The Emptiness in the Heart of All Things • 2018 • Magical reality novelette by Fábio Fernandes

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Synopsis: Anita investigates a series of murders in the sertão, in Northern Brazil. The victims were all male, leading her four thousand kilometers to a house were Elizabeth lives, an elderly author living for herself. 

he had a glorious mane of white hair which contrasted beautifully with the brownish tone of her sun-drenched face.
But Anita was raised Catholic, and she understood that not every monster was necessarily repulsive to the eye.

Elizabeth takes care of riberinhas – women living in wooden shacks who are often mistreated and raped by their husbands or fathers. She leads Anita on a day trip to the women so that she learns about their fate. 

Anita stays with Elizabeth for a few days to continue her interview. The nights are disturbing with strange sounds, and Elizabeth identifies one as the mythological “Matinta Perera”, a woman with a curse.

Review: The author weaves the Brazilian folklore into a crime plot involving feminist and political topics. All had a touch of exotic strangeness adding to the heat of the nearby rainforest. It remembered me of Lucius Shephard’s stories.

In the end, it was too predictable, too straightforward to last longer than the reading of the anthology. All the discussion about Camus and Western fiction might be interesting but distracted from the story’s flow. I could accept it in a novel, but it didn’t fit into this novelette.

Meta: isfdb. I’ve read it it in the anthology Best of World SF.

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Bootblack • 2017 • Time travel short story by Tade Thompson

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Synopsis: Linus Carter is an African resident of Cardiff, living as a shoeshine in 1919 just after the Great War. He’s a mentally retarded young man, depending on his parents. 

The story hears his police testimony, signed with his thumbprint on each page, of what he knows about “the fighting and the shining man”. 

The first refers to the mostly unknown but historical 1919 South Wales race riots, the second the fictional meeting with a time traveller. 

Review: I really liked the author’s novel “Rosewater” and looked forward reading this short story. 

The narrator’s voice felt quite authentic due to its simplistic language, the short sentences. Think of Forrest Gump, but as a PoC. 

The story played mostly with the historical background of the race riots in Cardiff. White men returning from the Great War, many with PTSD, find their jobs taken by foreign people living around the docks since the end of the 19th century. 

Riots broke out in June 1919, people were killed, injured, looted. The white aggressors were brought to court but went out far less punished than the non-white victims. 

The story itself didn’t do much for me, especially the time travel part. But the journey through wikipedia was a lot of fun. I never heard of those incidents, and it is very interesting to learn that such race riots against PoC not only happened in modern day U.S. but also in the aftermath of the Great War in the United Kingdom.  

Meta: isfdb. Available online at Expanded Horizons (though the page seems to be down). I’ve read it it in the anthology Best of World SF.

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Eyes of the Crocodile • 2020 • Post-singularity short story by Malena Salazar Maciá

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

First sentences: My return to our ancestral roots began with a crocodile’s eye that sprouted on my right breast. It felt like a grazing kiss from a razor-sharp bamboo tip, or the sting of the cold current of a river that once flowed on the ruined Earth.

Synopsis: Mandisa lives in the far future on a distant, ravaged planet. She is the wife of Chioke, who’s supposed to be a “crocodile man”, marked by traditional scars. Nanobots are supposed to keep the millenia old traditions alive, but something went wrong. They destroyed the high-tech civilization which is isolated from the rest of humanity in order to contain the apocalypse.

It is a sad world where the few tribal people don’t touch out of fear of transferring nanobots. They’ve already infected Mandisa’s husband. Mandisa breaks the social rules and comforts the dying man. Now, she’s infected with the nanobots and goes through a physical transformation. 

She has to leave as a pariah on a quest to save her tribe using a new “antidote” program which needs to be planted into a special device on the other side of the planet. On this quest, the crazed memory nanobots lead her on a surreal journey.

I was inside the mouth of a mystical snake, next to a being who was neither man nor woman. I carried a child in my arms and hid it next to a ceiba tree. I brandished a double-axe, invoked lightning, and healed a father. I was a woman born from an ostrich egg. I broke a vessel against the ground and from it a river was born. It took me to the sea. Along with my thousands of faces that began to sink into the darkness, a proud tree proclaimed to reach heaven, and it was punished by the gods to have its roots above and its branches underground.

