Review of Accessing the Future: A Disability-Themed Anthology of Speculative Fiction edited by Kathryn Allan and Djibril al-Ayad (Futurefire.net, 2015)
This anthology alternates between short fiction pieces and illustrations. The black and white illustrations all fit with the theme of the volume and show wonderfully imaginative futures with disabled participants. Our favorite image was the astronaut on the cover who appears to be having a great time in zero gravity moving their graceful body about.
Every one of the stories in this volume offered a unique look into a disabled character’s world. You saw disabled people dealing with issues we have today and also with new issues which will appear when we get off Earth and into space. Our favorite story was the first one, “Pirate Song” by Nicolette Barischoff. A young woman gets rescued off a ship, but the pirates who take her have no idea that she needs a chair to move around, nor do they realize that she is a VIP’s daughter. They end up with more than they bargained for and both she and they end up learning about parts of their world they never knew existed. For Angela, the story was a poignant reminder of the life her cousin could have had. Her cousin was also a young adult with spina bifida but he passed away a few years ago.
Review of The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron edited by AC Wise (Lethe Press, 2015)
This is the most fun volume of short fiction we have read in a long while. Your Humble Reviewers love superheroes. This volume even gets bonus points for being mostly female superheroes! The utter ridiculousness of superheroes fighting in high heels and fancy dresses made us both laugh. The wonderful characters in the stories are nothing to laugh at, though: they have great emotional depth, vastly different personalities, and a dizzying array of costume looks. A common theme running through the volume is family, both blood and found. Being from Lethe Press, it is of course QUILTBAG friendly. All the characters are handled with sensitivity and there is a character in there that almost everyone will identify with, QUILTBAG or not. We loved that the male superheroes ran around in g-strings while the females are dressed to the nines in fabulous gowns or suits.
If you like superhero tales or group bonding tales with feels, then immediately buy this book.
Review of Lost Trails: Forgotten Tales of the Weird West Volume 1 edited by Cynthia Ward (Wolfsinger Publications, 2015)
This is volume of Weird West tales which focus on the multi-cultural aspects of the Old West. Some are set in a historic Old West with only slight differences and some are set in strange variants. There are even some set in the future. Not all Old West stories are set in small dusty towns with only a saloon and a jail, either. One of our favorites from this volume, “Wagers of Gold Mountain” by Steve Berman, is set in San Francisco and features tricksters from two different heritages. That story and Ken Liu’s “All the Flavors: A Tale of Guan Yu, the Chinese God of War” feature Chinese characters, who are usually left out of western tales (other than the Kung Fu television series, which was a staple of our childhoods). When Chinese immigrants came to the US they brought all aspects of their culture with them, but unfortunately many Western readers aren’t familiar with their culture so it tends to get removed from westerns. These two stories use very different aspects of Chinese culture but both are excellently done. Ken Liu has yet to write a story we haven’t liked and he always manages to find some aspect of his culture to share in the stories which we, who have two bookcases of well-perused Asian books, have not heard before.
Several indigenous peoples are used in other stories in this book, many sharing aspects of culture we had not read about before. Several of the settings we wish we could return to in other stories. All of the stories were entertaining and moved quickly enough to retain our interest. A few of the stories border on horror because such terrible creatures play a major role, so horror readers will also find something they like in this volume.
As Time Goes By edited by Hank Davis (Baen, Feb 2015)
This is another wonderful holiday book from Hank Davis, a Valentine’s Day edition this time. This volume is full of time travel tales involving romance (science fiction stories, not paranormal romance tales). There are stories by regular Baen authors like Tony Daniel and Sarah Hoyt, and some classic authors like Poul Anderson, Murray Leinster, and John Wyndham. One classic author, Mildred Clingerman (whose work Your Humble Reviewers had not previously read), has a wonderful story called “The Day of the Green Velvet Cloak”. In it a woman saves herself from an unwanted marriage when she buys a cloak and follows her intuition. Another good one from the volume is “Six months, Three Days” by Charlie Jane Anders. The couple in this story can both see the future, but her gift works differently than his. So while they love each other, they are also competitive to see who is correct about their future together.
