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Tag: Science Fiction

Review: Wardenclyffe by Lloyd Hall (Out 10/1/21)

Cover of Wardenclyffe by Lloyd Hall

Genre: Science fiction
Audience: MG/YA
Series?: Wardenclyffe series

Rating: Liked it

For fans of: Star Trek’s Data, adventure games, the “It was earth the whole time!” trope

Achievement unlocked: I received my very first physical review copy of a book earlier this summer.

eARCs (eBooks for review) seem to be the standard for blogs like mine, and I get why. They’re much cheaper for publishers to manufacture and distribute, and reviewers can’t resell them (a controversial practice I’m not going to weigh in on right now). People with larger platforms get to require physical books for review. For the most part, I’m just happy to be invited to the party, but I was very excited to get this offer.

I was even more excited to receive the book! I can’t say for certain, but I’m guessing most physical review copies don’t come packaged so beautifully, with coordinated tissue paper and thank-you notes:

The author and publisher of Wardenclyffe, Lloyd Hall, has a fashion and costume design background, and it shows. Even discounting the gorgeous packaging, which I assume retailers like Target won’t include, the book itself is a work of art. The satiny, dark purple hardback and matching dust cover were illustrated by Abigail Spence. You can’t tell from the little digital image, but when you hold it in your hand, the drawing almost looks like a linocut. It’s stunning.

Additional illustrations throughout the book by Minna Ollikainen help bring the world of Wardenclyffe to life.

An early illustration from Wardenclyffe shows carnival booths, trees, and banners at the Illumination Festival in the town of Valentine. The image is in black and white, with geometric shapes and patterns reminiscent of mandala designs.
Featuring my latest nail polish love, Femme Fatale’s “You’re Not Even Alive!”

Despite its beauty, I had a tough time getting into this book at first.

We got off to a bad start. Though it remains popular, I’m always put off by the sci-fi trope where characters in futuristic settings talk about weird old artifacts they found that we, the readers, recognize as commonplace in our time:

Mary is behind the counter distributing large containers to the crowd. I look inside the container and see it filled with hundreds of tiny pieces of white material. I approach Mary …

“What is the material you are distributing?” I ask her.

Mary laughs. “It’s food, Bit!”

ANALYSIS — UNKNOWN

“I am unfamiliar with this food,” I tell her.

“Well you’re not completely unfamiliar. You know the corn we grow up in the fields behind the cafe?” she asks.

“Yes.”

“Well that’s what this is!”

DATABASE SEARCH — MATCH INCOMPATIBLE

“It does not appear to be the same,” I say. She laughs again.

“No it is, I promise! We just found a new way to cook it,” she explains.

“What method of preparation causes the physical appearance to change?” I ask.

“Well, Bruce found us this old book of recipes. If you take the corn kernels and heat them they do this.”

This happens several times in the first few chapters, and I seriously considered DNF’ing the book because of it.

Another problem I had is the book is written in a style that feels overly simplistic for the intended audience (thirteen- to eighteen-year-olds).

This could be a deliberate stylistic choice. The narrator, Bit, is an android. Though she’s physically stronger than ordinary humans, doesn’t age, and has perfect recall, Bit lacks several basic human traits, including emotions and the capacity to recognize beauty. She’s overly literal and lacks a sense of humor.

It makes sense that her sentences would be short and direct with limited sensory details, but I still struggled with them at first. I barely made it through the disaster that cuts off all power to Valentine and the surrounding towns and Bit’s decision to journey north (for years, if she has to) in search of a scientist she believes may have a solution.

Things changed for me almost as soon as she got out of town. While I struggled to invest in any of Wardenclyffe’s characters, I found the world fascinating and mysterious.

Bit travels through a town called Paradise, where most people spend their days turning power switches on and off to make sure they use the exact same amount of power in the exact same way as they have for generations, and an island called St. Helens, where technology is reviled and melted down for scrap. The people of Paradise believe disasters are the result of breaking tradition. The people of St. Helens believe they’re caused by technology.

I started to think of Wardenclyffe less as a novella and more as an adaptation of an adventure game or a Twilight Zone episode. It gave me serious Myst vibes. That way, the odd, clunky dialogue seems less like a flaw and more like an essential element of the genre.

As Bit travels, we learn more about the history of her world. A catastrophic event referred to as “the flooding” resulted in the loss of most of the human population as well as most human knowledge, so that surviving people can use old technology but they cannot repair it or create new technology. I like that the book doesn’t try to explain what caused the flood or fill in every detail of the world before and after. That kind of granular worldbuilding has to be immaculate, and leaving it vague makes it easier to suspend disbelief.

