Browsed by
Category: Reviews

Random Reviews: “Faith” by Mario Milosevic

Random Reviews: “Faith” by Mario Milosevic

Cover by Tais Teng
Cover by Tais Teng

Because I’ve been asked about the process by which I’ve been selecting stories for the Random Review series, I thought I’d take a moment to explain how the stories are selected.

I have a database of approximately 42,000 short stories that I own sorted by story title. When it comes time for me to select a story to review as part of this series, I role several dice (mostly ten sided) to determine which story should be read. I cross reference the numbers that come up on the die with the database to see what story I’ll be reviewing.  This week, I rolled 11,028 which turned out to be Mario Milosevic’s short story “Faith.”

One of the things I’m hoping to get out of this series, from a personal point of view, is to discover authors and short stories that I’ve owned and have never read. Of course, I’m also hoping to share those discoveries, good or bad, with the readers of Black Gate.

Mario Milosevic’s short story “Faith” was published on Daily Science Fiction on November 1, 2010. It would eventually be reprinted in the anthology Not Just Rockets and Robots, which collected the short fiction published during the first year Daily Science Fiction was on-line.

The story is told from the point of view of a man who is undergoing an interrogation. The details of the questioning are not directly provided and everything about the events that preceded the interview and the background to the world Milosevic builds up at second hand.

Read More Read More

When Venice Ruled the… Galaxy? Miles Cameron’s Artifact Space

When Venice Ruled the… Galaxy? Miles Cameron’s Artifact Space


Artifact Space
by Miles Cameron (Gollancz, June 14, 2022)

Although I love to watch Sci-Fi shows & movies, I don’t tend to read a lot of Sci-fi, and never have; even though Dan Simmons’s Hyperion Cantos remains one of my favorite set of novels in any genre, and I have an incredible soft-spot for sword & planet pulp.

OTOH, good space opera often blurs the line between fantasy and Sci-Fi, or takes themes we see in historical fiction and contemporary society and plays with them, free from the constraints of, well, history. So, when one of your favorite his-fic/fantasy writers sets out to write a space opera, you need to take the plunge.

It’s a great plunge, indeed. I keep trying to come up with an analog and failing but here is the best I can come up with:

Patrick O’Brien’s Captain Aubrey novels + Horatio Hornblower + Top Gun in Star Trek’s Federation if the Federation had been founded by the Renaissance Venetians.

That’s a lot to unpack, right?

Read More Read More

Random Reviews: “Lt. Privet’s Love Song” by Scott Thomas

Random Reviews: “Lt. Privet’s Love Song” by Scott Thomas

The Solaris Book of New Fantasy, Cover by Jon Sullivan
The Solaris Book of New Fantasy, Cover by Jon Sullivan

“Lt. Privet’s Love Story” is set in a complex fantasy kingdom which is ruled by sibling monarchs who command a massive and powerful navy. Scott Thomas focuses his attention on a remote seaport, the activities that brought two of the royal navy ships to the seaport, and the actions of a lieutenant that threatens to cause further harm to the fleet.

The title character serves on the frigate North Swan in a fantasy world. After his ship was mysteriously damaged by a ghostly red ship, it put into the harbor at New Crown for repairs. While in port, he becomes smitten with Hazel, the daughter of the local innkeeper. Although one would think that level-headedness and logic were good traits for a lieutenant in a royal navy, Privet fails to demonstrate either of those traits.  Rather than court the barmaid, he goes to Old Crown, located on top of the mountain at which New Crown is at the base, and purchases a love philtre from the twin Deerfield Sisters.

As may be expected, Privet’s used of the magic potion causes difficulties. Having been befriended by Captain Moorsparrow of the Swift Cannon, and his wife, Privet learns that the fleet’s flagship has also been fired upon by the mysterious red ship. To make matters worse, the Swift Cannon was carrying one of the heirs to the throne and was now also in port for repairs, which would delay the repairs to the North Swan.

Naturally, Moorsparrow’s wife winds up unintentionally drinking the love potion, which leads Moorsparrow to challenge Privet to a duel, a situation which will either deprive the royal navy of a ship’s captain or the reader of a character who is presented as the hero, and certainly the protagonist, of the short story. A deadly outcome for the duel is only averted by the sudden reappearance of the red ship.

Read More Read More

An Extravagant and Wonderful Fantasy with Assassins, Ghosts, and Necromancers: Saint Death’s Daughter by C. S. E. Cooney

An Extravagant and Wonderful Fantasy with Assassins, Ghosts, and Necromancers: Saint Death’s Daughter by C. S. E. Cooney

Saint Death’s Daughter by C.S.E. Cooney (Solaris, April 12, 2022)

Here’s a novel I’ve been anticipating for some time — years even. C. S. E. Cooney has been working on it for even longer, to be sure. It is in a sense her first novel, except that an earlier planned novella, started I believe long after this novel was first drafted, got away from her a bit and ended up novel length, even though it has only been published in an original anthology. (This is The Twice-Drowned Saint, from the Mythic Delirium anthology A Sinister Quartet, which is well worth your time for all its stories.)

