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Category Archives: Writing

Today I paused a moment beside
My son, kneeling in the gentle
Rain as we waited for the first
School bell to ring, and I showed
Him an earthworm, slowly making
Its way across the pavement of
The playground so that he would
Know to step around it as he and
His classmates moved inside.

Lord of the Flies is a classic piece of literary history documenting the rapid descent of a group of English schoolboys into chaos after being stranded on a tropical island.

Fyre Festival was a disaster of a different sort, with many promises being made to the would-be attendees about an island music festival that would never actually happen.

Goldy Moldavsky’s new YA novel, Lord of the Fly Fest is a beautiful and terrible blend of these two, otherwise unrelated things. Our protagonist, Rafi, is a young and (hopefully) upcoming podcast host with a show called “Musical Mysteries.” She’s staked the success of her show’s second season on snagging an interview with River Stone, the hottest musical act to ever come out of Australia, and also a bad murderer, maybe. His former girlfriend, Tracy, disappeared, and he was the last person to have seen her. So Rafi spends every last dollar she has to be at Fly Fest, an upcoming music festival that everybody who’s anybody on the internet has been promoting. Arrival on the island quickly proves that everything involved with the preparation for the event has gone wrong. There’s no staff to welcome the guests, few tents for shelter, and nothing but an abandoned shipping container full of inedible “cheese” sandwiches for food. Worst of all? None of the musicians who were slated to appear have shown up. None, that is, except for River Stone.

So now, Rafi is faced with a quandary. Does she band resources together to contact the outside world and summon rescue? Or does she let things drag out in the hope of getting that exclusive interview with River, getting the big celebrity shot her podcast needs to get the big endorsement deals (and, y’know, maybe some justice for River’s dead [again, maybe] girlfriend, Tracy). She’s got to navigate an island full of upset social media influencers and makeup gurus to make her plan work, one way or another. But what if getting River out on an island without contact with the mainland is exactly what he needs to kill again? What really lies beneath the surface of Fly Fest?

Lord of the Fly Fest is brilliant, combining the satirical takes of Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens (I’m looking at you, fictional influencer/musician Hella Badid, and bland interchangeable Paul and Ryan) with the atmospheric tension of Agatha Christie. My utmost thanks to NetGalley and MacMillan for an eARC in exchange for a fair review.

Y’all.

I love steampunk.

I love alternate history, and steampunk has been a favorite genre of mine for almost twenty years. Today, I get to tell you about my new favorite steampunk novel, and it’s part Star Wars, part Ocean’s Eleven.

In Lucas J. W. Johnson’s The Clockwork Empire, Rome never fell. Instead, the Roman Empire continued to grow and expand its grip around the world. Almost all of Europe lives under their control, and over the centuries, they’ve only gotten more powerful with the development of new technologies. People who are injured can be remade, with clockwork prosthetics being grafted on. Airships hover over cities, and Legionaries patrol the streets.

Julian was remade. Forced into slavery, he was experimented on and left with a clockwork heart—the first of its kind, and something the Empire desperately wants to keep secret. Shortly after the process was completed, however, he managed to escape from the scientist who had enslaved him. Now he seeks to reunite with his lost love, Gaius, and plan his revenge against those who are corrupting the empire for their own benefit.

Lia was a Praetorian, a member of the Emperor’s own guard, and one of the best soldiers to be found. When she and her comrades got too close to the truth about the goals of an overly ambitious senator, they were all disavowed and forced to go on the run.

After a chance meeting in a small caffè, Julian & Gaius find themselves teaming up with Lia’s crew. The realization that they have a mutual enemy in Senator Vivarius spurs them to action. What ensues is a grand adventure across the Roman Empire in a stolen airship.

So, let’s see. Big cast of queer characters? Check. Prosthetics technology that would make Winry Rockbell swoon? Check. Smashing fascism? Check. Train heist? Check. I really don’t know what else I could need.

My most sincere thanks Lucas J. W. Johnson for crafting an incredible story, and to Fireside Fiction (specifically Brian J. White) for providing me with a copy in exchange for a fair review.

The Clockwork Empire is out in the world today. Go get it.

Zachary Ying doesn’t want to stand out, a difficult task when he’s usually the only Asian kid in his school. He wants to finish summer classes and play Mythrealm, an augmented reality game that blends elements of Pokémon GO and trading card games like Yu-Gi-Oh! with classic mythology. Zack never learned a lot about Chinese myths and history from his mother, who had complicated feelings regarding their homeland. It comes as quite a shock when a Chinese transfer student, Simon Li, introduces himself and explains that Zack’s likely a direct descendent of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. Before he knows what’s happening, the spirit of his ancestor has possessed him, or rather, his portal-lens, the AR headset he wears to play Mythrealm.

