Book Reviews, Novels, Short Stories

The Tiptree Awards: Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (1990)

I won’t call her “James Tiptree, Jr.,” a name that tolls off the tongue like mud. Her name was Alice Sheldon. Alice Bradley Sheldon. She’s no longer hiding in a genre ruled by masculinity, so we could and should forego the dated sexism, and celebrate her work and her ideas and her mind as they were.

I rarely fall for short stories, so I approached this collection with trepidation, digging through lists of classic sci-fi authors associated with the cyberpunk movement. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever wasn’t just a pleasant surprise, but a constant state of shock and awe. With a fraction of the word count, Sheldon consistently put her peers to shame, creating believable characters of every gender and background, characters that oozed complexities, insecurities, prejudices, and all the signs of wonderful fiction.

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Book Reviews, Novels

The Hugo (& Nebula) Awards: Frederik Pohl’s Gateway (1977)

Rockets soaring across the sky, lasers blasting indiscriminately, aliens with names like Ubuntu and Fnord, humanoid robots with joints going kzzt!-bzzt!: The Golden Age of Sci-Fi has aged itself into the ground by 2017, its future technology nothing more than magic with a metallic sheen, its important social messages sexist diatribes or naive Libertarian fantasies.

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Book Reviews, Novels, Video Games

Game Write: N.K. Jemisin & Mac Walters’ Mass Effect: Initiation (2017)

Game Write is a recurring series dedicated to the fiction of game industry veterans. From the best-selling titles of Drew Karpyshyn and Austin Grossman, to the obscure classics of Jane Jensen and Sheldon Pacotti, this series hopes to unearth both the gems and the trash we tend to leave buried in the credits. In this entry, we review N.K. Jemisin & Mac Walters’ Mass Effect: Initiation, a tie-in novel to the newest — and possibly last — Mass Effect game set in the Andromeda galaxy. A welcome, exciting addition to the series, it provides some valuable background information on the mysterious Andromeda Initiative, as well Cora Harper, one of Andromeda‘s more underdeveloped heroes.

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Book Reviews, Novels

Joe Haldeman’s Forever Free (1999), or, How to Kill a Classic, Pt. 37

The last quarter of Forever Free ruins all the good qualities of this otherwise enjoyable sequel. The Forever War — not quite my cup of tea — is a classic of ’70s sci-fi; a hard anti-war response to America’s involvement in Vietnam. It’s a novel of brilliant ideas stilted by the simple progression of time — hippie naivete / sexuality does not look good in 20XX.

From the outset, Forever Free is not really needed, but creates a thick, addictive atmosphere on the planet Middle Finger — one honestly lacking from even the classic prequel. Man (with a capital M) and the Taurans, both hive-mind species of the future, have pushed the surviving remnants of humanity to the planet of Middle Finger, where they live in relative isolation and freedom. Some of the surviving soldiers, including William Mandella, decide to hijack an FTL ship and escape 40,000 years into the future.

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Book Reviews, Novels, Short Stories

Stephen King’s Four Past Midnight (1990)

Four Past Midnight is a wonderful collection of four ‘short’ novels Stephen King wrote in the late ’80s. They include the Langoliers, a light-hearted adventure romp that revels in its own ridiculousness; Secret Window, Secret Garden, the closing of a thematic trilogy King wrote about the power of storytelling; the Library Policeman, in which a man is haunted by his childhood fears, traumas, and a monster feeding on the emotional turmoil of children; and the Sun Dog, a lead-in to Castle Rock’s final moments in Needful Things, and in which a demonic monster works its way across dimensions through a Polaroid camera.

Most of the four novels are wonderful, among my favorite work from Stephen King even under the weight of their own cheesiness and fluff, particularly…

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Book Reviews, Novels, Short Stories

Cyberpunk Roots: S.P. Somtow’s Mallworld (1981)

Mallworld is a brilliant playground for stories. Between 1979 and ’81, S.P. Somtow published a slew of seven stories set in the titular Malllworld, a mall 30 kilometers long situated near Jupiter,  floating in the void. Somtow’s vision of consumerism gone amok was simultaneously ahead of its time and forgettable. His ideas helped lay the groundwork for what would become cyberpunk (and the Mall of America): A grimy marriage of technology and class division, with extensive corporate intrigue and rebellious no-care attitude.

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Book Reviews, Novels

Mark Frost’s the Secret History of Twin Peaks (2016)

Part of me suspects the Secret History of Twin Peaks was written just for me. During the weeks I devoted to reading Mark Frost’s novel, I spent my days looking forward to digging comfortably into the couch and getting lost in the world of Twin Peaks again and again, of getting a preview of the show we’d all be watching come May. This book devours you, with its layers of mystery, layers of implication — it makes you simultaneously an accomplice to ‘the Archivist,’ dutifully collating Twin Peaks’ historical records and connecting supernatural dots, and an investigative FBI agent along T_____ P______, reviewing and studying the mysterious Archivist’s dossier.

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