Warner Holme Review: Heather Webber’s At the Coffee Shop of Curiosities

At the Coffee Shop of Curiosities by Heather Webber (Forge, 2023)

Review by Warner Holme: Heather Webber’s At the Coffee Shop of Curiosities is the latest from an author who has made quite a name in the small town story genre. Weber has become known for such stories, and both they and she have gained a certain amount of following as a result.

While the title might evoke a cozy mystery or oddball fantasy novel, neither genre fits this volume very well. A murder is not a major driving force for the story, nor the investigation of a very specific crime. And while there are happenings in the book that might seem beyond normal, it does not at any point turn into a story focusing on these strange aspects.

That said the book is quite likely to fit the tastes of fans of both. Featuring quirky characters, a strange assortment of happenings which don’t seem quite natural, and a variety of complicated relationships and family secrets the story has hallmarks that will feel familiar to readers.

Aca Harrison gets a letter and chooses to rush at the chance to serve as a caretaker. Having suffered years with lost friends and medical issues, she is surprised that the letter from an old flame seems to contain a crumpled old job advertisement. In spite of the oddity and her own problems, some instinct tells her that this job offer in Driftwood, Alabama is the best hope she has.

Maggie May Brightwell is a single mother trying to run the same coffee place that her mother ran. The titular one in fact, and her father seems to be moving on and considering selling the facility. In response she has toyed with the idea of getting someone to take care of him. They reside in Driftwood, Alabama. 

The way that these two lives interact is a definite major catalyst for the story as a whole. Sadly the book does not involve the pair finding love together, but instead with a pair of men from the story. Each of their personal journeys is entertaining and involves forming friendships and looking into the information quite readily. fire, declining health, recurring medical issues, and difficult interpersonal relationships remain the largest obstacles the characters have to face.

Make no mistake, the implications that the book is genre are rather undeniable. Individuals living beyond their span, prophetic dreams and enhanced senses are just some of the subtle uses of the world beyond the normal in the book. Some of them are given partially or completely mundane explanations throughout the story, and these are varying levels of believable as the actual cause. Others never really receive such an explanation, except perhaps by proxy, and as a result leave this just a little more Supernatural than a book that would fit into the “maybe magic maybe mundane” category.

At The Coffee Shop of Curiosities is a slightly unusual turn on small town fiction. While certainly over idealized, this is less an endorsement of any particular region or its mores. Highly recommended to any fan of her work, this book definitely continues with many of the best traditions of Heather Webber’s work. As it is a standalone, this book would also serve as a perfectly acceptable introduction to pieces by the author, a little comfort reading for a cold day.

Warner Holme Review: The Circumference of the World

The Circumference of the World by Lavie Tidhar (Tachyon, 2023) 

Review by Warner Holme: Lavie Tidhar’s The Circumference of the World is a book about a book, at least in part. But people associated with the book seem to disappear, either mysteriously or via outright kidnapping. While all connecting together, the book really can be divided into a number of major portions including the initial chapters which deal with people searching for it, portions of the volume, and a look at the life of the somewhat fictitious author.

The volume spends some entertaining time with a crime boss and his obsession with the author and his book, and at least as enjoyable time with Daniel Chase. Chase is a dealer in rare books. He is also an individual with the known difficulty of being functionally or completely facial blind, unable to recall or distinguish facial features. Most of the best writing in the book relates back to him, in no small part because of the care the author takes in creating descriptions that don’t rely on facial features in most ways. Instead everything from height and build and hair all the way to smells like cigarette smoke are used to identify specific individuals when they interact with Chase.

A large portion of the book is given over to text from, if not supposed to leave a complete text of, the missing book Lode Star. The text of it is entertaining, arguably better than the author it imitates, and it does well at attempting to reflect some of the ideas embedded in the book as a whole.

Unfortunately a lot of the book feels like apologia. John W. Campbell appears via correspondence and dreams, and is treated as forward thinking generally for his time on gender and sexuality. He claims for a fact that “readers would never stand for” a potential lesbian relationship implied on page 208, and suggests a male lead, but his story never quite reaches the levels of fascist intervention that he was known for. He is treated lightly, but his mania for strange theories and conspiracies is well known and touched on as well. 

