Artemis • 2017 • Hard SF novel by Andy Weir

★★★★

To those who liked The Martian novel or movie and wonder if the author can do it again: Yes, he does. He delivers the same funny, sly dialogs, the same Hard SF background, the same level of reckless last minute survival action, the same positive minded and intelligent protagonist.

Only this time, it is different: exchange the male biology astronaut on Mars with a female criminal smuggler on the Moon. A heist gone wrong, an economy thriller and lots of welding in different atmospheres. Of course this is bound to be turned into a movie: The great setting with the different communities in the city of Artemis@Moon, the loveable and believable characters, and of course the accurate science should convince every SF fan who doesn’t need doorstoppers or never-ending series. Because this is one of the great features of this novel: it is short, and it is standalone, bringing the plot and the protagonists‘ fates to a very satisfying ending.

 

 

Veröffentlicht unter Novel, Science Fiction | Kommentar hinterlassen

The New Voices of Fantasy • 2017 • Fantasy anthology by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman

★★★★

Summary: Do you want to learn about the new kids on the block? This anthology gives a very good answer: it collects nineteen stories from the last five years. The editors provide great introductions to every story and gathered a great, balanced selection of stories.

I’m somewhat in a hurry, because tomorrow I’ll be heading for a longer vacation and I won’t blog the next couple of weeks. I haven’t been able to write down full reviews for most of the stories, but I read all of them and can fully recommend it to readers of fantasy literature who are curious what topics, styles, and authors drive the publishing circus these days.

Best stories in this anthology:

  • ★★★★★ • Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers • Vampire short story by Alyssa Wong • review
  • ★★★★★ • The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn • Fantasy novella by Usman T. Malik •  review

Contents:

  • ★★★★★ • Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers • Vampire short story by Alyssa Wong • review
  • ★★★Selkie Stories are for Losers • 2013 • by Sofia Samatar • sad and weird
  • ★★★Tornado’s Siren • 2012 • by Brooke Bolander • awesome idea: a tornado falls in love with a girl
  • ★★ • Left the Century to Sit Unmoved • 2016 • by Sarah Pinsker • a weird pond sometimes lets people vanish when they jump into it, a story about grief
  • ★★★★ • A Kiss with Teeth 2014 clever vampire story by Max Gladstone: a vampire needs to be a father, care for talking to teacher and oppress his needs
  • ★★★★Jackalope Wives • 2014 magical realism short story by Ursula Vernon • review
  • ★★★★ The Cartographer Wasps and Anarchist Bees • 2011 • by E. Lily Yu • innovative allegorical fable about imperialism and anarchism
  • ★★ • The Practical Witch’s Guide to Acquiring Real Estate 2015 humorous how-to-guide for witches by A. C. Wise
  • ★★★+The Tallest Doll in New York City2014  by Maria Dahvana Headley • the Chrysler building walks around to find love
  • ★★★The Haunting of Apollo A7LB • 2015 • short story by Hannu Rajaniemi • seemstress reworks a haunted spacesuit •  review
  • ★★★Here Be Dragons by Chris Tarry • retired dragon slayer faces the boredom and responsibility of everyday life
  • ★★★The One They Took Before2014  by Kelly Sandoval reminded me of Every Heart a Doorway: sadness and fear of returning to a magical world
  • ★★ • Tiger Baby” by JY Yang • predictable story about a human shapeshifter turning slowly into a feline form
  • ★★ • The Duck” by Ben Loory • cute story about the protagonist who is infatuated with a rock, about friendship and love
  • ★★★ • “Wing”• 2012 • by Amal El-Mohtar • really short, strange, and charming story
  • ★★ • The Philosophers • 2016 • formulaic vignette story by Adam Ehrlich Sachs
  • ★★★My Time Among the Bridge • 2017 • Blowers by Eugene Fischer Original Story
  • ☆ • “The Husband Stitch” • horror story by Carmen Maria Machado • horror, didn’t read
  • ★★★★★ • The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn • Fantasy novella by Usman T. Malik •  review
Veröffentlicht unter Anthology, Fantasy | Kommentar hinterlassen

