Winter Tide

Ruthanna Emrys

Winter Tide By Ruthanna Emrys

Review By Kris Vyas-Myall

Originally Posted At Geek Syndicate

There are two interesting recent trends in writing; well-respected short fiction writers releasing fantastic first genre novels (such as Yoon Ha Lee, Ken Liu or Mary Rickert), and the use of Lovecraft to explore the history of racism in America (e.g. The Ballad of Black Tom or Lovecraft Country). This intersects both of these as Ruthanna Emrys – an author I have been following since the brilliant Litany of the Earth came out on – continues the reflexive Lovecraftian universe she put together in that earlier tale.

Whilst there is a bit of a thriller style plotline to drive the tale along this, for me, was a story of mood and ideas. This is technically a tale of godlike beings from beyond time, and Red Scare style body-swapping, but that is really window dressing. At its heart it is a story that launches itself at the way America has treated those that it considers to be aliens or outsiders and how culture and history, family and home is destroyed. In particular, it takes aim at the history of Japanese internment during World War Two but also touches on elements of many other events in US (and Western) history.

This could be problematic but, I would contend, Emrys is skilful in navigating this as she puts the citizens of Innsmouth as another group directly involved in these events rather than taking someone else’s history and appropriating for other purposes. As such, Aphra regularly has to navigate prejudice and micro-aggressions which are both specific and universalistic e.g.:

“’I am as human as you. Just a different kind.’ And truly sick of having to repeat that assertion to people who supposedly respected me.”


“’Would it be so bad to tell people? … It might shut them up’ ‘…people have studied us more than enough.’”

Although these situations are the encounters between People of the Water (e.g. the former people of Innsmouth) and the People of the Air (e.g. the dominant American group), the treatment of various different groups as being less than human or treated as some object of curiosity is a common stain across Western history.

Whilst these are the main ideas it employs, the real area in which it excels is in mood. Throughout we get such a great sense of loss and longing evoked, as the place and people Aphra and Caleb thought they would be around for centuries are completely washed away, and the understanding of their culture and religion has been demonised by People of the Air telling falsehoods.

At the same time, there is introduced a fascinating counterpoint. That is a real belief that The People of the Air may well wipe themselves out soon with nuclear war and be replaced by The People of the Water. So whilst The People of the Air may be doing their best to obliterate the history of other groups, it is seen as inevitable that they will really be the ones who fall and are replaced. Not by conquest but by their own hands. For as they survive by destroying others we have the sense they will inevitably destroy themselves.

Further within this, much of the motivation Aphra has is to recover the past that has been lost to her, as she attempts to reassemble what has been stolen in their past by White Americans. What were once important or religious artefacts are now put into research libraries for the perusal of academics. Once again, this has been all too common a practice in Western history but it is often something which is overlooked for how much emotional harm it can cause to displaced communities and why these items would have such significance.

What I love about the way Emrys goes about this is that she is explicit but not didactic. It would be all too easy to turn this into an angry essay but as we are pulled along with Aphra’s journey it becomes more powerful because we experience the world as she does, and get to feel how this would impact upon her.

However, as there is such a focus on mood and ideas I do feel that some other elements may have fallen by the wayside slightly. Outside of Aphra many of the characters are a bit bland. Even Neko and Caleb, who get the most development, can sometimes feel a bit short-changed. Much like the more thriller-esque elements of the plot alluded to earlier they are really here to serve the ideas and not vice-versa. This is a style of writing I enjoy but it is not one that is necessarily for everyone.

Winter Tide is an evocative and cerebral debut novel that takes an interesting approach to Lovecraft’s work. Building on her earlier novelette, Emrys uses these themes to take an uncomfortable look at the history of race relations in America. As such the plot and character do sometimes take a back seat to the ideas and mood but it is a book well worth experiencing.

Dozey’s Journey Through the Meowtiverse: Just Don’t Know What To Do With My Elf

Recommendations by Dozey

Hello, I am Dozey! I am travelling the Meowtiverse having great adventures, exploring great writings. Why should humans have all the fun?

I have most enjoyed being an elf. I get to jump between the trees, eat grass and play with string and feathers. Not sure why the other elves kept telling me off, foolish creatures.

