2018


My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies: A noir coming-of-age story

My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies: A Criminal Novella by Ed Brubaker (writer), Sean Phillips (artist), and Jacob Phillips (colorist).

My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies: A Criminal Novella is another Ed Brubaker-Sean Phillips work of perfection. It’s another tale of danger and the criminal world.  The story and the art are each five-star outings, the storytelling melding well with the visuals. Simply put, this noir story has matching noir-ish artwork, but if you’re familiar with Phillips’s work in previous Criminal titles, you’ll be surprised by the light pinks and purples and light blues used this time, creating a different tint than the usual (colors are by Jacob Phillips, Sean Phillips’s son). Any noir novel fans, including fans of the covers, will appreciate both aspects of the book — content and look. The father and son artists give a sense of some of these covers with a contemporary, more r... Read More

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein: A new spin on a classic horror story

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White

We all know Frankenstein: the evil genius, the monster, the frozen wasteland etc. But in The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein (2018), Kiersten White offers a new spin on the classic, through an origins story that traces Victor Frankenstein right back to his childhood, through the eyes of an unlikely heroine, Elizabeth Frankenstein.

We meet Elizabeth when her surname is still Lavenza. She is starved and bruised and about to be thrown out onto the streets, when she is chosen to go and live with the Frankenstein family as a companion to their young son Victor, who has everything except a friend. Elizabeth realises that she must do everything in her power to stay ... Read More

Abbott: Elder gods and tough reporters in 1970s Detroit

Reposting to include Brad's new review.

Abbott by Saladin Ahmed & Sami Kivela

BOOM! Studios has released the trade edition of the first series of the period dark fantasy Abbott (2018), words by Saladin Ahmed and art by Sami Kivela. Set in 1972, the story follows Elena Abbott, a reporter for the Detroit Daily. Abbott may not be the paper’s only woman reporter, but she is probably its only Black reporter and definitely the only Black woman reporter. Currently, she is in trouble with the paper’s owners for her accurate expose of the police murder of a Black teenager. She is sent to cover the mutilation of a police horse. To further punish her for her stand against police lawlessness, the paper has taken away her photographer and given Abbott a camera. This is a status hit that her whit... Read More

Scribe: Come for the bleakness, stay for the poetry

Scribe by Alyson Hagy

Alyson Hagy’s slim 2018 literary novella Scribe mines Appalachian folktales for a bleak, harrowing and poetic story about loss, guilt, love and honor. By deliberately setting the story in a world outside of our time and space, Hagy forces attention onto the characters, which at times gives the book the feel of a stage-play more than a story or a poem.

In spite of an otherworldly setting, this novel isn’t speculative fiction. Hagy isn’t raising questions about how people live in a world like this one. She’s exploring the effects of isolation, guilt and trauma against a folkloric setting, and asking, “In a terrible situation, how do we find the good in each other?”

In order to help set expectations, I will engage in a mild spoiler. In this world, there has been an historic civil war. There have, it seems, been several wars. There have been mi... Read More

The People’s Republic of Everything: An experimental collection

Reposting to include Skye's new review.

The People’s Republic of Everything by Nick Mamatas

I don’t know if I simply wasn’t in the right mood for Nick Mamatas’ short-story collection The People’s Republic of Everything (2018), or if I’m not the right audience for his preferred themes and overall style, but this book and I just could not mesh.

There was one story, “Tom Silex, Spirit-Smasher,” which gripped my attention and had everything I look for in short fiction. The story focuses on Rosa Martinez, whose elderly grandmother might — through quirks of legality regarding her first marriage and the question of ownership of her first husband’s pulp publications — own the rights to a series of stories revolving around psychopomp Tom Silex. The character work is strong, the plo... Read More

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle: Compelling, twisty, sneaky

Reposting to include Bill's new review.

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Debut author Stuart Turton’s The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (2018), originally published earlier this year in Great Britain as The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, is an intricately plotted murder mystery, set in an isolated early 20th century English mansion, with a highly imaginative speculative element that is only gradually revealed, as our main character tries to figure out who he really is, and how to solve the mystery of Evelyn Hardcastle’s pending death … or has her death already occurred?

The plot and setting are worthy of Agatha Christie: Lord and Lady Hardcastle have invited a number of guests to their British country mansion, Blackheath House, for a weekend party to celebrate the return of their daughter, Evelyn, from Paris. (The notable guests... Read More

How to Fracture a Fairy Tale: Grim undertones to Grimm

Reposting to include Skye's new review.

