Stuart Starosta

STUART STAROSTA, on our staff since March 2015, is a lifelong SFF reader who makes his living reviewing English translations of Japanese equity research. Despite growing up in beautiful Hawaii, he spent most of his time reading as many SFF books as possible. After getting an MA in Japanese-English translation in Monterey, CA, he has lived in Tokyo, Japan for the last 13 years with his wife, daughter, and dog named Lani. Stuart's reading goal is to read as many classic SF novels and Hugo/Nebula winners as possible, David Pringle's 100 Best SF and 100 Best Fantasy Novels, along with newer books & series that are too highly-praised to be ignored. His favorite authors include Philip K Dick, China Mieville, Iain M. Banks, N.K. Jemisin, J.G. Ballard, Lucius Shepard, Neal Stephenson, Kurt Vonnegut, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Ursula K. LeGuin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Arthur C. Clarke, H.G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mervyn Peake, etc.

All These Worlds: The action-packed Bobiverse finale

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All These Worlds by Dennis E. Taylor

Dennis E. Taylor’s BOBIVERSE series has turned out to be a real winner, starting with We Are Legion (We Are Bob) in September 2016 and continuing with For We Are Many in May 2017. Usually I tend to read fairly serious, literary, and ambitious SFF books, but after going through not one, but two long episodes dealing with a debilitating herniated disc this year and being confined to lying on my back for weeks, I badly needed a comic break, and the BOBIVERSE series is a perfect place to get an action-packed, science-literate, hilarious, and ... Read More

The Handmaid’s Tale: Chilling and tense

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

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.

Margaret Atwood was once, via a review of her work, once taken a bit publicly to task by Ursula K. LeGuin for not wanting her books (specifically The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake Read More

The Ends of the Earth: Luminous, powerful stories of war, exotic locales, and supernatural horror

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The Ends of the Earth by Lucius Shepard

Lucius Shepard had already created one of the best short story collections in the genre, The Jaguar Hunter, which won the 1988 World Fantasy Award and Locus Award for Best Collection, with “Salvador” winning the Locus Award in 1985 and “R&R” winning the Nebula Award in 1987. His work is steeped in magical realism, supernatural horror, Central America and other exotic locales, and hallucinatory depictions of futuristic warfare. In my opinion, Shepard is one of the best stylists to ever work in the genre. That’s why I can’t help including a writing sample from some stories in The Ends of the Earth — they’re just so good.

It’s always tough to come up with a sophomore effor... Read More

Neverwhere: Wonderfully fantastical setting

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Reposting to include Tadiana and Jana's review of William Morrow's new illustrated edition.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere is a novel that improved dramatically for me on reread, which actually was a surprise to me. I originally read it about six years ago when, in an odd twist worthy of London Below, it mysteriously appeared one day on my clunky Kindle 2, without my having ordered it. About a month later it just as mysteriously disappeared again (luckily I had finished it just in time). I was fascinated by the marvelous and imaginative setting of Neverwhere and London Below, but only mildly entertained by the plot, which ― other than the beginning and the end ― I found quite forgettable.

Still, when I was offered the chance to read a 2016 edition of Neverwhere with the “auth... Read More

The Stone Sky: An Earth-shattering finale

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Reposting to include Jana and Marion's conversation about The Stone Sky.

The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

The climactic conclusion to N.K. Jemisin’s THE BROKEN EARTH trilogy, The Stone Sky (2017), has expectations erupting into the stratosphere since both the previous books, The Fifth Season (2015) and The Obelisk Gate (2016), captured the Hugo Awards for Best SF Novels of 2015 and 2016, and these wins were well deserved. Having just finished it, I think THE BROKEN EARTH trilogy is one of the most intelligent, emotionally-... Read More

Saga (Vol. 7) by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

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Saga (Vol. 7) by Brian K. Vaughan (writer) and Fiona Staples (artist)

I had to wait nine months for Vol 7 of Brian Vaughan's Saga, and about a year for Vol 6, after reading the first 5 volumes back-to-back. Saga is my favorite current comic series (actually, the only one I am following at the moment), and if you haven’t read it then go out and read Vol 1 right now. If you like intelligent, snarky, sometimes profane space opera centered on a pair of star-crossed lovers who have a little girl named Hazel and an amazing supporting cast of bounty-hunters, humanoid robots, reporters, and various others all caught up in a galactic war between Wreat... Read More

The Traitor Baru Cormorant: Breathtakingly original, fiercely intelligent

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

(Foreword: actual rating: 5.5/5 stars. Do not read Dickinson’s short story of the same title; it’s a spoiler for the novel’s ending. Consider yourself forewarned. Also, please see my interview with Seth Dickinson.)

