PositiveLocusWhile the spectacle itself is impressive enough, a kind of alternate-history literalization of fury, the story gains most of its strength from Miller’s effective use of multiple points of view ... Miller links the tales in Boys, Beasts & Men with short connective interludes that form a kind of ominous tale of its own – he got the idea from Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man, he tells us in his useful story notes – and that ends with the line ‘Take stories, see whole worlds.’ Given the pain and joy that Miller can so vividly evoke, it’s both an admonition and a celebration.
RaveLocusButner’s stories are wonderfully insidious in a number of ways ... What we might call the inverted portal – one which leads to a more familiar world from an unfamiliar one – isn’t entirely new, but the sheer strangeness of the tale makes it one of the more compelling ... If not quite a new voice, Butner’s is one of the most distinctive and memorable I’ve encountered in quite a while.
Emily St. John Mandel
RaveLocusTaken together, [Mandel\'s] novels outline an intriguing tapestry exploring the interaction of history and identity, linked across several centuries. Taken individually...each is a compelling and very readable examination of complex characters trying to make sense of their worlds, their pasts, and their dreams. Mandel may seem a bit more comfortable in the relatively familiar Canada of 1912 than in those remote futures, but her characters never fail to fascinate, and her prose can be absolutely pristine.
RaveLocusReaders who might have been put off by the occasionally swaggering violence and the brutality of the protagonist in Black Leopard, Red Wolf might well find such a different sort of fantasy something of a relief, though Moon Witch, Spider King isn’t without its own episodes of violence...But the violence here seems more integral to the plot, less performative, and more a function of Sogolon’s character; we understand the pain that leads to her powers. Many of the more effective apparitions from the first novel return ... less involved in spectacle than in character, largely because Sogolon turns out to be a much fuller, more expansive character than Tracker ever was. Even her narrative voice tends toward a kind of gentle patois, with its streamlined verbs, as opposed to Tracker’s more straightforward syntax ... feels like a more generous and inclusive novel than its predecessor, with much higher stakes and some very promising doorways for the third volume.
Charlie Jane Anders
PositiveLocusIf settings are often a colorful backdrop for stories whose main focus is elsewhere, there are some themes that Anders repeatedly circles around, as if trying to test different angles of vision ... In \'Power Couple\', the time device is a bit more contrived, since it involves an unlikely pact between a student preparing for med school and another preparing for law school ... Although I couldn’t quite get past the sheer goofiness of the idea, again Anders’s sharp delineation of her main characters makes the inevitable denouement moving. The one story in the book for which I feel almost irrationally grateful is \'The Time Travel Club\', which...leads to a surprisingly warm conclusion ... \'Rat Catcher’s Yellows\' uniquely seems to represent Anders’s capacity for managing apparently contradictory tonalities ... Anders’s sensitive treatment of a tragic plight is balanced by her apparent delight in the comical political intrigues of the warring cat kingdoms. Like some other of the stories here, it combines a deep love for her characters with the occasional reminder that sometimes, even in the face of bleak realities, girls just want to have fun.
RaveLocusWith its short time frame, characteristically vivid settings, and sharply drawn characters, Noor may be Okorafor’s most tightly plotted novel to date, but it still manages to explore in unsettling ways some of her most passionate themes, including sense of identity, the role of the outsider, cultural intolerance, horrific corporate malfeasance, and government indifference or complicity. It’s such a fast-moving tale that the real punch doesn’t quite hit you until it’s over, but it’s quite a punch.
Catherynne M. Valente
RaveLocusIt’s no real surprise that Sophia begins to discover chinks and inconsistencies in her perfect world—that’s what fictional perfect worlds are for—but the manner in which Valente modulates the incremental mysteries is undeniably skillful; the tale is a masterclass in pacing and tone. Readers might reasonably have differing responses to Valente’s resolution and what it implies, but Comfort Me With Apples is also the sort of well-crafted tale that sends you back through the text to note how carefully she’s planted her clues. It’s a story nearly as seamless and ominous as Sophia’s outsized house and her creepy neighborhood.
RaveLocus MagazineDaryl Gregory is among our most inventive and eclectic writers ... For a novel which has largely unfolded as a family saga, with its supernatural (or apparently supernatural) effects carefully modulated, Revelator turns into a pretty effective suspense tale in its final chapters, unraveling key plot mysteries as it amps up the tension and the special effects ...Revelator is a novel in which the magic is real, but the real magic lies as much in figures like Stella and her oddball community as in the spectral figure of the Ghostdaddy.
MixedLocusThe three major episodes of Cade’s novella are so different in tone and theme—though all seem credible responses, once you accept the notion of the Grief—that it’s a challenge for Cade to weave them together without some seams showing, while other intriguing plot elements, like Ruby’s apparently amicable ongoing divorce from her indigenous husband George (who adds a valuable perspective), are hardly developed at all. But there’s no denying that The Impossible Resurrection of Grief is both provocative and disturbing, and often quite powerful.
PositiveLocus... impressively ambitious ... Turnbull is interested in far more than simply hauling supernatural critters like werewolves out from the shadows ... Turnbull’s capacity for economical character development is one of the more impressive aspects ... leaves us with only tantalizing notions of where later volumes may lead. That by itself is pretty refreshing: no gods, no formulas.
PositiveLocusAs usual, Gregory writes with empathy and insight about the plight of damaged outsiders, as the unique problems and resentments of each of the band members emerge during the investigation. His neatest trick is keeping the grim backstory balanced with the sort of wacky good humor that teen superstars are expected to display, and with the formal demands of the locked-room procedural ... As with much of Gregory’s fiction, there’s a sentimental edge to the grotesquerie, and a grotesque edge to the comedy (which sometimes edges into James Morrow territory), but it all somehow works, thanks to Gregory’s essentially optimistic humanism and his apparent total lack of concern about recriminations from Wells’s vengeful ghost.
