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Meanderings and Maunderings on the Edge of Science Fiction and Fantasy

I love sff, but I don’t always read or write about it.  In this world, pretty much everything’s science fiction, somehow or other.

 

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The Tuesday List: American Heart

No, this isn’t about that horrible-sounding YA novel built on white guilt and Islamaphobia, it’s about books that really get to the heart of “America,” America being the United States and what it was built upon.

  1. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

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2. Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi

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3. Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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4. Welcome to Braggsville, by T. Geronimo Johnson

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5. Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler

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Bonus # 6!

An Extraordinary Union, by Alyssa Cole

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The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, by Theodora Goss

In this metafictional Sherlock Holmes mystery, all the greatest villains of 19th century horror fiction finally give us what we’ve all been waiting for: amazing daughters who kick ass and do things their own way.  But what is the true mystery?  Is it the real reason Mary’s mother sank into illness verging on madness and died, years after the supposed death of Dr. Jekyll himself, or is it the secrets of the Societe des Alchemists, to whom Dr. Jekyll  may have belonged?  Or is it the story of what happened to Hyde, in the end?

The biggest mystery, of course, is why we didn’t get this story sooner.  It’s a madcap dash through Victorian London, from the slums of Whitechapel–home to Jack the Ripper himself–to the manicured gardens of Regent’s Park, all the way to the docks and beyond, chasing after murders and mysteries, with the reader holding on for dear life to follow the disjointed narrative and the zigzagging story at the same time.  The idea that all the classic science fiction and horror “geniuses” of their day might have left a trail of pissed off and capable women in their wake is all too realistic, and the found-family feeling of the novel holds it together long after the initial mystery is solved.

While some readers might be put off by the narrative style and what could be considered derivative use of existing stories, Goss brilliantly captures the feeling of a Holmes mystery, the immersive style of a Dickens drama, the melodrama of Dorian Gray and his ilk, adding a modern sensibility about character and agency that will make many readers feel right at home.  The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter fits in well with other transformational works like Cat Valente’s In the Night Garden and Kij Johnson’s The Dream -Quest of Velitt Boe, in which women are monstrous, or genius, or both, but most importantly they are present.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is a fast-paced read that keeps the story chugging along with significant narrative action sequences connecting stationary chunks of exposition, usually character backstory told by the characters themselves, lending both context and a deeper insight into each woman and the reason for her strong connection to the others.  It’s a satisfying story that at the same time begs a sequel or a series.  The more one learns about these extraordinary women, the more one wants to know.

 

 

 

 

Framed as the newest case for Holmes and Watson, brought to them by Mary Jekyllafter the death of her long-suffering mother, the story is set up as a multi-layered fictional novel being written by Catherine Moreau, long after the case has been solved, but with commentary from Mary and Catherine and all the other women whom they have befriended and are part of the story in their own ways.

Pub Day Excitement: Stone in the Skull

Weee, it’s pub day for one of my favorite authors!

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Stone in the Skull lives in the same universe as the Eternal Sky trilogy, but takes place over in the Lotus Kingdoms, where a few of the supporting characters either come from or have lived.  I’m super exicted that  Elizabeth Bear chose to expand this universe and write more!

The Tuesday List: Parallelisms

What if you could step out of this world, the “real” world, and into another?  All the books on this list imagine just that, in their own way.

1. Roses and Rot, Kat Howard

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At a retreat for artists, where other worlds are explored through visual art, music, writing, Imogen discovers that there is another world waiting just beyond the borders of the property, and is confronted by the question of what she would do, when offered the chance at not only a glimpse of this world, but success beyond her dreams.

2. A Daughter of No Nation, A.M. Dellamonica

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This one is actually the second in a series, but somehow managed to slip past my orderly reading practices.  Sophie returns to the world of Stormwrack, made up of brief archipelagos of land among the wilds of the oceans.  Magic is involved, and a lot of nautical journeying.

3. A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E.Schwab

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Follow Kell and his magical coat as he moves between red, gray, and white London, smuggling magical items between worlds, until he meets with Lila in grey London and is confronted by true darkness.

