Sunday, December 30, 2018

Camouflage by Robert Reed

This was a 61-page story, by page 28 I had had enough.

It was a slow-moving affair set on a gigantic ark ship.

The story dragged on with seemingly endless exposition and descriptions of alien species. Every time Reed brought me someplace interesting, like a giant library or scene of a crime, he’d move back into explaining things to me.

I found it tedious so I left the story unfinished.

It’s funny how I find it a personal failing when I give up on a book or story, but life is short, and not every story will connect.

On we go!

Rober Reed's website - https://www.robertreedwriter.com/

Robert Reed

Friday, December 28, 2018

The Resident by Carmen Maria Machado

A writer goes off to a lakeside retreat to work on her novel among other artists in residence.

It was well written but was not my cup of - anything.

This was straight up literary fiction, where a broken person goes off to continue being broken and returns home just as broken as before. Nothing happens to the character, she doesn't grow or learn much.

Which is just fine.  But when I read, I am looking for an adventure, I want to read about a place or situation that is outside my daily life.  I want to be moved by a character overcoming something. To read about somebody’s navel-gazing self-doubt is not inspiring or interesting to me.

We can all get stuck in our own inadequacies and roll around in it to the culmination of nothing.  What good does that do?  Isn’t life better when we are working to a goal?  When we grow?


I hate being so negative about the story, it seems to me that it was a disservice to the author to include it in a Science Fiction and Fantasy anthology when it is nothing of the sort

I felt cheated of my time with this story.

Carmen Maria Machado's website - https://carmenmariamachado.com/

Carmen Maria Machado

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Brightened Star, Ascending Dawn by A. Merc Rustad

Oh, I loved this story.

I have a soft spot for spaceship AI's, I don't know why.  Perhaps it's because I've always felt like the ships are characters too, so when they have a voice, it's pretty special.

In this story, the ship Ascending Dawn discovers a stow-away and decides to keep it secret, even though it goes against her protocols.

We quickly learn that this is a massive Space Opera, the ship and crew are operating in a galactic dictatorship where deviations from expected actions have startling consequences.

This was a terrific tale and I dearly hope there is more, I am hooked.

A highlight of the entire collection.

A. Merc Rustad's website - https://amercrustad.com/

A. Merc Rustad

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Luckless Rodian by Renée Ahdieh

At last!  One of the defining scenes from Star Wars - the cantina shooting.

In this story, we see Greedo’s moments leading up to his encounter with Han Solo.

Greedo is not only after Han for the bounty but has a personal score to settle too.

Fans of a certain age will be happy to have confirmed who shot first.

Lots of fun to be had here.

Renée Ahdieh's website - http://www.reneeahdieh.com/



Renée Ahdieh

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Last Cheng Beng Gift by Jaymee Goh

A rather interesting story about the afterlife.

Mrs. Lim has been dead for years but is still very interested in her children.  Every year gifts are made to the dead and Mrs. Lim is often unhappy with the offering from her daughter, Hong Yin.

An interesting exploration of the afterlife is made and how decisions can be made to influence the world of the living.

It was a charming story where understanding is discovered.

I liked it very much.

Jaymee Goh

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Hermit of Houston by Samuel R. Delany

To use a term from this story, it was a batshit crazy world, in large part because the narrator was an unreliable source.

The future sees humanity returning to a kind of tribalism where countries and borders no longer exist.

Certain parts of our present world remain, Facebook has been replaced by Handbook, the internet is still there, movies too and there is a space program hinted at.

But because society is highly localized, our ability to get a full picture is hindered.  Which is the point, I am sure, but I was continually frustrated by this fact.

I am uncertain about what I got out of it.  A planet without countries is naturally the default setting on Earth, but since I’ve only ever known this kind of political system, I found the concept difficult to accept.

Political entities, such as countries, no matter how incredibly flawed, have served to move humanity forward and to view the world from a higher vantage point.  To return to the microcosm of the tribe would be the bleakest evolution I could imagine.