Here are some of the favourite realms of Women Elves I have visited:

Image Credit: ISFDB

Daughter of the Drow by Elaine Cunningham: I can relate a lot to Liriel, she wants to adventure in the outside world even though people tell her she should not, and in doing so has to learn a lot about who she is.

Image Credit: ISFDB

The Elvenbane by Andre Norton and Mercedes Lackey: Whilst the Drow are the darker half of elvenkind, in Norton and Lackey’s Halfblood Chronicles they are the evil overlords of humans. Here we follow Shana as she learns of her destiny to end their rule.

Image Credit: ISFDB

Jelayne by Lynn Abbey: Another dark take on the elves. What I loved about this most was the character journey we see Jerlayne go on and the difference between the human and elven lands.

Image Credit: Goodreads

Coexist by Julia Crane: Now to a much more normal contemporary teenage story… one where it just happens the main characters are elves. Blends effortlessly teen drama and epic fantasy.

Image Credit: Comicvine

Elfquest by Richard and Wendy Pini: And lastly one of the most famous elven tales, Elfquest. The adventures of The Wolfriders and The Sun Folk have been enjoyed for many years and should be for many more to come.

I am now travelling through the portal to a new adventure, robotic women!

I am Dozey! It has been your pleasure to read this!

Just One Damned Thing After Another (Chronicles of St Marys, book #1)

Written by Jodi Taylor

Review by: Nisha

Just like many bibliophiles, I have an obsession not just with reading books, but acquiring them as well. And I married a man who shares that obsession, so we basically enable each other. So when I walk past a shelf of reduced books in a supermarket, I think “ooh, let’s see what they have…”

The title of this book amused me so much that I picked it up, along with the following two instalments, and off to the checkouts we went. This is always a risk- buying a book series on a whim. What if it’s reduced for a reason? What if I just wasted money (although, admittedly, less than a fiver) and time on something that’s poorly written?

Nevertheless, it made its way to the top of my TBR and I got stuck in.

In my experience, whilst I love book series for the most part, I have three main criteria:

  1. It’s a young adult series

  2. It’s about witches (or a supernatural creature of some kind)

  3. It’s written by Cate Tiernan

This book did not meet any of these criteria.

I bloody loved it.

“Just One Damned Thing After Another” is told in first person narrative by historian Dr Madeleine Maxwell or, as we will come to know her, Max. The story begins as she is contacted by a trusted university lecturer with a suggestion that she apply for the latest job opening at St Mary’s Institute. She goes for the interview and sees a historical research facility that seems a little more eccentric than one might expect, including a heavy-duty security team, a costume department and a 24 hour cafeteria (although Max instantly decides she’s quite happy with the last one, which endeared her to me immediately). Once she accepts the position and signs a very big pile of ‘mention anything about this ever and we’ll lock you away’ papers, the mystery is revealed.

Historians at St Mary’s don’t just verify through research, they travel through time and see it firsthand.

A lot of time is covered in these books- at least five years. In this time, we see their training period, their first time travel experience as well as more daring expeditions to the Cretaceous period. It’s not all cheerful jaunts, mind you- when History senses something that’s not supposed to be there, it will try to squish it like a bug. Not to mention there’s another group of time travellers looking to cause trouble, as well as drama between the different members of the St Mary’s team.

First and foremost, this book discusses time travel- what precautions need to be taken, what to do when you’re in another timeline and the consequences of messing around with it. I’m not a huge history buff, but I really enjoyed following the crew to different places and seeing historical events through a different lens. Taylor’s writing is extremely vivid and you really feel like you’re with Max and experiencing what she’s experiencing. I imagine there probably are some inaccuracies in the writing in regards to historical accuracy, but I personally didn’t spot any. Indeed, some of the historians and researchers get into arguments about what is the most accurate, which results in plenty of humour, and there’s a sideways nod to the theory that dinosaurs had feathers.

