Bizarro, Fantasy & SF


Harper Voyager
$18.99 trade paper, available now

Rating: 4.5* of five, rounded up because the economy of presentation packs the punch of Dune into the space of Cloud Atlas.

On The Guardian’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of 2021 list

The Publisher Says: David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas meets Octavia Butler’s Earthseed series, as acclaimed author Monica Byrne (The Girl in the Road) spins a brilliant multigenerational saga spanning two thousand years, from the collapse of the ancient Maya to a far-future utopia on the brink of civil war.

The Actual Star takes readers on a journey over thousands of years and six continents —collapsing three separate timelines into one cave in the Belizean jungle.

An epic saga of three reincarnated souls, this novel demonstrates the entanglements of tradition and progress, sister and stranger, love and hate. The book jumps forward and backward in time among a pair of twins who ruled a Maya kingdom, a young American on a trip of self-discovery, and two dangerous charismatics in a conflict that will determine the fate of the few humans left on Earth after massive climate change.

In each era, age-old questions about existence and belonging and identity converge deep underground. Because only in complete darkness can one truly see the stars.


My Burgoine Review
: Three timelines, three souls, three moments in Humanity's journey. Author Byrne has made all of them into one beautiful braid, glossy and dark and heavy...crackling with energy...predicting a path that We-the-People must walk to fulfill our personal and communal purpose. I've seen the comparisons to Cloud Atlas but to be frank, a better comparison is, to my own mind anyway, what would happen if one gave A Canticle for Leibowitz to David Lynch and said, "film this...but make everyone queer."



Hanover Square Press (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$10.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 2.5* of five

The Publisher Says: A thought-provoking novel that imagines what would have happened if the British had succeeded in kidnapping General George Washington, for fans of alternate histories like The Plot Against America, The Guns of the South, and The Man in the High Castle.

British special agent Jeremiah Black, an officer of the King’s Guard, lands on a lonely beach in the wee hours of the morning in late November 1780. The revolution is in full swing but has become deadlocked. Black is here to change all that.

His mission, aided by Loyalists, is to kidnap George Washington and spirit him back to London aboard the HMS Peregrine, a British sloop of war that is waiting closely offshore. Once he lands, though, the “aid by Loyalists” proves problematic because some would prefer just to kill the general outright. Black manages—just—to get Washington aboard the Peregrine, which sails away.

Upon their arrival in London, Washington is imprisoned in the Tower to await trial on charges of high treason. England’s most famous barristers seek to represent him but he insists on using an American. He chooses Abraham Hobhouse, an American-born barrister with an English wife—a man who doesn’t really need the work and thinks the “career-building” case will be easily resolved through a settlement of the revolution and Washington’s release. But as greater political and military forces swirl around them and peace seems ever more distant, Hobhouse finds that he is the only thing keeping Washington from the hangman’s noose.

Drawing inspiration from an actual kidnapping plot hatched in 1776 by a member of Washington’s own Commander-in-Chief’s Guards, Charles Rosenberg has written a compelling novel that envisions what would take place if the leader of America’s fledgling rebellion were taken from the nation at the height of the war, imperiling any chance of victory.


My Review
: Way way way way too many uses of the dreaded "As you know..." locution, though that's a poor choice of words on my part because NO. ONE. SAYS. IT. in conversation. In every single instance of the clunky phrase's appearance, I could easily recast the info to be dumped and made it a lot less stodgy.

In general, Author Rosenberg isn't a flashy writer, doesn't dig deep into the English language's treasure chest to get le mot juste, evidenced by his prior works (eg, Death On a High Floor). This is not to say the author isn't competent in his storytelling, just that it is foreshortened in the razzmatazz department because of this lack. He chose his story well.

It's a legal procedural tale with very interesting things to tell us about how politics and the law interact. It's also a really interesting PoD (Point of Departure, for the alt-hist newbs) for a story, lots of branching possibilities to be explored, and the one Author Rosenberg chose was replete with promise. I suspect the casual reader wouldn't take to the one he chose, the Grishamesque courtroom drama, because it doesn't promise the thrills, chills, and spills that the title does.

That brings me to my rating. It feels mingy on first viewing. It *is* mingy. But it is in line with my sense of outrage after having my expectations raised high and then underdelivering on the title's specific promise.



Del Rey Books
$28.00 hardcover, available now

Rating: 4 impressed-but-frustrated stars of five

FINALIST, 2022 Astounding Award for Best New Writer! Winners announced at Chicon 8, 4 September 2022.

The Publisher Says: An outsider who can travel between worlds discovers a secret that threatens her new home and her fragile place in it, in a stunning sci-fi debut that’s both a cross-dimensional adventure and a powerful examination of identity, privilege, and belonging.

Multiverse travel is finally possible, but there’s just one catch: No one can visit a world where their counterpart is still alive. Enter Cara, whose parallel selves happen to be exceptionally good at dying—from disease, turf wars, or vendettas they couldn’t outrun. Cara’s life has been cut short on 372 worlds in total.

On this Earth, however, Cara has survived. Identified as an outlier and therefore a perfect candidate for multiverse travel, Cara is plucked from the dirt of the wastelands. Now she has a nice apartment on the lower levels of the wealthy and walled-off Wiley City. She works—and shamelessly flirts—with her enticing yet aloof handler, Dell, as the two women collect off-world data for the Eldridge Institute. She even occasionally leaves the city to visit her family in the wastes, though she struggles to feel at home in either place. So long as she can keep her head down and avoid trouble, Cara is on a sure path to citizenship and security.

