Magic that Enchants the Reader: The Beast’s Heart: A Novel of Beauty and the Beast by Leife Shallcross

Friday, August 16th, 2019 | Posted by Caitlin McAllister

The Beast’s Heart by Leife Shallcross-smallThe Beast’s Heart: A Novel of Beauty & the Beast
Ace Books (416 pages, $15 trade paperback/$11.99 digital, February 12, 2019)
Cover by Lisa Perrin

This beautifully simplistic retelling of a “tale as old as time,” is pure magic. The story sparkles at every turn and enchants the reader with a new perspective: it’s the beast that narrates his own story in this version of the familiar fairytale.

For over a century Beast has roamed wild over the land he once ruled, driving away anything or anyone that lives there, his humanity essentially stripped away. He has little memory of what his life once was until he encounters a strange woman who leads him back to his previous domain, a castle in the heart of the forest. Suddenly he begins to have flashes of what was lost. As memories return, so too does some of the splendor that once saturated the castle: a roaring fire in the hearth, one luxurious velvet chair, corners of the garden sodden with out-of-season blooms.

As life returns to the castle, Beast slowly regains his humanity. He relearns to stand on two legs, his paws begin to look more like hands, and he realizes he can read! When a weary traveler wanders onto his land, he also realizes his isolation. Curious about the man, Beast allows his castle to lure the traveler in and care for him. Through the magical abilities of his abode, Beast is able to see the man’s dreams, and in them the man’s daughters. The youngest, Isabeau, immediately captures Beast’s heart.

Thus begins Beast’s plot to bring Isabeau to the castle and her eventual agreement to stay for a year. What unfolds is a beautiful relationship that examines what it means to love someone. Through the use of a magical mirror, the reader also gets to be a voyeur in the lives of Isabeau’s family left behind. Their experiences also lend to the theme of human connection and illustrate an idyllic country existence full of color and substance. Just as we root for Beast and Isabeau, so too are we cheering for them to find love and compassion.

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Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Five

Friday, August 16th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Master_of_Kung_Fu_Vol_1_29Master of Kung Fu #29 was the beginning of the much-promised new direction the series would take. Having carefully established warring factions of the Si-Fan with loyalties divided between Fu Manchu or Fah lo Suee, writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy now set aside this key storyline they had developed and expanded since replacing Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin on the book and took Shang-Chi in a decidedly different direction, albeit one that would guarantee the series’ longevity.

While Moench had taken pains to ensure a greater fidelity to Sax Rohmer’s work, he would still deviate from it at key points. Part of this was in shaving twenty-some years off the back continuity inherited from Rohmer to make elderly characters like Sir Denis Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie a bit more viable in the 1970s than they would be as men who should have been in their nineties. More importanly, Moench chooses to make Petrie an MI5 agent the same as Smith rather than simply Sir Denis’ lifelong friend and amanuensis.

Shang-Chi is summoned to Sir Denis’ New York estate where Black Jack Tarr and Clive Reston have already gathered along with Dr. Petrie. Smith offers Shang-Chi a place among his operatives in taking down heroin dealer Carlton Velcro. Reston is the key man in the operation as he has taken the identity of Mr. Blue, the New York connection in Velcro’s heroin pipeline. Reston’s personality has been softened to make the character more mature and more of a team player with Tarr, Smith, and Petrie.

Shang-Chi is torn between his pacifist philosophy and his trust in Sir Denis as a good man who desires to eradicate evil from the world. A visit to a Manhattan rehab clinic is enough to convince Shang-Chi that stopping the powerful heroin dealer is justification enough to use violence against the greater social ill. Of course, this Machiavellian decision is one that will bring Shang-Chi much grief. It is to Moench’s credit that the reader immediately understands that choosing to be a hero brings Shang-Chi closer to the the philosophy his father has embraced – a philosophy Shang-Chi has sworn to reject. Choosing Sir Denis as a father figure illustrates that Shang-Chi, like the traditional reader of Rohmer’s Fu Manchu series,  fails to perceive just how much of a mirror image Sir Denis is to his venerable foe.