Taylor manages to cover a large amount in what is a relatively short novel. In these 260-ish pages, we meet (and say goodbye to) a wide range of characters, see relationships build up and break down, visit different periods of history and several climaxes. I could not put this book down (when I did, it wasn’t without a fight). Taylor keeps the reader engaged throughout the story, as you hunger for what happens next, which mysteries will be revealed next? On top of that, Jodi Taylor’s writing is ridiculously funny. Writing as Max, she’s sarcastic, self-deprecating, intelligent and completely incapable of conducting herself in a decent manner around the object of her affection (although, admittedly, he’s not that much better, making their relationship mostly adorable). On the latter point, this book has several relationship plots, yet it never overtakes the overriding time-travel plots or becomes the central focus. However, at the same time, the relationships are written really well and make you very emotionally involved. Also, to balance out the ‘looooove’ section, it’s gory. Remember what I said about History squishing you like a bug? Gory. This is not a book for the faint-hearted, Taylor does like to get graphic. With death and violence… also with sex (remember when I said “climaxes”. More than one meaning, readers). That being said, the gory nature is not gratuitous. Nothing drags down a book more than being sexually explicit or full of blood and guts for absolutely no reason. The plot, and Max’s voice, do call for the detail, and it contributes to the overall atmosphere of the St Mary’s world. Stakes are high, and emotions are higher.

Also, Max is a very strong lead. She’s intelligent, funny and very relatable, even if you’re not a time travelling historian. She encounters situations that many people may encounter in their lifetime, which opens up brief discussions on politics, abuse, homelessness and sexual assault. I won’t dive into that, as it will spoil the plot, but I wanted to mention it as a trigger warning. Taylor doesn’t go into too great a detail, but it may have an effect on those who have experienced any of the above.

This is one of those books where you do need to set aside some time to just curl up with a blanket and read. If you’re due to go somewhere, set an alarm, otherwise you might come out of reading to realise you just missed a wedding. Unfortunately, ‘I was reading this really awesome book’ doesn’t tend to get accepted by anyone outside our little book-manic minority.

I highly recommend this book. I’ve already made my way to the third instalment and loving it!

The Broken Earth Series

The Fifth Season

N. K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season

Image Credit: Goodreads

Review By Debbie Phillips

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin is a Hugo award winning novel, which takes place on a planet with a single supercontinent called the Stillness. Every few centuries, its inhabitants endure what they call a "fifth season" of catastrophic climate change.

I wanted to start, in true schoolroom style, with ‘This book is about…’ but I couldn’t finish the sentence. It’s about so many things. Survival. The horrific things people do to each other. Endings. Who gets to be a whole person. Who doesn’t. Loss. Who you let define you. Love. How societies function. Beginnings.


There’s a lot going on, is what I’m saying.

This is an amazing world – brilliantly realised, and always just enough information to keep you grounded and allow you to understand what’s going on. It’s a world that’s tectonically unstable, constantly on the brink of destruction. Certain people – orogenes – are able to sense and control the movement of the earth. They are both valued and hated. Life revolves around constantly being on the alert for a Season – an apocalyptic event, which can take several forms – and the preparations necessary to survive them.

We follow three viewpoints throughout the book. Essun, who is grieving. Damaya, a child who isn’t wanted. And Syenite, who is an orogene, trained to obey and be a tool of the leaders of Yumenes, a city that has lasted through many years by virtue of its location in a more geologically stable area. All three women are rounded, complex characters, as are the people they encounter. It’s an incredibly rich world, brimming with history and detail.

What I really liked about this book is that it leaves you to do a certain amount of the work yourself, and because the world is so immersive, you don’t even notice you’re doing it. There’s so much to make you think – issues like gender identity, slavery, and the reliability of history all feature, making you question your assumptions along with the characters.

It’s a book with a lot of darkness. There are some truly horrific events in this book, the kind of thing that makes you hope you’ve misread something. But there is lightness too, so you’re not completely overwhelmed.

The prose is gorgeous. Jemisin writes beautifully and accessibly, sucking you right in and not letting you up until the end. I can’t wait to read the sequel and find out where the story goes.

The Obelisk Gate

N. K. Jemisin

The Obelisk Gate

Image Credit: Goodreads

Review By Kris Vyas-Myall

Sequels come with advantages and risks. On the one hand most of the setup is out of the way. You have read the rulebook, understand many of the troubles and triumphs. You can now play on the board without much confusion. However, you are no longer able to have as much joy of discovery and the more you try to replicate the closer you get to seeing it as just a painted wooden board and metal counters.

