“No Way Back” (2006) by Chi Hui

Listen to this review

English Translation by John Chu (2020)

(Read in Clarkesworld Magazine #171, December 2020. Link to the story.)


“When I’m online, Aksha keeps me company. Anyone who says cats can’t go online is an idiot. Twenty years ago, people said humanity couldn’t go to Mars. Ten years ago, people solemnly swore that there was no way to connect a human mind to the network. Five years ago, people said that cats and dogs couldn’t speak.”

My Thoughts

Xuejiao is a “Master Hacker”. She lives in a small apartment with a cat called Aksha. The cat joins Xuejiao online as backup guarding her against “government surveillance programs.” Master Hackers dive into the Net, searching for “ancient abysses” to “excavate data from and turn them into cash.” The author likens it to “spelunking” and makes it clear there are dangers involved in the process:

“Some abysses absolutely must not be tested. Hiding there are vast existences beyond our comprehension. All the jackholes who go there are drawn into a vortex of data, forever gone. They leave behind stiff bodies, lying comatose in hospital ICUs.” 

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The Best Introduction to the Mountains (2001) by Gene Wolfe

I want to share this fascinating essay on J.R.R. Tolkien by the American writer Gene Wolfe. I am a fan of both writers and I think that this is one of the best essays about Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings I’ve ever read. I will post selected highlights from Wolfe’s essay, but I wholeheartedly recommend that you read the whole essay. There is a link to the essay at the end of this post. I hope you enjoy it and I’d love to hear your thoughts on what Wolfe wrote about Tolkien’s most famous books.


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In the Forests of Serre (2004) by Patricia McKillip

Beware of old women in the forest; especially if they live in a hut that can sprout chicken legs and run! I first came across Baba Yaga in an issue of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic. The story was titled “The Hunt” and was published in issue #38 back in June 1992. She wasn’t as scary as when I later encountered her in a couple of issues of the comic book Hellboy.

Here is a quote from Wikipedia’s page on the character:

‘In Slavic folklore, Baba Yaga is a supernatural being who appears as a deformed or ferocious-looking old woman. In Russian folklore, Baba Yaga flies around in a mortar, wields a pestle, and dwells deep in the forest in a hut usually described as standing on chicken legs.’

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Europe at Dawn (2018) by Dave Hutchinson

‘Pete looked around him at the river, the wooded banks. He realised he didn’t know this stretch of water at all. […] “GPS has gone down,” he said.
Hannelore just grinned and shook her head. “Nah, it’s okay, Captain,” she said. “I know the way. I’ll show you.”‘

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Synopsis

In Tallinn, Alice – a junior Scottish diplomat – is drawn into an incomprehensible plot spanning decades. In the Aegean, young refugee Benno makes a desperate break for freedom and finds himself in a strange new life.

On the canals of England, a fleet of narrow boats is gathering. Rudi, now a seasoned Coureur, finds himself drawn away from the kitchen one last time as he sets out with his ally Rupert in pursuit of a dead man.


My Thoughts

This book is the fourth and–probably–final entry in Dave Hutchinson’s “Fractured Europe” series. It’s difficult to write a summary of the novel because there is so much going on in here. As this book is the fourth in a series, it features characters and plot threads from each of the previous books as well as some new characters. Therefore, if you are new to this series, do not start here. Continue reading

Cardiff Afterlife (2008) by Alastair Reynolds

‘I presenced into Cardiff a day after the atrocity.’

This story is taken from Alastair Reynolds’ 2009 UK Edition of ‘Zima Blue and Other Stories’, (which includes three more stories than the original 2006 edition). It’s a very short story that was originally published in The Big Issue magazine. In his post-story notes, Reynolds reveals that “Cardiff Afterlife” is actually a sequel to his novella, “Signal to Noise”. It can be read as a standalone story.

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Groo vs Conan (2013) by Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier & Thomas Yeates

“If you want to live, Groo, drop your sword.”
“Groo lives by his sword!”
“Then but one response is possible…”

Sergio Aragones is a legend! He has been called “the fastest cartoonist in the world” and has won a number of prestigious awards including the National Cartoonists Society Reuben Award, and the Will Eisner Hall of Fame Award. He began drawing for MAD magazine in the 1960s and created Groo the Wanderer in the late 1970s. (It was first published in 1982 by Pacific Comics.) Aragones teamed up with writer Mark Evanier and their collaboration on Groo became one of the longest-running “creator-owned” comic books of its time.

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A Feast for Crows (2005) by George R.R. Martin

Aemon’s blind white eyes came open. “Egg?” he said, as the rain streamed down his cheeks. “Egg, I dreamed that I was old.”

2005’s A Feast for Crows appears to divide opinion more than any of the previous three books in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. One reason for this was the author’s decision to chop this fourth installment into two parts due to its excessive length. (The second part would eventually be released in 2011 as A Dance with Dragons). The author then upset fans even more by leaving the plot threads of his three most popular characters hanging until the following book. So readers had to wait six more years to discover what became of Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow, and Danaerys Targaryan.

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US Hardcover (First edition)

A Feast for Crows continues the narrative from the point of view of twelve characters, both major and minor. Jaime Lannister, Brienne of Tarth, Sansa and Arya Stark get the majority of the chapters. It is notable that Martin takes us inside Cersei Lannister’s head for the first time in this book and we get to hear her first-person narration of events. Additionally, we are introduced to Aeron Greyjoy–a priest of the Drowned God–and discover more about the ways of the Iron Islands and their inhabitants. Continue reading

The City and the City (2009) by China Mieville

“There is no case,” he told her. “There’s a series of random and implausible crises that make no sense other than if you believe the most dramatic possible shit. And there’s a dead girl at the end of it all.”

 

Brief Synopsis

Inspector Tyador Borlu lives and works in the city of Beszel. As the story opens, he is investigating the murder of a woman found dead in a quiet Beszel street. She is identified as Mahalia Geary, a foreign student attending Beszel’s university. What starts out as a standard murder investigation quickly becomes more complex as Inspector Borlu’s inquiries lead him to the “neighboring” city of Ul Qoma. He joins forces with local Detective Quissim Dhatt and they attempt to unravel the truth about the murdered woman’s connections with both cities.

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2009 Del Ray edition. Cover by FWIS

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Breathmoss and Other Exhalations (2004) by Ian R. MacLeod

In his introduction to Breathmoss and Other Exhalations, Ian R. MacLeod offers his definition of the stories he desires to tell:

“stories that make us think, stories which surprise us not because they’re showing us something new, but because they’re revealing through a lie’s tilted mirror something we suddenly realize with that lovely rush of recognition we’ve known all along.”

 

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Cover Artwork by Bob Eggleton

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Lovecraft Unbound (2009) Edited by Ellen Datlow

“Something was there.”
Bishop said nothing. He lifted the magazine again, but his eyes were still.
“Something was down there,” Garner said.
“The Crevasse” by Dale Bailey & Nathan Ballingrud

Lovecraft Unbound is a collection of twenty short stories inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s weird fiction. In her introduction, Ellen Datlow writes that she was looking for stories that were “subtly Lovecraftian” rather than the more obvious “pastiches” that make up a lot of Lovecraft-themed anthologies:

I asked for stories inspired—thematically and possibly—by plot points in Lovecraft’s mythos. What I wanted was variety: in tone, setting, point of view, time.

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This volume includes stories by Laird Barron, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Lavie Tidhar, Michael Chabon, Joyce Carrol Oates, Michael Cisco, Michael Shea and more. Out of the twenty, the following six stories stood out for me: Continue reading