Jem and the Holograms: Dark Jem

Writer: Kelly Thompson

Artist, Lettering and Co-Writer: Sophie Campbell

Colourist: Maria Victoria Robado

Lettering: Shawn Lee

Jem and the Holograms: Dark Jem

Image Credit: IDW

Review By Nisha

When I was very young- I’m talking first year of Infants- my sisters, tired of endless playing of The Little Mermaid, introduced me to a cartoon they loved about a girl who forms a band with her sisters and battles for control of her late father’s record company, with the help of a computer her father invented. I absolutely fell in love with the story (the five episode arc at the beginning, released as a movie), the characters and the songs. It stuck with me throughout my life and was even my inspiration to become a performer.

So when Kris dropped the news that Jem and the Holograms was going to be revived in graphic novel form, I was practically backflipping around the house.

I won’t go into much depth of the series in general, although there are some things that need to be mentioned going into the comics. Jetta is already a member of the Misfits from the beginning, Eric isn’t the big villain that he was in the cartoon, Rio is a reporter and both Kimber and Stormer are gay. Other than that, Kelly Thompson- a huge Jem fan herself- stays very faithful to the cartoon and the characters. The arc that I am here to review is Dark Jem: where a computer virus infects Synergy (the computer, who projects Jem’s image over Jerrica) and that, in turn, converts the Holograms and goes after their fans- warping their minds and changing their personalities.

As I have mentioned already, Kelly Thompson does an absolutely stellar job of capturing the essence of all the characters we know and love: Ashley’s annoyingly loveable petulance, the to-and-fro between the Holograms as bandmates and as sisters, Kimber’s secret wish to be the frontwoman, Techrat’s inability to be a people-person. On top of that, she also adds a whole new dimension to other characters, namely the Misfits. Whilst they are part of what made the cartoon popular back in the 80s, we don’t get to know much about them (compared to the Holograms), and Kelly’s writing does really well in opening them up and showing them to be practically a family as well. And she does a great job at throwing in the odd British idiom, courtesy of Jetta. Also, Pizzazz has a pet cat, and that will forever be awesome. She also throws the Misfits a huge curveball- the possibility of the band having to go on without Pizzazz and the casting of a new singer. The addition of a transgender character was bold and just pure beauty, as the Misfits accept her without missing a beat- lending credence to Stormer’s exclamation in the cartoon that “Misfits” is a name that means something; that they are the ones who don’t “fit in”, but will accept each other. The character stuff does seem to overshadow the plot, but the characters are so strong and loveable that I honestly don’t find it to be an issue.

The artwork… All I can say is that I am devastated that Sophie Campbell is no longer doing the artwork for Jem (although I wish her all the luck in her new projects). The style is completely different to the original cartoon, but in a way that’s really exciting and dynamic. She represents a whole range of body types in the characters and the detail is just fantastic. She creates really emotive faces that just lift the story to a whole new level- for example, when Jerrica is infected by the virus, she is still drawn the same but which a very subtle edge to her facial expressions. If the colourist hadn’t opted to goth-up her hair, the change in her personality would still have been very clear. And the panel where Pizzazz is sitting by her front door, completely isolated, is just heartbreaking. Sophie manages to evoke so much emotion in one picture. I’ve always felt that Pizzazz’s attitude was covering for someone very insecure who feels unworthy of love, and that picture captured that fragile interior so beautifully.

The colouring of the comics is ridiculously faithful to the essence of the cartoon series. Think 80s, think bold, think rock! The colours are vivid and practically leap off the page. One doesn’t often think too much about how much the colouring affects the mood and enjoyment of graphic series but it’s part of the heart and soul. Maria Victoria Robado does an incredible job of maintaining the looks and colouring of the characters and enhancing Sophie’s artwork. Together, Maria and Sophie create a wonderful and poignant contrast between the everyday life of the Holograms and the Misfits- both of whom have their own special colour schemes- and the world after they are infected by the virus. Whilst I think the “they’re evil, so they’re Goth now” thing is a little done to death, the creative team behind Jem still execute it with grace and make those scenes freakish and creepy.

