Category Archives: Fiction

Book Review: “Will Save Galaxy For Food” by Yahtzee Croshaw

Will Save Galaxy For Food by Yahtzee Croshaw

This is a deep, dark and thought provoking novel, tightly interwoven and densely textured.

Not!

If that’s what you were looking for, I have no idea why you thought you would find it here! 🙂

What’s the point here? We don’t need no steeking point!

The cover suggests that this is “A Satirical Sci-fi Adventure”. I have no idea what exactly is being satirized here. Bad science fiction? Video games? I dunno. And I don’t care.

Blasters!  Star ships!  Aliens!  Space pirates! Gritty working class space pilots!

‘Nuff said.

Croshaw is apparently known as a video game commentator, and also designs video games. It’s no surprise, then, that WSGFF reads like a video game. One “puzzle” after another, lots of blasting things, tons of visual effects, shallow jokes, and thin characters.

The plot makes no sense, and the technology is definitely video game cartoony. The situations are silly, and the characters trivial. The dialog is, again, video game grade.

I didn’t find this story exceptionally interesting or funny. But then, I grew bored with video games about thirty years ago, so this isn’t my cup of tea.

WSGFF is light read, not requiring much concentration. If you like video games, you might like this story.


  1. Yahtzee Croshaw, Will Save Galaxy For Food, Milwaukee, Or, Dark Horse Books, 2017.

 

Sunday Book Reviews

Book Review: “Seven Wonders” by Adam Christopher

Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher

Another one by Adam Christopher from a few years ago.

Seven Wonders (2012)  is the pure white powder—a superhero comics without the pictures. We know that Hollywood can’t get enough comic book stories these days, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that screenwriter Christopher seems to like this style, and is pretty good at it.

Seven Wonders is pretty well written, an alternative world filled with wonder and superheroes—lot’s of them. There are hundreds of superheroes and a few super villains, with costumes and preposterous names. No two super beings have the same powers, so it is all quite exhausting to keep track of.

Unfortunately, these beings are comic book grade characters; shallow, stupid, and violent. Much of the dialog is idiotic. The alternative world is long on wonder and short on logic. Nothing makes sense, and the plot of the story is pretty pointless.

I read it right through. Did I like it? Not a lot.

The story itself is comic book level silly. Nothing of interest happens, though a lot of people get hurt and killed. Lot’s of flashy violence, not much meaningful talk or action.

The story itself is complicated and rather dark. Hewing to the comic genre, there are lots of fist fights, and not a lot of thinking-before-you-punch. There are only fragments of love stories, which last a few pages before someone kills someone, usually for almost no reason.

For that matter, there seems to be no normal life in this world. Families, friends, jobs—these are just the civilian background upon which the mighty superheroes play out their games. And there are a lot of civilian casualties.

The super beings appear to be scheming dunces. Every one of them is keeping secrets from their own allies, and they seem to lack any sort of understanding of people or strategy. Their vast technological and magical capabilities seem to give them little intelligence about the city, its people, or the various crimes and threats out there.

In short, these are highly unattractive and less than heroic heroes. Perhaps that’s the joke, but if so, it’s an awfully long and tedious joke.

Throw in the hazy line between good guys and bad guys, and their tendency to switch sides, and its no wonder that some of the civilians have a rather cynical attitude.

Enough already, Bob.  This story obviously isn’t my cup of tea exactly.

But Christopher does exhibit a fine, if rather limited imagination. Given his other works, I have to assume that the limitations of this book were intentional, staying within the boundaries of comiciness. I’m not sure that a comic without pictures is an especially great format, at least not for me. If I’m doing to read 300 pages of prose, it might be nice to have a bit more substance.

I can’t resist a comparison to Valente’s Refrigerator Monologues, which plays with the same comic-iness, but has a lot more interesting characters and situations. A lot more.

This book is not terrible, but it’s not Christopher’s best work, as far as I’m concerned.


  1. Adam Christopher, Seven Wonders, Long Island City, Angry Robot, 2012.

 

Sunday Book Reviews

Book Review: “Standard Hollywood Depravity” by Adam Christopher

Standard Hollywood Depravity by Adam Christopher

Raymond Electromatic was introduced in Made To Kill  and Killing is My Business. Ray is the last robot in a strange 60’s SciFi Noir LA. Superpowered and invulnerably strong, Ray has a significant weakness: his memory tape only lasts one day. He can’t remember anything before this morning, except what he reads or is told by Ada, the supercomputer who directs him.

Ray works as a contract killer, apparently without anyone noticing what the only seven-foot metal man in the city is up to. Whatever.

Standard Hollywood Depravity is a“bonus” novelette about Raymond Electromatic that seems to be set between the first two books. (His amnesia makes it difficult to be sure the order of his cases.)

This little story is actually my favorite so far.

Once again, Ray is on the job, and discovers that something complicated is going on. The assassination is to be done in a Go Go club, which turns out to be filled with gangsters. He has little information about who’s who and what’s what, but it is quickly apparent that his simple assignment is far from simple.

