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.

SFM: Clark, Wijeratne & Virdi, Harrow, Iriarte

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. This week's column features more of the 2018 Nebula award-nominated novelettes and short stories.

 

“The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” by P. Djeli Clark (2019, free at Fireside magazine). 2018 Nebula award nominee (short story)

P. Djeli Clark takes the historical idea of George Washington’s teeth (not wooden, as lore has it) and creates around them a series of vignettes detailing, as the title tells us, the “nine Negro teeth” that made up his set. Each brief vignette tells us a bit about the slave from whom the tooth came, how they came to be in Washington’s ser... Read More

The Municipalists: Has its moments

The Municipalists by Seth Fried

I loved the opening chapter of Seth Fried’s debut The Municipalists, writing “nice” several times in the margins just in the first few pages, as when the narrator, recalling his parents’ death when he was young, notes how the old grocery “seems to have forgotten him. The flat, glass storefront stares straight ahead without so much as a glimmer of recognition.” Unfortunately, that was the high point for me and the book, while it had its moments, eventually devolved into a bit of a slog.

In a world gone all in on urban living, Henry Thompson, an agent of the United States Municipal Survey organization and highly disliked by his peers, is forced to go into the field with a holographic AI partner to prevent a major terrorist attack in Metropolis, one seemingly being planned and carried out by a Municipal Survey chief gone rogue. Unfortunately, the AI (Owen) is more ... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Fantasy botanicals

Another year, another St. Patrick’s Day. Shamrocks figure highly in the symbolism of Ireland, which got me wondering about other such botanicals in the fantasy world — those plants with an outsize influence or symbolism.

My first thought, as it often does, went to Tolkien, in this case athelas, or as it is known to the “rustics,” Kingsfoil, or for those who know something of the Valinorian — asëa aranion. I suppose nowadays it would be considered an herbal supplement. (The card shown here comes from the LOTR card game.)

So as we all prepare for our own wearin’ of the green, I was wondering:

What are some of your favorite uses of plants in fantasy — whether for healing, intoxication, simple feeding, etc.?

One commenter wins a book from our stacks. Read More

The Winter of the Witch: Beautiful and powerful

Reposting to include Marion's new review:

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

Medieval Russia comes to life in Katherine Arden’s WINTERNIGHT TRILOGY, which began in Lesnaya Zemlya, a small village in northern Rus’ in The Bear and the Nightingale and continued in The Girl in the Tower. Vasilisa (Vasya) is a young woman with the rare ability to see and speak with the natural spirits or chyerti of the hearth, stables, and lands and waters of Rus’. Vasya has gained the attention and respect of the winter-king Read More

The Haunting of Tramcar 015: The setting and humor charmed me

The Haunting of Tramcar 015 by P. Djèlí Clark

P. Djèlí Clark’s 2019 novella (140 pages in print) is a genial paranormal mystery tale set in a wonderfully evocative alternative Cairo at the beginning of the 20th century. The title pretty much sums up the plot. Tramcar 105 is indeed haunted, as is quickly established in humorous fashion by the two agents sent to investigate by the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities. Hamed Nasr is the veteran of the pairing, with a sharp investigative eye and an equally sharp lack of patience for having his time wasted. He’s experienced in the job enough to cause the occasional eye-roll or grumble about “rookies,” but not yet jaded or cynical. His partner, whom he’s been “saddled with,” is new-on-the-job Onsi Youssef, only four years younger but with a face that “looked as if it belonged on a boy,” and with a boyish enthusiasm (and love of candy) as w... Read More

The Iliad: An excellent graphic version of the classic tale

The Iliad by Gareth Hinds

Gareth Hinds makes a lot of good decisions in his graphic version of Homer’s The Iliad (2019), both in terms of art and narration, resulting in a book that’s easy to recommend both to young adults and also educators/parents who want to slip a little classical knowledge into their kid’s comic book.