This balances a middle line well between the two. It opens up more mystery of the world without moving out of the fantastical, but concentrates predominantly on the human reactions to the disastrous situations. This makes sense both from a storytelling perspective and a meta-thematic one as we are watching a world that is being destroyed by natural disasters but, if it is to be saved, it is by the choices made by the individual actors being put together here, those that have the power to really make a difference.

Looking back on The Broken Earth Trilogy so far, the things I remember most are not so much the plot but themes and moods and dramatic scenes. For the soundtrack for this is not high octane modern classical or pop-rock, this is very much new age elemental pieces. Songs of earth and fire and metal. This story is one that is much broader and deeper than what you can usually get on the page. Whilst what is actually happening is in itself fascinating, what it means and how it makes you feel is even more important. Jemisin has an absolute gift for dialogue and can create heartbreaking and profound moments in only a few words, what is going unsaid and the way in which it is spoken is both fully on display and even more meaningful than what has been spoken. Even when some of the details of the story begin to fade, the beautiful arresting images she has created continue to stick in my mind.

The ideas of prejudice are strong in this novel and the Black Lives Matter inspiration becomes even more prominent than in the first book. For example, when Jija talks to her Daddy about loving being an orogene, in spite of his reactions and feelings on the subject, it is heart breaking, watching her slowly have to come to terms with his self-deception and hatred.

The conclusion to the story is one where many people make decisions which on the one hand seem horrific but on the other hand are perfectly understandable as we are led upon their journey. As we move into the final part it will be fascinating to see where the story goes next. I am sure it will be harsh, mind bending and yet beautiful, like a Broken Earth.

The Stone Sky

Image Credit: Goodreads

Review by Kris Vyas-Myall

This finishes the Broken Earth Trilogy, the most interesting book series of the decade. So the first, and most obvious, question is does it manage to land the ending? The answer is a resounding yes.

Probably the most surprising development in The Stone Sky is how easy this was to follow in spite of the complexity. This is still just as experimental and layered as the previous two installments. However, as the story comes to a crescendo I felt myself as fully a part of the world understanding the strange workings as just a part of life.

The pace also refuses to let up. The Broken Earth and The Obelisk Gate did such a good job of building up the world that the slow thoughtful explanations are no longer necessary, we are allowed to move at speed counting down to the main event.

The themes and ideas explored throughout the trilogy continued to be refined and brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

All this to say, the whole series seems to be deserved to be seen as a truce classic of the genre and to be read for years to come.

Our Favourite Short Fiction – October 2016

By Matt Cavanagh

Hello readers so if you’re looking for a short trip into the land of SF&F here are five stories we would like to recommend to you:

Fireside Magazine Logo

From Fireside Fiction Issue #37

In this story we explore the very topical issue of what makes the news and what should be the news. A journalist is increasingly tormented by the stories he is coming across which speaks of injustice and the cruelty of the world. However their editor keeps rejecting them on not being newsworthy enough. Khaw creates a very very near future world where direct access to the stories and images ultimately forces our journalist to attempt to help the victims. This one is pretty much turning into science fact now and is staying with me many days after reading it.

Ordonta at Rest by Nancy Au

Odonata at Rest

From Liminal Stories Issue #2

In this story Au has created an amazingly alive character in the form of Bernice, the daughter of Chinese immigrants in the US. Through their school system she is effectively on a scholarship to a Catholic school. This is a tale of culture clashes. Bernice is clever, witty and is reviewing how her family decided to stop being flying Ordonta to move to the West (or at least this is what she believes) with a teacher who tries to tell how Western life is ‘better’. The story doesn’t take blatant sides but it does say something about how we expect people to conform to a way of life.

The Solace of Counted Things by Natalia Theodoridou

The Solace of Counted Things

Liminal Stories Issue #2

For a darker take this story looks at a brother sister relationship gone very very wrong. A taxidermist creates strange creatures which mirror his inner thoughts and struggles. It’s unsettling and you quickly pick up what may have led to this strange sense of affairs…also keep counting what you see…

Rusties by Nnedi Okorafor & Wanuri Kahiu

Clarkesworld Magazine Cover 121

From Clarkesworld Issue #121

This story does in a few paragraphs what many recent Hollywood blockbusters have completely failed at. Compelling world building as we see Africa slowly changed by the growth of AI which takes many forms but includes the friendly Rusties – traffic robots who control many of the cities’ dangerous streets. But many people start to blame the robots for taking away jobs and rebellion leads to war. This story mixes these global scale events with a more intimate look at a young woman’s failing relationship with her boyfriend and her childhood’s friendly ‘rustie. Absolutely fascinating.

