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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Paul Di Filippo Reviews The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde

The Constant Rabbit, Jasper Fforde (Viking 978-0593296523, 320pp, $28, hardcover) September 2020.

The trope of uplifted animals is a potent one in science fiction, especially as we advance into a future where humanity’s sheer existence more and more comes to impinge on the rest of animate creation. From Cordwainer Smith’s Underpeople to David Brin’s Uplifted dolphins to Grant Morrison’s trio of assassins, dog, cat and rabbit, in We3; ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews The Mother Code by Carole Stivers

The Mother Code, Carole Stivers (Berkley 978-1984806925, 352pp, $26, hardcover) August 2020.

With her debut novel The Mother Code (as we shall learn, the title refers to AI software routines meant to emulate the maternal instinct), Carole Stivers joins the elite ranks of SF authors who have actual science creds, either academically or vocationally or both. Asimov, Benford, Clarke, Alastair Reynolds. The list can be extended, but it’s still ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews In the Shadows of Men by Robert Jackson Bennett and Dispersion by Greg Egan

In the Shadows of Men, Robert Jackson Bennett (Subterranean 978-1596069879, 120pp, $40,00, hardcover) August 2020.

Tachyon Publications. PS Publishing. NewCon Press. Subterranean Press. Four always reliable and stout bastions of the novella, that in-between-lengths type of fiction that offers the advantages of the short story (quickish reading time and lesser investment) and the advantages of the novel (space for complexity and depth). Win-win, for writers, readers, and publishers!

Let’s ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews Dance on Saturday: Stories by Elwin Cotman

Dance on Saturday: Stories, Elwin Cotman (Small Beer Press 978-1618731722, 304pp, trade paperback) September 2020.

I have been unfortunate enough to miss Elwin Cotman’s two previous collections, The Jack Daniels Sessions EP and Hard Times Blues. But now that I’ve latched onto his third, Dance On Saturday, and enjoyed the ever-lovin’ pants off it, I can solace myself by contemplating the untapped reservoir of heartfelt gonzo Cotmanesque ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again by M. John Harrison

The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again, M. John Harrison (Gollancz 978-0575096356, 272pp, hardcover) June 2020.

One does not merely read a novel by M. John Harrison; rather, one inhabits it. Or perhaps the uncanny novel inhabits the lucky reader. For the duration of the reader’s immersion in the text (or the immersion of the text in the reader), his or her consciousness is erased and supplanted with Harrison’s ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews The Fantastic Fiction of Hannes Bok by Hannes Bok

The Fantastic Fiction of Hannes Bok, Hannes Bok (American Fantasy Press 978-0990784678, $45, 448pp, hardcover) March 2020.

As a kid, I used to confuse the artwork of Hannes Bok and Boris Artzybasheff. There’s a surface similarity, but when examined closer, Bok’s paintings and drawings exude a kind of Art Deco romance that Artzybasheff’s more cold and clever and satirical drawings never did. We can tell that one man was ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews The Big Book of Modern Fantasy Edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

The Big Book of Modern Fantasy, Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, eds. (Vintage 978-0525563860, $25, 896pp, trade paperback) July 2020.

When last we saw our intrepid curatorial editors, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, just a year ago in fact, they were hacking their way resolutely through the jungles of fantastika like Mr. and Mrs. Indiana Jones, emerging with an Ark of the Covenant labeled The Big Book of Classic Fantasy. ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews The Tyrant Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

The Tyrant Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson (Tor 978-0765380760, $32.50, 656pp, hc) August 2020.

Five years ago, I was privileged to review, in the online wing of this fine publication, Seth Dickinson’s debut novel, The Traitor Cormorant. I praised his prose as ”deft and forceful,” while deeming his characters ”all built to clever and deep dimensions, with fully human qualities and motives.” Finding his novel to be a tasty ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews Hella by David Gerrold

Hella, David Gerrold (DAW 978-0-7564-1657-7, $26, 448pp, hardcover) June 2020.

Somehow, with the publication of this novel, the twenty-three-year-old wunderkind who created The Trouble with Tribbles (1967) has entered into the fifty-third year of his career, a long, varied, and satisfying one. I myself am not quite sure how this transformation from newbie to Grand Old Man occurred in what sometimes seems, to a reader who was present at ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews Nine Shiny Objects by Brian Castleberry

Nine Shiny Objects, Brian Castleberry (Custom House 978-0062984395, $27.99, 336pp, hardcover) June 2020.

