RaveChicago Review of Books...a smart, exciting, and emotionally insightful book, which explores issues of race, privilege, borders, and identity within an apocalyptic setting somewhere between Elysium and Mad Max
... There is a lot going on in this journey, but the pace and movement of The Space Between Worlds are masterfully done, especially for a debut novel. The story is consistently engaging as Cara works through the various transformations and challenges of her life as a traverser and the ending, both in matters of character growth and plot development, is surprising and satisfying ... Not only is the story telling of The Space Between Worlds excellent, the book is also just plain smart. The many difficult issues of privilege, race, sexuality, gender and class are handled wonderfully throughout. Honestly, Johnson’s work could easily be used in the syllabus of a more adventurous sociology professor for all the varied topics it covers ... One of the joys of reading contemporary science fiction is seeing how new authors with new ideas can take older tropes and create a story that speaks to their own time and lived experiences. This joy was so present in this fantastic first novel by Johnson, and I am so excited to read more from her in the coming years
PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksWhile Hella’s set up partakes in a long history of science fiction writing about colonies on new planets, the setting, characters, and the society detailed give an imaginative new take on this story. One of the most refreshing aspects of Hella’s world is how the fluidity of gender and sexuality is casually incorporated into the setting of the novel. Characters are raised in queer polyamorous spaces and have easy access to safe sex-changing procedures which they may take advantage of several times throughout their lives. It is amazing to see novels that don’t cast the same rigid and destructive gender binaries into an imagined future ... The writing of Hella is incredibly detailed. In keeping with Kyle’s obsessive personality and unlimited access to information through the noise, there are often long detours into the minutia of Hella’s ecology as well as the colonies society, technology, and infrastructure. These details have moments of beauty, especially in descriptions of Hella’s scenery, but can also drag. I often found myself skipping the seemingly endless paragraphs about the colonist’s trucks and the frequent mechanical problems they experienced ... The most frustrating aspect of these descriptions was that they distracted from what I considered the much more interesting political maneuvering happening beneath the surface, outside of Kyle’s singular focus. Hella felt like a queerer, lighter, and more dinosaur-filled version of Kim Stanly Robinson’s Mars Trilogy, and the rise of Counselor Layton was a timely reflection of the current moment and our own autocrats. Luckily, the pace of the novel picks up about halfway through, and as Kyle’s character grows so does his sphere of focus as a narrator ... Ultimately, the strength of the characters and world drive through any lulls in the plot, making Hella a fun and thought-provoking summer read. With an ultimately optimistic view of human nature, this book might be the perfect salve to those struggling with the sadness of the current political moment.
David R. Bunch
PositiveChicago Review of BooksAlthough certainly a reflection of their time, David R. Bunch’s collection of short stories continues to reverberate, especially with a new introduction by Jeff VanderMeer. In the satirically hyperbolic Moderan...one can see how hilarious and disturbing Bunch found modernity when they were first published in the ’60s and ’70s ... The tales of Moderan are undeniably strange and often dense. While following a general arc, they meander from place to place, and the effect can be difficult for a casual reader to follow. The prose, both unique and poetic, captures the unhinged mind of his metal protagonist ... once you find a foothold, the story is riveting ... Moderan is a powerfully immersive book which, despite the frequent changes in scene and the ontological difficulty of dialect, is impossible to put down.
Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland
PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksLuckily, the first 500 pages (!) are smart, hilarious, and bewitching enough to make up for a disappointing final third ... The sprawling cast is one of the book’s strongest points, especially the witches. Erzebet and her fellow witch, Grainne, are easily the two best characters in the book, playing off of common tropes of witches without ever falling slave to them. Stephenson and Galland don’t waste the time-travel premise, either, dropping in on pre-Fourth Crusade Constantinople, Elizabethan London, and many more ... Sadly, the fresh and fun ingenuity begin to wane as the novel grinds to a deus ex machina conclusion. The protagonists become uncharacteristically passive, and threads of plot, both large and small, are left unresolved or completely unaddressed ... a brave novel that defies genre and incorporates many of the best characteristics of both its contributing authors.