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 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

The Empire’s Ruin: A successful return to an engaging world

The Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley 

The Empire’s Ruin (2021) kicks off a new series in Brian Staveley’s universe first introduced in his CHRONICLES OF THE UNHEWN THRONE trilogy and then expanded upon via the standalone novel, Skullsworn. The new series, ASHES OF THE UNHEWN THRONE, is a direct sequel to the earlier trilogy, and I strongly recommend reading in publication order, as several of this book’s characters appeared in the first series, while the events of that series drive the plot and characters of this new one. I will note that I found Staveley’s first Read More

Black Widow: Enjoyable, but not the best entry in the MCU

Black Widow directed by Cate Shortland

Black Widow is an almost always entertaining and often exciting film, though it has its issues. And while they’re the kind of problems that you have to think about a little, making it easy to glide by them amidst the witty banter and multiple explosions, they do lead to a sense that the movie missed some opportunities and thus prevent it from staking its place in the top tier of Marvel films (some minor spoilers to come).

The movie opens two decades ago with an absolutely great first scene that shifts from classic suburban domestic bliss to violence and terror, setting up all the plot points to follow. Natasha, having already been trained in the Red Room, is part of a Soviet sleeper cell family (think The Americans) with her “father” Alexei (aka The Red Guardian, Russia’s more boastful and less intelligent/eloquent version of Captain America), her brilliant if amoral scientist “mot... Read More

The Tomorrow War: Fails at nearly every level

The Tomorrow War directed by Chris McKay

There’s really no way to sugarcoat this. The Tomorrow War is one of the worst movies I have seen in years, in or out of genre. Outside of some likable performances, the film fails at nearly every level: premise, look, pace, plot, and dialogue (so of course, a sequel is already on tap). I’d say it was a waste of two-plus hours, save that it was so bad that we ended up fast-forwarding through whole chunks once we realized we somehow had over an hour left, so we only wasted about 90 minutes of our lives. So no, I don’t recommend it. One or two spoilers (though as I’ll explain that word is a misnomer in this case) to follow

The film opens with Chris Pratt’s character Dan finding out during a gathering at his house to watch a big soccer game that he’s lost out on a big job he’d been going for. After kicking over a garbage can and getting comforted by his adorable daughter ... Read More

A Desert Torn Asunder: Jump on in, the series is fine! (and finished)

A Desert Torn Asunder by Bradley P. Beaulieu

If you’re like me, you’re always a bit wary of starting a new series that is obviously going to go on for some time. So much can go wrong: will the next book come out in my lifetime? Will the series go downhill at book three? Will the author actually finish it? So having just read A Desert Torn Asunder (2021), the conclusion to Bradley P. Beaulieu’s THE SONG OF THE SHATTERED SANDS, I’m happily adding it to my list of highly recommended DIRTI (Despite Its Required Time Investment) series. Hmm, maybe I should work on that acronym a bit more.

Beaulieu’s sixth book brings this excellent series to a proper close, offering up a number of exciting battle scenes, several one-on-one tense confrontations, and a realignment on scales ranging from the local (the desert and city of Sharakhai) to the cosmic. I’m not going to do the usual plot sum... Read More

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

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

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 k... Read More

The Rock Eaters: Strongest story collection I’ve read in some time

The Rock Eaters by Brenda Peynado

It has been quite a while since I’ve read a collection of short stories that so completely and consistently won me over. I’m typically satisfied if roughly half the stories in a collection work for me and thrilled if three-quarters do. But Brenda Peynado hit it out of the ballpark with The Rock Eaters, with stories that range almost entirely from good (a few) to excellent (most) to wonderfully, lingeringly strange and powerful (many). It’s easily the best story collection I’ve read in years, a must-read mix of fantasy, science fiction, magical realism, fabulist fiction, horror, and even a realistic story in there, with all the inherent blurring of genre lines those arbitrary categories convey. Think of a George Saunders or Kelly Link type of story, though Peynado is absolutely her own writer; there is nothing derivative here.

