S.C. Jensen is a writer and artist living in Middle-of-Nowhere, Saskatchewan, Canada. Please don't hold it against her.
She is currently writing a quarterly magazine for Northern Saskatchewan, called The Trailblazer. She also writes some short fiction in the speculative fiction and folk genres, and is working on her second sci-fi novel, Ghostlights.
Her short story "The Spirit of Settee Lake" was featured in the online publication, "Good Medicine Stories with Lee Maracle and Richard Van Camp".
Her first novel, "The Timekeepers' War," published by Bedlam Press, was released in 2014 and can be purchased at most online book retailers.
Steaming jungles, huge slithering snakes, and a mysterious prophecy…
Oh, and pirates! Don’t forget the pirates!
Spring has only just sprung here in the Great White (Brown?) North but I’m so ready for some summery beach reads.
Don’t get me wrong. I love springtime, but it takes a touch of the tropics to warm my bones after a long, cold winter.
That’s why I’m so excited to announce the new cover and upcoming releases of one of my favourite indie fantasy writers, The Secret Library by M.J. McGriff!
I have met a lot of fantastic indie writers over the years and I’ve read a lot of fabulous indie books. And M.J. McGriff is one of the most fantastic and fabulous. So I’m thrilled to be able to share the release of her second novel in the Magian Series, The Secret Library.
McGriff writes YA fantasy adventure novels full of swashbuckling pirates, magical prophecies, and tons of sassy dialogue. The Magian Series Book One: Macario’s Scepter is a fast-pasted, rollicking fun book that I read in a single sitting. And I was thrilled to be able to be an advanced reader for it’s sequel,The Secret Library.
If you love Indian Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean, you’ll love these books!
Happy cover reaveal, M.J. McGriff! It looks amazing!
When a surly pirate and a treasure-hunting nun fall into a cursed jungle with the Order captain tasked with their capture—what else could possibly go wrong?
Seraphina Davalos left her seminary and inserted herself into Captain Mari Adlam’s pirate crew to gain passage to a mysterious isle said to hide a secret library. In this library is the knowledge her twin sister—the one chosen by the gods to wield Macario’s Scepter—needs to defeat the awakening monsters and stop the end of the world.
No big deal, right? Unfortunately, Captain Luis Fozo is much less concerned with taboo myths and impending doom. He’s determined to exact revenge on the pirates responsible for his brother’s death.
His plan goes sideways, however, when he falls through an ancient portal and is forced to work together with Seraphina and Mari to survive sirens, harpies, diabolical traps, and whatever else the cursed jungle conjures on their path to the library—and escape.
Their alliance is only temporary, though. He doesn’t believe their conspiracy theories about the world ending in the slightest. And he certainly, most definitely—without question—is not falling for a brave, naive nun who’s as intelligent as she is beautiful.
It’s only a few days, a few monsters, and a few curses. How bad could it be?
A funny, page-turning adventure great for fans of Indiana Jones with a dash of Pirates of The Caribbean.
Pre-Order Today and Swag Away!
You can preorder this tropical adventure right now at major retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more! When you do, you can score awesome preorder swag that gets you ready for warmer weather. Just visit @mj_mcgriff’s Instagram bio to preorder the book and submit your receipt for swag!
Have you read any good pirate tales lately? Share them in the comments below!
Next to the question “Do I really need an author newsletter?” the most common question that I field from my fellow authors is this: “I know I need a newsletter, but where do I start?”
How to Build a Mailing List in 5 Easy Steps
I’m taking a break from refreshing my KDP dashboard to check my pre-order numbers in the last few hours before Tropical Punch goes live on Amazon, to bring you my answer to this question.
There are a lot of different ways to build a newsletter. I’m not going to try to tell you all of them. I’m going to keep things as simple as possible and tell you what I did.
#1 Think of All the Reasons Why a Newsletter Will Not Work For You
I bet you have a list of them ready to fire off at me right now.
I know, because I literally spent years refining and reinforcing this list in my own mind and avoiding what I knew needed to be done.
It’s too hard. It takes too much time. Nobody will read it. Everyone hates junk mail. I don’t want to give away my hard work to freebie seekers.
Are you done yet?
Now, write them down on a piece of paper.
Crumple that paper up into a ball.
And light it on fire.
We’re done with that now. We’re going to commit to giving this a solid effort for 6 months before we give up.
Okay then. Now, onto…
#2 Choose a Reader Magnet
A reader magnet is the cookie you are going to use to entice people to join your mailing list.
In order to get the most out of this newsletter experiment, this must be chosen strategically.
Reader Magnets for fiction writers can be: sample chapters, short stories, novellas, or full length novels.
For non-fiction writers: sample chapters, how-to-guides, collections of your favourite blog posts, essays, or complete books. (One marketing expert I follow swears by quizzes as the best magnet for non-fiction writers and other creative businesses. I have no experience with this myself but it’s intriguing! Check out Nikki Clark here.)
I’m going to deal with fiction writers for the most part, but most of these points can be adapted.
Your Reader Magnet Should:
Be connected to your other work.
Be professionally edited.
Have a professional cover.
Be a complete story or guide rather than a sample.
Have a link in the backmatter where readers can buy the next book.
Let’s break this down a bit.
If you are going to give away for free something that you have put your blood, sweat, and tears into, you want to expect a reasonable return on that investment. The goal of the reader magnet is to lead readers toward buying your other books.
If you are still working on your magnum opus, you can still start building a mailing list. Arguably the best time to start your list is BEFORE you publish anything beyond the reader magnet.
A strategic reader magnet will help you build an audience before your first book even comes out. That’s gold.
EVEN IF YOU HAVEN’T WRITTEN ANY OTHER BOOKS YET!
What is a strategic reader magnet?
Ideally, it will be connected to your other work. Best is a direct connection, like a prequel, origin, or backstory for one of your characters. At the very least, it must be in the same sub-genre as your other books.
(Note: If you have more than one series, you can use more than one reader magnet. In this case you will likely need to run two separate mailing lists, unless they genres are closely related. We’re just starting out, though, so pick one.)
In my experience, and from the vast amount of research I’ve done reading about other people experiences, the ideal reader magnets are complete.
Yes, you can make samples work if you end on a great cliffhanger or call to action, but it’s risky. Some people will be annoyed by this, and we don’t want to annoy our readers.
The time they spend reading our work is an investment and we need to treat them with respect.
Where are you in your writing career? Are you still working on your first novel or do you have multiple series under your belt? If you are writing in multiple genres or write standalone novels, the newsletter will be more challenging. But you can still make it work, so long as your reader magnet is designed to attract you ideal reader and it links to the book you want to drive that reader towards.
But don’t stress too much. If at first, like me, you use a less than ideal cookie, you can always cull your list later. That’s a good problem to have, trust me!
MailChimp is what I use. I went with MailChimp because it has a higher threshold before you have to pay.
However, there is no customer support with the free version, the program is bloated with a bunch of stuff I never use, and the subscriptions once you do have to pay are much higher than with MailerLite. I will likely switch at some point, as I’m not enamored by the Chimp.
Do some research, but don’t get too bogged down by the options.
At the free level they’re pretty similar and that’s all we need right now.
Before we get started, I have two bonus tips for you:
Consider using an email address connected to your website rather than a generic gmail, outlook, hotmail, yahoo, etc. account. This will increase your odds for landing in people’s inboxes. Plus it looks more professional.
Decide on a name for your mailing list. Don’t call it a newsletter or a mailing list when you’re talking to your readers. We associate this with junk mail. If you call it a Fan Club or a VIP Readers Group or a Reader Club, your readers will feel more like they belong to something special and intimate. And that’s exactly what you want your newsletters to feel like. You are not going to spam them! You are letting them into your world.
On your newsletter service you will:
Create a landing page to collect email addresses from your website. Not the “blog follow” emails that send people a notification when you put up a new blog post. This is for your VIP Readers. Organic email address collection from your website will typically be the most engaged people on your list. You may want to create a separate audience for these organic sign ups. Check out Newsletter Ninja: How to Become An Author Mailing List Expert by Tammi Labrecque for more details on this.
Create a simple welcome email automation. This is triggered any time someone joins your list. Keep it simple, remind them who you are and why they are receiving this email, request they add you to their contact list, provide a link to follow your preferred socials, or if you have a Facebook Group. One link is best.
[Extra Credit] Create a cookie email automation, either with a link to your reader magnet or to another freebie. Reward them early for opening your mails. This can be triggered to sent a couple of days after they sign up.
[Extra Credit] Create a series introduction email automation, if you are a series author. Let them know what you’re working on, provide links to your most recent work. Keep the tone friendly and informative, not salesy. This should come a couple of days after your last email.
