Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Microreview [book]: Ruin, by John Gwynne

A healthy dose of grimdark—but how dark is too dark?

Gwynne, John. Ruin. Orbit, 2015.

Everybody knows that Empire Strikes Back is the best of the original Star Wars trilogy—and that’s because, among other reasons, it’s the darkest installment. For the first time, we see the heroes defeated, and even powerless. We witness the price they must pay, and you have to hand it to the filmmakers (see what I did there?): the darker tone really pays off.

In a way, the same situation applies to John Gwynne’s grimdark series about our intrepid heroes Corban and company; the first book, while ominous in tone, was really more about setting the stage for the bad stuff about to happen, while the second book continued that theme, only getting really dark at the very end. With the grim stage well and truly set, we readers knew to expect some serious grimdarkitude, and boy, does Gwynne deliver!

Without spoiling the many wrenching surprises, suffice it to say that there’s death, heartbreak, betrayal and seeming defeat aplenty. For some reason, I was convinced this new series was a trilogy, so I was actually expecting some sort of ‘victory’ for the good guys, but as I read on, by three-quarters through the book I had realized my mistake: it was obvious this was the Empire Strikes Back equivalent, and Luke, so to speak, was definitely going to be losing his metaphorical hand.
I know how Luke feels now, after yet another main(ish) character met a grisly end in the grim war of attrition in Ruin.

This brings me to the only substantial criticism of the book: can a book be too (grim)dark? Ruin is certainly a candidate for “beyond darkest night” dark; pretty much the only ray of light in this ocean of bad news for Corban and co. is that good guy-to-be Veradis might finally be getting ready to take a hard look at the two Bright Star-wannabes, and realize his enduring error from books one thru two. At what point does a story become so grim the grimitude starts detracting from the pleasure of following the characters on their journey? It didn’t quite cross the line for me—yet—but I was so bummed out when I reached the end of the book, I almost wanted to listen to 90s pop music, finally answering the riddle Cusack uttered in High Fidelity, “am I sad because I’m listening to pop music, or am I listening to it because I’m sad?” (the answer, it seems, is the latter).

So my word of totally unsolicited advice to Gwynne is this: how about you lighten up a bit, and have mercy on your readers! We all like Corban, Cywen, et al, and it sucks to see them fighting this relentless war of attrition, in which the casualties are mounting alarmingly quickly. On the other hand, you’ve done what few authors can: succeeded in awakening an actual glimmer of doubt that “the good guys will win in the end”! If that was your plan all along, well done…though considering the toll among the main characters to break down my Hollywood-esque assurance that the good guys will save the day, I’m not sure the reward (a scared, uncertain reader) is worth the price in main characters’ agony!

The Math:

Objective assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for finally allowing Veradis to see what’s what (more or less)

Penalties: -1 for serious, depression-causing grimitude

Nerd coefficient: 7/10 “An enjoyable if almost shockingly grim experience to read”

Warning by Zhaoyun the Surgeon-General of Books*, who has been reviewing books here at Nerds of a Feather for their potential debilitating effects on readers since 2013: reading this book may shake your faith in the ability of the good guys to prevail.

* Note that Zhaoyun is not, in fact, the Surgeon-General, nor a surgeon, nor a general.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Rampant Star Wars Speculation

Several weeks ago The G and I gathered our collective thoughts about Star Wars: The Force Awakens in our not quite a review, and as long as that article was, it wasn't the end of the conversation. It never is. It was only the beginning, and if there is one thing we nerds enjoy more than talking about a Star Wars movie, it's speculating about the *next* Star Wars movie. So, what Dean and I would like to bring you today is some speculation on some stuff left unaddressed in The Force Awakens and some ideas about what Star Wars has in store for us in Episode VIII. We only have some 22 months until the next movie comes out. We need to get on this rampant speculation. - Joe

So...about Snoke 

So, what wild theories do you have about Snoke?

