Bill Capossere

BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

The Spear Cuts through Water: One of the best of 2022

The Spear Cuts through Water by Simon Jimenez

Simon Jiminez’s The Spear Cuts through Water (2022) is one of the most vibrantly original novels I’ve read in some time, an enthralling work of creativity that even as it makes use of some familiar tropes arrives absolutely as its own unique self: richly mythic and startlingly inventive. It will absolutely land on my Best of 2022 list, even it may not be for everyone (though everyone should attempt it).

At its core, The Spear Cuts through Water is a simple quest story told unsimply. Ages ago the Moon Goddess fell from the sky and eventually became captive in the deep dungeons of the Empire. The current Emperor, aged and fearing death, is about to embark on a grand procession, but when the Goddess escapes two young men — Jun and Keema — foes at first and then allies, must escort her through a series of dangers to the coast to p... Read More

The Witch and the Tsar: Solid, but a bit flat

The Witch and the Tsar by Olesya Salnikova Gilmore

“Solid” is the best description I can give for The Witch and the Tsar by Olesya Salnikova Gilmore, a debut novel that shows flashes of hitting its potential, particularly in its folkloric elements, but overall feels a bit flat and overlong.

A retelling of the Baba Yaga mythos, the story mostly takes place during the reign of Ivan the Terrible (1500s), though there are flashbacks to earlier times, thanks to the fact that the main character (who prefers Yaga to Baba Yaga) is immortal, daughter of a human and the Earth goddess Mokosh, dead now for some years. Since then Yaga has been alone, save for her wolf and owl, and quietly helping the people nearby, especially the women. What precipitates her re-entry into the world is a visit from Anastasia, whom Yaga had helped long ago and set her on the path to her current role as Tsarina (Ivan’s wife).
... Read More

Ithaca: An engrossing story

Ithaca by Claire North

Ithaca (2022), by Claire North, is another in a recent spate line of Greek myth retellings, with the source material here being The Odyssey and the House of Atreus storyline (Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, Electra, Orestes). North greatly narrows the focus here in setting, time, and plot, lasering in what was happening at the periphery or in the gaps of those epic tales, giving voice especially though not solely to the women on the edges of those stories. It’s a wonderfully voiced, thoughtful reimagining story and a strong entry point into a new series.

That fantastically wry and sharp voice belongs to Hera, who narrates the book from her godly perch, able to see all and transport herself wherever necessary. The bite in her voice makes itself known immediately, as when she describes Ithaca as “a thoroughly backwards wretched place” and labels Athena a “priggish little mad... Read More

Fandom, The Next Generation

Fandom, The Next Generation edited by Bridget Kies & Megan Connor

Fandom, The Next Generation
, edited by Bridget Kies and Megan Connor is a collection of essays exploring, unsurprisingly, fandom, but with a particular focus on transgenerational sources and fan communities. I.e., those fandoms centered around “rebooted or perpetually rebroadcast media texts” whose long-lived and/or resurrected nature maintains and creates several generations of fans — those who came to the text in its original form, those who discovered the text in later years, and those who came to the text as an adaptation or reboot. Think the many decades of the various Star Wars films or Dr. Who shows, the long-running but also rebooted Star Trek universe, but also non-SF/Fantasy works such as the multitude of Jane Austen adaptations over the past decades.

The collection is divided into three broad ... Read More

Age of Ash: The first in yet another must-read series

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham

I have to say, my timing of reading Daniel Abraham’s newest novel, Age of Ash (2022), couldn’t have been better, coming as it did right after I finished the last EXPANSE novel, the series he co-wrote with Ty Franck (as James S.A. Corey). After all, while THE EXPANSE has been my favorite sci-fi series for the past number of years, Abraham was also responsible for two of my favorite fantasy series: Read More

Ghostlight: An entertaining and engaging MG ghost story

Ghostlight by Kenneth Oppel

Kenneth Oppel’s Ghostlight is a quick-moving MG story involving a trio of teens battling a long-dead villain seeking to raise an army of ghosts in modern-day Toronto. Full of action, the narrative also includes a number of brief but effective emotional moments and also highlights the poor treatment of Native groups.

Gabe Vasilakis has a summer job giving the Ghost Tour of the Toronto’s Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, which in 1839 saw the unexplained deaths of its keeper and his 16-year-old daughter, Rebecca Strand. Unexplained no more, though, as Gabe ends up able to communicate with Rebecca and thus learns she and her father were part of a secret order of ghost-banishing “Keepers” who “protect the harbors, the cities, the coastlines of the world … since the Lighthouse of Alexandria … stand[ing] guard over the night to protect the living from the wakeful and wicked d... Read More

Fevered Star: A somewhat slower pace through a richly constructed world

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Fevered Star by Rebecca Roanhorse 

Fevered Star (2022) is the follow-up to Rebecca Roanhorse’s enjoyably original Black Sun, set in a fantastical Mesoamerica (with a few other cultures mixed in as well). As the second book, it does suffer somewhat from that dreaded middle book curse, but Roanhorse offers enough original worldbuilding here to compensate for the book’s weaker aspects, leaving the reader eager to see the trilogy’s conclusion.

