Tag Archives: 2017 Books

Review + Giveaway: The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis

The Guns Above is a whip-smart, fast-paced, and surprisingly funny military fantasy. I didn’t think that I was interested in reading stories about a woman having to overcome systematic sexism anymore, and I was double not interested in reading anything like a redemption arc for that woman’s sexist antagonist, but Bennis manages to breathe some new life into both of those stories. I’m very glad that I was interested enough in airships to read this book despite my misgivings, as it turned out to be a wonderfully readable, remarkably fun and ultimately optimistic (but not cloyingly so) take on its subject matter.

After an act of combat heroism, Josette Dupris gets a promotion that makes her the first woman to captain an airship in a military with strict limits on women’s service. This would be a tough enough challenge on its own, but Josette is also saddled with a spy, Bernat, a spoiled nobleman with no military or airship experience to speak of, but whose job is nonetheless to report back to his powerful uncle on any of Josette’s failings, real or imagined. It’s definitely the sort of thing that one needs to be in the mood to read, especially since there aren’t easy answers to Josette’s problems, but it’s also definitely worth reading. This isn’t a book about one woman smashing the patriarchy single-handedly, and in fact Josette is largely unconcerned with doing so; she just wants to do her job like she knows she’s capable of. The Guns Above is about the way in which an ambitious woman can exist and find ways to thrive in a sexist society, and it’s about the incremental changes and personal fights that slowly push the needle of progress forward. It’s also about gritty, action packed airship battles and snarky humor, which makes it a perfect light-ish summer read.

You need this book for the beach or next to the pool or out on the porch or inside an air-conditioned building or wherever else you’re reading this summer.

Luckily, courtesy of the publisher, I have a hardcover copy of The Guns Above that I’m giving away.

CLICK HERE ENTER THE GIVEAWAY – Ends July 16

The SF Bluestocking 2017 Summer Reading List

It’s that time again, where I list all the things I wish I could be more certain I would have time and energy to read over the coming months. July, August and September are full of exciting new releases, a little light on sci-fi and heavier on fantasy than my recent tastes have been, but exciting nonetheless. Here’s what’s on my radar for the rest of the summer.

Tor.com Publishing

As always, I plan to read most of what Tor.com will be publishing. I always enjoy their novellas, though I will be skipping a couple of novels that are sequels in series I haven’t read yet (unless I somehow manage to read the rest of their respective series). Probably the titles I’m most looking forward to from Tor.com right now are that pair of JY Yang novellas at the end of September, but I’m also really hoping to finally get around to reading Infomocracy so I can read Null States when it comes out. I am bummed that there’s not another Sin du Jour book until November, though.

  • The Ghost Line by Andrew Neil Gray and J.S. Herbison – 7/11
    The concept on this one is a little ho hum, but I’m always down for another short space opera.
  • The Delirium Brief by Charles Stross – 7/11
    I won’t be reading this one because it’s about eight books deep into a series I haven’t read and am not interested in reading back that many books to get into.
  • The Five Daughters of the Moon by Leena Likitalo – 7/25
  • The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy – 8/15
    “…pits utopian anarchists against rogue demon deer” is relevant to all of my interests.
  • Starfire: A Red Peace by Spencer Ellsworth – 8/22
  • A Song for Quiet by Cassandra Khaw – 8/29
  • The Ruin of Angels by Max Gladstone – 9/5 
    I keep trying, anytime I have downtime, to get into the Craft Sequence, but I’ve been unsuccessful so far. I’m not sure if I want to just skip this one or give up on reading the earlier ones and just start here since my understanding is that The Ruin of Angels stands alone just fine.
  • Acadie by Dave Hutchinson – 9/5
  • Taste of Marrow by Sarah Gailey – 9/12
    We seem to be living in an age of sequels surpassing their predecessors, so I have high hopes for this title.
  • The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford – 9/12
  • Null States by Malka Older – 9/19
    will finish Infomocracy in time to read this before release.
  • The Red Threads of Fortune by JY Yang – 9/26
  • The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang – 9/26