Review: The story grabbed me instantly with the first sentence like only very few stories did. Recently, I’ve read a lot about technological singularity. The Grey Goo-scenario (self-replicating machines don’t stop and process everything to further self-replicating machines) is one of those possibilites where technology creates an apocalypse. The author softened the extreme form by extrapolating “only” a pandemic form of nanobots. 

Those nanobots are enormous fascinating, in that they are not only able to adapt people to foreign ecosystems. They also work as guardians of past cultures. Having nanobots transforming people is a an old SF trope, but the other idea was new to me. The author did a great job by applying the “technology goes crazy” to both aspects, bringing out the gods in nanobots. 

This works on several levels – the nanobots are gods themselves, and they also remember their hosts of old gods like Yemaya which is a water spirit from the Nigerian/Cubean/Brazilian  Yoruba religion. Just google “Yemaya Yoruba”, and you’ll find lots of fine art!

The traditional scarification – cutting the skin and manipulating the healing process – is a human tradition which is thousands years old. It might sound alien to outsiders, but it has a serious ritual purpose which is based on cultural beliefs and the social system. 

Photographer unknown, courtesy of Allen F. Roberts and the Central Archives of the White Fathers (Missionaries of Our Lady of Africa), Rome.

The killing and pain is contrasted by Mandisa’s solution which shows, that the connection to ancestral roots can be without killing, harm or destruction. To fix the abusal connection of violence and tradition, she has to go into the heart of the bot territory, and fix the root cause, thereby reconnecting her people to their past. 

This transforms not only her, but also her folk. 

This story truly has several layers. If you are going to read it, don’t stay on the surface but let it drag you deeper into the millenia. Pandemia mixed with mythology, far advanced technology  recreating the primitive past. Enjoy!

Meta: isfdb. Available online at Clarkesworld. I’ve read it it in the anthology Best of World SF.

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Kitten besieges

armchair.

Can’t read.

Kitten writes nonsense.

Can’t blog.

Some of you might wonder why I broke my posting streak. There’s been a major incident in this house: the family’s gotten larger. Two kittens arrived at Saturday.

May I introduce to you …

Ruby

And Kiera is the kitten featured on the first two fotos.

They eat up all my time, and rightfully so. Their base camp is my home office which impacts my work efficiency a little bit. This is in fact so much more fun than reading or blogging that I don’t miss a second. That’s why I brought to you these first impressions.

And now…

Goodbye, I have to explore the world!

… at least until we fall asleep. Don’t despair, kittens sleep a lot.

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Sorrowland • 2021 • Superhero novel by Rivers Solomon

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Synopsis: Vern is a pregnant Black teenage woman somewhere in the East of U.S.A. She flees from the repressive religious Cainite sect into the wild where she lives self-sustained from the woods. Her strength and endurance is remarkable, slightly supernatural which she needs to escape a “Fiend” who hunts her. She gives birth to two boys, Howling and Feral, dresses them in animal hides, hiding them in makeshift shelters, hunts and gathers to survive the next winter. 

Something itches at her back, she rubs herself bleedy with a bark but it doesn’t stop. A parasite takes over her back. 

A stranger was growing inside her.

Vern suspects that she was used as a guinea pig back at the Cainites to develop superhero powers. Her metamorphosis just started.

Four years later, she decides to track down her best friend Lucy who left the sect years before her. Arriving at her home, she finds out that Lucy is dead. But she stays there, bonding with a Native American Gogo who takes the little family in. 

But outside forces still want to hunt her down and a surreal pursuit starts.

Review: I was eager to read the author’s next book after their mermaid novella The Deep (review). 

After some initial troubles getting into the novel, an engaging story started with Vern’s survival story. That first half read like a Wild West story given all the religious sect and wood survival. This drove the novel as a page turner, but ended at Gogo’s doors. Relax and recommit to a different story which was astonishing in a different way. But the rest was more of a psychedelic trip opening up every superhero trope one can think of. 

I mostly enjoyed the story despite or maybe because of Vern’s harsh and fierce character. The kids were cute and added to the fun, but most importantly provided the anchor for the theme of responsibility.

Don’t expect a comfort read, it is an intensely angry book yelling at you for attention. Flashbacks to Vern’s past at the Cainites make you suffer with her.  

If you like to read a prequel of a superhero, a coming-of-age story which isn’t YA at all, then this is worth your time. 

Meta: isbn 9781529118735. Published at 6.5.2021 by Random House UK, Cornerstone.