How to Fracture a Fairy Tale by Jane Yolen

One year after Tachyon Publications published The Emerald Circus, a collection of Jane Yolen's fantastical short stories based on various fairy tales and legendary people (both fictional and real), it has followed up with a similar collection, How to Fracture a Fairy Tale (2018). Like The Emerald Circus, this is a compilation of Yolen’s older, previously published stories, spiffed up with new author’s notes in which Yolen briefly discuss each story and how she “fractured” it with significant departures from its original source material. These end notes for each story also include a poem by Yolen that’s linked to th... Read More

The Way Past Winter: A simple but evocative fairy tale

The Way Past Winter by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The first thing about this book that caught my eye was just how beautiful it was: the green binding, the interior pattern, the embossed cover-art — I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but it really is a lovely object to behold.

The story itself rides the current popular wave of Scandinavian-based fairy tales, and reads a little like Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen”. Winter has lasted for five years in Eldbjørn Forest, and siblings Oskar, Sanna, Mila and Pipa are barely hanging on. After their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance, the four of them live all alone in the woods, seeing nothing in their futures but more of the bitter cold.

But after a strange encounter in the forest with a huge, bear-like man and his silent entourage, Mila wakes up to find her brother has disappeared. She insists he wouldn’t abandon ... Read More

Catwoman: Soulstealer: A fun story for a fun character

Catwoman: Soulstealer by Sarah J. Maas

The DC ICONS COLLECTION has a very simple premise: take a famous DC superhero, give them to a popular YA author, and have them craft a story about each character's adolescence, well before they put on their capes and tights and started crime-fighting. It allows the authors to delve into a part of each character's life that's not often explored (well, except for Clark Kent on Smallville) and give us stories about superheroes that aren't comic books or filmic adaptations.

Among the featured characters (Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman) Catwoman stands out as the one protagonist whose "hero" credentials are somewhat suspect. Better known as an amoral cat-burglar, Selina Kyle is reimagined in Catwoman: Soulstealer (2018) as a dirt-poor teenager struggling to care f... Read More

Batman: Nightwalker: A fun adventure with a young Bruce Wayne

Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu

Superheroes permeate nearly every facet of pop-culture these days, and someone at Penguin Books found a way to capitalize on that popularity: round up some successful YA authors and have them write original stories about the most famous DC superheroes while still in their adolescence (the heroes, not the authors).

Therefore the DC ICONS COLLECTION gives us new stories about Wonder Woman, Batman, Catwoman and Superman before they adopt their later personas, most of them no more than seventeen or eighteen years old at the time these tales are set.

Batman: Nightwalker (2018) tackles Bruce Wayne, fast-approaching his eighteenth birthday but still grappling with the loss of his parents. It's not an easy life despite his wealth, and he prefers to avoid the s... Read More

Phalanxes of Atlans: A well-paired yet unconvincing double feature

Phalanxes of Atlans by F. Van Wyck Mason

A little while ago. I had some words to say about Capt. S.P. Meek’s 1930 novel The Drums of Tapajos, in which a band of American explorers discovers a lost civilization in the jungle wilderness of Brazil, comprised of the cultured and scientifically advanced remnants of the 10 Lost Tribes and Troy, uneasily coexisting with the barbaric remnants of Atlantis. The book was done in by a lack of convincing detail and exciting set pieces, as I reported. Well, now I am here to tell you of my most recent read, another offering from Armchair Fiction’s Lost World/Lost Race series; a book that suffers from one of the same problems that plague The Drums of Tapajos, even though its story line has been inverted. In this case, a... Read More

Coyote Songs: Literary horror that rewarded me beyond my expectations

Coyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias

I’m giving 2018’s Coyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias five stars, and I’m going to recommend it highly here. Then I’m going to post warnings, because this is one of those “this book is not for everybody” things.

On Twitter, Iglesias describes his writing as “barrio noir,” and also “a mix of horror and noir.” Coyote Songs follows several characters on either side of the Mexico/USA border as a mysterious rage-filled entity comes into their lives. The short book (not quite 200 pages) is lyrical, hyper-violent at times, blood-drenched, fantastical, satirical, and contains a hefty slice of body horror in the storyline with Mother (a pregnant woman) and Boy. Descriptions are as vivid as a neon sign in a desert night, and often as disturbing as the buzzing of a colony of flies on a dead animal. It starts bloody and dark an... Read More

Close Encounters with Humankind: A clear tour of how we became human

Close Encounters with Humankind by Sang-Hee Lee

Close Encounters with Humankind
(2018) is based on a collection of a series of essays by paleoanthropologist Sang-Hee Lee on human evolution published between February 2012 and December 2013 and appearing in a popular science magazine as well as a South Korean newspaper. Lee writes in a clear, conversational style and though sometimes one wishes for a bit more detail or depth, she makes for an entertaining and informative tour guide of our species’ history.

