Book Review: New Suns

new sunsNew Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color
Edited by Nisi Shawl
Short stories / Sci-Fi / Fantasy
279 pages
Published March 2019

This was quite the collection! I disagree with the cover description’s use of “unexpected brilliance” – I think that’s actually slightly insulting, and possibly racist. (Who wrote that line?!) I fully expected the brilliance I got, and was very pleased with it!

From the forward by Levar Burton, through stories by Hispanic, Black, Asian, and Indigenous authors, all the way to the Afterword from Nisi Shawl, this was an amazing, fascinating, mind-blowing book. Rebecca Roanhorse is probably the most well-known of the authors, thanks to Trail of Lightning, but Indrapramit Das wrote The Devourers, which I’ve heard about and have on my Kindle but have not yet read, and Steven Barnes is married to another author I’ve read, Tananarive Due. Silvia Moreno-Garcia wrote the recently released Gods of Jade and Shadow, which I picked up through Book of the Month in July but have again, not yet read. Library books keep taking priority over things I own!

Going through the biographies in the back of the book makes me want to add EVERYTHING to my TBR – with titles like The Sea is Ours: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia, Will Do Magic For Small Change, and The Beast With Nine Billion Feet, how could I not?!

Back to the book itself, though! There are 17 stories in this book, ranging from 5 pages to 20-30 pages. I think my favorite was “The Freedom of the Shifting Sea” by Jaymee Goh, about an Asian mermaid, but the one just before it, “Burn the Ships,” about indigenous South Americans fighting back with blood magic against Spaniards, was also amazing. (Written by Alberto Yáñez.) Really all of the stories are spell-binding, though. And the variety is VAST. From a story retelling The Emperor’s New Clothes, in three variations, to Earth becoming a tourist destination for galactics (aliens), to a story imagining what we would be like with computers in our heads to keep us from having destructive emotions, these are wildly imaginative and thought-provoking.

I love reading short story anthologies because they always introduce me to new authors I want to read more of, which this book unequivocally did. I also have more reason to read Gods of Jade and Shadow now!

This should be on the reading list of every spec fic fan. I’m going to leave you with the quote that begins the book and inspired the title, from one of the mothers of modern science fiction, Octavia Butler:

“There’s nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns.”

From the cover of New Suns:

New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color showcases emerging and seasoned writers of many races telling stories filled with shocking delights, powerful visions of the familiar made strange. Between this book’s covers burn tales of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and their indefinable overlappings. These are authors aware of our many possible pasts and futures, authors freed of stereotypes and cliches, ready to dazzle you with their daring genius.

Unexpected brilliance shines forth from every page.

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Book Review: The Good Demon

the good demonThe Good Demon
by Jimmy Cajoleas
Contemporary Fiction/YA?
306 pages
Published September 2018

The Good Demon is marked Young Adult, and the protagonist is fifteen or sixteen (I don’t remember if the book actually says which) but the subject manner is…surprisingly adult. It’s a very Southern Gothic book.

Clare, our protagonist, had a demon inside her just prior to the opening of the book. She’d had it since she was very young – in one of the many flashbacks we see their meeting. But just prior to the start of the book, the demon was cast out by a local reverend and his son. Clare is lost without Her (the only name she’s had for the demon – Her) and reacts much as an addict would when going cold turkey. And then she discovers clues left by the demon, and resolves to solve the mystery and get her demon back.

Sprinkled throughout Clare’s investigation are flashbacks to when she was possessed, and we learn what the demon really means to Clare. The demon has saved her life multiple times, and seems to truly care about her. But in poking around her town, Clare uncovers some disturbing relics and characters. She learns there might be a way to get her demon back, but the cost might be higher than she wants to pay. (It’s also a bit predictable, but the slow-creeping horror of knowing what’s about to happen is part of what makes this book amazing.) In the meantime, she’s falling in love with the reverend’s son, and their relationship only complicates matters.

The atmosphere of the book is perfect Southern Gothic – from Clare playing in the swampy woods as a little girl, to the one mysteriously wealthy family that controls far too much of the sleepy town, to the small-town feel and the enigmatic hermit off the highway. The broken families and alcoholics and domestic violence all hidden beneath a veneer of sociability – it’s one of the best Southern Gothics I’ve read in a very long time.