But trouble finds Cara when one of her eight remaining doppelgängers dies under mysterious circumstances, plunging her into a new world with an old secret. What she discovers will connect her past and her future in ways she could have never imagined—and reveal her own role in a plot that endangers not just her world, but the entire multiverse.

My Review: Damn, it's *so*close* to being excellent! Instead, it's very very good, and you're spending both money and time very wisely on this debut novel.

Cara's world is a multiverse with very interesting rules for travel: your alt-Earth counterpart must be dead. It's very exciting to follow Cara in her travels to an unusually large number of multiversally-vibrating alt-Earths. The problems her mortality-prone other-Earth selves are succumbing to make it possible for the author to reflect on the many problems of our end-stage capitalist world without shouting or whining.


Free online read

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Welcome to Tremontaine, where social advantage is best achieved through duels of wit and steel. A Duchess whose beauty is matched only by her cunning; a handsome young scholar with more passion than sense; a foreigner in a playground of swordplay and secrets; and a mathematical genius whose discoveries herald revolution—when games of politics begin, no one is safe. Mind your manners and enjoy the chocolate in a dance of sparkling intrigue that returns readers to Ellen Kushner’s beloved Riverside series, where sexuality is fluid, politics is everything, and outcasts are the tastemakers.

My Review: It's a wonderful thing to discover a new fantasy series. I'd never heard of Tremontaine before Kelly Robson's short prequel brought it to my attention. I'd barely heard of Ellen Kushner's Riverside series, with its vaunted QUILTBAG inclusiveness. I've learned to mistrust that assurance; usually what's meant is lots of womansex. I don't care to be reminded of womansex. Yay for having it if that's what you want, and no I don't mean I think it shouldn't be published or some such neanderthalism. I mean I don't want to read it.

Yes, the only QUILTBAG representation in the story is lesbian; it's also so fleeting that it needs to be called attention to in the narration. That's just ducky with me, it means I'm not being required to skip paragraphs to avoid being offended.

The story itself is a delight, set in a fantasy world that's got fascinating lineaments and is clearly about doing something different because it's got a young woman finding and consolidating real power for herself in her husband's stead. He's a bookish sort; she's a clear-headed calculating power-seeker. And my money, for the rest of the Tremontaine series, is on her to be the clear-cut wielder of absolute power and vast influence.

My favorite kind of story is this, the finding of one's best purpose and clearest path towards success in spite of obstacles. That it is a lovely young aristocratic woman, a creature meant to be an ornament, and one so undervalued by those who could have mentored her that she has been left to find her own way...*chef's kiss*

If you are a fan of Mannerpunk (which this is, in a subgenre of fantasy literature that takes place within an elaborate social structure and resembles a comedy of manners, per one online definition) this will be deeply agreeable to you. I know it was to me, and thanks to Author Robinson I now know a big part of that genre exists that I didn't before!


(Sector General #1)
Tor Books
$9.99 Kindle anthology edition, available now

Rating: 3.75* of five

The Publisher Says: Sector General is the home of many strange creatures, including humans! It is a vast sectionalized hospital, set up in space to care for all kinds of extra-terrestrials. Each section has a different atmosphere and habitat to cater for the many different species.. all the problems of the staff and patients are in this book.. how to design a spacesuit for a surgeon with eight legs?

My Review: This book's 1960s roots are showing. Since those roots are also my roots, I am thoroughly in sync with the ideology on display; the read itself probably only merits three stars because less a novel than a fix-up seldom rates high on my personal literary scale. So the remaining star is awarded for nostalgia and wistful pleasure.

I'm not going to encourage modern readers to shed their addiction to billion-page nonillionologies like that stupid one just finished up on TV to grab this modestly sized midlist marvy from a half-century ago. I'll merely comment that, should y'all come up for air and need something less grimdark and cynical, this could cleanse y'all's mental palates.

And as a 2020 aside, I'd like to say that the medicine-for-profit and disease-as-political-weapon age we live in comes off decidedly the worse for comparison to this fix-up book of stories where these vile, reprehensible attitudes are not on display.

I would like a one-way trip back to that reality for any holiday you care to name.



Subterranean Press
$4.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 4.5 horrified, terrified, vindicated stars of five

The Publisher Says: Captain Ean Tephe is a man of faith, whose allegiance to his lord and to his ship is uncontested. The Bishopry Militant knows this -- and so, when it needs a ship and crew to undertake a secret, sacred mission to a hidden land, Tephe is the captain to whom the task is given. Tephe knows from the start that his mission will be a test of his skill as a leader of men and as a devout follower of his god. It's what he doesn't know that matters: to what ends his faith and his ship will ultimately be put -- and that the tests he will face will come not only from his god and the Bishopry Militant, but from another, more malevolent source entirely....

My Review: The Power of God...the Power of Faith...these are concrete, actual things, not powerless mouthings, in John Scalzi's 136-page gut-punch and goolie-kick of a novella. Captain Ean Tephe, commanding the Righteous, is fresh from a stinging defeat (in his mind) that, in the view of his superiors, is a victory so signal that he's summoned to HQ and given the most astonishing order: Go to a planet of those who have not heard of Our Lord, convert them, and offer the nourishment of their worship to Our Lord in this difficult war we're waging against the gods whose brother-gods are enslaved as the star drives of the Faithful.