Breathtakingly original and carefully crafted, The Traitor Baru Cormorant by debut novelist Seth Dickinson is one of those very few works that straddle the line between “genre” and “literary” fiction. It’s the story of a girl: a lover, a traitor, a savant, an accountant, and above all, a daughter of a huntress, a smith, and a shield-bearer, but it’s also a story of oppression, of resistance, of identity, and of politics.... Read More

Viriconium Nights: Seven stories set in Viriconium

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

Viriconium Nights by M. John Harrison

I was in Viriconium once. I was a much younger woman then. What a place that is for lovers! The Locust Winter carpets its streets with broken insects; at the corners they sweep them into strange-smelling drifts which glow for the space of a morning like heaps of gold before they fade away.

Viriconium Nights is the last book in M. John Harrison’s VIRICONIUM epic. It’s a collection of these seven short stories set in and around the city of Viriconium:

“The Lamia and Lord Cromis” — tegeus-Cromis, a dwarf, and a man named Dissolution Kahn travel to a poisonous bog to destroy a dangerous Lamia.
 “Viriconium Knights” — Ignace Retz, a young swordsman and treasure seeker, discovers an old man who has ... Read More

The Floating Gods: A mysterious plague hits Viriconium

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Floating Gods (aka In Viriconium in the UK) by M. John Harrison

In this third volume of the VIRICONIUM omnibus, we visit the old artists’ quarter of Viriconium — a lazy decaying place where gardens bloom and the smell of black currant gin exudes from the taverns where the increasingly lackadaisical citizens used to sit and talk about art and philosophy. This part of the city used to be vibrant and innovative, but it has been deteriorating as a psychological plague has been creeping in from the high city. The artists’ patrons, infected by this plague of mediocrity, have become dreamy and only want to purchase uninspired sentimental watercolor landscapes. And all they want to talk about is the debauched antics of the Barley Brothers, a couple of twins who act like buffoons but are rumored... Read More

For We Are Many: More adventures in the Bobiverse

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For We Are Many by Dennis E. Taylor

I really enjoyed Dennis E. Taylor’s We Are Legion (We Are Bob) last December after discovering it by accident as Audible’s Best SF of 2016. I generally tend to read fairly serious, literary, and ambitious SFF books and realized I needed a light break and We Are Legion (We Are Bob) was the perfect change of pace. The BOBIVERSE series really is a fun place to spend some time, and it is the narrative voice that makes the books worth reading. In fact, I think the audiobook narrator Ray Porter is absolutely perfect for this series, his delivery is so perfectly in tune with the breezy, snarky tone of the book that his performance deserves a star a... Read More

A Storm of Wings: Strange, outlandish, blurry

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

A Storm of Wings by M. John Harrison

A Storm of Wings is the second part of M. John Harrison’s VIRICONIUM sequence. Viriconium has been at peace for eighty years after the threat from the north was eliminated, but now there are new threats to the city. Something has detached from the moon and fallen to earth. A huge insect head has been discovered in one of the towns of the Reborn. The Reborn are starting to go mad. Also, a new rapidly growing cult is teaching that there is no objective reality. Are the strange events linked with the cult’s nihilistic philosophy? And what will this do to Viriconium’s peace? Tomb the dwarf and Cellur the Birdlord, whom we met in The Pastel City, set out to discover the truth.