RaveLocusWhat I didn’t expect was a fantasy novel that not only treats Gatsby with respect, but that ingeniously makes use of Fitzgerald’s plot and even swatches of his dialogue, not to critique or parody the original, but to find ways of expanding its scope to address contemporary anxieties. Nghi Vo’s The Chosen and the Beautiful does all of this. Being queer, being an outsider, being Asian, being a woman—these may not have been much on Fitzgerald’s mind, but they make sense in terms of Fitzgerald’s overall critique of American values, and at times they fit in almost seamlessly with that critique ... None of this would work if Vo weren’t an unusually skilled and graceful stylist, who creates a voice for Jordan as distinctive as Nick’s in Fitzgerald’s original ... beautiful magic ... You probably needn’t have read Gatsby to enjoy Vo’s lively novel, but it’s a much richer experience if you have.
PositiveLocusBrenda Peynado’s first collection, The Rock Eaters, places her in that growing cadre of talented short fiction writers who seem equally comfortable in venues as diverse as The Georgia Review and Tor.com, and whose voice is just as distinctive when writing about real-world poverty and student debt or about grim futures in which people take refuge in VR while their bodies vegetate in clean rooms to protect from ravaging plagues on the outside. The latter story, \'The Touches\', may be the most extreme example of the sort of compromises her characters make to survive in complex and hostile environments, but survival is one of the themes that connect her essentially mainstream stories with more bizarre tales of bodily metamorphosis. Another, closely related theme is marginalization, trying to find a place in a world that seems bent on betraying or even killing you.
Bo-Young Kim tr. Sophie Bowman and Sung Ryu
PositiveLocusTogether, the stories form not only a haunting if sentimental portrait of star-crossed love, but also a compelling vision of a decaying Earth and a sharp meditation on the hazards of both too much community and too much solitude ... If not quite a page-turner, it’s an impressive imaginative performance, suggestive of a William Blake-style visionary cosmogony, and perhaps it’s even more impressive on the part of the translator Sung Ryu. The book is rounded out by some very useful notes on the stories by the author and translator[.]
PositiveLocus... while there is an occasional tendency to embed snippets of historical lectures as a kind of ballast for her more visceral nightmares...it never mitigates the passion and anger that is the real engine of her fiction ... Schanoes’s signature talent lies in repositioning folk and fairytale motifs in historical contexts ... While most of Schanoes’s fiction boldly experiments with combined storytelling modes, a few are more playfully absurdist ... As dark and unsettling as some of her subjects may be, Schanoes consistently reminds us of the joy of finding, making, unfolding, and blending stories, of how narratives of history and narratives of fantasy reflect and illuminate each other. At her best, which is on display more often than not in Burning Girls and Other Stories, it’s a joy that’s thoroughly contagious, and a welcome debut.
Alaya Dawn Johnson
RaveLocus Magazine... it’s not hard to view these stories as a way of testing different waters, experimenting with genre boundaries, trying out different styles, forms, and themes. This is one reason I find first story collections so fascinating: they show us, intentionally or not, a writer in the process of working things out, of trying out voices and settings and protocols, of – as is clearly the case with Johnson – challenging herself in finding what’s comfortable and what seems risky ... Of particular interest, though, are the two original stories, \'The Mirages\' and \'Reconstruction\', each of which seems restrained compared to the coruscating imagery of some of the other tales, but which feature some of the most memorable characters of all ... \'Reconstruction\' is narrated by a laundress and cook who accompanies the First South Carolina regiment ... It may be the least fantastic tale here, and it may be the best, featuring some of Johnson’s richest characters and a narrator whose voice achieves a genuine gravity of mourning. In addition, it makes a thoroughly compelling case for the importance of understanding and remembering the uses and varieties of anger
PositiveLocus... a solidly written novel that gains more of its strength from the voice and conflicted character of its narrator than from its rather plot-contrived version of cloning technology ... Gailey maintains the lively and efficient pace of a good thriller. What mostly distinguishes The Echo Wife is Evelyn herself ... Evelyn’s own narrative voice reflects both her brilliance and her vulnerability. In terms of its SFnal content, the novel may not offer much that is new, but as a portrait of a character forced to literally confront herself for almost the first time, it’s pretty compelling.
E. Lily Yu
RaveLocus MagazineOn Fragile Waves is a gorgeously written, heartbreaking account of a family\'s hopes and terrors ... the major achievement so far of Yu\'s restless fascination with literary voices and forms ... it\'s a meticulously fashioned novel and, despite the occasional fragmentation of the narrative, the final effect is nearly seamless. But to describe On Fragile Waves in such purely literary terms is a disservice to its deeply humane, suspenseful, and harrowing story ... On Fragile Waves is densely inventive enough to leave us with the feeling that we\'ve been through some sort of epic.
PositiveLocus... this one focuses on the darker side of Yolen’s fiction. Some of her devoted readers might be a bit surprised to realize there is a darker side, and Yolen herself seems to share the surprise, but those Holocaust novels were pretty uncompromising, as is the one Holocaust tale that appears here, \'Names\' ... As with her earlier Tachyon collections, Yolen offers not only fascinating story notes, but poems—some published here for the first time—that reflect on and add to the complexity of stories that, like the great story traditions she so knowledgeably draws upon, are never quite as simple as they first seem.
