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: Warrior Women

warrior womenWarrior Women
Edited by Paula Guran
Anthology/Science Fiction/Fantasy/Military Fiction
375 pages
Published 2015

This is an older anthology, but I recognized a lot of the authors in it, and I was excited to see a sci-fi anthology centered on war but starring women. The book is divided into five sections; Swords (& Spears & Arrows & Axes) and Sorcery focuses on the more standard fantasy warriors – knights, and mages, and the like in fantasy worlds. The next section, Just Yesterday & Perhaps Just Beyond Tomorrow, is closer to contemporary fiction, with a story set during WWII, and a drone pilot, and then an alien invasion of Earth. Somewhere Between Myth & Possibility is like a combination of sci-fi and fantasy; there are space ships and alternate dimensions and witches. The fourth section is Space Aria, and it is what it sounds like – space opera. Pretty straight sci-fi. It’s the fifth section that has the most thought-provoking pieces. Will No War End All War? centers stories about the cost of war. And it’s a little depressing, to be honest. It’s a heavy topic, so that’s unsurprising, but it left me in a low emotional place when I shut the book.

Warrior Women is a really interesting book, with twenty-four different stories examining different aspects of war. Some stories are told by soldiers, some by scientists, some by commanders, some by the sisters and daughters of soldiers. The book does a really good job of examining the subject from all angles. I am eager to see what my husband, as a former Marine, thinks of the book. I can’t say that I enjoyed the book, exactly, but it gave me a LOT to think about. And books that do that are just as important as escapist fantasy.

From the cover of Warrior Women:

From fantastic legends and science fictional futures come compelling tales of powerful women – or those who discover strength they did not know they possessed – who fight because they must, for what they believe in, for those they love, to simply survive, or who glory in battle itself. Fierce or fearful, they are courageous and honorable – occasionally unscrupulous and tainted – but all warriors worthy of the name!

Book Review: Once & Future

once and futureOnce & Future
by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy
Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Young Adult/Retelling
354 pages
Published March 2019

This was March’s Illumicrate book, and it’s fantastic! I’d had my eye on it prior to finding out it was the pick for March, and was super happy when that was announced. It’s an exclusive cover, so I’m including a picture of my book too! I actually like the pink better, so I’m slightly saddened by that, but the content is far more important.

20190419_104939790720406498931650.jpgAnd the content is a riot! Ari is our main character, and she’s King Arthur reborn, as these stories always go. Merlin is aging backwards, as he often is, and he wakes up this time as a teenager and groans. It’s pretty hilarious. Arthur’s knights are various characters, of various ethnicities and sexualities. This is a HELLA queer book, and it’s great. We get bi, lesbian, gay, pan, omni – honestly it seems that in this future, people have just accepted that you’ll love who you will love, gender be damned. One of the knights is even ace!

There is going to be a sequel, though I’m not sure when it’s scheduled to be released. Not soon enough, is the real answer, in my opinion!

I realize I haven’t said much about the actual plot, but – really. It’s King Arthur and her knights, as queer teenagers, in space, fighting a giant corporation. That’s really all you need to know. Go read it!

From the cover of Once & Future:

A NEW KING ARTHUR HAS RISEN AND SHE’S GOT A UNIVERSE TO SAVE.

Coming to terms with your identity is always difficult. But for Ari, as the reincarnation of King Arthur, it just got a lot more complicated. What on Earth (or anywhere in space) can she hope to achieve with a rusty spaceship and an adolescent wizard called Merlin?

Gender-bending royalty, caustic wit and a galaxy-wide fight for peace and equality all collide in this brilliant reinvention of the Arthurian legend.

Book Review: A Spark of White Fire

spark of white fireA Spark of White Fire
by Sangu Mandanna
Science Fiction/Fantasy/Mythological Retelling
311 pages
Published September 2018

This book ripped my heart out and stomped on it. I started crying during one of the last scenes, and thought that was bad enough – then the next chapter just DESTROYED ME. It is the first book in a trilogy inspired by the Mahabharata (which I totally want to read now!) – the second book, A House of Rage and Sorrow, isn’t due out until September. September! What am I supposed to do until then?!

So. Wow. This is the first book I’ve read by Mandanna, though The Lost Girl sounds interesting. Given how good this one was, that one has moved higher on my list.

In A Spark of White Fire, we follow Esmae, a girl who was sent away at birth because her mother was told she’d destroy her family. Trying to subvert those kinds of curses never works out well. She’s grown up an orphan in a different kingdom, albeit one educated by royal tutors with the local princes, as requested by a goddess. (When the goddess of war asks you to educate an orphan girl with your sons, you do it.) All Esmae really wants is to return to her family; she believes the only way to do that, to claim her place with them, is to help her brother regain his throne. And she thinks she can best do that by winning this contest, earning the unbeatable space ship, and pretending to go join her uncle’s family so she has an inside channel to her brother’s enemies. It’s a little convoluted, but it is something that her brother desperately needs, so it kind of makes sense.

Things unfortunately don’t go as planned, and every attempt to escape fate only winds the net tighter.

I loved every character in this book, from the sentient warship Titania (who I wish we’d spent more time with!) to Esmae, her best friend Rama, her cousin Max, her brothers, even her uncle, the usurper king. And the gods. Everyone has such personality. They just leap off the page. Granted, some of them are trying to stab arrows into your heart, but they come to life regardless!

The family dynamics are really what the book is about – no one’s truly in the wrong, here, and no one really wants to kill each other, but pride, miscommunication, and bad advice rips them apart. Esmae and Max are doing their best to reconcile the two halves of the family, but the family resists them at every turn.

