Book Review: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

(Three Stars)

“Shugli believed his falconers. It took a watcher to recognize another watcher. Against an unknown enemy, only one strategy would succeed: stealth.”

Better-than-average science fiction series opener, which admittedly is a low bar. For all that, the character development and storytelling is exceeds the norm. While the close of this story resolves nothing, it is a closing, rather the usual abrupt cut.

“Stay away from the me-me-me. Clients want you to talk about them.” “I didn’t realize we needed to make the client feel good about themselves. It seems dishonest.” “This is Continue reading

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Book Review: Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Revenant Gun (The Machineries of Empire #3) by Yoon Ha Lee

(Three Stars)

“At least then the music tells you when the bad guys are about to sneak up on you.” “In the dramas, we’d be the bad guys.” “Not helping.” “Someone has to be a realist.”

Normally, one should not start a series in the middle; it makes no difference here. Like the previous stories in this series, totally confusing to start. Consumes half the book with the setup. Complex personalities and motives collide, again.

“I hadn’t thought the mating urge would take you so strongly, the Revenant remarked.” “The instinct has been suppressed in me, or I would not be a good weapon. I thought the same would be the case for you, but then, the hexarch Continue reading

Book Review: The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

(Four Stars)

“We were shackled and splintered and separated; the Many Mothers could not teach their daughter the Stories. Without stories there is no past, no future, no We. There is death. There is Nothing, a night without moon or stars.”

An extraordinarily original, well-told story. Bolander took two unrelated historical events and related them. It’s that simple. The voices of Topsy and Regan are especially good.

“It’s amazing I can breathe with my foot lodged in my windpipe the way it is.”

Sadly, the real Topsy was murdered in a publicity stunt by Thomas Edison to demonstrate Continue reading

Book Review: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novil (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novil

(Four Stars)

“For a moment I felt her a sister, our lives in the hands of others. She wasn’t likely to have any more choices in the matter than I did.”

Well-constructed fairy tale. Three female protagonists, two of whom had such similar voices that the reader occasionally must seek clues elsewhere. Interesting supporting cast, with enough humanity and inhumanity to compel and thrill.

“I had not known I was strong enough to do any of these things until they were over and I had done them.”

Draws deeply on Russian and Jewish cultures, but tells her own tale. Intricate plot, occasionally overlapping and backtracking to the point that the reader must puzzle out whose view point the story, always first person, is being told from.

“But it was all the same choice, every time. The choice between the one death and all the little ones.”

2019 Best Novel Hugo Award finalist

Book Review: “The Court Magician” by Sarah Pinkser (Four Stars)

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Book Review: “The Court Magician” by Sarah Pinkser

(Four Stars)

“Would you like to learn real magic?” The boy snorts. “There’s no such thing.”

Excellent short story. As with the best of any genre, it is compact and forceful. Little fluff; lots of misdirection.

“The Guild is for magicians who feel the need to compete with each other. The Palace trains magicians who feel compelled to compete against themselves.” It’s perhaps the truest thing I’ll ever tell him.

Read it at one sitting; it’s short enough. Let yourself go to the power and flow of the narrator. It increases the final impact.

“Is magic only a trick I haven’t figured out yet?”

(2019 Hugo Short Story Award finalist. Published in Lightspeed magazine. January 2018)

Book Review: The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Tea Master and the Detective (The Universe of Xuya) by Aliette de Bodard

(Four Stars)

“I’m a consulting detective.”

Well, we know who the detective is, despite the camouflage, but who–or what–is the tea master? You know, but you don’t know. Discovery is half the fun.

“You haven’t told me what you need to find in deep spaces.” “A corpse.”

Excellent story, if not tight enough. Used “Watson” as the point of view narrator, of course. Good character development, though we fell we known them already.

“You’re completely traumatised, but showing no other sign of damage.” “I. Am. Not. Traumatised.”

(2019 Hugo Award Novella finalist. Published March 31st 2018 by Subterranean Press)

“I don’t understand why you bother,” The Shadow’s Child said. “No one is going to pay you anything for this.” This time Long Chau did smile, and it seemed to illuminate her entire face. “Why? Because I can.”

