2016


The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe: Part Lovecraft pastiche, part academic novel

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

With the title, you figure out pretty quickly that 2016’s The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson, is a Lovecraft pastiche, modeled on The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. If you’re like me, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find out that the beginning at least is a gentle send-up — or, to be polite, a “nod” — to academic novels.

Vellitt Boe, the book’s protagonist, is a professor at the Women’s College in the University in Ulthar. In the opening pages, she wakes from a strange and powerful dream to the news that a star student, whose father is... Read More

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places

Reposting to include Kelly's new review.

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey

If ghosts exist, we don’t know why, but ghost stories exist because the living make them up; and the living make them up because we need them. Colin Dickey’s book Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places (2016) explores the US’s social conflicts and hidden histories as they play out in places that are publicly advertised as “haunted.” In the first chapter, Dickey says, “If you want to understand a place, ignore the boastful monuments and landmarks, and go straight to the haunted houses. Look for the darkened graveyards, the derelict hotels, the empty and decaying old hospitals.”

That passage is also something of a roadmap to the book, which comprises a collection of Dickey’s essays. The chapters are divided by category: haunted houses; h... Read More

A Green and Ancient Light: Beautifully written, gently melancholy

A Green and Ancient Light by Frederic S. Durbin

A war is raging, and a young boy is sent to spend the summer with his grandmother in her small country village. His life changes forever when she decides to rescue a downed enemy pilot and nurse him back to health. While helping her tend to the injured man, the boy also meets Mr. Girandole, a faun, who was once his grandmother’s love and is still her dear friend.

She knows just the place to conceal the pilot while he convalesces: a crooked little tower in an overgrown sculpture garden in the woods. Throughout the summer, the boy explores the garden, which was built long ago by an eccentric Duke who lost his beloved wife. The garden is reputed to contain a riddle that, if answered, will open a door to Faery.

A Green and Ancient Light (2016) is a beautifully written, gently melancholy tale. The pace is perhaps too slow at the start, with a lot... Read More

Thanos Wins: A great story about Marvel’s ultimate villain

Thanos: Thanos Winsby Donny Cates (writer), Geoff Shaw (artist), and Antonio Fabela (colorist)

Donny Cates tells one of the best stories of Thanos in Thanos Wins. The book collects Thanosissues #13-18 and Thanos Annual#1, and because it starts at issue #13, I have avoided the book, not having read issues #1-12 (though I mean to since they are by one of my favorite writers, Jeff Lemire). However, a friend recommended I skip #1-12 and jump straight to this collection because it is a standalone, self-contained story. I pass on the same recommendation to you: If you have any interest in Thanos or are a fan of Donny Cates, then you will like this book.

Many people have now heard of the Cosmic Ghost Rider, a new character in the Marvel Universe, and there is a good collection by Cates called the Cosmic Ghost Rider; however, this character was created by Cates in Read More

The Osamu Tezuka Story: A must-read for manga fans

The Osamu Tezuka Story: A Life in Manga and Anime by Toshio Ban & Tezuka Productions & translated into English by Frederik L. Schodt

“They say if you try making anime for 3 days, you’ll never be able to quit and that in 3 days you’ll also be broke. But even if I were to go broke, I still don’t think I’d be able to quit.” These words from Tezuka, upon receiving an award late in life, express his passion for his work in anime, but he had an equal passion for manga. But doing experimental anime proved so expensive, that he had to produce over three hundred volumes of manga in his lifetime to support his ongoing anime work. The more anime work he did, the more money he needed. The more money he needed, the more manga he produced. He was such a workaholic that he rarely left his office, where he often slept and usually ate his meals. Towards the end of his life, he even had multiple desks set up in his office with different ongoin... Read More

A Shadow All of Light: The shadows grow on you


A Shadow All of Light
by Fred Chappell

A Shadow All of Light (2016) is a collection of linked, chronological stories by Fred Chappell that add up to a full-length narrative if not a seamless novel. Some individual stories are stronger than others, and I would have liked more of a full sense of place, character, and culture, but I enjoyed the underlying magic system, the main character, and how the structure built up over time to a decent climax.

Our narrator is Falco, a country boy from an area of “small, muddy farms” who has run away to the big city (the port of Tardocco) and seeks to apprentice himself to the legendary shadow thief Maestro Astolfo. When they first meet, Astolfo calls Falco a “bumpkin,” a “sneak,” a “hot-blood lazybones,” a “rustic Lumpfart,” an “imbecile,” and a “lunatic.” And of course he takes him on as his apprentice, to be trained... Read More

Will Do Magic For Small Change: Interesting characters, great ideas, and theater arts

Will Do Magic For Small Change by Andrea Hairston

Andrea Hairston’s 2016 novel Will Do Magic for Small Change spills out across traditional fantasy subcategories like the foamy head of a beer. There are urban fantasy elements, historical fantasy, science fiction and coming-of-age themes in this tale, which is set alternately in 1987 and the turn of the 20th century. And while I don’t think there is a subgenre called “performance magic” or “theater magic” yet, when there is, this book will be a seminal example because the love of the theater and performance runs all the way through it.

