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.

Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto

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Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto by Alan Stern & David Grinspoon

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect of Chasing New Horizons (2018). Sure, a trip to Pluto is exciting and intriguing, and the results that have already come back are thrilling. But I wasn’t sure that a book about devising the actual mission would be — the planning, the meetings, the engineering, the pushing of buttons and waiting while radio signals traveled for hours after which one could push more buttons. But Alan Stern, leader of the NASA mission, and David Grinspoon, an astrobiologist who had some minor involvement, managed to pull it off. I don’t know if I’d call it “thrilling,” but inspiring? Fascinating? Exciting? Tense? All that and more.

The story opens with a phone to Ste... Read More

Circe: A winningly feminist retelling/expansion

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Reposting to include Ray's new review.

Circe by Madeline Miller

“When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Thus begins Circe’s self-told tale, and the yet-to-be-invented descriptor she references here is “witch,” though it could just as easily, and perhaps more significantly for this story, be “independent woman,” since both concepts, it turns out, are equally confounding to Titan, Olympian, and mortal alike, much to the reader’s satisfaction.

Beyond that bedeviling of the uber-powerful, there’s a lot that satisfies (and more) here: Madeline Miller’s lovely prose, how she stays faithful to the myths but fills the spaces between them with a rich originality, the manner in which the tale creates tension despite the fact we know how many of its parts end, the many times we dip into and out of storytelling as we hear ... Read More

The Language of Spells: Younger readers will probably find much to enjoy

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The Language of Spells by Garret Weyr

The Language of Spells (2018), by Garret Weyr, has a certain whimsical charm to it at times, and the warm relationship at its core is a definite plus, but it has a good number of issues that mar the reading experience, though probably less so for a younger audience.

The dragon Grisha is born in the Black Forest in a world where magic is on the wane. After a few decades of maturation (though still young in dragon terms), he’s enchanted by a sorcerer who turns him into a teapot. He lives his life in that trapped stage for many more decades, through both World Wars. Eventually he ends up in Vienna, kept like the few other remaining dragons, under tight surveillance by the bureaucracy. It is there he meets and bonds with eleven-year-old Maggie. Together the two decided to go on a quest to find and free a large ... Read More

Summerland: Solid plotting, but left me a bit cold

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Summerland by Hannu Rajaniemi

Hannu Rajaniemi’s Summerland (2018) is what you might get if you took the setting/premise of Kevin Brockmeier’s The Brief History of the Dead and gave it to John le Carré to turn into a novel, though I’d argue it’s lacking a bit in the character depth and emotional touch of those two authors.

Summerland is basically an espionage/counter-espionage novel set in late 1930s Britain, who is involved in a proxy-war with Russia (led by a sort of over-soul known as “The Presence”) via the Spanish Civil War, while Stalin, as a Russian dissident, is playing his own power games amidst the chaos. What truly set... Read More

Time Was: Gorgeous prose kind of compensates for the flaws

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Time Was by Ian McDonald

Time Was (2018), a novella by Ian McDonald, is billed as a time-travel love story, but really, there’s not a lot of depiction of either in this slim work, and while it’s often linguistically/stylistically beautiful, in the end I was more disappointed than not.

Emmet Leigh is a used book dealer who specializes in WWII. He comes across a 1930’s book, Time Was, with a letter inside from Tom Chappel to his lover Ben Seligman dating from the war. Curiosity piqued (“This was what every dealer, every bibliophile, craved: a story outside the book”), Emmett tries to learn more about the two men. His first clues come from Thorn Hildreth, whose great-grandfather’s stash of papers and photographs puts last names to first n... Read More

A Shadow All of Light: The shadows grow on you

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A Shadow All of Light
by Fred Chappell

A Shadow All of Light (2016) is a collection of linked, chronological stories by Fred Chappell that add up to a full-length narrative if not a seamless novel. Some individual stories are stronger than others, and I would have liked more of a full sense of place, character, and culture, but I enjoyed the underlying magic system, the main character, and how the structure built up over time to a decent climax.

Our narrator is Falco, a country boy from an area of “small, muddy farms” who has run away to the big city (the port of Tardocco) and seeks to apprentice himself to the legendary shadow thief Maestro Astolfo. When they first meet, Astolfo calls Falco a “bumpkin,” a “sneak,” a “hot-blood lazybones,” a “rustic Lumpfart,” an “imbecile,” and a “lunatic.” And of course he takes him ... Read More

Origin Story: A Big History of Everything

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Origin Story: A Big History of Everything by David Christian

In Origin Story: A Big History of Everything (2018), David Christian ably does what I would have guessed was nigh on impossible — cover 13+ billion years of history from the Big Bang to current times (and actually further since he takes a quick look in the future as well). It’s a smoothly told, incredibly efficient history that mostly lives up to its subtitle.

