“Not Your Sidekick,” or, “if you dropped hints any harder it’d cause an earthquake”

C.B. Lee
My obsession with superhero books continues, and I’m ranking this one second place out of the superhero books I’ve read for interesting worldbuilding. Set in Andover in what used to be the California-Nevada area, it takes place something like 100 years after a massive solar flare kicked off a low-key apocalypse. Between the Cosmic Radiation and the simultaneous failure of the safety systems in every nuclear power plant around the world, the radiation bath triggered a latent gene in the human population, giving some fraction of a percent of the population superpowers.1 World War III cropped up, apparently in a non-nuclear manner, and the various governments of the world ceased to exist.2 New ones sprung up – there’s a South East Asian something-or-other pulling together after a couple decades of civil war, a Global Federation that sounds like “the UN, but better at covering things up,” and NAFTA merged together into the North American Collective.
It gets interesting pretty quick, though, with a few references3 to old fashioned media being banned – presumably, collecting old TVs, books, DVD players, and so on is about conserving resources in a still fairly resource-starved world.4 But the government has done a great job of removing references to those old things at all. There’s just a whiff of fascism, and once you catch that it’s a hard thread to let go of. As background materials go, it’s utterly fascinating.
The story proper is also pretty hilarious – the protagonist is the daughter of Andover’s superhero power couple, which gives her an inside view into their normal lives. They’ve got cover jobs – real estate, the both of them – that they’re varying degrees of terrible at pretending to take part in. Their primary villains, Mr and Mrs Mischief, are more about pranking the population than causing any actual havoc, so even when they have to go in to work, such as it is, it’s not exactly a life-or-death situation.
Without superpowers of her own, though, their daughter Jess is at a bit of a loss about what to do with herself. After her precocious little brother5 makes one too many references to her underachievement in school and lack of powers, she decides to go do something with herself and applies for an internship at Monroe Industries, the high-tech firm that’s apparently Andover’s staple business. After getting the job, she’s a bit shocked to find out that the ‘experimental research’ division she’s working in is a cover for how the Mischiefs are getting their resources – her bosses are her parents’ arch-nemeses.
Hilarity ensues, and I’m quite happy to recommend the book to you. Give it a read.


  1. The degree to which it’s generic feels more tongue-in-cheek than anything else, so it works. 
  2. Except the European Union; apparently all it’ll take to resolve the Brexit mess is the end of the world? 
  3. These aren’t the heavily-dropped hints I’m referring to in the title; the romantic subplot is possibly the single most obvious thing to have happened in the history of ever. Subtlety, thy name is not Jessica Tran. 
  4. There’s some nice references to the fact that meat is a very rare luxury item, and the majority of the population lives on an economical vegetarian diet. 
  5. Now, we’re not going to say ‘super-genius,’ but we’re going to heavily imply it. 

“The Mystic Marriage,” or, “this book changed genre like four times”

Heather Rose Jones
School has begun in earnest, and I’ve suddenly gone from reading a book a day to taking a couple weeks to finish one. I’d call it depressing, but considering that I’m down to only a couple more books that I haven’t yet read, it’s actually working in my favor, keeping me from running out of new material quite so quickly.
“The Mystic Marriage” is set in the fictional European country of Alpennia, a small country that, were I to guess, is somewhere bordering France and, perhaps, Spain? It’s hard to say, as it’s never explicitly explained, but the recent collapse of the French Empire feels more personal than do the interferences from the Austrian Empire.1
There’s two twists that make the book really interesting.
The first is the presence of magic. It’s a different system than I’ve seen before, though – works of thaumaturgy are referred to as ‘mysteries’ and rely on the intervention of the saints. It’s all very Catholic, with some interesting utilitarian aspects. It’s reminiscent of the ways that science would have to be fit into the Catholic canon – tweak the wording a little bit, make sure to express some wonder about the great things God does, and you’re good as long as you don’t get too scandalous.
The other is more scandalous, and where it gets really fun. The core of the cast is, basically, the Lesbian Noblewomen’s Society. There’s a lot of mention of the fact that, as Noted Eccentrics, they’re allowed more strangeness by the high society of Rotenek, which is how they can get away, for example, a pair of unrelated women living together despite both being wealthy enough for their own households. It’s the scandalous nature of it that makes it feel realistic – there’s no “oh, yes, in this fictional country, unlike the rest of the Continent, everyone is totally fine with this!” It’s a “we’re powerful people, and as long as we’re not blatant we can get away with it.” Sort of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” applied to the upper crust of society.
And really, it’s a very enjoyable book. The genre changes were interesting, and allowed it to explore a lot of ground without being predictable, which I quite liked. So I’m quite happy to give it a recommendation – go give it a read.


  1. I think it’s the Austrian Empire; they’re referred to as ‘Austrians’ throughout, and only in glancing references, so it could just as well be the Holy Roman Empire. 