The Witchwood Crown • 2017 • Fantasy novel by Tad Williams

★★★★

The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams

Some 30 years ago, Tad Williams started his Osten Ard  series with The Dragonbone Chair, Stone of Farewell, and concluded it in 1993 with To Green Angel Tower. I never expected him to return to this wonderful world and characters. Now, we have a long novella The Heart of what was Lost, which picked up some threads directly after the first trilogy, and this new doorstopper of a novel. So, yes dear newcomer, you have to read all the books before this one.

Those 30 years gone are also reflected in the setting – the main characters got old, mayhaps wiser. Imagine a Mooncalf Simon Snowlock established as a renown king of some 50 years old, shouting around at his drunkard grandson! The Duke of Rimmersgard, Isgrimnur, kind of old back then, is now about to die of age. After some 100 pages, the old gang has gathered: Simon, Miriamele, Binabik, Isgrimnur, Tiamak, and Eolair travel around in a state visit in their dominion, which sounds as boring as it reads. Heavily missing are the Sithi Jiriki and Aditu, but that has its reasons.

On the antagonist side of the Norn, that mischievous folks are gathering their strength again. We get good insights into the culture, heroic characters, and traditions resembling a template for every roleplaying dark elf.

Williams takes his good time to elaborate a tension arc, lets the book start easy, happy, nice, and only Simon’s grandson Morgan seems to be a problem child with his drunkard friends – one of them old Sir Porto from the prequel novella – dangling around. But immortal Norn queen Utuk’ku has awakened and prepares for war against the mortals of the realm. She sent out elite warriors to get her the eponymous Witchwood Crown. Also, political unrest drives the southern part of the realm.

Only the last third of the book takes up urgency again and develops speed. Take your time and enjoy the slow cruising before taking the roller coaster ride! Because that is, what the last 100 pages will bring you.

I feared that I wouldn’t be able to return to this beloved epic fantasy world, because I changed myself in the last couple of years. But Tad Williams has outdone himself to picked up the character, changed them in time without loosing the atmosphere of the first books. He transported me back again to Osten Ard without headaches. Oh joy!

I recommend this to readers who need a different taste in their diet of dark, gritty, near pornish Fantasy worlds of GRRM, Lawrence, or Abercrombie, who want to go for a lighter reading without loosing complex settings, characters, and plots.

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The Year’s Best SF and Fantasy 2017 • SF&F anthology by Rich Horton

The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2017 edited by Rich Horton

Today, this Year’s Best Of anthology by Rich Horton is published. It is one really large collection featuring 30 stories on 576 pages. This year, it overlaps with Strahan’s annual Best Of in only three stories from MacLeod, Valentine, and Miller – so, it would make sense to get them both.

I’ve only read a couple of the stories, but the list of content reads interesting:

Contents:

