Michael Crummey, by
- Both of these books focus on the power that women have or can carve out for themselves in the midst of a society that officially grants them none.
- Dancing With Bears: The Postutopian Adventures of Darger and Surplus by Michael Swanwick, by
- The key question with a book like this is whether there is anything beneath the comic surface.
- Torchwood: Miracle Day, by
- Miracle Day is not simply bad—though it is undeniably that—but bad in ways that make one sentimental for the over the top, camp, Cyberwoman-vs.-pterodactyl badness of Torchwood's early episodes, the kind of badness you could really sink your teeth into. Miracle Day, in contrast, is simply rather dull and shapeless.
- Sleight of Hand by Peter S. Beagle, by
T. S. Miller
- With its engaging and wide-ranging selection of fantasies, Sleight of Hand seems the perfect book for an author to publish in the same year that his towering status in the field has finally been formalized with a World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement, proving as it does that this achievement lies not only in the past, but remains very much a thing of the present.
- Osama by Lavie Tidhar, by
- In 1991 Norman Spinrad published Russian Spring, an excellent very near-future novel that unfortunately found itself rendered largely irrelevant by the almost simultaneous collapse of the Soviet Union. Tidhar's story is unlikely to meet with a similar fate, however, despite bin Laden's recent capture and execution, because it is more surreal and less tightly connected to our actual history than was Spinrad's book.
- Welcome to Bordertown: New Stories and Poems of the Borderlands, edited by Holly Black and Ellen Kushner, by
- Eighties nostalgia and the specter of Now haunt Welcome to Bordertown.
- Sensation by Nick Mamatas, by
- All of the above is, of course, downright ghastly, but that’s not the reason Sensation made me squirm.
- Fenrir by M.D. Lachlan, by
- It is one thing to suggest that stories resonate across time. It is another to write the same book twice, as Lachlan comes perilously close to doing.
- Game of Thrones, Season 1, by
Niall Harrison and Nic Clarke
- Niall Harrison: In the circle of people I discuss television with everyone has been very keen to make sure I consider the adaptation as its own thing, since I'm almost the only one who hasn't read George R. R. Martin's novels. I've been the control subject, in other words, the one for whom all the surprises have yet to be sprung.
Nic Clarke: Any adaptation from book to screen requires a significant narrative switch from internal to external focalization. Fantasy Wars of the Roses saga A Song of Ice and Fire, on whose first volume the recent HBO series Game of Thrones was based, presents acute problems in this regard; the original novels are told entirely through close-in point-of-view narration, the limitations of which are frequently mined for storytelling effect.
- Teaching Science Fiction, edited by Andy Sawyer and Peter Wright, by
- The teaching of science fiction, like the naming of cats, is a difficult matter. It's a problem that has been exercising teachers and science fiction fans alike for forty years. At its heart, I think, the problem lies in the mismatch between the nature of science fiction and the nature of academic literary criticism.
- Fool to Believe: Remarks on Some Short Stories By Pat Cadigan, by
- Throughout her stories, Cadigan shows us outsiders who yearn for some sort of connection with a more fulfilling world than the one they're in.
- Dervish is Digital by Pat Cadigan, by
- Rather than a tale of order upheld, Dervish is Digital is a story in which the rubbing out of the line between the virtual and the real makes the maintenance of order in the old ways impossible.
- Enigmatic Pilot by Kris Saknussemm, by
- It may all be a bedazzlement of smoke and mirrors, but it makes you think, without sacrificing the visceral thrills of good entertainment.
- A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, by
- Ness complicates what might otherwise be an edifying, instructive, and altogether hollow tale by overlaying it with rich fantasy.
- A Brood of Foxes by Kristin Livdahl, by
- This is the sort of thing one should be prepared for when entering the fairy-tale-cum-fable world of A Brood of Foxes. Perfectly normal actions and objects often get nudged into something whimsical, frustrating, and, on occasion, horrible. Tails, and tales, have a mind of their own.
- The Fecund's Melancholy Daughter by Brent Hayward, by
- The Fecund's Melancholy Daughter is a very effective piece of storytelling, but the story it tells is an unconventional one.
- Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion, by
- Whether or not you think this is a good thing, of course, depends on how you take your zombies. Those who prefer the dials all the way over to one side—literal monsters—may find Marion's take frustrating.
- A Life on Paper by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, by
- Châteaureynaud draws a distinction between popular and literary fantasy, a distinction he's clearly not entirely comfortable with, but seems unable to avoid.
- The Age of Odin by James Lovegrove, by
- James Lovegrove is an inventive and accomplished author whose work I'm always excited to read. Unfortunately The Age of Odin doesn't display his talents to their best advantage.
- Corvus by Paul Kearney, by
- Corvus is a strange novel in that it's clearly the work of a skilled and experienced writer, but it is as beautifully crafted in some ways as it is incredibly flawed in others.
- Trouble and Her Friends by Melissa Scott, by
- Melissa Scott's Trouble and Her Friends was first published ten years after Neuromancer, but in its language and structure it feels older. Reading it now in a re-released edition from Tor books gives us a chance to see what happens when a science fiction novel outlives not only its future, but its imagination.
- Chime by Franny Billingsley, by
- Chime is a book which uses language—plays with it, shows its power, and has it at its heart—in a way I found reminiscent of Diana Wynne Jones and Frances Hardinge.
- Mardock Scramble by Tow Ubukata, by
- That gives you an idea of the kind of book Mardock Scramble is: packed full of dazzling ideas and swinging frequently between the contemplative and the violent, the grotesque and the sentimental, the swift-moving and the soporifically dull.
- God's War by Kameron Hurley, by
- Will any other novel this year address issues of faith and gender quite so squarely, quite so entertainingly, and with such heft?
- Times Three by Robert Silverberg, by
- In the comprehensive introduction to the new reprint omnibus, Times Three, which collects the time travel novels Hawksbill Station (1968), Up the Line (1969), and Project Pendulum (1987), Robert Silverberg describes his interest in time travel as a "fascination," and then corrects himself: "obsession, I think it is fair to call it" (p. 9). Fair indeed.
Silverberg has accumulated such a large body of work throughout his nearly six decades in the field that the subset of his stories using time travel in a central way would be more than sufficient for The Best Time Travel Stories of Robert Silverberg. The collection at hand, while a little more restrictive in terms of the number of stories than this hypothetical beast, probably accomplishes just as much as a wider selection would.
- Two Views: The Dragon's Path by Daniel Abraham, by
Nathaniel Katz and Maria Velazquez
- Nathaniel Katz: The subtle intrigue of The Long Price seems to have been swapped for a more dramatic and action packed tale, and its somber tone for bright and thoughtless adventure. As one continues to read, however, many of these differences turn out to be mostly illusory.
Maria Velazquez: The Dragon's Path is strong on characterization and distressingly weak on worldbuilding, gender, and race issues.
- Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente, by
- To transcend this mere beauty and be devastating, Deathless would need to thoroughly examine the many, many themes it cards through idly and use them to some definite narrative end. What Deathless has in loveliness, it lacks in direction.
- The Neon Court by Kate Griffin, by
- It soon becomes obvious that London isn't just the setting; it is a character in itself. At the heart of this series lies a love story between Matthew Swift and the city, with magic serving as both an expression of this love and the means of (quite often delightfully bizarre) salvation.
- Mistification by Kaaron Warren, by
- For a story of stories about stories which contains within its pages nearly a hundred other stories, short and long, Mistification sure could do with a story to call its own.
- Betrayer by C. J. Cherryh, by
- Betrayer is not only the latest so far in a series that has progressed a long way, but also the end of a trilogy and consequently intended as something of a mini-climax. How does it stand, then, as an installment in a series that will proceed indefinitely beyond it, as a minor climax to a part of that series, and as a novel in its own right?
- Seed Seeker by Pamela Sargent, by
- The Seed Trilogy is truly the story of Ship itself, an artificial intelligence with a wholly human and entirely engaging arc of growth.
- Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King, by
- The protagonists of Full Dark, No Stars are driven to killing by extraordinary and rather desperate circumstances, and it's obvious that killing doesn’t come naturally to them. But can such circumstances justify an act of murder? The collection's greatest failure is that it never even raises the question.
- The Universe of Things by Gwyneth Jones, by
Paul Graham Raven
- If there's a single unifying theme to the stories collected in The Universe of Things, then it's surely Jones's outright refusal to deliver happy endings or validations of the cultural status quo.
- Kings of the North by Elizabeth Moon, by
- While Oath of Fealty was a bit of a slog, as Moon worked to introduce all the places and characters she was going to need, Kings of the North finds its feet early and actually moves.
- The Mall by S. L. Grey, by
- The Mall, which comes recommended by Beukes herself, is a very different kind of book to Zoo City (2010), but one notable similarity between the books is their off-kilter use of city spaces and architecture—these are urban fantasies that actually are, at core, urbanly fantastical.
- Eclipse Four, edited by Jonathan Strahan, by
- The aim of the stories in Eclipse Four is to present entertaining genre narratives which also investigate very real, very relevant ideas and concerns.
- The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier, by
- In The Illumination, Kevin Brockmeier creates a world full of pain that demands to be seen and thereby requires readers to rethink their all too easy blindness to pain. This world is vivid and memorable, but ultimately it beautifies pain in troubling ways and leaves the reader with a dismal vision of the world.
- White Cat by Holly Black, by
Maureen Kincaid Speller
- I find myself beginning to wonder if being a writer isn't in some ways not dissimilar to being a con artist. Certainly, I can’t help thinking that Holly Black is pulling some sort of con trick here, distracting the reader so that she fails to notice the gaping holes in the novel's construction.
- The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, by
- The Wise Man's Fear is so entertaining, so much fun, that its problems of style don’t bother me as much as they usually would.
- Aurorarama by Jean-Christophe Valtat, by
- What we get out of steampunk is what we put in.
- The Arctic Marauder by Jacques Tardi, by
- Rather than thinking of The Arctic Marauder as some sort of icepunkian precursor to other, steamier, punks, it might be helpful to think of it as following in the seriously silly, and often nonsensical, footsteps of Molière's plays, Voltaire's novels, or certain of Jean-Luc Godard's films. As in those previously and particularly French works, Tardi is not terribly interested in The Arctic Marauder in constructing coherent characters or a sensible narrative. He is driven, instead, by the sheer joy of rendering—in a breathtakingly precise and lovely faux-woodcut style—ever more elaborate and nonsensical tableaus of Victorian villainy and scientific hubris.
- Infernal Devices by K.W. Jeter, by
- What we see in Infernal Devices is not just the presager of what steampunk is, but what it could have been.
- Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick, by
- Hulick chooses the romp, allowing his characters to steal from honest citizens and knock each other over the head with few qualms. Unfortunately, his execution is missing crucial aspects of the romp trope—it is slow-paced and the adventure is not engaging.
- The Colony by Jillian Weise, by
- The Colony is a novel in which science can be literally miraculous, and would certainly benefit many. But what begins as a nuanced study of pressure and expectation becomes a forceful argument that the price will always be too high.
- Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks, by
- The central questions of most Culture novels are absent here, or at most only faintly acknowledged. What replaces them is less engaging, and less thoroughly thought out, than one tends to expect from Banks
- Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, by
- Russell manages the neat trick of writing a fantastic and realistically weird ghost story of childlike maturity.
- Twilight Robbery by Frances Hardinge, by
- It is an interesting surprise when Twilight Robbery reveals itself to be something like a children's primer for The City & The City by China Miéville.
- The Search for Philip K. Dick by Anne R. Dick and The King of the Elves: The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Volume I, by
- In the end, we probably can't separate the biographical from the creative aspects of Philip K. Dick, but it does no credit to Dick the writer, who says more about what it was to live in mid-twentieth century USA than many a bigger mainstream name, to romanticize his failings and misfortunes.
- Ledoyt and Leaping Man Hill by Carol Emshwiller, by
Maureen Kincaid Speller
- Feature week: Carol Emshwiller
Maureen Kincaid Speller: Ledoyt and its sequel, Leaping Man Hill, are quite unlike the rest of Carol Emshwiller's oeuvre. They’re not fantasies but Westerns. However, given this is Carol Emshwiller we're talking about, her Westerns are as unexpected and unconventional as her fantasy stories.
- Carmen Dog by Carol Emshwiller, by
- Feature week: Carol Emshwiller
Paul Kincaid: It was a time when feminist SF tended to lay out its wares in bold, not to say garish, contrasts, and Emshwiller is not immune to that. But Emshwiller makes a virtue of the broad strokes, making it a part of the comedy of her novel.
- The Collected Stories of Carol Emshwiller, Volume 1, by
L. Timmel Duchamp
- Feature week: Carol Emshwiller
L. Timmel Duchamp: The Collected Stories, Volume 1 offers not only hours of pleasure through its dozens of wonderful, magical stories, but also the rare joy of seeing a master's work develop over decades.
- Son of Heaven by David Wingrove, by
- Between 1989 and 1997 British author David Wingrove published the eight volume Chung Kuo saga, which depicts a twenty-third century world dominated by China. British publisher Corvus has recently gone so far as to release a revised version of the series. This includes two new prequel volumes.
- Harbinger of the Storm by Aliette de Bodard, by
- This novel is a wonderful portrait of a left-brain thinker—a follower of processes, one who understands the reality of hard facts—confronting the impossible world of people, of those who place a greater emphasis on relationships and beliefs.
- Evaporating Genres: Essays on Fantastic Literature by Gary K. Wolfe, by
- Evaporating Genres is most profitably read as the work of an excellent book reviewer rather than the work of a literary critic.
- Subterranean Tales of Dark Fantasy 2, edited by William Shafer, by
- Subterranean Tales of Dark Fantasy 2 is more short story collection than anthology, with no greater agenda, in the end, than to collect together a few good short stories.
- Ice Trilogy by Vladimir Sorokin, by
- Vladimir Sorokin has been one of the most provocative figures on the Russian literary scene since the 1980s. Official disapproval of the author seems only to have boosted his popularity, especially amongst younger readers, and his Ice Trilogy, in particular, has attracted a devoted following in his homeland.
- What I Didn't See and Other Stories by Karen Joy Fowler, by
T. S. Miller
- Writing a review of what is, for the most part, a reprint collection of superb and already well-received stories comes uncomfortably close to gilding a lily. At the same time, one thing we can consistently say about Fowler's wide-ranging body of fiction is that it is always worth talking about.
- The Door to Lost Pages by Claude Lalumière, by
- While The Door to Lost Pages does suggest that salvation lies in books, Lalumière's vision of the path to salvation leads much further afield than around-the-house-and-in-the-yard.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, by
Michael H. Payne
- Sibling rivalry, cosmic warfare, magic, myth, legend, and redemption: this is what I wanna see in a program devoted to multi-colored talking horses!
- Slice of Life by Paul Haines, by
- This collection has helped me to realize that as a reader of dark fiction I prefer less sensory excess and more implication.
- Welcome to the Greenhouse, edited by Gordon Van Gelder, by
- Only a few stories out of the sixteen in this volume feel like truly contemporary approaches to this entirely contemporary threat.
- Outcasts, by
- Outcasts is particularly British television, oftentimes excruciatingly so.
- Harmony by Project Itoh, by
- One of the things this novel made me think was: why hasn't the clinic featured more largely in SF and Fantasy?
- The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe, by
- Of course nearly everyone in fantasy is the prophesied one, along with all those heroes of old epics and fairy tales; it's a very powerful archetype. But Lowe does nothing new with this trope—she just shows us a fairly average girl discovering that she has powers and learning how to use them.
- The Arthur C. Clarke Shortlist, part 2, by
- There can, of course, be only one winner.
- The 2011 Arthur C. Clarke Shortlist, part 1, by
- All of which suggests that the books piled before me are intensely, or perhaps puckishly, self-aware not just as fiction but as science fiction. This impression both is and isn't true.
- All the Lives He Led by Frederik Pohl, by
- Unfortunately, although there is an awful lot going on in All the Lives He Led, it is the context that provides plot in a novel, and since we lack the context, what passes for a plot doesn't actually make a great deal of sense.
- Home Fires by Gene Wolfe, by
- Like all of Gene Wolfe's novels, Home Fires is unusual, complex, and a constant challenge to the reader, but it is more successful than much of his recent work at balancing accessibility and depth.
- Blood in the Water and Banners in the Wind by Juliet E. McKenna, by
- Patient spadework is the order of the day; while there are a few larger-than-life characters and even the odd inspiring battlefield speech, a recurring motif is the key role played by planning and logistics, rather than dramatic heroism, in military and political victory.
- City of Ruin by Mark Charan Newton, by
- City of Ruin isn't so much a retread as a revamp. It reads like what Nights of Villjamur wished it could be.
- Racing the Dark and The Burning City by Alaya Dawn Johnson, by
Maureen Kincaid Speller
- Rather than paring down her story to its essential heart Johnson impedes its telling as often as she facilitates it.
- Source Code, by
- Jones has made the anti-Moon.
- The Secret History of Fantasy, edited by Peter S. Beagle, by
- Whatever doubts one may have concerning this collection's raison d’etre, the stories here do represent some of the best work in fantasy over the past thirty years.
- Meeks by Julia Holmes, by
L. Timmel Duchamp
- Meeks combines a lush profusion of discrete details with a maddening scarcity of the kind of detail that would give my imagination something to work with
- Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories 3, by
- On the whole, the anthology provides a good balance of Astounding and non-Astounding material, and a decent mix of fantasy and science fiction. The emphasis tends to be on stories with surprise endings.
- Battle: Los Angeles, by
- Battle: Los Angeles is less a film and more the experience of sitting inside an oil drum for two hours whilst people hit the outside with metal rods and drop firecrackers in at the top.
- A Handful of Pearls & Other Stories by Beth Bernobich, by
- Beth Bernobich's collection of ten short stories deals with gender ambiguities, the loss of love, women who won’t stay in their assigned categories, and alternate world settings. These, however, are the effects, not the cause.
- The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson, edited by Jonathan Strahan, by
- Readers looking at this modest-but-not-slim volume, aware that "The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson" means "The Best Short Fiction of Kim Stanley Robinson", might need a little reassurance. Any account of Robinson's career tends to be primarily structured by the trilogies, and the most characteristic moments in each of them tend to be powered by an accumulated weight of story. To look elsewhere for "the best" seems almost perverse; surely the best is in the big works, not in here.
- Sprawl, edited by Alisa Krasnostein, by
- Sprawl, published by Twelfth Planet Press, is an anthology of eighteen works which refract Australian suburbia through the prism of the fantastic.
- Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles by Michael Moorcock, by
- This is where Moorcock's career has been pointing for a long while, because his concerns and Doctor Who's have a great deal in common.
- Among Others by Jo Walton, by
- What I would and could say about Jo Walton's new novel, Among Others, in a less specialized venue, like a newspaper or a general review magazine such as Publishers Weekly, is very different from what I can and will say about it here, in Strange Horizons.
- The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross, by
- In Bob Howard, Stross has created a secret agent for our times: he works out of necessity, cares deeply about individuals, and treats those who wield power with a skepticism born from experience.
- Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die, edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki !, by
- Where this collection could have been a one joke wonder or merely skated by on its own cleverness, it turns out to be a lot deeper than that. A lot more intelligent. A lot less predictable than its theme of inevitability would have you suppose.
- Caprica, by
- It is this duality that makes watching Caprica extraordinarily frustrating; at every turn it displays its potential without ever fulfilling it.
- Rivers of London/Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch, by
- Rivers of London has all the delights and flaws of a pilot episode. It is bursting with ideas and tripping over itself in the need to deliver them and tell an engaging story too.
- The Restoration Game by Ken MacLeod, by
- This is a novel about the various levels of reality we get while playing games. It is also about the (real life) games of political intrigue following the collapse of the USSR. It is also, and importantly, a novel that tells these stories through science fiction.
- How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu, by
- How to Live Safely, for all its traveling through time, is at its heart a novel about stasis—the allure of, the dangers of, the tragedy of.
- Farlander by Col Buchanan, by
C. B. Harvey
- Buchanan has delivered an arresting debut.
- The Ghostwriter by Zoran Živković, by
- In the age of the internet, the events of The Ghostwriter are made possible by digital communication. Authorized authorship is trickier than ever: who hides behind the handle? Who writes: the nom or the plume?
- Empress of Eternity by L.E. Modesitt Jr., by
- Empress of Eternity's ideas are more compelling than Modesitt's treatment of them, and little in the ideas themselves is new.
- Sacred Space: The Quest for Transcendence in Science Fiction Film and Television by Douglas E. Cowan, by
- It seems that Cowan decided to teach his readers about transcendence through science fiction, instead of the other way around.
- Game of Cages by Harry Connolly, by
- Anyone with a taste for the sort of things Connolly writes, in a specialized but very popular sub (sub sub sub) genre of fantasy, will find these books page-turners.
- Feed by Mira Grant, by
- Bounding along with all the dumb energy of a gigantic puppy, Feed presents itself as a futuristic political thriller, but it is best understood as a vicious satire of contemporary journalism.
- Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold, by
- Cryoburn should have been a lot darker.
- Seven Cities of Gold by David Moles, by
- That Moles manages to present this alternate world so convincingly in a mere seventy pages is bound to result in accusations of genius. Indeed, if there's one flaw here it's that the book may be too smart for its own good.
- The Last Song of Orpheus by Robert Silverberg, by
T. S. Miller
- It is strange, even jarring, that one of the most emotionally stirring narratives in Western literature should be narrated with such incongruous detachment.
- The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie, by
- It goes to show what a master craftsman Abercrombie can be, that readers will find themselves invested in such despicable people as these.
- My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales, edited by Kate Bernheimer, by
- In Kate Bernheimer's collection of forty fairy tales retold by contemporary writers, it is not just the characters but also the tales that become the containers for their authors' ideas, modern preoccupations, and experiments with form.
- Deep State by Walter Jon Williams, by
- Future threatened regimes may yet use the plot of this excellent thriller as a propaganda weapon—the book is just that savvy and timely.
- After Dark by Haruki Murakami, by
- After Dark is an ephemeral masterpiece.
- The Small Hand by Susan Hill, by
- It may be objected that the kind of closure The Small Hand provides is a good thing for a ghost story, that it provides a shape to the story in similar ways to a crime novel identifying whodunnit. But there is such a thing as a story that's shaped too much.
- Cold Magic by Kate Elliott, by
- To some extent this review of Elliott's latest novel is an assessment of her work so far, and of the three exercises in fantasy world-building which she has engaged in.
- Jaclyn the Ripper by Karl Alexander, by
- I have not read Time After Time, and I have only the barest recollection of the movie. It had Malcolm McDowell in it, so I'm inclined to think well of it. But it's hard to imagine that either book or movie could be quite as startling as this sequel.
- The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman, by
- There is nothing half-made about The Half-Made World.
- Monsters, by
- As much as Monsters is a science fiction film, it is also largely uninterested in touting that aspect of its premise.
- Clockwork Phoenix 3: New Tales of Beauty and Strangeness, edited by Mike Allen, by
- Allen continues to assemble some of the most adventurous, beauteous, and just plain weird stuff our current crop of speculative authors are capable of producing. Adventurous minds are invited to attend.
- Tron: Legacy, by
- Legacy's attention to worldbuilding and detail is its greatest strength, and through it the film presents an interesting and totalized visual space that is unusual in the current landscape of SF cinema.
- Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach, by
- Any astronaut will tell you that the actual flight is the most important but shortest event of their careers. Several of them tell Mary Roach, author of Packing for Mars, something along the lines of "I was an astronaut for eight years, but I was only in space for eight days." So what do they get up to the rest of the time?
- The Shadow Pavilion and The Iron Khan by Liz Williams, by
- Both The Shadow Pavilion and The Iron Khan have romping good plots that give readers plenty of ride for their money. Those who are interested in more than a casual read, however, will find that Williams’s intricate plotlines also deal with intricate issues, and that common threads link the two novels.
- Up the Bright River by Philip Jose Farmer, by
- In Up the Bright River, editor Gary K. Wolfe collects fifteen of Farmer’s short stories in the hopes of giving readers a reminder, or introduction as the case may be, to the breadth of Farmer’s imaginative wanderings.
- 80! Memories and Reflections on Ursula K. Le Guin, edited by Karen Joy Fowler and Debbie Notkin, by
- 80! was intended as a personal birthday present on the occasion of Le Guin's 80th birthday in 2009, and originally came in a specially-bound edition of one. But now, a year on, Le Guin has agreed that the book should be made more generally available. It is worth it for parts, if not for the whole.
- In the Mean Time by Paul Tremblay, by
- Tremblay offers readers a look into the dark corners of that mysterious space between childhood and adulthood—not quite adolescence, but rather a space of not-knowingness, the impression of a whole wide world out there offered at first only in stolen glimpses.
- Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor, by
- It is very unclear whether Who Fears Death is intended to be a science fiction novel with a quest narrative of preventing genocide and saving the world, or whether it is intended to be a YA story of girls' bonding, friendship, bullying, and their courtship problems.
- 2010 in Review, by
- We asked our reviewers to pick their SF-related highs and lows of 2010—books, films, tv, anything. This is what they said.
- Antiphon by Ken Scholes, by
- In the third installment of his Psalms of Isaak series, Ken Scholes continues to embody the best and worst attributes of the fantasy genre.
- The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories, edited by Ian Watson and Ian Whates, by
- Watson and Whates have set out to provide an introduction to alternate history. This cannot be considered the definitive collection of alternate history stories (as if such a thing were possible in the first place). But they have certainly provided an introduction to the subject, one that successfully showcases the variety of what alternate history can do.
- The Folding Knife and Blue and Gold by K.J. Parker, by
- Parker’s pragmatic protagonists, enthusiasm for detail, and classical references are all more reminiscent of solid historical fiction than of most contemporary fantasy writing.
- The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell and The Loving Dead by Amelia Beamer, by
- The idea of the dead returning to life and wreaking havoc on the living is full of implications about guilt and reckoning: What do we make of our history? What went wrong, and how do we make it better?
- Dark Matter by Michelle Paver, by
- So, too, does Paver paint the ghost of this splendid ghost story: it exists, at least for the larger part, in the negative spaces, between the lines, and then only by implication.
- The Best of Larry Niven, edited by Jonathan Strahan, by
- Having read this book once already, Niven still confounds my expectations of him upon my return to it. Here, then, is a writer not easily dismissed as a fan’s fan. He is not quite a clumsy hack who ticks the boxes of a certain kind of SF reader. He is odder than that.
- Walking the Tree by Kaaron Warren, by
- The ideas at the heart of Warren's novel are timely and interesting, and its setting and characters are well positioned to address them. But the book's surfaces badly need more polish before I'd feel comfortable handing it to any demanding reader.
- Guardians of Paradise by Jaine Fenn, by
- With Guardians of Paradise, Jaine Fenn is three novels into her Hidden Empire series. It is a solid start to a writing career—not the spectacle that publicists hope for nor, in my opinion, the failure which some considered her earlier novels to be.
- Lightborn by Tricia Sullivan, by
- In many ways Lightborn undercuts the contemporary zeitgeist of the survival novel.
- The Japanese Devil Fish Girl and Other Unnatural Attractions by Robert Rankin, by
- It is difficult to know quite what to make of The Japanese Devil Fish Girl as it is a book that hemorrhages both quality and ambition as it goes along. This means that each time you select a yardstick by which to judge the novel, you wind up having to cast it aside and go searching for something a little bit more humble and a little bit less flattering.
- The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, by
- Bender's style tends towards something literary, sensual, and askew. Her narratives, for the most part, tend towards something not so much magically realistic as realistically realistic in which something insistently weird is happening.
- Noise by Darin Bradley, by
- It is this interplay between national and personal tales of collapse and reconstruction that drives Noise.
- King Maker by Maurice Broaddus, by
- The mythic elements are more of a hindrance than a selling point for the book, which mixes realism and magic, past and present, and the viewpoints of what often feels like too large a cast of characters to confusing effect.
- Believe in People: The Essential Karel Čapek, by
- Served in small helpings, it does succeed in making Čapek come alive, as an articulate, wise, and humane writer, one whose aphorisms manage to be simultaneously heart-warming and thought-provoking.
- Generosity by Richard Powers, by
- Tolstoy once said that all happy families are alike. Powers has managed the tricky job of showing us happiness that is different, that is nuanced, that is engaging and that is convincing. Though he has done so in a novel that is not altogether happy
- Half World by Hiromi Goto, by
- Melanie Tamaki, the young protagonist of Hiromi Goto's Half World, is keenly aware both of her own shortcomings and of the precipice on which she and her mother teeter. Homelessness looms and it's hard to imagine anything worse. Until it happens.
- Bearings by Gary K. Wolfe, by
- What better way to work out why reviewing is so important to the science fiction and fantasy world than to review a book about reviews?
- The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang and Zendegi by Greg Egan, by
T. S. Miller
- The two works reviewed here take up the vexed definition of humanity, but in the context of both impaired or partial artificial intelligences and the contemporary social and economic landscapes of digital worlds: these books are largely meditations on "AI 2.0."
- Sleepless by Charlie Huston, by
- There's a moment fairly early in Charlie Huston's Sleepless where it seems that the novel, a noir dystopia which takes place in an alternate 2010 in which civilization has been brought nearly to a halt by the rapid spread of lethal sleeplessness, might as well have been subtitled "abandon all hope of subtlety, ye who enter here."
- Six Views of Never Let Me Go, by
- I didn't intend to put myself into these sentences when I began, but it seems to me now that here, in my struggle toward expression, sits the most accurate and honest assessment I can offer of the film.
- Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories 2, by
- As a survey of the stories collected in Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories: Volume 2, 1940 will show, oftentimes humanity doesn't triumph, and is even portrayed in an unsympathetic manner, so that even if victory is achieved it is ill-earned.
- Salvage by Robert Edric, by
- This is not a novel full of poetic images of landscapes; rather, the passages describing the countryside, the roads, the town, seem often to have had the specific, striking detail wrung out of them, leaving behind a bleakly anonymous core.
- The Midnight Mayor by Kate Griffin, by
- There's quite a bit of action, magical conflict, and big, destructive scenes, but one never knows when the action might stop for a long, lyrical description of this or that aspect of the city.
- Subtle Bodies by Peter Dubé, by
- The surrealists are our brothers with one foot in the grave and the other on the sun.
- Return by Peter S. Beagle, by
- There is a law of diminishing returns, and this new novella suggests that the level of invention necessary to sustain this story sequence is fast running out of steam. And, furthermore, I would hazard that Beagle knows this and is using this story to draw a line under the sequence.
- A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files, by
- Gemma Files's A Book of Tongues is the first in the Hexslinger sequence—no indication, as yet, of how long this sequence might be, though I suspect trilogy—and presents an intriguing world that isn't, in this volume, fully realised.
- Autumn Rain by David J. Williams, by
- The Autumn Rain books (The Mirrored Heavens, 2008; The Burning Skies, 2009 The Machinery of Light, 2010) by David J. Williams are less a trilogy of novels than a single novel in three volumes. Set on an early twenty-second century Earth struggling with grueling resource scarcity, their focus is on the central international conflict of the time
- Collected Stories by Lewis Shiner, by
Jason Erik Lundberg
- With Collected Stories, Lewis Shiner cements his position as one of the SF field's most accomplished practitioners.
- Happy Snak by Nicole Kimberling, by
- Based on its premise, Happy Snak had me at hello: it is about an enterprising business woman who opens a snackbar on a space station shared between humans and hermaphroditic aliens known as the Kishocha. In many ways, however, the novel's joyous potential isn't really fulfilled.
- The Dervish House by Ian McDonald, by
- When the latest Ian McDonald novel came to me for review, more or less the last thing I expected to be pondering as I read was a certain stylistic parallel to Guy Gavriel Kay's Sarantine Mosaic duology.
- Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories by Sandra McDonald, by
- The result is a volume of stories that's slyly disorienting, one that solicits real emotional involvement from the reader even as it protests any such solicitation.
- Stone Spring by Stephen Baxter, by
- It is impossible to approach a new Baxter novel, whatever your familiarity with the detail of his oeuvre, without sparing half a thought for its grander project.
- Yukikaze by Chohei Kambayashi, by
- Yukikaze takes some time to create its effect. When it does, it is a powerful one, and one that stays with you.
- Crossing Over by Anna Kendall, by
- Crossing Over had two things going for it even before I hit the first page: in its UK edition it launches Gollancz's new YA line, and it comes with an unusually long and enthusiastic blurb from Connie Willis.
- Silversands by Gareth L. Powell, by
- Silversands is a little too angular to slip down easily.
- The Holy Machine by Chris Beckett, by
- Chris Beckett's first novel is a beautifully written and deeply thoughtful tale about a would-be scientific utopia that has been bent sadly out of shape by both external and internal pressures.
- 2017 by Olga Slavnikova, by
- 2017 stubbornly refuses to depict people or events in a way which recognizably reflects real life, a potential complaint that Slavnikova makes clear early on concerns her not in the slightest.
- Wolfsangel by M. D. Lachlan, by
- Conventionally, in a werewolf story the wolf is as human a creature as the man: the workings of civilization and reason apply even within the body of the wolf. But in Wolfsangel that doesn't hold, because this is a human civilization that extols the virtues of the wolf, holding savagery in high esteem.
- The Secret Feminist Cabal: A Cultural History of Science Fiction Feminisms by Helen Merrick, by
- Merrick's book does show how far we've come, how long the road has been, and thus very much why there's a lot to keep on fighting for as well as why some of that might be lost—but also why no feminist or reader should ever think that the feminists of science fiction aren't collectively part of the united front.
- The Evolutionary Void by Peter F. Hamilton, by
- Peter F. Hamilton would like you to know that religion and utopias are Very, Very Bad For You, and he doesn't care how much he has to stack the deck to get the point across.
- A Matter of Blood by Sarah Pinborough, by
- Sarah Pinborough's first novel for Gollancz sees her moving away from the pure horror of her earlier work to offer an ambitious generic hybrid.
- Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas, by
- IIt is a novel that sets out purposefully to deconstruct the premises of narrative. What saves it from mere up-fundament-vanishing annoyingness is the enormous charm with which its deliberately inconsequential non-story is told.
- Ondine, by
T. S. Miller
- Ondine leaves us still waiting for our genuinely first-class ondine/selkie film.
- The Thief of Broken Toys by Tim Lebbon, by
Maureen Kincaid Speller
- At the heart of this novella is a question: how do we come to terms with grief so overwhelming it strips us of the means to function at even a most basic level?
- Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical by Robert Shearman, by
- Read Love Songs for the Shy And Cynical carefully enough, and maybe it won't cut you too deeply.