The author who marks as a major target, Eugene Charles Hartley, is a coded version of another figure, and given far too much sympathy as a result. He is a mid 20th century author of mediocre science fiction, including a lost book that is the subject of the hunt, and at the suggestion of Heinlein he starts a religion that makes him uber rich. His struggles and difficulties are treated sympathetically, and a reader may feel disgusted when this part of the story occurs. As even in his afterward Lavie Tidhar refuses to name the individual, this reviewer will do likewise.

The ideas of simulationism and echoes of reality as reality are nothing new to science fiction or the theoretical sciences. They are used, overall, quite well in this book both to accent the various difficulties and proving their own concepts and also which they could provide to a person or public trying to understand them. It’s interesting to note that recent releases by other successful authors have been touching on these ideas as well, albeit in such different fashion they barely feel like the same genre.

There are a lot of good ideas and clever thoughts in this book, but in other ways it tries to cut too close to certain realities and the result is instead a mix of apologia and occasional interesting ideas packed into a well-written volume. How well someone will react to what is going to depend heavily upon their tolerance for the former.

Paul Weimer Review: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Volume Two: Power & Light

The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Volume Two: Power & Light. Edited by David G. Grubbs, Christopher S. Kovacs and Ann Crimmins. Cover art by Michael Whelan. (NESFA Press, 2009)

Review by Paul Weimer: Power and Light is the second of the six-volume NESFA collection of the work of Roger Zelazny.

 Much of what I said in my review of the first volume, Threshold, stands and is built upon, here. (Read the review of Threshold at the link). This volume, like it’s first, covers a slice of Zelazny’s work, and is full of biographical detail, strange and unusual pieces never seen before, and continues the device of putting most of the words under exegesis, untangling references common and oblique alike, giving a full view of the mythopoetic work that Zelazny was creating. Once again, we get a variety of poetry, incorporating whimsy, humor, and mythological themes alike.

This volume, whose slice concentrates on works from the mid 60’s, is much more about the meat and drink of his career, or to use the stellar metaphor I used previously, this is when the nova began to truly shine.  You’ll find the original Divlish the Damned stories here, for example, and having them together helped me appreciate him as a somewhat neglected icon of Sword and Sorcery. But there is plenty more: “Lucifer” and “For a Breath I Tarry”, “Auto-Da-Fe”, and a number of others you will likely recognize if you’ve read any SF from the period. I’ve loved and enjoyed many of these stories before, but I’ve never before had the context and positioning these stories are given here with other Zelazny works. The works involving vehicles, for example, a motif in this volume, all seem to stem from a serious auto accident he was involved in. Adding insult on top of injury, Zelazny’s father died while his then-girlfriend was recuperating from the injuries. That sort of biographical detail really helps contextualize these stories and give them additional meaning and insight.

 And I think that it helps make the individual stories and works stronger, and deeper and paradoxically harder to hurtle through, to take at speed. It seems that for me as a reader, and perhaps this is a warning to you, too, that Zelazny at the height of his powers is a strong draught of whatever spirit you want to name, or perhaps just a very strong tea if you do not. Reading, savoring and enjoying these stories was something I could not do for hours on end, for they invoked such imagery and power as to leave me giddy with delight, and the endless clouds of grey clearing to allow me to see the green field realms of myth and story beyond the glass barrier between the world. I took this book in stages, and every time I gave myself space to turn away and then return, the power of the words came flowing into me once again.  

 The volume claims that his shorter works contain his best writing, and certainly, in this second volume, that seems to be entirely the case for me, even given my longstanding and well known love of the longer forms of the Amber Chronicles and other novels he wrote.

 Some of these stories, though, were new and unheralded delights for me, too. For example. “Comes Now the Power”, which I have missed reading until this time even though it was a 1967 finalist for Best Short Story at the Hugos. It’s a short, sharp story about a telepath who is blocked, cannot use his power, and has not been able to for a couple of years now. A world that would not believe that he had such a power. And, then, he contacts someone else who has the same spark.  It feels like a brief antecedent by several years to Robert Silverberg’s novel Dying Inside, and in a weird timey wimey way giving an answer to Selig’s problems in a short few pages. Did Silverberg read the story and get inspired to write Dying Inside? I don’t know, and I would love to ask Silverberg if that was the case. Psionics and telepaths were certainly “in the water” in the 60’s and 70’s, but telepaths having problems with their powers are a much less common story motif. In any event, the two works feel like they are in dialogue with each other.