Book Review: Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

(Three Stars)

“In Space Everyone Can Hear You Sing.”

Great–almost obvious in hindsight–concept, from the title pun, to the obvious rip-off of Hitchhiker’s Guide, through the also inevitable, but brilliant dénouement (even though Valente telegraphs her punchline). Excellent cultural references to give the story and characters immediacy.

“This was a joke, a very unfunny joke, and whether he was the setup or the punchline, he’d no idea. Humanity was doomed.”

Theoretically better than Hitchhiker’s Guide, but Valente gets lost along the way–and takes the reader with her. Totally silly, as expected, but Continue reading

Book Review: “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” by P. Djéli Clark (Four Stars)

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Book Review: “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” by P. Djéli Clark

(Four Stars)

“For the blacksmith understood what masters had chosen to forget: when you make a man or woman a slave you enslave yourself in turn.”

Excellent speculative historical fiction. Since the root–that George Washington bought the teeth of nine slaves as his own rotted away–this might have made an excellent historical fiction. The speculative musings–while fun–are so over-the-top that they dull the edge on what would be righteous indignation over the behavior of our first president.

“… from the ramparts English mages hurled volleys of emerald fireballs that could melt through iron.”

The storytelling is compact and fast moving. Clark makes his points and Continue reading

Book Review: “Mimsy Were the Borgoves” by Lewis Padgett (Four Stars)

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Book Review: “Mimsy Were the Borgoves” by Lewis Padgett (C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner)

(Four Stars)

“But no boy has ever left a box unopened, unless forcibly dragged away. It was a toy; Scott sensed, with the unerring instinct of a child.”

Excellent novelette with a literary hook. Despite an unpromising start, the story ends well. The section on the adults’ reactions is too long and clumsy.

“A child knows nothing of Euclid. A different geometry from ours wouldn’t impress him as being illogical.

Like many smart people, Moore and Kuttner got geometry, and learning in general, backward. We don’t see things as we do because we learned Euclid’s axioms; Euclid derived his axioms from how we view reality. A child learns to throw and catch a ball knowing nothing about physics.

“But I don’t think I’ll change your little song.” “You mustn’t. If you did, it wouldn’t mean anything.” “I won’t change that stanza, anyway,” he promised. “Just what does it mean?” “It’s the way out, I think,” the girl said doubtfully. “I’m not sure yet. My magic toys told me.”

2019 Best Novelette 1944 Retrospective Hugo Award finalist. Published in Astounding Science-Fiction, February 1943.

“A symbol, to us, means more than what we see on paper.”

Book Review: “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies,” by Alix E. Harrow (Two Stars)

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Book Review: “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies,” by Alix E. Harrow

(Two Stars)

“In grad school, they called it “ensuring readers have access to texts/materials that are engaging and emotionally rewarding,” and in my other kind of schooling, they called it ‘divining the unfilled spaces in their souls and filling them with stories and starshine,’ but it comes to the same thing.”

Wanted to like this, but couldn’t get past the self-satisfied hubris of the protagonist. She seems to feel that having a heart makes up for having no brains. Expect great writing from Harrow someday. This is well-written, but as subtle as a ton of bricks.

“I teetered, the way you do when you’re about to do something really dumb.”

Not only does she violate the norms of society, but breaks the rules of her witches group. Surely they have people and procedures for identifying and shepherding candidates, other than giving them a gun and hoping they didn’t shoot themselves with it? She endangers a youth just to feel good?

“If you want justice and goodness to prevail in this world, you have to fight for it tooth and nail. And it will be hard, and costly, and probably illegal. You will have to break rules.”

Excellent narrative voice and characterization. Too obviously correct cultural cues. Right-thinking readers will applaud her heavy-handed politics. Readers who think for themselves may be offended that Harrow insists on thinking for them. Not to mention her ‘winning is all that matters’ attitude.

“I wondered … how rogue librarians spent their time, and whether they had clubs or societies, and what it was like to encounter feral stories untamed by narrative and unbound by books. Then I wondered where our Books came from in the first place, and who wrote them.”

(2019 Short Story Hugo Award finalist; published in Apex Magazine, February 2018)