Russell Letson Reviews Star-Begotten: A Life Lived in Science Fic­tion by James Gunn

Star-Begotten: A Life Lived in Science Fic­tion, James Gunn (McFarland 978-1-4766-7026-3, $25.00, 209pp, tp) November 2017. Cover photo by Jason Dailey.

I hope I might be excused for injecting personal notes into a review of James Gunn’s autobiog­raphy, Star-Begotten: A Life Lived in Science Fiction. As I read it, I couldn’t help noticing how many times and in how many ways my life in SF was affected by Gunn’s work ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews The Corporation Wars: Emergence by Ken MacLeod

The Corporation Wars: Emergence, Ken MacLeod (Orbit 978-0-356-50504-6, £14.99, 336pp, hc) September 2017.

Ken MacLeod’s The Corporation Wars is presented as a trilogy, but I take it to be another of those increasingly common very-long-novels-in-three-decker-form. Even the title format, which puts the overall series title before the volume title, Emergence, signals a single continuous story spread across multiple volumes, with little more separating the acts than the equivalent of a ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Austral by Paul McAuley

Austral, Paul McAuley (Gollancz, 978-1-473-21731-7, £14.99, 276pp, tp) October 2017.

As I was preparing this piece, virtual-paging through 26 years’ worth of reviews of Paul McAuley’s work, I recognized (again) how his stories refuse to drop neatly into single categories – they like to squirm out of whatever boxes they’re stuffed into and find their own shapes. What remains stable is the sharp ob­servation of each imagined world, whether it’s ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews Star-Begotten: A Life Lived in Science Fiction by James Gunn

Star-Begotten: A Life Lived in Science Fiction, James Gunn (McFarland 978-1-4766-7026-3, $25.00, 209pp, tp) November 2017. Cover photo by Jason Dailey.

I hope I might be excused for injecting personal notes into a review of James Gunn’s autobiography, Star-Begotten: A Life Lived in Science Fiction. As I read it, I couldn’t help noticing how many times and in how many ways my life in SF was affected by Gunn’s work ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews Provenance by Ann Leckie

Provenance, Ann Leckie (Orbit, 978-0-316-38867-2, $26.00, 393pp, hc) September 2017. Cover by John Harris.

Ann Leckie’s Provenance takes place in the same far future as her Ancillary novels and shares some of that trilogy’s underlying issues: legal versus actual identity and citizenship status; the burdens, benefits, and oddities of cultural artifice or convention; the ways that polities can be subverted or per­verted. But there are no ancillaries or emerg­ing AIs ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews Iain M. Banks by Paul Kincaid

Iain M. Banks, Paul Kincaid (University of Illinois Press 978-0-252-04101-3, $95.00, hc; -08250-4, $22.00, 190pp, tp) May 2017. Cover by Mark J. Bradley.

Paul Kincaid’s Iain M. Banks takes on the task of accounting for a writer whose career sprawled across at least two literary categories and whose primary gifts (at least in the view of this reader) are a dizzying verbal adroitness married to a relentless and hard-edged philosophical ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews Tomorrow’s Kin by Nancy Kress

Tomorrow’s Kin, Nancy Kress (Tor 978-0-765390295, $25.99, 352pp, hc) July 2017.

I’m going to have the same problem reviewing Nancy Kress’s Tomorrow’s Kin that I did with Steal Across the Sky a few years back: how to describe its virtues without giving away what are clearly meant to be surprises. (As I have not seen the finished book, I don’t know what hints and details the jacket copy might offer.) ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews The Delirium Brief by Charles Stross

The Delirium Brief, Charles Stross (Tor.com Publishing 978-0-7653-9466-8, $24.99, 381pp, hc) July 2017. Cover by Peter Lutjen

The harried operatives of the demon-wrangling covert service called the Laundry can’t catch a break in Charles Stross’s The Delirium Brief, which picks up in the aftermath of the disastrous cross-universe invasion of last year’s The Nightmare Stacks. The pitched battles with hordes of elven warriors riding unicorns and dragons ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews The Last Good Man by Linda Nagata

The Last Good Man, Linda Nagata (Mythic Island Press, 978-1-937197-23-0, $18.00, 464 pp, tp) June 2017. Cover by Philippe McNally.

Linda Nagata’s The Last Good Man runs a compelling set of variations on motifs and themes introduced in her Red trilogy (2013-15). Once again we have detailed accounts of technologically enhanced near-future warfare, but this time the emphasis is less on uncertain and shifting loyalties and more on the impact ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews Kit Reed

Mormama, Kit Reed (Tor 978-0-7653-9044-8. $25.99, 285pp, hc) May 2017.

Kit Reed’s previous novel, Where (2015) gave us an inexplicable and uncanny situation that finally (perhaps reluctantly) almost-but-not-quite collapses into a science-fictional genre-space. Her new book, Mormama, isn’t coy at all: it’s a straight-up ghost story, and everybody inside the story knows it, and in any case the ghost for whom the novel is named is right there ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews C.J. Cherryh

Convergence, C.J. Cherryh (DAW 978-0756409111, $26.00, 324 pp, hc) April 2017. Cover by Todd Lockwood.