The book’s strengths are both plenti... Read More

We Are Satellites: A science fiction novel that will stay in your head

We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker

Often in magical realism, a writer takes one little bit of magic and plunks it into an otherwise entirely realistic story, like adding a single drop of blue food dye into a glass of water that remains water, but water newly, wholly colored by that one tiny drop. In Sarah Pinsker’s novel, We Are Satellites (2021), we have what one might class science-fictional realism; she eschews building the usual futuristic world full of advances and instead offers up a single drop in the form of the Pilot, a brain implant that allows the wearers to multitask without loss of focus, making them incredibly efficient.

Pinsker further narrows the story by focusing like a laser on a single family and the varying impact the introduction of the Pilot into society has on each member, crafting a quiet, character-drive... Read More

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

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

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 it for the length of its near-500 pages. But, despite that fire-genie at its heart, there just wasn’t that spark. I just wanted to be friends.

We meet our two fantastical characters early on via two different storylines. The Golem, Chava, travels to 1899 New York on a steamer and finds herself ashore in... Read More

Project Hail Mary: Mixed opinions

Reposting to include Bill's new review.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

It’s alarming to wake up from a coma in completely unfamiliar surroundings, tethered to a bed by tubes and electrodes, with a computer voice quizzing you and robotic arms controlling your movements. It’s even more disturbing when you realize that you have no recollection of your name or your past life, and that there are two long-dead bodies in the room with you.

But gradually, through a series of flashback memories, Ryland Grace remembers that Earth is facing an extinction event: a Russian scientist discovered that a strange line has developed between the sun and Venus, and it’s causing the sun to lose energy at a rate that’s high enough to cause a worldwide ice age in the next few decades. Grace, a disgraced molecular biologist who abandoned academia to teach middle school science, was one of the scientists investigating the un... Read More

SHORTS: More Hugo and Locus Award finalists

In this week's SHORTS column we wrap up our reviews of most of the 2021 Locus and Hugo award finalists in the novelette and short story categories.

“50 Things Every AI Working with Humans Should Know” by Ken Liu (2020, free at Uncanny magazine)

One eventually gets the list the titles implies, but first the story opens with an obituary of the list’s author — “WHEEP-3 (‘Dr. Weep’), probably the most renowned AI AI-critic of the last two decades.” The obit explains how WHEEP was created/trained by Dr. Judy Reynolds Tran, the odd and at times controversial relationship between the “strange pair who whose lives were inextricably entwined,” the three phases of WHEEP’s career, culminating in “advice aimed at advanced artificial intelligence,” and fin... Read More

How to Mars: Solid but feels like a missed opportunity

How to Mars by David Ebenbach

In David Ebenbach’s How to Mars (2021), humans have made it to Mars, but not via the usual major government initiative. Instead, a group of six was sent as a reality TV show produced by Destination Mars, a corporation whose owner is “pretty eccentric.” Sadly, Mars turned out to be kind of dull (lots of rocks, no life, monotone color) and as the six scientists grew bored so did the audience, leading to the show’s cancellation after just one year. The novel though kicks off with a revelation sure to jump start ratings: despite a prohibition on sex, one of the group (Jenny) is pregnant. It’s a great premise, rich with potential for tension, drama, and an exploration of what it means to be human, especially with the added complication of Martian life, but unfortunately the novel doesn’t fully mine that potential, leaving it less than the sum of its parts.
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The Blacktongue Thief: Has a true sense of history

The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman

The Blacktongue Thief (2021), by Christopher Buehlman, is a book that more than most will either win you over or not by virtue of its voice. More specifically, the bawdy, vulgar, romantic, scatological, jaded, at times lyrical (sometimes literally) voice of its thief narrator Kinch Na Shannack. For me, the voice was hit and miss, not in its execution, which was always consistent, but in my reaction to it. Sometimes I loved it, sometimes I didn’t care for it, but it mostly carried me smoothly along in a book that throughout my reading and at the end I felt I should have enjoyed a lot more, even with its four-star ranking.