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The Tomato Thief • 2016 • Magical realism novelette by Ursula Vernon

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Synopsis: Grandma Harken is back, after the issue with the Jackalope Wives. She lives alone on the edge of the desert, because that’s were the tomatoes grow best. She can hardly wait for this season’s ripe tomatoes, laid out on a sandwich.

“Blessed St. Anthony, give me strength to defend my tomatoes.”

But the first tomato is stolen. And the second one. She can’t figure out who it was.

She wrapped herself up in a quilt that night and sat in the rocking chair on the back porch. “We’ll see what kind of rat bastard steals an old lady’s tomatoes,” she grumbled.

She spends the night waking with her shotgun to catch the eponymous thief of her famous tomatoes.  It doesn’t show itself first, until Grandma Harken finds a pair of tiny footprints. 

“Shapechanger,” she said to Spook-cat, who slept in a small orange puddle atop the pillow. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Again.”

What follows is a relentless pursuit of the culprit.

“I need your old mule,” Grandma Harken told him. “The one I like to ride.”
Tomas looked at her, gazed briefly heavenward, and said, “That mule died five years ago, Abuela Harken.”
Grandma blinked. “What’d he die of?”
“Old age,” said Tomas, who was always extremely respectful but had a sense of humor anyway.

Which finally leads to dragons, folded worlds, and monsters from far away. 

Review:  Grandma Harken is a fascinating, grumpy, and humorous protagonist bearing lots of secrets, the art of raising tomato plants just one of them. 

A straight story full of magical around a delightful mix of Native American myths including coyotes, the desert, and the jackrabbit. There also is a piece of Russian folklore, the Koschei, mixed into the setting.  Not as lyrical as some other stories, its charm is based mostly on tough Grandma Harken. Add to it a shy romance and a twist at the end, and you’ll get a perfectly entertaining, heartwarming story. There is of course the Gila river landscape, just south of Phoenix. 

The most innovative element are the train-gods, smelling of hot gunmetal, with their Chinese, Black, or Irish priests. Come on, train-gods, you’ve never heard of those!

The only thing that I didn’t buy at all was that shy cat. But maybe that’s just me.

You don’t need to read Jackalope Wives (review), but the older story was a touch better than this one.

Recommended for readers of grumpy elderly protagonists determined to bring things to an end.

Meta: isfdb. This fantasy short story is available in Apex Januar 2016 issue. It won the Hugo Award.

 

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Some Nerdish T-Shirts arrived today

Qwertee had a clearance sale and I couldn’t resist: Lo, and behold these nerdish T-shirts, featuring Lord of the Rings, The Mandalorian/Iron Maiden, Ramen Wave, and Dune.

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2021 Locus Award Finalists: Novels, Novellas, Novelettes, Short Stories

The 2021 Locus Awards Finalists have been announced ! They’ve been voted by anyone on an open public ballot. There is no final round of voting, and the winners will be announced at 26.06.2021.

I extract only a few categories which are interesting for me. My intention is to review at least the short works, but this will have to wait until the end of May. Some reviews are already available, mostly due to overlap with Nebula and Hugo Nominations.

Here are all the nominees from short to long story. Links in the title lead to freely available online publications:

Best Short Story

Best Novelette

Best Novella

  • ★★★★★ • Ring Shout • 2020 • Historical horror novella by P. Djèlí Clark • review
  • ★★★★★ • The Four Profound Weaves • 2020 • Fantasy novella by R.B. Lemberg • review
  • ★★★★☆ • Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders • 2020 • Urban Fantasy novella by Aliette de Bodard
  • ★★★+☆☆ • Riot Baby • 2020 • Superhero novella by Tochi Onyebuchi • review
  • ☆ • Finna • 2020 Horror SF novella by Nino Cipri • no review (horror)
  • The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, Zen Cho (Tordotcom)
  • Seven of Infinities, Aliette de Bodard (Subterranean)
  • Upright Women Wanted, Sarah Gailey (Tordotcom)
  • Come Tumbling Down, Seanan McGuire (Tordotcom)
  • The Empress of Salt and Fortune, Nghi Vo (Tordotcom)

