Friday 29 March 2024

Earwig by B. Catling (Coronet) | review by Stephen Theaker

This review originally appeared in Interzone #284, November–December 2019).

The cover of this short novel has traps for the unwary reader. Despite the artwork, the book does not feature a cat-faced girl, nor does the girl listen at walls with a glass. And do not read the cover flap, which provides a synopsis of the entire novel.

Monday 25 March 2024

Immaculate | review by Stephen Theaker

Sydney Sweeney, who also produces, plays Cecilia, a young American woman whose church has closed due to lack of attendance. Surviving a childhood accident on an icy lake left Cecilia convinced that God has a plan for her, so now she travels to an Italian convent to take her vows and become a novitiate. The work is hard, physically and emotionally: the rules are strict and the nunnery offers end-of-life care to those who require it, including patients with severe dementia. But Sister Cecelia is a true believer in the power of religion and she really takes to life in the convent. She even makes friends, like fellow nun Sister Gwen (Benedetta Porcaroli) and suspiciously charming priest Father Sal Tedeschi (Alvaro Morte).

Friday 22 March 2024

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, Season 1 | review by Stephen Theaker

This review originally appeared in TQF73 (April 2023).

Jennifer Walters is a lawyer who gains the power to transform into She-Hulk, thanks to her blood being mixed with that of her gamma-infused cousin, Bruce Banner. This television version of her story is largely based on the Dan Slott run of She-Hulk comics, where she works as a lawyer with superhuman clients, but it retains the fourth-wall breaking of the earlier John Byrne run. Tatiana Maslany plays the lead.

Wednesday 20 March 2024

Positive: A Novel by David Wellington (Harper Voyager) | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

More than a mark: lesson on compassionate leadership disguised as zombie story.

During his westward journey, exile Finnegan (aka Finn) encounters a large sign that says, “The world takes.” It’s a fitting summary for the post-apocalyptic world he traverses, a world full of zombies and even more dangerous predators of the human variety. 

Monday 18 March 2024

Hell to Pay by Matthew Hughes (Angry Robot) | review by Stephen Theaker

Chesney Armstruther should be having the time of his life. The events of the two previous novels in the To Hell and Back trilogy (The Damned Busters and Costume Not Included, reviewed in TQF37 and TQF48 respectively) left him with superpowers, a nice girlfriend in Melda McCann, lots of money, and a cigar-smoking, weasel-faced, wish-granting demon at his beck and call. Plus, thanks to meeting a version of Jesus from an earlier draft of the universe, he’s now free of the autism that had previously bedevilled his interactions with other humans. But he isn’t really any happier. He might understand people’s emotions better now, but that doesn’t mean he knows what to do about them. Previously, he was at least happy within his areas of certainty, his pools of white light, but now it’s all grey areas.

Friday 15 March 2024

Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes | review by Stephen Theaker

This review originally appeared in Interzone #284 (November–December 2019).

Eye-catching cover art by Julie Dillon gives a good idea of what’s inside: goofball space opera with a more serious protagonist. She is Captain Eva-Benita Caridad Alvarez y Coipel de Innocente, who hasn’t spoken to her family in years, since the awful incident at Garilia. She owns a slightly old-fashioned spaceship, La Sirena Negra, a keep-your-mouth-shut present from her estranged spaceship-dealer father, and we meet her just as she and her crew run into even more trouble than usual.

Saturday 9 March 2024

The Parades | review by Stephen Theaker

After a huge earthquake hits Japan, a 35-year-old single mother and journalist, Minako (Masami Nagasawa), drowns in the subsequent tsunami. Not that she realises at first. She wakes up on a beach strewn with wreckage and of course her first thought is to find Ryo, her seven-year-old son. Rescue workers ignore her questions. So do survivors, and a colleague from work. The first person to acknowledge her is her colleague’s daughter – because the little girl died too. Later, as Minako searches through the rubble, a young man, Akira (Kentarô Sakaguchi), calls to her from his van. He can see her, and she can touch his arm. She’s in such a state that he offers her a lift to where he is staying, a cosy outdoor bar in a little fairground in the middle of nowhere. He tells her it’s a gathering place for people like them, by which he means those who died with regrets and aren’t ready to move on.

Friday 8 March 2024

Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells (Tordotcom) | review by Stephen Theaker

This review previously appeared in Interzone #290-291 (March-June 2021).

The rogue SecUnit (an android "made of cloned human tissue, augments, anxiety, depression, and unfocused rage") returns for Fugitive Telemetry, its sixth adventure, though to its own slight discomfort it is somewhat less of a rogue than before. Now it has friends, and its friends have expectations. So when a murder is apparently committed on Preservation Station, a place where such events are extremely rare, SecUnit is expected to help. There is some discomfort on the station about having a former murderbot on board, but its new friend Mensah has enough sway to override objections.

Wednesday 6 March 2024

Cackle by Rachel Harrison (Berkley) | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Aimless woman desperate for a man finds mysterious woman desperate for a friend in dully taught lesson on female autonomy.

Cackle is a call for women to stop kowtowing to men and to develop their own voices. Unfortunately, excepting a charming spider and some unruly teens, the story isn’t all that interesting.

Monday 4 March 2024

Lisa Frankenstein | review by Stephen Theaker

1989: the unfortunately named Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton) has a new home and a new school. When Lisa was a little younger, her mum was killed by an axe murderer. Her dad has now married Janet (Carla Gugino), a nasty piece of work who thinks very little of Lisa. Stepsister Taffy (Liza Soberano) does her best to be nice but isn’t very good at it. After another girl deliberately gives Lisa a spiked drink at a party, and her science lab partner sexually assaults her, she takes a shortcut home through her favourite graveyard. She wishes she could be with the subject of her favourite bit of statuary, a piano player who died young in 1837 (Cole Sprouse, one half of the little kid in Big Daddy).

Friday 1 March 2024

Black Adam | review by Stephen Theaker

This review originally appeared in TQF73 (April 2023).

Archaeologists in the country of Kahndaq, currently in the grip of a private security company, discover the tomb of an ancient hero. Betrayal leads mercenaries to the scene, but when Black Adam awakes, they die, most violently. The film then follows Black Adam as he connects with his country's current inhabitants, fights its occupying force, and battles a quartet of Justice Society members, sent from the US to bring him in line.