You can make this onboarding sequence as simple or complex as you like. Multi genre authors might get fancy here. In my opinion, simple is better. You only really need the welcome email, and maybe the cookie.
Set up BookFunnel (#3b, below) and integrate with your newsletter service. You can integrate with as many sites as you use to collect addresses from. Follow the FAQs of your chosen service. It’s pretty straightforward.
I recommend BookFunnel, not because it’s the best or only, but because I have personal experience with it and I feel confident in my recommendation. It costs $100 a year, and is well worth it. You can use it for sending out encrypted Beta and ARC copies as well, which is fantastic.
On BookFunnel you will:
Create Your Reader Magnet: Upload the cover file, and the mobi, epup, and PDF files for your manuscript. You can create this using a number of free programs. When I don’t pay for professional formatting, I use Draft2Digital.
Create a Landing Page that requires email opt-in.
Set up Integration with your Email Service, the FAQ is very helpful if you have troubles.
You can also:
Create ARC campaigns.
Create Landing Pages that do not require email opt-in, or which can only be accessed by folks already on your list (helpful for when you want to give a freebie to your list but don’t want them sharing that freebie with other people)
Gift books to people.
Create Printable download codes for in-person events or bookmarks, etc.
Lots of other stuff
But the BIG ONE is this:
Check out the Promotions tab and join some promos for your genre! It’s so big, in fact, that this is step #4
#4 Join Promos
In BookFunnel you can browse promotions by genre, or by promo type. The two main types are Sales and Newsletter Builders. When you are first starting out, you will be using Newsletter Builders.
What is a BookFunnel Promo?
A Promo is essentially a landing page with a grid of reader magnet books from all the authors who have joined the promotion. Whoever creates the promo will have a particular theme (Witches and Werewolves, or Christmas Horror, or Sweet Country Romance, or whatever). These themes can be broad (SF&F) or very narrow (SF with Strong Female Leads).
When you join a promo (check the guidelines to make sure you’re a good fit) you will agree to share the promo link in your newsletter on a particular day of the promo. You may share as many times as you like on social media, etc. but you must share with your newsletter on the date you say you will. You will be provided with a trackable link, and when the promotion is finished you will be able to see how many people clicked the link. At first, it won’t be a lot because you will have a non-existent list. That’s okay. The important thing is to keep joining promos, and keep sharing on the dates you say you will. The number of promos you have joined and the number of links clicked become your “reputation” and having a higher rep will unlock higher end promos.
That’s a lot of info. Don’t worry about it too much. Here’s how it works:
Join a Promo (I usually join 3-4 that overlap and commit to sharing them all on the same day). Pro Tip: If you are just starting out, you will want to pick a date near the end of the promo if possible, because then you will have some people on your list to click those links when you write your newsletter.
Follow the link to each promo and save the header image/banner image, or create your own in Canva or BookBrush if you’re handy at that kind of thing. Better images get more clicks. Experiment!
On your share date, create your first email campaign. This is just a fancy way of saying write your email. At the bottom of your email, you will post the promo images with your tracking links. This provides value to your readers! Not sure what to write about in the rest of the email? I’ll cover a bit more on that at the end.
Share your images/links as many times as you like on your blog and social media. You can even do a $5 boosted post on Facebook to get more clicks and improve your rep. The more times those links get shared by all authors in the promo, the more eyes are on all of the books. Sharing is caring!
Repeat. With a good cover and joining 3-4 promos a month, you should start seeing a couple hundred newsletter signups a month!
#5 Newsletter Maintenance
You don’t need to make this a full time job. Commit to writing one email a month to share your updates and promo links. Unless you have a rabid and highly engaged audience you don’t want to send out more than two a month. Big authors can get away with one or two a week. But start with one or two a month. It’s more than enough.
Use your “natural” voice, be yourself. If your books are full of smut and cursing, you don’t want your emails to be too prim and proper. You want people who don’t “get you” to unsubscribe. Yes. I said that. You don’t want deadweight on your list. You have to pay for those people! Be yourself. If anyone doesn’t like that, they can take a hike. That makes room for someone who does like you.
Don’t try to sell anything, yet. You can use your mailing list to shout out new releases and sales, but try to keep it at an 80/20 ratio. 80% of the time you are providing value to them. 20% of the time you can ask them to do something for you, a gentle ask. In my opinion, one email for e-book pre-orders, and one for launch day is plenty. If it’s been a while between releases, you can use your 20% to remind them of an existing series.
Provide value. I know I just said that, but it’s important enough to say it twice. Give your readers something. Tell a funny story, share a relevant meme, or pictures of your pets (these will get more engagement than anything, I swear! we love our furbabies!), link to your most popular blog posts that week. Share your BookFunnel promo links.
Build engagement. Take a poll, ask to see a picture of their pets (seriously, try it), ask an open ended question and ask readers to “hit reply” to respond then share the results of those responses in your next email (this is great social proof, when people see that other readers are engaging with you they want to be part of the inner circle too!) Engagement helps your emails stay out of the junk mail. Win win!
Keep an eye on your open rates and click rates. This can give you a good idea of what kind of Subject Lines get the most engagement.
You can get fancy and run A/B testing (send half your list one email and the other half a different one and see which performs better)
I don’t. I just mess up and let people unsubscribe.
If they don’t unsubscribe but they haven’t opened one of my emails in the last three months, I unsubscribe them myself.
I would rather have a small, highly engaged mailing list than a big bloated list of people who never open my emails. I aim for an open rate of 50% or higher. If my open rates drop below that, I cull my list. It’s not the only way to do it, but it’s my way.
And I have a great little list!
Unexpected Benefits of Having a Mailing List
These are some of my happy discoveries. My mailing list has:
Helped me find new beta and ARC readers.
Started some great conversations.
Given me motivation to keep writing when I start to feel like no one cares.
Given me a place to ask questions and bounce ideas when starting a new series.
Helped me find my superfans (it’s a small, but growing list!)
I highly recommend these books:
Do you have a newsletter yet? If so, do you have anything to add to this list?
If you don’t have a newsletter, did this post help answer some of your questions or ease some of your fears?
There are only two more days until the release of my new cyber noir detective novel Tropical Punch!
To celebrate, I’m giving away Dames for Hire, a prequel novella to the Bubbles in Space series.
Bubbles Marlowe is one of my favourite characters I’ve ever written. She’s tough, snarky, and most important of all (to me!) she’s sober! Bubbles is the first sober character I’ve written since I quit drinking three years ago, and I didn’t realize until I started how much I needed to write her.
I’ve long been a fan of hard-boiled detective novels and noir stylings, but these books, many of which were written during and just after prohibition, are steeped in alcohol.
It’s a tradition that has been carried forward into modern detective novels, too. It seems impossible to find a private-eye who doesn’t evade past trauma by diving into the bottom of a bottle. Worse are the novels that glamourize alcohol abuse in such a way that it makes it seem that our heroes thrive because of their addiction rather than in spite of it.
Don’t get me wrong. I still love me some Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.
But I wanted something else, too. I wanted to write a character who reflected not only my own struggles with alcohol, but my freedom from it. I wanted a character who proved you can be sober and a badass!
So here it is…
Click the link to join my VIP Readers’ Club and claim your copy today!
Dirty jobs call for dirty dames.
But this is a bit much…
After a suspicious accident costs her a career, an arm, and nearly her life, Bubbles Marlowe needs all the help she can get.
When a friend asks her to do a little dirty work on the side, Bubbles isn’t prepared for just how dirty it’s going to get.
An arrogant scientist, a young heiress, a gambling king pin, and a few too many hired guns…
Can Bubbles finish the case before it finishes her?
HoloCity’s femme fatales are out in full force in this cybernoir detective thriller.
And these dames don’t mess around.
You’ll love Dames for Hire because it’s got glitter and grit, mystery and hard-boiled badassery.
Click the link above to enter the Goodreads Giveaway today! Or, if you want to guarantee you get a copy, you can always pre-order it here.
Winners will be announced on launch day, March 29, 2021.
Do You Love Goodreads?
I have recently restarted my Goodreads account after years of neglect. But I’d love to have more friends over there. So if you’re active on Goodreads, please add me so I can creep your bookshelves and check out what you’re reading and reviewing.
Reading Goals for 2021
Goodreads Reading Challenges have become a big motivator for avid readers and book reviewers in a lot of the online book clubs and groups I belong to, so this year I decided to set a challenge for myself.
I want to read 40 books this year.
I’m already 16 books into my goal, so things are looking promising! This is not including the middle grade and young adult books I read out loud to my kiddos (we do about 1.5 books a month with bedtime reading.)
What’s your reading goal this year? Tell me in the comments!
These Indie authors are taking cyberpunk to the next level!