- Triumff: Her Majesty's Hero by Dan Abnett, by
- This is one of the things Triumff: Her Majesty's Hero is not about. But then, a lot of Triumff is not about what it seems to be about.
- Stories edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio, by
- Stories exhibits a wonderfully odd collection of authors and tropes that one would not normally find sharing page space.
- Doctor Who: Series Five, by
- So it was that early April 2010, when the new series began broadcasting, became a tense time in fandom, with more at stake for the series than there had been since 2005 and significant anxiety amongst its audience about what exactly a Moffat Doctor Who would look like.
- Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, by
- For the first fifteen minutes I couldn't see how someone who had read the comics could enjoy the film. After that I found myself smiling and then laughing and enjoying the film on its own terms. But then, for the final fifteen minutes, I once again found the schism between the film and the comics too hard to overcome.
- The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, by
- From its multiple prologues and preludes through to its calm-before-the-storm last chapter and indeed beyond, The Way of Kings is all about beginning.
- Narrative Power: Encounters, Celebrations, Struggles, edited by L. Timmel Duchamp, by
- The volume's subtitle—Encounters, Celebrations, Struggles—explains why its essays linger in the mind. Its writers have skin in the game.
- The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan, by
- I confess: the first time I read this book, I couldn't stand it. The second time I fell in love with it, and now I'm thinking of buying a backup copy in case my house burns down.
- Toy Story 3, by
David J. Schwartz
- For a film that is ostensibly for children, Toy Story 3 has already accumulated a wide range of analyses.
- Above the Snowline by Steph Swainston, by
- Above the Snowline is, by some way, Steph Swainston's least epic, most intrigue-driven novel.
- Shine edited by Jetse de Vries, by
- Dismayed by the amount of dystopian SF on the market, de Vries aims to showcase SF that depicts futures better than what we have now. I find myself sympathetic to his goal: since time immemorial, humans have complained that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, that the Golden Age or Age of Heroes is behind us, that we've diminished in some fundamental way. And yet somehow the years go by, standards of living go up, life spans increase, and we beat out Malthus again and again.
- Mammoths of the Great Plains and Tomb of the Fathers by Eleanor Arnason, by
- Too often we are assured that we have no alternatives. Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the other forms. Capitalism is an unequal distribution of wealth, while communism is an equal distribution of poverty. The way it was in my dad's house in the suburbs is the way it ought to be forever. Much of contemporary science fiction, far from interrogating these assumptions, endorses them.
- Red Plenty by Francis Spufford, by
- I exhort you, comrades!—to read this book.
- X6 edited by Keith Stevenson, by
- The novella is an interesting form, or at least an interesting length.
- Inception, by
- If this were just a fantasy action thriller it would be a standout, hard-driving and complex, consistently entertaining. But it's not just a kinetic series of exciting or fantastic images, a hyperactive body, if you will; it has a head and a heart.
- A Dark Matter by Peter Straub, by
- A Dark Matter addresses one of the fundamental problems of personal identity.
- Pinion by Jay Lake, by
- The whole trilogy can be seen as an exercise in avoiding the issues raised by the world Lake has created.
- Through the Drowsy Dark by Rachel Swirsky, by
- Swirsky's range as a writer, from carefully realized fantasy stories to thought-driven short pieces and poems that embrace several political and feminist perspectives, is one of the most impressive things about Through the Drowsy Dark.
- Under the Dome by Stephen King, by
- It might have been one of King's best novels. Instead, it contains that novel.
- Slum Online by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, by
- One might say the novel is about the ghost in the machine: us.
- Finch by Jeff VanderMeer, by
- Rarely have I felt such disappointment after reading such a great book.
- The Passage by Justin Cronin, by
T. S. Miller
- If you're looking for A Canticle for Leibowitz or The Road, you'll probably be disappointed; The Stand, probably much less so.
- Servant of the Underworld by Aliette de Bodard, by
- Given that the forms of magic, the gods, and the politics of the empire were almost wholly unfamiliar to me, there was very little chance I was going to get ahead of the plot. Looking backwards, though, it is clear how carefully put together the story is, and how dependent it is on both using and explaining the peculiarities of the society it is set in.
- Ruby's Spoon by Anna Lawrence Pietroni, by
- A reader might start to mistrust this teller, might have to ask: is that so? What gives you the right to tell it like this?
- Chill by Elizabeth Bear, by
- It can be difficult to determine just where one should begin with Elizabeth Bear.
- The Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel of 2009, by
- The shortlist is one of the strongest of any that I've seen recently, genre or otherwise—perhaps helped along by the exciting variety of genders, races, and nationalities represented.
- The 2009 Shirley Jackson Award Best Novel shortlist, part one, by
- Into this conversation step the Shirley Jackson Awards, billed as having been "established for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic"—all of which are represented by the Award's diverse and inclusive shortlist for the Best Novel category for work published last year.
- Shirley Jackson: Novels and Stories, edited by Joyce Carol Oates, by
L. Timmel Duchamp
- It is that power, as much as the pleasurable experience of Jackson's mastery, that will drive many readers, by time the volume has finished with them, to seek out the rest of her work.
- Two Views: The Devil's Alphabet by Daryl Gregory, by
Michael Froggatt and David J. Schwartz
- Michael Froggatt: The real strength of this novel lies in its nuanced and sympathetic depiction of the three clades which have emerged from the TDS outbreak.
David J. Schwartz: The Devil's Alphabet is a novel about creating community, a first contact novel, a murder mystery, and a story of (arrested) self-realization.
- A Game of Lost, by
Bernadette Lynn Bosky
- Lost, it seems to me, proceeded like a game of Go.
- The Woo of Lost, by
- Any potted account of Lost's main storylines must tend to make one thing clear: that it was at root a ludicrous show. Daft, implausible, hyperactive, given to lurching shifts of focus and scale of positively Van Vogtian proportions. To say so is not to dismiss it, of course.
- Cheek by Jowl by Ursula K Le Guin and Imagination/Space by Gwyneth Jones, by
- There is no such thing as a perfect reader. Each of us will, can, only read partially. We invariably fix on certain aspects of a work, and miss others.
- New Model Army by Adam Roberts, by
- The focus is overwhelmingly on the dynamics of the New Model Army—how such an army can come together and function the way it does, and the headaches that this causes for governments around the world.
- The Inter-Galactic Playground by Farah Mendlesohn, by
- The devils (there's more than one, unfortunately) are in the details, and they can be pretty diabolical.
- Bitter Angels by C. L. Anderson, by
- It's just a shame that for all the invention in the book, there aren't more moments of such character-focused dramatic intensity.
- Tome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes, by
- For the most part the story reflects Sykes's self-proclaimed writing method: "These are the characters, here's some stuff that happens to them. How can I make that sound sexy?" Apparently the answer is to write like a panel of marketing experts who've just drawn up demographics of the most generalised roleplaying subtypes imaginable, before combining them into a single sweaty mess.
- And Another Thing. . . by Eoin Colfer, by
- The problem here is which Douglas Adams is being channeled.
- The World House by Guy Adams, by
- The World House is the first original novel by veteran media tie-in author Guy Adams. It is the first part of a duology and, in the immortal words of Bernard Black, it's dreadful but quite short. Well . . . shortish.
- Spellbent by Lucy A. Snyder, by
- What makes the book worth reading is Jessie's voice, which is witty and sarcastic but still takes the dangers Jessie faces seriously.
- Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness, by
- Infatuation must always fade. There comes a point when the initial thrill must either gently fade or deepen into love. Or catastrophically explode into a bitter falling out.
- Under in the Mere by Catherynne M. Valente, by
- Some half a millennium since Sir Thomas Malory published his great work, we may place our hand on Catherynne M. Valente's fine volume and still feel the heat from that distant fire.
- The Push by Dave Hutchinson, by
- The Push, published by NewCon Press and nominated for the BSFA short fiction award for 2009, is an excellent recent example of the satisfaction available to the genre reader.
- Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories 1, by
- I'm approaching much of this work as a first-time reader, presumably like many of you. I'm sure that in the course of this ongoing project, in which I'd like to review all twenty-five volumes in this anthology series, I'll find plenty of surprises.
- Chimerascope by Douglas Smith, by
T. S. Miller
- It's quite possible that he—and we—would have been better served if he had waited a little longer to amass a larger body of stories from which to select a more consistent crop of his "best," but the few outstanding ones here make the collection worth picking up, especially if you haven't had the chance to read much of Smith's work.
- The Trade of Queens by Charles Stross, by
- This all makes for a more than satisfactory close to a series which, for all its weaknesses, I found to be worth the read, and indeed, worthy of another look from readers who may have felt let down by the earlier volumes.
- Mr Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett and The Kingom of Ohio by Matthew Flaming, by
- From the myth of the First Transcontinental Railroad, complete a few short years after the end of the Civil War and ever since a symbol of American unity, to the train in Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues", conversely a symbol of the inmate's isolation, the train has been a potent, if changeable, American motif, a founding image of the nation and its journey into modernity.
- Lifelode by Jo Walton, by
- The whole world is contained within the village of Applekirk, and all of life is represented by the various characters who come together in the Manor. This is a huge novel on a small scale.
- Survivors, series 2, by
C. B. Harvey
- Oh the irony. Survivors, the BBC's prime time post-apocalyptic drama, has not itself survived beyond a second season.
- Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link, by
- The very qualities that make Link such a fascinating author of adult fiction seem to me to make her entirely unsuitable for writing children's fiction.
- Directive 51 by John Barnes, by
- John Barnes's new novel is, let me say upfront, a book with many merits. However, in a story about how terrorists get together to destroy world civilization, if you find yourself encouraged to be on the side of the mass-murdering terrorists, it seems to me the novelist is probably doing it wrong.
- The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer, by
- The novel's central theme—the search for authenticity—is always clear, but the variations offered upon it range from the deeply serious to the frankly gleeful.
- The Poison Eaters and Other Stories by Holly Black, by
L. Timmel Duchamp
- I'm impressed by the freshness of Black's treatment of old, worn conventions, for she uses her characters' consciousness of the conventions to stretch and explore them rather than make light of them, and by the insightful emotional intelligence of her characterizations.
- Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky, by
- Its biggest flaw is its author's inability to create a functioning narrative to fill his created world.
- Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb, by
- Something that might be either good news or bad, depending on your viewpoint: There are supposed to be only two books in this series, but it seems as if a good deal still remains to be told.
- Horns by Joe Hill and Neverland by Douglas Clegg, by
- The devil is nothing if not ironic.
- Memoirs of a Master Forger by William Heaney, by
- Every once in a while a famous writer will publish a novel under a pseudonym.
- Imagination/Space: Essays and Talks on Fiction, Feminism, Technology, and Politics by Gwyneth Jones, by
- Gwyneth Jones won the Pilgrim Award for science fiction criticism in 2008, and this collection makes it abundantly clear why.
- The Rats and the Ruling Sea by Robert V. S. Redick, by
- Redick's saga can be read as an attempt to imagine a world where language becomes life's right and not its privilege.
- The Age of Ra by James Lovegrove, by
- To Lovegrove's credit, Ra offers a fast-paced, action-packed story which benefits from its setting in an alternate timeline in a number of ways.
- The Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist, part two, by
- The ultimate winner is less important than the pre-match analysis. Ignore the state-of-the-genre posturing; what did you think of the books?
- The 2010 Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist, part one, by
- Six books make the shortlist, and this year they are a uniformly solid bunch: there is not a single stinker, no real left-field addition which leaves all but the judges scratching their heads.
- Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey, by
- This book is completely insane, in all the best ways.
- Cold Earth by Sarah Moss, by
- Really, this isn't a novel about ghosts, or about archaeologists in Greenland, or about the various personal and psychological issues that the small cast of characters trails behind them; this is a novel about the end of the world.
- Cloud & Ashes by Greer Gilman, by
- If you go in expecting a fancier version of Charles de Lint or even a condensed dose of Neil Gaiman on acid, you will flounder around and drown. But that would be a shame because this is something worth swimming in.
- The Returners by Gemma Malley, by
- My response to The Returners was, admittedly, a bit odd. Although I'm well aware of the many good reasons to avoid talking about authorial intent, I could still find no way of doing so in reviewing this book.
- Kick-Ass, by
- A gentle reminder to film directors: if you are going to make a film about superheroes who don't have superpowers then you have to actually, you know, remove the powers.
- A Short History of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn and Edward James, by
- The goal here is to skim a large surface, not dive into particular depths. "Fantasy" is, after all, a slippery term with shimmery outlines; perhaps a wide-angle view will show more than can be seen up close.
- Lightbreaker by Mark Teppo, by
- Of all the Paradise Lost-inspired fantasy novels ever written, so few sport an inside cover featuring a stern-looking author in full pink rabbit costume holding high an occultist encyclopaedia.
- The Bookman by Lavie Tidhar, by
- Lavie Tidhar's The Bookman wears its pulpish steam-punk stylings with pride.
- VALIS and Later Novels by Philip K. Dick, by
- Some critics think very highly of VALIS. I must demur. When I first read it, last century, I found it sticky and rather baffling. Re-reading it in this edition I think I've identified what the problem is. It is massively boring.
- Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde, by
- The newest offering from Thursday Next creator Jasper Fforde affirmed one thing I already thought about him: I'd really like to visit his brain.
- Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds, by
- There are big ideas lurking in the book, but the focus is on getting all the iconography in place. This is an odd contrast with Reynolds's handling of his earlier novels.
- The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin, by
Maureen Kincaid Speller
- I do not write this review entirely in a state of blissful ignorance, but with a voice asking, from deep in the back of my mind, "is it worth the fuss?"
- The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, by
David J. Schwartz
- A film that is by turns gorgeous, bitter, inspired and mean, a frustrating work by a creator who is understandably frustrated.
- Experiments at 3 Billion A.M. by Alexander Zelenyj, by
- Yet aliens and spaceships alone do not make science fiction, and Zelenyj never quite writes an SF, horror or fantasy story—at least not in the sense usually accepted by modern readers.
- When it Changed: Science into Fiction edited by Geoff Ryman, by
- In an attempt to induce more stories based in real science and the change that can result from it, Ryman paired fiction writers with working scientists tasked to educate the writers on the leading edge of their scientific research.
- The Secret History of Science Fiction edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel, by
- Of course I want to believe them, I want to imagine that though the ghetto walls still stand they are less secure than they once were, that traffic now flows more freely in both directions across the boundaries. But how strong a case do they present?
- Naamah's Kiss by Jacqueline Carey, by
- Even when it's clearly wish fulfillment—or maybe because it is—Carey's writing wins us over.
- The Stone Dance of the Chameleon by Ricardo Pinto, by
- Pinto has created a work that possesses depth and complexity, juxtaposing beauty with horror to spectacular effect.
- Some 2009 short fiction, by
- Another way of framing the two stories I've discussed so far is perhaps to suggest that SF is fascinated by the point at which humans become inhuman. But if that's true, it's surely also true that it's fascinated by the point at which the inhuman becomes human.
- 2009 short fiction, by
- As I sit down to write this piece I am close to, but not quite at, the end of a four month trek through 2009's genre short fiction.
- Selected short fiction from 2009, by
- Here's my perspective on six standout stories published in 2009.
- In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield, by
T. S. Miller
- I found myself pulled both ways throughout, but the novel was more than saved for me because of Whitfield's masterful way of dramatizing and communicating various registers of strangeness, alienation, and subjectivity.
- The Brain Thief by Alexander Jablokov, by
- Things get weird very quickly. Unfortunately the novel loses steam almost as quickly, making for a somewhat unsatisfying read.
- Red Claw by Philip Palmer, by
- Red Claw is nothing short of a catastrophe.
- The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington, by
- After several days of arguing with myself over Jesse Bullington's debut novel The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart, I'm forced to follow in the footsteps of many of the positive and even effusive reviews that The Brothers Grossbart has received, and hedge my criticism of the novel as those reviewers hedged their praise.
- Audrey's Door by Sarah Langan, by
- Sarah Langan's third novel proves itself to be a worthwhile contribution to the history of haunted house stories.
- Heroes in the Wind by Robert E. Howard, by
- The rewards for the reader who successfully suspends disbelief in the hero and overlooks purple or melodramatic prose, are significant: vicarious excitement and entrée into a world of imaginary marvels. Howard becomes, as Clute says in his introduction, our "hypnopomp, " our guide into dreams, and we adventure among wonders.
- Chasing the Dragon by Justina Robson, by
- Chasing the Dragon is, as Malachi very nearly puts it at one point, about getting the band back together.
- Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, by
- On first read, Boneshaker is good. On a second, I found some nagging doubts just wouldn't go away.
- Avilion by Robert Holdstock, by
David J. Schwartz
- The novel's central preoccupation is whether its characters will surrender to narrative destiny, or break free of it.
- Eclipse Three, edited by Jonathan Strahan, by
T. S. Miller
- If it can take shelter under the broad umbrella of speculative fiction, it's fair game for Eclipse.
- Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb, by
- Will all the stories devolve into cliché, with every person and dragon living happily ever after? Or is Hobb doing something different in this book?
- A Book of Endings by Deborah Biancotti, by
- To reveal my hand before delving any deeper, the recent collection within SF of which this book most reminded me was Kelly Link's Magic for Beginners.
- The Beast with Nine Billion Feet by Anil Menon, by
L. Timmel Duchamp
- Ideology, for all its apparent abstraction, tends to be personal; and differences in ideology are often woven into the very fabric of family relations, accentuating other differences.
- The Day of the Triffids, by
C. B. Harvey
- It is, of course, far easier to make a triffid walk on the page than on the screen.
- Tales from the Mabinogion: The Ninth Wave by Russell Celyn Jones and White Ravens by Owen Sheers, by
- With the change of setting, both authors have replaced the magical, the fantastic, the outlandish and the weird with determinedly rationalist explanations.
- Love Puppets and other webcomics by Jessica McLeod and Edward J. Grug III, by
Michael H. Payne
- If I jumped right in and described the webcomics of Jessica McLeod and Edward J. Grug III as "cute," I feel certain a large percentage of readers would sigh wearily, roll their eyes, and click away to some other portion of the phantasmagorical extravaganza that is the Strange Horizons website.
- The 2009 David Gemmell Legend Award Shortlist, Part Two, by
- Even if, or perhaps especially if, some of the popular choices don't exactly track with the definition—as is certainly the case with this first shortlist—having a theme provides plenty of hooks for further discussion and food for thought.
- Shortlist Review: The 2009 David Gemmell Legend Award, Part One, by
- What do they mean by “in the spirit of David Gemmell”? According to the same webpage, what they are looking for is something that grabs the reader immediately, with pace (“you know, books that you're STILL reading at three in the morning!”), characters to root for, and convincing world-building. Stories, in other words, that take hold and won't let go until the final page—the reason we all started reading fantasy in the first place.
Quality of prose goes unmentioned, but I'm afraid it won't in this review; writing that makes me want to stab my own eyes out tends to interfere with my desire to still be reading at three in the morning. I'm fussy like that.
- Wild Hunt by Margaret Ronald, by
- Margaret Ronald's second Evie Scelan novel, Wild Hunt, continues to showcase the author's talent for combining drama, chills, and hilarity into a compulsively readable caper.
- Cast a Deadly Spell, by
- Though one of Campbell's lesser-known works, Cast a Deadly Spell was ahead of its time in many respects, featuring stylistic and narrative elements that would become standard in many future genre productions.
- The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood and The Rapture by Liz Jensen, by
- There are far more similarities between The Year Of The Flood and The Rapture than I was expecting.
- Two Views: Doctor Who, "The End of Time", by
Tony Keen and Tim Phipps
- Tony Keen: In many ways, it is emblematic of Davies' entire five-year stint on the show—bits of it are good, and bits of it aren't.
Tim Phipps: It’s got heart, this show. It’s not always in the right place, but it is always there.
- Sherlock Holmes, by
- Holmes is, in short, the closest thing to a King Arthur or a Robin Hood that the modern age has produced. He is, despite a canonical body of accomplished literature, a creature of the popular imagination, endlessly refigured and—key, this—re-energised.
- The Other Lands by David Anthony Durham, by
- The Other Lands is a more confident, more exuberant, and more unusual epic fantasy than The War with the Mein, but loses none of its predecessor's scope or familiar pleasures.
- The Cardinal's Blades and L'Alchimiste des Ombres by Pierre Pevel, by
- If I had to sum up The Cardinal's Blades in two words, they would be: great fun.
- Avatar, by
- When one likes the film quite a lot, as I do, it becomes necessary to address critiques which have some validity, and also to look at the extent to which Cameron intermittently, but not unintelligently, pre-emptively covered at least some of the arguments raised against him.
- 2009 In Review, by
- We asked our reviewers to pick their SF-related highs and lows of 2009—books, films, tv, anything. This is what they said.
- Total Oblivion, More or Less by Alan DeNiro, by
- The two stories—family drama and surreal post-apocalypse road trip—are clearly interwoven, with one reflecting the other.
- Intelligent Design edited by Denise Little, by
- I found Intelligent Design something of a missed opportunity.
- The Apex Book of World SF, edited by Lavie Tidhar, by
- The mixture here, unbalanced though it may seem to a cursory view, allows the anthology to avoid the obvious failing of "showcase" anthologies: we cannot, having finished this selection, ever delude ourselves that we have "heard" the voices of the science fiction of China, say or Israel.
- Fire by Kristin Cashore, by
- Cashore makes space in her work for challenging readings; indeed, she creates questions that invite them.
- Never Slow Dance with a Zombie by E. Van Lowe, by
- E. Van Lowe's Never Slow Dance With a Zombie is a rarity in young adult fiction: an unabashedly silly send-up of paranormal romance novels.
- Makers by Cory Doctorow, by
- Makers is a novel. Which is a pity. It's the least interesting aspect of the book. What Doctorow has to say is important and interesting, but the fiction gets in the way.
- The Road, by
T. S. Miller
- Although the novel works better for me in many ways, and the film seems less likely to leave a lasting impression, I cannot imagine a better dramatization of the words and the world of McCarthy's pages.
- The Martian General's Daughter by Theodore Judson, by
Mahesh Raj Mohan
- The Martian General’s Daughter is a fine showcase for world-building, clever plotting, and evocative characterizations.
- Gardens of the Sun by Paul McAuley, by
- This work is shaped by what is now known, by the technical data and extensive panoramas available online from space probes young and old.
- V, reviewed by Raz Greenberg, by
- In the technical department, the new V is every bit as polished a product as the miniseries that inspired it. However, it also shares many of the miniseries' problems.
- Hellbound Hearts edited by Paul Kane and Marie O'Regan, by
- Despite the occasional misstep, Hellbound Hearts serves as a testament to the visceral, otherworldly impact of the scarified, magisterial Cenobites and the seductive mystery of the puzzle box that summons them.
- The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, by
- The best and worst part of The Windup Girl is the windup girl.
- Objects of Worship by Claude Lalumière, by
- In Lalumière's collection of stories, people find themselves staring at the limits of worship, and by projection, the limits of control.
- Transition by Iain (M.) Banks, by
- Transition is Banks going through the motions.
- Lamentation and Canticle by Ken Scholes, by
- There are still strong themes and beautiful prose to be found in The Named Lands, but the coherency and much of the mystery of Scholes's world has been stretched thin in the transition from short story to novel.
- Two Views: Moxyland by Lauren Beukes, by
James Trimarco and Paul Raven
- James Trimarco: Moxyland manages to breathe new life into this subgenre by capturing the peculiarly cynical voice of a generation that has absorbed so much branded messaging that it literally cannot imagine a gesture—not an utterance, not a political strategy, not even an act of violence—intended to do anything but stimulate the media for marketing-related purposes.
Paul Raven: It's a strong fast zap to the brain that eschews science fiction's lingering tendency to chase technological gosh-wow in favour of using its toolkit to vivisect the kids of tomorrow.
- The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, volume 3, edited by Jonathan Strahan, by
- The volume offers few surprises (certainly for those who read much current science fiction and fantasy), but does succeed in offering that healthy (if conventional) sampling promised in the introduction.
- Filaria by Brent Hayward, by
- Filaria is not a work that dazzles with new ideas, rather it impresses by deploying a greater set of storytelling techniques than many better-known works, and in so doing renews the sense of wonder associated with familiar concepts of SF and horror.
- Green by Jay Lake, by
- Lake attempts to wrestle with big themes—individual identity, gender and racial politics, gods and religion, and sexuality, to name but a few—but the overall impression is that he has bitten off more than he can chew.
- Interfictions 2, edited by Delia Sherman and Christopher Barzak, by
T. S. Miller
- What Interfictions 2 does offer is a set of stories that, if united by only the most tenuous thematic and generic threads, couldn't be more worth reading.
- The Magicians by Lev Grossman, by
- There was nothing exactly wrong at first, and hundreds of pages passed with nothing exactly going wrong; so why, at p.332, should the reader (this one, anyway) find himself baulking at the thought of reading even one more page, baulking for almost a month at clawing through the last few chapters of The Magicians?
- Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, by
- Shiver's flaws, weighed against one of the most engaging and emotionally involving reads I've had recently, are slight.
- The Drowning City by Amanda Downum, by
- Downum takes us into that dark and dangerous territory pioneered by Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber.
- Ark by Stephen Baxter, by
Jonathan McCalmont and Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
- Jonathan McCalmont: Is Baxter to be praised for his seemingly ever-increasing control over an array of themes and issues that few other authors bother to tackle? Or is he to be condemned for writing and re-writing the same kind of book over and over again?
Alvaro Zinos-Amaro: It travels much farther than its predecessor. It takes even bigger risks, and the emotional pay-off is consequently greater.
- Orbus by Neal Asher, by
- In other words: I hate this book.
- 1942 by Robert Conroy, by
Douglas W. Texter
- Robert Conroy's alternate history of the Japanese attack against Pearl Harbor serves as a morality play about good guys and bad guys.
- The Black Mirror and Other Stories, edited by Franz Rottensteiner (trans. Mike Mitchell), by
- Overall: a very worthwhile collection of stories indeed.
- Fifty Key Figures in Science Fiction, edited by Mark Bould, Andrew M. Butler, Adam Roberts and Sherryl Vint, by
- A wonderfully versatile book.
- Rampant by Diana Peterfreund, by
- Killer unicorns. I heard those words and Diana Peterfreund's fifth novel vaulted to the top of my to-be-read list.
- House of Windows by John Langan and Slights by Kaaron Warren, by
- The horror genre is lucky to have two new writers of such quality and ambition.
- Red Planets: Marxism and Science Fiction, edited by Mark Bould and China Mieville, by
- It seems likely that this volume will remain more at home in the seminar rooms of cultural studies departments than on the bookshelves of interested lay-persons.
- Tile by Maryanne Rose Papke, by
Michael H. Payne
- This one is just plain fun, the way it exemplifies abstract surrealism while still being a series of character-driven stories with odd little beginnings, middles, and ends.
- The Stranger by Max Frei, by
- I want to give this book room to be its silly self. The Stranger's raison d'etre is pleasure.
- Blood of the Mantis by Adrian Tchaikovsky, by
- While the cast and overarching plot remain largely the same, the mood of the series changes enormously; turning gradually from optimistic light-heartedness and straightforward warfare towards political manipulation and the darker side of human nature.
- Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay, by
- The voyage to Arcturus on which David Lindsay takes his readers is a voyage worth taking.
- Grazing the Long Acre by Gwyneth Jones, by
- Grazing the Long Acre is a rich, rewarding collection by a writer at the height of her powers.
- Darkborn by Alison Sinclair, by
- Sinclair spends most of her time in the drawing rooms and at the sickbeds of her characters, exploring their evolution as lovers, mothers and human beings.
- The Resistance, by Muse, by
- Muse's new album is more than prog, and more than glancingly sciencefictional: it is intensely prog, and extremely sciencefictional.
- Zadayi Red by Caleb Fox, by
- Zadayi Red begins with a woman, Sunoya, who's been having dreams.
- The Fire in the Stone by Nicholas Ruddick, by
- Ruddick has provided an entertaining, rigorous, and most of all convincing study of prehistoric fiction.
- The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw, by
- This is, have no doubt, a complex and accomplished first novel, and Shaw's voice is pure and true.
- Two Views: Dollhouse, season one, by
Bernadette Lynn Bosky and Gianduja Kiss
- Bernadette Lynn Bosky: People have been made uncomfortable by Joss Whedon's series Dollhouse, as is only appropriate. We should be made nervous, even queasy, by both its premise and its execution, which demonstrate that Whedon has finally come of age as a science fiction writer.
Gianduja Kiss: The failure of Dollhouse to engage with the reality of what is happening to the dolls, and the responsibility of the Dollhouse's staff for it, presents a major stumbling block to thinking about the show on any other level.
- The Lord of the Sands of Time by Issui Ogawa and All You Need is KILL by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, by
- Neither of these novels is going to set the world on fire, but their appearance in English is still an entirely welcome development.
- District 9, by
David J. Schwartz
- District 9's metaphors are both its strength and its fatal flaw.
- The New Uncanny edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page, by
- This sense of alienation and menace generated by the familiar seems to me to be what is at the heart of the idea of the uncanny, and is what works most powerfully in the best stories in this collection.
- One by Conrad Williams, by
- This sombre, darkly majestic story of one man's journey into a post-apocalyptic Hell on Earth confirmed that my interest in the author's work was well placed.
- The Gift of Joy, by
- In the third-person stories, there is this sense that the grave events being recounted happened to a friend of a friend, in London, in Mozambique, in Brunei, in America, and that the next round of beer is perhaps—sure, why not?—definitely your turn, mate.
- The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing SF edited by Mike Ashley, by
- The two questions that any reviewer has to ask are thrown into even sharper relief than usual. Does the book succeed on its own terms, those set out implicitly or explicitly by its author or editor? And what does the reviewer think of those goals?
- Wireless by Charles Stross, by
- Wireless gives a reader new to Stross a good sense of his major interests, themes and concerns.
- Consorts of Heaven by Jaine Fenn, by
- Marketed as a stand-alone novel in Jaine Fenn's Hidden Empire series, Consorts of Heaven finds it difficult to stand at all.
- Amberlight and Riversend by Sylvia Kelso, by
- If Amberlight and Riversend are feminist novels, they are no kind of feminism that I care for.
- Nekropolis by Tim Waggoner, by
- You can almost picture the author hovering over his nouns like an over-protective mother: "Have you all got your adjective? Nobody leaves until everyone has an adjective."
- Tides From the New Worlds by Tobias S. Buckell, by
- He will likely continue to enjoy facing the rigors of the short form—and playing new arrangements of SF's power chords—for some time to come.
- The New Space Opera 2, eds. Jonathan Strahan and Gardner Dozois, and Open Your Eyes by Paul Jessup, by
- Perhaps the genre begs longevity, with characters participating in grand schemes in fully explored alternate worlds, the writers of such stories trying to balance the development of a rich setting with the creation of a fun and interesting narrative.
- Zoo by Otsuichi, by
- In most of these stories, it is the psychological state of the narrator that is key.
- Jasmyn by Alex Bell, by
- I felt myself torn between wanting to see what would happen next, and being so overwhelmed by problems with the writing that I just wanted to put the book down and walk away.
- The Ask and The Answer by Patrick Ness, by
- The Ask And The Answer may be slower and less exhilarating to begin with than its predecessor but that is because it requires a fundamental change of mindset from the reader.
- Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie, by
- I find myself having to ask: what kinds of truth does Best Served Cold steer close to?
- The Best of Michael Moorcock, edited by John Davey with Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, by
- Above all, this is an accessible collection, an opportunity to experience the power of Michael Moorcock's prose without needing a training course in the Eternal Champion first. Be warned, however, that you'll be ready to dive deep into the Moorcock Multiverse afterwards, in search of another hit.
- The Hungry Ghosts by Anne Berry and White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi, by
- A ghost is not some literary handwave, some cake the writer can have and then tuck into. Neither Berry or Oyeyemi make this mistake; but, whilst White is for Witching occasionally creaks under the strain of its own pretensions, it succeeds better than The Hungry Ghosts in, if you'll pardon the pun, giving life to its paranormal narrator.
- The Laurentine Spy by Emily Gee, by
- New Zealander Emily Gee's The Laurentine Spy is a book full of promise, or at least it makes a lot of them.
- Torchwood: Children of Earth, by
- How far do you go? and when do you say enough?
- On Joanna Russ, edited by Farah Mendlesohn, by
L. Timmel Duchamp
- I hope this volume will pave the way for further study of Russ's work, for I enjoyed the time I spent with it immensely.
- Blood of Ambrose by James Enge, by
- Given the loose and episodic nature of the Morlock stories, Enge hardly needs a set-up to tell more of them. He could conceivably keep on writing them for years. It's a happy thought.
- Moon, by
David J. Schwartz
- In many respects Moon, Duncan Jones's first feature film, is the antithesis of the contemporary big-budget science fiction film.
- Impossible Stories II by Zoran Živković, by
- It takes a writer with considerable chutzpah, therefore, to offer us a collection of dreams that are also suicide notes.
- Spook City: stories by Peter Atkins, Clive Barker and Ramsey Campbell, edited by Angus Mackenzie, by
- Is there something about Liverpool, which seems to call up more than its fair share of visionary writing?
- Spiral Hunt by Margaret Ronald, by
- Next time Evie's on the prowl, you can count me in.
- Traitor to the Crown by C. C. Finlay, by
- I must stress that this is not a bad trilogy. It just feels slick and slight, as if the needs of the popular fantasy story have overwhelmed the dramas and challenges of the gripping historical story that forms its backdrop.
- The Painting and the City by Robert Freeman Wexler, by
- Wexler's new novel maintains a focus on character and on the surrealism of place, but breaks from the past in rejecting escape and in encompassing a scope greater than its individual protagonist.
- The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction, edited by Mark Bould, Andrew M. Butler, Adam Roberts and Sherryl Vint, by
- This is a book which will last, informing and challenging scholars at all levels for many years to come.
- The Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham, by
- The Long Price is a lot more tightly packed than most moderately-conservative, stirring-yet-soothing fantasy trilogies. Is it too bleak and dense for the mass market audience? Too careless—on several levels—to gather a serious reputation? Time will tell.
- Two Tastes of Paprika: Yasutaka Tsutsui's novel (trans. Andrew Driver), and Satoshi Kon's anime, by
- This review is backwards. Yasutaka Tsutsui's novel was published in Japan in 1993. Thirteen years later, it was filmed by Satoshi Kon. This year, it has finally been translated into English by Andrew Driver. (This is the third Tsutsui work to appear from Alma Books in recent years; Driver also translated his short story collection, Salmonella Men on Planet Porno, for them.) So I am not just reviewing a novel that is well into its second decade of life as if it is new; having already seen the adaptation, my original text is not the original text.
