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.

Anthropocene Rag: Its strengths outweigh its few issues

Anthropocene Rag by Alex Irvine

I’m of mixed feelings on Anthropocene Rag (2020), by Alex Irvine. On the one hand, the writing is often quite strong, and the novel has a creative, imaginative flair to it in many moments. On the other hand, its episodic nature didn’t fully work for me, and I can’t say the novel fully met its rich potential. Still, its strengths outweigh its weaknesses, and there’s often a true pleasure in reading it.

The story is set in a post “Boom” America, the Boom being when AI ran free and randomly (to human eyes at least) transformed things and people, “revising” the known world and creating beings called “constructs” that can’t always be distinguished from humans. Various parts of the country are varied in their degree of change and danger, with San Francisco one of the better “boomscapes” thanks to having electricity and food. Even there, ... Read More

Val Hall: The Even Years: An intriguing premise

Val Hall: The Even Years by Alma Alexander

Val Hall: The Even Years (2020), by Alma Alexander, is a series of linked stories set in a sort of retirement home for gifted or powered people (though only to a certain limited degree). Each story follows a single individual who relates their story to another character, usually sending us back in time to their first usage of their power. As is typical with collections, the stories vary in quality and effect, but Alexander does a nice job with the intriguing premise, offering up several quite moving moments, and the whole work left me looking forward to its follow-up, Val Hall: The Odd Years.

Following a prologue that explains where the idea for Val Hall came from, the collection presents eight stories — the final one a “bonus” story from ... Read More

Station Zero: A superb conclusion to an excellent YA trilogy

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Station Zero by Philip Reeve

With Station Zero (2019), Philip Reeve brings to an end the RAILHEAD trilogy begun with Railhead and Black Light Express, and if it’s not a perfect conclusion, it’s pretty darn close, leaving you at the end with a sense of satisfying, even gratifying, resolution tinged with a lingering bittersweetness that makes the final result all the more richly rewarding. With this Cosmic Railroad trilogy (not an official title) and his earlier PREDATOR CITIES/MORTAL ENGINES work, Reeve has served up three... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Ssssssnakesssss!

Snakes. They just don’t get a break. Adam and Eve. Cleopatra’s asp. Those ones on a plane. Even our very first story ever, Gilgamesh, has a snake screwing things up at the end.

And here we are about to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and of course, one of his biggest claims to fame is how he drove those poor snakes out of Ireland entire.

Well, we’re here to speak for the snakes! (albeit not in parceltongue). Where would myth and fantasy be without them?

So, who are some of your favorite snakes and serpents appearing in fantasy, science fiction, or horror stories and films? Or, if you want to go more classical, myth and legend?

One random commenter will choose a book from our ssssstacksssss. Read More

Brightstorm: A solidly enjoyable MG adventure

Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy

Brightstorm (2020) introduces the two resourceful twins Arthur and Maudie, son and daughter of the famed explorer Ernest Brightstorm. The story opens grimly, with news that their father was lost on his latest expedition, an attempt to reach South Polaris by airship. Worse, his competitor, Eudora Vane, returned with the accusation that Brightstorm had stolen her ship’s fuel in an attempt to reach Polaris first, before failing and being killed, along with this entire crew, by vicious beasts. The news not only destroys the family name, but turns the twins into orphans (their mother died when they were born) who are quickly sold off into servitude.

But when the youthful Harriet Culpepper mounts another expedition to race Vane back to South Polaris, they and their father’s “sapient” hawk Parthena — sole survivor of their father’s journey — join her in an attempt to cle... Read More

Black Light Express: Does what every good sequel should

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

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 othe... Read More

Servant of the Crown: A faltering close to the trilogy

Servant of the Crown by Duncan M. Hamilton

Servant of the Crown
(2020) closes out Duncan M. Hamilton’s DRAGONSLAYER trilogy, a series that I thought started out weakly with Dragonslayer and then improved somewhat, though not quite enough, with Knight of the Silver Circle. Unfortunately, I can’t say the third book continues that improvement, meaning I can’t recommend the series.

