Category Archives: Reviews

To Do List: The Nickel Boys

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Title: The Nickel Boys
Author: Colson Whitehead
Twitter: @ColsonWhtiehead
Published: 2020
ISBN-13: 9780345804341
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Twitter: @penguinrandom

Publisher’s Blurb: In this Pulitzer Prize-winning, New York Times bestselling follow-up to The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys unjustly sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.

When Elwood Curtis, a black boy growing up in 1960s Tallahassee, is unfairly sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, he finds himself trapped in a grotesque chamber of horrors. Elwood’s only salvation is his friendship with fellow “delinquent” Turner, which deepens despite Turner’s conviction that Elwood is hopelessly naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble. As life at the Academy becomes ever more perilous, the tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades.

Based on the real story of a reform school that operated for 111 years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative.

Oh lordy, this book is searing, devastating and enthralling at all once.  Whitehead’s powerful writing tells the story of two boys in a hell hole of a juvenile detention home in Florida.  No one could possibly believe in a “post-racist” society while events like this happen.

Full review to come.

To Do List: The Rush’s Edge

The Rush’s Edge by Ginger Smith

Title: The Rush’s Edge
Author: Ginger Smith
Twitter:  @GSmithauthor
Published: 2020
ISBN-13: 9780857668646
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
Twitter:  @angryrobotbooks

Publisher’s Blurb:   Halvor Cullen was built to be a hero. But he’s never felt like one.

As a gene-spliced, tech-enhanced ‘VAT’ super soldier, Hal was made to fight hard and burn out young, then spend the short remainder of his life forever chasing an elusive adrenaline rush. Thankfully his best friend and former commander is determined to prevent that from happening by keeping Hal busy salvaging crashed spaceships along the Spiral’s Edge.

But when a new member joins their crew, and a mysterious sphere they bring aboard the ship unleashes an alien presence, Hal’s desires and malfunctions threaten to bring them all to the point of destruction…

The Rush’s Edge is a great SF quest/opera/family/romance novel.  Debut author Ginger Smith gifts readers with an adventure story which delves into the meanings of humanity and morality.

Full review to come.

To Do List: The Shore of Women

The Shore of Women by Pamela Sargeant

Title: The Shore of Women
Author: Pamela Sargent
Published: 2014 (originally published 1986)
ISBN-13: 9781480497382
Publisher: Open Road Media

Publisher’s Blurb: A dystopian tale of a power struggle between the sexes in the post-nuclear future, perfect for readers of Margaret Atwood and Ursula K. Le Guin.

After a nuclear holocaust, women rule the world. Using advanced technology, they’ve expelled men from their vast walled cities to roam the countryside in primitive bands, bringing them back only for the purpose of loveless reproduction under the guise of powerful goddesses.

When one young woman, Birana, questions her society’s deception, she finds herself exiled among the very men she has been taught to scorn. She crosses paths with a hunter, Arvil, and the two grow close as they evade the ever-threatening female forces and the savage wilderness men. Their love just might mend their fractured world—if they manage to survive.

Hailed as “one of the genre’s best writers” by the Washington Post Book World, Pamela Sargent is the author of numerous novels, including Earthseed and Venus of Dreams. The winner of the Nebula and Locus awards, she has also coauthored several Star Trek novels with George Zebrowski.

A dear friend knowing my proclivity for all things feminist in SF/F took some of his hard got by money and bought the ebook for me.

Things in 1986, when it was written, were much different than 2020, when I read it.  But I’m still appalled The Shore of Women would be considered feminist.  My review is part of a larger project I have in mind considering the treatment of women in books I’ve recently read, both in LitFic and SF/F.

