Nov 202020
 

Popular Science Books: Elizabeth Bear is one of the best SF writers currently active, and Machine does not disappoint. As Bear makes clear in her acknowledgements, this novel, set in her ‘White Space’ universe, owes a debt to the Irish author James White’s classic Sector General stories, which were a breath of fresh air in the 1960s.

In her White Space universe, Bear has what is surely one of the best successors to Iain M Banks’ Culture universe setting, whether it’s in the sophisticated culture, the AI-as-people or the quaintly-named ships. Throw in a relic wreck of a generation ship, located where it never should have reached, a host of corpsicles, a strange AI entity and unexpected systems failures and we get a satisfyingly rich and interesting plot. The ideas come thick and fast, and Bear deploys fun future technology with aplomb.

…A good addition to what I hope will be a long-continued universe.

Nov 182020
 

Publishers Weekly: Hutchinson skillfully balances high-stakes action and mind-bending plot twists with humor and profundity. The result is a wildly ambitious, wackily imaginative tale that will leave readers craving a sequel.

Nov 162020
 

Publishers Weekly: Inventively mixing mystery, magic, and alternate history, Glover’s nail-biting debut takes readers to Reconstruction era Philadelphia. Henrietta “Hetty” and Benjamin “Benjy” Rhodes—both adept at sigil magic that draws on the constellations—are famed conductors for the Vigilance Society, which shepherded enslaved Black people to freedom along the Underground Railroad. Stories of their trips into the South are legendary in their Philadelphia community even a decade after the Civil War. Now, Hetty and Benjy use their magical and analytical skills as detectives, dealing with missing person cases, murders, and other crimes the white police force chooses to overlook. But when one of their friends turns up dead and their suspicions fall close to home, they’ll need to work out who in their community is not who they say they are. The pace is relaxed but the tension steadily builds as Glover weaves each detail into a satisfying mystery. Frequent flashbacks to Hetty and Benjy’s thrilling exploits as conductors on the Underground Railroad reveal how Hetty’s tough choices during the Civil War led to her life today. Readers will be surprised but gratified by an ending that shows just how past actions inform the present in unexpected ways. Glover is a writer to watch.

Nov 122020
 

Booklist: Settle in for a thrilling, funny, and moving ride…. The vulnerable, empathetic characters are full of personality and ground the high-concept premise with relatable issues.

Oct 152020
 

Library Journal: Being cut off from her sorcerous powers is everything that Beatrice Clayborn fears, since being a true Magus is her calling. Yet Beatrice’s family is putting the last of their funds into her place in the Bargaining Season, a time when families gather to strike advantageous marriages. Worse, once married, Beatrice must wear a collar during pregnancy to protect her unborn children by cutting off her power. The key to her becoming a Magus lies in a grimoire she has discovered, but another sorceress, Ysbeta Lavan, finds a way to acquire it for the same reason. Using a spirit to get the book back means paying a price: Beatrice’s first kiss — with Ianthe Lavan, Ysbeta’s brother and a man that Beatrice wonders if she could have a future with. Except making the choice between love and dreams could mean the greatest loss of her life.

VERDICT Polk’s (Witchmark) foray into a society of magic and politics places the woman in the secondary role, but neither Beatrice nor Ysbeta will stay in place. Fans of romantic fantasy set in a multicultural world will find this a fascinating read.

Oct 122020
 

NPR: There’s a spooky warmth to Elatsoe, Darcie Little Badger’s debut novel. Set in a version of our contemporary world where everyone knows ghosts, fairies, and vampires are real, Elatsoe, like its namesake protagonist, walks a zig-zagging line between humor and horror, braiding them into each other. Dead dogs make cheerful ghost companions while widows mourn young husbands; vampires propose marriage to fairy princesses while miracle-working doctors keep sinister secrets….This was deeply enjoyable from start to finish, with moments of shockingly clear insight and sharp knife-twists of plot. Ellie’s a great character, kind and keen, and her relationships with friends and parents are a pleasure to dwell in. It’s very moving to me to see a whole family pulling together as a dramatic unit, and I loved the place parents and grandparents occupy in the narrative, present as storytellers and stories both. The plot is smoothly woven through with folkloric stories of heroic ancestors, and the pattern they make together is beautiful.