Again, the lettering is also something that non-avid comic readers tend not to notice, yet it’s something that cleverly lends a lot to the tone and intonation of the characters. In the Jem comics, this is also true of the songs, which must be a constant challenge for the creative team. A device commonly used in the cartoon were songs from various characters, which is obviously much harder to convey in a graphic novel. This is where Shawn Lee steps in with some serious skill, giving the Holograms and the Misfits their own personal fonts for their songs (which is stepped up with Maria’s colouring). This arc also features some auditions, so the lettering also alters for their different styles, and abilities, of singing. While it isn’t the same as watching the songs on TV, it’s certainly pretty close… and I know I was wincing during the audition scenes because the lettering made the sounds come alive. My only critique is that sometimes the lettering in the songs is a tiny bit difficult to read, but rarely.

All in all, strong story, fantastic characters, great artwork, clever construction- a must for Jem fans! And, if you’ve never watched Jem, you’ll still love it… just read the preceding issues first for context. Also, the entire series is on Netflix so… get on that.

Dozey’s Journeys Through The Meowtiverse – There’s A Star Cat Sleeping In The Sky

Dozey Meowtiverse Space Cat

Recommendations by Dozey

Hello, I am Dozey! I am travelling the Meowtiverse having great adventures, exploring great writings. Why should humans have all the fun?

Being out in space is rather fun you get to zip around between the stars and sleep in zero gravity. It is most relaxing…. PURRRRR!

Here are some of the favourite realms of Women Space Captains I have visited:

Trading In Danger by Elizabeth Moon

Image Credit: Amazon

Trading In Danger by Elizabeth Moon: One of the best series about Space Captains, Kylara Vatta is forced to become a trader and prove her worth. Absolutely action packed.

Ascension by Jacqueline Koyangi

Image Credit: ISFDB

Ascension by Jacqueline Koyangi: I am a very affectionate cat so I appreciate love. This, whilst being dark and musing, is also very sweet.

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

Image Credit: ISFDB

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold: The start of the Vorkosigan saga, one of the most famous space operas, and our introduction to Cordelia Naismith, a must for the fans.

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

Image Credit: ISFDB

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie: The second instalment in the Ancillary series where we get to see Breq returned to command and on a mission.

Chasing The Stars by Malorie Blackman

Image Credit: ISFDB

Chasing The Stars by Malorie Blackman: Shakespearian drama in space, politics, romance, and choices. Marvellous!

I am now travelling through the portal to a new adventure, elven women!

I am Dozey! It has been your pleasure to read this!

The Ultra-Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves The World Again

A. C. Wise

The Ultra-Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves The World Again

Image Credit: Goodreads

Review By Kris

“Today they are twelve; they are together and strong, operating like a smoothly oiled machine. But they have all at various times been afraid and alone, less perfect they are now. And they will be again. Their numbers may fluctuate, members coming and going, but always they are this: The Glitter Squadron. And they are fabulous.” pp9

Ultra-fabulous really is the best word to describe this. It is something I did not know I needed in my life until I saw it. I had heard nothing about it until it came up in my feed and then I had to read it immediately.

This is not a book that is really like anything else, with one foot in superheroics, another in high camp and a third limb clutching character driven considerations of gender. And when I say high camp, it is so gloriously campy I expect it should have 60’s Batman style sound effects and a disco soundtrack1. But in the best way it does not descend into self-parody; it is a world that is absolutely believable, you never wonder why someone would live in The Glitter Mansion or fight evil in bunny ears or with a large bejewelled whip.
 
This is a series of stories of a diverse team (predominantly but not exclusively Trans women) of fabulously dressed heroes who fight crazily over-the-top threats interspersed with related cocktail recipes which also give us a deeper understanding of the characters. In the hands of a lesser skilled artist than Wise it could be a complete mess but instead it is a kaleidoscopic glory.

One of the reasons why this works so well is that it has such a focus on character, with most of the pieces concentrating on one or two of the squad members, so they all get a good focus. At the same time it is willing to go into the darker periods of their lives in the middle of all the campy fun, we see that even the most badass of them have more tender sides and go through hard times. This does not lessen them at all though, instead makes us see how fabulous they are all around.

