Such a punch!

Mon 20 Jun 2022 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , | Posted by: Gavin

This week on on Book Riot’s Under the Radar SFF podcast Jenn and Sharifah discuss many interesting books (including Everyone on the Moon is Essential Personnel) and other things including a review of Alaya Dawn Johnson’s Reconstruction: Stories.

Alaya was recently chosen to co-write the first story in Janelle Monáe’s New York Times bestselling first book The Memory Librarian.

I enjoyed he podcast so much I used the voice memo app on my phone and then the dictation app on my laptop to make this lightly edited transcript. It’s definitely not 100% accurate as I was looking to capture the description of this book I love more than keep it to 100% of what was said. You can listen to the full episode or subscribe here:

Alaya Dawn Johnson is a writer whose career I have been happily following for some times now. This collection is such a punch. From the opening story right on through it is putting you on notice. You’re gonna go some places here and you’re not gonna be able to look away. It’s an amazing collection.
The title story is the last story in the collection and the longest  in the collection. It takes place during the end of the Civil War in the United States. You’re following a black woman who is a laundress, freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, and now following a regiment of black soldiers. It’s really good. That character, Sally, is so justifiably angry but one of the through lines of the story is a breakdown of the different kinds of anger and what they do to you and why you cling to them and how they affect you and how you move through the world through these different forms of anger. It’s so insightful and perceptive and so visceral and present.
The first story is such a punch. It’s called “A Guide to the Fruits of Hawaii” and it imagines a world — sort of our time — in which vampires are in charge and have enslaved humanity and put them in camps and are breeding them as a food supply and our main character is an overseer who is a human working for the vampires. So it’s about coercion and collaboration, what does it mean to survive? What does it mean to try to carve out enough power to do the good that you can while knowing that you are perpetuating harm? It’s so intense. It’s beautifully written.
The stories are not easy and I think they’re not supposed to be. I think Johnson is doing so much in here. There’s a huge range of what speculative elements she’s using between the stories and the tones shift and the settings shift. Each story is very different. They are so good. She is such good short story writer — she’s also an excellent novelist — but you really feel the power of her short fiction in this collection. And there’s a really interesting author note at the end.

First Trade Review for Heroes

Fri 15 Apr 2022 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , | Posted by: Gavin

Heroes of an Unknown World coverAnd it is such a good review! It comes from Publishers Weekly and I could pick out just about any line and put it on a shirt.

We’ve been working with Ayize on these books for the last 10 years and I can’t wait for this final book to come out. Ayize is so skilled at writing knock out action science fiction which also threads together the story of a found family, who are definitely not perfect, but who have their eyes on the prize: a life which is more than just survival for everyone, not just the fortunate/terrible few.

Here’s that first review:

Therapist and theologian Jama-Everett takes his group of Black superheroes from 1970s London to contemporary Morocco in the fascinating and action-packed final Liminal novel (after The Liminal War). Liminals possess supernatural powers, among them central figure Taggert’s ability to manipulate DNA to harm and heal; his adopted daughter Prentis’s empathy with animals; and wind spirit A.C.’s power over the elements. Taggert and his seven major allies must finally defeat the beautiful but monstrous Alters, who work to drive all of humanity to lemming-like suicide by creating a physically and spiritually depressed new world. In breathlessly paced adventures told from ever-shifting perspectives, Jama-Everett celebrates the power of family, community, and music to unite peoples and combat entropy, using dramatic flashbacks to illustrate the salvific power of self-sacrifice for a greater good. His fictionalization of the role psychedelics (here “manna,” the food of the gods) can play in mental health and clear conviction that writing can heal those whom mainstream culture has ignored add depth to the rip-roaring action. Series fans and new readers alike are sure to be drawn in.

Not Like Anything I’ve Recently Read

Tue 28 Aug 2018 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , , , , , | Posted by: Gavin

Locus science fiction magazine July 2018Rich Horton included a couple of stories from this spring’s LCRW 37 in a recent short fiction roundup in Locus and since the reviews are now online I’ve reprinted them here because the stories are excellent and should be widely read. As I went to find Maria Romasco Moore’s twitter ID to tag her in the review I saw on her website that besides her fantastically titled forthcoming chapbook from Rose Metal Press, Ghostographs, this summer she sold her debut novel, congratulations, Maria!

Someone on twitter recently asked if we publish novellas and I answered that we sometimes do in LCRW — although if asked in person I usually add something to indicate that  a novella has to be as good as as 2-3 short stories. James Sallis’s “Dayenu” is. Last night I was looking at one of Gardner Dozois’s Year’s Bests Science Fiction and I very selfishly missed him again thinking that this was a story he would have enjoyed. It’s funny how much one person’s reading can influence so many others. Ach. Anyway, here are the reviews:

Dying Light” by Maria Romasco Moore (Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, March) is a strong story set on a starship carrying passengers in suspended animation, heading to a newly colonized world. The passengers live in “the light”, a virtual environment, to keep them mentally sharp. The narrator, Ruth, is worried about her wife, Mag, who has become self-destructive – an odd thing in the “light”, where one can do what they want to their virtual bodies without necessarily affecting their “real” body. The real problem is Ruth and Mag’s relationship, which the story foregrounds. It’s well enough executed, but what intrigued me was the backgrounded SFnal aspects – the “light” and how it works, the hints about the state of Earth society and how that affects the colony’s prospects. Neat stuff, even if I’m not quite sure I read it the way the writer intended.

