Book Review: Slipping: Stories, Essays, & Other Writing, Lauren Beukes (2016)

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

“I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for violence against women.)

a is for algebra

“It’s all equations,” she says. “It’s all explainable.” Like we could break down the whole universe into factors and exponents and multiples of x. Like there is no mystery to anything at all.

“Okay, what about love?” I shoot back, irritated at her practicality.

And she ripostes with: “Fine. xx + xy = xxx.”

She has to explain the bit about chromosomes. This is her idea of a dirty joke. Later, I wonder if this was also her idea of a come-on.

(“Alegbra”)

Don’t worry, she repeats, her back to him, laying out things with serrated edges and conducting pads and blunt wrenching teeth. You can’t dehumanize something that isn’t human.

(“Unaccounted”)

Pearl looks back at the protestors. One of the handwritten banners stays with her. “I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” it reads.

(“Slipping”)

I love Lauren Beukes, and I generally dig short stories – especially those belonging to the SF/dystopia genre. So I was pretty psyched to get my hands on an early copy of Slipping, Beukes’s very first collection of short fiction and non-fiction essays. (There’s also 2014’s Pop Tarts and Other Stories, which I’m not counting since it’s comprised of just three short stories – all of which appear here.)

Slipping starts off a little meh; not meh-bad, but meh-disappointing for a writer of this caliber. The titular “Slipping,” told from the POV of a sixteen-year-old girl who was recruited by investors and remade into a bio-engineered athlete after losing both legs in an accident, boasts some wonderful world-building – but the story’s religious aspects ultimately turned me off. Much to my relief, things start to pick up with the fourth story, “Branded” (corporate-sponsored nanotech) and mostly just get better from there.

The fiction generally has a science fiction/dystopian bent, with a few fantasy and contemporary pieces mixed in. There’s even a fairy tale of sorts: a modern-day retelling of “The Princess of the Pea” that’s both a critique of celebrity culture and an ode to female masturbation that (spoiler alert!) is all kinds of awesome. While all are unique and imaginative, a few themes are common across many of the stories: transhumanism, e.g. through technological advancements in prosthetics, nanotech, neuroanatomy, etc.; an erosion of privacy/the rise in the surveillance state; and a rise in corporate control, most notably over our bodies and selves.

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Book Review: Good Morning, Midnight, Lily Brooks-Dalton (2016)

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

A character-driven story driven by two very boring characters.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

“But you are a scientist. You understand how this works. We study the universe in order to know, yet in the end the only thing we truly know is that all things end—all but death and time. It’s difficult to be reminded of that”—he patted her hand where it lay on the table—“but it’s harder to forget.”

The basic premise of Good Morning, Midnight immediately reminded me of the opening scenes of The Walking Dead: protagonist Rick Grimes awakens from a coma, only to be greeted by a world he barely recognizes. Entire buildings, blocks, cities, all in shambles. Radio, internet, and satellite communication (mostly) down. His wife and son missing. The dead come back to life; zombies (sorry, walkers!) as far as the eye can see.

Ever since the show’s premier (not a huge fan of the comics, sorry!), this idea has fascinated me: what must it be like to return to the world after a prolonged absence – whether voluntary (a cruise) or not (a coma), mundane (a hiking trip) or the truly spectacular (terraforming Mars!) – only to find it radically transformed? To the stuff of nightmares? And you’re the last woman standing?

Good Morning, Midnight plays with this idea in the form of two survivors, both of whom exist – by chance or by choice, for a time or permanently – in the margins of humanity.

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Book Review: The Sunlight Pilgrims, Jenni Fagan (2016)

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

A story about apocalypses, both personal and communal.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC though NetGalley. Trigger warning for rape and transmisogyny.)

—Are you staring right at the sun? Stella asks.
—I’m staring right under it.
—You’ll go blind.
—No, I won’t. I was taught how to by the sunlight pilgrims, they’re from the islands farthest north. You can drink light right down into your chromosomes, then in the darkest minutes of winter, when there is a total absence of it, you will glow and glow and glow. I do, she says.
—You glow?
—Like a fucking angel, she says.

