Friday, July 30, 2021

Questing in Shorts, July 2021: Lovely Weather for Shorts

 Ahoy, fellow readers! Welcome to July’s Questing in Shorts, where I round up another month in short fiction reading and tell you all about the things I enjoyed (or sometimes didn’t). This month, I’m filling short fiction notebook number 2, which is this beautiful purple number with a whippet on the cover:


Notebook number 2 is a little beaten up from coming to my brother’s wedding (it also has an "items to pick up from the house” list written in the back) and unlike last month, I didn’t manage to fill an entire book in a few intense days of short fiction. But I’m over halfway through filling it, and the magazine folder is looking less intimidating than it has in the past, so that’s all good.

Besides the notebook, the other news is that I’m once again a judge for the British Fantasy Awards this year, and this time I’m judging in the Magazines and Periodicals category! Most of the finalists involve short fiction in some form and there’s a mix of venues I’m familiar with and those that are new to me, so I’m really looking forward to exploring what all of them have to offer.

Fantasy Magazine

Let’s kick off with a new-to-me publication! Fantasy Magazine was kind enough to send me their July issue, with a quartet of stories whose unifying theme seems to be “a bit spooky”. Lulu Khadim’s “A Softness of the Heart” is a sweet ghost story about Louise, a girl who lives with one aunt and is advised by the ghost of another. I love a cosy matter-of-fact ghost story and this one delivers a family story with just enough interpersonal prickles to make its resolution satisfying. “There Will Be A Question and Answer Period After Your Inevitable Demise” by Marika Bailey reimagines the afterlife of an archetypal hero, putting the classical portrait of masculine prowess on a conference call where he must hear from the “monstrous” women who suffered as a result of his deeds.

My favourite story of the issue is “I Would”, by Benjamin C. Kinney, a great piece of secondary world fantasy from the perspective of a seer imprisoned by a bandit queen. As the seer navigates possible futures with two visiting women, who themselves are trying to escape her captor, she has to work out what is possible and what she – as someone used to thinking of herself as powerless – needs to do to make it happen (and maybe to end up kissing one of them at the end). The diverging future paths are a great device, one which really captures the feeling of someone trapped and desperately seeking their only path towards freedom.


Issue 19 of FIYAH is "Sound and Color", and within that theme lies five quite different, vibrant stories. I almost wish I’d covered this one last month because then I could have remarked upon how excited I was to come across “Lungs” by Lily Watson so soon after reading “Concerto for Winds and Resistance” by Cara Masten DiGirolamo, which I covered in June's roundup. Where DiGirolamo’s piece uses an orchestra to tell a broader story (and drops the curtain as soon as the first “real” note is played), Watson’s really focuses on bringing to life the magic of collective music, its string group overcoming the challenge of the piece before them (and their own hierarchies) to bring a God to life. Evocative stuff.

This issue also has "Meditations on Sun-Ra’s Bassim" by Yah Yah Scholfield: I loved Scholfield’s last story with FIYAH and this one is just as excellent, a one-sided epistolatory narrative from a space traveller to her sister back on the planet where they grew up. Even though we only get one sister’s voice, the story evokes such a rich family bond between its two leads, full of snarky affection and yearning for connection both across physical distance and the experiential gap of their very different lives. The story’s journey goes super well with the other two – significantly more tense – journeys in this issue: “Morning”, by Diane Russell, features a girl and the clone of her sister sent on a hopeless mission in a failing space colony, with all the pain points that suggests, and Where the Sky Becomes Milk by Jamie McGhee is a backwards story of a boy trying to find his way home through a difficult sequence of locations, the purpose of his journey unfolding as we get closer to its beginning. And to round off the issue, L.A. Knight’s story offers a great speculative take on disability, work and escapism, with a disabled jobseeker who fails to find work that will appropriately accommodate them - until approached by the supernatural entity responsible for creating portals to other worlds.


Not only did I read some stories with my eyeballs this month, but I also listened to two of them via the magic of the podcast! Both "Three For Hers" by Filip Hajdar Drnovšek Zorko and "Pull" by Leah Ning are original to Podcastle, and both offered very different listening experiences. The latter is a quietly tragic slice of life story about an old man caring for his ill, superpowered wife (I’m pretty sure she is supposed to be a siren?) who can “pull” people around her into doing things and also into dreamscapes and memories – a dangerous thing to happen when implied dementia is taking away the shape of those memories. Three for Hers is a highly atmospheric fairytale-like story, about a woman in an occupied land who goes to work for a vicious, abusive Margrave who insists that nobody around him show emotions. Vida’s experiences in the Margrave’s services, and her quest for revenge, all come to a very satisfying conclusion. As you’d expect, the narration is excellent too.

Other Highlights

Two longer stories from other publications really grabbed my attention. The first is Kuemo of the Masks by Naomi Libicki, in Giganotosaurus. A troupe of players are captured by bandits and pushed to put on a show, using the special, magical masks that the protagonist’s mother had left her for just such a dangerous occasion. Of course, neither the masks – which represent archetypal deity figures whose stories are told in the plays – nor the bandits are who they seem, and everything takes a real turn once the story ends up in the underworld. The narrative voice – and the implied story-within-a-story structure, which we only get clarity on at the end – are both great in this one.

In Beneath Ceaseless Skies, The Witness Bruska Lai by Aaron Perry (issue 333) grabbed and held my attention through a dense, high-context mystery in a world where all dead and future royalty live in a single palace, designed so they can keep separate but simultaneous spaces through the different ages. Perry not only sets up a very weird story setting in a straightforward, reasonable way, but also creates a mystery – that of a missing Princess – that only makes sense with the context of that worldbuilding. It’s brain bendy, but it works brilliantly, and I loved the imagery of the complex, colour-coded palace and its supposedly genius inhabitants.

Two stories in Uncanny Magazine Issue 40 stood out for me: "Unseelie Brothers, Ltd." By Fran Wilde, which has outstanding worldbuilding and some very imaginative sartorial creations all in the context of a fae dress shop whose dresses are beloved by high society regardless of price; and "Heart Shine" by Shveta Thakarar, whose overlooked protagonist gets a firefly prince to remind her of her own worth. Both hit me directly in the feels and have some wonderful character relationships to watch out for.

Finally, I resubscribed to Fireside Magazine this month after a couple of years away, and July was a really intriguing point to restart with its quartet of mostly-future dystopian concepts riffing on inequality and injustice and how our societies shape the value of human beings. There’s an intriguing set-up and a very satisfying payoff in Ann LeBlanc’s Across the River, my heart, my memory, a story of stolen sentient organs, and Forest Thing is a creepy look at academia and environmental catastrophe, told through the eyes of a Black student ostracised by her peers and suffering the effects of living in a poisoned environment – though, again, the payoff is one of satisfaction and belongong rather than lingering on body horror. I’m intrigued to see what August brings.


