Today is the day! We leave for our trip to Glasgow and Inverness, a trip we’ve been planning for over a year. So in honor of our big trip, I’m making a list of stories featuring tiny steps with big effects. This could be transformations, or parallels steps, or anything that seems small but has big consequences. So here goes!
1. The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson
This little novella published by Tor is a Lovecraftian retelling, in which the main character must figure out how to follow a young student at her school from their own world–with monsters of all sorts and a fixed number of star– into the real world of cars and cell phones and baristas. And all she has to do is step through the right doorway.
2. The Wanderers, by Meg Howrey
The true space age is upon us, but before we can blast off for Mars, we have to do the test run. In a seventeen month long experiment Helen and her two crew partners will simulate every possible aspect of leaving the surface of the earth, making the journey, landing, staying for a few weeks, and then leaving to come back to earth. In this fascinating thought experiment, Howrey creates real conditions for what three people who barely know each other would go through on the longest space journey humans have taken so far. And all without leaving the dust of Idaho.
3. Hammers on Bone, by Cassandra Khaw
This novella isn’t about stepping through a doorway, or simulating a long journey, but about stepping into another being. John Persons is a tentacled alien god-being who has assumed the body of an actual human, and is a private eye in seedy London, tasked with taking down the sinister step-father of a latchkey kid with a little too much savvy for a boy his age. Chaos, of course, ensues.
4. The Girl from Everywhere, by Heidi Heilig
Nix is a scholar, a historian, a sailor… and a time traveler. All she needs is a map, and she can go anywhere in the time it was created. Swept up by her father’s quest to get back to her mother, when Nix was just a baby, she steps from one world into another, sometimes even into fantasies, with a change of wind and sail.
5. Kabu Kabu, by Nnedi Okorafor
This book of short stories has the best prologue I’ve ever encountered for a collection. A young woman, running late for the airport, takes the most unexpected cab to the airport, but instead of dropping her off at the terminal, it takes her directly to her destination–her family’s home in Nigeria where she’s expected for a wedding. And then the reader is treated to a series of short stroies that represent some of the best of Okorafor’s writing, even among her novels. These stories have presence, the characters stick with you, and they are both speculative and nostalgic in a way only someone who has really been there can manage.
Hurrah, it’s Tuesday again. This week I’ve got some great SFF that’s alternative world without being based on the usual pseudo-medieval template that so many stories seem to rely on. Take a look, and let me know what non-medieval fantasy you enjoy!
The Obelisk Gate, by N.K. Jemisin
The same could be said of The Fifth Season, the first in the Broken Earth series, as well, however The Obelisk Gate is where the world building really picks up, for me. This series is a breath of fresh air, when it comes to imagining civilizations, using a form of proto-communism in which, when Season law is declared, every citizen of a community has a specific role, determined by their particular physical and intellectual traits, that is meant to help the community survive the deadly season caused by earthquakes and other tectonic miseries, which are so common on this unsteady continent called the Stillness. Also the writing is, as always, amazing, and everyone needs to read this series.
2. The Bone Universe (series), by Fran Wilde
Imagine a city in the sky, consisting of bone towers rising ever above the clouds, and people who move between the towers on wings made of silk. Then imagine an ancient lore, passed down for generations in song, because the weight of books is dangerous and ephemeral. Again, this is a story in which community is incredibly important, and is so interesting because of the conflicts that arise when tradition and change collide.
3. The Black Tides of Heaven (novella), by J.Y. Yang
Part of a duology, this novella imagines a world that, first of all, is reminiscent more of ancient Chinese or Southeast Asian civilizations and, second of all, is full of a magic called the Slack, which is used to perform many of the technological feats we take for granted today, but differently. Also, it’s a world in which gender is both fluid and self-determined; people in the Tensorate choose their gender, when they want to, and then have it confirmed by society, rather than the other way around. The characters and their motivations are compelling, a familiar story of children rebelling against a tyrant parent, but explored in new ways.
4. Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor
Though not explicitly stated, Binti comes from a tribal, semi-desert civilization which is reminiscent of some western African settings. Of course, this is a future earth, and so it’s just as easy to imagine a post singularity future in which people of African descent are the dominant civilizations as it is people of North American or European descent. That said, Binti comes from a world of space-farers, people who regularly travel across the galaxy and further for trade, education, and leisure. Binti is leaving her homeland to go to Oomza University, an entire planet set up for education. She deals with tribal beliefs that have to do with belonging and leaving, as well as the prejudices of outsiders, and then the added conflict of an alien species attempting to hijack her space ship. It’s a great beginning to a novella trilogy and entirely refreshing in its world building and point of view.