He does. The scene that follows is so revolting, so truly disturbing, and so exactly what I believe to be the case regarding religion, that I wasn't at all sure which of my equally strong emotional responses to give pride of place to.

The last words on p136 are: "Pray," he said.

Excellent advice. Won't help, but it's still excellent advice.

It took about three hours for this book to enthrall, fascinate, frighten, and disgust me. I'm left, here at the end of the experience, wondering what is to become of me now. How will I find a story that will help me feel clean and whole in my bruised and abused mind again? What balm can be applied to a beaten psyche? I was never the most chirpily sanguine of men, I truly always believed that humanity was made up of scum, pond scum, and scum-sucking pond scum, then below that conservatives.

And now that seems the most giddily upbeat and Pollyanna-ish codswallop. Scalzi has stared unflinchingly into the black heart of reality, the place that Lovecraft was scared to go, and brought back this eyewitness account.

Lift your snouts from the trough, humans! This is exactly where you're headed if you don't side-step now!

How lonely John Scalzi must be, having that one eye in this kingdom of the blind.

I don't remember which of the Axis of Evil boys convinced me I had to read this, but you did me a good turn: I finally know of someone who makes me look optimistic about humanity!


(Lords of Davenia #2)
Dreamspinner Press
$17.99 trade paper, available now


The Publisher Says: Auraq Greystone, once a military officer with a promising future, exists on the fringe of society. Accused of murder, Auraq is on the run from the ax—until two fugitives crash into his solitary life. One is a young man named Kane. The glowing marks on his arm pulse with an otherworldly power, and they have made him the target of a sinister organization called the Order of the Jackal. When the old man protecting Kane dies in an ambush, Auraq swears an oath to take his place.

But the runes are far more significant than they realize. They are a message from the shadow realm, a dark memory of the past—one holding evidence of a bloody massacre and its savage architect; one that will shake the kingdom to its foundation. Risking arrest and execution, Auraq fights to get Kane to the capital city where the cryptic marking can be unlocked. And with assassins close on their trail, Auraq might never get the chance to show Kane what’s in his heart—or the way their journey together has changed him.

The Shadow Mark is an epic tale of magic, murder, conspiracy, betrayal, and—for the two men tasked with unraveling the mystery—love and redemption.

My Review: It's never too early to plan for #Booksgiving! Start getting your bookish friends their read on...that gay fantasy reading man? Here's the sequel to Lord Mouse!

What I liked best was that the gayness was incidental to the plot. What I wasn't expecting was the absence of sex. It wasn't *bad* it was simply unexpected. Completely in character, I fully acknowledge. But surprising. And as for set-ups for sequels, this can't be beat. I'll read 'em.

But somebody at Dreamspinner needs to get with the program vis-a-vis editing. Many fewer malapropisms than LORD MOUSE, but the copyeditor needs to keep a style sheet: Lendera PROVENCE or PROVINCE, not both.

(I made a lot of Kindlenotes, posted on Goodreads, should you want to see some of the groaners...Note that Kindle note 19 is a total ending-giveaway spoiler.



W.W. Norton
$15.95 trade paperback, available now

Rating: 1* of five

The Publisher Says: A vicious fifteen-year-old "droog" is the central character of this 1963 classic, whose stark terror was captured in Stanley Kubrick's magnificent film of the same title.

In Anthony Burgess's nightmare vision of the future, where criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends' social pathology. A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. When the state undertakes to reform Alex—to "redeem" him—the novel asks, "At what cost?"

This edition includes the controversial last chapter not published in the first edition and Burgess's introduction "A Clockwork Orange Resucked."

My Review: I found the slang, "Nadsat," stupid and tricksy. I found the "ultraviolence" almost risibly dated, since I've seen my nephews playing video games more violent than this. I found the prevalence of rape so voyeuristically deployed, so gratuitously hamfistedly bludgeoningly prevalent, that in the end it evoked only a snort of derision from me.

That, in the end, is my problem with the book. Leaving aside the roll-my-eyes-so-far-I-can-see-my-brain nonsense with words, and the novella becomes a pursey-lipped Great Aunt Prudence-shocker, a piece made to play on the fears of right-wing conservative religious nuts and libertarian dupes of the twin perils of Moral Degeneracy and Government Intervention.

I'll give the last words to Burgess, whose response to the book I found on Wikipedia:

In 1985, Burgess published Flame into Being: The Life and Work of D. H. Lawrence, and while discussing Lady Chatterley's Lover in this biography, Burgess compared that novel's notoriety with A Clockwork Orange: "We all suffer from the popular desire to make the known notorious. The book I am best known for, or only known for, is a novel I am prepared to repudiate: written a quarter of a century ago, a jeu d'esprit knocked off for money in three weeks, it became known as the raw material for a film which seemed to glorify sex and violence. The film made it easy for readers of the book to misunderstand what it was about, and the misunderstanding will pursue me until I die. I should not have written the book because of this danger of misinterpretation, and the same may be said of Lawrence and Lady Chatterley's Lover." Burgess also dismissed A Clockwork Orange as "too didactic to be artistic." (emphasis added)


Free, available now

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: NBC is putting Charlie Jane Anders’ Six Months, Three Days into production and we could not be more excited! published the Hugo award-winning novelette in 2011.

