Finally finished that anthology…

Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora
by Zelda Knight (Editor),  Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki,  Nicole Givens Kurtz,  Dilman Dila,  Eugen Bacon,  Nuzo Onoh,  Marian Denise Moore,  Dare Segun Falowo,  Rafeeat Aliyu,  Suyi Davies Okungbowa,  Odida Nyabundi

This is a very strong anthology. Even the stories that didn‘t fully grab me gave me plenty to think about. Recommended!

Trickin by Nicole Givens Kurtz

An old god rises up each fall to test his subjects. A Halloween story with a supernatural twist. It was ok. ★★★☆☆

Red_Bati by Dilman Dila

Dilman Dila is a Ugandan writer and film maker. The story is about a robot facing an existential crisis. Is he a human inside of a pet robot? Does he have a spirit? What is his purpose?

This felt a bit like a physics lecture, with a side dish of techno-babble. However, if Murderbot ever wants to adopt a pet, this could be the ideal dog for it. Nice plot, although the ending is a bit abrupt—I think this could make an interesting novella. I liked it. ★★★★☆

A Maji Maji Chronichle by Eugene Bacon

Eugen Bacon is an African Australian computer scientist (born in Tanzania) and author of spec fic.

A magician and his son time-travel to Ngoni country and try to change the course of history. Very wordy, wanting to create atmosphere. I didn‘t like the first few pages, but as the story picked up momentum, I liked it better. It covers the usual ethical ground of time travel stories. It is worth reading up on the Ngoni before reading the story, it helps with the background. The author is pretty sparse with filling in any details. ★★★½☆

“Early in the 20th century, the Ngoni were a fierce ethnic group, distant cousins to King Shaka of the Zulu kingdom. Way before the scramble and partition of Africa, ethnic groups had dispersed across the continent, and this particular Ngoni group set habitat in what later became known as German East Africa. In defiance to harsh methods of forced labour imposed upon them by colonialists, the Ngoni took up arms in what is historically documented as The Maji Maji Rising. Maji is a Swahili word for water. Belief holds that a witchdoctor gave warriors a magic potion that would turn German bullets to water.“

More about the Maji Maji rebellion here. Story can be read for free here.

The Unclean by Nuzo Onoh

Nuzo Onoh is a British-Nigerian writer. She is a pioneer of the African horror subgenre. More about that here.

The main character Desdemona tells her story. About her horrible marriage and what it leads her to do… Names matter, so all kinds of alarms went off in my head, when I read her name and that of her sister.

“Desee’s quest will force her to make some terrible choices, and with the diabolical help of a powerful witch-doctor, embark on a harrowing journey that will end in deadly consequences, culminating in a trial by ordeal underneath the infamous Tree of Truth.“

Very good, but turns pretty strange and disgusting towards the end. Not for the squeamish. Set in Nigeria, around the time of Nigeria‘s independence. Quite a prolific country in terms of writing, it seems—I keep bumping into authors from that country—and learned about the Igbo and about fetishism. ★★★★½

A Mastery of German by Marian Denise Moore

I couldn‘t find much about the author, but think she might be from Louisiana and is a computer analyst and poet. And this story is a finalist of the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award 2021.

A near-future story about memories and passing them on in a genetic procedure. The technology is not explained or shown and the ethical implications are mentioned, but not elaborated on much. But it would probably need a novel to explore all that. I liked it. The main character was relatable, the writing was very readable. ★★★★☆

Convergence in Chorus Architecture by Dare Segun Falowo

Another Nigerian author. More about them and their work in this article / interview.
And a short bio and links to some stories here.

Mythology, Nigerian gods, dreams. Didn‘t captivate me. ★★¾☆☆

Emily by Marian Denise Moore

A snippet with possibilities.