Magazines

  • FIYAH Literary Magazine, Issue 3, SUNDOWN TOWNS – 7/1
    Every issue of FIYAH is more beautiful than the one before. Just look at this gorgeous cover. I’m not familiar with any of the names on the table of contents for this one, but that only makes it more exciting.
  • Uncanny Magazine #17, July/August 2017
    I’ve already got my hands on Uncanny #17 because I’m a Kickstarter backer, and even though I haven’t dug into it yet, I can already tell it’s going to be a-MAZING. You can see the cover and table of contents at the Uncanny blog.
  • Uncanny Magazine #18, September/October 2017
  • POC Take Over Fantastic Stories
    This is, as far as I know, the final issue ever of Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, guest edited by Nisi Shawl and overflowing with stuff I am looking forward to reading.

Anthologies

2017 has been a year of trying to read more short fiction, and with that in mind I backed several anthologies on Kickstarter in the last year or so that should be coming out in the next couple of months.

  • Evil is a Matter of Perspective: An Anthology of Antagonists edited by Adrian Collins – Currently available.
    I backed this on Kickstarter because it sounded fun. The final product is a little white-dude-heavy, but I’m thinking it will work well for some light-ish reading at some point
  • Hath No Fury edited by Melanie R. Meadors and J.M. Martin – August?
    There’s not a firm release date for this Kickstarted anthology but I’m thinking mid-to-late summer.
  • Strange California edited by Jaym Gates and J. Daniel Blatt – August?
    Another kickstarted anthology with an interesting theme. I’m not from California, but my partner lived in the Bay Area for years and he was pretty interested in this book for that reason. I was excited because I’ve enjoyed stuff Jaym Gates has edited before and Strange California has a promising table of contents.
  • 2084: A Science Fiction Anthology from Unsung Stories – July?
    Another Kickstarted title with a great table of contents, although reading about dystopias gets less appealing all the time these days.
  • Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation edited by Phoebe Wagner and Brontë Christopher Wieland – 8/29
    I cannot wait to find out what solarpunk and eco-speculation are all about. And look at that gorgeous cover art by Likhain!

Comics and Graphic Novels

  • Victor LaValle’s Destroyer
    I’ll be buying and reading issues more or less as they are released.
  • Monstress, Volume 2: The Blood by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda – 7/11
    Hands down the trade I’m most excited for this year.
  • Angel Catbird, Volume 3: The Catbird Roars by Margaret Atwood, Johnny Christmas and Tamra Bonvillain – 7/4
    I believe this will wrap up the series.

Books

  • An Oath of Dogs by Wendy Wagner – 7/4
  • At the Table of Wolves by Kay Kenyon – 7/11
  • Bearly a Lady by Cassandra Khaw – 7/18
    I will likely be reading all the novellas and short fiction the Book Smugglers publish this year.
  • The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana – 7/18
    I’m not reading much YA these days, but this one sounds good.
  • Sovereign by April Daniels – 7/25
    I really enjoyed Dreadnought earlier this year, but I may have to be in the right mood for this one. I’ve gone off super heroes a bit lately.
  • Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw – 7/25
  • Noumenon by Marina J. Lostetter – 8/1
  • The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin – 8/15
    The final book in Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. Much anticipated.
  • The Glass Town Game by Catherynne M. Valente – 9/5
    This is a middle grade novel, which chills my interest in it a tiny bit, but I think I will always read literally everything Catherynne Valente publishes.
  • Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust – 9/5
    I’m always down for retold fairy tales, and this one is getting some excellent early reviews from people I trust.
  • An Excess Male by Maggie Shen King – 9/12
  • Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel José Older 9/12
  • Autonomous by Annalee Newitz – 9/19
  • Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore – 9/19
    I’ve loved Kristin Cashore since I first read Graceling years ago, and it’s been far too long since I’ve gotten to read anything new by her. I’m still holding out hope for more Graceling Realm books, but this will definitely do in the meantime.
  • Provenance by Ann Leckie – 9/26
    New Ann Leckie. In the same universe as her Imperial Radch trilogy. I am stoked.
  • An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard – 9/26
    This might be my favorite book cover of the season.
  • An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson – 9/26

The SF Bluestocking Spring 2017 Reading List Wrap-Up

Between personal life stuff (my car will not stop breaking down about once a week) and generalized depression and anxiety about the state of the country and the world, I didn’t get around to writing nearly as much as I’d have liked to about what I’ve read in the last three months, so I’ve been looking forward to writing this list and wrapping up this season of stress and frustration so I can move onto other things.

