James Nicoll Reviews

Home > Blog

Blog Posts

Books Received, May 9 — May 15

16 May, 2020

0 comments

When a mysterious plague breaks out in the army fort guarding Vilnoc, the port capital of the duchy of Orbas, Temple sorcerer Penric and his demon Desdemona are called upon by General Arisaydia to resurrect Penric’s medical skills and solve its lethal riddle. In the grueling days that follow, Pen will find that even his magic is not enough to meet the challenges without help from dedicated new colleagues — and the god of mischance. 

Read more ➤

Books Received, May 2 — May 8

9 May, 2020

0 comments

A breathtaking geopolitical epic fantasy, The Monster Baru Cormorant is the sequel to Seth Dickinson’s fascinating tale” ( The Washington Post ), The Traitor Baru Cormorant. Her world was shattered by the Empire of Masks.
For the power to shatter the Masquerade,
She betrayed everyone she loved. The traitor Baru Cormorant is now the cryptarch Agonist — a secret lord of the empire she’s vowed to destroy. Hunted by a mutinous admiral, haunted by the wound which has split her mind in two, Baru leads her dearest foes on an expedition for the secret of immortality. It’s her chance to trigger a war that will consume the Masquerade. But Baru’s heart is broken, and she fears she can no longer tell justice from revenge…or her own desires from the will of the man who remade her.

Read more ➤

Books Received, April 25 — May 1

2 May, 2020

0 comments

Writing as A. Deborah Baker, New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Seanan McGuire introduces readers to a world of talking trees and sarcastic owls, of dangerous mermaids and captivating queens in Over the Woodward Wall, an exceptional tale for readers who are young at heart.

* If you trust her you’ll never make it home… Avery is an exceptional child. Everything he does is precise, from the way he washes his face in the morning, to the way he completes his homework – without complaint, without fuss, without prompt. Zib is also an exceptional child, because all children are, in their own way. But where everything Avery does and is can be measured, nothing Zib does can possibly be predicted, except for the fact that she can always be relied upon to be unpredictable. They live on the same street.
They live in different worlds. On an unplanned detour from home to school one morning, Avery and Zib find themselves climbing over a stone wall into the Up and Under – an impossible land filled with mystery, adventure and the strangest creatures. And they must find themselves and each other if they are to also find their way out and back to their own lives. 

Read more ➤

April 2020 in Review

1 May, 2020

0 comments

April 2020

21 books read. 12 by women (57%), 7 by men (33%), 1 by a non-binary author (5%), 1 by authors whose gender is unknown (5%), and 7 works by POC (33%)

Year to Date

85 books read. 45.5 by women (54%), 33 by men (39%), 3 by non-binary authors (4%), 3.5 by unknown (4%), 32 works by POC (38%)

Charts below cut

Read more ➤

Books Received, April 18 — April 24

25 Apr, 2020

1 comment

The Parada had been lost for almost two hundred years before they recovered the ship, drifting in stygian interstellar darkness, and brought her home again.But that was not the miracle.The miracle was that the crew was still alive.That was also the problem. Six crew members went out on the Parada, Earth’s first starship. All contact was lost, and the ship vanished for almost two centuries. When the Parada’s successor found the drifting ship and somehow managed to bring it home, the six crew members were not only still alive but barely older, due to the time dilation effects of near-FTL travel. Their return was a miracle – but it could not be revealed to the waiting world. The problem was, six individuals went out to the stars. More than seventy fractured personalities came back.Psychologist Stella Froud and Jesuit Father Philip Carter were recruited as part of the team assembled to investigate the mystery, and to try and help the Parada’s crew understand their condition and possibly reverse it. What they discovered was a deepening mystery, and very soon they found themselves forced to take sides in a conflict that nobody could have possibly predicted. Their world would never be the same again.

