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.

Harlem Shuffle: Another twist from a master storyteller

Reposting to include Bill's new review.

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

One thing we can be sure to expect from Colson Whitehead is the unexpected. The double Pulitzer Prize winner shot to fame with the alternate history (and FanLit favourite) The Underground Railroad. He debuted with speculative fiction, later wrote a zombie novel, and his work now takes another twist: a heist novel, in the form of his latest release, Harlem Shuffle (2021).

The book follows Ray Carney, a furniture salesman in 1950s - 1960s Harlem. His wife, Elizabeth, is expecting their second child, so when Ray's cousin Freddie — ever the liability — comes to him with the proposition to rob the Hotel Theres... Read More

No Gods, No Monsters: Thoughtful and well-crafted

No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull

No Gods, No Monsters (2021) is one of the books that had me admiring it more than enjoying it. Strongly crafted on a sentence level, built on a structure both complex and deftly handled, and dealing with some seriously weighty themes, the book still left me, despite all that, a bit cold, a bit resistant to its charms. Still, as you’ll see, I’m mostly strongly recommending it, even if it didn’t wholly win me over.

We begin with a scene that seems all too familiar. One of the main characters, Laina, is at the morgue standing over the body of her brother Lincoln, an unarmed black man killed by a policeman as he was “running through the streets as bare as on the day he was born.” High, Laina assumes of her drug-addicted brother, but then rumors of a tape being kept secret by the police crop up, followed by a visit from Rebecca, one of Lincoln’s friends, who... Read More

Cloud Cuckoo Land: Transcends the sum of its parts

Reposting to include Ray's new review.

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

What do a pair of young kids on the opposite sides of the fall of Constantinople, the protagonist of an ancient Greek tale, an eco-terrorist, a Korean war vet and former prisoner-of-war, and a young girl on a generation ship have in common? Well, besides all being major characters in Anthony Doerr’s newest novel, Cloud Cuckoo Land (2021). To find out what else ties them all together, you’ll have to read the book, which I do recommend despite some issues.

I’m going to leave the plot summary such as it is to the introduction, as part of the pleasure of Cloud Cuckoo Land is sorting through the pieces and seeing how they all fit together. Structurally, as you might guess, the novel’s a bi... Read More

Spacecraft: Not exactly what it says on the tin

Spacecraft by Timothy Morton

I’m sure there is an audience for Timothy Morton’s Spacecraft (2021), one of the OBJECT LESSONS series titles. Unfortunately, I wasn’t it. I’m also thinking that based on the title, a number of people might find themselves in my position, a problem perhaps more of expectations than substance.

The OBJECT LESSONS, which I’ve generally been a big fan of, “start from a specific inspiration ... and from there develop original insights and novel lessons about the object in question.” And there lies the expectations problem because from the title, one would imagine the inspiration is, well, spacecraft. And at least at the start, it seems to be the case, as Morton offers up his youthful love of spacecrafts, his clear enduring enthusiasm, an insightful distinction between spaceships and space... Read More

The Red Planet: A Natural History of Mars

The Red Planet: A Natural History of Mars by Simon Morden

Simon Morden’s The Red Planet: A Natural History of Mars (2021) is a detailed look at the history of Mars’ geology, and there lies both its appeal and, for some, perhaps, its lack of appeal. As fascinating as much of the book is, I confess it sometimes got a little too deep into the weeds (or the rock formations) for my own preferences, though having “too much information” is hardly a major indictment for a non-fiction work. And certainly the questions about how much water Mars had and when/for how long are fascinating, as is their connection to the possibility of life on the supposedly “dead” planet.

Morden begins, well, at the beginning. Or technically, if we’re talking about Mars, before the beginning, starting instead with the formation of the solar system and then explaining how the various planets, including Mar... Read More

The Escapement: Brilliantly weird (or possibly weirdly brilliant)

The Escapement by Lavie Tidhar

Lavie Tidhar’s The Escapement (2021)is a fantastic and fantastical fever dream of a novel, a Weird Western via Lewis Carroll, Gilgamesh if had been translated and illustrated by Norton Juster and scored by Ennio Morricone, The Searchers if it had starred Buster Keaton, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had it been directed by David Lynch from a screenplay co-written by Steven King, Raymond Carver, and Italo Calvino and storyboarded by Salvador Dali. It’s a wondrous riot of imagination that veers back and forth from horrific to heartbreaking to laugh-out-loud funny to macabre to absurdist. Defying genre,... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Favorite magic systems

As Supreme Court Justice Potter1 Stewart famously said when asked to explain “magic” in fantasy novels:


“I shall not today attempt to further define the kinds of actions/abilities I understand to be embraced within that description, and perhaps I never could succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.”2


Ok, he didn’t really say that about magic in fantasy novels. He was talking about pornography.3


But let’s pretend.


