NOVA HELLAS: STORIES FROM FUTURE GREECE edited by Francesca T. Barbini & Francesco Verso

Nova Hellas: Stories From Future Greece
Edited by Francesca T. Barbini & Francesco Verso
Luna Press Publishing — March 2021
ISBN: 9781913387389
— Paperback — 152 pp.


CONTENTS:

Introduction by Dimitra Nikolaidou

“Roseweed” by Vasso Christou (Translated by Dimitra Nikolaidou & Vaya Pseftaki)

“Social Engineering” by Kostas Charitos (Translated by Dimitra Nikolaidou & Vaya Pseftaki)

“The Human(c)ity of Athens” by Ionna Bourazopoulou (Translated by Dimitra Nikolaidou & Vaya Pseftaki)

“Baghdad Square” by Michalis Monolios (Translated by Dimitra Nikolaidou & Vaya Pseftaki)

“The Bee Problem” by Yiannis Papadopoulos & Stamatis Stamatopoulos (Translated by Dimitra Nikolaidou & Vaya Pseftaki)

“T2” by Kelly Theodorakopoulou (Translated by Dimitra Nikolaidou & Vaya Pseftaki)

“Those We Serve” by Eugenia Triantafyllou

“Abacos” by Lina Theodorou (Translated by Dimitra Nikolaidou & Vaya Pseftaki)

“Any Old Disease” by Dimitra Nikolaidou

“Android Whores Can’t Cry” by Natalia Theodoridou

“The Colour that Defines Me” by Stamatis Stamatopoulos (Translated by Stephanie Polakis)

I’d originally meant to review this anthology of Greek science fiction for Speculative Fiction in Translation. However, I became delayed in writing the review and Rachel Cordasco got her own review of it posted onto her site in the meantime. I agree wholeheartedly with her general praise for Nova Hellas, but I had different personal favorites from it. Her review is definitely still worth checking out for comparison.

The collection starts strongly, with a pair of my favorites. “Roseweed” is set in a post-climate change dystopia where divers and engineers explore the lower floors of partially submerged buildings for structural integrity. They are hired as part of a plan to turn these spots into ‘escape rooms’ for rich tourists looking for the thrill of visiting abandoned locations filled with the allure of danger and risk among the decay. The story highlights one of the repeating themes of the anthology: that amid disheartening futures, people find ways to go on and live amid the changes. Even when it is still the rich that are carelessly exploiting environments and the classes beneath them, regular people find some semblance of optimism amid those challenges or frustrations.

The story that follows, “Social Engineering” likewise does a great job establishing one of the unifying features to the anthology, the merging of the Classical Greece with the Modern and the Future. This short story literally overlays the periods in an Athens that is cloaked within artificial, or ‘augmented’ realities. The protagonist of the story has been hired to influence an upcoming city referendum, and the plot delves into how engineering at the level of physical urban planning but also through directed social interaction may create more issues than solutions.

Those themes of society hidden underneath veneers or layers, and the interplay between the architectural hardware of a place (with its loaded history) and the individuals who fit into that system like cogs comes up again in different ways in “The Human(c)ity of Athens”, and then another artificial reality in “Baghdad City”. Interestingly – and I assume intentionally – that specific portmanteau of ‘humancity’ appears in a later story of the anthology as well (T2, if I recall), striking alternate tones to the same theme(s).

Like Rachel, I enjoyed the classic science fiction vibes of “Those We Serve”, with its artificial intelligences that have ‘replaced’ human counterparts, and the mystery of “Any Old Disease” that called to mind questions of what we consider biological versus not. “The Bee Problem” similarly evokes thoughts on the intersections between the biological and the artificial when the performance of drones becomes affected by a return of native bee populations.

Very short, “Abacos” had a transcript format that I didn’t really enjoy, though it is certainly well composed as that. It shares with “Android Whores Can’t Cry” an element of trying to reconstruct a past, the truth, from recording, which is interesting. I remain uncertain over that last story, probably the most challenging in the anthology, and needing a reread.

The story that closes out Nova Hellas was another of my top favorites. “The Colour That Defines You” occurs in a future world where some unexplained event has caused humans to no longer see colors. In general, people are left only seeing shades of gray from black to white… except for one specific color that is unique to each and every person. Pure happenstance leads some to discover the identity of that one color their brain can process. Others haven’t yet found it. Through the story we follow the threads of several intersecting characters and how this unique situation ends up defining their existence. What if the only color one could perceive was that of fresh, scarlet, blood? The set up for this is pure MacGuffin, but Stamatopoulos takes the literal plot, as well as its symbolisms in fascinating directions.

I can’t say as I’ve ever read science fiction – or even any fiction – from Greece before, but I’m glad to have had this opportunity to discover new authors and see their visions of common, but varied, themes in the genre. A huge amount of thanks to Luna Press Publishing for making works such as this available, and as always to my friend and partner in crime Rachel Cordasco of SF in Translation for helping to spread the word. [For legal reasons, Rachel and Daniel do no actually engage in criminal enterprise.]


REVENANT by Alex White

Revenant
(Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
By Alex White
Gallery Books — December 2021
ISBN: 9781982160821
— Paperback — 320 pp.