To Do List: Book of Revelation

The Book of Revelation by Timothy Beal

Title: The Book of Revelation
Author: Timothy Beal
Twitter: Timothy Beal
Published: 2015
ISBN-13:  9780691145839
Publisher: Princeton University Press

Publisher’s Blurb:   Few biblical books have been as revered and reviled as Revelation. Many hail it as the pinnacle of prophetic vision, the cornerstone of the biblical canon, and, for those with eyes to see, the key to understanding the past, present, and future. Others denounce it as the work of a disturbed individual whose horrific dreams of inhumane violence should never have been allowed into the Bible. Timothy Beal provides a concise cultural history of Revelation and the apocalyptic imaginations it has fueled.

Taking readers from the book’s composition amid the Christian persecutions of first-century Rome to its enduring influence today in popular culture, media, and visual art, Beal explores the often wildly contradictory lives of this sometimes horrifying, sometimes inspiring biblical vision. He shows how such figures as Augustine and Hildegard of Bingen made Revelation central to their own mystical worldviews, and how, thanks to the vivid works of art it inspired, the book remained popular even as it was denounced by later church leaders such as Martin Luther. Attributed to a mysterious prophet identified only as John, Revelation speaks with a voice unlike any other in the Bible. Beal demonstrates how the book is a multimedia constellation of stories and images that mutate and evolve as they take hold in new contexts, and how Revelation is reinvented in the hearts and minds of each new generation.

This succinct book traces how Revelation continues to inspire new diagrams of history, new fantasies of rapture, and new nightmares of being left behind.

Utterly fascinating, Timothy Beal traces the history and cultural impact of the biblical book Revelation (no s please).  In my continuing self-education about ancient religions, The Book of Revelation proved to be, well, revelatory.

Full review to come.

Review: Shakespeare’s Library

Shakespeare's Library
Shakespeare’s Library by Stuart Kells

Title: Shakespeare’s Library
Author: Stuart Kells
Published: 2019
ISBN-13: 978-1-64009-183-2
Publisher: Counterpoint Press

Publisher’s Blurb:   Millions of words of scholarship have been expended on the world’s most famous author and his work. And yet a critical part of the puzzle, Shakespeare’s library, is a mystery. For four centuries people have searched for it: in mansions, palaces and libraries; in riverbeds, sheep pens and partridge coops; and in the corridors of the mind. Yet no trace of the bard’s manuscripts, books or letters has ever been found.

The search for Shakespeare’s library is much more than a treasure hunt. Knowing what the Bard read informs our reading of his work, and it offers insight into the mythos of Shakespeare and the debate around authorship. The library’s fate has profound implications for literature, for national and cultural identity, and for the global Shakespeare industry. It bears on fundamental principles of art, identity, history, meaning and truth.

Unfolding the search like the mystery story that it is, acclaimed author Stuart Kells follows the trail of the hunters, taking us through different conceptions of the library and of the man himself. Entertaining and enlightening, Shakespeare’s Library is a captivating exploration of one of literature’s most enduring enigmas.

Oh, silly me.  I thought I might learn something of a writer’s inspiration and the books he turned to time and again while writing Elizabethan era plays which have, in turn, inspired many writers across 400 years.

I was not captivated by Stuart Kells’ book, even as I realized it was about the many theories of where and what Shakespeare’s library might be.  Uninterested in the stories of charlatans and crackpot academic theories, I didn’t learn anything interesting.  Only that there’s a mystery surrounding Shakespeare’s non-existent library and people will go to great lengths to prove their pet theory or feed their greed with forged papers and books.

Stuart Kells deserves plaudits for his research and his love for this mystery.   He approaches the entire subject with a great deal of humor and large grains of salt.  And kudos to him for listening to people who have clearly gone off the rails over this mystery.

For people looking to learn something really interesting about Shakespeare and his time, I highly recommend Globe:  Life in Shakespeare’s London by Catharine Arnold.

