Category Archives: Review

A Land without Leaders: A Country of Ghosts by Margaret Killjoy on Tor.com

The most fantastical aspect of A Country of Ghosts is how it’s an earnest tale about an alternative society when dystopias fill today’s bookshelves. Full disclosure here:the author has written for Tor.com, and I did hold interest in reading his book once he described it to me as an “anarchist utopia.”

With that seed in mind, I couldn’t help but view A Country of Ghosts as the latest in a long tradition of utopian novels, starting with Thomas More’s as the most well-known early example (and a fantastic open source annotated edition can be read here).

Of course, utopias and speculative fiction go hand in hand. In the 19thcentury, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland envisioned a society of women. Alexander Bogdanov wrote about communist utopia on Mars in his 1908 book Red Star. Later utopian novels include Ursula K. Le Guin’s take on anarchism in The Dispossessed, Arthur C. Clark’s peaceful alien invasion inChildhood’s End, Aldous Huxley’s utopian counterpart to Brave New World in Island, and the fulfillment of the radical movements of the 1960s in Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, along with many others.

In A Country of Ghosts a regional collective known as Hron (they’re only kinda, sorta a country) fights against a colonial empire, and Killjoy’s mix of politics and storytelling is at times intellectually engaging and at times winsome, though it’s also a curiosity to behold in the field today.

Read the rest of the review here: [“The rules don’t really matter. It’s the spirit that matters, I think.”]

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Mad Max Meets Apache Steampunk in Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac

Killer of Enemies

Link to Killer of Enemies on Lee and Low’s website.

Nowadays, I read so many steampunk-labeled books that very few retain the innovation factor for me. It’s fine to see tropes that establishes the aesthetic as a subgenre, but it takes a lot to make a steampunk book read fresh to me.

Then, comes along Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac: a book that’a steampunk by way of Mad Max rather than gaslamp London. Killer of Enemies is not just a gulp of fresh air, but a hyperventilating-inducing adrenaline rush. Oh, and did I mention that this young adult book was initially pitched to me as “post-apoc Apache steampunk?” Yeah, let that catchphrase sink in a bit.

[Shoot first, ask questions later. Mild spoilers ahead.]

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A Divided Nation in Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints – Review on Tor.com

Boxers and Saints Gene Luen Yang

A well-placed ampersand can imply many things: a fighting duo, a complimentary pair, or polarizing opposites. In the case of Boxers & Saintsthe members of the Boxer Rebellion and their opponents, Westerners and Chinese Christians, retain all three elements in their interactions.

What is engrossing about this graphic novel diptych—the newest work from Gene Luen Yang of American-Born Chinese fame—is how intertwined the stories are, literally and thematically. This dynamic is presented in its bold and eye-catching box design. On one side, the aggressively commanding ghost of Ch’in Shin-Huang, the first emperor of China. On the other, the grim glowing figure of martyr Joan of Arc. Split between them are two young, wide-eyed faces of Little Bao and Vibiana. They stare out at the reader, serious and uncertain. Their expressions symbolize the heart of Boxers & Saints: a story that unpacks the anxieties of an unstable nation, and unflinchingly portrays the people who become swept up by the winds of history.

[Read the review on Tor.com]

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“Going Native” in Steampunk: James H. Carrott and Brian David Johnson’s Vintage Tomorrows on Tor.com

Recently, everyone and their grandmother are trying to place steampunk in the grander scope of things. Most of pop culture has poked at it at this point. Many in the SF/F community gives the subculture a passing nod (or are slowly edging away, since, being early adapters by nature, quite a few in sci-fi are tired of it already).

Still, questions about steampunk have set people in pursuit of the deeper meanings behind the aesthetic movement. Two years ago, Intel’s futurist Brian David Johnson wanted to answer the biggest one about steampunk’s rise: “Why now?” He was joined by a cultural historian James Carrott and they filmed a documentary, which permutated into a book by the same name: Vintage Tomorrows (or two books, actually. Steampunking Our Future: An Embedded Historian’s Notebook is the free e-book companion you can get online).

I had the pleasure of meeting them at NYCC a couple of years ago to hear their idea first-hand: steampunk has the potential to be a counterculture. I’m actually on the fence about this (surprised, right?). Because, as much as I love the subculture, radical change isn’t a given to participate. Lo and behold, however, when a copy handed on my desk awhile back, I gave their research a gander.

