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 Water Dancer: Sharply moving but also oddly distant

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates is, of course, supremely well-known, and justifiably so, for his non-fiction, whether that be his essays/columns, or his long-form works such as We Were Eight Years in Power or Between the World and Me. Now he’s out with his first fiction work, The Water Dancer (2019), a blend of realism and the supernatural set in the antebellum period. While Coates’ already-documented strengths as a writer are evident, particularly on a sentence level, the book does suffer from typical debut novel issues, though it still carries an emotional power in many places.

The novel opens in pre-Civil War Virginia, specifically on the dying Walker plantation of Lockless whose master has two sons. One is his white son by marriage, Maynard: a feckless, vulgar, ignorant young man whose many flaws are in star... Read More

Superheavy: Making and Breaking the Periodic Table

Superheavy: Making and Breaking the Periodic Table by Kit Chapman

In Superheavy: Making and Breaking the Periodic Table (2019), Kit Chapman goes on a scientific, chronological, and geographical tour of the mysterious upper reaches of the Periodic Table, taking his readers back in time to the beginning of nuclear physics/chemistry as well as from the United States to Russia to Germany and Japan and introducing his audience to the scientists who discovered (or not — there were more than few disputes) the “trans-uranium” elements beyond uranium’s atomic number 92. It’s both an engaging and informative read.

After covering the early discoveries necessary for further exploration of superheavy elements (fission, fusion, the makeup of the atom, etc.), Chapman moves into the increasingly difficult job of discovering, or creating, the upper elements. Most of the early heavy lifting was d... Read More

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

City of Ghosts: A genial enough middle grade story

City of Ghosts by V.E. Schwab

City of Ghosts (2018) by V.E. Schwab is a Middle Grade book that, well, reads like a Middle Grade book.

In other words, it’s entertaining and engaging enough for that age group, but doesn’t have the depth or complexity in plot or characters to expand beyond that audience, which I’m clearly well, well outside of.

Ever since she almost drowned, young Cassidy Blake has been able to see ghosts, to “pull aside the veil” and step for a brief time into their world.

She’s also picked up a best friend — Jacob — a ghost of roughly her own age.

Cass is looking forward to a nice easy summer at the beach, but instead her author parents, who write about the paranormal (dad’s the skeptic, mom the believer), have been picked up for a TV... Read More

Lies of Descent: Solidly written but too familiar

Lies of Descent by Troy Carrol Bucher

Troy Carrol Bucher’s Lies of Descent (2019) is the first book in a new trilogy, FALLEN GOD’S WAR, set in a world of magic, fallen gods, clashing cultures, and internal conflict within cultures. While the writing is solid enough, and Bucher offers up a few unexpected turns, the book suffers from overly familiar elements.

Ages ago the gods of light (led by Parron) and darkness (led by Tomu) warred with each other and to prevent that war from wiping out all life, the gods of light sacrificed themselves to drag their foes down with them to mortal lands where their power, though still strong, could not destroy the world. Those mortal descendants with the blood of Parron can wield magic, and the two warring militaristic cultures of the world, the Esharii and Draegorans, both test their youth and then train them (though the Esharii do so... 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

Blood of an Exile: A well-executed quest with a welcome ecological touch

Blood of an Exile by Brian Naslund

I confess that I picked up Blood of an Exile (2019) by Brian Naslund with the expectation that I’d be reading another fantasy about a roguish-yet-likable gritty swordsman and his band of gritty companions battling the odds to save their gritty world. And sure, the world is gritty. But as I often say, it’s not the familiarity of the tropes, but what one does with them. And Naslund executes them quite well even while subverting a few. Even better, he casts the entire story within a more original context that freshens everything, even the grit, nicely.

The country of Almira has a relatively unique way of punishing particular criminals. They tattoo a set of blue bars on their face, give them a low-born assistant known as their “forsaken shield,” and send them out to slay dragons, which are nu... Read More

Aluminum Leaves: There are other worlds than these…

Aluminum Leaves by Marion Deeds

Aluminum Leaves (2019) is the debut novella by Marion Deeds, who is also part of the review team here at Fantasy Literature. Because Marion is one of our own, we are not going to give Aluminum Leaves a star rating — but we still wanted to highlight her work in the field of speculative fiction. We are very excited to see her share her work with the world.

Aluminum Leaves begins with a house fire; Erin Dosmanos is escaping her crumbling home in more ways than one, as it quickly becomes apparent that she is not only fleeing the fire, but plans to go through a portal to another world. This novella, the first in the BROKEN CITIES series, is the story of how Erin uses her quick wits and specific skills to protect a ma... Read More

The Gossamer Mage: A mixed bag

The Gossamer Mage by Julie E. Czerneda

I really wanted to like The Gossamer Mage (2019) by Julie E. Czerneda, because there is so much to like in it: the premise, the themes, the character cores. But more than usual, I felt the book was fighting me the whole way, so that while it always was in the realm of wholly enjoyable, something always got in the way of it reaching its full potential.

