Bill Capossere

BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

The Winter of the Witch: From golden firebird to Golden Horde, it’s all gold

Reposting to include Bill's new review:

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

Medieval Russia comes to life in Katherine Arden’s WINTERNIGHT TRILOGY, which began in Lesnaya Zemlya, a small village in northern Rus’ in The Bear and the Nightingale and continued in The Girl in the Tower. Vasilisa (Vasya) is a young woman with the rare ability to see and speak with the natural spirits or chyerti of the hearth, stables, and lands and waters of Rus’. Vasya has gained the attention and respect of the winter-king Read More

Dispatches from Planet 3: A lucid and concise tour of the universe

Dispatches from Planet 3 by Marcia Bartusiak

Dispatches from Planet 3: Thirty-Two (Brief) Tales on the Solar System, the Milky Way, and Beyond
(2018), by Marcia Bartusiak, is a highly readable collection of wonderfully concise explorations of various topics in astronomy/astrophysics. Each essay is only a few pages long, making the science easily digestible while still informative. Topics include black holes, dark matter and dark energy, the Big Bang, inflation, relativity, and the multi-verse, to name just a few.

For an audience that doesn’t regularly read in this area, Dispatches from Planet 3 is a great introduction to the field thanks to the brevity and clarity of each piece, and the overall breadth of the collection as Bartusiak moves across time from, for instance, centuries-old discoveries to Lowell’s Mars canals to the most recent discoveries of exo-pl... Read More

The City of Brass: A dream of djinni

Reposting to include Bill's new review.

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

Nahri, a young woman living alone in 18th century Cairo, gets by doing minor cons, fake healing rituals and a little theft. She knows nothing about her parents or heritage but, in addition to being able to diagnose disease in others with a glance and occasionally truly heal them, her own body automatically heals of injuries almost instantly and she has the magical ability to understand ― and speak ― any language.

Nahri's life gets upended when she accidentally summons Darayavahoush, a fiery, handsome djinn warrior, to her side while performing a sham healing ceremony. After he gets over his murderous rage at being involuntarily summoned, Dara saves Nahri from murderous ifrit and ghouls who have become aware of Nahri and her abilities. Dara quickly enchants a magic carpet and, dragging along the reluctant Nahri, he flees with h... Read More

A Conjuring of Light: A few issues, but still a nice close to a strong trilogy

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

A Conjuring of Light (2017) brings V.E. Schwab’s multi-world trilogy to a close while leaving plenty of room for future stories in the SHADES OF MAGIC universe. We (Bill and Marion) both read it, and we share their thoughts about the third book below. This review may contain light spoilers for A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows.

A Gathering of Shadows ended on a cliffhanger. In the opening chapter of A Conjuring of Light, Delilah Bird has entered the world of White London to save Kell, who has fought off posse... Read More

Breach: A decent start to a Cold War fantasy series

Breach by W.L Goodwater

Breach (2018) is an interesting Cold War fantasy premise (think John le Carré with magic) that doesn’t quite fulfill its promise, though it’s a solid enough start to what is apparently going to be a series, COLD WAR MAGIC.

W.L Goodwater sets his novel in an alternate history where WWII was fought and won as in our own world (though with the Nazis apparently gaining more ground before eventually losing) with the exception that magic was wielded as a horrific weapon throughout, particularly by the Nazis, whose “research” into magic often involved Mengele-like methods. As in our world, Berlin was carved up into sectors and the Russians/East Germans built a wall, though this one is made out of magic rather than cement and brick.

Unfortunately, the wall is starting to fail (the titular “breach”), which on the surface sounds l... Read More

The Echo Room: Begins better than it ends (or middles)

The Echo Room by Parker Peevyhouse

In The Echo Room (2018), which is sort of a Groundhog Day meets The Maze Runner, Parker Peevyhouse takes on one of the most difficult narratives for an author — the time loop story. Unfortunately, while Peevyhouse has her moments, the time loop comes out victorious.