She’s not worried about breasts and she doesn’t want rid of her penis, small as it is, not if it means getting an operation anyway. She just wants smooth skin and her girl voice and to leave wolf prints in the snow each morning.

It is funny how he always thought she was a hero when he was a little boy, but he had no idea exactly how much that was true.

The Sunlight Pilgrims isn’t quite what I expected. Usually when I say this about a book, it’s with at least a hint of disappointment. Not so in this case! The Sunlight Pilgrims may not be the book I wanted, but it’s exactly the book I needed.

To me, the word “caravan” evokes action, movement, journeys (preferably epic ones). The synopsis brought to mind a group of daring travelers, weaving through the mountainous countryside, trying in vain to stay ahead of the harsh winter (and, presumably, the violence, looting, riots, starvation, poverty, etc. that are sure to follow). I guess I overlooked the word “park,” not realizing that caravans are to the UK what trailers are to the US: mostly stationary homes. Thus, what we get is a story that’s a little less Mad Max and a little more mundane: a small, remote town in the Scottish Highlands preparing for the worst winter in two hundred years. Perilous, yes, but minus the action and adventure I expected.

Likewise, this isn’t necessarily the apocalypse. Set a mere four years in the future, conditions are dire, to be sure: climate change and melting ice caps have led to a a global cooling in temperatures. The Thames is overflowing (and then frozen solid); an iceberg nicknamed Boo is expected to make contact with the Scottish coast; and experts predict that temperatures in some regions will drop as low as -50 degrees. Many people will die of starvation or will freeze to death. Blackouts are common; internet connections are down. Rioting, looting, protests, and violence are commonplace. Things are very, very bad. But is it the end of the world? Maybe, maybe not.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: The Wolf Road, Beth Lewis (2016)

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016

A thrilling plot + a scrappy antihero + a familiar-yet-not setting = a novel that belongs on the top of your TBR pile!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for violence, including attempted rape.)

“Change” was one a’ them words I weren’t too friendly with. Nana told me I had to change when she caught me skinning a rabbit. Man in Ridgeway once told me I’d never get a husband the way I was. Only person never to tell me to change was Kreagar, and that’s because, way he saw it, I was already just the same as him.

Memories ain’t no one’s friend. They show you all the good things you had, all the good things you lost, and don’t let you forget all the bad shit in between.

I kept chewing. No matter what was about to happen, I’d eat as much as I could afore shots fired.

When Elka was seven years old, a freak storm destroyed her two-room shack in the forest beyond Ridgeway. She survived, but was hopelessly lost: the thunderhead deposited Elka – and the table she was clinging to – deep into the Thick Woods. After much wandering, she found a shack even smaller than her nana’s – one with strips of jerky curing on the porch. Starving, Elka swiped some meat, causing the owner of the shack to give chase. Eventually she’d come to think of this man as Trapper, then daddy – for he ultimately took Elka in and raised her as his own, teaching her the ways of the forest: hunting, tracking, trapping, skinning, curing. He showed Elka how to survive in the wild, though she learned little of the human world (“BeeCee”) beyond the trees.

During a rare trip into Dalston, a chance encounter with The Law – in the form of cold-as-ice Magistrate Jennifer Lyon – upends seventeen-year-old Elka’s world yet again: Kreagar Hallet, the man she knows as Trapper, is wanted for the murders of eight women and one child. Her home destroyed – metaphorically and literally burned to the ground by the redcoats – Elka decides to travel north to Halveston (seven hundred miles, give or take!) in search of her parents. They left Elka with her maternal grandmother when she was just a baby so they could find their riches in gold.

