The Ballad of Black Tom (2016) by Victor LaValle

“The more I read, the more I listened, the more sure I became that a great and secret show had been playing throughout my life, throughout all our lives, but the mass of us were too ignorant, or too frightened, to raise our eyes and watch.” (p.41)

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As a prelude to reading this novella, I sought out and read H.P. Lovecraft’s 1926 short story The Horror at Red Hook. It isn’t essential to read this story first, but it does add background to LaValle’s novella. It is also pretty shocking for the sentiments its author so blatantly reveals. Here’s what I wrote about it on Goodreads:

The Horror at Red Hook is infamous for being Lovecraft’s most racist tale. It’s a short story of black magic, human sacrifice, and a policeman chasing after his sanity. Dosed with some cringe-worthy xenophobia and the usual Lovecraftian purple-prose, it’s a forgettable story that doesn’t compare to his later, more famous tales.”

 

The Ballad of Black Tom is Victor LaValle’s re-imagining of the events depicted in Lovecraft’s short story. LaValle brings in some new characters, notably Tommy Tester, a young, black bluesman who shares an apartment in Red Hook with his father. When the story opens, Tommy is mixed up in the illegal ferrying of rare books, specifically books of an occult nature. His meeting with the mysterious Ma Att, a buyer of such books, foreshadows the strange and dangerous path Tommy’s life will follow from here.  Continue reading

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Black Amazon of Mars (1951) by Leigh Brackett

“My name is Stark. Eric John Stark, Earthman, out of Mercury.”

 

From 1949 to 1951, Leigh Brackett wrote three short stories set on Mars: “Queen of the Martian Catacombs”, “Enchantress of Venus” and “Black Amazon of Mars”. They each featured her Mercury-born hero, Eric John Stark, and were published in the pulp magazine Planet Stories. Pulp adventure or space fantasy, “Black Amazon of Mars” is an entertaining adventure story that both tips its hat to, and outshines, the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard.

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At the beginning of the story, Stark is travelling across the cold “Norlands” of Mars with Camar, his Martian friend. They are being pursued and Camar has been mortally wounded. He has stolen something of great value, a “talisman”, which Stark promises to return to his friend’s city of birth, “Kushat”. Camar is pleased but fears for Stark’s safety if he continues on alone. Continue reading

Acadie (2017) by Dave Hutchinson

“What if I were to offer you a way off this howling nightmare of a planet? Right now?”
     “You have some kind of magic spaceship that takes off through seven-hundred-kilometer-an-hour blizzards?”
     She wrinkled her nose and grinned coquettishly. “Oh, I have something better than that.” (Loc 219)

 

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Art by Stephen Youll

Back cover blurb: “The first humans still hunt their children across the stars.

The Colony left Earth to find utopia, a home on a new planet where their leader could fully explore their genetic potential, unfettered by their homeworld’s restrictions. They settled a new paradise, and have been evolving and adapting for centuries. Earth has other plans.

The original humans have been tracking their descendants across the stars, bent on their annihilation. They won’t stop until the new humans have been destroyed, their experimentation wiped out of the human gene pool.

Can’t anyone let go of a grudge anymore?


John Wayne “Duke” Faraday, president of “the Colony”, is recovering from his 150th birthday celebrations when he is rudely awakened. An unidentified probe has been picked up on the scanners; a probe which could be from Earth. This is not good news for the Colony as they have no intention of being found. Will they shoot first and ask questions later? Or is the probe’s technology too valuable to simply destroy?

Part of Tor’s “Summer of Space Opera”, Dave Hutchinson’s new novella “Acadie” explores themes including genetic modification, artificial intelligence, and the colonization of new worlds. Being a Dave Hutchinson story, it is replete with crisp, flowing dialogue and a biting sense of humour. Continue reading

Brother’s Ruin (2017) by Emma Newman

‘“Thems what go in there like this”—the woman held a hand up, fingers pointing at the sky— “come out like this”—she tipped her hand until the palm was horizontal.’ (Loc 316)

 

29964674-_uy838_ss838_In an alternative London in 1850, the Royal Society of the Esoteric Arts is recruiting raw, untrained magicians. And they are prepared to pay families handsomely for such talent. Benjamin Gunn and his sister Charlotte appear to have some magical capabilities and one of them is brought to the attention of the Society. This novella by Emma Newman tells the first part of their story, paving the way for more books in what is billed as “a new gaslamp fantasy series” by the author.

Brother’s Ruin is a short and entertaining novella which builds an interesting world around its characters. It’s Victorian England with magic, although Newman refrains from depicting magical battles in the vein of the Harry Potter books. The magic in this story is more restrained. Continue reading