Alix E. Harrow
RaveLocusDespite its vampires, assassins, and a viciously conspiratorial patriarchy, the main sensibility I took away from Alix E. Harrow’s spectacular debut, The Ten Thousand Doors of January, was one of celebration – a celebration of portal fantasies, of secret histories, of favorite books and tales, most of all of the protagonists’ capacity to find and claim their own stories. Much the same might be said of her new novel The Once and Future Witches. To be sure, the plot, the late 19th-century setting, and the characters are entirely different, but her sometimes playful fascination with history, her not entirely original conviction that outsider groups can gain power from unity, and her celebration of women’s magic will seem familiar. For all this, the novel seems entirely new, including Harrow’s manner of telling the tale, as inventive in its own way as was Ten Thousand Doors ... Sometimes the narration takes on such an anthem-like voiceover tone that you can almost hear the music swelling ... Tone is crucial in any stories about stories, and pretty soon we’re enjoying this sort of thing as much as Harrow seems to enjoy writing it ... As the stakes grow more dire, the novel takes on a more densely textured, almost epic dimension, raising the question of what sacrifices the sisters may need to make in order for their story – and the world – to survive. Even though the more mundane question of women’s suffrage may be a bit overshadowed by time we reach the spectacular conclusion, The Once and Future Witches, with its adroit balance of narrative playfulness and imminent tragedy, is as fully original and impressive as its predecessor, and is just a hoot to read.
P. Djèlí Clark
RaveLocusIf there’s such a thing as boisterous folk horror, P. Djèlí Clark’s Ring Shout may set the standard ... There’s always a balancing act when an author chooses to invoke a system of supernatural horror in the context of lived horrors such as the Klan or systemic racism; readers might reasonably ask if one is in danger of overshadowing or diluting the other ... lark rather ingeniously introduces a second system of supernatural power to counter the evils of Butcher Clyde and the Klan, and grounds it fully in the folklore of haints and Gullah magic, most clearly embodied in Maryse’s \'aunties.\' Thus, Maryse’s magic sword in the astral world parallels Sadie’s rifle in the streets of Macon, where street-level Klan members come across largely as clueless dupes to be manipulated by Clyde and his associates. Still, Clark does a brilliant job of grounding his spectacle in a convincing and unnerving portrait of the 1920s South, with a few chilling instances of the real costs of racism. What may be more important is how he does this without forgoing the energetic, almost cheerfully musical celebration of the power of resistance and belief.
PositiveLocusFortunately, Doctorow is a first-rate explainer, and like Kim Stanley Robinson and very few others, he manages to make these diversions fascinating in their own right. But what makes Attack Surface a far more mature and complex novel than either Little Brother or Homeland is Masha herself, increasingly torn between her almost pathological self-centered materialism, her desperate need for community, and her real sense of loyalty to her handful of friends. Damaged, fundamentally conflicted, and seldom fully sympathetic, she’s a memorable figure: a smart bomb who just wants to learn to be a person.
RaveLocusThe first thing everyone is going to notice about Piranesi , Susanna Clarke’s long-awaited second novel following her enormously popular Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell , is that it’s something like a third the length of that blockbuster. The second is that it bears no direct relation to the densely imagined magical 19th century of that novel and of most of Clarke’s short fiction ... both novels feature the belief that some great and powerful knowledge has gone out of the world and that reclaiming it will restore magical abilities (such as telepathy, shape-changing, and telekinesis), while Piranesi’s own rather formal narrative voice, with its 18th-century-style habit of capitalizing important nouns and its almost simplistic deference to half-understood notions of Science and Reason, lends the whole a vaguely archaic tone ... With Piranesi , Clarke is knowingly taking a number of risks. In place of the wry, knowing Austenian voice of the earlier novel, she offers an ingenuous narrator who remains several steps behind the reader for most of the novel. Character roles remain shifty and indeterminate for much of the story, and questions of the reliability of memory and testimony are never far from the surface. But in the end, the elegant and ingenious structure of the novel lends it a haunting quality which would not be nearly as hypnotic were the story told any other way, and \'hypnotic\' is the term I find myself returning to in trying to account for the novel’s strange and powerful magic.
PositiveLocus... essentially a book-within-a-book, sprinkled with fascinating historical anecdotes that add little to the plot but that quickly establish the book’s overall tone, which is essentially that of a love letter to Florence ... There is obviously a great deal going on, in multiple levels, in Or What You Will, but the tales are consistently woven together by an overriding concern with stories and their value – where they come from, how they survive and evolve and are reinvented, what comforts and discomforts they offer ... Peppered throughout are what is becoming a kind of Walton trademark, sharp critical insights about fantasy.
PositiveLocus... what initially seems a straightforward mystery quickly soars off in unexpected directions, both in terms of plot and of narrative trickery ... While there is much familiar Wolfe imagery throughout the novel...there is also an almost overwhelming sense of compromise with mortality ... but there is also the hint of treasures brought from distant worlds, which is something else Wolfe was pretty good at. Interlibrary Loan is, like most of Wolfe’s final novels, more intimate in scope and restrained in style than his celebrated masterpieces, but it’s a fitting and suitably twisty rumination on which to end an astonishing career.
PositiveLocusthe tone shifts easily into horror-suspense mode, but in a winking manner that suggests R.L. Stine more than Stephen King. Throughout, though, the bantering relationship between the queer Ava (\'her\') and the nonbinary Jules (\'them\') gets tested in a way that seems to point to a facile reconciliation-under-stress ending, but Cipri is too clever to let us off that easily. While some of the secondary characters, like the officious, by-the-book manager Tricia, seem drawn from the standard bad-workplace playbook, both Ava and Jules are complex and edgy enough to lend Finna a rather touching human dimension beneath the well-targeted satire and the surreal adventures.
PositiveLocus\"In no sense do any of the stories here feel like leftovers from [Liu\'s] first collection, although a couple seem a bit fragmentary ... What most of the stories reveal, however, is what Liu seems to be thinking about the past few years ... the notion of the digital singularity ... what emerges as an abiding concern of his humanist side is even more interesting: the problems, pitfalls, and rewards of child-parent relationships ... Those same relationships often reveal a third theme: balancing dual identities ... Liu can write with the best of them ... Liu’s fantasies may be more freewheeling than his SF, but The Hidden Girl and Other Stories leaves us wanting a lot more of both.