Yet Kreagar isn’t willing to let Elka go – and neither is Magistrate Lyon: the former is convinced that Elka dropped the dime on him; the latter, that Elka was involved in the murders. As she makes the treacherous journey north, Elka must evade capture, by enemies both known and not. Bloodthirsty, misogynistic Satanists; human traffickers; lakes made poisonous by nuclear bombs; garden-variety trolls and creepers; cannibals; and – perhaps most alarmingly – human attachments: all stand between Elka and her long-lost parents. Yet with her friends Wolf and Penelope by her side, Elka stands a fighting chance.

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Book Review: Some Possible Solutions, Helen Phillips (2016)

Monday, May 30th, 2016

Tales With Teeth

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program.)

Once something I wrote made the judge of a contest indignant. He wrote, “This is something that this woman should share with her husband alone, if with anyone, and probably not even with him.”

If there’s one passage that best encapsulates Some Possible Solutions: Stories, it would be this.

Helen Phillips’s second collection of short fiction is vulgar, imposing, and (at times) weirdly funny: all of which I mean as a compliment. Phillips sees your appeals to smile and act like a lady and raises them with the shocker – flashed while sporting an oh-so-snarky smirk, of course.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the author’s penchant for bodily fluids and other gross things (“Flesh and Blood,” I’m looking at you!), the eighteen stories in Some Possible Solutions deal with Very Adult Matters: marriage and parenthood; growing up and growing apart; watching your parents age, sometimes ahead of their time, and the cosmic betrayal this entails; loneliness and (too much) togetherness; and sometimes smothering societal norms.

While I found the collection entertaining enough, I often felt left in the dust, unsure of what to think or how to interpret what I’d just read. Many of these stories are downright surreal. Usually when reading anthologies I’ll take notes, assigning a starred rating to each piece and summarizing it briefly to help with the coming review. My notes for Some Possible Solutions? Kind of a mess. See, e.g., “Game,” “How I Began To Bleed Again After Six Alarming Months Without,” and “The Worst,” the summaries of which read “I have no idea!,” “WEIRD.,” and “WTF,” respectively. I wasn’t even sure how to rate a few of the stories. That said, I didn’t give any story less than three stars, and even these are enjoyable reads.

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Book Review: The Fireman, Joe Hill (2016)

Monday, May 16th, 2016

Joe Hill strikes again!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for racist/sexist language, violence, and sexual assault.)

It was them making the light. They were all of them tattooed with loops and whorls of Dragonscale, which glowed like fluorescent paint under a black light, hallucinatory hues of cherry wine and blowtorch blue. When they opened their mouths to sing, Harper glimpsed light painting the insides of their throats, as if each of them were a kettle filled with embers. […]

Harper felt she had never seen anything so frightening or beautiful.

“You know what the kids say.”
“I have no idea what the kids say. What do they say?”
“She came back from the eighties to save mankind. Martha Quinn is our only hope.”

The hens are clucking. Harper thought it would be a toss-up, which term for women she hated more: bitch or hen. A hen was something you kept in a cage, and her sole worth was in her eggs. A bitch, at least, had teeth.

The year is 2018-ish (if Martha Quinn’s approximate age is a reliable guidepost), and the world is on fire. A fungus called Draco incendia trychophyton – Dragonscale in lay terms, ‘scale for short – is making the rounds, leaving ashes and chaos in its wake. Once it finds a host, the spore spreads and propagates, infiltrating its victim’s blood, tissue, and organs – including the brain, with which it forms an intimate bond. The first sign of infection is the strangely beautiful markings it leaves on its host’s skin – dark tattoos that shimmer with flecks of gold.

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Book Review: The Heart Goes Last: A Novel (Positron), Margaret Atwood (2015)

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

Tiptoe Through the Tulips

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for rape and violence. This review contains clearly marked spoilers.)

“Never mind which wife is whose,” says Jocelyn. “We can’t waste time on the sexual spaghetti.”

How bad are things when you can get nostalgic about living in your car?