The story opens up intriguingly enough, when Rett Ward wakes up in a strange and seemingly abandoned building with no memory of how he got there, blood on his clothes, and a scar across his head. Equally disconcerting is that someone else, a girl named Brynn, is trapped in there with him, also with no memories and also with a scar. The two explore the place warily, neither sure if they can trust the other (Brynn, seeing the blood on Rett’s clothes, has good reason to be suspicious), ... Read More

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

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 Campbell, how it was lost over the decades to follow.
Read More

Never Home Alone: A fascinating look at the creatures who share our homes

Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live by Rob Dunn

Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live (2018) is a mouthful of a title. Which is only appropriate as abundance is one of the major themes Rob Dunn highlights in this utterly fascinating book. The rich, fecund abundance of life not of the world “out there” (though that, too) but the world “in here,” where we live — our homes. How rich and fecund? How about 80, 000 species of bacteria and archaea, tens of thousands of fungi species, and thousands of species of arthropods, along with a number of rodents. All found in a biological survey of a thousand Raleigh homes. And those are our uninvited guests. Dunn doesn’t ignore the ones we bring in willingly — our dogs and cats (who themselves bring in a host of hitchhikers). ... Read More

Once Upon a River: Starts off strong but then then becomes too tame

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

Diane Setterfield offers up a great premise and a heaping sense of atmosphere in her newest novel, Once Upon a River (2018), but while the book offers up plenty of satisfying moments, I felt it fell short of its potential and was also somewhat marred by Setterfield’s lack of trust in her readers, though both of those complaints are admittedly more subjective than my typical criticism, so more than usual, one’s mileage may vary here.

As for that wholly engrossing premise, the book opens on the winter solstice in the late 19th century with a man stumbling into The Swan, an inn on the Thames known for its storytelling. In his hands is a young girl, seemingly dead, an assumption confirmed by the local nurse, Rita Sunday. But not much later, the girl miraculously comes back to life, though unable to speak. Who she is, where she came from, and how she ... Read More

How to Love the Universe: A Scientist’s Odes to the Hidden Beauty Behind the Visible World

How to Love the Universe: A Scientist’s Odes to the Hidden Beauty Behind the Visible World by Stefan Klein

In How to Love the Universe: A Scientist’s Odes to the Hidden Beauty Behind the Visible World (2018), Stefan Klein concisely introduces nearly a dozen major physics concepts in brief, engaging chapters that clearly inform even as they often entertain. Due to their brevity, the explanations are relatively simplified, but thanks to Klein’s economy of language and knack for analogy/metaphor, not overly so. Which makes the collection of essays a good primer to modern physics and an excellent stepping stone into longer, more substantive works on the subject.

The theme of the book is conveyed directly in the introduction, where Klein discusses how modern physics “changes our thinking, the way we see the world ... [allows us] to look behind the veil of that which still seems self-ev... Read More

Unholy Land: Going on my Best of 2018 list

Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar

I absolutely loved Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station (and was not alone in that), and while his newest, Unholy Land (2018), didn’t blow me away quite to the same extent, it kept me on the couch in “don’t talk to me I’m reading” and “uh-huh, uh-huh, ya don’t say, uh-huh” mode all afternoon while my family just rolled their eyes and gave up, as they know to do when all the signs of being engrossed in a great book are manifest (luckily, they live those moments as well, so it’s a fond eyeroll ... )

The novel is set in an alternate universe setting where the Jewish homeland of Palestina appears not in the Middle East but in East Africa, a homeland formed before the Final Solution... Read More

The Monster Baru Cormorant: An intellectually stimulating read


The
Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

The
Monster Baru Cormorant (2018) by Seth Dickinson is one of those push-me-pull-me books. I admired it more than I enjoyed it. I found it stimulating rather than engaging. I thought it overly talky but liked the level of intellect in the conversation. I could reason out the characters’ assumed emotional states (I think), but never really felt them. I was pushed. I was pulled. Inevitable spoilers (some big ones) for book one, The Traitor Baru Cormorant ahead.

After a brief scene that will make a lot more sense later, The Monster Baru Cormorant gives... Read More

SFM: Palmer, Schutz, Gregory, Goh, McKee

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read that we wanted you to know about.