That said, there was so much great stuffed published over the last three months, and I ended up reading most (though by no means all) of my Spring Reading List. It’s been very sad to not have the energy to write about it all, so I’m glad to have begun doing these wrap-up posts so I can squee a bit about everything I’ve missed writing longer posts about.

Best Fantasy Novel – The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente

I have unequivocally loved everything I’ve ever read by Catherynne Valente, and The Refrigerator Monologues was always one of my most-anticipated releases of 2017, so it’s no surprise that I adored it. Valente has always had a way with language, and like all of her other work, The Refrigerator Monologues deserves to be read aloud, even if just to yourself. It’s smart and funny and furious and sad, and Valente has crafted a wonderfully original world of superheroes and a marvelous group of heroines with strong voices that are distinctive and familiar in turns.

Best Science Fiction Novel – Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee

I’ve been following Yoon Ha Lee’s career with interest since picking up Conservation of Shadows a few years ago because I liked the cover and realizing that it was one of the finest SFF short fiction collections I’d ever read. Lee’s first novel, last year’s Ninefox Gambit, was among my favorite books of 2016, but he’s really outdone himself with Raven Stratagem, which is one of those rare second books in trilogies that is better than the first. Even having read some of Lee’s short fiction set in his Hexarchate universe, I sometimes struggled to follow parts of Ninefox Gambit, but that’s not the case with Raven Stratagem, which is all around a stronger book, more character-focused, with a more easily comprehensible plot and a great cathartic payoff at the end that sets things up for a very exciting third installment in the series.

Best Magazine – Uncanny #16, May/June 2017

Uncanny‘s Year Three has been outstanding in general, but this was an especially excellent issue. Sarah Gailey’s essay, “City of Villains: Why I Don’t Trust Batman,” went almost viral (and deservedly so) as soon as it was posted online, but it’s only one great piece in an issue heavy on wonderful nonfiction. My personal favorite essays were “Missive from a Woman in a Room in a City in a Country in a World Not Her Own” by Mimi Mondal and “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Eat the Eyeball” by Dongwon Song. This issue is no slouch in the fiction and poetry department, either, with new short stories by Ursula Vernon (“Sun, Moon, Dust”) and Chinelo Onwualu (“Read Before Use”), among others, and a pair of lovely poems by Roshani Chokshi (“Dancing Princesses”) and Theodora Goss (“Seven Shoes”). Honestly, just buy the whole thing, and then think about backing Year Four (which will include a People with Disabilities Destroy Sci-Fi special issue) when the Kickstarter goes live in July.

32758901Best Novella – All Systems Red by Martha Wells

I read an above average number of very good novellas in the last three months, but All Systems Red is a true standout even with stiff competition. A sci-fi adventure written from the point of view of a sentient cyborg/robot who calls itself “Murderbot,” All Systems Red has humor, excitement, a dash of horror, and criticism of capitalism–all things relevant to my interests–combined with a strong and unique narrative voice. The best part is that there are at least three more Murderbot stories forthcoming from Tor.com over the next year or so. I cannot wait.

Best Comic Book – Saga, Volume 7 by Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan

This seems an obvious choice, especially since I’m not a great reader of comics in general, but Saga is really, really good. This volume is full of all the weirdness one can always expect from this series, but it also comes with almost as much heartbreak (including at least one straight up gut punch) as the six previous volumes combined, so be sure to enjoy it with a box of tissues close at hand, possibly after several glasses of wine to preemptively dull the pain this book is pretty much guaranteed to make you feel.