Now, some novelists don’t bother themselves to “further define” how magic works in their fantasy universe. They figure the reader knows it when they see it,

Read More

Beasts Before Us: The Untold Story of Mammal Origins and Evolution

Beasts Before Us: The Untold Story of Mammal Origins and Evolution by Elsa Panciroli

Let’s face it. When it comes to discussion and portrayal of ancient/extinct life in modern culture, dinosaurs rule. They rumble, lumber, sprint, pounce, trumpet, and roar across our screens and pages, across bedspreads and pajamas. Their names trip merrily across the tongues of children as they reel off Latinate terminology and eras like an auctioneer at a livestock sale. The “Rex” in T-rex may as well refer to the King of the Lizard’s place in our collective minds as much to its role as an apex predator of its time.

Pity then the poor early mammals, who can’t help but be overshadowed (literally and figuratively) by their massive cousins. Well, no more. Paleontologist Elsa Panciroli speaks for the mammals! And luckily for us, she does so in fantastic fashion. In sharp, concise, vivid prose, she’s here to tell us to forget everything we... Read More

Among Thieves: A fun, light read

Among Thieves by M.J. Kuhn


Among Thieves (2021), by M.J. Kuhn, is a sort of two-tier book for me. On the one hand, it’s a fast-paced heist novel that speeds along amiably, easily, and with some humor. On the other hand, it’s somewhat of a paint-by-number heist novel that doesn’t really add anything new to the genre and skimps a bit on characterization and world-building. If it’s your first experience with this type of story, or you’re a younger reader, and/or someone who prefers plot-driven rather than character-driven stories, then it’s probably in the 3.5-4.0-star range. If you’ve read similar works, though, or look for more substance and originality in your characters, it’s more likely a 3.0 or, if you’re grumpy that day, a 2.5.

Ryia Cautella, aka the Butcher of Carrowwick... Read More

In the Watchful City: Some fresh takes, but needed more development

In the Watchful City by S. Qiouyi Lu

In the Watchful City (2021) is a novel in story form, a structure I’m usually a big fan of, but the stories rarely felt fully developed and in the end they just didn’t coalesce for me into an entirely effective or cohesive whole, though there is a true originality in style and content here.

The setting is the city-state of Ora, which has managed to escape from under the dominating Skyland empire and, in an attempt to keep its residents free and happy, the city uses upgraded humans as “nodes” in an AI-like surveillance network (“the Gleaming”). Some specialized nodes can leap into the bodies of living creatures (though not human ones) and control them in order to intervene when necessary.

Anima is one such node and æ has been happily enacting ær role for some time. Ær regular, contented life, though, is disturbed by the appearance of a fore... Read More

The Angel of the Crows: Too faithful to the originals

Reposting to include Marion'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 n... Read More

My Heart is a Chainsaw: Jones nails the slasher-film tone perfectly

My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones

There is so much to like in Stephen Graham JonesMy Heart is a Chainsaw (2021): a can’t-help-but-root-for-her main character, a prom-worthy bucketload of slasher-film references, a wry and sometimes bitingly funny narrative voice, so many red herrings the reader’s gonna need a bigger boat, deftly handled themes exploring race, gentrification, class, parenting (familial and communal), and trauma, and a climax that contains more blood than you can hold in a bank of elevators. So much to like, in fact, that my only real criticism is that there’s too much here, leading to a book that despite its many positives unfortunately begins to feel it has, like Jason or Michael, overstayed its welcome.

Jade (real name Jennifer, but don’t ever call her that... Read More

The Desert Prince: The next generation of THE DEMON CYCLE

The Desert Prince by Peter V. Brett

The Desert Prince is the newest installment in Peter V. Brett’s fantasy universe where humans have been battling demons for ages. The prior series (THE DEMON CYCLE) ended mostly in seeming victory for the good guys (the humans), but as is often the case in these sorts of stories, victory only lasts until the next trilogy. This new series picks up about fifteen years later, and while some characters return from the prior series, the focus here is on their children as they battle with an old demonic evil risen anew, humans who can be just as monstrous, the strictures of a too-rigid society, and their own inner conflicts.