Thanks to being in debt to the Takers Guild (i.e. the usual thieves guild of fantasy works), Kinch finds himself tasked with joining a quest ... Read More

A Short History of Humanity: A New History of Old Europe

A Short History of Humanity by Johannesburg Krause & Thomas Trappe, translated by Caroline Waight

A Short History of Humanity: A New History of Old Europe (2021) is, as one might expect from the title, a surprisingly concise volume covering a lot of ground. It is also, thanks to the combined efforts of its co-authors — Johannesburg Krause, director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology; and Thomas Trappe, a science journalist — an authoritative, informative, accessible, and engaging work of non-fiction.

The focus of the book is archaeogenetics, a recent field that uses newly created technology and new discoveries to “decode ancient genomes, some of which are hundreds of thousands of years old … uncovering not only the genetic profiles of the dead, but also how their genes spread across Europe … [and] sift[ing] out DNA from bacteria that cause deadly disease.”

... Read More

Master of Djinn: A welcome (and longer) return to a fascinating world

Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark

A Master of Djinn (2021) is P. Djèlí Clark’s first novel in the world he’s created in several short stories and a novella, and it’s clear that the setting and its characters can easily handle the expanded length, making for an exciting plot combined with some sharp social criticism.

This novel, and the other works, are set in the early 1900’s, three decades after the scholar/mage al-Jahiz opened a portal between our world and another, bringing an influx of magical/fantastical creatures across, with the djinn not only settling relatively smoothly into Egypt and other countries, but also helping expel the Western imperialists, shrinking their empires and their ability to exploit non-Western cultures for growth, labor, materials, and prosperity, Thus, Egypt is now a “great power” while Britain,... Read More

SHORTS: 2020/21 Awards finalists

This week's SHORTS column features some of the 2020 Nebula and 2021 Locus and Hugo award finalists in the novella, novelette, and short story categories.

“A Guide for Working Breeds” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (2020, free at Tor.com, originally published in Made to Order: Robots and Revolution)

This is an absolutely delightful story! A grumpy robot, Constant Killer, who makes a living by engaging in robot deathmatch and assassination games, is obliged to mentor a chirpy, innocent new robot who is having problems with its life, ranging from “how do I remove illusionary dogs from my optical feed” to dealing with adverse working conditions at a cheap automated café. What begins as a meeting between opposite personalities gradually evolves into an unlikely friendship.
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Bill chats with Marion about Copper Road (Giveaway!)

In case you haven't heard, our own Marion Deeds' novel Copper Road was recently published by Falstaff Books. After reading and reviewing it, I had some questions about the story, the world Marion created, and her writing process. I'm pleased to share her answers with you. Marion will send a signed copy of Copper Road to one of our commentors with a U.S. address (if our winner is outside the U.S., we'll send a $5 Amazon gift card).

Bill Capossere: I mentioned in my review how meticulously constructed the plot felt. I loved, after reading it once, in my rereads being able to mark spots where various plot points or character moments were set up. Can you talk about your plotting process? Are you an outliner? Did you go back and drop seeds for items that had already come to full bloom? Read More

Klara and the Sun: An understated masterpiece

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Klara and the Sun (2021) is the newest novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, and the best description I can think of it is that it’s the newest novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. In other words, it’s very “Ishiguro”-like in its themes, its voice, its prose style and will call up memories of earlier works such as Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day, which I consider high praise indeed.

The setting is a near-future where most children are “lifted” (genetically enhanced for intelligence) and do all of their schooling at home. Their social life, as it exists, consists of “interaction parties” and AF’s, or Artificial Friends. Klara, our narrator, is one such ... Read More

Copper Road: Deeds has created an intriguing world

Copper Road by Marion Deeds

Full disclosure: Marion is a colleague of mine (those reading this at fantasyliterature.com know that already, of course), and I also did a read of an early draft. On a more trivial note, I’ll confess it felt very strange every time I typed “Deeds”, using the author’s last name as is standard in these reviews, and not “Marion.” I give you this knowledge to do with what you may...

Copper Road (2021) is Marion Deeds’ first full novel in the BROKEN CITIES series, following on the heels of her novella set in the same universe, Aluminum Leaves. One needn’t have read Aluminum Leaves to enjoy Copper Road, though it... Read More

Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls: Younger readers will enjoy the fresh setting

Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls by Kaela Rivera

Kaela Rivera sets her novel Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls (2021) against a backdrop of Mexican/Meso-American/Southwestern folktales and legends, sending the titular protagonist on a quest to rescue her older sister. The story will probably mostly satisfy its target Middle Grade audience but is less likely to appeal to even slightly older readers.