Along with re-reading/continuing with the Star Trek novel series from their starts, I restarted getting the newest releases to read as well. They’ve certainly improved a lot, on average, but I felt a bit frustrated that so many were from the original series cast, or its reboot. Where was the greatest Trek of all time? Where was Deep Space Nine? With the novels in disarray due to Picard upending canon, I was even more disappointed. Finally, after more than a decade (?) a DS9 novel appeared on the scheduled horizon. Revenant is fantastic, and I can only hope that more DS9 books will arrive to come, whether set during the timeline of the TV show as this novel is, or tweaked to mesh with the new canon.

Alex White’s Revenant is set near the start of DS9‘s fourth season, after “The Way of the Warrior” and prior to “Indiscretion”. A longtime friend of the Dax symbiote arrives on the station to beg Jadzia Dax’s help in guiding his rebellious granddaughter Nemi, who has turned from family and friends after being twice rejected by the Trill Symbiosis Commission for joining. Jadzia had served as a mentor, and a ‘big sister’ role model for Nemi, and decides to take a vacation leave from the station to go find the young woman who she has regrettably let drift away from her busy life in Starfleet. Jadzia is shocked that the Nemi she finds has changed even more than Nemi’s grandfather had realized. With horror, Jadzia learns that Nemi harbors an unauthorized symbiote. Her investigation into this meets resistance from Trill officials, and puts her life in danger by poking at a hornet’s nest of bureaucratic secrets and a threat from Dax’s own unclear past.

Revenant is a novel that will only really work for fans of DS9 who retain familiarity with the show, particularly how Trill society works and Dax’s past hosts. White returns here to the plot of Dax’s suppressed memories of a psychopathic host named Joran who committed murders, a history that the Symbiosis Commission knowingly tried to cover up and hide, even to the danger of Dax’s life. What has occurred to Nemi forces Jadzia to further face memories of Joran, as well as aspects of Curzon’s personality and choices that sit badly with her.

With this, White does something really important for DS9 and Dax’s character, confronting the problematic aspects of Curzon as a selfish, lecherous man who used power, and his weakness, to harass. The novel also provides more ‘humanity’ to Joran’s character, rationale for his acts of murders, and an answer to what happened to him. While that first really well into the plot of novel, and makes the story engaging, it does change how Joran’s personality is depicted within the TV series. Though still monstrous and disturbed, readers (and Jadzia) feel a great deal more sympathy for him. This also twists this thread out of canon alignment with later points in the TV series (such as Ezri’s grappling with previous host Joran.) But, given that such changes to ‘canon’ and logic happen all the time even within the TV show itself (just look at the introduction of the Trill in The Next Generation to what they are in DS9,) I hardly mind.

The other interesting aspect of Revenant is its inclusion of other DS9 crew members. Jadzia starts out on her own, but soon enlists the help of Kira. With Kira featured along with Jadzia on the cover of the book, I expected this partnership to remain. However, Kira stays for only a bit before heading back to the station to tag-team swap with Bashir and Worf. White handles the Jadzia-Kira friendship very well, and it would have been nice for that to be explored in more depth, particularly on that Kira side of things.

Again, I can’t complain about this too much, because the inclusion of Worf is one of the best aspects of Revenant. The relationship and marriage of Jadzia Dax and Worf did make sense (far more than any Troi-Worf relationship,) but I don’t recall the TV series spending too much time on the two characters getting to discover one another. White uses this Jadzia-centric novel as an opportunity to show just how she and Worf move past assumptions to a friendship, respect, and attraction. It’s not a plot thread I ever thought about wanting to see more of, but reading it here made me realize how great it can be when handled as well as White does.

In the acknowledgments at the end of the novel, Alex White asks that readers get their other books as well, and I’m now going to have to do this. I don’t recall reading their work before, but I am very impressed with Revenant‘s style, architecture, and characterization. I didn’t want to go much into the plot development, as I think that works better for readers to discover fresh. But, White handles the pacing and ultimate conclusion of the novel very well, even including a bit of technological science fiction that is more fitting than the usual techno-babble solutions that magically save the day in typical Trek.

CBS/Gallery Books, give White more Star Trek to write, and please – enough with the early periods of Trek, give us some more DS9.


A DESOLATION CALLED PEACE by Arkady Martine

A Desolation Called Peace
(Teixcalaan #2)
By Arkady Martine
Tor Books — March 2021
ISBN: 9781250186461
— Hardcover — 496 pp.


I considered A Memory Called Empire, the first book in Arkady Martine’s Teixcalaan series, to be among my top reads in 2019, if not the best. Along with reviewing it on Skiffy & Fanty, I also went out of my way to recommend it to as many people I could that might read science fiction. At least two got back to me after the fact to thank me, explaining they really enjoyed it as well. The novel subsequently deservedly won the Hugo Award. If this recent space opera series from Tor hasn’t been on your radar, or if it’s languished in your TBR pile, I encourage you to pick it up tout de suite.

Martine followed up that stunning debut with A Desolation Called Peace last year, a novel that is every bit as engaging and successful as its predecessor. It enriches the series with continued exploration of politics and culture at the level of individuals and empire, and then further dives into speculations of a first contact scenario. Though this novel offers a satisfying closure to the series as a duology, it clearly could be expanded into more volumes featuring its ‘universe’. I fervently hope that this would be the case, particularly if Martine uses such an expansion to tackle other classical themes of space opera that she hasn’t touched yet, or uses it to explore completely novel themes that the genre might allow.

