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Carolyn Cushman Reviews Lackey, Meadows, Nielsen, Novik, Ribar

Mercedes Lackey, Elite (Disney/Hyperion 978-1-4847-0785-2, $17.99, 360pp, hc) September 2016. Cover by Shane Rebenschied.

Joy, now a member of the Elite Hunter unit, faces ever more dangerous Othersider attacks in this second book in the young-adult dystopian Hunter series. It’s nearly non-stop action this time, with new monsters outside and intrigue inside to deal with. The Elite don’t even bother hitting up the clubs to improve their popularity rankings; they’re beyond such things. When they’re not fighting armies of monsters outside the city, Joy and her large pack of Hounds get assigned to solo duty patrolling the sewers, where some monsters have been able to get through the barriers somehow, a seriously disturbing new development. Worse, Joy finds human bodies down there – Psimons, members of the powerful Psi Corps – their deaths quickly covered up. Then Ace, the ex-Hunter who tried to kill Joy, escapes to join the enemy. Joy’s a refreshingly smart protagonist who thinks ahead, figuring out new ways to fight even against overwhelming odds, which provides some thrilling encounters. Even so, the unending combat gets wearing after a while. Only towards the end does Joy make a discovery that offers some hope. As a middle novel in a series, it could be much worse – kids who love non-stop action will probably eat it up – but I’m looking forward to changes in the next volume.

Foz Meadows, An Accident of Stars (Angry Robot US 978-0-85766-585-0, $7.99, 491pp, pb) August 2016. Cover by Julie Dillon.

This first book in the Manifold Worlds series introduces a portal fantasy for adults with a very contemporary attitude towards women and sex roles. Saffron’s having a bad day at school, being sexually harrassed by a crude boy, when she meets a strange woman and on impulse follows her through a rip in space to another world. The woman, Gwen, is a long-time worldwalker who got involved in this world’s politics in the country of Kena, and ended up backing the wrong man for ruler. Now she’s scheming to undo her mistake with the help of female-dominated Vekshi exiles. Saffron, meanwhile, has to cope with being in a strange, differently violent world, and finds herself unwittingly caught up in the intrigue. She’s in way over her head at first, but she’s smart and learns quickly. It’s an interesting world, particularly when it comes to sex roles; among other things, families (even the royals) are generally polyamorous and there are no taboos against homosexuality or casual sex. The effort to remove the tyrant provides the bulk of the plot, with plenty of action, but learning about this colorfully complex world keeps things interesting.

Jennifer A. Nielsen, The Scourge (Scholastic Press 978-0-545-68245-9, $16.99, 353pp, hc) September 2016.

Plague has rarely been so much fun as in this middle-grade dystopian adventure novel, which is only fantasy in that it’s set in an imaginary world, though it has much of the feel of historical fantasy. Young Ani Mells is shocked to test positive for the Scourge plague, and get sent to a quarantine colony along with her best friend Weevil. They both belong to the River People, a group despised by most of the people of Keldan, but their members don’t usually get the plague. Ani immediately begins to suspect something isn’t right. When she gets to the prison isle, she finds more evidence that things aren’t what people have been told. Finding out what’s really going on takes some serious ingenuity, but Ani’s up to the task. Banter between Ani and Weevil keeps things amusing, despite their horrible situation. Ani’s also got tons of spunk, grit, and determination, not to mention a real talent for getting into trouble, which keeps things lively. Some developments struck me in retrospect as a bit unlikely, but the plot breezes past for a fun adventure for readers of all ages.

Naomi Novik, League of Dragons (Del Rey 978-0-345-52292-4, $28.00, 380pp, hc) June 2016. Cover by Craig Howell.

The ninth and final book in the Temeraire series finds the war against Napoleon a misery during the winter retreat from Moscow. The allied forces hope to catch up with Bonaparte and stop the war, but it’s not working; they have little or no food, and Napoleon may be on the run, but he’s still brilliant, and manages to evade capture. The miserable journey west just drags on, and eventually Napoleon manages to find ways to build up his troops. He even proposes a code for the treatment of dragons that would unite dragons worldwide, give them land and laws – an idea that could lure more dragons to his side. Of course, Laurence and Temeraire work hard to keep their dragons in line. Ultimately, as in our world, Napoleon loses, but this isn’t the grand finale the series deserved; maybe that would have been too unrealistic. Instead, the somewhat downbeat conclusion at least offers some amusing hints that the new ideas for dragons should have some interesting, lasting repercussions for Britain that might make a return to this world at a later point in its history worthwhile.

Lindsay Ribar, Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies (Dawson 978-0-525-42868-8, $17.99, 323pp, hc) June 2016.

Aspen Quick’s family members have a special power that they use to protect Three Peaks from a dangerous cliff looming over the town. However, that power involves ‘‘stealing’’ from people – taking away emotions, memories, character traits, or physical bits like moles or pain. Even aside from using the things the family steals to repair the cliff, Aspen tries to use his abilities to fix things and help people, but he’s not really thinking about how his victims would feel about it, if they knew – and his idea of fixing things can be very self-centered. Then things start going wrong and his first idea is to use his powers to set things right. He starts to question what he’s been told all his life, but still uses his powers on the people around him. It’s really hard to like a character as morally bankrupt as he seems, even understanding he’s had the power all his life and was raised to feel entitled. It takes some really horrible mistakes to finally get through to him. The result is an emotionally powerful portrait of a young man with great power, revealed gradually in both flashbacks and the ongoing story, with some painfully intense moments along the way.

Read more! This is one of many reviews from recent issues of Locus Magazine. To read more, go here to subscribe.

Carolyn Cushman Reviews Armstrong, Black & Clare, Durst, Elliott, Evans

Michael A. Armstrong, Truck Stop Earth (Perseid Press 978-0-9975310-1-5, $25.20, 275pp, tp) July 2016.