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Germ Warfare, Sentient Planets, and Dark Age Alchemy: The Best of Murray Leinster

Monday, August 5th, 2019 | Posted by James McGlothlin

The-Best-of-Murray-Leinster-small The-Best-of-Murray-Leinster-back-small

The Best of Murray Leinster (1978) was the fourteenth installment in Lester Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series. J. J. Pierce returns to give the introduction to this volume. H. R. Van Dongen (1920–2010) returns to do his fourth cover of the series, having done the cover for the seventh volume in honor of John W. Campbell, the tenth volume in honor of Fredric Brown, and the eleventh in honor of Jack Williamson. Since Leinster was already passed away in 1978, no afterword is included in this volume.

Murray Leinster (1896–1975) was the nom de plume of American writer William Fitzgerald Jenkins. Pierce refers to Leinster as ‘The Dean of Science Fiction”, clearly showing a deep respect for him, and I think also an indication of Leinster’s representativeness as an early and grand leader of pulp SF.

I’ve often heard early pulp SF described as basically following “engineer-solving” plots. I think I’ve understood what this meant, and I know I’ve seen examples of these in earlier volumes of the Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series. But Leinster is sort of a practitioner of this sort of plotting par excellence. What do I mean? Leinster’s plots tend to center upon some difficult problem that is presented as unsolvable (or nearly so), but by the end of the story the problem is usually solved in some sort of rational or scientific way. At first blush, this may sound fairly boring, and it has the potential to come off as overly preachy about the goodness of science. But in reading Leinster, you often get pulled into the problem of the story, and are sometimes surprised with how science answers or attempts to answer the issue at hand.

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Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Four

Saturday, August 3rd, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

61Wi5uAwkoL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu #3 continues the run of excellent issues from writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy. While the early cycle of stories suffer from an over-reliance on Fu Manchu as the villain (to levels that rival Baron Mordo in the early Lee-Diko Dr. Strange stories), there was a method to their madness. The blowback from Sax Rohmer fans (which started in the pages of The Rohmer Review fanzine) was followed by the author’s widow filing a complaint with The Society of Authors over Marvel’s mismanagement of her husband’s property.

Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin had no way of knowing that killing off an old character in Shang-Chi’s debut would constitute not keeping to the tone and content of the originals. They were a writer and artist assigned to a property and were more interested in creating a Marvel variation on the successful Kung Fu television series than they were in reviving Fu Manchu. Moench and Gulacy were determined to avoid further legal hassles by showing something approaching fidelity to Rohmer while carefully positioning the storyline to more closely model Ian Fleming and Len Deighton spy thrillers than Rohmer.

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Transformed: A Primer on Minister Faust

Friday, July 26th, 2019 | Posted by ZZ Claybourne

The Coyote Kings Book One-small The Coyote Kings Book One -back-small

The Coyote Kings, Book One: Space-Age Bachelor Pad (Narmer’s Palette, February 2013)

In a career that has seen the author tackle fan boy culture (both the good and the bad of it), superhero deconstruction, immigration & enculturation, and gritty space opera that fixes what George Lucas tried to do with the Wars prequels, The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad (since re-released as The Coyote Kings, Book 1: Space-age Bachelor Pad, as the author is currently working on the hugely-anticipated book 2) began author Minister Faust’s cult journey, and he’s blazed new indie trails ever since. Are you a fan of smart and subversive? Faust is one of the best in the business. One line into Kings and I was hooked.

In advance, shut up. I know epilogues go at the end. My point here, which should have been obvious in my opinion, is that I am telling you some of the end of this story so as to get you to comprehend the mindset under which I am currently operating and during which I am escaping.

Here’s a writer who manages to pack more imagination and mega-wattage of writing into a single page than most writers get out of an entire series, turning every book he writes into a full-body experience. Also? Humor. Faust is funny as hell. Even in what I consider to be his masterpiece, The Alchemists of Kush, a book that can shatter and rebuild you if you let it, he’s fully aware that the broken and confused laugh on the darkest of days. Maybe especially then.

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A Feminist Retelling of Cinderella: Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly

Wednesday, July 24th, 2019 | Posted by Elizabeth Galewski

Stepsister CoverIsabella is ugly and mean, and that’s why readers love her.

