Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Book Review: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Paperback, 90 pages

Published September 2015 by Tor.com

Hugo Award for Best Novella (2016)

Nebula Award for Best Novella (2015)

Locus Award Nominee for Best Novella (2016)

Binti is an amazing experience on every level. When you close the book for the last time it will amaze you how much story, character and world building were put into the short 90 pages. I came to this book in a funny way having accidentally read the second book first, so this became a prequel for me. I think many ways it was a good way to read them, I think I might have been a little let down by the second one. But that is hard to say. I loved both. I am excited to finish the trilogy. Okorafor is at top form here and it is clear why this book sweep the major awards. I have read that it was intended for a YA audience, the book doesn't skim on deeply cultural ideas and far out Science Fiction concepts. I am not sure that it was meant to be YA.

The Afrofuturism is very well realized with details kept to a minimum we have to fill in some blanks but it is clear that this is African future we are seeing. The spirituality of Benti's people is fresh for a science fiction experience. I am well read in the field and I think this is a brand new level for me. I have heard some compare this to Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis series - It would silly to deny the influence but the African roots are so much more a part of Binti. The stories are very, very different.

Binti is a coming of age novel, the title character is leaving home and her planet for the first time and is instantly thrust into a traditional space opera. For me some of the strongest moments were how well the scenes of arriving on a another planet how wonderfully they were realized, more than any other moment I felt like I was in the book at that time. Great descriptions of the alien world and her arrival. The non-human species are not as well realized but I felt the sequel answered some of the questions I might have had if I read this one first.

This is a perfect short read but I think I could have read a 300 page version of this story. It is rare when I close a book and wish it was three times longer but I did. Binti is amazing experience.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Book Review: The Voices of Martyrs by Maurice Broaddus

The Voices of Martyrs by Maurice Broaddus

Paperback, 250 pages

Published September 2016 by Rosarium Publishing

If you read this blog all the time you might notice that I am trying to read genre from more diverse sources. Maurice Broaddus was one the early black voices in modern Horror, although African Americans had made a impact in Science Fiction with Samuel Delany and Octavia Butler being the most well known. Butler dipped her toes into horror for sure but the long overdue introduction of black voices really started with Wrath James White and Broaddus.

I have enjoyed work by both but I deeply love the writing of Broaddus. The Voices of Martyrs will largely be over looked because short story collections rarely sell as much as novels. This finely tuned collection is a must read for anyone interested in high quality dark literature. The most powerful collection I have read since Brian Evenson's Collapse of Horses. Both are important reads however Voice of Martyrs goes beyond just being good, it is a book of deep meaning.

There is much of this book that the largely white audience in the horror community could stand to learn. Experiences that Broaddus shines a light on throughout the book. The book is divided into three parts past, present,and future. The stories in the past often get the horror elements from brutal realities of history, this includes two slave narratives highlight this section and the strongest being Rite of Passage. The story about a boxer was also very powerful. I enjoyed that several of the present stories that were set in Indianapolis.

My personal favorite section was the future, yes I love science fiction but these stories are so very unique I just loved every word of them. They are true science fiction, but MB brings his take of afrofuturism to every page. The level of inventiveness balanced with finely tuned story telling makes these stories sing. Most important is they feel like they could only be written by one person, totally 100% the voice of Maurice Broaddus.

Is it weird that I proud of an author I never met? Look I have read and enjoyed the work Maurice Broaddus before. I knew he was good but he is a Hoosier, and the fact that he lives a hour drive from my home town gives me a connection to his writing. This book is some next level stuff and I love reading along as a person from Indiana hits that next level. This author is going from great to amazing. Read this book!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Author Interview: Chad Stroup on Secrets of the Weird

Secrets of the Weird

Paperback, First Edition, 294 pages

Out now by Grey Matter Press

The fulfillment of your every desire…

That’s the enticing yet dangerous promise of Sweet Candy, the new designer drug making the rounds through the community of club kids, neo-Nazis, drag queens, prostitutes and punks who populate the mean streets of Sweetville.

With its chewable hearts and candied lips threatening to forever transform the delicate social balance and the very lives of each and every member of the city’s underground, Sweet Candy is poised to ignite the tenuous powder keg that is life, love and lust in Sweetville.

But could the enigmatic back-alley surgeon Julius Kast and his partnership with a peculiar cult be the spark that lights the fuse once and for all? And how will their actions affect the life of a young woman named Trixie who is seeking salvation through transformation?

Take a remarkable journey that’s equal parts irreverent social commentary, revisionist dystopia, dark fantasy and horrifying reality when you travel to the unforgettable world of Sweetville’s counterculture where a host of sometimes dangerous, often deviant and always dark secrets are waiting to be revealed.