Lee eschews the usual chronological approach, with each essay instead focusing on a particular step along our evolutionary journey, placing it in historical context (as much as possible given inherent uncertainties over ascribing anything so ancient to a particular timeframe) and explaining our best theories on the topic. Lee answers the When, Why, and How with regard to stops along the... Read More

Street Freaks: A new genre for a well-known author

Street Freaks by Terry Brooks

Terry Brooks is best known for his fantasy novels (particularly the SHANNARA series) but with Street Freaks (2018) he tries his hand at science fiction for the first time. The results are ... fine. This is hardly a game-changing or genre-bending novel, but a fast-paced, reasonably interesting story that belongs as much in the dystopian genre as it does science fiction. Brooks's distinctive prose (clear but liable to repeat itself) is matched well with a collection of interesting characters and some fun world-building.

The story begins when teenager Ash Collins receives a warning from his father through his vidview, telling him "Go into the Red Zone. Go to Street Freaks. Don't wait ... "The connection ends before the message is complete, and minutes later Ash's apartment i... Read More

Astounding: Four men who, despite their flaws, helped form science fiction

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee

The Golden Age of Science Fiction is generally pinned to the decade from 1939 to 1950, and while a host of people contributed in various ways, pretty much everyone agrees that if one could point to a single dominating figure it would John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding Science Fiction, the pre-eminent magazine for science fiction at the time. In Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction (2018), Alec Nevala-Lee explains how Campbell, and the trio of quite different authors who made up his highly influential stable of writers, came to have such outsized influence and then, for Cam... Read More

Ghost Wall: These are not the good old days

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

Silvie’s summer vacation is a nightmare. She, her abusive father, and her browbeaten mother have joined a college professor and his three-person Experimental Archaeology class in the northern woods of England, where they are trying to live like the ancients. For the class, it’s a learning experience and something of a lark, at least at first. For Silvie’s father, it’s deadly serious; he’d love to live like that all the time, as he imagines Iron Age Britain to be the world of his racist and sexist dreams.

Things get worse when Silvie’s father and some of the others become obsessed with the grislier aspects of the olden days: the titular ghost wall — a fence topped with skulls that was meant to magically repel invaders — and the human sacrifices preserved in the peat bogs. Meanwhile, Silvie is both drawn to and terrified by Molly, one of the students, who refuses to allow Silvie to keep seein... Read More

Tide of Stone: Had issues with the voice

Tide of Stone by Kaaron Warren

As usual with DNFs (Did Not Finish), this will be a quite brief review as I have too much respect for the achievement of finishing a novel to belabor its bad points. Or, in this case, bad point really, for what caused me to give up on Kaaron Warren’s Tide of Stone, twice actually, was voice.

In Tempuston, Australia, the town has taken to punishing its worst criminals in two ways. The first is relatively mundane — they imprison them in the Time Ball Tower set across a small stretch of water. The second way is the fantastical aspect of the novel. The prisoners are “preserved,” given a long-ago concocted cocktail that gives them eternal life but turns them into withered, desiccated bodies that can’t move themselves and talk so slowly many can’t understand them. In short, not really lif... Read More

The Listener: An exciting and emotional drama with a great setting

The Listener by Robert McCammon

Robert McCammon’s The Listener (2018), a finalist for this year’s Locus Award for Best Horror Novel, takes us to New Orleans during the Great Depression. There we meet:

Pearly, a good-looking huckster selling over-priced fakely-engraved Bibles to poor and grieving widows
Ginger LaFrance, a sexy and completely unscrupulous grifter who is tired of her current partner in crime and ready to choose a new one
Donny, Ginger’s violent and crazy nephew
Curtis Mayhew, a young black man who earns a decent wage as a redcap with the Union Railroad
Orchid, Curtis’s mother, a woman who feels that her health has been declining since the death of her husband years ago and who worries about her sons’ insistence that he can hear voices in his head
Nilla and Jack,... Read More

The Cabin at the End of the World: Disorientating and brutal

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

Eight-year-old Wen and her dads, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing in a remote cabin in the woods in New Hampshire. Eric and Andrew are lounging on the back deck, overlooking a lake, trying hard to give Wen some space to play on her own. That almost immediately appears to be the wrong decision, as a large man named Leonard unexpectedly arrives while Wen is catching grasshoppers in the front yard. Wen knows she’s not supposed to talk to strangers, but Leonard is disarmingly nice, and he’s very helpful with the grasshoppers.