A Storm of Wings... Read More

The Pastel City: A baroque, decaying, phantasmagoric dream city

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Pastel City by M. John Harrison

Viriconium sits on the ruins of an ancient civilization that nobody remembers. The society that was technologically advanced enough to create crystal airships and lethal energy weapons is dead. These Afternoon Cultures depleted the world’s metal ores, leaving mounds of inscrutable rusted infrastructure with only a few odds and ends that still work. The current citizens of Viriconium are baffled by what they’ve dug up, but they have no idea what any of it is for.

tegeus-Cromis, “who fancies himself a better poet than swordsman,” used to be Viriconium’s best fighter until he left the Pastel City after King Methven died. But Viriconium is now under threat — young Queen Jane, Methven’s daughter, is about to lose the empire to her evil cousin. Queen Jane needs the help of the men... Read More

The Library at Mount Char: We all love it

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Ever wonder what might happen if a god went missing? The Library at Mount Char is Scott Hawkins’ fiction debut, and in my personal opinion, it is flawless. There are no wasted words, no unnecessary plot digressions, no moments in which a character says, “Wow, this crisis is important! We should respond right away!” and then tootles off to fold laundry for ten paragraphs. Each detail is crucial, even if the reader doesn’t realize it for a hundred pages or more, and the resulting novel feels enormous and expansive though the page count doesn’t hit 400.

Garrison Oaks was a lovely little slice of Virginian 1970s suburbia, where Adam Black roasted meats in an enormous metal bull and shared beer with his neighbors. Things changed, though, in one catacl... Read More

Stories of Your Life and Others: Eight carefully crafted stories

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

Stories of Your Life: And Others by Ted Chiang

In his review of Ted Chiang’s brilliant short story collection Stories of Your Life and Others (2002) in The Guardian, China Miéville mentions the “humane intelligence [...] that makes us experience each story with immediacy and Chiang’s calm passion.” The oxymoron “calm passion” is an insightful and ingenious way to describe these stories because of the way it hints at their deft melding of the most solid of hard science fiction concepts with an often surpris... Read More

House of Suns: Truly epic time scales, but characters also shine

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House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds

This is the first Alastair Reynolds’ book I’ve read not set in his REVELATION SPACE series, and many of his fans claim House of Suns (2008) is his best book. I’d have to say it is pretty impressive, dealing with deep time scales rarely seen for any but the most epic hard SF books. What’s unique about House of Suns is not simply that the story spans hundreds of thousands of years, but that the characters actually live through these massive cycles as they loop around the Milky Way galaxy, experiencing everything it has to offer. It staggers the imagination to think that humanity has survived over 6 million years into the future without annihilating itself, splintered into myriad post-human civilizations that flower a... Read More

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union: How can one resist?

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon

[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.]

Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union is (breathe in) an alternate history science fiction noir police procedural that won plaudits from the literary mainstream as well as several top honors from the science fiction community (breathe out).

There’s a great deal going on, but perhaps it’s best to introduce the setting. In this alternate history, America created a temp... Read More

Galactic North: Reynolds excels at shorter lengths

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Galactic North by Alastair Reynolds

Having read all the full-length novels in Alastair ReynoldsREVELATION SPACE series, I knew I’d eventually get to his shorter works set in the same dark and complex universe. The main novels are Revelation Space, Redemption Ark, Chasm City, Absolution Gap, and The Prefect. Reynolds has produced a ... Read More

The Complete Cosmicomics: Cosmic tales of the universe’s origins

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The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino

Along with his brilliant Invisible Cities (1972 in Italian, 1974 in English), one of Italo Calvino’s most enduring creations was his series of whimsical and erudite stories inspired by the origins of the universe and scientific principles, labeled Cosmicomics (1965 in Italian, 1968 in English). They are narrated by a mysterious being called Qfwfq, who tells of the Big Bang and the time before that when the universe was a single point without space or dimensions. Qfwfq has a refreshingly frank and humorous attitude towards such momentous moments as the birth of our universe, the origins of life, the extinction of the dinosaurs, the first animals t... Read More

The Lathe of Heaven: Dreaming of Utopia

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin

When George Orr sleeps, he sometimes has “effective” dreams that alter reality. Believing that he has no right to effect such changes, George begins taking drugs to suppress the dreams. As the drugs lose their efficacy, George ups the dosage, exceeding legal limits. George is caught and ordered to choose between therapy and asylum. He chooses therapy and is sent to Dr. William Haber. When Haber realizes that George is not crazy and that these “effective” dreams indeed change reality, the psychiatrist decides to make the world a better place.

