The Day the Dead Came to Show and Tell chronicles a zombie outbreak at an elementary school, focusing on one heroic schoolteacher who must lead her fi...moreThe Day the Dead Came to Show and Tell chronicles a zombie outbreak at an elementary school, focusing on one heroic schoolteacher who must lead her first graders to safety. She does not lead them all to safety. I couldn't help but be reminded of the superior San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats, a much richer work that hits many of the same beats. As in that novella, Grant continually drops ominous hints about the outcome throughout to build suspense and increase tension, though it sometimes rings hollow, the dire pronouncements stating the obvious: people died, it was horrible, etc. It's a strong zombie outbreak story—that is not afraid to kill off little kids—but the real treat is getting more worldbuilding of post-Rising society. How do elementary schools work when some children aren't even large enough to amplify, thus posing no threat? How do you keep everyone safe when you have dozens and dozens of warm bodies in a small space? Grant keeps the fascinating details coming as the schoolteacher does her best to survive: not action-movie style, but calmly and quietly because the kids don't know what's going on. It's rather heartbreaking.(less)
Zen Cho utterly charmed me on a Loncon panel about South and Southeast Asian SFF, so of course I bought her book of short stories, which do indeed ref...moreZen Cho utterly charmed me on a Loncon panel about South and Southeast Asian SFF, so of course I bought her book of short stories, which do indeed reflect her boisterous, whimsical personality. As a Chinese Malaysian living in London, she draws from several cultures in her storytelling, and the book is divided into three sections: "Here" (stories set in Malaysia), "There" (stories set in England), and "Elsewhere" (stories set, well, elsewhere). For the non-Malaysian reader, it's a great way to be introduced to various aspects of the culture, including food, language, and folklore, and for the Malaysian reader, it's SFF for YOU.
Every story is good, and one of my very favorites, "One-Day Travelcard for Fairyland," is only available in this collection, which contains seven reprints and three new stories. I love Cho's dry sense of humor. "The House of Aunts" describes eating people in such mundane terms that I regularly burst out laughing, and "Prudence and the Dragon" has such an offbeat wit that I laughed so hard I couldn't breathe. But the stories aren't comedic romps; they're character-based with heart. The collection ends on a strong note with "The Four Generations of Chang E," which the blurb helpfully informs the reader is a metaphor for the Chinese diaspora, even though it is fairly clear from the story itself, which packs quite a punch.
I devoured this book in a single day. Zen Cho's voice needs to be heard: it's fun, fresh, and important.(less)
Award-winning South African author Lauren Beukes teams up with Argentinian-Spanish artist Iñaki Miranda to deliver a compelling Rapunzel story steeped...moreAward-winning South African author Lauren Beukes teams up with Argentinian-Spanish artist Iñaki Miranda to deliver a compelling Rapunzel story steeped in Japanese folklore and mythology. In search of her lost children, Rapunzel reunites with her former kitsune lover in Tokyo. Shenanigans ensue, and blood is spilled in the past and present as we learn what's made Rapunzel who she is today. Great writing and great art, with some chilling moments courtesy of Beukes's J-horror inspirations.(less)
Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories seeks to fill an underrepresented niche, specified right there in the title. When I was a...moreKaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories seeks to fill an underrepresented niche, specified right there in the title. When I was a young adult, I read some anthologies of short stories, but as far as I can remember, they were about cis, straight, white, able-bodied, neurotypical people. Every story in Kaleidoscope features characters who break from that "default" type, and, more importantly, the protagonist falls in the spectrum of diversity. One thing that sets Kaleidoscope apart from some other anthologies that tell diverse stories is a commitment to showing diversity in more than race, gender, and sexuality. Yes, the book has Chinese characters, Indian characters, black characters. A couple trans characters. Gay characters. I'm seeing more of this sort of diversity in anthologies and magazines that don't specifically have a diversity theme. But Kaleidoscope has a superhero-in-training who's missing a hand. A bookseller in a wheelchair. An autistic chupacabra whisperer. Characters with OCD and schizophrenia. It's important for young adults of all kinds to see themselves represented in fiction, and Kaleidoscope strives to strike a chord with those kids who have never had that experience. I appreciated that the stories had a good balance between those where the character's diversity was critical to the story and those where it was incidental: not every story "needs" to break away from the usual character type, but it takes nothing away that they do.
And what a great set of stories to look for yourself in! While a few stories left me unsatisfied, it's a strong collection as diverse in style and topic as it is in its characters. As a superhero fan, I enjoyed Tansy Rayner Roberts's "Cookie-Cutter Superhero," which reminded me of Seanan McGuire's Velveteen stories in its take on media-made superheroes. Faith Mudge's "Signature" is a fun spin on a classic fairy tale. E.C. Myers's "Kiss and Kiss and Kiss and Tell," about a drug that shows you the future when you kiss, follows a dark, downward spiral that gripped me to the end. John Chu's "Double Time" nails the relationship between a Chinese-American girl and her mother, who wants her to be a figure-skating champion...by using time travel. I could praise plenty of stories in the book, but for me, the stand-out is Sofia Samatar's "Walkdog," told in the form of a girl's research paper (with spelling and grammar errors preserved). In the beginning, I was laughing, and by the end, I was in tears. It's a fantastic, powerful story.
