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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 Best of Walter Jon Williams: 12 smart stories

The Best of Walter Jon Williams by Walter Jon Williams

The Best of Walter Jon Williams (2021) is a 663-page tome containing, as its name implies, twelve of Walter Jon Williams’ best stories spanning four decades of his writing career. Fans will appreciate Subterranean Press’s beautiful hardcover edition of this collection (there’s also an audio edition). And for readers who aren’t familiar with this prolific writer, The Best of Walter Jon Williams is a good place to start getting to know him.

The book begins with an endearing introduction by fellow author Daniel Abraham who credits Williams with teaching him more about writing than “any other single source” in his career. After describing the breadth of Walter Jon W... Read More

Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak: Space Princesses as only Anders can do them

Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak by Charlie Jane Anders

“Knowledge is ugly, and that’s why we wear cute dresses and eat cake.”

As with most second books in a trilogy, things are bad, teetering on the precipice, by the end of Charlie Jane Anders’s second YA SF book Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak (2022). Our stalwart band of earthlings are not giving up, however, even in the face of injury, doubt, and a devastating loss.

In Victories Greater Than Death, Rachael, the artist, used her talent to activate an ancient weapon and stop Marrant, the military leader of the Compassion, from completing genocide. As a result, Rachael has now lost the ability to draw. Tina, raised as a human but in fact a cl... Read More

The Insect Crisis: The Fall of the Tiny Empires That Run the World

The Insect Crisis: The Fall of the Tiny Empires That Run the World by Oliver Milman

I’ve spent the past 27 summers minus two driving from New York out west to hike/camp with my family for 4-6 weeks. That’s 25 cross-country trips (including twice to Alaska but not counting the two I took before meeting my wife) and lots of driving during those trips as well. So much so that I often end up driving as many miles in June and July as I do the other ten months out of the year. Because most of those years I was driving a Prius, I didn’t have to stop a lot for gas. But I still frequently pulled into gas stations. Why? To clear my windshield and headlights of the mass of splattered bugs that were obscuring my sight and dimming my beams.

But I’ve noticed something disquieting the last 10 or 12 years — I no longer need to do that. Sure, I clean my windshield when I fill up the tank, but I no longer have to stop just to do ... Read More

The Valley of Eyes Unseen: A very fine novel in a sloppy presentation

The Valley of Eyes Unseen by Gilbert Collins

In 1933, English author James Hilton, at age 33, released his 13th novel, entitled Lost Horizon, in which a British diplomat named Conway, along with a few others, crash-lands in Tibet and discovers the lost people of Shangri-La. In the lamasery there, the process of aging had slowed down considerably, and indeed, the High Lama was ultimately revealed to be well over 200 years old! Hilton’s book was a tremendous success, was famously brought to the screen in 1937 with Ronald Colman starring as Conway, and has rarely – if ever – been out of print since its initial publication. But this famous best seller was hardly the first time that an English author had given the public a tale of a lost people being discovered in the trackless wastes of Tibet! Just 10 years earlier, Gilbert Collins, also 33 at the time, had released his second novel, The V... Read More

The Strange Story of William Hyde: Hyde and seek

The Strange Story of William Hyde by Patrick & Terence Casey

In 1886, Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson came out with one of his most enduring creations, the novella entitled “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”; a work that has rarely – if ever – gone out of print since its initial release. But this would hardly be the last “strange” story featuring a character by the name of Hyde! Thus, 30 years later, on the other side of the pond, the world was given a book bearing the title The Strange Story of William Hyde; a book that turned out to be anything but a publishing perennial, despite its manifold fine qualities, as will be seen.

The Strange Story of William Hyde first ... Read More

Otherlands: A Journey Through Earth’s Extinct Worlds

Otherlands: A Journey Through Earth’s Extinct Worlds by Thomas Halliday

I’m going to say something I don’t think I’ve ever said in my reviews of non-fiction works. One of the best things about Thomas Halliday’s science book Otherlands: A Journey Through Earth’s Extinct Worlds (2022) is the lack of science in Thomas Halliday’s science book Otherlands: A Journey Through Earth’s Extinct Worlds. Let me ‘splain.