  1. “Seven Ways of Looking at the Sun-Worshippers of Yul-Katan” by Maggie Clark (Analog)
  2. “All that Robot Shit” by Rich Larson (Asimov’s)
  3. “Project Empathy” by Dominica Phetteplace (Asimov’s)
  4. “Lazy Dog Out” by Suzanne Palmer (Asimov’s)
  5. ★★★★ • The Visitor from Taured • SF novelette by Ian R. MacLeod • review
  6. “Openness” by Alexander Weinstein (Beloit Fiction Journal)
  7. “In Skander, for a Boy” by Chaz Brenchley (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
  8. “Laws of Night and Silk” by Seth Dickinson (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
  9. “Blood Grains Speak Through Memories” by Jason Sanford (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
  10. “Rager in Space” by Charlie Jane Anders (Bridging Infinity)
  11. “Ozymandias” by Karin Lowachee (Bridging Infinity)
  12. “The Bridge of Dreams” by Gregory Feeley (Clarkesworld)
  13. ★★★★+ • Everyone from Themis Sends Letters Home • SF short story by Genevieve Valentine • review
  14. ★ • Things with Beards • Weird short story by Sam J. Miller • I didn’t get at all what this story was about, couldn’t get into it
  15. “Innumerable Glimmering Lights” by Rich Larson (Clockwork Phoenix 5)
  16. “Between Nine and Eleven” by Adam Roberts (Crises and Conflicts)
  17. “Red of Tooth and Cog” by Cat Rambo (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)
  18. “The Vanishing Kind” by Lavie Tidhar (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)
  19. “A Fine Balance” by Charlotte Ashley (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)
  20. “Empty Planets” by Rahul Kanakia (Interzone)
  21. “Fifty Shades of Grays” by Steven Barnes (Lightspeed)
  22. “I’ve Come to Marry the Princess” by Helena Bell (Lightspeed)
  23. “RedKing” by Craig deLancey (Lightspeed)
  24. “A Non-Hero’s Guide to The Road of Monsters” by A.T. Greenblatt, (Mothershipship Zeta)
  25. “Dress Rehearsal” by Adrian Tchaikovsky, (Now We Are Ten)
  26. “The Plague Givers” by Kameron Hurley, (Patreon)
  27. “Gorse Daughter, Sparrow Son” by Alena Indigo Anne Sullivan (Strange Horizons)
  28. “The Magical Properties of Unicorn Ivory” by Carlos Hernandez (The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria)
  29. “Something Happened Here, But We’re Not Quite Sure What It Was” by Paul McAuley (Tor.com)
  30. “That Game We Played During the War” by Carrie Vaughn (Tor.com)
Veröffentlicht unter Anthology, Fantasy, Science Fiction | Kommentar hinterlassen

Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers • 2015 • Vampire short story by Alyssa Wong

★★★★★

Summary:  Jenny tinders around not for one-night stands but to feed off the dark emotions and thoughts of her dates. After having had her first killer she knew why her mother taught her to stay with petty criminals: Nothing tastes good after such an overwhelming experience.

Review:  I usually avoid horror stories. I can’t say that this time, I accidentally stumbled over it because I turned around it already a couple of time. After finally giving in (because I absolutely need to read the winners of the Nebula awards), I come to the conclusion that it was totally worth reading. The story started and ended with a bang, the tension arc let you down in between just to pick you up with a new relationship. Although Jenny starts shapeshifting when she fed from her prey, she always retains her selfish identity. Adding to the scenery are the Asian American cultural notes stirred with gay sexuality. A nearly classical Vampire tale with a great twist which I highly recommend for readers who are not used to Horror tales.

Meta: isfdb. Published in Nightmare Magazine, October 2015. Read in The New Voices of Fantasy. It won the Nebula and World Fantasy Awards. Available online.

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The Best of Subterranean • 2017 • SF&F anthology by William Schafer

★★★+

Summary: Once, there was a great SF&F magazine from Subterranean Press, publishing reviews, news, and stories between 2005 and its final issue in 2014. What you will find here is an anthology of 30 stories spread over some 750 pages from that magazine. The stories are diversified over every field of speculative fiction, including SF comedy, magical realism, ghost stories, steampunk, weird, and horror fiction. The overall tendency is heading towards weird fiction. There is an awesome line of authors, that lures you into the book, in some cases only because of the name. how else could Scalzi’s story have found the way into a Best Of anthology or a piece of arrogant crap like Ellison’s puzzle for the reader? As usual, Subterranean Press adds a high price tag for which you get a nice hardcover edition.

First of all: „Best of“? I’m not convinced, as I’m missing the great novellas which I consider as the best assets of this magazine, e.g. „After the Siege“ by Cory Doctorow, Ted Chiang’s „The Lifecycle of Software Objects“, „Grand Jeté (The Great Leap)“ and „The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window“ by Rachel Swirsky, or „Vacancy“ by Lucius Shepard. Some of the collected pieces are questionable with regard of their status as „best of“, as already mentioned.