If you ask most SF geeks about their favourite cyberpunk novel, you’ll likely hear one of two answers. William Gibson’s Neuromancer or Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.
I know this, because I’ve been asking! Genre research is something I take pretty seriously.
I’m halfway through Neuromancer right now, and loving it. Snow Crash is next in my traditionally published TBR pile.
But I have another TBR pile, too. One reserved for independent authors!
I try to read at least one traditional and one indie title in the genre I’m writing in every month. This keeps me up to date on both mainstream and marginal trends to make sure that I’m hitting the right tropes and also still offering readers something unique.
So, while I will be reviewing both the traditional and indie titles that I read while writing my new cybernoir detective series, Bubbles in Space, I’d like to give you a sneak peek at the indie writers in my TBR pile!
Note: When you buy a book using one of the following links, I may earn a small commission! This allows me to keep buying and reviewing books on the blog, and comes at no extra cost to you.
Jimi Cabot made one mistake as a starving college student. When she went to work for the San Francisco Police Department, it nearly cost her the job. The union stepped in and they had to reinstate her. They did so by assigning her to the duty nobody wants, Grinder Squad.
Grinders are people who use back room surgeries to enhance their bodies with computer chips, and various kinds of hardware. Jimi is sure that if she can just bust one grind shop, it will be her ticket back.
Paired with veteran cop, she soon learns that Grinder Squad is a cash-cow for the department. They are nothing more than glorified patrol cops, and generally get the worst assignments.
Matchless is the most wanted grinder of all time. He disappeared years ago, leaving only the evidence of those he enhanced during his career. With these pieces, Jimi picks up the cold trail to try working her way back to more respectable duty.
Grinders is a cyberpunk story set in a world where global warming has eroded coastlines, and society has solved many of our current problems by replacing them with new ones. There are cyber shut-ins, cyber-currency skimming schemes, and more in this futuristic tale.
This book also takes the opportunity to poke a stick at current issues that seem to have lasted into the future. Entitled people, helicopter moms, overzealous homeowner associations, and lack of decent jobs are all present. Never preachy, these issues make up the day to day work of a patrol officer.
Liquid Cool by Austin Dragon is the highest rated (that I could find) indie cyberpunk novel on Amazon! So it had to be one of the first I started to read. It’s got some whacky twists on classic cyberpunk tropes, larger-than-life characters, and lots of action. If you like plot driven, action packed adventures, this is one for you!
Liquid Cool Book #1 is the FIRST-IN-SERIES action-packed (and funny) sci-fi detective series.
Meet a private eye with a cool hat, laser gun, and attitude. But don’t touch his red hovercar — or you could get shot!
Enter the high-tech, low-life world of Liquid Cool as Cruz faces off neon gangsters, sinister cyborgs, corporate samurai soldiers, and laser-gun shootouts while solving his cases in the rainy supercity of Metropolis. It’s more gritty action and dark humor than you can handle.
In the debut novel that started it all, author Austin Dragon shows why you never want to meet a cyborg in a dark alley.
Liquid Cool is cyberpunk reimagined. It’s cyber-noir. It’s science fiction meets the detective thriller in an ever-rainy world of mega-skyscrapers. Hovercars fly above in the dark, bustling skies and gray people walk below on the grimy, flashy streets of this “neon jungle.” Metropolis isn’t a bad place, but it isn’t a good one either. Uber-governments and megacorporations fight for control of the supercity, but so does crime.
It’s here we meet Cruz, our private eye (and unlikely hero), in this supercity with a million victims and perpetrators.
Sci-Fi Gets Cool…Liquid Cool!
So grab Liquid Cool today and begin your action-filled and funny sci-fi detective adventure with Cruz and company!
I just started this one last night, and the first chapter has me hooked!
“Star Wars Meets Blade Runner In An Awesome Adventure!” -Amazon Review (5 Stars)
Moss’ life is going nowhere until a mysterious woman knocks on his door and leaves him with the key to take down one of the world’s largest corporations. When he discovers a familial connection to the stranger, Moss leaves the comfort of his home with his best friend for the sprawling megacity.
There, he joins a group of ruffians dedicated to freeing people from the yoke of the evil companies. Police-for-hire, motorcycle gangs and betrayal threaten them at every turn.
Can Moss help this small group of rebels fight the power before it’s too late? Find out in Into Neon: A Cyberpunk Saga.
A notorious data thief thinks his life of cybercrime is behind him. He couldn’t be more wrong.
Forced by a powerful executive to steal a priceless dataset, Maddox uncovers the shocking truth of a secret war between AIs, raging inside the digital universe known as virtual space. Plunged headlong into the deadly conflict, he’ll have to use every trick he’s ever learned—and a few he’s never tried before—if he wants to survive.
Sprawling megacities, rogue AIs, black market tech, modded mercenaries, and a pulse-pounding story filled with unexpected twists. If you love gritty, hardcore cyberpunk, you won’t want to miss this series!
Welcome to the year 2095. Killer cyborgs hunt down anyone who disagrees with the “utopian” society.
Nephilim is the best operator in these elite death squads. Genetically and cybernetically enhanced, she and her team strike terror wherever they go. Knowing nothing besides this lifestyle, Nephilim believes that she’s part of a righteous cause.
Then a system glitch changes everything. Separated from the grid, for the first time, Nephilim begins doubting the world she lives in. Things get even more complicated when she meets Jake, a 100% bio-human, who opens her neon-blue eyes to the lies she had been exposed to all her life.
Nephilim decides to take a stand against her creators. But in this brave new world, can one person beat an all-powerful system of oppression?
Soon, Nephilim finds herself hunted by her own people…
Corporate megacities, dystopian themes, cyborg assassins, badass heroines, charismatic villains – an adrenaline ride that never stops.
If you love action-driven cyberpunk full of unexpected plot-twists, you don’t want to miss this!
COULD YOU BETRAY EVERYONE YOU CARE ABOUT TO PREVENT A WAR?
The Blind Spot exists in defiance of Scala City’s dystopian big brother regime. It occupies a small sector in the city, and those who live there believe in their right to privacy. Scala City believe if you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide. But the Blind Spot have hackers that could bring the larger city to its knees. This is why it’s never spilled over into all-out war. Until now …
A terrorist attack on Scala City’s main plaza has tipped the delicate balance. There is only one person who can halt the conflict before it begins …
Marcie Hugo, daughter of the Blind Spot’s leader, and the district’s best kept secret. Cybernetically enhanced, she’s faster, stronger, and smarter than most. But more importantly, she’s invisible. Protected and hidden away by her father for the majority of her life, she’s in the unique position to move between the Blind Spot and Scala City unnoticed.
With the best hacker in the city on her side, and while the rest of the Blind Spot prepares for a bloody war, Marcie gets to work …
To avoid total annihilation, she will have to betray everyone she loves, starting with her father …
And even then, her chances of success are slim …
Join Marcie in a race against time as she turns over every neon-lit inch of Scala City and The Blind Spot in a quest to discover who’s trying to destroy her home and why. And even if she is successful, with the number of ties she’s severed, how much of a life will she have left to return to?
The Blind Spot: Neon Horizon book one is a fast-paced science fiction thriller. If you like dazzling neon dystopian landscapes, where entertainment, credits, and the latest street drugs are all worth more than human life, then you’ll love this hard-hitting grimy glimpse into the hyper-cities of the future.
“This intricate, big-data blast delivers a thrilling ride for cyberpunk SF fans.” —Kirkus Reviews
Centuries after the Fold, civilization is fragile. Holding it together is Naion, a city on the brink…
Intelligence Officer Adasha Denali is adept at solving problems, words her weapons of choice. When a botched operation sparks a diplomatic crisis, the political hammer falls hard on her agency. But Adasha senses this is just the tip of a larger threat; one that could send the world tumbling back into chaos.
Digging through a network of deception, she runs headlong into corporate mercenaries, a disavowed spy, and Neon Nik, a washed-up hacker with a world-changing tech in his pocket.
Nik used to be a legend. And fearless. And gainfully employed.
Now he wades through life struggling to pay off circling loan sharks—until a family friend is murdered and he inherits a stolen prototype.
With a vortex of hired killers and government agents on his heels, Nik’s got a decision to make: sell out or risk everything to regain what he lost. And perhaps save his city in the process.
Enter a world of engineered spies and high-tech weaponry, where synthetic intelligences whisper revelations through brainware and reality is just another overlay.