Our favorite story is “The Price of Oranges” by Nancy Kress. Angela remembers reading this story when it first appeared in Asimov’s in 1989 and it made an impression on her then. The grandfather in the story reminded her of her own granddad, who shared Angela’s love of science and science fiction but because of the generation gap they couldn’t communicate well about some things. 1989 was a bad time for LGBT people because many had lost and were still losing friends and loved ones to AIDS. LGBT people were still sort of invisible in mainstream SF markets then so a granddaughter coming out to her grandfather and introducing her girlfriend was a wonderful thing to find in a short story. We love how the grandfather’s time travel meddling ended up having the outcome he intended, pulling his granddaughter out of her depression so she looked and felt happier and didn’t write such depressing stories, but the how of it doing so was completely not to his plan!
Review of Wastelands 2 edited by John Joseph Adams (Titan Books, February 2015)
This is the second volume of short fiction about the apocalypse. Some our favorites were “The Tamarisk Hunter” by Paolo Bacigalupi, a tale of a future Arizona where water is in very short supply, “Jimmy’s Roadside Café” by Ramsey Shehadeh, a story about the survivors of the apocalypse near I-95 in Virginia, “The Postman” by David Brin, which is the tale of how Gordon becomes the postman, and “Tight Little Stitches in a Dead Man’s Back” by Joe R Lansdale, a love/hate story of a set of parents after the apocalypse.
If you like your stories with a bit of a depressive feel, then this is definitely the volume for you. We had to read this one over several months because while all the stories are good, most don’t leave you in a happy place. But what else can you expect from a volume about the apocalypse?
Review of Operation Arcana edited by John Joseph Adams (Baen, March 2015)
This is a volume of all new military fantasy stories. The ones which stayed with us the most were “Mercenary’s Honor” by Elizabeth Moon, a story set in the Paksennarrion universe about a very young Halveric Company and how Kieri Phelan starting gaining his reputation even as a young squire, “Rules of Enchantment” by Tobias S. Buckell and David Klecha, an interesting take on the modern soldiers in an epic fantasy world, “Blood, Ash, Braids” by Genevieve Valentine, a story about Russian female pilots during World War II whose nickname Night Witches might be a little more accurate for some pilots than others, and “In Skeleton Leaves”, Seanan McGuire’s tale of Peter Pan and Neverland from Wendy’s point of view.
Review of The Year’s best Military SF and Space Opera edited by David Afsharirad (Baen, April 2015)
This volume is the first in what appears to be a new annual series. The wide variety in this volume is a wonder. Every story is a different type of setting and tale so every reader of these genres will find something to like.
Some of our favorites from the volume are the old Venus-set private eye story by David D. Levine called “The End of the Silk Road”, Charlie Jane Anders’ futuristic vigilante tale set on a colony world “Palm Strike’s Last Case”, and “Ten Rules for Being an Intergalactic Smuggler (the Successful Kind)”, Holly Black’s humorous tale of a young person who stows away on their uncle’s smuggler ship.
Review of Tales of Time and Space by Allen Steele (Fantastic Books, April 24, 2015)
This is a collection of Steele’s short fiction. His stories focus on futures which are generally hopeful for humans. We really liked the story about the train, “Locomotive Joe and the Wreck of Space Train No.4”. It has quirky characters and interesting outer space trains.
Our favorite story is “Alive and Well, A Long Way from Anywhere”, the tale of an eccentric hermit who goes to extremes to be alone. The story is as much about the assistant the hermit leaves behind as it is about him, which gives the tale an easier entry point but still lets you see the odd older gent’s story. Your Humble Reviewers would prefer not to live in that future, but it is a good place to visit in stories!
