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.

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

The Quantum Garden: A worthy sequel

The Quantum Garden by Derek Künsken

The Quantum Garden (2019) is the second installment of Derek Künsken’s QUANTUM EVOLUTION series, following the adventures of conman Belisarius Arjona, one of a few thousands of “Homo quantus” — a bio-engineered species able to deal with floods of data, strange math, and quantum effects. The first book in the series, The Quantum Magician, saw Belisarius gather a crew of misfits in order to help an oppressed “client culture” smuggle a fleet of uniquely advanced spaceships through a wormhole so as to gain their independence from the powerful Congregate. Belisarius, however, was running a con-within-a-con, and while he succeeded in helping the Sub-Saharan Union get ... Read More

Lent: Big twist makes for a powerful exploration of deep themes

Lent by Jo Walton

Jo Walton writes truly thoughtful books, as anyone who has read her THESSALY TRILOGY (The Just City, The Philosopher Kings, Necessity) knows. She’s also, those fans also know, a big fan of Renaissance Italy, particularly Florence. So it comes as no surprise to find this the setting for her newest novel, Lent (2019), which wrestles in the same thought-provoking manner major issues, though here those issues are more personal and intimate, even as they also encompass larger political and philosophical concepts and consequences.

The first half (or nearly so) of th... Read More

The Body: A Guide for Occupants: An entertainingly fact-filled tour

The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson’s The Body: A Guide for Occupants (2019), is a light, in both tone and substance, tour of the human body. Filled with intriguing details and replete with Bryson’s typical ease of style, it makes for a fluid, fun, and often informative read even if it leaves one desirous of a bit more depth and cohesion.

Bryson begins with a general overview of “How to Build a Human,” noting how our DNA, if gathered into a single strand, would reach past Pluto, or how much the various components of our body are worth on the current market. From there he starts off the more detailed examination from the outside in, looking at skin (its purpose, its coloration) and hair, which allows him to move from the microbes that live on us to those that live in us. Some benign, others far less so. In one of the scarier sections of Read More

The Gates of Never: Solid if a bit underwhelming collection of speculative poetry

The Gates of Never by Deborah L. Davitt

The first thing I (unfortunately) have to note is that the formatting was off in the version of The Gates of Never I read, which clearly detracts from reading, let along critiquing, poetry. Issues of line breaks and spacing popped up, and if I looked at versions in Kindle or in Bluefire or in PDF the line breaks were different in all three, making it impossible to tell which is the author’s intended.

Setting that aside, as is often the case for me and poetry collections (or any anthology to be honest), this was a bit of a mixed bag. But since I expect that, I can’t say I was disappointed; it had about the balance of good, solid, and weak I’ve come to anticipate, though I did wish there were more examples of strong or excellent poems.

The poems are mostly myth or fairy tale based, with a number of astronomical/space-based ones coming toward the e... Read More

Dead Astronauts: A stellar work

Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer

Jeff VanderMeer has been on a hell of a roll lately. His SOUTHERN REACH trilogy is on my personal list of best series in the past quarter-century, Borne (I argued) was both an imperfect book and a great one, and now his newest, Dead Astronauts — set in the same multi-verse of Borne — is quite possibly my favorite book by him yet.

That said, there’s no doubt that Dead Astronauts is not going to be to everyone’s liking thanks to its elliptical, impressionistic, poetic style. But I highly urge everyone to try it, and also recommend that even if it seems not yo... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Happy Thanksgiving!

To our American readers: Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is one of our favorite holidays here at Fanlit. A time we set aside for family, close friends, and (of course) good food. A time to consider how grateful we are for those and other aspects of our lives. A chance to reflect on the larger perspective than perhaps our daily lives don’t leave us much time for.

Reading in general -- reading science fiction and fantasy, and reading specific individual books, are obviously some of those things we’re thankful for. But besides being the thing itself, the books we read can also show us a way toward thankfulness.

So at this holiday time, as usual, we thought we’d check in with all of you with a few questions:

What reading experiences have you been thankful for in the past?
What books this past year have you been especially thankful for?
Or, more broadly, what have you found in your reading, eith... Read More

Waste Tide: Painfully thought-provoking but lacking in story

Waste Tide by Chen Quifan

Waste Tide (2019) by Chen Quifan (tr. Ken Liu) is a book that I wanted to like thanks to its compassionate exploration of its topical subject. And it’s certainly not a bad book by any stretch. But it also wasn’t a compelling book, and I found myself putting it down way more than is usual for me and being at least a little resistant to picking it up again each time.

The novel is set on the modern hell (a comparison made explicit — perhaps too much so — by a Dante reference) that is Silicon Isle, a giant electronics waste garbage dump/recycle and reclamation center, where the poor resident sorters are horribly, brutally exploited by a hierarchy of perpetrators: hyper-local gangs, a trio of powerful clans who divvy up the spoils and profits from the reclamation, and the developed nations and transnational corporati... Read More

Knight of the Silver Circle: An improvement, but still left me wanting

Knight of the Silver Circle by Duncan M. Hamilton

I gave a “didn’t recommend” to Duncan M. Hamilton’s Dragonslayer, noting that while it had some good pacing and a smooth, easy flow to it, that the story and characters were both a bit overly familiar and flat. Despite my rating though, when the sequel, Knight of the Silver Circle (2019) appeared, I picked it up, figuring it would be a pretty quick read and somewhat curious as to whether there had been any improvement. The good news is the answer was yes, while the less good news is many of the same issues from book one are still in place. Note there’ll be some unavoidable spoilers for book one to follow.

Knight of the Silver Circle ... Read More

Fate of the Fallen: Has its issues but solidly enjoyable

Fate of the Fallen by Kel Kade

Fate of the Fallen is the first book in Kel Kade’s SHROUD OF PROPHECY series and makes for an enjoyable if meandering invitation despite some issues. It’s going to be pretty impossible to discuss what Kade does here without an early spoiler, though since the event happens only 40 pages into the nearly 400-page book, I don’t think it’s a huge deal. That said, you’ve been warned.

The novel opens by introducing two close friends: charming, roguish, master swordsman/fighter Matthias and his “brother” Aaslo, a shy unassuming semi-reclusive “Forester.” In short order the two learn that Matthias is the “Lightbane” — the prophesied chosen one who is literally the only thing stopping all life in this world from being wiped out —and that “Grams” is actually the High Sorceress who has been guarding Matthias as well as surreptitiously train... Read More

The Name of All Things: Shows nice improvement from book one

The Name of All Things by Jenn Lyons

The Name of All Things (2019) follows up Jenn Lyons’ debut novel The Ruin of Kings, though “follows” is a bit of a misnomer since the vast majority of the book actually takes place concurrent with its predecessor’s action. I had some issues with book one, mostly with the structure, and while some of that carries over, albeit in different fashion, I found The Name of All Things to be an improvement overall.

The story opens shortly after the ending of The Ruin of Kings, with that novel’s main character Kihrin meeting Count Janel Teranon and her companion Brother Qown, who seek his help to kill a dragon. As Janel and Qown wait for a third compatriot,... Read More

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

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