Michael Armstrong’s latest novel set in Alaska is science fiction – at least if you believe the narrator, who could just be extremely unreliable. James Ignatius Malachi Obadiah Osborne (call me Jimmo) is hitching ever further north when he finally ends up in Della AK. The residents there are interestingly strange, what Jimmo calls GETS (genuinely, truly strange) – the ones that aren’t alien Grays in disguise. Jimmo has been abducted, chipped in both butt and brain, and needs psychiatric drugs, though he claims they have no real effect, they’re just part of his cover as a member of the Resistance fighting the invaders and the Alien Occupation Government. He’s ex-military, and certainly has some interesting skills. He’s been avoiding the aliens, but it turns out that Della has a huge alien base hidden just outside town, and Jimmo keeps encountering aliens pretending (with mixed success) to be human. They also keep trying to kill him, but Jimmo’s decided to make a stand here in Della, though it takes him a while to figure out what to do. Meanwhile, we get lots of fascinating details about Della, meeting a lot of interesting people including a sculptor, some odd musicians, and a beachcombing writer named Max, a thinly disguised Michael A. Armstrong. (All names have been changed to protect the town, apparently.) Supposedly, Jimmo told the story to Armstrong, who said he’d ‘‘fix it up and make it semi-literate,’’ which says a lot about the story’s style. Jimmo’s quite a character; he’s not just focused on the Greys, but also spends a lot of time commenting on his erections and sexual encounters with various women. Fortunately, he’s got an amusing way of looking at things, and that keeps the story entertaining. The ultimate encounter when Jimmo kicks the aliens’ asses was a bit of a letdown, but overall this is a great, goofy tale with some delightful local color.

Holly Black & Cassandra Clare, The Bronze Key (Scholastic Press 978-0-545-52231-1, $17.99, 249pp, hc) August 2016. Cover by Alexandre Chaudret.

The third book in the middle-grade Magisterium series finds Callum and Aaron at the end of summer, about to be honored as heroes for defeating Constantine Madden, AKA the Enemy of Death. (He’d been dead for years, but no one knew that until Call brought back his severed head.) It’s still a secret that Constantine’s soul is inside Call; only his closest friends know. But at the ceremony honoring the boys, it starts to look like someone is trying to kill Call. Back in school for the youngsters’ third year, the adults are trying to figure out who the assassin/spy might be, but Call, Aaron, and their buddy Tamara are not convinced the teachers are doing enough. Of course, the kids get into trouble when they try to investigate for themselves, and none of their efforts get useful results. At the very end, things go terribly wrong, which at least promises some interesting developments in the next book. For the most part, though, the current volume just marks time with a series of unproductive little adventures until the final confrontation and revelations.

Sarah Beth Durst, The Queen of Blood (Harper Voyager US 978-0-06-241334-5, $19.99, 350pp, hc) September 2016. Cover by Stephan Martiniere.

The first book in the Queens of Renthia series introduces a fascinating world where spirits co-exist unwillingly with humans, their vicious tendencies held in check only by the human queen’s order to ‘‘Do no harm.’’ The spirits – of water, fire, ice, air, earth, and trees – are tricky, so children are taught early to avoid attracting their attention. The land of Aratay is supposed to be as safe as any place can be, but somehow ten-year-old Daleina’s village is destroyed, her family among the very few survivors, saved when Daleina unexpectedly shows the affinity: the ability to influence spirits. She starts training to use the ability with a local hedgewitch, then, when older, heads to Northeast Academy, always aware her control over spirits isn’t the best, but wanting to help prevent further deaths. Meanwhile, a disgraced champion is traveling the country, trying to find out why the occasional slaughter occurs, and stop it. The story mixes a ‘‘magic school’’ environment – not as fun as Harry Potter, but at least we get to know the girls who might be the next queen – with lots of action. Training with spirits gets tense, and the storytelling’s taut; I’d have appreciated a little comic relief to balance Daleina’s struggles and self-doubt. Regardless, the story is powerful right up to the ending, which came as a huge surprise, leaving even more interesting times to come in the next installment.

Kate Elliott, Poisoned Blade (Little, Brown 978-0-316-34437-1, $17.99, 468pp, hc) August 2016.

Non-stop danger keeps things moving in this second book in the Court of Fives series. Jessamy hates Lord Gargaron, who owns the ‘‘stable’’ where she trains to compete in the Court of Fives. He destroyed her family so her father, a brilliant general, would leave the Efean mother of his daughters and instead marry Gargaron’s niece – who has some dark secrets of her own, Jessamy learns. The country is currently being invaded, so Jessamy’s father and the prince Jessamy’s attracted to are both off to war. Meanwhile, Lord Gargaron is heading off on a tour of his properties, and he takes Jessamy and others from his stable to show off their talents along the road. But the war is getting closer than expected, and treachery, treason, and rebellion are brewing. The intrigue and threats never let up, and Jessamy is constantly doing things that ought to get her or her family in great trouble. Since this is a middle novel in a series, it’s to be expected that things get steadily worse, and at least by the end there are hints this might be the chance the long-suppressed Efeans need to take their country back.

Sandra Evans, This Is Not a Werewolf Story (Atheneum 978-1-4814-4480-4, $16.99, 336pp, hc) July 2016. Cover by Maike Plenzke.

Despite the title, this intriguing first novel really is a sort of werewolf story for middle-grade readers. It starts out with a bang as a humorous boarding school tale, with a wild new boy facing off against Coach Tuffman, the sort of coach you love to hate. Pretty soon, though, a sense of threat develops. The focus of the story is the narrator, Raul, a quiet kid who keeps an eye on things at the school. The school only boards kids during the week, but his dad has stopped coming to pick him up over the weekends, so Raul pretends to walk out to meet his dad, then spends his weekend in the nearby woods – as a wolf. But other predators are turning up, and Coach Tuffman is acting oddly towards Raul, alternately threatening and strangely friendly. The new kid acts strange, too. Raul has some odd ideas about what’s going on, and he gets into some serious trouble before he can figure out exactly what it is, and what to do about it all. It’s a quirky tale, based loosely on Marie de France’s medieval story ‘‘Bisclavret’’, occasionally a bit confusing but rewarding in the end.

Read more! This is one of many reviews from recent issues of Locus Magazine. To read more, go here to subscribe.

Gary K. Wolfe Reviews Christopher Priest

The Gradual, Christopher Priest (Titan 978-1-78565-303-2, $24.99, 400pp, hc) September 2016.