Or take his 1966 story “Love is an Imaginary Number”. Doing what Zelazny does best, diving into the world of myth, here he makes an interesting connection and junction I had never considered before.  What if you had a character who melded aspects of two mythological characters who are famous for being bound and tormented. Prometheus, and Loki. And, add to that, our protagonist can shift and change realities. Yet another idea that he would eventually take into later and longer works. 

 The real star of the volume, though, I think, even beyond his sizzling and scintillating stories, and even his poetry (recall what I said in the first review regarding his poetic nature) is the two parts of “…And Call me Conrad” aka This Immortal. This Immortal was an extraordinary work (it tied for Best Novel with a little known SF novel called Dune) and I want to talk about it. I had read it about a year ago for a podcast, and so I came to the story relatively fresh. So, instead of this being a read for me that was trying to cover ground I had read last years ago, I came to the reading of This Immortal with a strong and specific eye for detail.

And the detail I found. I completely missed in previous readings, intuited here, and was confirmed in the end notes the strong theory that Conrad is not just several hundred years old, but is indeed the Immortal of the title, and may just simply be the god Pan. The book is crammed with mythological motifs and ideas, and I see it as a waystop for him to develop ideas that he would later carry into things like Jack of Shadows, and the Amber series.  His dog, Bortan, the Hellhound, such a good and loyal dog. Prince Julian of Arden would be proud to have a dog like Bortan as part of his hounds, for certain. The subtlety of Conrad’s plan to deal with the Vegans, the emigres and everything else shows the patience of someone who lives a long time, but that circumstances and chance can upset even the most well layed plans. I had missed the detail about the deconstructing pyramid gambit in that former bit. And the story renewed my as yet unfulfilled desire to see Greece and Egypt. 

Overall, by this now second volume, I can see how the short fiction of Zelazny is definitely his work at its highest concentration, ideas and mythological concepts and motifs in their purest and most undiluted form. Neil Gaiman is quoted:  “Nobody else makes myths real and valuable in the way Roger Zelazny could”.  And he is absolutely right.

But to be sure, there is some nonfiction here, too. Zelazny was becoming a Big Deal at this time, his star burning bright. And so we get his Guest of Honor Speech from Ozarkon 2. This is an amazing piece because it shows how Zelazny thinks, how much he incorporated mythological themes and ideas into all of his writing, as he discusses the motif of the dying and resurrected god. The volume makes clear a lot of these speeches, with all of their value and humor, have NOT been collected; I am very glad this one survived, and is included in this volume, as well as the several other similarly formatted speeches and talks that are in this volume. 

Once again, in an excellent volume, NESFA has captured the soul and art of Roger Zelazny. I look forward to what comes next, in Volume Three, The Mortal Mountain.

Warner Holme Review: Brandon Sanderson’s The Frugal Wizard’s Guide For Surviving Medieval England

The Frugal Wizard’s Guide For Surviving Medieval England by Brandon Sanderson (Tor, 2023)

Review by Warner Holme: Brandon Sanderson’s The Frugal Wizard’s Guide For Surviving Medieval England is one of those hilarious titles that was just begging to be used. Initially published as part of the record-breaking Kickstarter campaign run by Sanderson, this volume has now come into a wider release. Outside of his normal settings, this book deals with transportational fantasy and the setup starts with the lead awakening without his memories in a burning building and making a desperate dash out while attempting in vain to figure out what is happening. He finds a couple small pages from the book and initially tries to hide when armed individuals start moving through the land. While his memories do start to slowly return he has bigger issues fighting an encroaching force of raiders and a possible connection to his past as he attempts to build his own future.

A very cute introduction by the author explains that the title came to him first, and who can blame him for that fact. It’s a very entertaining title and, taking a page from Douglas Adams, a book with that title is referenced within the pages of this one. While it’s a brave move to remind readers, even quite indirectly, of a classic in your own story it is also nothing to be ashamed of to take inspiration from the best. A similar piece is in place at the end which provides more details on the author’s inspiration as it relates to certain plot developments.

Clarke’s Law, and derivatives of it, come into play heavily in this book and are directly referenced in the book within a book. They are played with in some amusing ways, right down to the question of how existing superstitions might interfere and interact with attempts to use technology to claim supernatural ability amongst a people. It’s an interesting idea of that, while not quite virgin territory, is rarely used to such a meaningful degree.