Read more ➤

Books Received, April 11 — April 17

18 Apr, 2020

0 comments

Katherine Addison, author of The Goblin Emperor , returns with The Angel of the Crows, a fantasy novel of alternate 1880s London, where killers stalk the night and the ultimate power is naming. This is not the story you think it is. These are not the characters you think they are. This is not the book you are expecting. In an alternate 1880s London, angels inhabit every public building, and vampires and werewolves walk the streets with human beings in a well-regulated truce. A fantastic utopia, except for a few things: Angels can Fall, and that Fall is like a nuclear bomb in both the physical and metaphysical worlds. And human beings remain human, with all their kindness and greed and passions and murderous intent. Jack the Ripper stalks the streets of this London too. But this London has an Angel. The Angel of the Crows. 

Read more ➤

Books Received, April 4 — April 10

11 Apr, 2020

0 comments


Skulking near the bottom of West High’s social pyramid, Sideways Pike lurks under the bleachers doing magic tricks for Coke bottles. As a witch, lesbian, and lifelong outsider, she’s had a hard time making friends. But when the three most popular girls pay her $40 to cast a spell at their Halloween party, Sideways gets swept into a new clique. The unholy trinity are dangerous angels, sugar-coated rattlesnakes, and now – unbelievably – Sideways’ best friends. 

Together, the four bond to form a ferocious and powerful coven. They plan parties, cast curses on dudebros, try to find Sideways a girlfriend, and elude the fundamentalist witch hunters hellbent on stealing their magic. But for Sideways, the hardest part is the whole having friends’ thing. Who knew that balancing human interaction with supernatural peril could be so complicated? 

Rich with the urgency of feral youth, The Scapegracers explores growing up and complex female friendship with all the rage of a teenage girl. It subverts the trope of competitive mean girls and instead portrays a mercilessly supportive clique of diverse and vivid characters. It is an atmospheric, voice-driven novel of the occult, and the first of a three-book series.

Read more ➤

2020 Hugo Finalists

7 Apr, 2020

0 comments

Best Novel

  • The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor; Titan)
  • Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir (Tor.com Publishing)
  • The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley (Saga; Angry Robot UK)
  • A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine (Tor; Tor UK)
  • Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
  • The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E. Harrow (Redhook; Orbit UK)

Best Novella

  • Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom”, by Ted Chiang (Exhalation (Borzoi/Alfred A. Knopf; Picador))
  • The Deep, by Rivers Solomon, with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes (Saga Press/Gallery)
  • The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com Publishing)
  • In an Absent Dream, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
  • This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone (Saga Press; Jo Fletcher Books)
  • To Be Taught, If Fortunate, by Becky Chambers (Harper Voyager; Hodder & Stoughton)

Best Novelette

  • The Archronology of Love”, by Caroline M. Yoachim (Lightspeed, April 2019)
  • Away With the Wolves”, by Sarah Gailey (Uncanny Magazine: Disabled People Destroy Fantasy Special Issue, September/October 2019)
  • The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye”, by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny Magazine, July-August 2019)
  • Emergency Skin, by N.K. Jemisin (Forward Collection (Amazon))
  • For He Can Creep”, by Siobhan Carroll (Tor.com, 10 July 2019)
  • Omphalos”, by Ted Chiang (Exhalation (Borzoi/Alfred A. Knopf; Picador))

Best Short Story

  • And Now His Lordship Is Laughing”, by Shiv Ramdas (Strange Horizons, 9 September 2019)
  • As the Last I May Know”, by S.L. Huang (Tor.com, 23 October 2019)
  • Blood Is Another Word for Hunger”, by Rivers Solomon (Tor.com, 24 July 2019)
  • A Catalog of Storms”, by Fran Wilde (Uncanny Magazine, January/February 2019)
  • Do Not Look Back, My Lion”, by Alix E. Harrow (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, January 2019)
  • Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island”, by Nibedita Sen (Nightmare Magazine, May 2019)

Best Series

  • The Expanse, by James S. A. Corey (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • InCryptid, by Seanan McGuire (DAW)
  • Luna, by Ian McDonald (Tor; Gollancz)
  • Planetfall series, by Emma Newman (Ace; Gollancz)
  • Winternight Trilogy, by Katherine Arden (Del Rey; Del Rey UK)
  • Wormwood, by Tade Thompson (Orbit US; Orbit UK)