By happy accident, as I was working on this column I was also paging through Jo Walton’s excellent collection of retrospec­tive review essays, What Makes This Book So Great, and noted her chapter on ‘‘Re-reading long series,’’ in which she points out not only the pleasures of taking extended rambles through invented worlds, ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews Ian McDonald

Luna: Wolf Moon, by Ian McDonald (Tor 978-0-7653-7553-7, $27.99, 400pp, hardcover) March 2017

Twenty-seven years ago this month [May], Charles Brown took me on as a reviewer – specifically, he said, to cover the hard-SF end of the field. Of course, Locus neither draws nor enforces sharp boundaries among and between reviewers’ beats, so I have spent the decades following my nose all over the genre(s) rather than pursuing ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews The Corporation Wars: Dissidence by Ken MacLeod

The Corporation Wars: Dissidence, Ken MacLeod (Orbit 978-0-316-36365-5, $9.99, 349pp, pb) November 2016.

The Corporation Wars: Insurgence, Ken MacLeod (Orbit 978-0-316-36369-3, $9.99, 331pp, pb) December 2016.

Ken MacLeod’s new trilogy-in-progress bears the overall title The Corporation Wars, with US print editions of the first two volumes, Dissidence and Insurgence, appearing just a month apart late in 2016. (The third, Emergence, is due out later this year.) ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews Cory Doctorow

Walkaway, Cory Doctorow (Tor 978-0-7653-9276-3, $24.99, 379pp, hc) April 2017.

In last month’s 2016 annual wrap-up essay, I mentioned the Nightmares Are Us side of SF, which was on my mind not (entirely) because of what was running on cable news at the time, but because my recent reading keeps pointing out various ways everything can go to hell in a handbasket. Now, it’s possible that in following my ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro (Fairwood Press 978-1-933846-63-7, $16.99, 274pp, tp) August 2016. Cover by Patrick Swenson.

Robert Silverberg’s career has spanned more than half the history of modern American science fiction: he began reading SF magazines in 1948, during the ‘‘Golden Age,’’ and by 1954 was writing for the pulps, producing the first entries in a bibliography that now runs to 600-plus items of ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews Alastair Reynolds

Revenger, Alastair Reynolds (Orion/Gollancz 978-0575090538, £18.99, 432pp, hardcover) September 2016; (Orbit 978-0-3165-5556-2, $14.99, 560pp, tp)
February 2017.

In Revenger Alastair Reynolds inserts a distinctly old-fashioned space opera into a Stapledonian milieu right out of Last and First Men, a solar system rendered unrecognizable by millions of years of natural and unnatural processes. Reynolds has used the ancient-far-future trope before in, for example, House of Suns (reviewed in August ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews Charles Stross

The Nightmare Stacks, Charles Stross (Ace 978-0-425281-192, $27.00, 385pp, hc) June 2016. Cover by Larry Rostant.

This month’s theme might be horror and the horrific, with the subtheme ‘‘Why am I reading horror when I usually don’t much care for it?’’ Of course, none of the books under consideration here are entirely or even ‘‘really’’ horror, no matter how extensively and elaborately concerned with horrific events, hauntings, or monstrous ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews C.J. Cherryh

Visitor, C.J. Cherryh (DAW 978-0-7564-0910-4, $26.00, 376pp, hc) April 2016. Cover by Todd Lockwood.

Visitor is the 17th entry in C.J. Cherryh’s long-running (since 1994) Foreigner Universe series and the middle volume of its sixth sub-trilogy. That means, right up front, that this is not the place to start with these novels, though one might not need to back up all the way to the first book to get ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews Zachary Brown

Titan’s Fall, Zachary Brown (Saga 978-1-4814-3038-8, $14.99, 204pp, tp) March 2016.

I keep insisting that the usual run of military-SF adventures has a limited appeal for me – a description of the limits of my tastes and interests rather than a judgment on the value of the whole subgenre or even of particular books I might set aside after a chapter or two. And I’m vain enough to believe ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews Judith Merril

The Merril Theory of Lit’ry Criticism: Judith Merril’s Nonfiction, Judith Merril (Aqueduct Press 978-1-61976-093-6, $22.00, 348pp, tp) March 2016.

I am a review junkie. As a high-school stu­dent, I loved The Saturday Review, and when I started reading SF magazines, I always turned to the review sections first, not so much for a buyer’s guide (I was omnivorous anyway) as for the conversation about SF. It was from these ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews James Gunn

Transgalactic, by James Gunn (Tor 978-0765380920, $26.99, 224pp, hardcover March 2016

Two books that rose to the top of the stack on the dresser once again have me considering recent online discussions of the relevance of old or old-fashioned SF, of the value of historical perspective in reading a popular genre, of the appeal of deliberately retrospective stories, of the retreading of venerable tropes, and of whether some flavors ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews Carter Scholz

Gypsy, Carter Scholz (PM Press 978-1-62963-118-9, $13.00, 145pp, tp) December 2015.