So I guess it is an apt story for our times.

Writing these reviews sometimes helps me to make sense of what I read.  In The Hermit of Houston, I found the setting much more compelling than the story itself.

Interesting stuff.

Samuel R Delany’s Wiki page - https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_R._Delany

Samuel R Delany


Monday, December 17, 2018

The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow by Cory Doctorow - Book Review #251

This is an interesting series of small, digest books from the PM Press Outspoken Authors series.

In them, there is a short fiction and then an interview or two.

At 134 pages I loved the overall look, feel and format of the book.  I certainly enjoyed learning about what is important to the author.  It's always enjoyable to get a glimpse inside the mind of an author whose fiction I enjoy.

The fiction took up most of the book at 106 pages.  In it, we follow Jimmy an adolescent who has been genetically engineered to live centuries.  I guess you could call it a post-apocalypse story but the apocalypse is still in progress where giant machines pass over the land destroying anything man-made and returning it to a natural state, concrete is turned back into dirt.

The thing I like about Doctorow's work is that his stories are about people trying to understand, cope and fit into the world.  All the SF stuff is part of the scenery.  Jimmy struggles with his immortality because he is stuck in the body of an 11-year-old, even though he has been around for over 30 years.

Early in the story the great machines come and destroy his home and kill his father.  We follow him as he tries to find a place in the world for himself.  Years later he finds a "cure" to his longevity and he bumps into a part of his past.

Recommended.

Cory Doctorow - https://craphound.com/

Cory Doctorow

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The City of Cries by Catherine Asaro

I'd describe this as a professional fish out of water situation.  A private investigator is hired anonymously for an exorbitant fee.  The money is so good that she accepts the job and is quickly whisked away to learn that she'd been hired by royalty to track down a missing prince.

The case is on her homeworld, where she grew up on the streets.  She relies on previous relationships to investigate the case.  Old flames are fanned, debts are repaid and new relationships are formed.

I really liked this story, it was gritty and real; the settings lived up to the title of the collection - Dark Spaceways indeed.

I was very happy to learn that there is much, much more to discover in this world.

Her bibliography is here - http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?1911

Catherine Asaro's Wiki page - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catherine_Asaro

Catherine Asaro

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Peepland by Christa Faust, Gary Phillips and Andrea Camerini - A Graphic Novel Review

Goodness me, that was a gritty story.

New York in the 1980s was not a pretty place, it's a wonder how much it has changed in a single generation.  Say what you will about gentrification but I do not believe anybody wants to return to the NYC of those days.

Corrupt wealth, corrupt cops, corrupt bosses in a dirty, uncaring city and you've got a backdrop for a dirty, dangerous story.

The art was amazing, I wanted to wash my hands everytime I picked up the book.  (That's a compliment, really.)

But it was the story, oh my, what a scary world Faust and Phillips created.  In the underbelly of Times Square, a murder is caught on tape (yup VHS baby) and the evidence is hidden in a peep show booth.

Once the tape is found a whole raft of villains work extremely hard to cover up what it reveals.


This was a terrific read.  And the ending - cold, man, cold.

Highly recommended.

PS - Faust and Phillips - Doesn't that sound like a terrific detective agency?

Christa Faust - http://christafaust.com/

Gary Phillips - https://gdphillips.com/

Andrea Camerini - http://www.andreacamerini.com/



Friday, December 14, 2018

Loneliness Is In Your Blood by Cadwell Turnbull

Oh!  Yuck!  The opening scenes of this story made me cringe.  Yup, I still don't like horror.

But I read on and it became something more, something sadder.

If you consider that even monsters, be they human or otherwise, have a backstory and needs, then you can appreciate some of the consequences of being immortal.

There was a gloomy, twisted logic to the narrator's life.

This made the story worth telling but I was still disturbed by every word of it.

Well told but icky.

Cadwell Turnbull's website - https://cadwellturnbull.com/

Cadwell Turnbull

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Justice Systems in Quantum Parallel by Lettie Prell

I liked this one.

