The Wand that Rocks the Cradle: An enjoyable collection

Reposting to include Bill's new review.

The Wand that Rocks the Cradle edited by Oren Litwin

The Wand that Rocks the Cradle: Magical Stories of Family (2019) is a new anthology, edited by Oren Litwin, that’s just what it says on the tin: a collection of short stories about magic and family. As our reviewer Marion Deeds is one of the featured authors, I’m going to follow Skye, Jana, and Bill’s lead by eschewing the star rating, as they did when reviewing Marion’s Aluminum Leaves. This is an enjoyable collection, though, and worth checking out.

Marion’s story, “Bellwethers Know Best,” is the first in the book. The Bellwethers are a family of witches who, yea... Read More

The Testaments: A worthy return to Gilead

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a great book, deservedly earning its accolades as a masterpiece and a contemporary classic as it brilliantly weds her substantial gifts as both a poet and a prose writer in the service of one of the most potentially powerful genres, dystopian literature. Her sequel, The Testaments (2019), is not a great book. But it is a good one (and really, Atwood has more than one great book to her credit, let’s not get greedy). Fair warning, spoilers ahead for those who have not yet read The Handmaid’s Tale and one kinda-sorta spoiler (explained below) for The Testaments.

The Testa... Read More

Astounding: Four men who, despite their flaws, helped form science fiction

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee

The Golden Age of Science Fiction is generally pinned to the decade from 1939 to 1950, and while a host of people contributed in various ways, pretty much everyone agrees that if one could point to a single dominating figure it would John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding Science Fiction, the pre-eminent magazine for science fiction at the time. In Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction (2018), Alec Nevala-Lee explains how Campbell, and the trio of quite different authors who made up his highly influential stable of writers, came to have such outsized influence and then, for ... Read More

The Last Light of the Sun: Another lovely historical fantasy by GGK

Reposting to include Bill's new review.

The Last Light of the Sun by Guy Gavriel Kay

The Last Light of the Sun is another of Guy Gavriel Kay’s lovely historical fantasies. This one blends Norse, Celtic, and Anglo-Saxon histories with a bit of faerie mythos. We follow a few main characters from each of these societies as they interact with each other to shape their land and destinies. As usual in a Guy Gavriel Kay novel, we see the struggles from each perspective, so there’s no single “hero” or “villain.” We understand what motivates each of the characters and their culture and we can admire their strengths and recognize their weaknesses. In the end, we want everyone to win but, of course, that’s not what happens.

I thought the cast of The Last Light of the Sun was not as accessible or compelling as that of Tigana Read More

SHORTS: Heller, Moore, Hamilton, Bradbury, Asimov

SHORTS: In this week's column we review several of the Hugo-nominated short fiction works, including four of the Retro Hugo nominees.

"When We Were Starless" by Simone Heller (2018, free at Clarkesworld, $3.99 Kindle magazine issue). 2018 Hugo award nominee (novelette).

In a fallen, future version of our Earth, Mink’s tribe of nomadic, intelligent lizards wanders the land, living at a bare subsistence level and frequently threatened by physical dangers, like giant verminous creatures called rustbreed. One of the tribe’s treasures is their weavers, eight-legged technological artifacts from a prior time that can turn raw materials into useful items for the tribe, like pots and tents.

Mink is both a scout ... Read More

SHORTS: Yap, Lee, Bear, Jemisin, Okorafor

SHORTS: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few more Locus-nominated stories we've read that we wanted you to know about.

“How to Swallow the Moon” by Isabel Yap (2018, free at Uncanny magazine, $3.03 Kindle magazine issue). 2019 Locus award nominee (novelette).

“How to Swallow the Moon,” a Locus-nominated novelette by Isabel Yap, follows the cadence and arc of a traditional fairy tale — a village periodically plies a dangerous supernatural being with strictly-cloistered maidens, called binukots, or “jewels,” in order to sate his hunger and prevent him fro... Read More

SHORTS: Bolander, Goss, Le Guin, Liu, Ford, Jemisin

SHORTS is our regular short fiction review column (previously SFM or Short Fiction Monday). In today's column we review several more of the 2019 Locus award nominees in the short fiction categories.

No Flight Without the Shatter by Brooke Bolander (2018, free at Tor.com; 99c Kindle version). 2019 Locus award nominee (novelette).

No Flight Without the Shatter brings together Linnea and her Aunties Ben, Dora, and Martha at the end of the world. Linnea is reco... Read More

Tyrant’s Throne: A near-perfect close to a great series

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Tyrant’s Throne by Sebastien de Castell

De Castell turned to Kest. “How would you rate our chances?”

Kest rifled through the manuscript. “We’ll get four and five-star reviews and show up on a dozen Best of the Year lists, after which you’ll get one, no two, major nominations. People will be very sad it’s over and will repeatedly beg you for more. Falcio will appear on five or six ‘Best Characters in a Series’ lists, which won’t do much for his humility, I hate to say.”