“Ambassador 1: Seeing Red,” or, “the title turns out to be an extremely satisfying pun”

Patty Jansen
I honestly had no idea what this book was about going in, and I think it worked well that way. As it turns out, it was a political thriller: the protagonist is a negotiator between Nations of Earth and gamra. It’s roughly equivalent to, say, being Turkey’s negotiator to the EU for the membership talks. Only Turkey is a stronger version of the UN with full executive powers over the entire planet, and the EU is a trade coalition that regulates FTL interstellar travel.
Where it gets really interesting is the various non-humans involved. The rough layout of the galaxy features something like 95% of the entire population being various humanoids; there are some references to the fact that one of the member races of gamra is far more ancient than the rest and not only developed the FTL technology but used it to seed the galaxy with the various humanities. But each version of humanity had tens of thousands of years to diverge from one another, and you wind up with some really interesting cultural and even biological variations. The Coldi, the majority group within gamra, have some serious differences in how they treat one another and think about the world in general.
And that’s what makes the book so interesting – you’ve got a Eurosceptic-analog President of Nations of Earth, a novice diplomat without his cultural exchange attaché, and a negotiating culture based on a completely different style of interpersonal relationships and loyalty than anyone from Earth is used to. It’s fascinating looking at all the interactions, and the author has done an incredible job of taking one or two differences and seeing what happens when you let those differences influence things for a few hundred years. It’s an excellent read, and I couldn’t put the book down, so if you at all enjoy good science fiction or the occasional political thriller, give it a read.

“Death by Silver,” or, “the landlady has a point, the plant DID try to bite the help”

Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold
I’ll start off by saying that this is definitely within the Sherlock Holmes archetype of stories,1 but it’s got enough differing it from the rest to be interesting.
The first big difference is in the setting: it’s the same Victorianesque time period as the average Sherlock Holmes book, but this is a world with magic of a sort – or, as the locals refer to it, metaphysics. It’s a bit of a complex system, based upon written language and a fairly complex grammar, utilizing a variety of different written squares. I don’t have a great grasp of how it all works, which is okay, because the way it’s written it has a good mix of detail and lack thereof. It’s a good balance, and the way its integrated into the rest of the world is quite nice.
That leads into the second difference: while there’s a clear Sherlock figure, I got the feeling that he’s the secondary of the two narrative main characters.2 While the Sherlock is still the normal Sherlock, albeit using magic instead of opium, the Watson is a metaphysician for hire, rather than a doctor. The story begins with him, in fact: a customer comes to him to remove a curse from the family silver. Finding a lack of a curse, he does a cleansing… and is rather surprised a few days later when he’s hired again to sort out the murder of his previous client, his skull having been bashed in with some of the recently-cleansed silver. It’s at this point that he brings in the Sherlock, as that’s more his area of expertise.
The relationship between the two of them is the third major difference.3 They went to school together, had a bit of a schoolboy dalliance, broke it off in college, and then resumed it in their adulthood. It’s a weird interaction – one of those rom-com style things, where both parties involved want the same thing, but are both convinced the other doesn’t want it. It makes the switching viewpoints mechanic pretty hilarious, to be honest; I spent a lot of time gleefully muttering “you idiot” at the both of them.
It’s the taboo quality of that relationship that I enjoyed the most, I think: the book doesn’t go in for the gloss-over-it style that some take, wherein the Victorian “don’t ask, don’t tell” style4 is stretched to cover openly gay men. Instead, it’s a matter of only being shown or spoken of behind closed doors. Secretive clubs that one must be vouched for by an existing member to get into. Careful remarks that can be said to have been misheard if the wrong response is given. It makes the whole thing realistic – take away the magical aspect of the book, and I could absolutely believe it was someone’s autobiography, hidden away and recently rediscovered and published by a descendant.
All in all, it made for an interesting read, and I’m quite happy to recommend it to you.


  1. I should have a tag for ‘Holmesian books’ by now, I read enough of them. 
  2. Two protagonists, working together; the viewpoint switches off between the two of them throughout. Nonetheless, the Sherlock has the helm slightly less than the Watson. 
  3. Well, insofar as it’s explicitly stated; there’s a lot of queer theory talk about the canonical Holmes/Watson relationship. 
  4. See “a bared ankle is improper, but I’ll meet you at the brothel for some opium later.” 

“Interim Errantry 2: On Ordeal,” or, “origin stories are actually interesting when they’re new”

Diane Duane
And really, that’s the long and short of it: the origin stories for three characters in Diane Duane’s marvelous Young Wizardsseries. And they were very interesting origins – the third, there were hints about in the rest of the series, but the first two were entirely new. The second was very unexpected, as well – more vicious, and sadder, than I’d thought.
But rather than talk about this book specifically, I think I’d be happier talking up the series as a whole. I haven’t really had a chance to write about it here before, but it’s been one of my favorites for ages. I received the first book in the series as a birthday present years and years ago,1 and promptly fell in love.
It’s been mentioned in both college and graduate school application essays. It drifts through the way I look at the world. I can name chunks of my value system that clearly come from these books, and I can trace my interests – up to and including my major and planned career path – back to the way these books taught me to look at the world.
Before I ever read Peter Parker’s thoughts on responsibility, these books were teaching me that having power meant you should use it to help others.
And they taught me that names, and really all words, are very powerful things.
They’ve been hugely influential to my life, and I happily recommend them to everyone. Start at the beginning: the first book, the delightfully-titled So You Want to Be A Wizard, should be in your local library. If not, I’d recommend picking it up directly from the author: she certainly deserves your patronage. Regardless, go start reading.