Tierra del Sol is a remote town surrounded by desert that each year enacts a ritualist dance to frighten away the dark criaturas that have long threatened Cece’s people. Cece herself is too young for the dance and is as well more than a little distrusted by the townspeople due to an incident from her childhood. Her sister, on the other hand, is loved by all. Unfortunately, she’s also caught the eye of El Sombreron, one of the worst of the dark criaturas, and when he kidnaps her on the nigh... Read More

First Steps: How Upright Walking Made Us Human

First Steps: How Upright Walking Made Us Human by Jeremy DeSilva

First Steps: How Upright Walking Made Us Human (2021), by Jeremy DeSilva, is an eminently readable non-fiction work. I read through it in as single sitting, propelled forward by DeSilva’s prose and enthusiasm, and I was captivated throughout, as well as ending up much better informed about our species’ evolution and bipedalism (along with learning why I’ve ended up with so many sprained ankles, inflamed Achilles, bad knees, and a bad back).

DeSilva is a paleoanthropologist, but more than that, he’s an expert in the foot. More than that, he’s an expert on the ankle. If that sounds an absurdly narrow focus, I’ll let him explain it:
We are trained this way [hyper specialization] because paleoanthropology is a science of fragments. In six weeks at a fossil site, we may find a couple of hominin teeth, and if we are lucky, a hom... Read More

A Deadly Education: Fantastic originality

Reposting to include John's new review.

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

I honestly had a very hard time with the beginning of Naomi Novik’s newest novel, A Deadly Education (2020). But based on my experience with her prior work, I kept going and though I don’t think this novel nears the strength of ones like Spinning Silver or Uprooted, I was happy I did.

El (short for Galadriel) Higgins is a student at the Scholomance, a sort of sentient, no-professors-here, boarding school for sorcerers. Students have various tracks of magic, the school presents them with lessons, supplies,... Read More

The Bone Maker: A solid novel

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst

There’s a point almost exactly halfway through Sarah Beth Durst’s latest novel, The Bone Maker (2021), where the author teases us that the book we’ve been reading just might go in a completely different direction, prompting me to write in my notes, “Love this.” And then, well, it didn’t. Instead, as if the inertia were too great, we’re shortly steered back into a well-worn fantasy story, which, despite being mostly satisfying — with some moments that rose above that level and a few that pulled it below — had me wishing I could have gone back to that moment fifty-three percent of the way in and chosen the plot less traveled.

Twenty-five years ago, Kreya led her crew of magic-users (husband Jentt and friends Zera, S... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: What’s your TBR list like?

We suspect that most of our readers keep a TBR ("To Be Read") list and we're interested in hearing about it, so we've got some questions. Feel free to answer as many as you'd like and to ask questions of other readers.

Do you keep a TBR list? If not, why not?
What format is it in (e.g., notebook, spreadsheet, online)?
How many books are on your list?
How do you organize it?
How do you decide in which order to read your books?
Are you good at sticking to the list?
Where do you discover the books you put on your list?
What are the first five books on your list?
If you have one piece of advice for creating a TBR list, what is it?

As always, one random commenter will choose a book from our stacks.

Hamlet’s TBR Lament
by Bill Capo...

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Hummingbird Salamander: VanderMeer’s unique take on the eco-thriller

Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer

Hummingbird Salamander
(2021) is Jeff VanderMeer’s newest work, and it may also be his most accessible. Certainly it’s his least strange, though admittedly with VanderMeer that’s not saying much. Though if he’s working in more familiarly popular territory — the thriller novel — there’s no doubt VanderMeer puts his own stamp on the genre, whether he’s working within its tropes or subverting them.

Chapter One opens ominously enough, as any good thriller should — “Assume I’m dead by the time you read this” — and ends even more so — “I’m here to show you how the world ends.” The stakes have clearly been set. Our narrator, who won’t tell us her real name, offering up “Jane Smith” as her none-too-imaginative alternative, is seemingly set... Read More

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