The cast could also easily feel very one-note (as many failed comic-book attempts to create a new superhero teams are a testament to) but they are all differentiated extremely well. We have Bunny, the former lifeguard turned leader described perfectly as:


“Looks beautiful but it will sneak up on you and kick your ass before you even have a chance to compliment its dazzling smile.”pp42


Esmeralda, Bunny’s first rescue, who travels into the land of the dead to rescue her uncle. Starlight is a young former Roller-Girl who still goes back every week to visit her Mama. Cece, The Velvet Underground Drag Queen who thinks of herself as an old Hollywood hero. Ruby and Sapphire, two former circus folk who work together in synchronicity. Penny, their weapons expert who loves big f***ing guns, has a black belt in every martial art but doesn’t like to be seen as too girly. And then M, a leather-clad non-binary person who is a complete mystery to their team-mates.

Whilst we go into the more intimate moments with prejudice, family, marriage, and children all discussed, this never becomes overly dark and depressing. The whole reading experience is so joyful as are the Ultra-Fabulous Glitter Squadron themselves, who are all just looking for excuses to have fun. And yes it is ridiculous, at one point they convince henchman to turn to their side as villains’ pay sucks and they have no health plan. Whilst, at another point they team up with The G-String Men. But is an essential part of the wonderfulness of the adventure.

Joyful, campy, tender and so much fun, it needs to be read to be believed. It is something you won’t realise you need until you have experienced it and once you have you will wonder how you went so long without it.

1. Although Glitter and Gold by Jem and The Holograms currently works as a very good stand in.

Alif The Unseen

G. Willow Wilson

Alif The Unseen

Image Credit: ISFDB

Review by Kris

"Metaphors: knowledge existing in several states simultaneously and without contradiction…I think it changes, I mean the book itself, depending on who reads it."
"The words you use, how you use them, how you type them, when you send them. You can’t hide those things…The unseen is unseen. The apparent is inescapable"

Reviewing this book is difficult as this story is so much about meaning and how we read tales, that the book I read may or may not be the one you did, as is highlighted in the above quotes. Not that there isn’t a centre of unchangeable story but what it really means is in the eye of the beholder.

What is in the centre is a tale that blends Islamic traditions, gritty urban fantasy and cyberpunk thriller by way of late 80s Doctor Who. And yet it is not merely a combination of existing traditions, it is part of the current revolution happening in fantastic fiction, with the tools being employed by Wilson here are being picked up to construct the best fantastic works currently written.

The plot, such as it is, largely centres around a young computer hacker in an unnamed Gulf City State (here just known as The City) where he becomes entinwned with the political control of the state and discovers a strange fantastical environment lurking just under the surface.
Whilst much of what is being employed has become commonplace in current science fiction but I feel like this is a relatively recent trend with very few writers I am aware of before 2012 making use of Islamic culture, or focussing on the Jinn, or using thriller elements in order to address questions of colonialism.

Translations are interesting, doubly so in religious texts. Even if a word or idea is directly translatable (which is often not the case) do you go for a literal meaning or an implied meaning? Is the feel and rhythm of a passage more or less important than the sense of it? As it is a text that informs meaning, understanding and action, such a little difference can change an entire world view. The idea of Alf Yeom as a text that changes for the person, that writes itself, makes it so interesting in this context.

It also leads into the power of words and meaning and what is seen and unseen. It leads into the title and the idea of the screenname. I don’t want to go too much into the detail as it becomes very important later on but through this we have to question how our ideas of reality and virtual reality and myth sit side by side with each other and inform our understanding of the universe.

This also works within the science fiction genre in which the novel operates as well as the fantastical. A computer that thinks in metaphor as the next level of computing power (multiple layers of meaning allow for infinite space). I am not sure how realistic this idea is but it wonderfully adds to this space this book operates in where genres and ideas all meld together so you are not sure where one ends and the other begins.

For this book operates in a place of hidden worlds and urban fantasy, with genies but also with computer hackers and cyberpunk straight out of the sprawl, whilst still giving us straight down-to-earth gritty realism. Whilst this is an unnamed gulf-state it clearly takes a lot from the real life struggles and effects of government control of information and how western ideas enter and interact into this space.