In a world where everyone’s biometric profiles are on record, a young policewoman turns up the impossible: an unidentifiable corpse. Jen’s hands are full: small kid in tow, obnoxious partner and stepson, incessant office politics, her Yellow ranking to maintain, and a demanding search-and-rescue job. So the last thing ylo-Jen needs is a mystery murder victim. Worse, the case is linked to a flourishing drugs ring. And both the Priesthood and her own hierarchy are holding things back. No wonder she’s got issues…
This beautifully crafted novel in a dry and laconic style is a crossover between literary, sci-fi and thriller. The characters are realistic, flawed people struggling to cope with families, drugs, sexuality, religious beliefs, death and the Afterlife, and above all the rat-race… in a thoroughly unpleasant but all too believable far-future society (that yields some uncomfortable reflections on our own). Imagery and characters perhaps reminiscent of the Handmaid’s Tale, Black Mirror and The Bridge: the dystopian, the discomforting and the dysfunctional.
XENOCHRIST is a science-fiction/cyberpunk novel set in the year 2503 and follows tech industry giants Kravac Alntar and Wixspin Atlicke as they struggle with the apparent suicide of one of their closest friends and business partner at ProgKVW, Volz Shimmel. Was her suicide an accident? The duo are thrust into a massive conspiracy involving rebel operatives, closed-off countries as a result of the Unification War, the massive Earth Unified Nation contractor Svetlo-Zeme, and the entity known as Xenochrist.
Of course, if you are interested in any of the above books, I hope you’ll check out mine too! Tropical Punch is Book One in my new cyber noir detective series, Bubbles in Space. It’s a hilarious, action-packed spin on the classic detective novel and I know you’re going to love it.
Launch Day is March 29, 2021 and pre-orders are live!
Strippers, Drugs, and Headless Corpses…
All in a day’s work for Bubbles Marlowe, HoloCity’s only cyborg detective.
What do an anti-tech cult, a deadly new street drug, and the corrupt Chief of Police have in common?
It’s a question Bubbles can’t afford to ask. Last time she got curious it cost her job, a limb, and almost her life.
She vows to stay out of police business. But with a newly minted cybernetic enhancement, a semi-legal P.I. license, and a knack for asking the wrong kind of questions…
Vows are made to be broken, right?
But as the body count stacks up, Bubbles realizes she’s made a terrible mistake.
Can she figure out who is behind the murders before she loses her head?
Warning: Don’t read this book if you hate fun, glitter, sassy robotic pigs, or hard-boiled badassery. Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett are rolling in their graves, but this is all their fault.
Does the idea of robotic human hybrids give you chills?
When the word “cyborg” comes up, many people think of popular Sci-Fi villains like the Terminator, Darth Vader, or Star Trek’s Borgs. But don’t worry. Today’s real life cyborgs aren’t out to take over the world.
A cyborg is a person (or animal, potentially) made up of a combination of organic and mechanical parts. Typically, today, the most common cyborgs are people with prosthetic limbs. Some even extend the definition to include those with cochlear implants, pacemakers, or contact lenses.
No matter what your definition, though, advancements in medical science are quickly making cybernetic enhancements a part of our every day lives.
What’s in store?
Future cybernetic technologies might include brain implants to help improve memory or aid learning, chips imbedded in our fingers to replace passwords or bank cards, advanced prosthetic limbs to make us faster and stronger, and even exoskeleton armor for military and police use.
Many of these technologies are already in the research and development stages. Some are even being tested by adventurous volunteers!
Here are some of the most fascinating real life cyborgs walking among us today!
Neil Harbisson is a Catalan-raised, British-born contemporary artist and cyborg activist best known for having an antenna implanted in his skull and for being officially recognized as a cyborg by a government.
The antenna allows him to perceive visible and invisible colors such as infrareds and ultraviolets via sound waves. The antenna’s internet connection allows him to receive colors from space as well as images, videos, music or phone calls directly into his head via external devices such as mobile phones or satellites.
Harbisson’s artworks investigate the relationship between color and sound, experiment the boundaries of human perception and explore the use of artistic expression via sensory extensions.
In 2010 he co-founded the Cyborg Foundation with Moon Ribas, an international organization that aims to help humans become cyborgs, defend cyborg rights and promote cyborgism as a social and artistic movement.
Neil Harbisson became a cyborg in order to overcome a condition called achromatopsia. or extreme colorblindness, meaning he could only see in black-and-white. He has since become an advocate for transhumanist evolution. Harbisson believes not only that people should seek to improve the species via technology, but that we have a moral obligation to do so.
What do you think about that?
Dr. Kevin Warwick
In 1998, Dr. Kevin Warwick had a simple radio frequency identification (RFID) transmitter implanted beneath his skin, which he used to control doors, lights, heaters, and other computer-controlled devices. His goal was to test the limits of what kind of implants the human body would accept and whether or not it would be possible to receive meaningful sensory or data input from such a device. And, of course, to become a cyborg.
Dr. Warwick has since conducted more experiments in cyborg technology, using both himself and his wife as the subjects. One such experiment allowed him to control a robotic arm–by connecting his nervous system to the internet–from halfway around the world. A similar experiment connected his nervous system to that of his wife, so that he could feel when someone touched her hand, no matter where in the world they both were!
Dr. Warwick’s ultimate aim with these experiments is to one day create a form of telepathy or empathy using the Internet to communicate the signal over huge distances.
This could be a boon to those in long-distance relationships! Also, possibly, for hyper-controlling sociopaths… but that’s another story…
After losing an arm and leg in an accident five years ago, James Young turned to technology to make the most of his new path in life. He teamed up with Japanese gaming company Konami to design his own cybernetic arm, the result of which is enough to make any Sci-Fi geek drool!
Being a double amputee, arm as well as leg, means I have the opportunity to reflect on how we use our bodies in two ways. Feet must give me stability, control and power, and hands must give me fine muscular control. My goal is to find a way in which I can interface with technology with such low cognitive burden and finesse as it to be considered natural rather than using a piece of external assistive equipment.
Young was a part of The Phantom Limb Project, a documentary based on the development of Young’s prosthetic arm which was based on the character Snake from the popular Metal Gear Solid video games.
No. It doesn’t have a rocket launcher. I checked.
Angel Giuffria is a self-proclaimed “bionic actress.” She has appeared in The Accountant with Ben Affleck and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay alongside Jennifer Lawrence. Giuffria hopes that, with increased attention given to the representation of marginalized people in film, more roles will begin to open up for people with disabilities.
“I was born missing my arm, below the elbow, and I was fit with a myoelectric muscle operated prosthesis when I was very young. Obviously, at that point in time, they were much different and not as high-tech. As I’ve gotten older and the prosthetics have advanced, I’ve tried to stay as current as I could with the latest technologies.”
While Giuffria once favoured life-like prosthetic covered in artificial “skin” so that she could blend in with her peers, the actress now embraces her bionic limb and enjoys tinkering with its appearance. Her custom prosthetic from Arm Dynamics allows her to add colourful lights, decorative metal filigrees, and even a cos-play lightsaber!
After losing his right eye in a firearms accident at only nine years old. While he didn’t lose all sight in the eye, he was declared legally blind, and as he grew older what was left of his sight in the damaged eye deteriorated.
That was when doctors decided to replace the eye.
Rather than choosing a conventional glass eye, though, Spence worked with a friend to create what he calls his “eyeborg,” a wearable eye-shaped camera. Although the eye does not interface with Spence’s optical nerve, and he cannot see out of it, the cybernetic eye represents the first step in what could become a common form of wearable tech.
The “eyeborg” is an analogue camera, rather than digital, but the potential is there for digital and live-streaming versions in the future.
Creepy or cool? You tell me…
I began researching cybernetic prosthetics when writing my new cyber noir detective series, Bubbles in Space. My protagonist, Bubbles Marlowe, becomes a private investigator after losing her arm in a training exercise accident with the HoloCity Police Department. While Bubbles in Space wasn’t intended to be hard-SF, I was gratified to learn that much of the technology I’ve used in the high-tech, low-life world of HoloCity is already a reality!
Which kind of cyborg technologies do you think you would embrace if they became publicly available?
I could go for some extra memory storage, a la the behind-the-ear microchips of Gibson’s Neuromancer…
Some of the best SF&F books out there right now are written by indie authors.
Don’t believe me?
Traditional publishing has a long and glorious history of taking the safest route possible into customers (that’s readers!) pockets. They don’t like to take chances, try new things, explore risque themes and ideas. They don’t like to support writers they deem as “too niche.”
Which means the traditional publishing industry pumps out a lot of same old, same old books. Day after day. Month after month. Year after year.
You get the idea.
I am fortunate to know many fantastic indie authors, writing in every genre from non-fiction and memoir, to romance and history, to–my favourite–science fiction and fantasy.
So to wrap up my How Long ’til Black Future Month? series, I give you Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NO!: The Indie Edition!
If you’re looking to spice up your reading list with something totally different and out of this worlds, be sure to check out The Ballade of the Bladesinger by Jelani Wilson.