The dystopian society at the heart of The Heart Goes Last is surprisingly mundane – which makes it all the more chilling. Stan and Charmaine live in the northeastern United States, which has been hit especially hard by the latest recession. Things went to ratshit seemingly overnight (“Someone had lied, someone had cheated, someone had shorted the market, someone had inflated currency. Not enough jobs, too many people.”). Charmaine’s company, an upscale retirement chain called Ruby Slippers, scaled back its eastern operations, leaving Charmaine out of a job; Stan’s position at Dimple Robotics soon followed. They held onto their cozy starter home as long as they could, but before you can say “outsourcing,” they’d lost that too. From solidly middle class to homeless, in the blink of an eye.

Now they sleep in their car, surviving on the meager wages Charmaine earns waiting tables in a seedy bar, desperately searching for work and trying to stay ahead of the roving gangs of thieves and rapists that own the streets come nightfall. So when Charmaine spots an ad for the Positron Project – an experimental city/prison in Consilience – the two are understandably quick to sign their lives away. Full employment, zero crime, free housing – and the only way you can leave is in a pine box. But why would anyone want to abandon the safety of these walls to go back out there? You can’t eat freedom, yo.

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Book Review: The Well, Catherine Chanter (2015)

Monday, May 25th, 2015

One person’s paradise is another person’s perdition.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for rape, pedophilia, and domestic violence.)

There is one last emotion, though, which I have not anticipated. I am feeling smug. There, you thought you were just guarding a middle-aged crank who had delusions of grandeur, but now you’ll have to think twice, smart-arse.

Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day. I dance like a witch doctor around the sitting room.

Determined to salvage her marriage – not to mention what’s left of her husband’s sanity – Ruth Ardingly agrees to trade in her London home for a small farm in the country. Hailing from a long line of farmers, it was always Mark’s dream to work the land, reveling in nature and solitude and self-sufficiency. Yet he forfeited these plans when, as a college student, he met and fell in love with Ruth – already pregnant from a one-night stand. Instead, he pursued a law degree, committed himself to Ruth and their daughter Angie, and settled for an ordinary, middle-class existence.

And then came the child pornography, discovered on his work laptop. Though Mark was investigated and eventually exonerated, that didn’t stop the harassment and social ostracization. So Ruth acquiesced, hoping that the change of scenery and fresh air would do them both a world of good. Perhaps it might have, had the move not come smack dab in the middle of a drought – a drought to which their new, thirty-acre paradise seems immune.

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Book Review: City of Savages, Lee Kelly (2015)

Monday, May 4th, 2015

A Wild Ride through Post-Apocalyptic Manhattan

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review from the publisher. Trigger warning for rape and violence.)

Somehow this ruthless city is home to my sister. Where for me, it will never, ever be more than a cage.

If no one’s out there, then what’s keeping us in?

Sisters Skyler and Phoenix Miller were born and raised in Manhattan; from the wild forests of Central Park to the gleaming glass apartments in Battery Park, the island is the only home they’ve ever known. But their home is also their prison. Along with several hundred fellow survivors, Sky and Phee are prisoners of war: World War III, in which the Red Allies (China, North Korea, and Russia) simultaneously attacked New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco, with the ultimate goal of conquering the United States. That was more than sixteen years ago, in March of 2016, and still the war rages on.

When Manhattan was first attacked, a lucky few survivors found safety in the subway tunnels – including their mother, Sarah. But as the months dragged on and supplies dwindled, many of the refugees were forced to the surface, to beg the Red Allies for mercy. Though most of the men were shot on sight, the women and children were imprisoned in cages once meant for lions and tigers: the Central Park Zoo, now transformed into an internment camp.

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Book Review: The Blondes: A Novel, Emily Schultz (2015)

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

“Wow!” is right!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for violence, forced pregnancy, and allusions to rape. This review contains minor spoilers, which are clearly marked.)

If you survive, the world you grow up in will be one that has experienced intense panic and distrust, violence and hysteria – though that’s a loaded word. I don’t think I would have used it before this past year. But now? All of us living with a disease that affects only girls and women? Hysteria is so bang on.