The story is more interesting because Ray actually meets and collaborates with his target, Honey. She’s a resourceful and plucky young woman, daughter of a local mobster. Honey is infiltrating the meeting for her own reasons, and leaps to the mistaken assumption that Ray is her backup on whatever she is doing.

Intrigued, and thinking that there may be profit here, Ray hesitates and delays the hit. As the evening unfolds, Ray is thrust into the middle of a major scam that could well end in gang violence.

Ray is supposed to programmed to be an efficient and unquestioning killing machine, but  in this story we see signs that it is not that simple.

We don’t know what’s going on with Ray, but we have to suspect that he is being lied to. What happens to a robot if he can’t trust his programming?

There is more to come in the third novel.


  1. Adam Christopher, Standard Hollywood Depravity, New York, TOR Books, 2017.

 

Sunday Book Reviews

Book Review: “The Painted Queen” by Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess

The Painted Queen by Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess

Prolific author Barbara Mertz (under the pen name Elizabeth Peters) died in 2013, after writing dozens of charming stories about the eminent Egyptologists, the Emerson family. She left behind notes for another novel.

Joan Hess was a friend and confidante of Mertz, and was convinced to try to complete the work. The Painted Queen is the result of this posthumous collaboration.

Hess was a good choice for this task, and she did a fine job. The book is true to the Peters style, and a suitable honor to the author’s memory.

The story itself involves the discovery of the Nefertiti bust, which is now on exhibit in Berlin. The conventional history of the discovery and exfiltration of this iconic statue is confused and contested. This story reveals the hitherto unreported role of the Emerson clan in the tangled tale.

Picture of the Nefertiti bust in Neues Museum, Berlin

The rollicking tale involves Amelia and the whole gang, in Cairo and Amarna, and a legion of adversaries including German espionage, master forgers, vengeful lunatics, and The Master Criminal.

As in all the Peabody stories, there is a lot of period color (sumptuous English teas on the Nile, an all). The Emersons have a strong respect and affection for the Egyptians, which may or may not be historically plausible, but does reflect the authors’ own love of the country and its people.

This may not rank at the top of Peters’ works (I will never forget “The Last Camel Died at Noon (1991)), but it was satisfactory.  It was a bit sad to read, knowing that this is really the last we will hear of Amelia and her remarkable family.

Joan Hess deserves credit for doing a proper job, and giving us a fitting tribute to a favorite author and some characters we will miss.


  1. Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess, The Painted Queen, New York, HarperCollins, 2017.

 

Sunday Book Reviews

Book Review: “Killing is My Business” by Adam Christopher

Killing is My Business by Adam Christopher

Adam Christopher is a prolific and imaginative writer whose novels read like comic books or graphic novels without the pictures. That’s deliberate and it really works.

Killing is My Business is another story about Raymond Electromatic, the last robot.

The technology in this story is a weird 1960’s Asimovian sort of robotics, with computers the size of buildings, spinning magnetic tapes, and rotary dial telephones. Ray is a strange super powered, nearly invulnerable robot with a sophisticated brain but memory limited to the capacity of one 24-hour tape cartridge.

A la 60’s LA Noir, and Ray is licensed PI, but employed as a hired killer. The result is a superpowered robot assassin who can’t remember yesterday, and who has to be briefed each morning to remind him of what’s going on in the case, and who the target for today is.

Given his almost total amnesia, and inhuman mechanical body, he doesn’t fit in sot society especially well.  Very Noir, no? And, by the way, he’s the last and only robot still at large. All the others were recalled and destroyed.

Does this all make sense? No.

“SET DISBELIEF = SUSPENDED”

This particular story involves even more mysterious assignment than usual. It becomes clear that his daily briefings are clearly edited, and that he is being manipulated by his programmer (Ada the supercomputer). He is dropped into a dangerous and inexplicable situation, and he struggles to figure out what is going on.

This isn’t the real 1960s, nor even authentic 60s fictional LA. It’s sort of nostalgia for an imaginary nostalgia. Fiction about past fictions. Or something.

I guess it’s kind of fun to try to fathom the weird LA setting and the rather alien people who live there, if you like that sort of thing. There is a lot of pseudo-retro banter, which I guess some people like. Given that the people and their motives are extremely shallow and opaque, I found it hard to be deeply interested in any of them.

Overall, the whole thing works because Christopher writes well. But I have to say that I like his other work better.

  1. Adam Christopher, Killing is My Business, New York, Tor, 2017.

 

Sunday Book Reviews

Book Review: “Dichronauts” by Greg Egan

Dichronauts by Greg Egan

The cover has the tag line, “Welcome to the strangest world in Science Fiction’, and that’s not far wrong.   Reading SF all my life, I have encountered a lot of mind stretching universes, in many different directions.

Egan has two prominent predilections: space time geometry, and fluid personal identities.

