The Queen of Summer’s Twilight by Charles Vess
(NewCon Press, 2022)
Reviewed by John Dodd
It’s interesting when someone who is very skilled in one form of creativity turns their hand to another, particularly when they are as capable as Charles Vess, whose artwork has been a favourite of mine for some time.
The Queen of Summer’s Twilight is a contemporary story of Janet, a young woman who finds herself being helped by a mysterious young man (Thomas) astride a Vincent Black Shadow motorcycle, who speaks in a manner more befitting a knight of the dark ages. Janet doesn’t think to question why Thomas is helping her, and doesn’t spend much time arguing with him, even though she knows nothing of him and his purpose.
Review from BSFA Review 20 - Download your copy here.
The Marlen of Prague: Christopher Marlowe and the City of Gold by Angeli Primlani
(Guardbridge Books, 2022)
Reviewed by Andy Sawyer
The Armada is sailing towards England. Playwright, spy, and mage Christopher Marlowe is pulled by his sister Ann from dalliance with his lover Thomas Kyd (author of The Spanish Tragedy) to take part in a rite that will turn back the invasion. They save the country and are back in time for supper and that—apart from Marlowe’s attempts to bury the memories of the Spell in poetry and smoking—is that. Until five years later, when Kyd (who in the new reality which comes to pass never wrote The Spanish Tragedy but is still in possession of incriminating writings left by Marlowe in his rooms) is arrested and Marlowe himself is told that he is going to have to “die” and be sent undercover to bring arch-magician John Dee back from Prague.
Dragons of Deceit by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman
(Del Rey, 2022)
I never read the Dragonlance books when they first came out…
I’m getting that out of the way before I say anything else, because anyone who knows me will think that I was one of the people who read and reread Dragonlance till it was ingrained in my campaigns, and the simple truth is, it wasn’t.
I came to this with no preconceptions, no vast enjoyment of previous books to colour my experience of the world, no expectation of seeing beloved characters from my childhood. I came to this as a newbie to the Dragonlance novels, hoping to find a story that would perhaps inspire me to go back and read all the other books.
Pennyblade by J.L. Worrad
(Titan Books, 2022)
Reviewed by Susan Peak
This book is about relationships and power, with relationships in the foreground. There are two key sets of relationships: between Kyra and her twin brother Kyran, and between Kyra and two women: Shen and Sister Benadetta. At the opening of the story, Kyra is in effect exiled from her home and making a living as a mercenary—a ‘pennyblade’. This exile has come about through the machinations of Kyra’s grandmother, who wants the family, of which she is head, to increase its power; Kyra was reluctant to cooperate.
The structure is one of switching in time from one chapter to another, giving the background as the main story is told. This is handled very well. As a technique, it can be intrusive, but Worrad makes the story flow well, and I found it added to the interest of the story as the two timelines converged. The story as a whole is well-written and engaging.
The World Set Free by H.G. Wells
(The MIT Press, 2022)
Reviewed by Paul Kincaid
It is said that Leó Szilárd, who first came up with the idea of a chain reaction, and who was instrumental in the creation of the first atomic bomb at Los Alamos, was inspired by reading The World Set Free by H.G. Wells. I can see the novel inspiring the idea of the chain reaction, because Wells’s description of an atomic bomb tells us not of one huge blast but of a series of explosions that continue sometimes for years. Wells’s atomic bomb, therefore, is a form of chain reaction. It is perhaps less clear why anyone might be inspired by this novel to go out and create a nuclear weapon. The bomb first dropped, in these pages, upon Berlin has very little in common with the weapon unleashed upon Hiroshima, but its effects, both immediately and long term, are similarly devastating. This is not something anyone might want to emulate.
Secondhand Daylight by Eugen Bacon and Andrew Hook
(John Hunt Publishing, 2023)
Reviewed by Steven French
This is not your usual time travel love story! It begins with Green, a ‘Pommy’ slacker, living in Melbourne in 1990 who goes to a bar, meets a woman—his ‘possible girl’—has a dance with her and then…finds himself flat on his backside outside, with no idea what just happened. At first, he thinks he’s ‘losing’ time, maybe through drink, or drugs or psychosis but the doctors assure him there’s nothing wrong. Then he starts missing appointments with the company-referred psychologist, as well as days at work, and his best mate’s weekend barbecue and other life-altering events until gradually Green comes to realise that he’s skipping forwards through time, whilst aging as normal. With each ‘time-slip’ becoming longer in duration, he faces the frightening prospect of losing not just friends and family and all the familiar landmarks of his life, but perhaps even passing beyond humanity itself. And so, this half of the book ends with Green in the care of the AI-led foundation that he funded, being told that someone called Zada has jumped back through his timeline, using the ‘Tesseract’, a McGuffin of a time-machine that she helped to develop, in an attempt to discover the reason for his time-slips and stop him vanishing into the future.
Where It Rains in Color by Denise Crittendon
(Angry Robot, 2022)
Lileala is the ‘Rare Indigo’, a title given to the most beautiful woman in the galaxy who is revered for her gorgeous blue-black skin and her ability to produce ‘the Shimmer’, a kind of visible glow. As such, she is about to become a symbolic dignitary and major tourist attraction for her home planet of Swazembi, famed both for its technological superiority and, as a tourist destination, for its misty drifts of electromagnetic colours. With her betrothed, Otto, a respected member of the science-based ‘Pineal Crew’, a glorious future seems to lie at Lileala’s feet.
Celestial by M.D. Lachlan
This is a weird and wonderful slice of ‘alternative history’ set in 1977 about a Buddhist who goes to the moon, overcomes various obstacles, both physical and mental, including her own grief over the death of her much-loved sister and discovers the true nature of consciousness and reality. If that sounds ‘deep’ or ‘heavy’, well it really isn’t, thanks to Lachlan’s deft touch and the threads of humour that he weaves through the narrative.
The Greater Game by Gene Rowe
(White Cat Publications, 2022)
Reviewed by Phil Nicholls
In The Greater Game it is 2179 and humanity has begun the process of colonising space. A scattering of planets around distant stars have been colonised, but the bulk of the action revolves around our solar system. Simmering resentments on Mars about their Earth-based colonial controllers sits at the heart of the political machinations driving the plot. Just as the original Great Game was a colonial-era dispute over Afghanistan that ran for most of the 19th Century, so too is Rowe’s book a sprawling political thriller. One faction of the Martian government is plotting with the corporations who have evolved into effective nation-states. Meanwhile a spy and a UN Peacekeeper are both quickly swept up into the intrigue. Rowe weaves a complex, multi-thread narrative in order to encompass the broad scope of his sophisticated plot. What begins as seemingly disparate threads are then steadily pulled together through the course of the book. Once these plot lines begin to unite, the novel steadily picks up speed to a thrilling climax, which changes one part of the setting for good. I admire Rowe’s ambition for the book. The Greater Game delivers a powerful finale as a reward for the slightly disjointed nature of the early sections of the book where the focus jumps from one thread to another. This is a standard SF story structure, which Rowe uses as a vehicle to deliver a strong finish.
Wayward by Chuck Wendig
This is the post-apocalyptic sequel to Wendig’s pandemic novel, The Wanderers, in which a fungal infection (‘White Mask’) rips through humanity, save for a fortunate few. These include the ‘Sleepers’, who are controlled by a nano-tech based A.I. called ‘Black Swan’ and, together with their protective ‘Shepherds’, are directed to a small town in Colorado where civilization is planned to begin anew. Wayward is the story of how that all goes horribly wrong.
19 Beech Green