A person is in a prison cell waiting for his sentence to be imposed.

While waiting he drifts in and out of lucid dreaming states where he explores other possible judicial systems.

The exploration of the topic is relevant for our time, or any other really.  We are at a crossroads on this planet where humans will have to re-imagine absolutely everything, from how we drive and fly to how we power our economies.

When we reengineer our societies many of the social norms may come into scrutiny.  What other ways are there to judge those that have committed a crime?  What if we changed the definition of some crimes?  What if the victims had direct influence in punishment?

Fascinating topic.

Ad well told too.

Lettie Prell's website - http://lettieprell.com/index.phtml

Lettie Prell

Sunday, December 9, 2018

You Will Always Have a Family : A Triptych by Kathleen Kayembe

This was an interesting story about love, betrayal, revenge and discovery.

It revolved around a complicated family relationship after the mother dies.  The father blames a son and betrays his love.

Choices are made that only require forgiveness or contrition to resolve.

It was at once a horrifying story that changed with each perspective switch.  Highly original and well told.  I was glad it was so much more than just a ghost story.

There is a lot to unpack here.  Let yourself take a breath at the end of each section and trust the author to bring you to an original conclusion.

Well told.

Kathleen Kayembe's website - https://www.kathleenkayembe.com/

Kathleen Kayembe

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Hit 1955 by Bryce Carlson and Vanesa R. Del Rey - A Graphic Novel Review

Oh, this is very well done!

The story is a well-travelled trope - corrupt cops working for a corrupt captain.  You just know that things will unravel in a brutal way.

Bryce Carlson's writing shines like the glint of a bullet casing.  Oh my, can he deliver cold, hard lines.

"Do you know what I told Ken Collins right before I pulled the trigger?"
"Nothing."

Yikes!

In the bonus short story, Bonnie, there is a moment where Carlson describes how she tried to cover up the bruises on her face.


"... there was only so much foundation and powder could do.  They could cover up something small, but they couldn't hide the truth."

This kind of writing makes me an instant fan.

The art was moody and captured the aesthetic of the times.  Vanesa R Del Rey has a style that lends itself to the noir sensibilities.  Her use of odd angles and deep shadows worked perfectly with the story. 

Del Rey's art reminded me of Darwyn Cooke's work on the Parker series. 

I cannot recommend this title enough.  I was sucked right into the story and I found myself lingering over the pages soaking up the crisp writing and the lush art.

I Loved it.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Destroy the City with Me Tonight by Kate Alice Marshall

Honestly, I just didn’t get it.

The story drifts in and out of reality, the protagonist gets some kind of disease where she becomes a city and a city becomes her while she becomes invisible to people in it.

Sorry, it was just overly strange and made no sense to me.

On to the next story,

Kate Alice Marshall's website - http://katemarshallbooks.com/


Wednesday, December 5, 2018

In the Quake Zone by David Gerrold

Oh my goodness, what a wholly original take on time travel.

We are often told time travel stories that reimagine history; what if Hitler was never in power?  That kind of thing.

But in this story, there is a team of time specialists who travel up and down the stream on behalf of people willing to pay for the service.  What often happens is that small players, who have no bearing on history, are helped to avoid tragedies or bad luck.  Victims of accidents are prevented from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Our protagonist, Mike, is an operative for the Harris Agency which specializes in small cases.  He is sent back to the 1950s to unravel a number of missing person cases, which is thought to be the work of a serial killer.

While he investigates, by following the victims, he becomes entangled in the life of one of them.

I found the story confusing in the first quarter as it refused to settle into a narrative but once it did, I was hooked.  Gerrold can write compelling characters and situations that are just a small twist away from being comfortable.  I liked that.

In the last quarter, the story takes a big leap to one side, this was frustrating and yet welcomed at the same time.  It was like being interrupted by a commercial right at a crucial time.  I guess that was the point.