  1. I don’t remember exactly how many years it was, but I can tell it was sometime that in elementary school, based on where the birthday party was and who I can recall being there. 

“Blood Ties,” or, “nobody will ever convince me these two aren’t married”

Quincy J. Allen
I’m standing by that title, and it makes a good follow-up to my review of the short story prequel to this that was in one of the anthologies I read recently.
It’s still a wonderful take on post-civil-war America, and I quite enjoyed the read; although, being as I’m without internet as I’m writing this, I’m rather annoyed that I don’t have the sequel, because there’s a whole lot left to happen in the plot. Like, to the degree that I’d argue this shouldn’t have been the end of the book, just the end of Part One of the book.
Still, it’s a fun read – the main characters are a delightful pair of cowboys that are basically married with a child,1 and if I want to utterly misrepresent the book I’d call it the story of their vacation to San Francisco. Although, considering how much they enjoy themselves, it sorta is, if a bit more lethal than the average vacation. Hey, the six destroyed buildings won’t cost that much to fix, right?
Basically it’s a fun romp of a book, and I’m quite happy to recommend it. Give it a read.


  1. Canonically this isn’t true, but all of the places where the book makes it clear it isn’t feel a little bit forced in. A word of advice to the author: when your characters are trying this hard to make something happen, just let it happen. 

“Out of This World,” or, “it’s like Fifty Shades and the Chronicles of Narnia had a child”

Catherine Lundoff
The last of my string of anthologies; I’ve run out of them for the moment, and I’ll be going back to reading and reviewing novels for a while, at least.

“Great Reckonings, Little Rooms”

A Shakespearean tragedy, though not in the normal way.

“Medium Méchanique”

And this, folks, is why we leave the dead alone.

“The Egyptian Cat”

There’s something really fun about a staggeringly normal person getting caught up as a side character in an epic story.

“At the Roots of the World Tree”

I wanted this to be a bit happier than it actually was, but I liked it regardless.

“A Scent of Roses”

A happier ending to the Tam Lane story than I really expected it to have.

“At Mother Laurie’s House of Bliss”

Now I want to watch a police procedural that takes place in a medieval kingdom full of knights and magic.

“Spell, Book and Candle”

If I were a TV witch, this would be the point where my chatty familiar would give me sound advice, which I would then ignore. But then, if I were a TV witch, I wouldn’t be a dyke with the hots for her old college sweetie.

“Beauty”

The fact that this whole thing was leading up to a “Beauty and the Beast” joke is just spectacular.

“Red Scare”

An odd twist on the noir detective trope.

“A Day at the Inn, A Night at the Palace”

I kinda hate body-swap stories, it’s just difficult to keep track of who’s who.

“Vadija”

The city of sorrows has a Diablo sort of feel to it – ancient curses and all that.

All in all, a good collection of stories to end on. Give it a read.

“The Best of Penny Dread Tales,” or, “why is there never a nuclear boiler in the steampunk airship“

Yet another anthology! I’m on a roll.

“Iron Angel”

Cayleigh Hickey
Oh, we’re off to a good start here. I wasn’t expecting to leap into the land of the fae, but here we are.

“The Dirges of Percival Lewand”

Aaron Michael Ritchey
Okay well, this belonged more in the last anthology I read than here, but oh well.

“The Tunnel Rat’s Journey”

J. M. Franklin
Futuristic steampunk! An interesting twist, and one of the more hopeful bits of post-apocalyptic fiction I’ve ever read. I like it.

“The Cutpurse from Mulberry Bend”

Gerry Huntman
Short and sad.

“The Great Dinosaur Roundup of 1903”

Laura Givens

Traveling through time turns out to be loud and flashy but not as uncomfortable as you might think.

Told as a letter from, basically, a background character in an Atomic Robo flashback sequence.

“American Vampire”

Keith Good
Well that’s a rough life, my guy.

“Lasater’s Lucky Left”

Quincy J. Allen
I’m gonna be honest, I was kinda hoping this would turn into a horrid romance noel halfway through. The sequel’s still got room for that, though, so I’ll hold out hope.

“Sinking to the Level of Demons”

David Boop
Well, that got dark.

“Vengeance”

J.R. Boyett & Peter J. Wacks
Oh, that was cool. A variant on vampires, and a retired hunter? Very cool.

“The Noonday Sun”

Vivian Caethe
An exoskeleton-wearing monster hunter, clearing out the Wild West.

“Industrial Melanism”

Aaron Spriggs
If you’re claustrophobic, don’t read this one.

“Today, the Sun Sets in the East”

Peter J. Wacks
Another good story that I’d like to read more of. Tiger is an interesting character, as is Hummingbird.