RaveLocusThis opening chapter, which recalls some of Le Guin’s later Hainish stories set on out-of-the-way planets, brilliantly establishes the rather melancholy tone of the entire novel. Jimenez quickly and deftly introduces us to two other viewpoints ... For the most part, Jimenez handles his more traditional elements with the confidence of someone familiar with the genre, although there are a few awkward moments of exposition ... Eventually, Jimenez brings his narrative almost full circle, even returning us briefly to that planet where it all began, while leading toward an action-filled conclusion that energetically reclaims the novel’s space opera roots. It’s still early in the year, but so far this is the most impressive debut of 2020.
N. K. Jemisin
RaveThe Chicago Tribune... partly a spectacular love letter to New York City in all its diversity, partly the beginning of a new fantasy trilogy, and partly a horror story with roots that go back as far as H.P. Lovecraft ... What is most remarkable, given the pulp energy of this classic struggle against eldritch evils, is that The City We Became is also an astute interrogation of the realities of New York life. The city Jemisin portrays is not a generic comic-book metropolis like — well, Metropolis — but rather a living, breathing portrait of the actual city where Jemisin has lived for years ... Jemison’s characters are far more than allegories, although each rather cleverly reflects their respective boroughs ... For readers who might find the complex alien worlds of Jemison’s earlier novels daunting, The City We Became is meticulously grounded in the familiar, but is just as wildly imaginative and thought-provoking — and a lot of fun along the way.
N. K. Jemisin
RaveLocus... remarkable and cleverly subversive ... What makes it all work, amid the spectacular surrealistic imagery, rollercoaster plotting, and comic-book effects, is Jemisin’s insightful concern for and understanding of her diverse cast of central characters. This is all the more remarkable because these characters are called upon to serve triple duty: as symbolic avatars, as credible New Yorkers, and as members of an emerging fellowship which must work cooperatively to save the city from those Lovecraftian horrors ... offers only a degree of closure in a rather abrupt ending, as Jemisin sets the stage for the epic struggles we can expect in subsequent volumes. As the inaugural volume of what promises to be a wildly original fantasy trilogy, quite unlike anything else Jemisin has written, it completely takes command of the very notion of urban fantasy, and it leaves us exactly where we need to be – wanting the next volume now.
K. J. Parker
PositiveLocusIn Prosper’s Demon, he devotes several pages to explaining how to go about casting and building a giant bronze statue, in a passage that somehow makes thoroughly useless information thoroughly entertaining. It also gives us a remarkably clear glimpse of what work was actually like in a world like the one Parker constructs from bits and pieces of real history ... Characteristically, Parker intersperses his tale with revealing anecdotes from the narrator’s past, acerbic asides on the nature of politics and science, sharp-edged portraits of mostly unsympathetic, clueless, or self-absorbed secondary characters, and a surprisingly provocative debate on the nature of art, virtue, and power. And as usual, this lends his rather slender narrative the texture of a longer novel. Prosper’s Demon may be modest in terms of plot, but it’s rich with spiky ideas and with Parker’s inimitable and always entertaining voice.
RaveLocusCrowley is among the most eclectic and intriguing literary voices around ... Sitting around with him in a bar is the sense you sometimes get from wandering through these mostly short pieces ... the list of what he’s read isn’t quite like anyone else’s, and one of the fascinations of a collection like this is how it serves as a kind of self-excavated archeology of his imagination, and the light it sheds on Crowley’s own work ... As is often the case in a compendium such as this, what is most engaging is often what is least expected. [Crowley] may not quite have convinced me to pick up the historical novels of David Stacton, and he pretty much convinced me not to re-read Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, but his own insights into his world of reading are likely to stick around, and, as always, his prose is almost preternaturally graceful and clear.
PositiveLocus... reads like an intriguing combination of road novel, apocalyptic near-future SF, and – most importantly – character study that explores the compromises faced both by those who see the value in corporatized entertainment (more people get to enjoy it) and those who want to preserve the spontaneity and energy of live performances ... The tensions between corporate ambition, government repression, and artistic freedom hardly amount to a new theme, of course, but Pinsker makes the issues seem more urgent and more familiar than usual. This is partly because of her wide-ranging and finely textured portrait of a diminished America – we get to see a fair amount of geography – and partly it’s due to her remarkable skill at describing the nuances of musical performance ... The technological extrapolation of Pinsker’s SF may be restrained (and thus all the more credible), but the novel does converse with a number of earlier traditions ... Pinsker never lets the novel turn into an easy parable of mutual redemption ... Luce and Rosemary, not to mention an intriguing cast of secondary players, are figures that will stay with us for a long time.
Saad Z. Hossain
RaveLocusHossein is a Bangladeshi author who has already established a formidable reputation for combining dark humor, loopy adventure, and breezy style ... While those characteristics are much in evidence in The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday, he also shows a provocative knack for sharply satirical SF as well. It’s probably the funniest thing I’ve read this year.
RaveThe Chicago Tribune... [a] brilliant, bustling historical mystery ... while Hand paces her mystery with classic precision, the real reward of Curious Toys lies in its richly textured panorama of Chicago during a crucial period of change, and in its vivid characters. Riverview, of course, is legendary among older Chicagoans, and Hand presents it not as a generic carnival-murder setting, but as a kind of distorting mirror of cultural anxieties, many of which are still with us today ... Hand’s research is not merely for display, but rather shows us what sorts of things her characters might plausibly have been thinking about in 1915 ... Even with such skillfully rendered secondary characters, the emotional weight of the novel rests on Pin and Darger ... Hand only occasionally risks giving us a glimpse into Darger’s troubled thinking and wisely refrains from making him into an idiot-savant detective, but she offers a persuasive portrait of how a damaged genius with an obsession to protect children might have interacted with the chaotic Chicago of his time, where children really were endangered on a daily basis. How Darger finally affects Pin, and how she affects him, lead to a moving and thought-provoking conclusion.