The Great Matter of UFOs, a topic which has intrigued the general public for over seventy years, has always resided at a strange tangential intersection with science fiction. Prior to the rash of strange aerial object sightings in 1947 that kickstarted what we know today as UFO-ology, science fiction of course had given us many stories ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews The Oppenheimer Alternative by Robert J. Sawyer

The Oppenheimer Alternative, Robert J. Sawyer (Arc Manor/Caezik SF & Fantasy 978-1-64710-013-1, $16.99, 374pp, trade paperback) June 2020.

The vast, ineluctable, ineffable reality of World War II has provided infinite substance for fiction writers from 1939 to the present. It seems doubtful that the material will ever be exhausted. Like the earlier Victorian period (the still essential and tangible reality of which fuels steampunk), the WWII era is the ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews The Last Human by Zack Jordan

The Last Human, Zack Jordan (Del Rey 978-0451499813, $27.00 448pp, hardcover) March 2020.

Zack Jordan’s debut novel is a highly accomplished postmodern space opera that manages to adroitly blend the SF humor of Robert Sheckley and Douglas Adams with the pathos of Simon Jimenez (The Vanished Birds) and the state-of-the-art high-tech speculative ambiance of Peter Hamilton and Alistair Reynolds. Additionally, it resonates with that great SF novum ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews Beyond the Outposts: Essays on SF and Fantasy 1955-1996 by Algis Budrys

Beyond the Outposts: Essays on SF and Fantasy 1955-1996, Algis Budrys (Ansible Editions/Lulu.com, 978-0-244-56705-7, $22.50, 378pp, trade paperback) 2020.

The field of fantastika could never have reached its current flourishing condition, nor hope to continue forcefully, without the efforts of the small presses. These firms throughout the history of the genre and into the present have preserved many older works from oblivion and also offered homes to worthy living ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews Masters of Science Fiction: Kate Wilhelm by Kate Wilhelm

Masters of Science Fiction: Kate Wilhelm, Kate Wilhelm (Centipede Press 978-1-61347-207-1 and 978-1-61347-208-8, $95, 736 and 784 pages, hardcover) March 2020

Editor John Pelan and publisher Jerad Walters of Centipede Press have again conspired, as they do on an awesomely regular schedule, to produce a book—a two-volume set, actually—that is a masterpiece of curation and production values. A handsome, deluxe, high-quality package, priced sensibly, enshrining important stories—what more could ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews A Luminous Republic by Andrés Barba

A Luminous Republic, Andrés Barba (Mariner 978-1328589347, $14.99, 208pp, trade paperback) April 2020

Nominated by Granta magazine as one of the best young Spanish novelists of his generation, and winner of several literary prizes, Andrés Barba is little-known, I think it is accurate to say, within our domain of fantastika. I am not sure if this is because his previous eight books (none of which I have encountered) have ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews Vagabonds by Hao Jingfang

Vagabonds, Hao Jingfang (Saga Press 978-1-5344-2208-7, $28.99, 608pp, hardcover) April 2020

The growing corpus of Chinese science fiction translated into English—mainly, as in this case, by that indefatigable polymath, Ken Liu—receives a welcome addition in the form of Hao Jingfang’s meditative and stimulating Vagabonds, arriving on the heels of her award-winning story, “Folding Beijing”. Part of the pleasure of such works is getting the perspective of writers from ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews War of the Maps by Paul McAuley

War of the Maps, Paul McAuley (Gollancz 978-1473217348, £14.99, 432pp, hardcover) March 2020

From the opening lines of Paul McAuley’s magnificent new novel of an exotic far-future world anchored by intensely human characters, we can sense that certain archetypical templates and genres are in play.

A lone tree leaned over the cistern, its bell-shaped yellow-leaved canopy dinting and swaying in the hot breeze, sprinkling coins of mirrorlight across the ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews Forced Perspectives by Tim Powers

Forced Perspectives, Tim Powers (Baen 978-1-9821-2440-3, 384pp, hardcover) March 2020

When I reviewed the first book in this series, Alternate Routes, for Asimov’s, I said the novel “continues Powers’s invigorating investigations into spirits from the vasty deep, employing an approach and tone he has not previously offered. As is to be expected, after such a long and vital congress with specters, Powers brings his A-game to the page.” ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews Rambunctious by Rick Wilber

Rambunctious, Rick Wilber (WordFire Press 978-1-68057-068-7, hardcover) March 2020

Hewing to the high standards of probity that all reviewers should follow, I solemnly promise not to employ any easy baseball similes, metaphors, or analogies during this review of Rick Wilber’s new story collection, despite the fact that he is most famous, perhaps, for his alternate-history stories involving Moe Berg, Major League Baseball catcher and spy. And despite the fact ...Read More

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