To Say Nothing of Lost Figurines by Rafeeat Aliyu

Another Nigerian author. The title immediately made me think of To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. That book has been on my want-to-read list for ages, but so far I haven’t gotten round to it yet. I can‘t tell if it was a plot bunny for this story, which is a magical portal fantasy. Amusing tone, bit of a caper/heist story. Needs more… ★★★★☆

Sleep Papa, Sleep by Suyi Okungbowa Davies

And another Nigerian author. I liked his David Mogo Godhunter. This story is pretty gruesome, but excellently written. We are talking body parts, corpses and violence. Well crafted tale with no loose ends. ★★★★★

The Satellite Charmer by Mame Bougouma Diene

A Franco-Senegalese-American author. I found quite a few interesting articles written by him. Dark Moons Rising on a Starless Night, his collection of four novelettes, is mentioned several times.

This story is probably the longest in this anthology. And it is odd. Set in a near future, where Chinese corporations mine African land via satellite. We are told the life story of Ibrahima in several jumps. He is an odd and fairly unlikable guy with an unusual connection to those satellites. Interesting concept, but I didn‘t like the story particularly much. Still, I learned something about the Caliphate, which was new to me. ★★¾☆☆

Here is a free online story by the author, that is very, very similar to this one here, if you want to get an impression of his writing.

Clanfall: Death of Kings by Odida Nyabundi

I had a hard time tracking down the auther, but eventually found this story, with the same beginning as the prologue of Clanfall:

“Fisi Wahoo basked in the rapturous applause of the crowd. It seemed like the whole population of New Machakos had turned up for his coronation. Fisi! Fisi! Fisi! They chanted.“

https://awacho.wordpress.com/2016/04/21/what-goes-around/

I think we are looking at a story by an author from Kenya. Good, pretty puzzling at first, set in the far future, in what used to be Kenya, with bionically enhanced, conscious and intelligent animals (I think?), where humanity has disappeared long ago. It would have been nice to have gotten some visuals on the characters. There are a lot of claws, cannons, armour and various augmentations, but we never get to see what the protagonists actually look like.

Society is ruled by feudal clans. War and conflict seem to be the favoured state of being. I liked the characters and the writing. However, this was not a coherent story and it leaves the reader in the middle of things, just when the story starts to get interesting. 

If the author ever decides to make a novella or novel out of this, with a proper plot, I would like to read it. ★★★½☆

Thresher of Men by Michael Boatman

Boatman is a US American actor or novelist, writing in the splatterpunk horror genre. Sounds gory, right? I had to look it up. And holy crap, that was gruesome. Rape, gore, lots of blood. Well written though. ★★★★☆

Ife-Iyoku, the Tale of Imadeyunuagbon by Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald

Another Nigerian author, with a finalist for the 2020 Nebula Awards for Best Novella and a bunch of other awards for this and other stories. Content warning: attempted rape, nonconsensual sex and suicide.

The discrimination of women in parts of the story irritated me too much to truly enjoy it. That part of the story was intentional, but women were still just weak victims throughout, determined by men and the female MC, Imade, was ultimately at fault because she didn‘t know her place and didn‘t do as she was told. This didn‘t sit right with me. That‘s just me though, plenty of others liked this a lot.

The action scenes were good, the post-apocalyptic world building was good, even if I didn‘t buy the premise of the nuclear war. So this was a mixed bag for me. I might pick up the author again. ★★★☆☆


I received this free e-copy from the publisher/author via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review, thank you!

Dewey‘s

So, I went to bed around the halfway point of the event. At which point I had finally finished Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora. Review to come! Here I am, catching up with the various posts from Dewey‘s that I slept through…

Mid Event Survey 

1. What are you reading right now? — the same two books I started with.

2. How many books have you read so far? — see above. At some point I distanced myself from the notion that reading is about how many pages I read and how fast I am. It doesn‘t make me a cooler or worthier reader, when I read 200 books a year or whatever the figure is.

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? — I finally finished Dominion and I am looking forward to listening to more of Rovers by Richard Lange. Not sure yet, what print edition or ebook I will pick up next.

4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? — I made dinner, received some texts, etc. I will go to bed now and when I wake up, I will be busy with life first. Can‘t be helped. It is unlikely that I will get much reading done in the second half of the readathon.

5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? — no big surprises.

What’s your relationship to the spooky and scary? Not your for (which is perfectly fine)? Your lifeblood (which is perfectly fine)? Somewhere in between (also perfectly fine)?

