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Blaze Me a Sun, by Christoffer Carlsson

Review copy provided by the publisher.

This is the English language debut of a Swedish bestseller. It reads like a bestseller, very short chapters and a lot of simple sentences. It also reads like it’s translated from Swedish, where I can see the ghosts of a couple of jokes that were impossible to translate and a few places where the translator chose to stick close to cognates in places where a more colloquial translation might have served them better. (“These were the sentiments of such men”: a cromulent English sentence, but not for a late 20th/early 21st century thriller.)

I hope that an Anglophone audience receives the Swedishness of the central conceit well, too. Because while it’s a thriller murder mystery, it’s also a book about the emotional confusion and angst many people–including those who didn’t support him politically–experienced in the aftermath of Olof Palme’s assassination. The psychological importance of this event, the sense that the world was falling to pieces, is in every page of this book, and I hope that that’s comprehensible to an Anglophone readership that may not be entirely clear on what happened to Olof Palme in the first place. (No, I know the Swedes are not clear either, but they know Christer Petterson from Krister Peterson in a dark alley.)

So. There are two generations of police, father and son, but not working together, on a single set of murder cases. They’re also each trying to figure out their place in the world, their relationship with their child, whether this is all there is. Some mysteries are tagged as “competence porn.” This is almost the opposite, very nearly incompetence porn. Bewilderment literature. There is illness, struggle, wrong turnings that never do get righted. It is almost disorienting to be in thriller-type prose but deep in the headspace of people having thoroughly literary crises. It’s a very weird book, and I don’t really have an “ultimately satisfying” or “ultimately unsatisfying” verdict, it just…goes hard at what it is. I suppose we should all hope for as much to be said of us.

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Short work I’ve enjoyed this spring

I make no pretense of getting to everything–please include recommendations in the comments if you like!

“The Voice of a Thousand Years,” Fawaz Al-Matrouk (F&SF May/June)

This Is I, KT Bryski (The Deadlands)

“Breathless in the Green,” Octavia Cade (F&SF May/June)

“The Book of Unwritten Poems,” Curtis Chen (Sunday Morning Transport)

“Whose Spaceship Is It Anyway?”, John Chu (Bridge to Elsewhere)

My Great-Grandmother’s House, Madalena Daleziou (The Deadlands)

Embroidery of a Bird’s Heart, Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas (Strange Horizons)

Hello, this is Automatic Antigrief: what problem can I solve for you today?, Jenna Hanchey (Nature)

“Give Me English,” Ai Jiang (F&SF May/June)

Advice from the Civil Temporal Defense League, Sandra McDonald (Lightspeed)

A Partial Record of Enchanted Cheeses I’ve Fed My Wife, Devin Miller (PodCastle)

Carcinisation, Ellie Milne-Brown (Reckoning)

“Cumulative Ethical Guidelines for Midrange Interstellar Storytellers,” Malka Older (Bridge to Elsewhere)

Sword and Spore, Domenica Phetteplace (

The Cheesemaker and the Undying King, Lina Rather (Lightspeed)

Arbitrium, Anjali Sachdeva (

“My Family and Other Evolving Animals,” Shuang Chimu (New Voices in Chinese Science Fiction)

“Team Building Exercise,” Valerie Valdes (Bridge to Elsewhere)

Onions, Grace Wagner (Reckoning)

The Coward Who Stole God’s Name, John Wiswell (Uncanny)

“The True Meaning of Father’s Day,” John Wiswell (F&SF May/June)

Too Little, Too Little, Too Much, John Wiswell (Cossmass Infinities)

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Books read, early June

Ben Aaronovitch, Amongst Our Weapons. This book actually made me laugh out loud once, which is very rare for me–funny books get a smile or a silent chuckle–but not with the Monty Python reference that was obviously coming for the whole book. (One might even say: I expected it.) The arc plot is arcing very, very slowly. Is it still on the charming side of charming vs. annoying? Yes…ish…but for heaven’s sake don’t start with this one. Don’t start at all if you don’t have patience for arc plot. I fear that any moment Peter may spend a trilogy getting his apartment back. (That’s a CJ Cherryh joke. Sorry. Well. Not that sorry.)

