Recent Reading: Wergen: The Alien Love War by Mercurio D. Rivera

Rivera's novel is one of several wildcard nominees on this year's Clarke Award shortlist, though in my non-representative sampling it is the one that has garnered the most commentary—perhaps because people got a glimpse of its appalling cover design , which is bad even by the standards of its publisher, NewCon Press, and felt compelled to react. But to me what truly makes Wergen unusual—in ways both good and bad—is how old school it is. It's such a throwback to the science fiction of the 60s and 70s that it ends up feeling fresh and different. And yet at the same time there are aspects of it that are decidedly old-fashioned, and which end up undercutting its effect. Wergen is a fix-up, with several stories having been published independently in various short fiction venues (and one as a standalone novella) over the course of more than a decade. Here we already have the first tick on the old school checklist—I can't remember the last time I read a fix-up novel, and eve

Review: The Grief of Stones by Katherine Addison at Strange Horizons

Strange Horizons have published my review of Katherine Addison's The Grief of Stones , the sequel to last year's The Witness for the Dead , which was itself a spin-off of Addison's beloved 2014 fantasy of manners The Goblin Emperor . Unlike Goblin 's court intrigue, the Witness novels are detective stories, starring the priest-necromancer Thara Celehar. It's interesting that Addison chose such an oblique follow-up to what was after all a popular and well-loved novel, but as I note in my review, both The Goblin Emperor and now this new series seem to draw on inspirations from outside the fantasy genre, while constructing a thought-out, down-to-earth fantasy world. The books I found myself comparing it to are Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brody detective novels (2004-2019). As in that series, the detective takes on an array of cases, some trivial—a bakery desperate to find a suddenly-deceased partner’s scone recipe—and some tragic—a newly-bereaved husband who needs Cele


In interviews and promotional materials for his third movie, Nope , writer-director Jordan Peele has explained that the watchword for this project was "spectacle". After two years of pandemic-mandated movie theater closures, and filmmakers' growing fears that audiences would get used to the convenience (and safety) of streaming and give up on the cinematic experience, Peele's goal was to make a counter-argument. To create an experience as much as a story. On one level, it can't be denied that he has succeeded. Nope is chock-full of vivid and memorable imagery, cannily uses cinematic devices to evoke everything from dread to delight, and, in its last hour, delivers thrilling, pulse-pounding action. But this is still a Jordan Peele movie, which means that there's a barb hidden in all that celebration. For all that it is dedicated to spectacle, Nope is simultaneously engaged in analyzing what a desire for spectacle says about us, and about the people who produc

Recent Reading: The Moonday Letters by Emmi Itäranta

[This is an expanded version of a capsule review of The Moonday Letters, which appeared last week in The Guardian] Every now and then you have the pleasure of stumbling on a book that just blows your socks off. Finnish author Itäranta has had her share of plaudits—her first novel, The Memory of Water , was a Clarke nominee, an honor that I very much hope The Moonday Letters will share—but I'd managed to miss her previous work, and picked up her latest in the hopes of jumping on the bandwagon. What I found was excellent beyond any of my expectations. You can feel the influence of several recent works by Kim Stanley Robinson (an author who, for all that he's regularly acknowledged as a major figure in the field, doesn't have a lot of direct successors). But there is also a flavor and an emphasis that are entirely original, combining to create one of the most exciting works of science fiction I've read this year. Lumi is a healer in the 22nd century, traveling across the

Reviews of Recent Science Fiction and Fantasy at The Guardian

I was invited to cover for the Guardian 's regular SFF columnist, Lisa Tuttle, this month, and my reviews are up today. I was a bit nervous about the experience—five books is a big commitment of time and energy, and readers of this blog know that I'm not accustomed to summing up my thoughts on anything in 200 words or less. But I ended up having a lot of fun, mainly because the books discussed were a varied bunch, several of which weren't even on my radar before the column's editor, Justine Jordan, suggested them. The column discusses The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean, a twist on the vampire story that has more than a little of The Handmaid's Tale in its DNA. The Pallbearers Club by Paul Tremblay, a horror author whom I've been hearing good things about for years, so it was great to have an opportunity to sample his stuff. Extinction by Bradley Somer, part of the rising tide of climate fiction we've been seeing in recent years, but with a very interesting

Recent Reading: True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee by Abraham Riesman

I wouldn't normally have picked up this biography. For one thing, I read hardly any nonfiction, and for another, I don't actually have that much interest in Stan Lee. For as much as I've written and thought about the MCU, my interest in most of its characters and stories started with the movies. And for all that I found Lee's cameos in those movies, and his red carpet appearances, charming, I also couldn't help but feel suspicious towards the displays of reverence towards him. Did this guy actually make an important contribution to 20th century culture, I wondered, or was he just the last man standing when something he was connected to started making a ton of money? The fact that True Believer is Hugo-nominated, and that Riesman and I are twitter friends, is what spurred me to pick up the book. Which was fortunate, because this biography not only goes a long way towards answering my question, the portrait it paints of Lee is absolutely fascinating. He comes off as

Four Comments on Netflix's Persuasion

Last week I wrote about the dubious pleasure of reading or watching something so hilariously terrible, you have to tell everyone about it. Most bad things aren't like that, though. Usually, when a book or movie or TV show are bad, they're bad in a boring, depressing way that makes you sad for all the energy expended on them. Such is the case with Netflix's film adaptation of Jane Austen's Persuasion , directed by Carrie Cracknell and with a screenplay by Ron Bass and Alice Victoria Winslow. When the trailer for the film dropped last month, full of pratfalls and fourth-wall-breaking asides to the camera, Austen fans reared back in dismay. Why take Austen's saddest, most mature novel and reimagine it as a Fleabag -esque comedy in which the heroine muses, of the man who got away, "we're worse than exes; we're friends"? The film itself, however, is hardly worthy of all that outrage. It's bad, but doesn't even have the decency to be interestin