Tag Archives: Book Reviews

A Review of The Future Is Female! Volume Two, the 1970s

Vintage Science Fiction month takes place every January, and has a few guidelines:

 – read, watch, listen to, or experience something science fiction / fantasy that was created in 1979 or earlier

 – talk about it online sometime in January

 – have fun

If any of my readers are interested in participating\ use the hashtag #VintageSciFiMonth or tag @VintageSciFi_ or @redhead5318 on Twitter if you’d like your posts to be included in the official retweets and roundups.  


Drawing of white woman wearing a spacesuit and walking on the surface of a red alien planet. Title
: The Future Is Female! Volume Two, the 1970s – More Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women

Author: Lisa Yaszek (editor)

Publisher: Library of America

Publication Date: 1971 – 1979 for the original publication dates. October 11, 2022 for this specific compilation.

Genres: Science Fiction, LGBTQ, Historical

Length: 548 pages (including author biographies, etc).

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

n the 1970s, feminist authors created a new mode of science fiction in defiance of the “baboon patriarchy”—Ursula Le Guin’s words—that had long dominated the genre, imagining futures that are still visionary. In this sequel to her groundbreaking 2018 anthology The Future is Female!: 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women from Pulp Pioneers to Ursula K. Le Guin, SF-expert Lisa Yaszek offers a time machine back to the decade when far-sighted rebels changed science fiction forever with stories that made female community, agency, and sexuality central to the American future. 

Here are twenty-three wild, witty, and wonderful classics that dramatize the liberating energies of the 1970s:

  • Sonya Dorman, “Bitching It” (1971) 
  • Kate Wilhelm, “The Funeral” (1972)
  • Joanna Russ, “When It Changed” (1972) NEBULA AWARD 
  • Miriam Allen deFord, “A Way Out”(1973)
  • Vonda N. McIntyre,  “Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand” (1973) NEBULA 
  • James Tiptree, Jr., “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” (1973) HUGO AWARD 
  • Kathleen Sky, “Lament of the Keeku Bird” (1973)
  • Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Day Before the Revolution” (1974) NEBULA & LOCUS AWARD 
  • Eleanor Arnason, “The Warlord of Saturn’s Moons” (1974)
  • Kathleen M. Sidney, “The Anthropologist” (1975)
  • Marta Randall, “A Scarab in the City of Time” (1975) 
  • Elinor Busby, “A Time to Kill” (1977)
  • Raccoona Sheldon, “The Screwfly Solution” (1977) NEBULA AWARD 
  • Pamela Sargent, “If Ever I Should Leave You” (1974)
  • Joan D. Vinge, “View from a Height” (1978)
  • M. Lucie Chin, “The Best Is Yet to Be” (1978)
  • Lisa Tuttle, “Wives” (1979) 
  • Connie Willis, “Daisy, In the Sun” (1979)

Review:

Content warning: Starvation, dehydration, cancer, attempted murder, murder, zombies, and snakes. I will not discus these topics in my review.

There’s nothing like being introduced to so many fantastic science fiction authors at once.

I’ve never been interested in hunting frogs, but I did like the conversational style of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s “Frog Pond.” Althea was such a sweet and innocent person that I wondered why she kept disobeying her parents orders to avoid the creek and the mysterious pink and green patches that sometimes appeared in the water there. Surely there had to be something more than frogs to pique her curiosity. There were several wonderful layers to this story that I don’t want to spoil for everyone. What I can say is that the world building was fantastic and Althea was full of surprises for me. I’d love to visit her and her unusual little town again someday.

Vintage Science Fiction Blog Challenge badge. It shows a rocket ship against a red background. There is a bubble city in the background.  The sudden appearance of old age and impending death in “If Ever I Should Leave You” by Pamela Sargent piqued my curiosity. These things obviously worked different in this world than they do in our own, and it was interesting to slowly figure out what the rules were there. I also appreciated what this tale had to say about aging and grief. There were layers of meaning to it that I slowly unwrapped as I kept reading, although I should leave the details of that for other readers to discover for themselves.

