Short Story Review: “The Ghastly Bird” by Nnedi Okorafor

2 of 5 stars.

The strength of science lies in the scientific method–form a hypothesis, test the hypothesis, collect data from the test, and check the conclusions. If that isn’t enough, peer review has other independent scientists check the work and cross check the methodology. Science is not just another form of faith like a godless religion, despite the implications of some unscientific skewing of the term “theory”.

Fictional scientists should act like scientists, at least somewhat.

In this tale, Zev is an ornithologist, a zoologist that studies birds. He moves to the island nation of Mauritius to teach because his favorite LIVING bird is the dodo. That’s right, he profoundly has faith that the dodo isn’t extinct. Without empirical or observational evidence, he also decides that the dodo is an intelligent animal and friendly. Due to his beliefs, his girlfriend leaves him and he hides his dodo faith from colleagues. [As well he should considering his very unscientific stance.]

One day while observing the many bird feeders he maintains on the back of his property, Zev witnesses a dodo emerge from the forest. Or does he? . . .

This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “How Inyang Got Her Wings” by Nnedi Okorafor

3 of 5 stars.

A coming-of-age story becomes an origins story when an awkward younger sister learns to embrace her gender and sexuality despite the cultural barriers erected around her. The clear metaphor for “getting her wings” as she starts her first menstrual cycle and members of the opposite sex start to treat her differently becomes poignant as the tribal culture she’s born into kills women that don’t submit to the existing patriarchy.

This tale strongly paints the cultural ideals Inyang accepts as truths, such as “Fat” = “Gorgeous.” Families with money fatten their daughters to make them more attractive brides-to-be. Inyang feels this intimately as she watches her sisters [born to higher ranked wives] treated to the fattening rituals while she is given up as “not marriage material.” [Her mother is a lower ranked third wife, and a few physical oddities cause Inyang to stand out, too.]

Her differences challenge her ability to fit into the broader culture of the village, as differences also equate to witchcraft which is treated harshly. Suspected witches are given a lethal poison from the jungle as a test. If the poison kills them, it proves the victim was a witch. Her survival depends on her leaving the only family and home she knows . . .

This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “The House of Deformities” by Nnedi Okorafor

3 of 5 stars.

Experiencing a foreign culture opens one’s eyes to things one takes for granted. While everybody experiences these differences in slightly unique ways, the experiences of children and adults can vary quite remarkably. The rich fantasy life of children filters the experience of foreignness.

In this short tale, two American girls on an extended family trip to Nigeria grapple with their wild imaginations and the less familiar cultural practices especially as it concerns using outhouses or even the open terrain for bodily functions. The younger sister’s Stephen King novels add fuel to their vivid imaginations and run-ins with exotic animals and practices.

This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: Inhuman Garbage by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Inhuman Garbage: A Retrieval Artist Universe NovellaInhuman Garbage: A Retrieval Artist Universe Novella by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This novella taking pace in the lunar dome-city of Armstrong fits into the larger Retrieval Artist world, but stands alone quite well [in the opinion of this reviewer who’s never read anything by Rusch before, nor heard of this series].

The novella opens with the promise of a tight detective tale with alternating POVs between detective Noelle DeRicci and coroner Ethan Broduer as they both investigate a body dump in a crate of compost slated to be spread over the dome-city’s food farms. Things get more complicated in the identification process in this world of natural humans, aliens, and both slow-grow and fast-grow clones. Laws are different around each with clones merely counting as property for their creator.

While the larger human rights issues surface, especially as it deals with clones, the tale zeroes in on the convoluted politics of the crime families, ruling Earth Alliance, and the dirty city politics. Surprisingly and disappointingly, more POVs are added to the rush of narrative pulling the tale cleanly away from DeRicci and Broduer. The head of the main crime family whose fired nanny was the composted body, his head of security, and DeRicci’s politically motivated boss take over the narrative leading to a largely unsatisfying non-ending.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Science Fiction Novellas: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books.

[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Kabu Kabu” by Nnedi Okorafor and Alan Dean Foster

2 of 5 stars.

The landscape of Chicago gets imbued with specters of the Nigerian Igbo culture in this short story. Not unlike Jarmusch’s Night on Earth which shows the flavor of five major world cities from the backseat of taxis, this tale veers through the narrative from the backseat of an illegal cab in Chicago which bears an uncanny resemblance to a Nigerian kabu kabu, ie car for hire.

Ngozi’s hesitance to fly to Nigeria for her sister’s wedding rises to the top as she confronts both her lack of knowledge and yet her pride in her native culture. She doesn’t speak the language nor recognize much of the cultural iconography. The kabu kabu, in return, gives her more of a ride and lesson than she originally planned when it stops to pick up 3 other passengers much to her discomfort. In short order, she’s missed her flight at O’Hare and been robbed of her credit cards and cell phone. Allegorically, she’s stripped of her western safety net.

Her journey bounces from a confused Chicago landscape through otherworldly highways on her fantastical trek to the land of her parents.

This tale would be strengthened by a coherent sense of Chicago’s landscape rather than naming landmarks and streets that don’t pertain to any sensible trip to the airport. Also, the three passengers–who they are or what they represent–could also be made more clear. The second is barely human, if at all, and the third is drenched in human blood. Some sort of explanation is in order.

This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Graphic Novel Review: Trees, Vol. 2: Two Forests by Warren Ellis

Trees, Vol. 2: Two Forests (Trees, #2)Trees, Vol. 2: Two Forests by Warren Ellis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The highly anticipated the sequel to Trees, Vol. 1, again drawn by Jason Howard, arrives with a narrower focus than the premiere volume which showed five different socio-cultural reactions across the world to the phenomenon of massive alien “trees” slamming down onto Earth and then lying dormant for 10 years.

This volume restricts its world view to Manhattan and Britain. The urban landscape of Manhattan remains flooded and decimated from the introduction of its tree. A man raised in its wake with a bone to pick with the police force’s handling of the original event has just been named Mayor-Elect. He leans into his ties to the lower Manhattan Underworld to achieve revenge . . .

Meanwhile, Dr. Joanne Creary barely survived the awakening of the Blindhail Tree on Svalbard. She witnessed the interaction between the alien black “Blindhail Poppies” and the tree and is reassigned to the only tree in Britain. It sits in the desolate Orkneys and her job is to be vigilant, and report what she sees.

Despite the vast differences between the two focal locations, the parallels arise quickly between the disparate scenes aided by Howard’s able art where the scar from a bullet wound may mirror a neolithic stone circle . . .

The development is fascinating, even as the endgame remains a mystery.

[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novel Review: The Farthest City by Daniel P. Swenson

The Farthest CityThe Farthest City by Daniel P. Swenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Much of the current divisive political climate echoes throughout this far-future sci-fi world. Dystopian ruling cultures have taken hold on multiple worlds in the galaxy and the ensuing conflicts are rapidly pushing planets toward an apocalyptic event horizon. And it’s not the first time it’s happened.

On Earth, humanity drove itself extinct in the biological and nuclear nightmare known as the Old War, or World War III. Their sentient AI survived them. The “Chines” evolved, expanded, and then restarted the human race from embryonic stock. After nurturing the humans and establishing them in mostly underground cities, the Chines abandoned eden to give the humans space and to create their own worlds deeper into the galaxy.

Interestingly and not inaccurately, for both humans and Chines, the other race is their mythic creator race. For humans, the promise of the Chines returning is their only hope when a hostile insectoid alien race arrives on Earth and threatens extinction of humans, again.

In alternating chapters, two separate and barely related storylines follow two distinct heroes and their very different responses to the threat on Earth.

Sheemi, a largely disgraced military grunt, is sent by her high ranking general father off-planet to find the new world of the Chines on a mission to obtain their help against the alien Hexi. Sheemi’s boredom in space leads to her sexual laxity and eventual, disgraceful pregnancy–all before finding hints of the Chines. The military space travel involves skirting parallel universes to make instantaneous deep space jumps.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Kellan is a living cultural myth–and not a liked one. “Special” humans emerge and are shunned in the new cities of Earth. Like a recessive gene or a latent computer program, some rare humans are born with the urge to either dig, tinker, draw or sing. The subject of their focus is always ancient Chines. Get the four together, and extraordinary doors and locks hidden across Earth open . . .

The breadth of the historic world-building is astounding. The fallibility of the protagonists is commendable. The novel is highly recommended.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through
[Check out my other reviews here.]