How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW! Part 1: N.K. Jemisin

The introduction to N.K. Jemisin’s short story collection, How Long ’til Black Future Month?, holds a truth bomb that I had somehow evaded until that moment. Jemisin explains how she began writing short stories in general and speculative fiction in particular. Her words solidified for me not only the reason that I have been drawn to writing Science Fiction as a woman, but suddenly made me realize how bloody important Science Fiction is to all marginalized people, and how grateful I am to be writing today rather than 20, 30, 50, or 100 years ago.

February is Black History Month in Canada and the US. Featuring Black science fiction writers might seem 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 this excerpt from Jemisin’s introduction, I think you’ll understand why I have chosen to do this.

“In an attempt to resolve frustration with the state of my life, I finally [in 2002] decided to see whether my lifelong writing hobby could be turned into a side hustle worth maybe a few hundred dollars. If I could make that much (or even just one hundred a year!), I might be able to cover some of my utility bills or something. Then I could get out of debt in twelve or thirteen years, instead of fifteen.

I wasn’t expecting more than that, for reasons beyond pessimism. At the time, it was clear that the speculative genres had stagnated to a dangerous degree. Science fiction claimed to be the fiction of the future, but it still mostly celebrated the faces and voices and stories of the past. In a few more years there would come the Slush-bomb, an attempt by women writers to improve one of the most sexist bastions among the Big Three; the Great Cultural Appropriation Debates of DOOM; and Racefail, a thousand-blog storm of fannish protest against institutional and individual racism within the genre. These things collectively would open a bit more room within the genre for people who weren’t cishet white guys—just in time for the release of my first published novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. But back in 2002 there was none of that. In 2002, I knew that as a black woman drawn to science fiction and fantasy, I had almost no chance of getting my work published, noticed by reviewers, or accepted by a readership that seemed to want nothing more than endless variations on medieval Europe and American colonization…

How Long ‘til Black Future Month takes its name from an essay that I wrote in 2013… It’s a shameless paean to an Afrofuturist icon, the artist Janelle Monáe, but it’s also a meditation on how hard it’s been for me to love science fiction and fantasy as a black woman. How much I’ve had to fight my own internalized racism in addition to that radiating from the fiction and the business. How terrifyin it’s been to realize no one thinks my people have a future. And how gratifying to finally accept myself and being spinning the futures I want to see.”

So this month I’m going to dedicate my posts to a handful of my favourite Black science fiction writers. These lists will by no means be exhaustive. I first made a concerted effort to read more Black SF writers back in 2017 when I discovered that October is Black Speculative Fiction Month (how cool is that?) and I have been thrilled with all the new authors I’ve found since swerving off the path beaten path by decades of exploration of “classics” and “the Canon.” However, there is a world of wonderful writers out there who deserve recognition. I’d love to hear your recommendations, too!

(Interestingly, I also wrote about my love of Janelle Monáe on this blog. You can check that article out HERE.)

So, without further ado. Let’s meet N.K. Jemisin, the first of my favourite Black SF&F writers, and someone I think all SF fans should add to their TBR piles right now!

N.K. Jemisin

N. K. Jemisin is the first author in the genre’s history to win three consecutive Best Novel Hugo Awards, for her Broken Earth trilogy. Her work has won the Nebula and Locus Awards, and she is a 2020 MacArthur Fellow. The first book in her current Great Cities trilogy, THE CITY WE BECAME, is a New York Times bestseller. Her speculative works range from fantasy to science fiction to the undefinable; her themes include resistance to oppression, the inseverability of the liminal, and the coolness of Stuff Blowing Up. She’s been an instructor for Clarion and Clarion West writing workshops. Among other critical work, she was formerly the science fiction and fantasy book reviewer at the New York Times. In her spare time she’s a gamer and gardener, responsible for saving the world from KING OZZYMANDIAS, her dangerously intelligent ginger cat, and his destructive sidekick, the Marvelous Master Magpie.

Jemisin wrote an essay called “How Long ’til Black Future Month,” which does not appear in the short story collection, but which you can read for free on her website by clicking THIS LINK.

The Books

The Inheritance Trilogy


The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (2010)

After her mother’s mysterious death, a young woman is summoned to the floating city of Sky in order to claim a royal inheritance she never knew existed in the first book in this award-winning fantasy trilogy from the NYT bestselling author of The Fifth Season.

Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother’s death and her family’s bloody history.

With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Yeine will learn how perilous it can be when love and hate — and gods and mortals — are bound inseparably together.


The Broken Kingdoms (2010)

A man with no memory of his past and a struggling, blind street artist will face off against the will of the gods as the secrets of this stranger’s past are revealed in the sequel to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the debut novel of NYT bestselling author N. K. Jemisin.

In the city of Shadow, beneath the World Tree, alleyways shimmer with magic and godlings live hidden among mortalkind. Oree Shoth, a blind artist, takes in a strange homeless man on an impulse. This act of kindness engulfs Oree in a nightmarish conspiracy. Someone, somehow, is murdering godlings, leaving their desecrated bodies all over the city. And Oree’s guest is at the heart of it. . .