5. Eternal Sky (trilogy), by Elizabeth Bear
I talk about Elizabeth Bear a fair amount; she’s one of my favorite writers. This trilogy is both well-written and encompasses a world that, while having many of the same features as more familiar pseudo-medieval settings, is instead based on a Eurasian steppe/Middle East empire civilization. It holds a particularly close place in my reading heart because it reminds me so much of the year I lived in Astana, Kazakhstan, surrounded by artwork that could practically have sprung from imagery in these novels. It’s about a young man whose uncle attempts to wrest his birthright from him, and a princess-turned-wizard, who come together in unlikely circumstances to save the world. Also there are horse, and a species of Cheetah people, and giant eagles. Every novel needs giant eagles.
Maybe I’ll do a Tuesday List of giant eagle books next.
Wah, I finally got out to my indie bookstore (where I will only ever order my paper books, as long as I live close enough to the area to drive there) to pick up two books I had on order, one a new release, another the second in a trilogy I started eons ago and will finally get to finish.
So, with the books I picked up earlier this fall, I present The Haul:
Stone in the Skull, by Elizabeth Bear
The Poisoned Blade, by Kate Elliott
Buried Heart, by Kate Elliott
Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie
Binti and Binti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor
And I also put in an order for a book I had meant to pre-order, but somehow forgot:
future and the past collide in The Book
of Phoenix, a prologue to Okorafor’s Who
Fears Death, as an old man finds a cave full of old computers out in the
desert and stumbles upon a story from the distant past—and the future. Our future, that is. When that old man begins to listen to
the story of Phoenix, we come face to face with the present taken to its
logical extreme. With aliens,
wings, and a bit of magical realism, the reader is taken on a turbulent ride
through the life of Phoenix Okore.
The Book of Phoenix, unlike many future
dystopia novels, lives purely in a fantasy realm of its own making, like a
world in which matter is not subject to the usual forces of gravity. Okorafor writes a brand of fantasy that
builds on Western African and other folklores, using the validity of those
beliefs and magics to interrogate the commonly held assumptions most American
whites make every day about those they other in order to define their own
identities. Okorafor’s use of
estrangement is an affective tool in building a narrative that relies on the
‘found footage’ trope to tell a story of the world’s apocalypse. Her rare blend of escapism and bleak
futurism provide a compelling story that keeps the reader hooked.
novel uses first-person narration to tell how Phoenix was born in a corporate
research tower, a created human with strange powers that the people who made
her hope to use as a weapon, most likely against the colonized peoples they are
already oppressing. The use of
first-person often relies on exposition, which may have the effect of pushing
readers out of the future world that Phoenix lives in, and stretching the
suspension of disbelief at the wonders achieved even by those least qualified
to be stewards for the world. Having
Phoenix tell her own story, though, is important to the narrative, and helps to
portray Phoenix as both powerful and fallible, able to achieve impossible
things while also a victim of her own strong emotions and the ignorance of her
own history in which she has been raised.
interested in dystopia that remembers the rest of the world—not just North
America or Europe—will enjoy traveling with Phoenix as she seeks asylum and
acceptance across continents and oceans.
Those who like their fantasy to stray more towards magical realism or
the supernatural will enjoy Okorafor’s use of myth and folklore to build a
world in which nearly anything is possible. Readers looking for a novel that is part of a connected
world of stories should check out The
Book of Phoenix and its sister novel Who
Fears Death, with a further stop at Kabu
Kabu, Okorafor’s collection of short stories which was published between
question is simple: What would happen, what stories would come out of it, if an
alien presence landed in Lagos, Nigeria?
The answer is anything but simple.
Life, it turns out, doesn’t stop when something unbelievable
happens. You may become the center
of an unbelievable story, but you are still part of something larger, and
everything becomes much more complicated before it ever dreams of being simple
again. So Adaora, Agu, and Anthony
discover when they are contacted by a being who calls herself Ayodele, who can
change her shape, and wants to be the ambassador between her people and the
people of Nigeria.
Lagoon reads almost more like a series
of stories than as a novel, full as it is of short chapters and small moments
between secondary characters.