Thursday, July 29, 2021

I have seen hell, and its name is Space Jam: A New Legacy

This production is an insult to the art of moviemaking and an act of violence upon the viewer

When I joined the team at Nerds of a Feather, the editors explained the blog's official policy to me as striving to stand "on the charitable side of honest." I've made my sincerest effort to keep that principle in mind during these months, as I analyzed stories that were great and others that were less great. In the case of Space Jam: A New Legacy, the charitable thing to do is to advise you to skip it. There's no possible defense of it. One cannot even entertain the case that its merciless stuffing of the viewer's eyeballs with one immensely uninteresting scene after another serves, as in the original Space Jam, to showcase the feats achievable with the latest advances in animation technology. That argument wouldn't hold here, firstly because digital animation is having a wonderful moment in the 21st century without the need for Space Jam's help, and secondly because telling uninteresting stories as an excuse to boast great animation is a niche firmly held by Love Death + Robots. This? This didn't need to exist. In a nutshell, LeBron James plays basketball and wins. There, I spoiled it. Now you don't have to watch this irredeemable pile of rubbish.

Space Jam: A New Legacy was not made for Looney Tunes fans, or for basketball fans, or for digital animation fans. It was made for Warner Brothers marketing executives. Somewhere in the corporate hierarchy, someone must have issued a memo demanding a boost of renewed relevance for properties that were fading from popular awareness. As if conceived from the segment of film discourse that believes spotting the reference to prove you're a "real fan" is an aesthetic category, we have a product, because calling it a movie is an insult to words, that in the years to come may remain bizarrely satisfying to people who enjoy cataloguing tiny faces in a crowd. And that's because its main selling point isn't even LeBron James, or Bugs Bunny, or Don Cheadle (you know, the world-renowned superstars who actually do something in the story), but the hundreds of obscure characters that are there just to be there. Possessed by the inexplicable urge to cheer in the general direction of a basketball game regardless of their individual personalities or even which emotional beat is happening, they invest Space Jam: A New Legacy with the incongruous property of being rewatchable only for the characters who have no role or purpose or reason to be in the story. This is the limit state of intertextuality: a text that only points to other texts, but lacks its own meaning. Meaning, you say? What's meaning? Look, there's Wilma Flintstone waving at us!

Making references is not bad in itself. But the reference needs at least to be understood. Remaking Rabbit of Seville with only the barest musical resemblance and without the meticulous match between melody and action is to miss the point of what made Rabbit of Seville the masterpiece it is. To make a Road Runner joke where it is Wile E. Coyote who succeeds at using the paint-on-the-wall trick to mislead and trap the Road Runner (instead of the other way around, as God intended) is to catastrophically misunderstand the dynamic that defines these characters and to blaspheme against seven decades of cartoon history. Wile E. Coyote's whole shtick is that he never captures his prey. If you don't get that basic fact, you shouldn't be making a Looney Tunes movie.

In a crude resemblance of the way the first Space Jam managed to insert some critique of itself (Daffy Duck illustrating how much Warner Brothers likes to kiss its own ass, Bugs Bunny dreading the prospect of being used as a mascot to sell tickets), A New Legacy comes surprisingly close to denouncing its own existence. The plot starts with LeBron James being invited to let Warner Brothers use his image in movies. This fictional version of him understands that athletes generally don't make good actors, and refuses. The pathetic characters meant to represent Warner Brothers executives are appropriately despondent at their dearth of good ideas—they're so uncreative they literally let a computer write their corporate plan. But before a terrible movie and a digital abomination can be prevented, the soulless evil at the heart of Warner Brothers captures LeBron James and forces him to play. To highlight the violence of the whole production, he then kidnaps thousands of viewers from the real world. A New Legacy knows too well that we're prisoners begging for the show to end.

But this is not the full extent of how much A New Legacy despises itself. When Bugs Bunny flies through the Serververse (which I guess is how we have to call the DCEU from now on) to recruit the rest of the Looney Tunes, we find them already integrated into the plots of better movies. When the legendary cartoon stars would rather be doing more exciting and fulfilling things somewhere else, and even LeBron James is playing a version of himself who would never have agreed to be here, what we have is a story that is almost crying for help, aware of its own absurdity and unable to stop.

Nothing matters. Nothing has meaning. No story has value except as a brand. What did Road Runner want in the Mad Max world? What motivated Foghorn Leghorn to ride a dragon over Westeros? What was Speedy Gonzales looking for in the Matrix? Why did Lola Bunny feel the need to train with the Amazons? Well, who cares? Those scenes are purely irrelevant. Entire worlds are dragged into this monstrosity for no purpose. They're there just to be there. They're there for you to point and say, "I get that reference." They're there to remind you how much Warner Brothers owns. During the climactic match, the screen is filled with face after face of famous extras and the viewer's attention is at a loss. Where are we expected to be looking at? In any given frame of the game, our athletic star's graceful moves compete with Pennywise hiding behind Agent Smith hiding behind the Penguin in the background. No part of the screen is meant to occupy the main focus, because the studio wants you to notice each and every last of its properties. The established conventions of visual storytelling go out the window, as do the narrative principles of logical worldbuilding and clearly defined stakes (why did the villain even need to make a bet when he could just keep his prisoners?) and the rules of basketball (what happened to the three-second rule, or to running with the ball, or to blocking fouls, or to not kicking the ball, or to consistent scorekeeping?).

In 1996, Michael Jordan won his Space Jam when he realized he could use the rules of the cartoon world. It's a form of fantasy, but an internally consistent one. In this new version, the day is saved by the infinite use of cheat codes. Rules? Narrative expectations? Emotional investment? Realistic parenting? The implicit pact of respect between creators and viewers? Nah. All that matters is that Warner Brothers invented a shiny new way to rob the graves of a dozen movies to dress up the ghost of one. Space Jam: A New Legacy is a repugnant exhibition of the most vulgar kind of self-congratulation, unworthy of the classics it cannibalizes and with no right to claim two hours of your time. Just like the Looney Tunes, you're better off in other movies. You were never the audience this thing was meant to please.

Nerd Coefficient: 2/10. Seriously, comprehensively, profoundly bad.