4. A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki

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This isn’t really a novel about slipping between parallel worlds, but about the parallelisms that happen when artifacts of one life bleed into another’s, when life in one’s personal world becomes more than they can bear and only slipping into someone else’s life offers and succor.

5. Sorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho

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Cho moves the faery story into the 21st century with this novel of magic and sorcery in early empire Great Britain, in which a new Sorcerer Royal, former African slave Zacharias Wythe, is tasked with finding the reason for the decline of magic in Britain who runs head on into a young woman, Prunella Gentleman, determined to make her way in the world and learn the true story of her parentage and magical inheritance.

Fast Fiction: Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience, by Rebecca Roanhorse

From Issue 99 of Apex Magazine, “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience” is a story about settlers, written for Natives.  But also the kind of story that settlers need to read.  I say written for Natives because although it’s a story, with a beginning, middle, end, climax, etc, it’s also an experience in itself, and probably cathartic in a “finally someone gets it” way.  But of course Roanhorse would, being that it’s part of an own voices “special” issue.

Written from the point of view of an Indian (using this terminology because the story does), but in second person present, it walks the reader through a metaphorical (and yet all-too-real) journey through appropriation–not only of cultural accouterments, but of land, life, peace of mind, happiness.  It’s a story of what happens when those outside a culture get to define that culture, and is written with the world-weary feeling that accompanies knowing it’s happened over and over, for so many, and will go on happening.

Personally, I look forward to reading the rest of the stories in Apex 99 and wish they’d go out of their way to publish more like it.  But being the kind of magazine that attracts submissions like this might be something Apex isn’t up to.  I don’t know yet, as I’ve only had a subscription for a few months.  But we’ll see.

 

September Library Checkouts

I felt like a read a fair amount this month, but my library checkouts were relatively low.  I also read some ARCs, and try to throw in some stuff off the “purchased” pile.  Here’s what I (can remember that I) checked out.

 

The Reluctant Queen, by Sara Beth Durst

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The Strange Case of the Alchemists’s Daughter, by Theodora Goss

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Prudence, by Gail Carriger (overdrive audiobook)

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An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir (overdrive audiobook)

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The Tuesday List: Across the Universe

This week’s Tuesday list features books in which characters travel across the stars, whether to seek revenge, to see what’s out there, or to recall the past.  They’re a wide-ranging lot, but that’s the best part about the Tuesday List!

  1. Radiance, Cat Valente

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Radiance is one of those books that dazzles with style, imagination, and pure guts, and makes you wonder just how the author was able to keep it all together long enough to finish.  It’s an alt-universe, surreal take on a world in which space travel became possible around the turn of the 20th century, when the moon was colonized before talking pictures were a thing, and the story of a man seeking to tell the final story of his daughter, a film-maker like him, and yet nothing like him.  It’s beatiful, melancholy, and more than a bit noir, a brilliant homage to groundbreaking science fiction and filmmaking a la A Trip to the Moon, the 1902 french silent film.

2. Planetfall, Emma Newman

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Stumbling forth from a near-future that is only too familiar, the characters in Emma Newman’s Planetfall have made the perilous journey across the universe to a new planet, guided by what can only be an alien intelligence.  But it’s as much a pscyhological thriller as it is science fiction, and what Renata, a brilliant engineer in the field of 3D printing technology that can meet any conceivable need, knows is at the heart of it.

3. Noumenon, Marina J. Lostetter

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Taking a nod from popular hard science fiction predecessors, Noumenon is a startling speculative work while at the same time being an introspective look at humanity and our search for meaning in the wider  universe.  Told in vignettes that skip forward through the generations, it packs thousands of years of history into one epic journey to a distant, unique star.

4. Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie

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Revenge is a dish best served with tea.  The Raadch have colonized planet after planet, making use not only of superior military power, but the advanced technologies of cloning and artificial intelligence.  Breq used to be an entire ship, but now she is just one humanoid, determined to make the Raadch pay for a wrong committed long in the past, but one she can never forgive or forget.

5. The Stars Change, Mary Anne Mohanraj

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One’s view of the stars may change, but human life continues on.  For a university professor and others on a planet dedicated to learning and research, conflict can tear some apart, but it can also bring them together.  Humans and non-humans alike experience joy, pain, and love in a story that really puts the spec into spec fiction.