The two first-person POV protagonists are Olive Jardir and Darin Bales, children respectively of Ahman Jardir and Arlen Bales (“The Deliverer”), the two larg... Read More

The Witness for the Dead: Chockablock with intrigue

Reposting to include new reviews by Jana and Bill.

The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison

The Witness for the Dead is the long-hoped-for sequel to Katherine Addison’s marvelous and unusual 2014 fantasy, The Goblin Emperor, in which we met Maia, a half-goblin, half-elf young man who unexpectedly inherited the throne of the elf kingdom when his father, the emperor, was killed along with his brothers in an airship explosion. Thara Celehar, an elven prelate and a Witness for the Dead, was a minor character in that novel who investigated the airship accident at Maia’s request and eventually was able to unearth the truth of why it occurred.

The Witness for the Dead Read More

Fury of a Demon: Enjoyable, engaging, and entertaining (but…)

Fury of a Demon by Brian Naslund

I admitted back when I reviewed Brian Naslund’s Blood of an Exile that I had resisted the book sitting on my shelf and picked it up somewhat grudgingly, expecting yet “another fantasy about a roguish-yet-likable gritty swordsman and his band of gritty companions battling the odds to save their gritty world.” Which, as I noted then, wasn’t so far off in terms of plot, but which in more important ways didn’t come near being accurate, thanks to Naslund’s sharply executed characterization and world-building, an ecological theme that added appreciated depth, and a wonderfully cheeky style, traits that all continued on into the sequel S... Read More

Black Sun: A strong start to a new series

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Rebecca Roanhorse’s Black Sun (2020) introduces a new series set in an ancient Mesoamerica that is a mix of partly-familiar cultures and original fantasy elements, creating a heady brew that rolls along smoothly even as it moves back and forth in time and amongst a quartet of POVs.

Those POVs belong to:

Naranapa: the young Sun Priest based in the holy city of Tova, head of the religious order that has kept peace for three centuries.
Serapio: a young boy groomed since his childhood as the “vessel” of the Crow god, bent on vengeance for his people’s massacre in Tova years ago at the Night of Knives.
Xiala: a ship’s captain and member of the Teek, a (seemingly) all-female peo... Read More

Star Rangers: One of Norton’s best

Star Rangers by Andre Norton

Star Rangers (1953) (aka The Last Planet) is the second of Andre Norton’s stand-alone novels included in Star Soldiers, an omnibus released in print by Baen Books in 2001 and in audiobook format by Tantor Media in March 2021. Star Soldiers also includes the novel Star Guard (1955). These two novels are collectively known as the CENTRAL CONTROL stories and, as I mentioned in my review of Star Guard, “I’ve read more than 20 Norton novels and these are some of my favorites. Like most of her work, they’ll be enjoyed most ... Read More

The Rookery: A mixed bag, but enjoyable

The Rookery by Deborah Hewitt

The Rookery (2021) is Deborah Hewitt’s sequel to her debut novel, The Nightjar, which I described in my review as having many of the issues one expects in a debut novel but that also left the reader eager to see what she did next based on her “imaginative content and writing style.” The sequel has its own issues but does improve on its predecessor. Some inevitable spoilers for book one to follow.

“The Rookery” itself is an alternate near-copy of 1930s London, “built as a sanctuary for the Vaki, a magical race of people” fleeing persecution in Finland at the time of the Crusades. The four original “master builders” each had their own magical specialty (water, building and s... Read More

Da Vinci’s Cat: Solidly charming, but has its issues

Da Vinci’s Cat by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Catherine Gilbert Murdock offers up a solidly charming Middle Grade portal story involving travel through time and space, the painting of the Sistine Chapel, shifting timelines, feuding Renaissance artists, and of course, a cat. With a quick pace, high stakes, and two comically mismatched young protagonists, Da Vinci’s Cat (2021) will probably satisfy most young readers, despite some issues.

In 1511 Rome, 11-year-old Federico Gonzaga is a “guest-hostage” to Pope Julius II, ensconced in the Pope’s sumptuous villa to ensure the loyalty of his aristocratic family, particularly his father, who leads the Pope’s army. It’s a lavish, pampered existence for sure, but also constraining (he’s not allowed to leave the admittedly huge complex/grounds) and more than a little lonely. That loneliness is eventually abated by a strange trio who s... Read More

Star Guard: Exciting and emotional

Star Guard by Andre Norton

Star Soldiers (2001 Baen Books, 2021 Tantor Media) contains the two related stand-alone stories Star Guard (1955) and Star Rangers (1953) which together are known as the CENTRAL CONTROL novels. I’m reviewing them separately since that’s how they were originally published. I’ve read more than 20 Andre Norton novels and these are some of my favorites. Like most of her work, they’ll be enjoyed most by teenagers, especially those new to science fiction.

