It's been an age since I last re-posted any of the reviews I've written for SFX magazine here. Two recent(ish) pieces of mine have appeared on their site as well as in the magazine; both were lead reviews, so they're a bit longer than the average capsule review:
For Black Opera, [Gentle] turns to Naples in the mid-1800s, marrying the city’s passion for bel canto opera to charged contemporary debates about science and heresy. Ambitious up-and-coming librettist Conrad Scalese finds himself the centre of both ecclesiastical and royal attention when the theatre hosting his new opera is hit by lightning on opening night. The Inquisition blame Conrad’s daringly open atheism; Ferdinand II sees an “opera miracle” – magic raised by the power of song – that he might use to his kingdom’s advantage.
Surprisingly, it looks like neither Vicky nor I have written about Gentle's work at Alexandria before; but I did review one of her previous novels, Ilario, for Strange Horizons, all the way back in 2007.
Karen Lord’s follow-up to the infectious fun of her debut Redemption in Indigo is, at first glance, a more sober proposition. Whereas Redemption was a freewheeling fantasy based on Senegalese folklore, centred on a man with an appetite like an elephant’s and the woman who tires of cooking for him, The Best of All Possible Worlds is a science fiction tale about alien cultures in contact. Yet the two books share the same irreverent but warm-hearted concern with people: how they see themselves, what they value, and above all how they relate to each other.
Finally, below is the full text of a capsule review that appeared in the magazine only, of Madeline Ashby's vN. The novel came out last summer, and that's when my review first appeared, but since it is now up for the Kitschies' Golden Tentacle Award (for best debut novel), it's been getting some renewed discussion, so this seems as good a time as any to (re)enter the fray.
What we're about to discuss isn't really a plot twist, since it happens in the prologue and the back cover gives it away, but for the spoiler-phobic: the tale of a rogue humanoid robot, Madeline Ashby's debut novel vN is brimming with ideas but patchy in the execution, though it does have one awesome set piece. Okay? Everyone else can join me in the next paragraph.
Five-year-old Amy is a sentient android. Unlike many of her increasingly common kind, Amy has been raised in a mixed family (robot mother, human 'father'), but what starts out seeming like a soft-focus retread of AI veers into the entertainingly gruesome when Amy's wacky robot grandmother arrives to attack Amy's mother, and Amy promptly responds by. eating her grandmother. Yes, really.
Amy, it turns out, lacks a 'failsafe', a piece of programming which ensures not only that robots can't harm human beings, but that they are helplessly affectionate and obedient towards them. Ashby does a great job of exploring how the failsafe can be abused: paedophilia is mentioned so frequently that it borders on the pointlessly lurid, but there are more subtle aspects that play very neatly into the worldbuilding and the backstory of the central robot characters. It's a shame the plot itself is so episodic and unengaging, with Amy lurching from peril to arbitrary peril, pausing only to be rescued or develop new powers. Ashby has bags of potential, though: one to watch.
On the shortlist for the afore-mentioned Golden Tentacle, one of vN's rivals is the marvellous Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman, which Vicky recently blogged about and on which SFX also asked me to write a longer piece. Said review went up on the site a few weeks ago, and so for the sake of completeness:
It shouldn’t work. In outline, Seraphina sounds like the fluffiest story imaginable: it’s about a precociously talented teenage girl with a Secret Heritage, Special Powers, and a kindly, eccentric dragon for an uncle. It contains characters with names like Queen Lavonda and Princess Glisselda. And look: here’s a brooding young love interest hoving into view!