The story is set in the relatively small, isolated land of Tananen, apparently the only place in this world that still has magic, though it’s a particularly costly form. The magic is a “gift” from the Deathless Goddess, who bestows her magic words in different fashion to men and women. Men with the “gift” can be mage scribes, people who can write the Goddess’ words with “intention” and thus create made creatures such as unfailing oxen, powerful bodyguards, illuminating insects, etc. (Som... Read More

The Nightjar: A decent debut that promises more and better to come

The Nightjar by Deborah Hewitt

Deborah Hewitt’s The Nightjar (2019) is one of those debut novels that in many ways feels like a first novel, with all the issues that may conjure up, but that despite those issues leaves you eager to see where the author goes with her next novel.

Hewitt starts off with a gripping, chilling prologue, then shifts to present-time London where Alice Wyndham receives an odd gift that precipitates her being flung into a long-running conflict between a species of people with special abilities, most of whom live in an alternate near-copy 1930’s-style London (called The Rookery), and a secret society (unfortunately known as the Beaks) who seeks to destroy them. There’s also a death-cult trying to instigate a world-ending apocalypse thrown into the mix for good measure. Alice herself, she learns, is one of those who can perform “magic.” More precisely, she ... 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

Dragonslayer: Never transcends its overly familiar nature

Dragonslayer by Duncan M. Hamilton

Duncan M. Hamilton’s Dragonslayer (2019) has all the elements one might expect from a fantasy novel: a quasi-medieval-Europe setting, swordmasters, mages, powerful talismans, ancient half-forgotten lore, quests with slim odds of success, powerful clerics, secret societies, etc. And that, unfortunately, is just the problem. It has all the expected elements but little unexpected, and the elements as presented are somewhat flat, as are the characters.

Gill (Lord Guillot) was once the greatest swordsman in the land and a member (currently the last living one) of the Chevaliers of the Silver Circle, a legendary cadre of enhanced mage-warriors who long ago devolved into far lesser men whose rituals were more excuses for drinking. Gill’s drinking became even worse after the death of his wife and son and his ensuing (unfair) expulsion from the court several ... Read More

Dark Age: This series is starting to feel its length

Dark Age by Pierce Brown

Dark Age (2019) is Pierce Brown’s fifth installment in his Homeric-styled RED RISING space opera, and it comes pre-loaded with many of the set scenes fans have come to expect: major space battles, desperate fights against overwhelming odds, brutal deaths and torture scenes, labyrinthian scheming, verbal volleys nearly as nasty as the physical ones (though with less decapitation), great names, the slaughter of millions, painful introspection. It’s all here and all handled with the same effectively, skillfully bombastic style as the prior four novels in the series.

Which is both the strength and weakness of this latest episode. On the one hand, all of those story elements, combined with Brown’s stylistic gifts, are what have made this series so compulsively readable. On the other hand, for the v... 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

Generation Robot: A Century of Science Fiction, Fact, and Speculation

Generation Robot: A Century of Science Fiction, Fact, and Speculation by Terri Favro

In Generation Robot: A Century of Science Fiction, Fact, and Speculation (2019), Terri Favro mixes journalistic research, speculative fiction, and memoir, along with a series of pop culture sidebars to create an engaging if sometimes frustrating look at the history of technology that led to our current hopes for true AI and Jetson-like robot.

Favro uses a relatively broad definition of “robot,” which I confess threw me a bit now and then, though it was easy enough to recalibrate my own pre-conceived concept and go along as she looked at driverless cars, smart refrigerators, and even elevators. Those looking for the more narrow and probably more typical sort of robot needn’t worry, though. Favro hits those as well, particularly in the latter chapters (including one on sex robots).

The memoir strand is ... Read More

Beneath the Twisted Trees: Fourth time is as much of a charm as the third

Beneath the Twisted Trees by Bradley P. Beaulieu

I have to confess right up front, with apologies to the author, that I finished Bradley Beaulieu’s Beneath the Twisted Trees (2019) just before heading out on a 40+ day trip out west that meshed college visits (for my son, not me) and hiking, and I unfortunately left my marked-up copy at home. Which means a) I have no access to my notes and b) thanks to full days and being off the grid so much, it’s been a while since I read it and c) thanks to A and B, this review will be more vaguely referenced than most of mine.

Beneath the Twisted Trees is the fourth in Beaulieu’s desert-based THE SONG OF THE SHATTERED SANDS series. I’ve given each of its predecessors a four-star rating, a trend that continu... Read More

The Violent Century: A thoughtful exploration of heroes and history

The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar

Thanks to his two most recent novels, Central Station and Unholy Land, Lavie Tidhar has quickly become one of my favorite contemporary novelists, and so when I was given the opportunity to read a re-release of his earlier book, The Violent Century (2013), I leapt right on it. Clearly, the last two books were not evidence of some sudden leap upward in achievement, as The Violent Century stands side by side in craft, structure, and thoughtfulness.