Hanna Alkaf, Queen of the Tiles. YA Scrabble mystery set in Malaysia. It is not better than that thumbnail description, but also it is not worse–if you’re in the market for a very, very Scrabble-y book about teenagers figuring out their lives, here you go.

Betsy Aoki, Breakpoint. A collection of poems by a poet (and friend!) whose work I have liked in scattered venues. When it’s all assembled it’s amazing how much Betsy has to say about, among other things, being a woman in tech. Good stuff, looking forward to whatever comes next.

Lisa Brooks, Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War. And by “new” we mean “takes into account Native peoples basically at all.” Brooks pulls in a lot of first-person sources from the time that were not necessarily written in English or respected or taken in context by English settlers. She’s able to point out a lot of sources of misunderstandings (and some outright bad faith actions) knowing about both–in several cases all–of the cultures involved. And when she has short vivid passages of fictionalized perspective, it does not annoy me the way it often does when nonfiction writers do that. Upsetting but only appropriately so, really well done.

CSE Cooney, Saint Death’s Daughter. The kind of dark whimsy that Claire does so well, and it is paced perfectly for a long novel, with each section giving the characters something different than the previous ones in a way that kept the whole length fresh. Lovely and a joy to read even in its darker moments.

Christopher Fry, The Boy With a Cart. Reread. This is a quite competent play about the life of a very obscure saint, but I find myself at a loss for who would ever want to put such a thing on or why, unless it was the village where he lived for some festival, I guess. What an odd thing to want to do, though, and how very unlike Hild. Welp.

Jo Harkin, Tell Me an Ending. This is a literary science fiction novel about editing memories, and it juggles several different point of view characters with different angles on the process. The juggling is quite skillful for most of the book, and I found it engrossing. The end is a little too wrapped up for my tastes, but this is not a fatal flaw, and I still recommend this, particularly to science fiction fans who might not have come across it because it may be shelved in “fiction” rather than “science fiction.”

Sarah Orne Jewett, Strangers and Wayfarers. Kindle. A collection of short stories. Not recommended except for the completist: while in her better work (including some stories of this collection) Jewett focuses on the people of Maine, the people she knows best, here she tries her hand farther afield–including Irish immigrants and formerly enslaved Black Southerners. The dialect is painful; her ideas of what their worldviews might be, worse.

Mary Robinette Kowal, The Spare Man. Discussed elsewhere.

Casey McQuiston, One Last Stop. A time-traveling subway lesbian romance, but not a very generic one–McQuiston’s placement of the beats of this plot are her own and do not align with either romance or time-travel SF. And that’s as it should be, because this is primarily a novel of character and relationship. (Also it is fun.)

Eddie Robson, Drunk on All Your Strange New Words. Discussed elsewhere.

Margery Sharp, The Stone of Chastity. This book came out in 1940, trying to distract the British reader from the WWII woes surrounding them. It is a frothy, light village comedy centered on folklore that promises that a particular stone will make the unchaste lose their footing. Sharp’s view of chastity and relationships is a quite modern one, and the humor here tends to be gentle rather than eviscerating of people’s foibles and assumptions.

Walter R. Tschinkel, Ant Architecture: The Wonder, Beauty, and Science of Underground Nests. What a delight. Tschinkel dives into experiment design in this book, telling the reader not only how he figured out ant nest structures but how he figured out how to figure them out. It’s lavishly illustrated and has a very thoughtful relationship with its subjects. Loved it.

Jing Tsu, Kingdom of Characters: the Language Evolution That Made China Modern. Lots of interesting nerdery about dealing with Chinese characters for things like typewriters, computers, indexing, etc. Very useful for those interested in the subject, possibly still edifying for those with no prior interest.

HKF van Nierop, The Nobility of Holland: From Knights to Regents, 1500-1650. This, on the other hand, is really more for people who have an interest in Dutch social history of the period. What does nobility mean, how do you maintain it, what is it even doing there and how is it changing: interesting stuff, but addressed in a highly context-specific fashion rather than a general one.

