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Jay Lake

Jay Lake fantasy author(1964-2014)
Jay Lake won the 2004 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and has been nominated for the Hugo and World Fantasy Awards. You can read some of his short fiction at Jay Lake’s website.

Greetings from Lake Wu: A story collection

Greetings from Lake Wu by Jay Lake

Greetings from Lake Wu is a collaboration between Jay Lake and Frank Wu, with the former writing the short stories and the latter illustrating them. Wu's art can be found preceding each story (there are 13 in this collection) and his style has an old-school feel to it. Lake, on the other hand, struts his early work here and I find it amusing that the book begins and ends with stories that have a similar title ("The Courtesy of Guests" and "The Passing of Guests" respectively) and feature the same set of characters. As far as the fiction goes, most of the stories have a sci-fi angle and while Lake writes them competently, only a few possessed the impact I was expecting from Jay Lake (but those that do pack a wallop).

Having said that, here are my favorite three stories: "Jack's House" stands out the most to me, in part due to its accessib... Read More

Rocket Science: Conspiracies and adventure in Kansas

Rocket Science by Jay Lake

At first glance, Rocket Science might seem like a very short read at under 200 pages, but Jay Lake makes every word count. Set in a post-World War II Kansas, the novel starts off with a mundane premise but as one progresses through the book, Lake slowly adds an additional element of conflict so that by the time you reach the end, Rocket Science is a great novel about conspiracies, betrayal, family, friendship, and adventure.

Lake's language is simple enough, yet is also reflective of the era he is trying to portray. No lyrical prose here or extravagant descriptions, but what you get is an easy to comprehend narrative. The strength of the book, however, is Lake's characterization of our protagonist, Vernon. It is through his lens that we experience everything that is going on and while he is far from the perfect human being, this fact ma... Read More

Trial of Flowers: Leaves sophisticated readers wanting more

Trial of Flowers by Jay Lake

Despite having read two Jay Lake novels (Rocket Science and Mainspring), they didn't prepare me for Trial of Flowers. This is an entirely different animal; Right from the outset you're hit with stylistic language, a complex tapestry of characters and plot, and most importantly, a flat-out weirdness and originality that tends to be missing from most mainstream fantasy novels.

Lake juggles several characters, each with their own level of depravity, yet these are the characters you're rooting for and sympathizing with. The setting — the City Imperishable — is quite distinct with its unconventionality: factions of boxed dwarfs, crossbow-wielding clown guards, and mysterious edicts such as the so-called Trial of Flowers. Each "chapter" (the book has no chapters but rather it is divided according to point of view) is a compelling page-turner that leaves sophisticated readers wanting more.

... Read More

Mainspring: So much potential

Mainspring by Jay Lake

Up till now, my exposure to Jay Lake has been limited to the author’s short fiction which either really worked for me or was underwhelming. Mainspring falls somewhere in the middle with the parts that I liked and disliked usually related to one another.

For instance, I loved the concept of Earth being part of a giant clockwork mechanism constructed by God, complete with colossal gears and springs. What I didn’t like so much was the haphazard manner in which this backdrop was described with certain aspects depicted in great detail while others were left frustratingly vague — like the Mainspring itself. I also liked the Victorian/colonial time period, but was disappointed by how little this alternate Earth was explored. After all, you would think that giant brass clockwork and an Equatorial Wall separating the planet into two halves would have a major impact on ... Read More

Escapement: The main course

Escapement by Jay Lake

In my opinion, Jay Lake’s Mainspring was a novel full of great potential that was hindered by inconsistent writing and execution. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book and was looking forward to reading the sequel. Happily, everything that worked so well in the first book has been retained in Escapement, while most of the problems were corrected, resulting in a greatly improved sequel that is everything Mainspring could have been and much more.