A Desolation Called Peace picks up mere months after the conclusion of the first volume. Teixcalaanli Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is dispatched to confront the alien armada that has appeared at the edges of known space. The aliens have destroyed a colony and she finds no way to effectively combat them or communicate with the mysterious beings. In a desperate attempt to break this impasse and the growing threat of destruction, Nine Hibiscus requests a first contact communication envoy from the Information Ministry, Three Seagrass. While secretly smuggling herself to the frontlines, Three Seagrass recruits the aid of Mahit Dzmare, the Lsel ambassador to the Empire, thereby saving her former associate, and friend, from the political fallout on Lsel Station from the events of the first novel. Together, the two forge an even stronger relationship, making contact with the aliens. With the help of Nine Hibiscus’s loyal adjutant Twenty Cicada, they unlock the first steps of comprehending their alien enemy and how to effectively communicate back with them. However, rebellion within the fleet (set in motion by elements in the Empire set on influencing young Emperor heir Eight Antidote) risk subverting the progress they make.

All of the rich examination of colonialism, culture, and individuality from the first novel carry on into the second. This specifically holds true within the realms of language and communication, which of course now aren’t just interrogated through the Teixcalaanli Empire – Colonized Lsel divide, but also with the mysterious aliens. These aliens are more ‘Other’ than the “Barbarian” people who exist outside the Empire, distinct not only in culture, but in biology and psychology. The aliens exist with a hive, shared consciousness that passes on through generations, without the individuality or concept of ‘death’ that humans would have. This concept is not remotely new to space opera, but Martine employs it in a fascinating way by contrasting it with the rest of the world building she established since the first book.

The main, and secondary, characters of A Desolation Called Peace are as splendidly drawn as in the first novel, and the further burgeoning relationship between Three Seagrass and Mahit is a pleasure to read and see develop. However, Twenty Cicada, notably shines as a bit of a break-out star in the novel. Martine gives him a captivating backstory and spiritual outlook that wonderfully sets him apart from so much of what drives the other characters we’ve met.

These are novels that I know I will happily return to and reread sometime in the years to come, but I also look forward to anything else Martine writes, in this Teixcalaan universe, or elsewhere.


ANNA by Sammy H.K. Smith

“… Anna is a tautly written dystopian thriller immerses readers in a brutal world of struggling for survival and personhood. It is not inspirational. It is a horrifying and brutal first-person account of traumatic abuse and finding a possibility of some freedom or power despite it…”

Read my entire debut review for Fantasy Book Critic of Anna HERE

Solaris (Rebellion Press) – May 2021 – Hardcover – 300 pp.

THE ALBUM OF DR. MOREAU by Daryl Gregory

The Album of Dr. Moreau
By Daryl Gregory
Tor.com — May 2021
ISBN: 9781947879331
— Paperback — 176 pp.


Have you long been searching for a short science fiction / murder mystery read, packed with humor and meta winks, featuring a Boy Band of eccentric, genetically-engineered, human-animal hybrids?

No?

Well, you should be now. Immediately.

It may surprise you, but I hadn’t either. Boy Bands were never my thing, and my musical tastes are not now – nor have they ever been – particularly mainstream. I also have never read The Island of Dr. Moreau. I watched the movie with Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer back at its release, but don’t really remember any details of it. Or I’ve blocked them out. I know the gist of the story though, and could sing you Oingo Boingo’s “No Spill Blood”. That’s about it.

I am a fan of murder mysteries though. And science fiction. And I think I’ve enjoyed, if not loved, all the short fiction by Daryl Gregory that I’ve read over the years in magazines. So, though I was never looking for this book, and the premise didn’t sound that tempting, I gave it a try. I am so thankful that I did.

Gregory succeeds phenomenally well here with the mashup of classic mystery and classic science fiction riffs, tying it all together with a tongue-in-cheek, light-hearted noir tone (oxymoron intended) that pulls readers in to simply enjoy the ride. He play with every element, even the murder mystery one by breaking all five of T.S. Eliot’s rules for effective, proper detective fiction.

So, I should summarize the plot a bit before rambling on…

Las Vegas Detective Luce Delgado has the difficult task of solving the murder of Dr. M, the producer behind 2001’s hottest boy band, the WyldBoyZ. The five genetically-engineered members of this vocal group are Delgado’s prime suspects. She begins to interview each of them: Bobby the ocelot (the ‘cute’ one), Matt the megabat (the ‘funny’ one), Tim the pangolin (the ‘shy’ one), Devin the bonobo (the ‘romantic’ one), and Tusk the elephant (the ‘smart’ one). Through the band members and others involved in their entourage, Delgado (and the reader) learn of the egos, talents, foibles, fractures, and traumas that underlie the band’s history and success.

Gregory brings the characters alive, absurd as they are, to make the reader actually invested in them each, as if one were fans of the band. He makes the mystery plot engaging, paced perfectly to allow the reader to get to know all the suspects, revealing bits that can lead the reader to figure some likelihoods out, but still nailing the eventual culprit reveal. He pays homage to a classic, while also inventing the story in a fun, interesting way.

Through that all, Gregory lets his love of music shine, crafting a story that is equally faux documentary of a band’s history and personalities, like a literary This Is Spın̈al Tap. The humor is on-point, but never gets silly or infantile. It becomes grounded in the serious nature of the psychologies of the band members.

The critique of celebrity and themes surrounding the cost of fame, and the humanization of idols, is nothing new to The Album of Dr. Moreau. but mix that with the the themes of H.G. Wells novel in a murder mystery framework, and all the familiar elements that make up this novel remix into a glorious new beat and key of pure entertainment and fun. I’m not sure if these characters (or the universe) would work in a series that mashed up with additional science fiction classics. But I think it should be investigated. At the least, more stories in this style would be very welcome.


