Upright Women Wanted, Sarah Gailey (three stars)

Upright Women Wanted, by Sarah Gailey (three stars)

“You believe everything you read?”

Almost gave up after the first thirty pages; glad I stuck with it. Good coming-of-age tale about a settled city person thrust into the wilderness. This story is more than it seems. Yes, it’s the agenda-driven stuff claimed in the blurb, but it’s potentially more.

“Awful worldly for a colt. What’s at the end of that road, then, world traveler?” “Nothing but trouble.”

Quibbles: Correctly identifies the dangers of slow travel in the desert southwest, then ignores them. Serious issues with how far and fast horses can travel, especially pulling a loaded wagon. Stumbles over her own contrived pronouns occasionally.

She had seen a man decide that she deserved to die, and she had killed him for it.

Gailey must decide whether she’s wants to serious, challenging fiction or disappear in the sea of pulp writers.

“Dead as shoe leather, and fixing to stay that way.” “I should feel worse about it. Shouldn’t I?”
“You will.”

(2021 Hugo Award novella nominee)

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo (Four Stars)

The Empress of Salt and Fortune (The Singing Hills Cycle #1) by Nghi Vo

“One drunken evening, many years on, In-yo would say that the war was won by silenced and nameless women, and it would be hard to argue with her.”

A fabled past is reconstructed by a cleric interviewing an ancient maid who had more than a little to do with the history reveals. Apt storytelling and clues scattered through the tales draw the attentive reader in and forward.

“Sometimes the things we see do not make sense until many years have gone by. Sometimes it takes generations. We are taught to be content with that.”

A welcome change from medieval European fantasies. Roughly imperial Chinese analog. The characterization of the cleric adds to the sense of other.

“Look to your records, cleric. Honor is a light that brings trouble. Shadows are safer by far.”

(2021 Hugo Awards Novella finalist)

Book Review: The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Tea Master and the Detective (The Universe of Xuya) by Aliette de Bodard

(Four Stars)

“I’m a consulting detective.”

Well, we know who the detective is, despite the camouflage, but who–or what–is the tea master? You know, but you don’t know. Discovery is half the fun.

“You haven’t told me what you need to find in deep spaces.” “A corpse.”

Excellent story, if not tight enough. Used “Watson” as the point of view narrator, of course. Good character development, though we fell we known them already.

“You’re completely traumatised, but showing no other sign of damage.” “I. Am. Not. Traumatised.”

(2019 Hugo Award Novella finalist. Published March 31st 2018 by Subterranean Press)

“I don’t understand why you bother,” The Shadow’s Child said. “No one is going to pay you anything for this.” This time Long Chau did smile, and it seemed to illuminate her entire face. “Why? Because I can.”

Book Review: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor (Five Stars)


Book Review: The Night Masquerade (Binti #3) by Nnedi Okorafor

Five Stars

“Couldn’t you be broken and still bring change?”

Don’t read the reviews (including this one), read this novella. Forget your categories of science fiction versus fantasy or your advocacy goals. Read and enjoy. Good story, good storytelling, good writing.

“A tree with strong roots laughs at storms.”

Expect to see this novella nominated for awards, but don’t let that dissuade you from reading it.

“It is what it is and we know you do what you do.”

Book Review: This Census-Taker by China Miéville (Two Stars)


Book Review: This Census-Taker by China Miéville

Two Stars

“I knew that day that my father was feeding only the darkness.”

Short, pointless, poorly done. Expected better more from Miéville. At least it wasn’t offensive, an accomplishment among 2017 Hugo Award novella finalists. (Nice cover art.)

“Once I asked my father, ‘Why do you want me?’ I still think it was the bravest thing I’ve ever done.”

Talk about your unreliable narrator. Holden Caulfield syndrome. Mixed tenses–first, second and third–confuses the story. Big vocabulary and syntax change late in the story, presumably to indicate a shift in narrator maturity, but then wasn’t the whole story written by him?

“The more you know about people the better.”

Book Review: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle (One Star)


Book Review: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

One Star

“Mankind didn’t make messes; mankind was the mess.”

Fantasy historical fiction. I wouldn’t have finished this once I realized what kind of story it was, but felt constrained to read it all if I was to vote on it for the 2017 Hugo Awards. Can’t conceive why it was nominated, much less became a finalist.

