Happy Friday, archivists and archangels! Today includes reviews of Not So Stories and Before Mars, book news from Jacqueline Carey and George R.R. Martin, a djinn round-up, theoretical ancient civilations, and more.
This newsletter is sponsored by The City of Lost Fortunes by Bryan Camp.
Jude has been lying low since the storm, hiding from his own power, his divine former employer, and a debt owed to the Fortune god of New Orleans. But his six-year retirement ends abruptly when the Fortune god is murdered and Jude is drawn back into the world he tried so desperately to leave behind. A world where he must find out who is responsible for the Fortune god’s death, uncover the plot that threatens the city’s soul, and discover what his talent for lost things has always been trying to show him: what it means to be his father’s son.
In continued ASoIaF news, we won’t be getting Winds of Winter this year, but we WILL get a prequel about the Targaryens.
Where my Joscelin fans at: Jacqueline Carey has announced that she’ll be writing a retelling of Kushiel’s Dart from the perspective of everyone’s favorite Casseline. Sharifah and I talked about my fan-feelings on this week’s SFF Yeah! episode if you’re curious.
Wish fulfilled: I finally wrote that djinn book round-up I promised! You’ve already seen reviews of some of these in this newsletter, but there might be a few I hadn’t gushed about already. While there are others out there (and definitely leave your thoughts in the comments!), these were my top favorites.
If there were earlier civiliations on Earth, would we be able to tell? I love this thought-experiment from NASA director Gavin Schmidt, especially since it ties into the solarpunk discussions I’ve been following. Someone write me a Paleocene sustainable high-tech novel please!
Reminder time: We’re doing a mystery book giveaway! You could also win Lit Chat (which is an a+ bookish card game if we do say so ourselves). And last but not least, you can get a two-week free trial to Book Riot Insiders until April 30th.
And now, reviews! This week, it’s folktales and space tales.
Not So Stories, edited by David Thomas Moore
A whole short story collection dedicated to decolonizing Kipling, you say? Sign me up! I was incredibly excited to see this book announced, in large part because I went through an enormous Kipling phase as a teen. I (like many kids) was gifted Just So stories, and read Kim several times over. It would take me til college to really understand the problems inherent in Kipling’s framing of India and other lands east. I’ve since read a lot of great works of folktales from indigenous authors, but to see a book that acknowledges Kipling’s work while reframing and deconstructing it makes my heart sing.
And the stories are so good! While each author takes a slightly different angle on the prompt, there are some through-lines, particularly the use of “Best Beloved” to address the reader. Some stories stick with the folktale structure, while others are set at specific moments in history. The opening story, “How the Spider Got Her Legs” by Cassandra Khaw, sets the tone beautifully — it’s a beautifully done origin myth, dark and brimming over with righteous anger. Other favorites include “Best Beloved” by Wayne Santos and “Serpent, Crocodile, Tiger” by Zedeck Siew, but it’s hard to pick — each story has its own particular strengths.
While I would not recommend this to actual children (under a mature 12, let’s say), I definitely want to give it to teenagers and other adults who grew up on Kipling. I do think it’s most effective if you have some familiarity with his work, but if you have somehow managed to escape school without reading “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,” I also believe it stands on its own.
Before Mars by Emma Newman
Every now and then I will see a galley up for grabs and neglect to check if it’s part of a series or not, and that’s what happened here. I’d been hearing buzz about Emma Newman, I saw a galley available, and I clicked. I was a third into the book when I realized it was #3 in the Planetfall series. Woops! But I’m here to tell you that it stands alone just fine, and did indeed make me want to go back to read the first two. So if a copy falls in your lap, feel free to dive in.
Anna Kubrin is a geologist and artist, and both of those things have put her on a flight to Mars. Contracted by the colonizing corporation to both expand the previous geological surveys and to produce one-of-a-kind paintings (to be sold for jillions of dollars of course, since this is a private enterprise), she arrives shaken and disoriented from months of solo space travel. The experience of deja vu she has is surely just from that — but then she finds a note in her new room, written in her own handwriting, telling her not to trust the colony psychologist. What follows is both a psychological thriller — who is sane and who is lying? — and an exploration of what private space enterprise might look like. Newman also looks at the difficulties of motherhood and post-partum depression, rocky marriages, and healing from family trauma. If that sounds like a lot that’s because it is, but Newman handles it all with a fairly light touch.
I’ve been thinking more about these psychologically oriented, private enterprise space stories — recent others include The Wanderers by Meg Howrey and Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty. The concerns of current sci-fi writers are moving in an interesting direction, and I’m curious to see where else this trend takes us. In the meantime, I’ll be backtracking to read the other Planetfall books, which have promised me cults in space.
And that’s a wrap! You can find all of the books recommended in this newsletter on a handy Goodreads shelf. If you’re interested in more science fiction and fantasy talk, you can catch me and my co-host Sharifah on the SFF Yeah! podcast. For many many more book recommendations you can find me on the Get Booked podcast with the inimitable Amanda.
Long days and pleasant nights,