I had several issues with Mainspring — notably the description of Jay’s clockwork universe, the characters, the pacing, and the execution of certain concepts like religion and gender roles. Starting with the setting, which is one of the novels’ strengths, Lake does a much better job this time around at rendering his creation — a Victorian/steampunk — influenc... Read More

Green: Mixed reviews

Green by Jay Lake

Green is barely a toddler when her father sells her to Federo, a man who travels around looking for young female children on behalf of a faraway Duke. Taken halfway across the world, not even able to speak the local language, Green is imprisoned in the Pomegranate Court, where she endures a ruthless training program designed to mold her from an innocent, illiterate child into a sophisticated courtesan or concubine for the Duke’s court. Various Mistresses teach her the skills a lady needs and punish her cruelly at the slightest misstep or shortcoming. It isn’t until Green meets the Dancing Mistress, a catlike “pardine” who ends up teaching her much more than just dancing, that she begins to get a better understanding of the city surrounding the Pomegranate Court — and her real purpose for being there...

As a novel, Green (2009) is a mixed bag. There’s much to like here, and i... Read More

Endurance: Weak plot and narrative voice undercut interesting character

Endurance by Jay Lake

In Endurance, Jay Lake continues the exploration of a strange and beautiful world. We feel the smoothness of a length of silk, hear the sounds from the docks, smell the curries and the spices in the food cooked in the taverns. As Green, his main character, travels through Copper Downs, the reader sees the city from the roofs she travels, and wanders deep into the tunnels and caves beneath the city’s foundation. We see the rust-frozen machines used eons ago, built by the sorcerer-engineers to work the mines, the city’s genesis.

Green herself is an interesting character, at her most engaging when she is being rebellious. Her very identity was born in an act of rebellion in the first book of the series, Green, and in Endurance, the warrior woman who birthed the ox-god Endurance tries to both fight and talk her way free of any entan... Read More

Kalimpura: Frustrating close to frustrating series

Kalimpura by Jay Lake

Kalimpura is the third and supposedly concluding book in Jay Lake’s series about Green, the young girl who becomes enmeshed in both worldly and godly politics, much to her dismay. I had lots of issues with the first book, Green, fewer but still some issues with the follow-up, Endurance, and I have to say that Kalimpura, while better than Green, didn’t wrap up the series in any way that would have me recommend readers pick up the trilogy.

Kalimpura picks up soon after Green has given birth to twins, a son and daughter. Still unresolved from Endurance is the fate of the two girls stolen away and taken to Green’s homeland city of Kalimpura. After several attacks in Copper Downs, and attempts by Green to resolve her standing issues with the gods of that city, including Divine and Blackblood, Green takes ship with a small group of allies... Read More

Last Plane to Heaven: The Final Collection: Indispensable

Last Plane to Heaven: The Final Collection by Jay Lake

Jay Lake died in June of 2014. It was a tragic loss but not a surprise, since Lake had made his experiences with cancer public. Last Plane to Heaven, edited by Lake himself, is a reminder of just how much the speculative fiction world lost.

I have always loved Lake’s prose, but I had trouble with his novels. This collection of thirty-two stories shows him, mostly, at his best and strongest. As with his novels, even when a story is, by my lights, less than successful, it is still a fascinating read. Lake put a brief introduction to each story. In several cases these often humorous introductions are as interesting as the story. Fair warning, though; several of these introductions discuss the effect of his cancer and the treatments on his writing; be prepared.

Because there are thirty-two stories, I am not going to comment on all of them... Read More

Magazine Monday: The Magazine That Would Not Die

In 2009, fans of Realms of Fantasy, a full-size slick magazine, were dismayed to learn that its publisher, Sovereign Media, was shutting it down. Just not enough subscribers, Sovereign said; we can’t afford to keep going. But a savior came along in the form of Publisher Warren Lapine of Tir Na Nog Press, who purchased the magazine and kept it going with the same wonderful staff (including long-time editor Shawna McCarthy). Readers were delighted. Magazines are hardly ever saved, and even if they’re revived years later, they’re normally only shadows of their former selves. It was great to know that Realms of Fantasy would continue publishing. I’m sure I wasn’t the only hopeful who started writing stories in the sincere belief that someday I’d see my name on the Realms of Fantasy cover.

... Read More

Magazine Monday: Black Gate

Black Gate has been published irregularly (sometimes only once a year) since 2000, but I’ve only just discovered it. And what a time to do so! The Winter 2010 edition, Number 14, is 385 pages long, the size of a hefty book. The price reflects that; few magazines will run you $15.95 in the print edition ($8.95 for a PDF version that doesn’t translate well to Kindle). But then, few magazines will give you as much great fantasy as this one, including first stories by four promising new authors.

