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 End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking): Informative and engaging if not all that uplifting

The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking) by Katie Mack

In case these times weren’t providing enough anxiety, astrophysicist Katie Mack has arrived on the scene with something else for you to worry about — the end of the universe. More precisely, in The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking) (2020), Mack explores five ways the universe might die: The Big Crunch, Heat Death, The Big Rip, Vacuum Decay, and a Bounce. Luckily, most won’t be coming along for some billions of years, so you can probably still get in everything you’ve been planning on — cleaning out the garage, binging that TV show, learning to make cocktails, etc. (Those of us with TBR shelves, though, are out of luck — billions of years just won’t cut it.)

Mack opens with a tour of our current understanding of the universe’s lifetime, from the Big Bang almost 14 billion years ago up to now. Then eac... Read More

The Angel of the Crows: Too faithful to the originals

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison

For about the first third or perhaps half of Katherine Addison’s newest, The Angel of the Crows (2020), I was thinking I was finally off the schneid, as it had been about two weeks since I’d really thoroughly enjoyed a novel I was reading. And I was definitely enjoying the pastiche of several Sherlock Holmes stories which basically boils down to “It’s Holmes but with angels and vampires!” Which sounds like a lot of fun, and as noted, it was, at least for that first third or so. But then, well, it never really went anywhere beyond “It’s Holmes but with angels and vampires!” and after about the halfway point my enjoyment began to falter, the story began to sag, and by the end I was left feeling that a nea... Read More

When Jackals Storm the Walls: Keeps up the series’ high standards

When Jackals Storm the Walls by Bradley P. Beaulieu

You had me at “The Story so Far.”
Really. It was all gonna be good after that.
“The Story so Far.”
Say it with me: “The Story so Far.”
Sweet Nana jam on toast, that curls the toes.
“The Story so Far.”

That’s how When Jackals Storm the Walls (2020), Bradley P. Beaulieu’s fifth novel in his THE SONG OF THE SHATTERED SANDS series begins, and nothing, nothing endears me more to a sequel, particularly a third or fourth or seventh book in a series, than a “here’s what’s happened up to now” prologue. Seriously, authors, publishers, gods of fiction — is it honestly all that hard? Isn’t this what staffers are for? Interns? Underfoot children? “The Story so F... Read More

SHORTS: The Retro Hugo-nominated novelettes and short stories of 1944

SHORTS: Our column exploring free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. In today's column we review the 2020 Retro Hugo nominees in the novelette and short story categories, following up on yesterday's column, in which we reviewed the novellas.

RETRO HUGO NOVELETTES:

Arena by Fredric Brown (1944, published in Astounding Science Fiction, free online at Internet Archive). 2020 Retro Hugo award nominee (novelette).

Two massive fleets hang outside the orbit of Pluto, about to engage in a furious battle to the death: Humans and the aliens they call the Outsiders. Bob Carson, a young human in an individual scout ship, is about to engage ... Read More

SHORTS: The Retro Hugo-nominated novellas of 1944

SHORTS: Our column exploring free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. In today's column we review the 2020 Retro Hugo nominees in the novella category, other than The Jewel of Bas, which we've previously reviewed here as part of The Best of Leigh Brackett. Stay tuned for tomorrow's column, where we turn our attention to the Retro Hugo novelettes and short stories.

A God Named Kroo by Henry Kuttner (1944, published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, free online at Internet Archive). 2020 Retro Hugo award nominee (novella).

In remote Tibet, a minor deity named Kroo is slowly d... Read More

The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World

The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World by Sarah Steward Johnson

It isn’t often that I wish for a longer book; in fact, it’s almost always the opposite. But that’s just what I found myself doing upon finishing Sarah Steward Johnson’s The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World (2020), which is about exactly what you would think given the title — a history of our attempts to suss out if life exists on our red-hued neighbor, from speculations about ancient civilizations creating Schiaparelli’s “canali” to Johnson’s own work with NASA’s Mars missions. It’s an excellent book throughout, but it also feels like it could have gone into material in more detail in some places and ends so quickly that I had to doublecheck on Netgallery to make sure I hadn’t gotten an excerpt rather than a full version.

Johnson is both a writer and a scien... Read More

Wicked Wonders: The wonder and magic in our lives

Reposting to include Skye's new review.

Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages

In Wicked Wonders (2017), Ellen Klages has assembled an impressive collection of her short stories. Although almost all of these stories have been previously published (the sole exception is “Woodsmoke”), most of them appeared in anthologies and are unlikely to be familiar to most readers. These fourteen stories run the gamut from non-fiction (“The Scary Ham”) to straight fiction (“Hey, Presto,” “Household Management” and “Woodsmoke”) to science fiction and fantasy. They’re often bittersweet or wistful and frequently surreal; tales of ordinary lives in which the fantastical or unexpected element sneaks up and taps you on the shoulder, and when you turn around the world has shifted.