In the three and a half decades in which Christopher Priest has been inviting us along to his colorful but shifty Dream Archipelago – including an extensive if inconclusive gazetteer with The Islanders in 2011 – he has mostly confined his viewpoints to those of the archipelago’s inhabitants, though we are given to understand that an endless and vicious war is being carried out by superpowers on the world’s major continents, and that an Antarctica-like southern continent serves as a kind of staging ground for the warfare. He’s also often featured artists of various kinds as his protagonists; in The Islanders alone we meet a novelist, a painter, a conceptual artist, even a mime and a magician. With The Gradual – which is a far more linear narrative than we had with The Islanders – we get to see what life is like in one of those bellicose societies on the continents, a gloomy dystopia called Glaund, that reads like a thoroughly unpleasant amalgam of North Korea and Orwell’s Airstrip One. But Priest’s focus on art and artists is more detailed than ever: his protagonist is a brilliant composer named Alesandro Sussken, who tells us that music and bombing ‘‘were the two main events of my childhood,’’ because of the constant hazard of the recurrent air raids on his coastal hometown of Errest. Susskind narrates his life in the straightforward manner of a Künstlerroman – this is the most formally traditional novel we’ve seen from Priest since The Extremes – and his descriptions of Susskind’s compositions are technically impressive, if a bit soulless (with one remarkable exception when, later in life, he manages to musically channel a volcano).

As a child, Susskind catches a glimpse of nearby Archipelago islands from the loft of his home, which begin to haunt his imagination. A musical prodigy, he lives in fear not only of the drones and rockets, but of the universal military draft which has already taken his older brother for an indefinite term of service. As his success as a composer grows, he comes to be viewed as a cultural asset, and even discovers that a rock/jazz musician somewhere in the Archipelago has begun plagiarizing his work. He meets and marries a violinist named Alynna, and eventually is invited to participate, as a senior composer, in a grand orchestral tour of several islands in the Archipelago. The nine-week tour not only introduces Susskind to the variety of societies in the Archipelago – and to new notions of freedom – but also to the disorienting time distortions called the gradual, which vary from island to island and can only be tracked by markings on a passport-like baton which he is issued, without explanation, at the beginning of the journey. Throughout his travels, he keeps an eye out for the plagiarist who adapted his work, and for any news of his brother, who by now has been missing for decades. When he returns home, he comes to realize the cumulative effects of the gradual; even though his tour has been only nine weeks, more than two years have passed in Glaund. His parents have died, and Alynna has long since moved out. But he also draws the attention of the feared and ruthless Glaundian dictator, or Generalissima, who commissions him – with a generous advance – to write a piece of kitsch propaganda music for her council’s tenth anniversary. Recognizing that such a bludgeoning composition would ruin his reputation, he flees again to the Archipelago. And we’re still only halfway through the novel.

Susskind may be a marginally more reliable narrator than we’re used to seeing from Priest, but he’s also a badly misinformed and sometimes obtuse one, and at a number of points we can see the wiring of the narrative before he does. But that doesn’t mean The Gradual lacks surprises: Susskind does find out some things about his brother and his plagiarist, but because of the unpredictable time shifts of the gradual, we can never quite be certain we have the last word on these figures. In effect, what Priest has done – and he did much the same thing in The Islanders – is to literalize not just a metaphor (as we keep hearing about in SF), but to literalize an entire narrative technique involving the management of time. Even mainstream authors have all sorts of ways of shifting the reader back and forth in time, revealing characters from different perspectives and at different points in their histories, but Priest literally puts his narrator through such time shifts, and the effect is both dizzying and firmly grounded, even as it leads toward a conclusion which is, if a bit more conventional than we’ve come to expect from Priest, thoroughly satisfying.

Read more! This is one of many reviews from recent issues of Locus Magazine. To read more, go here to subscribe.

Liz Bourke Reviews Fran Wilde

Cloudbound, Fran Wilde (Tor 978-0765377852, $25.99, 400pp, hc) September 2016.

Fran Wilde, the mind behind the podcast Cooking the Books, burst onto science fiction and fantasy bookshelves last year with her debut novel Updraft. And not just onto bookshelves: nominated for a Nebula, winner of the Andre Norton Award, winner of the Compton Crook Award, Updraft has been making quite a few waves. (It is, to my knowledge, the only debut novel ever to be nominated for the Nebula and the Andre Norton in the same year.)

Now here comes Cloudbound, Wilde’s second novel, set in the same world as Updraft and following on directly from its events, but told from the point of view of a different character. Where Updraft was narrated by Kirit, whose talents and inclinations made her a catalyst for conflict between the Singers – a central authority in her society – and everyone else, and one of the fulcrums around which that conflict turned, Cloudbound is narrated by Nat, Kirit’s childhood friend. Nat, like Kirit, is still not 20 yet, but he’s been catapulted into a leadership role as the junior councillor for Densira tower. His inexperience with politics leaves him open to manipulation, and he realises only slowly that other ambitious people are, at least in part, stage-managing the threats to and division within his society – but once he realises, he is compelled to act.

Cloudbound builds on the foundations that Updraft established. They are both, in their way, novels about coming of age. Wilde has pulled off a neat trick to give us in Nat a character very different from Kirit, but one equally compelling, to show us the characters of the first novel from a different perspective, and yet have them all remain recognisable and consistent. And to introduce new characters, all of them distinct and deftly characterised, so that Cloudbound feels both more crowded and yet more lively than its predecessor. From Nat’s fellow members of an apparent (low-key) romantic triad, Ceetcee and Beliak, to the scavenger-fighter Aliati and the crippled scientist Djonn, the politicians Doran and Hiroli, Kirit and Wyk, and the young teenagers Ciel and Moc – and the rest of a cast who come alive in its pages – one of Cloudbound’s delights is its people, and their very human combinations of selfishness and selflessness, judgment and generosity, loyalty and self-interested treachery.

After the disruptions of Updraft, the aerial society of the bone towers – where people use human-made wings to travel from place to place, where life is precarious, and where monsters lurk in the clouds below – is on edge. Stability is precarious, and everyone is looking for someone to blame for the continuing problems. The discredited Singers are a useful scapegoat, and Nat is initially supportive of the idea that the solution to the unrest is to execute all the surviving adult Singers.

Fortunately for the narrative, he comes around to a less ethically challenged way of thinking, when he begins to discover that multiple political factions – but one in particular – are contributing to the unrest in order to gather power into their own hands. First accident, then investigation, leads Nat and his allies into the clouds: a hazardous realm filled with monsters, secrets, and the remnants of the past. Pursued by dangerous enemies, the need to survive drives him and his family and allies – some more reluctant than others – deeper than anyone has been in years. There, they make a discovery that has the potential to shake the foundations of their world.

Wilde’s worldbuilding remains one of Cloudbound’s delights. The revelation at the novel’s conclusion – which I will not spoil, because it’s worth coming to in its own good time – of what the bone towers actually are is a perfect example. But throughout Nat’s sojourn in the clouds, the slow revelation of the world below the clear air of tower society comes with a damp and atmospheric logic, a lowering sense of threat and claustrophobia, that adds immeasurably to the novel’s tension.