To Do List: What Makes This Book so Great

What Makes This Book So Great
What Makes This Book so Great by Jo Walton

Title: What Makes This Book so Great
Author: Jo Walton
Published: 2015
ISBN-13: 9780765331946
Publisher: Tor Books (Macmillan)

Publisher’s Blurb:   As any reader of Jo Walton’s Among Others might guess, Walton is both an inveterate reader of SF and fantasy, and a chronic re-reader of books. In 2008, then-new science-fiction mega-site Tor.com asked Walton to blog regularly about her re-reading about all kinds of older fantasy and SF, ranging from acknowledged classics, to guilty pleasures, to forgotten oddities and gems. These posts have consistently been among the most popular features of Tor.com. Now this volumes presents a selection of the best of them, ranging from short essays to long reassessments of some of the field’s most ambitious series.

Among Walton’s many subjects here are the Zones of Thought novels of Vernor Vinge; the question of what genre readers mean by “mainstream”; the underappreciated SF adventures of C. J. Cherryh; the field’s many approaches to time travel; the masterful science fiction of Samuel R. Delany; Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children; the early Hainish novels of Ursula K. Le Guin; and a Robert A. Heinlein novel you have most certainly never read.

Over 130 essays in all, What Makes This Book So Great is an immensely readable, engaging collection of provocative, opinionated thoughts about past and present-day fantasy and science fiction, from one of our best writers.

I’ve not read most of the books Walton reviews in the collection, and that didn’t stop me from enjoying what she had to say.  Where we differ is about reviewing vs. literary criticism.  While Walton is correct, one does not need academic training to review a book.  But, there is a place for a more formal, rigorous critical look at SF/F.

More to come, but I must return to my notes first.

To Do List: Who Cooked the Last Supper?

Who Cooked the Last Supper by Rosalind Miles

Title: Who Cooked the Last Supper?
Author: Rosalind Miles
Published: 2001
ISBN-13: 9780609806951
Publisher: Penguin Random House

Publisher’s Blurb:
Who Cooked the Last Supper? overturns the phallusy of history and gives voice to the untold history of the world: the contributions of millions of unsung women.

Men dominate history because men write history. There have been many heroes, but no heroines. Here, in Who Cooked the Last Supper?, is the history you never learned–but should have!

Without politics or polemics, this brilliant and witty book overturns centuries of preconceptions to restore women to their rightful place at the center of culture, revolution, empire, war, and peace. Spiced with tales of individual women who have shaped civilization, celebrating the work and lives of women around the world, and distinguished by a wealth of research, Who Cooked the Last Supper? redefines our concept of historical reality.

Ugh, I really hate the play on words using phallusy in this blurb.  Let’s not make light of the topic at hand.

Rosalind Miles’ Who Cooked the Last Supper? is dense to read at times.  It is well-researched, which does not mean it’s an easy read.  A review will come when I’ve had more time to mull over what she has to say.

To Do List: Feminisms and Womanisms

Feminisms and Womanisms edited by Susan Silva-Wayne and Althea Prince

Title: Feminisms and Womanisms
Author: Althea Prince and Susan Silva-Wayne
Published: 2003
ISBN-13: 978-0889614116
Publisher: Women’s Press

Publisher’s Blurb:  This collection of feminist writings has theory and praxis as its focus. The theoretical underpinnings of feminism, as well as the social action that it fuelled, are given full attention. Feminisms and Womanisms includes writings about First, Second and Third Wave Feminism, the voices of First Nations feminists, and those of feminists of colour. The reader includes chapters by feminist theorists such as Bell Hooks, Linda Briskin, Christine Bruckert, Angela Davis, Patricia Hill-Collins, Tammy Landau, Audre Ldrde, Inga Muscio, Viviane Namaste, Makeda Silvera, Dorothy Smith, Alice Walker, and Naomi Wolfe.

True story.  In the pre-plague times when we were still required to work at the office, I’d befriended a lunch-time buddy because I thought he was a fellow reader.  Turns out his actions showed him to be the sort of man who thinks himself a staunch feminist but really isn’t.  He loved to tell me how I should do things and what I was allowed to talk about.  One day, I’d had enough and told a fib.