The collection’s tension bow left a lot to be desired: It started very good with stories from Shiner and Headly, but then lost traction and got lost in boredom with only a few highlights like Baker’s Bohemian Astrobleme story. Some authors that I longed for really where a let down. But right at the end, when I nearly gave up all hopes, two stories pulled out the anthology’s lethargy: K.J. Parker’s wonderful novella and Ted Chiang’s Near Future SF novelette.

There is something in it for everyone, and if you think that you don’t like the setup and don’t consider the book, then you might want to read at least a couple of the stories: All are still freely available online, just check out the metainformation in the reviews.

Best stories in this anthology:

  • ★★★★★ • A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong • 2011 • Alternate World novella by K. J. Parker about the creative genius of two musicians • review
  • ★★★★★ • The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling • 2013 • Near Future SF novelette by Ted Chiang about a perfect memory recording gadget • review

Worst stories:

  •  • The Secret History of the Lost Colony • 2008 • SF short story by John Scalzi
  •  • He Who Grew Up Reading Sherlock Holmes • 2014 •  short story by Harlan Ellison • review

Contents:

  • 9 • ★★★★ • Perfidia • 2004 • thriller novelette about Glen Miller’s death by Lewis Shiner • review
  • 49 • ★★★★ • Game • 2012 • Magical realism novelette about hunting tigers in 1950 by Maria Dahvana Headley • review
  • 79 • ☆ • The Last Log of the Lachrimosa by Alastair Reynolds • Horror – didn’t read
  • 125 • ★★★+ • The Seventeenth Kind • SF comedy about a shopping channel presenter, a novelette by Michael Marshall Smith • review
  • 145 • ★★+ • Dispersed by the Sun Melting in the Wind • Post Apocalyptic short story with multiple „lasts“ by Rachel Swirsky • review
  • 157 • ★★+ • The Pile • ghost story about a Macarena dancing gorilla toy by Michael Bishop • review
  • 175 • ★★★★ • The Bohemian Astrobleme • 2010 • Steampunk novelette by Kage Baker about a prostitute-spy investigation in Bohemia • review
  • 205 • ★★★ • Tanglefoot • 2008 • Steampunk novelette by Cherie Priest about a boy creating a clockwork doll • review
  • 235 • ★★★ • Hide and Horns • 2009 • Western novelette by Joe R. Lansdale • review
  • 259 • ★★★★ • Balfour and Meriwether in the Vampire of Kabul 2011 • Steampunk novelette by Daniel Abraham • review
  • 285 • ★★★ • Last Breath • 2005 • Weird short story by Joe Hill • review
  • 295 • ★★ • Younger Women • 2011 • Weird short story by Karen Joy Fowler • review
  • 303 • ★★ • White Lines on a Green Field • 2011 • Magic realism novelette by Catherynne M. Valente • review
  • 323 • ★★+ • The Least of the Deathly Arts • 2012 • Fantaasy short story by Kat Howard • review
  • 335 • ★★+ • Water Can’t be Nervous • 2012 • Mainstream short story by Jonathan Carroll • review
  • 345  • ★★★+ • Valley of the Girls • 2011 • SF short story by Kelly Link • review
  • 361 • ★★★+ • Sic Him, Hellhound! Kill! Kill! • 2012 • Urban Fantasy short story by Hal Duncan • review
  • 381 • ★★★ • Troublesolving • 2009 • SF novelette by Tim Pratt • review
  • 407 • ★★+ • The Indelible Dark • 2012 • SF Metafiction novelette by William Browning Spencer • review
  • 435 • ★★★ • The Prayer of Ninety Cats • 2013 • Dark Fantasy novelette by Caitlín R. Kiernan • review
  • 471 • ★★+ • The Crane Method • 2011 • Magical realism short story by Ian R. MacLeod • review
  • 485 • ★★★ • The Tomb of the Pontifex Dvorn • 2011 • SF novelette by Robert Silverberg • review
  • 521 • ☆ • The Toys of Caliban • 1986 • Horror novelette by George R. R. Martin • Screenplay for The New Twilight Zone S2E29 based on an unpublished story by Terry Matz
  • 561 •  • The Secret History of the Lost Colony • 2008 • SF short story by John Scalzi • A removed chapter from „The Last Colony“. Why would anyone else than absurdely hardcore fans of that series want to read something like that? Why is this considered a „Best of Subterranean“?
  • 577 • ★★★ • The Screams of Dragons • 2014 • Urban Fantasy novelette by Kelley Armstrong • review
  • 619 • ★★★ • The Dry Spell 2009 • Magical realism short story by James P. Blaylock about a man daring the heavens to rain • review
  • 635 •  • He Who Grew Up Reading Sherlock Holmes • 2014 •  short story by Harlan Ellison • review
  • 645 • ★★★★★ • A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong • 2011 • Alternate World novella by K. J. Parker about the creative genius of two musicians • review
  • 685 • ★★★★★ • The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling • 2013 • Near Future SF novelette by Ted Chiang about a perfect memory recording gadget • review
  • 723 • ★★★ • A Long Walk Home • 2011 • Far future SF novelette by Jay Lake about loneliness • review
Veröffentlicht unter Anthology, Fantasy, Science Fiction | Kommentar hinterlassen

