Paul Di Filippo Reviews The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker

The Hidden Palace, Helene Wecker (Harper 978-0062468710, 480pp, $28.99) June 2021.

Helene Wecker’s sequel to her stunning 2013 debut, The Golem and the Jinni [reviewed here], succeeds 100 percent in recapturing the assured voice, the delicate magic, the solid historical verisimilitude, and the engaging interplay of personalities that she delivered in the first book. But she does not merely replicate all the pleasures, plot points, devices, and charms of ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews Sidewinders by Robert V.S. Redick

Sidewinders, Robert V.S. Redick (Talos 978-1945863608, 672pp, $25.99) July 2021.

Worldbuilding has developed a bad rap lately. The meticulous and detailed creation of another realm “beyond the fields we know,” with novel cultures, languages, religions, history, geography, flora and fauna, is somehow deemed oppressive and pedantic and tiresome. Well, duh, yeah—if it’s done badly and ham-handedly. Like any tool in the writer’s toolkit, worldbuilding can be employed deftly and ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews The Man Who Never Was by R.A. Lafferty

The Man Who Never Was, R.A. Lafferty (Centipede Press 978-1-61347-266-8, $65.00, 384pp, hc) March 2021.

By literally eyeballing the list of Lafferty short stories at ISFDB, I get a rough count for his canon of some 200 to 250 short stories. This figure consorts with what his Wikipedia entry maintains. The current Centipede Press series collecting his less-than-novel-length oeuvre is featuring about 20 stories per volume. So now, with ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo and Adrienne Martini Review The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman

The Blacktongue Thief, Christopher Buehlman (Tor 978-1250621191, $25.99, 416pp, hc) May 2021.

Author of five previous novels, Christopher Buehlman had not previously fallen across my radar screen. But certainly my enjoyment of his newest, The Blacktongue Thief, will propel me to search out his earlier books. What he has delivered in this sixth of his tales is a glorious overstuffed “secondary world” fantasy that manages to balance the ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill

Day Zero, C. Robert Cargill (Harper Voyager 978-0062405807, $27.99, 304pp, hc) May 2021.

This era seems a Golden Age for fictional examinations of artificial intelligence, plumbing the deeper meaning of robot consciousness and even silicon emotions. With recent novels such as Today I Am Carey, Set My Heart to Five, Barren Cove, and The Hierarchies, along with films like Ex Machina, Zoe, Blade Runner ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews The Cretaceous Past by Cixin Liu

The Cretaceous Past, Cixin Liu (Subterranean 978-1645240150, $40.00, 192pp, hc) May 2021.

One of the amazing things about Cixin Liu’s writing, as I observed when I reviewed his short-story collection To Hold Up the Sky, is that “he is at once a radical and a conservative, an optimist and a pessimist, a member of the Old Guard and of the New Wave simultaneously.” His tales have a way ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker

We Are Satellites, Sarah Pinsker (Berkley 978-1984802606, $16.00, 400pp, pb) May 2021.

Can science fiction—so often seen as the literature of the cosmic, the outré, the wide-screen perspective, populated by larger-than-life loners—ever be successfully hybridized with the naturalistic, domestic novel—the artistic glorification of the mundane, the quotidian, the miniaturist perspective, populated by uniquely average and intriguingly commonplace interrelated folks? This is a question famously asked by Ursula Le Guin ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews The Godel Operation by James L. Cambias

The Godel Operation, James L. Cambias (Baen 978-1982125561, 288pp, $16.00, tp) May 2021.

Readers of a certain vintage might recall that before the term “cyberpunk” crystallized and assumed critical dominance, there were proposals to call the cutting-edge SF of the 1980s “Radical Hard SF.” I’d like to now propose that we invent or recognize a sub-genre called “Radical Fun SF,” and that we put James Cambias at the top ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews The Best of Harry Turtledove by Harry Turtledove

The Best of Harry Turtledove, Harry Turtledove (Subterranean 978-1645240228, 584pp, $45.00) April 2021.

There was once a filksong dedicated to Gordon Dickson’s reputation for partying. I seem to recall the refrain went like this:

Gordy Dickson, Gordy Dickson, Gordy Dickson, he’s the one. Science fiction is his hobby, but his main job’s having fun!

I’d like to repurpose that tune for Harry Turtledove. I am not aware of any ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews Unity by Elly Bangs

Unity, Elly Bangs (Tachyon 978-1616963422, 304pp, $15.95) April 2021.

This debut novel by Elly Bangs rockets out of the starting gate with the high-powered energy of such nth-gen cyberpunk as Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon, before settling down towards its climax into a (comparatively) meditative ramble on identity, kinship, communication, and individual responsibility for the survival of the species. Along the way, there’s seldom a dull moment—although the success ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews Stormland by John Shirley

Stormland, John Shirley (Blackstone Publishing 978-1094017822, 368pp, $26.99, hc) April 2021.