She isn’t pretty. She isn’t perfect. She likes things she’s not supposed to like, such as military history, swordplay, and horseback riding. She does things she’s not supposed to do. She says what she actually thinks, rather than what men want to hear.

Isabella’s nonconformity makes her a target. Her mother tries to control everything she does, shoehorning her into the rigid mold for a marriageable young woman. Acquiring a wealthy husband is the only acceptable future her mother can imagine in this patriarchal society.

Yes, Isabella knows she’s been a real bitch to Ella, her stepsister. But Ella is beautiful, sweet, and unfailingly pleasant. She always fits in. Men are eager to give her whatever she wants, including chocolate bonbons.

When the prince comes to their house with a glass slipper, looking for his lost love, her mother coerces Isabella to cut off her toes to fit her foot into the shoe. The prince and his retinue accept Isabella as the new princess until she’s walking to the coach, when her blood gives her away. The prince sets her aside and turns to leave, when Ella bursts out of the house.

There she is – the love he was looking for.

The captain of the guard comes forward with the glass slipper, nested on a pillow. He trips on something, falls… The glass slipper shatters.

But then Ella pulls its partner out of a pocket in her dress. It goes on her foot perfectly, as we knew it would.

Reunited, the prince and his beloved climb onto the coach and ride off into the countryside.

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A Dark Picture of a World Overrun by Technology: Green Valley, by Louis Greenberg

Thursday, July 18th, 2019 | Posted by Caitlin McAllister

Green Valley Louis Greenberg-smallGreen Valley
By Louis Greenberg
Titan Books (336 pages, $14.95 trade paperback/$7.99 digital, June 11, 2019)

Green Valley follows Lucie Sterling, a detective in a near-future world where the use of technology has been banned by the governing body, Omega. After the “Turn,” those that wished to continue to live within a world manifested through virtual reality were confined to a concrete bunker spanning miles — a place called Green Valley.

Those on the outside, including Lucie, have no contact with those behind the concrete curtain until a series of murdered children with bio and nano tech coursing through their small bodies show up in Stanton. Lucie’s assigned the case but in a completely analog world, how is she supposed to crack it with no evidence other than the bodies left behind?

The case is further muddied by the fact that Lucie’s niece, Kira, is a resident of Green Valley. Worried for her safety, with nothing to go on, Lucie makes the unusual journey into Green Valley to uncover the truth.

Greenberg does a lot of world-building early on that draws the reader in and paints a dark, yet eerily familiar picture of a world overrun by technology. The tension created between the new world order and those that chose a life managed by virtual reality makes the book hard to put down.

For all the detail spent on the story and the characters early on, there’s a lack of balance to it at the end. I wish each character (human or virtual) had the same amount of care spent on wrapping up their own stories, rather than just the multi-faceted Lucie.

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This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone

Sunday, July 14th, 2019 | Posted by Steve Case

This Is How You Lose the Time War-smallWhen I was younger I remember reading a short description of Fritz Leiber’s The Big Time when it was reissued for the Science Fiction Book Club and being fascinated by the idea of a time war. I still haven’t gotten around to reading Leiber’s exploration of that idea, so I can’t say for certain how closely Amal el-Mohtar and Max Gladstone were informed by it in their new co-authored novel, This is How You Lose the Time War.

The general idea of a time war though is fairly straightforward and has been a recurring science fiction trope since Leiber’s work. However, the execution of one (and writing a narrative that follows the agents waging one) is anything but. The theme works like this: assuming two sides have different desired and opposing outcomes for the future and that any future is the outcome of a millions accumulated events, waging a time war means sending agents or soldiers into the past to change the outcome of these events so history flows one way or another. This could be changing the outcome of a historic battle, causing the assassination of a specific individual, or even things more subtle like influencing a particular political leader as she develops her ideas.