Gypsy is the first collection of Carter Scholz material in a dozen years, consisting of the centerpiece title novella, a pair of short stories, an essay, an interview with Scholz (conducted by editor Terry Bisson), and a bibliography. As compelling as the shorter pieces are, it is the novella that grabs and won’t let go. In the interview, ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews Nancy Kress

The Best of Nancy Kress, Nancy Kress (Subterranean 978-1-59606-721-9, $45.00, 558pp, hc) September 2015. Cover by Thomas Canty.

Theodore Sturgeon used to append to his autographs a Q-pierced-by-an-arrow glyph that stood for ‘‘Ask the next question’’ – advice that would seem to be particularly apt for writers of science fiction. The phrase ought to be the motto on Nancy Kress’s escutcheon. (Appropriately enough, she has won a Theodore Sturgeon ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews Linda Nagata

The Red: First Light, Linda Nagata (Saga 978-1-4814-4657-0, $27.99, 405pp, hc) June 2015. Cover by Larry Rostant.

The Trials, Linda Nagata (Saga 978-1-4814-4658-7, $27.99, 447pp, hc) August 2015. Cover by Larry Rostant.

Going Dark, Linda Nagata (Saga 978-1-4814-4659-4, $27.99, 454 pp, pb) November 2015. Cover by Larry Rostant.

As I was saying last month, all kinds of in­teresting variations are coming out of the rather fuzzily delimited ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews Greg Bear

Killing Titan, Greg Bear (Orbit 978-0-316-22400-0, $26.00, 326pp, hc) October 2015.

I should probably cop to this: I’m fascinated by military history, but I’ve never been much taken by what I think of as genre military SF, by which I mean adventure stories set in the military establishment and emphasizing weaponry, com­radeship, chains of command, career progress, and (of course) combat. As much as I enjoyed and understood Starship ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews Michael Swanwick

Chasing the Phoenix, Michael Swanwick (Tor 978-0-7653-8090-6, $26.99, 316pp, hc) August 2015.

Chasing the Phoenix is part of Michael Swanwick’s continuing account of the adven­tures of far-future con artists Darger and Surplus, which to my chagrin I have heretofore somehow not been following. (I am already remedying that situation as I write this column, starting with the first entry, ‘‘The Dog Said Bow-Wow’’.) The world of Aubrey Darger and ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews James L. Cambias

Corsair, James L. Cambias (Tor 978-0-7653-7910-8, $25.99, 336pp, hardcover) May 2015

Cross-genre interbreeding has long been a feature of the SF/fantasy genre space, though it sometimes seems as though the pace of mixed marriages has picked up in the last decade or so, producing ever more exotic offspring – alternate-history-vampire-Nazi-spy-adventures and whatnot (or Napoleonic naval sagas with dragons). James L. Cambias’ second novel, Corsair, earns a fistful of ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews Alastair Reynolds

Slow Bullets, Alastair Reynolds (Tachyon Publications 978-1-61696-193-0, $14.95, 192pp, tp) June 2015. Cover by Thomas Canty. [Order from Tachyon Publications, 1459 18th St. #139, San Francisco CA 94107]

Alastair Reynolds’ Slow Bullets might be considered ‘‘military’’ SF, since its narrator and most of its characters are soldiers in a now-ended interstellar war, and much of their behavior is conditioned by their experiences in that conflict, but those conditioning experiences ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews Kit Reed

Where, Kit Reed (Tor 978-0-7653-7982-5, $25.99, 236pp, hc) May 2015.

No single voice dominates Kit Reed’s Where, certainly not the kind of low-key Midwestern tone that Arnason gives to her Icelanders. Instead, the internal voices of Reed’s various viewpoint characters range from on-edge, to anxious, to frantic. These are people stretched thin by the tensions of family history and the weight of personal failings, and especially by a ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews Jack McDevitt

Coming Home, the latest entry in Jack McDevitt’s long-running series on the adventures of antiquities dealer Alex Benedict and his pilot Chase Kolpath, also runs parallel plot threads: the search for a possible cache of very early space-age artifacts, and the attempts to rescue the passengers and crew of a starship caught in an anomalous hyperspace glitch. This latter thread connects directly to one of the series’ previous volumes, ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews Old Venus

Old Venus, a companion volume to last year’s Old Mars, again offers stories set on a version of the titular planet that no longer matches what science tells us about it. In the introduction, co-editor Gardner Dozois writes that he and George R.R. Martin were looking for a return to the ‘‘heyday of the Planetary Romance,’’ when ‘‘the solar system swarmed with alien races and civilizations, as crowded ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews Elizabeth Bear

Elizabeth Bear is one of those writers I will follow through genre neighborhoods that I would normally avoid – her 2011 alt-historical novella ad aeternum got me to read and enjoy a vampire story (which usually leave my blood lukewarm). So when I saw ‘‘steampunk’’ among the marketing labels listed on my review copy of Karen Memory, it was the author’s name on the spine that encouraged me to ...Read More

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