Time for full disclosure — I’ve known Claire Cooney for a long time now, and I consider her a good friend. I’ve been reading her fiction since 2007, when her first stories appeared, and I’ve reprinted several of her pieces. We are both long-time contributors to this eminent publication (and indeed it was John O’Neill, the overlord of Black Gate, who introduced us.) Claire gave me an advance copy of Saint Death’s Daughter. So calibrate this review as you will — I was praising her work before I knew her, mind you (and I thought the author of “Stone Shoes” might be male at first.) Still, I clearly am predisposed to like her fiction.

Read More Read More

Random Reviews: “Undead Camels Ate Their Flesh” by Jason Fischer

Random Reviews: “Undead Camels Ate Their Flesh” by Jason Fischer

Dreaming Again, Cover by Darren Holt
Dreaming Again, Cover by Darren Holt

Often when authors discuss their writing process, they refer to bringing two seemingly disparate ideas together to create a story. Jason Fischer clearly followed this idea in writing the incredibly titled “Undead Camels Ate Their Flesh.”

The first story involves an undead man making his way through the Australian outback. As the story opens, the zombie finds itself hungry and surrounded by a herd of feral camels. He makes a snack out of one of the camels, allowing the wounded creature to continue on its way and infecting the rest of its herd.

The other story concerns Trevor Flannigan and Kevin “Swanny” Swanwick, two small time crooks who kill Buchanan, a local farm owner. Their story tells of their flight from the murder scene ahead of the police, as well as a look at Chief Inspector Wallis, who happens to be Buchanan’s brother-in-law and is trying to track them down and bring them to justice.

Behind both of these stories is the background of an Australia settled by the English, but invaded by the forces of Danish king Christian. Although the Danes don’t appear in Fischer’s story, their influence is felt throughout. After killing Buchanan and finding a safe full of krone with King Christian’s face on it, Trev realizes Buchanan was a spy. Trev and Swanny also discover that no matter how much money they got from their heist, they are unable to spend it as the flee, first to Pimba, and then on to Alice Springs, trying to get away from anyone chasing them.

Wallis is Fischer’s answer to Inspecter Javert, following the trail no matter where it leads, even as his realizes that the beaten-up car he is driving may not be able to return him and his quarry to civilization and justice. Even as Willis begins his chase after Trev and Swanny, he realizes that Buchanan was into something unsavory after finding a Danish krone amidst the crime scene. Nevertheless, his task is to bring Buchanan’s murderers to justice. There will be enough time to look into Buchanan’s crimes later.

Read More Read More

A Master of Strange Short Fiction- Robert Aickman: An Attempted Biography by RB Russell

A Master of Strange Short Fiction- Robert Aickman: An Attempted Biography by RB Russell


Robert Aickman: An Attempted Biography (Tartarus Press, February 3, 2022)

Robert Aickman (1914-1981) was an iconic British writer especially known for his strange, uncanny stories, reprinted in several collections.  He also penned a couple of  minor novels, but he’s mostly remembered for his ambiguous but riveting short fiction.

In addition, he was also a very active, influential member of the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) and was instrumental in saving and promoting the restoration of the network of British canals. Those two activities have been the subject of two autobiographical books, The Attempted Rescue and The River Runs Uphill, respectively. 

Aickman was also the editor of several volumes of the cult series of anthologies The Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories.

Read More Read More

Random Reviews: “Arthur Sternbach Brings the Curveball to Mars” by Kim Stanley Robinson

Random Reviews: “Arthur Sternbach Brings the Curveball to Mars” by Kim Stanley Robinson

The Martians, Cover by Peter Elson
The Martians, Cover by Peter Elson

Back in the days of Usenet, I started to put together a bibliography of science fiction that were built around baseball. One of the stories on that list is Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Arthur Sternbach Brings the Curveball to Mars.” Originally published in Robinson’s collection The Martians, a companion collection of short fiction to supplement his Mars trilogy that included Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars. Four months after “Arthur Sternback Brings the Curveball to Mars” was first published in the UK, it made its US debut in the August 1999 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction, one month before the collection would be released in the U.S. by Bantam Spectra.

Since that time, the story has been reprinted in Robinson’s collections A Short, Sharp Shock, The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson, and Stan’s Kitchen and the anthologies Future Sports, The Hard SF Renaissance, New Skies, and Field of Fantasies (a collection of speculative fiction baseball stories). Demonstrating that interest in baseball is not limited to the US, the story has been translated into French, German, Spanish, and Romanian, in all but the last case as part of the original collection. The Romanian translation appeared in Sci-Fi Magazin.