Authorities are now able to track the progression of symptoms, which are indeed similar to rabies. The public is advised to be wary – and here the prompter went into a list of symptoms – of women with raised voices, acting violently…

Lumbering, limping, exhibiting imbalance…

Flailing or throwing any object…

Grimacing, displaying a downturned expression…

“We’re not allowed to have downturned expressions?” the girl beside me muttered. “I mean,” she said a bit louder but still to me, “what if we’re just worried? In a bad mood? PMS?”

Several heads turned to look at her. It must have made her nervous because she ran her hand back through her hair. She was pale as an elephant’s tusk. […]

As I finished my sandwich, it occurred to me that the news captions on TV had all been directed at men. There was nothing about the symptoms women should look for in themselves.

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DNF Review: The Dead Lands, Benjamin Percy (2015)

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

Didn’t hold my interest.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

DNF at 45%.

As far as they know, the citizens of the Sanctuary – located in what was once downtown St. Louis – are all that’s left of humanity. It’s been 150 years since the H3L1 flu (HELL – get it?) brought about the apocalypse; and several generations since a refugee has approached the Sanctuary’s towering wall, begging for admittance (only to be shot on sight). Surrounded by a desert wasteland crawling with monstrous mutations, squeezed on all sides by an unrelenting drought, what was meant as a place of asylum has devolved into a prison of sorts, marred by hunger, poverty, and inequity.

While some still dare to dream – of connecting with other communities, traveling to places where water falls freely, perhaps one day rebuilding the United States of America – giving voice to one’s hopes has become increasingly dangerous since Thomas Lancer was elected Mayor. Once reserved for murderers and rapists, public executions have become a means of silencing dissent.

But when a strange young woman, with eyes as wide and black as night, arrives at the gate bearing a cryptic letter, a small group of defectors decides to hasten their escape plan. Led by Wilhelmina “Mina” Clark, a sentry/ranger, and Lewis Meriwether (Lewis and Clark – get it?), the curator of the Sanctuary’s museum who seems to possess powers every bit as weird as those of the foreigner Gawea, the group sets off for Gawea’s home in Oregon, battling giant spiders and human-sized bats along the way.

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Book Review: The Country of Ice Cream Star, Sandra Newman (2015)

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

You Reading. Is Bone.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Goodreads’s First Reads program. Major trigger warning for rape, human trafficking, forced abortion and sterilization, violence, and scenes of war.)

These be the Sengles in the time I speak of, when my trouble grown. Of baby children, be Bother Zero Tool, the Answer Zero Ka, Fine One Ndiaye, Bell Eyes One Ndiaye, and Lolina-tina One Diouf, Crow’s child with Mari’s Ghost. Be healthy screaming babies, they got grandy rolls of fat. These all got mothers living but the twins Bell Eyes and Fine.

Of littles, there be Dinty Moore Two Fall who cannot hear, Naomi Two Forgotten, Maple Two Diop who be a son of John of Christ, Mohammed Three Insulting, Story Four Duval that has got reddish hair, Problem Four Tool, Luvanna-Lana Five of Lowell, Best Creature Five Wang who is misname and be annoying, Mustapha Five Insulting, Dollar Saver Six Fall, a fine enchanting little who can sing, Baboucar Seven Grandpa, Jeep Cherokee Seven Skips and Foxen Seven Fall. The mother of all three Falls be alive but gone to Lowell, now name Lowell Second Plumber and got posies bad.

Of the eights and nines, there be my vally Keepers Eight Fofana, worth all other children, and her favorite hatred Mouse Eight Wang. Progresso Nine Wilson and My Sorrow Nine Wang been solo-animoses for some years, ain’t speak with never another child.

Then come Marlboro Ten Tete-Brisee and Kool Ten Tete-Brisee, twins, birdcatcher-age and lean. Shiny Eleven Angels be a prettieuse and flirtish girl that give bad sign of wisdom, for she dabbit after Crow. Shiny chosen her own name, this be the measure of her wits. Redbook Twelve Ba, Bowl Thirteen Tete-Brisee and Cat Fancy Thirteen Ba all go ridiculous in love with Driver. They tend the littles and tell reveries one to the other, all day long. Jonah Fourteen Feet the only weakly jones, and scary since his brother took to Lowell two years gone. Then come Jermaine Fourteen Uptown, Christing born and Christing seriose in gentleness. Jermaine be wisty for my love, and many Lowells also and some Christings sleeping hungry for my love.

