“I Hope You Get This Message” by Farah Naz Rishi – Review

By: Angie Haddock


When news stations start reporting that Earth has been contacted by a planet named Alma, the world is abuzz with rumors that the alien entity is giving mankind only few days to live before they hit the kill switch on civilization.

Goodreads


This is a fast, fun YA read. The author is Pakistani-American, and I read this in March for my monthly diverse SFF read.

We are introduced to three main characters, and the chapters alternate between focusing on one of the three. Cate Collins, Jesse Hewitt, and Adeem Khan are all in their late teens. Cate hails from San Francisco, and has spent her life caring for her schizophrenic mom. Adeem lives in Carson City, and is more obsessed with his amateur radio hobby than doing his school work – much to his parents’ dismay. Jesse lives in Roswell, where he and his mom are barely scraping by.

Earth translates a signal discovered in space, and learns that a race from another planet – which humans name Alma – is putting humanity on trial, and determining its fate within the next seven days.

Much of the world devolves into chaos after this news sinks in. Looting is rampant, people trying to escape cities cause major traffic jams everywhere, and cell towers stop working.

But within this chaos, many people also start trying to reach estranged family members or other loved ones. Cate’s mom tasks her with finding her father – who never even knew of Cate’s existence. Adeem sets out to find his older sister, who ran away two years ago after coming out to her family and fearing they would not accept her. As tourists flood Roswell, Jesse stays put, and sees this turn of events as a way to make some money off people who are looking for hope.

Jesse’s dad was a failed inventor, and even though he passed away years ago, many of his materials are still gathering dust in their shed. So Jesse builds a “machine” to send messages to Alma. People line up to send messages, and Jesse makes decent money. He thinks he’s lying to people, and ripping them off. But a new kid in town sees it differently, and thinks Jesse is giving people hope, which is the only thing they really need.

Inevitably, these three stories start coming together. (I don’t even consider this a spoiler – by about 20% in, you figure out that they’re all going to end up in Roswell.)

Most of the book deals with the issues these kids are facing, and the interpersonal relationships between them and their families, friends, etc. But there are interstitial bits featuring the aliens, as well. The friends I read this with debated whether this was really “sci-fi,” since it was mostly teen drama. While I agreed that the bulk of the book falls more under that Young Adult scope, I can’t say it’s not sci-fi when there are actual aliens in it. Those parts may be small, but still – aliens.

And I will also argue that most good sci-fi is meant to examine the humans, anyway, right?


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“The City We Became” by N.K. Jemisin – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Every city has a soul. Some are as ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York City? She’s got five.

Goodreads


This was my diverse sci-fi group read selection for the month of February. The book came out last year, and was immediately on my TBR, so I’m glad I finally got around to it!

We jump right into the action, with no explanations. There is a fairly long intro section, and we don’t reconnect with the characters in this section until quite some time later. This really threw me at first, so I went into the rest of this book with a “just go with the flow” attitude.

The action all takes place in New York City, in the current time. So, that helps. Of course, this version of NYC is being attacked by an avatar/being from another plane of existence who wants to take the space over for herself. But, each borough of New York claims its own avatar to fight back.

We spend a decent amount of time being introduced to each avatar, and learning why they are emblematic of the borough they represent. Each one has some encounter that tips them off to the problem going on, and lets them know that they have perceptions and powers in relation to this (that not everyone else has). Then comes the realization that there are others like them, and that they need to find each other and work together.

The avatars are a pretty diverse crowd – Black, Indigenous, South Asian, multiracial – and some are also within the LBGTQ spectrum. Only the avatar of Staten Island is Caucasian, of Irish decent. The female avatars are all feisty and forceful, as well, while one of the male ones doesn’t have any memory of who he is.

As they come together, there are some personality clashes. But the biggest clashes here are with the enemy – who often appears as a white woman, but changes form slightly depending on who she’s appearing to – and the people she has under her influence.

One major clash that really struck a nerve with me was between the staff of the Bronx Art Center (where our Bronx avatar works) and a group of Neo-Nazis who call themselves the “Alt-Artistes.” The group makes art that they deem edgy and provocative, which can be exploitative of women and minorities. Their entire purpose seems to be getting these pieces rejected so they can claim they’re being censored, and flaying the censoring parties on the internet. Under the influence of the enemy, they take this battle into the real world and actually attack the Bronx Art Center, in addition to their online hi-jinks.

Even though this was written over a year ago, this really felt similar to the recent crackdown of the alt-right on Twitter, and discussions around whether or not that constitutes “censorship.” (Like real life, I think it’s sad that it had to tumble over into real world damages before anyone really drew some lines.)

There are many themes in this one that seem equally as current. The tone of the book is often fast, sometimes fun, and sometimes full of anger. The language is one of the most fun aspects to me, but might not suit people who don’t like liberal use of cussing.

I did feel that the ending was a little fast. Overall, though, this was an interesting and often fun read, full of very vibrant characters.


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“Binti” by Nnedi Okorafor – Review

By: Angie Haddock


In her Hugo- and Nebula-winning novella, Nnedi Okorafor introduced us to Binti, a young Himba girl with the chance of a lifetime: to attend the prestigious Oomza University. Despite her family’s concerns, Binti’s talent for mathematics and her aptitude with astrolabes make her a prime candidate to undertake this interstellar journey.

Goodreads


The above description is for the first story of Binti, which was a novella. Several more stories followed, and I actually read the anthology of all of them.

The first novella starts in the middle of some action – specifically, the action of Binti leaving home to go to a university on a faraway planet. She belongs to the Himba tribe (a real people, by the way), and most of them never leave their home turf. So she is going against the will of her family.

