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Book Review: Iraq + 100: Stories from a Century After the Invasion

20 Oct

Our world is dark and full of terrors. I won’t bother enumerating them here. Either you already know them or you’re already hiding in the peace and safety of your own personal new dark age. And anyway, it all will have changed utterly by the time we hit publish on this review.

Bummed out? Now think about the people of Iraq, the cradle of civilization that we’re only the most recent society to have somehow decided would be better off blown to splinters. As exiled Iraqi artist Hassan Blasim reminds us in the introduction to Iraq + 100, the ordinary people of Iraq haven’t known peace in anyone’s lifetime, and that’s just for starters.

But some people have gotten out, including some amazing artists, including the aforementioned Blasim, primarily a filmmaker, but also a writer and anthologist, who, from faraway Finland saw that if there was one thing his beleaguered countrymen (and the rest of us) needed these days, it’s some speculative fiction, some stories created under the assumption that Iraq (and the rest of us) will still be around in 100 years. And thus was born Iraq + 100, an anthology of fantastic, disturbing, wondrous and deeply historically grounded stories by authors and translators who now live all over the world but once called Iraq home. Continue reading

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Book Review: Valhalla by Ari Bach

15 Oct

Valhalla, written by Ari Bach, is dark, gritty, dangerous, and subtly representative.  Bach unpacks his new world, layering loud violence, subtle queer identities, and a disturbing dystopian premise that promises an interesting alternative.  Valhalla pushes the boundaries of science fiction to make you question the lines drawn between dystopian governments, outside companies, and the people who make up the world those entities control, and sets up the foundation for a strong trilogy that centers around a queer female protagonist. Continue reading

Book Review: At the Table of Wolves by Kay Kenyon

11 Oct

Spies and Espionage are a genre of novels that is irresistible to science fiction and fantasy writers who want to mix some peanut butter in their chocolate. Cloak and Dagger, hidden agendas, betrayals, allegiances, loyalty and the glamour and seduction of the spy’s life. James Bond and his competitors, clones and remakes are just a fraction of what can be tapped, especially once someone adds science fiction and fantasy to the mix.

At the Table of Wolves by Kay Kenyon is the newest in that tradition, combining 1930s British espionage with superpowers. In the world of Kenyon’s novel, superpowers, here called Talents, started appearing after the devastation of World War I. How and why precisely this Bloom occurred is not explained in detail. It’s taken as a fact, and the repercussions of that event are playing out, more than a decade later. Intelligence agencies, governments, and just plain ordinary people are dealing with the fact that some people can now show feats of precognition, or reading objects, or seeing crimes, or, perhaps, having the preternatural ability to get people, without their volition, to spill things they would never dreaming of confessing. And it is that last talent that brings us to the heroine of the novel. Continue reading

Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties (reviewed by Penny Reeve)

8 Oct

Carmen Maria Machado’s writing has — very rightly so — been receiving a lot of attention recently. Readers have been champing at the bit for more of Machado’s work since she set the literary world alight in 2014 with the incredible short “The Husband Stitch” and now we’re rewarded with a collection of her short stories with Her Body and Other Parties, which I’m already slating as one of my top reads of 2017.

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Book Review: The Trials of Solomon Parker by Eric Scott Fischl

6 Oct

Eric Scott Fischl grabbed my attention in a big way recently with his harrowing debut novel Doctor Potter’s Medicine Show, and only tightened his grip on it with this follow-up. But once again, caveat lector. Just as its predecessor held considerable peril for sympathetic vomiters and those triggered by sexual violence, The Trials of Solomon Parker starts off with scenes of underground mine disaster so well-researched and vividly described that the claustrophobic or those living with PTSD might find it rough going. And then there’s that litany of other horrors, including domestic violence, that follows. Eek.

Those who tough it out, though, have a reward in store for them that might even seem to carry a whiff of Kurt Vonnegut, or perhaps even Gene Wolfe, to it. For, like its predecessor, this is not merely a quality work of historical fiction. There’s Time Travel as well as copper in them thar hills! Continue reading

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