Best Anthology – Cosmic Powers: The Saga Anthology of Far-Away Galaxies edited by John Joseph Adams

Listen. You’re almost never going to find any collection of short fiction that you like every bit of, but this anthology comes close for me. From the very funny “A Temporary Embarassment in Spacetime” by Charlie Jane Anders to the sharp and wryly witty “Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance” by Tobias Buckell to Linda Nagata’s mother/daughter caper, “Diamond and the World Breaker, to a new Yoon Ha Lee Hexarchate story, “The Chameleon’s Gloves,” there’s something here for almost everyone. It’s an anthology with (cosmically) big ideas, a great deal of fun, and an entertainingly retro sensibility without sacrificing forward-thinking messages.

Best Collection – So You Want to Be a Robot and Other Stories by A. Merc Rustad

I only discovered A. Merc Rustad in January when I read their lovely story, “This is Not a Wardrobe Door,” at Fireside, but I loved that story so much that this collection was at the top of my to-read list as soon as I found out about it. So You Want to be a Robot and Other Stories collects that story and twenty more in a showcase of Rustad’s consistently good ideas and solid execution. Personal favorite stories in the collection include: “The Android’s Prehistoric Menagerie,” “Where Monsters Dance,” “Finding Home,” and “BATTERIES FOR YOUR DOOMBOT5000 ARE NOT INCLUDED.”

Best Sin du Jour Novella – Greedy Pigs by Matt Wallace

We’re up to book number five in this seven part series, and I am already getting sad about it ending. I’ve enjoyed this series since day one, and each installment continues to be better than the one before. In Greedy Pigs, the Sin du Jour team finds themselves accidentally catering an event for the President of the United States. Things get weird, obviously.

Best Non-SFF Thing – Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 Original Broadway Cast Recording

Not a book, I know, but I’m slightly obsessed with this musical right now. It’s based on about seventy pages from War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, and it scratches basically all my itches. It’s ambitious. It’s funny. It’s literary. It’s gorgeously written and produced. It’s got accordions. It’s got Helene Kuragina, who is played by Amber Gray, who is a treasure and gives us this earworm:

Honorable Mentions:

  • Reenu-You by Michele Tracy Berger – Not the best written novella I read this spring, and it could have used another pass with a copy editor, but it’s a story that has stuck with me. Even weeks later, I still find myself thinking every couple of days about these characters and the way they bond through a shared trauma.
  • Victor LaValle’s Destroyer #1 – A promising first issue with a fresh take on classic source material.
  • “Beauty, Glory, Thrift” by Alison Tam – A delightful sci-fi adventure novelette.
  • Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire – I only liked Every Heart a Doorway, but I loved Down Among the Sticks and Bones. I think if I’d read this one first, I’d have liked the other better as well.
  • The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis – I didn’t think I was in the mood for a book about a woman having to deal with sexist garbage, but this one is a good, fast read.

Biggest Disappointments: 

  • Ladycastle #4 – After this limited series started off strong, it ends with some baffling plot developments and a too-easy resolution.
  • River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey – This novella was fine. I like the hippos. But I think it’s a case of it being extremely over-hyped. I’m not sure what I expected, but it doesn’t seem near exciting enough on its own merits to earn all the superlative praise I’ve seen for it.
  • The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett – By about five chapters in, I’d predicted the book’s big “twist” and couldn’t even be bothered to finish it.

Book Review: The Waking Land by Callie Bates

This book was slow enough in its first third or so that I nearly put it down in frustration, but when it gets good it gets very good. It’s got some issues with exposition and pacing that are likely just due to its being a first novel, but there’s quite a lot to enjoy about it nonetheless. For one thing, it’s got a drop dead gorgeous cover (designed by Kathleen Lynch and illustrated by Ben Perini), and inside you’ll find an intriguing magic system, a resourceful (if flawed) heroine, and an interesting take on fantasy politicking, and if The Waking Land isn’t a great read, it’s still a more or less promising debut that sets up Callie Bates as an author to watch.