Qin Shi Huang is on a mission, and he needs Zack’s body to do it. The long-dead emperor has to seal a portal to the Chinese underworld to prevent all manner of demons and spirits from flooding out into the human world, and the clock is ticking. Zack needs to get to Qin Shi Huang’s tomb in China, and he needs to strengthen the bond between himself and the emperor’s spirit, or his mother’s soul may be devoured. Zack has to learn as much as he can about the Dragon Emperor and his exploits so that he can channel the magic necessary to close the gap between the realms.

Qin Shi Huang isn’t the only dead emperor setting out to save China. Simon is possessed by the spirit of his own ancestor, Tang Taizong, and he’s partnered with Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor, hosted by her own descendent, Melissa Wu. Together, the three kids and their spirit partners navigate an escalating series of heists and battles with mythological figures and monsters. If they fail, China—and the rest of the world—are doomed.

Xiran Jay Zhao has crafted a most excellent middle grade adventure here. They’ve taken some of the best bits of Yu-Gi-Oh! (which I’ve loved since seeing the first episodes land in English back in 2001) and wrapped it in an intense love of Chinese history and myth, with an end result that will satisfy readers of all ages and make the folks at Disney jealous that they didn’t pick this one up for a Rick Riordan Presents title. Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor is fun, fast-paced, and clever. It’s out tomorrow, May 10th.

My thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for an eARC in exchange for a fair review.

And my additional thanks to Xiran for their signature on a copy of Iron Widow and a selfie with them back in April!

Selfie of me, Philip (he/they), standing in front of Xiran Jay Zhao (they/them), the author of Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor as well as Iron Widow.

I was in middle school the first time I saw the word “kaiju” in print. I was on a Godzilla kick, because I was in middle school, and Godzilla books had been readily available for a few years at that point, thanks mostly (I guess) to Roland Emmerich’s 1998 film. I had been to my parents’ bookstore and found a couple of mass market paperbacks of other Godzilla titles, and started to learn my way around the other residents of Monster Island. A love of the giant creatures was born that has persisted to this day, across films like Pacific Rim and the films and comics within the Godzilla franchise. Now imagine my joy when one of my favorite sci-fi writers announced an upcoming novel titled The Kaiju Preservation Society.

John Scalzi is a remarkably fun writer to read, and since it’s been a while since the last time I read one of his books, I’d forgotten that. TKPS is a ridiculously fun ride. When Jamie Gray loses his job in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, he turns to delivering food around New York in an attempt to keep up with his bills. This brings him into contact with Tom, an old college friend who tells Jamie that he has a job opportunity for him with a group that does preservation work for large animals. What Jamie was not expecting was for that job to be on the other side of a dimensional barrier separating our Earth from an alternate one populated by nuclear-powered creatures the size of apartment buildings.

Jamie emerges on the other side of the barrier to find a small scientific research base, where he will serve as a gofer for the numerous scientists studying the kaiju that inhabit this parallel world. He quickly makes friends and becomes acclimated to the bizarre biology of the local populace, learning what a threat virtually everything on that side of the barrier is (in short, everything will either kill you or try really hard to do so). Rapidly changing circumstances lead Jamie to understand, however, that not everyone associated with The Kaiju Preservation Society is as well-intentioned as he is, as an impending disaster threatens everyone and everything on both sides of the rift.

This was a fast-paced, very fun novel, that reads like a mashup of Pacific Rim and Jurassic Park. My only complaint is that we don’t get to spend a lot of time in the world, and I would love to see Scalzi release a sequel at some point down the line. The Kaiju Preservation Society is out in stores tomorrow, March 15th. Go get yourself a copy asap. My utmost thanks to Macmillan/Tor and NetGalley for an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Évike lives in a small pagan village surrounded by walking trees. Like all of the villagers, she lives in constant fear of the Woodsmen of King János Bárány. Every two or three years, the Woodsmen have come and taken one of the wolf-girls of the village so that her gift of pagan magic might be put to use by the king. The women never return. When Évike was a young girl, her own mother was taken, leaving her to be raised by the village seer, Vírag. Now 25, Évike remains the relative outcast of the village, as she never developed any of the four magic talents possessed by the women of her home. She can’t spark a fire with a word, she can’t forge a blade with a song, she can’t heal the injured, and she has no gift of foresight. Blame falls on her father, an outsider who left the village again before her mother was taken.

When Vírag receives a vision that the Woodsmen will soon return to the village, a drastic decision must be made. She knows that the king has sent them to retrieve Katalin, one of Évike’s peers, and a burgeoning seer herself. Fearing the fate of their village left with only one, elderly seer, Vírag calls Évike to her hut. Quickly disguising Évike and Katalin as one another, Vírag tricks the Woodsmen into taking the one wolf-girl without a hint of magic. Évike is understandably bitter, as Katalin was one of those who bullied her the most in their youth. Now she must pretend to be her as she’s taken away to the capital.

