Russell Letson Reviews Eversion by Alastair Reynolds

Eversion, Alastair Reynolds (Gollancz 978-0-57509-076-7, £20.00, 320pp, hc) May 2022. (Orbit US 978-0-31646-282-2, $17.99, 304pp, tp) August 2022. Cover by Lauren Panepinto.

The strange shuffling sound you will be hear­ing is a reviewer tiptoeing around a text filled with spoiler trapdoors. The book in question is Alastair Reynolds’ Eversion, a novel designed to promote puzzlement, and in fact to be a puzzle as much as a story, which means ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Needle by Linda Nagata

Needle, Linda Nagata (Mythic Island 978-1-937197-40-7, $19.00, 356pp, tp) July 2022. Cover by Sarah Anne Langton.

Decades ago, my imagination of the far, far future of humankind was formed by Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men and Star Maker: melancholy, long-lens scenarios that lack individual characters and conventional plot-lines but whose visions of the possible range of thinking beings and civilizations and deep time were simultaneously breathtaking and ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Eyes of the Void by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Eyes of the Void, Adrian Tchaikovsky (Orbit 978-0316705875, $28.00, 608 pp, hc) May 2022. Cover by Steve Stone.

Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Eyes of the Void is the sequel to Shards of Earth, second in a sprawling, gaudy space opera series featuring a menagerie of space-traveling life­forms, a galactic history of warfare and ruined civilizations, and entire species on the run from inscrutable, invulnerable planet-killers. Human­kind is a latecomer to ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews The Dark Ride: The Best Short Fiction of John Kessel by John Kessel

The Dark Ride: The Best Short Fiction of John Kessel, John Kessel (Subterranean Press 978-1-64524-058-7, $45.00, 582pp, hc) June 2022.

I love big career-retrospective single-author collections, especially when the author provides notes on genesis and biographical context. John Kessel’s turn has come with The Dark Ride, a gathering of 20 stories from 1981-2021 that shows his command of a wide range of motifs and styles and his recurring ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Aspects by John M. Ford

Aspects, John M. Ford (Tor 978-1-250-26903-4 $26.99, 496 pp, hc) April 2022.

Sixteen years after his untimely death, we finally have John M. Ford’s last novel, Aspects, or at least a substantial portion of it. The whole would have been even more substantial, since a half dozen completed sonnet-epigraphs suggest a six-part structure that could have run to more than 1000 pages, so perhaps a two-decker or even ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Memory’s Legion: The Complete Expanse Story Collection by James S.A. Corey

Memory’s Legion: The Complete Expanse Story Collection, James S.A. Corey (Orbit US 978-0-316-66919-1, $28.00, 422 pp, hc) March 2022. Cover by Daniel Dociu.

The long main storyline of James S.A. Corey’s Expanse series – nine volumes released over a decade – wrapped up with last year’s Leviathan Falls. At various points along the way, though, Corey (AKA Daniel Abraham & Ty Franke) produced shorter pieces that did not ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Quantum of Nightmares by Charles Stross

Quantum of Nightmares, Charles Stross (Tor­dotcom 978-1-25083-937-4, $27.99, 368 pp, hc) January 2022.

Charles Stross’s Quantum of Nightmares is the 11th of the Laundry Files books, a series whose trademark is the blending of tropes, motifs, and narrative conventions from the supernatural-horror and intrigue/crime/spy-thriller genre families. At the beginning, these struck me as light entertainment, part Lovecraftian-gothick, part secret-agent adven­ture, with a generous dollop of political-social satire, all delivered ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Galaxias by Stephen Baxter

Galaxias, Stephen Baxter (Gollancz 978-1473228856, $26.99, 538 pp, hc) May 2022.