And, damn, does this novel have tension. In terms of pace, style, structure, and sheer flair? Cloudbound represents the opposite of a sophomore slump. It’s that rare bird, the follow-up to a highly praised first novel that doesn’t just equal its predecessor’s accomplishments, but exceeds them. I felt Updraft was a promising debut effort; Cloudbound sees much of that promise realised, with hints of more to come.

I could laud Cloudbound further, but the only thing I disliked about it is that it ends on something of a cliffhanger. What happens next?

I don’t know – but I do know I really want to stick around to find out.

Read more! This is one of many reviews from recent issues of Locus Magazine. To read more, go here to subscribe.

Faren Miller Reviews Beth Cato

Breath of Earth, Beth Cato (Harper Voyager 978-0-06-242206-4, $14.99, 300pp, tp) August 2016.

Breath of Earth by Beth Cato evokes the spirit of a time and place – San Francisco, at the dawn of the 20th century – in a world where magical beings and forces are an accepted part of human history, culture and daily life. When ‘‘the wealthy of Nob Hill journeyed to Sunday picnics in wagons teamed by iron-shackled pookas,’’ and geomancers fend off earthquakes from the bustling offices and training center of Earth Wardens, Cordilleran Auxiliary, where Ingrid Carmichael serves as personal secretary to Warden Sakaguchi, no one bats an eye.

Too educated for her low social status (orphan, raised in the home where her mother had been Mr. Sakaguchi’s cook/housekeeper), too talented for her ‘‘inferior’’ sex (having inherited all the skills of the father she can’t remember, a brilliant geomancer), and looking nothing like the image conjured by her name (dark as her ambiguously ethnic dad), Ingrid’s a thorough misfit in a patriarchal world. But when the Auxiliary explodes, she and the warden – her employer, guardian, mentor, and surrogate father – survive only because her powers are greater than she knew.

While any book set in mid-April 1906 must lead to the monstrous quake Bay Areans call The Big One, Breath of Earth reimagines natural disaster. It precedes the cataclysm with murder (since most of San Francisco’s wardens died in that explosion) and threatens to trigger it with magic, while Ingrid strives to learn enough to foil the monstrous plot. Her adventures take some cues from entertainments of the era, evoking the dime novel’s melodrama, perils, and romance – there’s a hot guy here, and everyone has secrets – along with the wild interplay of tragicomedy in opera and operetta (Mr. Sakaguchi’s favorites, thanks to the City Opera).

Readers in search of steampunk and alt-history can find them here charged with magic: jump-starting invention and reworking world politics, as in this passing comment about ‘‘Japan’s many contributions to everyday American life… since the United Pacific had formed some forty years before during the brief War Between the States… [when] Japanese airship technology had granted Union forces a quick victory over the Confederacy.’’ Those ships run with the help of kermanite, a crystal activated by geomancy. It powered Roman dirigibles (the Dark Ages began when their source ran out), and the discovery of new supplies fueled the ongoing industrial revolution and new weapons of mass destruction.

Despite all the changes, ambitious nations and aging empires clash as ruthlessly as ever. Skewed versions of our wars create their own atrocities. China gets hit the hardest, in a dark background that surfaces in San Francisco’s Chinatown – despised by a multitude of racists from both sides of the United Pacific, cut off from city life, and torn apart by gang wars where opium is still the drug of choice. Its magical healers tend wounds that afflict major characters, over the course of the book.

With a strong cast and an unconventional approach to alternate history and magic (which casually mingle in Ingrid’s experience), this novel is a standalone according to the publisher. The bibliography of Cato’s ‘‘Clockwork Dagger series’’ does add two short stories and a novella to the original duology, so perhaps she’ll provide further glimpses of this extraordinary world.

Read more! This is one of many reviews from recent issues of Locus Magazine. To read more, go here to subscribe.

Paul Di Filippo Reviews Ursula K. Le Guin

The Found and the Lost: The Collected Novellas of Ursula K. Le Guin, Ursula K. Le Guin (Saga Press 978-1-4814-5208-3, $29.99, 804pp, hc) October 2016.

How can a reviewer possibly say something fresh and illuminating about a writer of Ursula K. Le Guin’s immense stature, at this epochal moment in her career? Among all but the most newly minted readers of fantastika, her name should be a well-known byword for quality, and the classic titles that earned her her sparkling reputation will trip lightly and enthusiastically off the tongue. Mainstream readers know her as well, thanks to appearances in The New Yorker and other literary journals, as well perhaps from the Earthsea television miniseries. She has Grandmaster status from SFWA, and a new volume from the Library of America (The Complete Orsinia: Malafrena / Stories and Songs), earning herself the double distinction of being 1) a living author in the Library of America’s predominantly historical catalogue and 2) an author of fantastika amongst their predominantly mimetic honor roll. Even to any possible detractors (yes, there are some; most notably, a generation back, renegade critic Charles Platt), her canon will be a given, not needing any explication.

So the reviewer is left, I think, with the task of pointing out favored themes and tropes and techniques which might appear only retrospectively, at this late stage of a career, and also just reminding the audience of the exact nature of the writer’s achievements. Luckily, two new mammoth collections from Saga Press allow us to do just that. Today, however, we will only be looking at one. Because Le Guin has had a fair number of prior short-story volumes, the first offering from Saga, The Unreal and the Real: The Selected Short Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin, contains lots of very well-known items found in other venues. The second book, however, while still featuring a couple of famous tales, represents the first time her novellas have been assembled together.

Thirteen entries, arranged by date of publication, total some 800 pages, representing an extensive spectrum of narratives. It’s hard to imagine getting more value for your hard-earned book-buying dollars.

“Vaster than Empires and More Slow” strikes me as Le Guin’s foray into Tiptree territory, along the lines of “A Momentary Taste of Being”. A cast of neurotic misfits (not unallied to the schitzy protagonists of many a PKD novel, reminding us of Le Guin’s long-standing resonance with her old high-school chum) are sent as explorers to a world which features only vegetable life. The likelihood of such an ecology is made believable, freeing us to focus on the dynamics among the crew and the alien mind they discover. Readers of Robert Silverberg’s early pulp adventures will note a familiar template updated for the 1960s. This tale fits into the Hainish Cycle that characterized Le Guin’s early years of writing, as do many of the other novellas here, proving that a good future history can last for decades, receiving upgrades as its creator matures.

