Narmer And the God Beast Cover Reveal!

As I alluded to in my July Newsletter, I have worked up a short story in my ‘Egypt and Dinosaurs’ setting. It is called Narmer and the God Beast. As I so eloquently put it then:

“I even paid for a cover and everything . . . “

https://alligatorsandaneurysms.wordpress.com/2021/07/02/july-newsletter-new-fiction-master-of-secrets/

Well, that cover is here. It was created by illustrator Lee Eschliman who is absolutely fantastic. You can take a look at his other work on instagram. Lee’s artwork has been in my life since I can remember. One of his logos graced the deck of my very first skateboard (if you can believe I used to skate) and he’s influenced several of my hobbies overs the years. I was absolutely ecstatic that he was willing to craft the cover for my story. It turned out simply amazing.

Anywho, without further ado, here’s the cover for Narmer and the God Beast (and the back cover blurb to pique your interest):

Had I anything in my heart but hate for my brother and pity for myself . . .

I may have suspected I was about to meet a god.”

Broken and bleeding into the cool Nile waters – shattered by his brother’s cruelty – young Narmer pays the crocodile no heed as it enters the stream. Let it come.

But the hunter swims on, and only then does Narmer know its aim, the defenseless god-beast drinking and playing up-river.

Dinosaurs will again roam the desert sands, uniting the disparate Two Lands into one great Egypt, if Narmer can drive off the crocodile, if he can endure his brother’s malice.

If he can save this sacred creature and be saved by it . . .


So, there you have it. Narmer and the God Beast is officially announced. The launch on Amazon will take place on October 4th, but you can also preorder it now. I’m going to be doing a series of posts this month about my influences for the story and how it came together so stay tuned for those. Some stories and teasers in this world have already been posted on this blog so look for them on my fiction page.

And finally, you can just follow my progress on things and get quarterly updates and new fiction by subscribing to my newsletter at https://jdweber.news/EgyptAndDinos. For signing up, I’ll send you a copy of the first story I every wrote about a warlock doctor.

See you next time!

*Update 9/14 – I’ve begun posting some of the “influence” posts I mentioned before. Here’s what I’ve completed so far:

Colleen Hoover’s ‘Verity’: A great book, or masterful manipulation?

We interrupt our regularly scheduled program of Science Fiction and (mostly) Fantasy reviews to truly step into the weird and talk about a . . . thriller?

Yup. Apparently if there is enough hype around something, I’ll read it no matter what it is.

And this book I just could not seem to escape. The waitress at a local brewery recommended it to me. I saw it on the shelf at a friend’s house who suggested I give it a shot. Even one of my employees recommended it (bold move haha).

A quick google told me it had originally come out in 2018 and considering I don’t normally read a lot of thrillers, I wasn’t surprised that I hadn’t heard of it, but it did seem odd that all of the sudden, it seemed to be on everyone’s radar. Maybe it was a sign from God.

Or maybe it was Tik Tok. Specifically, it was making a resurgence on #booktok. Since I’m still a Tik Tok newb (I literally only got the app yesterday), I can’t begin to imagine what caused its resurgence, or try to trace the path it followed once it started picking up steam on the app, but pretty much everyone I’ve talked to said that they heard about it there.

But when I asked about what made it so good, everyone seemed to make a bit of a face and then tell me to just read it. When this is the type of review I get from people regarding a book, I tend to get suspicious quickly. I’ve often felt that sometimes books somehow manage a critical mass of hype, and the quality of what’s on the pages no longer matters, it’s just the cool thing to have read, and nobody wants to admit they read a bad book because it was ‘cool’. Nobody wants to feel manipulated like that.

Of course some books deserve all the praise they get, and so the only way to find out which kind of book Verity is, was to read it myself.

So, when I saw it on sale at target, I thought “Why not?” and swept it into my cart. Now, probably about a month later (I was in the middle of another book when I picked this up plus I did not have a ton of time to read due to life things you’ll eventually get to read about in my newsletter), I think I understand what all those raised eyebrows, and suggestions to “just read it” were about.

Did it Meet the Hype?

In a weird way, yes. Some books will hook readers with a sense of awe or wonder, while others may hook them with a mystifying question that is just begging to be answered. Verity seems to approach its hook by making sure that every detail, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is shocking and more than a little fucked up.

In one of the early scenes of the book, a five year old boy tries to manipulate the main character into giving him soda after he’s been forbidden the drink by his father. In many ways, this really sets the tone for the rest of the read. There is no innocence, not really. Every character seems to act selfishly then tries to justify their own behavior, even as we get farther and farther away from anything resembling ‘right’ when compared to ‘wrong’.

Then of course there is all the sex. It’s not coy, and some of the acts were obviously, and deliberately written to also invoke a sense a shock (should probably mention here that, as far as I could tell, it was all consensual). I thought it a funny bit of lampshading when the main character, reading a manuscript herself, begins skimming over all the sex scenes.

Finally, I was definitely impressed with the sense of foreboding and tension that the author was able to keep up, pretty much through the whole story. Of course the twist at the end is probably what has everyone ‘tok’-ing (is that a word people use?) about it. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who has yet to read the book, but suffice to say, it is quite ambiguous. If you’re ok with such endings, you’ll probably enjoy the book for what it is, a wild and rollicking ride, but if you need to have a definite answer, this might be a bit of a hard one to take.

My only gripe with the book was that sometimes the author seems to beat the reader over the head with what they want them to take away from an interaction or scene or chapter. Sometimes this leads to some abrupt stops in the narrative. For instance, if a character who is just being introduced has a previous relationship with the MC, you get that whole history in summary just after witnessing a character action by which we can infer they have a history, and the moment is awkward. This was most noticeable in the beginning, but after things get rolling it seems to lessen.

So . . . Just Read It?

