Dig to the Insides: Alien Virus Love Disaster by Abbey Mei Otis

Abbey Mei Otis’s first long-form collection, Alien Virus Love Disaster: Stories, is a powerful debut volume published by the perennially impressive Small Beer Press. The book contains twelve stories with publication dates spanning the past eight years, including “Sweetheart” which appeared on Tor.com in 2010. Otis’s fiction has a dynamic blend of contemporary and speculative approaches, diamond-edged and furious in her exploration of power, oppression, and grief.

The titular story also serves as a statement of themes: outsider or abject characters; viral, haunting, gruesome physicality; hunger mixed with passion and crooked adoration; cataclysm before-during-and-after. It isn’t a pleasant or simple experience for the audience. The bodies in Otis’s short fiction are subject to a grim though often lyrical brutality, one step too far for comfort at all times, and their suffering does not generally lead to a positive outcome.

Otis’s stories fracture reality through ...

The Book as Archive: An Informal History of the Hugos by Jo Walton

Collecting the column series that ran from 2010-2013 on Tor.com, An Informal History of the Hugos: A Personal Look Back at the Hugo Awards, 1953-2000 contains Jo Walton’s original year-by-year exploration posts, brief essays on select nominee novels, and occasional threaded comments from regular contributors such as Gardner Dozois, David G. Hartwell, and Rich Horton. The result is a hefty, handsome hardcover that physically archives a digital experience. The crossplatform hybridity of the book is in and of itself fascinating and makes for a dragonfly-in-amber effect on reading.

It is not, then, a nonfiction book about the history of the Hugo awards (though of course it also is) but the archive of a conversation that has historical and critical resonances, a “personal look back” that doubles as a valuable reflection on an otherwise insufficiently documented moment in time. Since the original column ran the field has also lost David ...

This is a Call to Arms: The Descent of Monsters by JY Yang

Third in the Tensorate Series, The Descent of Monsters is the record of an investigation conducted by Chuwan Sariman into the gruesome destruction of the Rewar Teng research facility by one of its captive creatures. Sariman is a foul-mouthed Tensor of foreign background whose role in the Protectorate has never been secure. Married to a pirate and motivated via an internal sense of justice rather than an external set of politics, she’s not cut out to conduct a cover-up.

Though it’s clear that’s what’s expected of her.

However, the presence of Rider and Sanao Akeha at the corpse of the escaped creature complicates matters for both Sariman and the Protectorate. The Investigator is determined to get to the bottom of the realities hiding behind the façade of Rewar Teng, though it means becoming an outlaw herself.

A review, minor spoilers.

The novella opens with two letters: one ...

Every Day was Another Body: Apocalypse Nyx by Kameron Hurley

Apocalypse Nyx cover crop

Nyxnissa so Dasheem—ex-soldier, ex-assassin—is a disreputable and legally questionable bounty hunter, hurtling toward her own demise by way of as much whiskey and as many poor choices as she can manage. Apocalypse Nyx collects five original stories about her, four of which were previously published on Hurley’s Patreon for subscribers. All of the stories in Apocalypse Nyx take place prior to the events of God’s War (2011) and often gesture toward latter events in the Bel Dame Apocrypha series, sometimes with grim foreshadowing.

The world of the Bel Dame Apocrypha is as compelling as ever: biotechnological warfare, magic-oriented bugs on all surfaces, collapsing social order, matriarchal control, the list goes on. These novellas, however, are more concerned with action-adventure than continued development of the milieu—each follows one job that Nyx takes on for herself and her crew, from start to finish.

Apocalypse Nyx is a niche project. The expectation for ...

Stories to Live Within: The Gone Away Place by Christopher Barzak

A sudden outbreak of tornadoes devastates Ellie Frame’s small Ohio town one spring morning, killing more than ninety people—including her best friends and her boyfriend who were trapped at the high school while she was skipping classes. However, those who were lost in the storm still linger, their ghosts haunting the town and their loved ones, unable to move past the liminal space Newfoundland has become.

The Gone Away Place collects the testaments of Ellie, her parents, and various ghosts as she tries to make sense of her own survival in the face of unfathomable destruction.