An immediate change of pace and tone arrives with “Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight”. Here Le Guin is in superb magical-realist mode as she describes the fate of a young girl crash-landed in the American Southwest who finds herself adopted by the traditional earthy inhabitants of that region’s Native American mythos. A kind of Tarzan vibe underpins the sometimes scary, sometimes gross, sometimes funny exploits of the child in a strange land.

I admired the construction and ambition of the tale titled “Hernes” more than I actually relished reading it. It is a multigenerational saga told in hopscotch chronology, concerning several women mostly resident in the Pacific Northwest. Its evocation of several eras is miraculous in its palpability, and the sorrowful plight of the generally abused yet resilient protagonists, echoing down the years with twists and lateral displacements, is affecting. But the repetitiveness of the conflicts began to seem too much at this long length. The closing lines evoke a kind of Thomas Wolfe existential melancholy. “Who is it that lights the light? Whose child are you, who is your child? Whose story will be told?”

We begin to see what might be regarded as one of the quintessential Le Guin concerns—male-female relationships and how they contour society and are contoured in return—in “The Matter of Seggri”. On a planet where women outnumber men by sixteen-to-one, culture and customs have evolved accordingly. Le Guin’s famous flair for “deep anthropology” is on display, making this Vancian tale a fascinating hybrid of document and narrative.

Deep emotional chords are plucked in “Another Story or a Fisherman of the Inland Sea”. Our hero grows up in a somewhat backwoods environment, goes off to more sophisticated realms with some losses and regret, and then—well, I won’t spoil the surprise of his ultimate physics-inflected fate.

Lurking in the middle of this book is a novel in four parts. “Forgiveness Day”, “A Man of the People”, “A Woman’s Liberation”, and “Old Music and the Slave Women” all take place on the planet Werel, where an elite class owns other humans dubbed “assets.” This sequence starts with the extant system firmly in place, then moves through revolt and reconstruction. The first tale follows the exploits of the Ekumen’s representative to Werel, an ultra-competent woman named Solly, who lives through the turbulence and chaos of the violent paradigm shift. The POV in the second tale is a Hainish man named Havzhiva, who charts a path from his primitive origins to the heights of Ekumen service. “I was born a slave on the planet Werel.” That is the starting point for the third installment, which shows the gradual enlightenment of one of the former “assets.” And finally we return to riding the shoulders of an Ekumen representative, Old Music, who undergoes wartime excruciations along the lines of Solly’s, which bring new self-knowledge and understandings of the others whom he lives among.

The next three stories represent a welcome and astonishing return to Le Guin’s beloved realm of Earthsea, where quotidian yet fabulist matters receive the unique gravitas of Le Guin’s comprehension of the links between magical powers and human responsibilities and ambitions. “The Finder” shows us the long life and many transformations of the boy who begins as “Otter” and who swaps identities twice more, changing deeply along the way. His talent for intuiting the location of valuable objects places him in peril as much as it rewards. A beaten, seemingly derelict fellow arrives in cow country in “On the High Marsh”. He manifests a humble ability to cure cattle of their ills. But beneath his shambolic façade lurks a certain majesty. Finally, the young woman who gives her name to the story “Dragonfly” dares to breach the all-male wizard school on Roke, bringing illuminations to the faculty and herself.

The final entry here is “Paradises Lost”, which is a deft instantiation of the classic “power chord” of generation starship, and which falls somewhere between Gene Wolfe and Robert Heinlein in tone and conceptualization. As always, Le Guin shows herself most interested in the interplay between genders and amongst the different strata of society. Exactly how is culture transmitted from parents to children?

What one takes away from this collection is both an esthetic lesson and a lesson in the misapprehension of a writer’s legacy.

The first appreciation derives from the sheer level of talent and word-wizardry and world-building that Le Guin exhibits. These stories are constructed so solidly, with such ingenuity and craftsmanship and heart, that they achieve the inevitable rightness and impressiveness of real world things. The reader closes this book fully acknowledging Le Guin’s Grandmaster stature.

The second appreciation derives from how multivalent and non-dogmatic and fair-minded and actually nonpartisan Le Guin and her fiction are. In this current genre climate of superheated argumentativeness and reductionist zealotry from both sides of the fence, Le Guin is often cast as some kind of party president endorsing a progressive platform whose simplistic tenets are carved in stone. Nothing in her fiction actually promotes this. When, for instance, in “The Matter of Seggri”, she shows how the minority men have all the privilege while the majority women have all the power, and that such an arrangement is just as unfair and unproductive as the reverse, we note the kind of playful, experimental, what-if mindset so alien to more ideologically slanted fiction, but which a true speculator must possess.

And consider this passage from “Dragonfly.”

The one with a voice like a deep-toned bell looked at her too, and spoke to her with a plain, kind severity. “As I see it, the man who brought you here meant to do harm, but you do not. Yet being here, Irian, you do us and yourself harm. Everything not in its own place does harm. A note sung, however well sung, wrecks the tune it isn’t part of. Women teach women. Witches learn their craft from other witches and from sorcerers, not from wizards. What we teach here is in a language not for women’s tongues. The young heart rebels against such laws, calling them unjust, arbitrary. But they are true laws, founded not on what we want, but on what is. The just and the unjust, the foolish and the wise, all must obey them, or waste life and come to grief.”

This is not delivered ironically, or as the words of a bigot. It’s the truth as the wizards of Roke see things—as Le Guin sees things. One might almost call it a “conservative” stance, in the most honorable and ancient interpretation of that label. Quite a shock to those who would hold the author up as an unmitigated revolutionary.

We learn in “The Finder” that “The danger in trying to do good is that the mind comes to confuse the intent of goodness with the act of doing things well.” It’s a lesson all creators especially must take to heart, and which Le Guin exemplifies most nobly.

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Rachel Swirsky Reviews Dreaming in the Dark

Dreaming in the Dark, Jack Dann, ed. (PS Australia 978-1-83863-968-3, £25.00, 419pp, hc) Cover by Greg Bridges. August 2016.

‘‘What’s this business about Australia’s Golden Age?’’ Jack Dann asks in his introduction to Dreaming in the Dark. ‘‘Are we in a Golden Age? Well, I think we are.’’