RaveLocus... [a] perfectly modulated drop-kick ending ... Hand carefully inserts a few chapters from the chilling point of view of the actual murderer, a figure worthy of Thomas Harris, whose creepy obsessions with dolls and little girls’ clothes are more than enough to give the novel overtones of a horror story. Hand’s research into Chicago history is impeccable without ever seeming gratuitous, and even secondary characters such as Chaplin and Hecht emerge as fascinating and complex. But the story— which tightens its spiral as neatly as any murder mystery—finally belongs to Pin and Darger, and mostly to Pin, an absolutely marvelous creation who, in the superb ending, turns out to be far more than we expected.
RaveChicago TribuneAt their best, such [science-fiction] stories combine the appeal of good historical fiction with futuristic speculation, which is certainly the case with Annalee Newitz’s provocative second novel ... The question of whose history gets suppressed and whose doesn’t is one of the central questions of the novel, making it eerily timely for our own cultural debates ... Newitz’s meticulously researched portrait...includes fascinating sketches of real-life historical figures ... Sometimes Newitz’s complex conditions for time travel sound like arbitrary game rules ... While this unnecessarily complicates the first half of the novel, Newitz more than makes up for it with her vivid portrait of the raucous South Side of Chicago during the World’s Fair.
Alix E. Harrow
RaveLocus... remarkable ... an intriguing assortment of nested tales with different narrators ... Sometimes these voices aren’t quite as differentiated as they might be, but watching these various tales click into place in the context of January’s own increasingly perilous adventures is one of the chief delights of the novel ... As grim and Dickensian as it sometimes gets, Harrow clearly means her tale to be a joyous celebration of the magic of words and stories, and her enthusiasm is undeniably infectious ... a beautiful beginning, and unlike any other fantasy I’ve read in some years.
PositiveLocusIt’s frankly not that difficult to guess how the arc of each major figure will play out, so that much of the satisfaction late in the novel derives from elements clicking into place in neat melodramatic fashion ... Probably the biggest surprise for readers or viewers will be the complex backstory given to Aunt Lydia, a former lawyer, judge, and rape counselor who becomes the brutal nemesis of the Handmaids, but who clearly has an agenda of her own. Her narration is far more self-reflective than we might have suspected ... at moments it seems like Katniss Everdeen has somehow wandered into Gilead. Each of these narrators is engaging in her own way – it’s possible Atwood couldn’t write a boring character if she tried—and even when writing flat-out melodrama, her prose is irresistible at the sentence and paragraph level, and her dialogue always rings true. If The Testaments finally seems like a lighter novel than The Handmaid’s Tale, replacing the chilling ambiguity of that novel’s conclusion with something a bit more heroic and hopeful, it may be simply because we need that hope a bit more now that we did in 1985.
PositiveLocus...the novel is generally less redolent of Moby-Dick than of Melville in his weirdly Gothic mode in novels like Pierre; or The Ambiguities or stories like \'Bartleby, the Scrivener\'. Bartleby even shows up briefly, only now his recalcitrant passivity has been transformed into full zombie mode ... The new characters that Ford introduces are more recognizably products of the dark, gritty urban underground of pre-Civil War New York ... As effective as Ahab’s Return is as a fast-paced and efficient thriller, it’s also a sharply critical fiction, raising issues of addiction, homelessness, and demagoguery, with the metaphysical whiteness of Melville’s whale replaced by the more toxic whiteness of \'Me First\' and \'a quest for the reclamation of white Protestant superiority.\' Manticores and gangsters might make for hazardous adventures in a steampunk past, but the actual horrors have never really gone away.
PositiveLocusIt took a lot longer...for American SF anthologists to reach the kind of gender parity that Liu’s selections here represent ... the contributors here may not show much interest in outer space or other traditional SF tropes, but they seem fascinated with questions of time and consciousness ... Some of the other stories reflect the blurring of genre and mainstream boundaries that has been increasingly common in much short fiction worldwide ... Liu’s translation skills, in a couple of instances in collaboration with Carmen Yiling Yan, manage to effectively convey a myriad of distinctive voices without ever ironing over the differences or compromising the readability of the whole. There are no doubt things that readers like myself will be missing in terms of cultural allusions and Chinese imaginative tradition...but the seams barely show, and the result is a very stimulating selection that isn’t quite like any other SF anthology, and that, in the best ways, isn’t quite not, either.
PositiveLocusFor the most part, The Dollmaker is a mainstream novel with distinctly Gothic overtones and a creepy Nabokovian narrator. But the five embedded Ewa Chaplin stories move more clearly toward fabulation, horror, and even dystopian SF – and Chaplin herself is something of a trickster narrator, offering us a slippery dual ending to one of her more compelling tales. Does an SF or horror tale nestled in a non-fantastic narrative make the whole fantastic? Is The Dollmaker partly a collection of Nina Allan stories cleverly wrapped into a novel (a couple had been published separately, in different versions), or are the stories purely functions of the character of Ewa as translated by someone named Blacher and then read by Andrew (who doesn’t seem to like them much) and Bramber? The stories themselves are worth the price of admission, disturbing non-fairy tales that occupy a territory somewhere between Angela Carter and the more mordant side of Daphne du Maurier, but the resonance they gain through odd similarities with Andrew’s and Bramber’s own stories deepens both the tales and their frame. The Dollmaker is a novel that recedes deeper into its own hall of mirrors as you read it, and it’s compelling in the same way: you want to find your way out of these reflections, but you want to savor them as well.