A Long Walk Home • 2011 • SF novelette by Jay Lake

★★★

Summary:  On a distant planet and future, suddenly all the electronics are fried. A prospecting „Howard“, one of the genetically enhanced, nearly immortal humans, finds himself stranded all alone on a planet. He has to build a routine surviving the loneliness.

Review:  You can literally feel the solitude developing into madness. If only the story wouldn’t be dragging over the count of the years, and the ending not half as unsatisfying.

It reads as some kind of prequel to a proposed „Sunspin“ series, which never appeared due to the author’s death. There are other stories in this universe, and there is chronology here.

Meta: isfdb. Published in Subterranean Online, Winter 2011. Read in The Best of Subterranean. Available online.

Veröffentlicht unter Science Fiction, Story | Kommentar hinterlassen

The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling • 2013 • Near Future SF novelette by Ted Chiang

★★★★★

Summary:  What would a perfect memory mean for us and our culture? How changed literacy our subjectivity? A journalist explores the pros and cons of a Cyborgish memory enhancement gadget called Remem which lets you capture, search, and replay every instance of your liveblog. It would bring a change similar to reading and writing for our Western culture, so he writes the story of the savage folk of Tev who slowly learn the impact of written truth versus oral truth. He can’t stop people adopting the gadget like the tribes oral culture could stop writing on paper; so, he tried to find the positive in it.

Review:  First, I feared yet another linguistic exploration of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (which Chiang already explored in Story of your Life), but then it gladly developed in a different direction, that of literacy. The story contains lots of brain food about different sorts of truth – the harsh truth of facts versus smoothening truth of feeling, the stories of yourself which you need to comfort yourself or your tribe, which are based on forgiving and forgetting. The author gave us two interposed point of views for comparison, and to understand the concept: one set in the future in first person perspective of the journalist who wrote the whole story. It is mostly about the relationship to his daughter, and his finding out with the help of the memory gadget that he was wrong about his history:

And I think I’ve found the real benefit of digital memory. The point is not to prove you were right; the point is to admit you were wrong.