Dreaming in the Dark is an anthology of Australian science fiction, fantasy, and horror, collecting stories by authors such as Sean Williams, Angela Slatter, and Garth Nix. This isn’t Dann’s first collection of Australian SF&F, and this volume may be read as a sequel to earlier volumes, Dreaming Down-Under and Dreaming Again. ‘‘My agenda for this book,’’ he writes, ‘‘is to show off the diamond sharp results of this period… the mature, outreaching, beautiful, galling, nerve-cracking, edgy, humorous (we’re known for not taking ourselves that seriously all the time!), elegiac, finely-wrought, slap-in-the-face, unnerving, poignant, brilliantly bright and ebon dark work that Australian fabulists are doing right now.’’

Dann’s choices emphasize impressive prose, sometimes precise and measured, sometimes absurdist, sometimes poetic. Perhaps the most scintillating example is ‘‘The Liquid Palace’’ by Adam Browne, a jarring and sometimes perplexing piece about a space explorer traveling the depths of an alien ocean in a giant, hollowed eyeball. One of the most striking passages:

All architecture partakes of rhythm.
Further: this rhythm is retained even if that architecture should liquefy.
Think of the wintry planet Balsamine, the moveless waves of its quick-frozen seas, every roil and dimple retained in the bluegreen freeze, where local nomads make temporary settlements among surf that stands grander than citadels. And think of the periodic thaws that come to those seas, the waves resuming their motions, but with the same measures, the same ornaments. So is architecture frozen flow.

The story is told in a freewheeling, bizarre style, incorporating elements of old travelogues. It teeters on a compelling edge between ridiculous and poetic, managing both.

James Bradley’s ‘‘Martian Triptych’’, also told in lovely prose, is comprised of vignettes by three different narrators with intimate connections to Mars. This is another example of the anthology’s poetic strengths, as the story relies on resonances and off-page moments to create its plot and emotional connection.

The anthology features a number of contemporary fantasy pieces where ordinary people experience a brush with the fantastical or horrifying. For me, the best of these was Venero Armanno’s ‘‘Heat Treatment’’, wherein a father has to cope with unrelenting, intrusive worries that he might hurt his own infant. The story is as claustrophobic and intense as the recurrent images themselves. The feverish language, at extreme moments, lapses into literal poetry.

On the other hand, ‘‘A Right Pretty Mate’’ by Lisa L. Hannett is a charming coming-of-age fantasy which spotlights character and plot instead of language. The story is more light-hearted than most of the anthology. It’s an adventure about a non-masculine boy who lives on an island where men marry literal harpies. As one might expect, the story considers gender and sexuality.

While almost all the stories in this anthology were strong individually, their integration as a whole was less successful. Several of the contemporary stories combined similar moods and approaches, and even a little repetition in a short space like an anthology can feel disproportionately heavy.

Dreaming in the Dark will especially appeal to two groups of readers – those who love words themselves, and those who want an enticing sampler of work by some of Australia’s most talented working writers. As Dann points out in his introduction, ‘‘this is just a taster.’’

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John Langan Reviews Paul Tremblay

Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, Paul Tremblay (William Morrow 978-0-0623-6326-8, $25.99, 336pp, hc) June 2016.

Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, the gripping new novel from Paul Tremblay, begins with a phone call in the small hours of the morning. Elizabeth Sanderson, who answers the phone, has been waiting for a check-in from her son, thirteen-year-old Tommy, who is at a sleepover at a friend’s house. The phone’s trill fills her with instant dread. Midnight is long past and, Elizabeth thinks, no good news ever comes at this time. She is right: the call is from Tommy’s friend, Josh, at whose house Tommy is supposed to be staying. In short order, Josh admits that he, Tommy, and a third friend, Luis, snuck out to the local state park to drink beer, after which, Tommy took off on his own. He was not waiting for his friends when they returned to Josh’s house, so Josh is calling on the chance that Tommy went back to his own house. Although sure that her son’s room is empty, Elizabeth checks it, anyway. Tommy is not in it. In short order, she calls the police, and the search for her son is underway.

For about its first quarter, the novel concerns the attempt to locate the missing Tommy. Tremblay introduces a number of characters: Kate, Tommy’s younger sister; Josh, Luis, and their respective parents; Janice, Elizabeth’s mother; and Detective Allison Murtagh, the police officer in charge of the investigation into Tommy’s disappearance. Deftly moving from viewpoint to viewpoint, he details the development of the search as it expands throughout Borderland State Park. At the same time, a series of uncanny events lends Tommy’s vanishing supernatural overtones. Within her darkened room, Elizabeth has a terrible vision of her son dead, an experience so overpowering, she fears it is true. Shortly thereafter, she finds pages torn from one of Tommy’s notebooks in the middle of the living room. While Elizabeth and her mother, who has come to stay with her during this time of crisis, suspect Kate of having left them there, Tommy’s sister denies any involvement with them. Janice is unconvinced, but Elizabeth, her vision of her son fresh in her mind, is willing to suspend judgment. The notebook pages show a boy still wrestling with his father’s abandonment of the family and subsequent death in a drunk-driving accident, years before. They show Tommy deeply concerned, to the point of obsession, with what plan would succeed best in the event of a zombie uprising. They show Tommy deeply unhappy with the day-to-day pressures of seventh grade.

More pages from the notebook appear, and with them, the narrative undergoes a transformation. Tommy writes about encountering an older kid while he, Josh, and Luis were at the local 7-11. Arnold – at first, Tommy takes him for a high-schooler, then realizes he is older than that, though he’s not sure by how much – approaches the boys while they’re in the midst of discussing Minecraft and jumps into their conversation effortlessly, relating his experiences with the game with an exactitude that wins the boys’ trust. From the convenience store, Arnold takes the boys to Borderland Park, to the enormous cleft boulder known as Split Rock, whose proper name, he insists, should be Devil’s Rock. After supplying the boys with beer, he relates a story that explains his reasoning, a tale of an encounter with the Devil that seems to come straight from Hawthorne. He concludes his time with the boys by claiming to be mildly psychic, then demonstrating his ability on each of them. Tommy is especially moved by what Arnold reveals about him, and goes so far as to discuss his lost father with his friends, something he has not done before.

Whatever the immediate benefit of Tommy being able to speak about his father, Arnold’s ongoing influence on the boys is corrosive, corrupting, extending well beyond the beers he continues to give them. A gifted manipulator, he maneuvers Tommy, Josh, and Luis to an act that none of them can walk back from, and which sets them on a desperate path to escape his sway.

