Tag Archives: speculative fiction

{Books} Two Short Reviews

The Haunting of Tram Car 015

Cover: The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark

The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark was the July pick for the Occult Detective Book Club (a group on Facebook and Goodreads, if you’re into such literature). It is set in the same universe of “A Dead Djinn in Cairo” which I read and enjoyed back in January of this year. “Djinn” is available online, so I reread that before diving into Tram Car 015.

As I mentioned with “Djinn,” the world building is very deftly done. I’ve generally had a problem with steampunk because usually it’s not just retro science-fiction, but 19th-ish century sci-fi mixed with Gothic/supernatural elements. It’s just too much. Clark, though, blends “advanced” technologies and the supernatural seamlessly. The supernatural is, in fact, why this version of 1912 Egypt has the technologies it does.

I felt like the characters in Tram Car 015 were a little less compelling. Agents Hamed and Onsi are fine, but Fatma (from “Djinn”) is such a great character that they suffer in comparison. Both stories are good though; they’re set in the same world, but not directly connected. I’d definitely read more if Clark wanted to spend more time in this setting.

Levels of the Game

Cover: Levels of the Game

I found Levels of the Game by John McPhee while looking for McPhee’s Draft No. 4 (recommended by Deb @ Readerbuzz). The latter was listed in my local library’s online system, but really the license had expired and I’m on a wish-waiting list for it if the library decides to renew the license, but! Instead I noticed another book in McPhee’s catelog with a tennis court on the cover. Nonfiction about tennis? Yes, please. (Tennis is my summer sport. But there are no sports this year. Sadly, this doesn’t mean there’s no summer this year…)

Additionally, the structure of this book is rather curious, and since I’m thinking about writing a nonfiction book, I wanted to see how McPhee would pull it off. Levels of the Game is fairly short, less than 150 pages. In it, McPhee profiles two tennis players, Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner, as they play a match at Forest Hills in 1968—the first US Championship tournament of the open era (meaning both amateurs and professionals could compete). As is mentioned in the book’s summary, McPhee begins with the first toss of the ball. Interspersed with the action of the match are biographical digressions comparing and contrasting the players.

Ashe and Graebner met in the semi finals of the tournament. Why write about a semi final? The two players were both American and Davis Cup teammates. But they were also very different. Ashe was a quick, finesse player; Graebner was more reliant on power and consistency. Ashe was a black, raised by a disciplinarian single father who held down multiple jobs to support his family. Graebner, white, was the son of a doctor and wanted for nothing in his life. Politically, one was of course more liberal and one more conservative. McPhee contends this influenced their styles of play as well.

I’m not sure if the conceit of the book, the stories told during the match, entirely works. The match itself didn’t seem that interesting and I was unaware while reading that this was the first US Open and that Ashe would be the only amateur player to ever win it. I did appreciate how McPhee moved smoothly between past and present and didn’t burden himself further by telling things in absolute chronological order.

I also didn’t realize until after I checked this book out that I read McPhee’s A Sense of Where You Are, a profile of basketball player Bill Bradley, back in 2011. I enjoyed that too. If anything, now I want to read Draft No. 4 more.

Deal Me In, Week 3 ~ “Eidolons”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Eidolons” by Harlan Ellison

Card picked: 10
Found in: Angry Candy

You’ve got time. You have always had time, but fear slowed you, and you were overcome. But this is the hour that stretches…and you’ve got a chance. After all, it’s only your conscience come to kill you. Stop shivering and put up your dukes.

The Story
Vizinczey, a man wanted on two continents, tells of Mr. Brown, a collector of tin soldiers. Or rather a collector of soldiers from throughout time which he turns into tin soldiers. Mr. Brown knows many secrets from Promontorium Sacrum, or the area beyond the edge of the map. Mr. Brown is killed by his “creations,” but he tasks Vizinczey with helping mankind. Vizinczey does so by imparting thirteen, well, “they are not quite epigraphs, nor are they riddles.”

These vignettes are about time, and inspiration, and creativity. Maybe. With Harlan Ellison, it’s hard to tell sometimes.

The Author
Harlan Ellison was a prolific, award winning, and occasionally problematic short story and screenwriter. He’s probably best known for the Star Trek episode “The City on the Edge of Forever,” though even that is subject to controversy…

Review ~ The History of Soul 2065

This book was provided to me by Mythic Delirium Books via NetGalley for review consideration.

