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.

Robot Universe: A quick and fun tour through the world of robots real and imagined

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Robot Universe: Legendary Automatons and Androids from the Ancient World to the Distant Future by Ana Matronic

Ana Matronic is a huge fan of robots: “I love robots ... The reflection off highly polished metal, the red glow of a light-emitting diode, the sound of a vocoder: these are a few of my favorite things ... doesn’t everybody love robots?” Just in case some don’t, or aren’t sure if they do, she’s gathered together over a hundred of her personal favorites in a lavishly illustrated compendium titled Robot Universe: Legendary Automatons and Androids from the Ancient World to the Distant Future. It’s a pretty thorough gathering even if, as she readily admits, some might disagree with a few of her omissions.

Matronic divides the book into two sections — fictional and real-world robots. The fictional she further divides into the followin... Read More

House of Names: Thoughtful and strongly-voiced in spots, but a disappointment in the end

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House of Names by Colm Tóibín

The Ancient Greeks didn’t invent murder, sex, and vengeance, but they did realize the staying power of stories centering on them. As, apparently, does Colm Tóibín, whose newest work, House of Names (2017), is a retelling of the House of Atreus tale involving Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, Electra, and Orestes (spoiler alert — it’s not a happy story). Nor does Tóibín bother to dress it up in contemporary garb, eschewing the usual “updating” into modern times and dress. Though perhaps that’s not wholly accurate.

While Tóibín keeps the classical setting, he strips the story of one of the aspects that made it so Greek — the gods. Whereas Aeschylus and the other Greek dramatists placed the gods at the center of things, as prime movers, as ju... Read More

Tales of Falling and Flying: Not my cup of spacefaring squid

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Tales of Falling and Flying by Ben Loory

Ben Loory’s collection Tales of Falling and Flying (2017) falls into that category of “just not for me” books, meaning this will be a relatively brief take on the collection. It’s the sort of writing where I can see where some people would enjoy it, can note the author’s talent, can acknowledge the wit and bright originality, but overall it just doesn’t do it for me. In this case, it begins with my being a tough audience for short stories, as I tend to prefer full, rich immersion in story and character — aspects too often lacking in most stories I’ve found. Loory’s tales double-down on this as they’re all pretty short, not quite Lydia Davis short but nearly: almost 40 stories in just over 200 pages. So it’s basically in and out and on to the next.

That’s not to say some of ... Read More

The Dinosaur Knight: Dinosaurs weren’t enough (somehow)

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The Dinosaur Knights by Victor Milan

I’m always a bit iffy about reading a second book in a series whose first book I didn’t much care for, but I guess it’s the optimist in me that overrules my better judgment. Optimism, and the fact that while rare, occasionally the second book does reward that optimism. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for Victor Milan’s The Dinosaur Knights (2016). As I noted in the review of book one, The Dinosaur Lords, the pitch for the series is simple: Game of Thrones meets Jurassic Park. Simple and oh-so-alluring. Knights riding dinosaurs — what could possibly ruin that concept? Sadly, as also noted in that review, it turned out s... Read More

Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869: A beautiful story for young readers

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Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869 by Alex Alice

Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869 is a beautifully drawn graphic steampunk tale by author/illustrator Alex Alice, whose artwork alone makes the book worth picking up for a middle-grade reader (or relatively advanced younger reader). Luckily, the narrative/text half (translated from the original French by Anne and Owen Smith) has its own charm and strengths, even if it doesn’t quite match the quality of the illustrations.

The tale opens in 1868 with a young woman (Claire) preparing, to the inspiration of her young son (Seraphin) and the dismay of her worried husband (Archibald), to head aloft in a hydrogen-filled balloon to unprecedented heights in order to prove the existence of aether in hopes of turning it to an energy supply.

Unfortunately, the mission doesn’t fully succeed and our intrepid scientis... Read More

Plagues: The Microscopic Battlefield

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Plagues: The Microscopic Battlefield by Falynn Christine Koch

Plagues: The Microscopic Battlefield (2017) by Falynn Christine Koch is part of the SCIENCE COMICS series, a graphic series of books each of which explores a single scientific topic. In this case, as the title might indicate, it’s plague, but more broadly it’s an examination of how pathogens (bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa, parasites) infect and damage the human body, how the body (sometimes with medical help) tries to fight them off, and, to a lesser degree, how such illnesses have affected human history.

