Novella Review: The Citadel of Weeping Pearls by Aliette de Bodard

The Citadel of Weeping PearlsThe Citadel of Weeping Pearls by Aliette de Bodard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beneath the veneer of speculative science and space opera sci-fi, this convoluted thriller surrounding the disappearance of two women 30 years apart shows the intricate relationships between grandmothers, mothers, daughters and sisters. A ruling dynasty, culturally East Asian, in outer space finds itself on the brink of war and turning to its own past and ancestors for guidance.

30 years ago, the Empress’ favored daughter broke from the empire and was banished. Her Citadel of Weeping Pearls had the greatest technologies and weapons. Still considered a threat to the Empire, war was sparked, but the The Citadel and all of its inhabitants disappeared without a trace. Unfavored brothers and sisters and the Empress were left with a hole in their lives as vacant as the deep recesses of space.

On opposite sides of the Empire, two scientists are separately working on ways to bridge time by bridging space. This is the only hope for solving the mystery of the missing Citadel of Weeping Pearls. The esteemed court scientist disappears from her laboratory just hours after being visited by a concerned father from the outer reaches–his daughter is pursuing the same time-bending goals with her scientist-friend in hopes of finding closure with the disappearance of her mother who was housed on The Citadel when it vanished . . .

The descriptions of the deep spaces used for the vastness of space has Lovecraftian qualities, albeit without the Old Ones. The crushing madness, however, is present.

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

 

 

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Short Story Review: “Warm and Toasty” by Yvette Edwards

5 of 5 stars.

The best of a city is not its architecture, parks and other tourist attractions, but rather the unseen efforts of hundreds, if not thousands, of everyday people working to make the city a better place. Most of a city’s true heroes remain largely unrecognized.

This heart-warming tale shows the best of the best that a city has to offer. Phin runs the Warm and Toasty cafe serving pricey toast and hot drinks to the neighborhood yuppies. This is her post-retirement second career serving the neighborhood she grew up in. Every weekday, Phin sees the same down-and-out woman scowling through the window as she walks her hungry, preteen son to school. So, one cold day Phin invites the guarded, proud woman inside for a free cuppa.

The woman is less angry than she is in pain from her chronic sickle-cell anemia. The government doles booted her after she was unable to fulfill the job they found for her due to side effects of the disease. Not to say that she doesn’t find a cafe serving expensive toast to yuppies ludicrous.

Phin remembers going to school hungry, and her mother’s chronic pain from sickle cell. But she also knows pride. She requests Latisha’s paid assistance, daily from 7am-9am, 7 days a week. And Latisha should bring her son. She only has 2 demands:

“I thought you opened at eight?”

“I open to the public at eight, but I need you here at seven.”

“Don’t you need references or anything?”

“I just need two things; for you to be here on time, and for you not to call my customers ‘fucking yuppies’. Do you think you can do that?”

The next day, Latisha arrives ten minutes early. The door to the cafe is unlocked, and a queue of school children await at the counter . . .

This tale appears in the anthology An Unreliable Guide to London by Influx Press, London. I received my copy of this anthology directly from one of the contributing authors through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Broadgate” by Tim Burrows

3 of 5 stars.

One can view a city as the summation of the people comprising it with their accumulated stories and histories. Take two or three diverse sample people and see how they interact to get a feel for the greater neighborhood or city. Such was the strength of Jarmusch’s indie film Night on Earth forcing interactions in the backs of taxis in LA, NYC, Paris, Rome, and Helsinki.

This vignette set in London’s eastside pairs The Banker, a white-collar, privileged married cad, with Daniela, an immigrant from Colombia who for a dozen years, still holds the city at arm’s length. Their crossing paths is sudden and realistic. Their parting is just as quick albeit left open. The cad’s reaction to the experience is dismissively on point, if ultimately dissatisfying.

This tale appears in the anthology An Unreliable Guide to London by Influx Press, London. I received my copy of this anthology directly from one of the contributing authors through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Graphic Novel Review: Silent Hill: Past Life by Tom Waltz

Silent Hill: Past LifeSilent Hill: Past Life by Tom Waltz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A horror graphic novel comes to full creepy realization due to the artwork of Menton3. The idea of skeletons in one’s closet proves quite literal when the secrets from the past refuse to stay in the past.

Jebediah Foster lived a rough and bloody life out in the Dakota Territory. He killed more than a few folks [American Indians, a barmaid, a bartender et al]. Then he married, quit drinking and moved Eastward to escape his past. His very pregnant wife seems unaware of Jeb’s past. Jeb himself barely remembers it through the hazy drunken memories.

They move to Esther’s uncle’s house in Silent Hill which they inherited. Everyone they run into seems to know Jeb and a lot about him. But, he can’t quite put a finger on why they should know him and a past he’d prefer not to acknowledge. But some definitely know him–a crazy Native American woman, the sheriff, the barman, the barman’s wife . . .
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Tayyabs” by Nikesh Shukla

4 of 5 stars.

Restaurants provide a communal experience even if just by observation and eavesdropping rather than by direct interaction. This tale is an accumulation of 5 conversations and 1 interior dialogue in a single Pakistani restaurant in East London. The effect provides a larger glimpse at the mix of cultures in the neighborhood and a hint as to the more recent fluctuations in ethnicities. It also shows the cultural importance of food and the dining experience.