Next be Tequila Fourteen Tool, Mari’s Ghost Fourteen Diouf, Hate You Fourteen Ka, and Asha Badmouth Fifteen Feet. Then come my place. Then come malicieuse Crow Sixteen Doe, and Villa Seventeen Insulting, fool infatuate for any male. When she ain’t bother males, she eat, that be the list of what she do. Last come my Driver, which make thirty-eight in Sengle town.

These been my Sengles in the year when Driver been our sergeant; time that kindly John been husband of the Christing fellowship; when the Lowells’ El Mayor been Sengle born and Sengle brave. Mamadou was NewKing of Mass Armies, savage like his people – yet the child have dignity and sense, best of the worst.

Fat luck been the story of this year. Snares ever struggling full, and every arrow find a turkey. Any a sleeper street we did maraud, that street give food. We war like twenty guns, but no one injure. Sling our hammocks in the crowns of sycamores like secret birds, and rest there, chattering and smoking, noses to the stars. Children forgot the taste of hunger and the touch of fear.

Yo when Driver sicken, this the happiness we lose.

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Book Review: The Girl With All the Gifts, M.R. Carey (2014)

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

Curse the children, for they are our future.

five out of five stars

NOT EVERY GIFT IS A BLESSING.

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her “our little genius.”

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.

The Girl With All the Gifts is a groundbreaking thriller, emotionally charged and gripping from beginning to end.

Every once in a while, I’m accused of providing too much information in my reviews: vague hints and sly winks, plot details, even outright spoilers. And while it’s true that my reviews tend to be wordy, I almost always try to avoid spoilers, and clearly mark them when they do appear. But I’m reluctant say much of anything here, for the journey into Melanie’s world – beyond that hinted at in the deliciously vague book description – is half the fun.

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Book Review: Diverse Energies, Tobias S. Buckell and Joe Monti, eds. (2012)

Monday, February 9th, 2015

A Strong Collection of Diverse Dystopian Stories

four out of five stars

No one can doubt that the wave of the future is not the conquest of the world by a single dogmatic creed, but the liberation of the diverse energies of free nations and free men. No one can doubt that cooperation in the pursuit of knowledge must lead to the freedom of the mind and freedom of the soul.

– President John F. Kennedy, from a speech at University of California, March 23, 1962

Maybe your claim is that Dungeons & Dragons is based on a fantasy feudal Europe? Maybe your game is, but the whole point is that you can make whatever game you want; a diverse cast in your illustration just encourages that. And for that matter, are you seriously telling me that you think having a person with darker skin is somehow more of a strain on your suspension of disbelief than…a lizard lady or a devil dude?

– Mordicai Knode, writing for Tor.com, April 11, 2012

Inspired by online discussions of diversity in literature (see, e.g. RaceFail 2009), Joe Monti and Tobias S. Buckell set out to create a diverse anthology of dystopian stories that feature people of color and LGBTQ protagonists: “not a brick thrown at a window, [but] the continued paving of a path” – a path toward stories that reflect the entire spectrum of the human experience. Diverse Energies is a wonderful step in this direction – and yet, six years later, the continuing debate about representation in books, movies, video games, and other forms of media (most recently, via the We Need Diverse Books campaign) underscores the fact that there’s so much work yet to be done.

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Book Review: Captive (The Blackcoat Rebellion, #2), Aimee Carter (2014)

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Et tu, Kitty?

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received an ARC for review through Goodreads’s First Reads program. Also, unmarked spoilers abound for PAWN, while spoilers for CAPTIVE are clearly marked.)

