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Review

“Knaves”

I was going to start with “it’s been a while since the last anthology I read and reviewed,” but, as it turns out, it hasn’t. I wonder if it’s the variety of stories that makes an anthology feel further away in my memory? No single story has as long to get lodged in my memory, or something. Hmm.

Still, I do like the anthologies – they’re fun in the same way that a 22-minute-long TV show is, a great way to fill a bit of time without getting yourself too invested in something.

Knaves is, admittedly, less fun than some of the other ones, because the focus is on villains. So, by the nature of their stories, it’s a bit of a gloomy topic.

Which isn’t to say the stories aren’t interesting, because they absolutely are. “All Mine” is heartbreaking, as is “Hunger in the Bones”; “The Bloodletter’s Prayer” is a fascinating piece of dark fantasy; “Cat Secret Weapon #1” is a delightful spin on the Bond archetype; “The Hand of Virtue” is sweet and a touch melancholy; and “Old Sol Rises Up” is… well, honestly, mostly confusing. But I suspect that was the intent, so I won’t fault it.

And, of course, there’s an introduction – every anthology has to have one. What caught my eye and, frankly, got me to actually read the introduction was who wrote it – Howard Tayler, the man behind Schlock Mercenary, another delightful piece of media that I’m happy to recommend. Read the intro – it’s weird, and silly, and fun.

In fact, read the whole book. It’s a good use of time.

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Review

“Skin Deep Magic”

Craig Laurance Gidney
This book is… melancholy.
I read it in bits and pieces over the course of a couple of months, which it’s well suited for, as a collection of short stories.
Some of them were creepy, and some were sad. One or two were happy, and hopeful. But overall, the feeling I have is melancholy.
Part of that is the way the last story ends, which is certainly coloring my opinion, as I set the book down and immediately started writing this, but I think the whole thing feels that way, as well.
Melancholy certainly isn’t the best of moods to be in, but sometimes it’s what you need. And, considering that I’m posting this as we’re making our way into autumn, it’s entirely appropriate. Get yourself a seat looking over trees preparing to shed their leaves, a mug of tea, and read this book.

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Review

“Wireless and More Steam-Powered Adventures”

Alex Acks
I was genuinely surprised that I don’t have another review to reference here — I would swear that I wrote one about the book where these characters were first introduced, Murder on the Titania, but apparently not.1
So, the introduction: in the Sherlock Holmes style, very vaguely. Zombies, and steampunk, and all the other internet buzzwords abound, but it works surprisingly well together. The primary arc of the first story can be summed up with the image of a Native American man and a Latina woman rolling their eyes as an elderly white man tries to convince himself he’s the hero because he’s slightly less of an imperialist than the bad guy.
And if that hasn’t sold you on the concept, I’m not sure what will. It’s a fun little read, check it out.


  1. I was actually entirely relying on being able to search in my archives here to find the name of that book, but no dice; I had to look it up on the author’s lovely, exhaustive list of everything they’ve written. 
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Review

“Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space)”

I do love a good anthology. It’s all the fun of starting a new book, several times over, and with much less of a time commitment each time.
This did have some of the downside, though – about halfway through, I found myself getting rather bored of the concept of pirates. It’s a bit too coherent a theme, I feel; the book had a lot of the variance that makes anthologies fun, but keeping everything tied to ‘pirates’ limited it a bit more than is really healthy for an anthology.
After that midway nadir, though, it recovered nicely, going off into some interesting science fiction bits, and ending on a delightfully weird fantasy (or, possibly, extremely-distant-future?) piece.
So hey, have some fun with a variety of pirate stories.