As with Black Sun, Roanhorse employs multiple points of view to tell the story, including the Crow God’s avatar Serapio, the Sun God’s priest Naranpa, the Teek sh... Read More

The Rise and Reign of the Mammals: A New History, from the Shadow of the Dinosaurs to Us

The Rise and Reign of the Mammals: A New History, from the Shadow of the Dinosaurs to Us by Steve Brusatte

2022 has been a banner year for me in terms of non-fiction reading, and that trend continues with The Rise and Reign of the Mammals: A New History, from the Shadow of the Dinosaurs to Us, by Steve Brusatte, an epic and vividly told survey of how evolution bit by bit equipped our ancestors with the tools necessary to at first survive and then thrive. As with Brusatte’s earlier work, the excellent The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, this is popular science as it should be done: clear and compelling.

Brusatte begins before the mammal line as we think of it comes into existence, setting the context for what drove the evolution and doing so broadly, discussing not just specific creatures but eco-systems (i.e. including plants), climate, and the impact of extinction events. He also does a n... Read More

Leviathan Wakes: Action-packed space opera that transcends the genre

Reposting to include Justin's new review.

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

FORMAT/INFO: Leviathan Wakes is 592 pages long divided over a Prologue, 55 chapters and an Epilogue. Extras include an interview with the author and an extract from Caliban’s War, the second book in The Expanse series. Narration is in the third person, alternating between Executive Officer James Holden and Detective Miller, except for the Prologue (Julie) and Epilogue (Fred). Leviathan Wakes is mostly self-contained, coming to a satisfying stopping point, but the book is the opening volume in The Expanse series. June 2, 2011/June 15, 2011 marks the UK/North American Trade P... Read More

Locklands: Concludes one of the best series of the last decade

Locklands by Robert Jackson Bennett

In Locklands, Robert Jackson Bennett closes out his FOUNDERS TRILOGY in epic style, raising the stakes to literally “all of creation” and upping his characters’ (some of them) power levels to god-like heights, all while managing to keep the story grounded in the personal thanks to Jackson’s typically sharp characterization. Being the concluding novel, two things should be obvious: one, you need to have read the prior ones and two, there will be inevitable spoilers for those prior books.

Eight years have passed since the events of Shorefall, and they haven’t been good ones for our characters. The sort of collective-AI intelligence Tevanne, thanks to its forcible “twinning... Read More

Into the Narrowdark: Wonderfully immersive and rewarding

Into the Narrowdark by Tad Williams

Into the Narrowdark is the concluding volume to Tad Williams’ epic THE LAST KING OF OSTEN ARD series, and it … Hold on. Scratch that. Apparently, Williams and his publishers have decided to split the concluding work into two books. So readers will have to wait a bit longer for that conclusion, though at least they’ll have a short novel to read instead of … Wait a minute. OK, never mind on the brevity. Turns out Into the Narrowdark is still 600+ pages, despite only being half of a final book. Thankfully, though, splitting the book means a streamlined plot and far fewer character, making it … One moment here. All right, actually the plot remains a complicated tapestry, and the list of characters at the back runs for nearly two dozen pages. But Into the Narrowdark Read More

The Deep and Shining Dark: Intriguing enough to check out book 2

The Deep and Shining Dark by Juliet Kemp

The opening of a new series, The Deep and Shining Dark is a debut novel by Juliet Kemp, that for the most part avoids many if not all of the common issues of first books, making for a smoothly enjoyable read that falls just a bit short of a richly realized story.

The city of Marek is ostensibly part of the larger nation of Teren. It for some time now has operated as an independent city-state thanks to several factors: being a port city, having a strong trading relationship with the dominant sea-faring nation of Salina, and being the only place in Teren where magic doesn’t require blood.

This last is due to a century-old agreement made between the founders of the city and a spirit known since then as the cityangel. Now though, change is coming to disrupt the city’s long-standing stability — a plague has killed all but two of Marek’s sorcerers,... Read More

The Greatest Invention: A History of the World in Nine Mysterious Scripts

The Greatest Invention: A History of the World in Nine Mysterious Scripts by Sylvia Ferrara, translated by Todd Portnowitz

Sylvia Ferrara is an Italian scholar/researcher/professor who has devoted much of her life, both in solo work and (more importantly and effectively to her) in collaboration, to learning how writing developed/develops and to deciphering a number of scripts that have stubbornly resisted translation. In The Greatest Invention she offers the fruits of that research in often fascinating, sometimes dizzying, sometimes frustrating, always exuberant fashion.