RaveLocusAt first, Swanwick’s technique of peppering his version of Faerie with familiar names and products along with the more traditional furniture of dragons, mermaids, haints, invisibility wards, and such may seem whimsical, but whimsy is never the point; it’s more like an assertion of writerly authority, a reminder that he, and not our expectation, is driving this vehicle. If there were a slogan for Swanwick’s approach to fantasy, it could just as well be \'Why Not?\' When it comes to characters, family relationships, and the manipulations of power, though, he plays it straight: no one is allowed to be a cartoon, though some—like the trickster Raven who assists the protagonist here—fill archetypal roles. The story opens fully grounded in our own world ... The dragons themselves get relatively little time onstage, but the irresistible appeal of Swanwick’s version of Faerie, along with his usual skill at drawing vividly complex and conflicted characters trying to solve a mystery whose stakes keep spiraling outward, lend the novel a density and texture that seems a bit surprising, considering all the fun we’re having along the way.
Guy Gavriel Kay
RaveLocus[Kay\'s] latest novel...[is] as elegantly polyphonic as ever ... It’s easy to read A Brightness Long Ago as an extended parable of butterfly effects and unforetold consequences, but this reminder that Kay’s novels are among the most elegantly designed in modern fiction goes a lot farther toward explaining the effects of his unique approach of placing very real people in not-quite-imaginary gardens. Stories, he reminds us, are told, but novels are shaped. A Brightness Long Ago...is not only the latest example of how Kay has honed this technique over decades; it’s also one of the best.
PositiveLocusLord sets herself some tricky challenges at the outset, which may impede some readers in getting into the swing of the narrative ... These are quite a few threads to follow, but as their various connections become apparent, and certain relationships emerge as central (such as that of Miranda and Chance), the story develops an increasing urgency, both in its more cosmic themes and in the personal challenges of its main characters. Drawing on mystery, fantasy, myth, and family drama, Unraveling finally pays off in satisfying, surprisingly humane, and moving ways.
MixedLocus...the relatively straightforward Reamde, with one of Stephenson’s more linear thriller plots, is quickly left behind in favor of – well, a series of fascinating side galleries, including what appear to be Stephenson’s own versions of a geek Genesis, Paradise Lost, classical mythology, and quest fantasy ... The idea of a digital or constructed afterlife is by now a tradition in SF...going all the way back to Simak and Farmer. Inevitably, they give rise to a kind of pop eschatology, which can tilt toward sheer adventure in a new kind of SF environment or toward ponderously philosophical epics – pure cheese or a kale-infused protein shake. Stephenson seems to want to have it both ways, and while several sequences, both in meatspace and the murky afterlife, demonstrate his usual skills in provocative scene-setting and kinetic adventure, they never quite knit together in a coherent whole. It’s a wildly and admirably ambitious novel, but, in its own way, it’s an Ethical Network Sabotage Undertaking of the whole notion of narrative unity.
PositiveLocus... it can be difficult to assign labels to an author whose playlist seems equally comfortable with Kafka, Raymond Carver, or Cormac McCarthy on the one hand, and Lovecraft, Matheson, and Dead Space on the other ... As eclectic as these stories may be, there are enough recurrent preoccupations that the collection as a whole provides a solid overview of Evenson’s unique imagination ... Horror is the genre most allied with Evenson’s sensibility, but at the same time it would be misleading to imply that horror can contain him. If I were asked to describe the overall range of Evenson’s darkly comic imagination in one word, it would be \'uncontainable.\' Sometimes the risks he takes don’t quite pay off, and sometimes they pay off in familiar ways, but often they take us into intriguing if uncomfortable spaces where we’ve never been. Evenson’s stories can’t quite be said to occupy the genres that they play with, but genres occupy the stories, and he ties them into elegant little knots.
PositiveLocus... shows us about the writer’s literary range and what she views as important about her work, not simply the degree of her productivity. A good story collection is, at its best, a statement of identity as a writer, partly retrospective but partly aspirational ... Pinsker’s abiding concern with the saving power of memory – which may be her characteristic theme – may sometimes nudge her toward sentimentality, but there is a counter strain of pure playfulness in her fiction as well ... Like all innovative short fiction writers, and despite her recurrent concerns with memory and music, Pinsker’s cardinal strength lies in her unpredictability ... a voice resonant with feeling and desire. Maybe it’s the voice of a singer.
RaveLocusJo Walton goes full multiverse in Lent, her fascinating examination of the life, or possible lives, of the Florentine cleric and prophet Girolamo Savonarola ... What began as a riveting historical about a fascinating figure whose self-destructive pride insured both his demise and his lasting influence ends up as a rather dizzying timeline adventure leading to a conclusion that ingeniously satisfies both the terms of its 15th-century Florentine worldview and the SF-like machinery that makes it work.
PositiveLocusIt may be, in fact, that Chiang’s detached and self-effacing voices – a number of his stories are humbly addressed to specific audiences, like a caliph, or later explorers of a doomed world – are keys to what his wildly disparate fictions have in common. At their best they have much the same kind of appeal of Borges’s most provocative tales – not without feeling and empathy, but, fundamentally, explorations of the sheer romance of thinking.
G. Willow Wilson
RaveLocusIn no way does this setting render the novel less intriguing and accessible, though, even to younger readers ... Wilson’s engaging characters quickly earn our sympathy ... Wilson never skimps on the action to meditate on the novel’s religious themes, but the contrasts of worldviews, between Muslim and Christian, between monastic faith and Inquisitorial thuggishness, between legend and history, between different kinds of belief, are never far from the surface ... The notion of viewing the same mysterious island from the dual perspectives of Christian and Islamic legend is perhaps Wilson’s neatest thematic trick in the novel ... Wilson brings off an impressive narrative high-wire act that neatly balances the contrasting worldviews with a few conventions of literary fantasy ... will easily satisfy most readers with its fabulous adventures and intriguing characters – I wouldn’t mind meeting Vikram again sometime – it’s also a deeply thoughtful novel about how the world is what our perspectives make it.