Three weeks have passed since Kitty Doe shot and killed the Hart family matriarch, Augusta, in self-defense; since Augusta’s son, Prime Minister Daxton Hart, awoke from a coma, revealing to Kitty that his claims of amnesia were a ruse; since Celia Hart and her daughter Lila went into hiding, leaving Kitty to continue passing as Lila, both to ensure Benjy’s safety and foment a revolution.

Just three short weeks, and already Kitty and her pretend fiancé, Knox, are at each others’ throats.

After sacrificing so much for The Blackcoats, Kitty feels neglected and used; while she spent the past few weeks touring the country, speechifying and rabble-rousing on their behalf, her allies planned and plotted without her. Now she’s back, but still out of the loop; no one seems to want her opinion, let alone her help. And so she takes a silly, stupid risk, ostensibly to prove that she’s more useful than they think. She breaks into Daxton’s office to retrieve a file – proof that Daxton isn’t really Daxton, but rather an imposter – and is promptly caught, convicted of treason, and sent to the dreaded Elsewhere.

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Book Review: Pawn (The Blackcoat Rebellion, #1), Aimee Carter (2013)

Monday, December 15th, 2014

An entertaining political thriller/dystopia featuring an engaging heroine.

four out of five stars

(Trigger warning for attempted rape.)

I closed my eyes as my mind raced. If I refused, I was dead. But if I said yes – then what? I would be Lila Hart. For the rest of my life, I would have someone else’s face, answer to someone else’s name, live someone else’s life.

But at least I would be alive. I breathed in slowly, forcing myself not to panic. I was still me, wasn’t I? I still felt like me. They couldn’t take that away no matter what they did to my body. I might have looked like Lila Hart, but I was still Kitty Doe.

All Kitty Doe wants for her 17th birthday is to earn a respectable score on her test – nothing special, just enough to get her an average rank of IV – so that she can stay with her boyfriend Benjy. Get a relatively safe job, maybe buy a small house in the Heights of DC, even have a kid or two – with enough income to keep their “Extra” instead of sending him or her off to a group home, like Kitty’s own parents were forced to do to her. Just one little test is all that stands between Kitty and her happily ever after.

Unfortunately, Kitty’s dyslexic, and the Ministers of the Union don’t give kids like her additional time to take the test – no matter how intelligent they may be. The ranking system’s a farce, after all. Just ask the VIs and VIIs who inherited their ranks.

Kitty’s poor score lands her a III and a lowly sanitation job – halfway across the country, in Denver. If she hops on that train, she knows that her odds of ever seeing Benjy again are nil. But her options in the District of Columbia are slim: stay hidden at the group home, putting den mother Nina at risk – or get a temporary job at one of the local “clubs,” biding her time until Benjy turns 17 and takes the test himself. As a virgin, she’s sure to pull in an extra-high bid at the initial Auction; and after that, she can choose her own clients, so it won’t be that bad. And when Benjy eventually aces the test – as she knows he will – Kitty will have saved up a nice little nest egg to get them started. It’s a no-brainer, right?

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: The Walled City, Ryan Graudin (2014)

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

“We’re stronger than they think.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through Goodreads’ First Reads program. Also, trigger warning for rape.)

Mei Yee was just fifteen years old when her abusive, alcoholic father sold her to the Reapers for mere pocket change. In the dark of night, the Reapers came for her: they stole her from where she slept, tossed her into a van with a group of other trafficked girls, and crossed into the Hak Nam Walled City – a place of pain, disease, and death. Here she was purchased by the Brotherhood of the Red Dragon, the brutal gang that controls the 6.5 acres of the Walled City, and put to “work” in one of their many brothels. Unlike the twenty other girls who share her prison, Mei Yee is “lucky” – rather than servicing four or five men in one night, many of whom get off on hitting defenseless girls, Ambassador Osamu took a shining to the beautiful girl and purchased the right to rape her exclusively.