Several tales in Wicked Wonders are reminiscent of certain of Ray Bradbury’s short... Read More

Or What You Will: Some strands more successful than others

Or What You Will by Jo Walton

Or What You Will (2020), by Jo Walton, is an at times charming, at times frustrating work of metafiction that reads, even distanced by the novelist’s artifice, as a warmly personal, almost intimate love letter to Florence, the Renaissance, art, reading, the classics, and creativity. I’m guessing it will receive a mixed, varied response from Walton’s readers.

Sylvia Harrison is a mid-range author of a good number of novels, including several set in the quasi-fantastical Illyria — imagine Renaissance Florence with magic where people do not die save by willful intent (their own giving up of life, murder). Or What You Will is narrated by her creative spark, that flame of imagination trapped in her “bone cave” as he’s instilled her creations with the spa... Read More

Utopia Avenue: Playing in the band

Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell

If you’re a fan of David Mitchell (I am) and think five years is way too long to go without a Mitchell novel (I do), you’ll probably eat up his latest, Utopia Avenue (I scarfed it down in two sittings). If you love music (yep) and are particularly a fan of the incredibly fertile 1960s music scene in both England and America (check), you’ll almost certainly absolutely revel in the novel (revelry was had). If you enjoy vivid characterization, crisp natural-sounding dialogue, multiple character POVs that sound utterly distinctive, and master craftsperson use of language via word choice, syntax, allusion, etc., (yes, yes, yes, and yes), then your readerly love of great writing will most likely be fully sated (it was). Utopia Avenue (2020) isn’t my favorite or most ad... Read More

Remarkable Life of the Skin: Always informative, often fascinating

Remarkable Life of the Skin: An Intimate Journey Across Our Largest Organ by Monty Lyman

The brain and the heart tend to get all the good press as far as bodily organs go, each with a slew of books focused only on them. The other organs either don’t get mentioned at all or get thrown in with a bunch of others as part of the discussion of a particular system or the body entire, as in Mary Roach’s Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal or Bill Bryson’s The Body: A Guide for Occupants. But skin, as New York Times crossword aficionados know, is the largest organ in the body, and though it’s a relative newcomer to the classification, only making the organ club in the eighteenth century, it’s about time it got its own tour book. And author Monty Lyman, a doctor at Oxford, makes for an engaging and knowledgeable guide in The Remarkable Life of the Skin (2... Read More

The Empire of Gold: Strong conclusion to an equally strong trilogy

The Empire of Gold by S. A. Chakraborty

Cutesy tag lines for a review of The Empire of Gold (2020), S. A. Chakraborty’s concluding novel for her DAEVABAD trilogy of humans, djinn, and water elementals, sort of write themselves: “Chakraborty strikes gold with the final novel in … ” “Chakraborty is on fire with her newest … ” “Come on djinn, the water’s fine … ” (sorry). But this series doesn’t do “cute”; it’s multi-layered and, though not without humor, serious in tone and topic. So let’s just say the promise of its first two books, which garnered four stars from me in prior reviews, is easily met here in the third, which brings an excellent trilogy to a highly satisfying if bittersweet close. Some inevitable spoilers for books one and two below.

The Emp... Read More

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians: Left me wanting both more and less

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians by H.G. Parry

H.G. Parry’s A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians (2020) is a sweeping fantasy novel that takes major events during the Age of Enlightenment — the French Revolution, the Haitian slave revolution, and the madness of King George — and overlays them with a skein of magic, investing the three major players with various powers: France’s Robespierre is a necromancer, Britain’s Prime Minister William Pitt is a mesmerist (among other things), and Toussaint Louverture is a weather mage (albeit a weak one, the focus in Haiti is really on a more powerful woman named Fina). The three, though, are actually dancing to the tune set by an immensely powerful and mysterious figure manipulating things to his own intended goal, which threatens ruin and destruction not seen for centuries. The concept has some potential, and occasionally that potential is m... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Can speculative fiction help fight racism?

Leave your name in the comments if you'd like a copy of one of these books. We'll choose at least 30 commenters with US addresses.
Winners will choose one of these:
The New Jim Crow (Kindle, paperback, or Audible)
How to Be an Antiracist (Kindle or Audible)
The Underground Railroad (Kindle, paperback, or Audible).