The wild forest around Évike’s village isn’t the only threat along the path to the capital, however, and monsters are very real. Soon all but the captain of the Woodsmen group sent for her are killed. Her deception is revealed, but instead of killing her for the lie, the Woodsman reveals one of his own. He isn’t a mere Woodsman. He is Gáspár Bárány, firstborn son of the king.

Évike and Gáspár forge an uneasy truce. If she helps him find the turul, a powerful source of magic that could save the king from the manipulations of his second son, he will help her search the capital for her own father and protect her people. Time is short, and the journey will be perilous, but it may be that their growing tolerance for each other hides something more…

Ava Reid has provided us with a masterful debut novel, a blend of Eastern European and Jewish history and folktale that is sure to delight older fans of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse. Magic, monsters, and romance fill the pages, and the characters resonate with real-world people and events fantastically.

The Wolf and the Woodsman is available today.

My utmost thanks to NetGalley and Avon & Harper Voyager for an eARC in exchange for a fair review.

Kas worked her ass off to get to go off-world with the Scholarium’s archaeology survey. The chance to go see old Earth and study some ancient mech programming code was a once in a lifetime opportunity for a third-wave scholar. She was expecting to be cut off from network connectivity while on Earth, thanks to the toxic malware datasphere surrounding the planet. She was expecting to spend her week there helping the first and second-wave scholars like Gneisin collect data. She was expecting to see mech pilots using the ancient combat suits they had come to study to do battle in the Drome.

She was not expecting Zhi.

Zhi caught her by surprise, tricked Kas into using the Scholarium’s credit line to place a bet on a mech battle she was competing in. The young pilot had debts to cover, and a rich-looking off-worlder was a perfect mark for her plan. Bet big, beat Custis and his shitty slow DreadCarl, and use the profits to get parts to improve her own mech. Nothing to it. It’s just that the House will force her to pilot mechs for them for the rest of her life if she loses this time.

Now Kas and Zhi’s fates are intertwined. Kas can’t afford to lose the Scholarium’s money, and Zhi can’t afford to lose her next fight. The two young women must pool their skills and knowledge, with everything hinging on a piece of technology that hasn’t functioned in hundreds of years. Winning against Custis and taking down the House will take everything they have, and they’ll not survive to get a second shot.

Hard Reboot is a fast-paced novella from Django Wexler, author of The Forbidden Library series. The worldbuilding is incredibly deep in a handful of paragraphs, with hints about what happened to the Earth in the intervening centuries. The mech battles have a weight to them that lets you feel each collision. The development of the bond between Kas and Zhi is spectacular, too, with neither of them knowing how to interact with each other at the outset. I raced through the book in a couple of hours and was left hungry for more.

Django Wexler’s Hard Reboot is available on May 25th. My utmost thanks to Netgalley and Tor.com for the eARC in exchange for a fair review.

Murderbot is back!

Martha Wells has crafted another spectacular novella in the Murderbot Diaries series. Taking place between the events of Exit Strategy and Network Effect, Fugitive Telemetry is another solid adventure for everyone’s favorite misanthropic SecUnit.

While trying to settle in aboard Preservation Station as Dr. Mensah’s bodyguard, Murderbot is having a difficult time adjusting. It’s not that it isn’t relatively happy to be somewhere outside of the Corporation Rim. It’s that Station Security isn’t pleased with the idea of a rogue SecUnit wandering around. With the various agreements in place to allow Murderbot to keep its freedom, it has almost no access to the security systems that it would normally rely on to do its job. No hacking of the station SecSystem, only a handful of drones to be able to deploy…

All of these things aren’t a real problem, as Dr. Mensah is fairly safe from Corporate assassination attempts on Preservation Station. This far from their territory, real action against her is unlikely. However, everything gets turned upside down when a dead body is found on board. There’s been a murder on the station, and Station Security needs Murderbot’s help to solve the mystery of who killed our victim and why. No witnesses, no camera footage, no DNA evidence. With only limited resources at its disposal, Murderbot must find a killer who might be a true rival in covering their tracks.

I love the Murderbot Diaries, y’all. I’ve read every one of these books since I first heard about All Systems Red back in 2017 and I have never been disappointed. Fugitive Telemetry is available on April 27th. If you’re a sci-fi fan, or just love mysteries, check it out.

My utmost thanks to NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for a fair review.

Stephen Graham Jones wrote one of the creepiest novellas I’ve ever read, Mapping the Interior. Naturally, I leapt at the opportunity to grab an eARC of his new novel, The Only Good Indians. I’m glad I did, too.