Though the main story follows Adaora and her companions, readers see how
even when they become the heroes of this story they are still pulled in many
directions by forces and connections they have built up over their entire
lives. In this way, Okorafor
imbues Lagos with both an agelessness and an immediacy that allow myths to live
and old gods to rule. Who is
pulling the strings, the reader wonders. The aliens? Adaora, somehow taking the reins of her life and
the lives of those around her?
Some other presence that has been in Nigeria all along?
began Lagoon in response to the film District 9, and in it one can see the
response also to a culture in love with superheroes who become larger than life
and, eventually, above the lives of those they are meant to protect,
approaching even godhood. The
underlying questions of who is really controlling this story interrogate
superhero culture—interrogate many aspects of modern technological culture and
media including traditional militarized narratives of alien visitation—until,
again, all we are left with are people who might possess something special that
pushes them into this story, but who still have a connection to where they came
from and essentially never forget who they are amidst the chaos of the alien’s
writing in Lagoon is sparse and very
close to the characters she’s writing—getting in their heads in a way that,
again, hints to the reader that this is not a novel, as advertised, but someone
else’s story entirely—and motivation is key in this novel in a way that really
highlights how motivation is sublimated in stories like District 9 or Independence
Day in favor of valorizing the heroes of their respective stories. Okorafor’s style in this novel also
really localizes the story in a way that is intentionally alienating to readers
not connected to Nigeria or its history, a method that both has a significant
pay-off at the end, and gives the novel its extended metaphor of a person or
group of people finding their true home, coming to terms with their past, or
otherwise righting some existing wrong.
interested in the intersection of science fiction and environmental change will
enjoy the ways Lagoon looks at
humanity’s effect on the environment and how it can be interpreted by
outsiders. Fans of contemporary
science fiction will enjoy the immediacy of Okorafor’s story, as will those
looking for a story that decenters traditional United States-centric science
fiction narratives. Readers of
“new weird” science fiction and fantasy will enjoy the ways that Okorafor
blends myth, science, and horror elements to create a story that challenges
readers on many levels.
So last week I posted about books being published in 2016 that I’m excited about.
Now I’m going to talk about the books I’m looking forward to reading in 2016. This is a slightly different list, since I don’t have the money or the time to buy everything I’m excited about right when it comes out, and actually read it. My to-read stack isn’t as big as many, but it’s big enough. So here are a few that I’ve been working towards, and plan to get to this year.
Of course, more will be added to this stack, and I will, of course, post review of the ones that qualify for this blog. You can also find all my review at goodreads here
Court of Fives, by Kate Elliott
It’s Kate Elliott! It’s YA, which I don’t read a ton of, but it’s Kate Elliott! Here’s a synopsis from her website, kateelliott.com
“In this imaginative escape into an enthralling new world, World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliott’s first young adult novel weaves an epic story of a girl struggling to do what she loves in a society suffocated by rules of class and privilege.
Jessamy’s life is a balance between acting like an upper class Patron and dreaming of the freedom of the Commoners. But at night she can be whoever she wants when she sneaks out to train for The Fives, an intricate, multi-level athletic competition that offers a chance for glory to the kingdom’s best competitors. Then Jes meets Kalliarkos, and an unlikely friendship between a girl of mixed race and a Patron boy causes heads to turn. When a scheming lord tears Jes’s family apart, she’ll have to test Kal’s loyalty and risk the vengeance of a powerful clan to save her mother and sisters from certain death.”
Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafor
Another YA, another author I’ve come to really enjoy, so of course I need to read more than just her adult novels.
Here’s a synopsis from her website nnedi.com
“Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born in New York City. She looks West African, but is so sensitive to the sun that she can’t play soccer during the day. She doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere.Then she learns why.Her classmate Orlu and his friend Chichi reveal that they have magical abilities- and so does she. Sunny is a “free agents,” overflowing with latent power. And she has a lot of catching up to do.Orlu and Chichi have been working with their teacher for years. Sunny needs a crash course in magical history, spells, juju, shape-shifting and dimensional travel. Her new world is a secret from her family, but it’s well worth all of the silence, exhaustion and sneaking around.Still, there is a dark side. After she’s found her footing, Sunny, Orlu, Chichi, and their American friend Sasha are asked by the magical authorities to help track down a criminal. Not just a run-of-the-mill bad guy. A real-life hardcore serial killer-with abilities far stronger than theirs.Ursula Le Guin and Diana Wynne Jones are Nnedi Okorafor fans. As soon as you start reading Akata Witch, you will be, too.”