Plagues begins a bit roughly. The frame story is an unnecessarily confusing bit involving conversations inside a virtual body (that somehow still gets sick from virtual germs?) between the scientist whose virtual body it is, a T-cell, and two plagues — yell... Read More

Zapped: From Infrared to X-rays, the Curious History of Invisible Light

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Zapped: From Infrared to X-rays, the Curious History of Invisible Light by Bob Berman

Zapped: From Infrared to X-rays, the Curious History of Invisible Light is a wonderfully smooth and lucid tour of the electromagnetic spectrum by Bob Berman, whose engagingly accessible prose makes this an excellent introduction to the topic for non-scientists.

Berman divides his exploration into two basic parts: how were the various types of light waves discovered and how do they impact our daily lives. Why light? Because, as Berman says, “photons constitute 99.9999999 percent of everything. The universe is literally made of light.” Seems kind of important then, and it’s hard to imagine a better guide to its ins and outs than Berman here.

Zapped opens with a general overview of optics — how we perceive light — and light’s form (both wave and particle)... Read More

The Magician’s Key: An amenable Middle Grade fantasy

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The Magician’s Key by Matthew Cody

I have to admit at the outset that I didn’t read Matthew Cody’s first book (The Peddler’s Road) in THE SECRETS OF THE PIED PIPER trilogy. But that turned out not to be much of an obstacle as Cody does a very efficient job early on of catching the returning reader up on the events of book one, so I never felt lost in what was happening. Obviously, I can’t comment on the quality of that first book, but book two is a solidly entertaining story in its own right, though not a complete one; readers will have to wait for the third book to conclude the tale. If you haven’t read book one either, fair warning that there will be some inevitable spoilers below.

Thanks to the concluding events of The Peddler’s Road, the brother-sister team at the story’s core have be... Read More

The Hike: A surreal and often humorous journey

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The Hike by Drew Magary

I’m of two minds on Drew Magary’s The Hike (2016). On the one hand, it’s a fast, energetic, often funny and sometimes moving work. On the other hand, its plotting feels wholly capricious and arbitrary and some of the territory it wanders is well-worn or less profound than it seems like it wants to be taken. I mostly like my books with a bit more structured depth, and if you do as well, then I think you’ll zip through and enjoy The Hike while also being a bit annoyed. But if you’re looking for is a fun video game kind of ride with a smattering of emotionality, you’ll just enjoy.

Magary begins pretty mundanely, with the main character Ben on a business trip in a mountaintop motel in Pennsylvania. He sets off on a t... Read More

Shattered Warrior: Tale’s too familiar but artwork shines

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Shattered Warrior written by Sharon Shinn &  illustrated by Molly Knox Ostertag

Shattered Warrior (2017) is a new graphic novel written by Sharon Shinn and illustrated by Molly Knox Ostertag. The artwork is excellent, but as far as plot, it’s an overly familiar one and, as usual for me with graphic novels (fair warning), neither story nor characters are rich enough for my deep engagement.

The story is set on a human world conquered years ago by an alien race (the Derichet) and mostly wholly subjugated, though there a rebel group known as the Valenchi sabotages the occasional convoy or bridge. The planet’s main mineral is used to fuel the Derichet spacecraft. The main character, Colleen, was once the daughter of one of the Great Families (rich aristocrats in a highly strati... Read More

The Golem and the Jinni: A magical mural of the immigrant experience

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Reposting to include Ray's new review.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]

A Genie. A golem. Nineteenth-century New York City. Boy, did I want to love this book. Drawn by its come-hither characters, its promise of poetry, and by its dark side in the form of a truly nasty character, I really, really wanted to love it. And truth is, I liked The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker. But in the well-trod words of middle school, I didn’t “like like” it. Oh, it was fun, it made me smile sometimes and think sometimes and feel a bit sad at other times. I enjoyed hanging out with i... Read More

SFM: El-Mohtar, Wilde, Zinos-Amaro & Castro, Fallon, Larson, Kingfisher, Zhang

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. 