With his previous novel, A Head Full of Ghosts, Tremblay incorporated an extensive knowledge of horror fiction and film into his narrative through a series of blog posts by one of the characters. In Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, his references are no less extensive, but are fitted into the novel in a more low-key fashion. Laird Barron and Kelly Link are referenced through phrases drawn from titles of their stories. Arnold is a contemporary avatar of Arnold Friend, the antagonist of Joyce Carol Oates’s seminal ‘‘Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?’’ Several moments in the novel look towards the brilliant Australian film, Lake Mungo. Its allusions intersect one of the novel’s central concerns, namely the threats the world poses to the young, especially to those adolescents most vulnerable to the depredations of other, damaged figures.

Indeed, Tremblay’s general portrayal of character is one of the novel’s strengths. At least as far back as Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, moving forward through much of Stephen King’s best work, horror fiction has featured protagonists at or near adolescence. The field has also featured families under stress and threat. Tremblay mines both these veins with skill and compassion, creating a portrait of a small community that bears comparison with the best of Stewart O’Nan’s work. The novel begins with a statement, ‘‘Elizabeth is not dreaming,’’ which assumes more, and more awful, significance as it proceeds. It is Tremblay’s ability as a writer that renders the reality of his characters and their situations with such clear-eyed force. A Head Full of Ghosts was a tour de force. Disappearance at Devil’s Rock is a heartbreaker.

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Gary K. Wolfe reviews Drowned Worlds

Drowned Worlds, Jonathan Strahan, ed. (So­laris 9781781084519, $14.95, 336pp, tp) July 2016. Cover by Les Edwards.

Nina Allan also provides what could easily be the tagline for Jonathan Strahan’s provocative if depressing new anthology Drowned Worlds: ‘‘The problem is that no one gives much of a shit about the future until it actually happens’’. This observation is from her story ‘‘The Com­mon Tongue, the Present Tense, the Known’’, set in a ruined Cornwall after a series of global catastrophes such as the ‘‘La Palma tsunami’’ have killed millions, inundated a fifth of the world’s land, and redrawn the globe in what the media euphemistically call ‘‘the Remapping.’’ It’s one of the more haunting tales in the book, not simply because of its litany of disasters, but because of its incisive examination of what happens to friendship, family, and love in a radically diminished world. ‘‘If the end of our world has taught us anything it is that love is a luxury’’ is another line pertinent to many of the stories here. That, in turn, suggests something rather unexpected and rewarding about the anthology: its focus on character and family rather than the mechanics of spectacle. Fully half the stories centrally involve families, and a few, such as Kathleen Ann Goonan’s ‘‘Who Do You Love?’’, cover three generations, in this case a Key West family grappling with the dis­appearance of coral reefs. The grandmother’s radical strategy is essentially to become coral herself, somehow genetically altering herself to host and support coral growths, while the grandson’s solution to the problem is no less radical in its own way. Similarly, Lavie Tidhar’s ‘‘Drowned’’ portrays a younger narrator skepti­cal of the tales his father and grandmothers tell of ‘‘a time the Roads had not been abandoned and people went everywhere by private pods, and all food came from giant temples….’’ Ra­chel Swirsky’s ‘‘Destroyed by the Waters’’ is a moving tale of an aging gay couple diving into the ruins of New Orleans while still coming to grips with the son they lost years earlier.

There have, of course, been a number of anthologies focused on future cataclysms, and SF writers have been drawn to global inunda­tions from S. Fowler Wright’s 1928 Deluge to Stephen Baxter’s Flood and Ark just a few years ago. As Strahan notes in his introduction, the prospects are a lot less science fictional than they seemed only a few years ago. The rather narrow focus of the theme inevitably involves some degree of sameness, and indeed the anthology is replete with oddly beautiful submerged landscapes of New Orleans, Key West, Venice, San Francisco, and even Har­vard. But the deluge novel that Strahan singles out as having fascinated him is J.G. Ballard’s weirdly rapturous 1962 novel The Drowned World, which was notably different from the general run of apocalyptic fiction. Ballard wasn’t interested in Awful Warnings, and The Drowned World came as part a series of novels about winds and droughts that grew increas­ingly metaphorical and interior in their focus, and The Drowned World itself was rooted in what Ballard once called the ‘‘archaeopsychic’’ dimension of SF, referring to the ways in which catastrophe could serve as transformative of psychological states. That approach seems to recur more than once in Strahan’s selection of stories, the oldest of which (and the only reprint in the book) is Kim Stanley Robinson’s classic ‘‘Venice Drowned’’, which recaptures some of the elegiac tone of Ballard’s novel.

Strahan’s anthology opens with Paul McAu­ley’s wonderfully titled ‘‘Elves of Antarctica’’, in which climate change refugees have begun to settle into a newly temperate Antarctica, com­plete with reconstituted mammoths, where a number of stones have been discovered marked with mysterious runes that for some evoke the huldufolk of Iceland, while others suspect they may simply be hoaxes derived from a very familiar fantasy movie trilogy. Like most of the stories here, it’s set in a recognizable mid-distant future, but Ken Liu’s ‘‘Dispatches from the Cradle: The Hermit – Forty-Eight Hours in the Sea of Massachusetts’’ takes us all the way to the 27th century, when the solar system is colonized and refugees have established huge floating colonies over their drowned homelands. The central figure is very much a Ballardian character, a famous hermit who has taken up residence in the sea above what was once Harvard University. The setting for Christopher Rowe’s ‘‘Brownsville Station’’ is a vast Gulf of Mexico megalopolis stretching from Cancun to Key West, but in a world in which weather has become so violent that the only safe method of travel is by train. In Char­lie Jane Anders’s ‘‘Because Change Was the Ocean, and We Lived by Her Mercy’’, the new megacity is Fairbanks, but what is most striking about this story is not the architecture of the lost world, but its music: the main characters, the Wrong Headed kids, are inept musicians trying to recreate something of what was lost, not only in the flooding but in a worldwide ‘‘dataclysm’’ that virtually lost all digitally stored music. And perhaps the most original version of a post-apocalyptic megacity here is the Garbagetown of Catherynne Valente’s ‘‘The Future Is Blue’’, a surreal conglomera­tion of waste and junk built on the famous Pa­cific garbage patch; Valente’s young narrator, though, believes it to be ‘‘the most wonderful place anybody has ever lived in the history of the world’’ – possibly the most direct ironic ex­pression of Ballard’s notion of archaeopsychic transformation.