A Diet of Worms by Valerie Valdes

A Nightmare of Worms

From Nightmare Magazine Issue #49: People of Colo(u)r Destroy Horror

Many of us may have had a job that we all knew when we accepted it was just to keep us ticking along before we moved on and then we would escape. Here our main character is doing a quick night shift in the theatre they despise but quickly they find themselves jumping through time (and in the same job!!!). There is an eerie sense of dislocation as we jump to various points of time in someone’s life. It may have touched a nerve or thousand, read this one!!


Malka Ann Older


Image Credit: Tor

Review By Kris Vyas-Myall

This is a book I absolutely adored, in fact it is in the running to be my favourite book of the year, but I am not sure I would necessarily recommend it for everyone. I spend all day working with big data, I volunteer with political parties in my spare time and I love to read polling data to relax. For someone who finds cross breaks as exciting as I do, this is the kind of science fiction novel we would dream about.
For this explores the future of democracy in an explosion of ideas. It takes all the trends in information, social media and politics and explores them in fascinating ways. All of it is plausible and attempts to neither laud or condemn this future, more this is one possible way the world could go. 

Some people may dislike the level of information that is introduced at the start but I loved it. Older has clearly spent so much time working out the complex formulation of the world and it is necessary to discuss exactly how it works before you can really dive into it. However, in spite of this, it is not a vision that is absurd or hard to understand. Whilst I have not read this as a manifesto this kind of proposal is the natural extraction of where we may be heading.
One of the big things that has emerged as so important this year is the realisation that information is not neutral and access to more information than ever before has not made people more informed, but has caused them to become siloed. Even with the organisation “Information” the question still becomes: what is really true information? How informed are people?
This does not free people. Domination by corporations, for example, seems to be accelerated not reduced. People with interests still seem to be able to control things. This could turn into the kind of standard techno thriller that bores me but it keeps firmly asking the questions, not merely using it as a vehicle for action sequences. Neither does it purely become a social-science lesson, a specimen pinned and labelled, this world that is built is to be explored and lived in.
If there is a fault I did sometimes have a hard time keeping track of where the characters were at each point in the middle of all the data dumps. However, this was the right call to make, as you see the experience from different points of view and they are well differentiated. Also I am very much a person who likes to see the woods rather than the individual trees.
However, the characters did strike me as very real, I have been at elections where I have worked for one political party but been friends with people campaigning for opposition in the same region, where we’d sit up and watch the debates both cheering our own candidate on. I’ve had meetings with commentators, activists and even been yelled at by people telling me all politicians are the same and the system is corrupt. As such I felt like I recognised many of the different people on show. Hell I am certainly the person who sits there crawling through the data trying to grab on to any hope in the trends.
And as such, hope is not what I would say is in good supply. What we get is a possible vision of the future that is so real. Neither a warning or a satire, just what may be. This kind of thought-provoking science fiction is, in my opinion, exactly what the field needs.
I would recommend anyone interested in this to first check out the opening chapters on Tor in order to see if this is what you are looking for:…

Ms Marvel: Vol 5 Super Famous

WriterG. Willow Wilson

Artists: Adrian Alphona, Nico Leon & Takeshi Miyazawa

Colourist: Ian Herring

Lettering: Virtual Calligraphy & Joe Caramagna

Ms Marvel: Super Famous

Image Credit: Marvel

Over the course of the last two years Ms. Marvel has become an absolute sensation and rightly so. It has been critically acclaimed from almost every outlet being both a source of inspiration and glorious fun. As it moves into its third year and has finished its arc Kamala is growing up and this presents new challenges both to her as a character and a book.