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Review

“Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets”

I’ve actually read several of the stories in this anthology before, in other anthologies. Which, I suppose, is a statement about my taste in books.
Of the ones that were new, however, a couple of them were sufficient to make a partial repeat purchase worth it.
So, which stood out to me?
Far and away the best was The Lantern Men, which was a mildly interesting take on the Sherlock story (he’s an architect this time around!), but was one of the creepiest things I’ve ever read. It followed The Rich Man’s Hand, which was creepy enough that I thought “oh, I can’t go to bed on that, I’ll read one more,” and that turned out to be a mistake.
A Woman’s Place is a delightful little cyberpunk kind of thing, and my favorite take on Mrs. Hudson that I’ve seen… quite possibly ever. The opening scene, of her delivering tea and sandwiches while Sherlock and Watson interview a client? Oh, I won’t spoil a thing, but within the first page I was enraptured, and by the end, utterly delighted.
The Small World of 221b turned into a different genre than I thought it was, which was a fun twist, and I like the story that it told.
The Final Conjuration, too, was a genre-blending version of the story, and one I quite liked.
Finally, The Innocent Icarus was a great piece of world-building, and I’d quite like to read more in that setting at some point.
And that’s more than half the stories in the anthology; there’s also, as I mentioned, a few that I’d read before and quite liked, so it’s well worth the price. Check it out.

Categories
Review

“alt.sherlock.holmes”

Jamie Wyman, Gini Koch, Glen Mehn
I’ve probably mentioned before that I’m a sucker for Sherlock Holmes stories. If not, you may have been able to figure it out, based on the number of books I’ve read in the genre.1 I believe I picked this one up as part of a Humble Bundle (or Storybundle, more likely) based entirely on the fact that there was a book in there titled “alt.sherlock.holmes.”
And for that, it was worth it, because this was quite fine. Three different takes on Sherlock Holmes, all unique and interesting. I’ll say right off that my favorite was the second of the three — almost the inverse of Elementary, in a way, with handsome Dr. Watson being recruited by a still-named-Sherlock, definitely-just-miss-Holmes to investigate some very Hollywood murders. The third take, featuring Sherlock and Watson in 1960s New York, was more traditional in its take—Mycroft, I think, being the biggest difference from my mental image of him, as he’s gone a bit more sinister—although having the two actually sleeping together was a nice touch.2 The first was the furthest-out, with Sherlock not especially being a detective, and the setting—a circus—by far the most unique. Unfortunately, it was also the most predictable; in the larger story told there, I picked out the culprit within the first chapter. Still, it was an interesting read.3
All in all, if you like a good Sherlock Holmes story, give these a read.


  1. And those were just the ones that I could find by searching my archives for “Sherlock Holmes”; I know off the top of my head that there’s at least one more. 
  2. I know a few people have written theses about the queer theory of Sherlock Holmes, and I tend to like those interpretations. Historians have gone to great lengths to erase queer people from history (yep, nothing gay at all about Shakespeare writing a bunch of love sonnets to a man, let’s just… republish those with all the pronouns swapped, shall we?) and I am all in favor of putting some of that queer history back, even if it’s in the form of fiction. 
  3. Admittedly, the 1960s version was also quite predictable, but that’s because I took a history class on the 1960s and picked up a great deal of well-informed cynicism as a result. 
Categories
Review

“Radicalized,” or, “this just keeps getting more upsetting”

Cory Doctorow
One of my favorite concepts in science fiction is making one change and extrapolating it forward. What if Tesla and Edison’s war of the currents had resulted in most of the world outlawing electricity and doubling down on steam power? What if Superman had landed in Soviet Russia? What if somebody invented a machine that let you step between parallel worlds?
What Doctorow has done here is that, but instead of making one change, he doesn’t make a change, and extrapolates. What if we never fix copy right law? What if Juicero hadn’t collapsed? What if we never sort out healthcare?
The result is terrifying, because it feels… so very possible. It’s not the first time he’s done it, either — Little Brother was my first introduction to Doctorow, and it remains a poster child for the concept.
Reading both Little Brother and Radicalized, I didn’t feel like I was reading a novel; I felt like I was reading a warning. “We’re on a path that leads to this, or something just like it,” he’s saying. “I’m worried, and you should be too.”
Worry with me; it’s a good read, and well worth the time.1


