Bill Capossere

BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is lately spending much of his time trying to finish a book-length collection of essays and a full-length play. His prior work has appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other journals and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of several Best American Essay anthologies. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, co-writing the Malazan Empire re-read at Tor.com, or working as an English adjunct, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course, the ultimate frisbee field, or trying to keep up with his wife's flute and his son's trumpet on the clarinet he just picked up this month.

Black Light Express: A strong follow-up to its predecessor

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Black Light Express by Philip Reeve

Black Light Express (2017) is Philip Reeve’s just-as-good-as-the-first-book follow up to Railhead, continuing the exhilarating romp while expanding the universe and its inhabitants, as well as digging a bit more deeply into the hidden history of the created world and offering up some more page time to some of the first book’s secondary characters. Warning: there will be some inevitable spoilers for book one (you can just stop here with the take-away that I recommend the duology). First spoiler begins in the very next line!

So at the end of Railhead, Nova and Zen had opened a gate to a whole other set of worlds, these i... Read More

Amatka: Defies conventions, with mixed results

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Reposting to include Bill's new review.
Amatka by Karin Tidbeck

Karin Tidbeck’s Amatka (2017) almost reads as a callback to the experimental and dystopian science fiction of the 1970s: a slim novel, packed with examination of the self as an individual unit within a larger social machine and the cost-benefit analysis thereof, with strange imagery and twisting narrative threads, and no easy answers to be found. Once, generations back, a group of people mysteriously found themselves in a new place, and were unable to ... Read More

Railhead: Imaginative and entertaining from beginning to end

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Reposting to include Bill's new review.

Railhead by Philip Reeve

If the idea of a heist aboard a sentient train traveling at faster-than-light speeds appeals to you; if said heist involves assumed identities, the theft of a very old and valuable artifact, and a criminal thumbing his nose at a family-run corporation/empire; if you like believable romance and honest-to-goodness fun, then Philip Reeve’s latest YA novel, Railhead, is for you. (If none of that appeals to you, read on anyway: I may be able to change your mind.)

In a galaxy filled with novelties like sentient trains who travel at faster-than-light speeds on specially crafted rails through K-gates stationed on nearly a thousand worlds and moons, Zen Starling is a light-fingered teen who l... Read More

Killing is My Business: An improvement on the first book but still has issues (and a giveaway!)

Readers, we have a paperback copy of Made to Kill and a hardcover copy of Killing is My Business to give away to one lucky commenter! U.S. and Canada-based mailing addresses only, please.

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Killing is My Business by Adam Christopher

I thought that the flaws in Adam Christopher’s first Chandler-esque robot PI novel, Made to Kill, outweighed the positives, and thus gave it a rating of only 2 ½ stars. The tougher-than-steel detective/hitman Raymond Electromatic is back in the sequel, Killing Is My Business (2017), and while it improves upon its predecessor in many ways, it never really breaks out of the gat... Read More

The Waking Land: Too many issues

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The Waking Land
by Callie Bates

I’m sure there’s an audience for Callie Bates’ debut novel The Waking Land, but after reaching the halfway point (53% to be precise), I also became sure that I was not it, leading to a DNF review.

The story, which has some clear (at times perhaps too clear) historical referents, is set in a world where hundreds of years ago the nation of Caeris conquered the neighboring nation of Eren, while much more powerful than either of them is the empire of Paladis. More recently, about a decade ago, Elanna Valtai’s noble father tried to lead a rebellion to free Eren and bring back the “king in exile,” but his plans were discovered and while he was clever enough so that Caeris had no rock-hard proof, he was exiled to his estate while then five-year-old Elanna was taken hostage by Caeris’ King Antoine. Fast forwa... Read More

Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us

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Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us by Sam Kean

Informative, witty, vivid, often compelling, sometimes juvenile, knowledgeable, clear, and written throughout with verve and panache via what feels like a wholly singular voice, Sam Kean’s Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us (2017) is what every non-fiction book should aspire to. It’s been a while since I’ve so enjoyed a work of non-fiction so thoroughly and consistently.

