Wormhole by Keith Brooke and Eric Brown
(Angry Robot, 2023)
Reviewed by Ben Jeapes
Tragically, this is presumably the last original piece of work by Eric Brown that will be reviewed, the author having died in March. Keith Brooke thankfully is still with us. Both excellent writers in their own right, they blazed their reputations with a series of collaborations, and here they are together with their only one-off long-form collaboration.
Eighty years ago, the European slower-than-light starship Strasbourg set off for Carrasco, an Earth-type planet orbiting the star Mu Arae, with the crew in suspended animation. Soon after launch it exploded with the loss of all hands.
Review from BSFA Review 21 - Download your copy here.
The Strange by Nathan Ballingrud
(Titan Books, 2023)
Reviewed by Andy Sawyer
Galaxy magazine used to promote their kind of sf by stating exactly what kind of sf it wasn’t. The example was the “space western” in which “Hoofs drumming, Bat Durston came galloping down through the narrow pass at Eagle Gulch, a tiny gold colony 400 miles north of Tombstone” is simply transcribed into “Jets blasting, Bat Durston came screeching down through the atmosphere of Bbllzznaj, a tiny planet seven billion light years from Sol.” After a few pages, or possibly even paragraphs, it’s quite clear that the Martian colony of New Brunswick, from where 14-year-old Anabelle Crisp sets out to retrieve the recording of her mother’s voice which is among the loot taken when their diner is robbed, is a small town in the American West. The recording is all that she and her father are left with after “the Silence” cuts all contact with Earth. Anabelle “persuades” the shunned spaceship pilot Joe, stranded on Mars, and the outlaw Sally Milkwood to join her and her dishwasher “Engine” Watson to follow the thieves to Dig Town and Peabody Crater where the mineral aptly called “the Strange” is mined. It doesn’t take much time to work out that “Dig Town” is any western mining community, Watson is the trusty Native American servant (though he is programmed with an “English butler” voice and vocabulary), and the “recording” is, say, a picture or memento left by Anabel’s mother who has “gone East” to civilisation and never come back. There is even a sheriff; that staple diet in Westerns, beans; and ambushes and shoot-outs aplenty. There is even a (threatened) hanging.
Time Portals of Norwich by David Viner
(Viva Djinn Publishing, 2023)
Reviewed by Gene Rowe
We first meet Cassie—a young girl from Norwich—at her mother’s funeral. Well, not just one Cassie but, as it turns out, three…although ‘our’ Cassie doesn’t realise who these other two are until she becomes one of them years later. Uh-huh, it’s that sort of story.
What follows is an adventure in which multiple Cassies flit backwards and forwards through time as our heroine (in all her manifestations) attempts to unravel the supernatural mystery of her family and escape her malign and ancient father, who wants to use her body as a vessel for his own devilish soul. In the course of her complicated journey, Cassie encounters various famous episodes from the city’s past—in some cases being implicated in their happenings. Thus, she narrowly avoids being fried in a bomber attack during one of the Baedeker Raids of WW2; another time, she escapes (and perhaps inadvertently causes) a fire in the old Norwich library; and elsewhen, she is nearly squashed by a double-decker falling down a sinkhole (an event that actually occurred in the 1970s just down the road from where I live).
The Roamers by Francesco Verso
(Flame Tree Press, 2023)
Reviewed by Stuart Carter
Long, long ago, back in the nineties before I’d written a single review for Vector, it felt like a boom time for nanotechnology in science fiction: Neal Stephenson’s whimsical The Diamond Age, Kathleen Ann Goonan’s jazz-heavy ,Nanontech Quartet, Wil McCarthy’s vertiginous Bloom, and the grandaddy of them all, Greg Bear’s magnificent Blood Music.
So, I felt a Proustian rush on reading this new nanotech novel: The Roamers, by Francesco Verso. Set in Rome, and translated from the original Italian, The Roamers follows a group who “…altered their bodies, changed the way they eat and liberated themselves from the need for food” (back cover). The blurb mixes the terrifying onrush of transformation in Blood Music with the hard work of grasping and maintaining freedom seen in much of Cory Doctorow’s work.