From Deadline Hollywood, NBC is adapting the story into...

...a light procedural about a mismatched pair of San Francisco private investigators — an upbeat, free-spirited idealist and a swoon-worthy, brooding fatalist –- both of whom can see the future. Forced to team up, the pair knows their relationship is destined to grow from antagonistic rivalry into fairy-tale true love… but only if they can stop him from being killed in six months and three days. The adaptation will being written by film and TV writer Eric Garcia, author of the novel Matchstick Men, on which the feature film was based. Ritter, Garcia, Janollari and Silent Machine’s Lindsey Liberatore are executive producing.
Charlie Jane had this to say over on io9...

I was really blown away by how many people connected with this story, both with the characters and with the ideas. After a decade and a half of toiling in obscurity as a fiction writer, it's beyond intense when something you wrote takes on a life of its own like that. Knowing that something that came out of your head is living in other people's heads, is enough to make your head explode. I felt way beyond lucky.

So then hearing from other creative people that they want to turn my story into something brand new and different is kind of that same feeling of astonishment and luck — only maybe even more so, because of the realization that smart people are putting time and energy into the idea of adapting your story. Whatever happens with this deal, I will never stop being thrilled about that.
A huge congratulations to Charlie Jane Anders! And a thank-you to editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden for acquiring the story for us. This remains one of my favorite stories we have had the honor to publish. If you haven’t read it yet, you can do so here. And then get the popcorn ready for TV night!

My Review: "O wad some Power the giftie gie us/To see oursels as ithers see us!" --Robert Burns

That quote has always chilled me. I don't want to see myself as others see me, thanks. Burns's point is that we should not wish for that, ever, because the burden of knowing what another person thinks, sees, feels is quite impossibly heavy and unbearable. Think of how many times in this good life you've wanted not to know what you yourownself thought, felt, saw.

Charlie Jane Anders, a smallish fixture in the SFnal world with a good reputation as a storyteller and a nice lady, imagines for two people the horrid, heavy burden of seeing the future...exacerbated or ameliorated by their discovery of each other and their subsequent, doomed relationship. After all, seeing the future means knowing how it ends, right?

“I don’t think you’re any more or less powerful than me. Our powers are just different,” Doug says. “But I think you’re a selfish person. I think you’re used to the idea that you can cheat on everything, and it’s made your soul a little bit rotten. I think you’re going to hate me for the next few weeks until you figure out how to cast me out. I think I love you more than my own arms and legs and I would shorten my already short life by a decade to have you stick around one more year. I think you’re brave as hell for keeping your head up on our journey together into the mouth of hell. I think you’re the most beautiful human being I’ve ever met, and you have a good heart despite how much you’re going to tear me to shreds.”
Or does it, wonders Judy, mean that she can make changes in small things and thereby change the future? Is it in her power to alter the inevitable? Doug doesn't think so. Doug is a committed and convinced determinist. He sees only one future, and he's sure he's correct about its inevitability.

Judy sees, on the other hand, a multiplicity of possible futures, and must weigh in a matter of a blink which one she will choose. Pause a moment and consider that. Doesn't that degree of personal accountability for one's life's course sound appallingly dreary?

And now imagine for a moment the sheer relief of finding and spending time with the one other person on the planet that fully, as fully as humans can anyway, Gets You...while knowing that your love is doomed. (See the title for a clue.)

Do you lie down and weep for what can't be changed? Do you rail against the cold, merciless gawd who lumbered you with this "gift?" Or do you break the rules, test the limits, fight for yourself and your happiness, by doing something, anything, to take your future into your own hands?




Fantagraphic Books
$29.99 hardcover, available now (and worth every dime)

Rating: however many stars there are

The Publisher Says: Gahan Wilson is probably best known for his macabre Playboy cartoons, filled with charming monsters, goofy mad scientists, and melting victims, and his cutting-edge work in the National Lampoon, but he’s also one of the most versatile cartoonists alive whose work has appeared in a wide range of media venues. Gahan Wilson Sunday Comics is Wilson’s assault from within: His little-known syndicated strip that appeared in America’s newspapers between 1974 an 1976. Readers must have been startled to find Wilson’s freaks, geeks, and weirdos nestled among family, funny-animal, and soap opera offerings. (The term “zombie strip” — a strip that has long outlived its original creator — takes on a whole new meaning in Wilson’s hands.)

While each strip, at first glance, appears to be a standard, color Sunday strip (albeit without panel borders), each Sunday Comic is a collection of one-panel gag cartoons, delineated in Wilson’s brilliantly controlled wiggly-but-sophisticated pen line. The last gag cartoon on each Sunday is part of a recurring series, either “Future Funnies” or “The Creep.” Some Sundays are a freewheeling mélange of board meetings, monsters, and cavemen (with cameos by Wilson’s Kid character from Nuts, his gimlet-eyed view of childhood, collected last year by Fantagraphics), while others riff on a topic or subject (clocks, plants, wallpaper, etc.). As is his wont, Wilson mines the blackest of black comedy in the banal horror of human nature. Gahan Wilson Sunday Comics collects, for the first time, each and every one of these strips, luxuriating across a 12” x 6” landscape format, with Fantagraphics’ trademark high production values, innovative design, and succinct historical commentary.

My Review:

What else need be said? It's Gahan Wilson, and it's either your kind of thing or it's not. It's very much my kind of thing.

I feel like these sofa-sitters about most of modern life. I don't get it. I feel like I have sixteen thumbs, mostly on my feet, and color-sensing seismographs instead of ears, in the rap-infested, reality-show-obsessed, Fox-as-news world I'm in. I don't fit, and I don't want to.

Goodness knows, there is no reason to assume it ever will, at least for very long. I keep slugging. Books like this, humor from 40 years ago, show me that there is in fact nothing new under the sun. Some people have always felt, as I do, that the world makes no sense, that up is in fact down, and the best we can do is cope.

I paint what I see.



PS Publishing (non-affiliate Amazon link)
Out of print!

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: "Within our tale, gentle reader, you will see writ before you a palimpsest of low living and high misdemeanor, and the curious redresses that are visited as a result thereof . . ."

In The Baby Killers, Jay Lake restages mankind's Fall from Grace as an alternate-history steampunk fable. Written in a style of rambunctious Victoriana-that-never-was, this novella is set in Philadelphia in 1907, when that city serves as the seat of the British Dominion of the Americas, and as a Pandora's Box of sin and vice. The Governor-General has a taste for violating innocents, while the good Dr. Scholes uses them to fashion his mechanized agents of Justice. The Gollinoster, a feminine incarnation of angry retribution, wanders beneath the city streets - and an undying creature of ancient destruction is rushing to meet her. Villains and heroes (categories that overlap significantly) battle in a story of debauchery, degradation, radical experimentation, mad metaphysics . . . and a farting Frenchman.

Both popular culture and actual history are mined here to create a tale in which the use of idealized technology meets our darkest desires . . . and the result is positively electric.

My Review: Never let it be said or implied or even thought that Jay Lake is anything other than adventurous. This is an exuberant trip into a sick, weird vision of a sick, weird culture.

Much like our own.

Don't believe me?
{She} stood sobbing in front of her house. She, who had not cried since age ten when her brother took her virginity in the upstairs maid's room. ... There had probably been six people in the house when {the girl} exploded into flames. Two were girls from her list, valuable members of her stock book.
If this doesn't remind you of the response of the owners to the Bangladeshi clothing-factory collapse, and the BP America president's response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, you're not paying attention.

The Baby Killer of the title isn't what you think it is. Well, it sort-of is; but not really because it's so much worse than what you think it is: Dr. Scholes uses the living brains of babies to power his retribution machines, his Robocops of steam, which of course means the babies qua babies are dead, though their "lives" are continuing and are augmented by Countess Lovelace's punchtape difference engines.

Drone-using teenaged soldiers, anyone?

So that's the book's level of success. It's a dark and bitter look at the endless and boundless vileness of humanity, and it's a cautionary tale told too late about the price extracted from us all for the sin of hubris, and it's darkly funny as well as starkly moral. It's compact, at 68pp, and so it's impossible to overdose on the grims. It's got a farting Frenchman as its Angel of Justice. It's, well, it's surreal and it's weird and I can think of no good reason for you not to buy and read it.

So go already. Amazon doesn't run on air.


WALKING YOUR OCTOPUS: A Guidebook to the Domesticated Cephalopod

Baby Tattoo Books
$29.95 hardcover, available now, so what are you waiting for?!

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: A beautifully produced and richly illustrated book that showcases the day-to-day adventures of independent girl-about-town Victoria Psismall and her pet land octopus Otto. Thirty panoramic, full-page illustrations humorously chronicle the duo's home and social activities that include (among other things) bathing, biking, dating, cooking, playing croquet, and pumpkin carving. Accompanying text explains the "do"s and "don't"s of living with a large land octopus. The book's art is extremely detailed, and each illustration tells its own visual story. The Victorian era characters and period-influenced design elements combine to create a wonderful, collectible art-object for those who still value the classic elegance of ink-on-paper. The hardcover binding is plussed with two-layer embossing and spot varnish, and the interior is printed on extra heavy paper. An exquisite volume for lovers of books, art and pets.

My Review: I can't remember snickering, chortling, giggling, or smirking this much in a very long time. The absurdity of the premise is matched only by the beauty of the object.

"The adventurous spirit of the octopus is infectious. After spending time with them, you will find yourself attempting many activities that might have heretofore been out of range of one's more mundane lifestyle." This fronts a page showing Victoria, our intrepid octopus-adopter, attempting (with limited success) to ice-skate, supported by the smiling, multi-skated Otto the rescued octopus.

Inspired, divine steampunky-bizarro silliness. If the pictures don't make you smile, I'd tell you to unpucker and drink a G&T and then look again. If they still don't make you smile, apply for a sense of humor graft.



$15.99 trade paper, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.

My Review: A charming way to wile away a Saturday afternoon. It's a lovely story. Been told before, as what has not, but to call this little entertainment a groundbreaking work by a master is absurd.

Did I enjoy it? Oh yes. I liked it fine. As always in a Gaiman book, no one changes. Nameless narrator as child confronts horrible reality that all is not as it seems, he is not Safe, and the world can be whisked away in a flood of knowledge. He goes on being a child. Nameless adult narrator comes to terms with loss, only he doesn't really because he can't remember what it is he's coming to terms with.

The Norns, Urðr, Skuld, and Verðandi, are brilliant constructs, even if there is doubt about their separate and uninfluenced creation in Norse mythology and not grafts of the Greek Fates. The Norns, and their amazing well, describe all too clearly the experience of being alive in the elegant universe that quantum physics tells us lies under the pretty picture we lie ourselves to sleep with. Gaiman clearly Gets It. He expresses his clear-eyed and seemingly unflinching comprehension and acceptance of the unreality of the illusion we inhabit in this book. That's refreshing and it's pleasant.

But brilliant? Groundbreaking? Really now. James Joyce was brilliant. Proust was brilliant. Beckett's plays are brilliant. I will perform the osculum infame on Fox News if someone can make a respectable case for Gaiman being brilliant by those lights.

A worthy and amusing entertainment. There is nothing whatever wrong with that.



Dark Coast Press (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$18.95 trade paper, available now

Rating: 3.25* of five

The Publisher Says: Lenard Sikophsky’s father has been feeding him plutonium since the age of six in the hopes of making him the world’s first bona fide superhero. First, he must pass the unusual tests of manhood locked in the centuries old tomb, The Manaton, a secret relic passed down for generations. Falling in love with the beautiful, compulsively suicidal Laura Moskowitz doesn’t make his life any easier. But with the guidance of the Sikophsky men, the antiquated rulebook, and of course a healthy amount of plutonium, Lenard accepts his fate as an exactor of justice. . . .

Twenty years later, Lenard’s son Nemo is introduced to the same destiny as his father, only this time the violent entity called THEY are in dangerous pursuit. Lenard’s life and the legacy of his family are put to the test when he is forced to defend everything he loves.

My Review: Well! THAT was fun. I liked reading Sattin's just-slightly-OTT prose, I liked the comic-booky story, and I liked the relative absence of typos and mangled parallelisms.

I thought I would scream occasionally...the women in the book are, well, how to put this diplomatically...girls. No other way to say it, they're girls, in the old-fashioned pejorative white-man-on-top sense.

And Nemo is less introduced to his destiny than inducted into it. Like Geek Love, a disturbing book on similar themes of parental manipulation and dysfunction, each generation of Sikophsky boys has A Destiny and Will Follow It. Or Else. This being an evergreen theme, I was really looking forward to Sattin's trippy take on it.

In this, I wasn't in the least disappointed. I offer this odd little passage from the book as evidence of Sattin's skill with trippy:
In 2003, Lantana, The Savage, Zatkin, watched the sky over Kansas for signs of impending doom.
In that forlorn sea of cattle, wheat, corn, and sorghum grain, he'd come to Finney, following the anonymous, electronic chortle of a villain calling himself The Brother who apparently had a nuclear bomb aimed and ready in the direction of the Sunflower State.
Lantana watched the sky, his toga still in the humid Midwestern slough as the sun made hell of his retinas. He wasn't sure he even believed that The Brother existed, that this anonymous, self-proclaimed villain, in all probability, was some sex-deprived soul out of Ohio with a mouse pad and a pink, pimpled penis.
Trippy, like I said. The image of a superhero named after a flowering vine standing in a cornfield with his glad-rags limp in the heat? Yes, priceless. Contrasting that with the old stand-by nerd stereotype, effective.

But therein also the problem with the book. This is a good idea, told well enough to go over, and not an out-of-the-park homer for one big reason: A lot happens, and very little changes. As I've made this same observation about Neil Gaiman's works (and been trounced and screamed at for it), this problem isn't unique to Sattin. I do wish the ending hadn't been quite so...not rushed, exactly, but tacked-on feeling. The natural end of the book was earlier, in a wide and featureless sky. Then came a bad case of the knit-knit-knits as some future history was rammed down my throat, fitting about as well as a long woolen scarf would.

But hear this: I enjoyed this weird and wonderful journey. I'm glad I took it, for all that I had reservations about it. Sattin deserves a shot at your eyeballs. He's got more to say.


Bloomsbury USA
$16.00 trade paper or ebook editions, available now

Rating: four very satisfied stars of five

The Publisher Says: Following the enormous success of 2004 bestseller and critics' favorite Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke delivers a delicious collection of ten stories set in the same fairy-crossed world of 19th-century England. With Clarke's characteristic historical detail and diction, these dark, enchanting tales unfold in a slightly distorted version of our own world, where people are bedeviled by mischievous interventions from the fairies. With appearances from beloved characters from her novel, including Jonathan Strange and Childermass, and an entirely new spin on certain historical figures, including Mary, Queen of Scots, this is a must-have for fans of Susanna Clarke's and an enticing introduction to her work for new readers. Some of these stories have never before been published; others have appeared in the New York Times or in highly regarded anthologies. In this collection, they come together to expand the reach of Clarke's land of enchantment—and anticipate her next novel.

My Review: What a delectable cocktail peanut of a book. I wish it had been available before Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, because it would have made a perfect gateway drug to the longer, more intense, and more exhausting high of the Big One. But that's like complaining that you only won $10 million in the lottery..."oh shut up" is the best response.

Nine stories set in Miss Clarke's vastly improved nineteenth-century England, the one where magical beings are and the operations of magic happen to all the people. These operations aren't always pleasant, or even kind ("Mrs Mabb", "Antickes and Frets"); sometimes, though, the balance of justice gets a magical turbocharge with satisfying results ("Tom Brightwind or How the Fairy Bridge Was Built at Thoresby", "John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner"); and for the rest? Sheer pleasure to read.

Clarke creates this magical England carefully, a term I use despite its connotations of grindhood and laborious tedium; the care, gratefully, is virtually invisible to the reader. It shows itself in the effortless naturalism of these clearly contra-natural stories. It is a sign of a master storyteller working at close to peak performance. One never thinks, "Oh c'mon!" about the antics of the magical characters, since they are provided with clear, though sometimes skewed, motives for their actions. It's a pleasure to meet John Uskglass and see his interaction with the mundane world in all its bilateral confusion and misunderstanding! Tom Brightwind and Dr. Montefiore are the classic mismatched buddies that I do honestly meet in real life; even though one is a fairy that doesn't change their dynamic.

The physical book, the hardcover edition that I read anyway, is as pleasurable to possess as the stories themselves are. The handsome cloth binding, stamped with Charles Vess's beautiful floral illustration, begins the pleasure; beautiful oxblood colored endsheets are rich, inviting, somewhat unsettlingly colored; then the line drawings within the text and the handsome, clear typography complete the impression of careful, thoughtful presentation of these delightful tales.

Anyone who quailed at the sheer massiveness of the tome Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell should read these stories, and understand that equal pleasures of a more sustained sort await between those widely separated covers. Anyone who simply loves good storytelling and good stories told should run and get this book. It's very much worth your time and money.




NEW AMSTERDAM (New Amsterdam #1)
Elizabeth Bear
Subterranean Press (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$2.99 eBook, available now

Rating: 4.25* of five

The Publisher Says: Abigail Irene Garrett drinks too much. She makes scandalous liaisons with inappropriate men, and if in her youth she was a famous beauty, now she is both formidable and notorious! She is a forensic sorceress, and a dedicated officer of a Crown that does not deserve her loyalty. Sebastien de Ulloa is the oldest creature she has ever known. He has forgotten his birth-name, his birth-place, and even the year in which he was born, if he ever knew it. But he still remembers the woman who made him immortal. In a world where the sun never sets on the British Empire, where Holland finally ceded New Amsterdam to the English only during the Napoleonic wars, and where the expansion of the American colonies was halted by the war magic of the Iroquois, they are exiles in the new world - and its only hope for justice!

My Review: This delicious book is one helluva good read, and quite entertainingly thought-provoking as well.

The title city, New Amsterdam, is the former Dutch colony on Manhattan Island, only captured by the British in the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century. Now THERE's an alternate history that's fun to imagine! Bear doesn't imagine it, though, which I consider to be a flaw; but I forgive her because Abigail Irene the forensic sorceress is such a delight as a character! She is an aging beauty, a madcap heiress in her day, and now that middle years impinge upon her beauty, a lot more of a woman than most men can handle. Her liaison with her boss is very well portrayed as the comfort-and-convenience of middle-aged lovers, not some fun but ephemeral passion of earlier life. This alone makes the book worth reading.

The crimes Abby Irene is called upon to solve are of more mysterious origins than mere "bang-you're-dead" murders that our blah little world provides. She has to wonder if her murderers are inadequately controlled demons summoned from Hell by fools in over their heads. She is ably, if unwelcomely, assisted by the oldest creature she's ever met: Don Sebastien, the Spanish wampyr, whose reputation in Europe was that of the Great Detective. After he saves Abby Irene's life, she grudgingly accepts that he's got the chops to help her in her vitrtually single-handed attempts to control the supernatural crimes that New Amsterdam presents in abundance.

Don Sebastien is over a thousand years old. He's long since forgotten the name of the village in Christian Spain where he was born before the turn of the millennium (the FIRST one, that is); he's been undead so long that he's emptied the last reservoirs of companionship, camaraderie, and seeks true death at last.

His teenaged ward, Jack, has no truck with this. He is in love with Sebastien, and will not give up his connection to this marvelous, fascinating, and quite lively corpse. Jack was a child in a club for visiting wampyrs to feed on locals when Sebastien found him; he was purchased from his parentally made indenture to the vampire version of an IHOP and subsequently freed by Sebastien. Their relationship since then has been more equal than either really knows, and each is very much lovingly dependent on the other.

Bear makes *no* point of their respective genders. Their love is presented as fully as can be; they are persecuted because of prejudice against wampyr-human relationships.

Handy dodge, eh?

Well, this is a collection of stories that tells good mysteries solved by very richly drawn characters in an alternate version of Earth that I would like to visit if I could figure out a place to apply for a visa. Recommended for anyone who isn't completely dead inside.


ed. Arthur Graham

Bizarro Press/Rooster Republic

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Tall Tales with Short Cocks is a collection of the weird and the weirder, each story guaranteed to inflate your inner chode to the very limits of its (albeit limited) imagination. Zombies, clockworks, and rabies-infected assholes! An anthology of Bizarro Fiction that will have you thinking "WTF? I gotta read what happens next!"

It's not horror, it's not sci-fi, and best of all, it's 100% YA paranormal FREE!!!

My Review: Nine short to middlin'-long tales covering most of the bases in that latest attempt by the young to épater le bourgeois (aka their parents and the dreary little yup-yups who act the way their parents do) that goes by the label “bizarro.”

Srsly y'all we did this in the 60s and 70s. Never heard of R. Crumb? Heavy Metal magazine, with its torture porn comics? But I digress, and uninterestingly.

My pervy old man-ness was instantly snagged by this title. Well, really, anyone who has read my reviews and commentary should not be surprised by that. So what the hell, download to Kindle for NINETY-NINE CENTS, why not?


Arthur Graham's piece Zeitgeist made the burned-by-TV guy in me chortle way more than is seemly in a graybearded grandfather of three. It gave me a giant happy and fulfilled a revenge fantasy. Good on ya, AG!

Regressive caused actual physical pain from (self-directed) laughter. Mr. Rowark...we will have words...not many of them will be nice. Some of them will have only four letters. The good news is that at least one of them will be “love.”

I Am A Whale was cute, and amusing, but “prose poetry”? Blank verse, more like, and a little of that goes a LOOOOOOOONNNNNNNNNNG way.

In the Flesh is billed as “steampunk noir,” though I'm more down with noir than with steampunk as a descriptor. This piece, though, makes me want to read more by John McNee because it's got that...something...there's an imagination at work here, overtime perhaps in this work, but with some bitch-slapping editing, this one's a breakout author waiting to happen.

The other tales in the collection are just fine. They don't rise to the level of my call-outs, in my never-very-humble opinion, but believe me when I tell you that I never once wanted one of them to be over sooner than it was, and with bizarro, that is *really going some.

That's why I recommend the book to the reader with a hankerin' to go over the line, over the top, and out of bounds. Fuddies will duddy over the worty dirds, and the squeamish will squirm until their squirmers are sore; they probably won't pick the book up; and I say that is a darn shame, because these writers aren't out to SHOCK! SCANDALIZE! OFFEND! you, they are telling you old stories from a new angle, and doing it with a verve and an attitude that is, dear goddesses only know, refreshing and invigorating. One day, this will be the ground from which the midcentury Stephen King will rise. Read it now. We're still gonna be around. Best to get used to it now....


Cormac McCarthy

Vintage International
$16.95 trade paper, available now

Rating: 2.5* of five

The Publisher Says: A searing, postapocalyptic novel destined to become Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece.

A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other.

My Review: I was one of those who wasn't enamored of The Road. It just flopped down in front of the reader and said "here I am take me or leave me but faGawdSake don't you dare analyze me or you'll get mad."

At least, one heard this voice in one's head as one read along, growing more and more irked at the pretentiousness of the thing.

The narrative is driven by the boy and the man moving from place to place to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. So far, so good, as in "that's a trope we're all familiar with and can hang with." Then we get to the standard, Mad Max-style film villains. Then environmental destruction a la A Boy and His Dog among many others. Then the man dies at the end, and we are left wondering (if we're decent human beings) what the devil will become of the boy now.


None of this is new, and that's not my problem with it; none of this is particularly well-handled, and that IS my problem with it. Portentously arty non-punctuation doesn't make this a deep book. The French nouvelle roman of the 1940s and 1950s (Alain Robbe-Grillet being one of my favorite practicioners, followed closely by Claude Simon and Nathalie Sarraute) did this stuff fifty years ago and it WAS there needs to be some reason to use this technique or it comes across as simply affected.

I have heard from others that I am too harsh in my judgment, that the punctuationlessness of the book is partly making the point that the world lost to the man and the boy means that they are existing without amenities and so we should share in their struggle.


But I am a veteran reader of post-apocalyptic fiction and so acknowledge that I set a very high bar for novels in this genre. I am also a person who enjoys books about fathers and sons. I didn't really get this book from that angle at all. It seemed to me that the man and the boy had a standard f&s thing going, and nothing changed much until the man dies. So your point, Mr. McCarthy, is that sons are abandoned and bereft and directionless and vulnerable after the death of their father?



Matt Ruff

$9.99 trade paper or ebook editions, available now

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Jane Charlotte has been arrested for murder.

She tells police that she is a member of a secret organization devoted to fighting evil; her division is called the Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons--"Bad Monkeys" for short.

This confession earns Jane a trip to the jail's psychiatric wing, where a doctor attempts to determine whether she is lying, crazy--or playing a different game altogether. What follows is one of the most clever and gripping novels you'll ever read.

My Review: "Clever" is a good word for this book. In fact, maybe "clever-clever" is even better. "Jane Charlotte"? She needs a boyfriend named "Austen Brontë" in that case.

And that is the very last and final connection anywhere within the oddly shaped covers of the book to Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë. From here on, we're on a profane and sometimes profoundly blue trip through the Halls of Micturation that form Jane's psyche. Is she addled? Drugged? One helluva fast-thinking sociopath, like in The Usual Suspects?

Dunno. About half-way through, I lost steam. See, this is the issue I perceive in so much bizarro/New Weird fiction. It goes on too long. It takes the joke, beats that sumbitch to death, scoops up the jellified meatiness, and then sets to stompin' on it in hobnailed boots. And after a while, one loses the desire to be on the sidelines looking on.

So, a month went by, and I picked the book up again. (It was stabbing me in the kidney as I got into bed one night.) Idly flipping to the Book Dart (if you don't have these, get some, they're amazing), I resumed reading with a slight smothered yawnlet.

*slog slog pantpant slog*

And I finished the book, unable to toss it aside for one reason: I had to know how the HELL this guy was gonna get off the horse at the end of the ride.

Good, good job, Sir Matt the Ruff. I did not see that ending happening.


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