Pain and suffering are the major elements of the story on a thematic level. The way that some could have things go right, and that others find life repeatedly getting harder as they seemed to have events turn against them. While there is humor found in many of these situations, the basic concept is more than treated seriously. Indeed given the wild success that the author has gone on to achieve, the multifaceted look at failure is an impressive piece of work within the book.

Also included are a number of gorgeous illustrations by one Steve Argyle. These range in style and purpose from detailed in universe book illustrations and quirky cartoons to sketches made by a character and a gorgeous color piece towards the front. While not universal in their purpose within the story, all of them do a great deal to expand it and provide the necessary mood at appropriate moments. 

The Frugal Wizards Handbook For Surviving Medieval England is a delightful read overall. Filled with unexpected twists and turns, as well as those which are satisfyingly predictable, it has much to recommend it. Fans of most of the works it references directly are likely to appreciate it, but are hardly the only audience. The more deep thinking and clever sense of humor which Sanderson often expresses both find strong homes here, in a story that drifts far away from the previous heavily detailed worlds he has spent most of his career on.

Unearthing Literary Fantasy: Evangeline Walton’s Mabinogion Tetralogy

Covers of the Ballantine Books paperback editions from the 1970s.

By RL Thornton.

Returning to Literary Fantasy. Throughout the history of speculative fiction (i.e. SF/F), the genre has always had a problematic relationship with the literary mainstream. Aspersions were initially cast by pulp/”scientifiction” types on literary values and even as those values crept into the genre via writers like Heinlein and the New Wave, the term “literary” has been a bad word for readers who want their prose to go down easy.

As a result, the term “literary fantasy” has always been suspect, because the very idea of literary gatekeepers is always bound to offend genre advocates. This is unfortunate, because the values celebrated by literary fantasy should be most acceptable to anyone who cares about speculative fiction. Very high-quality prose (most important of all), difficult structures, and deftly realized characters and plots–it all sounds great to me!

And as we go back to literary fantasy, we should be looking to quality gatekeepers like the Mythopoeic Society and the World Fantasy Convention, who have been part of literary fantasy all along. We should be looking to literary fantasy, which points us to authors who stretch the boundaries of speculative fiction, regardless of their popular appeal (i.e. Neil Gaiman).

So we come to Evangeline Walton, who was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the World Fantasy Convention and won multiple awards from the Mythopoeic Society for novels in her Mabinogion tetralogy. These novels are a retelling of the Mabinogion, a medieval collection of eleven prose stories based on medieval Welsh manuscripts.

black and white photo of Evangeline Walton from 1936 holding hardcover of Virgin and the Swine
Evangeline Walton in 1936.

Evangeline Walton’s Story. If you look at the history of fantasy literature, Walton (originally known as Evangeline Wilna Ensley) plays a unique role in the tale. According to Wikipedia, she wrote most of the tetralogy from the 1920s through the 1940s and continued reworking them despite the poor response from the first book (initially titled The Virgin And The Swine, eventually republished as The Island Of The Mighty). Walton also completed a Theseus trilogy and only one of those books have been published. While Witch House (1945) and The Sword Is Forged (1983) were published, there are also other unpublished novels. Stevie Nicks (of all people) has the film rights to the Mabinogion tetralogy.

Walton was a pre-Tolkien fantasist, who was properly rediscovered when the legendary Ballentine Adult Fantasy collection of pre-Tolkien fantasy was assembled. Eventually all four novels were published (Prince of Annwn, Children of Llyr, Song of Rhiannon, and The Island of the Mighty in proper order).  As the Mythopoeic Society and the World Fantasy Convention probably realized, these books  are marvels of prose style and characterization that infuses her knowing individual characterizations and the myths of Wales with the lyrical promise of Lord Dunsany and his incipient feel for cosmic horror.

Here is an example of Walton’s beautiful prose from the very beginning of Prince of Annwn:

THAT DAY Pwyll, Prince of Dyved, who thought he was going out to hunt, was in reality going out to be hunted, and by no beast or man of earth.

The night before he had slept at Llyn Diarwya, that lay halfway between royal Arberth, his chief seat, and the deep woods of Glen Cuch. And at moonset, in the last thick darkness before dawn, he woke there.

He woke suddenly, as if a bell had been rung in his ear. Startled, he peered round him, but saw only sight-swallowing blackness that soon thinned to a darkness full of things yet darker. Of half-shaped, constantly reshaping somethings such as always haunt the lightless depths of night, and make it seem mysterious and terrible. He saw nothing that meant anything, and if he had heard anything he did not hear it again.

