James Nicoll Reviews

Home > Reviews

Reviews

Pointed social commentary undermined by unfortunate world-building choices

Shadow of Earth

By Phyllis Eisenstein 

28 Sep, 2014

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

0 comments

Eisenstein is probably better known for her Alaric the Minstrel stories, if only because that’s still an on-going series; the most recent Alaric story, Caravan to Nowhere” appeared in 2014’s Rogues. As it happens, Eisenstein is one of those authors for whom I discover in retrospect I am a completist, so I could have reviewed Born to Exile, the first Alaric fix-in. Instead I decided to go with the considerably more obscure Shadow of Earth, a tale of a modern American woman who finds herself trapped in a backward world where her only value is as a brood mare of rare breed: a full-blooded white woman! 

Some aspects of this novel have aged more gracefully than other elements.

Read more ➤

Sound and fury, signifying nothing

The Powers of Light Trilogy: Treasure of Light, Redemption of Light & Abyss of Light

By Kathleen M. O’Neal 

27 Sep, 2014

Special Requests

0 comments

Kathleen O’Neal is probably better known these days as Kathleen O’Neal Gear; particularly in combination with her husband Michael, she is a prolific author, with at least 34 novels published since her debut novel, Abyss of Light, appeared in 1990. I am personally unfamiliar with the main body of her work but it appears for the most part to be an exploration of prehistorical North America, drawing on her training as an archaeologist. Have not read those books, don’t have an opinion on them.

Read more ➤

Innocent farmboys, spoiled heiresses and lovable rogues

Starman Jones

By Robert A. Heinlein 

26 Sep, 2014

The Great Heinlein Juveniles (Plus The Other Two) Reread

0 comments

1953’s Starman Jones sees Heinlein abandon the Solar System (and plausible propulsion systems) for the wider galaxy. He also discards the idea of his protagonists coming from loving (if sometimes troubled) families and the quasi-utopian settings of some previous books, although he does not venture into the outright dystopia of Between Planets, the better to force his protagonist head-long into adventure.

Read more ➤

A magnum opus of occult history 

Ash: A Secret History

By Mary Gentle 

25 Sep, 2014

0 comments

I will admit I’ve been kind of dreading Ash, first because I didn’t think I’d be able to find a copy, second because I knew if I did find a copy the novel was much longer than the books I had thus far reviewed and would require a lot of time to read and thirdly because reputation has this as very dark and I didn’t want to spend 1100+ pages being kicked in the face by the author. As it turned out, one of the local used bookstores had a reasonably priced trade paperback, although it is not exactly bedtime reading, Ash is nowhere near as grim as I had expected, and it was an astonishingly quick read because I had a hard time putting it down.

Read more ➤

Because my tears are delicious to you” does not earn its title

The Planet That Wasn’t

By Isaac Asimov 

21 Sep, 2014

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

0 comments

Following the Soviet launch of Sputnik, Russian-born American Isaac Asimov (1920 — 1992) turned from focusing on fiction to a lengthy and extremely diverse series of non-fiction works. To quote Wikipedia, Asimov’s books span all major categories of the Dewey Decimal Classification except for category 100, philosophy and psychology” (and he had essays and introductions that ventured into category 100). 

Read more ➤

But what about Meade?”

The Rolling Stones

By Robert A. Heinlein 

19 Sep, 2014

The Great Heinlein Juveniles (Plus The Other Two) Reread

0 comments

1952’s The Rolling Stones is intriguing from any number of angles. It’s the final Heinlein juvenile set entirely in the Solar System. It has genuinely interesting and potentially informative rocket science. In contrast with several of the earlier books the stakes, while important to the characters, are comparatively low. The sexual politics are tragic in a way I can talk about. My discussion about the two leads will starkly illuminate how poorly I manage to keep current affairs separated in my head from whatever I happen to be reading. It’s all good!

Read more ➤

Ghosts, talking rats and teleporting couches — the speculative fiction of Suzanne Church

Elements: A Collection of Speculative Fiction

By Suzanne Church 

18 Sep, 2014

KW Science Fiction and Fantasy

0 comments

Unlike the previous two Kitchener-Waterloo (KW) Science Fiction and Fantasy authors, I have not to my knowledge met Suzanne Church – yet — but I did encounter her Synch Me, Kiss Me, Drop”, during my failed attempt to listen to every audio piece at Clarkesworld1. Church was first published almost a decade ago but she is not especially prolific and this is her first collection. Elements collects twenty-one stories by Church, which is actually eight more stories than are credited to her over at isfdb. I would like to say that the gaps in her isfdb entry are because seven of the stories in Elements are original to Elements itself — which is true — but Elements itself is mentioned in that entry. 

Read more ➤

A quiet tale of the slow end of the world

Memory of Water

By Emmi Itäranta 

17 Sep, 2014

Translation

0 comments

Between our time and that of 17-year-old Noria Kaitio is the Twilight Century, a period of climate-change-driven chaos left the world a much poorer place. Noria lives in the Scandinavian Union, which in turn takes its direction from New Qian. Democracy is a thing of the past, as it generally is in stories like this, and government is very much top down. A sensible person in these circumstances either tries to exploit a dying system for ephemeral personal power or they try to avoid attracting the attention of ambitious people. Noria rejects one and fails at the other. 

Read more ➤

My name is Festina Ramos, and I take great pride in my personal appearance.”

Expendable  (League of Peoples, volume 1)

By James Alan Gardner 

16 Sep, 2014

KW Science Fiction and Fantasy

0 comments

Given that the University of Waterloo has been a hotbed of innovation since its founding it is not surprising that there have been science fiction authors connected with it at least as far back as the 1970s, but despite the fact that I have lived on campus on and off since 1961 I’ve met fewer of them than seems reasonable in retrospect.

It may be that at some point during his years at UW, I crossed paths with Thomas J. Ryan (The Adolescence of P1) but that would only have been in the literal sense, two strangers passing on some particular bit of campus. It’s not impossible that at some engineering mixer thrown by my parents I met the late Edward Llewellyn-Thomas (The Douglas Convolution as well as other books) but if I did I certainly never connected him with his pen name Edward Llewellyn. The first science fiction author connected with the University of Waterloo I know for a fact I met is James Alan Gardner, whose work I heard first on radio in the 1970s, who I met in person thanks to a UW theatre group, and who gives me a ride to gaming every week.

Read more ➤