  1. It also contains a great take on Superman, and a strangely uplifting story about the apocalypse; seriously, read it. 
Categories
Review

“Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives,” or, “less existentially upsetting than you’d think”

David Eagleman
I believe I added this book to my wish list back when CGP Grey talked about it, either on Hello Internet or Cortex. It’s an interesting concept, explained succinctly in the title: a collection of (very) short stories about what happens after you die. I’d actually read one before, way back when it was published as the one-page science fiction short in the back of Science magazine.
To be honest, the book was an enjoyable read, but a very quick one; for the price, I think I’d recommend checking it out from your local library.1


  1. Also, y’know, I recommend supporting your local library in general. They’re a wonderful resource. 
Categories
Review

“Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality,” or, “you could make a drinking game of watching people change the world with these essays”

Edited by Randall Packer & Ken Jordan, with a foreword by William Gibson
As a well-documented computer nerd, I’m honestly kinda amazed I’d never stumbled across this book before. It’s an impressive collection of titans of the field — Alan Kay, Douglas Engelbart, Vannevar Bush, Tim Berners-Lee, and so on.1 Other than the foreword, there’s nothing truly new in this book,2 but the essays are downright formative. Bush’s essay, written in the wake of the Second World War, describes what is recognizably a smartphone; Berners-Lee’s describes the foundation of what would become the internet. Looking back, it’s a fascinating read — hindsight is 20/20, and all that. It’s a cool book, give it a read.


  1. It’s maybe a bit of a stretch to call Bush a titan of the field of computer science, but he did invent the military-industrial complex, which led to a lot of computer tech, so… I’ll let it stand. 
  2. Well, the introductions of each author probably are, but I digress. 
Categories
Review

“Out of This World,” or, “it’s like Fifty Shades and the Chronicles of Narnia had a child”

Catherine Lundoff
The last of my string of anthologies; I’ve run out of them for the moment, and I’ll be going back to reading and reviewing novels for a while, at least.

“Great Reckonings, Little Rooms”

A Shakespearean tragedy, though not in the normal way.

“Medium Méchanique”

And this, folks, is why we leave the dead alone.

“The Egyptian Cat”

There’s something really fun about a staggeringly normal person getting caught up as a side character in an epic story.

“At the Roots of the World Tree”

I wanted this to be a bit happier than it actually was, but I liked it regardless.

“A Scent of Roses”

A happier ending to the Tam Lane story than I really expected it to have.

“At Mother Laurie’s House of Bliss”

Now I want to watch a police procedural that takes place in a medieval kingdom full of knights and magic.

“Spell, Book and Candle”

If I were a TV witch, this would be the point where my chatty familiar would give me sound advice, which I would then ignore. But then, if I were a TV witch, I wouldn’t be a dyke with the hots for her old college sweetie.

“Beauty”

The fact that this whole thing was leading up to a “Beauty and the Beast” joke is just spectacular.

“Red Scare”

An odd twist on the noir detective trope.

“A Day at the Inn, A Night at the Palace”

I kinda hate body-swap stories, it’s just difficult to keep track of who’s who.

“Vadija”

The city of sorrows has a Diablo sort of feel to it – ancient curses and all that.

All in all, a good collection of stories to end on. Give it a read.

Categories
Review

“The Best of Penny Dread Tales,” or, “why is there never a nuclear boiler in the steampunk airship“

Yet another anthology! I’m on a roll.

“Iron Angel”

Cayleigh Hickey
Oh, we’re off to a good start here. I wasn’t expecting to leap into the land of the fae, but here we are.

“The Dirges of Percival Lewand”

Aaron Michael Ritchey
Okay well, this belonged more in the last anthology I read than here, but oh well.

