James Nicoll Reviews

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Books Received, May 26 — June 1

2 Jun, 2018


Empress Of Timbra

My father’s eyes were steady on my face as I blew out the last bubbles of my breath. I pressed my knife into his hand but he could not make his fingers close around the hilt. I screamed for help with my first lungful of air, and dove again with my second. I was too late.

Fourteen-year-old Taver didn’t know he was a nobleman’s bastard until his real father died. Eleven-year-old Elaku has always known she was the bastard daughter of the same nobleman. When the two siblings meet in the Empress of Timbra’s palace, they become fast friends.

Around them, intrigue and rumour swirl. Not everybody is happy with the rule of the Empress of Timbra. Some have plans for Taver and Elaku. And when treachery and war threaten their home, Taver and Elaku must rely on their magic, their wits, and each other to have any chance of preventing disaster.


Living in the Blackwood family home with only her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian for company, Merricat just wants to preserve their delicate way of life. But ever since Constance was acquitted of murdering the rest of the family, the world isn’t leaving the Blackwoods alone. And when Cousin Charles arrives, armed with overtures of friendship and a desperate need to get into the safe, Merricat must do everything in her power to protect the remaining family.

This Penguin edition includes an afterword by the acclaimed novelist Joyce Carol Oates. All Shirley Jackson’s other novels, plus The Lottery and Other Stories, are available in Penguin Modern Classics.

Shirley Jackson was born in California in 1916. When her short story The Lotterywas first published in The New Yorker in 1948, readers were so horrified they sent her hate mail; it has since become one of the most iconic American stories of all time. Her first novel, The Road Through the Wall, was published in the same year and was followed by five more: Hangsaman, The Bird’s Nest,The Sundial,The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, widely seen as her masterpiece. In addition to her dark, brilliant novels, she wrote lightly fictionalized magazine pieces about family life with her four children and her husband, the critic Stanley Edgar Hyman. Shirley Jackson died in her sleep in 1965 at the age of 48.


In Lee Killough’s Aftershock, published by Books We Love, it would be logical for the culture of a distant planet unconnected to Humans to be…well…alien. A different social and family structure, different legal system, different religion. But maybe some things aren’t that alien: war, politics…murder.

A natural disaster like an earthquake would seem to be perfect cover for murder. But the murder is discovered, with the prime suspect a member of a family allied to Emperor Benamea Haneem. Lord Edo Ishda, brother to the Emperor, must discover the truth and see justice done in a situation where every solution threatens to be political dynamite for the Emperor.

Killer Karma

One fine afternoon, Inspector Cole Dunavan finds he has been murdered and has become a ghost — with no idea how to be a ghost. No one sees or hears him; he can’t move objects; and initially, he can’t even walk through doors or walls. He learns, to his horror, that his body has not been found and the circumstances of his disappearance make it appear he betrayed his marriage and was killed by his mistress… who has also disappeared. But the truth is that the woman was an informant and he is still on earth because his obsession with finding evidence against her boss put her in mortal danger. While he works at saving her, he struggles to communicate with his old partner and to get straight with his wife. All while trying to learn the identity of his killer.

Bears Baby

The Bear’s Baby and Other Stories gathers together for the first time six standalone tales by award-winning author Judith Moffett. Featuring aliens intent on halting humanity’s biosphere-destroying behaviour, an alternate USA under the presidency of Davy Crockett, cross-species telepathic communication, angels, dreaming, and climate change — although not all at once! — this is a collection defined by variety, and admirably demonstrates the broad range of Moffett’s skill as a writer.

With new introductions to each story from the author, The Bear’s Baby and Other Stories contains:

The Bear’s Baby Chickasaw Slave The Realms of Glory Ten Lights and Darks The Middle of Somewhere Space Ballet

Ragged World

In the early years of the twenty-first century, Earth teetered on the brink of ecological destruction. Then the alien Hefn came, determined to save the dying Earth — and to the Hefn, the ends always justified the means. Humans were given nine years to correct their mistakes — alone, with no recourse to the Hefn’s advanced technology. If by then the Earth’s ecology had not stabilized, the Hefn would solve the problem for good … by eliminating humans entirely.But slowly, against their will, some of the Hefn became deeply involved with their human counterparts. And to the handful of people who came to know them, the Hefn made a great difference: as mentors, researchers, rulers … and saviors. But could those few friendships sway the Hefn to help save a despoiled planet — and the human race?


Pennterra is a beautiful and fertile planet and humanity’s last hope for survival. But Pennterra is already inhabited. After warning other colony ships to stay away, the small advance colony of Quakers has adapted to life on Pennterra. Heeding the empathic warnings of the native hrossa, they have settled in a single valley, sharply limited their population, and continued to use no heavy machinery in their building and farming. But surviving under these conditions has left the Quakers little time to learn more about their native neighbors. Catastrophe or peace-Tanka Wakan, the omnipotent master spirit of Pennterra, will decide.

Locus June 2018

The Magazine of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Field.