The writing is just amazing – evocative and entrancing and – I just loved this book, okay? I’d heard it had mixed reviews, so I was a bit wary of the book, but the premise was so interesting – and then I fell in love with it. I think this is one of my favorite books this year.

From the cover of The Good Demon:

“She was my Only.”

It wasn’t technically an exorcism, what they did to Clare. When the reverend and his son ripped her demon from her, they called it a “deliverance.” But they didn’t understand that Clare and her demon – known simply as Her – were like sisters. She comforted Clare, made her feel brave, helped to ease her loneliness. They were each other’s Only.

Now, Clare’s only comforts are the three clues that She left behind:

Be nice to him

June 20

Remember the stories

Clare will do anything to get Her back, even if it means teaming up with the reverend’s son and scouring every inch of her small, Southern town for answers. But if she sacrifices everything to bring back her demon, what will be left of Clare?

Book Review: Into the Drowning Deep

drowning deepInto the Drowning Deep
by Mira Grant (aka Seanan McGuire)
Fantasy Horror
450 pages
Published November 2017

WOW. I don’t typically read horror, but this was fantasy horror, and WOW. I picked up the novella precursor to this sometime last year – I never reviewed it here, probably because it was barely over 100 pages, but it was fascinating and haunting all the same. Rolling in the Deep told the story of the Atargatis, a ship sent out to the Mariana Trench to stage a mockumentary – supposedly looking for mermaids, but equipped with actors who could swim with mermaid tails. They never planned to find anything. Except they did. And they all died. One by one at first, a few people picked off, then the entire ship swarmed and eaten. The reader sees this happen, but to anyone not on the ship, the only thing they find is some footage on an abandoned ship.

Into the Drowning Deep fast forwards a few years; the production company, Imagine Network, is not doing so well, and they want to prove that the footage wasn’t a hoax. So they assemble a new mission, this one with a lot more security. (Though they still picked security with an eye for what would look good on TV, rather than what would be effective, which was a poor choice.) The reader, of course, knows that the mermaids are real, and that they are dangerous, so you spend much of the first part of the book in a state of suspense waiting for them to show up. (I actually thought it took a little too long for them to finally show up, but the time was used for character-building.)

The book is very Lovecraftian, actually – from the strong, building sense of foreboding doom to the creatures that should not exist, to the kind of gibbering insanity near the end. It’s probably why I liked the book so much; Lovecraft is about the only kind of horror writing I like, and I get the same feeling from Grant’s writing.

So yes, the book is about mermaids. But these aren’t mermaids as you’ve seen them before. They’re not cute, they’re not seductive, they don’t want to live on land, and they’re definitely not friendly. These mermaids are predators. Intelligent predators, but predators. And humans, apparently, are delicious.

Most of the characters in the book are scientists trying to prove mermaids exist, so there’s a lot of science happening aboard the ship, and Grant doesn’t shy away from it happening on the page as well. She also includes a pair of deaf scientist twins, and their interpreter sibling, which is important because the mermaids use a form of sign language as well. Most of the main characters are women, which is also great to see in such a large concentration of fictional scientists.

If you like fantasy horror, i.e. Lovecraft, you should definitely pick this up. Rolling in the Deep is also worth reading first – I think it definitely adds another layer to the sense of foreboding doom.

Technically this is billed as #1 in the series, which gives me hope for more. I’m counting it for PopSugar’s “next book in a series you started” because Rolling in the Deep came out two years prior and is a prequel. (It’s listed as #.5)

From the cover of Into the Drowning Deep:

The ocean is home to many myths,
But some are deadly…
Seven years ago the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a mockumentary bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a tragedy.
Now a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.
Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves.
But the secrets of the deep come with a price.

rolling in the deepFrom the cover of Rolling in the Deep:

When the Imagine Network commissioned a documentary on mermaids, to be filmed from the cruise ship Atargatis, they expected what they had always received before: an assortment of eyewitness reports that proved nothing, some footage that proved even less, and the kind of ratings that only came from peddling imaginary creatures to the masses.

They didn’t expect actual mermaids.  They certainly didn’t expect those mermaids to have teeth.

This is the story of the Atargatis, lost at sea with all hands.  Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.  Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the bathypelagic zone in the Mariana Trench…and the depths are very good at keeping secrets.