Even better is a remarkable long story by James Sallis, “Dayenu“. It opens with the narrator doing an unspecified but apparently criminal job, and then fleeing the house he was squatting in, and meeting an old contact for a new identity. Seems like a crime story – and Sallis is primarily a crime novelist – but details of unfamiliarity mount, from the pervasive surveillance, to a changed geography, to the realiza­tion that the rehab stint the narrator mentioned right at the start was a rather more extensive rehab than we might have thought. Memories of wartime service are detailed, and two partners in particular – a woman named Fran or Molly, a man named Merrit Li. Page by page the story seems odder, and the destination less expected. The prose is a pleasure, too – with desolate rhythms and striking images. Quite a work, and not like anything I’ve recently read.

Up to Saving God?

Thu 2 Aug 2018 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , | Posted by: Gavin

Half-Witch coverHalf-Witch by John Schoffstall, our latest title from Big Mouth House receives a lovely review by Colleen Mondor in the new issue if Locus.

There is something deeply satisfying about a traditional fantasy with plucky protagonists, nefarious villains, hungry goblins, tricky witches, and a dangerous and difficult quest. In John Schofstall’s Half-Witch, everything you expect to find is present, plus a lot of unlikely twists and turns that make this adventure a classic read. . . . As they continue their quest, Lisbet and Strix become the very definition of plucky, and it is hard not cheer them on. They are charming characters who overcome all sorts of fantastical obstacles and forge a powerful friendship.”

There’s more, including the note about saving God but you’ll have to get Locus to read that. In the meantime, pick up a copy of Half-Witch while you can still get a first edition hardcover . . . !

& now the first review for Under the Poppy

Mon 30 Aug 2010 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , , | Posted by: Gavin

Publishers Weekly is again first off the blocks with their take on Kathe Koja’s huge sexy historical novel, Under the Poppy:

“The latest from Koja (Skin) is a page turner with riveting language and
close attention to sensory detail. Set in late 19th-century Brussels, the
story follows the adventures of puppeteer Istvan and brothel owner Rupert
who bond as friends and lovers. The first half of the novel is set at
Rupert’s brothel, Under the Poppy, a haven for bawdy puppet shows and loose
women. With war in the air, the brothel is forced to house soldiers led by a
corrupt general. A mysterious assault on Rupert leads to more violence and
an exodus of prostitutes from the establishment. Istvan and Rupert, with one
of the former working girls, who morphs into a theater owner and puppeteer,
leave as well and arrive in a new town, where they cavort with a family of
aristocrats that includes Isobel, who falls for Rupert (as does her young
brother, Benjamin, the family heir). Koja’s style is unconventional,
resulting in a melodrama with deep insights into character and a murky plot
balanced with prose as theatrical as the world it portrays.(Oct.)”

Hound – Reviews

Tue 8 Sep 2009 - Filed under: Authors, , , | Posted by: Gavin

Reviews of Hound
by Vincent McCaffrey

“If you favor a leisurely but still intriguing mystery with amiable characters and a devotion to the printed word, Hound will provide a pleasant diversion. As much about books — and love and knowledge and family — as about murder, Hound is the first in McCaffrey’s projected trilogy, and book lovers will eagerly await Henry’s next outing.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch

“One of the strengths of this book is McCaffrey’s droll description throughout…. As quick as McCaffrey’s wit is, so is his un-saccharine sentimentality…. In the end, that careful attention is what makes Hound evoke such a Jimmy Stewart-movie atmosphere. It wraps up completely like a, yes, package—but an honest one, skillfully wrapped and artfully offered.”
Rain Taxi

“For the true bibliophile, this is a book you’ll love. McCaffrey peppers his prose with all kinds of allusions and references to books and literature, new and old, classic and arcane, as well as multiple passages of verse. Clearly, as a career bookseller, McCaffrey knows his books.
The Hippo, NH

“Henry Sullivan is just squeaking by as a “book hound,” a wholesale rare book dealer. He scrounges yard and estate sales picking up the odd bibliographic treasure here and there. He thinks he might be onto a second shot at happiness when an ex-girlfriend asks him to appraise a collection of first editions left by her late husband. But when this former love is murdered, Sullivan turns from reading Raymond Chandler to trying to solve the crime himself. With a faster pace tempered by real emotional resonance, Hound is different from John Dunning’s “Bookman” series, yet there is enough behind the scenes information about the rare book trade to appeal to Cliff Janeway fans. (McCaffrey ran an independent bookstore for 30 years, so he knows what he’s talking about.) The tale is packed with references not only to mystery writers like Erle Stanley Gardner, but a variety of others from Charles Dickens to Nevil Shute. McCaffrey even name checks Harlan Ellison as an example of “The good ones are all difficult.” Set in a beautifully-evoked contemporary Boston, the old town soon provides a wealth of other mysteries for Sullivan, like a hidden stash of letters belonging to a flapper adventuress of the 1920s. As with all good books about books (even novels), this one will send you out looking for the other writers discussed.”
Author Magazine