The Kingdom of Gods
(2011)

Shahar and the godling Sieh must face off against the terrible magic threatening to consume their world in the incredible conclusion to the Inheritance Trilogy, from Hugo award-winning and NYT bestselling author N. K. Jemisin.

For two thousand years the Arameri family has ruled the world by enslaving the very gods that created mortalkind. Now the gods are free, and the Arameri’s ruthless grip is slipping. Yet they are all that stands between peace and world-spanning, unending war.

Shahar, last scion of the family, must choose her loyalties. She yearns to trust Sieh, the godling she loves. Yet her duty as Arameri heir is to uphold the family’s interests, even if that means using and destroying everyone she cares for.

As long-suppressed rage and terrible new magics consume the world, the Maelstrom — which even gods fear — is summoned forth. Shahar and Sieh: mortal and god, lovers and enemies. Can they stand together against the chaos that threatens?

Includes a never before seen story set in the world of the Inheritance Trilogy.

The Dreamblood Duology

The Killing Moon (2012)

Assassin priests, mad kings, and the goddess of death collide in the first book of the Dreamblood Duology by NYT bestselling and three time Hugo-Award winning author N. K. Jemisin.

The city burned beneath the Dreaming Moon.

In the ancient city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Upon its rooftops and amongst the shadows of its cobbled streets wait the Gatherers — the keepers of this peace. Priests of the dream-goddess, their duty is to harvest the magic of the sleeping mind and use it to heal, soothe . . . and kill those judged corrupt.

But when a conspiracy blooms within Gujaareh’s great temple, Ehiru — the most famous of the city’s Gatherers — must question everything he knows. Someone, or something, is murdering dreamers in the goddess’ name, stalking its prey both in Gujaareh’s alleys and the realm of dreams. Ehiru must now protect the woman he was sent to kill — or watch the city be devoured by war and forbidden magic.


The Shadowed Sun (2012)

In the final book of NYT bestselling and three time Hugo-Award winning author N. K. Jemisin’s Dreamblood Duology, a priestess and an exiled prince must join together to free the city of dreams from imperial rule.

Gujaareh, the city of dreams, suffers under the imperial rule of the Kisuati Protectorate. A city where the only law was peace now knows violence and oppression. And nightmares: a mysterious and deadly plague haunts the citizens of Gujaareh, dooming the infected to die screaming in their sleep. Trapped between dark dreams and cruel overlords, the people yearn to rise up — but Gujaareh has known peace for too long.

Someone must show them the way.

Hope lies with two outcasts: the first woman ever allowed to join the dream goddess’ priesthood and an exiled prince who longs to reclaim his birthright. Together, they must resist the Kisuati occupation and uncover the source of the killing dreams. . . before Gujaareh is lost forever.

Broken Earth series


The Fifth Season (2015)

The start of a new fantasy trilogy by Hugo, Nebula & World Fantasy Award nominated author N.K. Jemisin.


THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS… FOR THE LAST TIME.

A season of endings has begun.

It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun.

It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.

It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.

This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.


The Obelisk Gate (2016)

Continuing the trilogy that began with the award-winning The Fifth Season

This is the way the world ends, for the last time.

The season of endings grows darker, as civilization fades into the long cold night.

Essun — once Damaya, once Syenite, now avenger — has found shelter, but not her daughter. Instead there is Alabaster Tenring, destroyer of the world, with a request. But if Essun does what he asks, it would seal the fate of the Stillness forever.

Far away, her daughter Nassun is growing in power – and her choices will break the world.

The Stone Sky (2017)

Humanity will finally be saved or destroyed in the shattering conclusion to the post-apocalyptic and highly acclaimed NYT bestselling trilogy that won the Hugo Award three years in a row.

The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women.

Essun has inherited the power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene child can grow up safe.

For Nassun, her mother’s mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world, and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed.


Great Cities Series


The City We Became (2020)

One of TIME Magazine‘s 100 Best Fantasy Books of all time
One of TIME Magazine‘s 100 Must-Read Books of 2020
One of Vanity Fair‘s 15 Best Books of 2020
One of Amazon’s Best Books of 2020

Three-time Hugo Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author N.K. Jemisin crafts her most incredible novel yet, a “glorious” story of culture, identity, magic, and myths in contemporary New York City.

In Manhattan, a young grad student gets off the train and realizes he doesn’t remember who he is, where he’s from, or even his own name. But he can sense the beating heart of the city, see its history, and feel its power.

In the Bronx, a Lenape gallery director discovers strange graffiti scattered throughout the city, so beautiful and powerful it’s as if the paint is literally calling to her.

In Brooklyn, a politician and mother finds she can hear the songs of her city, pulsing to the beat of her Louboutin heels.

And they’re not the only ones.

Every great city has a soul. Some are ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York? She’s got six.

Short Story Collection

How Long ’til Black Future Month? (2018)

Three-time Hugo Award winner and NYT bestselling author N. K. Jemisin challenges and delights readers with thought-provoking narratives of destruction, rebirth, and redemption that sharply examine modern society in her first collection of short fiction, which includes never-before-seen stories.