What I mean by “lack of science” is a near-absence of the oft-used popular science go-tos, such as: “In fill-in-the-date, researcher X found that …” or, “A recent study published in fill-in-the-date revealed that …” Now, given that this is a popular science book, and Halliday himself is a scientist (a paleontologist), clearly there is science here. And up-to-date science as well, with a slew of citations from 2019 and... Read More

Mestiza Blood: Castro is a brutal, surgical high priestess of horror

Mestiza Blood by V. Castro 

2022’s Mestiza Blood is a horror story collection by V. Castro. As the title tells us, all of the protagonists of these dreamlike, horrifying tales are Latina women, grappling with horrors that are futuristic, mythic or just plain everyday.

A disclaimer: This book is filled with body horror, splatter horror, graphic violence and graphic sex. The women in these stories are filled with rage and fear as they battle appalling horrors with nothing but their strength, their will and their heritage. In some cases, they are the appalling horrors. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Table of Contents lists:
“Night of the Living Dead Chola:” A murdered woman dumped in the Rio Grande returns to exact justice on her killer.

“The Demon in... Read More

Last Exit: Complex, compelling, and intense

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 way down)(And don’t forget to tip your bartender — you’re goin... Read More

The Ghost Sequences: Moody, thoughtful and disturbing

The Ghost Sequences by A.C. Wise

A.C. Wise’s 2021 story collection The Ghost Sequences delivers a sampler of her short fiction. As the name implies, nearly all are ghostly or eerie. Wise pays homage to North American (Lovecraftian) Gothic with two stories in particular, and examines the serial-killer/slasher genre in others. Despite the disturbing subject matter, Wise’s prose glimmers like a piece of abalone shell. The stories are disturbing and moody in the best way.

The book has sixteen stories; one, “Exhalation #10,” is novelette-length.

“The Way the Trick is Done:” A magician returns from the dead with the help of his girlfriend, but the ghost haunting him has other plans.

“The Stories We Tell About Ghosts:” In spite of the narrator’s promise to his vulnerable younger brother, he continues to use the “ghost finder” phone app the neig... Read More

You Sexy Thing: A sure-fire recipe for entertainment

You Sexy Thing by Cat Rambo

You Sexy Thing (2021) is space opera, with no FTL chase scenes or space battles. Check the list of ingredients: a sentient bioship, space pirates, old feuds, at least one interstellar-conquest scheme, interesting non-human characters, a newcomer with secrets, and lots of cooking. It’s a foolproof recipe for entertainment.

All Niko needs is a Nikkelin Orb award from the food critic coming to the Last Chance, the restaurant she runs with the rest of her ex-military crew. Niko was a captain, briefly an admiral, in the Holy Hive Mind army, and her connection to most of her retired crew was augmented by the hive-tech. It felt like they were all one. Technically, they are all retired, but the Holy Hive doesn’t like to let go of its soldiers. Niko’s pursuing a long-range plan to rescue a childhood friend kidnapped by space pirates, and a successful restaurant is one step in that... Read More

Hawkeye: Consistently enjoyable

Hawkeye on Disney+

Not as ambitious in terms of creative storytelling or theme as WandaVision or as wildly fun as Loki or What If?, Hawkeye is equally good in a different way, though it’s not without its flaws and the ending had its own set of issues. Despite those problems, it may be the most consistently enjoyable of the Marvel shows to date. Spoilers to follow.

Hawkeye tells a much smaller, much more grounded story than its counterparts, with no superpowers, time traveling, or universe hopping, and with relatively low-key stakes focused more on a personal level and with a limited geography versus the world or universe-threatening stakes of other shows. In that way it’s a nice change of pace, catch-your-breath kind of show. Not everything needs to be world-shaking after all; it gets exhausting. After Loki and What If? Read More

Leviathan Falls: Strong conclusion to one of the best sci-fi series in decades

Leviathan Falls by James S.A. Corey

THE EXPANSE has been my favorite science fiction series for many years now, so while I looked forward to Leviathan Falls (2021), the ninth and final book in the series, with eager anticipation, I’d be lying if I didn’t say it also came with a bit of pre-grieving. So maybe it was a bit of denial, combined with a hellish end-of-term, the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, and the general fk-you-ism of 2021 that had me completely miss the book’s release in late November. But after seeing a reference to its existence in the wild, I quickly rectified my oversight, and then, for various reasons, began reading it at about 4:30 in the morning. And, because it’s an EXPANSE book, didn’t put it down until I finished it. And yeah, it was as good a return and as bittersweet an ending as I’d assumed it would be. Sigh.