As soon as I realized that the main character of “Hey, Lilith” by Gayle N. Netzer was a middle-aged woman who befriends someone much older than herself, I couldn’t stop reading. So many science fiction books are about teenagers and people in their early 20s that it’s a thrill to see other age groups represented. I appreciated the protagonist’s wry approach to suddenly finding herself in a post-apocalyptic storyline. Honestly, I’d react the same way, and her previous knowledge of how dangerous these settings can be made her refreshingly cautious about her predicament.

This is the second anthology in a series that does not need to be read in order.

The Future Is Female! Volume Two, the 1970s – More Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women was even better than the first volume of The Future Is Female. I’d wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who loves vintage science fiction.

Vintage Storytellers: A Review of The Future Is Female

Vintage Science Fiction month takes place every January, and has a few guidelines:

 – read, watch, listen to, or experience something science fiction / fantasy that was created in 1979 or earlier

 – talk about it online sometime in January

 – have fun

If any of my readers are interested in participating\ use the hashtag #VintageSciFiMonth or tag @VintageSciFi_ or @redhead5318 on Twitter if you’d like your posts to be included in the official retweets and roundups.  

The Future Is Female by Lisa Yaszek (editor) book cover. Image on cover shows a woman wearing rubber boots, a futuristic white body suit, and a glass bubble around her head standing on a white mound of sand or rocks while looking at up at a dark and mostly cloudless sky. Title: The Future Is Female

Author: Lisa Yaszek (Editor)

Publisher: Library of America

Publication Date: September 25, 2018 for this anthology. All stories in it were originally published between 1928 and 1969.

Genres: Science Fiction

Length: 432 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Space-opera heroines, gender-bending aliens, post-apocalyptic pregnancies, changeling children, interplanetary battles of the sexes, and much more: a groundbreaking new collection of classic American science fiction by women from the 1920s to the 1960s

SF-expert Lisa Yaszek presents the biggest and best survey of the female tradition in American science fiction ever published, a thrilling collection of twenty-five classic tales. From Pulp Era pioneers to New Wave experimentalists, here are over two dozen brilliant writers ripe for discovery and rediscovery, including Leslie F. Stone, Judith Merril, Leigh Brackett, Kit Reed, Joanna Russ, James Tiptree Jr., and Ursula K. Le Guin. Imagining strange worlds and unexpected futures, looking into and beyond new technologies and scientific discoveries, in utopian fantasies and tales of cosmic horror, these women created and shaped speculative fiction as surely as their male counterparts. Their provocative, mind-blowing stories combine to form a thrilling multidimensional voyage of literary-feminist exploration and recovery.

Review:

Content warning: War, radiation, pregnancy,  childbirth, pandemics, sex reassignment surgery, kidnapping, and birth defects. I will be discussing pregnancy, radiation, and birth defects in my review.

Buckle up for a wild ride.

I can’t review all of the stories in this collection in my review, so I’ll pick a few of the most interesting ones.

Leslie Perri’s “Space Episode”  began with the terror some astronauts felt at the exact moment they realized that they’d either need to find a way to dislodge the meteor stuck in their engine immediately or crash onto Earth and die. There wasn’t even time to share the characters’ names with the audience in that scene, and yet I immediately sympathized with them and couldn’t stop reading until I’d found out their fates.I can’t say much else about the storyline without giving away spoilers, but I thought was well paced and exciting. While I must continue being vague, the ending also had a nice twist in it that made me wish for a sequel.

Margaret’s fear of having accidentally exposed her fetus to dangerous amounts of radiation was overwhelming in “That Only a Mother” by Judith Merrill. It wasn’t difficult to figure out where the plot was going from there, so I was mostly interested in Margaret’s character development as she went through her pregnancy and began adjusting to being a new mom. I found myself wishing I could sit down with the author to confirm whether this was what she was hoping her audience would do given how easy it was to guess what would happen next. Then again, maybe this sort of storyline was much less used in the 1940s and would have been fresher for readers back then!

I was intrigued by Alice Eleanor Jones’ “Created He Them” immediately. The main character lived in a society where many necessities of life were difficult to get, from eggs to new clothes. She had two young sons to look after and was increasingly having difficulty keeping everyone in her family fed and warm. I’ll leave it up to other readers to discover more about her world, but I thought it was a memorable (if also depressing) place that could have easily been expanded into a full-length novel.

The Future Is Female was a memorable introduction to plenty of vintage science fiction authors I’d never heard of before.