Be warned, however, this is not the nice positive family based fantasy you may expect from the writer of Ms. Marvel. This is cynical and brutal, rarely leaving you with a happy and magical feeling. This a dystopia that is unfortunately all too real in many respects.

The Mediator Series

Meg Cabot (also published as Jenny Carroll)

Image credit: Amazon, compiled by Nisha

Additional note to the images: These are the editions that I own and I wanted to pay homage to the original covers, which I love. They have been released in a more uniform format for those who are into that sort of thing.

Review by: Nisha

I was a teenager when I first met Susannah Simon and I followed her journey until the series came to an end. So, naturally, I was absolutely beside myself when I got an alert from Goodreads letting me know that Cabot was releasing a novelette and 7th instalment to the series, joining The Princess Diaries in having an adult follow-up to a YA series. Of course, it’s been a while since I’d read the books and wanted to make sure I was fully updated.


So, I present to you a review of the entirety of the Mediator Series.


For those who are not familiar with Susannah Simon, here’s a brief recap:


We meet her as she is moving in with her new stepfamily after her mother’s remarriage. Moving across the country is already a big enough culture shock for her, then there’s the addition of a stepfather, three stepbrothers and a 150 year old ghost living in her bedroom.

Susannah is a mediator: a person born with the special gift of being able to see and converse with the dead (or, as she later calls them, Non-Compliant Deceased), helping them move onto the next stage of their afterlife. She’s grown up with this ability, so the presence of a ghost in her new room isn’t much of a shock to her, even if she finds him a bit annoying. As the series goes on, Susannah and Jesse develop a friendship and work together to help other Non-Compliant Deceased, sometimes smoothly and other times… really not. She also has the aid of a fellow mediator- Father Dominic, who happens to be her headmaster as well- although she doesn’t always listen to his advice, mostly because he frowns upon the amount of fisticuffs in which her style often results.

The series comes to a dramatic climax when she crosses paths with two siblings who are mediators as well (despite their rarity, they tend to pop up a lot in Carmel): Jack and Paul. Jack is a sweet young boy who originally feared his gift and was withdrawn until Susannah helps him comes to terms with his gift. Paul… is another story. He becomes obsessed with Susannah, to the point of near fatal results and a very dramatic incident involving time travel.


Book 7 picks up several years after the end of the original run- Susannah is engaged (the proposal taking place in the novelette) and working at her old high school as a counselor. Paul resurfaces, somehow even creepier that before, now a real estate tycoon and eager to mow down Susannah’s old house unless she provides… certain favours. In true Mediator style, both book 7 and the novelette have a Ghost-of-the-Week, with Susannah working to solve a mystery around their death and dealing with some rather angry ghosts. Book 7 has the added bonus of a juicy family secret as well. I will not divulge the secret nor the identity of Susannah’s fiance, just in case you haven’t read the series yet. I’d like you to be surprised.


Most people are familiar with Cabot’s most famous YA series: The Princess Diaries. The Mediator has some similarities in writing style since, you know, same author. But, beyond that, The Mediator is much darker and grittier. Obviously, the subject matter is critical in changing the tone, but Mia and Susannah are also very different people. For starters, I doubt Mia Thermopolis would end up in a violent fight (unless you count that thing with the ice cream…) or give insulting-yet-quite-apt nicknames to her (step) siblings.


Susannah is snarky, sarcastic and doesn’t give a damn about what anyone thinks of her. Her personality is somewhat refreshing and I really enjoy her as a character. Even when she’s fawning over Jesse, she does it with some dignity and doesn’t fall apart during setbacks. She’s definitely a very strong female character, one that every teenage girl (and boy) should meet.


Meg Cabot’s writing starts off a little lacking in the beginning of the series although, in my opinion, Cabot even at her worst is still brilliant. She repeats the odd phrase or trope (like when Susannah accidentally calls her stepbrothers by their nicknames and corrects herself partway) a fair bit in the first three books- while this is probably with the aim to establish Susannah’s voice, I found it a little irritating. That being said, I don’t recall noticing it when I read it as a teenager, so perhaps that’s just me being overly critical. As the series progresses, Cabot’s writing matures and becomes even more gripping, although the storylines are enough to keep the reader hooked throughout. Regardless of minor issues in writing, I felt compelled to continue reading to find out what happens to the characters- Cabot has a gift for creating people that you really care about, regardless of how important they are to the overall story.