“Marvelous and wide-ranging.” — Los Angeles Times“Gorgeous” — NPR Books“Breathtakingly imaginative and narratively bold.” — Entertainment Weekly

Spirits haunt the flooded streets of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a parallel universe, a utopian society watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes. A black mother in the Jim Crow South must save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises. And in the Hugo award-nominated short story “The City Born Great,” a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis’s soul.

Discussion

Have you read any N.K. Jemisin yet? I admit, I haven’t read all of these. I have read the Inheritance trilogy, Book One in the Dreamblood duology, and all of the short stories in How Long ’til Black Future Month?. I’m most looking forward to The City We Became because I love the way Jemisin is able to anthropomorphise Cities until they become characters in their own right. She’s got a couple of great short stories in her collection that got my gears turning. I have read enough of her work that I am confident in recommending you pick up anything of hers that you come across!

Do you have a favourite Black science fiction writer? Drop your recommendations 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:

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part One, N.K. Jemesin

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part Two, Octavia E. Butler

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part Three, Nalo Hopkinson

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part Four, Nnedi Okorafor

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part Five: Indie Edition

Indie Feature Friday: GRINDERS by C.S. Boyack

Indie Feature Friday: GRINDERS by C.S. Boyack

I’ve been making an effort to read more books by independent authors this year, both to support indies and also to see what’s going on outside the world of Big House publishing. My focus is usually science fiction, but you will see some other genres pop up here and there. I will be sharing a review every Friday. So if you if you love books, science fiction, and supporting indie authors, be sure to follow along!

Indie Book Review with Sarah Does Sci-Fi

Today, I’m reviewing Grinders by C.S. Boyack!

Grinders by C.S. Boyack.
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I first discovered author C.S. Boyack through the Story Empire blog, where he is a frequent contributor. After reading a number of helpful posts on storyboarding, I wandered over to his personal blog, Entertaining Stories, and have been happily following along for a couple of years now. I don’t naturally gravitate toward blogs as my social-media of choice and I tend to lurk more than like, comment, and share. However, I do buy books (much faster than I can read them.)

I’ve bought a few of Boyack’s novels this year, and as they pop up in my e-TBR pile, I will be reviewing them here. This is the first!

Indie Book Review: Grinders by C.S. Boyack

When approaching a new-to-me author I do what any self-respecting book browser does. I gravitate toward the prettiest covers. This lead me to the purchase of Grinders and Voyage of the Lanternfish. Who doesn’t love neon lights and deep-ocean creatures, right?

I was in the mood for something in the sci-fi vein more than fantasy, so I started with Grinders.

The Genre-Mashup of My Dreams

I am a shameless detective novel addict. I can’t get enough of them. I love everything from gruesome true crime to ridiculous crime capers, but there’s a special place in my heart for the classic police procedural or detective novel.

Of course, the whole point of Grinders is that Jimi Cabot and her partner Lou are not detectives. They’re just bottom of the barrel beat cops.

The beat, though, is a cyberpunk dream. (Or is it a nightmare?) Set in a futuristic San Francisco full of holographic pop-up ads and illegally cyber-enhanced citizens, Grinders is like “Ghost in the Shell” meets “Law and Order.”

The Characters

Jimi nearly lost her job after the San Francisco PD discovered a secret from her past, and has been relegated to the Grinder Squad, a go-nowhere department run out of the basement at HQ.

Here, she meets Lou, a seasoned PD vet whose old-school skills have made him obsolete. He’s waiting out the days until his retirement and is a little resentful at getting stuck with the new blood.

There’s a great dynamic between Jimi and Lou as they are forever seeking a balance between her youthful enthusiasm and his cynical realism. Both characters have a lot more going on beyond the job, and Boyack weaves their backstories into the main plot expertly.

The Setup

Everybody knows that the Grinder Squad is a sham department. Theoretically, their purpose is to crack down on the growing Grinder problem–that is, black market doctors who install illegal cyber-enhancements. But Grinders are notoriously elusive and the PD basically uses it to drum up funds for the rest of the departments. The Grinder Squad gets stuck with the grunt work, while the “real cops” do all the fun stuff.

But Jimi is convinced that if she can bust a Grinder, she’ll redeem herself and save her career. If only she could get Lou on board with her plan!

The Execution

I loved this book. Grinders bops along at a steady pace, using the characters to drive the plot forward and explore the world without ever falling into the tedious exposition that kills a lot of SF novels.

The funny thing is, Grinders isn’t a fast paced action/thriller but it never feels slow. I got so caught up in the day-to-day tasks of Jimi and Lou, the interesting cast of characters they meet up, and their own personal struggles that I didn’t think a whole lot about the main plot line until suddenly all the connections came together and BAM! It all came together.

Boyack has a great sense of humour. In particular, I loved the way he poked fun at some current social phenomena by exploring where they might go in the future. Cyber shut-ins, crypto currency schemes, political correctness on steroids, and the inevitable result of aggressive helicopter parenting all get stirred into the mix with hilarious results.