“He thought of himself as an entertainer. Others … called him a scammer, a swindler, a con, but he never thought of himself this way. No charlatan ever did.”

Good storytelling, good character development and good voice. Good sense of time and place, which gradually–then with increasing speed–veers into the horrible. Shifting away from the main character propels the story, but dilutes the impact. If this is set in the Lovecraft universe, LaValle has done me a favor by warning me away forever.

“Walking through Harlem first thing in the morning was like being a single drop of blood inside an enormous body that was waking up.”

I don’t normally post negative reviews, but I am reviewing all the 2017 Hugo novella finalists. Not fair to the others to pass over this one just because I don’t recommend anyone read it, let alone vote for it.

“There was more to this world than what we touch to taste or see. His time as a detective made him sure of this.”

Book Review: A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson (One Star)


Book Review: A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

One Star

[Spoilers follow]

“No one is guilty … the guilty exist, but they are also human beings, just like their victims.” Joseph Brodsky

What a waste. This isn’t science fiction or fantasy. It’s a sappy, regency romance with boys. Tries to fill all the diversity squares hoping perhaps its political correctness gives it protected status.

“It feels as if there were a … whole episode missing from my memory of that day. As if asleep I can remember it, but once awake the event slides away.”

Had to force myself through it. Nothing to grab or hold my attention. Wilson repeats and clarifies his plot device lest we miss it in his tangled chronology. Nice, relevant cover art.

“Men and women, side by side, yet further apart than this earth’s from the stars.”

Aside from not being of sufficient quality to recommend to others, this story hardly qualifies as a Hugo Award finalist.

“It’s you who are the dream, that other man who is flesh and real, the dreamer.”

Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (Two Stars)


Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Two Stars

“The only one who gets to tell you how your story ends is you.”

What happened to Alice and Wendy after they returned from Wonderland and Neverland? What if all the Narnias and Fillories were real? What if there were so many worlds that their differing natures could be plotted along a graph with virtue–evil and logic–nonsense axes? What if the hundreds of children who had visited them lived among us? How would they live in the mundane world, knowing a magic kingdom still called? Such is the premise of Every Heart a Doorway.

“Now I know that if you open the right door at the right time, you might finally finds a place where you belong.”

Skip the “There Was a Little Girl” prologue and be drawn into a home for such disaffected children through the eyes of Continue reading

Book Review: The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

Four Stars

“Some people change the world, and some people change the people who change the world.”

A well-told, if predictable adventure fantasy. Good development and voice. I really like this story. Finalist for 2017 Hugo for novellas.

“When were women anything but footnotes to men’s tales?”

Unique in that the protagonist is not only female, but a mature woman. And she acts it.

“This is what life is, then. Doing things you hate. I’ll do it. Of course. It’s the right thing.”

I love maps in fantasy stories, however the map in the ebook edition was unreadable. Nice cover art.

“Vellitt waited.”

Book Review: Home Nnedi Okorafor (Three Stars)


Book Review: Home (Binti #2) by Nnedi Okorafor

Three Stars

“What was home? Where was home?”

All the magic of Okarfora’s imagination but the storytelling is not as good as her norm. The magic of a novella is its sharper focus, compared to a novel, while allowing fuller character and plot development than a short story. Instead this story is merely the first part of a larger whole. If it’s to be big, go big.

“Why didn’t I ever want to do what I’m supposed to do?”

Feels dashed off. The felicity of expression of her earlier works is missing. Some phrases down right clunky. “I stepped into the field of … that grew in the field ….” “Something red caught my eye on the security guard’s uniform.” Caught my eye on his uniform? Ouch.

“Change was constant. Change was my destiny. Growth.”

Excellent example of in medias res. A whole lot had happened to Binti after the close of Binti and before the opening of Home. First-time readers of Okorafor might think all the references were to that first story. Oh, no, those are hooks to draw you into this story. Good world and character development. Nice cover art.

“Sometimes the obvious is too obvious.”

I like everyman protagonists. Binti is that in the best way. She is everywoman, but in the course of her story she becomes superwoman. Part of her quest is acquiring a mentor; another part is losing her.

“I felt the pain and glory of growth.”

Unfortunate name choice of the university planet. Every time I saw Oomza I couldn’t help but think Ozma.

“It was no good to feel this pleased with life.”