The plots involving ghosts are great- even though there’s a basic formula of “ghost is there, ghost is mad about something, Susannah and Jesse work to find the reason why and are sometimes wrong, Dom helps them find the reason, ghost is placated and moves on”, Cabot still manages to make it compelling and creates enough differences and subplots to keep the series from getting dry.

The time travel plot that pops up from book 6 onwards takes a lot of mental gymnastics to get around- I definitely had to stop and really think about what happened and how it would make sense based on the existing theories of time travel. I made my peace with it, but I suspect the resolution to the original run of the series might leave some readers unsettled.


On whole, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll pull back in revulsion… but Susannah Simon will set up in your brain and live there forever.

Dozey’s Journeys Through The Meowtiverse – Knights In Shiny Floof

Dozey The Knight

Recommendations From Dozey

Hello, I am Dozey! I am travelling the Meowtiverse having great adventures, exploring great writings. Why should humans have all the fun?

 

I have always like the idea of being a knight. Having another creature take you places, wearing a suit of armour, being applauded for hitting humans…. Ah The Life!

Here are some of the favourite realms of Women Knights I have visited:

Alannna by Tamora Pierce

Source: Amazon

Alanna by Tamora Pierce: Let’s start with the most well-known, the Song of the Lioness series. Alanna is a brilliant lead and I like lionesses, they are fierce like me!

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

Source: ISFDB

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley: Another important coming of age tale from the same time. Harry may not be a traditional knight but she’s an amazing rider who can kick plenty of butt

Jirel of Joiry by C. L. Moore

Source: ISFDB

Jirel of Joiry by C. L. Moore: Just like my black and white floof, the classics are sometimes the best. From the pages of weird tales comes this famous tale of knights and demons.

Silence

Source: Goodreads

Silence (translated by Sarah Roche-Mahdi): Even earlier adventures, this time in King Arthur’s court. We don’t know who wrote this but I enjoyed travelling here and you might too.

Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey

Source: ISFDB

The Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey: Two wonderfully positive women, hacking their way through a fantasy world. Some horrible moments but generally a fun time.

I am now travelling through the portal to a new adventure, women space captains!

I am Dozey! It has been your pleasure to read this!

The Terracotta Bride

Zen Cho

Terracotta Bride Zen Cho

Image Credit: zencho.org

Review by Kris

Note: As this tale is very short, any analysis requires spoilers. Therefore, this will contain spoilers for all parts of the novella

This is a story that is so brilliant I have severe worries about the limits of my abilities to fully review it. One paragraph contains more depth and thought and insight than many books contain in a thousand pages. At the same time I also have to acknowledge my own privileges as a westernised Christian white man. Not only does it cast doubt on my ability to truly analyse the work but the text directly criticises the Western understanding of death.  However, I have tried my best as this novella is a work that deserves much discussion.

In many ways the story resembles the traditional Golem or Robot tales. The titular bride starts out with no name or ideas, simply being brought to life by a script in her head. Designed simply to be an offering for the husband (Junsheng) she moves beyond this: getting a name; learning poetry and music; making her own decisions. In the end, it appears she has found a way to become human but this itself is a false assumption. She was always been as alive as everyone else.

“What passes to the next life is the inexorable force of kamma. Someone like you has no more soul than the terracotta woman did.”

Whilst this central idea is a well-worn one it is a very powerful one: the quest to be human. This story also goes in very interesting directions with the concept.

At one point it is stated:

“We’re dead and things are different”

However, from what we see, Hell is very much the same. This is because of the people that inhabit it. We see corruption, violence, abuse, boredom and annoyance that the young are not as attentive of the old as they believe they should be. People keep trying to stay in hell in order to avoid being reincarnated, they are so determined to avoid the fate they believe may await them. The story is much like The Allegory of the Long Spoons. Jusheng is only trying to feed himself, whilst Siew-Tsin and Ling’En feed each other.

The idea of a terracotta bride is considered to be objectionable to many as it makes the idea of reincarnation obsolete, it allows people to become Buddhas without putting in the work. This is very much harping back to Frankenstein:

"Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs."