Technical Details

I hate that I have to mention this, but I know how some people feel about independent books. I know the fear of spending your hard earned pennies on something that the author hasn’t even bothered to edit.

Fear not, fellow readers!

Grinders is well-written, cleanly edited, and formatted perfectly. You will get nothing less than the best. This is a professional product from an experienced writer, and it shows.

5 Star Review!

If you love science fiction worlds and strong character development, this is the book for you! Grinders will give you a lot to think about, but it’s fun and entertaining and emotionally driven. You aren’t going to get bogged down in a bunch of hard SF technical details and mumbo jumbo. You are going to care deeply about these characters and the fascinating world they live in, and you’re going to love the way everything ties together in the end.

A Note on Reviews:

Did you know that reviews are essential to independent authors’ visibility?

If you buy an indie book, first of all “THANK YOU!” from all of us. It’s a tough go out there competing with big publishing houses and their million dollar marketing plans. Any support you can give us has a huge impact.

Second of all, please leave an honest review on Goodreads and wherever you purchased your copy. Indie authors read your reviews! If you loved it, great! Tell us why so we can try to do it again. If you didn’t, that’s okay, too! Please tell us what didn’t work so that we can keep it in mind for the next book.

**I only review my favourite indie books on the blog. My goal is to support other independent creators and share my platform with positivity. I’m not here to criticize or bring down anyone, so if I read a book that I don’t feel is up to par I will let the author know privately. You will only find 4 and 5 star reviews on this page. Feel free to suggest a book for me to review in the comments!**

Thanks for reading! Let me know what you’ve got in your TBR pile. What do you think of Grinders? Have you read it? Will you? Tell me all the things…

Indie Feature Friday: PROPHECY by Caroline Noe

Indie Feature Friday: PROPHECY by Caroline Noe

I haven’t done a book review in a long time, but since getting involved with the #bookstagram community on Instagram I have read so many wonderful indie and hybrid authors, and I think it’s time to share some of the wealth with you guys. I will try to reserve my end-of-week posts for Indie Feature Friday so that they are easy to find.

First up, is Prophecy by Caroline Noe, Book One in The Canellian Eye trilogy!

Click through to Amazon.com

I have been following Caroline Noe on Instagram for a while now, and I have always been so impressed with how supportive she is of other authors. Her feed is full of beautiful photography, thoughts on life, and reviews of independently published books. If you’re on the gram, you should definitely check her out!

Review: Prophecy

I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from Noe’s Canellian Eye trilogy. I had seen the gorgeous covers many times when she posted about her work, but I hadn’t actually gone to creep the Amazon listing. In my head it was a post-apocalyptic SF because there’s a lot of that on Instagram. I also expected it to be YA.

Preconceptions aside, when Noe offered a promo on Book One, Prophecy, I bought the whole trilogy without worrying too much about the specifics. I had seen her help and support so many other authors, I knew I wanted to support her. So I jumped into the first book without having any idea what to expect.

I was blown away!

First of all, let me clear things up. It’s not YA, by my definition. The characters are young, and there’s no graphic sex or dirty talk, but the themes definitely skew toward an older crowd. New Adult, perhaps. But I think we can safely call this a book for adult readers.

Second of all, this is not a Post-Apocalyptic or Dystopian Sci-Fi. It’s a blend of Science Fiction and Science Fantasy (I never know where to draw the line between the two). It’s got aliens, space travel, the colonization of a new planet, and inter-species conflict galore. I was so pleasantly surprised by everything about this book.

The Plot

The Canellian’s are an alien species from a dying planet. Following an ancient prophecy, they identify their Chosen One and send him and a handful of their best and brightest into the stars to find a new home. For those left behind, it is the ultimate sacrifice for their species. For those on the ship, the struggle for survival is only just beginning.

No Spoilers!

That’s all I’m going to say about that. But let’s just say that things don’t go exactly as planned. Like in any great book, Noe makes her character’s lives miserable. It all makes for some fantastic reading!

My thoughts…

Prophecy starts off slow and atmospheric. There is a bit of back story the reader needs to become acquainted with. We have a large cast of characters to meet and become familiar with. Readers of SF will likely be comfortable with this slow and steady world building. And once the action starts, you will be glad you spent so much time getting to know the world and the people in it!

Then shit hits the fan, first in outer space and then on the planet they must make an emergency landing on. And when the action starts, it doesn’t let up until the end.

Prophecy is exquisitely complex. Noe’s characters are all so wonderfully developed that, even though there are many of them, they each leap off the page as individuals. Even the baddies are relatable on some level. The emotional undercurrents driving the plot are so strong, you can’t help feeling completely invested in the outcome.

Technical Details

Many Indie books suffer a little in the design, formatting, and editing aspects of publication. It’s tough to be an indie and have to pay out of pocket for all of these services (which are NOT cheap! It can cost thousands of dollars to produce a book you buy for a couple of bucks or download for free during a promo!) I am willing to look past a few Indie quirks for this reason. It is very difficult to compete with the teams of people who work on books from Big House publishers.