Wonders of the Invisible World (reviewed here), Barzak’s previous novel, was also set in rural Ohio; both employ the intimate and sometimes-suffocating setting of a small town to great effect and both explore the dangers of coming of age through a violent trauma.

The Gone Away Place is more ...

Anybody Could Write a True Story: Black Helicopters by Caitlin R. Kiernan

The sea off the coast of New England has gone foul with the poison of a fallen star. Ptolema, an agent of the same sort as the Signalman but employed on a different shore, must unravel the chess game in action around her to resolve a potential apocalypse. The pieces in motion include a pair of psychokinetically gifted twins separated by a sinister doctor at the behest of a rival agency, the devouring filth of the tainted sea, attempted assassinations and misplaced pawns.

These singular figures—the Signalman, Ptolema, the doctor Twisby—and their vast, invisible agencies are a horror equal to those from out of space. However, their interventions might also be the one thing keeping our species afloat on unkind cosmic waves.

The original Black Helicopters was released as a limited chapbook in 2013 by Subterranean Press; five years later, this revised and significantly expanded edition follows …

Glam/Heart: Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

With the delightfully garish neon tagline “In space, everyone can hear you sing” emblazoned across its cover, Catherynne M. Valente’s newest novel Space Opera is a marked shift from the seriousness of Deathless (2011) or Palimpsest (2009). It is, in fact, nothing less than intergalactic Eurovision in the fine stylistic tradition of Douglas Adams—madcap, bizarre, comedic, and shot through with a certain wholesome kindness.

After the near-fatal cosmic consequences of the Sentience Wars, the universe at large decides who gets a seat at the table of sentient species—and where the resources get distributed—via a pop music competition. If a petitioning new species comes in dead last, their artifacts and culture will be recorded and they will be summarily scrubbed from existence to let the next smart bit of flora or fauna on their planet have a chance in a few million years. When the Esca, a birdlike alien race, appear ...

Shift and Stance: Susurrus on Mars by Hal Duncan

Susurrus on Mars, published in late 2017 by Lethe Press, follows the flirtations and observations of Susurrus—the god of small breezes, a child of Zephyros and Ares. In large part the novella revolves around the courtship of Jaq and Puk, two young men who meet in Erehwyna, a terraformed Martian settlement. The novella contains eight sections, each subdivided into various philosophical and narrative segments, that come together at the close to tell a multifaceted tale of grief, attachment, and adoration.

A tapestry of scenes and reflections, Susurrus on Mars requires the reader to settle in for the ride and allow the threads to coalesce into their fantastical, complex whole. For the audience with the patience and interest to do so, it’s intensely rewarding and is, in some sense, an experience almost as much as it is a text.

It would be remiss not to discuss the ...

And They Found Us: Monster Portraits by Del and Sofia Samatar

Written by Sofia Samatar and illustrated by her brother Del Samatar, Monster Portraits is a short art-object of hybrid fiction/autobiography—about as interstitial as it gets—that “offers the fictional record of a writer in the realms of the fantastic shot through with the memories of a pair of Somali-American children growing up in the 1980s.” The text for this collaborative work was a prior finalist for the 2013 Calvino Prize; Rose Metal Press brings it to readers for the first time, filled with strange and alluring illustrations.

Monster Portraits serves the function of philosophy, or poetry: the text makes offerings, sketches connections, and requires leaps of juxtaposition as well as freefalls into implication. Each line is a treat to be savored and allowed to meld with its companions over a slow, methodical, reverential reading experience. The “happening” of the text is not located in the plot where our protagonist-author collects ...

Oneness through Time: Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories by Vandana Singh

Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories is the first North American collection from physicist and writer Vandana Singh, published by Small Beer Press. Of the fourteen stories, all but one are reprints collected from across the past several years; the final piece, “Requiem,” is a novella original to this book.

The effect of this collection is something like a tessellation. The stories are variations on a theme, marrying individual humanist intervention with the sweeping reach of scientifically-based extrapolation. Singh’s worlds are delineated within a rigorous framework that nonetheless leaves edges that either interlock or fade into each other. The titular story, itself originally published on Tor.com in 2015, is a peak example.