MixedLocus... not all the missiles landed where expected. Writers, of course, are notorious for not dutifully following prompts, and I doubt that many of these futures are ones we’ll want to believe in ... many of the stories are powerfully written and passionately felt, but there’s also the inescapable sense of wandering through a dystopian theme park where each ride is scarier than the last ... LaValle & Adams have assembled an impressively diverse group of contributors, not only in cultural terms but in terms of their relationships to genre.
Charlie Jane Anders
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneAnders sets out to do a lot in this novel. It’s at once a troubled romance, a political and environmental fable, a story of first contact with aliens, a rousing adventure complete with sea monsters and pirates, and, toward the end, an almost visionary evocation of an alien way of thinking as we learn more about those crocodiles and their world. That she succeeds at balancing all this is a testament to her growing sophistication as a novelist ... a darker, edgier tale than All the Birds in the Sky, with its grim setting and more desperate and brittle characters, but those characters stay with us. Anders makes a convincing case that the decisions they make, even when motivated by personal passions and resentments, are crucial to the very survival of their world.
RaveLocus[James] seems intent on exploring not what epic fantasy has accomplished, but what it has largely ignored. There are, to be sure, moments of extreme violence and treacherous conniving, and a tendency to let characters get maimed or killed that will remind some of George R.R. Martin, and there’s a sort of quest through various colorful settings while facing awesome supernatural antagonists that recall the Tolkien tradition, but almost any direct comparisons are going to be misleading, and there are just as many echoes of African writers like Amos Tutuola or Daniel O. Fagunw ... James manages to keep the action moving at a breakneck pace ... James’s densely realized epic works to expand the possibilities of the form – the characters not only have desires and act on them, but grapple with problems of identity, duty, loyalty, and their own complicated motivations ... one of the most important and innovative fantasy epics of the century so far.
RaveLocus\"Part of the fascination in reading the novel comes from the skillful manner in which Novik gradually modulates and expands the scope of her tale from its modest beginnings (essentially that original story) into a full-blown epic, without losing sight of the economic and social realities that ground it in human terms ... For all the ice and fireworks that should make Spinning Silver a delight for readers of high fantasy, such insights into the plight of the outsider are what lend the novel both its richness of texture and its deeply felt conscience.\
RaveChicago TribuneWhen science fiction’s Hugo Awards were presented in August, all the fiction categories were won by women. But women weren’t always so celebrated. Lisa Yaszek’s fascinating and well-researched anthology presents a trove of writers who helped define the genre from the 1920s through the 1960s, some nearly forgotten today ... what all the stories have in common is sheer readability and a delicious sense of discovery.
PositiveChicago Tribune\"Here, in Unholy Land, [Tidhar] turns his attention to his own homeland, in a scenario that seems wildly unlikely until we realize it was actually proposed in the early 20th century: namely, relocating European Jews to part of what is now Uganda ... By the time their stories all braid together, Tidhar has turned a suspenseful adventure tale into a complex meditation on the possible paths of modern Jewish history.\
PositiveChicago Tribune\"The leading current heir to [the American fantastic writing] tradition may be Andy Duncan, whose Southern background informs his stories as much as his current career as a science-fiction teacher and scholar ... Reading Duncan can feel like being taken on a tour of your own dusty attic and being shown treasures you didn’t know you had.\
PositiveLocus\"There are few contemporary writers in any genre as immediately identifiable by voice alone as Andy Duncan ... brilliant ...\
RaveLocusFar from being a traditional invasion tale of resisting temperamental alien overlords who simply want our water or our real estate, Rosewater ends as a novel of transformation and metamorphosis, and it is, as several folks helpfully told me last year, one of the most thoughtful and inventive alien contact tales of recent decades.
Kim Stanley Robinson
PositiveLocus\"As with the AI in Robinson’s Aurora, [the AI in Red Moon] becomes an intriguing character in its own right, increasingly talking to itself as it tries use its almost limitless access to data in order to master something resembling consciousness ... Between the AI and Ta Shu, we learn a good deal about the development, infrastructure, and politics of the moon colonies, but in general Robinson isn’t as interested in such details as, say, Ian McDonald in his Luna series or John Kessel in The Moon and the Other ... [Robinson\'s] inhabited moon seems less a frontier than a refraction of ideological, social, and environmental anxieties that are with us now.\
MixedChicago TribuneVeteran master John Varley sets many stories in a loosely connected sequence called the Eight Worlds, after humanity is evicted from Earth by superior aliens and forced to settle on other worlds. His latest is set in one of those colonies, on the Moon, but it’s also an affectionate tribute to the hard-boiled mysteries of Raymond Chandler... While the mystery deepens and gets a bit tangled, Varley’s richly imagined lunar society, a kind of theme park based on memories of Earth, is equally central to the novel, as is the wonderfully odd storytelling voice of the dog Sherlock.
PositiveChicago TribuneFord, who has won both World Fantasy Awards and the mystery writers’ Edgar Award, displays both sides of his talent ... The problems of racism, homelessness, addiction and \'Me First; politics cut close to home, but Ford also offers a hopeful interlude ... Ford’s elegant style helps make this thriller far more timely than it first appears to be.
Abbey Mei Otis
PositiveChicago TribuneThe title of Abbey Mei Otis’ first story collection may sound like a cross between a tabloid headline and a cheap horror movie, but Otis actually belongs with writers like Kelly Link, who freely borrow genre materials to construct elegant literary fictions far more about character than spectacle. The title story does involve a virus from outer space that escapes a secret government lab and begins transforming people in a neighboring town, but the focus is on the young narrator and her little brother coping with radical changes over which they have no control. The aliens that show up in other stories are more often benign than hostile ... As odd as these worlds are, they are populated by sharply drawn characters we come to care about through Otis’ luminescent prose.