I love a mystery! There are so many theories floating around about Snoke, one of them is bound to be right…. right?

I have long held- since we learned of his existence, really- that Snoke is, in fact, Darth Plagueis, former master of Palpatine/Sidious. According to what Palpatine tells Anakin, he was murdered in his sleep by his student, after said student had learned all his secrets. This is [***DIGRESSION ALERT***] one of the things the prequels got so awfully, catastrophically, wrong- it told the wrong damn story. Palpatine as a student, Plagueis teaching him to manipulate things from behind the scenes, Palpatine plotting his murder, and an implied survival by Plagueis would have been far more compelling than the hot-GCI-garbage we got. [***END OF DIGRESSION ALERT***]

But even though we didn’t see all that, it still happened, more or less, and it would make a great bridge between all three trilogies.

But Andy Serkis himself has said, basically, that Snoke is just Snoke. Of course, ol’ J.J. is at the helm, and he is the king of smokescreens- he just dropped a movie in our laps no one had any idea about, and it comes out in two months. He tried and failed with Into Darkness, with the whole Kahn-is-not-Kahn thing. So maybe this is similar and he is just saying it to pull the curtain back later.

For my money, though, Snoke is just that: Snoke. A new character, perhaps with ties to the old ones, but brand new. I think (more on this in a bit) we’ll explore his character and background more in VIII and IX.

The only theory that makes any kind of sense is that Snoke is Darth Plagueis, which has a certain amount of cache for me, though I haven’t read the book from James Luceno to really see how Plagueis could better tie in. Of course, that book is already carrying the Legends banner, so we can’t take too much from it anyway.

As cool as the deep-geek fan service would be if we found out Snoke was Plagueis, it’s boring. We already have to wonder what the hell Snoke has been doing during Palpatine’s rise to power and subsequent downfall, it would be even less plausible that Plagueis would continue to sit in the shadows after his apprentice attempted to murder him. One year on the sidelines after Palpatine, sure, but decades? Nah.

We had better explore Snoke in the next two episodes (which may unfortunately mirror a bit of the Vader / Palpatine story from the original trilogy), but I think Snoke is just Snoke - a dark side user who is emphatically NOT a Sith. How old is Snoke, anyway? I suppose we’ll find out. Wookieepedia states that “Snoke witnessed the rise and eventual fall of the Galactic Empire”, and given that it’s been thirty years since Endor, he’s got some years on him.

Rey’s Parentage:

I know that since they’ve begun to set up that Rey’s parentage matters, we’ve probably already met them. Given Rey’s Force sensitivity and connection to Anakin and Luke’s lightsaber, there is a strong suggestion that Rey is a third generation Skywalker. The only thing I am less interested in than Rey being Luke’s kid is Rey being Kylo Ren’s daughter.

I kind of think we haven’t met them- in that we never will. Or, at least, they are not as significant as we imagine them to be. Like Snoke above, there are no shortage of theories as to who her parents are- Skywalker, Solo, Kenobi, or some combination thereof.

I have issues with basically all of them, as follows:

Organa-Solo: Leia and Han were both acutely aware that their son had turned to the dark side, and felt the pain of his failure and betrayal. Even if Rey had been hidden for her protection, no parent would be that invested in Ben’s redemption, but when their daughter shows up they had basically forgotten about her. If she was there kid as well, I am sure we would had a Yoda-esque “there is another” moment, jump cut to Rey, wink at the audience- at the very least.

Also, it would be stupid for them to hide her on Jakku when her parents are, ya know, right there. Even if Kylo is hunting force-sensitives (and is determined to kill his sister), it’s not like he can just use his old house key to come get her. Of all the theories, this is the weakest.

Skywalker: This is tied on the weakness scale, but it gets the edge for being more likely. I am going to be annoyed if this is where it goes, though.