And why not? Overpopulated, polluted, radioactive, and starving – humanity’s near future is an age of terrible consequences. The world could use a dreamer, figures Haber, so he hypnotizes George to shape the future.

By t... Read More

Ninefox Gambit: Geeky, hard sci-fi for Stephenson fans

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

In an advanced, multi-planetary empire replete with advanced technology and magical mysticism, Captain Kel Cheris finds herself resorting to heretical tactics to save her troops when she puts down a sacrilegious rebellion. Unfortunately, her superiors in Ninefox Gambit (2016) aren’t quite sympathetic to her play, choosing to use her as a tool to revive and serve as a bodily host to the immortal spirit form of General Shuos Jedao to save the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a religious stronghold that’s critical to the civilization’s magics. It would be a difficult enough task for Cheris since the rebels have taken and are now defending what was supposed to be an impregnable fortress — but did I mention that Jeda... Read More

I Am Alive and You are Dead: A Journey Into the Mind of Philip K. Dick

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I Am Alive and You are Dead: A Journey Into the Mind of Philip K. Dick by Emmanuel Carrère

Anyone familiar with the SF novels of Philip K. Dick and the many films inspired by his works knows that he was one strange and visionary guy. Certainly the SF genre is filled with works of bizarre worlds, aliens, characters, and slippery reality. But it’s generally accepted by authors and readers alike that these fictional creations are just that — works of the imagination by writers who are generally considered sane and share the consensus view of reality. In the case of PKD, however, the line between reality and fiction, sanity and madness, redemption and damnation, revelation and delusion is very blurred indeed. In fact, the pers... Read More

The Found and the Lost: Masterful stories by one of the genre’s greats

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The Found and the Lost: The Collected Novellas of Ursula K. Le Guin by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Found and the Lost is the companion volume to The Unreal and the Real: The Selected Short Stories by Ursula K. Le Guin, a hefty 816-page book or 34-hour audiobook collection of Ursula K. Le Guin’s novellas. It contains most of the stories that make up Four Ways to Forgiveness (1995) a set of linked stories in her HAINISH CYCLE about the two worlds of Werel and Yeowe, and explores the themes of slavery, oppression, revolution, and redemption. It also contains sev... Read More

American Gods: Mixed opinions

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This is a bad land for Gods... The old gods are ignored. The new gods are as quickly taken up as they are abandoned, cast aside for the next big thing. Either you've been forgotten, or you're scared you're going to be rendered obsolete, or maybe you're just getting tired of existing on the whims of people.

Shadow, just out of prison and with nothing to go home to, is hired to be Mr. Wednesday's bodyguard as he travels around America to warn all the other incarnations of gods, legends, and myths, that “a storm is coming.” There's going to be a battle between the old gods who were brought to melting pot America by their faithful followers generations ago, and the new gods of technology, convenience, and individuality.

That's the premise of Read More

Four Ways to Forgiveness: Slavery, oppression, revolution, and redemption

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Four Ways to Forgiveness by Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin is hardly afraid to tackle difficult topics. In fact, she delves into them with a fearless but controlled approach that forces us to look at painful subjects we may prefer not to. This time she is going straight for the jugular, exploring the sensitive subjects of freedom, slavery, oppression, sexual politics, and revolution. In the wrong hands this could easily become a heavy-handed polemic that might be unreadable.

However, Le Guin is far too skilled a writer to wield a cudgel — instead, she uses her scalpel to peel away layer after layer of ingrained societal norms as she explores just how human societies are affected by these topics, and leaving no side free of sin but shows how even the slavers victimize themselves as they indo... Read More

Ender’s Shadow: Ender’s Game from Bean’s perspective

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Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card

Ender’s Game was a SF book so successful and critically acclaimed that it launched Orson Scott Card’s career for decades to come. In fact, it’s fair to say that the story of Ender Wiggins is one of the most popular SF novels the genre has ever produced, to the point of getting the full-budget Hollywood treatment in 2013 (grossing $125 million on a budget of around $110-115 million) with A-listers such as Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley, but receiving mixed critical reviews.

Not one to miss a commercial opportunity, Card has returned the favor, producing a whopping 15 Ender-related books with more in the works apparently. I read Ender’s Game Read More

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