“Thirty-Three Percent Joe” by Suzanne Palmer (2018, free online at Clarkesworld, $2.99 Kindle magazine issue)

Science fiction humor is very hard to pull off, and rarely works for me. This Suzanne Palmer story is a radiant exception. Palmer hits a grand-slam with a human soldier who has 33% of his body replaced with smart parts, including a heart, one arm, part of the lower intestine and a spleen. An implanted Central Control Unit manages all of the implants, and their mission is to keep Joe alive. There are a couple of problems. One is that, while Joe is a good s... Read More

Spinning Silver: We all love this

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Let’s get this out of the way early. Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver (2018) is not perfect. It’s a little overlong, with a bit of a pacing issue about two-thirds of the way through. Beyond that, other problems include ... no, wait. I forgot. There are no other problems. And I lifted up each and every page to check under them. Zip. Nada. Nothing. So yeah, the biggest problem with Spinning Silver is kind of like the problem you have when the waiter brings out your chocolate cake dessert, and it’s a little bit bigger than you were planning on. Oh, the humanity.

My marketing info calls this a “retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin fairytale,” and sure, it’s that. But such a narrowly focused pitch does a real disservice to the richness that is Spinni... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Scary Movies, Scary Scenes

Reading Sandy's Shocktober reviews got us talking about scary movies and scary scenes. We were trying to determine which was the scariest movie we'd ever seen.

Marion: The first movie scene I remember being scared by was the Flying Monkeys scene in The Wizard of Oz.(I think I'm not alone there.)

I was going to say that Aliens was the scariest movie I'd ever seen, and it is scary, but then I remembered 1963's adaptation of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House (The Haunting). The black-and-white film relied heavily on its excellent cast to create a sense of growing dread. That scene in Eleanor's and Theo's bedroom, where something is crying, and the camera stays trained on Eleanor's face… Eleanor is grateful that Theo is holding her hand, but Theo begins squeezing so hard it hurts… only it's not Theo! T... Read More

The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands

The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands edited by Hue Lewis-Jones

Before I get into the review proper of Hue Lewis-Jones’ The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands, I have to note up front that my digital copies of the book had major formatting issues so that passages were jumbled up such that one paragraph would end and a wholly unrelated paragraph (one from either earlier or later in the book) would follow. Or the book would just stop, with pages from, say 25 onward, just being a sea of white. These issues arose on both my iPad and my Kindle, no matter how many times I downloaded a new version and deleted the old. I’m assuming the problem is just an artifact of the Advanced Reader’s Copy and won’t occur with purchased versions, but it had, as you might imagine, a bit of a deleterious effect on my own reading experience. Something to keep in mind.

The book itself is a collection of ... Read More

Putting the Science in Fiction: Expert Advice for Writing with Authenticity in Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Other Genres


Putting the Science in Fiction: Expert Advice for Writing with Authenticity in Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Other Genres
edited by Dan Koboldt

Putting the Science in Fiction: Expert Advice for Writing with Authenticity in Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Other Genres is a collection of brief essays from experts in various fields that originally appeared as part of editor Dan Koboldt’s blog, which he describes in this way:

"Each week, we discuss elements of sci-fi or fantasy with an expert in a relevant topic area. We debunk the myths, correct the misconceptions, and offer advice on getting the details right."

Anyone who has started yelling at a book or the TV due to some glaring scientific error (we know who we are) will recognize the problem Koboldt’s blog, and now this book, is trying to solve, and more power to him. Putting the Science in Fiction Read More

The Phoenix Empress: An improvement on book one, but still has issues

The Phoenix Empress by K. Arsenault Rivera

I’ll confess at the start that I was not a fan of K. Arsenault Rivera’s first novel in the THEIR BRIGHT ASCENDANCY series, The Tiger’s Daughter, and came about as close as I can to just stopping at several points along the way. So it was with some trepidation that I began The Phoenix Empress (2018), book two of this Asian-influenced series. The good news is that the sequel improves on its predecessor in many ways. The bad news is the bar was pretty low, so my response through much of it was mostly just lukewarm. Spoilers for book one to follow.

Rivera picks up pretty close to the end of book one here, with her two main characters — Shefali and... Read More

The Tiger’s Daughter: Give it a shot

The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera

When I picked up The Tiger’s Daughter (2017), I didn’t know what I was getting into. Written as a long, dramatic letter between two old friends, it is an epic tale of loss, faith, political intrigue, and forbidden love. The Tiger’s Daughter is the debut novel from K. Arsenault Rivera, and set to be the first book in the series titled THEIR BRIGHT ASCENDENCY. The Tiger’s Daughter wends its way from the first time our heroes meet, over their entire lives, and up to the present — where one friend, the empress O-Shizuka, is reading said letter (the letter itself being the bulk of the book) from the other, Barsalayaa Shefali. Both are heirs to very different thrones and handle that knowledge differently — as befit their starkly different upbringings and wider global status. They are ... Read More

SFM: Blackwell, Spires, Grizzle, Fox, Anderson

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read that we wanted you to know about.