Almanac of the Dead, by Leslie Marmon Silko
I picked this one up mostly by chance at my local indie books story, Burlingham Books, in Perry, New York. They have a small-ish collection, but it’s always varied, always thought-provoking. I’ve only read one or two novels by Native writers in the past, and decided to fix that, so this will be my starting point.
Here’s a synopsis from Wikipedia, since she doesn’t seem to have her own website
“Almanac of the Dead takes place against the backdrop of the American Southwest and Central America. It follows the stories of dozens of major characters in a somewhat non-linear narrative format. Much of the story takes place in the present day, although lengthy flashbacks and occasional mythological storytelling are also woven into the plot.
The novel’s numerous characters are often separated by both time and space, and many seemingly have little to do with one another at first. A majority of these characters are involved in criminal or revolutionary organizations – the extended cast includes arms dealers, drug kingpins, an elite assassin, communist revolutionaries, corrupt politicians and a black market organ dealer.
Driving many of these individual storylines is a general theme of total reclamation of Native American lands.”
Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler
This one has been a long time coming. I’m not sure what took me so long to get to Butler, but the lack will soon be remedied. Here’s a synopsis from octaviabutler.org
“When unattended environmental and economic crises lead to social chaos, not even gated communities are safe. In a night of fire and death Lauren Olamina, a minister’s young daughter, loses her family and home and ventures out into the unprotected American landscape. But what begins as a flight for survival soon leads to something much more: a startling vision of human destiny… and the birth of a new faith.”
Bronze Gods, by A.A. Aguirre
I read a YA by Ann Aguirre a year or so ago, and enjoyed it, and now she’s working on a steampunk series with her husband, Andres. I’ve found that steampunk is a subgenre I really enjoy, so I bought this book (quite) a while ago, and it’s been sitting on my shelf ever since. 2016 is the year it gets moved to the permanent shelves!
Here’s a synopsis from Ann’s website
“Janus Mikani and Celeste Ritsuko work all hours in the Criminal Investigation Division, keeping citizens safe. He’s a charming rogue with an uncanny sixth sense; she’s all logic—and the first female inspector. Between his instincts and her brains, they collar more criminals than any other partnership in the CID. Then they’re assigned a potentially volatile case where one misstep could end their careers. At first, the search for a missing heiress seems straightforward, but when the girl is found murdered—her body charred to cinders—Mikani and Ritsuko’s modus operandi will be challenged as never before. Before long, it’s clear the bogeyman has stepped out of nightmares to stalk gaslit streets, and it’s up to them to hunt him down. There’s a madman on the loose, weaving blood and magic in an intricate, lethal ritual that could mean the end of everything…”
The New Moon’s Arms, by Nalo Hopkinson
Nalo Hopkinson! Another author I discovered because of Burlingham Books. I’m tempted to say her fiction is a little on the outside of my taste range, but that’s not really true. I love her work; it’s mainstream SFF that says she should be on the outside of my tastes. She says a lot that needs to be said, which is, I think, more important than conforming.
Here’s a synopsis, in her own words, from her website nalohopkinson.com
“my novel The New Moon’s Arms was a February 2007 release from Warner/Hachette Books. It’s my fourth novel. I was thinking about Nandor Fodor’s theory that poltergeist phenomena are “caused not by spirits but by human agents suffering from intense repressed anger, hostility, and sexual tension.” Some say that this may be why poltergeists so often manifest around young adults just going into puberty (primarily women, I think). The idea is that reaching sexual maturity in societies as sexually repressed as many of ours can be disturbing enough to some people that they begin to generate psychic phenomena. I’m not in the business of theorizing whether that’s true or not. I was more interested in the idea. If the beginning of menstruation can be magic, I began to think about what it might be like if there were out-of-control psychic phenomena similarly associated with the ending of menstruation. Magical menopause! Enter my protagonist, who’s 53 years old and going through the Change of life, but with some changes peculiarly her own:
I was boiling. When the sun got so warm?
“…most primitive living pinnipeds,” said Hector.
God, the heat was getting worse.
“…derelict fishing nets…danger…”
Hector didn’t even seem to notice it. Me, my whole body was burning. I could feel the tips of my ears getting red, my cheeks flushing.
“…Brucella…Calamity? You all right?”
“I don’t know. Too much sun.” I wiped some perspiration from my brow. My hand came away wet.
“You sweating like you just run a marathon.”
“A lady doesn’t sweat.” But the dried salt from it was irritating my hand. I rubbed the hand against the fabric of my pants. “Jesus, it so hot!”