There are a very great many stories in this issue – 16 short stories and three novellas. Four of the offerings are first publications by their authors. More than a few of the pieces are exceptional, real standouts in a day when fantasy stories are as numerous as stars. Many of the stories are competent but unoriginal; reading one after the other makes one weary of noble peasantry, evil wizards, valiant swords and... Read More

Magazine Monday: Asimov’s, October/November 2012

Sheila Williams, the editor of Asimov’s, says that the annual October/November issue is “slightly spooky.” There are a few frights in the magazine, as well as some solid science fiction, but overall, I was generally disappointed in this double issue.

Alan Smale’s novella, “The Mongolian Book of the Dead,” was not one of the disappointments; to the contrary, it is a nicely imagined tale of what might happen if the Chinese decide to mount a military invasion of Mongolia — an independent landlocked country sandwiched between Russia and China. I enjoyed Smale’s use of folklore, fantasy and politics as seen through the eyes of an American caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, a man who serves as a linchpin for the plans of an ugdan, the female equivalent of a shaman. The shadow of Chinggis Khan an... Read More

Magazine Monday: Subterranean, Spring 2013

The spring issue of Subterranean is exceptionally strong, even for a publication known for its excellent fiction. The six long pieces in this issue seem to be somewhat thematically linked, most of them having taken some form of art as their theme.

In “Painted Birds and Shivered Bones” by Kat Howard, an artist named Maeve has gone for a walk, seeking both fresh air and perspective, when she sees a naked man crouched beside a cathedral. She reaches into her purse for her phone, but when she looks up again, the man is gone. In his place is a beautiful white bird. How could she have confused a bird, no matter how large and beautiful, with a naked man? Regardless, the bird proves to be a remarkable inspiration, and Maeve is soon working on a series of paintings of mythological b... Read More

Magazine Monday: Subterranean Magazine, Fall 2013

The Fall 2013 issue of Subterranean Magazine is a delight to read. The stories are challenging and imaginative, full of discovery, provocation and excellent writing.

The issue opens with “Doctor Helios,” a long novella by Lewis Shiner. It’s a Cold War espionage novel, reminiscent more of Ian Fleming than of John le Carré, set in Egypt in 1963 as the Aswan Dam is being built. Our hero is John York, apparently a member of the CIA, who has been tasked with ensuring that the dam does not succeed. President Kennedy may want to develop a new relationship with President Nasser of Egypt after years of tension following Nasser’s overthrow of the monarchy and nationalization of the Suez Canal Company, but the CIA thinks he’s a communist and wants his grandest project to fail. York has the same touch with the ladies as James Bond, and his foe, the titl... Read More

Magazine Monday: Subterranean Magazine, Summer 2014

To the dismay of all lovers of great speculative short fiction, the Summer issue of Subterranean Magazine is its last. This magazine was notable not just for the quality of its fiction, but for its willingness to publish short fiction at the novelette and novella lengths. The Summer issue ably demonstrates just what we’re going to be missing.

The magazine begins with Caitlín R. Kiernan’s “Pushing the Sky Away (Death of a Blasphemer).” The first person narrator is in desperate straits, her water and morphine gone, lost in a building of endless hallways, caught in a dispute between the Djinn and the Ghûl. Yet despite the fantasy setting, science has a place in this tale, as Cesium isotopes and radiation poisoning play a role. Kiernan’s language is chosen carefully, turning parts of this story into veritable prose poetry... Read More

Magazine Monday: Uncanny Magazine, Issues One and Two

Uncanny Magazine is a new bimonthly internet publication edited by Lynn M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas. The editors have explained their mission this way:
We chose the name Uncanny because we wanted a publication that has the feel of a contemporary magazine with a history — one that evolved from a fantastic pulp. Uncanny will bring the excitement and possibilities of the past, and the sensibilities and experimentation that the best of the present offers. . . . It’s our goal that Uncanny’s pages will be filled with gorgeous prose, exciting ideas, provocative essays, and contributors from every possible background.
Issue One opens with “If You Were a Tiger, I’d Have to Wear White” by Maria Dahvana Headley, in which the animal stars of movies and television have p... Read More