THE FALLEN STAR by Claudia Gray

The Fallen Star
(Star Wars — The High Republic)
By Claudia Gray
Disney-Lucasfilm Press — January 2022
ISBN: 9780593355398
— Hardcover — 345 pp.


Like the Marvel Cinematic Universe it owns, Disney is putting out its media series of Star Wars: The High Republic series in phases. Along with Midnight Horizon (which I recently reviewed here) The Fallen Star represents the end of Phase I for the novels. I only read the adult and YA novels, so have no knowledge of any of the other entries in the series, such as the comics.

Set roughly two centuries prior to the events of The Phantom Menace, the series has so far been an overall success, exceeding many of the other canon novels that directly tie to the film series or Skywalker saga. A cast of characters who (apart from Yoda) are completely new, has been refreshing. And the antagonist of Marchion Ro has been more compelling than I initially expected, making the otherwise routine scum and villainy of the Nihil more palatable.

The Fallen Star succeeds as a very exciting, fast paced Star Wars adventure that nicely brings some aspects (and characters) of The High Republic to a close, while setting things up for hopefully even better things to come for readers. Nonetheless, it’s not without its flaws, which mostly come from the series set up, rather than the writing of Claudia Gray. Gray continues to be one of the best, if not the best, writer in the Star Wars canon, able to make even dispiriting tragedy and cookie-cutter series architecture into irresistible written gold.

If you haven’t read the previous novels in the series, then The Fallen Star is not worth your time. It might still be comprehensible as self-contained story, but the resonance of the characters and reader connections to them would be lost. If you’ve started the series, well, you should definitely continue at least through this one. If you really love Star Wars, and haven’t started the series, then these are among the best of the novels to delve into. You’ll probably be setting yourself up for continuing reading into Phase 2 to satisfy curiosity and in craving more closure.

[I’m done with Marvel movies, Avengers Endgame was a perfect spot to cry “Uncle!” The last Star Wars movies pretty much did the same for me (and there’s no way I’m giving Disney money for Disney+) but I’m continuing with the novels at least for the time being. The recent move from Del Rey publishing to Disney Books directly has me questioning how long until I quit these too.]

It’s right there in the title, but The Fallen Star chronicles the sabotage and destruction of Starlight Beacon by the Nihil, that shining symbol of hope that the Republic and the Jedi have brought to the Outer Rim. Marchion Ro has sent a small group of Nihil on a suicide mission to infiltrate the base and initiate a series of failures that will bring the station to absolute destruction. To cloud this nefarious scheme from the Jedi and reduce their chance of dealing with the cascading problems that will arise, Ro has sent the Leveler there as well, hidden on a cargo ship. (The Leveler being a creature, first appearing in the previous book, that can block/dull the Force-sensitive from accessing/feeling the Force.)

As Jedi Master Avar Kriss is off hunting for Lorna Dee (mistakenly identified as the Nihil leader) Jedi Master Stellan Gios is left in charge of Starlight Beacon to deal with the unprecedented attack. Among those there with him to help are talented Padawan Bell Zettifar and Jedi Master Elzar Mann, who has willingly distanced himself from the Force due to succumbing to the pull of the Dark Side during the climax of the previous novel. Meanwhile, some former Nihil from previous novels are also held prisoner on the station, brought by a heroic crew that includes a sentient rock named Geode as navigator.

The humor from Geode works well amid all the disaster and death of Jedi as the villains’ plan succeeds. But the real emotional core of the novel is in the ever hopeful and brave Bell, who makes clear with his actions here that he is more of a Jedi Knight now than a Padawan. Elzar Mann’s philosophical crises also remain engaging, particular with the separation he now has with the Force, as well as from Kriss and the severely compromised Gios. Bell in particular symbolizes how to fight through disaster to preserve every little shard and life possible. His process of moving on from the loss of his mentor (and the potential loss here of the replacement) makes him particularly suited to rise to the occasion and show the others how to continue fighting for Light.

Gray adapts just the right tone to make things dour, heartwarming, painful, and hopeful all when required. And she structures the novel well with a brisk pacing that still gives brief moments of emotional respite. This makes the novel entertaining and engaging despite the flaws in the story for me.

Those flaws are largely two frustrations. First, we have here yet another story/situation where the hubris of the Jedi is there downfall. The leveler helps, but Ro’s ability to get that creature in with Nihil members to cause havoc first comes down to the Jedi’s blindness and assumptions. It’s far too familiar to the prequel trilogy in tone, and it would be really nice to see Jedi that aren’t so collectively smug and ignorant for once. Secondly, the Leveler comes off as a glaring plot contrivance just to weaken the Jedi in a profound new way that miraculously has never cropped up before. The series is built on a certain amount of conceptual laziness, not unlike much of the sequel film trilogy, but at least Gray can make that engaging.


THE HOUSE OF STYX by Derek Künsken

The House of Styx
(Venus Ascendant #1)
By Derek Künsken
Solaris (Rebellion Publishing) — August 2020
ISBN: 9781781088050
— Hardcover — 500 pp.