At the core of Christian’s “Big History” is an ever-increasing complexity: “in special and unusual environments such as our planet ... in these Goldilocks environments, increasing complex things have appeared over many billions” (he is quick to note that “more complex” is not synonymous with “better”). Often, he says, complexity took big leaps forward at various transition points, which he labels “thresholds” and around w... Read More

An Unkindness of Ghosts: Impressive debut novel

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An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

An Unkindness of Ghosts (2017), by Rivers Solomon, is a book that a lot of people will absolutely love unconditionally, a lot of people will love even as they hate reading large parts of it, and that will leave some people (cough cough this reviewer) a bit cold, which they will softly note while they keep their eyes down and move quietly for the exit. Despite falling into that last category, I’d still recommend Solomon’s debut novel for its stark depiction of a slave society that has too many echoes of our own world despite the sci-fi setting and for its diverse set of characters.

The novel is a generation ship story, with the premise that the society sent out into space on the ship Matilda was a slave-based one (or regressed to one, it’s not wholly explicit, though I believe it’s the former), with the u... Read More

Deadhouse Landing: Meet the New Guard. Same as the Old Guard.

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Deadhouse Landing by Ian Cameron Esslemont

Because it occurs not that far along into Deadhouse Landing (2017), I don’t feel bad about revealing that at one point our erstwhile heroes Wu and Dancer are forced into confronting one of the most dire threats of the Malazan Universe — being taken by an Azath. A revelation that I’m sure will have many of you wondering which of the many great powers of that universe could have driven them onto those perilous grounds: K’rul? T’riss? Kallor, a Matron, Icarium? Worthy candidates all, but none powerful enough. Because it turns out each pales beside the unstoppable, the irresistible puissance of ... the double-dare.
“G’wan,” the lad called, “we double-dare you.”

 

Wu looked at the overcast sky in exasperation. “Fine.” He stepped out among the dead knee-high grasses a... Read More

Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution

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Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution by Menno Schilthuizen

At the close of his exploration of the somewhat oxymoronic “urban nature,” Menno Schilthuizen tells us that one of his aims is that “the urban organisms you see on your daily wanderings of the city streets will  become more special, more interesting, worthy of more than a casual glance.” Schilthuizen, I’d say, is more likely to succeed than not in achieving his goal, as Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution (2018) is a delightfully informative whose insights are enthusiastically and clearly conveyed.

Schilthuizen loses no time in introducing us to a different way of viewing our noisome, concrete and metal cityscapes, opening up with a description of how:
the inner city, for all its hustle and bustle and thoroughly unnatural ap... Read More

The Eterna Files: Couldn’t entice me to move on to book two

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The Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hieber

Just after President Lincoln’s assassination, his wife Mary sets a governmental task force to find a cure for death, thus setting in motion the plot of The Eterna Files (2015) by Leanna Renee Hieber. Seventeen years later, the science team working on the Eterna Compound is mysteriously murdered, as is a parallel team in England, where Queen Victoria wants Britain, not America, to be the first to discover an answer to mortality. Both countries seek to find out what happened to their teams, as well as learn what the other nation has or has not discovered. In America, sensitive Clara Templeton is the main protagonist, helped by a small group of fellow paranormals, including her ... Read More

King of Ashes: Feels a bit too “been there, done that”

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King of Ashes by Raymond E. Feist

Back in the 1980s, like a lot of people, I was eagerly consuming Raymond E. Feist’s RIFTWAR SAGA, which began with Magician: Apprentice and continued onward through a host of novels. I loved Magician, though I have little memory of it, and read the next few books in the series, though eventually I lost track, whether that was due to lack of interest or not, I have no idea. But Feist ended RIFTWAR a few years ago and is now back with a new book — King of Ashes — and series — THE FIREMANE SAGA Read More

SFM: 2018 Locus Award finalists

Today's Short Fiction Monday column features all of the 2018 Locus Award finalists for short fiction. The Locus Award winners will be announced by Connie Willis during Locus Award weekend, June 22 - June 24, 2018.

NOVELLAS:

In Calabria by Peter S. Beagle (2017)

Claudio, a middle-aged curmudgeonly farmer living in a remote area of the Italian countryside, has been a standoffish loner since his wife left him decades ago. He’s satisfied with his current lifestyle, taking care of his land and his animals, and writing poetry that he shares with no one.