The book picks up shortly after the events of its predecessor with Guillot, Solene, and Pharadon trying to stop Prince Bishop Amaury from gaining the last Cup of Enlightenment. Guillot and Solene want to prevent A... Read More

The Queen of Raiders: Satisfying, but left me wanting more

The Queen of Raiders by Sarah Kozloff

The Queen of Raiders (2020) is Sarah Kozloff’s second installment in her NINE REALMS series. In my review of book one, A Queen in Hiding, I used words like “nice,” “serviceable,” “pleasurable,” “solid,” and “satisfying,” eventually closing with “I’m hoping for more as I keep going.” Unfortunately, I can’t say I got the “more” I was looking for, but the series does remain, well, solidly satisfying.

The story picks up where book one ended (I’m going to assume you’ve read it) and mostly follows two main characters: Cerulia, the queen in exile, as she tries to escape Lord Marwyck’s attempt to track her down and capture/kill he... Read More

Black Leviathan: Starts decently but becomes too scattered

Black Leviathan by Bernd Perplies, translated by Lucy Van Cleef

Vengeance is a tale as old as a time, and female characters have been killed in order to set male characters off on a protagonist’s journey since well before there were refrigerators (almost before there was ice). But it takes a particularly audacious ambition to use Moby Dick as an explicit inspiration for a coming-of-age fantasy set in a world where sky ships hunt dragons and one captain becomes maniacally obsessed with killing one such dragon. And for a little while there I was thinking Bernd Perplies, author of Black Leviathan (2020) (translated in the US by Lucy Van Cleef), might be able to match execution to ambition. But while the story ends up being relatively entertaining, issues toward the close and an overall surface-level narrative had the execution falling short.

The story opens with a... Read More

The Lost Future of Pepperharrow: Left me wanting

The Lost Future of Pepperharrow by Natasha Pulley

I found Natasha Pulley’s The Watchmaker of Filigree Street entirely charming even if I didn’t fall wholly in love with it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the same positive response to the sequel, The Lost Future of Pepperharrow (2020), which felt meandering and surprisingly flat to me, despite some solid moments.

It’s half a decade after the events of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, and after a brief time in Russia and London, Pulley shifts the vast majority of her story to Japan in the late 1800s (with flashbacks to earlier times in the country). Keita Mori, clockmaker and clairvoyant who can “remember” possibl... Read More

The Last Day: A decent techno-thriller

The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray

The Last Day (2020), by Andrew Hunter Murray, is a sci-fi thriller, though to be honest I found both elements (the science and the thrills) to be a bit slight and while it’s a highly readable work, I’d call it moderately engaging or tense.

The book opens some decades after “The Slow” (or “The Stop”), when the Earth’s rotation gradually declined then halted altogether, plunging half the planet — the “Coldside” into uninhabitable cold and darkness and the other half into a baking sunlit zone. The UK found itself in the goldilocks zone and is one of the lucky few places on the planet that is relatively habitable, though it keeps itself going only by a ruthless rejection of refugees, a staunch coastal defense, and a move to a totalitarian regime. Even so, despite the government’s propaganda, people can sense that things seem to be fal... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Valentine’s Day 2020

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. The advertisements and end caps of stores are pushing the usual gifts: chocolates, flowers, and the like.

But let’s think out of the box a bit here.

If you could pop over for a few hours to any of the fantasy/sci-fi worlds out there, what would you pick up for your significant other to express your love? We’re talking an expression of romance here, not something they can sell off so as to live in comfort their whole life.

Would you give them a bouquet of elanor or niphredil? Go a little bigger with a mithril bracelet? Or go all the way in with a Silmaril? What would be the gift that shows the true extent of your love?

One random commenter will choose a book from our stacks. Read More

The Dark Fantastic: A thoughtful addition to race analysis in fantasy

The Dark Fantastic by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

In The Dark Fantastic (2019), Ebony Elizabeth Thomas offers up a thoughtful and important exploration of race in fantasy, looking in particular at four case studies: Rue in The Hunger Games, Gwen in Merlin, Bonnie in The Vampire Diaries, and Harry Potter. As should happen with books like these, reading it forces you to see things in a different light that you’ve long viewed and that have grown familiar.

Thomas defines her terminology early on as “the role that racial difference plays in our fantastically storied imaginations,” and then distinguishes it from Afrofuturism or the Black Fantastic in its recogni... Read More

Remembrance: Flaws overcome by vivid depictions of time and place

Remembrance by Rita Woods

Remembrance (2020) is a solid historical fantasy by Rita Woods that doesn’t quite meet its potential but is still well worth a read thanks to several strong characterizations and some vividly immersive historical scenes.

