Novel Review: Metronome by Oliver Langmead

MetronomeMetronome by Oliver Langmead
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s fantasy–and then there’s fantastical. Metronome takes the reader and the narrator on a fantastical journey worthy of a Miyazaki film. Elderly Scotsman, Manderlay, once was a celebrated violinist and avid sailor. Now, he bides his time breaking rules at the retirement home, until his increasingly vivid dreams sweep him away to the fantastical world where all dreams come together.

Amid memories of his deceased wife and of his former musical glory, Manderlay sets off on an adventure through stunning towered cities forever bathed in light, to dark shadowed places always under the moon. Aboard the clockwork flying ship, Metronome Manderlay and his odd companions of a nightmare, a nightmare hunter and an insane pirate captain set off for the eye of the storm always churning at the edge of the world of dreams. Their only map is the music of Manderlay’s last album . . .

Others have learned how to manipulate their shared dream so as to create magic in the world. Manderlay wants to do the same, and fights the inclination to awaken into his elderly limited world again.

The writing creates a beautiful, wondrous landscape leading to a meandering pseudo-ending that won’t satisfy all as it doesn’t feel the need to justify and situate its Neverland/Wonderland/Oz/Narnia.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the publisher, Unsung Stories, through
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novel Review: Braineater Jones by Stephen Kozeniewski

Braineater JonesBraineater Jones by Stephen Kozeniewski
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What Harry Dresden is to the wizarding world, Braineater Jones is to the zombie world. Both reinvent the detective noir genre for their purposes, though this one also plays it as historic fiction showing depression era, post-prohibition America in a gritty urban landscape with zombies.

True to its genre roots, the humor largely remains dry as Jones tries to figure out both his former life and his current surroundings. His memories continue to evade him as he learns of a world filled with talking decapitated heads, prostitute zombies and nearly everybody looking for the rejuvenating power of hard alcohol. [It staves off decay.]

Slowly, other sub-genres work their way in with Nazis coming to light and finally even steampunk robots powered by alcohol-pickled zombie brains. And yet it works . . .

Detective noir and urban fantasy play well together, and a few series set in the modern era employing zombie detectives, but it’s nice to see the 1930s with zombies. Especially with lingo intact. Topically, it holds to 1930s prejudices, too. But then tears those down with a diversity of characters.

This series is highly enjoyable. And recommended.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm” by Daryl Gregory

3 of 5 stars.

In a world of superheroes and supervillians, monster robots and steampunk automated men, this is the tale of a simple girl. She’s one of the few seemingly not semi-automated, nor animal-hybridized. She works on a crew welding together the next mega robot. Unfortunately for her, she lives and works in a country under the leadership of Lord Grimm who’s deemed a supervillian by the American superheroes who declare war against the small island nation every so often much to the detriment of the everyday folks who reside there.

The true theme of the tale is the civilian fallout from war. They’re the ignored pawns doing what they can to avoid being crushed in their homes by forces bigger than them. They rally around the injured and irradiated. And, try to restore a semblance of community at every peaceful opportunity.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Anthology Review: Abbreviated Epics Edited by Juliana Rew

Abbreviated EpicsAbbreviated Epics by Juliana Rew
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This brief anthology of 20 extremely short pieces dubbed “epics” spans fantasy, various folklores, and sci-fi. Few of the tales are long enough for any truly satisfactory development. The standouts are either deeply moving are extraordinarily well grounded, or both.

My favorite tale, meriting 5 stars, is Deborah Walker’s “Beyond the Turning Orrery”. It’s a breathtaking work of beautiful prose in which a highly compromised narrator cannot fully comprehend the full extent to which his tiny steampunk world is contrived:

I picked a copper cricket out of the grass, and held it to my ears listening to the small tick of its tiny internal springs.

“If we’re wound, who winds us?” asked Dom.

I touched his chest. “How can you deny that?” I thumped his chest a little harder. I was afraid for him, and that made me scared.

My honorable mentions each receiving 4 stars are:
–Daniel Coble’s “Assault on the Summit” which extrapolates on the Lovecraftian mythos of Tibet’s Leng plateau. In the most remote locations, unknown and possibly alien cultures and beings preserve their sequestered way of life.
–Marissa James’ “The Blue Cup” confronts the uneasy relationship between a childhood fantasy and adult reality.
–Adria Laycraft’s “The Perfection of the Steam-Powered Armour”, set in a steampunk samurai society, this tale pits a tinkerer and his young son up against the powerful politics that undervalue his small family’s lives.