Hector looked worried. “That tree over there will give you some shade. Come.”
But before we could take a step, something soft and light grazed my head from above, then landed at Hector’s feet. “The hell is that?” he cried out. He bent to pick it up.
“It didn’t hurt me. I’m okay.” Much better, in fact. The heat was passing off rapidly. I was even chilly.
Hector straightened up. “Where this came from?” He looked up at the sky. I followed his gaze. Nothing but blue. Not even the cloud that must have just covered the sun and made me shiver.
Hector showed me the thing he was holding. I blinked the sun’s glare out of my eyes.
I grabbed her out of Hector’s hand. Bare Bear. Chastity’s Bare Bear. Held so tightly and loved so hard that her little stuffed rump was threadbare, her little gingham dress long gone. “Where this came from?”
“Look like it just fell out of the sky.”
“No, man; don’t joke. It must have washed up with the tide.”
“And landed on your head?”
“I don’t know; maybe this was on the sand already, and something else fell on my head.” Bare Bear winked her one glass eye at me. So long I hadn’t seen her. “A leaf from out a sea grape tree, something like that. Right, Bare Bear?” I hugged Lucky Bare Bear to my chest. I grinned at Hector. “She get small over the years, or I get big.” She still fit in her old place, up against my breastbone.
“You feeling sick?” He asked. “You didn’t look too good just now.”
“I feel wonderful,” I answered.
And because I sometimes like a little science with my fiction, I also resurrected the extinct Caribbean monk seal. Sort of.”
Lagoon, Nnedi Okorafor
Because it just looks so gorgeous. No. Well, yes, but also because I’m a completist and she’s a great writer.
Here’s a synopsis from her website nnedi.com
“When a massive object crashes into the ocean off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous and legendary city, three people wandering along Bar Beach (Adaora, the marine biologist- Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa- Agu, the troubled soldier) find themselves running a race against time to save the country they love and the world itself… from itself. Lagoon expertly juggles multiple points of view and crisscrossing narratives with prose that is at once propulsive and poetic, combining everything from superhero comics to Nigerian mythology to tie together a story about a city consuming itself.At its heart a story about humanity at the crossroads between the past, present, and future, Lagoon touches on political and philosophical issues in the rich tradition of the very best science fiction, and ultimately asks us to consider the things that bind us together – and the things that make us human.”
In a future northeastern Africa two groups of people live,
waiting for the last sigh that will bring them to all-out war. They have existed in the same space for
centuries, the lighter skinned group having dominion over the darker, with
occasional rebellions and reprisals.
Some outlying villages of Okeke—the darker skinned group—manage to live
in relative peace and prosperity away from the rule of the Nuru. Some have even managed to forget the
depravities and terrorism wrought against their people in the East.
Onyesonwu can never forget. Being
a child of rape—a Nuru man brutally attacking her mother—Onyesonwu is marked
because she is different, both in appearance and in other ways. While Who Fears Death is the story of Onyesonwu, the novel has the impact
that it does because it encompasses many stories, and grows in complexity the
further in the reader goes, rather than simply wrapping everything up in a
pretty bow at the end.
writes in the first person—Onyesonwu telling her own story. Onyesonwu’s voice comes through
strongly, and from her narration the reader gets even more a sense of who she
is and what she’s like. She speaks
plainly and sincerely, with no apology for her moments of extreme emotion and
occasional violent outbursts. One
of the refreshing points of the novel, in fact, is that there are often three
or four female characters featured who have a range of personalities and
viewpoints. The reader doesn’t
experience the tunnel vision often created by a female narrative in an all-male
world. Onyesonwu has a sounding
board for her opinions and experiences, and her friends are not afraid to
disagree with her. Though Who Fears Death takes place in a fantasy
setting, it therefore feels much more real from a human perspective than a
great many “realistic” or non-fantasy novels.
Who Fears Death is evenly paced,
encompassing a relatively large amount of time by sharing events in short
bursts throughout Onyesonwu’s journey from her home to the land of her
father. Readers who enjoy vividly
realized scenes should find Okorafor’s sorcery-filled encounters to their
liking, as she writes unselfconsciously about fantasy subjects in a way that
allows the reader to step seamlessly from page to story. Readers looking for non-Western
(American or Western European) fantasy settings will enjoy Okorafor’s detailed
desert settings and cultures. This
novel will appeal to readers who enjoy dystopia and ecological (climate change)
science fiction. Readers of
Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler will find much to love in Who Fears Death, and indeed in all of