The tension posed by this scenario is already ratcheted up to 11 on a 10 point scale, but it’s only the beginning; three more people show up with strange and menacing weapons. Wen runs inside and she and her dads attempt to keep the strangers out. They fail. The strangers, however, do not immediately slaughter the family. Instead, after immobilizing the men... Read More

The Agony House: A fun and instructive haunted house mystery

The Agony House by Cherie Priest

When she was too young to remember, Denise Farber’s father and grandmother died in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. She and her mother fled to Houston. Now, with Denise about to enter her senior year in high school, her mother has just remarried and their new little family is returning to New Orleans. They have very little money, so they’ve purchased an old dilapidated Victorian style home that they hope to fix up and turn into a Bed & Breakfast.

After moving into the house, which has been nicknamed “The Nail House” by the neighbors, conditions are far worse than they imagined. Almost nothing works, new electrical wiring and plumbing is required, all of the walls and flooring need remodeling, and the place is filthy. As they start working on the house, strange things start happening — Denise sees, hears, smells, and feels things that don’t seem to exist and then there are multi... Read More

The Hunger: Taut and tense historical horror

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

The Donner Party tragedy — a horribly-gone-wrong 1846 emigration to California that ended with half the emigrants dead and the survivors having to resort to cannibalism — would hardly seem to need a ratcheting up of the horror via the addition of the supernatural. But that’s just what Alma Katsu has done in her Locus-nominated novel The Hunger (2018). And honestly, I’m still not sure I needed the supernatural aspect because Katsu has created an entirely compelling, immersively suspenseful account of this harrowing journey just out of the more mundane characters and environment.

The Hunger opens with a prologue, which is really a looking ahead in time, as a rescue group sent out in April of 1847 to find the “last known survivor of the Donnor Party tragedy” ar... Read More

We Sold Our Souls: Heavy metal horror

We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix

Here at FanLit we’re working together to get all the Locus Award finalists reviewed. I’m not a fan of horror, but when I learned that Grady Hendrix’s horror novel We Sold Our Souls (2018) was about a woman who used to be the lead guitarist for a metal band, I knew this novel was for me. Hard rock and metal are my favorite music genres, I love to attend live shows, and I have often fantasized that being a guitarist for a metal band could have been an alternative career path if my mom had allowed me to take guitar instead of piano lessons. So, I was ready to love We Sold Our Souls.

The story starts by introducing a teenage Kris Pulaski in the late 1980s as she discovers metal and hard rock music and begins learning to play electric guitar in her bedroom. I could totally relate to Kris and her friend Terry (a singer) as they ... Read More

In the Night Wood: Immersively atmospheric despite overly-familiar plot

In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey

I can’t honestly say there was much new or surprising about Dale Bailey’s In the Night Wood (2018), making the plot easily the weakest element of this Locus-nominated novel. Its strength, meanwhile, lies in its vivid, evocative prose and its portrayal of the inner turmoil of its main character.

When Charles Hayden was just a child, he came across an old book entitled In the Night Wood by the 19th Century author Caedmon Hollow and was mysteriously drawn to it, so much so he stole it from his grandfather’s library where he’d found it (the old man wouldn’t notice, since it was during his grandfather’s funeral that Charles took it). Years later, looking for another copy of it at the college library, he fortuitously runs into Erin, a young woman who was “not beautiful exactly, but striking ... Out of his league anyway,” who tur... Read More

Ahab’s Return: A well-crafted novel that didn’t quite compel

Ahab's Return: or, The Last Voyage by Jeffrey Ford

Ahab's Return: or, The Last Voyage (2018), by Jeffrey Ford, is a Locus finalist for fantasy novels, so one should keep that in mind while taking in this review, as I take a somewhat (though only somewhat) lesser view of the novel. Which happens to me surprisingly often with awards outside the Booker; probably something else to keep in mind.

The titular character is indeed that Captain Ahab of Moby Dick fame, but what one should know off the bat is that one needn’t have read that classic American work to follow/enjoy Ahab’s Return. A good thing since not many have read it (including a number of those who say they have — you know who you are). Ford’s opening conceit is that Ahab actually survived his final enc... Read More

Severance: These aren’t the zombies you’re looking for

Severance by Ling Ma

Candace Chen, daughter of Chinese immigrants, lives in New York City and works for a book publisher (Bibles are her specialty). Photography is her hobby so, in her spare time, she takes photos of people and places in the city and posts them to her blog.

Candace is one of the last people in Manhattan after a viral epidemic rages across the globe, turning most of the world’s population into mindless automatons who get stuck doing some little rote routine until they starve. She joins up with a small group of survivors who are being led by an authoritarian guy named Bob to some place he calls “The Facility” where they can start a new civilization. As the group travels to The Facility, Candace tells us her story, weaving in a series of near-past and far-past flashbacks.

In Ling Ma’s Severance (2018), which is up for a Locus Award for Best First Novel... Read More