Stephen Baxter’s Galaxias poses an inter­esting case of the Spoiler Problem. The publisher’s promotional Tweet offers a dra­matic teaser: ‘‘What would happen to the world if the sun went out? The end is nigh. Someone has sent us a sign.’’ And indeed the opening chapters describe the sudden disappearance of the sun at the moment of totality of ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Escape from Yokai Land by Charles Stross

Escape from Yokai Land, Charles Stross (Tordotcom 978-1-25080-570-6, 96 pp, $19.99, hc) March 2022.

Charles Stross continues to figure out ingenious extensions of and variations on the givens of his Laundry series of horror/secret-agent/comedy entertainments. A while back I decided that the recipe for these stories is ‘‘one-third eldritch threat, one-third workplace comic satire, and one-third spy-thriller action,’’ with the mix allowing a range of comedic-horrific effects. The latest ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Beyond the Hallowed Sky by Ken MacLeod

Beyond the Hallowed Sky, Ken MacLeod (Orbit 978-0-356-51479-6, £8.99, 336pp, pb) November 2021. Cover by Duncan Spilling.

Ken MacLeod has long been deploying a useful kind of what-iffery, in which the futures he depicts are not ours but alternate futures, branched off from crucial events in our past – a strategy that powers the Fall Revolution and Engines of Light sequences. It’s a useful way of generating scenarios that ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Elder Race, Adrian Tchaikovsky (Tordotcom 978-1-250-76872-8, $14.99, 199 pp, tp) Novem­ber 2021. Cover by Emmanuel Shu.

Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Elder Race puckishly mixes ingredients from both science fiction and fantasy cookbooks. The usual science-fantasy recipe is a setting that presents as fantasy – medieval/feudal-ish societies with aristocrats, magicians, monsters, and warrior-heroes – but that finally explains the magic in material rather than supernatural terms (Arthur C. Clarke’s sufficiently advanced technology, ...Read More

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The Year in Review 2021 by Russell Letson

Here we are, two years into a pandemic, with half of the nation arguing with the other half like grumpy uncles at a holiday dinner, and the planet deciding whether it’s time to raise those sea levels a meter or ten or just blow us all away in megastorms, and I’m sitting at home, reading. And not books about stopping climate change or improving our civic character, but space operas. ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Leviathan Falls by James S.A. Corey

Leviathan Falls, James S.A. Corey (Orbit 978-0-31633-291-0, $30.00, 528pp, hc) November 2021. Cover by Daniel Dociu.

Leviathan Falls, the ninth volume of The Expanse, completes the long and com­plicated story that began with Leviathan Wakes (2011). Over its ten-year run, this series by James S.A. Corey (which is to say Daniel Abraham & Ty Franck) has mixed, matched, and stretched genres, sprung surprises, killed off im­portant cast members ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews The Book of All Skies by Greg Egan

The Book of All Skies, Greg Egan (Greg Egan 978-1-922240-38-5, $12.99, 236 pp, tp) September 2021.

Speaking of skies – when Greg Egan leaves our familiar cosmological or geometrical framework, he really leaves it, as he does in The Book of All Skies, which is set on a planet that has been sliced up like a spiral-carved ham by structures called Hoops. (At least that’s what I get ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Invisible Sun by Charles Stross

Invisible Sun, Charles Stross (Tor 978-1-250-80709-0, $27.99, 285 pp, hc) September 2021. Cover by Neil Lang.

Partway into Charles Stross’s Invisible Sun, a harried intelligence/security chief says, “We’ve got a lot of balls in the air,” a condition that might apply as well to a number of his fellow characters and to Stross himself in his authorial role. This ninth and final entry in what is now called ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Shards of Earth: The Final Architecture Book One, Adrian Tchaikovsky (Tor 978-1-5290-5188-9, $28.00, 549 pp, hc) August 2021. Cover by Steve Stone.