It’s approximately two hundred years in our future and the atmosphere of Venus has been settled by descendants of Québécois settlers. They subsist as a self-governed mining cooperative, but their political structure and livelihood are ultimately controlled by the bank that holds the economic strings. Families live in floating complexes, bio-engineered trawlers derived from native Venusian life that has evolved in the sulfuric acid-laden atmosphere. Active mining habitats circulate between atmospheric rangs to harvest elements and compounds that can be sold. It’s a dangerous life in environments inhospitable to human life, demanding bravery and advanced engineering skills.

The D’Aquillon family owns a habitat/vessel named Causapscal-des-Profondeurs, where patriarch George-Étienne leads their mining efforts in the lowest of Venusian rangs, isolated from the main colony, both its control and its support/aid. In part, the D’Aquillons are self-exiled to this most dangerous area of Venus, to an existence that has already claimed the lives of George-Étienne’s wife and one daughter. Jean-Eudes, the first-born son of the family was born with Trisomy 21, Down’s Syndrome, a condition the colonial authorities would not allow to exist, diverting precious resources to an individual who could not ‘contribute’. George-Étienne and his wife refused to give up their son, trading a life with the gentle and loving Jean-Eudes for medical services and colonial support, moving the Causapscal-des-Profondeurs to where no one else was willing to go.

With George-Étienne and eldest son Jean-Eudes are youngest son Pascal, a brilliant engineer of only sixteen years, and young grandson Alexis, the son of the daughter who was lost in a Venusian storm. While exploring the high pressure surfaces of Venus, George-Étienne and Pascal discover a cave where atmospheric currents oddly seem to be entering. Using a submersible probe and camera and they explore, bringing back rare metals and materials that should not be present on Venus, and machinery that appears to be alien. Pascal has the radical idea that they have just discovered something unfathomably priceless: a possible worm-hole to another part of the universe there within the Venusian cave. An opportunity for mining goods that no one else within the colony can get at, a possible way to get out from under the influence and power of Venus’ colonial system and the banks that enforce it.

The only person they are willing to trust with their discovery is Marthe, sister to Jean-Eudes and Pascal, who lives in a habitat with the main colony as a delegate to the ruling assembly, a leading minority voice against those in power. Marthe realizes that any move the D’Aquillon’s make to take advantage of Pascal’s discovery will need some support from other families, so she uses her diplomatic skills to pursue these. However, she is less certain whether to also bring her other brother in on the plan, Émile, the black sheep of the family, who left the Causapscal-des-Profondeurs after a bitter argument with his father, who now lives mostly in weak pursuit of women, Venusian religion, and an aspiration to writing poetry. This he fuels with self-destructive resentment and anger, mixed with alcohol and other drugs.

Can the D’Aquillon’s come together again, putting family first for their future, and the colony’s? Will the bank and the leaders of the colonial governing council discover what they are up to and put a stop to things? Might their efforts and diplomatic outreach to other families be the start of something much larger?

The House of Styx originally appeared in serialized form as three parts published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact Magazine back in 2020. Solaris (Rebellion Publishing) subsequently put out the complete version, and I recommend readers check it out. If you happen to have read other novels by Künsken, The House of Styx does exist in the same ‘universe’ as his “Quantum Evolution” series. My understanding as the “Venus Ascendant” series serves as a prequel detailing the establishment of things in the other. The House of Styx is similarly built on ‘hard’ science fiction and a focus on things physical and technological. I do wish Künsken had devoted as much to his exploration of the Venusian biology. The hard science of the House of Styx gave it a home in Analog, but really its all built on core themes of the novel dealing with familial interaction and identity politics. It is a space opera amalgam of hard SF and soap opera. And, as I detail below, that’s not a bad thing at all.

Given its original serialized format, the has an organization into thirds. The first establishes the setting and the personality/relationship between the D’Aquillon family members up to Pascal’s discovery. The second details the family’s process of making a decision of what to do regarding their discovery, and reaching out to potential allies. And the concluding third unveils the fruition of those plans and how that impacts the various family members.

A lot happens, therefore, in The House of Styx. Yet, it also reads as relatively incomplete. As the first part of a series, it is largely setting things up for the future, and the novel ends with a lot being unresolved. Sure, some things wrap up, and there are certainly character arcs/growth going on. I’m just not convinced that there’s enough for the novel to satisfyingly work as a stand-alone. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the novel, and I’m looking forward to reading more. But, I don’t think I’d recommend it to someone who was only willing to commit to reading just this first book. If you read this, you’re setting yourself up to need to read the future books of the series to fully appreciate things.

Here’s why The House of Styx and beyond is worth investment: the setting and its characters work phenomenally well to explore both concepts of science and of humanity. The Québécois culture and argot that peppers the novel give it a unique and personalized tone from Künsken that provides an interesting and new perspective to what might be expected of future colonists of a world like Venus. The pride, daring, and loyalty of the D’Aquillon’s shines to overcome their sins, failings, or ‘imperfections’ for their environment.

Of all the characters, Pascal is most frequently central, with events going through his point of view, with Marthe and Émile being close seconds. For each of these siblings (and to some extent other characters who don’t really have POVs), the plot of the novel is really a vehicle for them to fully work out who they each are as individuals. Are they just a D’Aquillon, or are they also Venusian? Can they be different from their father, yet still be loyal to the family? What are they meant to do with their life? Who are they really meant to be, at their core?

These dilemmas become most perceptible in Pascal, who from early in the novel voices feelings of discomfort with his body and self image. Gradually, he begins to wonder whether the alienation he feels within himself between mind and the physical may come down to discord between biological sex and gender. Through conversations with his sister and his brother Jean-Eudes, coupled with self-reflection, Pascal decides that he is perhaps really a girl. In a very moving and well-rendered passage, an instant of a few words, Pascal become Pascale. She is more confident, but still confused on how to tell all her family, or the man she has fallen in love with (and he with her.)