I rated and reviewed all of the component tales. Also included are:
Bondoni, Gustavo–“Rain Over Lesser Boso”–3 stars
Clark, Martin–“Through the Ocular, Darkly”–3 stars
Coate, Steve–“Fortunate Son”–3 stars
Gallagher, Siobhan–“Blade Between Oni and Hare”–3 stars
Harold, Elliotte Rusty–“Refusing the Call”–3 stars
McBain, Alison–“The Lost Children”–3 stars
Solomon, Ben–“Damfino Plays for Table Stakes”–3 stars
Teeny, Jake–“Toward the Back”–3 stars
Bowne, Patricia S.–“Great Light’s Daughters”–2 stars
Dunn, Robin Wyatt–“On a Train With a Coyote Ghost”–2 stars
Ishbel, Iain–HMS Invisible and the Halifax Slaver”–2 stars
Moore, Jordan Ashley–“A Wolf is Made”–2 stars
Rogers, Stephen D.–“Qinggong Ji”–2 stars
Tenser, Margarita–“The Committee”–2 stars
Walton, Jo–“Odin on the Tree”–2 stars
Royal, Manuel–“Heart-Shaped”–1 star
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “The Blue Cup” by Marissa James

4 of 5 stars.

Certain phrases often get bandied about, such as “needing to grow up,” or “stop living a fantasy.” Most children have an active imagination in a way that adults have often left in their past. This, of course, isn’t true of all adults. Some find that special way to tap back into that unbridled, happy creativity.

This tale hints at a rich, imaginative fantasy world infused with major steampunk elements. However, Joyce isn’t living in a fantasy–she’s washing some very real dishes while her loveless marriage to couch potato Greg stagnates. She mourns the passing of the excitement and love she experienced in the land of Radiance and everything she left behind by choosing to return to earthly reality.

Her memories of bizarre and fascinating creatures and lands open a door that perhaps she thought was forever closed . . .

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “The Perfection of the Steam-Powered Armour” by Adria Laycraft

4 of 5 stars.

The ideals of peace, especially pervasive in Eastern philosophy, naturally conflict with the Samurai culture and warmongering of many emperors.

In a steampunk version of East Asia, the pressure of a warmongering culture fissures the relationship between a father and his 10 y.o. son. Jin desperately wants to avoid conscription into the emperor’s army as he’s not a warrior. Nor does he want that future life for his son. Jin’s a tinkerer by trade and has struck a deal with a general whereby if he can make the perfect steam-powered battle armor which can turn any man into a warrior by turning a person’s natural flow of energy into deadly movements, then he and his family will be socially elevated to the class of society not drafted.

Failure in this bargain equals death.

When the he arrives, the general puts scrawny son Wen into the suit and forces him to fight his top warrior with Jin coaching from the sidelines. The suit is good, very good. But Wen doesn’t believe any form of violence is the solution, and stays his hand allowing the warrior to pummel him. The general gives Jin and Wen one day to retry the dual . . .

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Anthology Review: The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton

The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016 by Rich Horton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the title promises, this annual anthology solidly delivers. A broad swath of fantasy and science fiction sub-genres fill out the collection with my favorite 4 inclusions, each earning 5 stars, representing widely different fields: Off-Planet Sci-Fi, Artificial Intelligence Sci-Fi, Automaton Steampunk, and Rogue-and-Fae Fantasy. As different as they are, they’re all profoundly moving in their telling of the human condition through non-human and ultra-human means.

Vonda N. McIntyre’s “Little Sisters” dashes traditional notions of gender and sexuality in this brutal tale of war, violence, rape and conquest set among stars and species not exactly human.

Martin L. Shoemaker’s short story, “Today I Am Paul”, depicts an artificially intelligent medical companion bot as it realizes its humanity while helping the family tap into their own as their matriarch struggles with Alzheimer’s Disease.

This Evening’s Performance, a novella by Genevieve Valentine, mirrors the golden age of silent films in its steampunk-tinged tale of automatons displacing actors on the London stages.

C. S. E. Cooney’s novella, The Two Paupers, depicts two starving artists trying to be true to themselves and their friendship despite the machinations of family and life-or-death multidimensional politics. [The Fae do not play nicely.]

I’ve reviewed all of the included tales:
Bear, Elizabeth–“The Heart’s Filthy Lesson”–4 stars
Finlay, C. C.–“Time Bomb Time”–4 stars
Jingfang, Hao [w/ Ken Lui, trans.]–“Folding Beijing”–4 stars
Larson, Rich–“The King in the Cathedral”–4 stars
Ludwigsen, Will–“Acres of Perhaps”–4 stars
McGuire, Seanan–“Hello, Hello”–4 stars
Muir, Tamsyn–“The Deepwater Bride”–4 stars
Nayler, Ray–“Mutability”–4 stars
Bolander, Brooke–“And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead”–3 stars
Bossert, Gregory Norman–“Twelve and Tag”–3 stars
Dickinson, Seth–“Please Undo This Hurt”–3 stars
Dudak, Andy–“Asymptotic”–3 stars
Ings, Simon–“Drones”–3 stars
Kessel, John–“Consolation”–3 stars
Kritzer, Naomi–“Cat Pictures Please”–3 stars
McDonald, Ian–Botanica Veneris: Thirteen Papercuts by Ida Countess Rathangan”–3 stars
Pitkin, Joe–“The Daughters of John Demetrius”–3 stars
Sulway, Nike–“The Karen Joy Fowler Book Club”–3 stars
Barnes, John–“The Last Bringback”–2 stars
Brenchley, Chaz–“The Astrakhan, the Homburg, and the Red, Red Coal”–2 stars
Campbell, Rebecca–“Unearthly Landscape by a Lady”–2 stars
Lee, Yoon Ha–“The Graphology of Hemorrhage”–2 stars
Link, Kelly–“The Game of Smash and Recovery”–2 stars
Ryman, Geoff–“Capitalism in the 22nd Century, or A.I.R.”–2 stars
Valente, Catherynne M.–“The Long Goodnight of Violet Wild”–2 stars
Zinos-Amaro, Alvaro–“Endless Forms Most Beautiful”–2 stars