“Waves of Influence” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires (2018, free at Clarkesworld magazine, $2.99 Kindle magazine issue)

Chenghui, a clever young Chinese woman, has committed fraud to win a contest to be trained by Meixiu, an internet sensation and social influencer. Chenghui’s sister, Yixuan, is a devoted fan of Meixiu, and is also slowly dying of a heart ailment. Chenghui reasons that if she can work her way into Meixiu’s inner circle, she can use her position to pretend to be Meixiu and send personalized messages to Yixuan, giving her the encouragement to keep fight... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Thieves we love (giveaway!)

Thieves. They steal our reading hearts. Admit it — somewhere in your fantasy/sci-fi library is some charming rogue who won you over even as he/she lifted your purse. It’s what they do, damn them. With their clever tongue and even more clever hands. Their shifty eyes and even more shifty ethics. They play us poor readers like the marks we are. And despite that, we keep coming back for more.

We all have our favorites. Around here one such a one is Locke Lamora, along with his band of fellow con artists collectively known as The Gentlemen Bastards (also the title of the series, which begins with The Lies of Locke Lamora — think Ocean’s Eleven in a fantasy setting).

And who could leave out Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit’s reluctant thief who not only... Read More

The Silence of the Girls: Powerful retelling of The Iliad from the female perspective

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Toward the end of Pat Barker’s newest novel, her main character Briseis thinks to herself:

“Yes, the death of young men in battle is a tragedy ... worthy of any number of laments — but theirs is not the worst fate. I looked at Andromache, who’d have to live the rest of her amputated life as a slave, and I thought: We need a new song.

The eloquently powerful The Silence of the Girls (2018) is Barker’s attempt to create just that, and she just about nails it.

Barker’s novel is a re-telling of Homer’s The Iliad, told mostly from the point of view of Briseis, the young girl taken by Achilles as a spoil of war and then later taken from him by Agamemnon as compensation for having to give up his own “prize” when her priest-father calls down the anger of Apollo on the Greek... Read More

SFM: Kritzer, Valentine, Robson, McClellan, Reed

Short Fiction Monday: Our feature exploring free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read that we want to share with readers.

“Field Biology of the Wee Fairies” by Naomi Kritzer (2018, free at Apex Magazine, $2.99 Kindle magazine issue)When Amelia turns fourteen, everyone assures her that she’ll catch her fairy soon. Almost every girl catches a fairy, and the fairy will give you a gift if you promise to let her go. The gift is always something like “beauty or charm or perfect hair or something else that made b... Read More

Barren: Strong second half balances out novella issues

Barren by Peter Brett

Barren (2018) is a novella-length (just over 130 pages in my ARC version) story that answers some questions left after the conclusion of Peter V. Brett’s DEMON CYCLE series. Specifically, what happened back at Tibbet’s Brook, the small village that was home to Arlen Bales and Renna Tanner, two of the protagonists of the Cycle.

The first point I want to make has more to do with marketing and target audience than the book itself. My accompanying publicity says Barren is a good “entry point” for the series, but I’d respectfully disagree with that assessment and hope the book doesn’t get sold as such, say, on inner covers or blurbs or online descriptions. While Barren certainly succeeds in creating its own small world... Read More

Vengeful: Good execution using a mix of familiar elements

Vengeful by V.E. Schwab

I had mostly the same reactions to V.E. Schwab’s Vengeful (2018) as I did to its predecessor Vicious: the various elements are all a bit too familiar and the two main adversaries are a little flat, but Schwab does a mostly good job of overcoming those issues thanks to a stimulatingly non-linear structure and some marvelous side-characters. Warning: there’ll be some unavoidable spoilers for book one ahead.

As with Vicious, Schwab eschews the typical linear narrative, with Vengeful ping-ponging amongst multiple POVs and time periods. As we follow a single POV, the timeline moves back and forth from an early point (the earliest being 25 years ago) ... Read More

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