I’ve still got a review hangover from Wyrd and Wonder I think. I’ve written two reviews since the start of June and just can’t seem to get in the right headspace for them. But I’ve realised not every review has to be an in-depth 3000 word essay and I can actually just write some more bitesize round-ups if I want to. Frankly, it’s necessary, cos I like to review most of what I read and those read books are piling up, so def need to get my thoughts down on paper before they leak out of my brain. Maybe this will become a semi-regular feature, we’ll see. All of these are books I read for the Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards, and if you want to check out all of this year’s nominees, wander this way traveller.
UPRIGHT WOMEN WANTED by Sarah Gailey
This book is cool man. It’s a weird one to categorise; I actually thought it was set in the past going into it, but actually it’s a near future dystopian Western, with a very fresh and unique twist. It’s about a young queer woman who escapes from her town when her gf is arrested and executed by the fascist government of a dismantled future USA. She falls in with a group of librarians who ostensibly travel round disseminating government propaganda, but who aren’t entirely what they seem on the surface. The future American Southwest is full of bandits, fascists, and queer librarian spies on horseback trying to do the right thing. And if that sounds like something you might enjoy then I can assure you Gailey pulls it off excellently. Thanks to Book Riot’s SFF Yeah podcast I’ve also discovered that Sarah Gailey has written a few of these ‘alt-western’ type stories including one set in the south where people ride swamp hippos instead of horses!
RIOT BABY by Tochi Onyebuchi
I had a mixed reaction to this book. It clearly deals with important themes and Onyebuchi is an important voice when it comes to grappling with structural racism and what it means to be black in the USA, but the style didn’t always gel with me. I dunno, I’m just not that into introspective fiction and this felt very introspective at times, and it managed to feel like there wasn’t much action even when there was. Bits of it stick out, particularly the beginning, which deals with Kev’s birth during the 1992 LA riots after the police attacked Rodney King, but there were parts where the prose lost me and my mind started to wander a bit. It essentially a superhero story; Kev’s sister Ella basically has superman powers. She can do almost anything, from sensing emotions through objects, to flying, to telekinesis and when Kev is arrested and incarcerated, Ella communicates with him via a kind of dreamscape. I’m rambling here, struggling to really connect the ideas in this story and fundamentally I think that’s why I didn’t really connect with it. There’s no cohesion in the story, everything felt a bit jumbled together and none of the parts quite connected properly. Most people I know who’ve read this think it’s excellent and while it’s undoubtedly full of passion and justifiable anger, I personally just don’t think it comes together as a work of fiction.
NOPHEK GLOSS by Essa Hansen
I’ve heard a lot of praise for how imaginative and exciting this space opera-esque science fiction is, but I’m just gonna be honest and say I really didn’t like it. Nothing about it worked for me. It’s about a kid called Caleb, whose family and entire community are murdered by an alien species, and his subsequent quest for revenge. Right from the get go I just didn’t care when Caleb’s family were killed. Sounds harsh, but there needs to be some kind of emotional reason for me to invest in these particular characters, to care what happens to them, but I just felt nothing. Consequently I just wasn’t invested in Caleb’s revenge quest. Didn’t help that I found him whiny and annoying as a character either. I thought the found family trope was just implemented badly too. Caleb is rescued from his planet by the crew of a spaceship, who take him on board and look after him and almost immediately he’s like “oh these are my family now, we’re so close and share such a special bond“. Mate, you literally just met them. I think for any found family story to work you need to be able to grasp the bonds that have developed between people as a result of them going through stuff together, whether that’s tough times or just shared friendship and good times. Or both. But stuff that’s actually developed over time, that they’ve gone through together and have become inseparable as a result. This was just shoe-horned in and I had to take a deep, calming breath every time Caleb referred to the crew as his ‘family’. I listened to the audiobook and honestly ended up zoning out for a lot of it, I really just didn’t care.
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