Woods moves us back and forth between three time periods. In modern times, Gaelle is a young woman who moved to the U.S. after the earthquake in Haiti, which is also where she lost her grandmother. Gaelle works at a home for the aged, where she is the primary tender of a mysterious Jane Doe woman who seemingly has no family or friends and neither speaks nor moves. This changes one day, though, when Gaelle finds a strange old man in the room who tells her, upon being asked to leave, that the woman’s name is Winter.

Another storyline takes place in the mid-1800s, and follows a trio of house slaves in New Orleans: Margot (the main character of this plotlin... Read More

Batman and Ethics: An informative take on Batman’s ethics (or lack of them)

Batman and Ethics by Mark D. White

Batman and Ethics (2019) by Mark D. White does just what it purports to do, and does so clearly, smoothly, and with a surfeit of supporting examples to bolster his claims. I had a few issues, but honestly, complaints seem a bit churlish with a book that achieves its goal so successfully.

In a brief, broad introduction, White explains why he’s decided to limit discussion to the comics version of Batman, as well as why he further narrows his scope to the time period of the early 1970s through 2011. The body of the book he divides into two broad sections, one titled “What Batman Tried to Do — and How He Might Do It Better,” and “What Batman is Willing to Do — and What He Isn’t.” The first focuses mostly on the system of ethics known as utilitarianism, the second on another system — deontology. The former advocates the greatest good, the ma... Read More

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories: A solid collection with a few standouts

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu

I was a huge fan of Ken Liu’s first collection of short stories, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, giving it a five out of five and placing on my “best of” list that year. His newest collection, The Hidden Girl and Other Stories (2020), unfortunately didn’t hit the high notes as consistently as the first, though there are still several gems in the group.

Many of the stories are set in a time leading up to or following the singularity, where humans upload their consciousness to the cloud and become disembodied. Three are a direct mini-series following the same characters in linear fashion and the others change characters and shift in time (someti... Read More

A Queen in Hiding: A solid intro to a new series

A Queen in Hiding by Sarah Kozloff

I’ve, unfortunately, been on a run lately in my genre reading of books that are perfectly, well, “serviceable.” They (mostly) keep my interest throughout, offer up some pleasurable reading for a few hours, but never rise above that “solidly decent” level. Nothing startles in the way of plot, language, structure, character. It’s smooth sailing across placid waters with no storms or reefs (i.e. bad writing), which is “nice.” But, also, no dolphins arcing out of the water, no humpback sightings, no sunken ships to explore, etc. In other words, nothing to stir the mind or soul, nothing to grab you and not let go, nothing memorable enough to have you proselytize the book to all your friends. And that’s pretty much where Sarah Kozloff’s debut novel A Queen in Hiding (2020) sits — a good book that will please most, even if it doesn’t excite them.
... Read More

The Bard’s Blade: A solid enough first book that left me wanting more bite

The Bard’s Blade by Brian D. Anderson

The Bard’s Blade (2020), by Brian D. Anderson, is the first book of THE SORCERER’S SONG trilogy and as such it’s a perfectly serviceable fantasy, a comfortingly welcome invitation into a new series. If that seems a bit like damning with faint praise, that’s because while the novel goes down easily and smoothly, I can’t say there’s anything that makes it particularly stand out. I’d say it’s the vanilla flavor at a Ben and Jerry’s, save that vanilla is actually my favorite flavor. Maybe it’s a peanut-butter sandwich. It satisfies, it fills that need in your stomach, assuages your hunger, but you won’t be grabbing someone in the grocery store while they’re shopping and telling them, “You really have to try a peanut-butter sandwich!”

The story opens in Vyla... Read More

Shatter City: A fast-paced follow-up to Impostors

Shatter City by Scott Westerfeld

Shatter City (2019) is the sequel to Scott Westerfeld’s Impostors, a set of four novels extending his UGLIES series by picking up roughly a decade after that earlier quartet ended. As I noted in my review of Impostors, this series doesn’t quite match the high quality of those earlier books, and seems aimed at a somewhat younger audience, but still retains enough of Westerfeld’s plotting strengths to make for an often exhilarating read. Fair warning, some inevitable spoilers for book one ahead.