My argument against this is twofold: First, if Luke is trying to re-establish the Jedi order, it makes no sense that he decides to not only go against one of the Jedi Codes most basic tenants, not to mention the very one that led to his father’s downfall, by forming attachments. On the flipside, this could account for Ben’s turning, and Luke feeling like a failure and honoring the age-old Jedi tradition of running away and hiding from your problems (great job, guys! Jedi are stupid).

So while I will allow there could be failure on Luke’s part, point two is: Why didn’t he take her with him? “Here, Rey, you hide on this sucky desert planet, I’m going to camp out on a planet that looks like Minnesota in spring. Love ya!”

Jedi are stupid, so maybe.

Hey, Obi-Wan did elect to hide Luke on the friggin planet that Anakin was born / raised on, so let’s not discount the stupid here anyway.

Kenobi: Damien G Walter hits a lot of these points against these, but arrives at the theory that she is a Kenobi (I might have supplied him with some of this, since I think it is the most likely). Basically, it goes like this: Obi-Wan and Sabine had an implied relationship in the Clone Wars TV show. If they had a kid ~30 years before the OT, this means that child had Rey in their 40’s or so (possibly with Skywalker). So the math works. It also makes sense as to why she is hidden somewhere other than where he decides to hide (sort of).

What doesn’t work is that Sabine… kind of… dies. And “hey we have a kid” is generally a thing one would mention. Perhaps not- maybe she believed he needed to remain committed to the order, and thus never told him. But he spent a fair amount of time on Mandalore, and we actually see a lot of prominent kids there, and at no point does he go “Hey, you know, Sabine, that kid looks an awful lot like me.”

So who is she? My money- also like Snoke- is that she is brand-new. And maybe we meet her parents, but I believe she is a student of Luke’s, whose parents we don’t really know (maybe they were in the Rebellion or something, a la Poe Dameron), and she survived the slaughter at the temple, as seen in her vision.

The script shows clearly that Luke recognizes her, and why she is there. If she was his former pupil, grown and returned, offering him redemption for his own failure in the form of his old lightsaber and the awakened force, it is much more compelling than any of the other options.

Image Credit: Jason Felix and Dave Stevenson

You know what I like as an idea? Mara Jade. But - still NOT Luke’s kid. I don’t know how much backstory they’d want / need to give for a “hidden wife / lover” for Luke or if they’d really get into Mara Jade being the Emperor’s Hand (and then missing for decades?), but that could give nice fan service for long time readers while presenting something new in the movies. And while I would be somewhat disappointed that she didn’t marry Luke and together they raised Ben Skywalker (not Ben Solo, this still doesn’t make sense because Leia and Han never had the connection with Obi-Wan that Luke did - if anything Ben Solo should be named Bail Solo), I would very much appreciate the nod to the now discarded Expanded Universe. 

Something else that would be interesting: Rey is Boba Fett’s kid.

I have nothing to back support this, just a random idea.

Oh. Back to Mara Jade. Do it like this: She was one of Luke’s students in his New Jedi Academy school thing that he founded after Return of the Jedi. She, with another student (or not, I don’t care), had a daughter. Ben Solo turned, killed that particular class of students, and Luke hid Rey on Jakku rather than take her with him when he ran and hid.

I *like* this idea.

I really like this idea a lot, too. Something that is a nod to the fans, that is not completely shoehorned in to fit, is perfect. Also, I have seen chatter about her being Palpatine’s kid gaining traction. Which… no. Just, no. It would be far too shoehorned. Do what Joe says, people.

Apropos of Boba Fett: I don’t want Boba Fett to come back - and you will not find a bigger Fett fanboy than me, but that’s just it: I want a new Fett. We’ve probably all seen the (excellent- I’m not knocking it) fan trailer, but instead of Boba coming up from the pit, show him in the pit, with his last breath he pushes a button on his wrist, cut to Slave 1 and another Fett clone opens his eyes.

