James Nicoll Reviews

Home > Reviews > By Date

Reviews from June 2020 (20)

Rose with the Sun

The Whenabouts of Burr

By Michael Kurland  

14 Jun, 2020

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


Michael Kurland’s 1975 The Whenabouts of Burr is a standalone science fiction mystery novel.

Constitutional scholar Professor William Kranzler makes a momentous discovery. Someone has stolen the original American Constitution, replacing it with a very nearly identical copy. The copy has one flaw: where Alexander Hamilton’s signature should be, Aaron Burr’s signature appears.

President Gosport is determined to recover the document before his Republican foes (or worse, Democratic supposed allies) discover the theft. He can’t call on the FBI, because Gosport is utterly convinced that the FBI is out to get him. He also rules out every conventional law enforcement or intelligence group, believing there is no way to use them in this matter that would not end with a leak. 

The President has an ace in the hole: he has quietly transformed the Bureau of Weights and Measures into his own private investigation agency. Thus, innocuously titled Field Observer Nathan Hale (Nate) Swift is handed the task of recovering the Constitution. 

Read more ➤

Feed Them on Your Dreams

Deadman Wonderland

By Jinsei Kataoka & Kazuma Kondou  

13 Jun, 2020


1 comment

Jinsei Kataoka’s Deadman Wonderland (Japanese: Deddoman Wandārando), with art by Kazuma Kondou, was serialized in Shōnen Ace from May 2007 to August 2013. It has since been published in thirteen volumes.

Ten years after a catastrophic earthquake leveled much of Tokyo, Ganta Igarashi is enjoying what starts out to be a perfectly normal school day with his chums. A red-clad figure floats in through the third-floor window and massacres everyone in the classroom save for Ganta. The killer implants Ganta with a mysterious jewel, then leaves the boy to explain to authorities what happened to his classmates.

Ganta’s story is rather implausible. The authorities have a better explanation for the carnage. It’s clearly the case that diminutive, traumatized Ganta slaughtered the other kids. Ganta is sentenced to death.

That would be that for our young hero, were it not that Japan’s death penalty takes a baroque form.

Read more ➤

A Subtle Touch on the Silver Key

The Hero of Numbani  (Overwatch, volume 1)

By Nicky Drayden  

12 Jun, 2020

Doing What the WFC Cannot Do


Nicky Drayden’s 2020 The Hero of Numbani is an Overwatch tie-in novel. Overwatchis a popular video game I have not played. More details here.

The Omnic Crisis (an AI uprising) is thirty years in the past. This matters to protagonist Efi Oladele mainly because living through the crisis left Efi’s mother with PTSD. What also matters to Efi is finding a way to use her exceptional intellect that will not cost her her best friends.

Read more ➤

Never Meant To Do Any Harm


By John McCrae  

11 Jun, 2020

Special Requests

1 comment

John McCrae (AKA Wildbow)’s Worm is a superhero novel serialized on the web between 2011 and 2013.

Superhero may be a misnomer. Superhuman might be a better term.

Taylor Hebert is a seemingly unremarkable teenager singled out for a never-ending campaign of verbal and physical abuse from a trio of mean-girl bullies. Aware that school authorities are worse than useless when it comes to bullying, Taylor doesn’t complain. She grits her teeth and endures each painful day at school.

Luckily she has interests outside academia. She has superpowers, a nearly finished costume, and ambitions to become Brockton Bay’s newest superhero. Too bad that’s not quite how it works out.

Read more ➤

Whisper in My Ear

Foundryside  (Founders, volume 1)

By Robert Jackson Bennett  

10 Jun, 2020

Special Requests


2018’s Foundryside is the first volume in Robert Jackson Bennett’s Founders series.

The Occidental Empire fell long ago, but a handful of relics remain. The people of Tevanne have used these relics to revive (partially) the practice of technomagical scriving. The merchant city now has a monopoly on scriving; it is the center of a new golden age of magic. The masses of the world toil endlessly to enrich a handful of wealthy merchant houses. 

Sancia Grado was one of those plantation slaves. She has been used as a human test subject; she now has abilities she does not fully understand. 

She has object empathy; she can handle a container and tell what is hidden inside. A fine skill for a thief (thieving is her new career). She has been offered a job that is unusually lucrative, which should be a warning sign that it’s dangerous. But she accepts the commission.

Read more ➤

Don’t You Know Her When You See Her?

Rocannon’s World

By Ursula K. Le Guin  

7 Jun, 2020

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


1966’s Rocannon’s World was Ursula K. Le Guin’s debut science fiction novel. 

Semley’s world has been impoverished by taxes imposed by recent visitors from a far-off land. She is not reconciled to the loss of a family treasure, a necklace worth a kingdom. Her quest to reclaim the necklace takes her first to the dwarfish Clayfolk in their underground halls and then to the overlords who received it from the Clayfolk. The overlords kindly return her necklace. 

Had this been a fantasy novel, all might have been well. But she is a native of Fomalhaut II and she is a character in a science fiction novel. Her quest has tragic consequences.

Read more ➤

Ready or Not!

In the Black  (Intersection Space, volume 1)

By Patrick S. Tomlinson  

4 Jun, 2020

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck


Patrick S. Tomlinson’s 2020 In the Black is the first volume in his projected Intersection Space series. 

Peace has reigned between humans and the alien Xre for seventy years, ever since the end of the Intersection War. Now, as Captain Kamala of the Combined Corporate Defense Fleet Ansari is going to discover, the Xre appear to be interested in testing human resolve. 

CCDF Ansaris sensor drones are spread across the 82 Eridani system, ever vigilant for any sign of alien incursion. No threat to stakeholder interests will be overlooked. One might expect the end of the long peace to come in a flurry of fireworks. In this case, the first hint that something is up comes as silence. One by one, the sensor drones are falling quiet.

Read more ➤

Homeward Bound


By Hao Jingfang  

3 Jun, 2020


1 comment

Hao Jingfang’s 2011 Liúlàng Cāngqióng was translated into English by Ken Liu and published under the title Vagabonds in 2020.

The Mercury Group, a cohort of Martian teenagers, returns to Mars after a five-year stay on Earth. Their visit was the latest stage in an effort to gradually warm relations between Earth and its breakaway community on Mars. The teens discover that relations are slow to warm … if they are warming at all.

Read more ➤

Fight the Power

Seven Devils  (Seven Devils, volume 1)

By Laura Lam & Elizabeth May  

2 Jun, 2020

Miscellaneous Reviews


Laura Lam and Elizabeth May’s 2020 Seven Devils is the first book in their projected Seven Devils series.

Tholosians support their Empire because the Empire gives them no choice in the matter. The vast majority are programmed from birth to dedicate their lives to the Empire. The few who are not programmed are confined to slums. Despite this regimentation, the Empire has thus far failed to prevail in its five-century war against the Evoli. 

There is a third faction in the conflict: the Resistance, who hope to overthrow the Empire and free its people.

Read more ➤