Other forms of irony abound. Nalo Hopkin­son’s ‘‘Inselberg’’ is told in the form of a tour guide speaking to a busload of hapless tourists visiting ‘‘the little nipple of a mountaintop that is all left of my country,’’ but which never­theless hosts some pretty violent and surreal hazards as a result of the ‘‘duppy tide’’ that inundated it. James Morrow’s ‘‘Only Ten More Shopping Days Left Till Ragnarok’’ begins with a disastrous North Pole expedition and evolves into one of his trenchant philosophical fables as the survivors encounter an obscure Inuit nation whose demon-god is largely re­sponsible for promoting all the cynicism in the world, and who may be on the verge of de­stroying the world entirely. There’s also a new-religion theme in Sam J. Miller’s ‘‘Last Gods’’, in which whales come to be worshiped.

Any good theme anthology will include a few counterintuitive stories, and the best examples here are Jeffrey Ford’s ‘‘What Is’’ and Sean Williams’s ‘‘The New Venusians’’. The Ford story is about the most brutal tale in the book, and the most brutal I’ve seen from this eclec­tic writer, depicting not the flooded coastal areas of a climate-changed world, but rather a dust-bowl Oklahoma destroyed by fracking, earthquakes, and drought. The violent schemes by which a few scattered survivors compete for scarce resources nearly takes us into Cormac McCarthy territory. In Williams’s story, a re­bellious teenage girl is sent to her grandfather on Venus, whose discoveries suggest that what is happening on the drowned Earth may once have happened on Venus as well. The sugges­tion, of course, is that we just don’t know how to take care of planets, or don’t have the will to try, and that might be the distressing underlying theme of all the stories here. For all the recur­ring iconic images that populate Drowned Worlds, each story manages to become its own human-scale drama, evoking at its best not only a profound sense of loss, but a sort of cultural and global PTSD that may be getting pretty close to inevitable.

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Paul Di Filippo reviews Alexander Weinstein

Children of the New World, by Alexander Weinstein (Picador 978-1250098993, $16.00, 240pp, trade paperback) 13 September 2016

Once some inspired writer conceived of the notion of writing a coherent “future history” in science fictional mode, then the corollary notion of visiting different points of that future history in a series of related but not directly sequential stories was also almost immediately born. And so we have the milestone volume by Heinlein, The Past Through Tomorrow. Since then, scores of such volumes have appeared, with some fairly recent standouts being Baxter’s Vacuum Diagrams and Matthew Derby’s Super Flat Times. I myself attempted such a collection with Ribofunk. And of course, the mode is popular as well among purely mimetic writers, going back at least as far as Winesburg, Ohio.

With his debut volume, Children of the New World, Alexander Weinstein is the latest creator to venture down such a path, and a fine job he does. Coming from outside the genre precincts, he nonetheless exhibits an intimate familiarity and dexterity with all of SF’s toolkit, as well as the ability to insert some subtle homages to past landmarks of SF.

The stories play nicely off each other to illuminate an era-to-come that is pretty much a straight-line extrapolation of many current trends—most of them unfortunate. This book features no wild-card alien invasions or unforeseen plagues; no gigantic tipping points into a new Ice Age or Burning World (well, at least not till the final story); no world-ruling dictators or transformative geniuses. Instead, we get logical albeit still surprising extensions of artificial intelligence and genetic engineering, of new drugs and new recreational devices, of social media and fads, all slimed over with the anomie and existential dread that has plagued modern civilization for at least a century now.

Weinstein’s preference for first-person narrators induces a full sensory immersion in his world, but he also experiments formalistically in the manner of John Brunner using “multimedia” inserts in Stand on Zanzibar.

Our first story, “Saying Goodbye to Yang” harks to Brian Aldiss’s “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long,” as we witness a well-off selfish couple dealing with the “demise” of the robot companion for their human child. The litany of consumerism that afflicts the family and their lack of introspection is suitably damning. But as in the subsequent stories, Weinstein exhibits an ultimate compassion and empathy for his figures which render them pitiable, if not likable.

“The Cartographers” deals with memory implants, fake lives purchased by jaded “viewers.” “Corner-store memories [that] China’s producing—$8.99 porn thrills so poorly constructed that you can see the patches of light where the software burns through the girls’ skin.” Highly Gibsonian. “Heartland” involves a father commodifying his smart kid on a game show—and stopping short of further, more vile exploitation. “Excerpts from The New World Authorized Dictionary” is one of the more experimental entries, being just what it advertises, a selection of slang definitions that highlight some of the more perverse elements of this era.

In “Moksha” we journey to Nepal for some electronically induced enlightenment: “old and young alike…getting data shot through their crown chakras for five thousand rupees a pop.” Virtual and augmented realities play a large part in Weinstein’s vision, and in the title story we are faced with the emotional and ethical dilemma of having to delete some very special avatars. I should use this instance to mention that Weinstein focuses on the flyover parts of America, not the big cities, seeing our representative heroes in suburban and rural climes.

“Fall Line” deals with the plight of a famous winter-sports athlete when all the snow is gone. The acidic spirit of Stanislaw Lem hovers over the droll fake academic report titled “A Brief History of the Failed Revolution.” More family dynamics are explored in “Migration,” which, in its portrayal of individuals afraid to leave the safety of their home, instead existing in a Boschean VR simulation, conjures up thoughts of David Bunch’s Moderan without the manic glee.

Any story that features Tibetan Buddhist terrorists led by the Dalai Lama, as does “The Pyramid and the Ass,” is worthy of Tom Disch or Norman Spinrad. “It was Rocket Night at our daughter’s elementary school, the night when parents, students, and the administration gather to place the least liked child in a rocket and shoot him into the stars.” So begins “Rocket Night,” in its effective homage to Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” “Openness” tests the feasibility of going off the grid in this Brave New World and trying to remember what unmediated humanity is all about. And finally, “Ice Age” depicts the inutile continuation of hyper-sophisticated behaviors and beliefs in a frozen-over world that is utterly antithetical to our petty concerns.

The future laid out by Weinstein is both a repudiation of our current way of living and a hopeful assertion that even in a hellish environment some small flowers of redemption can bloom. If you enjoyed George Saunders’s similar CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, you will certainly relish this slightly less surreal, less gonzo instantiation of the all-too-likely sentiment that this civilization and culture of ours is on a greased skid to absolute ethical and corporeal bankruptcy.

Paul Di Filippo has been writing professionally for over thirty years, and has published almost that number of books. He lives in Providence, RI, with his mate of an even greater number of years, Deborah Newton.

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