“I have deadlines so I can’t eat with you anymore.”  The next day, I sat at a different table reading Feminisms and Womanisms, taking notes.  As he walked past, lunch buddy said, “I hope that pays off for you some day.”  I let all sarcastic comments stay in my head.

Feminisms and Womanisms is a heady collection of excerpts from seminal feminist texts.  It helped me on my journey to my own feminism, and gave me much to think about.

A fuller review will appear here.

Review: The Women’s Revolution

The Women's Revolution
The Women’s Revolution by Judy Cox

Title: The Women’s Revolution
Author: Judy Cox
Published: 2019
ISBN-13: 9781608467846
Publisher: Haymarket Books
Publisher Blurb:  The dominant view of the Russian Revolution of 1917 is of a movement led by prominent men like Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky. Despite the demonstrations of female workers for ‘bread and herrings’, which sparked the February Revolution, in most historical accounts of this momentous period, women are too often relegated to the footnotes. Judy Cox argues that women were essential to the success of the revolution and to the development of the Bolshevik Party.

A  thousand years ago, in a place barely remembered, my pursuit of a history degree involved picking electives about places I didn’t know.  Thus Russia, one quarter with a paper on the October 1917 Revolution led by golden boy Alexander Kerensky.  In addition to the text, A History of Russia by Nicholas Valentine Riasanovsky, I read Robert K. Massie‘s biography of Peter the Great.  Having learned a little about the Streltsy, revolutions, and communism, I moved on.

I was not yet in my search for the women in history phase.  Nor was my curiosity that hungry.  Working and studying probably had something to do with that.  After graduating, I did come across Catherine the Great, also by Robert K. Massie, and found Bertrand M. Patenaude‘s Trotsky: Downfall Of A Revolutionary, about Trotsky’s years in Mexico.  Names I’d heard in other readings, names I knew little about.

My search for identity leads me to delve into feminism and what it means to be a feminist.  Along with my history degree, this brings a strain of “where are the women?” into my reading.

A book sale gives me The Women’s Revolution by Judy Cox.  This slender book works as supplemental material to Russian histories, but cannot be considered  a primary history book.

A brief summary of women in revolutionary history during the years 1905 – 1917  begins the book.  The second part of the book is a list with brief biographies of the women mentioned in part 1.  The Women’s Revolution stands as an addition to Russian studies, adding a list of women overshadowed by their more famous male counterparts to investigate.  I think of it more as a type of bibliography than anything.

Review: Fiyah Lit Magazine #13 – Ozzie M. Gartrell

FIYAH Lit Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction

Title: The Transition of  OSOOSI
Author: Ozzie M. Gartrell
Published: 2020
Publisher: Fiyah Lit Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction Issue #13

In 7,900 words Ozzie M. Gartrell’s The Transition of  OSOOSI  gives us a cyberpunk story of an audacious idea to eradicate bigotry.

Mal is a “Citizen American, a native-born U.S. citizen with all the second-class rights thereof.” (p. 44)  He’s also a visionary who in the process of following that vision alienates everyone important to him.  Seeking entry into the world of the elite Anansi  community, Mal pitches an idea so provocative he is questioned about how far he’s willing to go to make it happen.

None of us should be shocked at the treatment Citizen Americans receive at the hands of True Citizens.  But it is shocking, and heart breaking.  The transphobic treatment of Mal’s twin Mar in a favorite restaurant, the casual racism of being pulled over by a True Citizen cop, is all too common.  This is what it is to be black in America.

With shades of William Gibson‘s  cyberpunk classic Sprawl Trilogy, the best of current hacktivist culture, and a nod to West African mythology, Gatrell places themselves on the path to an interesting career of bold writing.

Downloading empathy into every True Citizen using stolen tech is a truly courageous idea.  How else do we make changes to systemic bigotry?