This novella is an offshoot of Wilson’s upcoming SpaceWizards! novel, and this teaser does not disappoint! I love the irreverent blend of Sci-Fi and Fantasy tropes, the vibrant characters, and magically intergalactic setting. The dialogue is smart and funny (I’ll be adding fuckmelon to my list of curse words), and all the little details make this snapshot of Wilson’s world building come to life.
Xenobia the Blue is a magic blade swinging Space Wizard trying to lay low by posing as a backup singer for the famous cyborg songstress, Tronix. But when her cover is blown, all hell breaks loose on the luxury spaceship she’s been hiding out on…
Because this is a novella and not a full length novel I can’t give away too much more than that without ruining the plot. However, if you love spaceships, magic, creative alien species, and high stakes espionage, you’re going to love this book!
Ballad of the Bladesinger has a kind of Fifth Element / Guardians of the Galaxy vibe that is fun, feisty, and action packed. I highly recommend checking it out.
The Fadian Experiment sucked me in from the first page. It starts out tough and gritty, you jump into some high-stakes action right off the bat, and it really doesn’t let up the whole way through.
The main character, Kaleigha, is living a brutal life. After failing a childhood assessment that would have placed her in a job, she now wanders the streets looking for temp work or hustling as a fortune teller while dodging the unwanted advances and abuses of police and other citizens. As if that’s not bad enough, Kaleigha hears voices in her head. That’s why she failed her assessment, and it’s getting worse instead of better.
I loved the set up for this novel. The way Ford describes the world and city, I was reminded of N.K. Jemisin’s settings where the city is almost a character in its own right. There is nothing kind about this world, and Ford’s depictions of future class division are frighteningly realistic.
As we get deeper into the story, the plot spirals and everything we think we understand from the beginning of the book is turned upside down. The characters are intense, the pace is relentless, and the world is complex. You just have to keep reading to see what’s coming.
The Fadian Experimentblends science and magic, reality and fantasy, dreams and memory with so many twists and turns you never know what is going to happen next. At its core, though, this is the story about a poor young women who will do anything to help her city and improve the lives of her people.
Book Two in the trilogy, The Fadian Escape is coming soon, so be sure to follow W.A. Ford for updates!
If you love fast paced, urban fantasy with a Sci-Fi twist have I got a book for you!
In Awakening, Book One in the Evolved Ones trilogy we meet Rox.
Rox is on the run, desperate to escape the people chasing her and to find out who she really is. From the very first page, we are sucked into Rox’s quest to rescue herself from a personal hell. She is stuck in limbo, being used by everyone who promised to help her find her identity, and she doesn’t even know if there is anything to discover. The unknown threatens to destroy her.
I am a sucker for great characterization. Oliver takes this skill to the extreme. She handles a large cast of characters with in-depth, emotionally driven character arcs. Each of the characters is fully developed, with a unique personality, compelling backstory, and complex motivations. You’ll even love the unlikable ones!
This book grabs you, shakes you, and drags you along with it. Break-neck pacing, fever-pitched emotions, and non-stop action, Awakeninghas “Blockbuster Movie” written all over it.
This is an absolute must read for anyone who likes action-packed Sci-Fi with a heavy dose of raw emotion and character depth to go with it.
You can easily pick this book up and read it straight through. It is hard to put down, even if you know you have to wake up early. I might have had a rough morning or two because I was up reading after the kids went to bed!
Are you looking for a rip-roaring adventure with magic, pirates on the high seas, snarky dialogue, and a little sexual tension?
That’s a stupid question. Of course you are.
Macario’s Scepter by M.J. McGriff is the perfect beach read book or–if, like me, you are locked in an eternal winter–the perfect “wishing you were on a beach” read. Either way, this fast-paced YA pirate fantasy is going to spirit you away to a tropical paradise filled with white sand beaches, handsome rogues, badass heroines…
… and an evil magical serpent bent on destroying the world!
Trust me. You’re going to have fun.
McGriff’s characters are smart and sassy, make all kinds of hilarious bad decisions, and are simply a joy to go adventuring with.
And I was on the beta reading team for Book 2: The Secret Library and let me tell you… it only gets better!
If you’re looking to dip your toes into this world, check out M.J. McGriff’s website and sign up for her reading group via the popup to get a free copy of The Griffin, a fantasy novella set in the same world as these swashbuckling adventure stories.
Wow! This is quite a read. You’re definitely getting your money’s worth with this one at almost 500 pages.
A Look Behind Lightning is a spooky urban fantasy with a ton of wonderful characters. It slowly builds suspense as we follow Jocasta and her students through their daily lives, with things getting stranger and stranger as the book progresses. Tensions rise, monsters emerge, and everything comes crashing together in an epic climax!
Ballentine does a superb job of immersing us in her characters’ lives so that we really care about them and the supernatural events that threaten to take over their lives.
This is a long book simmering with slow-burn tension, and Ballentine really uses the length well. You will be fully immersed in these characters lives so that when the book finishes… you’ll be itching to start Book 2!
Nnedi Okorafor is a writer that I stumbled upon completely by accident after a review I read called her YA trilogy, Akata Witch, the “Nigerian Harry Potter.”
I read and reviewed Akata Witch myself, here, and discussed the problem of minimizing the work of Black writers by comparing them to the (mostly white) literary canon as if all Black writing is derivative rather than existing in its own right. This experience really changed the way I think about literature in general, from comparing women’s writing to men’s, western writers to eastern, straight and queer, etc.
All of this is tangential to the fact that Nnedi Okorafor is a phenomenal writer. I loved the magic and friendship of Akata Witch. I loved the bravery and brilliance of Binti. I loved the raw power and energy of Who Fears Death. Okorafor’s writing just really clicks for me in a way I haven’t found with a lot of contemporary writers and I still struggle to define exactly what it is.
What I do know, is that she’s a writer that all SF&F fans need to read now! And there’s something for everyone, from YA to Adult, from novellas, to novels, to comics and graphic novels. Okorafor is a joy to read, even when she’s tearing your heart out (thanks, Who Fears Death…)
Here’s a little bit about the Author, and scroll down to see a selection of her most popular works.
Nnedi has also written comics for Marvel, including BLACK PANTHER: LONG LIVE THE KING and WAKANDA FOREVER (featuring the Dora Milaje) and the SHURI series, an Africanfuturist comic series LAGUARDIA (from Dark Horse) and her short memoir BROKEN PLACES AND OUTER SPACES. Nnedi is also cowriter the adaptation of Octavia Butler’s WILD SEED with Viola Davis and Kenyan film director Wanuri Kahiu. Nnedi holds a PhD (literature) and two MAs (journalism and literature). She lives with her daughter Anyaugo and family in Illinois.
Affectionately dubbed “the Nigerian Harry Potter,” Akata Witch weaves together a heart-pounding tale of magic, mystery, and finding one’s place in the world. [Note: The publisher is still using this description!]
Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits in. And then she discovers something amazing—she is a “free agent” with latent magical power. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too?
Ursula K. Le Guin and John Green are Nnedi Okorafor fans. As soon as you start reading Akata Witch, you will be, too!
Nnedi Okorafor’s acclaimed first novel for middle grade readers introduces a boy who can access super powers with the help of the magical Ikenga.
Nnamdi’s father was a good chief of police, perhaps the best Kalaria had ever had. He was determined to root out the criminals that had invaded the town. But then he was murdered, and most people believed the Chief of Chiefs, most powerful of the criminals, was responsible. Nnamdi has vowed to avenge his father, but he wonders what a twelve-year-old boy can do. Until a mysterious nighttime meeting, the gift of a magical object that enables super powers, and a charge to use those powers for good changes his life forever. How can he fulfill his mission? How will he learn to control his newfound powers?
Award-winning Nnedi Okorafor, acclaimed for her Akata novels, introduces a new and engaging hero in her first novel for middle grade readers set against a richly textured background of contemporary Nigeria.
Binti Novellas (2015, 2017, 2018)
Winner of the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award for Best Novella!
Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.
Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.
If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself — but first she has to make it there, alive.
In a post-apocalyptic Africa, the world has changed in many ways; yet in one region genocide between tribes still bloodies the land. A woman who has survived the annihilation of her village and a terrible rape by an enemy general wanders into the desert, hoping to die. Instead, she gives birth to an angry baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand. Gripped by the certainty that her daughter is different—special—she names her Onyesonwu, which means “Who fears death?” in an ancient language.
It doesn’t take long for Onye to understand that she is physically and socially marked by the circumstances of her conception. She is Ewu—a child of rape who is expected to live a life of violence, a half-breed rejected by her community. But Onye is not the average Ewu. Even as a child, she manifests the beginnings of a remarkable and unique magic. As she grows, so do her abilities, and during an inadvertent visit to the spirit realm, she learns something terrifying: someone powerful is trying to kill her.