The Tetralogy’s Story. In these books, the characters of the Mabinogion use their skills and druidic skills to struggle with the menace of merciless gods, the dangers of other supernatural mysteries, the perils inflicted on them by rival druids, and their own impending fates. Most notable of them is Math (son of Mathowny), who presides over all of them with the foreknowledge of the others’ immediate future and the Future To Come. The quote from Wikipedia is apt: “My own method has always been to try to put flesh and blood on the bones of the original myth; I almost never contradict sources, I only add and interpret.”

Some of the other themes are the evolution of Wales culture as seem through the lens of the “Old Tribes” and the “New Tribes,” including explorations of what powers druids have, how changes in culture and the influence of Christianity changed the relationships between men and women, and the inevitable changes that would lead to today’s world.

All of these themes are carefully interwoven into a potent braid that carries you along through each novel into an ending which ends with an ellipsis and carries Wales into the uncertain future.

The Stories Themelves. The Prince of Annwn: Pwyll, the Prince of Dyved, encounters Death (the god Annwn) who challenges him to take on tasks that the god cannot achieve on his own.

The Children of Llyr: The terrible fates of the five children of Llyr (with a focus on Bran The Mighty and his sister Branwen) are told. The Cauldron, which is best known in Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain novels, plays a key role in the telling.

The Song Of Rhiannon: Relates the grim adventures of the Prince of Pryderi and the remaining member of the Llyr children, who actually gets some happiness for once.

The Island of The Mighty: The tale of Gwydion (not necessarily the one in Alexander’s Prydain), nephew of the great and powerful Math, and the troubles that he encounters due to Gwydion’s own trickery and his own fate.

Difficulties You Might Encounter. Despite the tremendous power of Walton’s prose, current readers might have problems that come with the setting of the Mabinogion’s stories and the times in which Walton started writing those stories. Primarily, the ghost of heternormativity hovers over all these novels due to the medieval origin of the stories, and the current world of queer literature only briefly appears in close relationships between male blood relatives.

But this flaw is mostly nullified given the historic nature of the tales. If we believe in cultural relativity, certainly it should apply to the past as well as today. So with a little bit of grace, the virtues of Walton’s story-telling overshadow the problems.

Lis Carey Review: Snipers

Snipers by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (WMG Publishing, 2013)

Review by Lis Carey: In the winter of 1913, Vienna Police Detective Johann Runge investigates the murders of two men in a cafe–Lev Bronstein and Viktor Adler. It’s puzzling enough to start with, but it’s soon followed by more sniper killings. Soon five men are dead, some famous, some unknown–at least in 1913.

In Vienna in 2005, bestselling crime writer Sofie Branstadter is researching what she intends to be the definitive book on the still unsolved Carnival Sniper killings. As she does her research, we gradually realize that Sofie isn’t living in the same timeline we are. This timeline had The Great War, lasting ten years, and no Second World War. The League of Nations survived, and international politics is quite different. What happened?

We follow Johann Runge’s 1913 investigation, and Sofie Branstadter’s 2005 research–and the sniper himself. Runge is an early advocate of what’s now considered just good crime scene management, and annoys his fellow police immensely. Both he and Branstadter discover evidence that makes no sense. A deceptively lightweight plastic gun; bullets with a tungsten core and a strangely tough, thin, plastic coating. An item that the sniper calls a handheld. An even stranger sphere, that Runge suspects is a weapon of some kind, but can’t identify. Branstadter, working with a civilian crime lab, learns that it’s radioactive, but still doesn’t immediately realize what it is. The different history had an impact on the direction of physics and weapons research.

The question of course is, what is the sniper’s motive? We know, from the sections told from his viewpoint, that he has a mission, but we only begin to suspect what it really is when learn who is less obvious targets are.

Along the way, we also learn how very personal the research for this particular book is for Sofie Branstadter.

Interesting story, interesting characters, interesting complexities. Snipers kept me completely absorbed.

Lis Carey Review: The City We Became (Great Cities Trilogy #1)

We know New York City is a great city. That New York City has a soul. But New York City is about to become a living city, and its avatar needs to arise from the city, and become the personification of the city. Or, in this case, avatars. And they need to face a threat previous living cities have not faced, and refuse to believe in.