The tribal version of adopting new forms of memory was narrated in the point of view of a boy who learned reading and writing from a missionary. I found the insights into the process wonderful and bringing a lot to understand what the futuristic gadget would bring to our culture. Just one sample:

It was only many lessons later that Jijingi finally understood where he should leave spaces, and what Moseby meant when he said “word.” You could not find the places where words began and ended by listening. The sounds a person made while speaking were as smooth and unbroken as the hide of a goat’s leg, but the words were like the bones underneath the meat, and the space between them was the joint where you’d cut if you wanted to separate it into pieces. By leaving spaces when he wrote, Moseby was making visible the bones in what he said.

This gadget will change our „private oral culture“ just as writing changed the tribal’s oral culture. It will be difficult to rewrite our pasts to our needs.

Sometimes the narration feels more like an essay than a story, it moves slowly, even contemplative. And then, it isn’t an essay at all but character driven, providing a lot of character development and insights into the main characters. Anyways, it is a masterful usage of futuristic technology to explore philosophical topics in the frame of a short story: Chiang focuses on the searchable story telling capabilities of technology only, and left out several other aspects that this gadget could be used for (think of medical usages).

I fully recommend this novelette to everyone searching for more heavy-weight stories: It will stay with you for some time: Did you already think about your own made-up story?

Meta: isfdb. Published in Subterranean, Fall 2013. Read in The Best of Subterranean. Available online.

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A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong • 2011 • Fantasy novella by K. J. Parker

★★★★★

The story draw me in from the first line and didn’t let go: Given the first scene in the prison when the genius musician Subtilius waited for his last hour without finishing his best piece of music, I catched Iron Maiden’s Hallowed be thy Name as an earworm (although the music is completely different).

As setting, Parker gives us an alternate baroquian world,  touching the idea of Mozart (impersonated by Subtilius) vs. Salieri (by the unnamed narrator) but develops it in a completely different form.

The unnamed narrator is a renowned assistant professor who knows all about symphonic structure but misses the genius „wings“ of his student Subtilius. The story explores the reason for this failure: it is all about letting go your sorrows, in this case mostly worrying about money:

like a duke scattering coins to the crowd from a balcony. Of course, the old duke used to have the coins heated in a brazier first. I still have little white scars on my fingertips.

This is one sample where Parker’s narration is executed masterfully: the little picture of burned fingers when he grabbed hot coins signing him forever. This worrying about money drives the next impulse in the wonderful exposition: Subtilius escapes the prison and asks his teacher for help with a symphony written in his style only enormously better, and ready for selling. Is it plagiarism when the creator asks for it, and how does the co-creation of teacher and student work? By accepting this positively perverted piece of work, he took mental wounds, just like the physical wounds when he grabbed the coins, and similarly, it will hurt forever. It was true, that he wasn’t able to produce such a work at that time, but nevertheless, it hurt. Subtilius exactly knows how to manipulate his teacher, just like every child knows how to find his parents‘ sensitive wounds. Manipulative, cruel, murderous, but at the same time ingenious. This exchange, and the question how artists set free their creative wings, drive the story.

There is one interesting moral discussion, which stayed with me quite long: is the live of an unimportant person less worth than a creative masterpiece made for millenia? The characters in the story find different answers.

Parker escapes the easy twists, finds better turnings in the course of the plot, and comes to a great ending which picks up the story’s title.

A clever tale with twists, an innovative background focusing on music, complex development of characters, a lovely narration with may little wow-effects. Just don’t expect any action scenes.

I highly recommend this masterpiece, also as an introduction to Parker’s work!

Meta: isfdb. Published in Subterranean Online, Winter 2011. Read in The Best of Subterranean. It won the World Fantasy Award. Available online.

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He Who Grew Up Reading Sherlock Holmes • 2014 • Short story by Harlan Ellison

A couple of unordered pastiches featuring unnamed characters. A puzzle, you have to figure out how all belongs together, who did what, when, and why.

I really like many of Ellison’s stories. This is not one of it. In fact, I think it is a bloody piece of arrogant crap. At least, its short enough.

Meta: isfdb. Published in Subterranean, Summer 2014. Read in The Best of Subterranean. Available online.

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