“I’ll have you know I have the best humility of anyone.”

“My point exactly. I’ll get a Top 10 mention on a list of Best Swordsperson in a fantasy work, but poor Brasti will almost certainly be forgotten, unless someone makes a list of ‘Characters Who You Only Remember as ‘That Other Guy.’”

Brasti glanced up from polis... Read More

A Brightness Long Ago: Beautifully evocative and moving

A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay

I confess that I always dread just a little bit reviewing a new Guy Gavriel Kay novel. Not because I’m concerned it won’t be any good; Kay writing a bad book would have to be on anyone’s list of Impending Signs of the Apocalypse. But because what makes his books not just good but stand-out good is so damn ineffable.

Granted, not solely so. I can easily toss off a host of tangible, well-crafted elements, all the usual suspects: fascinatingly rich characters, compelling plots, immersive world-building, etc. But the single best reason I can think of for reading a Guy Gavriel Kay book is the supreme elegance and grace of his writing. Which also happens to be the single worst recommendation for reading a Guy Gavriel Kay book. “Elegance and grace?” the potential reader says. ... Read More

Saint’s Blood: Another great romp mixing humor and grief

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Saint’s Blood by Sebastien de Castell

Saint’s Blood (2016) is the third in Sebastien de Castell’s GREATCOATS series, and as with the previous two (Traitor’s Blade and Knight’s Shadow), it’s both a lot of fun (really, a lot of fun) and deeply emotionally affecting. The series isn’t perfect, but it’s just so enjoyable and engaging that you just don’t mind the few flaws, and that continues with Saint’s Blood, which resolves its major story arc but also points at the very end to a fourth book. And I ... Read More

Knight’s Shadow: Great characters enrich this second installment

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Knight's Shadow by Sebastien de Castell

I absolutely loved Sebastien de Castell's Traitor's Blade, first in his GREATCOATS series, having been immediately charmed by the utterly winning voice of its first-person narrator Falcio val Mond and its flamboyant Three Musketeers-like tone and narrative. So I was greatly looking forward to its sequel, Knight's Shadow. I'm pleased to say that while I had a few issues, for the most part I was wholly satisfied despite such high expectations.

The sequel picks up pretty much right after the close of Traitor's Blade and continues with the same basic goal: find a way to keep the king's thirteen-year-old heir Aline alive long enough... Read More

Traitor’s Blade: Full of adventure and derring-do

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell

Traitor’s Blade is the first installment in Sebastien de Castell’s GREATCOATS series and is an interesting blend of genres — like The Three Musketeers with classic fantasy. At the core it is about a young man whose heart is broken and who has found meaning in defending ideals that are greater than himself.

An oft-used, but nonetheless compelling storyline in fantasy is the abuse of power by the nobility. Whether it’s something as simple as overtaxing and overworking the lower classes or some of the more heinous examples where the Nobles rape, murder and torture with seeming impunity, the concept remains that power unchecked corrupts. Falcio Val Mond has had his fill of exactly this sort of thing. As a young husband his experiences have riven his soul and created in him a desire for justice that... Read More

SHORTS: Castro, Greenblatt

Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here we review a couple of Nebula-nominated stories (one older; one newer), with a wide array of opinions from our group of reviewers on the newer story (actually, three identical ratings and one outlier). Read on!

With Unclean Hands by Adam-Troy Castro (2011, originally published in Analog magazine, $2.99 Kindle version). 2011 Nebula award nominee (novella).

Andrea Cort is a cold, damaged human being. One would think this would make her wholly unsuitable for a career in the diplomatic corps that represents humans in a universe filled with sentient species. But the incident that damaged her as a child is also one that require... Read More

SHORTS: Gailey, Pinsker, Fox, Bruno

Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Bill and Tadiana both weigh in on a few more of this year's Nebula nominees (and one other excellent short story that Tadiana thinks should have been nominated), and Tadiana comments on the 20Booksto50K Nebula controversy.

“STET” by Sarah Gailey (2018, free at Fireside magazine)

“STET” is in the form of a draft of a scholarly article by a woman named Anna, in which she and her editor exchange increasingly agitated (at least on Anna’s side) written comments about the article’s references and footnotes. “STET” begins with a section on “Autonomous Conscience and Automotive Casualty.” It sounds dry, and reading the paragraph of body text from this article do... Read More

SHORTS: Clark, Wijeratne & Virdi, Harrow, Iriarte

Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. This week's column features more of the 2018 Nebula award-nominated novelettes and short stories.

“The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” by P. Djeli Clark (Feb 2018, free at Fireside magazine). 2018 NEBULA AWARD WINNER, 2019 LOCUS AWARD WINNER (short story)

P. Djeli Clark takes the historical idea of George Washington’s teeth (not wooden, as lore has it) and creates around them a series of vignettes detailing, as the title tells us, the “nine Negro teeth” that made up his set. Each brief vignette tells us a bit about the slave from whom the tooth came, how they came to be in Washington’s servitud... Read More