Recently I’ve been deluged with suggestions for books to read about race and racism. Most are non-fiction works ( Read More

The Court of Miracles: A quick-paced series-opener with a few issues

The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant

There’s a scene in Kester Grant’s The Court of Miracles (2020) where an entire room of nobles is hypnotized by the head of the assassin’s guild into doing something horrific, but which they are wholly oblivious to. It’s an apt scene to note, because while this first book in the COURT OF MIRACLES trilogy is far from horrific (really, far from it), Grant is such a fluid writer that she lulls you into a sort of readerly trance, a smoothly flowing journey that carries you effortlessly along, leaving you if not oblivious at least uncaring with regard to the story’s several flaws. As such, it’s one of those occasional odd novels where I’m going to say there are lots of places it isn’t very good, but you still may find yourself enjoying it anyway.

The blurbs label it a retelling (of sorts) of Les Misérables,... Read More

Shorefall: Come for the heists and explosions, stay for the debates

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Once upon a time there was a small group of uber-powerful folks who truly messed up the world. Luckily that was ages, sorry, I mean, Ages, ago. But now one of those ancient badass power users is potentially going to return and hoo boy is the world in trouble if he gathers all his power yet again. Thank the gods for the plucky group of scruffy underdogs who are definitely not a fellowship and who have decided to risk their lives to prevent the Dark Power’s rise. Anyone? Bueller?

OK, yes. We’ve all heard it before. So you might be forgiven if, upon learning that Robert Jackson Bennett’s newest title, Shorefall (sequel to the fantastic Read More

The Attack on Troy: A well-told look at the potential reality of the Trojan War

The Attack on Troy by Rodney Castleden

The Attack on Troy (2006), by Rodney Castleden, is a concise and informative “history” of the Trojan War, one that shows (with reasonable doubt careful noted) how the war that gave rise to The Iliad and The Odyssey might have actually occurred.

Castleden opens with the archaeological evidence of Troy’s existence in western Turkey and its destruction by outside forces, quickly moving through Schliemann’s notoriously destructive excavations in the late 1800s and then into the discovery in 1893, after Schliemann’s death, of the Troy VI citadel dating to 1700-1250 B.C. (like most cities, Troy was built and rebuilt atop successive layers, with layer VI being the mostly-consensus literary Troy). What is probably less well known by casual readers are more recent discoveries of... Read More

Entangled Life: Zombie ants, psychedelic trips, even a Star Trek connection

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures (2020), by Merlin Sheldrake, is an always informative and often fascinating look at the (mostly) hidden world of fungi. There’s a lot more to them than those shitakes you’re adding to your stir-fry and Sheldrake makes for an enthusiastic tour guide to all that lies beyond the edible mushroom (though he touches on those too).

Sheldrake begins with truffles (he goes on a truffle hunt with a couple of dogs and their trainer) and uses this early part to introduce us to the basics of fungal life and their development on Earth. Like the entirety of the book, this section is filled with choice details (a 2 to 8000-yr-old fungus in Oregon taking up ten square kilometers and weighing in at hundreds of tons, the fungi growing o... Read More

Nevertell: Occasionally rises above its mostly solid nature

Nevertell by Katharine Orton

Nevertell (2020), by Katharine Orton, is an engaging if somewhat limited Middle Grade book set in the wild north of Stalinist Russia and focused on a young girl trying to escape a brutal work camp and make her way south to Moscow and the grandmother she’s been told would be able to take her in.

Twelve-year-old Lina was born in the camp (her father is rumored to be the cruel commandant Zima) that her grandfather, mother, and uncle had been brought to years earlier. Only she and her mother Katya have survived, and when a trio of prisoners come up with a desperate escape plan, Katya provides the distraction that allows them, along with Lina’s best friend Bogdan, to get beyond the fence and into the frozen Siberian woodland. The weather is deadly enough, but the forest is also home to a powerful sorceress known as the “Manhunter.” And Lina and Bogdan’s fellow prisoners may not b... Read More

The Kingdom of Liars: Hold off to see how the sequel does

The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell

The Kingdom of Liars (2020) is a debut novel by Nick Martell and the beginning of his series THE LEGACY OF THE MERCENARY KING. As such, it shows some debut issues with character, plotting, and world-building, though it has an interesting mystery at its core.