What Happens in Episode VIII

Rocky training montages with lightsabers! And possibly other things. In all seriousness, we know a little more than we think we do:

John Boyega has said it is ‘very dark’. JJ has said he wishes he was directing it. And Rian Johnson likes dark and weird. So, in a word, yum. But what will we see? I turn you over to my good friend, bulleted list. Take it away:
  • The First Order will increase their offensive, despite the loss of Starkiller Base- they still have a fleet, and just wiped out the capital of the Republic. I believe we’ll get a good dose of Hux and Phasma wrecking Republic worlds early. 
  •  The film will start after Rey’s training is in full swing. Early in the film, we will get Luke alluding to his own failure and the events which lead to Rey’s being on Jakku and Ben turning. 
  •  Then we will see Kylo and Snoke. I think this is where we learn who/what Snoke is, and more about his motivations- and what the hell happened to him. Since it has been made clear that Kylo, at the very least, is not Sith, it is possible that Snoke follows a Revanite path. Or, possibly, that he is Plagueis. Either way, I think through this we will get more and more of Snoke’s plan. 
  •  On that note, I think Snoke is going to be the most evil character in Star Wars Canon. While we have seen Han die at his sons hand, there are other kinds of pain- and I fully expect Snoke to explore them in Episode VII. I doubt we will see a major (light side) character die, but I think we will see them suffer- even worse than our heroes did in V. 
  •  I think Finn comes into his own. In Before the Awakening, he is presented as a great stormtrooper, with a lot of martial skill. I think we see him become a leader in the Resistance. He probably meets his family, too. And then they die.  
  • Rey will likely embrace her power- possibly rushing for a rematch with Kylo, this time being beaten, as with Luke and Vader in V. She loses her hand, because that is what happens in Star Wars. 
  •  I have two theories re: Luke. First, Luke become fully realized in this. Luke is my least favorite character ever, because he whines his way through everything and is terrified of failure. By the end of this film, I believe he will confront his former student and throw off his fear and weakness -possibly buoyed by Rey’s strength and confidence (god, I love Rey). I would assume, given how central Kylo is to everything, that he does not die (also because Jedi, like, never kill anyone when they should. Jedi are stupid), but it would be powerful for Luke to have to kill his former student (with Leia looking on)? 
  •  Alternately, in the Luke/Kylo showdown, Luke gives in to anger and kills Kylo, and ends up joining Snoke on the dark side. Seems less likely, but- it’s a thought. Maybe he shouldn’t whine so much. 
  • Either way, I want Leia to get some redemption/revenge in this- She is the opposite of Luke- quietly strong though four films and counting, dealing with the loss of (in order) her homeworld, adoptive parents, father, son, brother, husband, son again. OOOOF. not to mention she got stuffed in a bikini and licked by a Hutt, which is no one’s (rule 34 excepted) idea of a good time. So either in VIII or IX, I want to see her just own, either as a general leading a military victory, or picking up Luke’s saber with a stern “I’ll do it myself”. 
  • I think the film ends on a vague, hopeful note- possibly with the Resistance growing, but the only ones of the heroes left standing are Leia, Rey and Finn.

Hey, look, I can do bullet points, too!

  • What if Starkiller base was just a side project? I know the First Order can’t be *that* big, but what is Snoke is doing his thing and General Hux always wanted his own Death Star, so that’s why it was built. We already know there are factions and possibly clone troopers still in existence, so Starkiller doesn’t to be the whole show. It also shouldn’t come back in Episode IX, either. 
  • This is more for Episode IX, but Luke dies in the end. I know, I know that Han was the big death, but Luke can die heroically in battle. 
  • Please don’t turn Luke. I know they did it in the Dark Empire trilogy with Palpatine’s clone, but let’s not do that. He was strong enough as a young man to resist and to turn Anakin back to the light (which doesn’t excuse his crimes), and even though years and decades of sorrow and pain can cause a man to turn when he wouldn’t as a brash and humbly arrogant young man, don’t turn him. Let Luke and Rey stay.
  • I want to know more about Leia’s Jedi training. Sure, it’s possible that after Endor she told Luke that she doesn’t have time to train (which seems mostly right), she should still have had some less formal training sessions. 
  • I want to know if Kylo Ren just happened to murder Luke’s first / only class or if there are actually more trained force users out in the galaxy trying to do good. I don’t know when young Ben Solo started training, but there are some unanswered questions here about the state of the Jedi and light side force users. 
  • We need to see Leia and Chewbacca’s grief beyond those first moments when she felt and he saw Han’s death. Also, if Chewbacca had a Life Debt to Han, what happens next? Does he have a family back home? (the books say yes, will the movies?) Do we go back to Kashyyk for any reason?