Prophecy is a work of pure professionalism, though. It is easily as well edited and designed as any book put out by one of the Big Guys. You would never know Noe was an indie writer if I didn’t tell you! I’m very, very impressed with her work and I cannot wait to dive into Books Two and Three in The Canellian Eye trilogy!

The Canellian Eye Book Two: Chosen by Caroline Noe
The Canellian Eye Book Three: Rebellion by Caroline Noe

My Rating: * * * * *

I’m giving this book and easy 5 Stars. If you love true SF, with space ships, aliens, and interspecies warfare, this is the book for you. If you love books with complex characters, richly developed relationships, a little romance and adventure, this is the book for you!

Reviews

If you decide to pick up Prophecy please let me know what you think! More importantly, leave a review wherever you purchase it from so that other readers can find it and fall in love, too.

Thanks for reading!

Indie Book Review: Jim and Martha by Joel Schueler

Jim & Martha: An Indie Classic for the 21st Century

Sometimes when I’m in the middle of writing and revisions I start to get bogged down by my own voice. One way that I kick myself out of a rut is to read something outside my genre, or something completely different from my usual reads. Jim & Martha is something I picked up on a whim because I was so intrigued by the idea of a tragicomedy set in an ecovillage. It isn’t solarpunk, but I thought it might help trigger some new ideas for me. I got all that and more!

From the Book Jacket:

Jim & Martha is a tragicomedy about a couple entering a major lifestyle change, transitioning from a suburban London flat to an ecovillage. Racing along a two-lane road of humour and tragedy at one hundred miles per hour, how will the lovers fare with their new environment, their new cohabitants, their mental health and each other? As the ecovillage becomes a crossroads of instability, who can trust who? Adventure or nightmare, some things are inescapable…

Click on to the ‘zon

My Review: 4/5 Stars

JIM AND MARTHA is a wry, darkly comic novel about relationships, community, and the environment. It is not an easy read by current standards; the language is rich with imagery and symbolism, the narrative flow is at times almost “stream of consciousness” in style.

It took me a while to get acclimated to Schueler’s authorial voice. Because this is an indie book, it would be easy to assume it needed another pass from an editor. The sentence structures can be challenging and Schueler uses a rich and varied vocabulary. I even learned a few new words and I consider myself a language buff!

I assure you, the author knows his craft! If you are at all  familiar with literary modernism, please give this book a chance. It is, in my opinion, a classic for the new millennium that speaks to all the dissatisfaction and cultural angst of our generation.

Once I learned to trust that the author’s language was intentional, I was able to relax into the narrative flow and really hear the character’s thoughts and feel them as my own. The imagery is raw and poignant, and often surprisingly “real” without being pretty or flowery.

Underlying the tale of the titular Jim and Martha’s voyage to an eco-village is a current of anxiety that I think readers under the age of 40 will know well. The urge to escape, to start fresh, and to rebuild is haunted by the fear that we can never truly escape ourselves.

I gave the novel 4/5 stars because I did find some of the unusual sentence structures distracting, and to my eye it didn’t serve any particular purpose. I also struggled a bit in moments where the POV character shifted from one character to another. I could have used more hints, earlier, to signify the shift as I had to reread some passages when I realized I was in a different character’s head.

However, this not detract too much from an overall wonderfully fresh reading experience. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves the English language!

Indie Recommendations:

Does anyone have any great indie reads they’d like to see reviewed here? My preference is for SF&F and I’m especially interested in the SolarPunk movement. But I’m open to any suggestions! Let me know in the comments section.

Fantasy Review: My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due

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I just finished reading My Soul to Keep, a supernatural suspense novel from 1997, written by Tananarive Due. I had never heard of Due or her African Immortals series until stumbling upon a suggestion from a “Women of Horror” reading recommendations list. My Soul to Keep is not what I would call a horror novel, exactly. It is pretty scary, but not in a gory gross-out kind of way. Due masterfully integrates the supernatural into a vividly realistic story about Jessica and David, a seemingly perfect middle class African American family with a 5 year old daughter, as they navigate successful careers, marital bliss, and a series of devastating losses.

I’m torn on how I feel about this novel, and I think I’ll have to continue in the series to decide for sure. On one hand, I love Due’s take on the theme of immortality that has been so popular for the last twenty years. If you love vampire books but are tired of vampires, this is a great place to start. Due also tackles some interesting aspects of human history that most popular titles gloss over or avoid entirely, with a focus on African and Middle Eastern history rather than European.

However, the focus of the novel seemed to be on the inexplicable love between Jessica and David, which I just could not get into. From the very beginning, David’s character really rubbed me the wrong way. He’s controlling, condescending, and emotionally manipulative. Jessica is a bright, driven young woman who seems to have fallen for a guy because he’s good looking and good in bed (which–SPOILER ALERT!–he should be after 500 years experience).

The true horror of this novel is their relationship, and I’m not sure yet whether or not that was Due’s intent. I’m a bit cynical after the barrage of novels that romanticize abusive relationships in recent years (and, lets face it, these kinds of stories have a long history–from Wuthering Heights to Twilight and on). As the novel progresses, David gets more and more abusive, and it gets harder and harder to understand why Jessica puts up with it. But we all know people in relationships like this; Due’s story is frustratingly believable. What makes me uneasy is that, even by the end of the novel, it’s not clear whether or not we are supposed to love David like Jessica does or if their love is the horror of the novel.