So I was pretty sure for many years I thought it was safe to assume I was the only Vegan Straight Edge kid turned horror author, I mean in the whole planet. Well a few years back I learned that I was not the special snowflake I thought I was. Not only does the world have another horror author who grew up on punk rock, draws X's on his hands and eats way to much vegan treats but there is another vegan straight horror author right here in freaking San Diego. Chad and I are very different writers, with very different training. We have similar influences and think alike often but what is cool is that we have both released books this year and they are very, very different.

Check out this hour long discussion with myself Chad and Anthony Trevino author of King Space Void:

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Book Review: Crashing Heaven by Al Robertson

Crashing Heaven by Al Robertson

Hardcover, 320 pages

Published August 2015 by Gollancz

Crashing Heaven is first rate second generation cyberpunk, hard boiled and gritty as a granola mixed with rocks so on the surface I should have loved this. This bold debut novel is so full of ideas I feel like many of them will go over many readers heads. Al Robertson certainly went for it with this book.

Set in the aftermath of both ecological devastation and a war with AI overlords on one of the space stations orbiting the dead earth. there are lots of new interesting details The AI's who control the weave (a more virtual reality future internet) have established themselves as gods, many of the cyborgs live in wooden shells, and our main character has a vituual puppet who he uses for guidance as he tries to solve the mystery of who killed his now dead Ex-lover who is only alive as simulation based on data called a fetch.

The level of gee-whiz inventiveness is turned up to 11,and many of the novels best moments are found in the banter mostly internal between Jack and his puppet Fist. Fist often comments on the scenes being stand-in for the reader, being for example disgusted by the cheezy romance between Jack and his ex Andrea. The only weakness in the setting was that I felt the space stattion was not as wild or Dangerous feeling to me as I think the author intended.

I think this is a pretty cool novel and there were times when I really enjoyed it, but failed to connect to the material at other times. As inventive and cool as the world building was I was not super into the narrative. I would find myself losing attention, my mind would wonder. I don't know or can't explain because at other times I was enjoying the book alot. I think it is me, not the book but more than once I thought about letting it go.

I pushed through and I am glad I read it. Certainly this novel is an heir to the legacy of Cyberpunk, and certainly it carries the torch well for a debut. That said I believe it will not bee the shock to the system that the Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon had on the scene back when it came out. You can certainly feel the William Gibson influence dripping off the page and in some ways Crashing Heaven is more accessible than Gibson.

So I didn't really connect with this book, but that doesn't mean it is not good. On paper all the elements are there, but didn't connect with me. The setting of the space station was very cool, I think it would have been neat if that was not revealed until deep into the novel.

None the less I think if you enjoy cyberpunk this is a safe bet. Overall I think most readers will enjoy for the inventive settings and details alone.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Book Review: Binti Home by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti Home by Nnedi Okorafor (Book 2)

Paperback, 176 pages

Published January 2017 Tor Books

OK I have to start by admitting that I made a stupid mistake. I knew that Binti was a trilogy in progress,and for some reason when I picked up this book I assumed it was the first one. I noticed it was book two before I started reading but I have already left the house for my bus commute to work. If I had another book in my bag I would have waited until I could get the first book, but the end of my work day I have read more than half the book. So I finished it.

So you get a review of book two first. Thankfully I got up to speed pretty quick. The lead Characters Binti and the non-human Okwu had survived an adventure that left them friends despite their two species being at war. The events of the first book lead to a delicate peace. Now the two friends of different species were at college together on a world far from earth. Both lead characters were excellently written. I felt as though I knew them. Despite one being from a culture that was new to me and the other being a species new to me. The subtle world building is done perfectly like a lightly seasoned piece of food. Just right amounts of detail and not too much exposition. That is always impressive when sci-fi pulls off that balance.

The Afrocentric future was fascinating, certainly a universe that screams for more pages and books. Binti's family and culture at the heart of the tale gives this story a texture that jumps off the page. Okorafor writes beautiful prose and with that element we have the complete package.

It seems that this trilogy is basically a three part serial of where really is one story. Middle parts can sometimes feeler dark, or without resolution. I know some readers didn't feel this book was as strong as the first, something I clearly can't comment on. Certainly there was some bold narrative choices like setting action away from Binti and her point of view. Moving events off-camera might have lost many readers. But in a universe this rich and alive it didn't effect me as a reader.

So now I will back track and read book one, but I suspect I will be comfortable calling it a masterpiece too. Okorafor benefits from what is a unique setting for most of us Sci-fi readers. Afrofuturism It is not a gimmick, her fiction feels so heartfelt it is almost hard to believe it was invented in her mind. We are getting the chance to view the universe through such a magical and inventive eyes it would be crime for her books not to become a bigger deal. A must read for serious science fiction fans.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Book Review: Lovecraft Alive by John Shirley

Lovecraft Alive by John Shirley

Paperback, 254 pages

Published September 2016 by Hippocampus Press

The impact of HP Lovecraft is one I should not have to explain, it is like explaining the influence of the misfits on punk rock. Lovecraft died not realizing how he would lead the charge on a revolution that would change Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy. Since he was a racist, made clear in his many letters the debate of his impact has taken on a new importance. For those of you who might know it was his face on the statue for the world fantasy awards that brought this all back up. Afrocentric science fiction writer Nnedi Okorafor had every right to feel uncomfortable accepting an award with his face on it.