Kean divides his exploration of air into three large sections, the first dealing with the origin of our current atmosphere, one of many our planet (if not humanity) has seen. The second explains how various natural philosophers/scientists discovered the gases that make up the air surrounding us, and also how those gases were harnessed to do various types of work, suc... Read More

Nemesis Games: Provides the backstory we’ve all been craving

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Reposted to include Marion's new review.

Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey

Naomi swirled the milky liquid in her glass, watching it slosh against the sides, a miniature sea, complete with little icebergs. “We need to talk,” she said.

Holden winced a bit inside, but forced his words to come out lighter than they felt in his head. “You mean man-woman talk, Captain-XO talk, or . . .”

“More of the ‘or’ type.”

“So, what’s on your mind?”  He leaned back against the bulkhead. Space-grade permasteel she thought, but between man and metal, she knew which she’d count on more.

“We need to review this book.”

“We’ve reviewed books before. And survived.”  He winced again, outwardly this time. “Mostly.”

“Yeah, but there are some killer revelations and plot twists i... Read More

Every Heart a Doorway: Four takes on this Nebula winner

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Reposting to include Tim's new review.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

It seems like there are many tales around today that strive to explain the ‘after’ in ‘happily ever after’, with varied results. Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway is one such story that had me riveted from the first. This novella appears to be the first in a plan for more stories in this world, and as an introduction it does an excellent job.

Every Heart a Doorway concerns the lives of those girls and boys (but mostly girls, as explained in the novella) who found passageways to other worlds and then came back again. These are your Alices and Dorothys, young people who found and were found by worlds that wanted them. Specifically,... Read More

The Witchwood Crown: A much-anticipated return to a classic world

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The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams

Tad Williams’ long-awaited return to Osten Ard began with the tasty appetizer that was The Heart of What Was Lost, a bridge novella between the old series and the new. Now the first course of the main feast is here — The Witchwood Crown (2017) — and to be honest, I sort of want to order more appetizer.

Before I get into my reasons for being underwhelmed by The Witchwood Crown, I want to offer up a few caveats. The first is a matter of logistics. It’s rare for me to spend more than two sittings with a book; I greatly prefer fully immersing myself in a story for its entirety, reading start to finish in one go or, if necessary due to length, two at most. But due to circumstances, I couldn... Read More

A World from Dust: How the Periodic Table Shaped Life

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A World from Dust: How the Periodic Table Shaped Life by Ben McFarland

A World from Dust: How the Periodic Table Shaped Life
(2016), by Ben McFarland, can at times be a difficult read, but despite that, and regardless of some writing/structural issues, it’s an often engaging and always confidently informative exploration of how life was driven down certain paths by the implacable requirements of chemistry.

McFarland’s perspective contrasts directly, as he describes on several occasions, with Stephen J. Gould’s pronouncement that if the “tape of life” were rerun from the beginning, the end result would be wildly different (meaning we humans most likely wouldn’t be around to notice that). McFarland argues that Gould may have a point in a very narrow sense, but is incorrec... Read More

Barsk: A wonderfully thoughtful, imaginative work of science fiction

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard by Lawrence M. Schoen

When I put in my ARC request for Lawrence M. Schoen’s new novel Barsk, all I knew about it was that the setting involved a group of worlds inhabited by a variety of anthropomorphic space-faring animal species, with the main focus on elephants (thus its subtitle: The Elephant’s Graveyard). C’mon. El-e-phants in Spaaaaaccce! How could I resist? But Barsk is much more than a funny-but-cool premise; it’s a thoughtful, moving, and provocative exploration of a host of issues, including but not limited to memory, history, free will, and power. Eve... Read More

The Space Between the Stars: A tale of two halves

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The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett

The Space Between the Stars, by Anne Corlett, started out promisingly enough. The story is set in a universe where humanity has colonized the stars, which sounds great, but unfortunately a devastating plague has rampaged through the planets, wiping out over 99% of our species. We learn this via our main character, Jamie, who is one of the very few to survive the virus, a literal handful on the planet Soltaire where she has been working on as a veterinarian. The novel follows her as she, joined by a few other survivors, attempts to get back to her childhood home on Earth.

