A Review of The Asylum of Dr. Caligari, by James Morrow

 

Review by William Grabowski

Now he began spinning in circles—like a deranged dancer, or a whirling dervish, or a man inhabited by devils….

James Morrow explores ideas with visionary audacity and a satrical (yet nonetheless disturbing) bent perhaps unequaled since Philip José Farmer’s Riverworld series—as if directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. I like to imagine eavesdropping as some curious stranger—hearing Morrow’s profession—blurts, “Ooh, an author! What do you write?”

“Well,” says a stoic Morrow, “one of ’em features the divine half-sister of Jesus Christ. She’s been reincarnated in Atlantic City. Another one picks up after the death of God, and no one knows what to do with the 2-mile-long corpse. Bummer.” Read more »

A Review of Wicked Wonders, by Ellen Klages

 

Review by William Grabowski

“We had not planned for children,” Mission Control’s message ended. “We’re sorry.”

 

With an Introduction by Karen Joy Fowler, author Ellen Klages takes so-called hard Science Fiction, clasps its rigid hand, and leads it into fantastical narratives haunted by childhood summer camps, science projects, a Mars settlement, a corrupt 20-year-old Smithfield ham (that’s not product placement), and spaces where time folds and unfolds releasing (even relocating) prisoners of torment and mundane reality alike.

 

With the deeply moving “Amicae Aeternum,” Klages pays homage to and equals Bradbury, but absent the ever-present sentimentality which sometimes blunted the effect of his short stories. A small-town girl sneaks from home and, walking the neighborhood, inventories objects, textures, and other common sensory details. Pausing at her best friend’s home, the two ride bicycles through pre-dawn hush to a park. Klages’ vivid, but unobtrusive, prose charges the story with immediacy, flowing as naturally as the gurgling creek into which the girls ease their feet. Only in the last paragraphs do we realize the purpose of this clandestine tête-à-tête, and its crushing sadness. Some of us weep not because we’re not celebrities, musicians, poets, or exciting explorers—but because we don’t want to be, and earthly life is all we need. Read more »

A Review of The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate, by N.K. Jemisin

Review by Paul StJohn Mackintosh

Un-Broken

N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy needs no recommendation. The first book, The Fifth Season, won a 2016 Hugo Award. The second, The Obelisk Gate, is on this year’s Hugo shortlist. The third title, The Stone Sky, is due August 2017. I, like many others, am waiting on tenterhooks to see how it ends.

N.K. Jemisin told John Scalzi how the whole series originated in a dream: “A few years back, I had a dream of a woman doing a Badass Power Walk towards me, with a mountain floating along behind her. I knew she was about my age – early forties, that is – and I could see that she wore dredlocs as I do, but it was very clear in the dream that she was not me. She was angry with me, in fact, because of something I’d done or hadn’t done, and if I didn’t find a way to appease her quickly, I knew she was going to throw that mountain at me. Why was she so pissed off? No idea. How was a mountain following her around like a geological puppy? She was controlling it through some unknown means. I woke up from this dream in a cold sweat – and fascinated. That was the moment the Broken Earth trilogy, of which The Fifth Season is book 1, was born.” Read more »

A Review of The Vegetarian, by Han Kang

 

Review by William Grabowski

…I was standing on my head…leaves were growing from my body, and roots were sprouting from my hands…

Some novels seize—like hawk on mouse—an idea, zip through empty space and leave us whirling in turbulence. Han Kangʼs Man Booker International Prize-winning The Vegetarian achieves far more, and cultivates with infinite delicacy and patience what life becomes when Yeong-hye, after bloody dreams, shuns all meat and animal products. In her Korean culture, this is perceived as deeply shocking and rebellious; deliberate betrayal of family and tradition.

 

The violent reaction from Yeong-hye’s father reminded me how little I knew about this culture, the pressure to conform, and its devastating affect on women. The men aren’t free of this pervasive stress, but being dominators fearful of underperforming and consequent shame, have near-zero tolerance for “freaky” behavior—no matter the hypocrisy of their own hungers and secret indulgence.