History of Soul 2065 Cover via Goodreads

The History of Soul 2065 by Barbara Krasnoff

Months before World War I breaks out, two young Jewish girls just on the edge of adolescence—one from a bustling Russian city, the other from a German estate—meet in an eerie, magical forest glade. They are immediately drawn to one another and swear an oath to meet again. Though war and an ocean will separate the two for the rest of their lives, the promise that they made to each other continues through the intertwined lives of their descendants.

This epic tale of the supernatural follows their families from the turn of the 20th Century through the terrors of the Holocaust and ultimately to the wonders of a future they never could have imagined. THE HISTORY OF SOUL 2065 encompasses accounts of sorcery, ghosts, time travel, virtual reality, alien contact, and elemental confrontations between good and evil. Understated and epic, cathartic and bittersweet, the twenty connected stories in Nebula Award finalist Barbara Krasnoff’s debut form a mosaic narrative even greater than its finely crafted parts. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I am auto-approved on NetGalley to review books offered by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, so I occasionally make an effort to pick a few of their titles. I read quite a few short stories as a part of Deal Me In, the Black Cat Project, and in the course of my random reading. Therefore, I’ve lately been hesitant to add short story anthologies to my list of obligations. This one, though, piqued my interest.

What Worked
Mixing genres can go horribly wrong.  That these intertwined stories included “accounts of sorcery, ghosts, time travel, virtual reality, (and) alien contact” attracted my attention, but I figured that these stories would be very loosely connected. I figured this would just be, well, a short story anthology; maybe with some wrap-around element at the beginning and end. Otherwise, how could Krasnoff possible glue all those genres together? Pleasingly, the tales were more interconnected than I expected, jumping form family member to family member and generation to generation. And jumping from genre and genre. It works because the characters are always in the forefront; the genre elements never overshadow.

The long-term story of Chana and Sophie, the two girls whom we meet in the opening story, is told in the reflection of their families. Each story is told from a different family member’s as focus: spouses, children, grandchildren, in-laws, and occasionally friends that are like family. The structure is very well done. The concluding story is “The History of Soul 2065.” The number is a joking reference to a chapter number, like Laborers Local 151. The concept is that there are only a certain number of souls in existence and each has been shattered apart. Certain people end up with parts of the same soul. The interconnectedness of this idea is the theme of the entire work.

What Didn’t Work
Krasnoff writes with a very light touch, but sometimes settings feel very generic. Places and times all flow together. Maybe that’s on purpose, but without notes at the beginning of the chapter, I wouldn’t necessarily know if a story was set in the past or the future. I feel like a few telling details would have grounded the stories better.

Overall
The History of Soul 2065 was very enjoyable, though often times sad. No family escapes heartache, but also no family is without hope.

Publishing info: Mythic Delirium Books, 6/11/19
My Copy: Kindle ebook via NetGalley
Genre: speculative fiction

Review ~ Wicked Wonders

This book was provided to me by Tachyon Publications via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cover via Goodreads

Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages

The Scott O’Dell award-winning author of The Green Glass Sea returns with her second collection: a new decade of lyrical stories with vintage flair.

Inside of these critically-acclaimed tales are memorable characters who are smart, subversive, and singular. A rebellious child identifies with wicked Maleficent instead of Sleeping Beauty. Best friends Anna and Corry share a last melancholy morning before emigration to another planet. A prep-school girl requires more than mere luck to win at dice with a faerie. Ladies who lunch keeping dividing that one last bite of dessert in the paradox of female politeness.

Whether on a habitat on Mars or in a boardinghouse in London, discover Ellen Klages’ wicked, wondrous adventures full of brazenness, wit, empathy, and courage. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I almost didn’t read this book.

I saw it on offer at NetGalley from Tachyon Publications (the only publisher that I’m auto-approved with—why they put up with my grumpy reviews, I don’t know) and I was interested. But then I remembered that I had just purchased a Glen Hirshberg anthology, and I didn’t really need another short story anthology, and I have a never-ending TBR pile mostly because I request too many ARCs and…I let Wicker Wonders pass by.

But then I got an email from Tachyon about widgets or something, and I guess I clicked a request link, and BAM! Wicked Wonders was ready for download. So, I read it, as one does when books show up.

And I’m glad I did.

What Worked
Ray Bradbury is one of my favorite authors. I especially love his tales of childhood: adventures on bicycles to dark carnivals in the midst of summer thunderstorms. Great stuff, but it occurred to me sometime  in my 30s that all of Bradbury’s protagonists were boys. Makes sense since that’s his experience of the world, but I kind of wished that there were some of those kinds of stories with girl protagonists. Because, why not? Girls have adventures too.