Best Related Work

  • Becoming Superman: My Journey from Poverty to Hollywood, by J. Michael Straczynski (Harper Voyager US)
  • Joanna Russ, by Gwyneth Jones (University of Illinois Press (Modern Masters of Science Fiction))
  • The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick, by Mallory O’Meara (Hanover Square)
  • The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein, by Farah Mendlesohn (Unbound)
  • 2019 John W. Campbell Award Acceptance Speech”, by Jeannette Ng
  • Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin, produced and directed by Arwen Curry

Best Graphic Story or Comic

  • Die, Volume 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker, by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans, letters by Clayton Cowles (Image)
  • LaGuardia, written by Nnedi Okorafor, art by Tana Ford, colours by James Devlin (Berger Books; Dark Horse)
  • Monstress, Volume 4: The Chosen, written by Marjorie Liu, art by Sana Takeda (Image)
  • Mooncakes, by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker, letters by Joamette Gil (Oni Press; Lion Forge)
  • Paper Girls, Volume 6, written by Brian K. Vaughan, drawn by Cliff Chiang, colours by Matt Wilson, letters by Jared K. Fletcher (Image)
  • The Wicked + The Divine, Volume 9: Okay, by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, colours by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles (Image)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

  • Avengers: Endgame, screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (Marvel Studios)
  • Captain Marvel, screenplay by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck and Geneva Robertson-Dworet, directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Walt Disney Pictures/Marvel Studios/Animal Logic (Australia))
  • Good Omens, written by Neil Gaiman, directed by Douglas McKinnon (Amazon Studios/BBC Studios/Narrativia/The Blank Corporation)
  • Russian Doll (Season One), created by Natasha Lyonne, Leslye Headland and Amy Poehler, directed by Leslye Headland, Jamie Babbit and Natasha Lyonne (3 Arts Entertainment/Jax Media/Netflix/Paper Kite Productions/Universal Television)
  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, screenplay by Chris Terrio and J.J. Abrams, directed by J.J. Abrams (Walt Disney Pictures/Lucasfilm/Bad Robot)
  • Us, written and directed by Jordan Peele (Monkeypaw Productions/Universal Pictures)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

  • The Good Place: The Answer”, written by Daniel Schofield, directed by Valeria Migliassi Collins (Fremulon/3 Arts Entertainment/Universal Television)
  • The Expanse: Cibola Burn”, written by Daniel Abraham & Ty Franck and Naren Shankar, directed by Breck Eisner (Amazon Prime Video)
  • Watchmen: A God Walks into Abar”, written by Jeff Jensen and Damon Lindelof, directed by Nicole Kassell (HBO)
  • The Mandalorian: Redemption”, written by Jon Favreau, directed by Taika Waititi (Disney+)
  • Doctor Who: Resolution”, written by Chris Chibnall, directed by Wayne Yip (BBC)
  • Watchmen: This Extraordinary Being”, written by Damon Lindelof and Cord Jefferson, directed by Stephen Williams (HBO)

Best Editor, Short Form

  • Neil Clarke
  • Ellen Datlow
  • C.C. Finlay
  • Jonathan Strahan
  • Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas
  • Sheila Williams

Best Editor, Long Form

  • Sheila E. Gilbert
  • Brit Hvide
  • Diana M. Pho
  • Devi Pillai
  • Miriam Weinberg
  • Navah Wolfe

Best Professional Artist

  • Tommy Arnold
  • Rovina Cai
  • Galen Dara
  • John Picacio
  • Yuko Shimizu
  • Alyssa Winans