The City We Became (Great Cities Trilogy #1). N.K. Jemisin (author) and Robin Miles (narrator). Hachette Audio, ISBN 9781549119736, March 2020

Review by Lis Carey: We all know that great cities have spirits, souls, living identities. New York City is unquestionably a great city, and as one might expect of New York, it’s a little bit different than most other great cities. It has an avatar for each of its five boroughs, and a sixth avatar, the avatar of the whole city.

But New York City is just being born, just coming alive, and its avatars don’t yet understand what and who they are, or what they need to do. And there’s a new danger out there, that most of the older cities have not faced–nor do the older cities believe the few newest cities who are telling them something new is going on.

Sao Paolo, newest city to be born, to manifest into life, with but a single avatar, has been assigned the task of midwifing the City of New York into life. He’s worried, but all he really knows is that something seems different, and that the cities that have had multiple avatars, have either failed to be successfully born, or, like London, clearly went through something very traumatic, and emerged with one avatar that is not eager to mix with the other cities. Sao Paolo is afraid the birth of New York is going to be very bad, and perhaps fail.

He also expects that if New York is successful, the five borough avatars will be absorbed into the City avatar, and no longer exist separately.

When the avatars of Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx, and Brooklyn learn this, well, they have their own opinions. As for the fifth borough, Staten Island, well, something else entirely, and far more disturbing, is going on with her.

Manhattan, a.k.a. Manny, is a mixed-race young man who had just arrived in NYC on a bus, intending to start a new life. This gets a bit more comprehensive than intended when the first manifestations of the city being born cause him to lose his memory of his own identity, and anything but the broad outlines of his plans. He’s now Manhattan, and has to figure out what that means for him.

Brooklyn is a middle-aged woman, former famous singer and DJ, now city politician and mother of a teenage daughter. Brooklyn really is her given name; now she is also the avatar of the borough.

Bronca Siwanoy is a Lenape woman, in her 60s, an artist, and director of the Bronx art center. She is also, now, the avatar of the Bronx.

Padmini Prakesh is in her twenties, a Tamil immigrant and grad student, a mathematician, and now the avatar of Queens.

Aislyn Houlihan, white, thirty, lives with her parents on Staten Island, has never actually been off Staten Island to visit any other part of the city. Now the avatar of Staten Island.

And of course, New York, a young, homeless, black man, a gifted artist who does his work as graffiti.

These are highly individual, proud, often contentious people, with strengths, weaknesses, and sometimes counterproductive impulses to think their borough is the most valuable, or the only one they need to care about–and if New York City is to survive, they need to find ways to work together.

This turns out to be a little more literal than merely the sense of having a living avatar or avatars to support and protect the city. There really is something new and different going on, and the city, all the living and potentially living cities of Earth have an Enemy.

I got sucked into the story, and the characters, right away. Jemisin is a wonderful writer, and Miles does a great job with the narration. Highly recommended.

I bought this audiobook.

Warner Holme Review: Ursula K Le Guin’s Collected Poems

Ursula K Le Guin’s Collected Poems, Edited by Harold Bloom (Library of America, 2023)

Review by Warner Holme: Ursula K Le Guin’s Collected Poems represents a look at a wide swath of the career of a fine storyteller in an artform she often practiced but wasn’t nearly as well known for. Given that the Library of America has already provided a number of excellent releases of her work, this collection of poetry is definitely going to continue that trend.

Poems in this book come from as early as the author’s 1975 collection Wild Angels, and move forward to pieces composed and published very shortly before her death. In the context of a single volume on a poet, that is in many ways as comprehensive as a reader could hope for.

One early piece, and probably one of the smallest in terms of word count in the collection, is “Drums”. Totaling at 16 words, with two words a line it is a simple playful piece connecting different types of dance. Providing some of the simplest language and broadest imagery it nonetheless works solidly. Even with occasionally macabre imagery, this represents a piece that can easily feel more hopeful than many others she produced.

“Extinction” is a short and dark piece, depressing in its implications and apocalyptic in its scope. With each line having five or fewer syllables, the text would often move quickly yet the context and words make one take their time and slowly observe and absorb each piece of imagery.