Ultimately, I would say yes, go ahead and read this one. The quality of writing (in terms of technique) sometimes flagged for me, but I felt the content of the story was certainly surprising and riveting at almost every turn. It sucked me right in.

The title of this review talks about a ‘masterful manipulation’ and is a reference to the end of the book in which a character considers the events of the story, what she knows and what she thinks she knows, and admits that the truth has been manipulated (in some ways by each character although the end is referencing only one). She questions which manipulation is correct.

I think Colleen Hoover’s Verity does manipulate its readers, but not into endlessly hyping the book senselessly whether it is a quality story or not. I think instead it manipulates its readers through shock, and the subversion of expectations. But shouldn’t all fiction accomplish this goal? Perhaps that is why it has such a following . . .

That’s all I have for this one! Have any of you read it yet? What were your thoughts? Are you going to try to read the 2nd ending that appears to have been recently released? What were your favorite moments? Does it live up to the hype? Let me know in the comments, and here are some of the funny tiktoks I found about the book. SPOILERS AHEAD —–

— How I wish my review had been written: https://www.tiktok.com/t/ZTRmawVYP/
— Definitely my reaction EVERY time Verity talked about her children: https://www.tiktok.com/t/ZTRma7ftb/
— Ok. So I actually thought this book had one of the worst opening lines but I was misremembering it with a line that comes later (there’s a comparison of a man’s head exploding with a wine cork being popped. Eww and oh no). I supposed this isn’t terrible: https://www.tiktok.com/t/ZTRma3uDE/
— Probably what my face looked like reading this book: https://www.tiktok.com/t/ZTRmmPPPu/
— This just made me laugh: https://www.tiktok.com/t/ZTRmmMetS/

See you next time!!

Siege and Storm: More World, More Intrigue, More Enjoyment!

About four months have passed since I last reviewed a GrishaVerse book. That post turned into more of a celebration of Epic Fantasy than a review of Shadow and Bone, but I think it is still quite obvious that I greatly enjoyed my stay in Ravka. It hit all the right notes for me, pulling from Russian myth and fairytale, while still presenting a unique and immersive secondary world all its own.

Despite the controversy over the artistic license taken with Russian history and culture, I appreciated what diligence and thoughtfulness the author did show, and greatly enjoyed trying to tease what was what within the novel.

The second book, Siege and Storm was in many ways more of the same. I do not mean this as a negative, it is why I picked up the second volume in the first place. I wanted more.

And I got it.

Something I appreciated more this time around, was the way Bardugo uses well worn tropes and clichés. She always seems to present them as expected, but with some compelling feature so that even though the reader has seen it a hundred times, they’re still excited to see it again . . . And then there’s the twist, so that it doesn’t turn out as expected after all.

My author brain wonders which part of that is harder and more impressive. My reader brain just eats it up.

As any good sequel should, the scope of Siege and Storm expands. Places which were just words on the map become flea ridden hostels where no one speaks in the same tongue, dangerous alleyways (where still you can’t communicate), or vast expanses of bitter cold ocean. Of course we return to the places we knew in S&B as well, but these places have changed irrevocably because of the events of the first book. The world Alina and Mal inhabit becomes larger, more dangerous, and so much more engaging.

I had never really heard or considered the term Tsarpunk before now, but reading Siege and Storm really put that term into perspective for me. The importance of a kind of fantastical technology really steps into the fore (in one case in such a ‘steampunk’ way I actually laughed) within this book.

But it also ups the Epic-ness of the stakes too (so I’d still consider it epic fantasy as I did the first). Siege and Storm deals in the fates of nations with migrations, refugees, and upstart religions all putting pressure on the typical quest for the throne, and discovery of supernatural power. Even the love triangle gets an extra angle hah!

It seems like a lot to fit into one volume, but it never seems overwhelming. Again, much to study here in the economy of a scene for writers, and just as much to simply enjoy for its own sake for readers.

Recommend?

Yes! Siege and Storm was a great continuation of the S&B Trilogy, with as much new material to enjoy as reference to the first book. I’m looking forward to how things wrap up in the final installment, Ruin and Rising!

That’s all I have for today folks. Have any of you read this work? What did you think? Did it live up to the bar set by S&B? What was you’re favorite part?

Please leave your answers in the comments. See you next time!


Still here? Awesome. I’m glad you enjoyed my review of Leigh Bardugo’s Siege and Storm. I was so inspired by this book, and others like it, as well as real Russian history, fairy tales and folk traditions, that I have been writing my own stories in a similar setting. The first was called Farewell to Rusalka (preview), and then second was At the Edge of Legend (preview). I have another story in revision called Where the Lobsters Go to Winter which I’ll release in the beginning of October. It was influenced heavily by Siege and Storm. If you’re interested, please sign up for my newsletter before October 1st 2022, and you’ll get a copy at release.

Thanks for your time, and I hope to see you around here more!

Annotated Sandman Vol.1 – A Great But Sometimes Overwhelming Dream

Well now that the Hugo Award winners have been announced (congrats Psalm for the Wild-Built, we were rooting for you!) I guess it’s time to go back to our regularly scheduled programming which is . . . well any random thing I guess.

Sandman is perhaps not quite so random as a live-action adaptation of the this highly regarded comic has recently been released on Netflix. It looks amazing, and I’ve heard it lives up to the hype from everyone I talk to who’s watched it.

I’m VERY excited to check out the show, but I’m also the type of person who likes to try and read things before they watch it. With books at least, once I’ve seen it on the big/small/any screen, I cannot rid those images from my brain, and so I just imagine everything as I’ve already seen it which, to me, kinda takes away from the experience as it feels a bit like cheating.