Best Semiprozine

  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies, editor Scott H. Andrews
  • Escape Pod, editors Mur Lafferty and S.B. Divya, assistant editor Benjamin C. Kinney, audio producers Adam Pracht and Summer Brooks, hosts Tina Connolly and Alasdair Stuart
  • Fireside Magazine, editor Julia Rios, managing editor Elsa Sjunneson, copyeditor Chelle Parker, social coordinator Meg Frank, publisher & art director Pablo Defendini, founding editor Brian White
  • FIYAH Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction, executive editor Troy L. Wiggins, editors Eboni Dunbar, Brent Lambert, L.D. Lewis, Danny Lore, Brandon O’Brien and Kaleb Russell
  • Strange Horizons, Vanessa Rose Phin, Catherine Krahe, AJ Odasso, Dan Hartland, Joyce Chng, Dante Luiz and the Strange Horizons staff
  • Uncanny Magazine, editors-in-chief Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, nonfiction/managing editor Michi Trota, managing editor Chimedum Ohaegbu, podcast producers Erika Ensign and Steven Schapansky

Best Fanzine

  • The Book Smugglers, editors Ana Grilo and Thea James
  • Galactic Journey, founder Gideon Marcus, editor Janice Marcus, senior writers Rosemary Benton, Lorelei Marcus and Victoria Silverwolf
  • Journey Planet, editors James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Alissa McKersie, Ann Gry, Chuck Serface, John Coxon and Steven H Silver
  • nerds of a feather, flock together, editors Adri Joy, Joe Sherry, Vance Kotrla, and The G
  • Quick Sip Reviews, editor Charles Payseur
  • The Rec Center, editors Elizabeth Minkel and Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

Best Fancast

  • Be The Serpent, presented by Alexandra Rowland, Freya Marske and Jennifer Mace
  • Claire Rousseau’s YouTube channel, produced & presented by Claire Rousseau
  • The Coode Street Podcast, presented by Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
  • Galactic Suburbia, presented by Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce and Tansy Rayner Roberts, producer Andrew Finch
  • Our Opinions Are Correct, presented by Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders
  • The Skiffy and Fanty Show, presented by Jen Zink and Shaun Duke

Best Fan Writer

  • Cora Buhlert
  • James Davis Nicoll
  • Alasdair Stuart
  • Bogi Takács
  • Paul Weimer
  • Adam Whitehead

Best Fan Artist

  • Iain Clark
  • Sara Felix
  • Grace P. Fong
  • Meg Frank
  • Ariela Housman
  • Elise Matthesen

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book (not a Hugo)

  • Catfishing on CatNet, by Naomi Kritzer (Tor Teen)
  • Deeplight, by Frances Hardinge (Macmillan)
  • Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee (Disney/Hyperion)
  • Minor Mage, by T. Kingfisher (Argyll)
  • Riverland, by Fran Wilde (Amulet)
  • The Wicked King, by Holly Black (Little, Brown; Hot Key)

Astounding Award for the best new science fiction writer, sponsored by Dell Magazines (not a Hugo)

  • Sam Hawke (2nd year of eligibility)
  • R.F. Kuang (2nd year of eligibility)
  • Jenn Lyons (1st year of eligibility)
  • Nibedita Sen (2nd year of eligibility)
  • Tasha Suri (2nd year of eligibility)
  • Emily Tesh (1st year of eligibility)

Read more ➤

Illimitable Dominion Reviews

6 Apr, 2020

0 comments

News that an exciting new coronavirus is spreading, facilitated by our modern transportation networks, might seem a little alarming. Simple logic says we probably shouldn’t worry too much. Aside from the HIV/AIDS Pandemic, the 1968 Flu Pandemic, the Asian Flu (1956 – 1958), the 1918 Flu Pandemic, the First through Sixth Cholera Pandemics, the Black Death, Justinian’s Plague, the Antonine Plague, the Plague of Athens, the Plague of Cyprian, the Roman Plague of 590, the Plague of 664, the Japanese smallpox epidemic, not to mention the near-annihilation of various indigenous populations winnowed by virgin field epidemics following contact with the Old World, epidemics and pandemics have played minor roles in human history. I suggest you stop thinking about alarming news articles, ignore that odd tickle at the back of your throat, and relax with some diverting works of science fiction. Every two weeks or so for the foreseeable future, I will review works of never-were exploring that unlikely scenarios, global pandemic.

Here are nine of the possible candidates. Suggestions welcome!

