Novella Review: Wonjjang and the Madman of Pyongyang by Gord Sellar

4 of 5 stars.

This superhero/supervillain urban fantasy cleverly depicts the complicated relationship between South Korea, North Korea, China, Japan and the United States. The countries, cultures, and politics are personified by the superheroes representing them helping to illustrate the complexities of the divided peninsula.

Wonjjang is a South Korean superhero/mutant working on a multinational team in the superhero division of a company. He leads the team that includes American, Japanese and Chinese members. Most of their attentions are used for thwarting the destructive tendencies of North Korean mutants led by a mad dwarf.

Two major sub-themes run through the tale. Firstly, mis-translations and awkward communication run rampant between both allies and enemies alike. One could include in this sub-theme the 2 mutants with communication-based abilities: the telepath and the mind-reader. The other sub-theme is attraction and romance. Wonjjang, who lives with his mother still, has a crush on the Japanese superhero who in turn is crushing on the American–that’s one way to summarize complicated politics. The hero’s mother would prefer him to settle down with a nice Korean girl, even if she’s from the North . . .

The blend of allegory and superhero works well here. The tale is recommended.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Biafra” by Nnedi Okorafor

2 of 5 stars.

One of many tales carved from an unpublished novel about a native Nigerian woman who can fly, this tale has the protagonist return home to Nigeria after years away. Nigeria is immersed in its Civil War as the heroine comes home.

The other tales, “How Inyang Got Her Wings”, “The Winds of Harmattan”, and “Windseekers” read like folk tales, whereas this tale is historical fiction. It largely remains plotless and makes no use of the heroine nor her abilities beyond her ability to fly out of danger as planes sweep in to bomb villages.

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

Short Story Review: “Bakasi Man” by Nnedi Okorafor

3 of 5 stars.

A mere vignette or kernel to a larger untold story, this tale employs fictional realism to describe an assassination of the title character, Bakasi. Bakasi, a hunch-backed dictator, pits his majority tribe against the minority tribe to whom he assigns all of the social ills. It’s a tale that’s played out repeatedly in post-colonial Africa.

The narrator is one of a team of 5 members of the minority Agwe people that set out to remove the head of the political hydra. Unfortunately, the tale does not develop beyond the actions of the hour of the assassination nor more deeply into the minds and motivations of any of the characters.

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

Novel Review: Half a War by Joe Abercrombie

Half a War (Shattered Sea, #3)Half a War by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the worthy conclusion to the Shattered Seas trilogy. While not rising to the level of the second in the series, this installment is very good nevertheless. The trend continues of new protagonists steering the plot, while the series’ previous protagonists take strong secondary positions.

War has spread across the land as the High King and his vast armies look to overtake the loosely allied and normally mutually hostile nations of Gettland, Vansterland, and Throvenland. Whereas, the previous protagonists all arose from the capital of Gettland, the book follows Skara the princess of Throvenland as she finds her life and country upended. The competing and chafing goals for each nation threaten to break the alliance at every turn. Princess Skara’s initial introduction parallels that of Prince Yarvi in the first book. But it’s soon made clear that Skara accepts the duty of the crown and the pressures of diplomacy while Yarvi took his cunning in a self-serving, scheming direction.

The primary theme to the book explores what makes for a good warrior and a good war. What makes hostility justifiable.

The secondary theme to the book explores duty and love. Skara struggles to find the balance between what she wants and romantically and the expectations of her role. Meanwhile, young Koll and Rin have become romantically involved with each other since their introduction in the second book. However, as Yarvi’s apprentice for the Ministry, Koll is expected to give up notions of marriage and romance. In both cases, no room for compromise is left open.

I’ve previously read and reviewed:
     Half a King (Shattered Sea, #1)–4 stars
     Half the World (Shattered Sea, #2)–5 stars
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Fortunate Son” by Steve Coate

3 of 5 stars.

The decision to go back to work after being a stay-at-home parent is never a light one. But when that parent is also a young widow working alone to keep the family together, the decision is amply tough. Especially when one is a Viking by trade.

After 12 years of raising Bjorn, Freya is readying herself to go back to work. She hasn’t seen battle since her days as a shield maiden, but this is the route that can secure her son’s future even if it costs her her life. She’ll be the only woman on the ship heading east to the Slavic lands . . .

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novel Review: Dog Country by Malcolm F. Cross

Dog CountryDog Country by Malcolm F. Cross
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

And what’s a person who’s been only really trained for war do after being forcibly taken out of the war? This question is an escalation of the issues raised by the transition of a soldier to civilian life. Conflict arises as the soldier is underprepared for the transition, and the civilians fail to understand the POV of the soldier. This sci-fi tale grasps this scenario and runs with it.

By the 22nd Century, genetically engineered, clone soldiers that contain a blend dog and human DNA are made for war. Until they are freed in a half-assed attempt to mainstream the young pups. Despite the efforts of many adoption parents, most of the dogs end up back in the military with whole divisions populated by gen-mods.

Edane, a gen-mod dog, survives the Tajik War but not on his own terms. He lost an arm and was sent home. He’s unsettled with how it all played out and struggles to come to terms with his sense of not belonging in civilian life. His adoptive mothers and his girlfriend likewise fail to see his POV. Edane finds an almost satisfactory answer in the semi-pro Military Simulation Leagues. And then another war comes along . . .

This novel brilliantly captures both the failed communication and understanding between the military and civilian POVs and a strikingly realistic mindset of a gen-mod dog-human struggling to read social cues and emotions that he wasn’t raised to read.

Secondarily, it poses an interesting scenario with a crowd-fund revolution hiring a mercenary army to overthrow a dictatorship.

Slowing the flow of the novel is the time-jumping between the Tajik War and later points. Also, the similarity of names to denote the clone aspect of the gen-mods obfuscates the individuality necessary to pull off this multiple POV novel. Overall, this novel is very good and recommended.

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

Short Story Review: “Blood, Ash, Braids” by Genevieve Valentine

4 of 5 stars.

The desperate Russian front in WWII doesn’t often receive due coverage, nor do the efforts by women despite the loyalty, bravery, and sacrifice being equal to that of the men. This tale rights a couple of these oversights with a close up look at a small group of female Russian pilots as they drop bombs on the advancing German troops with nothing more than doctored crop dusters.

The narrator find a wry humor in the Germans dubbing them “The Night Witches,” mostly because she’s the only true witch in the company. She explains the limits to the magic available to her [and any witch] in that she must give of herself for each spell until she’s spent. Tears for water magic. Breath for air magic. And blood for ash magic. Most of the ladies are wary of the witch, but she understands and appreciates them and they concede certain rites to her–such as the burning of their shorn braids so it can’t be used against them.

Before a particularly suicidal run of three lowly planes piloted by the narrator, her biggest advocate and another volunteer, the witch accepts her dismal fate but refuses to give up on her sister-friends. Using her own blood and the collected ash of her friend’s cigarette, she smears a mark of blood magic on the planes meant for the mission . . . .

The form of witchcraft shown in this tale reads as folklore rather fantasy. The earnestness is refreshing. Also, the depiction of this angle of WWII is fascinating.

This tale appears in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 10 edited by Jonathan Strahan. I received this new anthology from Netgalley. I’ve previously read Valentine’s “Aberration”, “Abyssus Abyssum Invocat”, Dream Houses and “Keep Calm and Carillon”
[Check out my other reviews here.]