Two of those good decisions involve cleverly incorporating each major hero’s initial into their helm or breastplate and ignoring the historical reality, and portraying the two sides in uniform garb so as to more easily distinguish one from the other. Given the number of characters, and an avalanche of names, anything that helps to separate Greeks from Trojans and tell Achilles from Agamemnon is a boon to the reader. The art is clear and vivid throughout, working hand in hand with the text to clarify, expand, emphasize, and enhance. It’s all well done, but my ... Read More

Unholy Land: A twisty, mentally challenging story

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar

I absolutely loved Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station (and was not alone in that), and while his newest, Unholy Land (2018), didn’t blow me away quite to the same extent, it kept me on the couch in “don’t talk to me I’m reading” and “uh-huh, uh-huh, ya don’t say, uh-huh” mode all afternoon while my family just rolled their eyes and gave up, as they know to do when all the signs of being engrossed in a great book are manifest (luckily, they live those moments as well, so it’s a fond eyeroll... )

The novel is set in an alternate universe setting where the Jewish homeland of Palestina appears not in the Middle Eas... Read More

SFM: Harrow, Greenblatt, Larson, Schoen

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, including three 2018 Nebula nominees.

“A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies” by Alix E. Harrow (2018, free at Apex magazine, $2.99 Kindle magazine issue). 2018 Nebula nominee (short story).

Our narrator is both a librarian and a witch (all good librarians are, she claims), and one of her joys is giving library patrons the book they ... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Our favorite robots

When it comes to robots, it’s hard not to think the film and television incarnations have it all over their print brethren. Gort, Robby, “The Robot” (Lost in Space couldn’t be bothered to name theirs) Huey/Dewey/Louie, R2D2, Wall-E, BB-8. Ask someone to imagine a robot and it’s more than likely that one of those iconic silhouettes will pop into their heads, as opposed to a favorite from a book or short story.

Well, we speak for the trees! Err, robots! The poor, forgotten print ones that is. From good old Tik-Tok of Ozma of Oz to Lester Del Rey’s lovable titular Runaway Robot, from the annoying Speedy of Asimov’s “Runaround” — the story that introduced the famous Three Laws of Robotics —, to the hysterically depressing Marvin from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Read More

Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst: Just buy it already

Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by Robert M. Sapolsky

Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst
(2018), by Robert M. Sapolsky, is, simply put, one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in years and, had I finished it last year, would absolutely have gone onto my Best of the Year list. Sadly, because I listened to it on audio over several months of commuting, this review will not do it justice in terms of specific references and examples. But to cut an already-brief review even shorter: if you have any interest in other people, yourself, culture, society, or science, buy this book.

Sapolsky wants to explain just why (and also how) we do the things we do, and he structures the book so as to zoom out from what happens in our brains/bodies milliseconds before an action to minutes before to weeks and months, to years, to centuries and millennia before... Read More

Gates of Stone: Worldbuilding and characters make up for the well-trod plot

Gates of Stone by Angus Macallan

Angus Macallan turns in a solid if somewhat overly familiar fantasy story in Gates of Stone (2019), the first in a series entitled LORD OF THE ISLANDS. What saves the book from sinking in that familiarity, though, are some interesting characters and a less-familiar setting/mythos.

The novel follows four characters in mostly separated story lines, though they do cross paths now and then before the stories converge. In one, sixteen-year-old Princess Katerina, robbed of what she thinks was her rightful place as heir to the Empire of the Ice-Bear (think ancient Russia) and married off to a Southron prince, kills her new husband (not really a spoiler, as it’s both telegraphed and over with in the first few pages) and sets in motion plans to achieve her own power, plans that center on the islands of Laut Besar (think ancient Indonesia) and its... Read More

SFM: Harrow, Kemper, Kowal, Lawrence

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 to share with you. 



“Do Not Look Back, My Lion” by Alix E. Harrow (2019, free in Beyond Ceaseless Skies, Issue #270, Jan. 31, 2019; 99c Kindle magazine issue)

“Do Not Look Back, My Lion,” begins and ends with Eefa leaving home — she cannot bear to see her daughters and wife march to war any longer, is tired of her wife’s promises that this child (and this child and that child) will be the last marked at ... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Valentine’s Day

Another Valentine’s Day is here!

Tonight many couples will celebrate with a nice evening of fine dining. So we were wondering...

...what restaurant would you take your significant other to if you could choose from all the fantasy/sci-fi worlds out there? (Or, if not a restaurant, what SFF setting would you choose for a romantic picnic?)

And let’s just take the Restaurant at the End of the Universe off the (dining room) table, shall we?