Jessie L. Weston, trans., Morien. Kindle. This is a 13th century Dutch romance (not in the people kissing sense, in the people jousting sense), translated by someone from the turn of the 20th century. It’s very clearly written by someone who has seen a Black person and does not expect most of their readership to have done so, because it is eagerly expressing the very concept of Black people to what it expects is an ignorant audience, carefully explaining that the titular hero is neither deformed nor ugly, just dark-skinned. For a modern reader there’s a certain wide-eyed weirdness to this experience, but on the other hand, Morien (even his name is basically “that dude who’s a Moor”) gets to be THE MOST AWESOMEST HERO EVER AND GAWAIN LOVES HIM AND LANCELOT LOVES HIM AND SPOCK LOVES HIM–wait, that’s something else. But seriously, this is the fanfic impulse in action, with a Black Arthurian knight, and it’s short, and it’s kind of fun.

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The Spare Man, by Mary Robinette Kowal

Review copy provided by the publisher. Also, like nearly everyone else in this field, I have had congenial convention/online interactions with MRK.

The Thin Man is a Dashiell Hammett novel, and this is the science fiction reboot thereof, on a cruise ship en route to Mars. So! What does this book have that Hammett fans might be looking for?

Hammett’s prose. No, Kowal decided–probably wisely–not to write this as pastiche. The prose style is instantly recognizable as her own, not his.

Hammett’s gender relations. Again, that’s a no; Kowal decided instead to write a society that does not have the most condescending and divisive possible view of sex and gender. Her future includes characters of varying genders and gender expressions rather than Hammett’s repugnant version.

Quite a lot of alcohol. Oh yes. Each chapter starts with a cocktail recipe, some original to the author, and the characters are drinking more or less constantly through the book. Many of the cocktail recipes are zero-proof, and if you read the notes after the book, you’ll learn that this is quite deliberate and philosophically important to the author. However, if you’re someone who is uncomfortable with a large amount of alcohol consumption for personal reasons even if the author is clearly not pushing it as the one true way of life, this may not be the book for you.

Adorable tiny dog. AND HOW. There is adorable tiny dog peril. I will be your one-person does the dog die dot com and tell you that no, the adorable tiny dog does not die, you’re welcome, you can read the book now. (If you were a person who preferred to be in suspense on this point, I’m sorry but not actually that sorry.)

Entitled rich protagonist. Yep. There is quite a lot of “I don’t have to put up with this! I’m rich!” in this book, which is absolutely true to the original, and while there are a few moments when someone calls Tess on it, in general it’s my least favorite part.

If you’re not a Hammett reader, what might you find? Well, there’s a cruise ship to Mars, complete with Coriolis effects from rotational “gravity.” There’s a disabled protagonist whose disability has more than one assist, of varying futurism levels, but whose disability never gets conveniently wiped away for the sake of the plot. There’s a crocheting attorney back on Earth who is increasingly inconvenienced by the time lag. There’s a string of bodies whose murders are solved by the end, with all the clues in front of you and the pacing of a classic mystery…iiiin. Spaaaace. Oh, and at one point a lot of towel animals. So there’s quite a lot.

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Drunk On All Your Strange New Words, by Eddie Robson

Review copy provided by the publisher.

For each new technology, there are the first few awkward stories that incorporate it–a story that carefully explains that its characters are sending an electronic mail over their computers–then another handful stories that center on it wholly, making it the point (You’ve Got Mail!)–and then finally the many, many stories for whom it is a normal element of the world, fully incorporated into worldview. Drunk On All Your Strange New Words is not about social media, as if it was a gimmick. It understands social media as an integrated element of modern societies.

Okay, so if it’s not about that, though, what is it about? It’s about Lydia, a human translator for an alien cultural attaché, Fitz, whose species can speak basically telepathically with humans, but only a subset of humans. And the side effects of the conversations include that the humans start to feel drunk the longer they’ve been in a particular alien conversation. It makes the role of a translator a fraught one–as Lydia keeps discovering firsthand. But she likes Fitz, she likes her work, and she certainly didn’t have a lot of other options going back in Halifax (Yorkshire, not Nova Scotia).