Ava’s Demon, Book One: Reborn by Michelle Fus
(Skybound Comet, 2023)
Reviewed by Phil Nicholls
Ava’s Demon is a YA graphic novel published by Skybound Comet, adapted from a web comic. As the title suggests, young Ava has a Demon. More precisely, the demon is trapped within Ava and often communicates with her via a rotary telephone kept within a compartment in Ava’s torso.
The Demon has made Ava’s life in school a misery by taking command at inappropriate times. However, once Ava agrees to a pact with her Demon, she is launched on a quest to recruit an army. It turns out that the Demon is an alien called Wrathia and was formally a queen, so needs an army to be restored to her throne.
The Two Pendants: The Children of Pisces, Book 1 by R.E. Lewin
Reviewed by Steven French
This is a YA novel aimed at a 10–18 year-old readership, although I think it is best suited for those at the lower end of that range. It opens with a pregnant woman being pursued by remorseless hunters, before skipping ahead to the same woman leaving each of her four babies in different locations in hopes that they can find safety. The story proper begins with one of the four, Tammy, sneaking into the office of the orphanage where she has ended up and discovering a curious pendant left to her by her mum. On a trip to an island Noah’s Ark where at least two of every species of animal have been saved after the deadly Pisces virus swept over the planet, Tammy displays an extraordinary affinity with the animals that allows her to climb into the pen with one of the jaguars and befriend it (here the author might have included a warning: Kids! Don’t try this at your local zoo!!). After she’s adopted by the owners of the reserve, Ed and Jude, Tammy begins to explore her powers and while on a trip to Africa, not only saves some lions from hunters but also a small child from crocodiles, creatures who prove strangely resistant to her abilities.
Queen High by C.J. Carey
Reviewed by L.J. Hurst
Although not the first alternate history in which a Nazi leadership sits in London, Queen High is interesting among feminist visions of it. And “interesting” needs a list to explain why.
First, note that this is a sequel to Widowland, in which Rose Ransom and her friends and family were introduced. Rose works as a civil servant and literary censor. Her responsibility, though, is more like Winston Smith’s in Nineteen Eighty-Four: that is, Rose, to satisfy the aesthetic demands of (real Nazi) Alfred Rosenberg’s belief that women should be subject to men, and that literature should reflect this, re-writes the classics. The nadir of the practice can be read in the first sentence of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of a womb must be in want of a husband”.
Augur by John C. Sable
Monks, eh? What are they like? In Augur, 200 of them seal themselves inside an impenetrable concrete dome for the next 200 years. Or rather, 199 monks do: one runs off en-route to the finished dome (and the concrete dome isn’t completely sealed, as we later discover).
Sealed inside their new home, our monks only see the outside world through “simulations”, but their isolation means they’re now able to predict the future and guide the rest of us towards a better world. How this works is not something that’s explained, and doesn’t feel intuitively very likely, to be honest. Perhaps some Delphic sense kicks in when you’re cut off from the rest of humanity? Or have they discovered psychohistory 10,000 years before Hari Seldon?
Fables and Spells by adrienne maree brown
(AK Press, 2022)
Reviewed by Susan Peak
adrienne maree brown (she doesn’t capitalise her name) is a Black American woman writer who has attended a Clarion workshop. She is active in healing (social and sexual) and restorative justice work in the US, is a doula, and has written several books. These are mainly related to her activist work, e.g., Emergent Strategy, a sequence of books about sustainable social change where adrienne’s view is that social change should be pleasurable and not solely work (this emphasis on a different approach to social issues has faint echoes of New Wave science fiction). She has combined speculative fiction, where she has been described as an Afrofuturist writer, with her activism, e.g., when co-editing Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements. Combining these concerns and interests is very evident in Fables and Spells, one of the Emergent Strategy sequence, which contains a mixture of short stories and poems.
Flux by Jinwoo Chong
(Melville House Publishing, 2023)
Reviewed by Jamie Mollart
Flux by Jinwoo Chung is told over three storylines in three timelines which wind together and intertwine in a way designed to confuse and entrance the reader.
Bo is an 8-year-old reeling over his mother’s death, while obsessing over a Noir Cop drama, Raider, and arguing with his father and brother.
Blue is a 48-year-old mute, able to talk through cybernetic implants, who is called upon to take part in a television expose of the tech startup he used to work for, Flux.
19 Beech Green