One random commenter wins a book from our stacks. Read More

Early Riser: Solid enough but has pacing issues

Early Riser by Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde offers up his trademark sardonic wit in his new novel Early Riser (2019), though it’s more chuckle-worthy than laugh out loud and has several issues that relegate it to the category of a lesser Fforde. I was, to be honest, a bit disappointed, at least partly because I so love much of his earlier work, but despite that disappointment, the book still manages to (just) tip on the side of being a worthy read.

Early Riser is set in a world (limited to Wales for the novel’s plot) where the human race hibernates through each brutal winter, save for a stalwart group who does all the necessary work to keep the world working and the sleepers alive. This isn’t some recent apocalypse; in this universe, winters have always been far worse than our own, i... Read More

SFM: Reiss, Bisson, Wells, Spahn

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.

 

“Double or Nothing” by Alter S. Reiss (free at Daily Science Fiction, March 27, 2018)

A man has an android made that is an exact copy of himself, so the android can do all his work and tedious chores while the man enjoys his newfound free time. He’s actually not surprised when the android gets deeply annoyed with the system, though it is unfortunate (from the man’s point of view) that the man is naked in the bathtub when the android shows up with a gun.

This is, for lack of a better word, what I call a “cute” story. Not a lot there, but it’s well executed in how it plays with the do... Read More

BINTI: The Complete Trilogy: Diverse opinions for a story of diversity

Editor's note: BINTI was originally published in three separate novellas but has recently been released in a complete trilogy. We've combined all of our new and previous BINTI reviews in this post.

BINTI: The Complete Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor

As Binti, a mathematically brilliant, 16 year old member of the African Himba tribe, sneaks away from her home in the dead of night, I felt almost as much anticipation as Binti herself. Binti has decided, against massive family pressure, to accept a full-ride scholarship to the renowned Oomza University on a planet named ― wait for it ― Oomza Uni. (Perhaps the university sprawls across the entire planet? Certainly it covers several cities many miles apart.) Himba tribe members are technically advanced but socially isolated from other people, and Binti’s breaking away from her tribe evidences her courage, but leaves her isolated, an outsider.
Read More

The Ruin of Kings: A solid series starter with some structural issues

The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons

Jenn LyonsThe Ruin of Kings (2019) is the first of a five-book series, A CHORUS OF DRAGONS, that didn’t fully win me over but did do just enough to keep me reading through its 500-plus pages and end up sufficiently intrigued to move on to the sequel when it eventually arrives. I just wish I could have written “excited to move on to” rather than “sufficiently intrigued.”

The novel’s structure is a bit complicated. Two narrators (Kihrin and Talon) are each recording the tale of how Kihrin ended up in prison with Talon as his jailor, alternating narration (Talon’s in third person, Kihrin’s in first). Each, however, picks up the story in a different part of the past and then moves forward chronologically, so we have two time-lines set in the past and a “current” timeline with the Kihrin and Talon telling their stories. I... Read More

SFM: Bazan, Lundy, Tidbeck, Mondal, Wilbanks

Short Fiction Monday: Our 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.



“Slow Victory” by Juanjo Bazan (free at Daily Science Fiction, May 24, 2018)

A time traveler heads back for a meeting in the woods with a young woman “hiding from the army of uninformed and ignorant men.” Bazan offers up a different take on time travel here, a more intimate, more quiet sort of tale than is often told in this sub-genre. It’s a lovely little story in how “history continues untouched,” save for within a single person’s mind. And that was enough.

An effective, efficient story that is just the right length. ~ Bill Capossere





“Counting ... Read More

Once Upon a River: A historic tale with a dash of fantasy

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

Diane Setterfield offers up a great premise and a heaping sense of atmosphere in her newest novel, Once Upon a River (2018), but while the book offers up plenty of satisfying moments, I felt it fell short of its potential and was also somewhat marred by Setterfield’s lack of trust in her readers, though both of those complaints are admittedly more subjective than my typical criticism, so more than usual, one’s mileage may vary here.