[How to fall in love with a subculture in 10 easy steps -- Read the rest of Tor.com]

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Black Empire: George Schulyer, Black Radicalism and Dieselpunk–Guest blog by P. Djeli Clark

[Note from Ay-leen: Cross-posting P. Djeli Clark's blog The Disgruntled Haradrim]

blackempire3232011Sometime in the 1930s, a black journalist is kidnapped in Harlem by the charismatic Dr. Henry Belsidius, leader of the Black Internationale–a shadowy organization determined to build a Black Empire and overthrow the world of white racial hegemony with cunning and super science. Journalist George S. Schulyer’s fantastic tale was written in serials in the black Pittsburgh Courier between 1936 and 1938 under the pseudonym Samuel I. Brooks. It quickly found a loyal following among African-American readers, who saw in Dr. Belsidius and the Black Internationale a heroic, sci-fi tale of black nationalism, triumph and race pride. The newspaper was surprised at the serials’ growing popularity, and pushed for more–sixty-two in all. Yet no one was as surprised at the story’s success than George Schulyer who, disdaining what he saw as the excesses of black nationalism and race pride, had written Black Empire as satire.

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What is to Be Done?: Ann Vandermeer’s Steampunk III: Steampunk Revolution

http://www.tor.com/images/stories/blogs/12_10/steampunk-III.jpg

Good story anthologies aren’t a ramshackle bunch of pieces crammed in any order—like CD albums, there should be a flow, a greater focus beyond the individual stories. These anthologies conduct conversations inside of them: selections that tease, question, argue back and forth with each other, as well as tie together key themes and concepts. Steampunk III: Steampunk Revolution, moreso than the previous volumes in Tachyon Publications’ well-known retrofuturist series, demonstrates the power of a well-orchestrated collection.

Read the rest on Tor.com

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The Battle for Seattle Continues in Cherie Priest’s The Inexplicables

http://www.tor.com/images/stories/blogs/12_11/Inexplicables.jpg

The Inexplicables, Cherie Priest’s fourth novel in the Clockwork Century series, breaks from her previous books in several ways. Most significantly, instead of being set in a new location in her Civil War-torn US, we return to Seattle with a new perspective: that of the drug-addled Rector Sherman, the kid who had a brief appearance in Boneshaker as the boy who showed Zeke Wilkes how to enter the city. This is the first full-length novel with only a male protagonist (though she did have Captain Hainey starring in her novella Clementine, and Andan Cly shared the spotlight with Josephine Early in Ganymede). There isn’t a mechanical showpiece that serves as the title’s namesake, either–though discovering exactly what the “Inexplicables” are surprised me.

The breaks from her previous storytelling don’t hinder her, however. In fact, The Inexplicables doesn’t rehash as much as it refocuses on the aspects that got readers to love her world in the first place: a gritty survival tale where gas masks and goggles are necessary to live another day, and the aesthetic’s rough edges feel natural and real. Like all of the books in the Clockwork Century, The Inexplicables is a stand-alone novel, but is accessible enough to pull in new readers while giving nods to longstanding fans.

Read the rest on Tor.com

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Finally a Chinese Steampunk Movie that Unquestionably Is Exactly That: Tai Chi Zero

Okay, for those who know me, I’m very into non-western steampunk. And I enjoy kung fu comedies. A good steampunk film isn’t just pretty-looking with quirky tech, but addresses shifting social and cultural values in light of early industrialization and urbanization. A good kung fu flick has me cheering at the melodrama, holding my breath (or my abs or my head) in sympathy to whatever punches kicks or wall-breaking tumbles the characters go through. At New York Comic Con this past weekend, I attended the screening of Tai Chi Zero, which promised the best of both.

[Read "Finally a Chinese Steampunk Movie that Unquestionably Is Exactly That: Tai Chi Zero" on Tor.com]

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The Manual of Aeronautics: The Art of the Leviathan Trilogy–by Mordicai Knode

I was at a reading for Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan when he mentioned off-hand that it would be a trilogy… with an illustrated guide to the world he was building, in the style of the Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World.

Now, there are a lot of reasons that I liked the Spiderwick guide—I’m a big fan of Tony DiTerlizzi, for instance—but the deep reason is that I’m gonzo for apocrypha. Those sorts of bits and extras that deepen worldbuilding, whether they are art books like Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Art of the Animated Series or in-world mythology like The Tales of Beedle the Bard. The icing on the cake with The Manual of Aeronautics is that Keith Thompson does the art for it, as he did for the series.

[Read "The Manual of Aeronautics: The Art of the Leviathan Trilogy" on Tor.com]

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Fullmetal Alchemist is the Best!–by Faith Erin Hicks

[Note from Ay-leen: Never forget, October 3rd....]

Faith Erin Hicks explodes the internet in this comic strip demonstrating her love for Fullmetal Alchemist

So… we recently asked cartoonist and Friends With Boys author Faith Erin Hicks if she had any strong opinions about steampunk. The answer quite literally speaks for itself!

What you’ll read below is Faith’s intense and lovely comic strip letter celebrating the existence of Fullmetal Alchemist. Once you’re done squeeing in boisterous agreement, you can check out Faith’s comic strips about The Hunger Games, Prometheus, and way, way more here. She and Prudence Shen are also currently serializing a new graphic novel about cheerleaders versus robot builders at www.nothingcanpossiblygowrong.com!

[Read the full comic review on Tor.com]

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