This story is an old-fashioned “big idea” SF. In this case, he works out a parallel universe with a fundamental geometry different from our own. We live in a physics that has 3 space-like dimensions plus 1 time-like dimension. This alternative universe has 2+2.

This geometry has lots of implications for movement, perception, and celestial mechanics, among other things. You know it’s tricky when the author has a whole tutorial web site.

Egan has decided to create a sort of “Flatland” for this hyperboloid geometry. He imagines a whole world with hyperbolic geomety, and an intelligent race who lives there. Biology seems mostly conventional, though Egan never gets into just how molecular biology might work in this geometry, and the people are pretty human. One of Egan’s perennial topics is how we’re all humans, across a very, very broad range of variations.

To show off the properties of this alternative space-time system, the protagonists choose to become professional surveyors, in which capacity they directly deal with the shape of the world.   They also are scouts and explorers, so interesting travels ensue.

I have to say that I wasn’t especially interested in the characters or their society. It’s all pretty shallow (one dimensional?), and, frankly, boring. The expeditions are interesting, though mostly as a kind of geometry lesson. Much of the time, the characters have to think and talk about things that would be obvious to them, but we don’t understand, such as the way their vision works. (Hint: it’s complicated, at least by our own standards.) This endless stream of tutorial asides doesn’t help the story flow.

The worst thing about the book is that I don’t understand the underlying geometry at all. Yes, I’ve seen these curves in calculus class. No, I don’t know how gravity would work. Or how light cones would work. Or any of that stuff. And, not to put too fine a point on it, I still have no idea what these animals look like, or how they move.

I had to go to his web site, in search of clues. I didn’t find them there.

I can’t overemphasize the magnitude of this problem. We follow a mostly first person story of Seth/Theo, but I don’t have any picture of what they look like, how they move, how they see, etc.

The best part of the story has to be the planet, and the amazing geography. I won’t give away any of the wonders discovered by the trekkers.

At the same time, the ecology of this planet is not explained and makes little sense. There are human –like sapients, but it’s mostly a lifeless desert. Where are all the other animals, where are the plants, where are the microbes, fungi, insects, and all the rest?   As I pointed out, I have to wonder what sort of analog to DNA might exist in such a space-dime geometry. How would protein folding work? How would chemical reactions of any kind work with two time-like dimensions?  How would blood or other flluids flow?  I have no idea.

This book has a kernel of an interesting idea, but my own view is that there isn’t enough story here for more than a few pages.

  1. Greg Egan, Dichronauts, New York, Nightshade Books, 2017.

 

Sunday Book Reviews

Book Review: “Shiver Hitch” by Linda Greenlaw

Shiver Hitch by Linda Greenlaw

Linda Greenlaw is an interesting person. I loved her autobiographical “The Lobster Chronicles” (2003). She is on my secret list of “come backers” (people who succeed out in the world and then return to where they grew up to make a life there).

Since returning, she has written more, including fiction. Shiver Hitch is the third in a series of mysteries set in down east Maine, which she knows so well.

In this story, Jane Bunker puts on her insurance investigator’s hat to document a fire on Acadia Island. It develops into arson and one of the homeowners is found burned in the rubble. Switching hats to part time deputy, she investigates the tangled story.

The story is rife with local color, the life and characters of the Maine coast. I assume that this is based on deep experience, though I have to say that the charm is lost on me. The town folks are both too cute and too realistically irritating to be fun to read about. Greenlaw being Greenlaw, there are a lot of boat rides and lobsters play a big role.

Greenlaw’s style features a lot of first person monologue, revealing Bunker’s thinking as she (rather ineptly) unravels the mystery. She also muses on family and neighbors and other everyday things. This device let’s Greenlaw develop Bunker’s character and I think reflects Greenlaw’s own feelings about life in Maine.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really enjoy this way to telling the story. For one thing, Bunker tends to be of two minds about many things, especially people. Greenlaw tries to show how she forms initial impressions, and then changes them as she learns more. I’m pretty sure this reflects the author’s own approach to the world, but it can be hard work to slog through all this back and forth.

I also didn’t particularly appreciate the sloppy police work. Setting aside the cavalier attitude about search and arrests, Jane Bunker is a terrible investigator. She leaps to conclusions, neglects basic logic, goes off on her own, and acts on the shallowest stereotypes about people. (Yes, Bunker both collects too much of the wrong evidence, and not enough of the right evidence.) Only the solid work of other police and a lot of luck prevent disaster.

One interesting theme is that cell phone coverage is really spotty down East. This creates opportunities for dramatic tension and danger which simply don’t exist in more urban settings. It’s a sign of the times that not being able to call for help is an exotic experience.   (Though I don’t really grok why the police don’t use radios to supplement the iffy commercial phones.)

I consider Linda Greenlaw to be one of my dispersed tribe of come backers, and I really like a lot of her writing. But I sorry to say that her fiction appeals to me very much.

  1. Linda Greenlaw, Shiver Hitch, New York, Minotaur Books, 2017.

 

Sunday Book Reviews