Desperate to elude her would-be murderer and to understand her own nature, she embarks on a journey in which she grapples with nature, tradition, history, true love, and the spiritual mysteries of her culture, and ultimately learns why she was given the name she bears: Who Fears Death.
A fiery spirit dances from the pages of the Great Book. She brings the aroma of scorched sand and ozone. She has a story to tell….
The Book of Phoenix is a unique work of magical futurism. A prequel to the highly acclaimed, World Fantasy Award-winning novel, Who Fears Death, it features the rise of another of Nnedi Okorafor’s powerful, memorable, superhuman women.
Phoenix was grown and raised among other genetic experiments in New York’s Tower 7. She is an “accelerated woman”—only two years old but with the body and mind of an adult, Phoenix’s abilities far exceed those of a normal human. Still innocent and inexperienced in the ways of the world, she is content living in her room speed reading e-books, running on her treadmill, and basking in the love of Saeed, another biologically altered human of Tower 7.
Then one evening, Saeed witnesses something so terrible that he takes his own life. Devastated by his death and Tower 7’s refusal to answer her questions, Phoenix finally begins to realize that her home is really her prison, and she becomes desperate to escape.
But Phoenix’s escape, and her destruction of Tower 7, is just the beginning of her story. Before her story ends, Phoenix will travel from the United States to Africa and back, changing the entire course of humanity’s future.
It’s up to a famous rapper, a biologist, and a rogue soldier to handle humanity’s first contact with an alien ambassador—and prevent mass extinction—in this novel that blends magical realism with high-stakes action.
After word gets out on the Internet that aliens have landed in the waters outside of the world’s fifth most populous city, chaos ensues. Soon the military, religious leaders, thieves, and crackpots are trying to control the message on YouTube and on the streets. Meanwhile, the earth’s political superpowers are considering a preemptive nuclear launch to eradicate the intruders. All that stands between seventeen million anarchic residents and death is an alien ambassador, a biologist, a rapper, a soldier, and a myth that may be the size of a giant spider, or a god revealed.
An alien artifact turns a young girl into Death’s adopted daughter in Remote Control, a thrilling sci-fi tale of community and female empowerment from Nebula and Hugo Award-winner Nnedi Okorafor
“She’s the adopted daughter of the Angel of Death. Beware of her. Mind her. Death guards her like one of its own.”
The day Fatima forgot her name, Death paid a visit. From hereon in she would be known as Sankofa—a name that meant nothing to anyone but her, the only tie to her family and her past.
Her touch is death, and with a glance a town can fall. And she walks—alone, except for her fox companion—searching for the object that came from the sky and gave itself to her when the meteors fell and when she was yet unchanged; searching for answers.
But is there a greater purpose for Sankofa, now that Death is her constant companion?
Have you read any of Nnedi Okorafor’s work? Which has been your favourite? I just bought Ikenga when it came out and plan to read it with my kids before we jump into Akata Witch and Akata Warrior. It’s great that Okorafor is putting out middle grade and YA fiction as well as SF&F for adults. This is so important for ensuring that diverse science fiction and fantasy books are available to kids from a young age, and hopefully will nurture a life long love of the genre of the future!
I’m really excited for Lagoon and Remote Control, too…
Want more Black SF&F Writers?
Check out my “How Long ‘Til Black Future Month Series” for more articles featuring my favourite Black SF&F writers:
The very first Black SF&F writer I ever read was Nalo Hopkinson. This was back in high school when I stumbled upon Brown Girl in the Ring and long before I realized how important science fiction and fantasy could be to women and other marginalized people.
I can’t even remember how I stumbled upon it, or why I picked it up, other than that I knew it would be different from anything else I had ever read. Probably I heard about her on CBC Radio. And it was. Different. Gloriously, magically, chills-up-the-spine different from anything I had ever read.
Hopkinson’s blend of Caribbean folk lore and fantasy opened my eyes to the sheer potential of the genre. And it woke a hunger in me for these Other stories. The stories that we have to dig to find. The stories that go beyond the SF&F Canon that my reading had been previously limited to. Stories about Othered people and places and worlds that have been pushed to the peripheral.
That feeling never left me. I still feel that thrill when I pick up a book that I know is going to show me something new, a different way of seeing, a story through eyes I’ve never seen through before. It really does give me chills.
I hope, in sharing her work with you today, you’ll discover something new and wonderful that opens your eyes to a different perspective. There are as many ways to dream as there are people in the world, and there is no reason to stick with the same old visions all the time!
In this “impressive debut” from award-winning speculative fiction author Nalo Hopkinson, a young woman must solve the tragic mystery surrounding her family and bargain with the gods to save her city and herself. (The Washington Post)
The rich and privileged have fled the city, barricaded it behind roadblocks, and left it to crumble. The inner city has had to rediscover old ways — farming, barter, herb lore. But now the monied need a harvest of bodies, and so they prey upon the helpless of the streets. With nowhere to turn, a young woman must open herself to ancient truths, eternal powers, and the tragic mystery surrounding her mother and grandmother. She must bargain with gods, and give birth to new legends.
It’s Carnival time and the Caribbean-colonized planet of Toussaint is celebrating with music, dance, and pageantry. Masked “Midnight Robbers” waylay revelers with brandished weapons and spellbinding words. To young Tan-Tan, the Robber Queen is simply a favorite costume to wear at the festival–until her power-corrupted father commits an unforgiveable crime.
Suddenly, both father and daughter are thrust into the brutal world of New Half-Way Tree. Here monstrous creatures from folklore are real, and the humans are violent outcasts in the wilds. Tan-Tan must reach into the heart of myth and become the Robber Queen herself. For only the Robber Queen’s legendary powers can save her life . . . and set her free.
From the SFWA Grand Master, a“sexy, disturbing, touching, wildly comic . . . tour de force” that blends fantasy, women’s history, and slavery (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).
In 1804, shortly before the Caribbean island of Saint Domingue is renamed Haiti, a group of women gather to bury a stillborn baby. Led by a lesbian healer and midwife named Mer, the women’s lamentations inadvertently release the dead infant’s “unused vitality” to draw Ezili—the Afro-Caribbean goddess of sexual desire and love—into the physical world.
As Ezili explores her newfound powers, she travels across time and space to inhabit the midwife’s body, as well as those of Jeanne—a mixed-race dancer and the mistress of Charles Baudelaire living in 1880s Paris—and Meritet, an enslaved Greek-Nubian prostitute in ancient Alexandria.
Bound together by Ezili and “the salt road” of their sweat, blood, and tears, the three women struggle against a hostile world, unaware of the goddess’s presence in their lives. Despite her magic, Mer suffers as a slave on a sugar plantation until Ezili plants the seeds of uprising in her mind. Jeanne slowly succumbs to the ravages of age and syphilis when her lover is unable to escape his mother’s control. And Meritet, inspired by Ezili, flees her enslavement and makes a pilgrimage to Egypt, where she becomes known as Saint Mary.
With unapologetically sensual prose, Nalo Hopkinson, the Nebula Award–winning author of Midnight Robber, explores slavery through the lives of three historical women touched by a goddess in this “electrifying bravura performance by one of our most important writers” (Junot Díaz).
First it’s her mother’s missing gold brooch. Then, a blue and white dish she hasn’t seen in years. Followed by an entire grove of cashew trees.
When objects begin appearing out of nowhere, Calamity knows that the special gift she has not felt since childhood has returned-her ability to find lost things. Calamity, a woman as contrary as the tides around her Caribbean island home, is confronting two of life’s biggest dramas. First is the death of her father, who raised her alone until a pregnant Calamity rejected him when she was sixteen years old. The second drama: she’s starting menopause. Now when she has a hot flash and feels a tingling in her hands, she knows it’s a lost object calling to her.
Then she finds something unexpected: a four-year-old boy washes up on the shore, his dreadlocked hair matted with shells. Calamity decides to take the orphaned child into her care, which brings unexpected upheaval into her life and further strains her relationship with her adult daughter. Fostering this child will force her to confront all the memories of her own childhood-and the disappearance of her mother so many years before.
Navigate between myth and chaos in this “journey filled with peril, self-discovery, and terrifying moments” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).
Sixteen-year-old Scotch struggles to fit in—at home she’s the perfect daughter, at school she’s provocatively sassy, and thanks to her mixed heritage, she doesn’t feel she belongs with the Caribbeans, whites, or blacks. And even more troubling, lately her skin is becoming covered in a sticky black substance that can’t be removed. While trying to cope with this creepiness, she goes out with her brother—and he disappears. A mysterious bubble of light just swallows him up, and Scotch has no idea how to find him. Soon, the Chaos that has claimed her brother affects the city at large, until it seems like everyone is turning into crazy creatures. Scotch needs to get to the bottom of this supernatural situation ASAP before the Chaos consumes everything she’s ever known—and she knows that the black shadowy entity that’s begun trailing her every move is probably not going to help.