Now overlay all this with a love story. That is what El-Mohtar and Gladstone are about in this very gorgeous book. The two sides in their eponymous time war are diametrically opposed: one pushing history toward a technological utopia with forces overseen by the cool, calculating Commandant and the other toward a future in which everything — even the stars themselves — has become part of a vast organic hive-mind called Garden. The Commandant’s best agent is Red, and her opposite for Garden is known as Blue. It’s difficult to classify either agent, who are the dual protagonists of the story, as human. Both have been synthetically created by their respective side with immense power, in addition to time travel (the mechanics of which are kept vague throughout). Both identify as female, and both fall very much in love.

The structure of the book is crafted around a series of letters between Red and Blue as they strike up a dangerous, flirtatious rivalry that quickly grows into much more. Each short chapter (which read almost like vignettes or carefully crafted prose poems) follows either Blue or Red in a different period from Earth’s past to the far future as the one’s missions are foiled or obstructed by the other. Each chapter ends with one finding a letter left by the other. The imagery throughout, especially in the letters, is striking, bringing each new landscape to life, and consistent enough it’s hard to tell where one author’s writing ends and the other’s begins.

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Goth Chick News Reviews: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Thursday, July 11th, 2019 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child-small

It will come as a shock to absolute no one that I am a Harry Potter nerd of biblical proportion. I cop to it, I embrace it, and I proudly got out in public displaying it via my various “Hogwarts Alumni” gear, my custom HP Vans and my Gryffindor quidditch team pajamas. I make an annual pilgrimage to Universal Studios in Florida where I repeatedly get in line for the “Escape from Hogwarts” roller coaster, ride the Hogwarts Express until even the employees roll their eyes, and drink butterbeers to the point of terminal brain freeze. I’ve been to the Warner Brothers Studios in London where the movies were filmed and where security had to turn the lights off to get me to leave, and proudly taken selfies in Kings Cross Station where platform 9 ¾ can be plainly seen, unless of course, you’re a muggle.

And though I was in London on June 7, 2019 the opening night of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, actually getting into the Palace Theater to see it had become my own personal holy grail. Shows were sold out months in advance, plus it was a two-night commitment; the play unfolds in two parts performed on consecutive evenings. Following its record-breaking nine Laurence Olivier Awards in 2017, it was inevitable that Cursed Child would eventually arrive on Broadway in New York, which is precisely what it did in April 2018 where it opened at the Lyric Theater. And one day a week, on Wednesdays, both Part I and Part II are performed on the same, long, magically wonderful day.

The stars were aligned, the time was right, the boss was out of town, and on June 26th I crossed a sweltering Times Square, Cursed Child tickets in hand and feeling like a tween en route to a Justin Bieber concert, when he did concerts and had better hair.

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Smashing the Status Quo to Pieces: The Brothers Jetstream: Leviathan by Zig Zag Claybourne

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019 | Posted by Jeffrey Ford

The Brothers Jetstream Leviathan-small The Brothers Jetstream Leviathan-back-small

When I was in Baltimore for World Fantasy last year, I attended a reading by Zig Zag Claybourne (aka Clarence Young). He read from a novel, The Brother’s Jet Stream: Leviathan. When he was done I shook my head and thought, “What the f— was that?”

So I got the novel on my kindle a few weeks later, started at the beginning and went through it. I’m not about to try to summarize the plot to this book because I could only do it an injustice. You basically have the brothers Jetstream, Milo and Ramses, a pair of trench coat wearing, space traveling adventurers out to thwart the self cloning, evil Buford, but don’t forget the leviathan, a whale created at the dawn of the universe, women with super powers, Atlantis, a good measure of biblical reference and interwoven themes, checkers, the multiverse, vampires, etc.

What I encountered was a true to life contemporary Science Fiction epic that conquers and appropriates the tired world of Space Opera and reconstitutes it as a psychedelic (and I’m not referencing drugs here, but freewheeling visionary power) product of Afro-futurism. The language, the story-line, the characters, the entire sensibility of the book is full of a different kind of energy than pretty much any other SF I’ve seen. It’s akin in its narrative flow and hilarious humor to something like Robert Coover’s Ghost Town, but I sense a cultural identity in this that is different, more along the lines of Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo –not so much like Reed’s in that it’s about the history of humanity or lack thereof but it might be about the history of the whiteness of SF space adventure and what lies beyond that.

The Brothers Jetstream smashes the status quo to pieces.

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