“The Weather God”

David W. Landrum
Well that war went a bit differently than the British expected, I’d say.

“The Spirit of the Grift”

Sam Knight
A portable X-ray, I think? I wish we had more stories of grifters using some sort of advanced technology to pull it off.

“The Heart of Appricotta”

Mike Cervantes

With a salute, punctuated by a word that sounded like a punch to the stomach in Yiddish, the assembled tossed the raft in the river.

It’s a comedy in a style I’d describe as “British Imperial Braggadocio,” which isn’t exactly to my taste, but a couple lines (the one above, for example) got a laugh out of me.1

“Budapest Will Burn”

Jonathan D. Beer
Why do anthologies end on such weird notes? I’d rather have them end on something happy, which this could be if you squint, but it’s a Pyrrhic victory at best.

Nonetheless, this was another good collection of stories that I’m comfortable recommending. Give it a read.


  1. Another good one:

    In my panic I struggled to remember precisely what the five stages of grief were supposed to be, so I experienced denial, anger, gassiness, and that strange confusion you get when you feel you’ve left a door unlocked before finally achieving acceptance.

“Ghost in the Cogs,” or, “a neutron bomb, but it makes angry zombies, too“

I’m continuing on my anthology kick, I suppose.

“Asmodeus Flight”

Siobhan Carroll

The Great Exhibition had attracted a seething mixture of nationalities—scar-faced Americans, queue-sporting Chinese, green-scaled Inner Earthers—even an odd Frenchman, the latter drawing suspicious glances from John Bull and continental exiles alike.

Ah, Britain.

“Hiss”

Folly Blaine & Randy Henderson
“Imagine that with power.”

“The Misplaced Body of Fitzhugh Alvey”

Jessica Corra
I do enjoy a story where the women are smarter and the men don’t reject that fact.

“The Ghost Pearl”

Howard Andrew Jones
A slight Pirates of the Caribbean vibe to this one, even though the whole thing takes place in London.1

“Frænka Askja’s Silly Old Story”

Emily C. Skaftun
This is the saddest one so far, somehow.

“Edge of the Unknown”

Elsa S. Henry
There’s a slight Pratchett feel here, and it works really well.2

“The Blood on the Walls”

Eddy Webb
Sherlock Holmes investigating actual hauntings, basically; I wish this was a series I could read more of.

“Tipping Point”

Nayad Monroe
Gotta love good old Victorian capitalism.

“T-Hex”

Jonah Buck
While that was a pretty obvious outcome, I’m still annoyed about it.

“The Monster”

Erika Holt
Man, I’m with the narrator, I hope he didn’t actually succeed.

“The Book of Futures”

Wendy Nikel
A locked-room mystery! Oh, I do like those.

“Death Wish”

Parker Goodreau
Another one that I want more of – I’d quite enjoy reading this weird love story.

“City of Spirits”

Christopher Paul Carey
Well, that could’ve gone better. I’m a bit curious as to how a cold-burning fire can be used to generate electricity, although I suppose it’s possible…

“Team 17”

T. Mike McCurley
I think I’m gonna go ahead and call this my favorite from the book, without even reading the rest: it’s set post-WWII, during the cleanup from a war where Germany weaponized life-force and the Blitz was done with something like a neutron bomb. The entire city wiped out… and an army of angry ghosts left behind.

“The Litany of Waking”

Scott Fitzgerald Gray
Another excellent one – feels like a post-apocalyptic version of Girl Genius.

“Labor Costs”

Richard Dansky
And this is why we need unions, folks.

“The Twentieth-Century Man”

Nick Mamatas
A sequel to an earlier story in this anthology, actually, which made it even more interesting.

“Clockwork of Sorrow”

Spencer Ellsworth
I suppose the title should’ve warned me that this one would be a tragedy.

“The Lady in the Ghastlight”

Liane Merciel
Oh, the wick was a nice touch, I didn’t expect that part.

“Cuckoo”

Richard Pett
Forget about the cuckoo, I want to know what happens to the engine.

“The Shadow and the Eye”

James Lowder

Like everyone who had read a newspaper in the past twenty years, I was familiar with Professor Thaxton’s temper. He’d been at the heart of brawls at scientific conferences on six of the seven continents; only Australia has, so far, been spared.

I can only assume he just hasn’t been to a scientific conference in Australia yet, that seems like the most likely place for a brawl at a conference.
That said, we’re also throwing this in the category of “I desperately want a whole series of this.”

“Golden Wing, Silver Eye”

Cat Hellisen
Oh, we’re ending on another sad one.

Quite a few very good reads in here, I definitely recommend it if you’re in the mood for some bite-sized works. Have a read.


  1. Well, I assume it’s London, these things usually happen there. 
  2. Or possibly Diana Wynne Jones. Either way, I strongly recommend it. 

“The SEA is Ours,” or, “is the proper term ‘biopunk’ or ‘genopunk’?”

That’s actually a nice little wordplay in the title there – it’s a steampunk anthology centered around Southeast Asia. From the introduction:

… if in the larger English-language science fiction world straight white men call the shots, then our anthology presents a range of authors and characters that is predominantly women, and hella queer.

