A Review of Illyria, by Elizabeth Hand

An Elegant Explosion of Repressed Creativity and Desire

Illyria by Elizabeth HandThis is beautifully written, Romantic (in the 18th century sense, not the Danielle Steele sense) novella about soul mates, forbidden love, and being a magical child in a family that’s lost its mojo. It’s also about talent, both the kind that emerges full-blown and the kind that must be cultivated.

Maddie and her first cousin Rogan have been in love since they were children. Their connection, though sexual, seems to be less about incest and more about the Platonic idea of twin souls. Heightening this impression, Maddie and Rogan are the children of identical twins, born on the same day, and in love since they can remember.

Now in their teens, Maddie and Rogan’s forbidden love comes to fruition. And in their love nest they discover a magic relic hidden in the wall. Read more »

A Review of Osama, by Lavie Tidhar

Wishing Terrorism Was Only Fiction

Osama  by Lavie TidharMany people have compared the novel Osama by Lavie Tidhar to books by Phillip K. Dick. It is similar in that the main characters come to realize that reality is not at all what it seems, and that there are those who would stop them from learning the truth. However, Osama is much more beautifully written, and without the heightened paranoia of many of Dick’s works.

This is not a difficult book to read, but it is a very difficult book to discuss. I finished it over a month ago and I am still trying to articulate my response.

It starts out simply enough. The first couple of short chapters are beautifully atmospheric. We see Joe, a loner, having his morning coffee, watching the sky and the people in Vientiane, Laos. But this is an alternate Laos, in a more peaceful, less technologically advanced world. A world without global terrorism. Here Osama bin Laden is just the hero of a series of violent pulp novels which Joe enjoys reading in his downtime.

At first Joe seems like a cliché private detective, complete with an anonymous office and bottle of booze in the drawer. A mysterious woman literally appears in Joe’s office and hires him to find Mike Longshott, the writer of the Osama bin Laden:Vigilante books. She presents him with a strange black card that provides a seemingly inexhaustible supply of credit.

Joe begins a quest that leads him from Laos to Paris, London and New York, pursued by some “men in black” types. So far, so typical… but as Joe drinks and smokes his way across continents, following clues, noir-detective style, his sense of identity and purpose begin to unravel. Read more »

A Review of How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, by Orson Scott Card

How to write Science fiction and Fantasy - Orson Scott CardThis is a useful book for intermediate-level writers, or for more experienced writers new to writing science fiction and fantasy. Although in some respects it might be considered dated, the foundations are solid. Do be aware that it focuses much more heavily on science fiction than fantasy, though most of the principles covered can be applied to both.

In chapter one, Card covers the definitions of science fiction (and sub-categories of science fiction), and fantasy, and the difference between them, while acknowledging the fluidity of these definitions. These distinctions are useful in understanding how readers and publishers are likely to regard your work. Since this book was written in 1990, a wide variety of sub-genres and hybrid genres have sprung into existence, so the list is no longer comprehensive, but useful as far as it goes. He also gives some basic reading recommendations for getting a quick education in the history of science fiction. Of course, there are many names that have been added to that list since publication but this short list would be a great place to start. Read more »

A Review of Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes

A Noir Detective Pagan Cyberpunk Novel

Zoo City by Lauren BeukesZoo City is a ghetto in Johannesburg, populated by outcasts. Each person there is marked by the wild animal that appears just after they kill someone (intentionally or not). Animal and human become extensions of one another, and any “Zoo” unfortunate enough to lose her animal gets a visit from the Undertow, an existential black cloud that grinds its victims into oblivion.

The narrator of this hip, fast-paced urban fantasy (winner of an Arthur C. Clarke award) is Zinzi: former journalist and junkie with a tragic past, now forced to work for a company that runs internet scams in order to pay her drug debt and ever-mounting interest.

Along with a wild animal, each Zoo acquires a shavy, a special ability. Zinzi’s animal is a sloth that she wears slung across her back. Her shavi is finding lost things. In fact, she can sense all the things everyone has lost whether she wants to or not, hovering around them like ghosts, some wispy, others thick as chains.

Although Zinzi despises missing person cases, when things start to get ugly with the loan sharks, she takes a gamble on a job searching for a missing teen hip hop star that could earn her enough money to buy her freedom. Read more »

A Review of What I Didn’t See and Other Stories, by Karen Joy Fowler

Exploring the Historical Fantastic

What I Didn't See and Other Stories by Karen Joy FowlerWhat I Didn’t See and Other Stories[/amazon_image]Karen Joy Fowler is one of the writers who, to me, exemplify the literary fantastic. Her stories crack the shell of history, looking for strange and beautiful pearls. The fantastical elements always seem entirely probable, if mysterious, and serve to deepen our understanding of the human condition. Her writing style is transparent and smooth as silk, many of the stories haunting and emotionally resonant.

This collection begins with “The Pelican Bar,” about a teenage rebel sent away by her parents to a re-education camp run by people who may be aliens, or may just be cruel. The intensity of this story is such that by the time the main character emerges out the other side of her ordeal, you may feel as altered and uncertain, broken yet powerful and somehow hopeful, as she. Read more »

A Review of Briar Rose by Robert Coover

Briar Rose by Robert CooverHe is surprised to discover how easy it is. The branches part like thighs, the silky petals caress his cheeks. His drawn sword is stained, not with blood, but with dew and pollen. Yet another inflated legend. He has undertaken this great adventure, not for the supposed reward—what is another lonely bedridden princess?—but in order to provoke a confrontation with the awful powers of enchantment itself. To tame mystery. To make, at last, his name.”

So begins Coover’s poetic, wry, raunchy version of Sleeping Beauty. Don’t expect any happily ever after here. Not only is Briar Rose caught in the limbo of enchantment, so is everyone else (except perhaps the wicked fairy). Read more »