POSTED BY: Arturo Serrano, multiclass Trekkie/Whovian/Moonie, accumulating experience points for still more obsessions.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Microreview [book]: Empress of Eternity by L.E. Modesitt Jr

An ambitious deep time story of three far future Earth civilizations revolving around an enigmatic and seemingly imperishable wonder of the world.

The Canal.

We here in our present don’t know, can’t even imagine it, but in our future, the thousands of miles long continent-spanning canal edifice makes the Suez and Panama canals seem small and underwhelming. The canal has existed for countless millennia, and seems impervious to damage to just about everything subjected to it short of a nuclear blast. There are two control stations (or are they actually for that?  it’s hard for these societies to tell). One is closed, and the other is empty rooms.

The mystery of the canal ties into the fate of three civilizations and the people who inhabit them, all themselves separated widely by countless millenia. But the fate of the bridge, and the fate the civilizations, and perhaps more, is the matter of LE Modesitt Jr’s Empress of Eternity.

Deep time is something that Modesitt has come back to in his science fiction time and again, but in a way very different than, say, Gregory Benford or Greg Egan. L.E. Modesitt’s The Eternity Artifact is the model here for what he does in Empress of Eternity, a slow and stately, sometimes a bit too slow for its own good. It’s a novel for slow and patient reading rather than flying through the book at breakneck pace to see what’s going on.

The format of the book leans into this. Taking place at several widely spaced points even further in the future than the construction of the bridge, which is a mystery to these descendant civilizations of humankind, Modesitt takes his time in the novel to set up the main characters in each time period, the cultures, societies and ultimately the conflicts that resonate across all three of them.

In the earliest narrative, the Unity of Caelaarn, we are introduced to Lord Maertyn and his wife. This is a society with an aristocratic bent to the sociology, Maertyn is a minor lord, but it gives him enough power and clout to be a minor minister in a government department, and gives him enough clout for him and his wife Maarlyna to investigate the Canal. Maertyn’s story goes to the SF political thrillers that Modesitt used to write much more frequently, as his recall to the capital throws him into intrigue and danger. Aside from the unusual biological oriented tech, though, and those are often quite understated, this is the narrative that is most like our modern day in its trappings. 

The next narrative, chronologically takes place in the culture of the Ruche. The Ruche technocracy has a more engineering and physics based material science than Caelaarn, which makes some of what they do a little more understandable than the “biologic is best” science approach of the Unity. On the other hand, Modesitt loving to show his cleverness for such reversals, it is made clear that the Rusch or their founding population suffered from a genetic bottleneck, and the elfin features among the members of the Rusch means there is not a lot of variation. This is carried into the seeking of the unity of thought as well as form in this civilization. The civilization is under threat from something that readers today can appreciate--global warming. Desertification of the planet is a real and challenging problem, and putting the society under strain.

The Vanir Hegemony and the Aesyr Rebels make up the third and most distant of the civilizations where we get a point of view (we get a name check of a couple of others but they are not relevant to the narrative of the book) . Here, Helkyria runs a research project at the Canal dealing with the prospect of a new Snowball (Iceberg) Earth and hopes that something, anything in the canal might be able to slow or arrest the march of the Ice. Enter the Aesyr Rebels, who have a fatalistic and catastrophic answer to this global problem.  This far future society is even more interesting, biologically than the Rusch in that there is much more and rather interestingly distinct sexual dimorphism between men and women in this time period.

Thus we have three cultures separated by at least hundreds of thousands of years, if not millions, all trying to make sense of a seemingly timeless artifact with not a lot of features to actually explore. At first there is a real sense of wheel spinning on the part of all three civilizations, since the canal and its environs are just literally a big dumb object, even if it is an object that seems impervious to everything including the ravages of time and space. The descendant civilizations from its builders have very little real idea how the canal was built and even less understanding as to why and what it is for. This gives the narrative and the reader a lot of time to get set up with the societies and their underlying problems, as well as the triple set of characters. The Canal does give up its secrets, but slowly.

One of the pleasures of reading a Modesitt book is working things out. Modesitt is a writer who likes to have his readers engage and figure things out on the page. This, by the way, sometimes makes his audiobooks a little more of a reach than physical books, because sometimes you will want to stop reading and puzzle out a problem or a question raised in the narrative. One spoiler I will give early and often because it helps lean into the mystery is that there is no moon and instead there is a ring in the sky. Yes, this takes place on Earth, and yes what happened to the moon and why becomes plot relevant. Are there links to any other Modesitt books? Modesitt does have a penchant for putting one or two easter eggs that suggests a particular book is linked to another, and sometimes rather surprisingly connections (the origin of his Recluce novels is from one of his science fiction verses, strangely enough). Here, the easter egg is in a future novel--having read it last year, I now see that Quantum Shadows (reviewed here at NOAF by Joe: takes place in the same future verse as this novel does. 

Modesitt loves to explore themes, too, and in addition to all of the worldbuilding, is the themes of the book. “History does not repeat but it rhymes” is the prevailing theme of the crisis points that the three civilizations face, and Modesitt is not shy in drawing parallels between the three, both for the reader, and eventually for the characters as well. The history in question is a matter of autonomy, freedom, and resisting authoritarianism. All three cultures, Caelaarn, The Ruche, and the Aesir/Vanir are cultures where authoritarianism is rearing its ugly head in ways that resonate across time. All three crisis points are unique and the individual problems are different, and yet not so different after all. How does one resist authoritarianism? What is justified in that resistance? How does it distort individuals, societies, civilizations? In the midst of a novel full of techno-jargon (three sets) and a Big Dumb Object, Modesitt does spend a lot of time and energy on these problems. AS mentioned above, since for a good chunk of the book, the canal itself is an impenetrable enigma, the narrative weight goes elsewhere. It is in the latter portion of the book that we get more of the technological speculation, and revelations of what the canal is for, how and why it is built, and, just what the book title actually means.

There are the usual touches one finds in a Modesitt book, too. In some ways, there is a lot of mannerism in his books, his interests always come to the fore. Sometimes, as in this novel, it can be a bit shoehorned in.  Food, for example, and the well detailed description of meals and what they are composed of is a major feature of his work. Even though all of his characters wind up under possible privation within the control structure of the canal, there are still opportunities in the narrative for Modesitt to elaborately and mouth wateringly describe meals that the characters eat. This is particularly true of Lord Maretyn, who spends much of his time in the capital but all three of the timelines talk about food and what they are eating. Readers used to old school SF where food was ignored should look no farther than Modesitt for their fix of lavishly detailed meals. Modesitt also does like his travelogues, often under threat or trouble, which is a hard thing to do where a lot of the action is very constricted to a series of rooms in a mysterious building at the edge of the canal. Lord Maretyn, again, comes through here, with his flight from the capital an ornate cat and mouse spy vs spy set piece that is really well done and had me envisioning and thinking of movies like Charade and The Third Man.

