Hooked by A.C. Wise
(Titan Books, 2022)
Reviewed by Susan Peak
The Peter Pan story has fascinated many people since it was first written as a play in 1904 (it was published as a book in 1911). There have been several films of the book itself, and films which took the ideas further such as Hook (1991) which starred Robin Williams; there have been other books set in the story-world since 1987 (earlier work was always centred on the original story, probably for copyright reasons). Wikipedia has an interesting article on ‘works based on Peter Pan’, and a substantial amount of Peter Pan fanfic can be found on the main www.fanfiction.net site and on tvtropes.org. So, A.C. Wise is writing in a well-established tradition in her book, Hooked.
Review from BSFA Review 21 - Download your copy here.
The Curator by Owen King
(Hodder & Stoughton, 2023)
Reviewed by Phil Nicholls
In his second novel, King has created a fascinating fable that rewards close reading. The Curator has an urban setting that feels like second-world fantasy, but is presented as a fictional city on an island off Europe. King playfully nods at genre conventions by insisting that the city cannot be mapped.
The whimsically unnamed city is a mix of Dickensian London and the setting of Gormenghast, yet London is specifically mentioned, so cannot be this city. In a sense, this could be any European city of the 19th century, with grand museums, factories, rotting docks and a crowded slum district.
A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin
Reviewed by Ksenia Shcherbino
Have you ever watched a flowering tea, for example, a Lily Heart flowering tea bulb, unfurl in a glass teapot in front of your eyes? Fragrant rose and lily flowers, all perfectly tied up with premium green tea from Fujian’s famed spring harvest? This is the same feeling that you get reading Judy I. Lin’s A Magic Steeped in Poison, a finely crafted story of love, loss, palace intrigue and tea. Tea smells of all sorts infuse its pages—I swear I could taste the exotic blends that, according to the author, can make the master of the tea ceremony (or shennong-shi, masters of magic, as they are called in the book) connect to people’s hearts and read their minds. In this sense it reminded me of Becky Chambers’ A Psalm For the Wild-Built—another exploration of tea-brewing as a form of magic bringing people together. Yet while the letter is set against a post-industrial post-apocalyptic background, the Lin’s book is a spectacular mix of South-Asian mythology, wuxia and Imperial palace intrigue. And tea.
Night, Rain, and Neon edited by Michael Cobley
(NewCon Press, 2022)
Reviewed by Graham Andrews
Night, Rain, and Neon is an anthology of original cyberpunk stories, issued on 1st July 2022 to commemorate the first publication of William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the novel that defined, if not created, a whole new sub-genre of science fiction. From Michael Cobley’s Introduction: “Cyberpunk’s core function is about how the root of Humanity’s being adapts when our perceptions are retooled by technology. What happens when the edge of tech gets under your skin? What happens when the hottest and edgiest of tech become the playthings of the rich and powerful? Some guru once said that the worst of all human depravities isn’t doing bad things but making good people do bad things. How do we deal with the dangers and consequences if unchained power uses tech to turn people into weapons?”
Song of the Mango and Other New Myths by Vida Cruz-Borja
(Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2022)
Reviewed by Zhui Ning Chang
Vida Cruz-Borja is a much-anthologised writer, editor, artist, tarot reader, and conrunner, and a key voice in contemporary Philippine speculative fiction. Her second illustrated fantasy collection, Song of the Mango and Other New Myths, offers the best of her fiction writing across a decade.
In fifteen stories, Cruz-Borja takes readers on a compelling journey through the precolonial past to a magical realist present to a fantastic array of alternate worlds. Each work is accompanied by a beautiful illustration, created by different artists of Filipino heritage. As indicated by the title, many works reimagine alternate endings to classic tales and devise visions towards a more just, equal future. Cruz-Borja addresses this explicitly in her introduction, stating her belief in a writer’s responsibility as a modern mythmaker towards readers in search of kinder worlds. The writing is inventive, formally playful, and reveals a clever, thoughtful mind carving out a fresh and nuanced perspective.
Hospital by Han Song
(Amazon Crossing, 2023)
A Primer to Han Song edited by Eric J. Guignard
(Dark Moon Books, 2020)
Reviewed by Niall Harrison
Based on what has appeared in English so far, Han Song’s best and most characteristic stories are defined by their involution. Take the novelette “Transformation Subway” (2003, trans. Nathaniel Isaacson). It opens straightforwardly: Zhou Xing is squashed between other passengers on his Monday rush-hour subway train. “Only the existence of a clearly defined endpoint”, we are told, “gave him the necessary patience and tenacity to tolerate the situation”. But on this Monday, the endpoint turns out to not be so clearly defined. Gradually, the passengers realise their train is not passing through the expected stations; there is only an “abyssal blackness” outside the windows.
We Are All Monsters—How Deviant Organisms Came To Define Us by Andrew Mangham
(The MIT Press, 2023)
Reviewed by John Dodd
I love Monsters. I love the weird and wonderful nature of them. I love creatures that cannot exist in the realms of reality and that have powers and abilities well beyond the nature of the real world in which we live in.
This book isn’t about those sorts of Monsters…
I’m always interested to hear the different nature of how things are described, and I’m fascinated to see how monsters came to be from what was thought about years ago.
This book wasn’t about that either…
The Phantom Scientist by Robin Cousin, translated by Edward Gauvin
Reviewed by Steven French
Strikingly illustrated and thoughtfully written, this is a story about an isolated but lavishly funded institute for the study of complex and dynamic systems. It begins with the new Director, Sorokin, greeted at the gates by a balaclava wearing security agent with a rifle strapped across their back. As it turns out, this is the fourth iteration of the institute and as the previous Director explains via video, like the dynamic systems under study, it too tends towards chaos and increasing entropy. That’s why a new resident is selected every three months in order to ‘rebalance’ the system, each one a researcher in some field covered by systems theory, until all twenty-four labs are occupied. By that point their research is expected to yield results, despite the inevitable spread of disorder.
The Chinese Time Machine by Ian Watson
(NewCon Press, 2023)
Reviewed by Stuart Carter
Despite my last review of an Ian Watson book being Mockymen in 2005, I still have fond memories of that book. So, I jumped at the chance when offered a copy of The Chinese Time Machine, his latest short story collection.
Of the eleven stories here, four are set in the near-future and involve the voyages of—you guessed it—a ‘Chinese Time Machine’. What you probably didn’t guess is that the eponymous craft is based in Oxford, and crewed by two English academics, Mason and Sharma. Although invented by an ascendant Chinese government, it is the British who pilot her back in time, to rescue a famous tragic figure here (Oscar Wilde) and tweak a timeline there (by delaying the adoption of Arabic numerals).
End of Story by Louise Swanson
Reviewed by Shellie Horst
Louise Beech has been writing emotionally powerful, award-winning novels for years. End of Story, written under her pen-name Louise Swanson, is her first foray into speculative fiction. Sitting at the thriller end of the genre, End of Story is set in 2035, five years after the government banned fiction.
Our lead character is Fern Dostoy, a big list author. A problem when fiction is taboo. Made up anythings, and creative practices have re-invented themselves for fear of persecution. Even the diary Fern uses to chronicle her days is subject to prosecution. Understandably, it’s an absolutely terrifying idea for anyone in the creative arts. We are subjected to a hopeless society. With the criminalisation of storytelling, Fern’s career crumbled, losing her wonderful home and everything she holds precious. Fern finds herself isolated, bereft of family, and immensely distrusting, leaving her writing life behind as a cleaner.
19 Beech Green