Read More Read More

A Tale of ‘Possums and Pigs:The Last Coin by James P. Blaylock

A Tale of ‘Possums and Pigs:The Last Coin by James P. Blaylock

                                 “…One pig to rule them all,

                                    One pig to bind them, 

                                    One pig to bring them all

                                    and on the pier-end find them

                                   In Seal Beach, on the Coast.”

                                                                      William Ashbless

                                                                                                                                                     Myths of the Pacific Coast

How does one describe one of one’s favorite books? How does one describe a book that he and nearly everyone he knew who read it experienced tremendous joy and satisfaction from reading it? How does one describe a book he enjoyed so much he feared any future works by its author might detract something from that book’s perfection? Well, first, he needs to stop writing about himself in the third person, because that’s rarely good. Then he needs simply to write, “Read The Last Coin and you will have read one of the most charming and joyful books I’ve ever read.”

My friend Carl started me down the path of becoming a James P. Blaylock reader when he tossed me an already worn copy of The Digging Leviathan (1984 — his third book. His first two, The Elfin Ship and The Disappearing Dwarf I’ve reviewed here on Black Gate.) With its cabals of conspiracists, hollow Earth theorizing, and besuited axolotls, I was completely enchanted with the book’s story of two boys in California in the middle of the last century in search of a connection with their absent or missing fathers. It’s rougher than his later novels, but here Blaylock was already introducing many of the tropes, and even characters he would revisit throughout his career.

When his next book, Homunculus (1986) came out, I ordered a copy from the long-gone local book store, The Book Nook, something I rarely did. It’s one of the books K.W. Jeter was thinking of — the others being his own Morlock Night and Tim Powers’s The Anubis Gates — when he coined the portmanteau steampunk in a letter to Locus magazine. I enjoyed the book, which turned out to be the beginning of the ongoing adventures of Victorian inventor-cum-explorer Langdon St. Ives and the villainous hunchback, Dr. Ignacio Narbondo.

Read More Read More

Random Reviews: “The Modern Cyrano” by Stephen Baxter

Random Reviews: “The Modern Cyrano” by Stephen Baxter

The Hunters of Pangaea, Cover by Richard Hescox
The Hunters of Pangaea, Cover by Richard Hescox

Not only did Stephen Baxter win the first Sidewise Award for Best Short Story and the second Sidewise Award for Best Novel, but he went on to serve on the Sidewise Award jury for several years, so he has very strong alternate history credentials. His short story “The Modern Cyrano” is subtle alternate history set during the middle of the nineteenth century.

Written as a series of entries in Queen Victoria’s journal during the period from September 1849 through May 1851, Baxter details the deaths of two of Prince Albert’s close friends and Victoria’s political allies. In the pages of her diary, Victoria plays amateur sleuth, noting down the details of their deaths as well as an accusation raised in both cases that the unexpected death of George Anson and the accidental death of Lord Palmerston were both caused by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who was nearby around the time of both deaths.

In the 1850s of Baxter’s tale, Brunel, in addition to the massive engineering projects he was undertaking in our world, including the Great Exhibition, Brunel is also experimenting with a form of rocket. His push to move England forward has stuck in the craw of Charles Sibthorp, an ultraconservative member of Parliament who wanted England to remain the way it was in his youth in the 1700s. An antagonist to Prince Albert, Sibthorp views anything to support the Great Exhibition as an evil to be fought against.

The story’s arc is pretty straight forward from the moment the characters are introduced, but the enjoyment of the story comes from the combination of reading Victoria’s diary and seeing her putting the clues together and a nineteenth century Nancy Drew and the side notes that Baxter includes to provide the reader with the context needed to fully understand the characters and motivations. He has managed to incorporate his “data dumps” into the story in a realistic and entertaining way.

Read More Read More

Return to the Middle Sea in All the Seas of the World by Guy Gavriel Kay

Return to the Middle Sea in All the Seas of the World by Guy Gavriel Kay

All the Seas of the World (Berkley, May 17, 2022)

What does it mean to be an exile? How does that meaning bend across lines of nationality, of gender, of religion? How many different ways can being exiled shape, define, ruin, or even save a life?

This is just one set of questions raised by All the Seas of the World, the newest novel from master fantasy author Guy Gavriel Kay. The novel, Kay’s fifteenth, comes from Berkley and will be released on May 17, 2022.

All the Seas of the World is the third in a sequence of novels set in the lands around the Middle Sea, Kay’s reimagining of the Mediterranean region of Europe and North Africa, in a time period akin to the early Renaissance. The first novel set in this time and place, Children of Earth and Sky, actually takes place after the second installment, A Brightness Long Ago. This third novel is placed chronologically between the two. Kay prefers not to refer to the books as a trilogy, and with reason. Though related, and featuring recurring characters, each book stands alone. Taken together, the stories here fit into a world history Kay began to build with The Lions of Al-Rassan (1995), and built upon in Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors (1998 and 2000), and The Last Light of the Sun (2004).

Read More Read More