It was terrific fun and explored underground societies in a compelling way.

Stick with it because it is worth every page.

David Gerrold's website - https://www.gerrold.com/

David Gerrold

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Rivers Run Free by Charles Payseur

If this is fantasy - give me more!

It was a terrific story which sheds a light on humanity’s exploitation of the Earth’s water resources.

Four rivers take human form and are on a quest to find the sea.  It was lovely, sad and served as a warning of a possible future.

Reading this confirmed a feeling that I’ve been having for quite some time; that we, humans, are at the limits of what our world can endure.  We must change our ways to live in harmony with the natural systems.  In this story, the rivers want that too.

Terrific stuff, very imaginative and cinematic.

Charles Payseur

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Planets Volume 1 by Makoto Yukimura - A Graphic Novel Review

I recently did a Google search to discover new science fiction graphic novels.  Planets caught my attention -  the story of a crew of astronauts who clear debris from low earth orbit.  Yup, space garbage collectors.

The stories follow Hachimaki, a young brazen, prickly, driven and a somewhat lost young man, who dreams of greater things.  Each chapter is it's own stand alone story but there is also a thread that runs through them all.  A mission to Jupiter is announced and Hachi wants to win a spot on the crew.

His drive to become the best astronaut Japan has ever seen turns him into an obsessed person who is lucky he has people around him that understand him.  Otherwise, he'd lose friends quickly.

Chapter 10 of the book is my favourite story.  Hashi and Leo, his friend and co-pilot, crash on the surface of the moon.  Hashi saves him from the wreck but after their ship explodes they must attempt to rescue themselves by walking 40km to the nearest shelter.

This is the kind of man-vs-environment story that grabs my attention and explores the real consequences of exploring space.

This is an English translation and at times the narrative is a bit clunky but that is to be expected.  It also takes some getting used to reading back to front and right to left.

Ultimately it was a satisfying read.

Recommended.

Hachi carrying Leo to safety.

THIS is how I like my SF

Friday, November 30, 2018

E-Mails From The Future by Robert J Sawyer

This was a fun little email exchange with an agent negotiating a writing contract for an author.

The exercise in this story is projecting what the world will be like 10 years in the future.

Making it even more fun was that it was written in 2008.

Some of Sawyer's ideas are still a ways out, while much of what is in the story is not that far fetched any more.

A nice little chocolate mint of a story at the end of a lovely banquet of interesting and entertaining short stories.

Well done sir.  Well done.


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Guardian Angel by Mike Resnick

A "concerned" mother hires Jake Masters, private investigator, to find her son who has run away with the circus.  A space circus - so that makes it science fiction.

I joke, but a traveling circus is a big part of the story here.  The story was written as a straight up detective story, which I appreciated.  There is something engaging when the problems we deal with today are the same in the future.  Only the scenery changes.  And the FTL travel too.

One aspect of this future society that I found particularly interesting, sad but interesting, was the segregation of aliens from humans.  It was a bitter example of history repeating itself.  Even though it had nothing to do with the case it added atmosphere to the whole world Resnick created.

It was a well told story, with double crosses, shady deals and shifting loyalties.

It was a good opening entry in a collection of SF mysteries.

Mike Resnick's website - http://mikeresnick.com/

Mike Resnick

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018 edited by N. K. Jemisin & John Joseph Adams - Book Report #250

I have avoided previous editions of The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy because of the title.  You see, I am not much of a Fantasy fan and I believed I'd only enjoy about half the offerings.  With this opportunity, I was exposed to stories outside my comfort zone.  And isn’t that what reading should be all about?

Many stories in this collection are so broad that, to be squeezed into a Fantasy or Science Fiction label, is a bit constricting.  But then I was left wondering; if the editors wanted to increase awareness of these authors, where else could they have showcased them?  Of all the genres out there F&SF are the most accommodating.