Ten years ago, four young Blackfeet men went on their last hunt together. One last chance to get an elk before winter. Ricky, Lewis, Gabe, and Cass. It was supposed to be their shot to prove that they weren’t the screw-ups that so many folks on the reservation thought they were. One opportunity to prove that they were good Indians. Only it all went wrong, didn’t it? They weren’t supposed to be hunting in that part of the reservation. They would pay the price.

Ricky died the next year. “INDIAN MAN KILLED IN DISPUTE OUTSIDE BAR,” the headline had read. But he’d run from home. Left the reservation after his little brother overdosed, looking for work. He never made it to Minneapolis like he’d planned. But what if the headline didn’t get it quite right? What if there was more to it than a handful of roughnecks getting drunk and angry in a parking lot? More than a lone elk wandering into the lot, trashing the men’s pickups, leaving them to believe that Ricky had been causing the damage?

Now the tenth anniversary of their hunt is coming up, and Lewis is trying to find the courage to tell his wife the truth of what the four men did that day in the snow. The truth about the elk they killed, and the fate that they sealed for themselves with each rifle round. Lewis left the reservation too, though he never went as far as Ricky tried. But lately, Lewis hasn’t been feeling quite right. He’s been seeing things, impossible things. A cow elk dead in his and Peta’s living room. Dead? Or was her eye following him as he climbed the ladder? And it couldn’t be the same cow. Lewis killed her that day. Distributed her meat to the reservation elders. Still has her skin balled up in his freezer. Was it an elk that he saw? Or was it a woman with an elk’s head?

Meanwhile, Gabe and Cass are still at home on the rez, preparing a sweat lodge for a friend’s kid who needs to get put back on a proper path. A classmate of Gabe’s daughter, Denorah. The sweat will be a chance for Gabe and Cass to embrace their heritage, and pay respect to Ricky’s memory. Teach the kid, Nathan, a little too. Maybe a little bit of atonement for their elk hunt, now a decade back. At the very least, the kid’s dad will throw Gabe some extra cash that he can use to buy something for Denorah. But then, Lewis is in the headlines too…

Something survived that day, ten years ago. Something vengeful. Something patient. Something with horns.

Elk, the Blackfeet elders say, have a long memory.

The Only Good Indians is a fabulous novel. Stephen Graham Jones did not disappoint with this heartbreaking work. Part contemporary commentary on Native American lives, part slow-burning horror, it’s everything I could’ve wanted.

Happy publication day at long last, Mr. Jones.

My thanks to NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for a fair review.

 

When I found out that Gene Luen Yang was going to be writing a Superman story for younger readers, I was ecstatic. Imagine my joy to learn that the book was titled Superman Smashes the Klan. Yang is an exceptional cartoonist, and no stranger to writing stories for DC Comics. His New Super-Man series was one of my favorite things to come out of the Rebirth line, and American-Born Chinese was brilliant as well (Boxers and Saints are still in my to-read pile).

Superman Smashes the Klan is a phenomenal adaptation of an early Superman radio serial, in which a Chinese-American family, the Lees, moves from Metropolis’ Chinatown to the suburbs, pursuing a new, better life. Roberta and Tommy and their parents are adapting to the changes, and meeting new people. Daily Planet cub reporter Jimmy Olsen is quick to befriend the young Lees and introduce them to other kids their age.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for the Lee family to draw the attention of the Klan of the Fiery Kross. The Klan does not take kindly to a Chinese-American family settling in any part of Metropolis, let alone outside of Chinatown, and make their hatred known by burning a cross on the Lee family’s lawn. The Daily Planet sends Lois Lane and Clark Kent to investigate, and soon, Superman is on the case as well. With help from Roberta and Tommy, Superman must face off with the Klan and show them that Metropolis and America have no place for their bigotry and violence.

Gene Luen Yang’s story seamlessly weaves the updated tale of the Lee family (this version gives names and characterization to all of them!) and a younger Superman, still coming into his own powers (no flight, no heat vision, and no super-breath yet, for starters) and finding his own place as an outsider. Clark flashes back to his early years in Smallville, learning the truth about his origins as an alien. Yang effortlessly manages the most difficult part of any Superman story, too, in making both Clark Kent and Superman relatable and fun to read. Roberta serves as the primary narrator for the Lee family, trying to fit in with a new group of friends in a new part of town. Ostracized by her old friends from Chinatown now that she’s living in the “better” part of of Metropolis but not fully welcomed in her suburban neighborhood, she struggles to establish herself. Her keen observation skills make her an essential ally in Lois and Clark’s investigation of the violence aimed at her family.

This is an incredibly timely book, and Yang nails the importance of narratives in which immigrants are welcomed, not hated. Superman Smashes the Klan is the type of Superman story that America needs in 2020. I’m grateful to NetGalley for providing the eARC copy in exchange for a fair review.

“This looks like a job for Superman.”