Her reason for aiming for Earth is that she and her long-time lover Daniel used to always joke about meeting at Northumberland in case of a “zombie apocalypse” or other type of world-ending event, so she hopes beyond hope to find hi... Read More

Our Dark Duet: Brings Schwab’s duology to a poignant and powerful close

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Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab

This Savage Song (2016), Schwab’s first book in her MONSTERS OF VERITY duology, introduced this world and its sharply drawn main characters Kate and August via a well and smoothly told story that ended with a great closing scene that whetted the reader’s desire for more of this story. In Our Dark Duet (2017), Schwab happily delivers with an equally-good sequel that resolves the narrative fully, though I for one wouldn’t mind if the author were to show us a few more nooks and crannies of this fascinating world. Fair warning — there will be unavoidable spoilers for book one.

I’ll let you turn to my review of book one for the detailed world description, but suffice to say that in this version of the geogr... Read More

This Savage Song: Great premise tied to strong characterization

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This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

This Savage Song (2016) is the first book in the MONSTERS OF VERITY duology by Victoria Schwab and it’s a strong entry point — fast moving, smoothly told, with a compellingly dark premise and engaging, interesting characters. Even better, there’s no drop off in book two (Our Dark Duet), so I can unabashedly recommend the entire story to readers.

The setting is an alternate world where the US broke up after the Vietnam War into nearly a dozen territories. The background isn’t all that important in that we spend all of our time in one capital city in book one and only part of book two in a second city. So it’s enough for our narrative purpose, but Schwab doesn’t bother with deep world-building and that’s fine; its absence isn’t felt at all. The more important context is... Read More

Robert Jackson Bennett talks DIVINE CITIES… and we’ve got 3 copies of CITY OF MIRACLES to give away!

Robert Jackson Bennett first came to our attention in 2010 with his Depression-era dark fantasy Mr. Shivers. He won the Shirley Jackson Award for that book. He has since published The Company Man (which won an Edgar Award and a special citation from the Philip K. Dick award), The Troupe and American Elsewhere, which garnered him another Shirley Jackson Award. The first book in his breath-taking DIVINE CITIES trilogy, Read More

Soleri: Unoriginal but engaging, potential marred by execution

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Soleri by Michael Johnston

Soleri (2017), by Michael Johnston, isn’t going to make anyone marvel at its originality, which in and of itself isn’t necessarily a problem. I’ve said many a time that with genre books, often one can get away with employing standard tropes in terms of characters and plots so long as the craft and execution is there. Unfortunately, Johnston doesn’t quite succeed with either, and so despite having some potential, it’s hard to recommend Soleri at this point, especially given that the story ends wholly unresolved.

The setting is the sprawling and ancient Soleri Empire, which has kept its four subjugated kingdoms mostly under control for over 2000 years, though there has been an occasional revolt now and then. One of the ways the Empire keeps its kingdoms submissive is by taking the king... Read More

Wicked Wonders: The wonder and magic in our lives

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Reposting to include new reviews by Bill and Jana.

Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages

In Wicked Wonders (2017), Ellen Klages has assembled an impressive collection of her short stories. Although almost all of these stories have been previously published (the sole exception is “Woodsmoke”), most of them appeared in anthologies and are unlikely to be familiar to most readers. These fourteen stories run the gamut from non-fiction (“The Scary Ham”) to straight fiction (“Hey, Presto,” “Household Management” and “Woodsmoke”) to science fiction and fantasy. They’re often bittersweet or wistful and frequently surreal; tales of ordinary lives in which the fantastical or unexpected element sneaks up and taps you on the shoulder, and when you turn around the world has shifted.