There has “always been a Kingman in Hollow” goes the refrain, a member of the Kingman family who acts as a check on the king. But some years before the novel’s start, Michael’s father, David Kingman, killed the king’s youngest son. Following the Kingman Riots, Michael’s father was executed by the king as a traitor, his mother placed in any asylum thanks to dementia-like issues, and his family stripped of their status and taken in by a foster father. Since then his sister Gwen and brother Lyon have found minor places in society while Michael grew up conning Low Nobles for money. The novel opens w... Read More

Baba Yaga’s Assistant: A compelling tale by a gifted collaboration

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Baba Yaga's Assistant by Marika McCoola (author) & Emily Carroll (illustrator)

Baba Yaga's Assistant, by Marika McCoola and illustrated by Emily Carroll, is a MG graphic novel that tries to work the frightening richness of the Baba Yaga folktales into the press of modern family life, but despite the great source material, the attempt falls short, though it has its moments.

The protagonist is Masha, a young girl whose father has just proposed to a woman sometime after her mother's death. Her father had relegated most of Masha’s upbringing to her grandmo... Read More

The History of Gibbeting: Britain’s Most Brutal Punishment

The History of Gibbeting: Britain’s Most Brutal Punishment by Samantha Priestley

The History of Gibbeting: Britain’s Most Brutal Punishment (2020), by Samantha Priestley, is an interesting and somewhat informative, if overly long, look at the tradition of “hanging in chains,” as it was often called at the time.

Priestley offers up a general introduction to the practice followed by several sections: The Murder Act, The Making of a Gibbet, Infamy, Thieves and Pirates, That’s Entertainment, The Gibbet as Landmark, No Deterrent, The Decline of the Gibbet, A Modern Fascination.

The first looks at the impact of the 1752 law, which attempted to standardize the hodgepodge application of the gibbet. We also get a sense of the frequency of gibbeting (relatively rare), the crimes it was associated with (murder, piracy, and stealing the Royal Mail, mostly), and whether or not criminals were ever gibbe... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Reading during a pandemic

If you’re coming to this site, then you’re most likely a fellow reader. Which means during these unsettled times, like us, when you can, you take refuge in what has always been a solace to you — books. That’s often a connecting thread amongst readers, though how we find that needed comfort varies.

Some of us may find it by learning as much as we can about what’s scaring us, tracking the idea of “knowledge is power” and so giving us a semblance of control, even if it’s illusory. Even if we know it’s illusory. So we read everything on this particular virus, or infectious diseases, or histories of, say, the Spanish Flu. Other may go the opposite path, turning away from the too-real world and diving headlong into fantasy, the more removed from our own world the better. Give me dragons! Give me invincible Dark Lords overcome! Or maybe we’ll go the obvious route: I’m feeling sad; I’ll find a book that will make me laugh (or read some Pratchett and kill ... Read More

The Cerulean Queen: Takes a step backwards

The Cerulean Queen by Sarah Kozloff

In my review of The Broken Queen, the penultimate chapter of Sarah Kozloff’s NINE REALMS tetralogy, I said I was going to need a “slambang ending” to be able to recommend the series. Unfortunately, after finishing the series’ concluding novel, The Cerulean Queen (2020), I can’t say I got the close I was hoping for.

The final novel picks up where the last one finished (warning, some possible spoilers for books 1-3 ahead), with Cerulia poised to try and take back her throne from the usurper Matwyck. It’s not a spoiler to note she succeeds, given that it happens pretty quickly, and then the novel turns away from reclamation and more toward ruling. The new ob... Read More

A Broken Queen: Series is beginning to feel its length

A Broken Queen by Sarah Kozloff

A Broken Queen (2020) is the third book in Sarah Kozloff’s NINE REALMS series, with each book being published only a month apart, and to be honest, I sort of wish I’d waited for them all to come out and then reviewed the series as a whole, mostly because I feel I’ll just be repeating myself in this review, and, if things go as they have been, in the review of book four as well.

In that vein, mostly what I’ve been saying about the first two books (A Queen in Hiding and The Queen of Raiders) is that they’re readable enough, even somewhat enjoyable, but they leave me wanting more as a ... Read More

Vagabonds: Complex ideas, but not enough other development

Vagabonds by Hao Jingfang, translated by Ken Liu

I really tried to give Hao Jingfang’s Vagabonds (2020; translated by Ken Liu) a fair shake, pressing on even though I’d had problems with the book relatively early. And I think, given that I just about reached the halfway point (48% according to by Kindle), I did give the book a decent enough chance to win me over. But I just couldn’t push myself past that 50%, despite some intriguing ideas.

In the world of Vagabonds, Mars and Earth are in that awkward quasi-peace period after Mars decided they wanted to be independent some time back, sparking a destructive war whose repercussions are still being felt. The novel stars with the return of some young Martians who had been sent as a delegation to Earth a few years earlier as part of the reconci... Read More

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