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A Review of The Endless Fall and Other Weird Fictions, by Jeffrey Thomas

Review by Paul StJohn Mackintosh

Falling Towards the Weird

 

Jeffrey Thomas will be familiar to many readers as the author of the Punktown series of stories – scratch that, Jeffrey Thomas is famous among weird and science fiction readers, RPG players, and even comic book fans, as author of the Punktown chronicles of bizarre alien, and occasionally cosmic-horrific, goings-on at that eponymous offworld meeting place for all kinds of races and beings. That’s one very well-realized and – of course, somewhat cyberpunk – milieu, which nonetheless gives little idea of Thomas’s true range. The fourteen recent stories in this collection range far further afield, stylistically and thematically. As Matthew Carpenter explains in his introduction, “you can start with Punktown, but as you begin a deeper exploration of Jeffrey’s oeuvre, you discover … his most consistent theme, real people caught in desperate, bizarre or terrifying circumstances. The Endless Fall could represent the descent to oblivion for the protagonists. It could also indicate the turning of the year, as a summer of promise darkens to the coldness and shadows.” Read more »

A Review of Entropy in Bloom, by Jeremy Robert Johnson

Review by William Grabowski

We’re not Post-Apocalyptic, we’re Post-Yesterday.

It’s tempting and easy to compare writers, but this habit often is unfair to both object and subject. Example: thematically, and stylistically, the work of Jeremy Robert Johnson can be compared to that of John Shirley, Chuck Palahniuk (who lauds Johnson as “a dazzling writer”), or even Harlan Ellison. Since no writer emerges from the muck fully formed, comparisons are useful in the same way that someone might say, “If you like coconut milk and Thai peanut sauce, then you’ll probably like baked peanut chicken.”

Johnson rightly calls Entropy in Bloom a “4K Criterion Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray of my short work,” culled from We Live Inside You and Angel Dust Apocalypse, plus a never-before-published 25,000-word novella, The Sleep of Judges. Brian Evenson contributes a reflective intro. Read more »

A Review of Fever Dream: A Novel, by Samanta Schweblin

Review by Lauren Colie

There’s something in the water…

The vacation began as many do: with warmed and glistening skin, softly-scented sunscreen wafting in the breeze and a child’s energetic romp through the yard before lunchtime. Amanda and daughter Nina settled in for a week of relaxation in a rural rental, with Amanda’s husband set to join them the next weekend. Amanda, a city girl from the capitol, sensed another outsider when she met Carla of the gold bikini and chic bun and extended friendship to this temporary neighbor.

Through the pungent haze of cigarette smoke, Carla shared her story of loss. Her son, David, took ill after an accident she felt was her fault. She enlisted help from the woman who lives in the greenhouse because a doctor would have arrived too late, knowing her choice was risky. David was never the same.

All this, of course, you read from a great distance, a voyeur eavesdropping on the spirits of David and Amanda as he helps her navigate her fevered memories in the gray miasma of in-between. Timelines warp, logic stutters and some grand truth bubbles elusively, just beyond reach. Read more »

A Review of You’ll Know When You Get There, by Lynda E. Rucker

Review by Paul StJohn Mackintosh


Arriving at the Unknowable

Lynda E. Rucker has built a reputation as one of the more significant talents of the new generation of weird and strange fiction writers through a superb first collection, appropriately entitled The Moon Will Look Strange, and some distinctive anthology contributions. You’ll Know When You Get There, from Irish independent The Swan River Press, is a departure in some ways, in that the collection has a very strong common thread. As Lisa Tuttle writes in her introduction, “Lynda E. Rucker writes haunted house stories the way they should be written – hers are original, weird, and compelling, and as much about the people as the place.” Read more »

A Review of Bone Swans, by C. S. E. Cooney

Review by Paul StJohn Mackintosh

No Swan Song

 

Is it good? Bone Swans won the 2016 World Fantasy Award for Best Collection. Its title story, “The Bone Swans of Amandale,” was a 2015 Nebula Award finalist for Best Novella. The book boasts a personal introduction to the author from Gene Wolfe, no less. ‘Nuff said.

C.S.E. Cooney respins familiar fairytale yarns with a masterly hand, and has built up an impressive record during her writing career. As Gene Wolfe’s introduction remarks, she has been writing since her teens, partly under his tutelage, and the practiced assurance shows. “In Gene I found a mentor and correspondent, a kindred spirit,” she says. “He’s the one who told me to write short stories in the first place. He said that’s how writers begin … He taught me everything I know.” Yet she comes across as by no means derivative or imitative, simply supremely accomplished. Read more »

A Review of The Famished Road, by Ben Okri

 

by William Grabowski

In that land of beginnings spirits mingled with the unborn.

 

Ben Okri‘s Booker Prize-winning The Famished Road frequently has been compared to Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, a not dissimilar work. Closer scrutiny reveals the facile utility of this comparison, but readers of Márquez unfamiliar with Okri will find much to like—even love—in The Famished Road. The ride itself, though, will be more turbulent and unsettling than that typically experienced in what is labeled Magical Realism. “The novel was written,” says the author in his Foreword, “to give myself reasons to live.”

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