- The Very Best of Gene Wolfe, by
- Having not read the entirety of Gene Wolfe's body of short fiction, I cannot confirm whether the contents of this collection support the claim made by the title. However, the stories collected in The Very Best of Gene Wolfe—or, in the book's US edition, The Best of Gene Wolfe—would be considered to be very good by anyone's standards.
- The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún by J. R. R. Tolkien, by
- Although Tolkien's meditations on Eddaic and heroic poetry are interesting, and although reading this book will certainly bring you closer to a number of interesting topics (the Volsung saga and the transmission of Old English and Old Norse poetry in particular)—it isn't in its own right a very effective piece of writing.
- God of Clocks by Alan Campbell, by
- Before I get on to talking about what an exuberant, bloody and brilliant novel this is I need to first point out that God of Clocks is the final volume of the Deepgate Codex, concluding the trilogy that began with Scar Night and was continued by Iron Angel. And yet, I like it.
- Legend of the Seeker, Season One, by
- Here's a frightening confession: I almost liked Legend of the Seeker.
- Beyond Balram: Stories by Vandana Singh and Ian McDonald, by
- McDonald's concerns are avowedly science fictional, at first sight quite at odds with Singh's more mystical, at times barely more than metaphorical, approach. Yet each author in their own way allows science fiction to inform our imaginings of one of the planet's most important and exciting nations.
- Ages of Wonder, edited by Julie E. Czerneda and Rob St. Martin, by
- The old complaint goes that fantasy writing is rooted in a handful of concepts and milieus. Contemporary "urban fantasy" aside, Medieval Europe (and a simplistic, stereotyped version of it at that) is far and away the predominant one—as those hostile to the genre (prone to seeing it as all consisting of J.R.R. Tolkien knock-offs) often charge.
- The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, by
- You know that painful feeling of being seriously out-of-step with the rest of the world? Not being satisfied with what makes almost everyone else content or even deeply happy? That's the experience Mary, the narrator of Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth, suffers through most of the book. It was also mine on reading some of the many glowing reviews the book has received since its US publication earlier this year.
- Buyout by Alexander Irvine, by
- I suspect most readers of this review are employed in ways enviably less difficult than one Martin Kindred, the protagonist of Alexander Irvine's highly enjoyable and gut-smart new novel.
- Fast Ships, Black Sails, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, by
- While there are plenty of risks taken and is plenty of originality to be found in the book, this is ultimately a no-frills collection of pirate stories.
- Genesis by Bernard Beckett, by
- This amalgamation of Platonic dialogue, Stapledonian fictional history and accessible SF prose yields rich rewards for Beckett right up until the book's climax where an undignified scramble for a conventionally satisfying ending comes dangerously close to undermining the entire work.
- Up, by
David J. Schwartz
- It's not a new thing for Pixar to make stealth movies for adults in the guise of children's stories, but there is something particularly daring about Up's opening minutes
- Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding, by
- Retribution Falls doesn't do anything particularly groundbreaking or startlingly original, but it is great good fun.
- Steal Across the Sky by Nancy Kress, by
- The mirror of the mind that produces life, indeed.
- This Is Not a Game by Walter Jon Williams, by
- Long known as a genre-stretching writer, This Is Not a Game sees Walter Jon Williams stepping into the increasingly SF-adjacent demesne of the technothriller.
- Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton, by
- Mark Charan Newton is clearly a writer who is still finding his voice. This is a fairly mealy-mouthed criticism but Nights Of Villjamur is a fairly mush-mouthed novel.
- Blood and Ice by Robert Masello, by
- When this book focuses on emotional truths, it is a good read; when it tries to convince the reader with facts, it is rather more frustrating.
- Hoshruba, Book One: The Land and the Tilism, by Muhammad Husain Jah, translated by Musharraf Ali Farooqi, by
- It has sorcerers, beautiful women, demons, kettle-drummers, paradisiacal gardens, beautiful women, lovers, wars, poem fights, beautiful women, magical devices, daring escapes, bazaar scenes, beautiful women, and of course, the promise of sequels with more of these very things. Twenty-three more volumes in fact, if the Urdu Project has its way.
- Knife by R. J. Anderson, by
- It may be apparent by now that in many ways this book could be called "old-fashioned," and it is, but not necessarily in the ways that might be expected.
- Regenesis by C. J. Cherryh, by
- Cyteen enjoyed widespread acclaim (as the endorsements on the back cover of my copy of Regenesis reminds me), and the awards it won include the Hugo for its year. Nonetheless, two decades is a long time, especially in science fiction.
- Irons in the Fire by Juliet E. McKenna, by
- Irons in the Fire, the first in a new series from a new publisher for McKenna, is a typically rich, robust and unsentimental effort.
- A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin, by
- Kate Griffin's A Madness of Angels takes many well-known ingredients—folklore, archetype-laden contemporary urban fantasy, role-playing games, comics, and action movies—and rolls them together into a clashing mess of flavors that never marry.
- Star Trek, by
- If I'm honest, the first time I heard they were recasting Kirk and Spock all I could think of was Steve Martin playing Sergeant Bilko. Or Steve Martin playing Inspector Clouseau. Neither of which are likely to go down in cinematic history as anything other than reasons to shake Steve Martin and shout "What were you thinking?"
- Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Season Two, by
- The series found itself in the awkward position of figuring out what kind of show it was going to be while it was underway. This is always a bad position for a show to be in, but The Sarah Connor Chronicles was in a doubly bad spot: figuring out what kind of show it should be turned out to be really hard.
- True Blood, season one, by
- It's worth watching, and it's easy to see why it has done as well Stateside as it has. Indeed, it rather feels as though the show has been assembled by a zeitgeist-mainlining committee, instead of adapted from Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire novels.
- A Thread of Truth by Nina Allan, by
- It was with both anticipation and trepidation that I opened A Thread of Truth.
- Battlestar Galactica: "Daybreak", by
Roz Kaveney and Karen Meisner
- Roz Kaveney: The eventual set of bad choices that produced Galactica's three-part finale "Daybreak" are both logical outcomes of things that were wrong with the show from the start and decisions that might not have been taken, had things gone otherwise.
Karen Meisner: There is heroism to be found in its characters, in their continual choice to keep dreaming of and trying for a better way of life. "Daybreak," the series finale, encapsulates both the futility and the greatness of that attempt.
- The Accord by Keith Brooke, by
- Brooke could easily have spent the whole book on this struggle, the decaying state of the Earth, and the consequences of the technology already on display. Instead, the second half of the book is v2.0.
- Living with Ghosts by Kari Sperring, by
- Living with Ghosts, a dark fantasy of eldritch magic and political intrigue inspired by Alexander Dumas, has a murky premise and some even murkier prose, but the characters are so appealing that you hang on every twist of their carmined lips
- Two Views: UFO in Her Eyes by Xiaolu Guo, by
Richard Larson and Karen Burnham
- Richard Larson: UFO In Her Eyes paints a picture at once obvious and subtle, flatly on-the-nose about luminously complex ideas.
Karen Burnham: While it offers an interesting perspective on the way things work in China, it describes a place not as alien or different as perhaps one might think.
- Far North by Marcel Theroux, by
- What all this amounts to is a novel which doesn't practice ambivalence without aiming for safety; a book with a number of cross-currents, which refuses to settle one way or the other, and one which derives its richness from these internal struggles: a weak dystopia, but an informed contribution; a gender puzzle but one uninterested in pushing the study further than the bounds of the character allows.
- Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry, by
- Patient Zero is a fast-paced thriller that's amongst the best of its genre.
- The 2009 Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist, by
- The judges, whose decision this year is announced on April 29, will be certain only that many people will regard their decision as wrong-headed, and that the more critical will note that the shortlist from which they made their final choice was selected in some strangely arcane manner.
- Eclipse Two: New Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Jonathan Strahan, by
- Although Eclipse Two contains three or four first-class pieces, the book as a whole is uneven in quality and sometimes oddly old-fashioned.
- Fathom by Cherie Priest, by
- Cherie Priest's writing is the kind that pulls the reader under until she surfaces, many hours and missed train stops later, at the end of the book.
- Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente, by
- Catherynne M. Valente's The Orphan's Tales was a tour de force of postmodern folktale, showing how a culture, and indeed a world, is constructed by an accumulation of stories that become history that become myth. Palimpsest, her newest novel, brings the same insight to the myths of the contemporary world.
- Dragonfly Falling by Adrian Tchaikovsky, by
- Gradually it becomes clear that the world Tchaikovsky has created is caught between two possible futures: continuous racial divide or all-inclusive cultural harmony.
- Subterfuge, edited by Ian Whates, by
- Subterfuge got me thinking about what it takes to make a good contemporary genre story.
- Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters by John Langan, by
- Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters gives every indication that Langan is becoming an intriguing and accomplished writer, but as a work in its own right it isn't worth a reader's time and money.
- The Sound of Building Coffins by Louis Maistros, by
- There is simply too much going on in this novel for it to be entirely successful.
- Marcher by Chris Beckett, by
- Marcher is a significant contribution to its subgenre.
- Powers: Secret Histories, compiled and edited by John Berlyne, by
- This book is a labour of love, and nearly perfect in what it chooses to do. The only real questions are about those choices, about the boundaries they draw.
- In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield, by
- There is an elephant in the room—in the pages: the world-building just does not work. Not for me, anyway.
- The Good Humor Man by Andrew Fox, by
- Fox's new novel, The Good Humor Man Or, Calorie 3501 marks something of a departure for him as it is a work of dystopian near-future SF. Well ... that is what it says on the tin.
- The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction by Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr, by
- In a year well supplied with detailed and long-considered critical accounts of SF, Csicsery-Ronay's The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction is by far the most substantial, most important and most thought-provoking.
- Gullstruck Island by Frances Hardinge, by
- What begins as one of the simpler of Hardinge's books grows in subtlety and complexity.
- Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi, by
- All of this is really fun to read about, because John Scalzi is at heart an entertainer, and he is at his best when he maps out big plots and sends his characters careening through them.
- Flora's Dare: How a Girl of Spirit Gambles All to Expand Her Vocabulary, Confront a Bouncing Boy Terror, and Try to Save Califa from a Shaky Doom (Despite Being Confined to Her Room) by Ysabeau S Wilce, by
- Flora's Dare, the sequel to Wilce's first novel, Flora Segunda, represents a great stride forward in her ability to involve readers and keep the pages turning.
- The Judging Eye by R. Scott Bakker, by
- The question, though, is does The Judging Eye live up to the massive expectations forged by its predecessors? The short answer is, not really.
- Rosa and the Veil of Gold by Kim Wilkins, by
- The strangest thing about Rosa and the Veil of Gold is Wilkins's choice of characters.
- Mind Over Ship by David Marusek, by
- I didn't notice a kitchen sink, but I'd not be surprised to find I had nearly stubbed my toe on it while busily gawking at something else.
- The Adamantine Palace by Stephen Deas, by
- Dragons enslaved by humans by means of mind-controlling potions is an idea with explosive potential. And so, towards the end of the novel, it begins to prove; if there are future volumes, a dragonocalypse must surely be in the offing.
- The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry, by
- The fact is that The Manual of Detection is a singular creation.
- Two Views: Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts, by
Michael Froggatt and Abigail Nussbaum
- Michael Froggatt: Blending madcap farce with dark satire, Yellow Blue Tibia immerses the reader in the labyrinthine bureaucratic nightmare that was the "developed socialism" of the early 1980s.
Abigail Nussbaum: It's traditional for reviews to make at least some vague gesture at an evaluation of their subject—is this book good, and what readers are likely to find it enjoyable? Yellow Blue Tibia has proven somewhat problematic on that front.
- Journey into Space by Toby Litt, by
- Toby Litt is a smartarse (in the best possible way).
- Iain M. Banks's The State of the Art, adapted for Radio 4 by Paul Cornell, by
- One of the well trailered highlights of the season, airing on Thursday 5th May, is Paul Cornell's adaptation of Iain M. Banks's "The State of the Art," a novella from 1991.
- The Company by K. J. Parker, by
- The Company is not a story about escaping to a new society; it is a story about how impossible such escape is.
- Dragon in Chains by Daniel Fox, by
- Densely plotted and lushly written, Dragon in Chains draws the reader into a world that is at once magical and real, familiar and strange, engaging and terrifying.
- Poe, edited by Ellen Datlow, by
- With the exception of pastiches—which were mercifully excluded—Datlow allowed her authors to take inspiration from anything surrounding Poe.
- Gears of War: Aspho Fields by Karen Traviss, by
- Traviss offers a surprisingly lightweight drama against a thinly sketched backdrop.
- The Dragon's Nine Sons and Three Unbroken by Chris Roberson, by
- Three quarters of the way through the second of these novels, I thought I'd left the book on the train. My concern at losing a review copy was mingled with my relief that I might not have to finish reading the thing.
- The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, by
- What made the book most memorable for me, however, was not the storyline but the small moments of humor sprinkled throughout.
- The Walls of the Universe by Paul Melko, by
- The good news is that Paul Melko's second novel, The Walls of the Universe, is not a sequel to his first, Singularity's Ring. The bad news is that one almost wishes that it were.
- Night Work by Thomas Glavinic, by
- Night Work is the ultimate "what if" novel. One day, Jonas wakes up in Vienna to discover that everyone is missing.
- Subtle Edens, edited by Allen Ashley, by
- Slipstream stories are easy to get wrong and perhaps, counterintuitively, deliberately setting out to write one is the worst thing you can do.
- Shambling Towards Hiroshima by James Morrow, by
- It has the feel of a shaggy-dog story, related at a breathless pace, which pauses only occasionally for moments of introspection or description, while relying on quick-fire dialogue to keep its audacious, high-concept narrative in motion.
- The Night Children by Kit Reed, by
- In The Night Children Reed is working interesting variations on a number of standard fantasy motifs and previously published works of fiction.
- City at the End of Time by Greg Bear, by
- Its reception, at least in America, has often been favourable. It has appeared on a number of "best of 2008" lists, and I am resigned to it being on the next Hugo ballot.
- The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson, by
- Andrew Davidson's The Gargoyle, a debut novel that explores concepts like the timelessness of love and "the redemptive power of suffering" (straight from the press notes), is annoyingly self-conscious from the start.
- Long Walks, Last Flights and other Strange Journeys by Ken Scholes, by
- In general Scholes is an unfussy writer in the manner of a Stephen King or a Neil Gaiman—although not, yet, as consistent as either—focused above all on getting a story told.
- Just After Sunset by Stephen King, by
- It's fascinating that the best stories in Just After Sunset are of intermediate length, as if King needs space to develop his ideas, but needs confinement to prevent them losing their impact or over-spilling into grotesquerie.
- Spirit: or, The Princess of Bois Dormant by Gwyneth Jones, by
- Spirit is, I think, possibly the best thing Gwyneth Jones has written since the original Aleutian trilogy. But it is a novel whose strength wanes the longer it goes on.
- The Bell at Sealey Head by Patricia A. McKillip, by
- McKillip's knack for finding magic in intimate settings is prominently on display in her latest novel, The Bell at Sealey Head, a story in which the simple act of opening the door to the linen closet is fraught with enchanting potential.
- Going Under by Justina Robson, by
- Robson is neither sentimental nor self-indulgent and her depiction of her heroine is clear-eyed. She doesn't require us to like Lila or admire her. But—to this female reviewer at least—this series is the best feminist SF in years.
- Watermind by M. M. Buckner, by
L. Timmel Duchamp
- In short, M.M. Buckner's Watermind is fun, if utterly frivolous and a bit wearing in the way prolonged amphetamine use is.
- The Chronicles of the Black Company by Glen Cook, by
- It is perhaps the biggest backhanded compliment imaginable to say something is only of historical interest. The Chronicles of the Black Company is of greater interest than that, but it is certainly no masterpiece.
- The Spirit, by
- Frank Miller has played fair with his source material in making The Spirit; it's a pity the film doesn't succeed.
- The Best of Lucius Shepard, by
- There is an instructive story behind this review; a parable of sorts, about the dangers of making snap critical judgements in the light of very little evidence.
- METAtropolis edited by John Scalzi, by
- Much of METAtropolis works very well; there is a sense of a world beyond the tale. However, the stories feel designed to show off the world, rather than to be consequences of the world: for too much of the time we are being given a tour of Utopia.
- Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin, by
- I enjoyed this novel more than any Le Guin since the 1970s; and that (it's almost tautological to add this) means that I enjoyed it more than pretty much any novel since the 1970s. It possesses a depth, clarity and wonder greater than most of the fiction being published nowadays.
- 2008 In Review, by
- We asked our reviewers to pick their SF-related highs and lows of 2008—books, films, tv, anything. This is what they said.
- Queen of K'n-Yan by Asamatsu Ken, translated by Kathleen Taji, by
- Did I like it? I'm not sure. I admired it, and am glad that I read it. Should more works by Asamatsu be translated into English, I'd be interested to read them.
- Voices From Fairyland: The Fantastical Poems of Mary Coleridge, Charlotte Mew, and Sylvia Townsend Warner, edited and wth poems by Theodora Goss, by
Karen J. Weyant
- What is most intriguing and impressive about this anthology is the sense of range and breadth it conveys.
- Other Worlds, Better Lives: A Howard Waldrop Reader—Selected Long Fiction 1989-2003, by
- Sometimes, what everyone knows is true. Howard Waldrop's body of fantastic fiction is uniquely fascinating and rewarding, and he deserves all the plaudits he's received for it.
- The Last Book by Zoran Živković, by
- This is a novel that requires detective work, and ultimately its strength lies in its very un-genre acknowledgement that there is a world beyond its covers.
- Liberation by Brian Francis Slattery, by
- The publicity material for Liberation quite understandably makes much of the prescience and topicality of its premise, but in doing so seems to misrepresent the novel's goals and strengths.
- Half a Crown by Jo Walton, by
- The truth of the matter is that the ending of Half a Crown must be an insult to any reader who thought Small Change was going to have something adult to submit about the matters it purports to address.
- Shadowbridge and Lord Tophet by Gregory Frost, by
- Telling tales is what Shadowbridge the novel and its sequel, Lord Tophet, are all about.
- Winterstrike by Liz Williams, by
- Winterstrike offers up a mixture of gothic fantasy and space opera that succeeds and fails to engage in roughly equal measures.
- The Ant King and Other Stories by Benjamin Rosenbaum, by
- So Rosenbaum is a writer not without promise, who from time to time manages to spin all his plates simultaneously. More often, one or other flings itself to the ground, and the audience might understandably drift away. But at least he is trying to perform the trick, which is in no small part the quality which makes a writer worth watching.
- The Engine's Child by Holly Phillips, by
- Canadian author Holly Phillips has already been nominated for a World Fantasy Award, for her debut short story collection In the Palace of Repose (2005). With the publication of her second full-length novel, The Engine's Child, expect to see Ms. Phillips's name on the shortlist once more.
- Dead Set, by
- The fact that Dead Set, shown on five consecutive nights and released in an approximation of a feature-length DVD, is a zombie drama set in the Big Brother house is not as surprising as it might at first appear.
- Song of Time by Ian R. MacLeod, by
- It doesn't quite work, either as a novel or as a meditation, but it's an ambitious piece of writing for all that.
- Fast Foward 2, edited by Lou Anders, by
- This collection may be all about fast forwarding, but with material this strong, it's worth hitting slow mo and zoom.
- Twelve Collections and The Teashop by Zoran Živković, by
- Živković is pretty smart, though comparisons with Kafka or even Borges or Bernhard are premature at least. The fasttracked absurdity of Paul di Filippo meets the accessible intricacy of Haruki Murakami? Comparisons are tough. Check him out.
- Very Bad Deaths and Very Hard Choices by Spider Robinson, by
- Taken together, both the successes and failures of these books point to some of Robinson's defining characteristics.
- The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson, by
- Like much of the best SF, The Adoration of Jenna Fox posits a different world and then explores many of its facets. As in the best young adult fiction, that exploration is twined with Jenna's struggles to fit into a body and a world that feel inexplicably different.
- The Angel Maker by Stefan Brijs, by
- The Angel Maker, first published in Dutch in 2005 and now available in a superb translation by Hester Velmans, is one of the most complex novels I have read in a long time, and also, not coincidentally, one of the most satisfying.
- Button, Button by Richard Matheson, by
- The stories in Button, Button give a fairly good sample of Matheson's short story work and are generally representative of a particular strain of genre fiction of the period.
- The Temporal Void by Peter F. Hamilton, by
- Hamilton gives us unadulterated adventure sf—with some fantasy tropes mixed in—and although it has some of the problems associated with that forlorn not-the-fun-introduction-but-not-the-climax-either status of second books, it's good stuff.
- The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl, by
- While this is not the book I would present to readers looking for their first contact with Clarke's work, longtime fans looking just to spend a few more hours in the master's company will not regret the read.
- A Field Guide to Surreal Botany, eds. Janet Chui and Jason Erik Lundberg, by
- If surrealism was a revolutionary movement representative of the liberation of a previously dormant collective imagination, A Field Guide to Surreal Botany, edited by Jason Erik Lundberg and Janet Chui (who also contributed striking illustrations), a lovely little book encompassing a vast collaborative collage of imagined plant specimens, is a quiet inversion, a patient investigation of the fantastic in literature.
- The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, by
- This is the best effing science fiction novel I've read all year.
- Or Else My Lady Keeps the Key by Kage Baker, by
- All in all, Or Else My Lady Keeps the Key has much to recommend it: a sprightly adventure, deft touches of humor, and involving characters.
- The Middleman, by
- Pleasure is common in this world, but delight is rare. The particular excellence of the ABC Family network show The MiddleMan is that it provides both—pleasures that one can describe and quantify, and moments of utter delight that it is hard to provide an entirely rational account of, moments that cause one to sit blowing little bubbles of glee, too happy to be thinking.
- The Last Reef and other stories by Gareth L. Powell, by
- This collection may not have been the best showcase for Powell's writing, but his is a name that will pique my interest, should I see it on a magazine cover in future.
- The Wiscon Chronicles, volume 2, edited by L. Timmel Duchamp and Eileen Gunn, by
- I've never attended a WisCon, but having read the essays, presentation transcripts, and Guest of Honor speeches compiled in The WisCon Chronicles Vol. 2: Provocative essays on feminism, race, revolution and the future, I think a trip to Madison will soon be in order.
- Blonde Roots by Bernadine Evaristo, by
- Bernadine Evaristo uses a sharp edge, not a bludgeon. Her vivid, deceptively casual style has the precision of her poetry. I've no doubt that she could have made a simple skin-tone reversal of the slave trade story, set in a straightforward alternate 18th century, gripping. Blonde Roots, however, is something else.
- Steampunk, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, and Extraordinary Engines, edited by Nick Gevers, by
- Steampunk: what is it? Perhaps for many people today it is most easily recognised by (pseudo-)Victorian dress or a laptop encased in brass. The New York Times recently discussed the subject in its Fashion section with barely a reference to fiction. So it's interesting to see the arrival of two anthologies that aim to shine the spotlight on steampunk as literature.
- Filter House by Nisi Shawl, by
- Filter House collects fourteen stories that are generally thoughtful, often skillfully written, and yet, with only occasional and fleeting exception, lifeless.
- Dangerous Laughter: 13 Stories by Steven Millhauser, by
- No understanding of the possibilities and opportunities presented by the fantastic can be complete without knowing the work of Steven Millhauser.
- Realms: the first year of Clarkesworld Magazine, edited by Nick Mamatas and Sean Wallace, by
- I read the first twelve issues of Clarkesworld Magazine more or less as they came out, October 2006 to September 2007. Each issue featured two short stories (literally—there was only one piece over 7500 words the entire year), with no frills except a "cover" illustration (recent issues include more stories and articles, essays, and interviews). This focus on stories alone worked because they are what so many genre magazine stories are not: memorable.
- Two Views: Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory, by
Amy O'Loughlin and Dan Hartland
- Amy O'Loughlin: Pandemonium is intriguing, challenging, and stirring. If there are too many instances of Del running his hand through his hair (p.128, 196, 208, 232, 272), a few go-nowhere passages, and a few extraneous characters, they are forgivable. Gregory has produced a debut novel that combines suspense, philosophical conundrums, Jungian psychological theory, aspects of American pop culture, and a touch of neuroscience with skillful and ambitious storytelling.
Dan Hartland: to be entirely successful, a plot's journey forward cannot be divorced from its theme, and by leaving his concepts ossified Gregory robs them of some of their potency. He falls too readily for the novelty of the mash-up, forgetting that the most successful aren't just diverting, arch or amusing, but are also transformative.
- An Evil Guest by Gene Wolfe, by
- I've now read this novel twice and I'm still not entirely sure what exactly is going on, or whether it's any good or not. Since reviews are largely in the business of giving readers a sense of what a novel is about and whether it is any good, this may prove problematic.
- The Turing Test by Chris Beckett, by
- Like a British Philip K. Dick, with whom Beckett has been compared, the protagonists of these stories, whether they inhabit bucolic colonies, dark Edens, or world-spanning metropolises, must cut through the (often) literally shifting nature of reality to strive to understand their place in the universe.
- Paper Cities: an anthology of urban fantasy, edited by Ekaterina Sedia, by
Maureen Kincaid Speller
- Every anthology has some sort of purpose, be it a survey of the year's best fiction, a collection of stories the editor particularly liked, or, as in this case, an exploration of a specific theme. Here the assumption is, presumably, that by the end of the anthology, the reader will have some idea about what urban fantasy actually is.
- Paper Cities, edited by Ekaterina Sedia, by
L. Timmel Duchamp
- The publisher reproduces Jess Nevins's signature at the end of his introduction, as though to impress upon the reader the credibility and authenticity of his final claim that "If Paper Cities is any indication of second-generation Urban Fantasy—and I believe it is—both the mode of storytelling and the subgenre have a bright future" (p. 5). I sincerely hope that, Nevins's signed attestation to the contrary, the anthology isn't an indication of what "second-generation Urban Fantasy" is or might be, for it's hard to believe anyone would rate it an improvement over, say, Emma Bull's War of the Oaks (1987), the quintessential work of Urban Fantasy.
- The Quiet War by Paul McAuley, by
- After spending the early and mid-oughts writing near-future technothrillers, Paul McAuley returns to his roots with The Quiet War, the first volume in a new space opera series.
- Unwelcome Bodies by Jennifer Pelland, by
- Jennifer Pelland is a relatively new writer—the first of these stories was published in 2003—but has already made a mark on the genre short story scene.
- The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan, by
- The Steel Remains, Richard Morgan's sixth novel and his first to be marketed as fantasy, is a very odd book.
- The Luminous Depths by David Herter, by
- Baxter calls it "a page-turning cracker of a horror story" and, whilst it certainly is that, the description really only goes part-way toward classifying a stubbornly unclassifiable story which contains elements of fantasy and magic realism.
- Superpowers by David J Schwartz, by
- I did not like Superpowers as much as I'd hoped. I found it easy to put down and harder than average to pick back up. I've been a bit hard-pressed to express just why this is; it's not a bad book by any means, but it lacks something, or perhaps lacks a little in several areas.
- The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod, by
- In Hollywood terms, it's high concept: in a world where religion is banned, what happens when robots find God?
- Year Million, edited by Damien Broderick, by
- These wondrous vistas challenge us to stretch our understanding of the real—and, beyond that, the possible, blurring all distinctions between the two. As it should be, in the Year Million.
- Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan, by
R. J. Burgess
- Reading like a weird mix between Neil Gaiman and Philippa Gregory, the novel carves itself a niche somewhere between historical court intrigue and magical otherworldliness. And it's a niche that's exploited well.
- Sideways in Crime edited by Lou Anders, by
- There is, simply, a (similar) intellectual enjoyment to be found in mystery, alternate history, and science fiction proper that some readers find compellingly pleasant, and certainly some of the stories in Sideways in Crime are pleasing. Several are fun to read; the best are intriguing, amusing, even charming in the conceits they put forward, the speculations they arouse. But the devil is in the details, and none of these stories is flawless, a few of them fail, and a couple of them are shoddy.
- The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway, by
- The universality of The Gone Away World's media coverage would not bother me, however, except for the fact that it has been universally positive. Mercifully (for the sake of my misanthropy), while The Gone Away World is a book that has a lot going for it, it is by no means flawless.
- Implied Spaces by Walter Jon Williams, by
- Walter Jon Williams's latest novel is a strange beast. Stitched together with coarse thread are the twitching limbs of high fantasy, hard-edged military sci-fi, political intrigue, and Benford or Clarke-esque glimpses of something beyond. The beast functions well enough—running jumping, eating your children—but some reeking wounds where thigh was grafted to torso, antenna to eye socket, are more fully healed than others.
- Anathem by Neal Stephenson, by
- Anathem is a unique, impressive but fairly mad novel: one part hubris to one part taking the piss to one part gnarly geek awesomeness.
- Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen, by
- Atmospheric Disturbances certainly lends itself to many alternative readings, but for me the novel's main success is in depicting the inexorable dissipation of a relationship between two people.
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz, by
- Imagine, if you will, the Salman Rushdie of geek culture. Done that? Good. You probably now know whether you're going to like The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
- Wit's End/The Case of the Imaginary Detective by Karen Joy Fowler, by
- The real life of this novel is lived in the meta-level, in its observations about mystery writing, writing in general, and, as I've already noted, the relationship between an author and her characters, an author and her readers, and readers with their beloved characters. Viewed in this light, Wit's End is an interesting novel, and a cleverly constructed one. It is not, however, particularly intelligent.
- The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Ellen Datlow, by
- The anthology as a whole deserves acclaim for its willingness to take chances by presenting ambitious and complex work that could have failed in the hands of weaker writers.
- The Roswell Poems by Rane Arroyo, by
Karen J. Weyant
- Rane Arroyo, in his first book of speculative poetry book, asks, "Something happened in that obscure town, something happened that is still with us in the 21st century—but what?"
- Neuropath by Scott Bakker and Blindsight by Peter Watts, by
- Whereas Bakker's novel derives much of its impact from its narrow scope and no-frills future, Watts's bigger canvas proves essential to telling his "macro" tale about what such a diminished premium on sentience might mean from the standpoint of the history of life in this universe.
- Year's Bests edited by Jonathan Strahan, and David Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer, by
- The books I have before me are Jonathan Strahan's The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Two, David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer's Year's Best Fantasy 8, and the Year's Best Science Fiction 13 from the same duo. The differences between the volumes are interesting for what they imply about the current trends in the field.
- Everything is Sinister by David Llewellyn and The Heritage by Will Ashon, by
- There is a strong seam of disgust running through contemporary British fiction. Predominately masculine in nature, it is a disgust directed primarily at the vapidity of the world that surrounds it. At the same time a fair portion is directed inwards: we are all fiddling whilst Rome burns.
- Speculative Japan, edited by Gene van Troyer and Grania Davis, by
- This anthology—published last year to mark the first Japanese Worldcon—is intimidatingly generous.
- Sputnik Caledonia by Andrew Crumey, by
- Sputnik Caledonia's greatest strength lies in the rich and contrasting portraits of the two universes it envisions, and once it gets properly underway it provides a thought-provoking twist on its familiar theme.
- Iron Angel by Alan Campbell, by
- When I reviewed Scar Night a while back I gave it a glowing review, so I approached its sequel Iron Angel with fairly high expectations. Happily, these were pretty much met.
- The X-Files: I Want to Believe, by
- I Want to Believe is an odd artifact—on the one hand, clearly aiming for and relying on viewers' nostalgia and lingering love for Mulder and Scully, and on the other leaving out much of what made The X-Files and its characters appealing to just those people it is trying to draw back in.
- Escapement by Jay Lake, by
- What we have read so far barely skims the surface of the moral and religious issues thrown up by the setting, and if future novels are going to improve at the rate we have witnessed in these first two, then they are going to be rewarding in the extreme.
- The Affinity Bridge by George Mann, by
- Ultimately, the questions Mann leaves his readers to ponder (why are there so many zombies in London? And why is Queen Victoria so interested in robots?), as well as a subtle-but-impressive twist ending, will certainly entice them back for the sequel.
- Collected Poems by Mervyn Peake, by
- The poetry provides, as the book's own blurb puts it, "a dazzling link between the fantasy world of Gormenghast and the narrative of Peake's own life and the turbulent times he lived in." Anybody with the remotest interest in Peake should buy this book.
- The Ninth Circle by Alex Bell, by
- As The Ninth Circle progresses, the layers of reality begin to bleed into one another to such an extent that it's hard to tell whether the focus of the novel is some Miltonian epic of good and evil, or one man's quest to discover the truth about his past.
- The Sharing Knife: Passage by Lois McMaster Bujold, by
- I love Lois McMaster Bujold, but The Sharing Knife: Passage suffers from an absence of malice.
- Hello Summer, Goodbye and I Remember Pallahaxi by Michael G. Coney, by
- For those readers who are prepared to look for the clues buried in the text, who prefer their novels to defy the default commercial narrative structure, both books have much to commend them, not least classic love stories and some outstanding world-building.
- Martin Martin's on the Other Side by Mark Wernham, by
- Martin Martin's on the Other Side is the debut novel by Mark Wernham, a former music and lifestyle journalist. It has appeared from a mainstream publisher and it has received warmly if not volcanically glowing newspaper responses, including the claim that it is "a dark, brilliantly funny satire from a maverick new talent who clearly has a lot to say about these interesting times we live in." However, this undeniably makes the book sound more substantial than it is. I'll agree to "funny," but I think some of the rest may be a touch charitable.
- Lost Boys by James Miller, by
- Although Lost Boys talks the talk of a "day after tomorrow" political thriller, it walks a rather different walk, one signalled by a couple of other words on the jacket: "apocalyptic fable."
- Two Views: The Margarets by Sheri S. Tepper, by
Nic Clarke and Sherryl Vint
- Nic Clarke: The Tepperverse remains gratifying as liberal wish-fulfilment, but The Margarets is also its most satisfying embodiment as a novel in ten years
Sherryl Vint: Ultimately, Tepper does enough to make us consider how different the people we see around us every day are to the humans in her novel, which leaves us with the question that matters: what can we do?
- Elric: The Stealer of Souls (Chronicles of the Last Emperor of Melniboné: Volume 1) by Michael Moorcock, by
- As Michael Moorcock has related, he developed a knack early on for the 15,000-word novella, which he was able to knock off in a day and thereby pay a month's rent. The Elric stories began as such novellas for Science Fantasy magazine and were only later assembled into books, a course of development reflected in this latest reissue.