Just as the novel centers of the themes of personal discovery of identity, so too does it work on the larger scale of political identity: self-sufficiency versus shared governance, a part of the colony or separate, beholden to a repressive economic condition or economically fully independent of such powers?

The House of Styx ends in a somewhat heartbreaking and cliff-hanger fashion, yet I suspect the follow up novel will have resolutions that make the ending happier, or offer return of characters long-thought lost. Regardless, I’m invested in seeing where things go for this planet, for this new partnership of families, for these people. Just, please, some more hard biology to go with the engineering stuff?


MIDNIGHT HORIZON by Daniel José Older

Midnight Horizon
(Star Wars — The High Republic)
By Daniel José Older
Disney-Lucasfilm Press — February 2022
ISBN: 9781368057288
— Hardcover — 496 pp.


Set two centuries before the events of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, The High Republic media series has depicted the Republic and the Jedi try to deal with fighting off a mysterious new enemy called the Nihil amid their attempted expansion of Republican ideals toward the Outer Rim.

Within the different types of media, I only care about the novels, and I expected the series to simply consist of a trilogy of adult novels and a trilogy of young adult novels, but apparently this is only the start of an ongoing thing. This third young adult novel Midnight Horizon takes place roughly concurrently with the events of the third adult novel The Fallen Star (which I’m reading now.)

[As an aside, I don’t understand the whole young adult marketing at all, particularly for media tie-ins like this. They don’t seem very distinguishable from an adult novel to me – having more teen Padawans appearing as the protagonists does not inherently make something ‘young adult’. And I wonder how much the readership really divides along age lines between the two types of novel – if at all?]

If you haven’t read the previous novels yet, you should start there. While the specifics of Midnight Horizon are a self-contained story, the broader strokes of galactic conflict and history between many characters can only be appreciated or followed with the context of previous stories.

Two Jedi Masters, Cohmac Vitus and Kantam Sy travel to Corellia to investigate mysterious attacks on the planet’s upper class that may be linked to the Nihil, as part of the new active efforts of the Jedi to try and stamp out the terrorist raider threat. With them in Coronet City are Padawans Reath Silas and Ram Jomaram, and local help in the form of a young woman named Crash who leads a gang of bodyguards for the Corellian elite.

The High Republic has been a series of ups and downs for me, sometimes being riveting thrills and other times a stew pot of mediocrity. Midnight Horizon felt similar, compressed into one story. The start of the novel begins with an attack and mystery that feels promising, but soon the story languishes in slow build up that focuses more on interactions between the Jedis. The end finally picks up, considerably bolstered by the appearance (finally) of Yoda, whose name has been merely teased throughout earlier novels. Flashback scenes with Yoda earlier in the novel are also bright spots.

This overall arch of Midnight Horizon is actually not any different from all the other Star Wars novels, the middle portions are built on slower moments of character interactions, their emotions and their growth. So why was I bored so much by it here, while I enjoyed it elsewhere? I think the answer simply comes down to my appreciation of the writing style of the author. Older’s style is just not for me.

I previously read Older’s Star Wars novel that coincided with that terrible Solo: A Star Wars Adventure film. I chalked up my disinterest in that novel to the fact that I really couldn’t stand Solo or its characters. I now see it’s not just that. Older returns in Midnight Horizon to that world of Solo by setting this novel on Corellia, and I won’t deny his strengths at working in that world – or in serving as an overall story architect for The High Republic. But, both novels also have a distinctive voice that feels extremely off for the setting, too emulative of modern English, particularly with phrasing or adding slang that make it more like teenagers are speaking. There are moments where it feels cutesy, and cutesy is not something that for me fits with Star Wars.

This negative becomes augmented by the molding of Midnight Horizon to a “young adult” market (so I guess that wasn’t totally an aside above.) Older’s style that grated at me felt worst with scenes and points of view of the Padawans or Crash. The parts more focused on the Jedi Masters simply felt better, not drawing me out of the story and universe.

If you’re reading The High Republic series, this is certainly enjoyable enough to warrant reading, even if Older’s style doesn’t match your tastes. If you have no qualms with his style, you’ll probably love this novel. If you haven’t read The High Republic, but are a Star Wars fan, it’s a series worth looking into, better than most of the novels that were released alongside the latest film trilogy, with a large cast of new, interesting characters. Just start with the first books that set it up so well.


ENGINES OF OBLIVION by Karen Osborne

Engines of Oblivion
(The Memory War Book II)
By Karen Osborne
Tor Books — February 2021
ISBN: 9781250215505
— Paperback — 416 pp.


Trilogies and beyond are certainly the norm for genre fiction. Many stand-alones exist. But, seem to be pretty rare. If writing two distinct chapters, how easy it much be to stretch things for more. If they aren’t so distinct, couldn’t they simply fit together into just one longer volume? Karen Osborne does something unique and remarkable with her “The Memory War” duology. Engines of Oblivion, the second book of the series feels even more successful than the first.

The two novels are flip-sides of the same coin, or the same vinyl record, bearing different surface characteristics but forged from the same core elemental materials. Both of them enrich one another: the first is necessary to grasp the sequel, but the sequel makes the reader appreciate its predecessor more deeply. The duology actually becomes a whole. Though Engines of Oblivion may feel better, it’s mostly because the reader can now fully connect with what came before, realizing this is a story of two distinct protagonists faced with the same economical and political exploitation/control.