I am still looking for a better SF L E Modesitt Jr book to introduce readers to the SF side of his writing. I still think, even given its age, the aforementioned The Eternity Artifact is the most successful of his SF books for new readers. This is a solid and deep SF novel for fans of the author’s work, but readers new to him and his work, particularly the SF side, Empress of Eternity is not likely the Modesitt book you are looking for to give it a try.  It’s too slow and mannered, and too easy for readers unfamiliar with his work to bounce off of it on a number of grounds. It makes it ultimately impossible to really recommend this book to many new readers, which ultimately, given the author’s skills and oeuvre, is a shame. 


The Math

Baseline Score: 6/10

Bonuses: +1 for interesting technological and sociological and even biological speculations.

+1 for strong use of themes that resonate across the three time periods.

Penalties: -2 for being a little too glacial and sedate for readers unused to Modesitt's style

Nerd Coefficient: 6/10

Reference: Modesitt Jr, L.E. The Empress of Eternity (2010, TOR)

 POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The Novella Files: Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. Valente

Subject: Catherynne M. Valente. Comfort Me With Apples [ Publishing, 2021]

Accolades: N/A

Genre: Fantasy

Executive Summary: Sophia was made for him. Her perfect husband. She can feel it in her bones. He is perfect. Their home together in Arcadia Gardens is perfect. Everything is perfect.

It's just that he's away so much. So often. He works so hard. She misses him. And he misses her. He says he does, so it must be true. He is the perfect husband and everything is perfect.

But sometimes Sophia wonders about things. Strange things. Dark things. The look on her husband's face when he comes back from a long business trip. The questions he will not answer. The locked basement she is never allowed to enter. And whenever she asks the neighbors, they can't quite meet her gaze...

But everything is perfect. Isn't it? (From Goodreads)

Assessment: Reviewing a book that’s power largely relies on not having the reader spoiled is tricky. Comfort Me With Apples is such a book. It’s a novella that stealthily wraps itself around you like a snake. You feel growing tension, but you can’t locate its source. And once you feel its full-forced pressure, having you in its grip, you’re completely breathless and wrecked. Catherynne M. Valente has crafted a story that eases its reader into a tale with engaging lyricism and an ominous atmosphere, reaching high intensity with brilliant reveals and conclusion.

Comfort Me With Apples is a quick read. It’s novella-length but its wordsmithery is so honeyed that it breezes by quicker than any book this size I’ve read. It finishes in a wholly satisfying way, but even so, I couldn’t help but look back at the pages and hope to be immersed in it forever. For those who’ve read Catherynne Valente, it’s no surprise that every sentence is sublime. While the story has a tall order by being conjoined with writing with colossal intimidation, it more than rises to the occasion. It’s layered, paced and escalated skillfully, and has more than enough subtext for scores of analyses.

For those wondering why I’ve written mountains of praise and almost zero story details, it’s to not ruin the experience. Comfort Me With Apples largely hooked me because its unique and enigmatic atmosphere/setting not only submerged me in its pages, but propelled me to find out how everything fit together. I thought a bunch of the strange happenings couldn’t possibly dovetail into a satisfying conclusion. I was wrong. The twists are of biblical proportions with the sweet and tart taste of an apple. If you take a bite, you’re more than likely to end up devouring the entire thing.

Score: 9/10

POSTED BY: Sean Dowie - Screenwriter, editor, lover of all books that make him nod his head and say, "Neat!”

Monday, July 26, 2021

Summer Reading List 2021: Phoebe

 Hi folks, even though I moved from the Southwest to the East Coast, it seems I can't escape the wildfire smoke or the constant reminder of the climate crisis--not that I'm particularly trying since I'm writing about ecological collapse and speculative fiction every day as part of my dissertation.

That said, I usually try to read a few books over the summer just for fun. In 2020, I was deep in the throws of reading a 200+ book list for my PhD comprehensive exams, so even though I'm working on my dissertation, this summer is a bit more relaxed reading-wise. The first half of the summer, I've spent reading a mix of dissertation novels (rereading Butler's Parable novels was a lot of feels), short story collections (still thinking about Brandon Taylor's Filthy Animals) to teach out of in the fall, and poetry (I'm late to the show but Kaveh Akbar's Calling a Wolf a Wolf is excellent).

What follows is a list of some books meant to distract me from the rest of my work. I hope, if you choose to read any of these, that they also distract you from what Joe Sherry called "the nineteenth month of 2020." Big mood.

1. The Other Lands by David Anthony Durham

The past few months just have had me craving epic fantasy. Perhaps it's a comfort genre since my favorite authors as a kid were Tolkien and Lewis. Regardless, I've been meaning to get to The Other Lands for years. The second book in Durham's Acacia: War with the Mein trilogy, The Other Lands is set to explore more the fascinating world that Durham sets up the first novel, Acacia. I'm particularly interested to see how Durham continues the social commentary of empire that he sets up in the first book, which becomes a turning point at the end of the novel. 

2. Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence

Another sequel in a trilogy, Grey Sister is not my typical read as I'm pretty hesitant to pick up a fantasy in the "blurbed by George R. R. Martin" variety. Setting that aside, a fellow fantasy fan gave me the first one as a belated Christmas gift, and after moving across the country into a new house, with most of my books still in boxes, I sat down to read it. I tore through the first one, totally engrossed in the best way. I'm hoping the second one, continuing the storyline of an assassin child with magical, invisible claws to protect her, keeps the same entertaining, fast-paced readability of the first novel.

3. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: the Manga

Nausicaä instantly became my favorite Hayao Miyazaki film when I (finally) saw it last year. When I found out there was a manga that continues long past the film, I immediately put it on my reading list. The film follows Princess Nausicaä as she tries to protect her home from an invading empire while teaching others to adapt and live in harmony with the toxic forest. At the end of the film, she takes on her prophetic role of "the man in blue" who will help the remnants of humanity thrive rather than fade into extinction. At the end of the movie, there's plenty of story left to tell, so I'm excited to see how Miyazaki completes what I consider to be a perfect piece of environmental storytelling.

4. How Long 'til Black Future Month by N. K. Jemisin

As part of preparing to teaching creative writing at a small liberal arts school this fall, I've been catching up on my short story collections. At heart, I'm a reader and writer of novels, but as a teacher, I need to make sure my students have some sort of understanding of the short story form, which means giving lots and lots of examples. I'm a huge fan and wannabe scholar of Jemisin's work, so I'm excited to see how the larger themes and ideas I associate with her as a novelist boil down into short stories.