Best SF Novel

  • ★★★★☆ • Attack Surface • 2020 • Near Future SF novel by Cory Doctorow • review
  • ★★★★☆ • Agency • 2020 • Cyberpunk/Time travel novel by William Gibson • review (sorry, German review only)
  • ★★★★☆ • The Ministry for the Future • 2020 • CliFi novel by Kim Stanley Robinson • review
  • Machine, Elizabeth Bear (Saga; Gollancz)
  • Unconquerable Sun, Kate Elliott (Tor)
  • The Relentless Moon, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor; Solaris)
  • War of the Maps, Paul McAuley (Gollancz)
  • The Last Emperox, John Scalzi (Tor; Tor UK)
  • Network Effect, Martha Wells (Tordotcom)
  • Interlibrary Loan, Gene Wolfe (Tor)

Best Fantasy Novel

  • ★★★★★ • Black Sun • 2020 • High Fantasy novel by Rebecca Roanhorse • review
  • ★★★★★ • The Once and Future Witches • 2020 • Fantasy novel by Alix E. Harrow • review
  • ★★★★☆ • The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue • 2020 • Fantasy novel by V.E. Schwab • review
  • ★★★☆☆ • Piranesi • 2020 • Speculative fiction novel bySusanna Clarke • review
  • The Trouble with Peace, Joe Abercrombie (Orbit US; Gollancz)
  • The Angel of the Crows, Katherine Addison (Tor; Solaris)
  • The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US & UK)
  • Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir (Tordotcom)
  • The Left-Handed Booksellers of London, Garth Nix (Tegen Books; Allen & Unwin; Gollancz)
  • The Midnight Bargain, C.L. Polk (Erewhon)

First Novel

  • ★★★★+☆ • The Vanished Birds• 2020 • SF novel by Simon Jimenez • review
  • ★★★★☆ • The Bone Shard Daughter• 2020 • Fantasy novel by Andrea Stewart • review
  • The Space Between Worlds, Micaiah Johnson (Del Rey; Hodder & Stoughton)
  • The Unspoken Name, A.K. Larkwood (Tor; Tor UK)
  • Elatsoe, Darcie Little Badger (Levine Querido)
  • Beneath the Rising, Premee Mohamed (Solaris)
  • Architects of Memory, Karen Osborne (Tor)
  • Cemetery Boys, Aiden Thomas (Swoon Reads)
  • The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea, Maggie Tokuda-Hall (Candlewick; Walker UK)
  • Hench, Natalie Zina Walschots (Morrow)
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The Wheel of Samsara • 2009 • SF short story by Han Song

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Synopsis: A Martian woman discovers anomalies in a Tibetan lamasery. The eponymous Wheel of Samsara gives creepy sounds unlike any of the other bronze wheels hung around the wall of the temple. 

She returns with her father, a scientist, who wants to find out about the wheel’s mystery. 

Review: This short story remembers me a lot of Arthur C. Clarke’s The Nine Billion Names of God (review). While it entertains the same idea, this story is clearly a lesser sister of Clarke’s great story.

If you prefer a contemporary take on the trope, you might go along with this one. But for all the SF pulpy goodness, read the story from 1953 (it’s also available online)!

Meta: isfdb. Available online. I’ve read it it in the anthology Best of World SF.

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A Dead Djinn in Cairo • 2016 • Steampunk novelette by Phenderson Djèlí Clark

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This is my second entry for May, the month of Wyrd&Wonder. 

Synopsis: Egypt, 1912, an alternate history where Djinns, Angels, and other supernatural entities got through a portal some 40 years ago to Cairo, together with all their magic and steampunk clockworks. 

Special Investigator Fatma el-Sha’arawi investigates a mystery involving a dead djinn who’s committed suicide by exsanguination. Some leftovers lead her to a mechanized angel, the “Maker” who’s just in the process of finishing something great, a kind of stopwatch.

From there, she needs to go into the City of the Dead, where Ghouls are feasting.

But she doesn’t let go, and an epic showdown including Cthulhu creatures from a different universe provide an epic showdown. 

Review: This concludes my read through the available stories in the Dead Djinn in Cairo Universe

I couldn’t imagine a better preparation for my reading of Clark’s new novel “Master of Djinn”. A murder investigation unfolding an evil plot, a fast ride, pieces from Arabian nights tending to extreme dark versions of Angels and demons. 

The characters have been better developed in Clark’s The Haunting of Tram Car 015 (review), but the plot was absolutely worth the ride.

Meta: isfdb. Available online at Tor.com

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