In a series of solo ventures into Tayyabs, a Pakistani restaurant, the narrator has four confounding interactions. The first is with a cocky hipster in line before him. While waiting to get seated, the guy espouses a few prejudiced beliefs and laments his inability to represent ethnics as a talent manager. The second has a wannabe lawyer and arguer misrepresent his intentions as he finagles food from the narrator’s plate. A female hipster laments the loss of authenticity of experience in her history with the restaurant in the third conversation. The fourth merely has a misinformed or paranoid woman conjecture on her skewed view of history and culture:

. . . She tells me 9/11 was an inside job. She tells me that yoga was invented by the ostro-goths. She tells me that the recent ebola epidemic was the first strike in a religious war . . .

A fifth conversation with the son of the deceased previous owner provides context to the history of the restaurant. Then the narrator has his own epiphany . . .

This tale appears in the anthology An Unreliable Guide to London by Influx Press, London. I received my copy of this anthology directly from one of the contributing authors through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Heavy Manners” by Tim Wells

2 of 5 stars.

The music and stories of a community can do much to explain its flavor. So, too, can the patois of its residents.

This vignette dabbles with a few words particular to the jargon of an Eastside London neighborhood heavy with Afro-Caribbean descendants. The main scene is a remembrance of a record shop thick with unique cuts of reggae tracks. The rite of scrambling for the choicest choons, ie tunes, is past, but still fresh for the narrator who cannot account for the subsequent changes to the neighborhood in the ensuing decades.

This tale appears in the anthology An Unreliable Guide to London by Influx Press, London. I received my copy of this anthology directly from one of the contributing authors through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Thy Kingdom Come” by Koye Oyedeji

3 of 5 stars.

Over time, the life stages of an urban neighborhood become apparent: birth, decay, rebirth and gentrification. It’s an evolution of sorts–all too clear for those raised in a neighborhood and then away for a hefty period of time. The nostalgia of revisiting the old neighborhood is tempered by the inevitable change for the better or worse.

This tale is a memoir and a homecoming. The author has returned to the Walworth neighborhood in London where he spent his childhood. Now he’s been away in America for the better part of a decade and the loss and gain of businesses and his personal landmarks confronts him. His childhood best friend has now become a Big Man On Campus in this new-old neighborhood. As his friend is a writer who writes about their neighborhood, the friend is partially responsible for the perceptual shift there. The friend’s central position in Walworth also reveals to what extent the outsider has erased his own connection to his childhood.

This tale appears in the anthology An Unreliable Guide to London by Influx Press, London. I received my copy of this anthology directly from one of the contributing authors through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti (Binti, #1)Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The best science fiction explores the human condition from an outlier position. Speculative and fantastical species and races turn the magnifying glass onto Earth and the sorry state to which we have often descended. Issues of slavery, castes, xenophobia and genocide become topics removed from the immediacy of history which taints the discussion.

This futuristic novella finds Earth one among infinite worlds populated by infinite species. Academically, the best of the best is the university on Oomza Uni, far away from Earth’s solar system. No more than 5% of the students at Oomza are human. And those students are all from the Earth-dominant Khoush culture.

Binti’s acceptance at Oomza comes as a shock on many levels. She’s not Khoush, but part of the small but surviving African Himba culture. No Himba has ever gone to Oomza–indeed, none have left Earth. They prefer not to leave their ancestral desert home. Her family rejects her university acceptance for her. So she runs away . . .

Despite her “tribal” upbringing, Binti is a technological and mathematical genius. She also possesses the near magical ability to harness and align energies. When her student-full transport to Oomza is commandeered by the Khoush’s enemy, the Meduse, almost everyone but Binti is immediately killed without a fight. The space-jellyfish-like Meduse don’t understand that not all humans are like the Khoush . . .

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Science Fiction Novellas: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “Hello, Moto” and “Tumaki”

 

 

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Short Story Review: “Babies From Sand” by M. John Harrison

Like islands in a river, ten micro-vignettes stand apart from each other and yet almost resemble one another and seem loosely collected. Very loosely. It’s best read as a prose poem, as no narrative exists. But even with “poetic license,” the vignettes are irreparably disjointed.

Running through the vignettes are themes of water and biographical splices of British psychic researcher Harry Price. Sometimes the water is artistic depictions of water. At other times, it’s actual water by islands or under bridges.

The thin tidbits about Harry Price barely provide enough to stalk on Wikipedia. However, the sporadic references to him add up to an homage of sorts. [According to Wiki, about a century ago, Harry Price was debunking so-called mediums and challenging claims of haunted establishments. This info does not shed light on this smattering of description and biography.]

This tale appears in the anthology An Unreliable Guide to London by Influx Press, London. I received my copy of this anthology directly from one of the contributing authors through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Nightingale Lane” by Stephanie Victoire

3 of 5 stars.

The urban walking tour is not uncommon: people, places and history–not necessarily in that order–give character to the great cities. This vignette does precisely this treatment in literary form for a London neighborhood, throwing in a bit of the supernatural. The descriptions are rich enough that parts of the piece could almost be considered a prose poem, as narrative has no bearing here. The use of 2nd person voice, completes the walking tour mindset.

The residents of past and present mingle in this glimpse of the neighborhood starting at the Tube station. Supernatural sylphs jostle with the breeze on the streets above, as events both current and historical unfold all around. The tour across time and space does more to hone in on the flavor of the neighborhood than merely describing the buildings lining the path.

This tale appears in the anthology An Unreliable Guide to London by Influx Press, London. I received my copy of this anthology directly from one of the contributing authors through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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