The novel posits an alternate history where in the early 1930s, a “probability wave” (promulgated accidentally by a German scientist) c... Read More

Kellanved’s Reach: Esslemont hits his peak

Kellanved’s Reach by Ian Cameron Esslemont

Kellanved’s Reach concludes Ian Cameron Esslemont’s PATH TO ASCENDANCY, his prequel series of MALAZAN books (as opposed to Steven Erikson’s prequel series of MALAZAN books) and while three is the classic book number in fantasy series, I personally wouldn’t mind if he snuck in another volume or two between this and Night of Knives, the next book chronologically in the series’ events.

The tale picks up not long after Deadhouse Landing,... Read More

This Is How You Lose the Time War: Great blend of style, structure, and imagination

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone



 

To: Reviewer

Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone are coming out with a new book — This Is How You Lose the Time War — and I was wondering when you would finally get around to reviewing it.

Reader



To: Reader

Contrary to what you apparently think, we reviewers don’t get the pages as the writers compose them. Plus, we do have lives. That said, I’d already requested an early copy because Gladstone... Read More

Archaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past

Archaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past by Sarah Parcak

Archaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past (2019), by Sarah Parcak, is an entertainingly informative mix of popular science, memoir, and even some fiction. Parcak does an excellent job of bringing the rarified field of remote sensing down to earth, in both literal and metaphorical fashion.

Remote sensing is a relatively new tool in science and, in particular, in archaeology. Parcak dates its use in the field from 1906, when a lieutenant of the Royal Engineer’s Balloon Section used a tethered balloon to take photos of Stonehenge and “a new world had been opened up from on high.” She traces the evolution of the science and engineering through both World Wars (her grandfather, “Grampy,” was a WWII paratrooper who applied his knowledge of aerial photography to forestry), government and private flights, and on into the space era, beginning in 1... 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

Clash by Night: An inventive mixed bag of a novella

Clash by Night by C.L. Moore & Henry Kuttner

Clash by Night (1943) , by the wife-husband team of C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner, is an odd bit of a bird, feeling less like a smoothie that blends together different story types and writerly styles and more like a salad where you can easily spot the tomatoes, greens, peppers, etc. Uneven overall, but it does have its good points.

The opening gives us the setting quite directly, with an unknown narrator of the future telling us, “We are on Venus, nine hundred years ago, beneath the Sea of Shoals.” Earth has been destroyed by atomic war and in the 200 years since that catastrophe, humanity has continued on Venus, with most of the people (“civilians”) living in Keeps (underwater domes) and various mercenary... Read More

The Ice at the End of the World: An Epic Journey into Greenland’s Buried Past and Our Perilous Future

The Ice at the End of the World: An Epic Journey into Greenland’s Buried Past and Our Perilous Future by Jon Gertner

I confess I wasn’t sure just how enthralling a book all about the Greenland ice sheet would be. Interesting, yes (well, to those of us who are the type to pick up a book about the Greenland ice sheet in the first place). But enough to carry an entire book rather than a long-form article? Interesting enough to move into “compelling” or, yes, “enthralling” territory? Hmmm. Turns out though, in the more than capable hands of Jon Gertner, the answer is assuredly yes and yes. The Ice at the End of the World: An Epic Journey into Greenland’s Buried Past and Our Perilous Future (2019) is indeed compelling and even, as the subtitle says, epic. Also informative, entertaining, thorough, well-organized, clearly ... well, you get the idea.

Gertner takes a chronological approach to his sub... Read More

Greg Hickey asks: What If There Were No Diseases? (Giveaway)

Today we welcome Greg Hickey, a former international professional baseball player and current forensic scientist, endurance athlete, and award-winning screenwriter and author. His debut novel Our Dried Voices was a finalist for Foreword Reviews' INDIES Science Fiction Book of the Year Award. The novel depicts a future colony where humans live without disease or hunger, where every want is satisfied automatically, and there is no need for labor, struggle or thought. Interested readers can start Our Dried Voices for free at Greg Hickey's website. Greg lives in Chicago with his wife, Lindsay.

One random commenter wins a Kindle copy of Our Dried Voices.



What If There Were No Dise... Read More

The Lesson: A thoughtful look at race relations, power, and violence

The Lesson by Cadwell Turnbull

The Lesson (2019), by Cadwell Turnbull, is a solid first-contact sort of novel that feels fresh due to its unique setting in the Virgin Islands and has some serious depth to it in the way it uses the encounter between aliens and the islanders as a vehicle for exploring colonialism/race relations, though it left me wanting a little bit more in terms of character and craft.

The novel opens pre-landing with an introduction to the various major characters, including:

Derrick: a young sci-fi/fantasy fan who will eventually become assistant to the alien ambassador
Patrice: his neighbor and best friend
Jackson: Patrice’s father, a teacher and someone going through a mid-life crisis
Aubrey: Patrice’s mother, also learning more about herself
Grams/Harriet: Derrick’s stern grandmother
Lee: Derrick’s younger sister
M... Read More

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