The dizzying part comes partly from the way Ferrara flies all over the place in space and time, hitting regions such as China, Crete, Easter Island, Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, Central and South America, and the United States, among others, all of them at various stages of mostly ancient but sometimes recent history. The fascina... Read More

The Extractionist: Enjoyable, left me wanting more

The Extractionist by Kimberly Unger

With The Extractionist, Kimberly Unger presents a pretty typical futuristic-internet-cybersetting-with-a-name background (in this case the cyberverse is called “the Swim”), but enhances the familiar setting with an original spin — a class of workers called Extractionists whose job it is to rescue people who get “stuck” in the Swim by reconnecting their Swim persona and their real-world body.

I loved the idea, and mostly loved its embodiment in Eliza McKay, the book’s protagonist, but felt the story could have been executed better.

McKay’s job is actually a fall-back position she takes on after she was banned from the high-level nanotech research she really wants to do (the reason for her being “burned” is gradually revealed).

Extracting is part engineering / tech know-how and part art, and McKay is good at both aspects, he... Read More

Walk the Vanished Earth: A debut with great potential

Walk the Vanished Earth by Erin Swan

Walk the Vanished Earth by Erin Swan is a debut novel with great potential in its underlying premise, structure, and characters, but while the story does at times rise to meet that potential, it does so unevenly and by the end, for me at least, unsatisfactorily.

The story opens at the close of a buffalo hunt in the Kansas prairie in 1873, with a young Irishman named Samson doing the last bit of work amidst the bloody carnage and recalling the harsh life that led them here and making plans for the better one he hopes to forge for himself: “In this New World, he told himself, he would be a new man.”

From there, the narrative leaps forward in time to 2073 and outward in space to Mars and a young girl named Moon who has spent much of her remembered life traversing the Marscape with Uncle One and Uncle Two, a pair of beings that are clear... Read More

The Last Days of the Dinosaurs: Planet Earth’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

The Last Days of the Dinosaurs by Riley Black

As just about any child can tell you, roughly 65 million years ago a nearly ten-mile-wide asteroid crashed into the earth in the Yucatan, unleashing planet-wide firestorms, geography-changing tsunamis, and years of acid-rain and dark days. In short, it was not a good day for Planet Earth. Or for the more than 75% of animal species wiped out by the impact, including, of course, its most famous victims, the dinosaurs. In The Last Days of the Dinosaurs (2022), Riley Black gives a wonderfully evocative and vivid accounting not just of those horrible days following the asteroid’s impact, but of life’s slow recovery during the following million years, making the book, in Black’s words, not a “monument to loss [but] an ode to resilience.”

Her particular focus is on the Hell Creek area of the western US as it is one of the most explored site... Read More

The Grief of Stones: An immersive story that draws you in

The Grief of Stones by Katherine Addison 

The Grief of Stones (2022) is Katherine Addison’s newest work focusing on Thara Celehar, a Prelate of Ulis and, more importantly, a Witness for the Dead — someone who can communicate (albeit it in very limited fashion) with the recently deceased. In the prior novel, titled aptly enough The Witness for the Dead, Celehar uses that gift to help solve several murders.

They also, much to their dismay, end up the go-to-person (or the hapless person in the wrong place at the wrong time) for dealing with various types of undead, such as ghouls. Both elements — murder and undead — crop up here as well. Which, along with other reasons, makes Read More

Last Exit: Complex, compelling, and intense

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Last Exit by Max Gladstone

Here is Max Gladstone’s recipe for a Last Exit (2022) cocktail:

One part fervent, confident intensity of young adulthood
One part fever dream (or nightmare) of magic and alternate worlds
Add bitters in the form of mid-life fears, regrets, and resignations born out of both trauma and simple aging
Splash of Mad Max
Zest of Zelazny
Stir with a rusty spoon of entropy
Pour slowly into a clear (eyed) glass filled one-quarter with the crushed ice-dreams of Americana myth and rimmed with sugar for a little bit of innocent sweetness
Serve with a shot of hope (the kind that burns on the wa... Read More

The Origin of Storms: Wraps up a good trilogy in mostly strong fashion

The Origin of Storms by Elizabeth Bear

The Origin of Storms (2022) is Elizabeth Bear’s mostly satisfying conclusion to her generally excellent LOTUS KINGDOM’s trilogy, continuing the prior books’ strengths of strong characterization and sharp social commentary. Spoilers to follow for books one (The Stone in the Skull)  and two (The Red-Stained Wings).