Elanna Valtai has been raised like a daughter by the king who exiled her parents after a failed rebellion, but when the king is poisoned she finds herself on the run, forced to confront some unpleasant realities that she’s been kept ignorant of, and discovering parts of herself she didn’t know existed. It’s a solidly conventional fantasy set-up, part coming of age and part political intrigue, but Bates tweaks the narrative just enough to keep things somewhat fresh. Elanna’s attachment to her foster father and the way she identifies with her adopted country turn out to be an interesting exploration of something very like Stockholm syndrome, and there’s a lot of page time dedicated to Elanna’s feelings about her confused identity. It’s easy to follow Elanna’s growth from the sheltered girl who thought she’d come to terms with her childhood trauma to a girl learning that she didn’t even understand what had been done to her to a self-actualized woman who has resolved her inner conflicts and is ready to both forge her own path and work together with others to build a better future for their people.

One thing I love about Elanna is that, though she’s not, in general, unlikeable, she’s written with very little seeming concern about likeability. Instead, while not written in a naturalistic fashion—it’s hard to have true naturalism in this kind of fantasy—she is allowed to just exist and have feelings without any attempts within the text to justify or make excuses for her worst tendencies. When Elanna is selfish or cowardly or uncertain, the text is nonjudgmental and, for a book with first person narration, nicely free of self-loathing. Elanna’s internal conflicts are rarely about whether she feels capable of achieving what she wants; instead, she struggles both with knowing what she wants for herself and with trying to figure out the best way to live up to her inherited responsibilities. That said, in early chapters, Elanna’s self-absorption and ignorance can be tiresome. It makes for a compelling and coherent character arc when she finally starts to grow up a little, and Elanna proves herself time and again as a staunch friend, loving daughter and loyal ally, but there are a solid hundred pages where she borders on being insufferable.

On a more positive note, the setting and supporting characters are mostly strong. Bates has crafted a smartly imagined fantasy world with a sort of 17th century aesthetic and elements of French and what seems like Welsh (or some mix of Welsh, Scottish and Irish) culture. There’s gunpowder-based technology, extravagant palaces, salons with shade of the Enlightenment, and a democratic-revolution-minded rebellion in the works. The magic system is left somewhat ill-defined, but it’s also not overpowered, and none of the book’s major conflicts are resolved through solely mystical means. For a YA fantasy, naming conventions are reasonably good; “Elanna Valtai” is the fussiest name in the book, and the rest of the characters and places are named pronounceably and with consistency and good sense. There’s even some effort made at diversity, though it’s done in that weirdly subtle, vague way that seems calculated to be inoffensive to a presumed white audience.

The biggest problem weighing down the story, however, is a lot of very clunky exposition (including a wholly unnecessary prologue) all of which is only made more unwieldy by the choice to tell the story in first person present tense. While this seems to be the reigning popular point of view for YA fantasy, Bates struggles to make it work here, especially in lengthy expository sections about Elanna’s background, the backgrounds of other characters, the history of the land and the political situation. Sadly, the earliest parts of this novel really are enough of a slog to deter many discerning readers; at 400 pages, The Waking Land feels much longer than it is, and there are faster and more evenly paced options for those without the patience to stick this one out until it gets better.

This review is based on a copy of the title received from the publisher through NetGalley.

Book Review: Keeper of the Dawn by Dianna Gunn

Dianna Gunn’s Keeper of the Dawn combines a smartly plotted adventure with a sweetly written romance in a richly imagined fantasy world with plenty of space for more stories if the author chooses to return to it. Unfortunately, it’s all a bit much for a novella-length work. It’s a little overstuffed, and the sequence of events, while well-considered, has a tendency to read like a run-on sentence of “and then this happened and then this happened” and so on; all characters aside from the protagonist are underdeveloped, sometimes to the point of being cardboard; and the denouement could have used good deal more space to breathe. Still, there’s a lot to like about Keeper of the Dawn, and there aren’t so many YA lesbian romances featuring asexual heroines that it’s not still important representation despite its flaws—especially when the biggest flaw is simply that the story could have used another hundred pages or so to address its shortcomings.

While the secondary characters leave quite a bit to be desired, Lai is a mostly well-crafted protagonist with a distinct character arc and notable growth over the course of the book. Her early motivations are a little obscured by the trauma and disappointment of her failure in the trial to become a priestess—it would have been nice to have a deeper understanding of why being a priestess was so important to her and what it was about her mother and grandmother that made her want so much to emulate them. The failure to achieve a lifelong dream works well as the spark to start off Lai’s journey, but there’s too much time spent in the early part of the book dealing with Lai experiencing some mild-to-moderate bullying and struggling with her own resentment over her widower father’s remarriage. It delays the start of the story, and it’s confusing and frustrating when none of this stuff is revisited later or resolved by the end of the book.