In 1987, Cinnamon struggles to find acceptance. She is African-American, tall for her age (fourteen), heavy, super-smart and a motor-mouth in a very particular way. She wants to sing and act on stage and she’s gifted, but racism and sexism block her efforts. Cinnamon’s father is in a... Read More

A City Dreaming: Intriguing hero, intriguing setting

A City Dreaming by Daniel Polansky

First things first: A City Dreaming (2016) is not really a novel (as its cover claims). It’s more like a collection of connected short stories that all feature the same protagonist (an adept named M) in the same setting (a supernatural New York City). The stories progress chronologically and have a cast of recurring characters. I liked this set-up quite well, but I suspect that some readers will want to be warned about this straight off so they can choose to approach A City Dreaming when they’re in the mood for a more episodic adventure.

M has just returned to NYC after being out of the country for years. He’s introverted and somewhat of a loner, so at first he doesn’t let anyone know he’s in town, but soon the magical community becomes aware of his presence and then his friends, acquaintances, and enemies begin demanding his time and ... Read More

Superwomen: Gender, Power, and Representation

Superwomen: Gender, Power, and Representation by Carolyn Cocca

In Superwomen: Gender, Power, and Representation, Carolyn Cocca turns a sharp eye on gender (along with race and class) in the world of superheroes, looking through the lens of several female heroes in particular. These are, in order:

Wonder Woman
Batgirl
The women of Star Wars: Padem Amidala, Leia Organa, Jaina Solo
The X-Women (especially Jean Grey and Storm)
Buffy
Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel

The structure allows a sort of best of both worlds exploration. Since Cocca moves chronologically, we get a sense of the grand sweep of change (or sadly, either the lack thereof or its glacial pace). But we also get to bore in on details thanks to the chapter-by-chapter focus on a single character, an aspect often lost in books to simply move through time. It’s a... Read More

A Taste of Honey: An unusual and fascinating world

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

Another 2016 Nebula nominee today, this time for best Novella. A Taste of Honey (2016) is set in the same world as a previous work by Kai Ashante Wilson, The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, which I confess I have not read (it’s not necessary for the understanding of this story, though it may provide some useful background to the setting and its institutions).

At its heart, A Taste of Honey is a love story between two men from different lands — wealthy nobleman, Aqib, from Olorum (where the story is set), and battle-hardened warrior, Lucrio, from Dalucan. The story moves through time, alternating between two paths. The first charts the start of A... Read More

The Power: Simple concept, compelling read

The Power by Naomi Alderman

One thing’s for sure, The Power (2016 in the UK, Oct 2017 in the US) demands attention. Margaret Atwood has given it her blessing and I’ll eat my hat if The Power doesn’t have its own Netflix series sometime soon. Naomi Alderman could well be the next big name in subversive, feminist fiction.

The Power asks — what would happen if all women could physically dominate men? Over five years, Alderman answers that question and the answer is explosive, bloody, wild and thought-provoking.

One day, across the globe, fifteen-year-old girls realise they have electrical power in their fingertips. For some of them it’s strong enough to kill a man with one blow, or rather, one jolt. As the world awakens to this new reality, i... Read More

Central Station: A wealth of ideas, a breathtaking vision

Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

Central Station is a thoughtful, poignant, human take on a possible future. For the most part Central Station occurs at the titular port on planet earth. This space resides in what we know today as Tel Aviv, but in the distant future it has gone through many names and many people. Everything seems to begin in earnest when Boris Chong arrives in Central Station after spending a great deal of time away — some of which on Mars. Central Station, the place, is a half-thought meeting of a variety of worlds. Central Station the book is more thoughtful than I think I know how to express, but I’ll give it a try.

Central Station occurs in the very spot where humans expanded from our first planet throughout the solar system. Humans, robotniks, children who live and breathe the virtuality known as The Con... Read More

The Last Days of Jack Sparks: Part horror, part cerebral, and a whole lot of thriller

The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp

The Last Days of Jack Sparks (2016) is a unique contemporary thriller. The protagonist, Jack Sparks, was a controversial journalist, now dead. The premise of the novel is that you’re reading notes from the book Jack was writing before he kicked it, released as-is by his brother, along with notes for his agents and editor.