Breaking My Heart with Fan Art: The Solo Family Edition

Image Credit: Orisoni

There has been some wonderful fan art coming out of The Force Awakens, and I have to wonder how much of this would have gut punched me if I wasn’t the father of a now one year old boy. The above piece from Orisoni absolutely crushes me in ways I would never have expected, but holding my son I think about who he is going to grow up to be, about raising him to be a good kid and a good man, and about how we don’t really have control on how our kids are going to end up. We can only give our children all the tools and love and support we are capable of and hope that they will make good decisions with those choices.

We don’t know what Ben Solo’s upbringing was actually like, but the thought of my child turning into Kylo Ren is unimaginably painful.

Then, I think about my niece and Tyson Murphy’s Chewbacca / Kylo Ren comic and there I go again (Chewbacca is totally Kylo’s uncle, and it’s a pain that the movie only touches on briefly and directed towards Han and not Kylo, but you know Chewbacca has been grieving all this time, too).

*choking sobs* A thing I have said for a long time is that the best part of Star Wars is what it doesn’t show us- see my love of a character with five lines. Kylo/Ben is a big part of this. We don’t see Ben grow up, but our imaginations take it to dark, heartbreaking places.

As another small aside, Han reaching out to touch Ben’s face as he dies is possibly the most perfect moment in modern film.


Joe Sherry - Writer / Editor at Adventures in Reading since 2004, Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2015. Minnesotan.

Dean - Dean is the author of the 3024AD series of science fiction stories (which should be on YOUR summer reading list). You can read his other ramblings and musings on a variety of topics (mostly writing) on his blog. When not holed up in his office tweeting obnoxiously writing, he can be found watching or playing sports, or in his natural habitat of a bookstore. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Microreview [film]: Ponyo by Miyazaki Hayao

Innocent child's tale, or meditation on the afterlife?

Miyazaki Hayao is the Lord of Animation, one who has had as wide a cultural impact as Walt Disney himself. His movies feature strong male and female characters, interesting storylines, stunning visuals, and fascinating technologies in ways unrivaled by any other modern animator. But that does not mean that all of his movies are created equal. Miyazaki has made the finest animated works of all time in My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away. On the other hand, he’s made some comparative duds (like Howl’s Moving Castle or The Wind Rises, both of which are not bad movies by any stretch of the imagination). I have already talked about some of my favorite Miyazaki movies on Nerds of a Feather. Today, I’d like to introduce the movie I am more conflicted about: Ponyo.

WARNING: The following discussion is spoilerific!

Ponyo tells an innocent love story between a fish-girl, Ponyo (or “Brunhilde” as her father refers to her), and a five-year-old boy, Sōsuke. Sōsuke finds Ponyo trapped in a glass jar on a beach. He frees her from the jar, only to cut himself in the process. In thanks, Ponyo licks his hand, healing his wound and initiating changes that allow her to transform into human shape. Thus begins a friendship, or a pure love story as told through the eyes of a child. Ponyo decides that she wants to become human, and the rest of the movie revolves around the adventures she takes with Sōsuke to make her wish a reality.

The most impressive aspect of this movie is its animation. The art is visually arresting. In fact, Ponyo features perhaps the most gorgeous artistry of any Studio Ghibli movie. Roger Ebert stated this perhaps better than I can in his own review of Ponyo:
"The film opens with a spellbinding, wordless sequence beneath the sea, showing floating jellyfish and scampering bottom-dwellers. The pastels of this scene make Ponyo one of the very rare movies where I want to sit in the front row, to drown in it. This is more than 'artistry.' It is art."