That said, once Lai gets going, things improve a great deal. Her decision to run away is impulsive, but it makes sense for her as a character, and the early aimlessness of her journey as she tries to figure out what to do with her life after such a major disappointment is relatable, if not always entirely compelling. Still, even at her lowest point, Lai never falls into the unnecessarily and unpleasantly melodramatic angst that some teen heroines are prone to, and once she discovers the possibility of a future that though different than what she had hoped for herself has the potential to be equally fulfilling, Lai is steadfastly driven to succeed. One particularly admirable trait of Lai’s is that, though she is disappointed by her early failure, she never loses a core of confidence in herself that sustains her through hard times and encourages her to find different ways to achieve her goals of worshiping her goddess and honoring the memories of her mother and grandmother.

The worldbuilding is overall strong, and the idea of sister cultures separated by hundreds of years and miles but still connected through their shared faith is an interesting one. As with many other aspects of the book, it would have been nice to see some of these ideas given more space for development, but fortunately Gunn doesn’t overdo it with details. Necessary exposition about the world is delivered in a competently sparing fashion that never overwhelms the reader with history and backstory. Much of the in-universe history is only learned as Lai learns it on the page and with a minimum of info-dumping. There are a couple of issues with unfortunate implications—primarily with the strict-seeming binary gendering of social roles—and the use of stereotypes as shorthand for cultures and characterization but nothing especially egregious.

Finally, the romance between Lai and Tara is nicely done, without relying too heavily on hackneyed YA romance tropes. At the same time, it’s a romance with a good, comfortable, lived-in quality, without any major relationship-derailing conflicts and with an uncomplicated happy ending. The depiction of Lai’s asexuality seems sensitive, and it’s nice to see a YA-targeted romance that deals so frankly with issues of consent and addresses the potential problems of mismatched sex drives in a healthy and mature way. As a love interest, Tara isn’t extremely exciting, but what she lacks in excitement (which too often means emotional or physical danger in romance) she more than makes up for by being a solid, kind and caring presence, helping Lai to settle into her new community and being a supportive partner to Lai as she undergoes her new set of trials to become a Keeper of the Dawn.

In the end, the biggest shortcoming of Keeper of the Dawn is that it ought to have been longer. There’s a novel-sized story here, especially with the decision to include so much material about Lai’s life before she runs away, and to squeeze it into a novella-sized word count, some areas have to suffer. Another hundred or two hundred pages would have made that decision easier to justify, and it would have offered plenty more space for Lai to work through her issues with her father and stepmother and to explore her feelings about her best friend achieving the goal she had for herself. It also would have allowed the ending of the story to play out less hurriedly, giving more room for Lai to have a return journey instead of just a time-jump and for her to, again, process her feelings about returning to her people and family of origin. The extra length would also have allowed Gunn to give more depth to the secondary characters and add even more worldbuilding flourishes to make her fantasy world come alive.

Book Review – Cosmic Powers: The Saga Anthology of Far-Away Galaxies, Edited by John Joseph Adams

The new John Joseph Adams-edited anthology, Cosmic Powers, is the first great anthology of the year, jam-packed with smart, entertaining sci-fi adventure stories that bring a nicely modern sensibility to old ideas and tropes. There are several recurring themes throughout the anthology. Religion figures largely in many of these stories, and several of the stories deal with gods or with beings who have amassed nearly godlike power with the aid of time and technology. Artificial intelligences of various kinds make several appearances, as do post-humans of multiple kinds. Examinations of families both biological and found are significant as well, and several stories look at the responsibility of people to each other, personally, and to humanity as a whole; it’s “the personal is political” writ across space and time. It’s a remarkably cohesive collection that nonetheless contains a wonderful variety of stories by a diverse group of authors to offer a well-rounded perspective on the idea of stories that take place on a cosmic scale.

