James Nicoll Reviews

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I hated this book

The Soul of the Robot

By Barrington J. Bayley 

6 Oct, 2014

Special Requests


Although I think of Barrington J. Bayley as a charming oddity from the 1970s, I see his career actually began in the 1950s and continued into the Aughts. Still, of the sixteen Bayley novels of which I am aware, nine are from the 1970s and only three date from later than the mid-1980s. Apparently he was influential on a number of higher profile authors, all of whom will probably be happier with me if they stop reading now.

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Discontentment in utopia

Don’t Bite The Sun  (Biting The Sun, volume 1)

By Tanith Lee 

5 Oct, 2014

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


1976’s Don’t Bite the Sun is apparently the first volume in a trilogy but while the second book, Drinking Sapphire Wine, saw print in 1977, the third volume was never published. I only just discovered there was even supposed to be a third one and I have no idea what it would have been about. My copy is the first printing of the mass market paperback and I read it in a way a reader coming to it could not today, on its own and without reference to the sequel. I am going to tried hard to replicate that experience here.

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Love and engineering; a recipe for armageddon

Devices and Desires  (The Engineer Trilogy, volume 1)

By K J Parker 

2 Oct, 2014


Mezentia, queen of the industrialized cities! Also the only industrialized city of note thanks to its habit of closing guarding its secrets through all available means, up to and including casual genocide; it is a very bad thing to give Mezentia the impression some of their intellectual property has fallen into your soon to be extremely and brutally dead hands. 

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fantasies light and dark, from and about Japan

Phantasm Japan:

Edited by Nick Mamatas & Masumi Washington 

1 Oct, 2014



For some reason the cover says this was edited by Haikasoru” but that is a stand-in for Nick Mamatas and Masumi Washington. As explained in Mamatas’ introduction, the intention here is de-exoticize so if you’re looking for something to reinforce an impression of Japan as Other and Enchantedly Unknowable, look to other works for support in that endeavor. 

Washington for her part makes a point of thanking the translators; they often go unnoticed (and I think in at least one book I am considering for review, uncredited) but anyone who has read a bad translation next to a superior one will know how crucial they are. Lesser publishers could learn from Haikasoru. 

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You call it murder, I call it an unparalleled opportunity for the victim’s understudy

Murder on Cue  (A Jocelyn O’Roarke Mystery, volume 1)

By Jane Dentinger 

30 Sep, 2014



In 2011, I asked Jane Dentinger, then Editor-in-Chief at the Mystery Guild and someone who accounted for about half the books I was reading, if she knew of any theater-themed mysteries. She then very kindly sent me a package of Jocelyn O’Roarke mysteries. The Jocelyn O’Roarke theatrical cozies were exactly what I was looking for. Their author was none other than Jane Dentinger herself, thus underling the fact that I am the sort of lack-wit who wouldn’t think to drop an editor’s name into Google for the entire time I was freelancing for them. Because I suck. 

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Also, there is a shark

Sewer, Gas & Electric: The Public Works Trilogy

By Matt Ruff 

29 Sep, 2014


A note about the title: this book is the whole of the Public Works Trilogy. As much fun as it would be to encourage you to button hole the author to demand the next two volumes, Sewer, Gas and Electric is a standalone novel with a misleading subtitle. 

I remembered liking 1997’s satirical Sewer, Gas & Electric almost 20 years ago so I was looking forward to rereading it. That may sound ominous and it should. I suspect the issue is not the book so much as it is me but unfortunately I seem to be stuck with being me 24/7.

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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


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.

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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


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.

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