Once upon a time I used the term “re­combinant SF” to describe stories that whipped multiple ideas and themes and gadgets and speculations and story-patterns into busy, complicated, surprising concoctions: a Chi­nese AI emperor and Tibetan yak-wranglers on a terraformed Mars; a moon-size ancient alien and clone-soldiers ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Invisible Sun by Charles Stross

Invisible Sun, Charles Stross (Tor 978-1-250-80709-0, $27.99, 285 pp, hc) September 2021. Cover by Neil Lang.

Partway into Charles Stross’s Invisible Sun, a harried intelligence/security chief says, ‘‘We’ve got a lot of balls in the air,’’ a condition that might apply as well to a number of his fellow characters and to Stross himself in his authorial role. This ninth and final entry in what is now called ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Belladonna Nights and Other Stories by Alastair Reynolds

Belladonna Nights and Other Stories, Alastair Reynolds (Subterranean 978-1-64524-013-6, $45.00, 368pp, hc) October 2021. Cover by Marc Simonetti.

In Belladonna Nights and Other Stories, Alastair Reynolds gathers 15 stories origi­nally published between 2011 and 2018, and adds one new story to this collection. In line with other Subterranean Press collections, the author supplies a context-setting introduction at the front and brief comments on each story at the back of ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Inhibitor Phase by Alastair Reynolds

Inhibitor Phase, Alastair Reynolds (Gollancz 978-0-57509-071-2, £20.00, 480pp, hc) August 2021. (Orbit 978-0316462761, $16.99, 432pp, tp) October 2021.

Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space uni­verse looks forward nearly 40,000 years (and backward a billion) and encom­passes several distinct sub-series whose stories occasionally cross each other. And like other sprawling, nonlinear series settings (think Larry Niven’s Known Space, Ian M. Banks’s Culture, or Neal Asher’s Polity), it can dump the reader any­where ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Jack Four by Neal Asher

Jack Four, Neal Asher (Tor UK 978-1529049978, £20.00, 448pp, hc) June 2021. Cover by Steve Stone.

One of Neal Asher’s specialties is monsters (though not of the cute sort), and the new Polity novel, Jack Four, is all monsters, all the time. It starts with brutal mercenaries and their alien customers and works its way up through nearly indestructible mutated alien warriors and their transformed sort-of-human shock troops, ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Robot Artists and Black Swans: The Italian Fantascienza Stories by Bruce Sterling

Robot Artists and Black Swans: The Italian Fantascienza Stories, Bruce Sterling (Tachyon Publications, 978-1616963293, $25.95, 250 pp, hc) March 2021. Cover by John Coulthart.

Few American SF writers are as good at evoking the vibe of parts of the world outside the US as novelist-futurist-journalist Bruce Sterling – it’s something he was working at as far back as Holy Fire (1996), and it became a notable feature of the ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews The Unfinished Land by Greg Bear

The Unfinished Land, Greg Bear (John Joseph Adams Books 978-1-328-58990-3, $26.00, hc, 365 pp) February 2021.

Greg Bear’s The Unfinished Land is not your standard-issue fantasy adventure, even if it does feature a young naïf who travels across a magical, quasi-living landscape, guided by and encountering a range of strangely powered beings, all on the way to a series of rev­elations about the true natures of said landscape, beings, ...Read More

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Adrienne Martini and Russell Letson Review A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

A Desolation Called Peace, Arkady Martine (Tor 978-1250186461, $26.99, 496pp, hc) March 2021.

Despite how many readers raved about it, I didn’t manage to read Arkady Martine’s multi-award winning A Memory Called Empire when it first came out. There is never enough time, you know? But when the follow-up – A Desolation Called Peace – hit my in-box, I read the first few pages and was so hooked that ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Lockdown Tales by Neal Asher

Lockdown Tales, Neal Asher (NewCon 978-1-912950-75-1, £12.95, 381pp, tp) December 2020. Cover by Vincent Sammy.