The collection kicks off on a strong note with Charlie Jane Anders’ very clever, very funny adventure story, “A Temporary Embarrassment in Spacetime,” and Tobias S. Buckell’s “Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance,” which is at least as clever as its predecessor, telling the story of a maintenance robot’s creative circumvention of its own programming. It’s seldom that any anthology starts off with three knock-out stories in a row, but these two are followed up with Becky Chambers’ “The Deckhand, the Nova Blade, and the Thrice-Sung Texts,” a delightful epistolary exploration of the Hero’s Journey from the perspective of an unlikely Chosen One.

The next three stories aren’t as good. Vylar Kaftan’s “The Sighted Watchmaker” is fine, and I’m sure it will be appealing to those who enjoy this kind of thing, but it wasn’t for me. It lost me with the Richard Dawkins epigraph and never quite managed to recapture my interests. I had already read “Infinite Love Engine” by Joseph Allen Hill in a recent issue of Lightspeed, but rereading it didn’t help me “get” it any better than I did the first time. I want to love the sheer weirdness of it, but it verges on a degree of psychedelia that makes it difficult to nail down exactly what the story is about. Still, I expect this is a story that I’ll return to again; I think maybe I just need to read it the right way and it will all make sense. “Unfamiliar Gods” by Adam-Troy Castro, with Judi B. Castro, is a mostly straightforward deal with the devil story, played for laughs and with an absurdist “twist,” but it’s not particularly funny or thoughtful.

Caroline M. Yoachim’s “Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World” covers some of the same thematic ground as “The Sighted Watchmaker,” but more effectively and with an interesting story structure that works well to break up Yoachim’s big ideas into easily digestible portions. “Golden Ring” by Karl Schroeder and “The Universe, Sung in Stars” by Kat Howard similarly work with ideas relating the nature of god and time, but neither of these approach the excellence of “Seven Wonders.” The Kat Howard story is beautifully written, but all the lovely, poetic prose in the world isn’t enough to make up for a somewhat trite premise.

From Alan Dean Foster comes the workmanlike but ultimately anti-climactic “Our Specialty is Xenogeology,” in which a Star Trek-ish team of space explorers almost make first contact but then think better of it. I expected to love A. Merc Rustad’s “Tomorrow When We See the Sun,” having liked all the previous work of theirs that I’ve read, but I didn’t. (Still can’t wait til I get my copy of their first short fiction collection, though. So You Want to Be a Robot and Other Stories came out May 2 from Lethe Press.) I barely remember Jack Campbell’s “Wakening Ouroboros” and Dan Abnett’s “The Frost Giant’s Data,” and together with the sadly unremarkable Kameron Hurley tale, “Warped Passages”—which is only notable due to its seeming connection to Hurley’s excellent space opera, The Stars Are Legion—they made for a finish to Cosmic Powers that wasn’t nearly as strong as its start.

Fortunately, there’s still a few more excellent stories tucked in the middle. Seanan McGuire’s “Bring the Kids and Revisit the Past at the Traveling Retro Funfair!” is a cool, fun adventure with some high stakes. It’s perhaps a little too tidy, but I’d definitely be down to read the continuing adventures of these characters as a novel. Linda Nagata’s “Diamond and the World Breaker” has a similar tone and similarly high stakes, and I loved the exploration of the mother-daughter relationship between Diamond and Violetta. As the current parent of fourteen-year-old girl, I found the conflict relatable, and Nagata does a good job of capturing some of the frustration and joy of watching one’s child grow up. Sandwiched between these two stories is “The Dragon the Flew Out of the Sun” by Aliette de Bodard, a thoughtful musing on the long-term ways that war damages communities and families. It’s the story in the book that is least like any of the other stories collected here, but it resonates in a compelling way with the stories that immediately precede and follow it.