I often find horror boring. I need a good plot with some suspense and good characters. Or, if I read something really bad, for example Meg by Steve Alten, it needs to at least be funny (even unintentionally) to hold my interest. And if the books sounds really creepy and disturbing, I will simply not read it! Why torture myself?

Ok, off to write that last review for Domninion and then to deal with life.


Currently Reading…

I am still working my way through Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora. The current story, Clanfall: Death of Kings by Odida Nyabundi, is good, pretty puzzling, set in a very far away in time Kenya with bionically enhanced, conscious and intelligent animals (I think), where humanity has ceased to exists…

I have about an hour left in the kindle and would like to finish the book today. However, Life! Going on a business trip next week, starting off tomorrows afternoon. Busy doing stuff in preparation, trying to keep myself from procrastinating too much. Failing so far.

Anyhow, I started the morning by looking for an audiobook—something I can listen to whilst folding laundry etc. Ended up (or rather started) with Rovers (Audible Audio) by Richard Lange, a horror book with a different take on vampires. Of Mice and Men with vampires and biker gangs? The audio sounds good so far.

He hasn’t been outside during the day in more than seventy-five years. Seventy-five years since he’s felt the sun on his face, seventy-five years since he’s lain under a tree and run his fingers over leaf shadows flitting across a patch of warm grass, seventy-five years since he’s squinted through his lashes to pin a cawing raven against the noon glare. For the past three-quarters of a century he’s lived by night, in the ebon hours when monsters hunt and good folk keep to their houses. Since he turned, every dawn’s been a death sentence, every sunbeam a white-hot razor. That’s why he’s overjoyed whenever he dreams his only dream, when he finds himself walking that road under the blazing sun, under a few wisps of cloud unraveling across the sky. A bounding jackrabbit kicks up dust. A breeze brings a whiff of sage. He comes upon an empty pop can and gives it a kick. Light and warmth worm their way into the coldest, darkest thickets inside him, and if he never woke again, he’d be fine. This would be enough—the road, the sky, the sun—forever.

From the first page

And just for the heck of it, I just signed up for Dewey‘s October readathon, starting in about 90 minutes. Not that I have the time or intention to read for 24 hours straight, because real life…. Anyway….

Magical portals and body parts

Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora
by Zelda Knight (Editor),  Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki (Editor)

To Say Nothing of Lost Figurines by Rafeeat Aliyu

Another Nigerian author. The title immediately made me think of To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. That book has been on my want-to-read list for ages, but so far I haven’t gotten round to it yet. I can‘t tell if it was a plot bunny for this story, which is a magical portal fantasy. Amusing tone, bit of a caper/heist story. Needs more… ★★★★☆

Sleep Papa, Sleep by Suyi Okungbowa Davies

And another Nigerian author. I liked his David Mogo Godhunter (my review is here).

This story is pretty gruesome, but excellently written. We are talking body parts, corpses and violence. Well crafted horror tale with no loose ends. ★★★★★

Been there, but in different ways…

Sorry for the long break in posts, real life was busy, long and tiring. Reading took a bit of a back seat this week.

We Have Always Been Here
by Lena Nguyen

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Androids, a claustrophobic spaceship, a mysterious ice planet and a conspiracy with a dash of horror. 

Misanthropic psychologist Dr. Grace Park is on a exploratory mission to an ice-planet called Eos, taking care of the small crew. She is strangely clueless and lacking in social skills for a psychologist and seems to get along better with the androids onboard, who are serving the ship and the crew as cleaners, cooks, nurses and in other supporting functions. Fairly soon it becomes obvious that Park is being kept in the dark about the real purpose of the mission, when strange events start to manifest and affect everybody on board and the ship itself.

I had flashes of the movies Event Horizon, Prometheus and The Matrix. I won‘t write more about the plot, it would spoil too much. Suffice to say, I really struggled with the first two chapters and nearly DNFd, but then started to like the story quite a bit, when it started to go off the beaten track. Multiple POVs and timelines mixed it all up and kept it lively. However, I never really warmed up to the character of Park and found her character development at bit incongruous. Interesting theories about space, physics and androids. Nothing massively ground-breaking or new and no idea if the science is sound (probably not), but it worked for me. 