Kamala has become such an icon because Wilson has managed to find the perfect balance of particularism and universalism. Kamala is arguably unique in big-two comics as a popular legacy hero who is a young Muslim-American woman, and her sense of fun and the trials she goes through growing up are as relatable to this generation as Peter Parker’s were back in the sixties. At the same time the story arc developed in the first four volumes was so carefully planned out and tightly drawn that if the story had ended there it would have been, although a massive disappointment, a satisfying tale that would probably regularly top the greatest runs and be subjected to sub-par revivals years down the road. Whilst thankfully this is not Ms. Marvel’s fate, the book is now faced with the second album problem, after such a high note that works alone.

The challenges are real for Kamala too. As she grows up and becomes an icon people look to her as a symbol and protector, yet she also has to pass her exams at school and be there for her family and friends when they need her. Becoming an Avenger was a natural next step for the character but it presents the same challenges both within the universe and for writing a cohesive story. This is resolved by building on what has already been written without forgetting the meaning and purpose of any elements of it, combining these elements into the storyline.

The desire to be in many places at once is a natural one, as is to want to be all things to all people. Everyone has had this experience growing up and the temptation to try to actually do it the way Kamala does is one we all might seek out. However, we know from the moment of its inception that the plan is doomed to failure. Whether intentionally or not, this works as a rebuke of the standard practice in mainstream comics; where as soon as a character is popular they are put in as many other comics as possible in order to beef up sales, as is often demonstrated by the omnipresence of Wolverine, Spiderman and Batman. But this risks creating a monster without real substance, mere merchandise. The solution as always to decide what is important and to do less well, not to spread yourself completely thin.

The growth of the characters around Kamala demonstrates well the lightness of touch G. Willow Wilson has shown so many times before. Tyesha and Aamir are an adorable couple and it raises interesting questions about religion and race without getting too heavy or condemning activity.

What was a bit of challenge for me was in the changing of the artist to Nico Leon from issue four. This is not because Leon is not a great artist nor that the title has not changed artist before. What was a shock was the change away from the very distinctive stylised look that the different artists have previously gone for, instead going for something more realistic. I enjoy it now but it creates a very different look, like moving between video tape and celluloid as a filming material.

Whilst it fits in with the overall themes of the story, I do have some concerns with the choices they made with the Bruno and Kamala relationship. I love Mike as a character but I’m never keen on the superhero trope of being forced to choose between loving one person and saving the world. With teenagers, it can make things more understandable but it is a cheap trope usually used to manufacture tension where it does not need to exist. It would be the equivalent of treating a doctor with disdain for being on call. Luckily it is more or less resolved so it will hopefully not be an ongoing thread.

Overall, Wilson manages to steer the title brilliantly into the start of a second run by building on what has come before and going into new areas without losing the heart of what is already there.

The Best of C. L. Moore

The Best of C. L. Moore

Image Credit: Goodreads

Review By Kris

A wonderful selection of Moore’s short fiction which highlights why she is one of the all time greats of science fiction and fantasy. These vary from the pulpy Northwest Smith tales, to the philosophy of No Woman Born, via the beauty of The Fruit of Knowledge. Let’s go through each one in turn:


Shambleau: We start with the Northwest Smith stories. These are very much of the pulp era, combining gritty space hunter with the creatures of Greek mythology. What I find most interesting in Moore’s work as compared to her contemporaries is the reflexive approach she brings. We are not made to just think of the titular creature as simply a monster but also a victim of her circumstances.

Black Thirst: We get a continuation of these stories with the next part. This time it is a kind of vampires on Venus. This allows us to see both the strengths and weakness of these early series. These are an easy read and Moore’s style is able to keep them both tense and fast moving. However, if you binge on these in one go, rather than occasionally returning to them months apart, the formula can become wearing. But, for just having this pairing, it remains an enjoyable time.

The Bright Illusion: This is Moore making more of a move towards experimentation than the action adventures that surround it. However, it does not quite have the philosophical element of her later writing so it becomes more of a lesson in the bizarre and uncanny. If it had been published later I would almost be tempted to describe it as psychedelic. It does veer close to magical violent lost civilisation tropes but I think it is able to steer clear enough of them.

Black God's Kiss

Black God’s Kiss: My feelings on the Jirel of Joiry tales are mixed, as I feel there are some issues with the later adventures, but going back to the original story most of these are not present. Instead we get some proper dark fantasy of the original warrior woman. What this really highlights is Moore’s ability to create atmosphere, and the building up of dread is palable. Some individual lines here and there still bother me but overall this one adventure is an important piece of her canon.