After the events of the first two books, Rajni Mrithuri is now the Dowager Empress, ruler of conjoined kingdoms and the person with the strongest claim to the Alchemical Throne (though she has yet to risk sitting on it). That said, she has no gu... Read More

The World According to Color: A Cultural History

The World According to Color: A Cultural History by James Fox

Most people wouldn’t think of a squashed fly as the gateway to a world of beauty and art, but that was exactly the path art historian James Fox took, describing in the opening pages of The World According to Color (2022), how when he “first started seeing color at the age of six,” after his mother swatted a fly and James:
leaned in to examine the carcass … [It] looked like a precious jewel. Its eye blushed with the deep burgundy of ripe cherries, its wigs shimmered like miniature rainbows, and the emerald greens and sapphire blues on its abdomen exploded into copper and gold. I had never seen anything so beautiful.
From the wonderfully vivid opening, and after a relatively brief foray into the physics, biology, and evolution of color perception, Fox takes his readers on a journey through seven colors (black, red, yellow,... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: 15 years of FanLit! (Giveaway)

Dear faithful FanLit readers,

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (well, 15 years and the Milky Way, to be more precise), a band of plucky underdogs who believed life’s too short to read bad books started a website under the able leadership of Princess, err, Dr Kat Hooper.

June 1 will mark our 15th birthday, and we’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of our readers who have joined us on this epic journey, whether you found us a decade and a half ago or just today.

If it weren’t for you we’d have given this up long ago and just be ranting with our friends over beers about waiting for the next GAME OF THRONES book, moaning with our friends over beers about how Brandon Sanderson just wrote anot... Read More

Phasers on Stun: A fun and informative tour of the ever-expanding Trek universe

Phasers on Stun! by Ryan Britt

Phasers on Stun!,
by Ryan Britt, is a breezily informative and fun look at the many (and I mean many) incarnations of Star Trek over the decades since it first appeared on television in the late 60s. While it’s true there isn’t a lot new to say about the original series, and to a lesser extent The Next Generation, Britt still manages for find a few nuggets to offer something fresh to fans, while the later materials covers ground that is far less trodden.

Moving chronologically, Britt begins with several chapters on the original series — its creation, the writing, its politics, and finally its cancelation and the “birth of Star Trek fandom.” From there he moves between the creative output of the franchise and its relation to American society (each being shaped by the other). Included in the discussion are ... Read More

The Stardust Thief: An impressive debut

The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah

The Stardust Thief (2022), by Chelsea Abdullah, is one of the more impressive debut novels I’ve read lately, offering up a bevy of strong narrative elements with barely a weakness to be found and using a well-known tale (1001 Nights) not as a basis for a retelling but as the germ of something that is its own lushly original story. It wasn’t until I neared the end that I had the happy realization this wasn’t a stand-alone novel but would give me two more chances to spend time in this world.

As a child, Loulie (AKA the Midnight Merchant) was the sole survivor when her tribe was massacred, rescued from the desert by Qadir, who now serves as her bodyguard as she plies her trade of finding and selling magical jinn relics. Her unique success in that area has caugh... Read More

Sentient: How Animals Illuminate the Wonder of Our Human Senses

Sentient: How Animals Illuminate the Wonder of Our Human Senses by Jackie Higgins

In Sentient: How Animals Illuminate the Wonder of Our Human Senses, Jackie Higgins smoothly and successfully merges what could have been two popular science books — one on animal senses and one on human perception. Instead of separating the two subjects, here Higgins uses one as a vehicle for exploring the other.

More precisely, by examining a dozen animal species and focusing on a single sensory trait they possess, Higgins casts a clarifying light on our own sensory abilities, including those we may not even be aware of.

Each chapter focuses on a single creature and sense, as follows:

Peacock Mantis Shrimp: color vision
Great Gray Owl: hearing
Star-Nosed Mole: touch
Common Vampire Bat: pleasure/pain
Goliath Catfish: taste
Bloodhound: sme... Read More

How to Build a Human: In Seven Evolutionary Steps

How to Build a Human: In Seven Evolutionary Steps by Pamela S. Turner and illustrated by John Gurche

I often tell my first-year college students that when they start out doing research, they should begin not with the academic journals, which so many of them do, and not with the newspaper or magazine articles, but with books written for young readers. Because what they want is something that is brief, broad, shallow but informative, easy to understand. Something that strips out the overwhelming details and provides them a strong foundational understanding of the major points so that when they do eventually research more deeply, the details will make a lot more sense to them, will be “fitted into” an intellectual framework they’ve constructed for themselves. I add as well that they are lucky in that they’re currently living in a golden age of non-fiction for young readers, not only in terms of quantity but quality as well.

E... Read More

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