Once upon a time, there were two factions of SF writers: the humanists and the cyberpunks. Their differing narrative stances and methodologies, themes, and angles of attack basically broke down along lines of optimistic/pessimistic; liberal/anarchic; spiritual/nihilistic. Of course there were gradations and overlaps, anomalies and paradoxes among and between the two camps; and surely the whole dichotomy is ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews The Complete Ivy Frost by Donald Wandrei

The Complete Ivy Frost, Donald Wandrei (Haffner Press 978-1893887619, 720pp, $49.99, hardcover) December 2020

Haffner Press has been gifting the world of bibliophiles and literature-lovers with enormously attractive and highly readable books since 1998, when they published Jack Williamson’s The Queen of the Legion. (For a complete record of their offerings, visit their ISFDB page.) Any publication from Haffner exemplifies craftsmanship, graphic design ingenuity, and attention to textual ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews Purgatory Mount by Adam Roberts

Purgatory Mount, Adam Roberts (Gollancz 978-1473230941, 336pp, L16.99, hardcover) February 2021

Last year marked the generally under-recognized 20th anniversary of Adam Roberts’s first novel, Salt, and the launching of his career. His prodigious and impressive output in the past two decades has earned him a reputation as one of the field’s most delightfully surprising, adept, and formalistically variant authors. His novums are always startling and innovative and cutting-edge, ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews Robot Artists & Black Swans: The Italian Fantascienza Stories by Bruce Sterling

Robot Artists & Black Swans: The Italian Fantascienza Stories, Bruce Sterling (Tachyon 978-1616963293, 256pp, $25.95, hardcover) April 2021

Certain superficial things change over time, while other essential phenomena remain fixed and permanent. Cyberpunk was born a bit over 35 years ago, and the world is a much different place now than it was in 1985. So it’s foolish to imagine that cyberpunk writing would persist unchanged, adhering to the ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews The Memory Theater by Karin Tidbeck

The Memory Theater, Karin Tidbeck (Pantheon 978-1524748333, 240pp, $25.95, hardcover) February 2021

When I reviewed Karin Tidbeck’s story collection Jagannath at The Barnes & Noble Review, I said that it distilled and hybridized “almost every writer in the VanderMeers’ massive anthology The Weird. A century’s worth of potent surrealism and estrangement surge through her veins and onto the page.” With the publication of her new novel, I’ll have ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews The Society of Time by John Brunner

The Society of Time, John Brunner (edited by Mike Ashley) (The British Library 978-0712353823, 288pp, hardcover) November 2020

Was John Brunner’s life a tragedy? In some undeniable senses, yes. Possessed of enormous talents, but also an array of character faults, he became his own worst enemy and his later-era career suffered immensely—in large part due to one poor decision to stake too much effort and hopes on a mainstream ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews The Best of Walter Jon Williams by Walter Jon Williams

The Best of Walter Jon Williams, Walter Jon Williams (Subterranean 978-1-64524-002-0, $45, 616pp, hardcover) February 2021

A writer always feels an instinctive camaraderie with other writers who debuted more or less simultaneously with one’s own beginnings. This does not mean that all writers in a given generation love and admire each other unconditionally, but only that a person recognizes and bonds more readily with other members of their own ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews The Evidence by Christopher Priest

The Evidence, Christopher Priest (UK: Gollancz 978-1473231375, £20, 320pp, hardcover) October 2020

I think we can all agree that 2020 was a pretty horrible year. Nonetheless, I am not willing to write it off entirely, if only because it gave us new books by both M. John Harrison and Christopher Priest. These two British writers both began their extraordinary careers in 1966. That’s fifty-four years ago, folks! The fact ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews Inscape by Louise Carey

Inscape, Louise Carey (UK: Gollancz 978-1473232747, £14.9920, 432pp, trade paperback) January 2021

Some genetically talented, culturally nurturing families produce writers across multiple generations, or multiple sibling iterations in the same clade. Famous literary lineages are almost too numerous to name. John le Carré and Nick Harkaway. Stephen King and progeny. Nathaniel and Julian Hawthorne. The McCaffreys. Peter and Emma Straub. The Powys clan; the LaFarge clan. And on and ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline

Ready Player Two, Ernest Cline (Ballantine 978-1524761332, $28.99, 384pp, hardcover) November 2020

I am not often bowled over by first novels, but I admit to being very delighted and impressed with Ernest Cline’s bestseller, Ready Player One, when it appeared nearly ten years ago. I was then a judge for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award and cast my vote to ensure it got on the shortlist as ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews Yesterday’s Tomorrows: The Story of Classic British Science Fiction in 100 Books by Mike Ashley

Yesterday’s Tomorrows: The Story of Classic British Science Fiction in 100 Books, Mike Ashley (British Library Published 978-0712353717, £15.00, 320pp, trade paperback) October 2020 (US edition titled Yesterday’s Tomorrows: The Story of Science Fiction in 100 Books, May 2021).