For readers looking for new, different, interesting stories about young adults, look no further: they're in Kaleidoscope.(less)
In the first chapter of Broken Souls, someone tries to kill Eric Carter, necromancer, which, to be fair, is not a rare occurrence for him: people trie...moreIn the first chapter of Broken Souls, someone tries to kill Eric Carter, necromancer, which, to be fair, is not a rare occurrence for him: people tried to kill him all throughout Dead Things, after all. But Dead Things was an introduction to a world and to a series: having established the setting and characters, Stephen Blackmoore hits the ground running with this book and never stops. It's the sort of book the phrase "high-octane, pulse-pounding thrill ride" would be used to be describe if you were into cliches, but it deserves better than that...like Kevin Hearne's "hyper-caffeinated, turbo-bloody, face-stomping fun."
Eric Carter has found himself in an arrangement with Santa Muerte, and he wants nothing more to get out of it...or does he? It does seem to come with some perks, which can be useful when someone is trying to kill you, and then they keep trying to kill you for a whole book. Also useful? Being haunted by the apparition of someone you killed in the last book, unless of course you're actually just going crazy. Are we listing useful things? How about one of my favorite characters from City of the Lost? I love that this book has so many things going on but so few things going on: at a lean 264 pages, there's no fat or gristle. Everything is important, everything is connected, and, better yet, it feels like this is the true beginning of the series, showing the direction Blackmoore intends to take it, and it's an awesome direction.
I burned through this book like an Los Angeles brush fire. There's magic and mayhem (and a nice dose of Aztec mythology), and it retains the noir sensibility, full of betrayals and deceit. Nothing is what it seems, and if you think you've got it all figured out, Blackmoore has some tricks up his sleeve. Really, the most marvelous thing to me is how swift and compact the book is; the first book felt much denser but it wasn't nearly as fast-paced in comparison. Eric Carter has gotten himself into some shit, and I'm really looking forward to watching him try to get out of it.(less)
Katie is a fantastic chef at her first restaurant, Seconds, but she wants to start a new restaurant, one that she owns. She wants a lot of things. She...moreKatie is a fantastic chef at her first restaurant, Seconds, but she wants to start a new restaurant, one that she owns. She wants a lot of things. She has plans for the future, even though her past (like her ex-boyfriend, Max) won't entirely go away. As for her present, it's not too bad, but everyone makes mistakes, right?
What if you could fix your mistakes?
What if you met a strange girl on your dresser who introduced you to a simple set of instructions: write down your mistake, eat this mushroom, and go to sleep.
Seconds is about second chances.
I absolutely love the narrative voice of the book: it's very much narrated, a disembodied voice telling the story, but Katie and the narrator will often contradict each other—and it's pretty clear Katie's the one who's not telling the truth about her own emotions because that's Katie for you. Katie's a wonderful character, endearing yet flawed, kind of like Scott Pilgrim, although she's more than simply a female version of Scott; her voice is her own. We empathize with her desire to undo her fuck-ups, but with great power comes great responsibility...and things start to go haywire. But at the heart of the story is her growing friendship with a co-worker, who helps her navigate this time-bending, reality-altering magical adventure.
Bryan Lee O'Malley's visual storytelling and use of the comic medium, which was already fantastic in Scott Pilgrim, continues to evolve, especially now that he's telling stories with color in mind (colorist Nathan Fairbarn deserves credit as well). Katie's red hair makes her easily identifiable, and the color pervades the book, connecting her to the various elements of her magical journey (the mushrooms, the notebook in which she writes her mistakes, her dresser, and the cryptic tree in the first panel are all red). Every page has a different layout. Verbs are used as sound effects. While some of the stylistic flourishes are reminiscent of Scott Pilgrim, they're not as prevalent, and they feel like part of O'Malley's authorial voice, which is what made me fall in love with that series in general (Lost at Sea had a very different voice, and I didn't connect with it the same way).
Seconds is completely engaging from start to finish, funny and compelling with a very clear message. It doesn't need a second chance: you'll fall in love on the first read.(less)
The Writing Excuses team have put together the sort of anthology I've always wanted, providing a unique look into the creative process by walking the...moreThe Writing Excuses team have put together the sort of anthology I've always wanted, providing a unique look into the creative process by walking the reader through the creation of four very different stories. For each story, you get a brainstorming session, a first draft, a workshopping session, and then a track-changes version to show everything that changed from the first draft to the final draft.