Of course there are some exceptions to this rule: Lord of the Rings was WAY cooler as imagined by Peter Jackson than what I came up with on my own (no comment here regarding story as that’s a whole other post). I guess my 11 year old mind just simply lacked the budget to do the story justice . . . Anyway, generally I’ll try to air on the side of caution and read the original format first (although for a lot of series I’m currently reading and loving, like Shadow and Bone, and The Witcher, it was the show (or game and then show) that brought me to the books which I can’t be disappointed by because at least they got me to the books).

Anyway, I (usually) want to experience the story in its original medium first because I feel it gives my own imagination some freedom and a kind of creativity that a movie or show just can’t. There are definitely times (like LotR) when Hollywood does it better, and if that’s the case I’m pleasantly surprised, but if it’s not the case, at least I still have that original memory.

Perhaps as I get more into comic books, I’ll find they’re a bit different considering they are already a visual medium and I’m not imagining things from scratch, but I didn’t want to run that experiment just yet, I just wanted to plow through a highly acclaimed story by a renowned author.

So what did I think?

Right. Back on topic. In general, I loved(!!) The Sandman story, but unfortunately I think the edition which I read actually made it more difficult for me to enjoy. I’ll start with why I’m recommending the comic, and will end with why I will consider a different edition when continuing on.

The Dream Itself

The Sandman itself is absolutely an incredible story. My previous experience with Neil Gaiman has been a bit hit and miss — loved Good Omens, hated Neverwhere, still need to read American Gods — so I was pretty lukewarm on the idea of a Neil Gaiman comic, when my book club proposed the idea. However, I knew the show was coming out, and I would want to watch it, and everything I mentioned above, so I decided just to go for it. We were tasked to read Vols 1-20, and so I requested it from the library, and waited its eventual arrival.

In general, I’ve read very few comics, and what I have read was generally inspired by a book (Wheel of Time: Eye of the World), a movie (James Bond), or a show (Game of Thrones). Exceptions to this are Moon Knight (and I guess now Sandman) which fall into the category of: Rushing to Read a Few Before I Watch the Show.

Generally, everything mentioned above is either not a superhero story, or a Marvel superhero story. In the case of the Marvel stories, I can’t say any were particularly deep or thought provoking (with the exception, maybe, of Lemire’s take on Moon Knight). Mostly they were stories with a lot of action, punching and crime fighting.

The Sandman is apparently part of the ‘DC Universe’ which I have never read any of, but have seen a few movies (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman etc.) Would they be the same? Who knew? Not me.

I had no idea what to expect.

What I found was a deep and thought provoking story. One that exists in single nights, generations, and eons. A story rich in allusion, both to classical myth and comic book milieu. A comic book which considers themes of gender, racism and class.

And a comic book that was equal turns, batty, horrifying (read as genre of horror), funny, and prescient (even though the first issue came out in 1988).

The Sandman himself is a strangely compelling protagonist. Kind of a grim reaper type fellow which gave me major 80’s metal vibes (actual Death is personified as a perky punk girl). Sandman’s job is not to help people into the afterlife, but to protect ‘The Dream’. His methods for doing this are at times moral, selfish, brutal, kind, or in some cases just bizarre.

We understand his motives and goals as much as we need to in order to have a satisfying story, but there is always something behind the curtain which we don’t understand. Always something which seems to make Sandman unknowable, despite how much we learn about him each issue. It’s deeply compelling.

Gaiman also seems to be able to hook us with something new each issue. In some issues it’s the setting (Hell and later a convention — like comic-con — for Serial Killers stand out but there are many great ones). In other issues, it’s the villain, or the theme/social commentary, or some new twist on something we thought we’d seen before. One issue is entirely the dream of a cat. It seems Gaiman really let his imagination run wild, but as a true storyteller, is also able to connect the seemingly disparate stories together in a way which told a larger story.

My only gripe was all the cameos.

Gaiman’s Sandman (I say “Gaiman’s” because as I learned from the Forward, there was a Sandman in DC universe before this, one that’s referenced and shown in several issues) is an intriguing enough character on his own, he doesn’t need the help of a crossover. I understand that this is how comics sell other comics, but I think everything would have been stronger without them.

The Sandman, The Dream, Death, Desire, Lucifer, The Endless, are all rich enough characters and settings with incredibly deep mythology (often pulling from real myths) to exist in their own story without Arkham or the Justice League or any of the other tie-ins (although Constantine seemed to fit into the Sandman milieu as if he’d always been there so he was my favorite cameo).

Anyway, it all combines into a deeply interesting comic which is easy to lose your whole night reading (or blogging about). I highly recommend whether you’re new to comics or a long-time fan. These stories are packed with enough that I feel there will be something for everyone to take away from the experience.

My Issues With the Annotated Edition.

For one, no color. Sandman appears to have been a fantastically illustrated comic, but you would not know it from reading the Annotated Edition. Every panel is black and white, which often obscures some of the artwork, making things unclear or hard to make out. Also, having seen the color editions at my friend’s house . . . they’re just so much more beautiful.

Next, the annotations themselves. Some of them consist of explanations of allusions, or backstories of characters we see on certain pages. Even script notes from NG about what he imagined the scene to look like (the script notes were fun, NG is a weird and interesting dude). Also errors are pointed out . . .

As someone who watches the New Rockstars “Easter Egg Break Down” after every marvel show/movie (I believe Eric Voss never sleeps), I though this would generally be the type of stuff I would eat up in a minute.

Only there was so much information that reading the annotations often took me away from the story completely rather than immerse me deeper in (which I assume is the intention). Honestly, it caused a lot of false starts and trails which felt like they lead nowhere.

For instance, until I read the Forward to the annotated edition from NG himself, I had no idea Sandman was ‘DC Universe’. There was a lot of interesting history of comics in his intro, and the annotator’s opening which got me up to speed quickly and provided a ton of extra context. However, I did not need a single word of that to jump into the ‘text’ of Sandman.