“Biting Tongues” by Amal El-Mohtar (2011, free at Uncanny, $3.99 Kindle magazine issue. First printed in The WisCon Chronicles (Vol 5): Writing and Racial Identity)

“Biting Tongues” is a speculative poem which slowly reveals the tenaciousness of the character or characters involved, through a progression from social expectations of their voice and bodies... Read More

The Queen of Swords: A disappointing step backwards in the series

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The Queen of Swords by R.S. Belcher

R.S. Belcher’s first two Weird West books set in Golgotha, Nevada (The Six-Gun Tarot and The Shotgun Arcana) were hot mess cacophonies of fantasy tropes, characters, source elements, and the like — huge Sunday brunch all-you-can-eat buffets where lifting a lid off of one of those big metal serving bins might reveal zombies, bat-people, cannibals, a primal evil, primal evil’s minions, Mormon artifacts, mythos from just about anywhere or anywhen, martial-arts-wielding female assassins, a hundreds of years old pirate called “Gran,” and more. Lots more. Neither book should hav... Read More

The Physics of Everyday Things: The Extraordinary Science Behind an Ordinary Day

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The Physics of Everyday Things: The Extraordinary Science Behind an Ordinary Day by James Kakalios

James Kakalios structures his popular science book, The Physics of Everyday Things: The Extraordinary Science Behind an Ordinary Day (2017), around following a person through a typical day and stopping periodically to explain the science (particularly obviously, the physics) behind the technology the person uses and/or engages with, such as a hotel keycard, a toaster, an LED TV, a copier machine and so forth. Both the explanations and the structure succeed to a mixed degree, and while I found at the end the book to be informative and generally rewarding, its style and structure seemed to work against its task of popularizing science/tech for the masses.

The structure’s issues tend to be that following a person progressively throug... Read More

Dinosaur Empire: Earth Before Us Volume 1: Dinosaur evolution for kids

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Dinosaur Empire: Earth Before Us Volume 1 by Abby Howard

Dinosaur Empire is a dense, fact-filled graphic exploration of the rise and fall of dinosaurs that conveys a lot of information for readers in the MG and YA range, though it could use a bit more spark in its storytelling.

Ronnie has just failed her test on dinosaurs horribly, though she has a chance to retake it the next day. Resigned to failing it yet again, and wondering “Who needs to learn about dinosaurs anyway,” she tosses her test into a nearby recycling bin. Lucky for her, a neighbor, Miss Lernin, happens to be hanging out inside the bin. Even better, the bin is a time machine and Miss Lernin is a former paleontologist, who after a quick lesson in general evolution theory quickly whisks Ronnie away to the Mesozoic Era to show her firsthand all she needs to know (and more) for tomorrow’s test. Read More

Every Heart a Doorway: Four takes on this Nebula winner

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Reposting to include Tim's new review.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

It seems like there are many tales around today that strive to explain the ‘after’ in ‘happily ever after’, with varied results. Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway is one such story that had me riveted from the first. This novella appears to be the first in a plan for more stories in this world, and as an introduction it does an excellent job.

Every Heart a Doorway concerns the lives of those girls and boys (but mostly girls, as explained in the novella) who found passageways to other worlds and then came back again. These are your Alices and Dorothys, young people who found and were found by worlds that wanted them. Specifically,... Read More

The Asylum of Dr. Caligari: A somehow funny melding of German Expressionism, WWI, and art therapy

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The Asylum of Dr. Caligari
by James Morrow

Using a cult-class silent horror film (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) as the template for a speculative fiction anti-war novel might be a weird idea, but James Morrow has made a career out of weird ideas (including several books on killing God) and that experience mostly pays off in The Asylum of Dr. Caligari, though I would have preferred a shorter version of the tale.

On the eve of WWI, Francis Wyndham, artist-wannabe, makes the European circuit to try and find a mentor. But after getting pushed down a flight of stairs by Picasso and not finding much success otherwise, he’s happy to take on the job of Art Therapist at an insane asylum. Once ensconced in the gothic institution, where he offers up art instruction to a bev... Read More

Black Light Express: A strong follow-up to its predecessor

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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 other set of worlds, these i... Read More

Amatka: Defies conventions, with mixed results

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Reposting to include Bill's new review.
Amatka by Karin Tidbeck

Karin Tidbeck’s Amatka (2017) almost reads as a callback to the experimental and dystopian science fiction of the 1970s: a slim novel, packed with examination of the self as an individual unit within a larger social machine and the cost-benefit analysis thereof, with strange imagery and twisting narrative threads, and no easy answers to be found. Once, generations back, a group of people mysteriously found themselves in a new place, and were unable to make their way back home. They formed five colonies (though there ... Read More

Railhead: Imaginative and entertaining from beginning to end

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Reposting to include Bill's new review.