Several tales in Wicked ... Read More

Cibola Burn: The flagship space opera series

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Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey

In my review of the third EXPANSE novel from James S.A. Corey (actually a collaborative effort from Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), I said this:
How did Corey do, based on strengths I highlighted in reviews of the first two books?

fluid prose: check
likable characters: check
mostly strong characterization: check
humor that runs throughout: check
nice balance of shoot-em-up action, political fighting, and personal conflicts: check, check, and check
quick pace that had me knock of a 500+ page book in a single setting: check
a feel (in a good way) of old-time sci-fi along the likes of Heinlein or Asimov: check
a ratcheting up of tension and stakes: check and check
a sense of risk thanks to not al... Read More

A Gathering of Shadows: Rich characterization makes for a strong sequel

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

While I didn’t fall in in love with V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, I quite enjoyed it, giving it four stars in my review. Schwab is back in this universe now with a sequel, A Gathering of Shadows (2016), which carries forward the strengths of the first book, making for yet another strong story.

Set four months after the events of book one (and yes, you’ll definitely want to read book one if you haven’t and possibly wish to skim it or find an online synopsis if you have... Read More

Beren and Lúthien: For the diehard Tolkien fan

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Beren and Lúthien ed. by Christopher Tolkien

In the very early pages of Christopher Tolkien’s Beren and Lúthien, his exploration of how his father’s grand love story of the two star-crossed lovers developed, he notes that, “This book does not offer a single page of original and unpublished work. What then is the need, now, for such a book?”

It’s a fair question, and one that I’m not sure all readers will find a ready answer for. The last half-dozen or so posthumous Tolkien books (from now on I will refer to J.R.R. Tolkien as simply “Tolkien” and his son/editor as “Christopher”) run a spectrum from those, such as The Story of Kullervo, probably only enjoyed by the most diehard of Tolkien fans/completists and those such... Read More

Abaddon’s Gate: A great ride!

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Abaddon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey

After reading the first two books in James S. A. Corey’s EXPANSE series, Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War, I came to book three, Abaddon’s Gate, with some pretty solid expectations. How did Corey (really Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) do, based on strengths I highlighted in reviews of the first two books?

fluid prose: check
likable characters: check
mostly strong characterization: check
humor that runs throughout: check
a nice balance of shoot-em-up action, political fighting, and personal conflicts: check, check, and check
a quick pace that had me knock of a 500+ page book in a single setting: check
a feel (in a good way) of old-time sci-fi along the likes of Heinlein or Asimov: check Read More

The Vacation Guide to the Solar System: An excellent introduction

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The Vacation Guide to the Solar System by Olivia Koski & Jana Grcevich

The Vacation Guide to the Solar System is an engagingly informative non-fiction tour of our nearest planets in a unique format by Olivia Koski and Jana Grcevich, though one better suited (or perhaps, space-suited) for younger readers or those with only a cursory knowledge of the planets and moons.

Koski and Grcevich present their information just as the title implies, as a Fodors/AAA-guide to each of the planets as well as several of their respective moons. Each planet/moon system gets its own chapter, which opens with a single page of quick facts, such as diameter, mass, gravity, average temperature, distance from Earth, etc. The text part is divided up into several segments: Weather and Climate, When to Go, Getting There, When You Arrive, Getti... Read More

A Darker Shade of Magic: Well-executed, intriguing setting

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

I was a big fan of V.E. Schwab’s 2013 novel Vicious, noting in my review how she had overcome the possible burden of overfamiliar concepts (it’s a folks-with-powers-who-have-some-gray-to-them kind of novel) with supremely polished execution. Well, she’s pretty much done the same with her newest novel, A Darker Shade of Magic, which takes many of the usual fantasy tropes and, again, just handles them all so smoothly that you simply don’t care much that you’ve seen them all before.

The basic concept is a nicely focused tweak of the multi-verse model, with a series of par... Read More

SFM: Wong, Shehadeh, Buckell & Schroeder, Sieberg, Anderson, Honeywell, Taylor, Rustad

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.




You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay, Alyssa Wong (2016, free at Uncanny, $3.99 Kindle magazine issue) 2017 Nebula and 2016 Hugo award nominee (novelette)


Alyssa Wong sets her novelette You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay in a Western mining town, focusing this second-person tale on Ellis, a young boy who works at the town’s brothel... Read More

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

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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 polishing his bow.
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