It’s also very satisfying to see a lovely boy/girl friendship exist for its own sake: Ellie’s best friend next to Kirby is Jay, a descendent of Oberon who’s as supportive of her quest for justice as he is respectful of her asexuality. More mainstream narratives would treat a young woman’s disdain for marriage and sexuality as naïve immaturity in need of correction; Ellie’s identity is a matter-of-fact constant, affirmed by those who love her in a handful of grace notes chiming through the overall melodic line of the book….There’s so much love in Elatsoe, such deep grief held in the stronger arms of family and community. I’m so excited for all the young people who get to read this book and find themselves in it.

Oct 082020
 

Publishers Weekly: Writing in stirring prose, Hackwith imbues her high-concept, metafictional tale with color, action, and high-flying emotion. This imaginative ode to the power of fiction is sure to delight

Oct 062020
 

Locus: One thing about Elizabeth Bear’s Machine, the second novel set in her White Space universe after 2019’s Ancestral Night: it’s sure as hell not either shallow or amoral. It is, in fact, fundamentally engaged in wrestling with questions of ethics, culture, worldview, and how much restitution needs to be made when one does harm in order to do other kinds of good.

Jens is a fascinating character. The narrator of Machine, she is – in all her flaws, determination, skill, friendships, and conviction – very easy to relate to, and to empathise with, in her human complexity, triumphs, and failures.

Though Machine is set in the same world as Ancestral Night – in the Synarche, with its vast diversity of people and species, its peculiar form of government, and its technological advances and social compromises – it has a similarly engaging voice, for all that Jens is a very different character to Ancestral Night’s Haimey, and a similarly engaging approach to pacing: Machine isn’t a short book, but it’s a very fast read for its length. Bear has a striking command of tension and character, and a deep interest in ethics and human behaviour.

It’s impossible, if you’re aware of James White’s Sector General stories and novels, not to see Machine as in conversation with that particular lineage. (I think I’ve read all of one Sector General story, but the influence is clear.) Space opera rarely concerns itself with the medical, and with the challenges of workaday life: it’s an untapped vein, and Bear draws from it with characteristic deftness and skill.

Machine is a fascinating, compelling, and ultimately satisfying space opera in a vast, complex, weird, and interesting universe. I really enjoyed it, and I hope this isn’t the last novel to concern itself with Core General, or with the Synarche at large.

Oct 022020
 

Shelf Awareness: Darcie Little Badger’s creative and meticulously plotted YA debut, Elatsoe, is a supernatural murder mystery that takes place in a United States that has Fairy Ring Transportation Centers, endless fields of scarecrows with human eyes and a rich history of Lipan Apache ghost whisperers.

When Elatsoe’s ghost dog, Kirby, throws a fit, she knows something is very wrong. Turns out, Ellie’s cousin Trevor was in a fatal car accident. That night Ellie, whose “family secret” is the knowledge of how to bring back the dead, dreams of Trevor. “A man named Abe Allerton murdered me,” he tells Ellie. “Don’t let Abe hurt my family.” Ellie’s mother and father believe that Ellie is as powerful as her Six-Great-Grandmother who traveled Lipan Apache territory saving her people from undead evils, dangerous creatures and deadly settlers. Knowing the strength of his daughter’s gift, Ellie’s father agrees to help her investigate. With the assistance of her parents and her good friend and Lord Oberon descendant, Jay, Ellie takes a trip across Texas to find Abe Allerton and bring him to justice.

Little Badger excellently balances humor and horror in this inventive YA mystery/alternate history/fantasy. Ellie is a very likable protagonist whose Lipan heritage and ethnicity is not just twined with the story, but is the story: her gift comes from Six-Great; she’s vocal about the contemporary mistreatment of Indigenous people; and she has a pretty ingenious way of dispelling vampires. Each chapter begins with graceful, almost ethereal black-and-white illustrations by And the Ocean Was Our Sky artist Rovina Cai, adding to the evanescent vibe of the book, a Lipan Apache Sookie Stackhouse for the teen set. One hopes Ellie—and the wonderfully developed world in which she lives—will appear in many more books to come.