Railhead by Philip Reeve

If the idea of a heist aboard a sentient train traveling at faster-than-light speeds appeals to you; if said heist involves assumed identities, the theft of a very old and valuable artifact, and a criminal thumbing his nose at a family-run corporation/empire; if you like believable romance and honest-to-goodness fun, then Philip Reeve’s latest YA novel, Railhead, is for you. (If none of that appeals to you, read on anyway: I may be able to change your mind.)

In a galaxy filled with novelties like sentient trains who travel at faster-than-light speeds on specially crafted rails through K-gates stationed on nearly a thousand worlds and moons, Zen Starling is a light-fingered teen who l... Read More

Killing is My Business: An improvement on the first book but still has issues (and a giveaway!)

Readers, we have a paperback copy of Made to Kill and a hardcover copy of Killing is My Business to give away to one lucky commenter! U.S. and Canada-based mailing addresses only, please.

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Killing is My Business by Adam Christopher

I thought that the flaws in Adam Christopher’s first Chandler-esque robot PI novel, Made to Kill, outweighed the positives, and thus gave it a rating of only 2 ½ stars. The tougher-than-steel detective/hitman Raymond Electromatic is back in the sequel, Killing Is My Business (2017), and while it improves upon its predecessor in many ways, it never really breaks out of the gat... Read More

The Waking Land: Too many issues

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The Waking Land
by Callie Bates

I’m sure there’s an audience for Callie Bates’ debut novel The Waking Land, but after reaching the halfway point (53% to be precise), I also became sure that I was not it, leading to a DNF review.

The story, which has some clear (at times perhaps too clear) historical referents, is set in a world where hundreds of years ago the nation of Caeris conquered the neighboring nation of Eren, while much more powerful than either of them is the empire of Paladis. More recently, about a decade ago, Elanna Valtai’s noble father tried to lead a rebellion to free Eren and bring back the “king in exile,” but his plans were discovered and while he was clever enough so that Caeris had no rock-hard proof, he was exiled to his estate while then five-year-old Elanna was taken hostage by Caeris’ King Antoine. Fast forwa... Read More

Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us

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Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us by Sam Kean

Informative, witty, vivid, often compelling, sometimes juvenile, knowledgeable, clear, and written throughout with verve and panache via what feels like a wholly singular voice, Sam Kean’s Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us (2017) is what every non-fiction book should aspire to. It’s been a while since I’ve so enjoyed a work of non-fiction so thoroughly and consistently.

Kean divides his exploration of air into three large sections, the first dealing with the origin of our current atmosphere, one of many our planet (if not humanity) has seen. The second explains how various natural philosophers/scientists discovered the gases that make up the air surrounding us, and also how those gases were harnessed to do various types of work, suc... Read More

Nemesis Games: Provides the backstory we’ve all been craving

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Reposted to include Marion's new review.

Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey

Naomi swirled the milky liquid in her glass, watching it slosh against the sides, a miniature sea, complete with little icebergs. “We need to talk,” she said.

Holden winced a bit inside, but forced his words to come out lighter than they felt in his head. “You mean man-woman talk, Captain-XO talk, or . . .”

“More of the ‘or’ type.”

“So, what’s on your mind?”  He leaned back against the bulkhead. Space-grade permasteel she thought, but between man and metal, she knew which she’d count on more.

“We need to review this book.”

“We’ve reviewed books before. And survived.”  He winced again, outwardly this time. “Mostly.”

“Yeah, but there are some killer revelations and plot twists i... Read More

The Witchwood Crown: A much-anticipated return to a classic world

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The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams

Tad Williams’ long-awaited return to Osten Ard began with the tasty appetizer that was The Heart of What Was Lost, a bridge novella between the old series and the new. Now the first course of the main feast is here — The Witchwood Crown (2017) — and to be honest, I sort of want to order more appetizer.

Before I get into my reasons for being underwhelmed by The Witchwood Crown, I want to offer up a few caveats. The first is a matter of logistics. It’s rare for me to spend more than two sittings with a book; I greatly prefer fully immersing myself in a story for its entirety, reading start to finish in one go or, if necessary due to length, two at most. But due to circumstances, I couldn... Read More

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