While I generally love Mary Robinette Kowal's stories, I didn't connect with "A Fire in the Heavens," set on a tidally locked planet and focusing on a woman who sees the moon for the first time and experiences a huge culture clash on returning to her homeland. I found the worldbuilding interesting, especially the issues with language, but it didn't seem to have a strong plot until near the end, which does have a nice "Oh shit" moment. Funnily enough, during the initial brainstorming session, Mary's problem was that she had the world and setting but couldn't come up with a story for it. It's fascinating to read the session and see how all four of them work together to devise a story that would be compelling with the world she's set up, some suggesting wildly different directions that aren't explored, and together, they come up with that "Oh shit" moment that I loved. Reading the first draft is also instructive, as it's very clear there's a huge chunk missing in the middle, and then with the workshopping session, we see how the story comes to be in its final form.
Dan Wells presents "I.E. Demon," a fun military sci-fi story about a gremlin causing trouble on the battlefield. It's cute and clever, though the protagonist is fairly generic. Again, the brainstorming sessions are some of the best bits of the book to read because it's a peek into the imaginations and creative juices of these writers, and an indication to writers that even if you have a lot of ideas relating to your story, it doesn't mean you have to use them all in that story. With Dan's story, we get a first, unfinished draft as well as an interim draft, in addition to a write-up from Dan about how the story changed throughout its iterations.
Howard Tayler's "An Honest Death" gives a fresh take on the Grim Reaper set in a pharmaceutical company, told from the perspective of a security agent with a preternatural lie-detector ability. It's a neat perspective, made even better once you discover that Howard originally wanted to tell the story from the perspective of the CEO until he quickly realized it was too boring that way. Again, the brainstorming session is full of ideas, some of which are only hinted at in the final version, which slowly reveals secret after secret regarding whatever Our Heroes are facing. With this story, we don't even get a complete early draft, only an aborted first draft and a second draft without an ending! The workshopping session helps concoct a suitable ending, in addition to fixing other issues, and, as always, comparing the final draft to the early draft is a wonderful way to learn about what goes into revising a story.
Brandon Sanderson's "Sixth of the Dusk" is an exciting jungle adventure with an irritating male protagonist who meets a much cooler woman on a dangerous island, and also the seed of this story was PSYCHIC BIRDS. It packs a lot into its length, perhaps too much, but the story does track in the end. In the final draft, at least: the first draft's ending is not satisfying, and Brandon knows it, so the workshopping session is largely focused on how to fix it. Once again, it's interesting to see the large chunks that are added in the final draft to make the story work and be cohesive, in addition to the minor things like wordsmithing and tightening the prose. Plus, he includes additional workshopping notes to illustrate that you don't have to incorporate all feedback.
I would love to see more anthologies in this fashion. Shadows Beneath offers a peek behind the curtain of the creative process of four professional writers; it's an invaluable resource for any writer wanting to learn how to brainstorm, workshop, and revise a story into publishable quality.(less)
A strong story for Toph and Aang, with Sokka and Katara providing helpful backup. Plus, a familiar face shows up! Gene Luen Yang continues to do well...moreA strong story for Toph and Aang, with Sokka and Katara providing helpful backup. Plus, a familiar face shows up! Gene Luen Yang continues to do well balancing the dramatic weight with the lighter comedy that made the show so lovable.(less)
A journalist examines his relationship with his daughter as he writes about Remem, a new technology that can access all of your digitally recorded mem...moreA journalist examines his relationship with his daughter as he writes about Remem, a new technology that can access all of your digitally recorded memories, making organic, imperfect memory obsolete. Complementing this tale is the story of the impact of the written word on Tivland. An incisive, thought-provoking, fascinating look at memory, language, stories, and the nature of truth.(less)
A wholly unexceptional, boring tale of two exchange officers who operate mechs on a space station from the safety of Earth. It spends nearly half the...moreA wholly unexceptional, boring tale of two exchange officers who operate mechs on a space station from the safety of Earth. It spends nearly half the length describing how the mechs work as if no one has ever read or seen anything in which people operate robots, and there's hardly any actual action, and there's even less characterization. The bland prose also offers no incentive to continue reading.(less)
This feminist magical Western retelling of "Snow White" has such beautiful language and such a strong narrative voice it's very difficult not to be su...moreThis feminist magical Western retelling of "Snow White" has such beautiful language and such a strong narrative voice it's very difficult not to be sucked in, if only to fall into this weird and surreal world and see how it connects to the story that we know. Valente transplants the familiar elements into an unfamiliar context, and they take on new power and meaning, as her story is in conversation with the folklore, creating its own folklore built from the mythos of Westerns and Native American culture: Snow White here is half-Crow. The story takes on a dreamlike quality, with its own (lack of) logic, but the emotions are true; there are some killer lines. Valente uses the story to delve into what it means to be a woman, and a daughter.(less)
A chaplain with a legacy—this one time he stopped aliens from attacking humans because of ~*religion*~ or something—is called upon to speak with the a...moreA chaplain with a legacy—this one time he stopped aliens from attacking humans because of ~*religion*~ or something—is called upon to speak with the aliens again, and it turns into an adventure where both humans and aliens learn from one another. It feels like classic, throwback sci-fi, told in simple, plain language. I was hesitant at first but got into it once the plot really kicked in. It's very readable but overall unexceptional.(less)