Of course this ‘text’ of The Sandman is heavily referential, as I mentioned earlier, alluding to the mythologies of many cultures, and DC universe history as well. Often times those references were obscured by the artist or author’s intent and also just generally an obscure cut which you’d have to be a big nerd (a term I do not use pejoratively) to know about.

I’ll admit it was a bit fun to see some DC heroes I was familiar with (mostly from movies) appear in the issues, but often times the annotations that accompanied these cameos vacillated between wikipedia length articles, and a single line saying which issue the character first appeared in. Useful I suppose if I want to go back and read those issues some day, or check out a new character, but ultimately, the short annotations were not useful, and the long ones took so long to read that I couldn’t remember where I was in the story. And worst of all, a few contained spoilers!

As I consider this, I think some kind of tags in the beginning like “comics history”, or “Literary allusion” (and of course “spoiler!”) would have been useful at the beginning of the annotations so that the reader could decide whether or not to read the annotation or not. Some were interesting to me, while others were decidedly not, but I eventually just stopped reading them altogether because I could not discern if it would be relevant information for me to know before getting halfway through and then stopping and trying to pick up the pieces of where I was in the narrative.

My final thesis about these annotations is probably this: If you have not read these comics already, then they are likely going to provide too much information for you to really get immersed in the story. When watching the Easter Egg Break Downs mentioned earlier, I’ve realized that I always watch them after I’ve already gone through episode or movie blind once and formed my own theories and conclusions. Then watching the breakdowns can be like getting your score back on a test. Did you catch everything?

I suspect an annotated volume like this could have very much the same fun, if I was already experienced with The Sandman comics to begin with.

So . . . Recommend?

Yes! I whole heartedly recommend The Sandman comic, with the caveat that it may be wise for newbies to the series to find an edition that’s in color, and does not include the annotations. Vols 1-20 are a thought provoking story. Deep, wacky, scary, and even humorous, with a compelling and seemingly unknowable main character. However, this particular edition was a bit difficult to read. Aside from this one gripe, I would highly recommend the book to anyone, and if you’ve already been a fan of The Sandman for quite a while, then perhaps this is the edition for you after all.

Has anyone reading enjoyed this comic? What’s your fav storyline (no spoilers for after issue 20 plz! I’ll get there soon.) Have you tried it with the annotations? What was your experience?

Please let me know in the comments. I’ll see you next time.

Should ‘Across the Green Grass Fields’ Win a Hugo?

The more Wayward Children books I read, the more I feel like they come in two types. There seems to be a main thread which holds true to the premise of the series, aka what happens to (portal fantasy) children, when they come back from their quest? And a second category which seems to mimic more traditional portal fantasies, aka separate the MC from the normal world and let her go on a QUEST!!

Of the parts of this series I’ve reviewed for this blog, In an Absent Dream seemed to belong more to category two, while Come Tumbling Down seemed to fit more in category one.

I’m finding that despite exactly everything this series is attempting to subvert, I still seem to like ‘type two’ installments better. In some ways, they read more like the traditional portal fantasy which I know and love.

Luckily for me then, Across the Green Grass Fields (AtGGF), was more ‘type two’.

Of course, I think the parts of this book which resonated with so many people, and hit the hardest (therefore making it a Hugo contender), take place ‘IRL’ before Regan ever crosses over into the Hooflands. It’s in her life as an everyday girl, combatting the changes of puberty, as well as an almost Mean Girls level of social stratification that we find the hurt and meaning of this well crafted story. In short, how devastating it can be to perform girlhood incorrectly.

Listening to the beginning of this novella was a stark reminder of just how cruel children can be, and just how much trauma can occur at such a young age (and how strict the culture is on young girls (and later women))

Then, we cross over into the Hooflands, and the adventure starts. I’ve read some comments that the worldbuilding here is sub-par but I still found it to be engaging and awe inspiring, as any magical realm should be.

Perhaps in the mode of someone looking for a door myself, I just wanted to stay in this world and peel it back layer by layer. What mystical creatures could we take for granted? What even stranger beasts might we see when we go to the fair? How might our preconceived notions unravel as we venture out into the wilds?

Some of the denizens of the Hooflands were familiar while others were not. Maybe someday I’ll try to chase down all the references and see what might have inspired the creatures and culture we experienced within this volume.

Finally, there was the ending . . . I won’t spoil it here, but I think in many ways it was also a subversion, and — maybe because I’m just stuck in my ways — probably the novella’s weakest point.

Alright, but Should it Win the HUGO?!!

This was a pretty tough call, which ultimately came down to more subjective than objective reasoning. I really enjoyed AtGGF and I would definitely recommend it to anyone. In terms of Wayward Children installments, I felt it was more the type of story I was looking for than the previous novella.

However, the competition for ‘Best Novella’ is fierce, and I just enjoyed Psalm for the Wild-Built more (but I probably enjoyed AtGGF more than The Past is Red).

So, no. If the award was left only up to me, I would not give Across the Green Grass Fields a Hugo for Best Novella . . .

What are your thoughts? Did I miss my mark? What was your favorite part about this book? What was your favorite creature from the Hooflands? Was it the Peryton? Apparently they were invented by Jorge Louis Borges in the mid-1900s . . . the more you know!!!

Let me know your answers in the comments. See you next time!!

Should ‘A Psalm for the Wild-Built’ Win a Hugo?

Becky Chambers is no stranger to awards and accolades. She’s garnered nominations for (including two this year if I’m counting correctly) six Hugo awards since 2017, and even won ‘Best Series’ for The Wayfarers in 2019. Wired magazine has even gone so far as to ask if she is ‘the ultimate hope for Science Fiction’.