So it is interesting to get a collection of Lovecraft stories from such a strong progressive voice in the genre. John Shirley cut his teeth as the punkest in genre of Cyberpunk. No one else had spiked necklaces or stood on tables and yelled at Harlan Ellison. The Lovecraft influence was always there, so in a way this is a long time coming. We always saw in bits and pieces.

Shirley was in the occasional Lovecraft anthology (mostly the highly respect ones edited by ST Joshi) but he was never a lock to be in all ten of the Cthulu titled anthologies like Cody Goodfellow, CJ henderson or Joe Pulver. It was less common event to get a Shirley mythos story but always welcome. When he was invited to have his own special issue of weird tales or invited into the pages of Madness of Cuthulu he brought it literally in Lovecraft style. Most of the stories in this collection are written in Lovecraft's voice. Shirley has in recent years developed a knack for imitating the style and voice of these long dead masters. Check out his Poe's Lighthouse story collected in Living Shadows. In that story he seamlessly finished a story Poe left undone at the time of his death.

Look John Shirley is my favorite writer on this planet. I consider his novel Wetbones to be the best horror novel I've ever read! It is also Lovecraft inspired in moments. So I am a much bigger Shirley fan than I am a Lovecraft fan. A good amount of this collection is Shirley doing a freaky good job of imitating Lovecraft's voice. Stories like Those who came to Dagon or The Rime of the Cosmic Mariner are amazing. Just not my thing.

My favorite stories in this collection are the ones that feel more Shirley than Lovecraft. I prefer his voice in general. "Buried in the Sky" that I had read before in Weird Tales when first it appeared, and again in Living Shadows when it was first collected. This story takes place in a skyscrapper, and is Lovecraft influenced but it is much more Shirley than anything. It has always been one of of my favorite Shirley shorts although it is a tad longer short story.

The story "How deep the Taste of Love," which appeared in the classic Hottest Blood anthology is a deeply disturbing erotica story that I enjoyed. but other favorites included the World War Cthulu story "The Holy Grace of Cthulu," that i felt was still in Shirley's voice and my absolute favorite of the collection is "Windows under water."

"Windows under Water" is the best story in the collection because it balances the heavy heavy influence of Lovecraft with themes and issues that are very very Shirley. One of two stories that heavily address the concerns of climate change. It makes perfect sense to do a dagon story in relation to rising seas. This story alone as as major Shirley fan made the collection worth it.

Personally I would suggest Living Shadows or Black Butterflies first before this collection but honestly I think anything with the name John Shirley on is worth having. If you are a Lovecraft fan who loves and reads anything mythos this book is a must have.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Cover Reveal: Flesh Trade by David Agranoff & Edward Morris out in August!

How far would you go to rescue your child?

Would you risk control of your mind and soul?

Would you scour the darkest gutters on an alien world?

Andall Shellton is a politically-savvy governor on one of humankind's most populated colonies, and a rising star on the scene, married to one of the most famous actresses in all the worlds. Their ideal life is thrown into turmoil when their youngest daughter, Liv, is kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery on a hell-world beyond the Red Line of human expansion. Using all of the resources of his position, Andall follows the traffickers who stole his little girl - to the colony of NewKok, a pleasure planet beyond the rule of law, except for the law of the jungle.

Flesh Trade is a politically-charged story of 24th century crime, taking place on a lawless world where our humble protagonist quickly learns that military tactics and political power are meaningless. He resorts to a mind-fuse to upload the memory and skills of a dead war hero, Col. John Stack, and fights his way through the city to save his daughter. The fuse only lasts for one night on NewKok before the uploaded pattern takes over the host. With this clock counting down, Andall must battle genetically modified gangsters, dirty cops, sex slavers, underground surgeons, mercenaries, cannibals and aliens, while struggling to control his own mind, with only the night left to save his daughter.

For fans of Neal Asher and Phillip K Dick, this novel is a magnum opus of action, world-building and mind-bending speculative noir. Agranoff and Morris have plotted a terrifying path into a dangerous vision of the future. Come along for the ride, if you dare.

"It is that effortless switch from socio-political world building to sci-fi noir that makes this novel work so well...an edge-of- your-seat adventure novel reeking in crime noir, mercenary action, and underworld decadence. What is impressive is how well they both come together and how we never lose the humanity of the main characters throughout all the double-dealing and violence. If you have any love for science fiction, I highly recommend this as your next read." - Marvin Vernon of the Novel Pursuit Blog