It wasn’t until Bit reached St. Helens that I realized her world is actually our world. St. Helens is an island in a thermal lake either near or in the crater of Mount St. Helens in Washington state. June, the location of the titular Wardenclyffe lighthouse, is Juneau, Alaska. Paradise is a town in California, and I think Valentine might refer to Valentine Camp, also in California. This is maybe hypocritical, given what I said earlier, but I was delighted by these breadcrumbs and felt very smart for getting them.

Wardenclyffe, if you’re wondering, is not actually a lighthouse in Alaska. It was an “early experimental wireless transmission station” built by in New York Nikola Tesla, later torn down to settle some of his debts. I didn’t know that part in advance. Google told me.

The mysteries of the scientist and what happened to Valentine’s power are tied to the mystery of Bit’s creation and why she has outlasted all the other androids. She finds all the answers she’s looking for near Wardenclyffe, which should make for a satisfying ending. I’m still torn on whether or not it does, though. I think it’s thematically appropriate, but perhaps because I never connected with the characters, I didn’t find it particularly emotionally resonant.

Still, I really enjoyed exploring the world of Wardenclyffe, and I’m intrigued by the possibility of future books. I’d definitely pick up book two if it had a different narrator with a more descriptive voice.

Can you do me a favor?

If you like this review, please like it on Goodreads and maybe follow me there.

More Info

Publisher: Self published
Hardback Page Count: 238

Lloyd Hall is on Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads.

You can preorder the book (out October 1) directly from the author’s website.

Review: Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao (Out 9/21/21)

Genre: Science fiction
Audience: YA
Series?: Iron Widow #1

Rating: Loved it!

For fans of: Darling in the Franxx, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Pacific Rim, The Hunger Games, Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton, Chinese harem dramas, angry bisexuals who don’t flinch when they kill their enemies

Spoiler alert: I’m not going to spoil this book any more than the author has on social media, but if you’d prefer not to know what happens at all, please come back when you’ve finished Iron Widow!

Here is everything I knew about Iron Widow when I requested it from NetGalley: It’s a reimagining of the rise of the only female Chinese emperor written by the person who made those Mulan videos. I expected historical fiction, political intrigue, and maybe some family drama.

Iron Widow is nothing like I expected. If I had to write an elevator pitch, I’d say it’s a dark mecha anime with an MFM throuple that makes only minor concessions to YA conventions. There’s a makeover, a love triangle, and a homecoming, but there’s also so much violence The Hunger Games looks like a game of touch football.

It also isn’t a retelling in the sense I imagined. It isn’t set in ancient China, but rather a non-earth sci-fi world inspired by the culture and geography of ancient China. In this world, all girls are raised as sacrifices. They’re sold to wealthy husbands or to the army. Either way, their lives are cruel and rigidly confined by both their patriarchal society and their own internalized misogyny.

Wu Zetian’s older sister was sold to the army, where male pilots use girls as fuel sources to power their giant mechs in battle against the mechanical aliens beyond the Great Wall. Girls often die in battle, but Zetian’s sister didn’t even make it that far. Her pilot strangled her to death.

To her parents’ relief, Zetian finally agrees to join the army, but she doesn’t intend to die in battle either. She plans to kill her sister’s murderer. She knows she and her entire family will be executed as a result, and she believes she’s prepared to die for her vengeance.

However, before she can act, the pilot takes Zetian into battle with him, and two unexpected things happen. First, the pilot dies in her place. Second, Zetian discovers she wants to live.

Iron Widow continues my streak of LGBT books that are so delightfully fanfic-y (Queerleaders, The Calyx Charm) they make up for the fact that they’re also continuing my streak of books that are thematically heavy.

It reads like a wildly creative AU for some mecha anime I’ve never seen. (Confession: I have never seen any mecha anime.) Partially because of, you know, all the mechs, but mostly because there is so much here that I’ve only really seen in places where writers don’t have to contend with publishing gatekeepers. In a YA novel!

The MFM throuple is a fun subversion of the love triangle trope. While I’m more invested in the enemies-to-lovers pairing than the others, I was impressed by how clearly Zhao handled them all. They felt inevitable. All four of the relationships (each character with each of the others, and then all three characters together) had ample on-screen development time, including the relationship between the non-POV characters.