“The Tunnel Rat’s Journey”

J. M. Franklin
Futuristic steampunk! An interesting twist, and one of the more hopeful bits of post-apocalyptic fiction I’ve ever read. I like it.

“The Cutpurse from Mulberry Bend”

Gerry Huntman
Short and sad.

“The Great Dinosaur Roundup of 1903”

Laura Givens

Traveling through time turns out to be loud and flashy but not as uncomfortable as you might think.

Told as a letter from, basically, a background character in an Atomic Robo flashback sequence.

“American Vampire”

Keith Good
Well that’s a rough life, my guy.

“Lasater’s Lucky Left”

Quincy J. Allen
I’m gonna be honest, I was kinda hoping this would turn into a horrid romance noel halfway through. The sequel’s still got room for that, though, so I’ll hold out hope.

“Sinking to the Level of Demons”

David Boop
Well, that got dark.

“Vengeance”

J.R. Boyett & Peter J. Wacks
Oh, that was cool. A variant on vampires, and a retired hunter? Very cool.

“The Noonday Sun”

Vivian Caethe
An exoskeleton-wearing monster hunter, clearing out the Wild West.

“Industrial Melanism”

Aaron Spriggs
If you’re claustrophobic, don’t read this one.

“Today, the Sun Sets in the East”

Peter J. Wacks
Another good story that I’d like to read more of. Tiger is an interesting character, as is Hummingbird.

“The Weather God”

David W. Landrum
Well that war went a bit differently than the British expected, I’d say.

“The Spirit of the Grift”

Sam Knight
A portable X-ray, I think? I wish we had more stories of grifters using some sort of advanced technology to pull it off.

“The Heart of Appricotta”

Mike Cervantes

With a salute, punctuated by a word that sounded like a punch to the stomach in Yiddish, the assembled tossed the raft in the river.

It’s a comedy in a style I’d describe as “British Imperial Braggadocio,” which isn’t exactly to my taste, but a couple lines (the one above, for example) got a laugh out of me.1

“Budapest Will Burn”

Jonathan D. Beer
Why do anthologies end on such weird notes? I’d rather have them end on something happy, which this could be if you squint, but it’s a Pyrrhic victory at best.

Nonetheless, this was another good collection of stories that I’m comfortable recommending. Give it a read.


  1. Another good one:

    In my panic I struggled to remember precisely what the five stages of grief were supposed to be, so I experienced denial, anger, gassiness, and that strange confusion you get when you feel you’ve left a door unlocked before finally achieving acceptance.

Categories
Review

“Ghost in the Cogs,” or, “a neutron bomb, but it makes angry zombies, too“

I’m continuing on my anthology kick, I suppose.

“Asmodeus Flight”

Siobhan Carroll

The Great Exhibition had attracted a seething mixture of nationalities—scar-faced Americans, queue-sporting Chinese, green-scaled Inner Earthers—even an odd Frenchman, the latter drawing suspicious glances from John Bull and continental exiles alike.

Ah, Britain.

“Hiss”

Folly Blaine & Randy Henderson
“Imagine that with power.”

“The Misplaced Body of Fitzhugh Alvey”

Jessica Corra
I do enjoy a story where the women are smarter and the men don’t reject that fact.

“The Ghost Pearl”

Howard Andrew Jones
A slight Pirates of the Caribbean vibe to this one, even though the whole thing takes place in London.1

“Frænka Askja’s Silly Old Story”

Emily C. Skaftun
This is the saddest one so far, somehow.

“Edge of the Unknown”

Elsa S. Henry
There’s a slight Pratchett feel here, and it works really well.2

“The Blood on the Walls”

Eddy Webb
Sherlock Holmes investigating actual hauntings, basically; I wish this was a series I could read more of.

“Tipping Point”

Nayad Monroe
Gotta love good old Victorian capitalism.

“T-Hex”

Jonah Buck
While that was a pretty obvious outcome, I’m still annoyed about it.