A blend of fantasy and Caribbean folklore, at its heart this tale is about identity and self acceptance—because only by acknowledging her imperfections can Scotch hope to save her brother.
Nalo Hopkinson–winner of the John W. Campbell Award, the Sunburst Award, and the World Fantasy award (among others), and lauded as one of our “most inventive and brilliant writers” (New York Post)–returns with a new work. With her singular voice and characteristic sharp insight, she explores the relationship between two sisters in this richly textured and deeply moving novel . . . Sister Mine We’d had to be cut free of our mother’s womb. She’d never have been able to push the two-headed sport that was me and Abby out the usual way. Abby and I were fused, you see. Conjoined twins. Abby’s head, torso, and left arm protruded from my chest. But here’s the real kicker; Abby had the magic, I didn’t. Far as the Family was concerned, Abby was one of them, though cursed, as I was, with the tragic flaw of mortality.
Now adults, Makeda and Abby still share their childhood home. The surgery to separate the two girls gave Abby a permanent limp, but left Makeda with what feels like an even worse deformity: no mojo. The daughters of a celestial demigod and a human woman, Makeda and Abby were raised by their magical father, the god of growing things–a highly unusual childhood that made them extremely close. Ever since Abby’s magical talent began to develop, though, in the form of an unearthly singing voice, the sisters have become increasingly distant.
Today, Makeda has decided it’s high time to move out and make her own life among the other nonmagical, claypicken humans–after all, she’s one of them. In Cheerful Rest, a run-down warehouse space, Makeda finds exactly what she’s been looking for: an opportunity to live apart from Abby and begin building her own independent life. There’s even a resident band, led by the charismatic (and attractive) building superintendent.
But when her father goes missing, Makeda will have to discover her own talent–and reconcile with Abby–if she’s to have a hope of saving him . . .
The SFWA Grand Master’s award-winning collection “combines a richly textured multicultural background with incisive storytelling” (Library Journal).
In Skin Folk, with works ranging from science fiction to Caribbean folklore, passionate love to chilling horror, Nalo Hopkinson is at her award-winning best, spinning tales like “Precious,” in which the narrator spews valuable coins and gems from her mouth whenever she attempts to talk or sing. In “A Habit of Waste,” a self-conscious woman undergoes elective surgery to alter her appearance; days later she’s shocked to see her former body climbing onto a public bus. In “The Glass Bottle Trick,” the young protagonist ignores her intuition regarding her new husband’s superstitions—to horrifying consequences.
Hopkinson’s unique pacing and vibrant dialogue sets a steady beat for stories that illustrate why she received the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Entertaining, challenging, and alluring, Skin Folk is not to be missed.
So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy is an anthology of original new stories by leading African, Asian, South Asian and Aboriginal authors, as well as North American and British writers of color.
Stories of imagined futures abound in Western writing. Writer and editor Nalo Hopkinson notes that the science fiction/fantasy genre “speaks so much about the experience of being alienated but contains so little writing by alienated people themselves.” It’s an oversight that Hopkinson and Mehan aim to correct with this anthology.
The book depicts imagined futures from the perspectives of writers associated with what might loosely be termed the “third world.” It includes stories that are bold, imaginative, edgy; stories that are centered in the worlds of the “developing” nations; stories that dare to dream what we might develop into.
The wealth of postcolonial literature has included many who have written insightfully about their pasts and presents. With So Long Been Dreaming they creatively address their futures.
Infused with feminist, Afro-Caribbean views of the science fiction and fantasy genres, this collection of offbeat and highly original works takes aim at race and racism in literature. In “Report from Planet Midnight,” at the International Association of the Fantastic in the Arts, an alien addresses the crowd, evaluating Earth’s “strange” customs, including the marginalization of works by nonwhite and female writers. “Message in a Bottle” shows Greg, an American Indian artist, befriending a strange four-year-old who seems wise beyond her years. While preparing an exhibition, he discovers that the young girl is a traveler from the future sent to recover art from the distant past—which apparently includes his own work. Concluding the book with series editor Terry Bisson’s Outspoken Interview, Nalo Hopkinson shares laughs, loves, and top-secret Caribbean spells.
An alluring new collection from the author of the New York Times Notable Book, Midnight Robber
Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the Ring, The Salt Roads, Sister Mine) is an internationally-beloved storyteller. Hailed by the Los Angeles Times as having “an imagination that most of us would kill for,” her Afro-Caribbean, Canadian, and American influences shine in truly unique stories that are filled with striking imagery, unlikely beauty, and delightful strangeness.
In this long-awaited collection, Hopkinson continues to expand the boundaries of culture and imagination. Whether she is retelling The Tempest as a new Caribbean myth, filling a shopping mall with unfulfilled ghosts, or herding chickens that occasionally breathe fire, Hopkinson continues to create bold fiction that transcends boundaries and borders.
Have you ever read any of Nalo Hopkinson’s work? Which was your favourite? I have read and loved Brown Girl in the Ring, Midnight Robber, and Skin Folk and look forward to reading more! Do you have a favourite folk-lore inspired SF&F writer? Share in the comments below!
Want more Black SF&F Writers?
Check out my “How Long ‘Til Black Future Month Series” for more articles featuring my favourite Black SF&F writers:
February is Black History Month in Canada and the US. Featuring Black science fiction writers might seems like an unusual way to celebrate Black history, since science fiction is undeniably the realm of futuristic speculation rather than dwelling in the past. However, if you read my last post on N.K. Jemesin’s How Long ’til Black Future Month? you’ll understand why science fiction is so important to Black people: past, present, and future.
Next up on the list of my favourite Black SF&F writers is Octavia E. Butler. I first started reading Butler about four years ago when I stumbled upon this article from TOR.com “8 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books Sexier than 50 Shades of Grey.” Granted, I’m not sure that’s such screaming praise… I’ve never read 50 Shades of anything, so I’m probably not the best judge. Anyway, Butler’s Xenogenesis/Lilith’s Brood trilogy was the only item on the list that I was intrigued enough to download.
It completely blew my mind. Not just the sexy bits (and there were a few of them) but the in-depth exploration of themes like: slavery, colonialism, and transhumanism (via subsummation by an alien species). It’s still one of the coolest SF series I’ve ever read. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Butler’s SF works.
Octavia E. Butler
“Octavia Estelle Butler was an American science fiction writer, one of the best-known among the few African-American women in the field. She won both Hugo and Nebula awards. In 1995, she became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant.
After her father died, Butler was raised by her widowed mother. Extremely shy as a child, Octavia found an outlet at the library reading fantasy, and in writing. She began writing science fiction as a teenager. She attended community college during the Black Power movement, and while participating in a local writer’s workshop was encouraged to attend the Clarion Workshop, which focused on science fiction.
She soon sold her first stories and by the late 1970s had become sufficiently successful as an author that she was able to pursue writing full-time. Her books and short stories drew the favorable attention of the public and awards judges. She also taught writer’s workshops, and eventually relocated to Washington state. Butler died of a stroke at the age of 58. Her papers are held in the research collection of the Huntington Library.”
In an “epic, game-changing, moving and brilliant” story of love and hate, two immortals chase each other across continents and centuries, binding their fates together — and changing the destiny of the human race (Viola Davis).
Doro knows no higher authority than himself. An ancient spirit with boundless powers, he possesses humans, killing without remorse as he jumps from body to body to sustain his own life. With a lonely eternity ahead of him, Doro breeds supernaturally gifted humans into empires that obey his every desire. He fears no one — until he meets Anyanwu.
Anyanwu is an entity like Doro and yet different. She can heal with a bite and transform her own body, mending injuries and reversing aging. She uses her powers to cure her neighbors and birth entire tribes, surrounding herself with kindred who both fear and respect her. No one poses a true threat to Anyanwu — until she meets Doro.
The moment Doro meets Anyanwu, he covets her; and from the villages of 17th-century Nigeria to 19th-century United States, their courtship becomes a power struggle that echoes through generations, irrevocably changing what it means to be human.
A young woman harnesses her newfound power to challenge the ruthless man who controls her, in this brilliant and provocative novel from the award-winning author of Parable of the Sower.
Mary is a treacherous experiment. Her creator, an immortal named Doro, has molded the human race for generations, seeking out those with unusual talents like telepathy and breeding them into a new subrace of humans who obey his every command. The result is Mary: a young black woman living on the rough outskirts of Los Angeles in the 1970s, who has no idea how much power she will soon wield.