- The Princes of the Golden Cage by Nathalie Mallet, by
- The phrase "Golden Cage" refers to a well-documented feature of a Sultan's palace: namely, a section of living quarters, removed from the rest of the court, where all legitimate male heirs were sequestered during their father's rule. Think of it as Solitary Confinement for the Rich and Famous.
- Flood by Stephen Baxter, by
- It turns out this is the way the world ends: neither with a bang nor a whimper, but a splosh. Baxter's new novel is, in several senses, a storming disaster tale—his best book for a long time, actually. It's a splendid and engrossing read and a thought-provoking whole to boot.
- Omega by Christopher Evans, by
- We can only hope that Evans's triumphant return to science fiction is a harbinger of yet another revival in his writing.
- Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell, by
- The remarkable thing about Mary Doria Russell's beginnings is their clarity.
- Galactic Suburbia: Recovering Women's Science Fiction by Lisa Yaszek, by
Maureen Kincaid Speller
- Yaszek's intention is to recover the work of the post-war generation of female writers and reaffirm its historical significance.
- Shadow Gate by Kate Elliott, by
Juliet E. McKenna
- Crucially, as the story unfolds, we begin to hope ordinary individuals might achieve things through intelligent co-operation that a more noticeable mighty hero could not.
- On Spoiling the Fourth Season of Battlestar Galactica, by
- We watch Battlestar Galactica for the space battles and the sudden revelations and reversals, of course, but the question has to be asked: why do we end up caring so much?
- An Experimental Life: books by and about Naomi Mitchison, by
- There are so many points of fascination in the long life of Naomi Mitchison (1897-1999) that one could probably write any number of biographical volumes concentrating on different aspects of her experiences without much danger of overlap.
- Celebration, edited by Ian Whates, by
- In fact, that's the main charge to be made against the stories in this anthology. Very few are actively bad, and plenty of them are perfectly competent, but only some are distinctive enough to really stay in the memory.
- The Philosopher's Apprentice by James Morrow, by
- With The Philosopher's Apprentice Morrow appears to be aiming less for laughs than for a sense of otherworldliness, or unreality, that goes beyond fantasy
- Singularity's Ring by Paul Melko, by
- Singularity's Ring is not about neurology, but it's as well to keep the science in mind, if you want to grasp both the strangeness and the validity of Paul Melko's concept.
- Drinking the Blood of the Dead: The Nines, Southland Tales and Doomsday, by
- In the mid-Eighties, music critic Dave Quantick wrote in the NME that "pop will eat itself." And then, to hammer home his point, along came a band and named themselves after this quote. It is hard not to think of this sort of rabid self-cannibalisation when watching any of these three science fiction films
- The Ex Files: The Lost Tales and the return of Babylon 5, by
- Babylon 5 is one of my old TV flames, and now, after all this time, here it is again. It's tempting to wonder why, of all the gin joints in all the world, it had to walk into mine.
- Torchwood, season two, by
- Imagine for a second, if you will, that you're a TV show yourself. Let's narrow the field a bit—picture yourself as a programme from the same fictional universe as Doctor Who. You're having a nice evening with your other half, you've enjoyed a good meal and some fine wine, and now things are getting a little more... intimate. When the phone rings at some crucial moment, what do you do?
- Principles of Angels by Jaine Fenn, by
- My favourite misjudgement has to be one of the marketing bullets on the back cover: "Female SF writers are a rarity; good ones even scarcer!" Sadly, Principles of Angels is so far from the company of the myriad novels which could be used to rebut this hopelessly bonkers bit of puff that I was left wondering if the sub-editor wasn't having a knowing giggle at Gollancz's expense.
- Darkmans by Nicola Barker, by
- Darkmans is full of paradoxes. It sprawls with little in the way of plot, and yet offers tons of narrative satisfaction.
- Rhetorics of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn, by
- May I say how much I like this book before I make it clear that I cannot say how much I like this book? Rhetorics of Fantasy, most of which is superbly thought through, is perhaps the first full-length study of the vast fuzzy genre of fantasy to have been written as though the genre exists.
- Incandescence by Greg Egan, by
- Feature Week: Greg Egan
Adam Roberts: Egan’s new book is about finding stuff out, and that is both its appeal and the ground of its weakness.
- Quarantine and Teranesia by Greg Egan, by
- Feature Week: Greg Egan
Colin Harvey: Egan may or may not have become a better SF writer as his career progressed, but he certainly became a more impressive novelist.
- Axiomatic and Dark Integers by Greg Egan, by
- Feature Week: Greg Egan
Karen Burnham: It feels as if there are two Greg Egans. One is so excited about whatever amazing piece of esoteric science he's imagined that he just can't resist writing a story about it. Then there's the lesser known Egan who uses straightforward extrapolation, usually of biology and computer modeling, to examine "what if" questions of identity and ethics.
- Dark Blood by John Meaney, by
- The flesh of Dark Blood is that of a detective novel. This can be difficult to manage convincingly in science fiction, but the hard work of building the universe in the first book is repaid here: we now have a conception of normality within the setting so we can seek clues ourselves and attempt to get ahead of Riordan.
- The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert VS Redick, by
- The originality of creatures such as the Flikkermen—people with electric eel-like qualities glimpsed for barely a dozen pages—will doubtless win Redick many readers; yet ultimately the very quality of his work was why I felt so ambivalent when I finished the book.
- Superheroes! by Roz Kaveney, by
- Any future scholarly article on superheroes that does not reference Kaveney just won’t have been done properly.
- Blood in the Fruit by L. Timmel Duchamp, by
Lesley A. Hall
- Blood in the Fruit is not a comfortable read: it goes to some very dark places indeed, although never pruriently lingers on pain and suffering in a gratuitous fashion. But it is a very rewarding one.
- Iron Man, by
- Kids will think the effects are cool (they are), and comic book fans will get a buzz from the in-jokes (there are many), but this is a mainstream film aimed squarely at an adult audience who wouldn't be seen dead holding a comic. It's a fun, violent, sexy, entirely lightweight piece of entertainment.
- The Baum Plan for Financial Independence by John Kessel, by
- Kessel's protagonists are all malcontents, victims. They are out of place. At odds with those around them. They feel misunderstood and helpless. Their thoughts are full of angst and resentment. They do not understand themselves. The trick, of course, is that they are understood perfectly—written to be so—by us, even in their moments of confusion and mania.
- Juan Antonio Bayona's El Orfanato: a Psychiatric Review, by
McCalmont J and Harrison N
- Though not as obviously fraudulent as some, the subject nonetheless shows little signs of real distress. Her symptoms are limited to attempts at mimicking other more notably disturbed individuals and the value of further treatment is questionable.
- Suspects by David Thomson, by
- Suspects is the sort of book whose nature and generic location are especially difficult to fix.
- House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds, by
- Reynolds manages space opera that does not read like farce.
- The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford, by
- We're not dealing with some damn metaphor or allegory. The things that happened, really happened. But what they mean, well, that's anyone's guess, and therein, I think, lies the novel's wonder.
- Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie, by
- Concluding volumes of epic fantasy trilogies are expected to contain an action-filled payoff and, for the most part, Last Argument of Kings fulfills this expectation.
- What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction by Paul Kincaid, by
- Kincaid displays a flexible, proportionate style and—like David Langford, who provides the introduction to this volume—he is erudite, demotic, and not afraid to put the boot in when necessary.
- The Domino Men by Jonathan Barnes, by
- At this point the story starts to read like a collaboration between Terry Pratchett and Vlad the Impaler, with additional dialog by H. P. Lovecraft, as the two men head out into the streets of London and proceed to kill everyone in sight.
- The Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist -- Part Two, by
- What should win?
- The 2008 Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist -- Part One, by
- No matter what your definition of science fiction, there is almost certainly at least one book on the 2008 Clarke shortlist that won't meet it.
- Dark Space by Marianne de Pierres, by
R. J. Burgess
- Occasionally, the net is cast slightly too narrow, by which I mean that the gap between the galaxy-spanning presence of God and this tiny desert world seems simply too vast to match the two together; but in the novel's second half it's very easy not to care about such things as you sit back and simply allow yourself to be carried along for the ride.
- Wildwood Dancing and Cybele's Secret by Juliet Marillier, by
- Delightful is the word for Juliet Marillier's Wildwood Dancing and Cybele's Secret, the first two books in what promises to be a compelling historical fantasy series for young adults.
- The Starry Rift edited by Jonathan Strahan, by
- Any imaginative child (between the ages of say, 10 and 14, depending on the kid) should find stories here to enjoy. There is a wide variety of styles and sub-genres on display, and also plenty of recommendations for what to read next.
- Bangkok Haunts by John Burdett, by
Jason Erik Lundberg
- Bangkok Haunts is a fast read, but one that stays in the mind long afterward, plaguing the senses with the smell of curries, or the flashing lights of Soi Cowboy, or the startling sadness of silent Khmer guards.
- The Sacred Book of the Werewolf by Victor Pelevin, by
- More obviously than his earlier works, The Sacred Book of the Werewolf demonstrates Pelevin's unease with Russia's increasingly authoritarian political system.
- Matter by Iain M. Banks, by
- It’s been a long time in real-world politics since the last Culture novel. As I followed the adventures of the princess, and her brothers, I wondered what new corrective the story would deliver, so as not to give comfort to the war-mongers of the twenty-first century.
- Worshipping Small Gods by Richard Parks, by
- The contents of Worshipping Small Gods are drawn from a relatively short period (2002—2005, plus one story from 1996), and while some of the stories are quite strong, others feel like the same story, or at least a very similar story, recycled and repackaged. Fortunately, however, the gems are worth rooting around for.
- Last Dragon by J.M. McDermott, by
- First the basics—we're dealing with a very grim secondary universe here. Magic is present, but relatively low key and rarely fun. There were literal dragons once, but they're all dead. In general most people have it bloody awful.
- The Bone Key by Sarah Monette, by
L. Timmel Duchamp
- What reader hasn’t been bedeviled by the experience of finding the verisimilitude of a book’s characters and world trickling away the farther one gets into the book? For the reader who’s also a writer, it’s a frightening experience. That, one inevitably thinks in horror, could be my book!
- Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, by
- Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is none of the series you feared you might get when someone had the misconceived notion to remake Terminator 2 for TV. It's actually good.
- Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, by
- Doctorow revels in what he has set out to do, which is simply to place in the hands of every school child a manual which could be subtitled "how to bring down your government and enjoy doing it."
- The Dragons of Babel by Michael Swanwick, by
- This book packs more ethnics than Ellis Island. They have emigrated from all the melting pots of story, and here they are in Babel, which is very much like the Manhattan of 1910 (and other years) transfigured into an enormity of Edifice: diced, braided, mirrored, eschered, bigger inside than out: pure urban fantasy.
- Ascendancies by Bruce Sterling, by
- Three decades after Sterling first appeared on the scene Ascendancies brings together twenty-three of his best-known and most highly praised short stories and novelettes, spanning the entirety of his career.
- Rewired, edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel, by
- Rewired is a chastened collection of stories that inhabit a science fiction that is penitential in tone; guessing the worst that might happen is no longer a game when all too often you kind of got it right.
- The Shock of the Old by David Edgerton, by
- The Shock of the Old has one big, strong argument, and a host of smaller contrarian ones. These are all raids on the twentieth century's ideas of technological common sense, which Dr. Edgerton terms "passé futurism."
- Black Sheep by Ben Peek, by
- If you've seen a copy of the book you might be surprised it's taken me so long to get around to talking about race, because one of the first things you are likely to think when you read the back cover is that this is a book inextricably linked to the subject. Actually though, it turns out to be little more than window dressing.
- The William L. Crawford Award Shortlist: Part Two, by
- Reading the Crawford Award nominees has proved more interesting than I imagined. Certainly the breadth has been greater than I ever expected it to be, and that must be a strength. But it has left me asking questions about the validity of the prize’s broad criteria.
- The 2008 William L. Crawford Award Shortlist: Part One, by
- The William L. Crawford Award for First Fantasy Book has selection criteria almost as sprawling as the Tiptree. Any debut fiction, published in the last 12 months and designated as "fantasy" by the selection panel, is eligible for consideration, no matter its form or intended audience. A brief glance at this year’s shortlist, announced in January, will demonstrate the difficulties inherent in such all-embracing vagueness. It includes: two short story collections, one short story sequence-cum-novel, one children’s book and one (arguably young adult) novel.
- Four Novels of the 1960s by Philip K. Dick, by
- A sense of something hidden, something underground and flourishing in the interstices, like bluebells growing in the cracks of the pavement (or blooms of mors ontologica in amongst the corn) energises his fiction. It's this something that has kept his books alive when better written, better structured and better plotted novels have fallen into obscurity around them.
- Halting State by Charles Stross, by
David V. Barrett
- Many years ago you read an interesting short story, in an SF anthology edited by George Hay, that was written in the second person (Perry A. Chapdelaine's "Someday You'll Be Rich!" in The Disappearing Future). It was an unusual conceit, and it worked—just—at short length. Now you're sent a novel for review, and you open it and find that the entire thing is written in the second person—in fact, in three separate voices of the second person. And you wonder: Why?
- A Sword From Red Ice by J.V. Jones, by
- Red Ice is not an inevitable damp squib, precisely, but it is certainly a book with hurdles to overcome, some of which are extrinsic to the words on the page. That it fails at certain points is hardly surprising, but even if it is more uneven than its predecessors—and in terms of pacing a clear victim of middle volume syndrome—there is plenty here to enjoy.
- Weaver by Stephen Baxter, by
- Weaver is a book of considerable intelligence and subtlety that uses an alternative Second World War as a backdrop against which to explore the role, both in the macrocosm and the microcosm of history, of the conflict between ideology and expediency. Weaver is a book devoted to the concept of moral compromise.
- Of Love and Other Monsters by Vandana Singh, by
- Of Love and Other Monsters is primarily a story of immigration, of being foreign and displaced in a strange environment. Arun experiences a great deal of anxiety and loneliness when he realizes that no one in the world, save one, could ever really understand him.
- Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi, by
- The horror that runs through Pump Six is the kind that is at the very core, or perhaps origins, of science fiction. It's the horror Victor Frankenstein feels when he gazes at his creation and knows it for a monster. It's the horror the monster feels when it realizes that it is just human enough to know how inhuman it truly is.
- The Fade by Chris Wooding, by
- Whether The Fade is fantasy or science fiction, it's quite simply the best speculative fiction novel of 2007 that I've read.
- Rome Burning by Sophia McDougall, by
- But plainly SF is not where the particular branch of Orion that McDougall is signed up to wishes to place the Romanitas series. From the packaging and advertising, it would appear that the lengthy works are aimed at the airport novel market, and the sort of people who buy Tom Clancy and Clive Cussler novels.
- Swiftly by Adam Roberts, by
- If Roberts has explicated Swift's surreal world with wit and not a little learning, he has also in no small part written a book equal parts adventure story and social commentary. Its philosophy is Swift's, but its success is all Roberts's own.
- Ragamuffin by Tobias Buckell, by
- If you wouldn't choose to recommend this book as a representative of the intellectual or literary heights that science fiction might achieve, it is at least a damned good example of something at the very core of the genre. This is where we grew up from, and if science fiction has gone off in many different directions since then it is still good to know that something so basic to the genre still has this much life in it.
- Precious Dragon and Bloodmind by Liz Williams, by
- You can anticipate certain strengths from a novel by Liz Williams. An inventive plot—that's a given. A vivid and detailed imagining of setting—that can be expected, also. Wide-ranging action, usually brisk and well paced, is also assured. These qualities are shared by two very different novels: Precious Dragon, a light fantasy with comedic touches, and Bloodmind, a dark SF narrative. In one case, the result is satisfying; in the other, this reader was left feeling that something was wanting.
- Duma Key by Stephen King, by
- This novel reads like classic King; and his one-armed naïf-painter protagonist Freemantle whose phantom limb is more phantom than most, is a compelling and memorable creation.
- The SFWA European Hall of Fame, edited by James Morrow and Kathryn Morrow, by
- The anthology's aim—to publish in translation non-English language European SF stories from the last twenty years or so—is laudable. (Europe is, of course, an imaginary place that means different things to different people but here it is given the standard "Continental" gloss and is assumed to spread from Portugal to Russia. Poor old Iceland.)
- Kéthani by Eric Brown, by
- Kéthani is a decent book. It's worth reading, especially if you like Brown's fiction, or if you're particularly interested in the theme of immortality or the venerable trope of aliens coming to Earth bearing gifts. It is not, however, anything particularly groundbreaking.
- Debatable Space by Philip Palmer, by
- I had high hopes for Philip Palmer's Debatable Space. A new science fiction novel from Orbit? A novel from a new author represented by none other than John Jarrold, an agent who knows his genre onions? A novel billed by the press release as "ideal for readers of high concept space opera," no less? And it arrived just before the holidays—perfect timing. This would be a fine book to savour in front of an open fire for a day or two, I thought.
Hence I was rather disappointed that I had to force myself to read beyond the novel’s first third.
- disLOCATIONS edited by Ian Whates, by
- DisLOCATIONS is firmly in the middle ground of current British SF. It could be accused of being a little unadventurous, but that's is almost a way of saying that none of the stories are failures.
- The Long Price, Book One: Shadow and Betrayal by Daniel Abraham, by
- To be a Poet is to have freedom, power, and terrible responsibility, for as the few men able to capture a concept in words and make it do their bidding, they are the most powerful magicians in the world. The price of their power is a lifetime dedicated to serving their city and a relationship to a concept, or “andat,” that resembles that of a master to his slave.
- Cloverfield, by
- There are movies, to enjoy which, you have to turn off your brain; Cloverfield is a movie that turns your brain off for you.
- Dangerous Offspring by Steph Swainston, by
- In an interview at UKSF Booknews, Steph Swainston describes Dangerous Offspring, the latest installment in her Castle series as "still a complete novel in its own right and is intended to be read on its own—so new readers shouldn't be afraid of starting here." Well, I'm not so sure.
- Mindscape by Andrea Hairston, by
- Hairston's premise, consequently, combines two long-standing science fiction traditions—the plumbing of the human reaction to the unknown and inscrutable, and the cultural clash between radically different, isolated cultures.
- Bad Blood by Rhiannon Lassiter, by
- Lassiter writes well, generating the brooding, unsettling atmosphere with considerable skill. The cobwebbed recesses of the house and the overgrown paths of the neighbouring woodland are continually disorientating; the skies over both are invariably overcast, and night draws in all too quickly.
- Blood Engines by T. A. Pratt, by
- Blood Engines is an urban fantasy starring kick-ass “crime lord” sorceress Marla Mason. She is paired with Rondeau, a friendly and often horny spirit who has adopted human form, and a washed-out TV actor nicknamed B, who has the ability to speak to spirits. Over the course of the tale, the three must grapple with body-switching Chinese sorcerers in Chinatown, a Pornomancer in the Castro, and assorted witches, gods, and cannibals, who pop up in unlikely places.
- One for Sorrow by Christopher Barzak, by
- In his debut novel, One For Sorrow, Barzak has written a love story about death, and life; a story about being dead and then being alive again—a story, indeed, about ghosts. And the writing is best when he describes his ghostly Youngstown itself.
- Ink by Hal Duncan and In The Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne M. Valente, by
- Hal Duncan, his style reminding me more of John Brunner's hectoring polemicist Chad Mulligan than a Virgil for our age, cannot marry in his heady, ultimately painful, duology the twin demands of multi-part narrative and compelling storytelling. He writes like a hippo. Catherynne M. Valente, on the other, enchants and enlightens in equal measure.
- The Awakened Mage by Karen Miller, by
R. J. Burgess
- In many ways, then, The Awakened Mage can be seen as a copy of much that has gone before. However, it's what Miller does with these traditional tropes that makes this series more than just a re-hash.
- Stealing Light by Gary Gibson, by
- Gary Gibson is the latest entrant in the British New Space Opera revival; Stealing Light is his third novel, following the release of Angel Stations and Against Gravity, and is expected to be his "breakout book." As such there are pressures on Gibson to deliver a commercial hit, and he has probably done so—although whether there is a cost to commercial success is debatable.
- Gateways to Forever: the story of the science-fiction magazines from 1970 to 1980 by Mike Ashley, by
- Mike Ashley tells us in the preface to Gateways to Forever that he intended his history of the science-fiction magazines to be a trilogy complete in this volume. But he found the '70s to be too rich and complex a time to fit into one book with everything that came afterward. And so we have a volume of nearly 400 pages with another hundred pages of apparatus, including many appendices, for this decade alone. The more the merrier! My enjoyment and interest in the book did not flag.
- Till Human Voices Wake Us by Mark Budz, by
- The back-cover blurb for Till Human Voices Wake Us inexplicably calls the novel a thriller. This blatant piece of misinformation only serves to draw attention to the fact that it is almost completely lacking in tension. As the characters are so forgettable and Budz's prose so indifferent, there's nothing left for us but to mentally hurry him on.
- The Red Men by Matthew de Abaitua, by
- This isn't a novel you can get an easy grip on; like the famous elephant surrounded by blind men, its shape and texture suggest differing beasts depending on where you grab it. Literary thriller and domestic drama, thought experiment and drug trip, cyberpunk and technopagan, satire and prophecy. It is almost as if de Abaitua is worried that he will only get one chance and has consequently crammed all his ideas into one novel.
- 2007 In Review, by
- We asked our reviewers to pick their SF-related highs and lows of 2007—books, films, tv, anything. This is what they said.
- Dark Reflections by Samuel R. Delany, by
- Feature Week: Samuel R Delany
Paul Kincaid: And so we come to the perennial problem of criticism and biography. How much is it legitimate to read knowledge (possibly privileged knowledge) of a person's life into their fiction? How much is it legitimate for a critic to allow their own biography to colour their readings of a particular text, a particular author?
- About Writing: 7 essays, 4 letters, & 5 interviews by Samuel R. Delany, by
L. Timmel Duchamp
- Feature Week: Samuel R Delany
L. Timmel Duchamp: Like all of Delany's work, About Writing is vivid, passionate, and provocative. After first reading its 419 pages in December 2005, I've returned to the book again and again. Delany warns in his preface that "this is a book for serious creative writers." And so it is. But I recommend it also to all people who want more from their reading than simply entertainment; i.e., all serious readers.
- Aye, and Gomorrah, and other stories by Samuel R. Delany, by
- Feature Week: Samuel R Delany
Graham Sleight: Delany's work, here and elsewhere (most obviously in Dhalgren) is about the limits of the old positivistic SF urge to "make sense" of the world. There's a long passage explaining another art-form in this world, that of the Singers; it begins, "Singers are people who look at things, then go and tell people what they've seen." What they've seen: not tell people "about the world" or "the truth," but what has registered with their subjectivity. That begs a question: if, for Delany, subjective knowledge is the only kind of knowledge, to what extent are these stories transfigured autobiography?
- Night and Day: The Place of Equinox in Samuel R. Delany's Oeuvre, by
- Feature Week: Samuel R Delany
Matthew Cheney: That Equinox has not had the same sort of attention as its predecessors is hardly surprising, and not just because the original edition and the 1994 reissue (under Delany's preferred title) can be difficult to find. The book is pornography, and tells the tale of various cartoonish characters in search of endless orgasms and orgies, who encounter all manner of sex and sexuality, some of it violent.
- The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman, by
- "Low-key" describes most of this book. It is very short and easy to read and completely lacks the emotional intensity and drive of The Forever War. Where that book describes a soldier caught up by circumstance and flung into the future despite himself, Matt, while not exactly a boldly going explorer, at least has basic control of his destiny. He chooses which path he will take, even if he makes stupid choices.
- Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff, by
- Is a story realistic or fantastic? The answer may vary from person to person and depend more on the life experiences and specific reading protocols that each reader brings to the text than on anything in the story itself. Matt Ruff is a writer who loves to skate that boundary.
- The Pesthouse by Jim Crace and The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall, by
- Listening to the attendant hype, or reading the innumerable interviews with the authors in the mainstream press, you would be forgiven for thinking that the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it was more topical in 2007 than it has ever been before. Which isn't true, of course. These stories of the end and what comes afterwards are heirs to some of the founding narratives of Western culture. The anticipation of humanity's impending doom is deeply ingrained in our psyches: it is the front-page story that will not die. Terrorism, climate change, nuclear war—these are just the latest in a long line of potential catalysts to the end times. Once we feared God's almighty capacity to destroy us; now we fear our own. But the stories we tell about it have hardly changed at all. Open any of the above novels and what you will find is basically a variation, for better or for worse, on Noah's Ark.
- Not Flesh Nor Feathers by Cherie Priest, by
- The ending of Not Flesh Nor Feathers shows Eden preparing to take a new direction in life, very different from the plans she made before the flood and its consequences. It's a good point at which to draw the trilogy to a close, and Priest leaves her conclusion bittersweet and untidy, in keeping with the atmosphere of the series.
- The Terror by Dan Simmons, by
- Were I tasked to movie-pitch Dan Simmons's new novel (and what a splendid blockbuster it would make) I might try Jaws on Ice—except that makes it sound like a crew of professional skaters in spangly costumes tangling with a rubber-costumed monster, which it assuredly isn't.
- The Engineer Trilogy by KJ Parker, by
- The trilogy format of Parker's work is deceptive: it both does, and doesn't conform to recognisable fantasy trajectories. Yes, in almost all of the books there is at least one person who rises to power or moves towards the centre of the action; there is always big landscape; there are wars and many nameless people die. But the stories which form the plot are interlocked through future, present and past. Parker writes stories in which individuals become enmeshed in the machine, and in which economics is the god on which all the principals are sacrificed.
- Thirteen/Black Man by Richard K. Morgan, by
- This is a novel that wants to make us think about violence, about the hard masculinity we admire so much, and about the prejudice which is so often a justification for violence and a way of performing masculinity.
- The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia, by
- Two currents shape the novel. The first is that the reader is presented with a classic fantasy protagonist in this modern-day urban setting: the outsider, the Cassandra, always correct but never believed, who resents her powers for the way they have marginalised her, even if she never doubts their reality. The second is a broader motif—of disappearance, of forgetting, of denial, all enforced or encouraged or allowed under silence—and it flows through both story and setting.
- Battlestar Galactica: Razor, by
- Far more egregious are the blows that "Razor" strikes against "Pegasus," and the flawed, complicated woman at its core. Written when Galactica was still at the height of its complexity, "Pegasus" worked hard to avoid easy indictment or approval of Cain's actions. She came off as a person who had gone astray, who had spent so long struggling to survive that she forgot to wonder what she was surviving for, and whose self-identity as a soldier had taken precedence over the soldier's purpose—to protect the state and its citizens. This is not the character as "Razor" presents her.
- Divergence by Tony Ballantyne, by
- There is a cool distance in the writing, as though the narrator is drawing the plot neatly to avoid confusing the audience with all the things they don't need to know. This engenders a rather passive voice, which results in emotions being described rather than experienced. Indeed, a significant part of the the thesis of Divergence can only be presented once the fog of emotions has been blown clear.
- Of Tales and Enigmas by Minsoo Kang, by
- Minsoo Kang is Korean by birth but has spent much of his life traveling the globe. He's a historian by training and belongs to that circle of Asian authors who have consciously adopted the styles of Western genre fiction. He ends stories with quotes from Umberto Eco, Italo Calvino, and Jorge Luis Borges, and he's written stories that draw attention to the fact that they are stories.
- Beowulf, by
- For the director, then, this is in part a film not just about story, but about the techniques through which story is told; given that epic as we know it is always a bastardized form in which mechanisms derived from oral culture are transferred across into literary culture, this is fair enough.
- 9Tail Fox by Jon Courtenay Grimwood, by
- Since the mood of cyberpunk itself evolved from hardboiled detective fiction, it's unsurprising that Grimwood has written an entertaining noir. 9Tail Fox has all the lean prose, sex, and violence that implies, with one real innovation—the hero is dead.
- The Best of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, edited by Gavin J. Grant and Kelly Link, by
- There are odd comments from the editors that seem to have been included just for the hell of it, including an apology for any chocolate stains that may appear on the book; a short contributor's note for the long-dead British writer Hilaire Belloc (whose work does not appear anywhere within these covers); and a note on selling out. And there are lists, a wide variety of them, including someone's favorite music, and a selection of teas from the LCRW kitchen. This is all inspired silliness but hardly reason enough to shell out $14.95 plus tax to buy the book. Reason to do that, however, is provided by the fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.
- The Imago Sequence by Laird Barron, by
- This nutshell summary doesn't convey the fairly complex narrative stratagems Barron employs, the levels of layered detail, and the real sense of dread he evokes. His manner is aimed at a more literate, sophisticated audience than this pulpy plot would seem to indicate; at his best, he gives the best of both worlds.
- Navigator by Stephen Baxter, by
- With each new book in this series, Baxter has become better and better at engaging with historical ideas and theories. While Emperor spent too much time dealing with Roman technology and Conqueror struggled to rise above historical and archaeological data, Navigator is a mature work from a writer completely at ease with not only historical fact but historical analysis too.
- Shelter by Susan Palwick, by
- Although it takes place decades in the future, Shelter is surprisingly old-fashioned, almost Steinbeckian in its attention to detail while chronicling what is essentially a family history—a domestic drama, a story about connectedness and the building of a family through the action of simply participating in the same narrative, playing a part in the same story.
- Getting to Know You by David Marusek, by
- Getting to Know You's pleasures certainly outweigh its occasional drags. The buzz is that David Marusek is an author to watch, and given SF's propensity for troping the past as the future, it may well be that the solidly Campbellian mode of his storytelling will come into its own in the years to come.
- Soldier of Sidon by Gene Wolfe, by
- Feature Week: The 2007 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel
Tony Keen: For me, what Gene Wolfe does is capture the ordinariness of the encounters with deities. The gods want various things done for them, but there are no great epic narratives, no wars of gods and men—just immortals going about their business in much the same way as mortals.
- In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente, by
- Feature Week: The 2007 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel
Dan Hartland: In the Night Garden is the first volume in a duology, concluded later this year with In the Cities of Coin and Spice. It has already won the 2006 Tiptree Award (together with Shelley Jackson's Half Life), and its nomination for the World Fantasy Award is richly deserved.
- The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, by
- Feature Week: The 2007 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel
Victoria Hoyle: One hundred and fifty pages into The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch's World Fantasy Award-nominated debut, I remembered why I love fantasy novels. Not because they're strongholds of comfort, or repositories of nostalgia (although they are); or because they allow us to "escape" the real world, or even because they give the reader permission to confront the essential clichés of theme—love, grief, evil, goodness—without flinching (although they do). But because when they're well done, really well done, they're vivid and glittering works of the imagination's art: they blow the walls off buildings, take the lid off the sky and remake the world. Believe me when I say that The Lies of Locke Lamora is very well done indeed.
- The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner, by
- Feature Week: The 2007 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel
Nic Clarke: It's a man's world. Yes, still. How else could Ellen Kushner's The Privilege of the Sword—a vastly entertaining bildungsroman, told as a novel of manners with a judicious amount of swashbuckling—be so easily dismissed by one blogger as "fantasy chick lit"? The main character is a young woman, and there are a couple of references to shoes, it is true. The setting is also largely urban, a generous amount of tears are shed (a girl is raped; this upsets her), and certain characters do indeed fall in love or at any rate have sex (both pastimes being, as I understand it, quite common among human beings). The fact that it is also pacy, witty, filled with politicking and swordfights, and essentially a coming-of-age story, is apparently irrelevant. Men's stories are universal, after all; women's are niche (and fluffy).
- Lisey's Story by Stephen King, by
- Feature Week: The 2007 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel
Farah Mendlesohn: My choice for "worst book I have ever read from beginning to end" has stood for a very long time, but this week it has surely been displaced. Stephen King, a writer I admire hugely, whose work I teach and recommend, has produced perhaps the most embarrassing load of twaddle I have ever been forced to complete.
- Legends of the Fall: Television's newest SF shows, by
K. Tempest Bradford
- The American fall TV season has brought us seven new SF shows to vie for our attention. As often with television, the majority of these shows aren't particularly good. It's not too harsh to say that a few of them are utter crap. That said, at least two of them are really good, and one has problems but may end up better than it started.
- The Dreaming Void by Peter F. Hamilton, by
- There may not be much poetry in The Dreaming Void—mostly the sentences exist to convey information, to fill the spaces between dialogue, and to move the plot from A to B—but one doesn't read Hamilton for the language.
- The Seeker: The Dark is Rising, by
- Fifteen minutes into the film, it is apparent that Cunningham, the shameless raconteur behind The Path to 9/11, has no interest in staying true to Cooper’s work, if, in fact he has even read it. This is especially apparent in his treatment of Cooper’s characters.
- The Country You Have Never Seen by Joanna Russ, by
- I have a weakness for good literary criticism—the kind that is trenchant and witty and intellectually rigorous, but also passionately and personally felt—and Joanna Russ hits all my buttons, lighting me up like a pinball machine.
- Powers by Ursula K. Le Guin, by
- Even with only three volumes, though, it's possible to trace some of the themes running through the Western Shore series, and to see the ways in which the stories mirror each other.
- The Ultimates and The Ultimates 2, by
- It's entirely appropriate that this review is a few months late, because if Ultimates was famous for anything, it was missing planned publication dates. In 2002, Ultimates #1 appeared. Five years, but only twenty-six issues (and one annual), later, Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch finished their story. In between came one of the most talked-about superhero comics for several years.
- Two Views: Spaceman Blues: A Love Song by Brian Francis Slattery, by
Martin Lewis and Rose Fox
- Martin Lewis: As always, you can judge a book by its cover. The back of the pretty little proof copy of Spaceman Blues carries a selection of helpful information for your faithful reviewer. This includes the fact that Spaceman Blues will have "national print advertising in The New Yorker." Not your average Tor novel then.
Rose Fox: Much as wild animals are best appreciated in their natural habitat, Slattery's version of New York and its inhabitants is at its best when encountered on the 1 train heading south from the Bronx, while it's still aboveground and rocketing past rag-curtained tenement windows and the occasional marble edifice left over from Inwood's glory days as a suburb for the wealthy Dutch
- Dragonhaven by Robin McKinley, by
- In Dragonhaven, Robin McKinley departs from the fairy-tale mode which made her earlier novels so notable and tries something new: entering the heart, mind, and world of a modern fifteen-year-old boy. It's an interesting choice, and much like riding on the back of a giant dragon, it can leave you feeling out of sorts.