We live in monstrous times. Nevertheless, I sometimes find myself wanting not to escape but to symbolically confront the plagues of cruelty, craziness, and consequences (unintended or otherwise) that the last century (or the last week) has visited upon us. Neal Asher’s confrontations tend to distance and displace the monstrous, to locate it in ...Read More

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2020: As I Liked It; or, Like, Whatever by Russell Letson

For pretty much the reasons anyone can figure, I didn’t get through as many titles as I would usually review in a year. Some anticipated books were held back, but mostly it was lack of appetite on my part – a mild case of what my mother used to call “the blahs” – that condition when energies flag, the palate dulls, and this goodly frame, the Earth, while not quite ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews The Best of Walter Jon Williams by Walter Jon Williams

The Best of Walter Jon Williams, Walter Jon Williams (Subterranean 978-1645240020, $45.00, 610pp, hc). Cover by Lee Moyer. Feb­ruary 2020.

Exactly 30 years ago, this column’s lede was “Walter Jon Williams is an interest­ingly various writer….” The intervening decades have given me no reason to alter that opinion, variations on which I have been re­peating just about every time I write about a Williams title. So why should I ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Pacific Storm by Linda Nagata

Pacific Storm, Linda Nagata (Mythic Island Press, 978-1937197339, $14.00, 264 pp, tp) October 2020.

Linda Nagata made her reputation with far-far-future adventures featuring near-magical nanotechnology and post-human characters, but in the last few years she has also developed a strong line of closer-to-home sce­narios. This day-after-tomorrow work has veered toward military SF in her Red Trilogy (2013-15) and toward the technothriller in The Last Good Man (2017), both of ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Fleet Elements by Walter Jon Williams

Fleet Elements, Walter Jon Williams (Harper Voyager 978-0-06-246706-1, 489 pp, $16.99, tp) December 2020.

Two years ago, Walter Jon Williams re­turned to the setting and subgenre of his ingeniously unconventional Dread Em­pire’s Fall trilogy with the first of a set of sequels, The Accidental War (now branded A Novel of the Praxis). Though perhaps I should call the series “multi-conventional,” since, while the packaging and promotional language correctly signal ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Dead Lies Dreaming by Charles Stross

Dead Lies Dreaming, Charles Stross (Tor 978-1-250-26702-3, $29.99, 384pp, hc) October 2020.

When I first encountered Charles Stross’s Laundry series a decade or so ago, I took its comic-satiric mixture of spy thriller and Lovecraftian horror to be a genre-mashup game with which the author was amusing himself. The farther into the series I got, though – especially after reading the early, non-Laundry trunk novel, Scratch Monkey (2011) – ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Failed State by Christopher Brown

Failed State, Christopher Brown (Harper Voyager 978-0062859105, $16.99, 384pp, tp) August 2020.

These days, reading anything scarier than “The Adventures of the Widdle Kiddons in Ice-Cream-Sundae Land” winds up reminding me of some bit of direness I’ve seen on the telly that morning. So when I saw the title of Christopher Brown’s new novel and recalled the spot-on dystopian vibe of its predecessor from last year, Rule of Capture ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Selkie Summer by Ken MacLeod

Selkie Summer, Ken MacLeod (NewCon Press 978-1-912950-63-8, £9.99, 141pp, tp) May 2020. Cover by Ben Baldwin.

In Selkie Summer, Ken MacLeod has given us – or me, anyway – something quite unlike what I would have expected from the deviser of Newton’s Wake: A Space Opera or The Execu­tion Channel. Its first half operates as a romance with metaphysical/supernatural complications: university student Siobhan Ross, working a sum­mer ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Divergence by C.J. Cherryh

Divergence, C.J. Cherryh (DAW 978-0-756-41430-6, $26.00, 339pp, hc) September 2020. Cover by Todd Lockwood.

C.J. Cherryh’s Divergence is not a minor book, but after 20 previous entries in this long-running series, your faithful reviewer is reduced to recommending the entire Foreigner sequence yet again and assuring those already familiar with its pleasures that even after so many books, Cherryh’s hand has not lost its cunning and that there are ...Read More

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