I actually picked this book for the Year of the Asian Reading Challenge January prompt, which is “Family.” I moved it up several spots in my To-Read list to make it a January book! I’m glad I did, though, it was absolutely amazing. I can’t wait for the next book!

From the cover of A Spark of White Fire:

When Esmae wins a contest of skill, she sets off events that trigger an inevitable and  unwinnable war that pits her against the family she’d give anything to return to.

In a universe of capricious gods, dark moons, and kingdoms built on the backs of spaceships, a cursed queen sends her infant daughter away, a jealous uncle steals the throne of Kali from his nephew, and an exiled prince vows to take his crown back.

Raised alone and far away from her home on Kali, Esmae longs to return to her family. When the King of Wychstar offers to gift the unbeatable, sentient warship Titania to a warrior that can win his competition, she sees her way home: she’ll enter the competition, reveal her true identity to the world, and help her famous brother win back the crown of Kali.

It’s a great plan. Until it falls apart.

Inspired by the Mahabharata and other ancient Indian stories, A Spark of White Fire is a lush, sweeping space opera about family, curses, and the endless battle between jealousy and love.

Book Review: How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?

how long til black future monthHow Long ‘Til Black Future Month?
by N. K. Jemisin
Anthology of short stories/Science Fiction/Fantasy
397 pages
Published November 2018

I’ve only read one other N. K. Jemisin book – The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which is the first book of her NOT Hugo-award-winning trilogy. I really ought to read the rest of her backlist, as she’s an amazing author. How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? is a collection of short fiction – windows into futuristic or fantasy or even contemporary worlds, all centering black characters. I think my favorite was The City, Born Great, about New York City waking up. L’Alchimista, about a talented chef given an impossible challenge, appealed to my baker’s heart, as did Cuisine des Mémoires, about a magical restaurant that can recreate any meal from any time. The Narcomancer sounded like something that could happen in my D&D game, and The Evaluators was slowly horrifying. The Storyteller’s Replacement and Cloud Dragon Skies both have dragons, one of my favorite fantasy features, as does the story Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters.

Every story in this book was amazing. I’ve only specifically named a few, but every single one is excellent. Jemisin runs the gamut from sci-fi to cyberpunk to medieval fantasy to magical realism and contemporary fantasy. There are stories in parallel universes, purely online worlds, shattered universes, and worlds that seem to be our own with a touch of magic. Every one of them is brought to vivid life. Jemisin is an extraordinary writer, and her short fiction shows it.

These are intelligent stories, full of commentary on the current state of our world. From the Jim Crow South to the abandonment of New Orleans to floodwaters, to future apocalypses brought on by our negligence and space exploration spurred by climate destruction, Jemisin’s stories have footholds in reality that are hard to ignore.

Fantastic book. (And that cover is FIERCE.)

From the cover of How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?:

Three-time Hugo award-winning and New York Times bestselling author N. K. Jemisin sharply examines modern society in her first short story collection.

N. K. Jemisin is one of the most powerful and acclaimed speculative fiction authors of our time. In the first collection of her short fiction, which includes several never-before-seen stories, Jemisin equally challenges and delights with narratives of destruction, rebirth, and redemption.

Dragons and hateful spirits haunt the flooded streets of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a parallel universe, a utopian society watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes. A black mother in the Jim Crow South must save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises. And in the Hugo Award-nominated short story “The City, Born Great,” a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis’s soul.

Book Review: The Dreaming Stars

the dreaming starsThe Dreaming Stars
by Tim Pratt
Science Fiction
384 pages
Published September 2018

I don’t read a lot of hard sci-fi. It’s just not where my interests lie. But every once in a while, I do enjoy a good space opera. Firefly/Serenity (before I learned about the Confederate connection, dammit), Dark Matter, even the occasional episode of The Expanse. Tim Pratt has written a fantastic space opera in his Axiom series. (The Forbidden Stars should be coming out sometime in 2019.) The story started with The Wrong Stars and continues here.

First, the diversity is fantastic. The crew runs the gamut of genders, sexualities, ethnicities, and religions. Our two main characters, Captain Machedo and Elena, are both bisexual women, and the Captain is also demisexual. (One of the first things she does in this book is crash her own funeral being held by her ex-husband!) I enjoyed seeing Elena and Callie’s relationship continue to grow.

Second, the dialog is hilarious. The Captain and her ship’s AI are both smart alecks, and sarcasm and snappy comebacks abound.

The action is also very well-done; the physics of traveling through space aside, most of the science is feasible. All of the Axiom-tech is pretty far out, and some of the other science is….well it’s such a long shot that it only worked because it’s in a book, but it IS conceivable it could work.

This is one sci-fi series I will continue to watch for. (And I wonder how long before it gets optioned for TV?)

From the cover of The Dreaming Stars:

In the breathtaking sequel to The Wrong Stars, Tim Pratt brings you much closer to that ancient race of aliens, the Axiom, who will kill us all – when they wake up. 

In deep space, a swarm of nanoparticles threatens the colonies, transforming everything it meets into computronium – including the colonists. The crew of the White Raven investigate, and discover an Axiom facility filled with aliens, hibernating while their minds roam a vast virtual reality. The treacherous Sebastien wakes up, claiming his altered brain architecture can help the crew deactivate the swarm – from inside the Axiom simulation. To protect humanity, beleaguered Captain Callie Machedo must trust him, but if Sebastien still plans to dominate the universe using Axiom tech, they could be in for a whole galaxy of trouble.