The first point to note is you’ll definitely want to have read Impostors before picking up Shatter City. I won... Read More

Strange Exit: Muddled plot and mostly flat characterization

Strange Exit by Parker Peevyhouse

Decades after the Earth was destroyed by nuclear war and its aftermath, a group of teens aboard an orbiting spaceship meant as a refuge are stuck in a VR stasis while their ship falls apart around them. Only if all them “wake up” and exit the VR simulation will the ship allow them to leave. One girl, 17-year-old Lake, has made it her mission to return again and again into the sim, despite the danger of getting stuck in there, to wake those still “living” there. She’s joined by her younger sister Willow in the form of a sim “figment” (her sister is lost in real life) and a young boy, Taren, whom she recently awakened, as they race against time to save the teens and the ship.

Such is the premise of Parker Peevyhouse’s 2020 YA novel Strange Exit. The premise is in... Read More

Exhalation: A strong collection by Ted Chiang

Reposting to include Bill's new review.

Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang

Ted Chiang’s stories are the very best kind of speculative fiction. They’re modern, sophisticated, intelligent, clever, thoughtful, and entertaining. Best of all, they’re full of futuristic science and explorations of the personal, sociological, and ethical considerations we may be facing as science and technology advance.

Most of the stories in Exhalation have seen print before; only two are new. Here are my thoughts on each:

"The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" — Originally published in 2007 by Subterranean Press, winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards. A man in Baghdad visits a merchant who shows him a gate that allows his customers to go backward and forward in time. Both amusing and poignant,... Read More

Maladies and Medicine: Exploring Health & Healing, 1540-1740

Maladies and Medicine: Exploring Health & Healing, 1540-1740 by Jennifer Evans & Sara Read

Maladies and Medicine: Exploring Health & Healing, 1540-1740 (2017) is an always informative, often fascinating, at times wince-inducing look at the various illnesses diagnosed in in the early-modern period, as well as their various treatments, although both “illnesses” and “treatments” can be misleading terms, given that not all such sicknesses were actual ailments and that the vast majority of treatments not only didn’t do much for the sufferer but may have (in the case of mercury treatments, for instance) made things far worse.

Authors Jennifer Evans and Sara Read open with a general overview of medicine of that time, discussing the belief in bodily humours, astrological medicine, the impact of religion, how gender affected diagnosis, and the division of the... Read More

Atlas of a Lost World: An intriguing account of how people got to America

Atlas of a Lost World by Craig Childs

In Atlas of a Lost World (2018), author Craig Childs takes the reader on a series of outdoor adventures as he traces the various confirmed and possible paths that North and South America’s first inhabitants took to enter the New World. Parallel to his own journey, he delves into the current research, theories, and archaeological finds. The end result is a bit of a mixed bag, though Childs never is less than an engaging guide.

The book opens with Childs overlooking probably the best known route, and the one most people of a certain age and older were taught as “the” route into North America: the Bering land Strait. Each chapter follows Childs as he explores a different possible entry point, including but not limited to hiking across the Harding Ice Field in Alaska, kayaking along the Pacific coastline, playfully performi... Read More

Close Encounters with Humankind: A clear tour of how we became human

Close Encounters with Humankind by Sang-Hee Lee

Close Encounters with Humankind
(2018) is based on a collection of a series of essays by paleoanthropologist Sang-Hee Lee on human evolution published between February 2012 and December 2013 and appearing in a popular science magazine as well as a South Korean newspaper. Lee writes in a clear, conversational style and though sometimes one wishes for a bit more detail or depth, she makes for an entertaining and informative tour guide of our species’ history.

Lee eschews the usual chronological approach, with each essay instead focusing on a particular step along our evolutionary journey, placing it in historical context (as much as possible given inherent uncertainties over ascribing anything so ancient to a particular timeframe) and explaining our best theories on the topic. Lee answers the When, Why, and How with regard to stops along the... Read More

Radicalized: A sharp-edged look at where we’re going (or where we’re at)

Radicalized by Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow’s Radicalized (2019) is a collection of four near-future novellas that cast a critical eye on current societal trends. As is nearly always the case with collections, the story quality/impact varies, but the floor here is relatively high.

In the first, “Unauthorized Bread,” Doctorow takes on digital rights/permissions, mergers and monopolies, and the growing movement away from creating tech the average person (or non-average for that matter) can easily modify/repair themselves. The protagonist is Salima, faced one day with a broken Boulangism toaster-oven which only accepts the company’s proprietary bread — “unauthorized bread had consequences ranging from kitchen fires to suboptimal toast.” Not having the money to buy a new one, Salima goes online and teache... Read More

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