Bill Chats with Kate Milford


Kate Milford’s recent novel The Broken Lands is set in the same universe as her earlier The Boneshaker, though it involves different characters and takes place some years...

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Oryx and Crake: A scathing condemnation of the world we are creating


Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood In Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood details an apocalyptic plague, introduces a new species of creatures that have been genetically designed to...

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Casual Othering and Literature of the Fantastic


Welcome to another Expanded Universe column where I feature essays from authors and editors of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, as well as from established readers and reviewers....

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Recent Posts

Thoughtful Thursday: Gifts

In Season 4 of Syfy’s space opera Killjoys, Da’vin Jacobis gives his thirteen-year-old son Jak, who was born six days ago (it’s a long story) a picture. He is sending Jak to hide out with his former-evil-overlord mother (again, long story). He doesn’t want Jak to forget him, so he gives him the only photo of himself he has — his old military ID.

It’s a touching moment, and a sweet gift.

Quest stories often include the giving, or exchange, of gifts. Some gifting follows, more or less, the steps of the Hero’s Journey, one template for a quest. Often, that gift is some sort of weapon. Sometimes it’s magic, or knowledge. A gift can be an inheritance, a legacy the giver never had time to explain. Often the gift is a mystery.

Gifts can be perilous. Not all of them can be trusted. Sometimes the gift is a betrayal. Sometimes the receiver of the gift doesn’t value it enough. (It wasn’... Read More

A Sick Gray Laugh: A disturbing, metafictional, transgressive tour de force

A Sick Gray Laugh by Nicole Cushing

A Sick Gray Laugh, Nicole Cushing’s 2019 horror novel, is disturbing, at times disgusting. It’s surreal, it’s metafictional and it’s often hilarious. And, really, that’s about all I have to say about it. If you like any of those things, or all of them, you should read it.

Oh, what? I should tell you about the plot? Okay. Noelle Cashman, our first-person narrator, is an award-winning horror novelist. Recently, though, she has started medication for her struggles with anxiety and depression and now, faced with a book to write, discovers she doesn’t want to write another novel. While parts of her life are getting much better — she joined a softball team, lost some weight, is eating more healthily — Noelle is distressed and intrigued by the steady encroachment of th... Read More

WWWednesday: September 23, 2020

Pink Begonias, Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden



Housekeeping:

Next week’s column will be single-item, probably a review of a series, and there might be a giveaway attached.

Pictures:

I was able to spend a couple of days at the seaside village of Mendocino, California, and the images used in the column are from that trip.

 

Books and Writing:

This is two years old but still interesting, as Crime Reads interviews Joe R. Lansale about Hap and Leonard.

Publishers Weekly has Read More

Piranesi: “The Beauty of the House is immeasurable” indeed

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

I was going to start this review of Piranesi (2020) by Susanna Clarke by stating that I was of two minds on the novel and then noting that this was both appropriate and also strong praise. Appropriate because the book is in many ways of the mind, and is as well of two worlds. Strong praise because my two minds were “I loved it” followed by “I liked it.” But then I thought more about it, and I decided my minds were really “I loved it,” “I liked it,” then “I loved it” again. But I could work with that, because really, the book functions on more than two levels. But then I thought about my reading some more, and I decided that my mind now was simply, singularly, “it’s brilliant.” Which is still, granted, strong praise, but no longer neatly appropriate. Worse, it’s also dully predictable. Becau... Read More

Six of Crows: An exciting fantasy heist

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo, best known for her GRISHA young adult magical fantasy trilogy, explores a different corner of the Grisha world in her new young adult novel, Six of Crows. In the city of Ketterdam, an analog for Amsterdam, criminal gangs control the waterfront, and the surrounding area is a den of iniquity where everything can be bought and sold, including people. One of the gangs, appropriately called the Dregs, is led by 17 year old Kaz Brekker, nicknamed “Dirtyhands” because of his willingness to stoop to any level to maintain and grow his power and control. His young crew has been gaining in power and influence during the few years he’s been in charge of it.

One day a wealthy merchant abduct... Read More

Ink & Sigil: Starts a new IDC spin-off series

Ink & Sigil by Kevin Hearne

Fans of Kevin Hearne’s popular IRON DRUID CHRONICLES will be thrilled to learn that Hearne has a new spin-off series: INK & SIGIL. The first novel, Ink & Sigil (2020), introduces Al MacBharrais, an older widowed gentleman who has a unique talent. He uses special inks to create sigils that hack the brain through the ocular nerve. For example, the Sigil of Porous Mind makes the target open to suggestion, the Sigil of Certain Authority makes the caster appear to have the authority to do whatever they’re doing, and the Sigil of Quick Compliance makes the target want to do whatever the sigil writer asks.

Al is ready to retire, but every time he’s got an apprentice nearly trained up, the apprentice dies in some freak accident. As ... Read More

The Starless Sea: Visually spectacular

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Given the success of her debut, it would be impossible to write about Erin Morgenstern's eagerly awaited follow-up without alluding to The Night Circus (2011). The bestseller accrued a mass following of 'Rêveurs' – the self-styled fanbase, named after the followers of the circus in the book. It inspired a formidable amount of tattoos and artwork on Pinterest, as well as being translated into thirty-seven languages, no less. It was always going to be a hard act to follow, but can Morgenstern live up to her own success?

The Starless Sea (2019) follows the tale of Zachary Ezra Rawlins, the son of a... Read More

Space Station Down: Would make a great movie

Space Station Down by Ben Bova & Doug Beason

Kimberly Hasid-Robinson, a physicist, is overseeing her projects on the International Space Station as a Kazakhstani astronaut and a wealthy Russian tourist arrive. As they are boarding, she can’t leave her experiment, which is why she doesn’t get murdered by the Kazakhstani astronaut, who turns out to be a terrorist. Now Kimberly will spend the rest of her time on the ISS trying to neutralize the terrorist and prevent him from crashing the ISS into Manhattan while spilling plutonium across the country on its way down.

Time is short because Americans are panicking and the President of the United States knows that the best way to stop the rioting and looting is to shoot down the space station, especially since nobody knows if Kimberly is dead or alive. The Chinese government, which has its own motivations, is threatening to shoot down the ISS, too.

Fortunately, Kim... Read More

Lovecraft Country: Here there be monsters

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

If the recent television adaptation of Lovecraft Country (2017) is anything like the source material, I think I’m going to enjoy it immensely. Matt Ruff’s novel of interconnected tales is well-written, compelling, horrifying (all the more so because the Lovecraftian horrors experienced by the novel’s African-American characters are not that much worse than the everyday evil of Jim Crow-era America), insightful, and, at times, even funny.

Korean War veteran Atticus Turner, a fan of pulpy sci-fi and horror novels written by the likes of H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Read More

Sunday Status Update: September 20, 2020

Jana: This week I started The Mythic Dream, an anthology of classic myths retold by contemporary authors, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe. Thus far, each of the stories is wonderful, and I’ve only read about a third of them! I also read R.B. Lemberg’s first BIRDVERSE novella, The Four Profound Weaves, which is beautifully written, and I’m very much looking forward to reading more stories set in this universe. Next up is Juliet Marillier’s The Harp of Kings, the first book in her WARRIOR BARDS series.
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