I had no choice but to love Zetian, who is angry, bisexual, and traumatized. That’s everything I want in a protagonist. She even gets some shit from other characters about her weight, though the cover model is thin and it’s hard to tell if Zetian is intended to be read as fat or if this is just another example of the patriarchal scrutiny she lives under.

I also loved the plot structure, which reminded me a bit of Six of Crows. Pop writing advice says that protagonists have to fail and fail and fail again until they succeed. Each challenge they fail raises the stakes, until they’re in an impossible position with the entire universe depending on them, and only then can they succeed.

Only, it’s actually much more fun to read about protagonists succeeding occasionally. In both Iron Widow and Six of Crows, we have characters who are smart and clever and good at what they do. They encounter obstacles, strategize, and then overcome those obstacles in ways that both raise the stakes and move the plot forward. Often, Zetian succeeds in ways that only end up getting her into more trouble, but at least we get to see that she truly is remarkable, instead of just being told how Special she is.

This is also my only real complaint: Zetian is Special in a way that I feel somewhat undermines Iron Widow’s feminist themes. I have no problem with Zetian spontaneously deciding to resist her patriarchal upbringing, which seems like a matter of self-preservation more than anything. I also don’t mind how much internalized misogyny influences Zetian’s perception of other women. My problem is how the narrative reinforces Zetian’s perception.

Without venturing too far into spoiler territory, other women in Iron Widow essentially fall into 3 categories: tragic victims, catty bitches, and the tragic-victim-catty-bitch Venn diagram overlap of victims who eagerly sacrifice other women.

Zetian does occasionally think about how there have to be other girls who are as remarkable as she is, and sometimes she’ll mentally challenge her internalized misogyny. I interpret that to mean later books in will contain more nuanced female characters. I’m still disappointed by their absence in Iron Widow, but I think Zhao has done enough to merit optimism for the rest of the series.

Content Warnings

From the author: “Please be aware that this book contains scenes of violence and abuse, suicide ideation, discussion and references to sexual assault (though no on-page depictions), alcohol addiction, and torture.”

Disclosure

I received a free ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

More Info

Publisher: Penguin Teen
Hardback Page Count: 400

Xiran Jay Zhao is “on Twitter for memes, Instagram for cosplays and fancy outfits, and YouTube for long videos about Chinese history and culture.”

You can support your local independent bookstore by preordering BOOK on Bookshop.org, or on Amazon.

Review: Plague Birds by Jason Sanford (Out 9/21/21)

Genre: Science fiction
Audience: Adult
Series?: Standalone?

Rating: Liked it

For fans of: Jemison’s Broken Earth trilogy and Dreamblood duology, Meyer’s The Host*, Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, weird and unsettling AI stories, creepy children with godlike powers, cross-species friendships, furries

Don’t worry! This isn’t a story about a pandemic. It’s about bloodborne AIs.

It is not possible to write a better introduction this novel than Jason Sanford himself did on his blog:

Plague Birds is set in the far future and is the epic tale of a young woman betrayed into becoming one of her world’s hated judges and executioners, with a killer AI bonded to her very blood. While the novel is science fiction, it reads much like fantasy and is weird and dark.

The far future is a post-apocalyptic blend of low-tech agrarian societies and advanced AI. The young woman is Cristina de Ane, a human-wolf hybrid who lives with her father and their stubborn donkey in Day’s End, a small village of gene-spliced humans. (Yes, I’m reviewing two furry sci-fi books today.)

When she was alive, Crista’s mother told her stories of massive cities and the high-tech moon colony where her ancestors once lived. The other people in Crista’s village consider these stories essentially fairytales. Long before any of them were born, “excessive genetic manipulation” caused a species-wide series of conflicts and disasters collectively known as the collapse, after which:

a horrible war was fought. Eventually, the three-fold armies won and laid down new rules for our world. The hunters [human-animal hybrids who give into their animal sides and form packs] could live their lives within certain constraints while AIs would work with isolated villages to return [the rest of] humanity to your original state.

Plague birds are essentially wandering human-AI pairs that maintain the “three-fold balance” by ensuring no crimes go unpunished. By death.

When a plague bird confronts a suspect, they review the suspect’s memories to determine their guilt. The human host then draws their own blood in order to release the AI that lives within them. As a cloud of blood, the AI rains down upon the guilty, sometimes entire villages, killing them with agonizing slowness and creativity.

(This is why the human host is necessary: to temper the AI’s bloodlust as well as its black-and-white approach to justice.)