We are immediately introduced to the interesting dichotomy present in all of the Binti stories: the juxtaposition of a technologically advanced future world where humans interact with beings from other worlds, with that of a traditional tribe who mostly stay to themselves.

Because the stories are individually short, I loved that the action started right away. Even though we’re in a fictional/future world, Okorafor doesn’t have time for elaborate world building to take place up front – you just learn as you go through the story.

The trip to university does not go smoothly, and we meet the main adversary of the first story: the Meduse. These are large jellyfish-like creatures who are connected through a hive mind. They attack the ship taking Binti to the university, but of course, our heroine survives. She even learns to communicate with the creatures, and learns why they attacked: the university has something of theirs that they want back, and they plan on using the ship to sneak into their territory.

Binti offers to be a liaison of sorts, to negotiate with the university and get the item back for The Meduse. Binti is known in her tribe as a “master harmonizer,” but up to now she has mostly used this skill in the context of math and technology. This interaction sets her on a new path, where she will harmonize between different beings and cultures.

This theme continues throughout the series. In later events, Binti tries to bring peace between her tribe and another tribe on Earth who live in the desert, between the Meduse and their enemy the Khoush, and more.

Another ongoing theme is Binti struggling to find peace between what her family and tribe expect of her, and what she feels she is being called to do. A life in space, interacting with other species, was not exactly on her family’s radar for her. And when she brings a Meduse home to Earth, it causes problems with the neighboring Khoush, for which Binti is blamed.

Overall, these stories were fun and engaging. I felt like the second and third novella were really one continuous story, and the division between them seemed arbitrary. There were a few minor issues like that – things that bugged me, but didn’t necessarily ruin what was good about Binti’s story.

I read this story with friends, as part of my deep dive into diverse sci-fi. See more here.


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Angie’s next mission: Welcome to the future

By: Angie Haddock

Welcome to 2021! (And it couldn’t come too soon, right?)

For the last half year, I had set myself a challenge of reading a biography a month. I did a little more than that, as I actually reviewed eight of them for this blog.

But, I did like the idea of working through one theme at a time – even if I still do read other books at the same time. So, I have set myself a new goal for January – June of this year: Diverse Sci-Fi.

Science Fiction was one of my first loves, and I read quite a bit when I was a teen. In recent years, I’ve heard a lot about various authors writing within the Afrofuturism sphere – admittedly, I heard about a lot of them through listening to the Levar Burton Reads podcast.

(Momentary break to recognize what a legend he is, in both reading and sci-fi.)

So my list of authors to read from this subgenre has grown. Time to tackle that list!

I have not decided which books I’ll be reading every month yet, but I do know that I’ll be starting with “Binti,” by Nnedi Okorafor. I’m also reading this one along with some friends, which may provide me with some good conversations and thoughts beyond my own. Also, I will probably tag these entries as “diverse sff” because, having not picked the titles, I am not ruling out some fantasy titles.

Have you read any great Sci-Fi or Fantasy titles lately? Any favorite authors within those genres? Are any of them minorities, or authors from other countries? Let us know in the comments!

“Persephone Station” by Stina Leicht – Review

BY: Angie Haddock


Persephone Station, a seemingly backwater planet that has largely been ignored by the United Republic of Worlds becomes the focus for the Serrao-Orlov Corporation as the planet has a few secrets the corporation tenaciously wants to exploit.

Goodreads

This is described as a space opera, and it is getting some buzz. Most of the anticipation seems to stem from the characters – if you’re looking for diverse Sci-Fi, this will probably be your jam. There are a lot of characters, and almost none of them are male. There is a mercenary crew of all bad-ass women, and there are a few non-binary characters. At least a few of the main characters are non-white, and some aren’t specified. (Some are also non-human, because this is a futuristic space story!)

I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. I’m not sure if this is the author’s fault or my own. Let’s dish.

This is the kind of story that has a lot of world-building behind it. So, it took me a while to start getting into it. I feel like all the build time was probably necessary, to be honest, but it’s still sort of a drag to get through. This is where I say it may just be me – patience isn’t my strongest virtue.

(I felt the same way reading N.K. Jemisin’s “The Fifth Season,” if that gives anyone a point of reference. It was difficult going at the beginning, but ultimately worth the time.)

Persephone is a planet that the Catholic Church originally tried to colonize, but they abandoned that effort. Now, the top contender is the Serrao-Orlov corporation. Currently, all non-native species are settled into one colony, Brynner. Reports of bad weather and deadly native species outside the walls of Brynner keep everyone inside. Only a few people really know what’s outside the walls.

One of those people is Rosie, a long-living bar owner whose bar is mostly used by the local crime families and others looking to do (illegal) business. Rosie hires our mercenary crew to go out into the wild to protect some sentient natives they didn’t know existed. The new head of Serrao-Orlav, though, did know about them – and wants their technological and biological knowledge. Hence, the need to protect them.

Meeting the natives, The Emissaries, and the ensuing battle are where the action really picks up. I won’t go into too much detail there, so as not to spoil the fun for those of you who intend to pick this one up.

Another thread that runs throughout this story contends with the ideas of AI and AGI. There are several instances of computer intelligence existing within various networks and eventually growing sentience. (You meet three such characters within this book.) One of them is even put into a body. This struck me as so familiar… when I asked my husband where that had been done before, he immediately said “JARVIS.” So there’s that.

I read an ARC of this one through NetGalley – it comes out January 5, 2021.

PS: If you’re interested in pre-ordering this one, or just doing some early holiday shopping, consider supporting local bookstores through their own sites or bookshop.org

PPS: Someone on Goodreads asked the author for her “playlist” to go with this book, and she tweeted it out song by song. The compiled list can be found here, if you’re interested.


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