Jack Sparks is an interesting character. At first blush he seems similar to some real-life culture journalists. He’s a man with a unique, strong voice and a fearless desire to investigate aspects of life that most of us don’t think about. He has a huge fan base, and he obviously really likes himself (dude has a huge ego), but he’s also gotten himself in a bit of trouble. He’s a notorious drug addict, and has a tendency to close himself off to possibilities. All in all, Jack Sparks is quite repugnant and I instantly couldn’t stand ... Read More

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: An excellent exploration of the human genome

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam Rutherford

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived (UK 2016, US 2017), by Adam Rutherford, is a nicely measured work of popular science that, unlike far too many popular science books/articles, doesn’t overhype its subject matter — advances in deciphering the human genome and how such advances can be applied. Always seeking to inform rather than sell, Rutherford makes for a trustworthy guide whose down-to-earth, realistic perspective doesn’t at all detract from the inherent wonder of science.

He divides the work into two large segments: “the rewriting of the past using genetics, from a time when there were at least four human species on Earth right up to the kings of Europe in the eighteenth century” and an exploration of “who we are today, and what the study of DNA in the 21st century says about families, health, psychology, race, and the fate of u... Read More

The Chimes: Immerse yourself in a dark, beautiful world filled with music

The Chimes by Anna Smaill

Anna Smaill’s debut fantasy novel The Chimes won the World Fantasy Award in 2016. It became available in the USA in 2017. The Chimes is a dark and beautiful fantasy that is filled with music.

After the death of his parents, Sebastian leaves his home and travels to London. His mother has sent him, with her dying words, to find a woman named Molly. Sebastian has the clothes on his back and a knapsack filled with objectmemories. These objectmemories are important, because in Sebastian’s world, each day is just like the last, and every night when they sleep, people leave behind their memories. Every morning, the melody rings that through the world, Onestory, returns certain memories to people, and at vespers the Chimes plays, a majestic piece of music that seems to remove the memories of the day. For people in Sebastian’s world, memori... Read More

The Tourist: Twisty-wisty, wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff

The Tourist by Robert Dickinson

The good news is that, in terms of time-travel novels, Robert Dickinson does quite a lot of interesting things with The Tourist (2016): dual narratives — one straightforward and one circuitous, commentary on human nature, and the mechanics of time-travel itself, along with its social and economic effects on the 21st-century. The bad news is that the novel stumbles in the third act and never regains its footing, sacrificing clarity and plot in favor of poetic imagery.

The Tourist begins by describing the prison “you” reside in, an arrangement which has been going on for seemingly quite some time. Eventually, it is revealed that “you” are Karia, and the terms and reasons for this captivity are complex. Karia is released into the custody of a young man, Riemann, a man she recognizes as someone she met as a much older man lon... Read More

The Hike: A surreal and often humorous journey

The Hike by Drew Magary

I’m of two minds on Drew Magary’s The Hike (2016). On the one hand, it’s a fast, energetic, often funny and sometimes moving work. On the other hand, its plotting feels wholly capricious and arbitrary and some of the territory it wanders is well-worn or less profound than it seems like it wants to be taken. I mostly like my books with a bit more structured depth, and if you do as well, then I think you’ll zip through and enjoy The Hike while also being a bit annoyed. But if you’re looking for is a fun video game kind of ride with a smattering of emotionality, you’ll just enjoy.

Magary begins pretty mundanely, with the main character Ben on a business trip in a mountaintop motel in Pennsylvania. He sets off on a trail behind the motel, and then things turn gr... Read More

The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent: Liberals will hate it

The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent by Larry Correia

The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent is a fun, silly, sometimes clever, sometimes hilarious, sometimes stupid story with lots of geeky SFF in-jokes. Some readers will absolutely adore it while others will absolutely loathe it.

As the story begins, one of the Earths in the multiverse is being overrun by Purple People Eaters who are (of course) eating people. Fortunately, this particular Earth has a policy with Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent. He’ll take care of it quickly and easily because if there’s one thing that Tom Stranger is serious about, it’s excellent customer service. That’s why he’s really annoyed that his new intern is a sissy Millennial crybaby who majored in gender studies, occupied Wall Street, and thinks that all interdimensional crises can be solved with d... Read More

A World from Dust: How the Periodic Table Shaped Life

A World from Dust: How the Periodic Table Shaped Life by Ben McFarland

A World from Dust: How the Periodic Table Shaped Life
(2016), by Ben McFarland, can at times be a difficult read, but despite that, and regardless of some writing/structural issues, it’s an often engaging and always confidently informative exploration of how life was driven down certain paths by the implacable requirements of chemistry.