Enter Ellen Klages and Wicked Wonders:

She intends to be a good girl, but shrubs and sheds and unlocked cupboards beckon.

Yep, Klages hooked me right there with that line.

The stories range across the spectrum of speculative fiction. “Singing on a Star” and “Friday Night at St. Cecilia’s” are strongly fantastical and “Goodnight Moons” is a straight-up sci-fi tale. On the other end, “The Education of a Witch” is only fantasy tinged and “Amicae Aeternum” is more of a bitter-sweet best-friends(who are girls!)-on-bikes story than space opera. There are even a couple of stories with no fantastic elements what-so-ever, including my favorite “Hey, Presto!” Had I known there was going to be a well-done historical fiction story with magicians I would have never hesitated to request this book!

What Didn’t Work
I am really picky about science fiction. For me, the most science fictiony story of Wicked Wonders, “Goodnight Moons,” was also the least successful. Happily, for me, science fiction is in the minority on this anthology.

Overall
I’m fairly sure that I haven’t read any Ellen Klages in the past. Coincidentally, I had also almost requested her latest novel Passing Strange from NetGalley when it was available, but had decided against it as well on the grounds that my TBR pile was too high. After reading Wicked Wonders…well, that TBR stack is just going to have to get stratospheric. Ms. Klages, you have a new fan.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle/Adobe Digital Edition, Tachyon Publications, May 23, 2017
Acquired: NetGalley, 3/13/2017
Genre: speculative fiction

#COYER ~ Short Story Update

Because Reading is better than real life

Beyond picking up free/cheap e-reads via Amazon, Smashwords, and B&N, the internet really is awash in great fiction. And I have a habit of bookmarking and leaving stories to “read later.” You know,  when I have extra time. My list keeps getting longer, so I figure it’s in the spirit of COYER to clean out my virtual  Table of Contents too.

Aika (Keepers of the Flame: Origins #1) by Cate Morgan – As the world crumbles during the Second Blitz and her world is personally destroyed, Aika becomes a pawn for the Dreamtech company. But her destiny lays in the realm of the mystical. The Keepers of the Flame series isn’t quite my thing, but this prequel is well written with a nice dose of world-building. Interested? The Keepers of the Flame prequels are available for free at Amazon!

“The Book Seller” by Lavie Tidhar – I was about halfway through “The Book Seller” when I realized it was set in Central Station, the same world as “Strigoi” (which I read during COYER in the summer of 2014). The tale continues Carmel’s story, but from the point of view of Achimwene, a seller of old paper books. Carmel is a futuristic strigoi, feeding on the memory “data” of others. Achimwene is un-noded, not part of the information web on which Carmel depends. I really enjoy Tidhar’s science-fiction setting and I’m looking forward to reading Central Station, the novel, which is being released in May.

“Wet” by John Wiswell – You know I love a good ghost story, and I doubly love a ghost story with a twist. In “Wet,” an Arizona immortal helps a young ghost move on. The story has humor as well as chills. The setting is so subtly established that I could believe that there are ghosts and immortals walking by me on Apache Blvd every day.

Two Christmas Reviews

I enjoy the holidays. While I’m usually embroiled in a TBR list, I like to fit in a couple of short seasonal works.

Tales from Christmas in the South by Caren Rich

Cover via Goodreads

Tales from Christmas in the South, is a collection of three short stories. Enjoy laughter, tears, and the magic of Christmas in one volume.

Including the never before published, “Miniature Desires.” Spinster Ms. Stallworth has a hard time with the modern world. Bombarded with tacky blowup Santas and inconsiderate children, she dreams of being part of the Christmas village she displays each holiday season.

“The Christmas Gift” is a bittersweet Christian short story of love and loss. Laurel faces the first Christmas without her husband. In her search for decorations she discovers a gift left by her deceased husband.

What holiday season is complete without fruitcake? “The Fruitcake” is a humorous short story about the dreaded holiday classic. Retirement’s not what Robert expected. His wife feeds him twigs and is afraid of mailbox bombs. If that’s not enough, a fruitcake shows up on his doorstep. Fruitcakes may be a Southern tradition, but it’s one Robert can do without. Find out how he deals with the holiday classic. (via Goodreads)

I will recuse myself, Caren Rich is a fellow ROW80-er. I’m happy to report that this is a trio of nicely crafted short stories.

“Miniature Desires”: Poor Ms. Stallworth. She just wants life to be quiet and neat and classy. And she just might get her Christmas wish. I wasn’t expecting a twist in these Southern tales, but I certainly wasn’t unhappy about it.