5. A Dream So Dark by L. L. McKinney

To me, nothing quite says summer like a stack of YA novels. A good YA book is almost always my beach read (or creek read, as things go in rural Pennsylvania). I read A Blade So Black last year and have been itching to dive back into McKinney's delightfully upturned wonderland retelling. With more of wonderland to explore and the main character gaining even cooler magical weapons, the sequel is set up to be a wild romp in this dream world. 

6. Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones 

While everyone loves Jones's horror novels and novella, they are, ahem, a little scary for me. He's been on my radar since his 2016 werewolf novel, so I finally picked up a copy to read so I can join in on the SGJ love but still sleep at night. I'm sure I'll still have to read this during the day, but this coming of age werewolf novel seems a bit more my speed as the main character learns about his werewolf family while waiting to discover if he carries the same traits. 

Posted By: Phoebe Wagner is a PhD candidate at University of Nevada, Reno. When not writing or reading, she can be found kayaking at the nearest lake. Follow her at or on Twitter @pheebs_w.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Six Books with Jennifer Estep

Jennifer Estep is a New York Times, USA Today, and internationally bestselling author prowling the streets of her imagination in search of her next fantasy idea.  Among many other works, Kennifer writes the Gargoyle Queen epic fantasy series. Capture the Crown, book #1, out in July.

Today She tells us about her Six Books

1. What book are you currently reading? 

I’m currently reading The Terminal List by Jack Carr. 

2. What upcoming book are you really excited about?

Battle Royale by Lucy Parker, which comes out Aug. 17. I’ve really enjoyed Parker’s London Celebrities contemporary romance series, so I’m looking forward to her new book, which focuses on a baking/food competition. 

I love writing about food in my own books and watching those sorts of shows on the Food Network, so Battle Royale sounds like it is right up my alley. 

3. Is there a book you’re currently itching to read again? 

After re-reading my own books so many times during the production process, I get really burned out on reading the same thing over and over again. So I hardly ever re-read a book for fun. 

I would much rather read one of the hundreds of new books waiting on my TBR pile. LOL.

4.  A book that you wish that you had written

One of my all-time favorite books is Beauty by Robin McKinley, which is a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale. The writing is just so lush and lovely and seems so effortless. 

5. What’s one book, which you read as a child or a young adult, that has had a lasting influence on your writing?

I would say the James Bond series by Ian Fleming. I read those books in high school/college, which is when I started thinking about writing my own books. 

To me, a James Bond book (or movie) is just about the perfect story because it features a little bit of everything – action, adventure, danger, romance, and interesting locations. Those are all the things that I love reading about, and those are all the things that I love writing about in my own books, along with magic/fantasy worlds.   

6. And speaking of that, what’s your latest book, and why is it awesome? 

My latest book is Capture the Crown, which is the first book in my Gargoyle Queen epic fantasy series. Capture the Crown is set in my Crown of Shards fantasy world, but the heroine is Gemma Ripley, who is on a mission to uncover a dangerous plot against her kingdom. Here are some of the reasons why it’s awesome:

A pampered princess who secretly moonlights as a spy

Gargoyles (obviously!)

Fierce queens

Lots of action/fight scenes

A slow-burn romance that goes from enemies to worse enemies

I hope everyone enjoys Capture the Crown. Happy reading! 😊

Thank you, Jennifer!

POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Summer Reading List: Vance

As the resident cult film nerd here in the flock, sometimes a book pops up that's just so exactly up my alley that I really don't have a choice in the matter. That book simply is going to be coming home with me. A few summers ago it was Dirty Words and Filthy Pictures, about the evolution and eventual breakdown of film censorship, and this year, well, the wife found me two such books that are now demanding my eyeballs. And Summer Reading Lists being what they are, now I get to share them with you!

1. Glamour Ghoul, by Sandra Niemi
This biography of Maila Nurmi, the woman who created and played Vampira, the first late-night television horror host, was written by her niece. It was created through a combination of family history learned from her father, Maila's estranged brother, and the diary entries, tapes, and scraps of never-finished autobiography that Maila had assembled over the years, and Sandra came into possession of after Maila's death. I first learned of Vampira, like many other people did, from the Tim Burton movie Ed Wood, which was a transformational movie for me. It introduced me to outsider cinema at just the right age and in just close-enough proximity to a non-Blockbuster neighborhood video store. But Maila Nurmi, the woman behind Vampira, was always a mystery. She was the life model for Disney's Maleficent around the time of her Vampira fame in the 1950s, but by the 1980s was impoverished and unsuccessfully suing Elvira for stealing her act. Maila died not long after I moved to Los Angeles, and was reportely living in dire poverty, trying to scrape by on occasional jewelry and artwork sales. There was no money for internment, and some of her acquaintances reached out to fans to get Maila a plot at the Hollywood Forever ceremony. A few years later, there was a second fundraiser to purchase her a fitting tombstone, and I contributed to that effort. I am very excited about this book, and about learning how the few dots I know of connect in the life of this singular personality.

2. Play the Way You Feel: The Essential Guide to Jazz Stories on Film, by Kevin Whitehead

In an animation class I took in college, we watched some early Betty Boop cartoons that had live-action footage of Cab Calloway and His Orchestra included in them. I love Cab Calloway, and seeing this footage was more exciting to me that even the way out-there, surreal ghost-trip that was the cartoon. A few years later, when you could walk into a Walgreens or Rite-Aid and see a spinning carousel of $1 DVDs of programs you probably never heard of and had fallen into the public domain, I discovered more films featuring Cab Calloway, as well as Duke Ellington and his orchestra, performing in the 1930s. These are gems of early jazz. There are also animated films made by John and Faith Hubley in the 1960s featuring Dizzy Gillespie, sometimes just as a voice actor, but sometimes performing, that I've been a fan of for a long time, and recently I've been able to catch landmark films with jazz performers on the Criterion Channel, such as Shirley Clarke's Ornette: Made in America, about Ornette Coleman. If this book is what it announces itself to be — the definitive guide to jazz on film — then I expect to discover many more gems I would not otherwise come across.

3. How Music Works, by David Byrne

I have to be honest — I don't really know too much about this book. I don't know if it's mostly biography, or theory, or ruminations on music in general and in specific. It's probably not a cookbook. But I think I kind of want to be David Byrne when I grow up, so it seemed like a sure thing. 