Obviously, plague birds aren’t exactly popular dinner guests, even though most people agree they’re necessary. Human hosts give up their village, everyone they know, and even their very connection to other humans in order to carry out their plague bird responsibilities. In exchange, their AIs enhance their senses, sustain them without the need for food or (much) sleep, heal even wounds that should be fatal, and greatly extend their lifetimes. Usually.

In the opening chapter of Plague Birds, a plague bird named Derena is attacked, incapacitated, and fatally injured in a way that shouldn’t be possible. She manages to drag herself to Day’s End, where she asks Crista to become her successor.

Crista denies Derena’s request at first because, you know, hero’s journey. However, when Crista realizes it’s the only way to save herself and her village, Crista Accepts The Call, becomes a plague bird, and sets out to find Derena’s attackers. The journey is filled with mysteries, from the plague bird Crista believes killed her mother to a sentient monastery that stores all of humanity’s accumulated knowledge to the powers fighting to maintain or disrupt the three-fold balance.

This is Sanford’s third published entry in the Plague Birds universe, following two acclaimed short stories (which don’t appear to be freely accessible online at this point). His announcement (linked above) includes a few pieces of fan art for the previous works, as well as his sheepish notes that the artists have taken some liberties in their portrayals: His protagonist doesn’t wear “red leather skin-tight suits” or “let her shirt fly up like that.”

I bring up those notes because while he’s right that this is a weird and dark book, his approach is careful and considered. This is a dark, post-apocalyptic book with no slurs. This is a dark, post-apocalyptic book in which children only die offscreen. This is a dark, post-apocalyptic book with no! sexual! violence! (There is intimate partner violence that might resonate painfully with people who have experienced sexual violence, so be aware of that, but I thought it was handled well.)

The other thing I love about this book is the characters. Crista is a brave, nuanced, conflicted character with a strong moral compass that grounds the story. On her travels, she collects a diverse group of friends and allies that slowly coalesce into a strange sort of found family. It’s always satisfying to watch battered, distrustful people grow together.

Also, Plague Birds fits into a trend I’m noticing where writers are allowing themselves to include scenes that resonate thematically but aren’t strictly necessary to advance the plot. It’s hard to be specific without spoilers, so instead I’ll spoil “Mist Songs of Delhi” (Podcastle 640), which is one of my favorite recent short stories.

The story follows Rajaji, a man with the power to decide which dying people’s lives get preserved as divine song as he copes with his mother’s approaching death and her reluctance to have her life “enspooled.” Early in the story, Rajaji meets with a merchant who has complaints about his wife’s enspoolment. This scene could have simply served to explain the enspoolment process and progress the main plot, but after Rajaji’s mother dies and the plot is resolved, we get one more scene, a happy ending for the merchant and his family.

That last scene feels generous, because we live in a world where aspirations of page-to-screen adaptation and advice from Save the Cat have made it almost taboo to include even a single sentence that doesn’t catapult the protagonist toward the next big set piece.

Plague Birds is full of interludes and quiet moments that feel equally generous.

The only thing that doesn’t work about this book for me is how much the final acts depend upon a series of nesting reveals that I completely saw coming. I don’t think endings need to be a total surprise. In fact, I think a twist ending that isn’t telegraphed at all is worse than a predictable ending. However, in this instance, I found the tension really went out of the story when I wasn’t struggling to figure out which characters to believe and which were lying.

Other reviewers felt differently, so take that with a grain of salt. You may be surprised on your first reading, or you may enjoy the ride regardless.

The ending of Plague Birds is satisfying, but not entirely resolved, so I have hope there will be a book two. If there is, I’ll definitely pick it up.

*Hot take but I stand by it.

Can you do me a favor?

If you like this review, please like it on Goodreads and maybe follow me there.

Disclosure

I received a free ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

More Info

Publisher: Apex
Paperback Page Count: 274

Jason Sanford is on Twitter. More importantly, he runs the Genre Grapevine Patreon, which is like a whisper network for people in the SFF community without whisper networks. Absolutely check it out and support him there, if you’re able.

You can preorder the book from Apex’s website, where they also have links to (most of) your favorite retailers.

Spoiler-Free Review: The First Sister

Cover of The First Sister by Linden A. Lewis

Genre: Science fiction
Audience: Adult
Series?: The First Sister trilogy

Rating: Loved it!