Tryst in Time: This is probably the slightest tale in the collection and overshadowed by the following Greater Than Gods and the superior Vintage Season that rounds out these stories. This is not to say it is bad, it is actually a pretty reasonable cross-time caper about the power of love. But many more interesting works will be coming soon.

Greater Than Gods

Greater Than Gods: Five years on and the move to John W. Campbell’s publications can be seen as she writes a much more mature and philosophical tale. Out have gone heavy atmosphere and action, in come high concept and character front and centre. Returning again to time travel this looks at the nature of seeing possible timelines and the Cassandra problem.

Fruit of Knowledge

Fruit of Knowledge: This is probably her most beautiful work. A retelling of the Garden of Eden which makes the move from cosmic to personal drama of flawed individual. Every word of the story feels like it is perfectly chosen and it creates a wonderful painting.

No Woman Born

No Woman Born: Rightly regarded as her masterpiece. In this Deidre, possibly the greatest entertainer of her age, dies but is then reborn in a new metal body. What follows is one of the great identity stories of Science Fiction. Is she human? Is she even the same person? Just stunning. As an aside, this was considered as the starting point for a BBC TV series in the early 60s, so we could all have been watching Dancer Who instead…

Daemon: This is a really dark fantasy but a powerful one, in many ways a very good contrast to Black God’s Kiss in order to see both the evolution of her style and the core of the story. So much builds up and changes and is questioned (it is plausible the entire story did not really happen as we have it narrated) over the course of the story I am loathe to discuss the content, but it is fascinating and could easily be published in a mainstream publication today without raising an eyebrow.

Vintage Season

Vintage Season: Something of note with these stories is how they seem to move further and further away from the overt fantastical elements. Whilst the Northwest Smith stories are about hunting monsters across the solar system, it takes a while for the science fiction of The Vintage Season to emerge. This is another time travel tale but with a real difference from the usual state of affairs and shows how Moore really was, at heart, a master of character and human drama, using science fiction and fantasy as a lens for this.

Throughout these stories one thing that is noticeable compared to her contemporaries is how she puts women front and centre, whether as protagonists or villains. Her depictions do still sometimes reflect the views of the period in which she lived but that is something which is always going to be hard to avoid.

So this collection really highlights the breadth and skill of C. L. Moore’s career. Whilst it can seem an easy choice to anthologise these works chronologically it is really useful in order to show the evolution of her style and ideas. A must for anyone who is a fan of or has an interest in the 30s and 40s speculative fiction.

Our Favourite Short Fiction – September 2016

By Matt Cavanagh

Hello readers! So if you’re looking for a short trip into the land of SF&F here are five stories we would like to recommend to you from September:

Aphrodite’s Blood by Jennifer Campbell-Hicks

Clarkesworld 120

From Clarkesworld Issue #120

This is a short but very sweet tale of two AIs left behind in the aftermath of an environmental disaster. It tells the story of the AI that used to distil wine for humans. It set an interesting scene of how technology can be both a blessing and a curse for us. I loved how in a few paragraphs the emotional state of the AI comes out as a character in their own right and its decision to try and get the people back to its factory and its consequences are heart-warming (not something I associate with an apocalypse!).

Mama Tulu by Jessica Guess

Luna Station Quarterly Issue 27

From Luna Station Quarterly Issue #27

If however you’re looking more for your blood to be chilled this story may be worth a look. Our narrator tells us two stories about Mama Tulu in her Caribbean town, who is both respected and feared in equal measure. Two tales of cruel men come together in a rather unusual and unsettling way. The final couple of paragraphs as you realise what has happened will make you look over your shoulder. A great sense of place comes across this tale which adds freshness to it.

Little Widow by Maria Dahvana Headley

Little Widow Nightmare 48

From Nightmare Magazine Issue #48

The common links between dinosaurs and cults is often overlooked in fantasy and this story rectifies this imbalance at last. It tells the tale of a group of women who have survived a doomsday cult. You are never too sure where the tale is going (something I always enjoy). It skirts on the edge of being a dark tale of how women are viewed and how they survive the sexism of men and then bounces into a carnival that brings with it dinosaurs and possibly some overdue retribution.