Paper Cities: Diverse anthology

Paper Cities by Ekaterina Sedia

Bring up urban fantasy nowadays and most readers will probably assume that you’re talking about such authors as Laurell K. Hamilton, Jim Butcher, Simon R. Green, Kim Harrison, Charlaine Harris, Sherrilyn Kenyon and so on, but in this new anthology from Senses Five Press, which is edited by Ekaterina Sedia, Paper Cities reveals that Urba... Read More

The Solaris Book of New Fantasy: Celebrates the rich diversity of the genre

The Solaris Book of New Fantasy by George Mann (ed.)

I’m pretty much a novice when it comes to short fiction. Because of my lack of experience in this area, I hope that you will bear with me as I try to provide a thoughtful and comprehensive analysis of The Solaris Book of New Fantasy, even if I don’t always succeed. The plan is to first look at each short story individually providing synopses and commentary, followed by my evaluation of the compilation as a whole. So, let’s look at the stories:

1) “Who Slays the Gyant, Wounds the Beast” by Mark Chadbourn. On Christmas Eve in the year 1598 in a world where England is at war against the Faerie, England’s greatest spy Will Swyfte is on a mission of the greatest import — he has until dawn to prevent the Faerie Queen from crossing over to the other side. If he doesn’t, then the Unseelie Court will... Read More

Spicy Slipstream Stories: If you love pulps…

Spicy Slipstream Stories edited by Nick Namatas & Jay Lake

Slipstream, for me, is a type of fiction that is bizarre and confusing and defies expectations. That's not a bad thing, mind you, but to quote a passage from the introduction of the book, "You don't write slipstream, you read it." And so it was a big surprise when I started reading the stories in this anthology. They're actually — gasp — readable, or at least accessible to lay people without needing literary degrees or geeky credentials. In fact, the selections impressed me because they all stood out, and I can honestly say there's no bad story in this book. If I have any complaints with this anthology, surprisingly enough, it's because I feel some of the stories aren't that slipstream, that they're still too coherent and identifiable. But is that really such a bad trait?

The pulp influences this anthology draws upon might not be evident from the title, but one loo... Read More

Steampunk: Quick entertaining education on the subgenre du jour

Steampunk edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer

Steampunk is an anthology of, well, steampunk stories, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. If you hurry, you can still get to this first anthology before the second one, Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded, appears in mid November. Based on the quality of the stories in this collection, I heartily recommend checking it out, especially if you’ve been a bit bemused (or possibly amused) by all the people wearing odd Victorian costumes at SFF conventions nowadays, or if you have at best a vague idea of what steampunk exactly entails. If you’re one of those people who’s interested in, but not entirely sure about, the new hot subgenre du jour (like me, prior to reading Steampunk), this anthology is here to take you by the hand and give you a quick, entertaining education. And oh, it also contains some truly excel... Read More

METAtropolis: It’s just maybe something that sucks a little less

METAtropolis edited by John Scalzi

It’s not a utopia. It’s just maybe something that sucks a little less.

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and it turns out that all those eco-freaks were right all along. We humans destroyed the planet and now we’ve got to live with the mess we’ve made. Many world governments, including the U.S., have been essentially dismantled and large, mostly independent and self-governing city-states have taken their place.

Under the direction of John Scalzi, the story authors — Jay Lake, Tobias Buckell, E... Read More

The New Space Opera 2: All-New Tales of Science Fiction Adventure

The New Space Opera 2: All-New Tales of Science Fiction Adventure edited by Gardner Dozois & Jonathan Strahan

The New Space Opera 2: All-New Tales of Science Fiction Adventure is, as its name implies, the second of Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan’s themed anthologies attempting to put a modern spin on space opera, a subgenre of science fiction which causes many of us to think of big metal spaceships crewed by handsome blaster-wielding men who protect us from evil aliens that want to destroy the Earth, or at least steal it’s shrieking scantily clad women. We laugh at these old stories now — the way they ignore the vacuum of space and the effects of relativity, the way their aliens seem a lot less alien than they should, and the way that they rarely seem to display the variety in specie... Read More