The first novel of “The Memory War”, Architects of Memory, follows corporately indentured salvage pilot Ash Jackson, who (with the crew she works with) discovers a weapon of mass destruction that might be useful in a war between humanity and the alien Vai. I wrote more on that novel in an earlier review, and I also had the opportunity to interview author Karen Osborne on the series.

Engines of Oblivion continues following the events that close Architects of Memory, but now following protagonist Natalie Chan, a war veteran who served with Ash on the crew of the Twenty-Five. Chan has barely survived the battle of Tribulation at the climax of the first book, but has gained her corporate citizenship as a result. However, it still comes with additional price. The Board of the Aurora Corporation doesn’t believe Ash and her partner Kate (the former captain of the Twenty-Five) are dead, and they suspect Chan may have even had a hand in letting them escape with the secrets of the alien technology that could be used to defeat the Vai. Chan is sent along with other former crew member Dr. Reva Sharma to find Ash and Kate. There is a significant complication, however. Natalie Chan has lost pockets of her memory, and she is beginning to doubt many things she took for granted.

Like its predecessor, Engines of Oblivion has rapid pacing, but familiarity with the characters makes it far easier to jump into. The first book showed how a tight-knit group of people who professionally relied on each other for their lives turned to mistrust, betrayal, and some signs of hopeful empathy/solidarity. The sequel explores these character connections more deeply, in satisfying ways that enrich the characterization from the first novel.

Some readers may find it jarring for the story to turn towards the point-of-view of Natalie Chan. Readers become very accustomed to Ash in the first novel, and invested in rooting for her success. We see Chan in that novel only through Ash’s interpretative mind, and not as a particularly relatable person to empathize with. However, Osborne does fabulously well from the start putting readers into Chan’s confused mind to get another perspective on things and generate reader sympathy for someone who may have been more disliked prior.

Chan has bought into the power structure and narratives of the Corporatocracy that runs things in “The Memory War”. But she slowly begins to see things that Ash had long known and appreciated. Through Natalie Chan’s initial complicity, and gradual awakening, Engines of Oblivion is able to dramatically expand the themes of corporate power and personal freedom that the first novel touched upon.

As with the first novel, Engines of Oblivion provides some twists and surprising turns to end up in a satisfying conclusion that draws both the heart of this novel, and the overall series plot, into effective close. I would have enjoyed more background detail and exploration of the Vai over other elemental foci of the novel, but that is the biologist in me, I understand that not everything can fit.

If you are a fan of space opera and still haven’t checked this pair of books out, go get Architects of Memory now, it ranks among the best in the current sub-genre and would give any of the ‘classics’ a run for their money.


LOVE. AN ARCHAEOLOGY by Fábio Fernandes

Love. An Archaeology
By Fábio Fernandes
Luna Press Publishing — 26th March 2021
ISBN: 9781913387426
— Paperback — 164 pp.
Cover: Francesca T Barbini


What exactly is a translation? For a multilingual writer, does every piece become a sort of translation within the creator’s mind, or is each story pre-filtered though one linguistic route of the brain?

These question came to mind as I read Love. An Archaeology, the first collection of short fiction from Brazilian writer Fábio Fernandes, just released from Luna Press as part of their “Harvester Series.” The books in this series intentionally gather a collection of old and new works from a writer, along with authorial reflections as an appendix. For Fernandes’ stories, language becomes another layer to that harvest of past and new works.

Two of the stories in Love. An Archaeology were originally written in Portuguese and translated into English by Fernandes for the collection. One of those two was translated into Spanish for its original publication. One, Fernandes wrote in English for submission to an anthology. When it didn’t make the cut, he then translated into Portuguese and published that. Though the majority of the stories in the collection were written and published originally in English, they still exude an aura of being cultural hybrids. While the characters and plot do contribute, Fernandes’ English also adds to that flavor. Though technically correct, he often turns his phrasing in a way that feels slightly off from that of a native speaker. And that is absolutely wonderful, fitting perfectly with the unexpected turns of his stories, and those moments of surreal wonder particularly found in his forays into New Weird.

But as Paul Jessup notes in his introduction to the collection, the stories here are more than a literature of atmosphere. They are “an exploration of idea with depth. Each story is poetic, at times spiritual and transcendent.” That depth permeates into realms both emotional and intellectual. Love. An Archaeology will make you think. Though pointing out the uniqueness of Fernandes, Jessup also compares his writing to that of Gene Wolfe, Jorge Luis Borges, Eugène Ionesco, Jeffery Ford, and Ted Chiang.

The name that pops to my mind first, however, is Samuel R. Delany. In part that’s because I first encountered Fernandes with “Eleven Stations” in Stories for Chip, edited by Nisi Shawl and Bill Campbell. Reading Love. An Archaeology I increasingly noticed the shared fundamental elements between Delany and Fernandes: the intensity, the intellect, the curiosity, the subtle complexity exploring a basic idea. Both can leave readers disoriented one moment, only to lead them to startling revelation the next. Throughout that all, a love for – and power over – language.