Honestly, from... 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

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

The Liar’s Knot: A welcome and more than satisfying sequel

The Liar’s Knot by M.A. Carrick

The Liar’s Knot (2021), M.A. Carrick’s follow-up to the quite good Mask of Mirrors, does not disappoint as a sequel, offering up the same level of complex plotting, strong characterization, and fluid writing seen in book one even as it (mostly) avoids the dreaded MBS (Middle Book Syndrome). It’s nigh on impossible to discuss it without major (and I mean major) spoilers for book one, so if you haven’t read Mask of Mirrors, you seriously want to stop here (seriously), though before you go you should feel confident starting the series based on the high quality of the first two books (and perhaps based as well on the pedigree of the two co-authors — Read More

A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth: 4.6 Billion Years in 12 Pithy Chapters

A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth by Henry Gee

A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth: 4.6 Billion Years in 12 Pithy Chapters (2021), by Henry Gee is a, stay with me here, concisely told history of life on Earth. Really, it’s all in the title there. So you pretty much know upfront what you’re going to get. A broad, but not deep, fast-paced glide through the major elements of how life evolved from its earliest bacteria days to the more complex (if not “better”) days of, well, us. So put the goggles on and tie down any loose items, because billions and millions of years are going to fly by in a matter of a few pages.

The first chapter, after dispensing with the formation of the solar system and our planet in about five pages, covers the first few billion years on the planet: its atmosphere and geology, and the surprisingly early appearance of life in the form of cyanobacteria followed by eukaryotes an... Read More

Comfort Me With Apples: All happy families are (not) alike

Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. Valente

Sophia’s life is perfect. She adores her husband, her company is much sought-after in the luxurious gated community she and her various neighbors share, she has endless tasks and joys to fill the long days while she waits for her husband to return from his various freelancing jobs. So why does everyone keep asking if she’s happy? Why has her husband forbidden her from breaching their home’s basement? Everything is perfect … right?

It would be easy to call Comfort Me With Apples (2021) a retelling of the “Bluebeard” folktale, and that’s part of what Catherynne M. Valente is doing in this slim novella, but that’s not where the story ends — Valente’s also drawing from other, older, darker source... Read More

Foundation: First two episodes: Stunningly Gorgeous

Foundation created by David S. Goyer & Josh Friedman

What you need to know first about Apple TV’s Foundation is that it is stunningly gorgeous to look at. Seriously. Gorgeous. Do not watch it on your phone. Do not, if you can avoid it, watch it on your laptop. This deserves, no, it cries out for, as large a TV with as good a screen as you can see it on. Honestly, if Apple released it to a theater I’d happily watch it there. Too many TV shows seem to forget or not care that TV is a visual medium, whether due to expense or lack of necessity or other reasons. Take away sitcoms, cop shows, and medical shows, which, with very few exceptions, rarely even try to mine the cinematic potential of television, and we’re left with very little in the way of visual delight on TV. Foundation doesn’t just mine the medium, it hits the motherlode. Not just eye-candy spectacle, but rich splendor. Now, does that make ... Read More

Under the Whispering Door: A warm-hearted meditation on death

Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune

When I got to the scene in Under the Whispering Door (2021) featuring an opportunistic “medium” being messed with by two ghosts, I started laughing so hard I fell over sideways on the loveseat. My husband kept saying, “What? What?” and I could only gasp, “You’ll… have to read it yourself.”

You’ll have to read it yourselves, too.