I received my copy of the anthology directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2015, also edited Rich Horton.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: This Evening’s Performance by Genevieve Valentine

5 of 5 stars.

Steampunk offers an alternate history that usually shows an early melding of technology into society. Rarely does it show the modern concern of humans displaced in the workplace by automatons. This all too human story, with automatons in the background, cleverly rehashes some of the old concerns after World War II about television and movies bringing about the death of theater.

After thirty years in the business, the three final members of the last troupe of human actors try one last comeback to show that human emotions and theatrical spontaneity have merit. Unfortunately, the theater-going public has chosen differently, opting for the same old stories told in exactly the same old manner with pinpoint precision and timing.

Even after all of these years, Peter, the director, is still managing to bed the hopeful young actresses. His wife, the lead actress and writer, cows in his presence. And Roger, the last great acting talent, hides his love of Emily and his disgust with Peter.

This novella comes across as a five-act capturing the voices and personas all too common with the Golden Era of theater. It’s creative and comfortable, and best of all–compelling.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, which I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “Aberration”, “Abyssus Abyssum Invocat”, “Blood, Ash, Braids”, Dream Houses, and “Keep Calm and Carillon”.




[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Unearthly Landscape by a Lady” by Rebecca Campbell

2 of 5 stars.

Creating art and literature opens avenues for expression not limited by realism. The fantastical and horrible tap into something deeper and more primal, if not purely metaphoric.

This vignette depicts proper girls training to be proper ladies. Young Flora has a knack for painting elaborate landscapes with fine brushes onto the inside of delicate tea cups. Looking closely reveals alien and insectoid beings lurking in the shadows of her art. Often, they are odd-legged monstrosities defying the proper laws of nature.

Metaphoric? Surely. But also ironic as Flora is diagnosed with cancer . . .

This tale could have gone further and given more, but doesn’t. It remains a snapshot, a vignette, distanced by filtering through someone other than Flora.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, which I received directly from Prime Books.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Botanica Veneris: Thirteen Papercuts by Ida Countess Rathangan” by Ian McDonald

3 of 5 stars.

The Victorian steampunk voice may be applied to many fantastical landscapes while still pinning the tale in the antiquated era and attitude. Here, the genre conveys the particularly Victorian “noble” cause of “experiencing and “exploring” foreign cultures, flora and fauna yet takes it into normally sci-fi territory by landing the adventure on Venus with its native biota and colonies of humans from Earth. However, all of this is done through the filter of the Victorian POV which means 1) rank, class and gender matters, 2) while local culture barely registers, and 3) local biota is appreciated merely aesthetically with superimposed, circumstantial stories to add worth. ie There is nothing particularly scientific about the collection of “13 Botanicals from Venus.”

Also particularly Victorian and worth noting is the detached storytelling where the ultimate narrator is merely piecing together context from letters and diaries and other found works having experienced none of the adventures for herself. Here, a descendant of Ida describes the paper-made exquisite art of Botanicals from Venus while injecting tales from Ida as written in Ida’s found diaries. Those diaries also tell various accounts from third parties from different species and classes of people across Venus. The flowers play merely the thinnest of plot points.

Most of this tale is about the telling, not the plot. However, the plot boils down to: Ida tours Venus presumably to experience and re-create unique flowers. Secretly, she’s tailing the path of her brother who disappeared 15 years prior from Ireland on the same night that the prized sapphire, the Blue Empress, went missing. Arthur’s trail wends across the formidable landscape of Venus, crossing cultures and peoples that Ida’s breeding wouldn’t normally allow.

“People have tremendous ideas of family–loyalty and undying love and affection: tremendous expectations and ideals that drive them across worlds to confess and receive forgiveness. Families are whatever works.”

This tale appears in a couple “best of” anthologies. The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 10 edited by Jonathan Strahan, I received from Netgalley. The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, I received directly from Prime Books.
[Check out my other reviews here.]