4. Ruined by Design: How Designers Destroyed the World and What We Can Do to Fix It, by Mike Montiero
My drummer, who is also a UX designer doing really good things for great organizations, gave me this book. It's about design ethics with an emphasis on Silicon Valley, tech start-ups, and social media platforms. The central premise is that these companies and applications that have found their way into almost every corner of our daily lives are doing tremendous harm, and that's actually on purpose. They are working the way they were designed to work. So this book, then, is an attempt to engage in a conversation about and for the designers who are employed by these companies, and who are asked to do unethical things, or things that can easily be twisted into unethical uses. Doctors have a code that begins with "do no harm," architects are having conversations about whether or not they should be involved in designing facilities like super-max prisons, where people are routinely treated in dehumanizing ways, and this book suggests designers need to be having the same kinds of conversations.

5. The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill

When this book was released in 2016, it quickly became a favorite of the site. After Joe's wonderful review, I grabbed the book and read it to my kids. And then I read it again. And then I read it again. We just did a big reorganization of bookshelves, and one of my kids found our hardcover of this pushed back behind another book. It had been at least a year, probably closer to two, since I last read it to them. She found the book, then found me, put it in my hand, and said, "You're going to start reading this to us again. Tonight." Who am I to argue? 


POSTED BY Vance K — cult film reviewer and co-editor of nerds of a feather, flock together for a long time now. Maybe one of these days he'll have a Hugo Award above the fireplace to show for it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Second Look: The City We Became by N K Jemisin

 A second look at N.K, Jemisin’s 2020 Hugo Finalist novel, THE CITY WE BECAME

In 2020, Adri Joy reviewed N K Jemisin’s The City We Became, available here at Nerds of a Feather.

With the novel now a Hugo Finalist, and me, as the author, as a native New Yorker having re-read the book recently in audio, I thought a second look  at the book was in order to explore other facets of the novel, and the audiobook in particular. Do read Adri’s excellent review first, as I will be covering somewhat different ground here. 

While I had highly enjoyed reading the book in ebook last year, my choice of re-reading it audio, first a way to fill some loose hours in my listening schedule and a way to tag back into the book in order to rank it as a Hugo Finalist on my ballot. I was, however, riveted from the beginning for a number of reasons.

The choice of narrator, Robin Miles, is an excellent choice. Miles has worked with Jemisin before (notably on the Broken Earth trilogy) and has a very good voice for Jemisin’s word choice and sentence style. It’s a wonderfully immersive performance on her part, and her voice kept me listening, to the point of NPR style “Driveway moments” throughout the production. This is a book I could have done even better listening to it on a long driving trip.

The use of sound in the audiobook was inspired. While this is not a full cast production, and just has the aforementioned Miles as narrator, the production is not content to just use her considerable vocal talents. The audiobook employs some sound effects and tricks to help immerse the reader into, particularly, the cosmic horror of the novel in a way that the print novel doesn’t quite manage. (To be fair, the print novel has the map, which the audiobook does lack, but I think that with the choice of that map or the audio tricks and use of sound, it really is a dead heat as to which is better). 

Immersion of the city and its characters  is carried by both the sound design and the narrator. Take each of the incarnated boroughs. In each, Miles brings the voice to life, almost painfully so in the personage of Staten Island for reasons I will explain below, but they are not only distinct in overall diction, but also accent. Staten Island’s accent, Brooklyn’s accent, Bronx’s accent are all three different flavors of the diction of New York that really come through. It isn’t so surprising that, given their origins, that Queens and Manhattan don’t show this distinction in diction, but the “native” New Yorkers of the boroughs showcase the variety of accents in New York. I am glad that Jemisin made the choice of having Queens be an immigrant, so that she, and her subsequently voiced accent, is not the nasal Queens accent that viewers of The Nanny mistakenly seem to think is the dominant or only one in New York.

One of the joys of re-reading a book is to come across the favorite bits, the set pieces, the small moments, the character bits, the tapestry of words that stick with you. The audiobook of The City We Became delivered that re-immersion into the world of the novel in spades. From Manny’s awkward introduction to the city (which reminded me, now a bit of The Freshman) to the confrontation on the FDR Drive, to the “Ding Ho”, to the utter out of NYC place beauty that is the abandoned City Hall Station, the novel and all of its goodness came back to vivid life. It made me homesick all over again. And I realize to my horror and shame something I didn’t realize when I read the book--I’ve never been to Inwood Park and seen Shorakkopoch Rock for myself. I need to correct this the next time I am in NYC. The novel, especially in its audio production, loves and adores New York City and its fractally complex multi-faceted nature. New York really does contain multitudes and the novel gets that. Manhattan, Queens, Bronx and Brooklyn each feels like itself, and also New York, and it is joyous.

And then there is Staten Island. Disclaimer: I AM from Staten Island, it is my home borough and in deep ways, that borough still is deep in my DNA, the good and the bad. The darker sides of Staten Island, its proud self reliant standoffish independence, its wanting to be walled off from NYC, if not the rest of America, really came through in this audio edition and hit me in a way that the print book did not. At first it was nostalgia and memory, with Aislyn in the Ferry Terminal, and then into the less charitable sides of what Staten Island is like. I grew up next to very many people like Aislyn and her family, particularly her father. One might even more uncharitably say that if I had had a sister, she could have been a lot like Aislyn, for good and for bad. The City We Became in audiobook gets that Staten Island experience, that Staten Island mentality, mindset and feel in a way that was a bit of a punch to the face. And yet, the fate of Staten Island, however a reader might think is somewhat deserved, is a tragedy to me that pains me, and I am very curious how it carries forward into subsequent books.

Overall, then, listening to the audiobook has had the salutary effect of raising my high opinion of the novel even further. I daresay that the novel is better and more effective in audio than its already impressive result in print, and I will be looking to get the subsequent volumes of the trilogy in audio as well as ebook. Even more than the text, the audiobook of The City We Became brought me fully and irretrievably to the city that I may have left bodily years ago, but has never, and will never leave me. In the acknowledgements, Jemisin says that this novel is an homage to the city and she hopes she got it right. 

This ex-pat New Yorker, this ex-pat Staten Islander, thinks that she certainly did.


Reference: Jemisin, N.K. The City We Became ,[Daw, 2020]

 POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Microreview: Assassin's Orbit by John Appel

 John Appel’s Assassin’s Orbit combines a space station murder mystery with mature characters, with action beats, intrigue, diverse characters and an engaging plot and writing style.