The British Library wants to share their wealth. Realizing that many of their 25 million books have undeservedly faded from current memory and attention, the BL has embarked on ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews Rise of the Red Hand by Olivia Chadha

Rise of the Red Hand, Olivia Chadha (Erewhon 978-1645660101, $18.95, 384pp, hardcover) January 2021.

Olivia Chadha’s heartfelt, adroit, brisk and thoughtful debut novel proves that everything old is new again. While its “Clutian Real Year” (i.e., the headspace and zeitgeist that birthed it and which provided its themes) is definitely 2020, its soul and blood and sinews are somewhere back in 1985, with the nascent Neuromancer. It’s nth-generation ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews Underneath the Oversea by Marc Laidlaw

Underneath the Oversea, Marc Laidlaw (Free­style, $6.99, eb) October 2020.

Here’s an experiment I wish I could con­duct. I would strip all identifying data from Marc Laidlaw’s new fantasy novel, Underneath the Oversea, and then hand the raw text to a number of savvy lovers of fantastika. I’m willing to bet that many of them would react by saying something along these lines: “Wow! This must be some ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews The Saints of Salvation by Peter F. Hamilton

The Saints of Salvation, Peter F. Hamilton (Del Rey 978-0-399-17888-7, $32, 528pp, hardcover) November 2020.

One shameful sensation experienced by the over-burdened reviewer—or by any reader, I suppose, with more books than time—is how many series of novels one begins but then abandons, due solely to time constraints. For instance, after complete enjoyment of their predecessors, I have been unable to make time to read the fourth book in ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews The Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford

The Dragon Waiting, John M. Ford (Tor 978-1250269010, $15.99, 400pp, trade paperback) September 2020.

For years after the death of John M. Ford in 2006, fans believed as doctrinal truth the assertion that, in the wake of his having died without formal plans for the continuance of his estate, his mean-spirited surviving family members, who all hated his career and even the existence of science fiction, were conspiring to ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews The Book of Lamps and Banners by Elizabeth Hand

The Book of Lamps and Banners, Elizabeth Hand (Mulholland Books 978-0316485937, $27.00, 352pp, hardcover) September 2020.

Aging punk photographer Cass Neary is the kind of person who, when invited into your home, uses the first excuse to visit your bathroom and rummage through your medicine cabinet for interesting drugs to steal. This makes her a less than ideal friend, but an excellent protagonist for a series of louche, bizarre ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews The Book of Malachi by T.C. Farren

The Book of Malachi, T.C. Farren (Titan 978-1-78909-519-7, $14.95, 336pp, trade paperback) November 2020.

Tracey Farren has given the world two previous novels under that byline. Whiplash (2008), which was filmed as Tess (2016); and Snake (2011). Both were from the small South African publisher Modjaji Books, and, from description and appearances, were naturalistic tales. Now comes her third novel under the appellation of T.C. Farren, and it’s from ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

Phoenix Extravagant, Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris 978-1781087947, 416pp, $24.99, hardcover) October 2020.

What exactly is “Phoenix Extravagant”? Very simply put, it is one of several magical pigments which, when deployed by an expert, can serve to program any kind of automaton, otherwise purposeless, with sophisticated behaviors and knowledge. (This notion of infusing non-sentient matter with agency, via arcane symbology, can also be seen in Bennett’s recent Foundryside, and ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews To Hold Up the Sky by Cixin Liu

To Hold Up the Sky, Cixin Liu (Tor 978-1250306081, 336pp, $27.99, hardcover) October 2020.

Cixin Liu’s first story collection in English continues to provide the same pleasures found in his award-winning novels: the simultaneous honoring and detournement of classic SF tropes, as filtered through a distinctly non-Western worldview and a quirky set of personal sensibilities. He is at once a radical and a conservative, an optimist and a pessimist, ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews My Favorites by Ben Bova

My Favorites, Ben Bova (Blackstone 978-1094000923, 352pp, $24.99, hardcover) October 2020

Ben Bova turns 88 in November of 2020. He also just published a new novel, Uranus, a few months ago. Two statements of this general import are not usually compatible. Writers who continue to maintain their productivity—and personal standards of quality—so late in life form a small elite. In our field, we note such towering figures as ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews Edited By, Edited by Ellen Datlow

Edited By, Ellen Datlow, ed. (Subterranean 978-1596069671, 632pp, $45, hardcover) September 2020.

When does one properly offer a career retrospective for a creative person? Certainly it’s safe to issue one when the creator is dead. Then the career is etched in stone, with no further additions possible, and also with no dissents or quibbles from the creator! And if enough time goes by between the creator’s passing and the ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

Hench, Natalie Zina Walschots (William Morrow 978-0062978578, 416pp, $27.99, hardcover) September 2020.

Have we reached Peak Deconstruction of Superheroes yet? One could reasonably argue that the trend harks back at least as far as Mad magazine’s “Superduperman” and “Batboy and Rubin” parodies from 1953. Marvel and DC both poked fun at the conventions of the genre during the Sixties, with titles like The Inferior Five and Not Brand Echh ...Read More

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