- The Revenge of the Elves by Gary Alan Wassner, by
- Let us be honest: odds are good that you may not have heard of Gary Wassner or the Gemquest series of books. Understandably. The freshman effort of a previously unknown author, issued by a small press without the marketing juice of a major publisher, Gemquest is tailor-made for obscurity.
- Land of the Headless and Splinter by Adam Roberts, by
- Earlier this year Adam Roberts was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke award with his survivalist space saga, Gradisil. He has followed up that success with not one but two novels in the last ten months, Land of the Headless and Splinter. And he has written both while also holding down a full time academic post, blogging (at the inestimably literary Valve, as well as elsewhere), and reviewing in his spare time. If he was churning out the SF equivalent of a James Patterson thriller I would still be impressed; but as it is—Splinter being one of the most beautifully written and sensitively themed novels I've read all year—I'm somewhat boggled. I begin to suspect he has some kind of literary superpower.
- Settling Accounts: In at the Death by Harry Turtledove, by
- After ten years and as many volumes, readers of what some fans have taken to calling the Timeline 191 series will no doubt be anxious to lay hands on what the blurb trumpets as "the thunderous conclusion" to "the most ambitious saga of [Turtledove's] long and storied career" and indeed, "one of the greatest sagas ever to portray an America that almost was"—Harry Turtledove's Settling Accounts: In at the Death.
- Two Views: No Humans Involved by Kelley Armstrong, by
Genevieve Williams and Colin Harvey
- Genevieve Williams: A newcomer to Kelley Armstrong's Otherworld, so thickly populated with ghosts, demons, werewolves, necromancers, and other supernatural beasties, might be forgiven for wondering where ordinary people fit in. The title of Armstrong's latest supernatural thriller/romance, however, puts the answer to that question beyond all doubt.
Colin Harvey: From the point of view of a new reader, while the main protagonists and the television characters are well drawn, the supporting cast felt sketchy. Of course, Armstrong faces a dilemma here: spend too much time telling new readers about Hope and the other protagonists of earlier books, and she not only slows down the story but also risks her regular readers switching off.
- Trust Me, I'm a Fabulator: Three Books, by
- Twenty-Six Lies/One Truth by Ben Peek, The Fate of Mice by Susan Palwick, and The Modern World/Dangerous Offspring by Steph Swainston
Under the entry for "Truthiness" in Twenty-Six Lies and One Truth, Ben Peek asks, "What is it that I have the authority to write about?" In the age of the Internet, authority is a topic much discussed, but ultimately it seems a question incorrectly framed. The question should be: what is it that a writer has the passion to write about?
- The Innocent Mage (Kingmaker Kingbreaker Book One) by Karen Miller, by
R. J. Burgess
- This two-part fantasy series should keep fans of Trudi Canavan and Robin Hobb more than happy. Karen Miller’s world of Lur is an expansive, well-drawn, and believable place made all the more accessible by an easygoing prose style that you can’t help but get drawn into. There’s nothing particularly new about her depiction of a prosperous land shielded from evil by magic, but a strong cast of identifiable characters breathes new life into the clichés.
- Cowboy Angels by Paul McAuley, by
- I’m not criticizing the move towards thrillers in and of itself. Unfortunately, however, in McAuley’s case, as in the case of Greg Bear, the result has been less interesting books. Not bad books, you must understand. Simply less interesting ones.
- Ice and Guilty by Anna Kavan, by
- Coming away from Guilty and Ice, one has the impression of an author whose fiction should be read not for its fine details—for well-drawn characters, believable settings, or clever dialogue—but for its emotional effect. In this respect, Kavan is nothing less than a revelation.
- The Sharing Knife: Legacy by Lois McMaster Bujold, by
- The first book, The Sharing Knife: Beguilement, concluded with the forbidden marriage of Dag Redwing and Fawn Bluefield, the two main characters, and now, in Book Two, we see the consequences.
- Stardust, by
David J. Schwartz
- Perhaps it is axiomatic, but it may as well be said up front: the film adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess's Stardust: Being A Romance Within The Realm of Faerie is not as good as the illustrated novel. It's not a fair comparison, obviously; a book is not a film, and vice versa. That seems to be the clear attitude of the filmmakers, who've taken nearly every opportunity to turn up the story's volume with big effects and big fights. The result is a film that is perfectly entertaining and, for the most part, perfectly forgettable.
- It Happened Otherwise? Three Alternate Histories, by
- In War Times by Kathleen Ann Goonan, The H-Bomb Girl by Stephen Baxter, and Resistance by Owen Sheers.
Why do we write—and read—alternate histories? What draws us to stories of our past turned around, re-set in strange ways that never were?
- The Sons of Heaven by Kage Baker, by
- Plotlines are tied up, lost characters are found, puzzles are solved. Even that much, these days, is grounds for rejoicing. But there is a good deal more to this book; it has twists and turns aplenty, surprises going off bangbangbang like fireworks.
- Selling Out by Justina Robson, by
- Selling Out seems to suggest that what keeps us human is not so much the stuff of which we are made, but the stuff of our relationships.
- Titan by Ben Bova, by
- Titan is one of the blandest pieces of fiction I have come across in three decades of reading novels. If the Campbell shortlist is a high-class curry restaurant of delicious, spicy, and stimulating food, then Titan is a single slice of white bread and margarine on a white plate under the neon light of a truck drivers' café.
- Mike Carey's The Devil You Know and Vicious Circle, by
- Anyone who enjoyed Mike Carey's writing in his Lucifer and Hellblazer graphic novels will not be disappointed by his first two prose novels. His plotting is tight, and his dialogue crackles. Both books are hard to put down. Carey's matter-of-fact approach to imaginative horrors makes them powerful without seeming lurid or voyeuristic.
- Polyphony 6, edited by Deborah Layne and Jay Lake, by
- We grow tired. The world and its doings now excite not engagement, not rage, not even despair, but rather a weary resignation. Even the pulse of creativity seems to have slowed. Or such is what we take from the latest iteration of Polyphony.
- Best American Fantasy, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, by
- What is "best," what is "American," what is "fantasy"? As Matthew Cheney points out (getting the disclaimers in swiftly!), in his preface to the first volume of a new series, none of these terms has a stable definition.
- Steven Moffat's Jekyll, by
- Jekyll has caused genuine consternation among viewers; one said to me, "I don't know whether to dismiss it as utter crap or to call it a masterpiece. Which is it?"
- The Man With the Golden Torc by Simon R. Green, by
- Green is a prolific writer of fantasy and science fiction, generally in series, who has published over 30 books in the last 20 years or so. His writing is workmanlike (he's improved over the years), but has a certain snap and verve to it, helped along by his hero being a wise-ass, as he is here and in much of Green's work.
- Spook Country by William Gibson, by
- Plato’s argument is that we humans, chained in the cave, cannot perceive the Real directly, only its shadows on the wall. I know of no SF author who (consciously or unconsciously) adheres more closely to this aesthetic, that what can be described is only what can be perceived, than William Gibson.
- Bone Song by John Meaney, by
- Meaney sets the tone of Bone Song very effectively. Tristopolis is a city powered by bones, and many of its citizens will go to the reactors after they die. But not all of them.
- Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch, by
- Red Seas Under Red Skies shows every sign of being the work of an author who has rolled up his sleeves, put his feet up, and settled in for the long haul. When you turn the final page of the book there is nothing approaching closure; instead you get the impression you have just finished the opening gambit. Much as with the first book in the sequence, in fact, but without the same excuse.
- Fantasy, edited by Paul G. Tremblay and Sean Wallace, by
- This new anthology is not a "best of" the magazine, but rather sets out to showcase "short fiction of the type that can be found" in it. In other words, the stories have not previously been published in the magazine, although some of the authors have. We are promised "sophisticated, literate tales" that push imaginative boundaries using original styles. Inevitably, this is truer of some contributions than others.
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by
- Not that any of the past Potters has been particularly atrocious, but all of the things that routinely tainted them (scanty plot development, awkward child actors, and heavy, corresponding doses of syrupy-sweetness and cheese) are adamantly absent from Order of the Phoenix. The other four Potter movies are varying degrees of okay; this is the first to feel like a real film instead of a brand name.
- Logorrhea, edited by John Klima, by
L. Timmel Duchamp
- As a child, I spent hours with my nose buried in the biggest, heaviest tome in the house—the dictionary—and because I loved words, I was a champion speller (though never in an official contest). And so I felt an immediate keen interest when I came across Logorrhea, the stories in which were inspired by some of the Scripps National Spelling Bee championship words.
- Two Views: Transformers, by
Tim Phipps and Tim Phipps
- 1: Initial Reaction
ROBOTS SMASH! RARR! Bloody marvellous, and a fanboy's wet dream. Quite simply the most fun you'll have in the cinema this year. Who cares about politics or heart when you've got SMASHY ROBOTIC GOODNESS?
2: On Reflection
Last week I went to see Transformers and, well, I don't know what I expected to gain from the experience. But I went.
- Breakfast with the Ones You Love by Eliot Fintushel, by
- Jack Dann describes Breakfast with the Ones You Love as a collaboration between P. G. Wodehouse, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Harlan Ellison, and Woody Allen. Frankly, anyone who knows the work of those writers would realise that such an unholy collaboration would result in an almighty mess. And this novel is not an almighty mess . . . well, not quite.
- The Man Who Melted by Jack Dann, by
- Dann wrote The Man Who Melted as a poet, not an engineer, "concerned primarily with the future as a visionary construct, almost as a dream, rather than as a tangible reality." There is everywhere an obsession with death, manifested in ways that can only be depicted surreally, from casinos where players hooked into one another gamble for organs to elaborate suicides based on the re-creation of historic disasters.
- Doctor Who: Series Three, by
- There is, I'd say, a pretty widespread consensus about the new Who, viz.: that the retooling of the series has been a notable success; that Eccleston was a good Doctor but Tennant is even better (perhaps, some people whisper, the best yet) and that Russell T Davies is to be greatly lauded for his part in the whole Whonaissance. By the same token the consensus seems to have arrived at a less dithyrambic assessment of Series 3.
- Acacia by David Anthony Durham, by
- Why dole out your money for tales of fictional worlds when things there are just as bad? One reason, I suppose, is that you would then miss out on novels like David Anthony Durham's tour de force, Acacia, a deeply political vision of the fantastic that exposes the humanity at the heart of every ruthless machination.
- The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 1, edited by Jonathan Strahan, by
- It's interesting that although it's billed as "SF and Fantasy"—presumably so that readers don't mistake this for a book/collection of reprints from the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction—fantasy dominates; the first half of the book is two-thirds fantasy to one-third SF, and although the story count almost evens up by the end (or does even up, depending on whether the reader classifies Paul di Fillipo's "Femaville 29" and Neil Gaiman's anthology-opening "How to Talk to Girls at Parties" as SF or fantasy), in terms of number and memorability of stories, it's still a somewhat fantasy-dominated anthology.
- The Opposite House by Helen Oyeyemi, by
- Aya is an Orisha—"deadly friends from stories" is how one of the characters describes Orishas—a manifestation of the Santerian patron of women. She overflows, we are told, with "the kind of need that takes you across water on nothing but bare feet." She is "powerful, half mad, but quiet about it." And either The Opposite House isn't about her, or it's about only her. It's hard to say.
- The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon, by
- The basic structure is that of a thousand hard-boiled mysteries, but The Yiddish Policemen's Union is spared from utter predictability by Chabon's beautiful, energetic, humorous prose, as well as by the fact that there is virtually no limit to the amount of humor that can be wrung out of combining the noir detective style with Yiddish colloquialisms.
- Portable Childhoods by Ellen Klages, by
- Klages's protagonists experience a world which never quite makes sense, and in which they are never quite welcome. For Klages, childhood is a distinctly antagonistic realm, a physical place or thing from which we must escape at all costs. Unfortunately, this is told more than felt: her characters never experience anything more than they can stand, and their ultimate escapes are often unsatisfying.
- Interfictions, edited by Theodora Goss and Delia Sherman, by
- If you want to know the definition of "interstitial writing," skip the introduction by Heinz Insu Fenkl. Instead, go straight to the afterword in which the editors of Interfictions, Delia Sherman and Theodora Goss, explain how they know what it is when they see it.
- Trial of Flowers and Mainspring by Jay Lake, by
- Two novels, two publishers, two worlds: a little over six months in the life of one ambitious author, in a market that apparently equates writer versatility with audience confusion, as if a reader's world might collapse when faced with different types of books from the same author.
- Swans Over the Moon by Forrest Aguirre, by
- In this first novel—novella, really, lavishly spaced, leaded and interleaved—by anthologist and short-story-writer Forrest Aguirre, there are indeed swans on the moon: actual feathered and beaked ones, not to mention copious representations of them in painting and architecture and even as ornaments on the armour of Judicar Parmour Pelevin, monarch of Procellarium.
- HARM by Brian Aldiss, by
- HARM is unambiguously (and for a publisher, intimidatingly) about the present War on Terror, and Paul's torturers, at the titular Hostile Activities Research Ministry, are unambiguously American and British officials.
- The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate by Ted Chiang, by
- This is the third time Chiang has dealt with the essential problems of fate, determinism, and free will. His darkest view of the subject comes in a short-short published in Nature, "What's Expected of Us" positing a device that, by undeniably demonstrating our lack of free will, leaves a third of its users in a waking coma. In The Merchant and The Alchemist's Gate, as in "Story of Your Life," he presents us with a more gentle, nuanced fatalism—fatalism from the inside, fatalism understood.
- The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver, by
- In 2005 Lionel Shriver won the Orange Prize for Fiction for her seventh novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin (2003). The judges' decision caused a minor furore within the literary establishment, not least because Shriver was a virtual unknown, published by a small press, and had a man's name. The book itself, however, was almost universally recognized for what it was—a disturbing and vigorous meditation on motherhood and modern America, a compelling virtuoso performance by a mature author. The Post-Birthday World—a long, meandering, and, it has to be said, somewhat arduous take on parallel worlds—hardly bears favorable comparison.
- The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and The Children of Húrin by J.R.R. Tolkien, by
- Here are two titles for booksellers to shelve under Fantasy. Both follow the adventures of an essentially good though morally (slightly) complicated hero around a medievalised imaginary world. Both embody a sort of under-narrative about revenge, upon which are constructed varied and peripatetic adventures. There is, in both books, Evil to be combated, magic to be performed, and artefacts that have special powers. One (the Rothfuss) is an example of a genre pretty much wholly invented and defined by the other (Tolkien). Nevertheless they are absolutely as different from one another as could be imagined. One of these is, in its way, a great book. The other is a competently constructed time-wileawayer. See if you can guess which description fits which novel.
- The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas, by
- One afternoon a few months ago, I was sitting alone in a pub. (News of my incipient alcoholism has been greatly exaggerated.) I was reading a book. After I'd been sitting there for about half an hour, a woman the worse for wear arrived at my table and, as her opening gambit, demanded, "What's so clever?" She was pointing at the book. Did she not like books? "I don't mind the books," she replied, swaying into the seat opposite me. "I just think—don't—what's so clever? What's the point?"
- Verdigris Deep by Frances Hardinge, by
- Verdigris Deep confirms what I already suspected: Frances Hardinge is the best new fantasy writer for children since Diana Wynne Jones.
- Flora Segunda by Ysabeau S. Wilce, by
David V. Barrett
- The award for the longest SF/fantasy title is probably still held by DG Compton's 1971 time travel novel Hot Wireless Sets, Aspirin Tablets, the Sandpaper Sides of Used Matchboxes, and Something That Might Have Been Castor Oil, later reissued under the more manageable but far less inspiring title Chronicules. However, Ysabeau S Wilce's juvenile fantasy Flora Segunda must be in the running for the longest subtitle: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog. And yes, it lives up to it.
- Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand, by
- Cass is a refugee from a lost generation, the generation of the New York Dolls and the Sex Pistols, of Television and Blondie, of Performance Studio and CBGBs. Her passions were born in the latter days of Arbus and the early days of Mapplethorpe, but she never quite became who she should have been, because death was her best muse, and she couldn't whistle a happy tune and wander away from all the pills and potions that crossed her lips.
- The fourth book of Ægypt: Endless Things by John Crowley, by
- Feature Week: John Crowley's Ægypt
John Clute: Endless Things comprises, in part, a release into stillness, an ontological black hole from which other stories of the world cannot escape, or are disinclined to; a spiral which becomes a circle in the end; a holy emptiness vaster than pleroma, where the utter still centre of the world utters all.
- The third book of Ægypt: Dæmonomania by John Crowley, by
- Feature Week: John Crowley's Ægypt
Paul Kincaid: Dæmonomania should represent the point in the sequence where the creation has become too big, so that it starts to slip out of the author's sure grasp. In fact I think it is where Crowley reasserts his grip on the story after the (relative) slippage of Love & Sleep. But it is also where he breaks the pattern of Ægypt.
- The second book of Ægypt: Love & Sleep by John Crowley, by
- Feature Week: John Crowley's Ægypt
Graham Sleight: The story of the first three volumes of John Crowley's Ægypt sequence is, broadly, the story of his protagonists getting what they want and finding they can't stand it. The first volume, Ægypt, is the story of the main characters wishing; Love & Sleep is the story of them getting.
- The first book of Ægypt: The Solitudes by John Crowley, by
- Feature Week: John Crowley's Ægypt
Abigail Nussbaum: The Solitudes presents the reviewer with an unusual challenge. How to review the novel as an independent entity—and thus avoid stepping on my fellow reviewers' toes—when it is so clearly and overwhelmingly part of a whole? More importantly, how to review Ægypt the novel when the experience of reading Ægypt the series so completely and irrevocably colors and alters one's reactions to it?
- Alien Crimes, edited by Mike Resnick, by
- Thus we have a new anthology, Alien Crimes, that contains six detective stories, each different to the others in everything from style to theme. In the end, the only points of commonality are crimes or misbehaviors of some nature, and the fact that a detective has to investigate them.
- The New Moon's Arms by Nalo Hopkinson, by
- While she interacts with two potential love interests and her estranged childhood best friend, and these relationships are also important, it's family, particularly the fear of losing it, that drives most of Calamity's choices.
- The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds, by
- With his latest novel Alastair Reynolds has, not for the first time, produced a curate's egg. However, since this is his seventh novel and he is now deep into his career this particular egg must surely mark the point where we have to finally accept that he is probably never going to write the great novel that a lot of people (myself included) thought he had in him.
- The Future Is Queer, edited by Richard Labonté and Lawrence Schimel, by
- There's something here for everyone, more or less. Sometimes it seems as though the editors went out of their ways to make sure that any possible reader could find a character or two to identify with, perhaps passing over better stories in the process.
- Dzur by Steven Brust, by
- Brust has chosen to pattern the novel's plot after one of the most sumptuous multicourse offerings one could imagine. Each dish, course, and wine is expressly (if not always explicitly) related to the action of the chapter that follows it, and the results can be both affecting and surprisingly dramatic.
- Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie, by
- The Blade Itself mixed the pared-down prose of hard-boiled detective fiction with the epic scope of a George R. R. Martin fantasy. Now, however, the familiar beats of an epic fantasy series are beginning to emerge. Characters who previously displayed intriguing degrees of moral ambiguity are beginning to learn Valuable Lessons, while some stock fantasy types seem poised in the wings, waiting to take over the story.
- Three Dreams on Mount Meru by François Devenne, by
- As an exploration of the natural history and anthropology of its setting and an amalgamation of fables and moments, Three Dreams on Mount Meru is often a delight, routinely evoking a sense of wonder, magic, and mystery. As the story of a boy's journey into manhood, it is functional but less successful.
- The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, by
- The Name of the Wind is a book that, while posing no serious threat to George R.R. Martin's reign, still carries a certain weight. I defy anyone who has read it to contradict me when I state that it is the David Copperfield of fantasy.
- Dangerous Space by Kelley Eskridge, by
- With its kaleidoscopic variety of settings and prose styles, this short story collection by Kelly Eskridge is comprised of many spaces rather than just one.
- Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks, by
- Cadel Piggott's whole life has been designed to make him the perfect inheritor of a criminal empire; when he learns that even his adoption was carefully arranged, he realises that his upbringing has totally twisted him. Yet Catherine Jinks does a remarkable job of indicating right and wrong without Cadel having to be a clear avatar of morality himself.
- Helix by Eric Brown, by
R. J. Burgess
- The Helix—a vast collection of thousands of Earth-like worlds linked together like beads on a necklace and wrapped around a star. It's clearly an artificial construct, thousands of years old and self-sustaining, but who would build such a thing? And why?
- 28 Weeks Later, by
- It goes without saying that the virus was not successfully eradicated. I will allow you the pleasure of picking apart the plot holes in its re-introduction for yourself but suffice to say it wouldn't have been any less plausible if the Americans had just installed a big, unguarded button labelled "PRESS HERE FOR ZOMBIES."
- The Time of the Reaper by Andrew Butcher, by
- Apocalyptic and postapocalyptic settings have long held particular appeal for YA authors. There's nothing like a good plague or nuclear holocaust to set teenage characters adrift in a world without rules. For younger audiences, apocalyptic fiction provides a short and dramatic version of the journey into adulthood: one minute a protagonist is safe within the confines of a stable home, and the next he or she is thrust into a world in which one must learn the skills of a self-sufficient adult in order to survive.
- The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, by
- The Coyote Road is named for one of the more famous tricksters of North America. But the anthology features tricksters of many cultures from all over the world. There are stories here of Loki, Legba, Hermes, Raven, the Monkey King of China, and the fox spirits of Japan.
- Softspoken by Lucius Shepard, by
- Engaged with a mystery that grows more complex as the novel progresses, Sanie is the ultimate outsider, a guest at her husband's family's house and a foreigner to their small southern town. But even with this familiar situation—young woman stranded in creepy old mansion—the novel avoids being just a stock ghost story, becoming instead a thoughtful investigation of genre expectations.
- The Execution Channel by Ken MacLeod, by
- It is in the nature of critics to quibble. Not because we like doing so, but because we are in the business of weighing a work, and in a good book problems can stand out more starkly than they do in mediocre novels. The Execution Channel is a good book. In fact it is a very good book, perhaps the best Ken MacLeod has written to date. Which makes the couple of places where it goes wrong all the more infuriating.
- Extended Play: The Elastic Book of Music, edited by Gary Couzens, by
- As the back-cover blurb would have it, in this anthology "writers use music as a springboard for their fiction," and indeed they do. But your mileage may vary, as the saying goes—because music, like all art, is a very personal and subjective experience. If you don't believe me, sit down with three heavy metal fans and try to get them to agree on a definition of what "heavy metal" is—Damon Knight's adage can be applied there just as well as it can to science fiction.
- Players by Paul McAuley, by
- It remains to be seen if Paul McAuley can insert a well-reasoned action-adventure into the territory so thoroughly colonized by Michael Crichton. We don't need to implausibly genetically engineer dinosaurs when we've got seriously insane people around who are willing to turn themselves into literal as well as metaphorical monsters.
- Hunter's Moon by David Devereux, by
- Usually, the hero in this sort of genre fiction has a deep understanding of good and evil and works to make things right in the world; they serve as our moral compass. Jack, however, is more or less along for the ride, defeating people he is told to defeat, and killing, torturing, or otherwise manipulating most of the other characters in the book. While he is obviously very good at his job, he's missing any sense of social responsibility; he just wants a drink and a pretty lady at the end of the day, like any self-respecting wage slave, and doesn't care who he has to hurt to reach this objective.
- Red Spikes by Margo Lanagan, by
- She’s bloody good, Margo Lanagan. She really is. Readers of White Time or Black Juice, her two previous collections, will recognise her custom, her knack, of getting us to lay all this conceptual brickwork, erect all these airy constructions, by familiarising us each time with the ground floor of the imaginary world: the level of the commonplace.
- Barking by Tom Holt, by
- But Holt has a lightness of touch, an eye for the comic scene, that sets him apart: the Rhinemaidens at a horse show, for example, or Wotan forced more or less into retirement with his daughters the Valkyries.
- The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt, by
- In its early pages the book reads as if it is set in a parallel Dickensian London, but as the novel progresses the full strangeness of the world beneath (literally in some cases) emerges.
- Ascent by Jed Mercurio, by
- The Soviet space programme has always provided fertile ground for urban myths, conspiracy theories, and tall tales. The secrecy which surrounded it, in comparison to the blaze of publicity which accompanied the Mercury and Apollo projects, does much to encourage such speculation. Soviet cosmonauts remained anonymous until they returned safely to Earth and any accidents along the way (even if they resulted in several hundred deaths) could be discreetly erased from history.
- Two Views: Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay, by
Graham Sleight and Victoria Hoyle
- Graham Sleight: The first thing that struck me—a reader who'd not encountered Kay's work before—is the shocking directness of its telling. Every sentence moves the action forward, every action moves the plot forward.
Victoria Hoyle: In the interests of full disclosure, and before I begin to wax thoughtful, I should admit that I have a long history with Guy Gavriel Kay. You might go so far as to say that he has been with me since the beginning.
- Horizons by Mary Rosenblum, by
- Ahni Huang is an incredibly rich and talented young woman. Her brain has been infiltrated by nanotech, giving her an on-board AI and communications device, and she is a capable empath. She also has combat training—as Horizons opens she is on her way to Earth's orbital platforms to avenge the murder of her brother.
- Spider-Man 3, by
- Who'd have thought a radioactive spider-bite could prove so versatile? In Spider-Man (2001) nerdy Peter Parker's super-powers were treated as a metaphor for puberty in a quirky tale of boy-meets-girl. In Spider-Man 2 (2004), his powers suffered an embarrassing bout of impotence in the face of crippling self-doubt, although he did win the girl. Now in Spider-Man 3 his powers become as self-destructive as his testosterone-fuelled behaviour, and boy loses girl once more.
- Un Lun Dun by China Miéville, by
- Un Lun Dun reminds the adult reader of New Crobuzon, not least because ultimately Miéville shows himself to be refashioning the staples of kiddy portal fantasy, in the way his earlier novels refashioned the staples of the steampunk dystopia.
- Mistakes and All: Defending Battlestar Galactica, by
Jeremy Adam Smith
- Hell hath no fury like a raving army of disappointed fans. Mistakes have been made on Battlestar Galactica—but I would like to take this moment to come out swinging in defense of the show, mistakes and all.
- Rude Mechanicals by Kage Baker, by
- Rude Mechanicals is set in Hollywood in 1934 and concerns two cyborg characters familiar to Baker's readers: the facilitator Joseph and the literary preservation specialist Lewis.
- Deadstock by Jeffrey Thomas, by
- Begging publisher Solaris's pardon, but Jeffery Thomas's novel deserves a better introduction than the blurb on the back cover provides. Informed that "Punktown, crime-ridden metropolis on the colony world, Oasis, is home to the scum of countless alien races," and that "Stalking its mean streets is Jeremy Stake, the private detective," I began to suspect I was dealing with the literary equivalent of a straight-to-video release. But whilst Jeffery Thomas's novel is not without its tackier elements, the overall package is unpretentious and enjoyable.
- So Far, So Near by Mat Coward, by
- Most SF authors pick a genre, or even a sub-genre, and stick with it until the muse stops calling. Mat Coward is not that kind of writer. While his short story collection So Far, So Near might well be his first book of SF, it is not his first book.
- Double Vision and Sound Mind by Tricia Sullivan, by
L. Timmel Duchamp
- The antagonist of Tricia Sullivan's duology Double Vision (2005) and Sound Mind (2007), who is not completely unmasked until well into the second novel, would like to pull off an ambitious scheme that bears more than a passing resemblance to Baudrillard's "perfect crime."
- From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain by Minister Faust, by
- In the terms we use to talk about the fantastic, comic books, especially superhero comics, have long been a genre unto themselves. They combine elements of fantasy (magical and mythic powers) and science fiction (mutants and alien invasions) with archetypal characters and violent conflict. While comic books and graphic novels in general have expanded far beyond these genre boundaries (see "Sandman", "Maus," et al) recently this sort of story has been moving into the world of the conventional novel. Minister Faust subtly used some of these conventions in his amazing debut, Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad, and now approaches the heroic comic book genre head-on in the hilarious and pointed From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain.
- One of these books is not like the others: three tomes about SF TV, by
- I am a man forever tainted by fandom, of course, so simple things like Jim Robinson being head of the Newport Group or that kiddy-fiddling vampire who tortured Angel being a history teacher at Harbour bring me a geekish joy beyond words. And let's not even start on how Ryan's mom loved to listen to Puccini and killed the seventh Doctor.
I am tainted. And it's the fault, frankly, of the internet and of books like these.
- Brasyl by Ian McDonald, by
- This year's award season is still in full cry: the Arthur C. Clarke Award reaches its climax on May 2nd, the Nebula winner will be announced May 11th, and the Hugo at the beginning of September. But that shouldn't stop the ever-future-oriented SF community speculating about next year's prizes. So, and by way of handing Strange Horizons readers a reviewerish hostage-to-fortune: I predict Brasyl will be on multiple shortlists in 2008. It's easily the best SF novel I've read this year.
- The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon, by
- Michael Chabon, though, has already shown a certain savvy about genre conventions. His YA novel Summerland was fantasy; the protagonists of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay write and illustrate comic books; Wonder Boys begins with a tribute to a fictional pulp writer, August Van Zorn. In retrospect it seems obvious that Chabon was moving in the direction of science fiction all along.
- Black Man/Thirteen by Richard Morgan, by
- This is a book that wears its heart on its sleeve. Or, at least, it does in the U.K. In America—the country that occupies the heart of the novel—Richard Morgan's Black Man has become Richard K. Morgan's Thirteen. It is an act of cowardice on the part of the publishers that is so minor as to be baffling. Both titles relate to the central character, but only the original gets straight to Morgan's concerns, lets us know up front that this is a novel about identity politics.
- Sunshine, by
- The story, in other words, is a will-they-won't-they mission to save the world; and scriptwriter Alex Garland clearly believes the way to make this interesting is to throw lots of obstacles in the way of the mission, one after the other, any of which could result in the world's doom. But there's an inevitable sense of diminishing returns to this narrative strategy.
- The Mark of the Beast and Other Fantastical Tales by Rudyard Kipling, by
- Rudyard Kipling was for several decades one of the most popular writers in the English-speaking world, and at a young age became the first Englishman to win the Nobel Prize for literature. It's remarkable that, setting aside collections of connected stories, he wrote only four novels: Kim (1901), Captains Courageous (1897), The Light that Failed (1890), and The Naulahka (1892). While these are not negligible, it's his short stories (including his children's books) that constitute his most important work, and among their large number (he was prolific) was a good helping of speculative fiction—science fiction, fantasy, and horror. The Mark of the Beast and Other Fantastical Tales gives us 48 stories, in order of publication, a generous sampling of Kipling's output, no matter the genre.
- Flavors of My Genius by Robert Reed, by
- In Reed's future world, everyone has access to an internal universe at least as interesting as the external; it's a place where someone's genius can render him catatonic with overstimulation at the sight of the commonplace and where work has become meaningless.
- Deliverer by C. J. Cherryh, by
- C. J. Cherryh has always excelled at describing the alien. Whether her novels feature actual alien creatures (as in The Chanur Saga) or merely human beings so clinically detached from their peers that they might as well be from a different species (as in Cyteen), Cherryh's stories center on the experience of encounter—the moment an individual or a society collides with a culture strikingly different from their own.
- The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, edited by George Mann, and Fast Forward 1, edited by Lou Anders, by
- What with the various yearly "best of" collections, on top of those calling themselves paraspheres, new wave fabulists, new weird, post-cyberpunk, slipstream, and even, god help us, interstitial fictions, what's an editor to do to distinguish his or her particular anthology on the crowded shelves of what we used to just call science fiction and fantasy? You can't just put together a bunch of stories you think are really cool. There's got to be either a theme (e.g., alien sex, feminism, award winners) or a declaration of some movement (see above) in which the editor's selections herald some brave new genre.
- The 2007 Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist, by
- The Arthur C. Clarke award comes around but once a year, and as ever the judges have done sterling duty working their way through the best and worst of the British publishing scene. Their trawl is not limited to the SF publishing houses and their definition of SF is wide. Sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes, as this year, it seems to have offered little Added Value. There are three clear genre science fiction novels, all from Gollancz (as Gollancz is the premier UK SF publishing house this should be understood as a bias in the field, not in the jurors), all of which are excellent in their own way. Then there is a weak piece of nuclear rapture fiction, a pale allegory, and, from one of our best SF small presses and one of our best SF writers, we have a 1970s Playboy cod-psychological battle of the sexes.
- Primeval: The First Season, by
- We've already witnessed Robin Hood, the BBC's own attempt to reinvent another old show in the same contemporary vein as Doctor Who, mixing brisk historical action with modern characters and concerns and a healthy dollop of romance. ITV's Primeval is, if anything, an even more transparent attempt to reach the same audience; a series so carefully crafted around its different demographics that it feels as if it was designed by focus group.
- The Last Mimzy, by
- If you’re not in nursery school yourself, you may already have questions about this scenario. Why didn’t the scientist send a jar and a note (“Please spit in this and take the following steps to return it to the future, thank you”) and aim it at grown-ups?
- Glorifying Terrorism, edited by Farah Mendlesohn, by
- In short, the stories in Glorifying Terrorism exist to extrapolate situations and futures in which their authors may justify and understand terrorist action. This is a laudable goal—all the singing very loudly and sticking one's fingers in one's ears in the world won't make terrorism or terrorists go away, and to pretend "terrorism," or even particular groups of terrorists, can be defeated or silenced is of course to fundamentally misunderstand the phenomenon.
- The 2007 Philip K. Dick Award Shortlist, by
- I think Dick would have been pleased by the candidates arrayed to honour his memory. Almost all of them deal with his favourite themes of politics, the nature of reality, or both. Of course, science fiction has moved on since Dick's death in 1982, and the authors also deal with the legacy of cyberpunk and the latest thinking on AI, genetic engineering, and nanotechnology.
- Majestrum by Matthew Hughes, by
- Reality, it seems, operates in a cyclical pattern, alternating ages of science and reason with ages of "sympathetic association," or magic. Hapthorn's age is on the brink of such a turn, and as a result, pockets of magical reality are suddenly appearing in Hapthorn's logically ordered universe.
- Mythic 2, edited by Mike Allen, by
- Mythic 2 can be viewed as its own fantasy universe, with a heavenly realm of gods, a middle realm of lesser magic and human enchantment, and a lower realm where all the magic has drained away, leaving imperfect memories and forlorn longing or opportunities for erudite display.
- Grey by Jon Armstrong, by
- In Armstrong's world, the media is the primary factor in the development of our identities. Choosing to be grey in a world dominated by a whirlwind of images is a bold statement, an act of defiance: it represents the choice to be turned off to the onslaught of media manipulation.