Commissioner Toiwa has a problem. Just as the planet Ileri, one of the planets settled in the wake of people fleeing the memetic Unity Plague on Earth, is set to vote on whether to join a Commonwealth of similar worlds, the Consul from the Commonwealth is assassinated on the space station. HER space station. Worse, private investigator Noo Okereke is sticking her nose into the affair, no friend of Toiwa or station security. Oh, and then there is a spy on board, Meiko Ogawa, and just what she is up to and what she is doing is an additional complication. Plus, there are forces in the Ileri government who will see this as an opportunity to overturn the current order in favor of their own.  And if all that isn’t enough, there are whispers that the Unity Plague may not have been left behind on Earth. These three very different protagonists are going to have to learn to work together, or at least not get in each other’s way, or it will be disastrous, if not fatal, for everyone.

These are the stories of John Appel’s novel, Assassin’s Orbit.

With the recent publication of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shards of Earth, and now this, John Appel’s debut into novels, Assassin’s Orbit, there appears to be a mini boomlet in space opera stories set in a verse where Earth, the center, has been removed from the equation, and in point of fact, the power that ended Earth is one that might return in full force and flower and destroy what has been built in the meantime. And, also, the theme of how expatriates, if not outright refugees, try to build a new life far away from a home they cannot return to is one that is very much of this moment.

What we have here in the world of Assassin’s Orbit in this regard is a set of worlds of various levels of power and development, Ileri seeking to join with the stronger, more powerful worlds of the Commonwealth. There is a real clever use of the “Founder effect” of having those who escaped Earth to found new worlds and escape memetic oblivion, to be a diverse set of cultures far removed from the All Western and White Male bastions in many space stations and planets in SF. Women are in powerful and important roles (as seen above, all three viewpoint protagonists), the cultures a wide swath far beyond the usual, and intimations of cultures having evolved, changed, and bloomed after the exodus from Earth.  There are lovely little bits, use of language, and careful descriptions to sketch in descendant cultures and societies that are rich and intensely interesting, all the more so because our characters are such a part and immersed in it.

All this gives Ileri station and our protagonists a diverse and broad set of personalities, cultural beliefs, attitudes and points of view. One thing all three point of view characters have in common, as intimated in the back matter of comparing this to the “Golden Girls” is that all of the protagonists are mature and have long experience. Noo, Toiwa and Meiko all have long histories, life experiences, connections to communities, individuals and governments, and in the case of Noo and Toiwa, history together that gives the narrative extra crunch and friction when events draw them to working on aspects of the same problem.

I was reminded of Babylon 5, too,while reading Appel’s novel.  Watchers of the original pilot movie, The Gathering, will recall that an assassination attempt sets off the action in that movie and drives the plot. Ileri Station does feel like B5 as a place in a number of ways, down to a stratification of power and authority and of course those who work in less than legal circumstances. Pericles Loh, the head of the underworld on Ileri Station, would fit in Downbelow on Babylon 5 just *fine*.  As events progress and things become more dire for the station, Loh provides a potential for help, but one that the straight arrow Toiwa is naturally very reluctant to consider. Loh, though,  is just one of a constellation of secondary characters with long established relationships, not always positive with Toiwa and Noo in particular, Meiko providing the outsider point of view for the station.

The Babylon 5 comparisons also extend to the aesthetic of the novel in terms of action and adventure, and yes, The Expanse, too. Readers will not be surprised that with a plot involving a murdered ambassador, there is space action beats, both inside and outside the station, and these combats, particularly the tactical ones inside of the station, are engagingly and winningly described and executed. The author has a real knack for describing the action, tactics and the visceral terror of firefights on a space station, as well as spacecraft engaged in a deadly ballet of orbits and maneuvering. 

The novel tells a complete, concise and well developed story. The plots and various situations wrap up nicely in this novel, although there are some potential hooks for other and further stories at the end of this novel. In addition, the basic worldbuilding set up is definitely bursting with other potential stories to tell. It’s an interesting universe that Appel has created here, and I would like to see more in it, either with these characters, or others. 


The Math

Baseline Score: 6/10

Bonuses: +1 for a strong trio of engagingly depicted protagonists with history and backgrounds to match.

+1 for an interesting and inventive universe.

Penalties: -1 Some first novel roughness with some of the plotting

Nerd Coefficient:7/10 

POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.

Reference: Appel, John. Assassin’s Orbit [Rebellion Publishing, 2021] 

The Novella Files: Inside Man by K.J. Parker

Parker, K.J. Inside Man [ Publishing, 2021]

Accolades: N/A

Genre: Fantasy

Executive Summary: K.J. Parker returns to the amoral world of Prosper's Demon with a wry, sardonic novella that flips the eternal, rule-governed battle between men and demons on its head.

An anonymous representative of the Devil, once a high-ranking Duke of Hell and now a committed underachiever, has spent the last forever of an eternity leading a perfectly tedious existence distracting monks from their liturgical devotions. It’s interminable, but he prefers it that way, now that he’s been officially designated by Downstairs as “fragile.” No, he won’t elaborate.

All that changes when he finds himself ensnared, along with a sadistic exorcist, in a labyrinthine plot to subvert the very nature of Good and Evil. In such a circumstance, sympathy for the Devil is practically inevitable. (From Goodreads)

Assessment: Inside Man explores the nature of “His” plan—you know the one. The entity that makes some people think the world is either formed from premeditated or off-the-cuff chaos. Similarly, reading frenetic, off-the-wall stories makes me wonder how the author formed their creations. K.J. Parker consistently displays (or at least fools me into thinking) that his stories are carefully crafted and expertly conceived, even at their most chaotic instances.

Inside Man is best experienced having read Prosper’s Demon first, but it’s by no means a requirement. The story lays the groundwork for the worldbuilding quite clearly, but there are some character interactions that are augmented by prior exposure to the series. The banter between the demon protagonist and their nemesis-exorcist-turned-accomplice is vibrant and engaging—even more so than in Prosper’s Demon. And the workings of the demon world had a Pratchett-esque feel to it that swept me up in a world of witticisms and boundless creativity. Whether it’s their unique bureaucracy, history, or machinations, I was always gleefully enraptured. Prosper’s Demon might be the superior story in terms of dramatics, but I found Inside Man to improve the series on what was already a strong sense of humor.

My one complaint is that the story didn’t fully possess me until about a third into the novella. It covers a lot of groundwork at first, and looking back, I’m not quite sure all of it was necessary. But once the story finds greater focus, it moves with zippy and twisty momentum. It’s impressive and baffling how many intelligent turns the story takes while never coming close to muddling itself into convolution. And those countless turns in the latter half of the story always informed the world and themes. The themes on predeterminism, dissenting when feeling voiceless, and faith, are able to bounce between the narrative of the mundane and demon world, encompassing settings that are dichotomous in nature into thematic unity.