Finally, there’s a new Yoon Ha Lee story, “The Chameleon’s Gloves,” set in his Hexarchate universe but offering a very different perspective than what has been seen of that world so far. Before now, the Hexarchate stories have been very concerned with specifically military stories, with a lot of focus on the complex calendrical mathematics that fuel the Hexarchate’s technology, but “The Chameleon’s Gloves” is a bit smaller, more personal story centered around a character who is something of an outsider to all of that. It’s not my favorite thing Lee has ever written, and if you really want to get a good idea of his oeuvre you ought to pick up his superb 2013 collection, Conservation of Shadows, but it’s a great place to start, especially if you’ve only read Ninefox Gambit and not any of Lee’s short fiction.

Book Review: Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages

Ellen Klages is having a good year, which is also a boon for those of us who love good short fiction. Klages’ Tor.com novella, Passing Strange, is sure to be among the best of 2017, and it was a fortuitous discovery for me as I hadn’t read anything by Ellen Klages before. When I saw that she had a new collection of short fiction coming out from Tachyon just a couple of months later, I was thrilled.  I was even more thrilled when I got approved for the ARC on NetGalley, and my excitement turned out to be totally warranted. Wicked Wonders is, with one significant and honestly baffling exception, full of consistently thoughtful, clever, affecting stories, all overlaid by a sort of gently reassuring feeling of nostalgia.

The only major criticism I have of the collection specifically concerns the story “Woodsmoke,” which starts off as a nice story about girls bonding (maybe even falling in adolescent love) at a summer camp but then turns into the horrendously sensationalized reveal that one of the girls has an intersex condition, complete with immediate misgendering and melodramatic handwringing about “I don’t know your real name.” It’s a bizarre bait and switch that feels like a betrayal of the characters (who deserve better treatment) and the spirit of the story (which up to that point was fine, if unremarkable). Frankly, I don’t know what Klages was about with this story, and her explanation of it in the Story Notes section at the back of the book is unhelpful except to say that she hopes to make it part of a novel length work at some point (please no). If “Woodsmoke” had appeared early in the collection, I may have stopped reading the book altogether because it was so deeply upsetting; as it is, I can only recommend Wicked Wonders with a major reservation.

Regarding the rest of the collection, many of the stories in Wicked Wonders deal with childhood, and Klages has a real knack for capturing something of the bittersweetness of coming of age moments. “The Education of a Witch” explores a young girl’s identification with a villainess, and it’s a story that will likely be relatable, albeit in different ways, both to those of us who grew up before princess culture and those who grew up immersed in it. “Singing on a Star” is looks at the anxieties that surround a child’s first sleepover. Often, Klages’ stories feature precocious girls with creatively clever and interesting ways of looking at the world, as in “Gone to the Library” (which also features a cameo by Grace Hopper).

Most of these stories deal with transitions of one kind or another. In “Amicae Aeternum” (a story which legit made me weep when I read it and is literally making me tear up as I write this), a young girl says goodbye to her best friend before moving very far away. “Echoes of Aurora” is a gorgeously melancholy autumnal love story that deals with a non-childhood life change. “Hey, Presto!” is a smart and thoughtful coming of age story about a young woman reconnecting with her father and discovering they have more in common than she previously thought. In “Goodnight Moons,” a story that that recalls nothing more than Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, an astronaut takes a much bigger leap for humanity than she thought she was going to when she signed up to go to Mars.

Also evident in this collection is a sharply wry sense of humor, and Klages often uses ironic turns of phrase and sly references to great effect. “Sponda the Suet Girl and the Secret of the French Pearl” is a smart and funny original fairytale that should appeal to fans of Ursula Vernon. “The Scary Ham” is a short, humorous nonfiction story about the grieving process (and it was a very scary ham). “Mrs. Zeno’s Paradox” carries social nicety between women to a logical extreme, making use of a single strong central joke for maximum effect.

To be sure, there’s a decided slightness to all the stories in this collection, which is sometimes at odds with the ostensibly serious subject matter Klages writes about. While there is a little darkness in some of the stories, Klages’ endings are almost universally happy, or at least optimistic, and I suspect this won’t appeal to all readers. Still, there’s something to be said for short, sweet stories that don’t require a great deal of thought to understand and enjoy, and Wicked Wonders, for the most part, has a pleasantly restful quality that makes it quietly delightful to read.

This review is based on an advance copy of the title received from the publisher via NetGalley.