Everything changes one morning when a unicorn shows up on his farm. The pure and beautiful unicorn inspires C... Read More

Children of Blood and Bone: A familiar story raised up by its theme and setting

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Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Tomi Adeyemi’s debut novel, Children of Blood and Bone (2018) and the first of the LEGACY OF ORISHA series, is in many ways a typical debut YA novel that can feel a bit rote. On the other hand, its setting and stark presentation of theme make it stand out more than a little from the other such YA novels and add an importance to it that makes it well worth recommending.

Long ago in Orisha the maji wielded great power, but then the King (Saran) found a way to strip magic from them and commenced a great slaughter, though he did not kill those younger than thirteen (“diviners”, marked by their white hair) who had not yet come into their power (and now never would). Zélie is a diviner whose mother was murdered before her eyes when she was six. Since “The Raid,” Zélie’s people, r... Read More

Strange Survivors: How Organisms Attack and Defend in the Game of Life

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Strange Survivors: How Organisms Attack and Defend in the Game of Life by Oné R. Pagán

Oné R. Pagán is a university biology professor and a blogger, and both sides come out in this entertainingly informative look at the various ways life tries to, well, stay alive (i.e. not get eaten). As he says in the introduction to Strange Survivors: How Organisms Attack and Defend in the Game of Life (2018), he “wrote this book with the semi-mythical ‘interested layperson’ in mind ... [so] I will not be excessively technical, but neither will I be patronizing ... I’ve tried to write as if we were having a conversation over coffee.” Thus, like most writers of popular science, Pagán is aiming at that sweet spot where he doesn’t lose his reader to jargon or overly-abstruse concepts or talk to his readers as if they struggled to complete elementary school. And... Read More

How The Universe Works: An Illustrated Guide to the Cosmos and All We Know About It

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How the Universe Works by Chartwell Books

Though not without some issues, How the Universe Works is generally an excellent reference work for a decently wide range of readers young to old (I’d guess it’s targeted at older teens and adults). Elementary school children will feel a little overwhelmed by some of the text, but the wonderful graphics: cut-away diagrams, timelines, etc., will provide them some clear and manageable info. Older young readers will follow the textual information better and the illustrations will serve as enhancement and clarification, while older readers who know some of this information will find the illustrations allow for better visualization while the text will serve as concise reminders.

Chapter One deals with cosmography, opening with a good visual “zoom out” to give a sense of our place in the universe, moving from the solar ... Read More

Jessica Jones, Scarred Hero: Essays on Gender, Trauma, and Addiction in the Netflix Series

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Jessica Jones, Scarred Hero: Essays on Gender, Trauma, and Addiction in the Netflix Series ed. Tim Rayborn & Abigail Keyes

It’s hard to fault an anthology for doing exactly what its title says it’s going to do, and so I won’t. I’m just going to note that Jessica Jones, Scarred Hero mostly focuses like a laser on its three sub-topics, particularly the latter two — trauma and addiction — and so if you are looking for a wide-ranging look at the character/series, one that might have essays dealing with class, gender, race, film techniques etc., this is not going to be that anthology. Personally, I found the sharp focus began to feel a bit constricting and certainly added to some slight repetitiveness/redundancy in the collection, but I’m not pointing to those as flaws, merely as warnings. If you desire a look at how addiction and trauma a... Read More

White Sand Volume 2: Too wordy

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White Sand Volume 2 by Brandon Sanderson

White Sand Volume 2 is, like most graphic works, a team effort: the story is by Brandon Sanderson, the script by Rik Hoskin, the art from Julius Gopez and Julius Otha, the coloring by Morgan Hickman and Salvatore Aila Studios, and the lettering by DC Hopkins. Unfortunately, in my case, quantity did not equal a quality experience.

One problem is I’m not sure Sanderson’s storytelling translates well into the graphic form. Though there are certainly exceptions (The Rithmatist for one excellent example), his works tend to be sprawling, long, dense, introspective, and highly political, none of which really screams out for a graphic treatment. In this particular case, White Sand can be quite wordy, so t... Read More

Jessica Jones Season Two: A stuttering start but gets there in the end

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Jessica Jones Season Two

Let’s face it, Jessica Jones’ season two was always going to suffer, at least from the outset, in comparison to season one for one simple reason: it was going to be pretty much impossible to come up with anything like the combination of Killgrave and David Tennant — an incredibly compelling villain played by an actor who so wonderfully (if one can use that word) and seductively inhabited that character. And there’s no doubt season two feels that lack of a compelling villain (one fully realizes how large a hole Tennant’s absence creates when he briefly returns in what I’d say was probably the best episode of the season).