McFarland’s perspective contrasts directly, as he describes on several occasions, with Stephen J. Gould’s pronouncement that if the “tape of life” were rerun from the beginning, the end result would be wildly different (meaning we humans most likely wouldn’t be around to notice that). McFarland argues that Gould may have a point in a very narrow sense, but is incorrect when one takes a broader viewpoint, because the chemistry of the planet, as well as its geology (often driv... Read More

The Regional Office is Under Attack: Lots to like but overall frustrating


The Regional Office is Under Attack
by Manuel Gonzales

As I kept reading The Regional Office is Under Attack (2016) by Manuel Gonzales, whipsawing back and forth between being impressed and being annoyed, I found myself pulling for Gonzales to pull it off, and it was a near thing. In the end, I think I come down on the side of the novel frustrating somewhat more than it delights, though it leaves me intrigued to see what Gonzales comes up with next.

The titular office is an agency that, according to their own sign (written in light-blue calligraphy), is:
Uniquely positioned to Empower and Strengthen otherwise troubled or at-risk Young Women to act as a Barrier of last resort between the survival of the Planet and the amassing Forces of Darkness that Threaten, at nearly every turn, to Destroy it.
Employed to that end are a trio of Oracles (think Minority Report- Read More

Children of the New World: Check it out of the library for the several excellent stories

Children of the New World by Alexander Weinstein

Children of the New World
(2016) by Alexander Weinstein was a bit of a mixed bag as a story collection, with a few excellent ones, several decent ones, and several that fell flat. At his best, Weinstein offers up moving examinations of the impending impact of near-future technology, even if many of the ideas will seem familiar.

Example number one is the first story, “Saying Goodbye to Yang,” as Weinstein starts off with the best of the bunch (a choice that has its advantages and disadvantages). When they wanted a child three years ago, the parents in this tale choose to not go the trendy “clone” route and instead adopted a Chinese baby. Their agency also suggested an android older brother to serve as a “Big Brother, babysitter, and storehouse of cultural knowledge,” the kind of “cultural knowledge,” the narrator tells us, ... Read More

Roses and Rot: The price of making dreams come true

Roses and Rot by Kat Howard

Roses and Rot (2016) is a slow-building but beautifully written dark fantasy, loosely based on a familiar folk tale that isn’t disclosed until about a third of the way into the novel, so I’ll refrain from giving it away. Primarily Roses and Rot explores the relationship between two adult sisters and their devotion to their respective arts, and how that affects their relationship during a year they spend at Melete, an elite fine arts retreat program in New Hampshire. At the same time, it asks hard questions of its characters, and of us as readers, about what we are willing to sacrifice in the pursuit of our art, or any other personal goal.

Imogen, the narrator and older sister, is an author who uses fairy tale themes and motifs in her stories; her sister Marin is a gifted ballet dancer. The sisters’ relationship is loving but fraught with difficul... Read More

Certain Dark Things: I thought I was tired of vampires; then I read this

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

I’ve gotten tired of vampires. All too often, their social models are those of decadent, louche aristocrats with their courts and their bloodsucking royalty, or mafia-like crime lords. There isn’t much new about the process of drinking blood, either; they host a demon; or they are demons, or they have a virus. (Yawn.) I didn’t think anyone could make vampires interesting for me again until I read Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things. Her vampires are crime lords, but not mafia; they run narco-cartels, and Certain Dark Things (2016) tells a story about a vampire and her human sidekick in a way that is gritty, romantic, action-y and new.

Moreno-Garcia’s story choices range from the Really Smart to the Brilliant. Within those cat... Read More

The Dispatcher: An interesting premise that made us think

The Dispatcher by John Scalzi

A weird thing has happened in our world. Suddenly, people who are murdered can come back to life. Nobody knows why. It doesn’t happen when people die naturally — only when they’re murdered. To take advantage of this new death loophole, the job of Dispatcher has been created and Tony Valdez is one of them. His job is to murder people so they can end up in their own beds a few hours before they died. For example, in one scene we see Tony murder a man who is about to die on the operating table and in another we see him shoot a woman who just got hit by a bus. Dispatchers occasionally do less savory jobs, too, such as shooting injured stuntmen on movie sets so the studio won’t get sued for damages.

When one of Tony’s fellow Dispatchers disappears, a policewoman asks him to help with the investigation. Tony is reluctant, but she is persuasive and he gets roped in. As he tries to uncover the crime tha... Read More

The Girl of Ink and Stars: A pretty debut that cries out for a little more

The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Girl of Ink and Stars (2016; published in the U.S. as The Cartographer’s Daughter) is Kiran Millwood Hargrave's debut novel. It tells the story of Isabella, a girl of 13, who lives with her father (Da) and her chicken (Miss La) on the island of Joya. Though Da was once a cartographer who travelled the globe making maps, Joya is now under the control of the despotic Governor Adori and all travel is forbidden. What's more, only part of the island is accessible while the "Forbidden Territories" are cut-off by forest and populated by the "banished". Isabella and her Da can only connect to the outside world through the exquisite maps for which they share a passion, passed down from father to daughter.

One day, Isabella's life is thrown into adventure when a girl in her class is found murdered in the Governor's... Read More