Meet Me in the Moon Room – Reviews

Sun 1 Jul 2001 - Filed under: Authors, , , | Posted by: Gavin

Book Magazine
“Eccentric short stories, which frequently give everyday life a loopy twist”

Review of Contemporary Fiction “Ray Vukcevich is a master of the last line. Almost every one of his stories has a zinger at the end, but not the kind of zinger that chocks the reader or causes annoyance. Often it’s a perfect line of dialogue that opens up the whole story…. Vukcevich is ingenious with the short-story form. Although the stories read as playful vignettes, Vukcevich covertly works in ideas of self, identity, destiny, and obsession. And occasionally, the dangers of outer space.”

Hartford Courant
“. . . the 33 brief stories in Meet Me in the Moon Room defy categorization genre. A few toy with the conventions of science fiction; others branch off from trails blazed by Donald Barthelme. Moon Room will delight those who appreciated the risks Don DeLillo took in Ratner’s Star.

“Vukcevich is a master of radical recombinations, drawing from (amongst others) the Brothers Grimm, Dickens, Lewis Carroll, Kafka, O. Henry, Dali, Asimov, pulpish space opera, and the latest in nanotech to produce works that are all his own. Sometimes in as little as four or five pages, he deftly juggles so many ideas, emotions, and perspectives, it produces a curiously refreshing sense of vertigo — a high with no hangover to follow…. It would be…a great mistake to ignore the extraordinary talent of Ray Vukcevich.”

New York Review of Science Fiction
“…Ray Vukcevich is a very slick writer, an authentic sprinter in an era of milers and all-out stayers…. Vukcevich can do punchlines, but he does not rely on them. Indeed, his extraordinarily light touch when it comes to narrative closure is his most distinctive feature. Anyone who considers bizarre surrealism and casual absurdity — the main stocks-in-trade of the fantastic ultrashort story writer — easy clay to mold into narrative form has not given serious consideration to the matter of finishing.”

“These stories niftily propel their characters down the blurred line between fantasy and psychosis, with effects spanning the gamut from melancholy to goofy, from plaintive to outraged…. This is Vukcevich’s gloriously mad world, and we are lucky to share it.”

Publishers Weekly
The same antic spirit that imbued Vukcevich’s mystery novel The Man of Maybe Half-a-Dozen Faces moves playfully through this first collection of fantastic fiction, whose 33 helium-filled stories achieve just the right absurdist life to escape the gravity of their themes. “By the Time We Get to Uranus” offers a peculiarly affecting take on terminal illness: the afflicted grow buoyant spacesuits that force them to leave loved ones behind. The mysteries of parenthood manifest amusingly in “Poop,” about a couple who discover that their newborn’s diaper fills variously with birds, mice, and symphonic music. Though deceptively simple in their pared-down style, the vignettes show meticulous care in the crafting of oddball metaphors to express the moods of their estranged spouses, exasperated lovers, competitive children, and disgruntled employees. The willingness with which the author’s characters accept the incongruity of their situations often yields profoundly moving insights into the human condition. In the poignant title tale, for example, a man does not find it at all strange that a lover from decades past has summoned him to a simulated moon landscape at a theme park, reflecting that the meaning of life really is “nothing more than a couple of people huddling close for comfort in a cold universe.” Inventive and entertaining, these stories yield more emotional truth than much more comparatively realistic fiction. Forecast: With blurbs from Damon Knight, Kate Wilhelm and Jeffrey Ford, this collection is a quality item that should benefit from good word of mouth.

A man pulls the sweater his girlfriend made him over his head and nearly gets lost inside it. Rescued from the arctic ice, the dying Victor (Frankenstein) tells a story that leaves little doubt that the monster is James Joyce or Stephen Dedalus or Finn (again). Tim saves the world from a comet by having his family put paper bags over their heads. What? What?! What?!! Calm down. This is just the world according to Ray Vukcevich, sf-ish enough to get him into The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Asimov’s, but also resembling the fantastic milieus of Gogol, Kafka, and Looney Toons. Whether you cotton to it depends on how you feel about cartoons made of words and prisons made of logic: are you afraid of amused? Actually, either reaction works for appreciating Vukcevich’s outlandish virtuosity. Sf fans with long memories will note Vukcevich’s deadpan delivery and jokey-creepy aura, recall the wonder-workings of Fredric Brown (see From These Ashes [BKL Ap 15 01] and smile.





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