● Mary Shelley may today be best known for her classic novel Frankenstein, but it is by no means her only significant work. In her The Last Man (1826), political and geopolitical struggle prove side-issues as a deadly plague spreads across the world. Possessing only rudimentary medical technology, Shelley’s characters lack any means to cure the plague or limit its spread. For some, the chaos that follows provides opportunity … but their successes are but a prelude to inevitable death. The only way to escape the plague is to die of other causes first.

● Contagious disease is a misfortune suffered only by the poor. The pretty folk at the top of the social pyramid will no doubt be spared. Or so the wealthy convince themselves in Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death (1842). They sequester themselves in a country mansion, believing that this will save them from the red death. It doesn’t.

● Former professor James Smith is one of the few who survived the eponymous plague in Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague (1912). Most Americans die. So does civilization. Smith does his best to inspire in his savage descendants a sense of what has been lost. They dismiss his tales as fantasies inapplicable to the real world. 

● Laid up by a rattlesnake bite, Ish inadvertently avoids the global pandemic that depopulates the world in George Stewart’s Earth Abides (1949). Like a modern-day Ishi1, Ish is forced to live in a world transformed. His skills have little relevance to the new realities. His efforts to preserve at least a little of the old America are, like those of Smith in the previous tale, doomed. 

● William C. Heine’s The Last Canadian (1974) begins with a happy moment: American-born Eugene Arnprior receives notification of his Canadian citizenship. Then a Soviet-engineered super-virus sweeps across Canada and the other nations of the New World. Natural immunity spares Eugene but not his family … nor most of the rest of the North and South American population. Now an asymptomatic carrier, Eugene struggles with his grief in a landscape virtually empty of other humans. He turns his pain outward: he will travel and infect those who survived. 

● In the backstory to Jake Saunders and Howard Waldrop’s The Texas-Israeli War: 1999, interfering do-gooders convinced the great powers to set aside most of their nuclear arsenal. Never underestimate human ingenuity: the war of 1992 was fought chemical and biological weapons. The world of 1999 is a much emptier one. Lacking enough numbers to crush the Texan insurgents, America has no choice but to import mercenaries from the one industrialized nation spared in the exchange: Israel! 

● In Steven King’s The Stand (1978), the American Military Industrial Complex accidentally unleashes a highly contagious, nearly 100 percent fatal disease on the world. National defense ceases to be an issue! What follows is a struggle between good-hearted survivors and pure evil2.

● The bumbling academics of Connie Willis’ The Doomsday Book (1992) possess the secrets of time travel. The universe has a causal immune system to protect history from meddling time travellers; if a traveller’s intended destination would permit them to alter history, slippage” diverts them somewhere where they are much less likely to cause temporal havoc. Kivrin Engle sets out for Oxford in 1320. She arrives in 1348, in a small village in the path of the Black Death. 

● In Alastair Beaton’s A Planet for the President (2004) an American president who has laughed at tales of environmental crisis discovers that the crisis is killing people he knows. Solution: engineer a plague that will kill off the planet’s surplus population. This will not affect Americans, who will be protected by their state-of-the-art medical establishment. It turns out that the establishment isn’t as good at producing vaccines as it has led others to believe. 

***

There, don’t you feel better now? If you’ve got any more suggestions for what-me-worry? novels, feel free to mention them in comments. 

1: But Ish isn’t entirely alone. Ishi was, because American settlers deliberately carried out a decades-long campaign of violent annihilation against Ishi’s people.

2: The differences between the original version of the novel and the 1990 expanded edition reveal a different struggle: that between a novelist and the editor to whom he should have listened.

Read more ➤

Books Received, March 28 — April 3

4 Apr, 2020

0 comments

Tony Prosdocimi lives in the bustling Metropolis of San Ventura — a city gripped in fear, a city under siege by the hooded supervillain, The Cowl. 

When Tony develops super-powers and acts to take down The Cowl, however, he finds that the local superhero team Seven Wonders aren’t as grateful as he assumed they’d be… 

Read more ➤