Still, in all honesty, I did not like Ponyo much the first time I saw it. The storyline appeared somewhat childish, the narrative and dialogue left important questions unanswered, and the characters acted in head-scratchingly strange ways. Take Sōsuke’s mother. She’s the epitome of a strong woman, one who has little problems taking care of herself, her family, and the community while her husband is away at sea. But whether driving through a tsunami or leaving her five-year-old son at home alone for no apparent reason, she continually chooses to put herself and her child at risk. Every driving scene is particularly cringe-worthy. 

But having a two-year old at home gave me the chance for a second take… then a third… and a fourth… and a fifth… I’m now at least thirty times in. Watching a movie this many times (granted, my attention now wanders more than I care to admit) has given me a different take. I now see quite clearly that Ponyo is much more nuanced and creative than I had originally thought. In addition to being a cute story that is safe for children, it seems likely that Ponyo is Miyazaki’s subtle and veiled meditation on death as he advanced in age.

Take Ponyo's given name, Brunhilde. Some have suggested that Ponyo is a deliberate incantation of the valkyrie Brynhildr, someone who served in some Germanic myths as a harbinger of death. Ponyo herself serves in a similar capacity, bringing a tsunami that wipes out the majority of Sōsuke's village, even reaching the lighthouse where Sōsuke resides. In the wake of that tsunami, Ponyo and Sōsuke may in fact bear witness the passing souls of the now-decimated community. As the two adventurers ride in a toy boat in search of Sōsuke's mother, they run into the whole town in small boats paddling toward the hotel on "the other side." Was this not a reference to crossing the Sanzu River, the Buddhist equivalent to the River Styx? Moreover, later in the film, Ponyo and Sōsuke approach a tunnel that Ponyo obviously does not want to enter. Going into it causes her to revert to her fish form and to fall asleep. Was this tunnel one that leads to the afterlife? Finally some of the people they meet on the other side act in ways that suggest they might no longer be alive (the grannies, for instance!).

I remain conflicted about Ponyo, even after my thirtieth take. On the one hand, it is a cute and innocent story of love shared between two five-year-old children. In this context, it is a great family movie and something my own two-year-old son can watch over and over and over again. On a much deeper and implicit level, however, it may also be Miyazaki's extended musings about life, death, and the promise of what's to come...

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 6/10

Bonuses: +2 for the meticulous, hand-drawn artistry, which remains so much better than the current trend toward CGI.

Penalties: -1 for leaving so many questions unanswered; -1 for Sōsuke's mom and her death wish.

Multiple Views Bonus: +1 for making me think so much more deeply about this film than I had ever intended.

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10 "An enjoyable experience, but not without its flaws"

Friday, February 5, 2016

Microreview [book]: The Apex Book of World SF, Volume 4 ed. by Mahvesh Murad

Set a course for great science fiction. Destination? EARTH!

The Meat:

Growing up as a white boy in the suburban American Midwest, the world often seemed like the spinning globe at the beginning of Universal movies, with the USA always front and center and everything else sort of bleeding away at the edges. It's a reality that is reinforced watching those movies, where outside the US and perhaps a few European countries, the world is a vast and dirty slum, good only for when you need somewhere for aliens to blow up or heroes to escape from. The xenophobia at the beating heart of most entertainment produced and marketed to me told a unifying story of the world, captured and condensed into a simple lie, that the only people worth telling stories about where white, straight, cis-males who spoke "proper English."