In fact it goes even further with these parallels, claiming these are  corrupting European ideas, who put dead people into automatas to do their work and worship at the altar of science. The implication is there this mode of thought is the kind that leads to delusions of grandeur and to horrors like slavery. Just as in Frankenstein, this story brings up the same idea, humans believing themselves to be gods will result in their fall.

 

Given its original appearance in Steam-Powered II: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories it would be remiss of me not to devote more time to the relationship between Siew-Tsin and Ling’En. The best way I would find to describe it would be sweet. A meeting of minds more than one of intense passion. The description of it is a red thread which extends beyond this life. It is a heartwarning tale that is subtle but utterly believable.

Zen Cho continues to show herself as one of the most interesting contemporary fantasy writers with this enthralling novella. In here she mashes together such a dazzling array of ideas in such a small space it is dazzling and rewards multiple readings. Ideas of robotics and Chinese history. Reincarnation and feminism. And so much more. A true delight.

All The Birds In The Sky

Charlie Jane Anders

Charlie Jane Anders - All The Birds In The Sky

Image Credt: MacMillan

Review by Kris

Warning: Reviewing This Requires A Few Unavoidable Minor Spoilers. I Have Tried To Keep These To A Minimum But To Be Completely Unspoiled Do Not Read This, The Book Cover Or Any Promotional Materials As They All Have Similar Levels Of Information

 

If there was an election for Empress of the Geekverse (a post which does not but should exist) I would willingly volunteer in Charlie Jane Anders campaign office. She has proven herself over the years to have a unique understanding of the genre and a marvelous storyteller. For me her gift is in crafting fabulous worlds in order to carefully construct nuanced philosophical messages, yet being able to ground them in characters who can carry us along and never for one moment doubt the secondary reality she weaves around us. In All the Birds in the Sky she absolutely helms all her skills together. 

Through both humour and horror, we follow the story of Patricia and Laurence, two outcasts both so different and yet so similar. They are constantly put down by everyone around them yet they have the power to either save or destroy the world, the former through magic, the latter through technology.

 

What is the solution in the end then? I think there is one very telling passage:

“‘But don’t you get that romance is an essentially bourgeois contrivance? At best, it’s anachronistic. At worst, it’s a distraction for people who aren’t preoccupied with survival. Why would you waste your time helping people find their ‘true love’ instead of doing something worthwhile?’

‘Maybe I’m just doing what I can?”

 

And this is the heart of story for me. Sometimes big bold ideas to change the world can be important but maybe the best solution is through love and just doing the little you can. Both Patricia and Laurence put the weight of the world on their shoulders in order to save it but maybe if everyone was just a little bit kinder to each other, all these disasters would not take place.

 

However, their position is understandable as they are shaped by, not quite horrible people, but certainly unpleasant individuals who react poorly in the face of the unfamiliar. Patricia’s family are so goal-oriented she has to do her own personal research projects at school just in order for them to be convinced she is actually studying and lock her in her room if she acts out of the ordinary. Laurence’s family, conversely dislike his intelligence and want him to spend more time socialising and playing outdoors instead. Neither have any real friends until they meet each other and are able to embrace who they are.

 

Yet when they then meet many years later their lives have diverged to the extent that it is hard to imagine them ever having been friends once. Yet something keeps drawing them together. To the point where you have to hope their shared past can inspire love, not hate. For their situation is mirrored in the world around them. Selfishness and fear have created the disastrous environment in which they inhabit but anger and hate and fear and violence cannot be the solutions. Things need to move in a new direction.

 

The world they inhabit is like a choice fruit salad of current pop-cultural tastes. There are magic schools and wormholes. Rockets and environmental catastrophes. Talking cats, bullying teenagers and evil teachers. East coast hipsters and ambitious tech billionaires. But, it does not feel like Anders is simply jumping on a band-wagon. Instead she has created a melange of science fiction and fantasy world which by the mix of flavours really captures the moment we are in. But yet it is not one that I feel will age. By setting it in the future of now as a historical scene, it becomes crystallised and can be revisited without losing the magic of the original bite.