Inside Man lives up to Prosper’s Demon quality. It ends in a fashion that could be a fitting conclusion to the story but also leaves room for exploration. If K.J. Parker writes another sequel, I have no doubt it’ll at least appear thoroughly planned out. It might be blind faith in an entity I’ve never met, but he’s deserved it.

Score: 8/10

POSTED BY: Sean Dowie - Screenwriter, editor, lover of all books that make him nod his head and say, "Neat!”

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Summer Reading List 2021: Paul

While winter is for reading and trying to stay warm in the Great White North when the Ice Giants and the White Dragons roam the wastelands of Minnesota, summer is for getting out there and enjoying the all too brief warm weather. As the Pandemic still threatens us, and heat waves, wildfires and worse make travel problematic, once again, I turn to the worlds within books as escapes for my adventures "out of season". Pity I can’t take a camera inside of a book, though. But, then, there is a power for a book to conjure an image in my mind that is allied to one you might have, but it is not exactly the same. Your Minas Tirith is not mine own. And that's awesome.

So here, find a list of six of the books I am looking forward to getting to before Summer turns to Fall, and green shifts to hues of red, gold, and orange before a clattering change to brown.

On my 2020 list I read four out of the six books . And so on to 2021!


The Justice in Revenge, Ryan Van Loan

I highly enjoyed Van Loan’s debut novel, The Sin in the Steel, which provided a genderflipped Sherlock Holmes as a teenaged girl in an intriguing fantasy world. The Justice in Revenge continues Buc’s story, and I am very interested in seeing where she heads next.


In the Deep, Kelly Jennings

I have highly enjoying Jennings’ shorter space opera work in short story anthologies. Here, she makes her second jump into novels, with a story of fractured alliances, complex and flawed protagonists, political power plays and science fiction adventure. I’m ready to follow the crew of the Susan Calvin into their story.


The Fallen, Ada Hoffmann

I was highly impressed by Ada Hoffmann’s debut novel, The Outside, combining Space Opera with Cosmic Horror, but with additional filips and aspects (AI Angels!) I most definitely not see coming. This second novel continues to look at what happens to the planet of Jai after the extradimensional incursion of the first novel. Yasira and Tiv have to try and save the planet...while Angels and worse continue to hunt them.


Hold Fast Through the Fire, K B Wagers

With Wagers’ Indranian War series now done, Wagers focus is on their other space opera verse, the story of the Neo-G, the 25th century Space Coast Guard. I enjoyed A Pale Light in the Black, and am definitely on board for more adventures of the crew of Zuma’s Ghost, especially Jenks, the 21st century Earth culture enthusiast who provides such an easy entry for us into the world four centuries hence. 


When the Goddess Wakes, Howard Andrew Jones

Sticking the landing on a trilogy is a hard thing. In When the Goddess Wakes, Howard Andrew Jones sets to end the trilogy (For the Killing of Kings, Upon the Flight of the Queen) of his high heroic epic fantasy that has reminded me, in numerous ways, of one of my heart series, Roger Zelazny’s Amber Chronicles. The Altenerai protectors of the realm are in desperate straits, and if the titular Goddess does wake and get loose, can they protect not only their realm, but every realm in every world from her insatiable wrath?  I sure look forward to finding out.


The Jasmine Throne, Tasha Suri

I really enjoyed Suri’s Empire of Sand, which was a Silk Road fantasy with Empire, family ties, blood magic, captured gods and more.  The Jasmine Throne starts a new verse for Suri, featuring a pair of ambitious  characters, an exiled priestess and a princess, whose ambitions promise to tap into that Empire and fantastical magical goodness that she showed in her first duology. 


POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Summer Reading List 2021: Elisabeth

Welcome to my Summer Reading List! Only one of my titles is a 2020 novel – all others are 2021 releases, though the first 2021 release is a January release (Root Magic). Normally I would apologize here – offer some comment on backlists and how much I love reading those too – but the truth is I think 2021 is a turning point for queer adult fantasy. Almost all of these books are books I have anticipated since their PW Weekly announcements: even though their release dates are recent, I feel like I have been waiting for these books for years. So I’m excited to drown in them this summer! 

It’s impossible to exist on the internet as a lesbian who loves fantasy without hearing the good news about The Jasmine Throne from all corners (including Ari’s review right here!). An epic fantasy inspired by Indian mythology, in which lesbians play the central role, written by one of my favorite authors? Yes please! This has been my Number #1 Anticipated Release of the Summer, and I can't wait to gobble it up in one sitting.

AIR LOGIC by Laurie J. Marks
Technically, I am gearing up for a full series re-read of Marks’ Elemental Logic series, but since Air Logic inspired this reread and will end the series, it’s the one I’m listing here. The series began in 2002 with its first title FIRE LOGIC. I remember reading all three existing novels in 2014 or 2015 and loving them. The series was a rare gem at the time – a traditionally published fantasy novel featuring queer characters – and I’m excited to revisit it in this new context of QUEER BOOK WEALTH. 

This new novella by JS Fields, published by small queer press Ninestar, promises to be very interesting. A young nonbinary person called Sorin can’t quite seem to find their place in a queendom defined by guilds and matrilineal inheritance, and when their mother goes missing, they have to deal with the consequences. I love Fields’ deft character work from their previous scifi series, so I am excited and delighted about this fantasy novella! 

ROOT MAGIC by Eden Royce
A wild middle grade book appears! I’m psyched to finally find the time to read this very promising middle grade titles by one of my favorite short fiction authors. Royce’s treatment of the south – with nuance, care and justice – is one I find myself constantly gravitating towards, and I absolutely can’t wait to lose myself in this book.

I love being a Zen Cho fangirl and no, I won’t ever stop. Because Zen Cho writes the fiction I love! Black Water Sister has all the plot elements that I love: ghosts, anti-capitalist feels, and matriarchal family members. I can’t wait to read it! 

And lastly, a final queer novella, this time from the small press Neon Hemlock. Neon Hemlock served some great novellas last year, so I am very excited to see what their Summer Selection 2021 brings, especially this Mohamed one. The story, about sex, crime and money in a future where you can fall to a government cull for a single mistake, promises to be exciting, weird, and totally unexpected.

POSTED BY: Elisabeth R Moore is a writer, birder and grad student living in Germany. When she's not writing strange stories about scary plants, or reviewing short fiction, she can be found crocheting, hiking or biking. She tweets at @willowcabins.