In fact, it isn’t until halfway through the season that the show even comes close to trying to replace Tennant’s adversarial role, leaving Jessica and friends to muddle through an investigation of IGH and possibly-related murders that all f... Read More

Assembling the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Essays on the Social, Cultural, and Geopolitical Domains

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Assembling the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Essays on the Social, Cultural, and Geopolitical Domains (ed: Julian C. Chambliss, William L. Svitavsk, Daniel Fandion)

Assembling the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Essays on the Social, Cultural, and Geopolitical Domains (2018) edited by Julian C. Chambliss, William L. Svitavsk, and Daniel Fandion is a collection of 15 essays examining the Marvel films, in particular how they “represent, construct, and distort American culture.” The essays vary in the level of “academese” employed, and also for me varied in how far they stretched their given premises, but taken as a whole this is an intellectually stimulating and rewarding anthology.

The editors have divided the book into three sections, the titles and descriptions given below:

Section I: The Cultural Context of the Transme... Read More

Aru Shah and the End of Time: Middle Grade mythology gets some diversity

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Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

Aru Shah and the End of Time (2018), by Roshani Chokshi, is part of a new imprint by Disney-Hyperion aimed at middle grade readers and overseen by Rick Riordan in cohort with a senior editor to “elevate the diversity of mythologies around the world” and publish “entertaining, mythology-based diverse fiction by debut, emerging, and under-represented authors.” It should come as no surprise then that Chokshi’s novel, which has Hindu mythology at its core, bears more than a passing resemblance to Riordan’s own PERCY JACKSON series in form, content, and character. If its pedigree is obvious, though, Chokshi still manages to put ... Read More

Game of Thrones and the Medieval Art of War: Excellent examination of how realistic Martin’s world is

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Game of Thrones and the Medieval Art of War by Ken Mondschein

Game of Thrones and the Medieval Art of War
(2017), by Ken Mondschein, is just what he himself labels it: “an entire book on the rather nerdy and troublesome subject of how medieval warfare is reflected in a fantasy book series.” It’s also an extremely informative and often entertaining one, and in addition does the service of “rebut [ting] the pop-culture Middle Ages as a Jurassic World of resurrected straight white male barbarians out of a Frazetta painting.” Whether you’re a fan of the TV series or of medieval-era fantasy, an aspiring writer of said fantasy, or someone interested in delving into the actual history, Mondschein offers up an erudite and well-written book to meet your needs, one that hits a welcome sweet spot on the spectrum from academia to popular writing.

The chapters inc... Read More

A Veil of Spears: Carries the series forward in good fashion

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A Veil of Spears
by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Bradley P. Beaulieu returns to his desert setting in A Veil of Spears (2018), the third novel of THE SONG OF THE SHATTERED LANDS series. Book one for me remains the strongest, but both the sequel and now A Veil of Spears are worthy follow ups that both deepen and broaden the story and the characters. I’m going to assume you’ve read the first two novels (you really need to have done so), so fair warning that there will be spoilers for those two books ahead.

The book picks up shortly after the last with Çeda continuing her attempt to bring down the Kings of Sharakhai, which were twelve in book one (named, um, Read More

Dayfall: Did Not Finish (couldn’t get past the writing)

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Dayfall by Michael David Ares

Dayfall (2018) is set in a near-future after a short nuclear war between India and Pakistan created a partial nuclear winter, casting part of the world, including New York City, into perpetual darkness. Crime has risen and Jon Phillips, a PA cop who takes own a serial killer early in the book is sent to deal with another one in the city known as the Dayfall Killer. Complicating things is the immanent return of the sun (the titular “dayfall”) and predictions of chaos and panic (think Asimov and Silverberg’s Nightfall, but reversed).

As usual with my DNFs (Did Not Finish), I’ll be brief as I don’t ... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Our favorite SFF drinking establishments

Last year, for our Thoughtful Thursday St. Patrick’s Day Version I noted how the day always sees me browsing through one of my favorite Irish exports: the poetry of William Butler Yeats.

For this year’s post, I’m turning to another beloved aspect of Irish culture: the pub (which you might think couldn’t be exported, but you’d be wrong it turns out).

My best memories of Ireland are nights spent in pubs filled with and fueled by fiddle, flute and Guinness; banjo, bodhran and Guinness; pipe, tin whistle and Guinness; reels and jigs and songs and Guinness. Did I mention they have Guinness? (and no, it doesn’t travel well...).

It’s hard for me to imagine a place better than the pubs of Doolin, but that is... Read More

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