It wasn’t until the very end of the novel that I could say whether or not I liked it. Due’s writing is lush, and often brilliant. Her characters certainly evoke an emotional response. But when the novel ended, I was still angry. I wanted redemption for Jessica and some kind of punishment for David, and while Due hints that this is where the series is going, you have to read on to find out for sure. But there was enough resolution that I did end feeling like there was hope, and this makes me want to read at least the next book in the series.

I suspect that Due intended for Jessica and David’s relationship to be unsettling. If she did, she executed it beautifully, and my own discomfort is testimony to that. Her depiction of David from his own POV is unequivocally selfish and greedy even as he is professing his love (obsession) for Jessica. I doubt very much that a writer of Due’s skill would make this mistake. But we never really learn how much of this Jessica sees for herself by the end of the novel, and so the emotional arc of Book One feels incomplete.

I’ll definitely read on, though. And I think I can recommend it to anyone who enjoys urban fantasy, supernatural suspense, paranormal thrillers, and yes, paranormal romance. Have you read it? What did you think? How about the rest of the series? Let me know in the comments!

SF Review: Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

“I’ve always been fascinated by candles. Looking into the flame calms me down. Here in Nigeria, PHC is always taking the lights, so I keep candles in my room just in case.

PHC stands for “Power Holding Company of Nigeria,” but people like to say it really stands for “Please Hold Candles in Nigeria.” Back in Chicago we had ConEd, and the electricity was always working. Not here, though. Not yet. Maybe in the future.” – from Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

When I sat down to read Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor last December, the power went out. Literally, the moment I finished reading the above passage, the very first two paragraphs of the prologue, my house went dark. I didn’t need a candle to keep reading. I dimmed the background light on my e-book and kept going. Yet, I can’t deny a moment’s hesitation. I felt something significant had happened. This book was going to be special.

Our power outage lasted nine hours which, in the dead of a Saskatchewan winter, on one of the coldest nights of the year, is a little unsettling. I stayed up later than usual, waiting for the heat to come back, reading the story of Sunny—a twelve-year-old Nigerian girl who discovers she is a Leopard Person, a person with natural magical talents—and eventually, I had to crawl into bed with my own children while the house got colder and colder around us. I fell asleep thinking about magic.

Magic is what brought me to Akata Witch, somewhat indirectly. But I’ll get back to that.

I first read about the author, Nnedi Okorafor last year when I belatedly realized that October was Black Speculative Fiction Month, and I read a slew of articles recommending books and authors who are often overlooked in the genre. Okorafor’s novel Who Fears Death was on nearly every one of them.

For reasons I don’t recall, I never ended up downloading Who Fears Death, but I did download Akata Witch and Binti—a SF novella about a young woman who gives up her life on earth for a prestigious opportunity to study at the intergallactically famous Oozma University. Now, I have said I don’t recall why I downloaded these two other works and I didn’t download the much-lauded Who Fears Death, but in retrospect I think I can guess. Let me explain.

The realization that there was a Black Speculative Fiction Month came with the dual realization that there was Black Speculative Fiction. Not just that there were black SF writers which, as a fan of Nalo Hopkinson, Octavia E. Butler, N.K. Jemison and others, I was aware of—oddly, I found these writers while seeking out female writers in a male-dominated genre without acutely realizing the significance of their race in a historically white-dominated genre. What surprised me, though, was the sheer volume of SF by black writers, entire sub-categories of my self-professed favourite genre, that I had no idea were out there. It was very exciting to me, and also very overwhelming.

After studying English Literature for five years in university, I’ve read a lot of the classics and the critical theory that has come out of them. I’m quite well-versed in the Canon of English Literature. After I graduated, though, I swore off the classics. I had had enough of the stuffy European white dudes over-analyzing “their” world. I re-discovered my love for Science Fiction and Fantasy, where I continued to read mostly white dudes, but at least there were sometimes lasers and spaceships and the occasional fantasy race in which women had power and there were side-characters with “exotic” names and descriptions of skin-colours that made everyone sound edible. (Note to Writers: Please stop describing characters of colour with words like chocolate, coffee, caramel, café o lait, etc. The trope is tired, and your effort is lazy—Yes, I have been guilty of this, too)

It didn’t take me long to realize that much of my frustrations with the Canon were repeating themselves in the genre fiction I was reading. I attempted to remedy this by reading more women writers. I started with Margaret Atwood, whom I have loved since high-school, and branched out from there. Ursula K. Leguin, Anne McCaffrey, Madeleine L’Engle, Doris Lessing, Sheri S. Tepper… I researched lists, and spent months tracking down new-to-me writers and the massive potential for SF&F exploded before me once again. I was absolutely dumbfounded by how similar and yet how different these genres could be when the stories were told by women.

These lists drew me to other lists: I started reading queer writers, aboriginal writers, Canadian writers, writers who were immigrants or refugees, non-English writers whose works had been translated… The more I branched out into these different intersections via the lives and identities of the writers’ themselves, the more I found how much I had been missing.