RaveThe Chicago Tribune\"If that sounds like something of a mashup, Larson manages to weave all this into an energetic, nonstop adventure that’s thoroughly his own, mostly because of an appealing cast of young protagonists, led by the street-smart Violet. As a trans teenager, Violet had to learn survival strategies long before the aliens arrive ... While Annex is a solid adventure by itself, it\'s also the beginning of a trilogy, and most readers will be eager to see where volume two leads.\
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneReaders familiar with Hannu Rajaniemi\'s dense, information-packed futures in novels like The Quantum Thief will be surprised ... While the conspiracies and plots unfold in classic spy-story fashion, the wildly inventive setting gives the novel a unique kind of freshness.
PositiveChicago TribunePeng Shepherd\'s first novel ticks off the familiar conventions of post-apocalyptic tales ... What distinguishes The Book of M, apart from Shepherd\'s graceful language and skilled pacing, is the nature of the apocalypse itself ... Strong characters and almost surreal imagery more than make up for what is familiar in the plot.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneTime Was begins as an intriguing mystery, turns into a kind of time-travel tale and ends up as a sensitive and gracefully written romance stretching over decades. McDonald is admired for his detailed multicultural futures and intricate plotting, but he can be one of the field’s more elegant stylists as well ... surprisingly moving ending.
RaveLocusThere’s nothing strikingly original in the SF ideas McDonald presents here, which carry such an X-Files vibe that one of the characters even mentions it, but that’s not really the point. The mechanism by which these two time-unstuck lovers plot to keep in touch, involving a continent-wide network of used bookstores, is both ingenious and romantic in its own way—such bookstores, after all, have historically been among the most stable, unchanging business locations—at least until what the narrator calls our post-literate society. There is a rather surprising and effective twist toward the end of the tale that gives it an added dimension, but long before that it’s a paean to book-collecting detective work, to timeslip traditions of SF, and to the lyrical gay romance at its center (although McDonald pays relatively little attention to the difficulties Ben and Tom must have faced in keeping their relationship secret during a less tolerant era). Mostly, though, it’s one of the most purely beautiful pieces of writing McDonald has given us in years.
PositiveThe Chicago Tribune...what gives Watts\'s tale surprising depth, is [the question of] what it means to be human on an endless mission in an uncaring universe.
Sam J. Miller
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneThese days, we tend to label almost any future city as dystopian, but the term hardly does justice to Miller’s complex society ... As each of his main characters strives toward some goal — freeing a mother from a prisonlike mental hospital, tracking down the author of a mysterious guidebook, simply trying to retire with dignity — they gain insights not only into the true nature of their city, but into their own families as well.
Catherynne M. Valente
RaveThe Chicago Tribune\"Admirers of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will feel at home in this wildly comical and cheerfully absurd galactic adventure ... Valente’s gift for rich language seems to serve her well in what at times reads like stream-of-consciousness comedy.\
Catherynne M. Valente
PositiveLocus Magazine\"Valente’s humor, despite its galactic setting, is firmly grounded in Earthbound pop culture ... What it’s really about is Valente having fun with the sheer possibilities of absurdist invention, of SF as gonzo late-night stand-up improv, and of music’s power to either change the universe or perhaps change nothing at all. Fortunately for us, it’s about as much fun to read as it must have been for Valente to write.\
John Crowley, Illustrated by Melody Newcomb
RaveThe Chicago TribuneOver the years, as [Ka] tells of his own mates and rivals in the world of crows, he meets more human allies, including a medieval monk, a young Native American and a Civil War-era poet — only to watch all of them age and pass away. As he witnesses the growth of cities and the deterioration of the natural world at human hands, his tale, one of the finest fantasy novels of the year, gains the power of a true epic.
RaveThe Chicago Tribune...snappy dialogue, wildly eccentric characters, comic misunderstandings and, of course, an unlikely romance that is central to the screwball tradition. At the same time, she offers some timely satirical jabs at our overconnected society and high-stakes corporate culture, and ties the whole package together with a classic science fiction idea that's been fairly uncommon in recent decades —telepathy ... The plot ends up a good deal more involved than most screwball comedies, but with a satisfying ending and more sheer hilarity than any science fiction novel this year.
PositiveThe Chicago Tribune...really a short novel with two distinct plot lines, and, paradoxically, it's both a fine introduction to his unique imagination and a marked departure from his earlier work ... Miéville is less concerned with the mechanics of alternate history than with the opportunity it provides to explore his knowledgeable fascination with the Surrealist movement ... The result is a novel both unhinged and utterly compelling, a kind of guerrilla warfare waged by art itself, combining both meticulous historical research and Miéville's unparalleled inventiveness.
PositiveLocusNo one can accuse Lavie Tidhar of being risk-averse ... Tidhar reveals...that he’s really less interested in the mechanistic ‘what-ifs’ of conventional alternate history than he is in the interpenetration of real and invented histories, or perhaps more grandiosely in the interpenetration of art and life – even the often-demeaned art of sensational fiction or...comic books. This is what makes him such an interesting writer, and what makes A Man Lies Dreaming quite a bit more complex than it at first appears ... Not that Tidhar doesn’t work out his alternate 1939 with meticulous and sometimes gleeful detail ... the novel is not without a fair amount of humor, and that might well be the boldest risk Tidhar is taking here ... can you effectively pulpify a figure associated with real-world terror without risking trivializing the nature of that terror? There is no shortage of SF and fantasy dealing with Hitler and the Holocaust ... But there are far fewer works which present Hitler as such an utter failure...the suggestion that finally emerges from A Man Lies Dreaming is that, even with Hitler reduced to a pulp antihero, if only in the dreams of an Auschwitz victim, anti-Semitism would have found a lot of other places to land. What really haunts the novel is not the ghost of Hitler, but that dreaming figure, borrowed more closely from our own history than from Tidhar’s fake one, and the disarming shadow of an anti-Semitic fascist regime emerging in England itself in 1939.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneThere is a dark and sometimes shocking edge to some of these stories, but nearly all are provocative, and several are brilliant.