The overall result is well-balanced, though, as this similarity never crosses into repetitiveness. Singh has a wealth of material to draw from in her exploration of culture and the cosmic laws that bind us all together. ...

An Inkling of the Strange: Karin Tidbeck’s Jagannath

Swedish writer Karin Tidbeck’s short fiction collection, Jagannath, is getting a new edition from Vintage. Originally published in English by the tiny press Cheeky Frawg—the passion project of Ann and Jeff VanderMeer—the collection contains thirteen pieces of short fiction that range from whimsical to intensely discomfiting, all having a distinct touch of the surreal or the weird. Many of the pieces in question had never previously been published with English translations—though, of course, some were originally published in magazines like Weird Tales.

Jagannath received a great deal of word-of-mouth support from folks like China Mieville, Ursula K. Le Guin, Karen Lord, and Karen Joy Fowler, and was reviewed quite favorably by Stefan Raets here on Tor.com. Tidbeck’s fiction is also acclaimed in her home country. As a fan of international fiction and someone interested in inclusivity in the speculative fiction community, I was particularly pleased to get my ...

The First Sisters: Naondel by Maria Turtschaninoff

In Maresi, translated and released last winter by Amulet Books, readers came to know the Red Abbey: a separatist women’s island, full to the brim of magic, sisterhood, and strength. Turtschaninoff returns us to that world with Naondel, a powerful, brutal prequel that reveals the origin of the Abbey and the trials of the First Sisters. As the flap copy says, “told in alternating points of view, Naondel is a vivid, riveting exploration of oppression and exploitation—and the possibility of sanctuary.”

Naondel is at times a harsh novel. The frame of the story is that this book forms a recorded history for the archive of Knowledge House, as referenced in Maresi; the women whose stories are recorded here suffer immense cruelty and degradation in their long captivities. While this is balanced for the reader in the obvious knowledge that the protagonists do survive to found the ...

Where Your Own Talents Lie: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

The Cruel Prince is the first of a fresh trilogy from lauded young adult author Holly Black. Raised in faerie as Gentry by her adoptive father though she herself is mortal, Jude is on the cusp of adulthood and has lost her patience for powerlessness. Her sister Taryn has decided to wed into the Court; Jude, on the other hand, has set out to become a knight. However, these plans fall afoul of the continual and deadly intrigues of the High Court of Faerie—prompting both sisters in different directions and Jude, our protagonist, onto a dangerously ambitious path of connection to the crown.

Magic is a constant in all of Black’s novels, particular the sort of magic that leads to ethical difficulties and hard decisions. Faeries and fey courts also feature frequently. However, this novel marries and then evolves these previous themes in a startling, lush, fast-paced tale of one ...

Swan and Girl Souls: The Sisters of the Crescent Empress by Leena Likitalo

The second half of Leena Likitalo’s Waning Moon Duology, The Sisters of the Crescent Empress, picks up directly from the close of the prior book (reviewed here). The five sisters have been sent to Angefort, confined to an isolated estate where exiled royals often find their ends in the Empire—and the house is as haunted as its new charges are. In the capitol the usurper, Gagargi Prataslav, feeds souls to his Great Thinking Machine to run the calculations of a truly equal division of empire while a civil war rages on.

Celestia is weakened from the loss of a portion of her soul; Elise’s combination of guilt and moral righteousness weigh her down; Sibilia is neither girl nor woman, trapped in age between the two pairs of her sisters; Merile is old enough to know that something is terribly wrong but not old enough to understand it; ...

The Real Absurd: Six Months, Three Days, Five Others by Charlie Jane Anders

Six Months, Three Days, Five Others is a collection of short fiction from Charlie Jane Anders, whose first sf novel All the Birds in the Sky recently won the 2017 Nebula Award. The six stories contained in this slim, charming volume were all originally published on Tor.com from 2010 to 2016, including the titular Hugo Award winning piece “Six Months, Three Days.”

The “five others” referred to in the title are “The Fermi Paradox is Our Business Model,” “As Good As New,” “Interstate,” “The Cartography of Sudden Death,” and “Clover.” All six stories share a certain ethos—a surreal approach to the mundane is one way of describing it—though little else connects them in specific, ranging as they do over various generic domains.