2021’s Under the Whispering Door is TJ Klune’s second fantasy book marketed to adults. His first was The House in the Cerulean Sea. Under the Whispering Door is a more personal book for Klune; he says in his afterword that he wrote it as a way of coming to grips with grief and loss. Despite the seriousness of the topic, the book is ... Read More

Grave Reservations: A quirky, engaging protagonist anchors this Seattle mystery

Grave Reservations by Cherie Priest

Leda Foley is trying to keep her single-person travel agency afloat. Grady Merritt is a Seattle PD detective away at a conference. When Leda changes his return flight plans without notice or explanation, she saves his life — and outs herself as a psychic. Back home in Seattle, Grady hires her to assist on a baffling cold case he won’t let go of. Abruptly, a psychic episode shows Leda that this case and unsolved murder of her fiancé Tod three years earlier are connected.

2021’s Grave Reservations is a slight departure for Cherie Priest; no airships, no horror and hardly any ghosts. It isn’t exactly her first foray into mystery, because I am Princess X has strong mystery elements. ... Read More

Harlem Shuffle: Another twist from a master storyteller

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

One thing we can be sure to expect from Colson Whitehead is the unexpected. The double Pulitzer Prize winner shot to fame with the alternate history (and FanLit favourite) The Underground Railroad. He debuted with speculative fiction, later wrote a zombie novel, and his work now takes another twist: a heist novel, in the form of his latest release, Harlem Shuffle (2021).

The book follows Ray Carney, a furniture salesman in 1950s - 1960s Harlem. His wife, Elizabeth, is expecting their second child, so when Ray's cousin Freddie — ever the liability — comes to him with the proposition to rob the Hotel Theresa, it's easy to understand why Ray is reluctant to get involved.
... Read More

And What Can We Offer You Tonight: Dreamlike, angry horror

And What Can We Offer You Tonight by Premee Mohamed

Premee Mohamed’s novella And What Can We Offer You Tonight (2021) is set in a drowning city where human life is not cheap — it’s worthless. If starvation, violence or disease doesn’t kill you, probably one of the routine government “culls” will, unless you are one of the uber-wealthy, living elsewhere and treating the city like a personal playground/hunting-ground, or a person who services the very wealthy. This leads us to Jewel, our first-person narrator, a courtesan in an elite, exclusive and very expensive “house,” the House of Bicchieri.

Jewel gets a portion of every client’s payment, and a share of any tips; it seems like she would have enough money to escape the “gilded cage” in which she lives, if she wanted to, but the courtesans must... Read More

Bacchanal: Trapped souls, a dark carnival and a quest for belonging

Bacchanal by Veronica G. Henry

In the northern hemisphere, it’s heading for autumn, when nature slows and sleeps, when days get shorter, and tales get spookier. It’s the time of year for “dark carnival” tales, and Veronica G. Henry provides us with a new one, Bacchanal (2021), her debut novel.

In the late 1930s, The G.B Bacchanal Carnival makes the south-and-southwest circuit of the USA, and along the way they often pick up new acts. Clay, a red-haired white man from Chicago, is the “face” of the carnival, but all the acts are Black performers. Clay and his lieutenant, Jamey, a Black man born in the south, scout for talent. The people they hire are not your average performers; they all have a touch of magic. And Clay, for all his apparent authority, is not the boss of the operation. That position is held by a powerful African demon, Ahiku, who uses the carnival to search for (... Read More

Beasts Before Us: The Untold Story of Mammal Origins and Evolution

Beasts Before Us: The Untold Story of Mammal Origins and Evolution by Elsa Panciroli

Let’s face it. When it comes to discussion and portrayal of ancient/extinct life in modern culture, dinosaurs rule. They rumble, lumber, sprint, pounce, trumpet, and roar across our screens and pages, across bedspreads and pajamas. Their names trip merrily across the tongues of children as they reel off Latinate terminology and eras like an auctioneer at a livestock sale. The “Rex” in T-rex may as well refer to the King of the Lizard’s place in our collective minds as much to its role as an apex predator of its time.

Pity then the poor early mammals, who can’t help but be overshadowed (literally and figuratively) by their massive cousins. Well, no more. Paleontologist Elsa Panciroli speaks for the mammals! And luckily for us, she does so in fantastic fashion. In sharp, concise, vivid prose, she’s here to tell us to forget everything we... Read More