In Star Guard we discover that the galaxy is policed by an organization called Central Control. Earth is part of the galactic league, but humans, who are uncivilized barbarians, are thought to be fit only for military service. Thus, they’re... Read More

How to Make an Apple Pie from Scratch: In Search of the Recipe for Our Universe

How to Make an Apple Pie from Scratch: In Search of the Recipe for Our Universe by Harry Cliff

Harry Cliff takes the title for his wonderful non-fiction work, How to Make an Apple Pie from Scratch (2021), from the TV series Cosmos, the original one narrated by Carl Sagan, not the most recent Neil DeGrasse Tyson version (you should watch both, btw). Early on in his book, Cliff recounts how in one of the episodes Sagan “turns to the camera and with a twinkle in his eye says, ‘If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.’” Well, in the 40 years since Cosmos, humans have managed to figure out a few more ingredients and a few more steps in the recipe, and Cliff is here — with his own stylistic twinkle — to explain it to those of us who aren’t astrophysicists, particle physicists, theoretical phys-, well, let’s just say those of ... Read More

The Kingdoms: Beautiful prose, complex characterization, some plotting issues

The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley

If Natasha Pulley’s latest novel, The Kingdoms (2021), were a movie script, the elevator pitch might have been “Master and Commander meets The Final Countdown” (look it up, kids). Part time-travel story, part love story (several actually), part Patrick O’Brian story, it curves and recurves through beauty and brutality (more of the latter than the former), time and space, trauma, and rescue (more of the former than the latter), as it delights, horrifies, and frustrates. I loved the first half to two-thirds, felt it went off the rails a bit for some time, then was happy to see it get back on track in time to nail the ending. Which is why I’m recommending it, despite its issues.

The book opens, appropriately enough, with a sentence about memory followed by a... Read More

Asteroids: How Love, Fear, And Greed Will Determine Our Future in Space

Asteroids: How Love, Fear, And Greed Will Determine Our Future in Space by Martin Elvis

Asteroids: How Love, Fear, And Greed Will Determine Our Future in Space (2021), by Martin Elvis, is a thorough and wonderfully detailed exploration not of asteroids as objects (which he does do to some extent), but of the possibility of our interacting with them in order to a) prevent them from killing us off as one did (maybe) to the dinosaurs, b) exploit them for resources, and c) use them as a stepping stone for further exploitation of space. If you thought the idea of asteroid mining belongs only in the realm of science fiction, Elvis will (probably) convince you otherwise.

Elvis opens up with the required concise overview of just what asteroids are: what their composition is, the different types, where they are found, etc. He then divides the book into three sections: Motive, Means, and Opportunity. Each broad cat... Read More

Dreaming in Quantum and Other Stories: Didn’t do much for me

Dreaming in Quantum and Other Stories by Lynda Clark

It seems that putting The Rock Eaters by Brenda Peynado on my best of 2021 list and noting how it’s redeemed my faith in short story collections was a bad idea, as I’ve apparently jinxed myself with regard to said collections, being that I’m now 0 for 3 on them since then. The third “0-fer” is Dreaming in Quantum and Other Stories (2021) by Lynda Clark, which has its moments but left me disappointed overall.

Generally, the collection is a mix of fantastical genres, though how much so will depend on one’s subjective definitions of the seemingly infinite sub-genres thrown under that particular umbrella category, such as fantasy, magical realism, fairy tal... Read More

The Tangleroot Palace: A solid collection

The Tangleroot Palace by Marjorie Liu

I’m a big fan of Marjorie Liu’s MONSTRESS series, so I was eager to pick up her collection of short stories, entitled The Tangleroot Palace (2021). Unfortunately, while there was a lot to admire in terms of the prose itself, the stories didn’t do much for me, though they were solid enough. I’ll note, however, as I always do when reviewing a collection, that I’m a tough audience when it comes to short stories, generally preferring longer, more developed works (though one of my favorite books this year will be a collection of stories).

Liu’s collection brings together a half-dozen stories and the eponymous novella. As noted, the prose is strong throughout, especially considering the stories were written while she was still in her twenties and thirtie... Read More

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