The shape and heft of this fine pocket-sized volume were the first things I noted about it. While I don’t often comment on the ...

For a Revolution: The Five Daughters of the Moon by Leena Likitalo

First in a duet from Leena Likitalo, The Five Daughters of the Moon is a second-world fantasy inspired by the Russian Revolution. The narrative follows the five sisters of the royal family as their empire collapses around them, driven in part by youthful idealism and in part by cruel magic and manipulation. Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different sister, from the youngest Alina who sees the world of shadows to the oldest Celestia who has become involved with the scientist-sorcerer Gagargi Prataslav. Representing the revolution from the interior of the royal family, Likitalo is able to explore a range of reactions and levels of awareness; Elise and Celestia are aware of the suffering in their empire and wish to support a revolution that will address it, while the younger three are more aware of the horrible magic and undercurrents of betrayal surrounding Prataslav, but ...

For a Revolution: The Five Daughters of the Moon by Leena Likitalo

First in a duet from Leena Likitalo, The Five Daughters of the Moon is a second-world fantasy inspired by the Russian Revolution. The narrative follows the five sisters of the royal family as their empire collapses around them, driven in part by youthful idealism and in part by cruel magic and manipulation. Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different sister, from the youngest Alina who sees the world of shadows to the oldest Celestia who has become involved with the scientist-sorcerer Gagargi Prataslav. Representing the revolution from the interior of the royal family, Likitalo is able to explore a range of reactions and levels of awareness; Elise and Celestia are aware of the suffering in their empire and wish to support a revolution that will address it, while the younger three are more aware of the horrible magic and undercurrents of betrayal surrounding Prataslav, but ...

The Laundry Files Pits Computational Demonologists Against Nihilism

In a previous post on Charles Stross’s Laundry Files series, I noted that one of the strengths of the books is that they are “aggressively contemporary treatises that stand against nihilism and in support of communal resistance, support, and human will.” By this I mean that the series is grounded in our political and cultural moment—for example, smartphones and CCTV and the rise of right-wing extremism across the globe—but also ups the ante exponentially in its addition of cosmic, incomprehensible threats that cross dimensions and realities to devour us all. In the face of this scale of destruction, with an unwitting populace on one hand and a gridlocked government on the other, the protagonists must reject defeatist beliefs and band together to steal their victories, Pyrrhic though they might sometimes be. Because, in truth, nihilism is the creeping force that underlies the horror of the stars coming aligned in ...

Already Home: Telling the Map by Christopher Rowe

Telling the Map, the first full collection from multiple award nominee Christopher Rowe, features nine previously published stories spanning from 2003 to 2015 as well as an original novella, “The Border State.” These stories are, for the most part, all set in the near- or near-enough-future, exploring a post-Scarcity collapse and restructure of our recognizable social order through a variety of lenses. However, there is one other consistent thread running through the entirety of the collection, and that is setting. In Telling the Map, Rowe has rendered Kentucky over and over again with a lush, loving, bone-deep accuracy—one that startled and thrilled me so thoroughly, as a fellow native son, that I had to read the book through twice to begin to form a critical opinion. It’s an objectively good collection of pieces, but it’s also a collection that sang to me in particular. To be clear, ...

An Exercise in Governmental Restructuring: The Delirium Brief by Charles Stross

Another eagerly-awaited installment in Charles Stross’s Laundry Files, The Delirium Brief returns us to Bob Howard’s point of view in a direct continuation of the events of The Nightmare Stacks. With the previously-clandestine Laundry, the British occult secret services, made public due to the invasion of a nasty species of elves, Bob and our familiar cast of characters must take on a unique threat: governmental interference and restructuring. Faced with the lethal consequences of poor government intervention on their institution, the agents of the Laundry must make a drastic decision—to go rogue and consider “the truly unthinkable: a coup against the British government itself,” as the flap copy says. Other pieces on the board are also moving, including a servant of the Sleeper in the Pyramid previously presumed dead and the American equivalent agency going off the reservation. Howard also has his personal life to contend with, given that he’s ...