I would like to say that nowadays things have changed. In some ways, they have, as evidenced by the fact that this collection is made up entirely of previously printed material. The stories come from near and far, many of them originally written in a language other than English. And the quality is, for me, unassailable. Each of the stories that I had read at the time of their original release that appear in this collection I loved and included in my monthly short speculative fiction recommendation list. Indeed, "The Language of Knives" by Haralambi Markov is one of my absolute favorite stories from 2015, and uses an enchanting style and stark imagery to explore the roles people find themselves in: in their families, in their professions, in their ages. The story is at turns surprising and affirming, emotional and richly inventive. And the entire collection is filled with stories that stand up just as well.

My biggest issue with the collection, and probably the greatest trouble with collections in general and international collections in particular, is that there just isn't enough space for everything. I think there is a phenomenal effort to include works from all over the world, and the stories included range from fast and fun to heartbreaking and dark as hell. As a sampler it works quite well, and I think that's what it's purpose is, but it makes the organization of the collection as a whole somewhat jarring at times and in some ways it can't help but create a The West vs. Everything Else mentality, which is both necessary and frustrating. Necessary because the Everything Else is forced to share resources to be seen and heard, and frustrating because it creates a false unity that can flatten intersectionality. That said, I think the collection remains very conscious of the complex nature of the project it's undertaking and is obviously involved in a long game of trying to bring attention to stories that deserve to be read and examined and celebrated.

As for the stories themselves, I rather loved them. Thomas Olde Heuvelt's "The Boy Who Cast No Shadow" had me in tears with a story of friendship and coming of age and fragility and life and death. There are stories that I get to the end of and just sort of stare at for a while, eyes wet, and this was one of them, a powerful piece about expectations and visibility where one boy has no shadow, to reflection, and the other only reflects. So, so good. JY Yang's "Tiger Baby" was as good as the first time I read it, a piece about a woman pushed into a role and striving to match the image of herself in her mind, striving to become something powerful and dangerous. A story about the power people want to have and the power they do have and the vast distance between the two.

There are a lot of stories on display here, and despite the SF in the title of the collection many of the works are fantasy and horror. There is a bending of genre expectations as well as a bending of expectations in general. Because the stated purpose of the collection is to provide a showcase for perspectives springing from experiences outside the white, Western mainstream. There are stories of immigration and intolerance, like Zen Cho's excellent "The Four Generations of Chang E" (which, come on, manages to make a pun intelligent and nuanced). The story shows the shifting sands of otherness, the way that cultures are not static things but rather a complex set of expectations, beliefs, and small revolutions and rebellions.

There are stories with a scope that takes on the entire universe and stories that are intensely focused and personal (and some that cross both of those). There are stories that give their characters a happy ending and stories that dive headlong into tragedy and heartbreak. Stories that explore what it means to be human in a global way. Take Vajra Chandrasekera's "Pockets Full of Stones," a story about family and isolation and also invasion and threat in a way that's difficult to understand or predict. It's not a happy story, but it one that shows the way that humans can be global creatures, social and able to reach through the walls of difference that separate us from each other. And the collection as a whole does an excellent job of building that global consciousness, that awareness of isolation and connection that is integral to being human.

And in the end I love what the collection manages to do, which is to take a collection of unique and strong voices and create something of a harmony with them, a symphony. Each piece, each place that is explored and personal history that is examined, both stands on its own and also illuminates the collection's theme of world science fiction. The result is a collection that shines with great stories and an important message: that to limit yourself to reading only stories coming out of one country or one situation is to ignore not only a richly diverse world of published stories but to blind yourself to the increasingly global nature of humanity, with all the complexity and nuance that entails.

The Math:

Baseline Assessment: 8/10 

Bonuses: +1 for an amazing range of science fiction and spec stories, +1 for making my laugh and cry in the same collection

Negatives: -1 for a few choppy transitions story to story

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10 "amazing and important and you read that like right now" see our full rating system here.


POSTED BY: Charles, avid reader, reviewer, and sometimes writer of speculative fiction. Contributor to Nerds of a Feather since 2014.

REFERENCE: ed. Murah, Mahvesh. The Apex Book of World SF, Volume 4 [Apex, 2016]