“The Monster”

Erika Holt
Man, I’m with the narrator, I hope he didn’t actually succeed.

“The Book of Futures”

Wendy Nikel
A locked-room mystery! Oh, I do like those.

“Death Wish”

Parker Goodreau
Another one that I want more of – I’d quite enjoy reading this weird love story.

“City of Spirits”

Christopher Paul Carey
Well, that could’ve gone better. I’m a bit curious as to how a cold-burning fire can be used to generate electricity, although I suppose it’s possible…

“Team 17”

T. Mike McCurley
I think I’m gonna go ahead and call this my favorite from the book, without even reading the rest: it’s set post-WWII, during the cleanup from a war where Germany weaponized life-force and the Blitz was done with something like a neutron bomb. The entire city wiped out… and an army of angry ghosts left behind.

“The Litany of Waking”

Scott Fitzgerald Gray
Another excellent one – feels like a post-apocalyptic version of Girl Genius.

“Labor Costs”

Richard Dansky
And this is why we need unions, folks.

“The Twentieth-Century Man”

Nick Mamatas
A sequel to an earlier story in this anthology, actually, which made it even more interesting.

“Clockwork of Sorrow”

Spencer Ellsworth
I suppose the title should’ve warned me that this one would be a tragedy.

“The Lady in the Ghastlight”

Liane Merciel
Oh, the wick was a nice touch, I didn’t expect that part.

“Cuckoo”

Richard Pett
Forget about the cuckoo, I want to know what happens to the engine.

“The Shadow and the Eye”

James Lowder

Like everyone who had read a newspaper in the past twenty years, I was familiar with Professor Thaxton’s temper. He’d been at the heart of brawls at scientific conferences on six of the seven continents; only Australia has, so far, been spared.

I can only assume he just hasn’t been to a scientific conference in Australia yet, that seems like the most likely place for a brawl at a conference.
That said, we’re also throwing this in the category of “I desperately want a whole series of this.”

“Golden Wing, Silver Eye”

Cat Hellisen
Oh, we’re ending on another sad one.

Quite a few very good reads in here, I definitely recommend it if you’re in the mood for some bite-sized works. Have a read.


  1. Well, I assume it’s London, these things usually happen there. 
  2. Or possibly Diana Wynne Jones. Either way, I strongly recommend it. 
Categories
Review

“The SEA is Ours,” or, “is the proper term ‘biopunk’ or ‘genopunk’?”

That’s actually a nice little wordplay in the title there – it’s a steampunk anthology centered around Southeast Asia. From the introduction:

… if in the larger English-language science fiction world straight white men call the shots, then our anthology presents a range of authors and characters that is predominantly women, and hella queer.

“On the Consequence of Sound”

Timothy Dimacali
Man, I’d have been more attentive in violin lessons if being able to play well was going to enable me to fly, dang.

“Chasing Volcanoes”

Marilag Angway
Post-apocalyptic landscapes are usually made that way by nuclear weapons, but this time it was just a ton of volcanoes. Still unclear on what, exactly, they’re trying to extract from the volcanoes, though.

“Ordained”

L.L. Hill
Something about clockwork and holy places just doesn’t mesh in my head; I blame the Luddites.

“The Last Aswang”

Alessa Hinlo
Oh, now that is a story. I like it, and I might have to do a bit more research on the myths behind it, they seem interesting.

“Life Under Glass”

Nghi Vo
I was expecting a very different ending, but I guess that works.

“Between Severed Souls”

Paolo Chikiamco
There’s a trend through all of these – more respect and acknowledgement of ancient things than you get in the mainstream of steampunk. It’s different, and it’s a good contrast.

“The Unmaking of the Cuadro Amoroso”

Kate Osias
A tragedy, and a tale of revenge. Sad and sweet and wonderful.

“Working Woman”

Olivia Ho
I wasn’t really expecting to laugh at a story this grim, but dang was it ever funny towards the end.