Doro knows he must handle Mary carefully or risk her ending like his previous experiments: dead, either by her own hand or Doro’s. What he doesn’t suspect is that Mary’s maturing telepathic abilities may soon rival his own power. By linking telepaths with a viral pattern, she will create the potential to break free of his control once and for all-and shift the course of humanity.
A powerful story of survival in unprecedented times, from the award-winning author of Parable of the Sower.
In an alternate America marked by volatile class warfare, Blake Maslin is traveling with his teenage twin daughters when their car is ambushed. Their attackers appear sickly yet possess inhuman strength, and they transport Blake’s family to an isolated compound. There, the three captives discover that the compound’s residents have a highly contagious alien disease that has mutated their DNA to make them powerful, dangerous, and compelled to infect others. If Blake and his daughters do not escape, they will be infected with a virus that will either kill them outright or transform them into outcasts whose very existence is a threat to the world around them.
In the following hours, Blake and his daughters each must make a vital choice: risk everything to escape and warn the rest of the world, or accept their new reality — as well as the uncertain fate of the human race.
An all-powerful ruler’s son vies for control over the human race in this brilliant conclusion to the Patternist saga, from the critically acclaimed author of Parable of the Sower.
In the far future, the human race is divided into two groups striving for power. The Patternmaster rules over all, the leader of the telepathic Patternist race whose thoughts can destroy or heal at his whim. The only threat to his power are the Clayarks, mutant humans created by an alien pandemic, who now live either enslaved by the Patternists or in the wild.
Coransee, son of the ruling Patternmaster, wants the throne and will stop at nothing to get it, even if it means venturing into the wild mutant-infested hills to destroy a young apprentice — his equal and his brother.
One woman is called upon to rebuild the future of humankind after a nuclear war, in this revelatory post-apocalyptic tale from the award-winning author of Parable of the Sower.
When Lilith lyapo wakes from a centuries-long sleep, she finds herself aboard the vast spaceship of the Oankali. She discovers that the Oankali—a seemingly benevolent alien race—intervened in the fate of the humanity hundreds of years ago, saving everyone who survived a nuclear war from a dying, ruined Earth and then putting them into a deep sleep. After learning all they could about Earth and its beings, the Oankali healed the planet, cured cancer, increased human strength, and they now want Lilith to lead her people back to Earth—but salvation comes at a price.
Hopeful and thought-provoking, this post-apocalyptic narrative deftly explores gender and race through the eyes of characters struggling to adapt during a pivotal time of crisis and change.
From the award-winning author of Parable of the Sower: After the near-extinction of the human race, one young man with extraordinary gifts will reveal whether the human race can learn from its past and rebuild their future . . . or is doomed to self-destruction.
In the future, nuclear war has destroyed nearly all humankind. An alien race intervenes, saving the small group of survivors from certain death. But their salvation comes at a cost.
The Oankali are able to read and mutate genetic code, and they use these skills for their own survival, interbreeding with new species to constantly adapt and evolve. They value the intelligence they see in humankind but also know that the species-rigidly bound to destructive social hierarchies-is destined for failure. They are determined that the only way forward is for the two races to produce a new hybrid species – and they will not tolerate rebellion.
This acclaimed post-apocalyptic novel of hope and terror from an award-winning author “pairs well with 1984 or The Handmaid’s Tale” and includes a foreword by N. K. Jemisin (John Green, New York Times).
When global climate change and economic crises lead to social chaos in the early 2020s, California becomes full of dangers, from pervasive water shortage to masses of vagabonds who will do anything to live to see another day. Fifteen-year-old Lauren Olamina lives inside a gated community with her preacher father, family, and neighbors, sheltered from the surrounding anarchy. In a society where any vulnerability is a risk, she suffers from hyperempathy, a debilitating sensitivity to others’ emotions.
Precocious and clear-eyed, Lauren must make her voice heard in order to protect her loved ones from the imminent disasters her small community stubbornly ignores. But what begins as a fight for survival soon leads to something much more: the birth of a new faith . . . and a startling vision of human destiny.
Originally published in 1998, this shockingly prescient novel’s timely message of hope and resistance in the face of fanaticism is more relevant than ever.
In 2032, Lauren Olamina has survived the destruction of her home and family, and realized her vision of a peaceful community in northern California based on her newly founded faith, Earthseed. The fledgling community provides refuge for outcasts facing persecution after the election of an ultra-conservative president who vows to “make America great again.” In an increasingly divided and dangerous nation, Lauren’s subversive colony–a minority religious faction led by a young black woman–becomes a target for President Jarret’s reign of terror and oppression.
Years later, Asha Vere reads the journals of a mother she never knew, Lauren Olamina. As she searches for answers about her own past, she also struggles to reconcile with the legacy of a mother caught between her duty to her chosen family and her calling to lead humankind into a better future.
The visionary author’s masterpiece pulls us—along with her Black female hero—through time to face the horrors of slavery and explore the impacts of racism, sexism, and white supremacy then and now.
Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.
“A master storyteller, Butler casts an unflinching eye on racism, sexism, poverty, and ignorance and lets the reader see the terror and beauty of human nature.” — The Washington Post
This is the story of an apparently young, amnesiac girl whose alarmingly unhuman needs and abilities lead her to a startling conclusion: She is in fact a genetically modified, 53-year-old vampire. Forced to discover what she can about her stolen former life, she must at the same time learn who wanted-and still wants-to destroy her and those she cares for and how she can save herself.
A perfect introduction for new readers and a must-have for avid fans, this New York Times Notable Book includes “Bloodchild,” winner of both the Hugo and the Nebula awards and “Speech Sounds,” winner of the Hugo Award. Appearing in print for the first time, “Amnesty” is a story of a woman named Noah who works to negotiate the tense and co-dependent relationship between humans and a species of invaders. Also new to this collection is “The Book of Martha” which asks: What would you do if God granted you the ability—and responsibility—to save humanity from itself?
Like all of Octavia Butler’s best writing, these works of the imagination are parables of the contemporary world. She proves constant in her vigil, an unblinking pessimist hoping to be proven wrong, and one of contemporary literature’s strongest voices.
Whenever we envision a world without war, prisons, or capitalism, we are producing speculative fiction. Organizers and activists envision, and try to create, such worlds all the time. Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown have brought 20 of them together in the first anthology of short stories to explore the connections between radical speculative fiction and movements for social change. These visionary tales span genres—sci-fi, fantasy, horror, magical realism—but all are united by an attempt to inject a healthy dose of imagination and innovation into our political practice and to try on new ways of understanding ourselves, the world around us, and all the selves and worlds that could be. Also features essays by Tananarive Due and Mumia Abu-Jamal, and a preface by Sheree Renée Thomas.
“Those concerned with justice and liberation must always persuade the mass of people that a better world is possible. Our job begins with speculative fictions that fire society’s imagination and its desire for change. In adrienne maree brown and Walidah Imarisha’s visionary conception, and by its activist-artists’ often stunning acts of creative inception, Octavia’s Brood makes for great thinking and damn good reading. The rest will be up to us.” —Jeff Chang, Who We Be: The Colorization of America
Indie Book Bonus!
A writer friend of mine who is featured in Octavia’s Brood (above) has his own SF novella out right now, and I highly recommend checking it out. You can buy The Ballad of the Bladesinger directly from Jelani Wilson by clicking HERE! I’ll be doing a review of it this month, but for now suffice it to say: Read it now! It’s so much fun! You’re going to love it!
“Space Wizards! tells the story of five cosmic mages a dozen years after a failed attempt to topple a technocratic regime that ruthlessly controls all interstellar travel and activity for dominion and profit. After their defeat, our heroes have been left scattered across a cluster of star systems known as the Constellation.
Demoralized, these five survivors embark on cruel, lonely journeys to a destination of last resort. Through acts of bravery, a philosophy of intelligent combat, and feats of cosmic sorcery, they face certain death in a desperate attempt to catalyze liberation for all.”
Have you read any Octavia E. Butler? So far I’ve read the Lilith’s Brood trilogy, Parable of the Sower, and Fledgling and I’ve loved all of them. They’re all very different! Lilith’s Brood is science fiction in the aliens and spaceships kind of way, though it feels a bit like pioneer/colonization SF at times. Parable of the Sower is a brutally dark post-apocalyptic novel that is definitely not for the faint of heart, but there is a thread of hope running through it that saves it from being a Cormac McCarthy style depression fest (I’m looking at you, The Road…) And Fledgling is a SF vampire story unlike anything you’ve ever read! I can’t wait to dig into the Patternmaster series next.
Who’s your favourite Black science fiction writer?
Want more Black SF&F Writers?
Check out my “How Long ‘Til Black Future Month Series” for more articles featuring my favourite Black SF&F writers: