Review: “Tumaki” by Nnedi Okorafor

3 of 5 stars.

This short story appears in After the End: Recent Apocalypses edited by Paula Guran and Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu. Our narrator, 16 year-old Dikeogu, had escaped slavery and finds himself in Timia, Niger. Prejudice against meta-humans, post-apocalyptic children with “enhanced” abilities, is growing. Dikeogu, a rainmaker, aims to keep a low profile.

Dikeogu, born Christian, has his own prejudices, however, that surface when he meets a Muslim, Tumaki, a young burka’ed female with a keen ability to fix technological hardware. The shroud of the burka aptly symbolizes the layers of preconceived notions along gender and religious lines held by our narrator. He does not know what he is dealing with as Tumaki is the daughter of an imam in a conservative, dangerous society. However, the imam also espouses progressive views towards the meta-humans, which are not appreciated by all of his listeners.

The mood is tense throughout. I really liked this story, almost giving it 4 stars. The ending, however, lost itself. A potential plot-line is introduced about who might be behind attacks in the city without any exploration nor resolution. The story also lingered for two unnecessary paragraphs beyond its end trying to introduce new unneeded complications in the form of postscripts. It took away from the story, lessening its impact. These postscripts would have been strengths had they been introductions to a flashback comprising the bulk of the story.
 
 
 
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Review: “The Books” by Kage Baker

4 of 5 stars.

“The Books” is a short story appearing in After the End: Recent Apocalypses edited by Paula Guran. Our young narrator reminds me of Kvothe from Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind in that he has grown up in a caravan of travelling entertainers, albeit in a post-apocalyptic, post-technological America. Books, and the stories they contain, are precious and becoming rare. For our narrator and his friends, they are the guide to the past and one’s main education and entertainment in a world without television and movies. Meanwhile, others turn to their troupe for entertainment in the form of plays, juggling, gymnastics etc.

As a writer and lover of books, I fully embrace what it means for our protagonist to discover what to him is unimaginable, a library. This discovery does not come without it complications.
 
 
 
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Review: Some Girls Bite

Some Girls Bite
Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Despite the terrible, dime-store-worthy title, I liked this novel. Firstly, it used Chicago, its neighborhoods and politics smartly. However, I do not think one would have to be from here to appreciate the setting. Secondly, I appreciated the humorous chapter titles for which the novel’s title would have worked just fine. [ex. Rich People Aren’t Nicer–They Just Have Better Cars; Fangs Mean Never Having to Say You’re Sorry; You Can’t Trust a Man Who Eats a Hotdog With a Fork]. Mostly, I liked the mystery and pacing employed.

I am not typically a vampire book reader as I stated in my review of Night Owls (Night Owls, #1) by Lauren M. Roy. However, as they draw from the same overall canon, it’s hard not to compare the two books. This one is definitely more mature and less young adult than Roy’s novel. It also explained its world more richly. The tone of the dialogue and the settings always seemed appropriate for the plot without veering into a caricature. I was a little worried on this front with the reveal that there are non-vampire supernaturals in this world also. However, with the exception of a cloying, nymph-laden birthday party, the novel kept itself in check.

Most of the characters I liked; mostly I liked the characters. Our hero, Merit, and her BFF, Mallory, took the longest time to develop and believe. The snarky chapter titles and snarky comments through out the book stem directly from Merit, but she fell a bit short in being everything she could be. Mostly, she lacked the contemplative intelligence that I would hope a graduate student near the end of her school-career ought to have. She spent far too much time being petulant as if she had never dealt with university politics before. Merit’s other traits made up for this. She is not the willing convert, but rather a victim of assault thrust into a new life. Her brand of feminism nicely challenged the Medieval structure of the vampire society. In a good way, she reminded me of a Jane Austen heroine challenging her Darcy.

This is the first book in a series and it felt like it. This is okay. I would be willing to spend more time with these characters now that they have rounded out.
 
 
 
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Review: “Ragnarok” by Paul Park

Ragnarok
Ragnarok by Paul Park
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Heroic poetry is largely of a bygone era. Attempts to resurrect the genre as recently as the 1800’s in England largely failed. So, other than in fantasy books that draw upon medieval imagery (and songs and poem forms) in the construction of their worlds, one rarely sees a new heroic poem. But then there is this, an anachronism if there ever was one.

I like it. This poem is not trying to tell an old tale, but rather a dystopian one of a near future. However, the form is true to the style and meter of the Icelandic Edda. The effect is not unlike Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet. The tone and color are old, but the guns are today. The similarities between the ancient tales of murder and revenge to today’s gangs and vendettas are made all the more clear.

The concept is worth more than the 3 stars I’ve given it. The execution is not, and that’s too bad. There is a reason that English veered away from the heavily accented, short-meter poems after the shift from Old English to Middle English. English in its more French-ified form does not lend itself well to the punchy cadence. While this is definitely worth the read, the tale also could have been told in the longer forms of English tradition to great effect. Spenser, Sidney, Chaucer . . . any of these poets could have been modeled. While the form fits the Icelandic landscape from which it stems and where the poem takes place, the language is not fully up to the challenge.

This poem also appears in After the End: Recent Apocalypses edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
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Review: reMIND: Volume 2

reMIND: Volume 2
reMIND: Volume 2 by Jason Brubaker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the continuation of the beautifully rendered graphic novel, reMIND: Volume 1, which has strong leanings into a world not unlike a Miyazaki anime. The plot-arc from the first volume that leads Victuals into the underwater realm of the lizard-men comes to fruition in this volume and a comfortable resolution without the feeling like there aren’t more adventures to be had in forthcoming volumes.

The characters and fantasy-culture layer up quickly in this volume leading to a conclusion that is slightly over-convoluted. So, much is trying to happen in this volume, in so few frames, that I fear plot points and character development get shaded into the landscapes. I enjoy this series and I look forward to future additions to these characters. However, I am also relieved that this particular story-line has come to an end.

I hope a more relaxed unfolding of the story can emerge in future volumes, to resume the pacing of the first volume and to pick up the larger plot-arc that lies beyond the kingdom of the lizard-men. Recommended.
 
 
 
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Review: reMIND: Volume 1

reMIND: Volume 1
reMIND: Volume 1 by Jason Brubaker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a beautifully rendered graphic novel that evolves along fantastical paths not unlike a Miyazaki anime. It starts with handy Sonya manning and fixing the lighthouse in what seems to be the sleepy coastal New England town of Cripple Peaks with a questionable claim to fame and tourism as the long-ago location of a lizard-man sighting. An adventure begins after Sonya’s cat, Victuals, reappears after a week’s absence amid a slate of pet disappearances. Victuals is not the same as he was previously and he has quite a tale to relate.
 
 
 
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Review: Island of the Blue Dolphins

Island of the Blue Dolphins
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Based on the true account of a native woman found left alone on the otherwise uninhabited San Nicholas Island in 1853, a full 18 years after the rest of her tribe had been relocated to mainland California, this story is a modern day classic for a reason. This historical fiction melds together the evidence of the real woman’s existence from what she brought with her from the island and from subsequent archaeological explorations with the imagined loneliness and determination to which a reader can relate and empathize.

I do not recall what I thought of this story when I first encountered it as a el-ed student. I do know that years later I was highly drawn to the 1974 book, Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien which is another story of loneliness and survival by a young woman, albeit now in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian world. At the time, aspects of O’Brien’s young adult, dystopian sci-fi heavily reminded me of the 1961 Newbery Medal winning Island of the Blue Dolphins despite the genre shift.

This is on my mind for a couple reasons. Firstly, dystopian, young adult books are trending currently with the popularity of Divergent (Divergent, #1) by Veronica Roth and The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1) by Suzanne Collins et al. Secondly, O’Brien’s book is being made into a movie and I’d like to re-read it before it does so. In my mind, I can draw the family tree of today’s fantastical hits emerging from the disaster and survival stories of the 70’s and on back to the historical fiction survival stories of the 50’s and 60’s.

This story may not have fantastical beasts, wizards and world building, but it shows the true grit of the human spirit and the will to go on against unimaginable odds. That’s a story worth telling and reading.
 
 
 
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Review: Alien Quest

Alien Quest
Alien Quest by Mark Richard Zubro
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I’ve tagged this hard-to-classify book as a queer, erotic detective sci-fi novel. That’s a lot of genres mashed together and fully satisfying to none of them. I must point out that I am not the target audience for detective novels or erotica having read nothing in those categories before except for The Case of the Good-for-Nothing Girlfriend by Mabel Maney, a lesbian take on the Nancy Drew mysteries. What I was hoping for was a solid sci-fi or urban fantasy with a queer protagonist, which is still a rarity in today’s market. That fact that the book takes place in my city of residence made it all the more fun.

I should note that I received this copy of the book for free from the author whom I do not know. In July, I attended a reading of authors nominated for the 2013 Literary Lambda Awards. This author, with a 1990 win in the category of Best Gay Mystery for A Simple Suburban Murder (Tom Mason and Scott Carpenter, #1) and numerous nominations in that category since then, was reading from his latest nomination in that category, Pawn of Satan (Paul Turner, #11). I have not read any of the author’s nominated books, just this one.

As a queer novel, this book is largely deep inside a white gay neighborhood populated by gay stereotypes: the leather queen very sick with AIDS and living in a hospice, the male dancer/escort, the sassy-but-nuturing, over-sized drag queen (who is possibly not white) . . . The settings are the hospice, seedy hotels, a fetish mansion, a whorehouse. While there could be perfectly legitimate reasons for said settings within the context of the story, I lost trust in the narrator when the narrator lost all sense of perspective. About the leather mansion, the narrator said “As all gay men in Chicago know . . . ” Anyone who can presume to speak for the interests and knowledge of a wildly diverse subset of society lacks perspective in my book.

As erotica, maybe this book would work for some people. I personally found erotic sections to be distracting from the narrative and insincere. However for believers of love-at-first-sight, this 96-hour romance may work.

As a detective novel, I found the story a little shy on specifics. The “mad scientist” [literally called that on the back cover of the book] is intent on either destroying or enslaving Earth-kind. It’s never made clear which, how, or why. I would expect my bad guys to have reasons and discoverable methods. He wants something from Earth, but the story never makes clear what it could be. The mad scientist also wants money, US money. I’m not sure how that is helpful in his plot especially if mankind is destroyed.

As a sci-fi novel, I got the most satisfaction. There are advanced scientific machines and gadgets and an advanced alien culture reliant upon biological integration with nanotechnology and neural implants. This is a sound cultural structure that I wish had played a bigger role or been more fully explored. I’m okay with the main alien protagonist “not being a science guy.” The idea that an advanced culture relies on technology that they do not fully understand is a valid trope. However, he implies that there are other alien races without ever citing a single one. His own race and people are never named as he constantly refers to himself as “an alien,” which I find odd. Only once do we get the name of the home-planet, Hrrm, but it comes with no further description.

All of the sci-fi and “alien” aspects to the alien seem to serve only one purpose, and that is to make him seem exotic for the sake of erotica. Possibly, a character of color anywhere in the book could have done the same. The three aliens we see, though, are white young and attractive in the perfect image of the modern American advertising and porn industries. The impossibly-toned, 20-something single white male is not just the ideal of the gay neighborhood, but of the entire cosmos. That is disappointing.
 
 
 
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Review: The Troll King

The Troll King
The Troll King by Kolbeinn Karlsson
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This is a graphic novel of inexplicable purpose and plot. Compared to the works of Miyazaki on its back cover where it also suggests itself to be surrealistic and visionary, the book falls short in all regards other than surrealism. I do not find the book’s vision in its nearly wordless vignettes of cannibalism, sex, and metamorphoses. I do not sense champions of the forest, nor overcoming or sidestepping society’s obligations and pressures.

Usually when a book is recommended to me, it is because the person likes it. This was not the case here. My brother was baffled by the book and insisted upon a second opinion. My perceptions and expectations of the book might thereby be tainted. So, proceed with caution. Or better yet, rent a Miyazaki.
 
 
 
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Authorized Thoughts: Dissection

I have paused the writing of the second installment in my 4-part novel series to dissect the first novel. My goal is to finish the dissection and rewrites by Halloween. That may be a bit optimistic, but since the goal is now out here for anyone to read, the positive pressure is on. Despite my posts of original poetry and reviews on poetry collections and fantasy or sci-fi books, the true aim of this blog is to give me an outlet to chronicle my writing process for the novels and to create a place for anyone interested in said novels to get updates or communicate with me.

So what am I dissecting? I create quite elaborate references of each place and character I mention in the book to aid in continuity. It is one large and growing reference for the entire series. Now that I’ve received notes back from an acceptable number of beta-readers for the first book and written a fair chunk of the second [33,000+ words], I am examining the micro-developments of each sub-scene in the book and of each character by sub-scene. At this point, I’m doing the rewrites by chapter and shoring up some of the larger arcs. I’ve also decided to layer into the story 2 or 3 historic veneers for the main speaker. This changes the plot not-at-all, but tints his POV at times.

What then? I resend the latest draft to a few beta-readers for feedback and get back into slogging away at the second installment. Hopefully after this round, I shoot for publication in the saturated market of urban fantasy. Until I have something worth updating [around Halloween?], I will continue posting reviews and older original poems.