Yet somehow, A Psalm for the Wild-Built happens to be the first of Chamber’s work that I’ve read. Clearly I really have my finger on the pulse here . . .

Anyway, without having read any of her other works, I will not try to answer whether or not she is Science Fiction’s Ultimate Hope, but instead just try to figure out if this delightful novella is enough to win the Hugo Award.

I suppose I can start with my initial impressions . . .

Which weren’t actually all that great. While the level of worldbuilding Chambers is a able to achieve in so few pages is impressive, I felt the novella’s opening was particularly laden with it, to the point of which I almost did not last long enough to meet Dex, our main character.

However, I’m happy to say that I stuck with it and was all the happier for it.

APftWB is an interesting story because it is actually so many kinds of stories all at once. I considered the setting to be a kind of after-the-fall scenario in which (uniquely) humanity has managed not kill itself completely, but instead use moderation and prudence to reach a kind of sustainability, without robots no-less.

Of course, there are still hints and echoes of what The Past Is Red would have called the Fuckwit’s society – decaying factories, degrading monasteries, and many other relics of a wasteful people – but in general, it seems this version of humanity may have hit the breaks in time and even rebounded into something of a utopia in progress.

That Chambers manages to pull a kind of Bildungsroman (for Dex) out of this idyllic setting is nothing short of phenomenal. The story, in some ways, appears to have no (traditional) conflict, and yet it is indeed saturated with it. As we move farther from the safety of the monastery the questions needing answered become existential quickly. What is the purpose of life? What is my unique purpose? How many purposes can someone have? Which one is the right one? Why aren’t I happy?

Luckily we have Splendid Speckled Mosscap (Robot). Luckily we have tea.

I think this is truly the magic Chambers brings to her writing. She is somehow able to grapple with these large meaning-of-life-sized questions while simultaneously making us laugh, or say ‘aww’, or sigh and let the tension release from our shoulders.

She is somehow able to show us the dread, and soothe us from it too. I don’t know that I’ve really ever read anything like it before.

So . . . Award?

Yes! As of right now, I think this is the one I would choose for best novella. While I felt the beginning lagged a bit, once APftWB got going, there was so much to consider and enjoy that I was actually a bit upset when the story closed. Within its pages, I felt we got a glimpse of a hopeful if not perfect future, as well as a kind of balm for the near constant anxiety that our modern society – too focused on purpose, legacy, and doing, doing, doing – creates without concern or restraint.

Any novella that can accomplish all that, deserves the award in my book.

Anyway, that’s all I have now. Has anyone else read this story? What did you think? What was your favorite part? What was your favorite robot name / occupation? Leave your answers in the comments.

See you next time!

Should ‘A Master of Djinn’ win a Hugo?

So, we’re back with another edition of ‘Should [insert title] win a Hugo?‘ and while I understand that Hugo voting already took place on August 11th, I didn’t want to let my tardiness prevent me from posting about this awesome book.

(Honestly I will probably continue to post reviews of Hugo nominated works in this format up until and even after the winners are announced. I just like the ring of the title lol)

And the answer, for me, is ABSOLUTELY!

There is so much to consider within these 392 pages that it’s really hard to figure out where to even begin with my review, but I think it might be safe to begin with what the general public might enjoy, before diving into my particular brand of Ancient Egypt – centric nonsense.

A review over on Josh Garik16’s SciFi/Fantasy Reviews and Other Thoughts, points out just how ‘fun’ A Master of Djinn is to read. I couldn’t agree more. Agents Fatma and Hadia have excellent back-and-forth, while her and Siti exhibit the type of witty romance we all wish we might fall into someday. Then there’s Fatma’s rapport with Aasim from the police, and of course agents Ahmed and Onsi . . . her short shrift for self important djinn . . . Really just Fatma DOING ANYTHING is a joy to behold.

Perhaps the next feature of this book which deserves attention, is its deft handling of Theme (with a capital T lol). Of course, modern day Cairo is an intricate mix of different peoples, religions, beliefs and customs. Clark’s Steampunk Cairo does not shy away from this complexity in A Master of Djinn but rather embraces it, using it as a platform to examine issues of race, and prejudice. Ultimately, Clark’s version of Cairo is not a utopia in which all of these issues are washed away, but a city very much still grappling with them. Though nothing can be solved in a single adventure, I left the story feeling hopeful at the very least.

Finally, perhaps the most awe inspiring part of A Master of Djinn is the worldbuilding. All of the mystical and mundane beings we met in A Dead Djinn in Cairo (as well as a major plot point which I won’t spoil) return, and are even more mysterious, magical, and amazing. Readers will recognize one particular market from The Angel of Khan El-Kahlili, and I’ve already mentioned two returning characters from The Haunting of Tram Car 015, but the world of this novel is sooo much bigger than these little winks to previous installments. A Master of Djinn truly earns the ‘epic’ part of epic fantasy, with international intrigue, kings, courts, imperialism, and more magic than I could describe in a single post (all the while hitting all the beats of a thrilling mystery too).

But because I’m me, I was enraptured by the nods to Cairo (and Egypt’s) more ancient past. One of the first places we see is the Temple of Hathor, dedicated to the “Lady of Stars”. Here Clark clearly did his research, providing the more common depiction of Hathor with statuary involving calf’s horns, and representative of motherhood etc. But I also felt his incorporation of the duality between Hathor and Sekhmet (something it seems Disney’s Moon Knight is doing also) clever as well.

In general, we see more Ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses than we have yet seen in any previous installment. We actually meet Sobek, and cults to Anubis, Nephthys, and Set are implied if not shown. I can’t remember if any others are mentioned, but what I enjoyed the most about their inclusion, was that Clark was not afraid to take liberties with the myths, and really made them fit the story he was trying to tell (for instance Set and Sobek are roommates because housing in Cairo is expensive (wow does that speak to me)). And when agent Fatma points out inaccuracies in how the myths play out, well:

“Ahmad’s generous nostrils flared as he gritted his sharp teeth.
‘Why is everyone so slavish to texts written thousands of years ago?’ he snapped. ‘Gods can change. Grow apart. Try new things. Besides, Set was a jerk. He never knew how to treat her properly. How to worship her.’

Clark, P. Djeli; A Master of Djinn pg. 63-64 (2021)

I guess the author knew there’d be people in the audience pushing up their spectacles and raising a finger to say “Excuse me . . .” Why not head us off at the pass. It got me laughing at least.

One last interesting incorporation of Ancient Egyptian mythology was essentially the incorporation of human avatars for the Ancient Gods (Ahmad being the most prominent), and the in-world belief that the God’s tombs existed in the world somewhere and presumably could be found, and that the gods could ‘awaken’.

So far as I know, Ancient Egyptians only ever built tombs for human beings. Human beings which they believed would more or less take the form of Gods in the afterlife (or during your regular life if you were the Pharaoh).

I only think these things are interesting because they were also espoused in Disney’s recent superhero series Moon Knight. It is interesting to me that this would appear in two pieces of media around relatively the same time, considering I don’t think any scholars are espousing this view. It would be interesting to try and hunt down where these ideas are coming from, but I’m sure I have zero idea how to even begin that search.

Focus Dude . . . Award?

Anyway, yes, if we’re going off of what I’ve read so far, I absolutely want A Master of Djinn to win best novel. I enjoyed Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary but I don’t think it stood out to me as a Hugo contender the way this book did.

Anyway, that’s all I have for now. Have you read this one? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!!

See you next time!

Should ‘The Past is Red’ win a Hugo?

No? Yes? I think I’ll need to work out my opinion as we go.

In general, I think my reaction to this story is a bit contrary to many of the reviews I’ve been seeing online, and I suppose even contrary to the fact that this novella was nominated for a Hugo in the first place.

One review calls The Past is Red poignant and optimistic and its publisher — Tor — writes of “Finding Hope in Garbagetown”.

A post-apocalyptic Pollyanna is perhaps closer to the mark, but I view the term Pollyanna with a more negative connotation than it seems to be used here, given the general enthusiasm of the review.

Essentially, this book actually left me feeling more depressed and sad than when I began it.

I suppose I’ll start with the things I enjoyed about the book (which were many) before explaining the parts that I didn’t like.

The Cool Stuff:

The most dazzling and immediate element of this piece is undoubtedly Valente’s prose. What she chooses to have Tetley say is at times bold, while at others shy. It’s clever and poetic and will ring more than a few wry smiles from its reader as they ponder familiar words which seem to have taken on a new meaning.

Before reading TPiR, if someone had told me I was a “bright” boy I might have felt some small pride at the compliment to my intelligence, but generally it would not have been anything much to get worked up about. Now I won’t be able to hear those two words as anything other than “Bright Boy” which would probably cause me some level of disgust (at being compared to those who would put on such a gaudy and tactless display of wealth), while also some level of . . . I don’t know, something that would make your cheeks go red in a good way.

Needless to say, if Valente was ” . . . putting the calligraphy away . . . ” during her 2017 roast of superhero stories in The Refrigerator Monologues, it was back in full for TPiR.

The posts I linked to earlier describe the premise and world building, so I won’t rehash that here except to say that this is another place where TPiR shines as brightly as Electric City and Candle Hole combined. Valente is somehow able to recycle the remains of the life we know, and build it up into something wholly new.

The Not as Cool Stuff

But this novella isn’t all clever wit and intriguing landscape. In terms of messaging, there is a lot of heavy material to consider, and ultimately I felt TPiR began to crumble under so much weight.

Without spoiling too much, there were a few places in which I thought the story undermined its own credibility, and actually made itself weaker by including certain techniques. The technique that jumps to mind immediately, is that of an unreliable narrator. TPiR‘s main character, Tetley Abednego, is generally a pretty straightforward, no-nonsense story teller. However, she goes back on her story in a few places, describing some amazingly heartfelt sequence or interesting event, and then saying something like, “but that’s not how it happened” or “maybe it did happen like that, maybe it didn’t, but it doesn’t matter”.

This took me out of the story in so many critical moments that it was hard not to get annoyed. I felt it also made her point of view (that the world can’t change back to the way it was but the garbage world is still beautiful), and some key actions she took because of that POV, so much harder for me to reconcile.

Her loosening grip on reality felt warranted given the trauma she experienced, and generally I enjoy stories with unreliable narrators, but I also think that if you’re gonna have this kind of plot, it’s big enough to take up the whole plot, and not just something that is sprinkled in. In TPiR, it felt sprinkled in.

Finally, there’s the ending sequence, which again I won’t spoil, but needless to say, I did not feel any hope at the resolution of this novel. To me it felt like giving up. It felt like why try?

And while I can understand that sentiment in some instances, and have certainly felt that sentiment throughout the course of my life, it isn’t what I want from the books I read. Especially from something so critically acclaimed as to be nominated for a Hugo Award.

Award?

Obviously, the Hugo awards are decided by a lot of people (and factors), but if the decision were solely mine, this would not be my pick for the award (even without considering the other nominees). In general, I enjoyed Valente’s beautiful and clever writing, and was intrigued by the depth of the world she was able to create, but the second guessing of Tetly’s sanity at key points in the story did not further the novella’s themes or even coherency, and I was unable to draw any kind of hope from the novella’s ending as so many others seem to be able to.

I’ll admit that despite all the ways this story tried to convince me otherwise, I still did want to see some glimmer that things were getting back on their feet and I just didn’t feel that way at the end. Who knows, maybe I’m just a (Saint) Oscar the Grouch, and raining on everyone’s joyous parade. Or maybe I’m just still thinking like a Fuckwit.

How’d you all feel about this one? Award winner? Let me know in the comments!!

Moon Knight Vol 2. Dead Will Rise (Review)

We’re back with another Moon Knight post! It’s been seemingly forever since I did one of these (I’ve been pretty much knee deep in the A Dead Djinn Universe the last couple weeks), and considering the Moon Knight show on Disney+ has uh . . . (ahem) wrapped up, I wasn’t sure when it would make sense to do another one.

But all who are mighty shall bow down before the divine authority that is a library due date lest they face the WRATH OF THE $5 FINE!

Or in other words, I quick read this one during a lunch break so it wouldn’t be overdue. I think my last foray into these comics was with the proceeding volume of this run, Warren Ellis‘ debut with the character in Moon Knight Vol 1: From the Dead. I’m not entirely sure how crediting works in comics go, but Brian Wood seems to be the main name associated with this volume (#2): Dead Will Rise.

Overall Reaction:

Overall, I thought this was a pretty straightforward Moon Knight experience. The character is still a bit of a loaner with side kicks Frenchie, Marlene and Crawley noticeably absent. Marc’s other personalities reprise their roles though and the Moon Knight we see appears to have gained some new gadgets (scarab drones lol) and a burgeoning moral compass. The Moon Knight seems to have any physical conflict well in hand, taking down single foes with ease, however his inner conflicts are not so easily pushed aside.

This would seem a bit of a course correction from the Ellis edition which relied heavily on a more surreal art style, and an extreme amount of violence, to present a pretty amoral hero who only barely cared about things like justice or protecting the innocent.

Or, it might be that — just like the duality noted in epithets of the real Ancient Egyptian god Khonsu — Moon Knight is both protector/healer, and bloodthirsty demon (who lives on hearts yummm), and now that we have seen the darkness in the Ellis books, it’s time to see some heroism.

Other Connections

Unfortunately, I don’t have a ton here. We only get one brief visit back to Egypt at the Pyramid of Giza, in which we see Khonshu’s statue (in a similar inaccuracy to those made in Moon Knight Episode 3 – The Friendly Type), but ultimately the story does not linger there long, and there were no other references to Ancient Egyptians that we hadn’t already seen (that I noted anyway).

Another possible thing of note, was the use of Marc’s alternates in this volume. I mentioned that much of the violence was turned down in this arc, but there was still one instance of needlessly excessive force which happens during a hostage situation early on. Each of the alters are working to resolve the situation in a kind of revolving door of expertise, and when the enemy is finally confronted, he is “disarmed” (literally both his arms are broken) by Lockely. It’s assumed that while this foe is rendered — quite brutally — incapacitated, that he will live to stand trial. But the final panel shows Moon Knight covered in more blood implying that Lockley went further, even though the job was seemingly finished.

For me this was interesting because one of the main changes the show made, was to make Lockley’s character a kind of brutal assassin. It seemed to come as a surprise to everyone (check out reactions in my posts on Episode 4 – The Tomb, and the finale Episode 6 – Gods and Monsters) since in the early days of Moon Knight, the Lockely persona was just a cabbie, used almost exclusively for finding information and talking with informants. Perhaps we are seeing the origin of the show’s version of Lockely in these few panes.

Finally, I did think that Marc and Khonshu’s relationship in this volume took on some more interesting complexity which leads the way for the dynamic we’ll see later in the Jeff Lemire run.

So . . . Read?

I’d say yes. I’ve fallen pretty deep into the Moon Knight hole by this point so I like to look for all the little nuances etc, but even if it’s your first take on the character, I think it’s a pretty straightforward and enjoyable story with some moral questions and lots of tension.

What did y’all think? Leave your comments in the . . . well the comments section!

See you next time!

A Review of “The Haunting of Tram Car 015” By P. Djeli Clark

Still making my way through P. Djeli Clark’s A Dead Djinn Universe stories in anticipation of A Master of Djinn.

The first story in the series — from which the “universe” gets its name — A Dead Djinn in Cairo, left me wondering how I’d missed it back in 2016. A thoroughly steampunk Cairo, reimagined as a city of equal or greater prominence than western cities like New York or London. Egypt is at the heart of the mechanical and magical advancements of the early 1900s and as we investigate a mystical Djinn’s murder, we dive deeper into a city which contends with cults to ancient Egyptian Gods, more Djinn, mysterious Marid and Angels.

The Angel of Khan el-Khalili was a much shorter stay in this unique setting. Clarke uses the (I guess) controversial 2nd person point of view to put us in the mind of a young girl on very a personal mission. The magic and wonder of the world show through brightly, and we’re able to learn just a bit more about the mysterious Angels presented in the first story. There’s a bit of a twist which I enjoyed (but won’t spoil) and I was generally really impressed with this little bite sized glimpse into the setting.

But what about the tram car?

Yes! This review is of The Haunting of Tram Car 015. This trip into steampunk Cairo was a little less enchanting for me than my first outing in A Dead Djinn in Cairo. We are introduced to a new main character (well really two new MC’s although we only get POV of one), this time a man, who also works for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities. Hamed Nasr lacks the style and pizazz of A Dead Djinn‘s main character, Fatma el-Sha’arawi, but does his best working lower profile cases. He’s experienced, diligent, and thorough, which means he’s a reliable man for the job, if not necessarily an exciting one.

This perhaps brings me to my first negative critique of the piece. Hamed is meant to be showing the other MC (Onsi Youssef) the ropes and instructing him in the ways of detection etc. However, it felt like Onsi’s ingenuity and wit progressed the case more than anything Hamed did, and Onsi’s schemes — however seemingly naïve — also provided significantly more humor as well. I know many detective stories will pair a ‘straight man’ with a funnier character for laughs, but the more sensible character still needs to pull us in if they’re in fact the hero. I never felt I was reading to see Hamed succeed so much as to see what new hijinks Onsi would come up with.

Next we consider the main thrust of the plot, the haunted tram car, 015. I enjoyed this plot for several reasons, the first being its uniqueness in terms of place. We are all very familiar with houses being haunted, or asylums, or maybe an old ship out at sea, but I think this is my first reading of a haunted tram car (unless we count One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston which isn’t really framed as a haunting in the traditional sense). It seems as good a place as any for a spirit to reside and seemed to fit the rest of the setting very well.

The type of spirit (which I won’t spoil) also serves to make the world of this universe that much larger which for me was good and bad. I always appreciate learning about a new mythology which I haven’t been exposed to before, but in this case I kind of wish we had continued to explore the mythology founded in A Dead Djinn before importing something new.

Finally, we get to the pivotal scene, which I also will try not to spoil (too much), but will say that I thought the imagery quite funny to imagine while still being rife with tension. The progress of women’s rights in this reimagined Cairo, given just a passing nod in the beginning of the story, and mentioned here and there throughout the rest of the story, ended up being the platform on which the whole finale takes place. I hope to someday be able to employ a similar trick in my own writing. It felt that good.

Recommend?

In general, yes I’d recommend this story, but with the caveat that if you’re looking for another Dead Djinn in Cairo, you may be a little disappointed. The Haunting of Tram Car 015 is very much its own story even though it is set in the same universe. Though there is some crossover (we do actually share a dessert with Fatama in one scene), Onsi Hamed is the star of his own adventure.

It will be interesting to see what if any connections will be drawn from Tram Car 015 once I finally get to A Master of Djinn.

In the meantime, what did y’all think of this story? Were you able to guess who what kind of spirit was haunting the tram? Who was your favorite character? What made you laugh? Leave me some comments so we can chat. Looking forward to discussion on this one!

Review: The Angel of Khan el-Khalili by P. Djeli Clark

Oof. WordPress is telling me that my last post was my July (2022) newsletter preview a full 17 days ago!! Yikes.

In my defense, I was on vacation from like the 1st through the 10th with family, and then I was going to write Tuesday night and post on Wednesday but fate had other plans.

A huge storm rolled through and knocked out the power at 6pm Tuesday night and it was not restored until after 6pm Wednesday night (a full 24 hr blackout). I had no wifi, very little running water, and I did not dare even open my refrigerator for fear that everything would spoil immediately.

It’s amazing how little you feel like do anything productive when even taking a shower becomes a whole project.

Anyway, everything is turned back on now (although I still had no cold water this morning, only scorching hot water), and I don’t really have many more excuses to put off writing so . . . Here we go!

The Paragraph I originally Wrote Pre-Power Outage:

While it seems like TV/movie viewers might be souring on interconnected universes, there seems to be plenty of energy left for them in books and literature, especially in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres. Authors like Brandon Sanderson have used interconnected series, novels, novellas, and short stories, to weave a vast universe of fiction for which the term (Cosmere) “conquest” is an appropriate moniker for any readers attempting to remain “caught up”.

The Dead Djinn universe, written by P. Djeli Clark, does not have anywhere near the amount of entries, but is already making good use of a mixture of styles and story lengths to keep things fresh.

A Dead Djinn in Cairo introduced us to Special Investigator (for the  Egyptian Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities) Fatma el-Sha’arawi, and showed us the magic and wonder of a Steampunk Cairo. This second story, leaves behind much of what we learned about in the first story and gives us a laser focus on one of the more mysterious elements of this universe, Angels.

The Next Part I Added After the Power Outage:

We experience the tale through our own eyes with a 2nd person narration. Typically I do not really enjoy this style as I usually can’t help but feel like I’m being manipulated (or as it’s used in Harrow the Ninth, straight up gaslit) by the author, but I felt its use in this story actually felt quite natural.

My writer brain also shies away from 2nd person because simple things like describing what the main character (you) looks like, becomes a complicated and clunky task. Hiding the necessary backstory for a surprising plot twist? Impossible (for me) as the character (again you) has to just willfully ignore their own history (first person can have this problem also). This has never seemed all that plausible to me.

However, it’s clear from the outset that with this story, it is more about experiencing the world than anything else. You (how does it feel lol) end up being so wrapped up in the unknown, that there isn’t much chance to ponder everything that a character would know about themselves but you don’t cause you’re new to the story.

I mentioned a plot twist earlier, and while I won’t give it away, I will say that the deft handling of this element of the story was one of its more enjoyable aspects.

Finally, considering these stories are related, and don’t exist in a vacuum, I’m left wondering how the characters we meet in this tale will (or maybe won’t) reappear later on in the Dead Djinn universe.

Recommendation?

Yep! We’ll see how these interconnected stories progress, but right now, The Angel of Khan el-Khalili seems a pretty low stakes but enjoyable glimpse into the Dead Djinn universe. It does an excellent job introducing us to the world, intrigues us with its mystery and magic, and then gives us a nice twist which leaves us thinking afterward.

Plus, at 32 pages, it’s a pretty short read, so no time lost if it’s not your cup of tea. I definitely give this one my whole hearted recommendation.

I’m looking forward to seeing how things progress in the next installment, The Haunting of Tram Car 015.

Well that’s all I have for now. Have any of you read this? What were your thoughts? What are you most looking forward to seeing in the next installment? Let me know in the comments.

Update 8/8/2022 – Apparently Khan El-Kahlili is a real place. An actual market in Cairo that was built as part of a tomb reconstruction in the 13th century. It’s famous for its architecture (arches particularly) and the sheer amount of stuff available to purchase. Today. I. Learned.