A Review of In a Glass Darkly

Vintage Science Fiction month takes place every January, and has a few guidelines:

 – read, watch, listen to, or experience something science fiction / fantasy that was created in 1979 or earlier

 – talk about it online sometime in January

 – have fun

If any of my readers are interested in participating\ use the hashtag #VintageSciFiMonth or tag @VintageSciFi_ or @redhead5318 on Twitter if you’d like your posts to be included in the official retweets and roundups.  

Thank you to Berthold Gambrel for recommending this book to me


In a Glass Darkly by J. Sheridan Le Fanu book cover. Image on cover shows a ghostly figure reaching out to someone who is sleeping peacefully in a bed. The sketch is done in black and white and looks like it’s from the 1870s based on hairstyles, clothing, bedding, etc. Title
: In a Glass Darkly

Author: Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Publisher: Richard Bentley & Son (original publisher) and Duke Classics (the publisher of the reprinted volume I read).

Publication Date: 1872

Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, LGBTQ, Historical

Length: 169 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

In a Glass Darkly collects together five short stories from gothic horror and mystery writer Sheridan Le Fanu. The book, published in 1872 a year before Le Fanu’s death, is named from a passage in Corinthians which speaks of humankind perceiving the world “through a glass darkly.” The stories are told from the posthumous writings of an occult detective named Dr Martin Hesselius. In Green Tea a clergyman is being driven mad by an evil demon that takes the ephemeral form of a monkey, but is unseen by others as it burdens the victim’s mind with psychological torment. In The Familiar, revised from Le Fanu’s The Watcher of 1851, a sea captain is stalked by a dwarf, “The Watcher.” Is this strange character from captain’s past? In Mr Justice Harbottle a merciless court judge is attacked by vengeful spirits, dreaming he is sentenced to death by a horrific version of himself. The story was revised from 1853’s An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street. In The Room in the Dragon Volant, a notable mystery which includes a premature burial theme, an innocent young Englishman in France tries to rescue a mysterious countess from her unbearable situation. Lastly, Carmilla tells the tale of a lesbian vampire. It was a huge influence on Bram Stoker’s writing of Dracula and the basis for the films Vampyr in 1932 and The Vampire Lovers in 1970.

Review:

Content warning: demonic possession, stalking, murder, beheading (of a monster), minor drug use, and a few brief references to blood.  I will briefly discuss the demonic possession and stalking in my review.

If you like genre mash-ups that defy the reader’s expectations, keep reading.

The blurb gave a great overview of each of the five stories in this collection, so I’m going to use my review space to share my impressions of them a bit more casually than I would generally do. Somehow that feels right for this book.

I was a preacher’s kid growing up, so “Green Tea” grabbed my attention immediately. Clergymen and their families are exposed to portions of other people’s lives that the general public often knows little to nothing about. No, my family was never haunted by a monkey-shaped demon like the poor Reverend Jennings was, but I was intrigued by the difference between what people want others to think their lives are like versus what’s actually going on behind closed doors. This tale captured the sometimes jarring experience of moving back and forth between the two quite well. I thought it also well at explaining why secrets can be so corrosive for a person’s mental wellbeing, especially when they’ve convinced themselves that they will be rejected, or worse, if anyone finds out the truth about them.

One of the things I mulled about while reading ”The Familiar” was how blurry the lines were between science fiction, fantasy, horror, and other speculative fiction genres in the 1800s. This collection fit into all of those categories simultaneously in ways that are unusual when compared to how a similar story about a dwarf stalking a sea captain would probably be written and marketed today. I like stories that blur these lines, but this particular one was hard to get into because of how much time was spent discussing everything other than the sea captain’s adventures. If only there had been more details about the dwarf and why he was following the captain around.

“Mr. Justice Harbottle” made me think of the people in this world who have purposefully harmed others and never faced the consequences of those actions. Sometimes it can feel like justice will never be served in those cases. That made this an even more satisfying read. It was interesting to me to compare this  storyline to what happened in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” If you haven’t read that particular Dickens’ tale yet, definitely do check it out before reading this book. There’s not much else I can say about this one without giving away spoilers as the plot was pretty quickly paced and straightforward for this era.