“On the Consequence of Sound”

Timothy Dimacali
Man, I’d have been more attentive in violin lessons if being able to play well was going to enable me to fly, dang.

“Chasing Volcanoes”

Marilag Angway
Post-apocalyptic landscapes are usually made that way by nuclear weapons, but this time it was just a ton of volcanoes. Still unclear on what, exactly, they’re trying to extract from the volcanoes, though.

“Ordained”

L.L. Hill
Something about clockwork and holy places just doesn’t mesh in my head; I blame the Luddites.

“The Last Aswang”

Alessa Hinlo
Oh, now that is a story. I like it, and I might have to do a bit more research on the myths behind it, they seem interesting.

“Life Under Glass”

Nghi Vo
I was expecting a very different ending, but I guess that works.

“Between Severed Souls”

Paolo Chikiamco
There’s a trend through all of these – more respect and acknowledgement of ancient things than you get in the mainstream of steampunk. It’s different, and it’s a good contrast.

“The Unmaking of the Cuadro Amoroso”

Kate Osias
A tragedy, and a tale of revenge. Sad and sweet and wonderful.

“Working Woman”

Olivia Ho
I wasn’t really expecting to laugh at a story this grim, but dang was it ever funny towards the end.

“Spider Here”

Robert Liow
Less ‘steampunk’ than it is ‘biopunk,’ and it’s cool.

“The Chamber of Souls”

z.m. quỳnh
There’s a lot going on in this one, and I’m a bit at sea. Which apparently doesn’t exist here?

“Petrified”

Ivanna Mendels
It’s like a superhero team, I’m digging it.

“The Insects and Women Sing Together”

Pear Nuallak
A strong ending to the anthology.

I liked the whole thing- a lot of good stories, and authors that are well worth supporting. Give it a read.

“Black Ocean Mission Pack 1,” or, “the wizard is roughly equivalent to an orbital strike”

J.S. Morin

1: “Salvage Trouble”

Oh, I am absolutely sold on this setting – I was expecting medieval or renaissance level technology paired with magic, and it turns out I got, like, 30th century, space colonies and holograms… paired with magic. And man is it a fun cast of characters, I’m so down for the other novellas in here.

2: “A Smuggler’s Conscience”

This might be the first time I’ve hoped for a government to have a policy for civil forfeiture, but if somebody is gonna pour a couple billion dollars into building a Bond-villain-esque mountain base, they may as well repurpose it after the bad guys are gone.

3: “Poets and Piracy”

I like a good heist, but in all honesty, I’m still not entirely clear on what happened. I may have missed it while I was busy being annoyed that the future’s equivalent to the DEA is apparently named “EIEIO.”

4: “To Err is Azrin”

It took this long to learn that ARGO, the Federation/Empire/Alliance sort of thing that runs the human-control areas, stands for Allied Races of the Galactic Ocean.
Probably my favorite story so far – there was more character development evident than any of the others have had, it was nice.

4.5: “Guardian of the Plundered Tomes”

And a little prequel at the end, showing how the gang got together. I wish there’d been more explanation of the actual contents of the Plundered Tome, though, it was still annoyingly vague.

All in all, a nice little collection of stories that I enjoyed reading. Your turn. 

“Altered America: Steampunk Stories,” or, “one or two good ones and a whole lot of depressing”

Cat Rambo
An anthology, but all the stories are written by one author, so just the one name at the top here. And just the one link, as well, if you’d like to read it. 

“Clockwork Fairies”

The protagonist here, though I feel that may not be the right word, is as if someone heard a quote about “the small-minded man” and wanted to write a character who was the epitome of that epithet. Ugh.

“Rare Pears and Greengages”

I came to London, where the air smells like smoke and despair.

And really that sums this story, and the feel of the book so far, up: smoke and despair.

“Memphis BBQ”

This story was pretty fun, but it’s the second time we’ve had a protagonist I’d describe as some sort of terrible. The lady isn’t interested, dude, leave her alone.

“Laurel Finch, Laurel Finch, Where Do You Wander?”

Abraham Lincoln isn’t above necromancy, it seems, which made the civil war a rather short affair.
That said, I desperately want more of the main character of this one – she deserves a whole novel to herself.

“Snakes on a Train”

Oh, now that’s a neat pairing for a detective movie: a telepath and a robot.

“Rappacini’s Crow”

And we’re back to everything being depressing forever. Cool.

“Her Windowed Eyes, Her Chambered Heart”

I’m reminded of Castle Heterodyne, which can only be a good thing.

“Web of Blood and Iron”

Now I’m disappointed that I’ve never seen a conspiracy theory claiming vampires own the global transportation network.

“Ticktock Girl”

I’m slightly confused by how the ‘moments’ work – are they just an arbitrary segmentation of time? I mean, probably, since they worked well for the structure of the story, but still, I want to know more. I enjoyed this one.