- The Blood Confession by Alisa Libby, by
- This is an age, after all, that embraces the sensationalism of Paris Hilton's DUI convictions, Ms. Spears's lack of panties and Lindsay Lohan's drug abuse, the very sort of hysterical, hyper-sexual antics the Gothic celebrates. And so, without further ado, I give you the next representative of girlhood in our modern age: The Countess Elizabeth Bathory.
- Galactic North and Zima Blue and Other Stories by Alastair Reynolds, by
- Reynolds tends to focus on the darker corners of his characters and their environments, building a grandiose, gothic flavour over a hard science fiction base. Many of Reynolds's stories also possess a sense of scale. They tend to be long, but more than this, they do not flinch from gazing on the immensity of the universe.
- Hart & Boot & Other Stories by Tim Pratt, by
- Tim Pratt's new collection will be a revelation to those who are only familiar with him from his first novel The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl. Indeed, the cover of Hart & Boot & Other Stories promises more of the same Western-flavored contemporary fantasy, but this is something of a bait-and-switch. The title story shows similar influences to Rangergirl, but all the other stories draw from different styles and mythologies: Greek, Southern, and Irish among others, showing off the breadth of Pratt's knowledge and craft.
- Two Views: The Road by Cormac McCarthy, by
Victoria Hoyle and Paul Kincaid
- Victoria Hoyle: From the very first page there can be no doubt at all that McCarthy is situating The Road in a tradition of great narratives of death, despair and hope, and of sheer human doggedness. It contrives to be two novels at once. On the one hand it is a thoroughly contemporary post-apocalyptic novel: an elegy for our world, in both its modernity and its natural beauty, and a clarion warning of what we stand to loose through expedient stupidity. On the other, it is a parable, stripped bare—a mythic representation of humanity's struggles to reconcile suffering with divinity, and despair with the instinct to love.
Paul Kincaid: Cormac McCarthy's extraordinary novel, The Road, is at first sight a clear example of a familiar science fictional trope, the post-apocalyptic story. This is a tradition within science fiction that reaches back to Carolyn See's Golden Days (1987), to George R. Stewart's Earth Abides (1950), to Richard Jefferies's After London (1885), and The Road seems to fit right in, telling the familiar story of the struggle of civilised people to survive when there is no more civilization. On closer examination, however, this line of descent is not so plain.
- Sean Wright’s Jaarfindor Remade and Love under Jaarfindor Spires, by
- But just when it looks as if Jaarfindor Remade is simply a caper with gaudy dressings, the novel's second part abruptly takes off in a completely unexpected direction. Such bravura is at once endearing and deeply, deeply annoying, and all of Wright’s strengths and weaknesses are similarly shown in Love under Jaarfindor Spires, his first collection of short stories.
- Roadside Picnic by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky, by
- In 1977, when George Lucas was taking the pulpy spectacular roots of US SF and making Star Wars, Andrei Tarkovsky was taking one of the landmarks of Soviet-era science fiction and producing a characteristically cerebral and symbolic art-house film. The year that Stalker was released marked the first appearance of the original book, Piknik na obochine, in English. Reading it now, Boris and Arkady Strugatsky's novel (translated by Antonina W. Bouis, who is not credited in this Gollancz Masterwork edition) is just as cerebral and symbolic as its cinematic counterpart, and as powerful and fresh as the day it was first published.
- Map of Dreams by M. Rickert, by
- It hurts. That has to be said. M. Rickert's brilliant debut collection hurts from the first sentence of the first (and title) story, a bald statement of loss that sets the tone for much of what follows. "My six-year-old daughter," Annie Merchant tells us, "was shot and killed by a sniper while we were visiting New York City in the summer of 1992."
- Fat by Rob Grant, by
- The first few pages of the novel describe a world in which the British health service has decided to deny service to overweight citizens, but the vaguely science-fictional premise doesn't last. Instead, the book steers quickly into straightforward contemporary comedy, following the adventures of three characters whose radically different BMIs influence the course of their lives.
- The Eagle's Throne by Carlos Fuentes, by
R. J. Burgess
- I'll confess it up front—I don't know much about Mexican politics. You'd think this would be a problem, what with The Eagle's Throne being a political satire, in translation, by one of Mexico's most famous writers, Carlos Fuentes. But you'd be wrong.
- Dreadful Skin, by Cherie Priest, by
- Despite the English origins of the main antagonist, the Irish origins of the protagonist, and the Southwestern United States setting of the second and third parts of the book, there is a dark, rich, and fevered atmosphere to Dreadful Skin that feels quintessentially Southern Gothic. But while the prose rushes forward with a kind of breathlessness, there's restraint in the levels beneath the plot.
- Hav by Jan Morris, by
- History's shortcomings are the impetus, material, and theme of Hav, a remarkably subtle book, a novel of indirections that presents an imaginary (and richly imagined) geography and history for a Mediterranean nation called Hav, a country that incorporates the potentials and mysteries of various real societies and cultures.
- Contact, for Nintendo DS, by
- And while this particular game is not out to push the boundaries of interactive media or expand the conveyance of philosophical realization through agency in gameplay, it is undoubtedly a must-play for anyone who enjoys RPGs. If you're down with the nostalgia, Grasshopper Manufacture is the studio for you.
- Ilario: The Lion's Eye by Mary Gentle, by
- With Ilario: The Lion's Eye, Mary Gentle returns to, and broadens our picture of, the skewed fifteenth-century Mediterranean world she explored to such acclaim in her gritty, witty, absorbing Ash: A Secret History (2000): a world in which Carthage is a Visigothic stronghold locked in perpetual darkness; in which proud Pharaonic Egypt (and its library) lives on—just—in Constantinople; in which Christianity is divided between the followers of Christus Imperator and those of the Green Christ, and the papacy is a magically cursed and powerless shell; in which the Arabs apparently never made it out of the Hijaz, and the Etruscans live on the margins, worshipping their old gods in precarious secret.
- Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill, by
- Joe Hill's debut novel, Heart-Shaped Box, opens with the description of a collection, belonging to the novel's protagonist, Judas "Jude" Coyne, of objects macabre, grotesque, and just plain creepy: drawings by John Wayne Gacy, the trepanned skull of a sixteenth century peasant, a witch's confession, a hangman's noose, a snuff film. In a few paragraphs, Hill establishes the first of three storyforms with which he shapes the novel's plot—the collector of ersatz objects of wonder who comes across something truly wondrous, or in this case, truly horrific. When Jude's assistant comes across an online auction offering the titular box, said to contain the ghost of the seller's stepfather, Jude cavalierly puts in a bid and thinks nothing more of it. The readers, meanwhile, are fastening their seat-belts and getting ready for a bumpy ride.
- The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes, by
- Our apparent protagonist is Edward Moon, a stage magician on the declining side of fame, as well as freelance detective whose once faultless powers of deduction are in question due to some hinted-at debacle.
- Icarus by Roger Levy, by
- Few books can have been written around such extraordinary circumstances as a near-fatal knife assault on its author. But Levy's experience no doubt informed his third novel in a way that few people could, or would ever wish, to emulate.
- Conqueror by Stephen Baxter, by
- Emperor spanned the four hundred years of Roman rule by focusing on a series of historical vignettes bound together by a prophecy and populated with characters who represent, in stereotypical terms, the social changes that occur during the period (a formula similar to that used in Baxter's Evolution (2003), albeit on a much longer timescale in that instance). Conqueroruses the same formula to cover the Dark Ages.
- The Keyhole Opera by Bruce Holland Rogers, by
- Rogers's chosen form is the very short story. The works in The Keyhole Opera mostly range from one page to ten. As I suggested above, everything about a work represents a choice by the writer, and so should make a case for why there's a word on the page instead of nothing. The choice to restrict oneself to this narrowest of compasses, therefore, clearly reflects a kind of modesty about what can and can't be said. In purely economic terms, it's a brave choice in a world where you get paid by the word.
- Shades Fantastic and Masque of Dreams by Bruce Boston, by
- What are The Odyssey, Gilgamesh and The Faerie Queene if not journeys into the impossible, and therefore journeys that employ some amount of speculation about what might happen if the mythic, the unusual, and the impossible suddenly became real? To understand speculative poetry, one should first pick up one of these epic poems, or any epic poem. And then, one should pick up a collection by Science Fiction Poetry Association Grand Master Poet Bruce Boston, one of the finest and most original voices working in speculative poetry today.
- Time Pieces edited by Ian Whates, by
- But Ian Whates's anthology Time Pieces, which was assembled to celebrate NewCon 3 in 2005, is a deeply traditional British SF anthology. The convention's theme was "Time," which explains the anthology's subject matter, but it's also appropriate given that it's less a throwback to a vanished era of printing presses and mimeographs than a (perhaps) conscious pastiche.
- The Fountain, by
- When Pitt walked from the film in 2002 it effectively ended production. In the light of this Aronofsky decided to realise the project in a different medium: the graphic novel. He started work on this new version with artist Kent Williams but, as he did so, came to understand that he was at heart a low-budget film maker and could make his film, in slightly different form, without the sort of budget he need a marque-name A-lister to secure.
- Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon, by
- And now we have Against the Day, a book as difficult to assess by the criteria of contemporary fiction as it would be to judge Cerberus with the rest of the Crufts usuals. Sui generis doesn't even begin to describe it.
- The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross, by
- Calling this book a thriller would be as egregious a whitewash as filing it in the “technical adventures for boys who fear sunlight as much as an expected core dump” section. The Jennifer Morgue is a delirious collision of the archetypal hero adventure, our modern obsession with flashy technology, and our perpetual fear of the unspeakable unknown.
- The James Tiptree Award Anthology 3: Subversive Stories about Sex and Gender, edited by Karen Joy Fowler, Pat Murphy, Debbie Notkin, and Jeffrey D. Smith, by
- Certainly there is much to like, and even to love, in this third anthology of short-listed fiction. The lineup is startlingly impressive: stories from Margo Lanagan, Nalo Hopkinson, Ursula K. Le Guin, Vonda McIntyre, Eleanor Arnason, Ted Chiang, and Geoff Ryman; nonfiction from Pam Noles, Dorothy Allison, and L. Timmel Duchamp; and, finally, a welcome and extremely challenging story by James Tiptree herself, a glaring omission in previous volumes.
- Mathematicians in Love by Rudy Rucker, by
Yoon Ha Lee
- This book will not be to all tastes. If you are allergic to surfspeak, you should run away at high speed. On the other hand, Bela, the protagonist, is a lively narrator, whose descriptions, whether of parties or music jamming sessions or synesthetically conceived mathematical systems, are vivid (and don't require a math degree for enjoyment).
- The End of Harry Potter? by David Langford, by
- And even those more sober folks, ready to wait for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to come out in its own good time, will appreciate Langford's thorough and often hilarious summaries of what has come before.
- Settling Accounts: The Grapple by Harry Turtledove, by
- In the end, what appeals most about Turtledove's writing is the strength of his concepts, which more than survive his inconsistent handling of them—and which, no doubt, will make fans disappointed by this entry come back for the next one.
- The Arthur C. Clarke Award: A Critical Anthology edited by Paul Kincaid with Andrew M. Butler, by
- It's something of a truism that there is no such thing as a "typical" winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Since 1987, the award has been presented annually to the best SF novel published in Britain for the first time in the previous calendar year. It is judged by a panel drawn from the British Science Fiction Association, the Science Fiction Foundation and, usually, a partner organisation—originally the International Science Policy Foundation, and most recently the Science Museum. The results have sometimes been surprising. They have sometimes been controversial. But they have always been interesting. Or, as Neil Gaiman contends in his preface to this volume, the Clarke Award has always been weird.
- Variable Star by Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson, by
- This is, frankly, not a great book. The warning signals are all there in the hype on the dust jacket (and more of the same was helpfully supplied by the publishers to this reviewer), which encourages us to admire the fact that this book has been written at all rather than to consider whether it has been written well.
- The Serrano Legacy by Elizabeth Moon, by
- The Serrano Legacy (published as Heris Serrano in the USA) collects Hunting Party (1993), Sporting Chance (1994) and Winning Colours (1995) by Elizabeth Moon, which first appeared in the UK as individual novels in 1999. The omnibus relates the civilian life of Heris Serrano, formerly a Captain in the Regular Space Service.
- The Line Between by Peter S. Beagle, by
- Beagle sums up the collection: "There it is: that invisible boundary between conscious and not, between reality and fantasy . . . between the seen and the seen's true nature. . . ." These stories recount those instances when individuals approach that borderland, which at times exists purely as edge, and dance back and forth across the line.
- Children of Men, by
- Readers of P.D. James's Children of Men will recognize some of the scenario, but it's best to put the book out of mind when watching this exciting and thoughtful film by Alfonso Cuarón, director of Y tu mamá también and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
- El Laberinto del Fauno (a.k.a. Pan's Labyrinth), by
David J. Schwartz
- Guillermo del Toro's El Laberinto del Fauno (AKA Pan's Labyrinth) is a bleak and beautiful nightmare of a film. It is a story about a child that is decidedly not for children.
- Odyssey by Jack McDevitt, by
- In many ways Odyssey describes the most optimistic future a science fiction fan could reasonably hope for. So why are the folks in it still arguing over space-flight funding?
- On the Overgrown Path by David Herter, by
- This compelling little curio of a story stubbornly refuses to fit neatly into any category, but its pervading sense of other-worldliness will most likely land it in the fantasy section of your local book emporium from which, with a couple of caveats, I am going to recommend you pluck a copy.
- A Thousand Words About Heroes, by
- One of the crucial things is how slowly it moves. We are used to stories of superheroes moving fast enough that five significant things can happen in the twenty-something pages of the average comic. The first eleven episodes of the new US TV show Heroes, though, are gently paced even by the standards of episodic television; by the half-way mark of the first season, we are little closer to understanding what is going on and a very long way from forming a superhero team or dealing with the atomic explosion that will soon destroy New York.
- Sound and Fury: the Sputtering Candle of Battlestar Galactica, by
- In John Webster's revenge tragedy The Duchess of Malfi, the bullied and bullying assassin Bosola famously remarks, "We are merely the stars' tennis-balls, struck and banded / Which way please them" (V.iv.55-55). Bosola would have recognised what it now means to be a character on Ronald D. Moore's Battlestar Galactica.
- Talking Back: Epistolary Fantasies edited by L. Timmel Duchamp, by
Maureen Kincaid Speller
- In fictional terms the power of a letter lies as much in its potential to initiate as in anything actually realised; the letter written but not read, read but not answered, or read by another person, the wrong person even.
- Dreamsongs: A GRRM Rretrospective by George R. R. Martin, by
- When the review copy of Dreamsongs landed on my doormat, my first thought was that it was way too soon in Martin's career for a publisher to be offering a retrospective. Then I read the notes.
- Two Views: Doctor Who, "The Runaway Bride", by
Nicholas Whyte and Tony Keen
- Nicholas Whyte: Rose's departure gave the writers a chance to portray his Doctor meeting a potential replacement, but also meant that viewers would see the Doctor from a different perspective, Rose having been effectively the viewpoint character for the first two seasons.
Tony Keen: I am a dyed-in-the-wool Doctor Who traditionalist. I have definite ideas of what the programme and character should be, built up over nearly forty years of viewing. Bear that in mind. It may colour my perspective.
- Torchwood: "Captain Jack Harkness" and "End of Days", by
- British SF drama for adults is all but extinct: with the exception of a few aborted X-Files clones and Sixties remakes, UK television has entirely failed to serve a grown-up audience starved of intelligent tales of the fantastic. Into this barren wilderness Torchwood emerged, bawling, an only child with no siblings for competition and every reason to win unconditional devotion. Instead, it turned out to be a monstrous brat that only its mother could love.
- Rainbow Bridge by Gwyneth Jones, by
- Rainbow Bridge is the fifth and final book in Gwyneth Jones's Bold as Love series, the continuing adventures of rock-stars-turned politicians Ax Preston, Sage Pender, and Fiorinda Slater.
- Star Begotten: A Biological Fantasia by H.G. Wells, by
- Star Begotten, a short novel first published in 1937, can be read as a comment on all of this, a knowing novel about science fiction, and also as a satire on the state of the world in those dark days when everyone knew they were drifting towards war but nobody seemed able to do anything about it. It is also a science fiction novel in which nothing science fictional actually happens.
- John Clute's The Darkening Garden: A Short Lexicon of Horror, by
- John Clute, in The Darkening Garden: A Short Lexicon of Horror, as in his earlier works The Encyclopedia of Fantasy and The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, has chosen Door #3. He has in fact wrenched it open and gone striding through with guns blazing.
- Urban Fantastic by Allen Ashley, by
Jeremy Adam Smith
- We might (or in many cases, might not) go looking for something in a book that helps us understand the world and ourselves, but in the vast majority of stories we are only drawn off the path into wish-fulfillment fantasies or violent catharsis or fleeting amusement. Urban Fantastic, which contains 21 stories published between 1982 (Margaret Thatcher! The Clash!) and 2006 (Tony Blair! Al-Qaeda!), is not one of those books, though fortunately it does contain elements of fantasy, catharsis, and amusement.
- Julian: A Christmas Story by Robert Charles Wilson, by
- Julian has the deftly-tucked hospital corners characteristic of so many good novellas—in the end, nothing is superfluous—but its pace, even at its most dramatic moments, never risks becoming urgent.
- Resplendent by Stephen Baxter, by
- The third volume of Stephen Baxter's Destiny's Children sequence, 2005's Transcendent, seemed so effective a copestone we might wonder what a fourth book could add. The answer is: a fix-up of eighteen previously-published short stories (and one new one) arranged in the chronological order dictated by Baxter's Xeelee future-history.
- 2006 In Review, by
- We asked our reviewers to pick their SF-related highs and lows of 2006—books, films, tv, anything. This is what they said.
- Don't Stop: A West Wing retrospective, by
- It's absolutely clear to me that the true predecessor of The West Wing, the great science fiction show that ended its seven-season run this spring, is the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
- Pictures From an Expedition by Alexander C. Irvine, by
- It isn't until the 169th page of Alexander Irvine's second collection of short fiction that he comes out and says it. Preceding this moment have been tales of varying setting and success but uniform purpose. However far each story has deviated from another in terms of plot or conceit, ultimately an over-arching preoccupation has emerged. And part way through "Volunteers" (2004), Irvine's story of space colonisation and mass delusion, the narrator expresses it for us: "I know you know most of this already. All I have to offer that's new is me. My feelings, my perspectives." It may as well be Irvine talking.
- Travels in the Scriptorium by Paul Auster, by
- There comes a point when many writers seem to retreat inside themselves and produce a novel purely concerned with the workings of the inside of their own head. Such novels are easily recognisable: the setting tends to be a bare room, the cast is limited to one (with any other figures acting out roles rather than being developed characters), and the resolution, if not death, is stasis.
- Salon Fantastique, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, by
- If it were left to the rather cutesy cover art to sell the book, Salon Fantastique would not be an immediately appealing prospect (have we not yet grown tired of soft-focus Ren Faire ladies and ... butterflies?). However, the casually-browsing would-be reader is also gifted with certain names that inspire more confidence—co-editors Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, of course, together with a roster of fifteen contributors to make any lover of literary fantasy go weak at the knees.
- To Hold Infinity by John Meaney, by
- John Meaney's first short story appeared in Interzone in 1992. Meaney was then at the tail end of a squad of new or revitalised writers entering SF, including amongst others Stephen Baxter, Eric Brown, Greg Egan, Nicola Griffiths, Kim Newman, and Brian Stableford. There were so many that some could appear and go relatively unnoticed, like Keith Brookes, Eugene Byrne, Charles Stross, and ... John Meaney.
- Joon-ho Bong's The Host, by
- When the film shifts into higher gear or decides to pile on the tension, director Joon-ho Bong's shot selection and Hyung-ku Kim's beautiful cinematography combine with high-end special effects and great action directing to produce scenes that are not only exciting and visually impressive but also emotionally resonant.
- Farewell Summer by Ray Bradbury, by
- If the Bradbury oeuvre is distinguished by its author's ability to "never grow up," as the song goes, it is perhaps fitting that, this late in his long career, his most recent novel, Farewell Summer, is a mediation on the bittersweet passages of the polar ends of life, adolescence and old age.
- Forbidden Planets, edited by Peter Crowther, by
- Peter Crowther apparently had a canny way of getting the stories he wanted, a few of which pay quite direct homage. He wanted stories that would go to "places where humans should not venture but do." There is something about the expansive strength and simplicity of the film Forbidden Planet that would be hard to convey in your average written-to-order short story, but the theme of unwisely venturing into new places seems to have taken these writers to nearly the same place: the level of their writing is fairly high.
- Doorways for the Dispossessed by Paul Haines, by
R. J. Burgess
- Take a slab of Hunter S. Thompson, add some Philip K. Dick, and throw them into a blender for a while. Add a little dash of Brother's Grimm and a spoonful of American Psycho and what do you end up with? In all honesty, probably a great galumphing mess, but if anyone could come close to making such a bizarre union of styles and genres work then it's this man—Paul Haines—a young, up-and-coming author from down under.
- Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson, by
- The promotional material for Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn: The Final Empire represents the novel as a fantasy that "dares to turn a genre on its head" by asking the question "What if Frodo failed?" Set in a dark fantasy landscape where the prophesized hero failed to save the world, Sanderson's novel ultimately does defeat expectations, just not in the manner advertised.
- Nova Swing by M. John Harrison, by
- It starts with a dame. She's out of place: too classy for this dim and shabby bar off an unimpressive street in a run-down part of town. She's looking for a man. God knows how a woman like her tracks down a man like him, but people do strange things when they need something badly enough. She has a job for him. She's looking for something, and he's the one who can lead her to it.
Thus begins Nova Swing, not so much a direct sequel as a companion piece to M. John Harrison's much-lauded 2002 space opera, Light.
- Valley of the Soul by Tamara Siler Jones, by
- Based on a high-concept blending of the fantasy and police procedural genres, Valley of the Soul is the second sequel to Ghosts in the Snow, a book that made its way onto Locus magazine's 2004 recommended first novel list and earned its author a Compton Crook award for best first SF or fantasy novel. Unfortunately, despite showing an exemplary grasp of the mechanics of genre, Valley of the Soul displays a lack of focus that Jones will have to remedy if she harbors any hopes of transforming that early critical good will into any kind of lasting impact upon the infamously competitive fantasy genre.
- Mad Dog Summer by Joe R. Lansdale, by
- The problem with this collection is that Joe R. Lansdale is a great writer. He has such mastery of tone and style that I was convinced by almost every word he wrote in Mad Dog Summer. Convinced, but upset and irritated as well. In part, the problem is the distance between Lansdale's world view and my own; but what I really don't like about much of the work on show here is the vulgar approach Lansdale takes to his subjects.
- The Grass-Cutting Sword and In The Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente, by
- Two new books from Catherynne M. Valente, The Grass-Cutting Sword and The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden, both spin stories from the affairs of celestial beings, the first children of the Creators—gods. But these are not happy gods, ruling in bliss in the heavens; nor are they benevolent or righteous, giving laws and enforcing justice. Some are jealous, cruel, or self-destructive; others are frail victims.
- The Prestige: the film and the screenplay, by
- The Prestige is a film in close-up, a confined and confining film set in narrow streets, in small, dark rooms, in prison cells, a film that directs where we look and so guides what we do not see. We watch a drama—at times violent, always compelling—but the real story is something we construct only later, when the mysteries of the plot slot neatly and satisfyingly into place.
- The Impelled by Gary Fry, by
- Fry made his first sale in 2003—and while the eighteen stories in The Impelled cover the last three years, most of them are even more recent than that range suggests; six of the stories were published last year and two more this year, while six of the stories appear for the first time in these pages. Add to that his two British Fantasy Award nominations (albeit as Best Editor), and his rise has been rapid.
- Unexplained: An Encyclopedia of Curious Phenomena, Strange Superstitions, and Ancient Mysteries by Judy Allen, by
- It’s probably the tack Allen takes as much as anything having to do with the book’s rich content and design that leads me to give it high marks. I find her tone and approach endearing. Yes, it’s equally possible to scoff at this tone, to cop an attitude drawn from CSICOP and deem the entire book a mass of rubbish. But I choose to be charmed instead of offended. I think it can be a positive boon for young people to be entertained by this type of stuff, which helps keep the doors and windows of their imaginations wide open.
- Clinically Dead and Other Tales of the Supernatural by David A. Sutton, by
Kelly Christopher Shaw
- When writing horror fiction, Stephen King admits in his 1981 paean to the horror genre, Danse Macabre, "if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I'll go for the gross-out." What to make, then, of David A. Sutton's collection of 10 horror stories, Clinically Dead and Other Tales of the Supernatural, which fails to affect the reader on all three levels?
- The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke, by
- The stories in The Ladies of Grace Adieu are consistently subtle and enchanting, and as charismatic as any reader could wish, but, while the collection has the panache of the novel, it lacks its glorious self possession. The stories feel a little adrift, a little raw, occasionally too neat; they're not the natural heirs to the magnum opus. But then, how could they be, and why should they be? A short fiction collection is a different beast to a novel, and is bound to work on its readers in entirely different ways.
- The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue, by
R. J. Burgess
- The Stolen Child is a beautiful book. In the blurb on the back cover, there is a quote from Audrey Niffenegger (author of The Time Traveller's Wife) praising it for its depth of language and style. It's an appropriate choice of reviewer, since The Stolen Child shows strong similarities to Niffenegger's work. They share the same dual-threaded narrative style, the same achingly sentimental tone, the same emphasis on characterisation and meticulous attention to detail.
- Pearls from Peoria by Philip José Farmer, by
- Fans will rejoice that Pearls contains not just stories but also poems and essays—many of which were either previously unpublished or published decades ago in venues so obscure it would be nigh impossible to find them today.
- High John the Conqueror by Jim Younger, by
- The characterisation and setting of Younger's book show a love of purple prose and a taste for sensationalism, blasphemy, and decadence that will inspire snorts of recognition as well as laughs of disgust and delight.
- Matriarch by Karen Traviss, by
- The Wess'har War Series centers on Shan Frankland, an Environmental Hazard Enforcement Officer, who ends up exiled far from Earth on the planet Cavanagh's Star (called Bezer'ej by the local inhabitants) investigating what happened to a long lost colony whose database of earth life DNA has become an important resource in a time of environmental crisis and mass species extinctions.
- Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree Jr, by
- Feature Week: The Life and Legacy of James Tiptree, Jr.
Adam Roberts: You need to read James Tiptree Jr. If you've never read her, and you've any interest in SF, you need to rectify that anomaly. But even if, like me, you have read her, perhaps a while ago, you need to re-read her. Tachyon's handsomely-produced catch-all collection Her Smoke Rose Up Forever is the perfect place to begin: a lovely piece of book-production, from its attractive John Picacio cover-art through each of its eighteen indispensable stories printed across well-laid-out pages. It's a beaut, and you need to read it. Or to re-read it.
- Render Unto Chaos: The James Tiptree Award Anthology 2, edited by Karen Joy Fowler, Pat Murphy, Debbie Notkin, and Jeffrey D. Smith, by
- Feature Week: The Life and Legacy of James Tiptree, Jr.
Victoria Hoyle: The second James Tiptree Award Anthology (sadly bereft of a teasing subtitle this time) takes the same anarchic structure as its predecessor, being an admixture of fiction and non-fiction, short stories and novel excerpts.
- Sex, The Future, and Chocolate Chip Cookies: The James Tiptree Award Anthology 1, edited by Karen Joy Fowler, Pat Murphy, Debbie Notkin, and Jeffrey D. Smith, by
- Feature Week: The Life and Legacy of James Tiptree, Jr.
Victoria Hoyle: The result in Volume 1, the aforementioned and playfully titled Sex, the Future and Chocolate Chip Cookies, is truly cacophonous: three fairytales (one written in the mid-nineteenth century!), a ghost story, a piece of anthropological SF ala Le Guin, a story about gorilla hunting, an extract from a novel centered upon Multiple Personality Disorder and a narrative couched in the form of an academic essay.
- James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips, by
- Feature Week: The Life and Legacy of James Tiptree, Jr.
Farah Mendlesohn: Biography is the most awkward of the historical arts. Biography of the recently deceased is perhaps the most laden with eggshells, while authorized biography strews in its own path the most delicate-hued, fragile of incubating ovoids. In The Double Life of Alice Sheldon Julie Phillips must contend both with Sheldon's image creation and the determined image creation of others, from her mother and the Chicago society pages through to the feminists who have claimed Tiptree. There are several ways to do this. Phillips might have opted for dissection, but chooses instead immaculate darning, seeking to reconcile these different figurations: mostly this is very effective, occasionally there are funny slips, and sometimes this reader found herself reading sequential comments and struggling to reconcile them in ways that were revealing not so much of what could be read between the lines, but of a specific and unexpected agenda.
Julie Phillips wants Alice Sheldon to be a woman.
- Voices by Ursula K. Le Guin, by
- Seventeen years ago the city of Ansul was conquered by the war-loving Alds. Ansul was known for its learning, and especially for its library, but the Alds believe that writing is evil and have ordered all books destroyed. They also believe that women should not be seen outside without a man, and so Memer, a seventeen-year-old girl, goes out to do the shopping disguised as a boy.
- Jericho, by
- Every period of history has its own way of ending the world. The shadow of a mushroom cloud fell across the twentieth century, bringing with it the concept of the un-winnable war, the nuclear winter, and Mutually Assured Destruction. The twenty first century, to date, has been distinguished by a global rise in terrorism and the awareness of terrorism, the fear of the bomb replaced by the fear of the dirty bomb or the sleeper cell no one catches in time. Jericho (CBS, Wednesdays at 8pm) builds on these fears to explore what happens after the world ends.
- World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks, by
- In case that sounds too deep, I should note that World War Z is also about zombies. Underwater zombies! Legless zombies! Child zombies!
- Daughters of Earth, edited by Justine Larbalestier, by
Maureen Kincaid Speller
- "Feminism is as much a way of reading, as it is of writing," observes Justine Larbalestier in the introduction to this anthology (p.xvi). To which I might add that there are also as many feminist readings of a story as there are feminists to read it, and to write about it. Larbalestier comprehensively illustrates her point, and mine, in Daughters of Earth.
- Candle in a Bottle by Carolyn Ives Gilman, by
- Gilman has posited a much subtler, feminist agenda—by updating and upgrading the information mechanics of the cyberpunk movement and replacing the boy-toy faux-noir cliches with a more rounded and mature setting, she has written a feminist novel that doesn’t at first sight appear to be anything to do with feminism.
- Farthing by Jo Walton, by
- Alternate histories related to Nazi Germany are of course by now a venerable institution—from Robert Harris's mainstream smash Fatherland (1993) to the stranger works of alt.history scion Harry Turtledove, the post-1945 survival of Nazi Germany is the great "what if" of the twentieth century, and fertile ground for novelists. Harris too, though setting his book in Berlin, chose to create a world in which Britain preferred to reach accommodation with Hitler rather than fight him until whatever end. In Farthing, however, this choice and its consequences is brought front and centre—the men and women who made it and live with it are the novel's protagonists, and the action takes place in the Britain which the capitulation has created.
- The Machine's Child by Kage Baker, by
- It's just possible for readers to come to the most recent book in Kage Baker's series without having read the others, but I wouldn't recommend it with this one. The Machine's Child starts in the middle and ends with a great many unresolved questions. In between, though, it's a hell of a ride.
- Horton, Hartwell, Cramer, Strahan, Datlow, Link & Grant: The Year's Best Fantasy, by
- In fact, there was one quality that came through time and again during my reading of the four Year's Best anthologies for 2005: the power of what is left unsaid. The monster half-glimpsed by night, the dark past alluded to but never fully revealed, the magic that might simply be a delusion of grief (but also might not), the mysterious onset of invisibility (twice), the endings left full of possibility.
- Glasshouse by Charles Stross, by
L. Timmel Duchamp
- In the "post-Acceleration" universe of Charles Stross's latest novel, post-humans live in polities widely scattered through space that are physically constructed and linked with charmingly inventive SFnal ingenuity. One such polity is the Glasshouse, formerly a Houdini-proof panoptic prison. Glasshouse tells the story of what happens when three (unsympathetic) war criminals, posing as researchers conducting a social experiment, lure hundreds of subjects into agreeing to be locked up without civil rights and incommunicado in this closed polity.
- The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner, by
Yoon Ha Lee
- Once, in a nameless city, in the poor and dangerous neighborhood known as Riverside, a swordsman and his lover were entangled in the aristocrats' power struggles. Their story was told in Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint, which introduced us to a...
- Scar Night by Alan Campbell and The Fledgling of Az Gabrielson by Jay Amory, by
- You’ll have recognised a few familiar fantasy and horror tropes in the above synopsis, and you’ll notice several more if, as I recommend, you read this novel. Utilising elements of Christian and vampire mythology, Campbell also borrows freely from sources like Ghormenghast, Dickens, and the traditional coming of age parable. Re-inventing rather than recycling, (it’s not often you get to read about a vampire angel whose modus operandi also hints at lycanthropic tendencies), Campbell serves up a dark, explosive fantasy that singles him out as one to watch.
- La Science Des Rêves (a.k.a. The Science of Sleep), by
David J. Schwartz
- As he did in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), [Gondry] builds his irrealities more out of textures than smooth computer graphics. The result is a film that sometimes looks like the inside of an elaborate basement playhouse or a grade-school art class. It's handmade. It smells of glue.
- Strange Candy by Laurell K. Hamilton, by
- This book is a must-read, but probably not for the reason you think. Okay, so it’s a Laurell K. Hamilton book—everybody who buys everything she writes will already be headed for the bookstore, and won’t need to read a review. This is for the rest of you.
- The Hal Spacejock Series by Simon Haynes, by
- Haynes writes humourous SF, that mutant bastard of Wodehouse and Wells. Only Douglas Adams, who came from outside the genre via the BBC, has had significant commercial success writing only humorous SF, and often Adams' fans include those who don't read "that sci-fi rubbish."
- Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett, by
- But while joy is important, it's not all there is to be had from Wintersmith. It's clear that Pratchett sees writing for children as no reason to forgo all the issues confronted in so-called adult literature.