“The Christmas Gift”: Christmas can be hard after the loss of a loved one, and, especially, if that person was your other half. Laurel isn’t sure how she’s going to make it without John, but maybe he’s still with her in some way. This could have been maudlin and overly sentimental tale, but Rich keeps Laurel’s feelings realistic.

“The Fruitcake”: Personally, I love fruitcake. I would love to be on the receiving end of a couple! But Robert? Not so much. He enlists his grandson, Seth, and together they do a little merry mischief. Definitely a fun story.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle edition, Caren Rich, Sept. 2, 2015
Acquired: November 11, 2015 from Amazon. Buy a copy!

 

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Murder in Christmas River by Meg Muldoon

Cover via Goodreads

Every year at Christmas River’s annual Gingerbread Junction Competition, pie baker extraordinaire Cinnamon aims to win, taking down any competitor who gets in her way. But when she finds a dead body in the woods behind her pie shop just days before the big competition, Cinnamon realizes that there’s much more to worry about than cookies, frosting, and gumdrops.

Someone’s out to bring Cinnamon down. And they’re playing dirty.
Only Cinnamon and a mysterious stranger who walks into her life one snowy evening can figure out the mystery.

But can they solve it before Cinnamon’s chances of gingerbread competition glory crumble? (via Goodreads)

I didn’t care for this book. It’s been a while since I’ve written a grumpy review, so a quick cilantro and werewolf check: Is this book in a genre I generally don’t care for, and/or did I have expectations of this book that were not reasonable?

On Amazon, this book is labeled as part of the Christmas River Cozy series. Currently, I’m a bit interested in cozies. I’ve enjoyed John Gaspard’s Eli Marks series, but my familiarity with the genre has been minimal. I figured Murder in Christmas River would be a fun way to expand my knowledge base.

Unfortunately, Murder in Christmas River is really light on the murder and detection. I expected Cinnamon to be more of a factor in investigating the crime rather than being a bystander while it’s solved around her. Much of the plot involves Cinnamon moving on from her ex-husband. Even the gingerbread competition is way in the background.

So, I thought this was going to be more of a mystery (not an unreasonable assumption) and it ended up being more of a romance, not one of my preferred genres. As the first of a series, maybe Cinnamon does more detecting in future stories, but there were a couple writing tics that bugged me enough that I won’t be continuing.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle edition, Vacant Lot Publishing, Dec. 9, 2012
Acquired: November 3, 2015 from Amazon
Genre: mystery

Review ~ Distant Waves

Distant Waves by Suzanne Weyn

Cover via Goodreads

From the author of REINCARNATION, another historical, supernatural romance, this time focusing on five sisters whose lives are intertwined with the sinking of the Titanic.

Science, spiritualism, history, and romance intertwine in Suzanne Weyn’s newest novel. Four sisters and their mother make their way from a spiritualist town in New York to London, becoming acquainted with journalist W. T. Stead, scientist Nikola Tesla, and industrialist John Jacob Astor. When they all find themselves on the Titanic, one of Tesla’s inventions dooms them…and one could save them. (via Goodreads)

And Arthur Conan Doyle and Houdini are in this book too! Obviously, it pokes many of my historical fandom buttons.

In Distant Waves, history is stretched and twisted back on itself so that many of the events and relationships converge on 1912. There are a lot of inaccuracies, some of which Weyn addresses at the end of the book. To some extent this should be read as more of an alternative history rather than a historical fiction. There are certainly a few speculative touches that pull it away from realistic fiction.

It was a readable book, fairly well-paced despite a pretty long lead-up to the Titanic. It was great for the readathon and I read it cover to cover last Saturday.

I’m not quite sure what I think of Weyn’s Tesla. Not surprisingly to me, the main character Jane, a fan of Sherlock Holmes, takes a liking to the eccentric scientist, who manages to rescue them during his man-made New York earthquake.  We’re treated to a lot of “creative genius picked on by capitalism” stories. In regards to spiritualism, Weyn leaves things ambiguous and that’s a good line to take in this book.

There was one plot point that I kind of rolled my eyes at, even in the midst of all the other stretches. In this case, it was more of a concrete problem solved by overly lucky circumstances that could have been dealt with, I think, in a less complicated manner. (I know this pitfall well; it’s one I often fall victim to.)

Publishing info, my copy: Scholastic, Inc, trade paperback, 2009
Acquired: Paperback Swap, I think.
Genre: historical, speculative fiction

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