Then Fitz is found murdered, and Lydia is one of the prime suspects. Her main skill is conversation with aliens, but now she’s here, there, and everywhere, having to talk to aliens and humans alike, do research, anything at all to track down the clues that she’s getting–some of them possibly from Fitz himself, beyond the grave. Lydia’s always been set apart from the other translators, but now she’s chasing clues around New York City, feeling utterly alone–and her visit to her family may well make things worse. I found her working class sensibilities and her dogged determination appealing as this very science fictional mystery unraveled.

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Books read, late May

Alana Joli Abbott and Julia Rios, eds., Bridge to Elsewhere. A quite wide variety of stories with some version of spaceship involved. There was a really great section in the middle with all my favorite stories at once: Malka Older’s “Cumulative Ethical Guidelines for Midrange Interstellar Storytellers,” John Chu’s “Whose Spaceship Is It Anyway?”, and Valerie Valdes’s “Team Building Exercise,” all in a row, whoosh.

Gal Beckerman, The Quiet Before: On the Unexpected Origins of Radical Ideas. Interesting meditations on some of the less flashy individuals who prefigured quite famous historical movements, how they got to the ideas that underpinned those movements. I particularly appreciated that Beckerman did not limit himself to historical movements he approved of, because radicalism is not inherently positive and sometimes watching how ideas develop in directions we don’t actually like is still very useful.

Kwame Dawes, Nebraska. Absolutely gorgeous poetry coming at its titular subject from the absolute opposite direction from mine, which is fascinating to watch–Dawes is from Ghana and Jamaica, so for him Nebraska is a place where winter happens in astonishing and intense ways, and for me, it. Uh. Really, really is not.

Marion Deeds, Comeuppance Served Cold. A heist/revenge novella in a 1920s endowed with magic. Has closure but allows room for sequels.

B.K. Fisher, Ceive. A post-apocalyptic novella in verse inspired by Noah’s Ark, Early English poetry, and about a million other things. The poems don’t really stand on their own, but they’re very immersive together.

Christopher Fry, A Phoenix Too Frequent. Reread. I can see why this was not his breakthrough play. It has some of the themes of choosing to live that pop up in The Lady’s Not For Burning (and in fact they make a rather uncomfortable back-to-back reread for that reason), but the three characters are less vivid, less appealing, less filled out, and the language was not yet to the “!!!” every few pages stage that The Lady’s Not For Burning had. Well, none of us gets there all at once.

John Gowdy, Ultrasocial: The Evolution of Human Nature and the Quest for a Sustainable Future. I was vastly disappointed with this book. It did not have particularly many insights from ants and termites, despite its premise, it just talked about them on a very shallow level–I don’t think Gowdy knows particularly much about ants at all, I had to go order another book to satisfy my ant-related curiosity–and then reiterated a lot of things we already know about sustainability after the initial insights about ultrasocial species. Which he repeated often, without much variation. I can’t really see whose mind this will change or expand about anything in particular.

Kristen Green, The Devil’s Half-Acre: The Untold Story of How One Woman Liberated the South’s Most Notorious Slave Jail. This book is very careful about the agency of enslaved people, particularly enslaved women. Its focus is less what it says on the tin and more on how the trade in human lives affected those actual human lives in highly varied ways toward the end of the period in question. Green is going for nuance, nuance, nuance, and also for as much as she can find about the voices of those whose voicelessness is all too often assumed.

Kevin Hearne, Ink and Sigil. Urban fantasy romp with fountain pens and ink as a major magical component. For some of you this will be a reasonable premise in a fun urban fantasy and for others the hearts and stars have just appeared around your eyes.

Kelly Jones, Happily For Now. Did you need a retelling of Cold Comfort Farm as a contemporary middle grade novel? I didn’t know I did until I read this, and it worked astonishingly well. A little didactic, but if you’re up for that, you don’t have to have read the original or Thomas Hardy to enjoy this. Thomas Hardy has nothing to do with it, thank God.

Juliet Kemp, ed. Unlikely Wonders. Kindle. A promotional reprint anthology with some things I already liked and some new material, varied and good fun.