The Book of Dreams: A small but satisfying collection

The Book of Dreams edited by Nick Gevers

The Book of Dreams is a small but satisfying collection of short stories that are thematically, albeit loosely, connected by the theme of "dreams." The book features original stories by Robert Silverberg, Lucius Shepard, Jay Lake, Kage Baker and Jeffrey Ford, and was edited by Nick Gevers for Subterranea... Read More

Sympathy for the Devil: A collection of bedtime stories

Sympathy for the Devil edited by Tim Pratt

Please allow me to introduce Sympathy for the Devil, a fine new anthology filled entirely with short stories about the devil... who is, as we all know, a man of style and taste. However, you won’t just find the smooth-talking stealer of souls here. In addition to that famous version of His Grand Infernal Majesty, you’ll also find funny devils, monstrous devils, abstract devils and strangely realistic ones. Devils scary and not-so-scary, devils who are after children’s souls and others going after old men. Devils with a surprising amount of business acumen, and devils who try to get what they want, no matter the cost. There’s even one who engages in a competitive eating contest — the prize is, of course, someone’s soul.

Sympathy for the Devil, edited by Tim Pratt, offers up 35 very diverse short stories (and o... Read More

Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 2

Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 2 edited by William Schafer

EDITOR INFORMATION: William K. Schafer is the head editor at Subterranean Press, which was founded in 1995. Schafer’s bibliography includes Embrace the Mutation: Fiction Inspired by the Art of J.K. Potter and the first Tales of Dark Fantasy anthology.

ABOUT SUBTERRANEAN: TALES OF DARK FANTASY 2: Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy — published in 2008 to widespread critical and popular acclaim — provided a unique showcase for some of our finest practitioners of dark, disturbing fiction. This much anticipated second volume more than meets the standards set by its predecessor, offering a diverse assortment of stories guaranteed to delight, unsettle, and enthrall. Volume two proper is a full 20,000 wo... Read More

The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk: Truly mammoth, with some great stories

The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk edited by Sean Wallace

The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk lives up to its name, with 21 works of fiction ranging from short stories to novellas. “Dieselpunk” is the term the coined for concepts that grew out of steampunk but have left the Victorian era behind and are now, for the most part, set in the time period between the two world wars. There are exceptions in this anthology; one story takes places during WWII and one during the American Occupation of Japan.

What you get here, mostly, is writers having a lot of fun with pulp-era inventions and adventures. There are airships, of course. There are airplanes, rockets, tanks, Voltron/Pacific Rim-style robotic fighting suits; there are jetpacks and giant subterranean drills. Several stories deal with Prohibition, and several authors start from the fact that the “interwar period” was far from free of war, setting ... Read More

More books by Jay Lake

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsDeath of a Starship — (2009) Publisher: In a distant future in which the empire of humanity has spread throughout the stars, the Xenic Bureau of the Grand Ekumenical Security Directorate investigates any hint of aliens, strange disappearances, or other anomalous events. When rumors spread of the mysterious reappearance of a long-lost battleship, a priest, an alien-killer, and a cashiered starship engineer find themselves caught up in a chase across the empire and into secrets better left forgotten.

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThe Speed of Time  — (2011) Publisher: Strange things are happening in deep space, and then closer to home, and then closer; someone has pulled the plug on the universe.

Jay Lake The Sky That Wraps

The Sky That Wraps — (2010) Publisher: This collection of short fiction from award winning-author Jay Lake represents his favorites of his own work, both current and classic. With an emphasis on recent publications since his last short fiction collection in 2007, The Sky That Wraps showcases his reach in fantasy, science fiction, and the ambiguous territory in between. This volume includes two all-new stories, ‘Coming for Green’ and ‘To Their Late Escape’, as well as previously uncollected fan favorites ‘The American Dead’ and ‘The Sky That Wraps The World Round, Past the Blue and Into the Black.’ Twenty other stories round out this wide-ranging survey of Lake’s work.

Collections, novellas, stories:

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