Vintage Science Fiction Blog Challenge badge. It shows a rocket ship against a red background. There is a bubble city in the background. Pinning down the genre of ‘The Room in the Dragon Volant” was tricky. It dabbled in the mystery, adventure, horror,  thriller, and science fiction genres without ever fully committing to any of them. This is one of the reasons why I like reading speculative fiction from the 1800s so much. Just about anything could and often did pop up in a “science fiction” story back then. Authors didn’t seem to be as concerned with following the rules of their genre back then as many of them are today. With that being said, I struggled to get into this particular tale because of how much more time it spent jumping around from one idea to the next instead of focusing on character development. I never reached the point where I’d feel comfortable describing the personalities of the main characters in anything but the simplest details like what their professions were.

My favorite instalment in this book was ”Carmilla,” which, according to Wikipedia, was Bram Stoker’s inspiration for writing “Dracula.” The main character, Laura, was a young woman whose loving father had given her a safe but extremely sheltered life in a rural setting up until this point. She was naive about the outside world and incredibly excited to meet anyone new who crossed her path. When she reacted romantically to another woman, she didn’t have a word to describe her feelings. I thought it was fascinating to see how she handled these moments and what she thought was happening during them. Her father’s reactions to the rumours that were spreading around about various young women in the community who were suddenly dropping dead one after the next also piqued my interest. He blamed the fear surrounding those bizarre deaths on superstition and was far less interested in seeing if there were any specks of truth to the wild stories being passed around than I would have been. It made me wonder if he was in some ways even more sheltered than Laura was given how much faster she was to accept that something odd was happening.

In a Glass Darkly was a thought-provoking read. I’m glad I gave it a try for Vintage Science Fiction Month.

A Review of The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

Vintage Science Fiction month takes place every January, and has a few guidelines:

 – read, watch, listen to, or experience something science fiction / fantasy that was created in 1979 or earlier

 – talk about it online sometime in January

 – have fun

If any of my readers are interested in participating\ use the hashtag #VintageSciFiMonth or tag @VintageSciFi_ or @redhead5318 on Twitter if you’d like your posts to be included in the official retweets and roundups.  


The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. LeGuin book cover. Image on cover shows three humanoid figures walking away from the viewer into the sunrise on a flat, grassy plain. Title: The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas

Author: Ursula K. LeGuin

Publisher: Harper Perennial. It was originally published in the anthology New Dimensions, Volume 3.

Publication Date: 1973.

Genres: Science Fiction

Length: 22 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Some inhabitants of a peaceful kingdom cannot tolerate the act of cruelty that underlies its happiness.

Review:

Content warning: Child abuse.

What does it meant to live in the perfect society?

This is one of those stories that works best if you don’t know the twist that’s coming, so I’ll have to be careful about how I word this review.

Vintage Science Fiction Blog Challenge badge. It shows a rocket ship against a red background. There is a bubble city in the background. One of the most interesting things about this tale is how cheerfully it started out.  Omelas was a quiet, safe community where everyone’s needs were met. It wasn’t the most technologically advanced setting for a science fiction story, but that isn’t required for this genre. What mattered was showing the reader the many advantages of living there as those arguments would become important quite soon.

Like a lot of speculative fiction, there is a twist, of course. No, I’m not going to say what it was, only that it shocked my teenage brain the first time I read it as an assignment for a high school literature course. The tone of the storyline changed so abruptly that I went back and reread the first few sections to see if there was something I’d missed. It takes a talented writer to suddenly pull the readers into an entirely new direction like that in a way that feels perfectly natural (if unexpected) in retrospect, and I admired Le Guin’s ability to do just that.

The philosophical questions that popped up at the end were excellent, too. Memorable science fiction should challenge our assumptions about the world and make us question if our first response to a question is necessarily the best one. Yes, I know I’m being quite vague here, but this really is something that new readers should wrestle with themselves without any outside influence. There is no wrong or right answer here, but your reasons for picking the position you do will genuinely matter as the final scene ends and readers are left wondering what happened next and how they’d react in the same situation.

The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas is a classic. Go read it!