- American Morons by Glen Hirshberg, by
- The seven longish stories in Glen Hirshberg’s second collection and third book (after collection The Two Sams  and novel The Snowman’s Children ) are uniformly well-written, with careful delineation of character, mood, setting, and emotional nuance. They’re wide-ranging and varied in their settings and in the knowledge, or research, that supplies their trappings—contemporary Italy; 19th century New England millennialism, coastal shipwrecks, and lighthouse keepers; contemporary California; ice cream truck driving. In all these aspects they are like—and for the most part, they read like—the kind of fiction associated with literary magazines, both major and “little,” the kind of writing taught in Master of Fine Arts programs, and what Michael Chabon in the introduction to McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales (2002) characterized as “the contemporary, quotidian, plotless, moment-of-truth revelatory story” (“The Editor’s Notebook,” p. 6).
- The Silver Bough by Lisa Tuttle, by
- Treading the lines between reality and myth, the modern day and the remote past, the concrete and the imagined, has long been Lisa Tuttle’s specialty: books such as The Mysteries and The Pillow Friend highlight both the appeal and the danger of blurring the line between the magical and the everyday. The setting, crossing, and erasure of boundaries, both in the world and in the human heart, is a major theme of Tuttle’s, and it weaves through The Silver Bough like a silver thread.
- Jack of Ravens by Mark Chadbourn, by
- Jack of Ravens is an ambitious book. This fast-moving adventure tale trawls a time period from the Iron Age until the present day, and pulls in a bursting net of characters—historical and mythical—from ancient Rome, Renaissance Europe, the Lost Colony in America, Victorian London, Haight-Ashbury, Vietnam, and Woodstock.
- The Swarm by Frank Schätzing, by
- If environmental catastrophes are caused by another intelligent species, then a progressive attitude towards protecting nature becomes tantamount to appeasing the genocidal butchers who clearly think it better to try and wipe humanity out than reach some kind of agreement.
- Twenty Epics, edited by David Moles and Susan Marie Groppi, by
- The editors of Twenty Epics begin their paean to the epic story in a slightly backwards fashion, by deploring its decline. "We used to like epics," laments the introduction, but "somewhere along the way, they lost their charm." Reacting strongly to the current crop of unending doorstopper series, Groppi (also the editor-in-chief of Strange Horizons) and Moles went looking for short stories: not the usual source for the grandeur that they assert is the key to the epic sensibility, but when novels have let us down, the theory seems to go, short fiction is the last bastion of hope for lovers of grand gestures and flamboyant flair.
- In the Forest of Forgetting by Theodora Goss, by
- "My story has the contours of a fairy tale." So begins "The Belt," one of sixteen stories that make up Theodora Goss's haunting debut collection, In the Forest of Forgetting. It's an opening that brims with promise: of the tropes familiar to us from a thousand bedtime readings—the beautiful, motherless girl, the handsome prince, the terrible secret—but also of something unfamiliar. The story, after all, has the contours of a fairy tale, but what of its contents?
- Jigsaw Nation, edited by Edward J. McFadden III and E. Sedia, by
- Let's be honest: these are pro-Blue-state stories, written as morality tales, cautionary fables, and horror stories of people caught up by the Red machinery.
- John Scalzi's Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades, by
- Scalzi also gives us a glimpse of humanity on the cusp between what we can recognize as ourselves and an alien society that we would be surprised to see ourselves become. One week John Perry is fighting intelligent rock spiders in the zero-g environment of some gas giant's ring, the next he's stomping through a Lilliputian city like Godzilla armed with a rocket launcher.
- Skinks: A Pet Store Odyssey by Clifford D. Taylor, by
- In the darkness I see something flicker behind his eyes, a look that could only happen in the night. A challenge, he's no doubt thinking.
He bites into his cigar, before removing it and pointedly blowing smoke towards me. "Explain," he growls. "Where's my review, Phipps?"
- Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett, by
Jason Erik Lundberg
- Once again, Burdett’s prose sizzles with les mots justes and a fast pace; some of the sense of wonder of the exotic setting has worn away, but in return we are exposed to the wider geography of Thailand’s countryside.
- Life During Wartime by Lucius Shepard, by
R. J. Burgess
- Life During Wartime is the 66th book to be released in Gollancz's SF Masterworks series. Originally published in 1987, it's an anti-war novel, set in a near-future world that has been plunged into chaos at the height of the cold war. The war is dirty, fuelled by drugs and fought by elite psychics who are able to manipulate the emotions of those around them.
- Absolute Uncertainty by Lucy Sussex, by
- This is not Sussex’s only literary outfit—she has darker material in her wardrobe as well. But the best and most original stories here grapple with the tension between the desire to inhabit the subjectivity of people from another time and place and the suspicion that such understanding may be impossible.
- Dozois, Horton, Strahan, Hartwell & Cramer: The Year's Best Science Fiction, by
- And so the traditional "Year's Best" anthologies which are churned out every twelve months in the SF field, and purport to present to us the most essential stories of the last year so as to keep us up-to-date with all the very latest innovations and creative explosions, should be approached with an eyebrow circumspectly raised. All these books have to choose from, after all, is twelve months' worth of stories.
- The Vintage Book of Amnesia: An Anthology of Writing on the Subject of Memory Loss, edited by Jonathan Lethem, by
- Feature Week: In the Chinks of the Genre Machine
Graham Sleight: Lethem's book was originally published in 2000, and has seemed to me since then a touchstone for some peculiarly contemporary concerns in fiction, not a million miles from the debates which have been going on about "slipstream" fiction the last few years.
- ParaSpheres, edited by Rusty Morrison and Ken Keegan, by
- Feature Week: In the Chinks of the Genre Machine
Darja Malcolm-Clarke: Speculative fiction is a field preoccupied with categories, involved in a constant effort to catalog its narrative strategies, aesthetics, and influences—hard sf, New Wave, cyberpunk, mythic fiction, magic realism, slipstream, interstitial fiction, deep genre, New Weird, what have you. In ParaSpheres: Extending Beyond the Spheres of Literary and Genre Fiction, the preoccupation extends to the boundaries between "genre" and "literary" fiction.
- Feeling Very Strange, edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel, by
- Feature Week: In the Chinks of the Genre Machine
Niall Harrison: Hence, perhaps, the belated arrival of Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology, only seventeen years after Bruce Sterling coined the term. We may have had New Wave Fabulists and Interstitial Arts in the interim, it seems to say, but this time you're getting the Real Deal.
- Polyphony 5, edited by Deborah Layne and Jay Lake, by
- Feature Week: In the Chinks of the Genre Machine
Paul Kincaid: As to what that slippery term "cross-genre" might actually mean, it is not that easy to tell. Is this slipstream? It could well be, since "slipstream" tends to serve as a catch-all term for anything we are not comfortable slotting into clearly defined genre pigeonholes, which means in effect anything that strays away from the tired and overworked genre heartlands. But that still doesn't tell us very much.
- Superman Returns, by
Mahesh Raj Mohan
- When I learned that Bryan Singer would make Superman Returns a direct sequel to the films I'd enjoyed as a youth, I was only mildly intrigued. The recent boom in comic book films has produced far more misses than hits, and even good examples like Spiderman 2 or X-Men have their eye-rolling and/or stupid moments.
- The Bus Driver Who Wanted to be God and Other Stories by Etgar Keret, by
R. J. Burgess
- The Bus Driver Who Wanted to be God is the first English translation of some of Keret's most popular works. It is a somewhat idiosyncratic collection featuring 21 extremely short stories (less than 1,000 words each) and one extremely long one (well over 10,000 words) that vary between the comedic and the allegorically absurd. Reading it now couldn't be much timelier.
- Kafka in Bronteland and Other Stories by Tamar Yellin, by
- Most of the stories in Tamar Yellin's first collection are clearly and unequivocally realist fictions. All could, indeed, be read as such. Yet every so often there is a shift in perspective, a sudden lurch in the way the world is viewed, which makes you hesitate.
- Idolon by Mark Budz, by
- Idolon looks like core science fiction. Or it would, if the genre still had a body of work that could be confidently described as the core. Perhaps it would be better to say that Mark Budz's third novel looks familiar, looks like the sort of thing we might expect to find a lot of on the science fiction shelves, even in the heat of the form's current artistic and commercial diaspora: near-future speculation shaped around a thriller plot, with a cast that fit their roles more neatly than true characters ever do. But—to decode the title and paraphrase one of the cast-members in a single swoop—surfaces are phantoms. They can hide as much as they reveal, and vice versa, perhaps in genre novels more than most. The question, then, is whether there's more to Idolon than meets the eye.
- The Lady in the Water, by
- The Lady in the Water starts with a voice-over background story, minimally-animated, both unconvincing and gracelessly told, flaws that mar the writing throughout.
- Catalyst by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, by
- "Catalyst" is a fair description for Kaslin, a teenage boy who stumbles into a cave and wakes the hibernating sentient spider species within. Like a chemical catalyst, he is largely unchanged by the events unfolding around him.
- The Sword of Straw by Amanda Hemingway, by
- Hemingway enjoys being unpredictable, however, and mixes in modern-day life and even some science fiction elements to keep things interesting. This is not your Classics professor's Grail quest, not by a long shot.
- Marvel's Civil War, issues #1-3, by
Jeremy Adam Smith
- In the new Civil War mini-series, Marvel Comics finally gets off its creative ass and tackles head-on the issues raised by the War on Terrorism, from overreaching government power and individual conscience to public safety and personal liberty. After a super-powered catastrophe kills six hundred people, the government demands that super heroes reveal their secret identities and go to work for the government as legitimate officers of the law, complete with "pension plans and annual vacation time."
- Mendoza in Hollywood by Kage Baker, by
- Mendoza in Hollywood is the third of Kage Baker's Company novels. It was originally published in 2001, but Tor appears to be reissuing all of the previously-published Company novels in trade paperback form, something long overdue. Baker's series tells a complex story of several cyborg characters, living across the centuries, who work for the mysterious Dr. Zeus Incorporated, also known as the Company.
- The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie, by
- The Blade Itself is an epic fantasy that wears its cynical, postmodern heart on its sleeve. Wise Magi, stern knights and full-bosomed ladies can be found in its pages, but they're hardly the stars of the show. Instead, the novel follows the misadventures of people who seem to have wandered out of a film noir version of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series.
- The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach, by
- Carpet makers are venerated, respected ... and, thanks to the intergalactic revolution they've yet to hear about, shortly to be out of a job.
- Throne of Jade and Black Powder War by Naomi Novik, by
- The conceit of the series is straightforward: take one Napoleonic Era, add dragons, mix well. The style is strongly reminiscent of Master and Commander and others of its ilk.
- The Big Picture Show: Who S2, by
- Feature Week: The Tenth Doctor
Graham Sleight: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. But mostly the latter. The second season of the revived Doctor Who had so much going for it: it looked glossier, had more publicity and more spin-off shows, and drew bigger guest stars. The ratings were about the same as for the 2005 season (i.e. extremely impressive), but as drama and as science fiction it was mostly a series of wasted opportunities.
- Six Comments on "Army of Ghosts"/"Doomsday", by
- Feature Week: The Tenth Doctor
Abigail Nussbaum: About halfway through "Army of Ghosts," the penultimate episode in Doctor Who's second season, we finally realize what truly sets the ninth Doctor apart from the tenth.
- Happy Times and Places: "Love and Monsters", by
- Feature Week: The Tenth Doctor
Tim Phipps: Russell Davies is, of course, from the Olden Days of fandom. He lived through much of the above. I've no idea if he was explicitly thinking of Ian Levine when he wrote the Abzorbaloff, but I can't help but suspect that Levine was bouncing somewhere around the back of his head.
- Doctor Who and the Nostalgia Factor: "School Reunion", by
- Feature Week: The Tenth Doctor
Iain Clark: Bringing back Sarah Jane Smith is one of the most definitive moments of the relaunched Doctor Who. Not just for what it tells us about the show's past, but for what it tells us about its present.
- The Plot to Save Socrates by Paul Levinson, by
- At a time when an editor at Tor gave an interview lamenting the trend in speculative fiction towards either mimetic SF or the almost-baroque extreme hard SF, it’s interesting to read a writer of old-fashioned SF whose aversion to flamboyance seems to verge on the near pathological. Not that The Plot to Save Socrates is entirely flawless.
- Paragaea by Chris Roberson, by
- Roberson's love for the pulps is readily apparent in his massive world-building. His characters stumble upon, walk past, and run through nearly every pulp convention you can think of, and therein lies the ultimate frustration with this book.
- Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead by Alan DeNiro, by
- I shudder, here, at my own reviewerish contrivance; except to say that it registers the effect these stories have on a reader. On this reader at any rate. Some of them haunt the mind after the book has been put down. Others sail past the mind, or past my mind at any rate, at right-angles and leave no trace. Some seem queerly beautiful; more seem too obviously the sort of thing written by the graduate of a prestigious Creative Writing MFA programme. I liked, I didn't like.
- Flatland, Flatterland, Spaceland: An education in three books, by
Lori Ann White
- Flatland seamlessly melds social satire, pointed commentary on the vanity and hypocrisy of the upper classes, philosophical musings, higher mathematics, and a dash of what we would now call hard SF. It has inspired numerous successor books and quasi-sequels: most recently Flatterland, by mathematician Ian Stewart (originally published in 2001), and Spaceland, by mathematician and SF writer Rudy Rucker (originally published in 2002).
- The Sharing Knife: Beguilement by Lois McMaster Bujold, by
- Based on Bujold's other works, readers might assume the novel to be richly inventive, containing well-realized characters and societies that are at once strange, striking, and moving—creations that carry the shock of the new even as they reflect interestingly on our own world. Bujold fans may relax. All of these qualities are definitely present in The Sharing Knife.
- Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, by
R. J. Burgess
- It's always hard reviewing something that has the word "classic" firmly attached to it. After all, what can be said now that forty years of precedent hasn't already covered? Ray Bradbury's dark tale of gothic intrigue set against a background of nostalgic American life was first published over four decades ago, and since then has re-emerged countless times, most notably as a 1983 Disney movie and now as this, the latest in the excellent Fantasy Masterworks series.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, by
- Having been happily impressed with the first "P of C" movie The Curse of the Black Pearl, for reasons mostly to do with Depp, Bloom and, shiver me timbers, an exciting yarn, I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest wondering if it too could offer a real, sustained, two hour and thirty-one minute thrill of the sort I had come to expect. Comedy or crud? It turned out to be a bit of both.
- Half-Life 2: Episode One, for PC (Windows 98/2000/XP/ME), by
- Now with Half-Life 2: Episode One, Valve has again taken the first step forward in alternative distribution, foraying into the realm of episodic game content. The result, some say, is a gaming experience superior even to the highly acclaimed Half-Life sequel.
- Emperor by Stephen Baxter, by
- With his new Time's Tapestry series, Baxter has chosen to move away from his traditional stomping ground in favour of the historical fiction he flirted with in Coalescent, the first book of his Destiny's Children sequence.
- Keeping It Real by Justina Robson, by
- Keeping It Real is a less than stern rebuttal to the opinions expressed by some publishers that SF readers want to read SF, fantasy readers want fantasy, and thriller readers want neither. Instead we have elvish rockers mixing it with AIs and stalkers in a book that attempts not so much the mixing of genres as the annihilation of the divides between them.
- The Palgrave History of Science Fiction by Adam Roberts, by
- In The Palgrave History of Science Fiction, Adam Roberts similarly sidesteps the genre's central definitional question, and chooses to begin his review of the mode, and his search for its exemplars, at more or less the birth of literature.
- The Colorado Kid by Stephen King, by
- King acknowledges in the afterword that some readers may hate this book, but that he is writing about mystery rather than writing a mystery; or rather, he writes a mystery not to resolve it but to put the reader into the sense of Mystery—the mystery of life we are all in. The point of the book is that there is much we can never know, much that is never explained to us.
- Bangkok 8 by John Burdett, by
Jason Erik Lundberg
- The Buddha taught that karma is the cosmic law by which every cause has an effect, and all our actions have consequences that can last many lifetimes. Acceptance of karma can help one to understand why some people are born with disabilities while others are given prodigal talent (and, sometimes, both at once). Karma invokes the concept of individual responsibility for past and present actions, and it is a major theme in John Burdett's exotic mystery thriller Bangkok 8.
- Impossible Stories by Zoran Živković, by
- PS Publishing have done the world an immense favour by releasing, between one set of covers, five of Zoran Živković's story cycles, plus one more story to end with, all topped and tailed with explanatory pieces by Paul Di Filippo and Tamar Yellin.
- Streaking by Brian Stableford, by
- There may be—indeed there is—some genuine pleasure in being teased and tickled by the kind of incongruities Stableford gives us here, but somehow we need to think that all this quite expert hoo-ha is a violon d'Ingres, a secondary kind of creative effort on his part.
- Mythic, edited by Mike Allen, by
- Mythic, edited by Mike Allen, is a collection of poems and short stories that either draw on myth directly or else take inspiration from it. In selecting the works that were included, Allen has interpreted myth broadly.
- End of the World Blues by Jon Courtenay Grimwood, by
- While the title of End of the World Blues suggests an Armageddon theme—a popular science fictional trope during the Cold War that may of late, unfortunately, acquire a resurgence in relevance—that's not what we get. Rather, this is a story of both literal and psychological rebirth in which the characters achieve, to use the pop-psych term, "closure" for their "blues."
- The Good People by Steve Cockayne, by
- Let's just ignore the fact that this is for "younger readers," shall we? Why should they get all the best books? Steve Cockayne, who is already one of our finest fantasy authors, has produced something edgy, liminal, and deeply disturbing, and very, very English.
- Nintendo Recent Release Roundup: Fresh Faces on Old Favorites in the Palm of Your Hand, by
- Based on the Train Your Brain books by Dr. Ryuta Kawashima—runaway best-sellers in Japan—Nintendo's Brain Age and Big Brain Academy make the lofty claim of increasing their audience's IQ, sharpening your grey matter while providing entertainment, all at a discounted shelf price of $20 apiece.
Nintendo's New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS is their heavily advertised and highly anticipated latest installation in the Mario franchise. Bang-for-buck, few DS titles currently offer as much game time as this.
- Writing the Other: A Practical Approach by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, by
- Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, two Seattle-based science fiction authors, have developed a useful, nuts-and-bolts approach to creating fully realized, well-rounded characters substantially different from oneself.
- Giants of the Frost by Kim Wilkins, by
- Pity poor Victoria Scott, a talented scientist who flees a broken engagement to take a job at an isolated Norwegian weather station. She's young, she's bitter, and she's "given up on love." Fortunately for her, she's also the heroine of a fantasy romance novel, so love, true love, (albeit supernatural in nature) lies just around the corner.
- Circus of the Grand Design by Robert Freeman Wexler, by
- Meet little lost Lewis, thirty if he's a day, working in PR (for which he has an aptitude but not a talent) and an expert at travelling without moving. It's November and he's alone in drizzle, on his way to the coast for what would have been a romantic weekend if he hadn't just argued with his wife.
- The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, by
C. M. Morrison
- Just like everyone else, I am rather suspicious of hype. As soon as I hear something is the best new thing ever I start to wonder what's wrong with it. Sometimes, as in the case of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell the praise seems warranted. Far more often I want to know how the reviewer was bribed to tell me such lies. Which brings me to The Lies of Locke Lamora, a book awash in buildup.
- Zootsuit Black by Jon George, by
- In James White's "The Trouble with Emily" (1958), the god-like doctors of the Space Hospital persecute and torture a neo-brontosaurus into developing telekinetic powers, knowing that this will be its species' only hope of survival in the event of planetary disaster. In Jon George's Zootsuit Black, humans do the same thing to themselves.
- The Butterflies of Memory by Ian Watson, by
- Ian Watson is facile and fecund. Ideas come so easily to him, and are scattered so profusely through his stories, that they can get in the way of storytelling. It is a trap he falls into all too often. He will start to tell one story, then when he gets bored bung in another idea that sends the whole thing shooting off in a completely different direction.
- Blood and Iron by Elizabeth Bear, by
- I think many of us have been invited to banquets or dinner parties reminiscent of Elizabeth Bear's Blood and Iron: A Novel of the Promethean Age. If Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? could inspire a fantasy novel, Blood and Iron would be it.
- The Worldwired Trilogy, by Elizabeth Bear, by
- Elizabeth Bear's Worldwired trilogy (published in the US during the course of 2005 as three volumes: Hammered, Scardown, and Worldwired) tells a lot of stories. Each volume reaches a conclusion—if not a resolution—for at least some of the characters, and can be read as a story in itself; but taken together the books expand to tell a bigger story on a much bigger canvas than seems signalled by the tightly-paced action, complex characterisation and relationships, and already full plot of the first volume.
- The King's Last Song by Geoff Ryman, by
- Geoff Ryman's seventh novel, The King's Last Song, unfolds in two narrative strands. One follows the life of Jayavarman VII, the ruler of a minor princedom who in the late 12th century became Cambodia's first Buddhist king. In the other, modern strand, an accident uncovers a book written by Jayavarman, inscribed on leaves of gold.
- Black Hole by Charles Burns, by
- Black Hole is the story of a group of teenagers living in the Pacific Northwest during the 1970s. Less Dawson's Creek and more The River's Edge, the story details what happens when a sexually transmitted disease emerges among them.
- River of Gods by Ian McDonald, by
- River of Gods is a Bollywood novel, and not just because it is set in India. Cleaving to the same mythical mindset which sets Indian cinema apart from so much of the turgid crap coming out of Hollywood, Ian McDonald populates his multi-threaded novel with a phantasmagoric sense of divinity.
- Best. Franchise. EVAR: The Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form, by
- With the exception of Spirited Away (2001) and 28 Days Later (2002), nominations for this award have been mainstream Hollywood hits, with smaller genre films or foreign-language films resolutely ignored. Indeed, all five of this year's nominees are based on established properties, being adaptations, continuations, or reinventions.
- X-Men: The Last Stand, by
- X-Men—The Last Stand tries to pick up where X2 left off, dangling threads and all, and adds the tricky burden of turning an open-ended story into a neatly tied-off trilogy. It's only partially successful.
- Archaeologies of the Future by Fredric Jameson, by
- Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions is a major event in speculative fiction studies.
- Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge, by
- For the first time a Vinge novel has a near future setting, exploring current concerns about personal and state security, and how the ever-accelerating progress in technology will affect them.
- One Million A.D. edited by Gardner Dozois, by
- What we have with Gardner Dozois's new anthology One Million A.D. is one example after another of why people writing about the far future would probably be better off thinking of themselves as fantasy writers than as science fiction writers—the attempt to write plausible science fiction has, in most of these stories, limited the authors' imaginations and forced their tales into dullness.
- Diana Wynne Jones: Children's Literature and the Fantastic Tradition by Farah Mendlesohn, by
Lesley A. Hall
- Farah Mendelsohn's study of Diana Wynne Jones is a delight to read in itself, and also the kind of critical study that sends one galloping back to the books themselves with new and exciting insights.
- A Shadow In Summer by Daniel Abraham, by
- A Shadow in Summer is his first novel; it's very good, grafting an Arthurian love triangle riff onto a loosely Oriental world in which andant (spirits) conjured by poet-sorcerers (so called in part because the magic wielded incarnates ideas into corporeal counterparts of the conjurer, which is perhaps one way to describe poetics) are harnessed to enhance commerce.
- The Dedalus Book of Finnish Fantasy, edited by Johanna Sinisalo, by
- Johanna Sinisalo, herself a prolific author and winner of the Finlandia Prize, has assembled a masterful collection of Finnish tales of the fantastic for this latest volume in the Dedalus European Fantasy series.
- The Summer Isles by Ian R. MacLeod, by
- Like almost everything Ian MacLeod has written, The Summer Isles starts after the fact. The fact, in this case, is a fascist revolution in 1930s England which the narrator, Griffin Brooke, looks back on from the vantage of 1940 and his own sixty years.
- Visionary in Residence by Bruce Sterling, by
- Visionary in Residence is mostly a book about science, with lots about business thrown in. At its best, the book evokes a sense of wonder at just how deeply technology shapes our posthuman destiny; at its worst, it gives in to an almost stealth-marketer-like obsession with gadgetry—soft or hard—without enough social context to make us feel the human consequences of what is going on.
- Gradisil by Adam Roberts, by
- It's a never-quite-answered question why this claustrophobic, zero-gravity existence would appeal to anyone but the most committed misanthropist, much less to Earth's wealthiest. But if you can overlook that, and if you're willing to be patient with a sometimes long-winded and convoluted narrative, Gradisil repays with a reasonably engaging exploration of some of the more relevant and fraught aspects of life on (and around) planet Earth.
- Troy by Simon Brown, by
- Brown’s work has never been considered that of a stylist. His strength, then, arises from his ability to convey the emotions of his characters and to connect them with the fictional world that he portrays, allowing mood and tone to carry the reader through, rather than plot.
- Two Views: The Patron Saint of Plagues by Barth Anderson, by
Mark Teppo and Paul Kincaid
- Mark Teppo: Anderson's deft assembly of this wide assortment of puzzle pieces makes for riveting reading and an immersive examination of the emotional and physical devastation of a viral outbreak. However, for all its high-tech high jinks and inventive scientific perambulations, The Patron Saint of Plagues is really a cautionary tale for our era.
Paul Kincaid: You might gather from this that Barth Anderson is no great shakes as a literary stylist. What he can do is string along a reasonably competent thriller plot. Every so often it has a storytelling-by-numbers feel to it, but when he gets excited by his story there is a great deal of energy in the tale.
- Crystal Rain by Tobias S. Buckell, by
- Crystal Rain contains some hidden places where wonders lie concealed, ready to break out into the light of day when the old-fathers' works are brought back to life.
- I Live With You by Carol Emshwiller, by
Maureen Kincaid Speller
- Half threat, half promise, the title of this collection of stories unequivocally sums up the effects of its contents. Like fish hooks, Carol Emshwiller's stories possess barbs; once caught in the mind, they're almost impossible to dislodge.
- The Burning Girl by Holly Phillips, by
- Rye has our sympathy. But, in the course of Holly Phillips's debut novel, The Burning Girl, the reader has difficulty ever really caring.
- The Weight of Numbers by Simon Ings, by
- Simon Ings' fifth novel, The Weight of Numbers, makes for a frustrating descriptive experience. Its plot—if such a thing can even be said to exist—is a tangle of yarn. Tug at it at any point, and you'll find a beginning.
- The Highway Men by Ken MacLeod, by
- The Highway Men is a taster book. Those who are already MacLeod fans will enjoy it, but its real potential may be as a juvenile.
- The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana by Jess Nevins, by
- I've held onto this book for a good couple of months before reviewing it. Mainly, this was because I felt I could do it more justice if I spent more time reading it. But I also couldn't actually face reviewing it for some time, so boggled was my mind by the contents.
- A Darkling Plain by Philip Reeve, by
- This far into any series—this is the fourth and final book of Philip Reeve's Traction Cities series—there is a wealth of backstory that cannot be readily explicated for the newcomer. Suffice to say the story takes place in a post-apocalyptic far future where vast moving cities battle the airborne armies of mountain fastnesses, for reasons that are as much ideological as resource based.
- Shadow of the Colossus, for PlayStation2, by
- I've played a lot of games, and I'm as much a sucker for the pretty as anyone else, but the first time I moved the main character in Shadow of the Colossus, a chill actually went up my spine.
- Darkland by Liz Williams, by
- Darkland is thought-provoking and at times unsettling, and there was a sense throughout that at any time, the SF could turn into outright horror. For three hundred and five of its three hundred and eight pages, I enjoyed Darkland more than any other SF novel I've read in the last three or four years.
- Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, by
- Zahrah the Windseeker is a most impressive debut from newcomer Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, combining as it does an engaging, empathetic young protagonist, a rousing jungle adventure, and the weirdest fantasy world this side of The Neverending Story.
- Alexandre Aja's The Hills Have Eyes, by
- For every Amityville there is also a House of Wax (2005), a film so narcissistically insipid that the only possible explanation for its existence is that it is some kind of high-budget Al Qaeda recruitment film showing the moral and aesthetic decay of the West. Alexandre Aja's remake of a 1977 Wes Craven classic continues the trend by being a decidedly mixed bag.
- The Coyote Trilogy by Allen Steele, by
- It's easy to see in the first book that Steele wanted to tell a good story and investigate the mythology of the American Dream. He won favor with Coyote, continued that intensity through Coyote Rising, but by Coyote Frontier the signs of fatigue were clear.
- London Revenant by Conrad Williams, by
Kelly Christopher Shaw
- Williams seamlessly blends plot threads involving a philosophical serial killer, a secret race of Underground dwellers, a lost subterranean city called "Beneothan," and an apocalyptic earthquake to create a city brimming with danger and decadence.
- Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge, by
- The story, however, relies on more than the invention of an eccentric world—Hardinge’s characters are varied and have an inner life: they do not (for the most part) violate credibility by acting randomly or senselessly, and yet, like real people, they are never entirely predictable in what they do or transparent in what is going on in their minds.
- Past Magic by Ian R. Macleod, by
- Perhaps a certain unevenness is to be expected. There is, after all, a suspicion that Past Magic exists less to present a coherent portrait of its author than to fill in the gaps, to collect the early stories missed by Voyages by Starlight (1996) and the late stories missed by Breathmoss and Other Exhalations (2004).
- The Red Rose Rages (Bleeding) by L. Timmel Duchamp, by
Lesley A. Hall
- Eve is the character who would normally be at best a supporting, more likely a marginal, character in a story about the prisoner resisting the pressures upon her or the rebel bent on bringing the system down.
- The Children of the Company by Kage Baker, by
- The Children of the Company is essentially a fix-up novel, comprising a half-dozen stories published between 1999 and 2000, including "Son Observe the Time."
- The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow, by
- To pause a moment before proceeding to the rest of the tale: the genius of this book—and I think it partakes of genius—is that it perfectly captures the prismatic situation of science and theology in the eighteenth century.
- Capacity by Tony Ballantyne, by
- A techno-thriller that aspires to be more than just detective fiction with gadgetry, Capacity successfully tackles themes like free will, accountability, and the nature of human consciousness. Humans have taken a back seat, but is that necessarily a bad thing?
- Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, by
- So the whacked, wicked narration veers from spoke of spiral to radial, moments of myth to bathos, in a series of feathery postmodern interpretations of slapstick comedy in the self-aware tradition of Wodehouse or, much more familiarly to me at least, the hallucinatory Loony Tunes.
- Parietal Games: Critical Writings by and on M. John Harrison, edited by Mark Bould and Michelle Reid, by
- One cannot help but imagine a gang of cowboys turning up at the resplendent home of Science Fiction Foundation Publications Inc.: "Want a book then, Missus?" And what we have is undoubtedly a book, if you ignore the fact that as you read you are increasingly aware of the literary equivalent of cracks in the surface, bubbles under the paper, and nothing quite lined up properly.
- The Empire of Ice Cream by Jeffrey Ford, by
- I frequently bemoan the days when collections were more than just a jumbled pile of stories tossed together in any old order. Jeffrey Ford seems determined to revive those days, and he has crafted this collection (his second) with the same care and attention that he brings to crafting his individual stories. There are several distinct themes, each addressed with the quietly melancholy signature style that has sometimes led me to comment that Ford writes in the genre of sorrow.
- Venusia by Mark von Schlegell, by
- I like subtlety A-OK; it's bloviation and confusion I have a problem with. Von Schlegell escapes the former by his clean and imaginative prose, but unfortunately succumbs to the latter. I fear he may have let his love of the genre get in the way of his storytelling.
- Write 'Em Until We Can't: Battlestar Galactica Lays Down Its Burdens, by
- Battlestar Galactica is simultaneously a show compulsively attached to continuity and one with a logic which often doesn't bear the most superficial of inspections.
- Living Next-Door to the God of Love by Justina Robson, by
- Feature Week: The Novels of Justina Robson
Tanya Brown: In Natural History, Justina Robson gave us a tale of alien contact with a happy ending: a brave new world where the lost and rootless, the restless and adventurous, were offered the opportunity to become one with a benevolent consciousness, Unity, that offered them a kind of transcendence. Living Next-Door to the God of Love opens some thirty years later. It deals with what happens after that happy ending, about the dark lining of that silver cloud. It's about what people—humans, Forged, and others—choose to do, and what is forced upon them.
- Natural History by Justina Robson, by
- Feature Week: The Novels of Justina Robson
Tony Keen: Natural History begins with the cover: a very nice design by Steve Stone, depicting the novel's opening moment, which almost acts as part of the narrative. What follows is a strong piece of writing, that I (and others) was surprised didn't make the 2004 Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist (although it was nominated for that year's BSFA Award). The nomination of the book for this year's Philip K. Dick award, therefore, is welcome.
- Mappa Mundi by Justina Robson, by
- Feature Week: The Novels of Justina Robson
Nicholas Whyte: Mappa Mundi was published in 2001, a year in which many things changed in international politics. It is a tensely paced and densely written novel, techno-thriller in substance but not at all in style, set a very few years from now—indeed, reality has caught up with Robson's setting rather more quickly than she perhaps anticipated.
- Silver Screen by Justina Robson, by
Maureen Kincaid Speller
- Feature Week: The Novels of Justina Robson
Maureen Kincaid Speller: the Bradford space port represents something I had not properly appreciated about Silver Screen before, which is that it sits very firmly in the tradition of—I hesitate to use the word ‘domestic’, but it is the correct word in this instance—British domestic science fiction.
- The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier, by
- The first chapter of this novel, which first introduces us to the city and its multifarious puzzled inhabitants, appeared as a short story in the New Yorker in 2004 and immediately generated a buzz among those looking for something new in the literature of the fantastic.
- Rocket Science by Jay Lake, by
- In this first novel, Campbell Award-winner and prolific short fiction author and editor Lake pays thorough homage to the pocket book genre. The volume's light weight and flexible slenderness in the hands is a sign of the youthful exuberance within, a reminder of earlier days when bad guys were really bad and good guys were really good and fistfights went Biff! Bam! Pow!
- V for Vendetta, by
- If you were to pick any comic to adapt into a major Hollywood blockbuster, it probably wouldn't be V for Vendetta. Even if you didn't yet know that suicide bombers would soon make their first appearance on British soil, in a post-9/11 world it would be a brave person indeed who would film a mythologised bomber fighting to bring down a fascist UK government.
- Lady of Mazes by Karl Schroeder, by
- Toronto-based Karl Schroeder's third novel, Lady of Mazes need not take place off-world in the far future. The technology it describes is coming soon to a theatre near you. Like, next week.
- Ghosts of Albion: Accursed by Amber Benson and Christopher Golden, by
- In this, the first of a promised series of novels picking up the characters and settings from the BBC webcast stories by the same authors, siblings William and Tamara (not, repeat, not Willow and Tara) are the chosen Protectors of Albion, magically gifted teenagers charged with protecting their country from its supernatural enemies (so it is completely different from any other story or TV series you may have encountered).