For fans of: R. F. Kuang, Margaret Atwood, This is How You Lose the Time War, Red Rising, A Memory Called Empire, Ancillary Justice, Dune, Sansa Stark’s character arc, queer platonic intimacy, Suffering but no one gets raped

The First Sister has been pitched as part of the wave of feminist dystopias we’ve seen since 2016/the Handmaid’s Tale Hulu adaptation, but I think it’s more accurately described as Dune with the queer themes made explicit and the Bene Gesserit made into fully realized characters.

(I’m sticking to my resolution not to read GoodReads reviews for books I like, so it’s possible this has already been said a thousand times. Let’s agree to pretend I’m a wholly original genius for this insight. I’m having a hard week.)

We have galaxy-spanning wars and political intrigue. We have assassinations and assassination attempts. We have a matriarchal religious order that ties itself to military/political power through the beauty and “servility” of its acolytes. We have a duelist named Lito, who fights with a blade even though he’s part of a spacefaring society with all the high-level technology that entails. We have … okay, I don’t know how Hiro, the rebellious scion of space!Bezos fits into this analogy, but Dune would be a much better book if it had a Hiro character.

Told in alternating perspectives, The First Sister is the story of Hiro, Lito, and First Sister (a mute, nameless acolyte of the aforementioned religious order) journeying from very different beginnings to a single moment of conflict that will change the solar system and all four societies that call it home. Although this book is a sci-fi epic in scope, this drive to a single inevitable crisis gives it a momentum that makes it hard to put down.

Except that I was very invested in these characters and their brave, reckless decisions, so I did keep having to pause for breath when I got too worried for them.

Lito is a poor boy whose rose to become the perfect elite soldier through hard work, self-abnegation, and his partnership with Hiro. Hiro once played the chaotic neutral rogue to Lito’s lawful good fighter, but we’re introduced to them through a series of recordings they sent Lito to confess and explain their treason.

First Sister serves the soldiers serving aboard an elite military spaceship so they can go into battle with clear hearts. As the highest ranking sister aboard her vessel, she is only required to hear confessions from everyone but the captain, but she lives in fear of having her rank stripped from her and, with it, her protection from the other soldiers’ sexual advances.

Their stories unfurl in layers. At first, it seems like the primary conflict is going to be between the Icarii (Hiro and Lito), who embrace technology and view religion primarily as a series of cultural artifacts from earth, and the Geans (First Sister), who revere the natural world and enforce universal worship of the Goddess. Lito is sent to assassinate the head of First Sister’s order (and kill Hiro while he’s at it), while First Sister is ordered to spy on a potential traitor aboard her vessel. Classic science versus religion stuff.

Then things get complicated. Through Hiro’s tapes and the potential traitor’s whispered secrets, Lito and First Sister come to realize the organizations that raised and shaped them have been responsible for untold atrocities. They begin to believe peace would be preferable to victory, but they remain conflicted over abandoning everything they know for a future they can’t even really imagine.

Aside from the rich and nuanced protagonists, what I loved most about The First Sister is the way Lewis manages to portray the brutality of both societies without veering into gratuitous depictions of violence, sexual or otherwise. First Sister has experienced sexual violence, and it looms on the periphery of her every interaction with the soldiers on her ship, but we don’t have to witness it. Lito has conversations with sick and dying children, but we don’t have to read about their final, excruciating moments. We get exactly as much information we need to understand the direness of the situation without the kind of abject despair that lingers even after you finish *cough* other books *cough*.

This is ultimately a hopeful book. It’s about realizing the world can be better and deciding that’s worth the risk. It’s about people who have hurt and been hurt by each other making amends and offering forgiveness – and sometimes not. It’s exactly the kind of book I needed at this point in my life.

If you’re having kind of a rough time (and who isn’t) and you like science fiction full of big adventures and big feelings, you need to pick up The First Sister right now.

Then, please come back and tell me if you saw the final twist coming. Lewis telegraphed it so clearly, I have no idea how I missed it, but I was shocked enough that I dropped my Kindle and said, “Oh,” out loud.

You know that feeling of relief when there’s a word or fact you know that you know but you can’t quite remember it, but then you look it up and you’re like, “Oh, yes, that!!!”? That’s how the final twist felt. Incredible. Please, please do not spoil it for yourself. You deserve that pleasure.

One last thing …

Preorder The Second Rebel, Coming August 24th

Linden A. Lewis returns with this next installment of The First Sister Trilogy, perfect for fans of Red Rising, The Handmaid’s Tale, and The Expanse.

Astrid has reclaimed her name and her voice, and now seeks to bring down the Sisterhood from within. Throwing herself into the lioness’ den, Astrid must confront and challenge the Aunts who run the Gean religious institution, but she quickly discovers that the business of politics is far deadlier than she ever expected.

