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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Paul Di Filippo Reviews Providence by Max Barry

Providence, Max Barry (Putnam’s 978-0593085172, $27, 320pp, hardcover) March 2020

I tend to create whimsical schools of writers in my own mind, where none necessarily exists in real life. Thus, I place Max Barry in a class with such folks as Ned Beauman, Karen Russell, Nick Harkaway, Matt Ruff, Reif Larsen and others: a clade of “Pop Culture-Savvy, Slipstreamy, High Concept, Maximalist, Always Pioneering New Territory Weirdos.” As silly, ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews Fighters of Fear, Edited by Mike Ashley

Fighters of Fear: Occult Detective Stories, edited by Mike Ashley (Talos 978-1945863523, $29.99, 624pp, hardcover) January 2020

It is a simple and undeniable fact that the past will in many ways always overpower and outweigh the present. It’s a matter involving sheer numbers and mass. The present is a tiny moving window of some quantum of time in which our consciousness lives. To be generous, let’s denominate “the present” ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews The Initiate by James L. Cambias

The Initiate, James L. Cambias (Baen 978-1-98212-435-9, $25, 288pp, hardcover) February 2020

Producing four superior novels in six years, starting with A Darkling Sea in 2014 and extending to the current one in 2020, James Cambias seems to have hit his stride, but not his peak. We can only anticipate many more fine books to follow.

Indicative of his desire always to be expanding his range, Cambias’s newest is ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories, by Ken Liu (Saga 978-1982134037, $26, 432pp, hardcover) February 2020

Ken Liu is the kind of prodigious talent who makes mere mortals melt in despair at ever matching his accomplishments. He could have been content to remain a software engineer and lawyer, but instead he added to his CV the vocations of editor, translator, and fiction writer. If he had done any of ...Read More

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Near Future Speculator: Paul Di Filippo Reviews Unamerica, Rule of Capture, The Warehouse, and Future Tense Fiction

Unamerica, Cody Goodfellow (978-1732124059)

Rule of Capture, Christopher Brown (978-0062859099)

The Warehouse, Rob Hart (978-1-9848-2379-3)

Future Tense Fiction, edited by Kirsten Berg, Torie Bosch, Joey Eschrich, Ed Finn, Andrés Martinez and Juliet Ulman (978-1944700959)

The world is running a fever, and science fiction is the thermometer, if not also the febrifuge. That is, whenever the genre is not busy gallivanting across the galaxy, science fiction can, ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews 2020 Vision, Edited by Jerry Pournelle

2020 Vision, Jerry Pournelle, ed. (Avon Books 18390, $.95, 192pp, paperback) February 1974

Friedrich Nietzsche famously opined, “If you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” I’d like to contribute a corollary observation: “When you stare into the future, you invite the future to stare back at you.” Every attempt at speculative forecasting, every probe of futurity, invites a look in the rear-view ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews Novellas by David Sandner & Jacob Weisman, Robert Levy, and James Patrick Kelly

Mingus Fingers, David Sandner & Jacob Weisman (Fairwood 978-1933846873, $8, 68pp, trade paperback) November 2019

The boom in novellas shows no signs of petering out, as their bite-sized yet sufficiently mouth-filling substantiality continues to appeal to readers who want more than a short story but less than a novel. Here we have a go at three recent fine examples of the form.

If I had a time machine, one ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez

The Vanished Birds, Simon Jimenez ((Del Rey 978-0-593-12898-5, $27, 400pp, hardcover) January 2020

Simon Jimenez’s touching, bold, surprising, gorgeous debut novel—a certain manner of postmodern space opera, despite the fantasy-resonant title—is not only the best debut novel I’ve read in ages, but simply one of the best SF novels in recent memory. I am reminded of the excitement I felt when encountering A.A. Attanasio’s Radix (1981). If The Vanished ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews Anyone by Charles Soule

Anyone, Charles Soule (Harper Perennial 978-0-06-289063-4, $21.99, 432pp, hardcover) December 2019

Alas for me, I have not yet had a chance to read Charles Soule’s well-regarded debut novel from 2018, The Oracle Year. But I have certainly enjoyed his clever, inventive, and exciting comics scripting, on such titles as Swamp Thing, Red Lanterns and She-Hulk. So I came to his sophomore book, Anyone, expecting a treat, and ...Read More

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Paul Di Filippo Reviews Shadows in the Stone by Jack Dann

Shadows in the Stone, Jack Dann (IFWG Publishing 978-1-925956-36-8, $18.99, 362pp, trade paperback) November 2019

The Christian “heresy” of Gnosticism offers a fascinating mythos, a disturbing philosophy, and a ready-made set of fantasy props and beings that could be adapted for fictional narratives. Put very simply, Gnosticism holds that all of material creation, rather than standing as the shining example of a benign creator’s will, is a diseased prison ...Read More

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