Not bad. I wouldn‘t mind coming back to this world and its protagonists.

Six degrees of separation, lottery across the ages

Welcome to #6degrees. On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book. I mostly use this meme to work on my backlog, aka reviews that I haven‘t yet posted to my blog here.

How the meme works and how you can join is explained here. The initial blog post about this month‘s choice is here. October begins with Shirley Jackson’s short story, The Lottery. If you haven‘t read this, please do—it‘s very short and only takes about 20 minutes.

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

Probably a shocking read in 1948, when it came out. In the days of The Hunger Games barely worth a twitch, I guess. Which itself is probably considered a modern classic by now, starting a whole subgenre of likeminded YA books. I wonder, if Ursula LeGuin was inspired by Lottery, when she wrote The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas a few years later? That one had much more of an impact on me.

Anyway, we get a short story that seems to describe a regular, ordinary sounding event in a small town. People are nonchalant about it and want to get on with it, to get that interruption of their normal day out of the way. Suspicion sneaks up on you slowly, that not all is as it seems to be, all the way to the horrific ending.

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1) by Suzanne Collins, read in 2016

Well written, good world building, the prose flows along nicely. Well-paced suspense. Love the idea of the mockinjays. All the charactes come to life swiftly and are believable. I saw it all vividly in my mind’s eye. Katniss has the odd moment of stupid. But the action is great, excellent plot and suspense. Katniss Everdeen, where have you been all my life? I read half of the book in one sitting. Bonus points for a YA book, that doesn’t read as if the author thinks that teens are stupid. Obviously, if you read this, you need to read the rest of the trilogy.

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin, read in 2020

I picked this up, because I wanted to get to know Le Guin a little better. It looked like a good starting point, having won so many awards. I don‘t want to get into the plot, this needs to be read spoiler-free. If you liked The Lottery and are interested in speculative fiction, read this!

What are you willing to give up to do the right thing? Would you walk away? And would that be good enough? Obviously not, but it‘s not as easy as that. You‘ve dealt with your guilt by walking away, but that doesn‘t really help, does it? How do we deal with our privilege, what would be an acceptable response?

Omelas leads me to The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu, read in 2019.

“A little paper tiger stood on the table, the size of two fists placed together. The skin of the tiger was the pattern on the wrapping paper, white background with red candy canes and green Christmas trees.“

https://gizmodo.com/read-ken-lius-amazing-story-that-swept-the-hugo-nebula-5958919

Lovely, truly lovely. And terribly bittersweet and sad. Only 11 pages long, another quick read that packs a punch. It leads me to:

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang, read in 2019.

Story of Your Life is the basis for the movie Arrival.

“Your father is about to ask me the question. This is the most important moment in our lives, and I want to pay attention, note every detail.“

I have seen the movie several times and like it a lot. The most interesting for me were the differences from the story to the film. Would I have liked the story more or less, if I hadn‘t seen the movie? Did I like it more, because I like the movie? Despite the differences? Probably. Would I have understood the story as well without knowing the movie? Maybe. 
Did the story add layers to the movie? Possibly. Either way, it was painful and a great piece of story telling.

Another book looking at family, children and a setting that fits the theme of all these stories, is:

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

The world is a dystopian one, where people can be genetically enhanced and those that choose not to enhance their offspring have started to be relegated to the fringes of society and the children are disadvantaged.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley comes to mind after reading Ishiguro.

I read this about 30 years ago, give or take. I struggled with understanding it and remember that I found it hard to get into it. But I liked the concept of the story and ultimately liked the book quite a bit. I think it should be recommended reading for anybody interested in SF that predicts how our society could develop in the not too far away future. Especially nowadays, with the advances being made in cloning, I think this book gains even more importance.

A horrific lottery in the past leads to impossible choices in the future.

Brain Candy with monsters

Return To The Center Of The Earth
by Greig Beck

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A year after the first book, some of the survivors get together again for a repeat performance. We quickly get to the creepy parts. 

Can I just say that I find it ridiculous that Alastair just reads that old script, after explaining at length, why it‘s so difficult to do just that. Anyway….