Rae Mariz, Weird Fishes. Discussed elsewhere.

Casey McQuiston, I Kissed Shara Wheeler. This is not a queer contemporary YA retelling of Emma, but the characters certainly have reason to think about Emma during the machinations the title character puts them through, and they do. The interlocking friendships and social circles in this small Southern town right before high school graduation were really well done–I am not the target audience for this book, and I absolutely enjoyed it anyway.

Jane Pek, The Verifiers. A somewhat gentle thriller whose main character analyzes data for dating websites, and whose plot is all tangled up with that job. There’s also a bunch of immigrant family dynamic stuff here. I found it really gripping and fun.

Ben Rawlence, The Treeline: The Last Forest and the Future of Life on Earth. Boreal forests and their ebb and flow, interlocks well with the Vitebsky discussed below as far as reindeer habitat and tundra maintenance and climate change.

Cat Sebastian, Hither, Page. A gay romance murder mystery that is doing things with the immediate human aftermath of WWII that I am more used to having done with the immediate aftermath of WWI, so that’s cool. Small village, vivid characters, unexpected deaths. Very cozy.

Solmaz Sharif, Customs. Both senses of the word. Poetry from an Iranian-American poet who has a lot to say about the immigrant experience and passing back and forth into the US as someone of her particular heritage.

Mary Shelley, Mathilda. Kindle. Look, there are advantages and disadvantages to the way that I like to read quite old fiction without any idea of what’s in it, and one of the disadvantages is: you can come upon a novelette about father-daughter incest without knowing that’s what it is. And this is entirely a novelette about father-daughter incest, there is no part of it that is not. It’s very high-contrast, it is the height of Romantic melodramatic chiaroscuro. But the plot is rather linear and oh gosh. Well. “What did she do other than Frankenstein,” I wondered, and downloaded a bunch of things to surprise and delight me. Or in this case just surprise.

E. Catherine Tobler, Sonya Taaffe, David Gilmore, et al, eds., The Deadlands Issue 13. Kindle. Consistently haunting, as always a good read.

Piers Vitebsky, The Reindeer People: Living With Animals and Spirits in Siberia. Fewer spirits than it says on the tin, but if you want east-central Siberian reindeer people anthropology/cultural studies during massive social shifts and global warming, this is the good stuff. I do. Obviously.

Nghi Vo, Siren Queen. Fantasy set in the making of early movies, with a Chinese-American heroine, thoughts about what roles people are given room to portray and who the real monsters are, immediately went on my gift list for more than one person, not quite like anything else, in a good way.

Hannah Whitten, For the Wolf. High fantasy with strong sibling relationships, very active forest component, fairy tale resonances that are not allowed to take over the plot. I enjoyed this and will look forward to the sequel.

Neon Yang, The Genesis of Misery. Discussed elsewhere.

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The Genesis of Misery, by Neon Yang

Review copy provided by the publisher.

First, there is the title: the protagonist’s name is Misery. Misery Nomaki, she/they pronouns, possibly the Ninth Messiah, an orphan from a backwater planet, full of powers that should belong only to the saints–and Misery is definitely not that. So it is not a philosophical treatise about the beginnings of unhappiness, about which I feel we all know a bit too much in 2022.

What it actually is…well, do you like the kind of anime that has a never-fully-explained gonzo fantasy premise but also spacecraft pilot training sequences? Because this is structured exactly like that. The spacecraft are named seraphs and, eventually, archangels, and when the book got to the flight training sequences where the pilots had to mesh with their craft, I felt like the book had really found its genre rhythm. Loads of you absolutely love that kind of thing and don’t run into it much in prose fiction, especially not prose fiction that’s originally in English, so here you are, it is your jam.

The other obvious comparison is to Joan of Arc: are the mysterious voices angels, devils, telepathic contact, what is going on with the religious nature of the voices Misery hears. Will they save their people? Will the Heretics defeat them? Is she…actually more like the Heretics after all? Misery has considered whether they are like their poor voidmad mother, but the Heretics are one step too far…but then why does she seem to be dreaming of one? Space fantasy adventure abounds here.