Meanwhile, on an outlaw colony station deep in space, Hiro val Akira seeks to bring a dangerous ally into the rebellion. Whispers of a digital woman fuel Hiro’s search, but they are not the only person looking for this link to the mysterious race of Synthetics.

Lito sol Lucious continues to grow into his role as a lead revolutionary and is tasked with rescuing an Aster operative from deep within an Icarii prison. With danger around every corner, Lito, his partner Ofiera, and the newly freed operative must flee in order to keep dangerous secrets out of enemy hands.

Back on Venus, Lito’s sister Lucinia must carry on after her brother’s disappearance and accusation of treason by Icarii authorities. Despite being under the thumb of Souji val Akira, Lucinia manages to keep her nose clean…that is until an Aster revolutionary shows up with news about her brother’s fate, and an opportunity to join the fight.

This captivating, spellbinding second installment to The First Sister series picks up right where The First Sister left off and is a must-read for science fiction fans everywhere.

Hopefully I’ll get a chance to review it before book three comes out.

Disclosure

I received a free eBook from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

More Info

Publisher: Skybound Books
Hardback Page Count: 352

Linden A. Lewis (she/they) is on Twitter and Instagram.

You can support your local independent bookstore by buying BOOK on Bookshop.org, or grab it on Amazon.

Spoiler-Free Review: And What Can We Offer You Tonight by Premee Mohamed (Out 7/20/21)

Cover of And What Can We Offer You Tonight by Premee Mohamed

Genre: Science fiction
Audience: Adult
Series?: Standalone

Rating: Liked it

For fans of: The Handmaid’s Tale, Maria Haskins’ “Six Dreams About the Train,” Sarah Pinsker’s “The Court Magician,” Alyssa Wong’s “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers,” eco sci-fi, poetic literary speculative fiction

In a science-fiction world where only the very wealthy have funerals and everyone else is dumped into the ubiquitous filthy canals when they die, a high end courtesan comes back to life to take vengeance on her wealthy client/murderer. Jewel, the protagonist of And What Can We Offer You Tonight, is the dead girl’s friend. Having not been reanimated with a terrible purpose, Jewel’s concerns are more quotidian: meeting clients, looking after her fellow courtesans, and trying to keep from losing her job as a known associate of the vigilante dead girl haunting the city’s rich.

This is a tough novella to summarize and an even tougher one to review. It’s beautifully written. Despite being 75% run-on sentences, it never feels dense, just poetic. Jewel’s helpless, often directionless ruminating turns her world into an anxious kaleidoscope. The imagery of the courtesans’ elegant House contrasts with the crumbling city outside in a way that makes both of them seem equally alien and lovely, and Mohamed has a way of describing familiar objects like perfume that seems stranger than her futuristic technology. I wanted to highlight entire chapters.

It’s also, objectively, something that should really connect with me. I love class conflict stories and I love female characters that other reviewers call too passive or too violent or too morally impure and I love a run-on sentence. But it didn’t hook me behind the belly button the way I wanted it to, and I can’t really say why.

If I had to guess, I’d say it was probably that Jewel is very Hamlet. She wants everything and nothing. She can’t make up her mind. She acts only when her hand is forced by other, stronger willed characters. Her definite trait is her compulsion to smother her unpretty emotions in order to keep her job and her life (which is saying the same thing twice).

I don’t think this is a flaw in the writing. I mean, Hamlet. If anything, Jewel is too relatable. Her dystopian future world is too real. Like, I am living through real climate disasters and class warfare, I do not have any spare energy for lightly fictionalized versions of them.

On the other hand, reading lightly fictionalized versions of the traumas you’re surviving can be healing. I think that will be the case for a lot of people who read And What Can We Offer You Tonight. After the murders in Atlanta and this summer’s heat wave, a lot of readers are going to find catharsis in the story of a murdered sex worker who traverses a flooded city to kill her killer.

I think this novella will also appeal to a lot of readers who don’t typically like SFF. If Margaret Atwood can say The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t science fiction, then I think I’m justified in saying neither is And What Can We Offer You Tonight. Buy this book for your snobby aunt and tell her it’s Literature that happens to have some lightly futuristic technology and exactly one un-dead girl. 

Disclosure

I received a free ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

More Info

Publisher: Neon Hemlock Press
Hardback Page Count: 80

Premee Mohamed is delightful on Twitter and on her blog, so check those out.

Preorder the book on Amazon (out July 20).