“Seven Clockwork Angels, All Dancing on a Pin”

There’s some serious hand-waving of science going on in here, but I do like the resulting riff on the core concept. I just wish it was all a bit better-explained.

“Vintage: A Ghost Story,” or, “I don’t think this book was intended to be hilarious but IT IS”

Steve Berman
I’ll begin by saying that, just before I read this book, I tried reading one that was about lesbian werewolves,1 and it was bad.2 So it’s not getting reviewed here; instead, I switched to this one, and it was so much better. Like, not only was it better-written, it was also just one of the best ghost stories I’ve ever read. Strong vibes of Sixth Sense or Ghost Whisperer, depending on which you used to watch.34
It also gets a strong plus from me for being what I refer to as “queer propaganda” – namely, any book that includes queer characters for purposes other than the “Bury Your Gays” trope. Representation is important, y’all.
That said, the title of this post comes from the fact that I switched to my normal ‘scary movie’ tactic, namely sarcastically commentating all the way through. Which turned it into an oddly hilarious experience, because the main character did a good deal of the scary movie tradition of “making horrible, horrible decisions.” The biggest one goes to “falling in love at first sight,” with the notable kicker being “falling in love with a ghost.” C’mon, man, that’s all sorts of bad choices right there.
And it just goes from there. It’s actually pretty fun, and as I already said, probably my favorite ghost story experience. As is my traditional link for books I like: have a read.


  1. This combination wasn’t a coincidence; I think, in this book, being a lesbian came with being a werewolf? I didn’t actually read far enough to find out for sure. 
  2. Like, I made it about three pages in and I’m betting I could tell you the plot of whole first half of the book with pinpoint accuracy, and the I could call the generalities of the second half. Also, the writing was on the ‘trying to hard’ side of the scale. 
  3. I was a Ghost Whisperer fan, but I also distinctly remember reading the first book of a series based on Sixth Sense and being terrified by the concept of being able to see all those ghosts. 
  4. Additional note to that one: I just found out the author of that book also wrote Boy Meets Boy and I’m having a “small world” moment about an author, this is weird. More entertaining: his Wikipedia page doesn’t mention the Sixth Sense books at all. 

“City of the Saints,” or, “stop what you’re doing and go read this book”

DJ Butler
Alright, who remembers Wild Wild West? It was this weird steampunk western movie that Will Smith was in, came out in the 90s at some point, and was just a strange experience all around. But it was also cool, because steampunk is great and adding it to a western isn’t a twist that you see often enough, so I enjoyed it.
This book? This is what that movie wishes it could’ve been. Not only is it all sorts of steampunk craziness, it’s also set in an alternate history world where the Utah Territory became the Kingdom of Deseret,1 an independent nation led by Brigham Young, the independent Republic of California is issuing their own currency, and after clockwork machinery made slavery irrelevant, Harriet Tubman wound up as the President of the Reunited States of Mexico. A big world with a lot of things going on, for sure.
The story also has a lot going on – the first few chapters gave me a vibe along the lines of Oceans Eleven, somehow – I think it was the “ensemble cast” thing going on. You’re bounced from character to character, but they’re all in the same room together, and trying to get a grasp of their varying motivations and goals is a heady rush. The Civil War is coming up fast, and everybody knows it… but with strong nations sharing an actual border wit the United States, there’s some political maneuvering to be done. Deseret has a military tech lead over everyone else and would be a strong ally on either side, and the favor of Young is not something to be trifled with.
I’m not going to give much more away here, but I’ll say it again: I loved this book, and I couldn’t recommend it more. It was a delight to read, and I’m hoping there’s more by this author that I can dive into later on. Give it a read.


  1. Based on what almost happened – the Mormon settlers wanted to name the state “Deseret” originally. 

“Eternal Voyager,” or, “hedonism is a fairly natural result of a post-scarcity, post-death world”

Conor Kostick
I don’t think I’ve reviewed anything by Kostick before, but I’ve definitely read some of his work – his Epic series was delightful, and shares something in common with this collection of novellas: a lot of playing around with virtual worlds.

“Kudos”

Slightly on-the-nose about it, but as a card-carrying millennial I am contractually obliged to like a story about the evils of capitalism.
The nice thing is that, in the setting of a post-scarcity and apparently post-death virtual utopia, the whole thing becomes aggressively about the service economy, and also makes the whole thing low-stakes enough that it’s just a nice story.

“Aliens”

Again, a very cool concept thanks to the interesting setting. I’m enjoying the little references to Epic, as well – there are both name-drops and references to the actual storyline.

“Revenge Upon the Vampyres”

In a world where people can’t die, thanks to the ability to restore themselves from backups,1 finding a way to make the stakes high can be a bit difficult. It’s played nicely in this one.

“Dancers Beyond the Whorl of Time”

A nice prologue story, answering a few questions I’ve had building up from little references in the other stories.

“The Siege of Mettleburg”

I’m feeling like I should check the publish dates of these stories and Epic, because this one really felt like a precursor to the larger novel.

