Swords and Spaceships

Swords and Spaceships May 18

Happy Friday, outriders and oracles! Today’s newsletter includes reviews of Foz Meadows’ An Accident of Stars and Jason Mott’s The Crossing, plus AAPI reads, exciting news from Earthsea, awards news, and more.

This newsletter is sponsored by Vault Comics.

NYT best-selling author Kevin J. Anderson and TV writer-producer Steven L. Sears collaborate with artist Mike Ratera to bring to life this sci-fi story about space exploration, aliens, and war. Joe Human is taken to a harsh P.O.W. camp on a distant planet where he will be examined, tortured, and forced to endure experiments that rip into his very mind, as the alien Krael seek to answer the question: What is human? At 192 pages, this full-length hardback graphic novel also offers an original novella written by Anderson and Sears with art by Nathan Gooden.

May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and this list of books by Asian women that should be movies is the perfect way to celebrate. Also, I have read most of these books and extremely cosign.

When everything is awful, why not read about OTHER things that are awful? Here’s a list of 15 dystopias that might make you feel better about life — and at the least, will provide some nice distraction.

ALERT ALERT, the illustrated edition of Ursula Le Guin’s The Books of Earthsea finally has a release date! Please join me in drooling over the beauty of Charles Vess’s work.

Did your favorite SF/F show make it? A slew of shows got cancelled last week, including Syfy’s The Expanse (although many are holding out hope that another network will pick it up). While this doesn’t necessarily help with that, I was delighted to see that Lost in Space is getting a second season (it is better than it has any right to be, y’all) and 3%, Netflix’s Brazilian dystopia that I have mentioned before, has a second season available now.

And speaking of James S.A. Corey, the writing team has announced a new series! They cite both Left Hand of Darkness and Dune as inspirations; you have my attention, sirs.

In genre-bendey sort-of-SFF news, the Shirley Jackson award nominees for this year have been announced! Big congrats to The Changeling by Victor LaValle, which is also the only book of the batch that I’ve read. The Jackson awards specifically honor “psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic,” and these are a great starting point if that’s a wheelhouse you want to explore.

Today’s reviews have nothing in common other than that I read them recently and they gave me Thoughts.

An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows

Two riders cloaked in plaid riding two-legged creatures with long fuzzy tails, standing in front of a golden cityIn the opening book of this series, Foz Meadows asks us to consider something that, as a white reader, I had not put much thought into. When a person from Earth goes through a portal to a fantasy land, that person is more than just a fish out of water; they’re also a person bringing all their Earthy moral, ethical, and political baggage with them. Which, for example, means that a young white teenager from Australia who gets ported into a kingdom inhabited mostly by brown people will indeed have to reckon with internalized racism, as well as learn to ride a two-legged beastie and undergo magical trials.

Portal fantasy is a favorite subgenre of mine, partly because there’s still the 10-year-old kid in me who thinks it could happen and checks every coat closet, and partly because it can play with received wisdom in interesting ways. Meadows offers up a fully fledged, detailed world-building experience, but also makes explicit the baggage that a (Western, white, cis) reader might grapple with alongside an adventure. She balances it out with alternating POVs; we’re treated to multiple characters, both Earth-citizens and inhabitants of Kena. Political intrigue, magic, heretical sects, dragons, and tangled family alliances all come together in a high-stakes adventure that ends on a “So help me I will throw this book across the room, HOW DARE YOU, now I must get Book 2” plot point. It is also, as one reviewer put it, “hella queer” and thoroughly delightful.

I realize I haven’t told you much about the actual plot (here’s a link for that). I did very much enjoy the plot, but it’s the meta-examination of portal fantasy that Meadows has worked into the text that made this book so thought-provoking. In a genre where I frequently read for escapism, it was a welcome nudge to think through the implications of a favorite trope.

The Crossing by Jason Mott

As I mentioned on this week’s episode of All the Books, I’m new to Jason Mott’s work — and The Crossing will definitely be the start of a dive into his backlist. It’s a thinky, slow-burn of a near-future novel about war, grief, and family above all.

Teenaged twins Virginia and Tommy are on a road-trip, but not the fun kind. Tommy has received a draft notice for a war long made pointless by an epidemic that is sweeping the globe, and Virginia is determined to get to Cape Canaveral, to see a rocket launch — probably the last ever launch. They run away from their foster home, and as their adventure unfolds we also learn about their past. Orphaned at the age of 5, they’ve only had each other to lean on. Their sibling bond is made more intense by Virginia’s perfect memory and Tommy’s forgetfulness. As we learn about their world and their lives, this seemingly simple story acquires layer after layer. With the clock ticking down on both the characters and humanity as a whole, this book asks us to consider the importance of identity and the push-me, pull-you bonds of family.

If speculative fiction that focuses more on character than plot is your jam; if you love sibling stories; if a tour through a very possible, but still strange, new world appeals to you; if you love warped road-trip novels; if you want clean, crisp prose that nevertheless meanders along the way; this book is for you.

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.

Don’t panic,