This is, however, far from structurally common for the poetry of Le Guin. Another piece using much longer lines would be “Merlin.” This poem is a two stanza piece that is, amusingly, decidedly not in the Arthurian category. Instead it is a careful and majestic depiction of the familiar bird. short, observational and yet beautiful it provides a quick look at the author’s thoughts of the time with only its last line pushing directly to remind a reader of the fantastical with a note about “hearing the dragon speak” on page 597. While this will be comfortable territory for fans of her fantasy work, it’s hard not to look at it as a fan of poetry and think that the association with her literature is altogether unnecessary to appreciate the piece as is.

Students of her work will find this volume an invaluable collection of not only her poetry, but thoughts upon the art form as well. This includes a variety of forward, introductions, and afterwards as well as a detailed interview/conversation with one David Naimon. This is truly quite an in-depth piece, featuring her opinions and examinations of them in rather more detail than a simple interview to promote a book might have incorporated.

Le Guin Collected Poems is another wonderful example of the work of a master being treated with respect and academic rigor by the Library of America. With examples of her work ranging over a matter of decades the reader gets to experience the growth and change not only of the author but the world that influenced her. Short of already owning her complete poetry, it is unmissable for the interested party with a focus on the work of Ursula K. Le Guin.

Lis Carey Review: The City Born Great

The City Born Great (Great Cities #0.5), by N.K. Jemisin (author), Landon Woodson (narrator); Macmillan Audio, ISBN 9781250773302, May 2020 (original publication 2016)

Review by Lis Carey: The process of a great city being born as a living city starts sooner than we might realize from just the birth itself. Living cities, actual and potential have enemies, and they need protectors.

This is a short story about one of New York’s midwives, a young man about a decade earlier than the actual birth, coached–and coaxed–by Paolo, the avatar of San Paolo. He’s a street painter, and a singer, and he’d really rather not have the responsibility, but the city calls to him, and enemy needs to be stopped.

The narration is wonderful, and the story is a lovely addition to the two books so far in the Great Cities series.

I bought this audiobook.

Warner Holme Review: The Last House on Needless Street

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward (Nightfire, 2021)

Review by Warner Holme: Catriona Ward’s The Last House on Needless Street represents an interesting variation on the psychological horror story. There are a few viewpoints, interesting ones, as well as an increasing fear as various alarming details are slowly piled atop one another to paint an increasingly disturbing picture.

One of the main viewpoints, and first really sympathetic ones, is Olivia. Olivia is a cat with a fairly strong Christian faith who thinks of every human she encounters as one type of “ted” or another. It is very much the mental image which could be put forth of a cat in a certain type of person.

One ostensible human lead is then known as Ted. The similarity in name to the way Olivia looks at people is no surprise to the reader, as she is the owner who lives in his house. At the same time the chances seemed high that something is desperately wrong with him. There are moments he seems to see a therapist of some sort, and at one point complains that his cat (Olivia) might be gay. He fails to feel pain when he should, and keeps first his cat and then a child indoors against their will.

The child in question is Lauren, a girl who seems to be in the strange position, of finding the situation weird and disturbing, while at the same time having acclimated to it more than a little. It is a strange point of view, yet quite disturbing in its way for the mixture of Stockholm syndrome symptoms and outright terrified moments.

There is also Dee. Dee is a relatively developed woman who suspects Ted of kidnapping her little sister. This is a very delicate line, and the fact that she doesn’t get much help from the police lends understanding to her actions as she moves into Ted’s life in an effort to find her sister.

These and other viewpoints steadily rotate, often repeating the same scene with subtle differences to illustrate the strangeness of the situation. The attempts by Ted to hide a host of details about himself, and the attempts of Dee and Olivia to understand their situations and improve them or right wrongs, each serve to advance respective narratives while moving the overall story forward. 

Following the narrative, afterward, and acknowledgements, the author is good enough to include a bibliography of useful topics related to the bulk of the story. This is, under the circumstances, greatly appreciated. There is, of course, the risk that this material will become dated as research methods evolve and so does knowledge of certain psychological phenomena. It nonetheless speaks well to her that she took the time to research and consider the topic so carefully in writing this piece.

Overall The Last House on Needless Street is a strange and disturbing read. There is, as is often the case, a risk that the psychology in it will become dated, however that cannot be held against a current work which is clearly trying to stay up and accurate. The chills and disgusting moments are quite visceral, and even if a reader successfully determines the nature of some of the biggest “twists” in the book, it remains a cleverly constructed and thought-out piece.