“The Murder Mystery”

A nice follow-up to the previous story, and a bit of interesting discussion of the relationship between the virtual world in which the stories take place and the physical reality in which it’s anchored.2

All in all, it’s a nice little box set of books, and it’s not too pricey, either. Have a read.


  1. And, I must say, this is one of my most-wanted science fiction technologies. 
  2. You can’t have a digital world without a pile of servers somewhere. 

“The Alchemy of Stone,” or, “I’m fine with clockwork AI but apparently compact videotape is where I draw the line“

Ekaterina Sedia
This was a very… interesting book. And I say this because, beyond that, I’m not sure how I feel about it. I didn’t really enjoy the plot, but I found everything else fascinating – the world in which it takes place has a weird set of rules unlike any I’ve seen before, and it fits well with the unique main character.
And it’s interesting that, despite my interest in this sort of thing, I haven’t actually read many books where the narrator is a machine. That’s the real twist to this book – and no, it’s not a spoiler, because they’re clear about what they are – and it plays remarkably well. It’s done remarkably well, too – the perspective is slightly off of what you’d get with a human narrator, and I think the author did a wonderful job of using that difference to tell the story they wanted to tell.
So I suppose I’m comfortable recommending it – as I said, I didn’t actually like what all happened with the plot, but the storytelling was interesting enough that it held my interest the whole time, and I do think reading it was a good use of my time. Have a read.

“War Hawk,” or, “whoops guess I’ve got ten more new books to read again”

James Rollins and Grant Blackwood
I’m not kidding about that title, by the way; I’ve mentioned that I enjoy this genre of action novel, and Cussler takes a firm second to Rollins in terms of writing quality.1 And apparently Rollins has been writing at a prodigious rate – there’s something like eight new books in his Sigma Force series that I still haven’t read, so that’s all exciting.2
“War Hawk” actually is a Sigma Force novel – or at least, tangentially related. Sticking to my Cussler comparisons, it’s like how the Dirk Pitt and the Oregon Files series take place in a shared universe, and occasionally overlap – the main character in “War Hawk” showed up as a supporting character in some of the earlier Sigma Force books3 and some of the cast of the Sigma Force books are supporting characters in this one. It’s a nice touch, and I think it works well, although the reasons for not involving them more were a bit contrived at times.
Like I said already, Rollins writes higher quality books than Cussler; in the above-linked Cussler review, I make a complaint about a pretty elementary mistake in some of the book’s usage of the Spanish language.4 Meanwhile, in this book, which involves a lot of talk about artificial intelligence (something I know a wee bit about), had only one or two little things for me to pick nits with.5
The moral of the story is, I quite liked the book – more than Piranha, for sure, and enough that I just went downstairs and grabbed one of the other Rollins novels that I own to give it a quick re-read. And hey, how could I not recommend a book where the narration is occasionally from the POV of a dog? Give it a read.6


  1. Now, quantity, it’s hard to beat Cussler on quantity, he’s one of those factory authors like James Patterson. 
  2. Well, exciting until I remember that I have homework and responsibilities to get to, at which point it becomes something between annoying and saddening. 
  3. Ones that I hadn’t read, apparently, so I’m out of order now, which is annoying. 
  4. It’s gotta be pretty elementary if I, with my whopping high school class-level knowledge of Spanish caught it. 
  5. When I get to those moments I try to pay less attention so it doesn’t ruin the rest of the book for me, but with the small amount of attention I was paying, the inaccuracies could still be written off as “an expert on the subject making an inaccurate comparison while explaining to the layperson narrator” so it actually could still work. Nicely done. 
  6. Fun story: this is a different edition of the book than the one I have; I suspect it’s because I’m on American Amazon, and seeing the US edition first; the version I have, I bought at a used-books sale while studying abroad, so it’s still got a €3 price tag on the back. 

“All the Paths of Shadow,” or, “magic that requires an engineering degree is my aesthetic”

Frank Tuttle
This book was so satisfying to read. Like, pretty much everything I predicted was going to happen, I was right about, but it managed to do that in a way that didn’t make me go “ugh this is so predictable” as much as it did “yes I was right!” Things were a wee bit different than I expected in places, which helped, but overall I just had a lot of fun with the book. Probably my favorite of the books I’ve read in the past week or so.
So, your basic summary: it’s in a London-patterned city, which is about to host the Accords, a once-every-five-years meeting of the heads of the various kingdoms that make up the Islands. For a while I was trying to map the Islands to the British Isles, but eventually I realized that it’s more of an amalgamated British Isles and Europe – there’s a very clear Germany in there, and somebody that I think was supposed to be a vaguely Slavic nation? Of course, you’ve got the England that’s the main setting, and the Scots make a great appearance.
The timeline was a bit interesting, too – it was set in the 19th century, I believe, but since the setting is so far off of the real world, it sorta makes sense that their history was also way different. Add in the fact that you’ve got magic everywhere, and it’s pretty dang interesting.
And oh, the magic in this one, it was wonderful. I love magic systems where you can tell there’s a clear sense of the order underlying it, like the author has sat down and worked out how it all works. And this one is done so well, and integrated with the engineering capabilities of that era, to the point that I honestly thought there was going to be a bit of a twist early on that revealed that magic was actually just engineering with some serious flair to it. The first spell that’s worked is basically using an enchanted chain to find the angle between two points… and then the caster goes and does a bunch of trigonometry to figure out exactly where the big spell they’re planning needs to be cast. It’s wonderful.
And my, I’ve gone quite a ways without touching on the characters or the plot at all, which were also both wonderful. The protagonist is a delight, the first female Royal Thaumaturge, and she’s exactly as done with the geopolitics of the Accords as I would be in her place. And man, is the supporting cast fun – Mug, her familiar, is a delight, and her mentors are also off in the corner being the peanut gallery. It’s seriously fun.
I’m hoping I’ve done a good enough job of convincing you you should read this joke. If I have, here’s the link.