“Spider Here”

Robert Liow
Less ‘steampunk’ than it is ‘biopunk,’ and it’s cool.

“The Chamber of Souls”

z.m. quỳnh
There’s a lot going on in this one, and I’m a bit at sea. Which apparently doesn’t exist here?

“Petrified”

Ivanna Mendels
It’s like a superhero team, I’m digging it.

“The Insects and Women Sing Together”

Pear Nuallak
A strong ending to the anthology.

I liked the whole thing- a lot of good stories, and authors that are well worth supporting. Give it a read.

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Review

“Black Ocean Mission Pack 1,” or, “the wizard is roughly equivalent to an orbital strike”

J.S. Morin

1: “Salvage Trouble”

Oh, I am absolutely sold on this setting – I was expecting medieval or renaissance level technology paired with magic, and it turns out I got, like, 30th century, space colonies and holograms… paired with magic. And man is it a fun cast of characters, I’m so down for the other novellas in here.

2: “A Smuggler’s Conscience”

This might be the first time I’ve hoped for a government to have a policy for civil forfeiture, but if somebody is gonna pour a couple billion dollars into building a Bond-villain-esque mountain base, they may as well repurpose it after the bad guys are gone.

3: “Poets and Piracy”

I like a good heist, but in all honesty, I’m still not entirely clear on what happened. I may have missed it while I was busy being annoyed that the future’s equivalent to the DEA is apparently named “EIEIO.”

4: “To Err is Azrin”

It took this long to learn that ARGO, the Federation/Empire/Alliance sort of thing that runs the human-control areas, stands for Allied Races of the Galactic Ocean.
Probably my favorite story so far – there was more character development evident than any of the others have had, it was nice.

4.5: “Guardian of the Plundered Tomes”

And a little prequel at the end, showing how the gang got together. I wish there’d been more explanation of the actual contents of the Plundered Tome, though, it was still annoyingly vague.

All in all, a nice little collection of stories that I enjoyed reading. Your turn. 

Categories
Review

“Altered America: Steampunk Stories,” or, “one or two good ones and a whole lot of depressing”

Cat Rambo
An anthology, but all the stories are written by one author, so just the one name at the top here. And just the one link, as well, if you’d like to read it. 

“Clockwork Fairies”

The protagonist here, though I feel that may not be the right word, is as if someone heard a quote about “the small-minded man” and wanted to write a character who was the epitome of that epithet. Ugh.

“Rare Pears and Greengages”

I came to London, where the air smells like smoke and despair.

And really that sums this story, and the feel of the book so far, up: smoke and despair.

“Memphis BBQ”

This story was pretty fun, but it’s the second time we’ve had a protagonist I’d describe as some sort of terrible. The lady isn’t interested, dude, leave her alone.

“Laurel Finch, Laurel Finch, Where Do You Wander?”

Abraham Lincoln isn’t above necromancy, it seems, which made the civil war a rather short affair.
That said, I desperately want more of the main character of this one – she deserves a whole novel to herself.

“Snakes on a Train”

Oh, now that’s a neat pairing for a detective movie: a telepath and a robot.

“Rappacini’s Crow”

And we’re back to everything being depressing forever. Cool.

“Her Windowed Eyes, Her Chambered Heart”

I’m reminded of Castle Heterodyne, which can only be a good thing.

“Web of Blood and Iron”

Now I’m disappointed that I’ve never seen a conspiracy theory claiming vampires own the global transportation network.

“Ticktock Girl”

I’m slightly confused by how the ‘moments’ work – are they just an arbitrary segmentation of time? I mean, probably, since they worked well for the structure of the story, but still, I want to know more. I enjoyed this one.

“Seven Clockwork Angels, All Dancing on a Pin”

There’s some serious hand-waving of science going on in here, but I do like the resulting riff on the core concept. I just wish it was all a bit better-explained.