As for that wholly engrossing premise, the book opens on the winter solstice in the late 19th century with a man stumbling into The Swan, an inn on the Thames known for its storytelling. In his hands is a young girl, seemingly dead, an assumption confirmed by the local nurse, Rita Sunday. But not much later, the girl miraculously comes back to life, th... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Our Favorite Animal Companions

You’ve seen it in the theaters, watching a film where they kill eight or nine or a dozen people through variously inventive means, but it's always the dog that evokes the strongest reaction. "Oh, not the dog" someone always whispers (it might even be me) and then the gun barrel is leveled or the truck bears down — and we all know we can tell if this movie will end happily by if the dog lives or dies.

They almost never die, though. Not even in Independence Day or Armageddon, despite the destruction of many of the world’s major cities. Oh, I suppose one could assume some dogs died with their owners — and perhaps even a cat or two though they were probably smart enough, and disloyal enough, to have left town at the first scent of trouble — but we never see it happen.

We watch with nary a cringe as hundreds of people are incinerated but grip the armrest when a single canine is about to be overtaken by the same flames, and we don’t let go until (spo... Read More

Turned On: Science, Sex, and Robots: A thoughtful and, cough cough, stimulating read

Turned On: Science, Sex, and Robots by Kate Devlin

I confess that when I opened up Turned On: Science, Sex, and Robots (2018) by Kate Devlin, I wasn’t expecting a tour of classical literature: stories about Laodamia, who had “commissioned a bronze likeness of her [dead] husband — an artificial lover that she took to her bed.” Or the Spartan king Nabis, who had a “lifelike robot designed and dressed up to look like his dead wife, Apega.” But as Devlin cautions us, “This is not a book that’s just about sex. Or robots ... It’s about intimacy and technology ... history and archaeology, love and biology.” Though that’s not to say sex and robots don’t appear. They do.

But before we get to the sex robot “Harmony” and an exploration of teledildonics (use your root words, people), Devlin works her way through that classical literature as well as various historical artifacts, such as anc... Read More

Vigilance: A fierce satire that didn’t quite hit the mark for us

Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett

Robert Jackson Bennett’s newest work, 2019’s Vigilance, is a slim (under 200 pages) but densely satirical take-down of modern American society. Set in 2030, Bennett details an America well into its decline:
There’d been a mass migration of the younger generations and immigrants out of America throughout the 2020s, leaving the nation saddled with an older generation that couldn’t work but was entitled to steadily advancing medical technology that kept them all alive for far longer than any economist had ever predicted. The elderly population ate up whatever national budgets remained like locusts devouring corn ... America stopped doing everything. Except television.
And the most popular show on television? Vigilance — a reality game show born after the ... Read More

The Kingdom of Copper: Strong follow-up to The City of Brass

The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty

I thoroughly enjoyed S. A. Chakraborty’s first book The City of Brass, which was at its core just a good story. I’m happy to report that the follow-up, The Kingdom of Copper (2019), is even better, continuing the captivating narrative but also deepening its exploration of the more serious themes that were apparent in book one but not fully mined. Fair warning: some unavoidable spoilers for the first book to follow. I’m also going to assume you’ve read The City of Brass and so won’t go into too many explanations of people/settings.

The Kingdom of Copper picks up not long after the events of Th... Read More

In an Absent Dream: A well-crafted, heartfelt tale

In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire

I didn’t have a great experience with the first WAYWARD CHILDREN book I read by Seanan McGuireEvery Heart a Doorway — which put me off the next few books in the series. But I decided to give the well-reviewed series another shot with In an Absent Dream (2019), and I’m glad I did as it certainly struck a far more responsive chord and has encouraged me to take a look at the others I’ve missed.

The series posits a series of other worlds and presents us children who have made their way to one or more worlds (and sometimes back) via various types of portals. This most recent title focuses on Katherine Victoria Lundy, a girl whose “remarkability to... Read More

SFM: Norja, Bunker, Cliff, Nayler, Nikel

Short Fiction Monday: Our exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read recently that we wanted you to know about.

 




“Birch Daughter” by Sara Norja (2018, free at Fireside Magazine)

“Birch Daughter” is about Aino, a young woman whose mother was turned into a birch tree by an evil spell. After hearing from the forest-folk in her dreams, Aino sets out to save her mother from her fate.

There’s a certain delicacy to “Birch Daughter.” From the first few lines it made me acutely aware of every choice every character made, in a way that made me also very aware that if any of those choices weren’t made so quickly or so confidently or even so quietly, everything in the story would come crashing down.

I enjo... Read More

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