There is not a single bad or boring story in the volume. One of the best single-author classic SF collections we have read in some time.
Review of Chicks and Balances edited by Esther Friesner and John Helfers (Baen, July 2015)
This is a new volume in the Chicks in Chainmail series, which all feature stories about female warriors and most involve armor in some way. There are several unusual takes on female warriors in this volume, including “One Touch of Hippolyta” by Laura Frankos and “Second Hand Hero” by Jean Rabe, an interesting take on aliens and how a multi-species unit might work in “Saving Private Slime” by Louisa Swann, and a tale by Lee Martindale of a warrior and a wizard on a road trip called “…And Your Enemies Closer”.
These volumes are always entertaining and contain a vast number of story types and settings, so lovers of almost any subgenre will find something to suit them.
Review of The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk edited by Sean Wallace (Running Press, July 2015)
For those unfamiliar with it, dieselpunk is steampunk set between World War I and World War II. So you have a preponderance of greasy, dirty tech driven by diesel engines and Art Deco settings.
The twenty-one stories in this volume will knock your socks off. They all have the optimism of the interwar period but have issues in them which are relevant today. There is derring-do and fantastic achievements like you saw in the pulps of that period.
Our favorite story was “Into the Sky” by Joseph Ng, which is a romance set in a China with military hot air balloons. The soldiers are based on sections of the Great Wall to defend China. They have mecha named after the Terracotta Warriors, but the main character Mako is just a simple foot soldier, not one of the elite mecha operators. He meets the girl of his dreams. The story explores the theme of love conquering everything, even war.
For fast-paced stories with wonderful characters and jump-off-the-page settings you should read this volume of adventure stories.
Review of Cracking the Sky by Brenda Cooper (Fairwood Press, August 2015)
This is a science fiction collection of some of Brenda Cooper’s short fiction. If you have enjoyed her novels like Edge of Dark, Creative Fire, and The Diamond Deep, then this volume should definitely be on your read list.
Every story in this volume is hard science fiction. They cover human and robot experiences across the future. The settings range from several earthly locations to ships and various other human habitations. The romantic tale of separated lovers in “Second Shift” is our favorite of the volume. Also of note is “Mind Expeditions”, which gives a unique viewpoint of the future use of remote work. The military SF tale of the title is also a very moving story. There is not a single story in here which did not bring an emotional response as we read, so on the whole an excellent read and well worth any SF lovers’ time.
Review of The Improbable Truth: The Paranormal Adventures of Sherlock Holmes edited by A.C. Thompson (Mocha Memoirs Press, October 20, 2015)
This volume of Sherlock Holmes stories involving paranormal creatures or events is an interesting look at how Holmes would deal with things which defy logic. We enjoyed all the stories. Holmes is a skeptic in most of the stories and he has to deal with ghosts, supernatural creatures, reanimated dead, as well as some undefined artificially-created nasties. Some of the stories involve a human being who has a gadget which allows them to act like a supernatural creature. We don’t want to spoil any of the wonderful plots, so you will have to read them for yourselves to determine the story specifics. We’ve both read all the original stories so some good new ones are always appreciated. For those readers who can take a little paranormal activity with their Holmes, this is a great read.
Review of Nebula Awards Showcase 2015 edited by Greg Bear (Pyr, Dec 8, 2015)
Your Humble Reviewers look forward to this volume every year because there are always some stories in it that we missed during the previous year in their initial publication. Everything in these volumes is always worth a read, but we want to mention some which particularly struck a chord with us. Our favorite short story was “Selkie Stories are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar.
The novelette “Pearl Rehabilitative Colony for Ungrateful Daughters” by Henry Lien was an amusing look at boarding school life in outer space for teenagers involved in a type of skating. Lien did an excellent job of moving Chinese culture and traditions off of planet Earth. Suki was a typical teen queen or princess type of character but what she did and why was definitely not typical. Perhaps Lien will revisit Suki when she has aged a bit so we can see what happened to her.