It’s been two years since Mei Yee last saw her sister, but Master Longwai’s words echo in her head: “There is no escape.” Certainly not for Sing, who was quickly caught after a botched attempt and injected with heroin as a lesson to the others.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Eating Sarah, Jaret Martens (2014)

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Not My Cuppa Grey Matter

two out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program. Also, there are some clearly marked spoilers towards the end of this review.)

Ever since she was a kid, all Sarah wanted to do was participate in the Hunt. Every month, guided by the light of the moon, the adults of their forest colony raid the nearby city in search of food: human captives to be harvested and consumed. But food has been harder and harder to come by, causing Robert – the leader of the colony – to unexpectedly lower the required age of participation from nineteen to seventeen. And, just like that, Sarah is thrust into the Hunt two years ahead of schedule.

Her excitement turns to horror, however, as the forest folk run into what quickly becomes a massacre. Sarah manages to escape with her life, but just barely. She returns to chaos in the colony; during the Hunt, someone murdered Robert, branding his flesh with a bite mark calling card. Robert is only the first of many murders, as more and more of the cannibals turn up dead. When an entire town embraces murder as a way of life, identifying one killer among many is a challenging task indeed.

(More below the fold…)

Mini-Review: “Last Woman On Earth,” C.V. Hunt (2013)

Saturday, October 25th, 2014

Perfectly Grim & Melancholic

four out of five stars

(Trigger warning for suicide and allusions to rape.)

“Last Woman On Earth” opens in a most unusual way: that is, with a brief primer on hanging techniques. The narrator is, as far as she can tell, the last woman on earth, and it’s a burden she’s long since tired of shouldering. She aims to kill herself, but not after enjoying one last sunrise and sunset from high atop the Seattle Space Needle.

In this distant future, the apocalypse arrives on the back of science: after generations of “pump[ing] their bodies full of contraceptives,” women’s reproductive systems have evolved into a state of persistent infertility. The declining birth rate affords men yet another excuse to exploit women – women’s bodies being the means of production, the very stuff of life – and women once again become the hunted. Kidnapping, rape, and human trafficking are at best overlooked in the name of saving the latest endangered species – us. So it’s no surprise when, during her final suicide trek to the West Coast, the narrator turns away from the only human she spots on the road – a man. It’s perilous to be a dwindling natural resource, after all.

For such a short story, “Last Woman On Earth” packs quite a punch. My only complaint? The author’s use of “rape” to denote something that is not rape (environmental degradation) – an especially egregious affront considering the theme of the story.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Mini-Review: W.U.M.E.: A short story, Marc Poliquin (2014)

Friday, August 8th, 2014

Contains the Seeds of a Chilling Dystopian Novel

three out of five stars

Kate Murdoch is seven months pregnant – and under contract with her husband’s employer. In exchange for covering all the fees associated with Kate’s pregnancy and delivery, Kate granted SnazzyCorp the right to imprint her baby Ben starting in the third trimester.

Developed by Carson Hill, the Wired Uterine Manipulation and Encryption Procedure – W.U.M.E. for short – is a way for corporations to cultivate brand loyalty while people are still in the womb. Hill’s assistant, Virginia Williams, served as test subject #1; when her child was born, the newborn immediately refused her mother’s breast in favor of ChemLax baby formula. Years later, and the procedure has taken off; instead of competing for consumers, companies wage war over access to fetuses on the battlegrounds of their mothers’ bodies.

When Kate has a sudden change of heart and attempts to break the contract, SnazzyCorp kidnaps her from her bed in the dead of night in order to subject her and Ben to forced imprinting. Ostensibly saved in the nick of time by a mysterious rescuer known only as Nate, Kate soon finds herself in an even more horrifying situation: imprisoned as a Carrier in the Factory, a clandestine human trafficking facility run by SnazzyCorp competitor GloboDiTech Ltd.

“W.U.M.E.” is a chilling science fiction dystopia in the vein of The Handmaid’s Tale. It contains the seeds of a potentially great novel; unfortunately, at just twenty-one pages, it’s a little short on character development and world building for my taste. I would love to see the ideas presented here fleshed out in greater detail.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)