I didn’t appreciate all this when reading “Eleven Stations” in Stories for Chip. I ended up relatively ambivalent to the story then, certainly not disliking it, but not enjoying either. Starting Love. An Archaeology I at first felt similarly. The opening story “Seven Horrors” revolves around a fascinating premise taking the idea of time travel in truly unique and mind-bending directions. A man simply called the Time Traveller and a woman known as the Assassin hop across the eons of time, locked together in an immortal struggle for/against death and love for one another. In this tale Fernandes takes the contradictions inherent to time travel stories and simply runs with the trope’s bewildering anti-logic. The framework becomes an opportunity to meditate on themes of spirituality, love, and persistence.

On the one hand, I loved the concepts of the story and its gentle luscious prose, which contras with the apocalyptic settings and chaos through time. On the other hand, I found it dense to get into with a formality to its tone that almost clashes with the personal nature of the character interactions at its heart. A lot of the references were lost on me. (The first section of the collection contains four stories ‘to the memory of Harlan Ellison’ and this must be Ellisonesque in some way I wouldn’t be able to grasp.) It’s a hard story to start things off with, yet appropriate and easier to appreciate as one digs deeper into the collection and becomes familiar with what Fernandes is doing.

Aside from showing how he approaches classic speculative fiction themes, “Seven Horrors” introduces readers to the themes of metaphysics/spirituality that Fernandes draws upon, especially Buddhism. Both “Eleven Stations” in Stories for Chip and “Seven Horrors” that opens Love. An Archaeology represent titles that invite speculation for numerical symbolism. Fernandes uses this type of title in additional stories in this collection, and dates. These numbers are yet another example of the cultural depths that he digs for details in his stories. Numbers mean something equally as much as words, and they are in some ways the purest form of science fiction, even more so than physics as they underlie the language of the universe and the sciences.

By the second story of Love. An Archaeology, I became hooked. Its plot is more conventional, yet still contains the elements that Fernandes plays with so effectively. It’s also a fantasy/horror as opposed to a science fiction, and I feel they are so much easier for me to get into. “The Emptiness in the Heart of All Things” may be my favorite story of the collection. It draws from the Matinta Pereira folklore of the Brazilian ‘northern wilderness’, but Fernandes works with political and feminist themes inspired by the legend of this witch-like creature, and he casts it into a crime plot. Though it contains elements of Weird, the linear narrative gives the early reader a bit more stability in navigating Fernandes’ references and themes. I wish he wrote more in this genre, because this is exceptional.

Though still in the section dedicated to Ellison, “The Remaker” is a meta-tribute to Borges, a near-future remake of Borges’ “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote.” The original apparently being a story about a fellow (Menard) who recreates (not copies) Cervantes’ classic. So this is a remake of a remake concept, and we are several recursive layers deep here. Again the concept is intriguing, and now a few stories in, I had begun warming to Ferndandes’ style. As the backdrop to that, Fernandes gives his “Pierre Menard” lovers, allowing rich character development while also tapping into diversity of sex and gender. Originally published in a collection titled Outlaw Bodies, the rawness of biology, love, and sex in the story again recalls Delany. Such a wonderful ending for this story as well, and though the title has no numbers, the numerical fascination continues within chapter headings and the remade books of the plot.

A cyber-punk story that mashes up 3D printing technology with dreamscape exploration follows in “WiFi Dreams” to conclude the first section of the collection. It’s another trippy one, where I had a hard time seeing how the 3D printing idea actually integrates in.

The next two sections of stories in the collection consist of relatively shorter works. The first, dedicated to Cordwainer Smith, includes “Tales of the Obliterati”, a series of connected stories Fernandes writes about ‘lost discoveries’ and future eras where humanity faces annihilation. “Nothing Happened in 1999” is a piece of solid, if not remarkable, flash fiction. My interest really picked up for “Mycelium”, a story set in a hidden enclave of surviving humanity where a fungal symbiosis might be the key to save the human remnant. “Nine Paths to Destruction” approaches spiritual, existential matters of an individual and a species facing extinction. Beautifully and emotionally resonant.

The second of short fiction sections bears dedication to Fredric Brown and presents “Three Snapshots”, further flash fiction. Fernandes comments in the appendix that he feels very short fiction is one of his strengths, and with these I’d largely conclude. “Other Metamorphoses” is great and “Who Mourns for Washington?” is a profound take on the persistence and loss of memory.

“Archaeologies” the fourth and final section of Love. An Archaeology contains additional stories on love and includes the short story that gives the collection its title. “A Lover’s Discourse: Five Fragments and a Memory of War” returns to surreal New Weird tones, with a plot that’s hard to peg into any particular sub-genre. “The Unexpected Geographies” is notable in that it is another fantasy, darker than the prior one and more firmly in the realm of horror. Though I liked the story overall, I felt this was the most uneven and in need of further editing to make it cut more effectively.

The concluding story “Love. An Archaeology” ends things with another high point. Sisters use a new device that allows experience of alternate history timelines to discover what may have happened between their father and mother. But alternate, after all, is a relative term. The story reinforces what Fernandes excels at: taking well-worn SF ideas for a ride in new and fascinating directions. Some of those may verge into confusing dream-like realms, and others – like this one may be more standard. But they all use that platform to delve into base human relationships/emotions, like family, partner, love to see both the ecstasy and the cracks.

Fernandes is both a graduate of the prestigious Clarion West course, and a former slush reader for Clarkesworld Magazine. His appreciation for classics of the SF genre and of literature, mythology, and philosophy in general should be obvious. This is a debut collection that literary speculative fiction fans should not pass up, and I believe they will look forward to seeing more from him in the future as much as I do.