The trouble is, when we stick to the classics, and the best-seller lists, we only see a tiny sliver of what is out there. Big publishers tend to stick to what is safe and easy to sell, and has mass-market appeal, and often—unless potential readers have been primed by the likes of Oprah Winfrey—this means it is very similar to something else people have read and bought and loved on a massive scale.

But I don’t read science fiction to feel safe. I read science fiction to explore vastly different worlds, different social and political systems, different sex and gender and sexuality norms—to push human potential for good and evil to its extremes. Right?

Well…

I remember how magic brought me to Akata Witch. It was this preface to the book description by the publisher,

 “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.”

Jumping into the world of Black Speculative Fiction has been exciting. And overwhelming. Without even realizing that I was doing it, I rejected Who Fears Death and downloaded Akata Witch, instead. Because the description for Who Fears Death was a little outside my comfort zone. I wasn’t sure what to expect of it (despite numerous credible sources telling me it was wonderful and right up my alley). I was immediately drawn to Akata Witch, the comparison to a well-loved children’s classic, just different enough to be fresh but familiar enough to be safe.

After I finished reading Akata Witch, and loved every word of it, I enthusiastically recommended it to my friends and family using this exact same description: “the Nigerian Harry Potter.” Which is precisely what the publisher intended, I can only assume.

The problem is that Akata Witch is nothing like Harry Potter, a fact that I didn’t even consider until a friend and fellow writer, Jelani Wilson of Pages Without Paper, called it to my attention. Not only is Okorafor’s novel nothing like Rowling’s, the comparison ultimately places the books in a hierarchy where Harry Potter automatically reigns supreme.

Okorafor tweeted about this problem in January, saying “Thanks to the #BlackHogwarts hashtag, The Akata Books will probably never get away from the reductive label of “the Nigerian Harry Potter.” … I mean, I am flattered and happy to see people excited about the series, but I think my books have a foundation that is quite different from the Potter books. They are their own thing, not the African version of something else that gets to be its own thing.”

And it’s true. My initial impression that there was something special about Okorafor’s Akata books was bang on.

Akata Witch is a brilliant, original story about an exceptional young girl’s journey toward self-discovery. Although there are magical elements to the story, Okorafor explores issues of racism, colourism, poverty, classism, sexism, and violence without shielding her readers with euphemism and fantastical allegory. Sunny and her friends have remarkable abilities, but they are operating in the real world which, in my mind, elevates Akata Witch to something beyond “Black Harry Potter.”

Having a background in English Literature means that my instinct when reading is to mentally compare a book with other books that I have read. I think this can be a great way to explore stories, actually. But stepping outside of my comfort zone of classic/white/Western literature means I have to rethink the way that I do this.

For one thing, I need to read a lot more! I can’t critique a writer like Okorafor the way I can Margaret Atwood. I don’t have the foundation yet. Or, rather, my foundation is the same but I’m trying to build on different terrain. Atwood I understand within the context of the Canon. I studied her in high school alongside Alice Munro and Margaret Laurence (Canadian women writers), and George Orwell and William Golding (Science Fiction classics). Even while Atwood has resisted classification as a feminist or science fiction writer, I feel comfortable viewing her work through those lenses and her own definitions of those terms. Comparing and contrasting Atwood’s work to other white “classic” authors has never felt reductive to me. In a sense, classic writers are all talking to each other and about each other and these comparisons come easily and naturally.

What do we do with writers, and genres, that are a part of a different conversation, though? Ones that have no interest in speaking to the so-called Canon except, perhaps, to reject it. Ones that have their own Canons to explore? If I’m going to venture out of my comfort zone, into new-to-me literary worlds, I need also to be prepared to let go of my old-world assumptions and expectations.

Of course, I can compare Okorafor to writers like Atwood (or J.K. Rowling), and these observations would be valid. But if I only compare her to white western writers, I am missing out on the other myriad intersections of her work. Comparing Akata Witch to Harry Potter has some merit. But implying that Akata Witch is a Nigerian iteration of Rowling’s story completely negates the rich history of black women writers, Nigerian writers, Afro-futurists, magical realists, etc. that Okorator belongs to, and reduces her work to a mere reflection of a single pop culture phenomenon.

I’m writing this review-cum-essay to unpack my own goals and motives as I attempt to expand my reading experience. But I also want to encourage other people to do the same. Whatever your reading niche has been, no matter how vast or varied, I guarantee there is something new out there for you. I hope you’ll seek it out, and be ready to explore these new worlds on their own terms, to allow them to be their own stories.

Book Review: Refuse by Jennifer Roush

Refuse by Jennifer Roush

I can honestly say that Jennifer Roush’s sci-fi novel Refuse is unlike anything I have ever read. I’m guessing this is going to be new to you, too. Now, don’t go running away screaming. This is not some experimental post-narrative fart sniffing BS. When I say new I mean…

 

I have never been inside a characters head quite like this before. And I like it.

