This anthology is a collection of short mostly speculative stories with tinges of sci-fi, fantasy, folktale and the supernatural. A few come from the same world in which a few individuals have the ability to fly. These are excerpts from the author’s unpublished novel. Many fall short of feeling fully developed, resting instead at vignette status. None stand far above or below the rest.
One commonality throughout the collection is Nigeria as a background, often with American narrators. The uneasy pairing of Nigerian and American interests and values is the greatest strength to the anthology.
Filtered through the lens of a selfish, short sighted man-child, the world-building for this series fails to engage. This, despite the great world-building provided by a precursor short story to this world called “The Arena” which accomplished much and to great effect.
Seb Zobo is a self-absorbed fighter by nature with the remarkable–if not superhero–ability to slo-mo his perception of time and to spot the ultimate weaknesses in any challenger’s body. It doesn’t matter if he’s never met a species of alien before, he can discern the one spot that will bring them down with a single punch. Conveniently, every species of alien has that one spot. Nearly every species is also taller than humans, smells of feces and has bad breath.
The redundancy of every encounter is taxing. And the plot, while driven, doesn’t satisfy or grow the hero to a likable level.
This novel completes the The Red Rising Trilogy in a worthy and satisfying way. The expansive world-building of the second installment pays off as Darrow and company try to realize his martyred wife’s dream of a caste-less solar system.
The entire series is highly recommended.
The first in the series, Red Rising, was easily one of the best debut novels of 2014. It took tones of dystopian, young adult series like The Hunger Games and elevated the dialogue on social justice, honesty and loyalty. The second and best in the series, Golden Son, abandoned all comparisons as the world-building went into overdrive, sculpting the framework for the grand conflict of liberating the enslaved masses throughout the solar system. The plot veered toward Space Military without losing its heart. If anything, the human element matured to a nuanced field of grays.
A year has elapsed between the second and final installments. Darrow is a broken shadow of his former self having endured nothing but torture and seclusion since he’s last been seen. His allies need to be rebuilt and re-earned. And, he needs to rebuild himself physically, emotionally, mentally, and strategically. Much has transpired in his absence vaulting him to mythic status which even he cannot live up to. The expectations are mountainous, and hope dwindles . . .
While coasting on the great work of the second installment, pleasingly this novel doesn’t embrace a fairy tale ending. Unless one means the original Grimm’s tales which were dark messy things embedded with lessons for the ages.
The exciting and worthy sequel to Illuminae ably walks the fine line between stylistic consistency and narrative predictability. Like the first in the series, this novel takes the form of epistolary dossier with a smattering of emails, texts and video transcriptions. A brilliant if not ominous addition is the new heroine’s hand-drawn journal bringing a graphic element into the mix. A bullet hole through each page and an increasingly larger blood stain marring her sketches provide appropriately unsubtle foreshadowing.
The previous trilogy of protagonists [Kady, Ezra, and the existential AI–AIDAN] take a backseat to a new trilogy of sub-adult heroes. Hanna, of the aforementioned journal, is the well to-do daughter of the Heimdall Space Station captain. With all survivors of the first book crammed on the science vessel, Hypatia, due to arrive within days, the Bei-Tech Corporation plans a full-scale attack on the Heimdall and its wormhole to keep news of its atrocities from getting out. Working with her are teenaged, unregistered cousins, Nik and Ella, the scions of a mafia family. Heavily inked Nik has already done time for murder and has the survival instincts and resourcefulness to prove it. His plague-stricken cousin Ella [think: Polio] may not have use of her lower body, but she makes up for that in cyber know-how.
Whereas in the first book the Bei-Tech attackers remain largely nameless and most threats seem to come from within, this novel leans into new subgenres quite unlike the those of the first book. The first subgenre to this sci-fi is clearly Thriller as 2 dozen highly trained militants are sent to Heimdall to kill everyone on the space station and to pave the way for a drone attack to finish off the Hypatia and the Kerenza colony. A 25th operative is already working undercover on the station. A second subgenre [Horror] emerges from the recreation of the mafia family. To foster their drug trafficking, Nik and Ella’s family farms psychotropic substance-secreting, parasitic aliens in underused parts of the station. These aliens resemble four-headed hydras crossed with lamprey eels and have the cuddle-factor and predatory instincts of Ridley Scott’s aliens. What could possibly go wrong??
The huge Win in this book and series lies in the unreliable narration provided by the dossier files as emails and texts reach Facebook levels of news-reliability.
This is a high caliber annual anthology without a weak story in the bunch. The diversity of the stories ranging from sci-fi to urban fantasy to fantasy is matched by the narrative depth achieved within the novella form. As promised, these are the best of the best.
My favorite, meriting 5 stars, was Usman T. Malik’s novella, The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn, which blends urban fantasy with a supernatural folktale to explore the generational effects of immigration as a Pakistani-American goes in search of the Old World family history that’s eluded him.
This brilliant, hefty tome and yet quick read turns the epistolary novel on its head by presenting a researched dossier submitted by the unnamed Illuminae about a sequence of shocking events in the far reaches of space. With a few “researcher notes” amending the files, the dossier contains intercepted memos and emails, dictations of video footage, interviews and AI internal processing.
Indubitably “Young Adult” with two teenaged heroes. Anti-authority, computer hacker Kady and her ex-boyfriend looking for a leader and a romantic reunion, Ezra, play the star-crossing ex-lovers hoping that their story can end less tragically than Romeo and Juliet’s. The tale is also “Sci-fi”, as everything takes place in a far stretch of the universe, first on an illegal mining outpost on an otherwise insignificant planet, and then later on spaceships crossing the void in order to reach a space station. The vastness of space and the loneliness therein are major themes, so too is the breakdown of civilization and order when outside of the view of the rest of humanity.
More interestingly, the subgenres of the novel defy expectation as they morph from one into another. Each holds its own quite convincingly taking the reader on a desperate ride. The first subgenre is militaristic as notions of business, government and military all roil uncleanly together. Then, an unreliable and independent AI abducts the plot. Finally, medical engineering of the nefarious, speculative sort surfaces turning the novel into a full-blown thriller.
The quick pace has the accelerator to the floor the entire time.
I absolutely recommend this is series opener and look forward to the sequels.
As protests over the rights of people versus the rights of oil pipelines grow more confrontational in the American Mid-West, this short story slides in with an imaginable future in which oil pipelines wend through villages and ecologically sensitive areas of Nigeria with disregard for the villagers. Artificially intelligent, large white cyber-spiders scurry up and down the pipelines fixing leaks and dismembering humans that get to close or tamper with the infrastructure.
The narrator toys with death when she routinely slips out of the hands of her abusive, alcoholic husband and hides in the long grass by the pipeline where she can watch the “spiders” and practice her guitar. One particular spider stops to observe the music making. Day after day. Then one day, it produces its own musical instrument . . .
This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books.