The City Born Great by N. K. Jemisin


Urban fantasy can these days be felt to be limited to the wisecracking PI investigating magical crimes but here Jemisin reminds us that cities can be a lot more than a crime scene. Our narrator is a homeless black man who is being told he has to be the midwife…for New York City. Themes of police mistrust, being an outcast and a slight touch of romance are mixed with a unique chase scene and a beautifully epic finale; the story really captures the uniqueness and variety of New York.

Emergency Management Protocol by C.C.S. Ryan

Fireside 36

From Fireside Fiction Issue #36

Last but no means least is a story that starts with a break-up. Zory has moved to a new planet with her girlfriend who spends most of her time away; in a job where she feels lost and a neighbourhood she doesn’t know it is time to move on. However an earthquake then takes place that requires Zory to step outside of her apartment and face the world and start to trust others. The story of how we find our way through life is mixed with an off-world environment and in these rather dark times there is a reminder that people can also do some wonderful things under pressure.

Lucifer: Cold Heaven

Writer: Holly Black

Artists: Lee Garbett & Stephanie Hans

Colourist: Antonio Fabela

Lettering: Todd Klein
Cover Artists: Dave Johnson & Christopher Moeller

Lucifer Cover

I feel some background would help explain my feelings on Lucifer. Mike Carey’s Lucifer was a very unusual beast that went into the heart of deep philosophical and theological questions. Whilst it did open up some interesting spin-off avenues that could have been continued, Lucifer as a character seemed well and truly mined out. And in the intervening 10 years I have heard few people asking for a revival. However, with a (largely unrelated) Lucifer TV series taking off on FOX and Gaiman’s Sandman Overture being a hit, it makes sense for Morningstar to polish his horns and dust off his wings for another adventure.

What Black gives us is really two kinds of stories that intersect, a celestial tale the fans would expect and a more down to earth story they would not. As is often the case the latter is certainly the more interesting. I will tackle these two separately.

The setup for the main story (established quickly in the first issue and on the back cover) is that God is dead. Convinced that Lucifer is the murderer the angels send Gabriel to execute him but soon they decide to team-up to investigate the real culprit. Once again a murder plot makes sense in order to move it closer to the world of the FOX show, however the team never really gels. Black is so careful to ensure the two angels fit into the canon of Carey and Gaiman that they don’t have the larger than life clashes that make buddy-cop films such a staple. Lucifer within the book does not exude the cocky charm of Tom Ellis, rather he is more quiet and determined. At the same time Gabriel is angry and haunted but still an angel. As such the team-up doesn’t really allow for any interesting insights or character moments. Just two begrudging companions determined to solve a case.

The case itself is probably the most disappointing part of the comic books. It mostly consist of historical info-dumps and walking through old storylines (literally):

Lucifer Dreaming

Whilst the artwork does a great job of recreating the scenes as I recall them from the 90s, these feel more like fan service than actually a significant development of the story. What is good is that it does create a fully nightmarish landscape and give one a feeling of being immersed in the horror.

And the solution is built on a gun which, I would argue, Chekov failed to really lay out. That is not to say these moments are completely dull. Black is a master of dialogue and the back and forth that all the characters have are wonderful.

Medjine Lucifer

The other storyline, however, is brilliant. A young Haitian girl, Medjine, ends up in the possession of a demonic entity in a jar. This entity is in a bottle and so the only power the demon has is to communicate via whispers.

The whole story is such a great representation of depression and how it feels to have these self-doubts nagging at you day after day. This goes in a direction of trying to drive Medjine to violent psychosis externally rather than turning inward upon the self, but this makes sense within the context of the story. The art does much of the great work, really visualising the inner feelings and allowing us to feel the psychological reaction of these characters.

Medjine is a brilliant PoV character and I think it shows Black’s background in childrens’ and young adult literature. She manages to get inside the mind of someone in a very different situation from most of the readers and allow us to understand her without being patronising or stereotypical.

As such her journey through the story is the real heart of the piece. Lucifer may be the title character who goes directly on the murder mystery quest, but what I adored was seeing was Medjine go through these trials and traumas that are very real with only a touch of the fantastic to elevate them.

I am not sure I want to pick up more of Lucifer’s adventures but if Black wants to write the further adventures of Medjine it will go to the front of my pull-list.