“The Somniscient,” or, “how has nobody here ever heard of a union?”

Richard Levesque
This book was a wild ride, and it was awesome. There were twists and turns everywhere, but at the end I was like “okay, yeah, that all made sense” – it never hit the “what is even happening” level, y’know?1
It’s set a bit less than 200 years in the future, and I do quite enjoy the way that changes in technology are integrated. Basically, someone went ahead and finished up Elon Musk’s Neuralink technology. It’s a mix of augmented reality interfaces for doing things and the ability to record and replay dreams, with direct control of the body’s sleep cycle built in. Which sounds handy, except it was made in a realistic world, which means it was funded by venture capitalists, which means it was turned into the most horrifyingly capitalist version of the technology possible. After the technology made it possible for people to cheaply entertain themselves, the world’s economy started slowing way down… so the company, with some backing by the government,2 set it up so it costs money to sleep.3
And, as I pointed out in the title of this post, apparently nobody has ever heard of forming a union, because the workplace environment is pretty abusive. The main character starts off in his Cube, which is roughly a dorm room with the aesthetics if a cubicle, where he pays extortionate rates in order to… not die. As a fun bonus, the Cube is owned by, and in the headquarters of, the company he works for – the same company that controls the technology that’s in everybody’s heads. It’s basically straight out of the nightmares of the people who pushed through the first worker’s rights laws.
And… I’m going to leave it there, actually. That’s a good amount of background, and anything else I can say would spoil some of the fascinating plot. I definitely recommend giving it a read, though – I’ve read a couple short stories that Levesque wrote, and I think I liked this one better than either of those, to be honest. Either way, though, go have a read.


  1. that was a terrible sentence, Grey, why are you trying to write a book review after having gotten up at 3 am, Grey 
  2. The book only ever specifies that the US government was involved, but I assume the rest of the world would’ve done something similar, otherwise the geopolitics of the situation would be different. 
  3. The relationship is a bit different, of course – after a while the company realized they could cut out the middleman and wound up replacing all the currencies with ‘Z’s, their own currency that’s just a measure of how many hours of sleep you can get. 

“Wonder City Stories,” or, “it’s like Oprah ran around handing out queerness to everyone”

Jude McLaughlin
I’m going to start off with a quote from the teaser for the sequel that’s in the end of the book:

“How did your mom keep hold of a device like that anyway?” Megan said, tossing the end of her rainbow-patterned scarf – knotted for her by her gay vampire landlord Zoltan – over her shoulder. He told her that vampires have a lot of free time at night, and knitting was one way he used it. I’m not sure I believe that.

This book was delightful. I read it in one day, and I’m genuinely sad that I finished it because I want there to keep being more.1 It’s basically my entire aesthetic rolled into one thing, and I can summarize it with two words: queer superheroes!
Expanding a bit, though, because it’s actually mostly about people other than superheroes. The cast of main characters includes the vehemently-not-a-superhero daughter of an infamous heroine, a retired WWII-era superhero, the (unpowered and) almost-divorced-wife of a comatose current hero, and quite a few other folks around the edges. It’s a delightfully diverse cast, and it does a really fun job of playing around with some of the ways that superheroes interact with a society that isn’t too unlike our own.2
Plus, y’know, it’s Hella Gay. And, as a nice bonus that takes it away from the annoying majority of LGBTQ-inclusive media, the LGBTQ characters get to do things other than be in the background or die!3
So yes, I absolutely recommend it, go have a read.4


  1. There’s some good news, though – evidently it’s the first volume of an ongoing web serial, so I’ll just go ahead and keep reading once I’m done with this review. 
  2. Really, those sorts of interactions are what I want from my superhero media; it’s unrealistic to expect things to be entirely the same, with a layer of cool battle scenes on top, because there’s so many implications in all that- just think of the economics of car insurance in a world where “yeah a villain threw my car at a hero” is a normal occurrence
  3. No, I’m not bitter at all, why do you ask? 
  4. A final note, here because I can’t attach footnotes to the actual title: having a whole group of queer people like this isn’t ‘unrealistic, considering the percentage of the population that’s queer,’ Twitter Rando: we group together. Safety in numbers, and all that – to be honest, the ‘token gay friend’ thing is more unrealistic, especially in a metropolitan area.