 

Refuse is a serious book that doesn’t take itself too seriously. And you can hear Roush’s voice oozing out of every word of every sentence. This book has style. Narrative style. A very distinct narrative style that I can only compare to the likes of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (both of whom Roush is nothing like, I just compare for the intensity of authorial voice).

 

It’s not going to be for everyone, I’ll say that right now.

 

Refuse is the story of Antoinette Foucault, a human resident on the asteroid Psyche (which is shared with two other alien species, the mysterious Grays and the powerful Amarians). Psyche is home to a Colony of the solar systems unwanted humans: emotional deviants who refuse to conform to Amarian rules. Antoinette is not a patient of the Colony, but she should be.

 

The band of misfits that propel this story are so bizarre it’s almost a thing of beauty. The inner workings of Antoinette’s mind as she works her way through the mysterious society of Psyche certainly are beautiful. Raw and course and sometimes ugly; but beautiful.

 

What I like best about Refuse beyond the sheer strangeness of the plot and characters, is Antoinette’s voice. The gritty, gross, sometimes absurd musings of a woman who is destined to destroy her home. She’s a deviant, surely. But in this world, so are we all. Sometimes Anty is so funny that we forget there is nothing funny about her situation, and that’s the beauty of this book.

 

I’m a big fan of SF that gets outside the box. Science fiction should be a world without boxes, but there’s a tradition at play that many writers struggle to break free from. Roush succeeds, and then some. She manages to play with ideas around species, individuality, gender, race, and sexuality so fluidly that you don’t realize much of what Antoinette is going through is a parallel to our own world. If you’re like me, you’ll be laughing too hard to realize that Refuse is a serious book.

 

And that’s why I love it.

FULL DISCLOSURE: Jennifer Roush is my friend and sometimes editor. My review is in no way coloured by this relationship. She’d probably beat me if I praised her for something that didn’t deserve praise. The fact is, I know a lot of very clever people, and I will be showcasing them (and others) here as often as I can. And I promise I will only review things I genuinely love, or genuinely hate, here. Because taste matters.

That said, if you have something you would like me to read and review (of yours or someone else’s) please let me know.

Book Review: Albert Perkins and the Lost City (The Tau Bootes Chronicles, book 1) by Lazarus Gray

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I haven’t done a book review in a really long time. I honestly hardly have time to read these day. But I just finished reading Albert Perkins and the Lost City, the debut novel by indie author Lazarus Gray. I’m so glad I made time for this book!

I haven’t been so pleasantly surprised by an indie read in a long time, and I’m thrilled to recommend it to you today. Albert Perkins is a quick, action packed read that will take you from the deepest desert of the Australian outback and to the furthest reaches of outer space. The combination may sound strange, but Gray has drawn it up with an expert hand. Albert Perkins is an aborigine meteorologist who, with his companions, manages to survive a deadly earthquake only to find that the adventure is just beginning. They embark on a mission to save mankind from themselves (not to mention the notorious Grays, no relation to the author).

 

Gray’s writing is reminiscent of a modern Jules Verne. His attention to detail is impeccable, and the science that back up this fascinating story is both well-researched and well-presented. But what I think I loved most about this book is how kind-hearted it is. It’s uncommon to find such a cast of lovable, relatable characters—people who genuine just want to do what is best and to make the world a better place. There is conflict, of course, and lots of action. Yet Gray manages to maintain a pureness of spirit that is so refreshing, particularly in contemporary science fiction writing.

 

Albert Perkins and the Lost City would be an excellent entry point to those who are new to the genre. The writing is very accessible, the science is both believable and easy to understand, and it hits on many key themes within SF writing—alien life, conspiracy theories, natural disasters, the failings of modern civilization—and it brings with it an optimism and positivity that is much rarer. I also loved the unique focus on aborigine culture and spirituality. Whether you are a sci-fi buff or beginner, you will be well-rewarded by making time for this book.

 

Congratulations on a great debut, Lazarus Gray. All in all, it was a fun, refreshing read. I look forward to seeing more of you in the future!

Exciting News for The Timekeepers’ War

October was a great month for The Timekeepers’ War! It reached the #4 spot for Paperback sales at Necro Publications, the first time I’ve made the top ten list. Also, the Hallowe’en Goodreads Giveaway is complete and the books have been shipped! I’m looking forward to hearing from the winners once they’ve had a chance to read The Timekeepers’ War. I was slightly disappointed to find that nobody participated in the WordPress and Facebook versions of the contest, but I realize that I didn’t do a great job of publicizing the events. I will have to be better organized next time. This whole social media thing is a little overwhelming at times, but I’m learning!

Luckily, I’m about to get some help in that department. Necro Publications has recently announced the addition of a full time Marketing and PR Manager who will be working with each of Necro’s authors to develop a plan to get more reviews, interviews, and other fun stuff. She has some very interesting ideas for The Timekeepers’ War and I can’t wait to get started! I don’t want to spoil any surprises until we’ve got things finalized, but stay tuned for some exciting new developments.

On that note, if you are a reviewer interested in The Timekeepers’ War or if you would like to schedule an interview, please contact David Barnett [dave@necropublications.com] and he will forward your request to Kristie. Thanks for reading!