Reviews, December 2017

Dark Is Bright As Fire

The Witches of Karres — James H. Schmitz

1966’s The Witches of Karres is James H. Schmitz’s novel-length expansion of his 1949 novelette of the same name. It is a standalone space opera.

Given an aged starship and a cargo of dubious value, naive Captain Pausert headed out into space in search of a fortune and his prospective father-in-law’s respect. If he had not also been hobbled by his own essential decency, he might have realized his dreams.

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Je ne souris, ni ris, ni vis

Spindle — E. K. Johnston
A Thousand Nights, book 2

To quote E. K. Johnston’s website

 E. K. Johnston had several jobs and one vocation before she became a published writer. If she’s learned anything, it’s that things turn out weird sometimes, and there’s not a lot you can do about it. Well, that and how to muscle through awkward fanfic because it’s about a pairing she likes.
Her books range from contemporary fantasy (The Story of Owen, Prairie Fire), to fairy-tale re-imaginings (A Thousand Nights, Spindle), and from small town Ontario (Exit, Pursued By A Bear), to a galaxy far, far away (Star Wars: Ahsoka). She has no plans to rein anything in.

2016’s Spindle is a companion novel to E. K. Johnston’s A Thousand Nights.

The spinners of Kharuf fled a demon’s curse, seeking escape in foreign lands that were little interested in helping strangers. Even this was not enough to save all of them; many died of a slow, lingering malady. Yashaa’s dying mother sends Yashaa and his friends on a desperate quest, one that she hopes will allow some of her people to return to their homeland.

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Teach Your Children Well

Train to Busan — Yeon Sang-ho

Yeon Sang-ho’s 2016’s Train to Busan is a horror film1 starring Gong Yoo, Jung Yu-mi, and Ma Dong-seok.

Fund manager Seok-woo’s laudable work ethic has driven his wife away and alienated his young daughter Soo-an. No worries! It’s nothing that lavishing expensive presents on his daughter cannot fix. Except when he spaces out and buys her two identical presents. Seeing her hopeless expression as she receives his clumsy gifts, he begins to understand his neglect may have driven a wedge between them that no amount of last-minute, distracted gift-buying can fix.

He can at least give Soo-an the one gift she does want, which is to send her home to her mother on the other side of Korea. Although she would prefer to make the trip alone, he insists on accompanying the ten year old on the KTX [2]. It won’t be a happy trip but at least it should be a placid respite from his usual frantic, workaholic life.

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Can You Come a Little Closer?

Waiting on a Bright Moon — JY Yang

JY Yang’s Waiting on a Bright Moon is a standalone space opera.

In another life, Ansible Xin might have been a starmage. In this one, her sexual orientation was the pretext used to strip her of her birth name and consign her to endless drudgery as a living communications device on Eighth Colony.

The appearance of a mysterious corpse on the threshold of an interstellar portal sets in motion events that will transform Xin’s life.

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How I Wish I Was in Sherbrooke Now

Barbary Station — R. E. Stearns
Shieldrunner Pirates, book 1

2017’s Barbary Station is the first book in R. E. Stearns’ Shieldrunner Pirates series.

Faced with crushing debt and poor employment prospects, two women in love plan to hijack a large, expensive space ship and use it to buy their way into the pirate gang currently in possession of the so-called Barbary Station. Thelma and Louise, in SPAAACE.

Adda and Iridian’s scheme is such a simple, straight forward plan it’s hard to see how it could possibly go wrong. Indeed, it works almost perfectly until the pair and their hapless, expendable ally arrive at the station, whereupon their helper is shot dead and the two women learn they have made a slight miscalculation.

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Though The Truth May Vary

Close to Critical — Hal Clement

Hal Clement’s 1958 young-adult adventure novel Close to Critical is apparently set in the same universe as his far more famous Mission of Gravity, but it can be read as a standalone work.

No human could walk unprotected on Tenebra’s surface: if the 8100 kilo-pascal air pressure didn’t crush them, the 374o C mixture of dissolved oxygen and sulphur oxides surely would dissolve them. But as hostile as Tenebra might seem to a terrestrial, it’s a life-bearing planet. Tenebra doesn’t just have life. It has intelligent life and that offers a unique opportunity to researchers up in orbit.

A human-Drommian team has established an orbital observation station circling Tenebra. A telefactored robot serves as their optical receptors and manipulative organs down on the ground.

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Deep in the Forest Where Nobody Goes

Bitten — Kelley Armstrong
Otherworld, book 1

To quote Kelley Armstrong’s website:

I’ve been telling stories since before I could write. My earliest written efforts were disastrous. If asked for a story about girls and dolls, mine would invariably feature undead girls and evil dolls, much to my teachers’ dismay. All efforts to make me produce “normal” stories failed. Today I continue to spin tales of ghosts and demons and werewolves while safely locked away in my basement writing dungeon.

She has published in excess of thirty novels since 2001.

2001’s Bitten is the first novel in Armstrong’s Otherworld series.

Determined to live her perfectly normal life with her perfectly adorable boyfriend Philip, Elena Michaels carefully withholds one or two facts about herself from Philip. Chief among these is the fact that she is, occasionally, a wolf. Not only are werewolves uncommon in Toronto, but Elena is the only known female werewolf on the planet.

Just one part of a colourful past she is determined to leave behind her.



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Smiled With The Morning Sun

Saiensu Fikushon 2016 — Nick Mamatas & Masumi Washington

Nick Mamatas and Masumi Washington’s Saiensu Fikushon 2016 is a science fiction anthology that collects three short pieces by TOBI Hirotaka, Toh Enjoe, and Taiyo Fujii respectively.

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I’ll Take Thee Away

Caliban’s War — James S. A. Corey
Expanse, book 2

2012’s Caliban’s War is the second book in James S. A. Corey’s ongoing Expanse series.

Fresh off playing a central role in the intensification of the ongoing Earth-Mars rivalry (from cold war to the brink of the real thing), James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante now work for the Outer Planets Alliance. Their job: tracking down and dealing with pirates eager to take advantage of the current chaos. It’s a grim job but at least Holden and his people can be sure the alien protomolecule — a super-powerful nanotech able to reshape living things according to inscrutable and ancient protocols — is safely confined on Venus and will never bother humanity again.

It bothers humanity again.

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Let’s Pretend We Are Not Slaves to Anything

The Dark Intercept — Julia Keller

Julia Keller’s 2017 The Dark Intercept is a standalone young-adult SF dystopia.

High above the Earth’s surface, the six floating cities that comprise New Earth offer everything that the war-torn ground level cannot: prosperity, security, and peace. The Intercept is the primary weapon used to keep the chaos of the old world at bay. It reduces any miscreant to a whimpering heap, using the miscreant’s own weaponized emotions.

Sixteen year old Violet Crowley accepts the new world order without question. After all, her father Ogden created it.

Her world is about to fall apart.

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Somethin’ To Make Me Numb

Time Travelers Strictly Cash — Spider Robinson
Callahan's Crosstime Saloon, book 2

1981’s Time Travelers Strictly Cash is Spider Robinson’s second Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon collection. Sort of. More on that after the break.

Bar stories are a recurring motif in science fiction. See also Tales From the White Hart and the somewhat less classic Tales from Gavagan’s Bar, as well as the Draco Tavern sequence. The conceit is simple: people gather to consume alcohol and share stories or experience events not necessarily inhibited by plausibility. It’s a variation on the club stories genre, which itself is a riff on the general trope of people telling stories to each other in some plausible setting. Decameron (people tell stories in a villa); Canterbury Tales (people tell stories on pilgrimage); people telling stories by the comfy fireside, or on a dark and stormy night, or around a campfire … Authors have come up with a multitude of settings in which people might be telling stories to each other.

In the case of the Callahan’s tales, all of the stories are told by habitual barfly Jake. Everyone at the bar has some traumatic backstory which they are trying to blot out by consuming excessive amounts of a toxic depressant in the company of like-minded friends. Jake, for example, invested years killing brain cells and slowing dissolving his liver in his effort to forget how his efforts at car maintenance killed his wife and child. So far, the Callahan cure does not appear to have worked, but hey, it’s drink to excess or take a course in auto mechanics.

Anyone is welcome at Callahan’s, from aliens to talking dogs to time travelers1.

As is generally the case with bar stories, these are (supposedly) comic. Some of you may remember that I have a barely discernible sense of humour and may therefore wonder if I am the best choice to review this venerable collection. Let’s find out together.

There will be some spoilers.

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