 

I am very much a stylist and many “great novels” I have failed to finish simply due to linguistic choices of the author. This style here is so unusual I might reasonably have assumed would have taken me out of the plot. It is predominantly just people hanging out in everyday situations and talking about how their lives are going.  And yet, somehow, it never becomes slow or boring, nor does it feel stagey or like a cheap trick. The story ran along at such a pace I wished I could stop work and sleep to keep going. Even the sex scenes, which I skim read in many books due to the tedium of their narration, were a brilliant reflection of the interrelations of the various characters and demonstrated how the lovehate dynamic was developing without stopping the rhythm of the piece or becoming exploitative.

 

Not only has this set a dangerously high watermark for the rest of the year’s releases I think will be continued to be read, discussed and enjoyed for years to come. And if Charlie Jane Anders can continues to write other tales as spellbindingly fabulous as this, I may just have to make her an imperial crown.

Our Favourite Short Fiction – May 2016


by Kris & Nisha

This will be, hopefully, a regular feature. We read a lot of short fiction and we cannot review it all. So here we list some of our favourites from prior months:

The Jaws That Bite The Claws That Catch – Seanan McGuire
http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/jaws-bite-claws-catch/


McGuire - Claws That Bite - Lightspeed  


From Lightspeed Issue #72

We loved the vividness and the imagery contained within this. The story plays brilliantly with the fairytale premise and demonstrates Seanan McGuire’s ability to create a world that is both expansive and self-contained.

Breathe – Cassandra Khaw

http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/khaw_05_16/

   


From Clarkesworld Issue #116

We loved how atmospheric this work is and the deep emotional resonance it has. This also works brilliantly in audio and would make a fascinating choral speaking piece.

 

How High Your Gods Can Count – Tegan Moore

http://www.strangehorizons.com/2016/20160502/mooregodscancount-f.shtml

How High Your Gods Can Count

From Strange Horizons

One of those stories that unpacks its layers and produces a work that is both thought provoking and poetic. Also we always love stories where the animals’ perspective is given its full weight.

 

 

A Heap of Broken Images – Sunny Moraine

http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/moraine_05_16_reprint/

Reprinted in Clarkesworld Issue #116


An older work that is fascinating in its strangeness. This is one where our perspectives are challenged but we are drawn into it so skilfully we do not notice it.

A Stranger In Olondria

Sofia Samatar

A Stranger In Olondria Sofia Samatar

Image Credit: Small Beer Press

Review by Kris

Like an Iconoclast of the fantasy genre, Samatar tears down the usual trappings of these stories and builds something which is actually much truer to the spirit of the enterprise.


This does not contain the classes and races of a D&D adventure nor the chosen one slicing through a Dark Lord with his magic blade. Instead it is a character driven travelogue discovering the snakes at the heart of Eden. A tale of memory and longing and the connections and divides between us in a world both like and unlike our own. Yet it is the latter not the former that so interested Swift and Morris and Tolkien and Lewis.

Within the tale we are taken on this journey by Levick who is our entrypoint. Although we may not be Pepper Merchant’s children he is the young person in a small town, wanting to go to the big city for adventure. Yet once he arrives he soon doesn’t want to have the magical destiny the different forces want for him. You get the sense that, like Bilbo Baggins, he would rather be at home eating bacon and eggs.


To continue the classics comparison a lot of the adventure is not just in service of great thrills and moral conundrums (but these are in abundance) but also to explore a world like yet so unlike our own. Each chapter is like a new section of society, yet with each one we go through seeing beauty of the exterior and finding the rot beneath the paint.


I am not sure I can give justice to the racial elements of the story without revealing too much of the actual story but it is certainly one of the best pieces of post-colonial fantasy I have ever read. It is absolutely there front and centre but it isn’t an add-on, it is an integral part. It doesn’t descend into otherness or orientalism, it is so ordinary it makes us challenge our preconceptions.


In fact the story excels at ordinariness you could easily disguise this as a work of historical fiction (the Angel being an exception) or a travelogue of the 16th century. For in this the descriptions are so vivid and have such complex reality underneath the concepts. Whilst it does not quite use the same narrative conceits as Katherine Addison it uses the same depth as The Goblin Emperor to convince us of the truth of the world we are reading.


Read this book to really travel to a new world and to remember what you truly loved about fantasy all along.