The caving part in the first book was longer and more fun. This time around I liked the part at the center of the Earth better. Once we reach the center, the narrative splits again to two groups of explorers, much like the first book. Different objectives though. The first book was mainly about being lost, about meeting whatever is down there and about escaping, with a small side story. This time around the reason for the trip is a different one and takes up a tiny latger slice of the narrative.

The book is just as fast-paced, with the expected head count, brought about by a colourful array of nasty critters. Escapism at its best. Just the brain candy I was looking for. And this is much better written than those Meg books by Alten. Beck actually writes well, the characters are not just cardboard cut-outs and the women aren‘t objectified and defined by their looks.

Trigger warning for rape — in the off, not graphic, but leading to some nasty imagery.

Brain candy at the center of the Earth

After my recent struggle into hard SF and before my next venture into 400+ pages of Fantasy I decided to read some brain candy as palate cleanser:

Return to the Center of the Earth by Greig Beck

“Those who descend into the dark find monsters. Or become them.”

Page 1

This is my review of book one.

I am also still reading:
– Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora, ebook, #ReadBIPOC2021, TBR pile, Netgalley
– Babylon’s Ashes, audio, Expanse #6, re-read
– Tietjen auf Tour: Warum Camping mich glücklich macht, paperback, TBR pile

I have lined up for September:
City of Bones, ebook 
– Persepolis Rising, audio, Expanse #7, re-read
– Tiamat’s Wrath, audio, Expanse #8, re-read
– Ancillary Sword, audio, Imperial Radch #2, re-read

More cautionary tales…

The Night Marchers and Other Oceanian Stories
by Kel McDonald

More cautionary tales…

The Night Marchers by Jonah Cabudol-Chalker (illustrator, Hawaii) & Kate Ashwin (writer, UK) ★★★☆☆

A positive ghost story. Nice page layouts. Very short.

The Legend of Apolaki and Mayari by Kim Miranda ★★★★☆

What a pretty story with nice sketches! Brother and sister end up fighting each other… Philippines again. Very simple, but I really liked the artwork.

Nanuae the Sharkboy by Gen H. ★★★★☆

And Hawaii… good story! There is shapeshifting (yay!), sharks (yay!) and the story is told a lot through images instead of text, which was done well. The ending was a bit abrupt.

Thousand Eyes by Paolo Chikiamco & Tintin Pantoja ★★★★☆

And the Philippines again… about a girl that seems to be lazy and gives her mother some trouble. Of the stories included here, this looks the most like a comic. Another good one, with a sci-fi twist this time.

I received this free e-copy from the publisher/author via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review, thank you!

Horrible Barn

Gideon Falls, Vol. 1: The Black Barn
by Jeff Lemire,  Andrea Sorrentino (Illustrator),  Dave Stewart (Illustrator) 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was excellent. I liked the artwork very much. Some very unusual page layouts, visually different. Really good story telling. Horror elements that reminded me of Stephen King. Very ominous and creepy. I will definitely look up more works by Sorrentino. Old Man Logan has been on my radar for a while anyway.

My chapter reviews are somewhat spoilerish, I give away some minor plot points. You have been warned.

Issue #1 – We start off with two storylines. There is Norton, a former mental patient, obsessively collecting waste allover town and cataloguing it. And there is Father Fred, a priest, arriving at his new parish, Gideon Falls.

They are both being led to the same target, the Black Barn.

Issue #2 – so far the story is good. Ominous. The artwork is different. It looks a bit like a coloured lithography.

Father Fred, aka Wilfred, is in a spot of trouble. There have been some murders and he is a person of interest.

And it looks as if nobody, who knows about the Black Barn, is safe.

Issue #3 – Norton inadvertently pulls his psychologist into the story and into danger.

Father Fred settles into life at Gideon Falls and holds his first mass. He meets most of his parishioners and the members of town, including the more unusual ones. Some pretty interesting artwork…

Issue #4 – the unusual page layouts keep on coming. Father Frank keeps on finding out more about the history of Gideon Falls.

Issue #5 – pretty cool artwork. I especially like the different styles between Norton‘s and Father Fred‘s story. 

Issue #6 – ok, then. The climax, the barn, partial resolution, a start into the next volume…