In all cases, the quality of the writing was so good that I found myself transported into the stories.  There is something here to appeal to just about everybody but that doesn't mean I enjoyed each one.  Some genres simply do not appeal to me.  Each story had an interesting twist that pushed the boundaries and created something unexpected and interesting.

The deeper I got into the collection, I began to suspect that the fiction selected was geared more to introducing the curious to genre fiction than to entertaining the entrenched reader.  However, the skill of the editors was evident whenever I found myself sighing, wondering when I would return to a science fiction story.  The pacing and placement of the stories rewarded me for reading through the stuff I found challenging.

Some of the standouts were penned by Charles Payseur, Jaymee Goh, A. Merc Rustad and Rachael K. Jones.

I wouldn't say that the book was an easy read because some stories either frustrated or disturbed me in some way.  I will say that it was a rewarding experience; I did not plow through the anthology but let each story sit with me for a while before moving on to the next one.  Some of the more challenging ones stayed in my mind for days, they gave me something valuable to think about.  There was often more going on between the words than the story that lived on the surface of the text.

And that would be my advice to readers of this book - take your time with it, read only one story a day.  Believe in the editors, they saw something in each tale that was worthy of them being collected here.  I have been constantly impressed with how some stories expanded in my mind over a day or two to make me feel that I had read a novel.

In the coming days and weeks, I will review each story in the collection individually.

Full Disclosure - I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

N. K. Jemisin's website - http://nkjemisin.com/

John Joseph Adams' website - http://www.johnjosephadams.com/

N. K. Jemisin

John Joseph Adams


Sunday, November 25, 2018

Biding Time by Robert J Sawyer

I was happy to return to New Klondike on Mars with PI Alex Lomax and to discover how much of a badass he was.

He has a new case, tracking down the killer of a recent Transfer, which leads him to an impounded ship.

When Lomax was gathering evidence in the shipyards, I was thinking how much I'd love to read more stories around ships, smugglers and underhanded plans.

Then I remembered I had purchased Sawyer's 2013 novel Red Planet Blues!  I ran to my basement bookshelf, blew the dust off the paperback and now it is on my TBR shelf.  Yes!  More Lomax goodness.

This story made for a nice bookending of the collection, even though it was the penultimate story, it was a very satisfying way to sequence the stories.

I have thoroughly enjoyed myself reading this anthology.

Get your hands on it, it is well worth the effort to find.

Originally published here.


Saturday, November 24, 2018

James Bond 007: Hammerhead by Written by Andy Diggle, Art by Luca Casalanguida - A Graphic Novel Review

This book was a spot-on delivery of what we've expected from Bond over the years.

There is action, humour, style and cutting-edge technology.

I found the art and the depiction of violence, in particular, to be cinematic.  In that, it wasn't overly gratuitous.  In the past couple of books I've reviewed, I've found the blood, guts and gore splattered on walls a bit too self-serving.

I am sure the body count is about the same but it was handled with a more practiced hand here.

The story was spot on and I was happy to see Diggle bring out the secondary characters, proving they are in positions for more than their typing skills.

And this was a classic plotline; a new weapon is developed to replace ageing infrastructure.  However, what is good for national defence is also good for organized crime and a race is on to control the Hammerhead weapon.

An excellent entry in Dynamite Entertainment's Bond series.

Andy Diggle's website - http://www.andydiggle.com/

Art by Luca Casalanguida


Friday, November 23, 2018

Relativity by Robert J Sawyer

This is where Sawyer shines - showing the human impact to the large, high-concept ideas of science.

Relativity is a hard notion to get my head around especially when we are talking about near-lightspeed travel.

An astronaut accepts a mission to a distant world, a trip that will take seven years, to her and the crew, but over 30 will pass on Earth.

What will it be like when she returns and tries to reconnect with the husband and family she left behind?


I am no further along to understanding the phenomena but I don't need to, to understand the human impact.

This is what I like about Sawyer's writing; he goes past the shiny, "gee-whiz" aspects and brings it to the day-to-day realities of living in a world where these advances are commonplace.

Well done.