Home, Sweet Home: A Review of Christmas at Crownthorn Manor

Christmas at Crowthorn Manor - a Yuletide Ghost Story by Chris McGurk book cover. Image on cover shows a black and white photo of snow falling heavily on a cottage in the woods. There is a white car parked in front of the cottage.Title: Christmas at Crownthorn Manor – A Yuletide Ghost Story

Author: Chris McGurk

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: December 19, 2019

Genres: Young Adult, Holiday, Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 27 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Three brothers travelling home for Christmas become waylaid in a fierce snowstorm. Pulling up at an old manor house, they think they are in luck when the owners let them stay the night. But all is not as it seems at Crowthorn Manor on Christmas Eve… Reviving the much-loved tradition of the Christmas ghost story, Christmas at Crowthorn Manor will send shivers down your spine on your journey back home.

Review:

Content Warning: 1918 influenza pandemic, grief, death of children, World War I, prejudice, and suicide. I will mention the 1918 flu and Covid-19 in my review.

Christmas is supposed to be a happy time spent with loved ones. What happens to a Christmas that doesn’t meet these goals?

The 1918 flu is something I’ve been interested in since I was a kid, so I’m always happy to see it pop up in fiction. After the current pandemic began, I understood better why previous generations were often so reticent to discuss such things even years later. It can be painful to remember tragic stories about death, disability, grief, and suffering, and yet I think there’s something to be said for commemorating these topics in fiction when it’s appropriate to do so. Remembering the past is a way to honour the dead and to hopefully guide the decisions we make today to help everyone’s futures be healthier ones. The author sensitively included the societal, emotional, and medical effects of the 1918 flu here. They had excellent reasons for doing so that other readers should discover for themselves. These were some of my favorite passages in this short story, and I would have happily read more of them.

I did find myself wishing that more attention had been paid to how and when the author used the tropes of this genre. Anyone who is familiar with tales about characters who get lost on a snowy night and find themselves seeking shelter at a mysterious, old mansion will be able to figure out just about everything that is to come by the time they finish the first page. Yes, I know this was written for teenagers, but even with that taken into consideration I thought another round of editing would have made a difference. Tropes are good – or at least neutral – things in and of themselves, but they were utilized so heavily here that it negatively affected things like the character and plot development. I so badly wanted to give this a higher rating, and yet the predictability of it all was too much for me to do so.

With that being said, I loved the way the author incorporated modern technology and tools like cell phones, the Internet, and Google Maps into the storyline. It’s trickier for characters to get lost in believable ways these days due to all of the navigation and communication options we have in our phones when a road doesn’t lead to the place we thought it should, but these problems were all solved in logical ways here that worked well with the storyline and with what we already knew about the personalities of the main characters. This is something I always enjoy finding in fiction, and it has encouraged me to keep an eye out for what this author may write in the future.

Christmas at Crownthorn Manor – A Yuletide Ghost Story was a quick and spooky read.

 

Memories of Evil: a Review of The Empty House

The telling or reading of ghost stories during the Christmas season was once a tradition in Victorian England. This series of books seeks to revive this tradition. As I did in 2020 and 2021, I will continue reviewing several of them each December until I’ve reached the end of this series.  Title: The Empty House –… Read More

Restless History: A Review of How Fear Departed the Long Gallery

The telling or reading of ghost stories during the Christmas season was once a tradition in Victorian England. This series of books seeks to revive this tradition. As I did in 2020 and 2021, I will continue reviewing several of them each December until I’ve reached the end of this series.  Title: How Fear Departed the… Read More

Better Days to Come: A Review of The Merry Christmas Ghost

Title: The Merry Christmas Ghost Author: Dennis Warren Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: December 22, 2019 Genres: Horror, Paranormal, Holiday Length: 10 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: A haunted apartment. A very lonely woman. A violent criminal. All three have one thing in common: The Merry Christmas… Read More

Looking Back, Moving Forward: A Review of Ghost Stories for Christmas

Title: Ghost Stories for Christmas Author: Shane Brown Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: December 3, 2021 Genres: Paranormal, Holiday, Historical, Contemporary Length: 105 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: Five ghost stories set during the Christmas period to add an extra chill to the festive season! In “Houses… Read More

A Review of The Story of Sigurd the Dragonslayer

Title: The Story of Sigurd the Dragonslayer (Tales from the Volsunga Saga Book 2) Author: Liam G Martin Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: January 24, 2022 Genres: Fantasy, Adventure, Historical Length: 35 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 5 Stars Blurb: The Story of Sigurđ the Dragonslayer is part of The… Read More