- Firebirds Rising edited by Sharyn November, by
C. M. Morrison
- Firebirds Rising is the second in what is now an ongoing series of Young Adult anthologies edited by Sharyn November. There are contributions by a number of well-known authors, most of whom have been published by November's Firebird imprint. For the most part that is all that connects these stories together—there's no theme or overarching mood to give the anthology a sense of unity.
- Shriek: An Afterword by Jeff Vandermeer, by
- Shriek: An Afterword, the first Ambergris-set novel proper, shines a stronger spotlight onto this history, connecting the disparate stories in City of Saints and Madmen into something resembling a single narrative. Sadly, the novel falls short of City of Saints and Madmen's brilliance, and the Ambergris that emerges from it is less appealing than the one encountered in that earlier book.
- 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill, by
- What would a moral writer's horror stories look like? What would it be like to write in this tradition so rooted in schlock and degradation, but to do it as a feeling adult?
- Knowing Where To Look: The 2005 BSFA "Best Artwork" Award Shortlist, by
- Visual, static two-dimensional art is possibly the only art form in which everything is presented to the audience at once and not over a span of time, but good SF art, because it relies principally on the imagination, necessarily encourages the viewer to imagine what else might exist beyond the immediate context of the image itself.
- Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra et alia, by
- The series follows young escape artist Yorick Brown and his capuchin monkey Ampersand as they travel across the US toward various goals, after the sudden death of all other male mammals. Traveling with them are a woman known only as "355"—an agent of a secret American intelligence agency—and Dr. Allison Mann, a bioengineer working on human cloning.
- Two Views: The Complete Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson, by
Juliana Froggatt and Mattia Valente
- Juliana Froggatt: While I toyed with the idea of submitting a three-word review (to wit: BUY. THIS. BOOK), on further reflection I was willing to admit that most people might feel they need more than my say-so to justify plopping down $150 for something they might already own, albeit in lesser form.
Mattia Valente: Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes swept us along for the adventures of a perennially 6-year-old Calvin and his best friend, the tiger Hobbes—to Calvin as real as you or I, to his parents nothing more than a stuffed animal. The slippery reality of the comic strip is one of its most endearing features.
- Polder: A Festschrift for John Clute and Judith Clute, edited by Farah Mendlesohn, by
- Polder is a festschrift (and how fitting it is that the book's title may not be immediately transparent): a collection of tributes, anecdotes, poems, essays and stories about the Clutean triptych. It is, in a word, eclectic.
- The Pale Horseman by Bernard Cornwell and Mordred, Bastard Son by Douglas Clegg, by
Christopher M. Cevasco
- A close connection between otherwise distinct genres is again made manifest: just as science fiction allows us to view the human condition by extrapolating forward to where we might end up, historical fiction does this by looking back at where we have been.
- Cultural Breaks by Brian Aldiss, by
- Aldiss engages in some of that stylistic hopscotch he has always practiced, moving from one fictional voice to another; and as always some of these voices and approaches are more successful than others.
- Counting Heads by David Marusek, by
- Counting Heads, David Marusek's startling debut novel, is a book acutely aware that science fiction achieves its true power and potency only when it also exhibits self-belief.
- Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler, by
- It's made clear from the start of Fledgling that we should not expect a comfortable read. Within moments of waking in darkness and hunger and pain, with no memory of how she got there, our narrator is approached by some large noisy creature. She waits until the creature is touching her, then pounces. She tears out its throat and feeds on its blood and terror. Perhaps our narrator is not quite the helpless victim we first assumed. It gets less comfortable from there. This is Octavia Butler, after all.
- Oh Pure and Radiant Heart by Lydia Millet, by
- It was from this moment, fourteen pages into Lydia Millet's Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, that I began to suspect that I was falling in love. It was the description of the blast that did it. The great terrible flower. The sky being lifted up in a sear of light.
- The Rosetta Codex by Richard Paul Russo, by
- He may be heir to the wealthy Alexandros Estates, one of Lagrima's pre-eminent trading Families, but young Cale Alexandro's formative years are nonetheless surprisingly turbulent. His difficulties begin when his father's spaceship is attacked by pirates, forcing him and his nursemaid into a chaotic crash-landing on the nearest planet, and they never really stop.
- The Extraordinary Voyage of Jules Verne by Eric Brown, by
- In some ways, this romantic streak makes Brown the perfect author for a scientific romance about one of the grandfathers of SF. What this novella also illustrates, however, is what a chameleon-like and undervalued writer Brown is.
- His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik, by
- There's no question that underneath all the hype is a becomingly modest Napoleonic fantasy that satisfies on several levels.
- Electroplankton, for Nintendo DS, by
- Most impressive about Electroplankton is not its versatility, its amazing synthesis of visual and auditory art, or its intuitive interface, but its remarkable tuning. The designers have structured this game such that within moments of manipulation any electroplankton group can provide a totally unique, startlingly tranquil musical sequence intricate enough to stand up to long-term listening. This kind of refined environment, where it is nearly impossible to go wrong, is a staggering undertaking....
- Macrolife: A Mobile Utopia by George Zebrowski, by
- Zebrowski writes in the tradition of authors such as Olaf Stapledon, Alexei Panshin, and H. G. Wells. Like them, he is one of those writers who can shape the vision of a whole generation and plant the seeds of a hundred new ideas.
- Babylon Babies by Maurice Dantec, by
- Some of the most interesting achievements of this consciously avant-garde revisitation of cyberpunk themes are stylistic ones, and those who enjoy a hard-boiled yet experimental approach to language will no doubt appreciate translator Noura Wedell and the Semiotext(e) Native Agents Series for making this writer, already a figure of fame and controversy in France, available to the English-speaking world. At the same time, however, Dantec's attempts to portray a grimly futuristic tableau are frustrating for a variety of reasons, including an inexplicable downplaying of state power and a reliance on exotic locales.
- Last Week's Apocalypse by Douglas Lain, by
- Last Week's Apocalypse is less a collection of stories than a book of shreds and fractals. Over and over again the world dissassembles before the eyes of a bewildered man, over and over again fragments of pop culture and historical factoids scar the lives of people in Portland, Oregon.
- Yume No Hon: The Book of Dreams by Catherynne M. Valente, by
- Feature Week: Modern Myths
Niall Harrison: How can a life be described? Most of the time, we have to look at lives from the outside: we say that someone did this, and did that, and we sketch their path through the world. Fiction, of course, can let us pretend to look at a life from the inside. Not just what happened, but how it felt; a clearer path through a sketchier world. Or, perhaps, in the case of a book like Yume No Hon, worlds.
- Oracles: A Pilgrimage by Catherynne M. Valente, by
- Feature Week: Modern Myths
J.C. Runolfson: Oracles: A Pilgrimage, by Catherynne M. Valente, is a collection of poems about modern day sibyls in cities across the United States.
- The Cosmology of the Wider World by Jeffrey Ford, by
- Feature Week: Modern Myths
Tony Keen: [I]t does a disservice to Ford to suggest that he is solely or for the most part reacting against the cuteness of the Disney corporation. What he’s actually doing, or so it seems to me, is working in an entirely different and older tradition, that of the English fantasists.
- Weight by Jeanette Winterson and The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood, by
- Feature Week: Modern Myths
Dan Hartland: From Malory to Moorcock, writers of all stripes have long returned to every kind of myth, revisiting and rewriting time-honoured tales in an attempt to extract new truths. The Scottish publishers Canongate have recently moved to get in on this tried and tested literary act, inaugurating a series of slim volumes by prominent mainstream authors which seek to retell some of our most timeless myths in "a contemporary and memorable way".
- The Affinity Trap by Martin Sketchley, by
Mahesh Raj Mohan
- The Affinity Trap is an ambitious far-future space opera by first-time novelist Martin Sketchley.
- The Alchemy of Stars: Rhysling Award Winners Showcase, edited by Roger Dutcher and Mike Allen, by
- Altogether, this collection presents an ideal resource for fans of speculative poetry; for those new to this branch of poetry, it provides an ideal introduction.
- Life on Mars, by
- This has to be the Doctor Who effect: you wait ages for the BBC to produce a science fiction programme and then two come along at once. As well as Hyperdrive, a Red Dwarf-aping sitcom, they are also currently showing Life On Mars, a genre spin on the format that's the bread and butter of networks the world over: the police procedural. It's safe to say, though, that Doctor Who never contained the phrase "I don't give a tart's furry cup."
- Touched by Venom by Janine Cross, by
- From the snarking frenzy that consumed the blogosphere in the wake of last year's World Fantasy Convention, I expected Janine Cross's first novel, Touched by Venom, to be a badly written, laughable book. Something on the order of Slave Women of Gor, perhaps, or at best, those trashtastic Sharon Green soft-porn books about blood-drinking Amazonian women who ride around on giant lizards and rape men in their spare time. My reaction to the bad reviews went a bit like this: "OMG, sex with dragons, guys with dragon-viagra hardons, probably so bad it's funny, I must read it!"
So I did. To my surprise, I found a thoughtful, enjoyable work of feminist speculative fiction. It is a woman's hero-tale, the story of a survivor; a true dystopian fantasy, and one written with an awareness of non-Western cultures.
- No Present Like Time by Steph Swainston, by
- No Present Like Time revisits the universe of Steph Swainston's debut novel, The Year of Our War.
- 9Tail Fox by Jon Courtenay Grimwood, by
- In 9Tail Fox, Jon Courtenay Grimwood uses the Hero is Already Dead conceit to tell the tale of how Sergeant Bobby Zha of the San Francisco Police Department comes to solve his own murder.
- Numbers Don't Lie by Terry Bisson, by
- Well, everyone's mileage varies, and it's interesting that the only other write-up I've found for Numbers Don't Lie, by a distinguished reviewer on my side of the Atlantic, concludes that it's funny if you like this sort of thing which he personally doesn't. I personally did like Numbers Don't Lie. I'll go further—I thought it was hilarious.
- Scalpels and Surgical Masks: A Review of the Aurealis Awards Short Fiction Finalists., by
- On December 18th 2005, the finalists for Australia's Aurealis Awards were announced. On February 25th, the winners will be announced in Brisbane. This review, of the fifteen short fiction nominations in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror categories, therefore approaches the stories nominated with the assumption that they are the best offered by Australian authors in 2005.
- The Resurrection Man's Legacy by Dale Bailey, by
- Dale Bailey is a 30-something fantasist from North Carolina whose work has appeared regularly in Fantasy & Science Fiction since 1993. The best of his work has been collected in this, his debut collection, from Golden Gryphon Press.
- Tides by Scott Mackay, by
- Overall, Tides most resembles a first contact novel set in the Age of Sail, which is an interesting premise in and of itself. However, Mackay drops the ball in a number of places.
- The House of Sounds and Others by M.P. Shiel, by
- S.T. Joshi is a master of H.P. Lovecraft lore, and has provided the foundation of a new critical understanding of the weird tale, establishing or reviving a canon in this area through critical works such as The Weird Tale (1990), The Modern Weird Tale (2001), and The Evolution of the Weird Tale (2004), as well as editing a number of single author collections that have formed part of the lineage. The House of Sounds and others is one of these collections.
- Futureshocks, edited by Lou Anders, by
Mahesh Raj Mohan
- Futureshocks (as Anders writes in his introduction) "is an anthology of science fiction stories that envisions the dangers lying in wait for us on the road ahead or lurking just around the corner of history."
- The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl by Tim Pratt, by
Kelly Christopher Shaw
- Marzi, a Generation Y college drop-out, fills her evenings working as a coffee-shop manager, while creating a comic book called The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl in the daytime. Unbeknownst to her, she's also the gatekeeper of a door in the coffeehouse storage room, and an accomplice to the creation of the world behind the door—a phantasmagorical Old West, one that coincidentally resembles the fictional world of her comic-book.
- The Clock-King and the Queen of the Hourglass by Vera Nazarian, by
- The world is running down. The last of humanity is clustered round the toxic puddle that is all that remains of the Pacific, eking out an existence with the help of a magical technology called the harmonium. The massively swollen Sun now dominates the sky, earning it the title Day God. Unique amongst the world's dwindling population is Liaei, the Queen Of The Hourglass. She is the last of what we would consider true humans.
- Two Views: Doctor Who, "The Christmas Invasion", by
Graham Sleight and Tim Phipps
- Graham Sleight: I doubt very much that Russell T Davies read my earlier, pretty positive review of the 2005 revival of Doctor Who, but he certainly seems to have gone out of his way, in the recent Christmas special, to isolate those elements of his writing I was most critical about, and do them a whole lot more.
Tim Phipps: To all intents and purposes, with all that it had to achieve and with all that the production team had riding on it, "The Christmas Invasion" may as well be a pilot for an entirely new series. And it's a series I really, really want to see.
- Christopher Priest: the Interaction, edited by Andrew M. Butler, by
- It might be assumed, from its congenial cover and its initial release at the WorldCon honouring Priest, that Interaction was a text addressed to an non-academic audience comprised of those interested in Christopher Priest because they knew him and/or his works and were looking for a guide to the whole man and the whole oeuvre. Interaction is not that book. It is both more and less than what might have been assumed.
- Eeku by Karen L. Newman, by
- Here is a quirky little chapbook, a collection of dark "scifaiku" [...] The poems can be cryptic in their syntax, requiring the reader to figure out what's not stated, or who's doing what.
- Aeon Flux, by
- Serious, quality films are wonderful, but there are times when you just want some mindless entertainment, a fun distraction from the world. Aeon Flux, the adaptation of MTV's animated series of the same name, is just such a decently exciting, but mindless, hundred-odd minutes of escape.
- Little Machines by Paul McAuley, by
- The overwhelming sense that one takes from the stories set in the future is of loss; indeed the farther ahead of our present moment McAuley reaches, the more transitory everything seems.
- Insert Your Lost Pun Here: Is ABC's Ratings Phenomenon Losing Its Way?, by
- The teaser that opened the second season was a reminder of what Lost used to be—the strangest and most exciting show on TV—but in the episodes that followed, that show was nowhere to be seen.
- Of Mice And Gender: The Best Laid Plans of Battlestar Galactica, by
- It's time for a recap. Ron Moore's Battlestar Galactica returns to us this month having sparked in the third quarter of last year some fairly passionate debate. It is a sign of the show's quality that it can encourage such comment, but at the same time much of the discussion revolved around a profound and increasing sense of discomfort with the show's content, in particular its treatment of the Cylons and, by extension, gender.
- Galileo's Children, edited by Gardner Dozois, by
- Intelligent Design. Cloning. Global warming. None of these make an explicit appearance in Galileo's Children: Tales of Science vs. Superstition, a 13-story anthology edited by Gardner Dozois, issued as part of the relatively new Pyr imprint. There is, however, no doubt that the tales here are relevant to some of today's hot-button issues.
- The Crown Rose by Fiona Avery, by
- As a quasi-historical fantasy set in 13th-century France, The Crown Rose is a somewhat surprising first novel from Fiona Avery, whose many credits writing for television and comics—mostly science fiction properties such as Earth: Final Conflict and Babylon 5—have awarded her a certain amount of name recognition.
- 2005 In Review, by
- We asked our reviewers to pick the favorite SF-related thing they encountered in 2005—books, films, TV, anything. This is what they said.
- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, by
- Adaptation is the name of the game in Hollywood these days, and the 2005 holiday season is full of it ... Into this veritable throng of old ideas strides another, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, a screen translation of the first book in C.S. Lewis's beloved fantasy series. It's a film that demonstrates what adaptation should be all about.
- Snake Agent by Liz Williams, by
- In what her publisher’s publicity describes as a "near future occult thriller," Liz Williams partners a self-doubting human, Detective Inspector Chen (echoing the venerable Charlie Chan), with Seneschal Zhu Irzh, a self-assured demon who is, of all things, a vice officer in Hell.
- Thud! by Terry Pratchett, by
- Over the course of 35 novels and several short stories set on the Discworld, Pratchett has moved from parody to satire (or so his later reviews claim), and the funhouse mirror that reflects what is laughably referred to as the "real" world has gotten smoother, though by no means less warped ... there is still much to enjoy in this latest offering, not least of which are the things in it that are eerily reminiscent of the world in which we have to live.
- Science Fiction Quotations, edited by Gary Westfahl, by
Jeremy Adam Smith
- We live in a culture defined by deracination: political careers rise and fall on a single quotation, amplified by friends and opponents; hip-hop depends upon quotation; so does blogging. Today it hardly matters who first uttered the quote or what meaning they intended—what counts are the mosaics we shape from a brittle world of sharp-edged, flying fragments.
- Two Views: Learning the World by Ken Macleod, by
Niall Harrison and Dan Hartland
- Process Story by Niall Harrison: Ken Macleod's previous novel, Newton's Wake, was subtitled 'a space opera'. His latest, Learning the World, continues the game: the UK edition is 'a novel of first contact', while the US cover declares the book is 'a scientific romance'. In each case, such a blatant statement of intent sets our expectations.
A Proportional Response by Dan Hartland: Learning The World is the kind of SF book that does very well amongst fans. It picks up ideas from all your favourites, everyone from Bradbury to Vinge, and tries its best to say some things about process and post-modernism. But what it winds up doing is preaching a rather weak sermon to the baying choir.
- Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham, by
- In his last novel, The Hours, Cunningham considered three women in three different periods, one of whom was Virginia Woolf and the other two of whom were significantly affected by Woolf’s work. Specimen Days follows the same basic plan, but the timescale is larger, ranging from the end of the 19th century to the middle of the 22nd.
- The Traveling Tide by Rosaleen Love, by
Lesley A. Hall
- Though slender, this volume is far from anorexic. It has a lapidary density; there is a weighty complexity to these stories that lingers in the mind. Rosaleen Love produces pieces that are intensely flavoured reductions of her material. Her themes are pressed down like the tons of rose petals that are condensed into a single ounce of precious attar.
- The Year's Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy, Volume 1, edited by Bill Congreve and Michelle Marquardt, by
- So, being conscious of the frailties of the local market and with a twitching national inferiority complex to boot, when one of the small press collections not only cops a bollicking in an international forum (CSFG's Encounters, reviewed here by Paul Kincaid in November) but the reviewer generalises that the "latest wave seems to have passed Australia by", it's a source of angst.
- A Sense of Wonder: Samuel R. Delany, Race, Identity and Difference by Jeffrey Allen Tucker, by
- A Sense of Wonder is a serious critical appraisal of many of Samuel R. Delany's central works.
- The Adventures of the Faithful Counselor by Anne Sheldon, by
- If the idea of a narrative poem about the Sumerian gods and goddesses gives you pause as you search for the next good read, cast aside your doubts and forge ahead.
- The Healer by Michael Blumlein, M.D., by
Lori Ann White
- The Healer moves far beyond a novel of political or social awakening. Nor is it a novel of revolution. It is a much more heartfelt and personal work.
- Mothers and Other Monsters by Maureen F. McHugh, by
- As the title suggests, most of these stories deal with the ways in which the people closest to us—the ones we take care of and the ones who are supposed to take care of us—can turn monstrous.
- The Narrows by Alexander C. Irvine, by
Kelly Christopher Shaw
- I approached Alexander C. Irvine’s third novel The Narrows with great anticipation. Its central conceit appeared to be the perfect marriage between the sub-genres of urban fantasy and secret history: During World War II, golems are being clandestinely created by kabbalistic magic on a Detroit assembly line to fight the Nazis. Golems versus Nazis!
- Alanya to Alanya by L. Timmel Duchamp, by
Matthew L. Moffett
- It's 2076, and the nations of Earth have developed into class-driven societies descended from today's corporate culture. Mostly male, power-driven Executives run the show while Professionals perform all the hands-on work. But when the Marq'ssan, a race of aliens from a distant star, broadcast a message across every possible radio, television and internet frequency possible, Earth suddenly faces great change.
- The Limits of Enchantment by Graham Joyce, by
Lynda E. Rucker
- Graham Joyce is a writer who's staked out the liminal territory at the fringes of genre fiction, just as his characters seem to inhabit worlds where dreams and hallucinations draw them to (and sometimes over) the edges of consensual reality. His narrator in The Limits of Enchantment, Fern Cullen, warns us on the first page that "If I could tell you this in a single sitting, then you might believe all of it, even the strangest part"; it is a tribute to Joyce's skilled and subtle hand that it's often the strangest parts of his stories that we do come away believing.
- Robot Stories and More Screenplays by Greg Pak, by
- The robots of Greg Pak’s anthology film Robot Stories are down-to-earth as these things go. There’s nothing unbelievable or magically CGI about them. They run the gamut of complexity from a Mr. Potatoheadesque trial baby that records everything and emits graphite in “My Robot Baby,” to an almost human couple of G9 office tempbots in “Machine Love,” to the toy robots of “The Robot Fixer” and the eternal life of uploaded consciousness in “Clay.” These variations, coupled with the subtle shifts in timing and texture between the individual stories, deliberately build a complex, coherent world rich with human flaws.
- Spin by Robert Charles Wilson, by
- There's a piece of rock in eastern Nevada, near the Great Basin National Park, where the Long Now Foundation is planning to build their Millennium Clock. Designed to tick once a year, chime once a century, and with a cuckoo that will sing once a millennium, the clock is an artifact designed to make us think about the deep future. In his new novel, Spin, Robert Charles Wilson pulls a similar trick: he collapses the future down into a 364-page mediation on humanity's potential and persistent impact over time.
- The Rose and the Beast by Francesca Lia Block, by
- This collection is subtitled ‘Fairy Tales Retold,’ but the nine stories it contains are less retellings than reflections and reactions, along with a few refutations.
- Orson Welles's Dracula, by
- Bram Stoker's classic novel Dracula has been adapted many times for stage and screen, from F. W. Murnau's plagiarism, Nosferatu (1922), to the Balderston-Deane stage adaptation (which served as the basis for the famous 1931 Tod Browning movie Dracula starring Bela Lugosi), all the way through to Gary Oldman's chilling performance of the Count in Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 version. But by far the closest to the original novel is the little-known hour-long radio drama adaptation of Dracula directed by Orson Welles.
- Travel Light by Naomi Mitchison, by
- Hurrah, then, for Small Beer’s Peapod Classics imprint, which seeks to republish quirky classics that have for too long been mouldering in the corners of second-hand bookstores. As the second book in this series, they have published Mitchison’s 1952 fairy story, Travel Light.
- Night Watch, by
- Based on Sergey Lukyanenko's bestselling novel, Night Watch is an inventive reworking and extension of the vampire mythos.
- Mirrormask, by
- Neil Gaiman and Dave Mckean first collaborated in the late eighties on comics that changed the genre. In Mirrormask, they have attempted to perform a similar transformation on the needier genre of family fantasy films.
- Best Short Novels: 2005 edited by Jonathan Strahan, by
- With Karen Haber, Jonathan Strahan co-edits one of the three anthologies that claim to present the Year’s Best SF. One of the weaknesses of that volume is its relatively small size, which limits their ability to include longer works, so Strahan has resurrected an idea first tried by Terry Carr in the late 1970s, and now gives us Best Short Novels: 2005, a solo-edited volume that collects the best novellas of the year.
- Double Vision by Tricia Sullivan, by
- Imagine a world in which you’re taking part in a war: a war against an enemy you can’t quite define and don’t wholly understand and who may not exactly be the enemy anyway.
- Doom, by
- Ultimately, saving the day (and probably the world) falls to a single badass hero. Toss in a taste of an evil megacorporation and a bit of excessive of violence, and you are now experiencing the film Doom, based on the hit games from id Software.
- Nova Scotia: New Speculative Scottish Fiction, edited by Neil Williamson and Andrew J. Wilson, by
- Nova Scotia is a beautifully produced original anthology from Mercat Press, an independent Scottish publisher. David Pringle, long-time editor of Interzone and Scot-in-exile, provides the introduction and just as much as the packaging his words make clear that this collection is aimed at the general reader, rather than just the genre reader.
- Encounters: An Anthology of Australian Speculative Fiction, edited by Maxine McArthur and Donna Maree Hanson, by
- There was a time, not so long ago, when it seemed certain that the next big thing in science fiction was going to come out of Australia. It didn’t; while everyone was looking the wrong way we got the British renaissance instead. Considering this recent anthology of Australian speculative fiction, it is not hard to see why the latest wave seems to have passed Australia by.
- Two Views: Air by Geoff Ryman, by
Geneva Melzack and Iain Emsley
- Breathing Change by Geneva Melzack
Air is the mass media. Air is television and the internet. Air is commerce and fashion and globalised culture. Air is change and it is coming to Chung Mae's village.
Information Gecko by Iain Emsley
Geoff Ryman's Air is a strange book, at once hopeful and elegaic. Ancient ways of being come to terms with new ways of thinking.
- Fantasy Magazine #1, by
- Focusing upon original, fantastic stories with unconventional approaches, Sean Wallace, the editor of the publication, hopes to present fiction that will leave the reader with "a sense of wonder and excitement." Showcased in the premiere issue are fifteen stories supporting that statement.
- From The Files of the Time Rangers by Richard Bowes, by
- Time Rangers is a wide-canvas panorama of a novel, full of strange and wonderful characters, action and incident, invention and history; and it is a bringing-together of an eclectic set of ideas and science-fictional tropes not typically associated with one another.
- The Prodigal Troll by Charles Coleman Finlay, by
- This impressive debut from Charles Coleman Finlay begins familiarly enough: a castle under siege, a few loyal servants, a child spirited away. It's awhile before events take an interesting turn, but when they do, it's a hard skew into unfamiliar territory.
- Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, by
- The premise is irresistible: 85 minutes of quality time in the company of the Heath Robinson Jay and Silent Bob, the chance to see the world’s most famous claymation characters vaulting through the hoops of a real movie plot, and the name Peter Sallis above the title of a Hollywood studio picture.
- The American Astronaut, by
- Originally released in the weeks after 9/11, The American Astronaut suffered from one of the worst possible opening dates in history. Not many people were in the mood for a Musical, Western, Science-Fiction film.
- Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by
Lori Ann White
- Now I'm all grown up, but when I heard that Tim Burton was remaking Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I squealed. And with Johnny Depp as Willie Wonka, no less! I whooped.
- H.G.Wells: Traversing Time by W. Warren Wagar, by
- In this fascinating book, W. Warren Wager examines how this long view of time permeates throughout Wells’s fiction and non-fiction, particularly underlying the utopian political views that were to be such a feature of his work.
- Looking for Jake by China Miéville, by
Kelly Christopher Shaw
- How would [Mieville] adapt his wildly imaginative brand of storytelling, so obviously suited to a broad canvas, to the constrictions of the short form?
- A Tale of Two Sisters, by
Lynda E. Rucker
- If, as A Tale of Two Sisters unfolds, you’re put in mind of a fairy tale—albeit by way of Angela Carter or Tanith Lee—you wouldn’t be wrong; the story is in part based on a Korean folk tale that’s made it to film several times before in that country. And yet this haunting retelling has an utterly original feel about it.
- Essential SF: A Concise Guide by Jonathan Cowie and Tony Chester, by
- Jonathan Cowie and Tony Chester's Essential SF: A Concise Guide is precisely that: a concise guide to science fiction authors, books, stories, films and TV series. The Essential part is in the eye of the beholder.
- Hidden Camera by Zoran Zivkovic, by
- There are innumerable over-used comparisons that lie temptingly at the finger-tips of literary reviewers. One of these is "Kafkaesque." Another is "Borgesian." This review will resolutely refuse to mention The Trial or The Aleph, in an attempt to give Serbia's leading writer of the absurd, Zoran Zivkovic, some deserved space to breath unaided.
- Two Views: Serenity, by
Mahesh Raj Mohan and Niall Harrison
- Serenity Now!: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying About "No Aliens" And Love a Kick-Ass Movie
by Mahesh Raj Mohan
Whedon had a tough task. His first film has to work as an offshoot of a TV series, tie up some loose ends, but still stand on its own. So does Serenity succeed for someone who hasn't seen Firefly?
You Can't Take The Sky From Me: A Firefly Fan's View
by Niall Harrison
A film like Serenity, which arrives carrying heavy loads of both backstory and expectation, can be measured by too many criteria. Is it a good film? Is it good Firefly? Is it a good story? Is it good science fiction? For such a film, what you make of it may depend on what you bring to it, and what you want it to be.
- The Hallowed Hunt by Lois McMaster Bujold, by
- The Hallowed Hunt is the third book in Lois McMaster Bujold's Chalion series. Following on the heels of her beloved Vorkosigan series, the Chalion series has a lot to live up to. Up until this point, the series had been doing well.
- The 4400, by
- In the case of The 4400, we follow Tom Baldwin, an investigator with a personal connection to the 4400, and Diana Skouris, a former CDC worker of some sort, a scientist who often seems to ground her quixotic partner. Sound familiar?
- The Nikopol Trilogy by Enki Bilal, by
- What begins as a futuristic fish-out-of-water story metamorphoses—through Enki Bilal's gritty illustrations and masterful use of the cinematic and textual possibilities of the graphic novel—into a resonant and symbolic rumination on the nature of family, humanity, and memory.
- In The Palace of Repose by Holly Phillips, by
Yoon Ha Lee
- Phillips's stories glide between the world of dreams and the bright-dark realms of terror, between the real and the imagined. Often they are the same; often these realms are related in ways that unfold slowly and subtly through the narrative.
- The Lost Generation: Threshold, Surface, and Invasion, by
- Now September 2005 rolls around, and Lost wins six Emmys, including Outstanding Drama Series. The Big Three seem convinced: if Lost can do it, so can they! It's time to bring SF back to the mainstream!
- Here, There & Everywhere by Chris Roberson, by
Mahesh Raj Mohan
- Roberson seasons the tale with many pleasant tips of the hat to old masters like Heinlein and Bradbury, but the ending is pure, non-ironic SF that evoked Clarke and Asimov
- Howl's Moving Castle, by
- Hayao Miyazaki's animated feature Howl's Moving Castle opens doors to unexpected places, surprising us with humor, excitement, and an awakening of self-awareness.
- Peeps by Scott Westerfeld, by
John Joseph Adams
- With Peeps, Westerfeld has crafted an infectious and clever reinvention of the vampire novel
- Lego Star Wars, by
- I bought a secondhand PS2, and copies of FFX, FFX-2 and, erm, Lego Star Wars. I'm honestly not sure how that last one happened. One minute there was thirty pounds in my hand, and the next minute it had been replaced by a copy of Lego Star Wars.
- A Princess of Roumania by Paul Park, by
- It's a story you know you've heard before: an adopted girl finds out that she's really a princess. But this starting point is all that Paul Park's A Princess Of Roumania shares with that commonly told tale.
- Battlestar Galactica, season two: the opening quartet, by
- Almost all television shows, from ER to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, reach a point at which they cease to revolve around their concepts and begin to focus with great import on the tortured souls of their characters. There is an argument to be made that Ronald D. Moore’s re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica reached this point more quickly than almost any other science fiction show in history.
- Bear Daughter by Judith Berman, by
- Berman conjures a distinctive world of moss, rotting fish, cedar bark, cold rain and pungent smoke, as filtered through Cloud's perspective.
- Storyteller by Kate Wilhelm, by
- Oh, but this is a lovely book. Everyone who wants to understand science fiction as a community will want a copy. Many people who want to become professional writers, or better writers, will also want copies
- Dead Men Do Tell Tales by Byron de Prorok, by
- The book reads like a cross between Indiana Jones, Commander McBragg, and those lost-world explorers that litter the wings of HP Lovecraft's stories. Dismissive of the scientific method and impatient with the true spadework of actual archaeology, de Prorok's own method appears to have been to charge forward (necessary paperwork and passports be damned), take pictures, loot, and get out alive.
- Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link, by
- These are stories that sit in an unsettlingly indefinite space. They’re challenging, daring the reader to come forward and confront ambiguity head on, but if you’re willing to accept this challenge they’re also stories that are compelling and rewarding and even tender.
- Take Me to the Fantastic Place: Doctor Who 2005, by
- It’s striking, too, how often in this series the Doctor has not been the one to take the world-saving action: in the first episode, it’s Rose; in Mark Gatiss’s Victorian romp “The Unquiet Dead,” it’s the girl Gwyneth; and in “The Empty Child,” it’s the single mother Nancy. As Davies has said, this is the real message of the series: “Doctors make people better.”
- Louise Marley's The Child Goddess, by
- The Child Goddess is a science fable. That is to say, in this novel Louise Marley uses the settings and tools of science fiction to tell an intentionally simplified and stylized story of extreme moral clarity.
- Steam Power to the People: China Miéville's Iron Council, by
- In its vivid prose, focus on working class protagonists, detailed fantasy world, deftly presented political flavor and most importantly skillfully crafted story, it's an absolute must-read for Miéville fans old and new alike.
- Cyberpunk Festivals and Nanotech Genies: Singularity Sky by Charles Stross, by
- The book manages to successfully marry the old genre of space opera to the newer memes of cyberpunk, nanotech, and twenty-first century physics.
- Stories You Should Read: A Review of Gene Wolfe's Innocents Aboard, by
- If you are too cynical to believe that ghosts exist, or that candy wrappers hold the secrets of the universe, or that monsters and gods live everywhere, then this is not a book for you.
- Two Horror Classics for All Hallows' Day, by
- [I]f you just can't get enough [horror], here are a couple of lesser-known collections from the blood-soaked pens of two of the biggest names in the genre.
- Her Story is Legend: Queen of the Amazons by Judith Tarr, by
- The Amazons as [Tarr] shows them make a lot more sense than the ones the ancient writers described. Tarr presents them, not as the Other (the stranger, the scapegoat, the enemy), but as a people with different customs and an alternate philosophy from the Greeks.
- Apocalypse Then: Earth Abides by George R. Stewart, by
- Can a novel over a half a century old speak to current concerns?
- Bewitching Women: Kelley Armstrong's Dime Store Magic, by
- Armstrong has created believable, likable characters . . . they are strong, witty, and imperfect, and it does not take long before the reader is whole-heartedly rooting for them.
- A Journey of Words: Keith Miller's The Book of Flying, by
Yoon Ha Lee
- Throughout The Book of Flying, Miller's prose delights with its alliteration, wordplay and teasing rhymes.
- Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: Magic Chuses To Reemerge in Regency England, by
- Clarke goes beyond writing about a magical England of the early 1800's: her style suggests that she has spent a good deal of time there, and gotten in the habit of writing and thinking as though it were her home.
- Considering The Ordinary: A Review of Grimsley's The Ordinary, by
- For aficionados of speculative fiction new to the author, The Ordinary will be an interesting but long-winded offering.
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