Happy Friday, sky pirates and space invaders. Here be exoskeletons.
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I absolutely do judge books by their covers — one of my favorite things to do in new bookstores is find their sf/f section, try to find an author I haven’t heard of, and buy it if the cover is good. And I definitely have read at least one of the books in this round-up thanks primarily to Richard Anderson’s excellent art. (It is also hard to resist dinosaurs and hippos, am I right?)
If you’ve read Lightless, or if you read that David Peterson piece on naming from last time and don’t mind some spoilers (seriously though, spoilers herein), C.A. Higgins talks about how she chose the names for her trilogy. Rather than making anything up, she went looking to history for inspiration, and her choices are interesting.
N.K. Jemisin has some thoughts about new releases in science fiction and fantasy in her New York Times column; you could do much worse than let her help you find your next read! Thanks to her I need Buffalo Soldier, like, yesterday.
We are one step closer to our best mecha selves, thanks to Lowes (of all people). They’ve developed exoskeletons for their workers to help with all the lifting and carrying.
This week, I’d like to recommend some space hijinks and some magical realism.
The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
Scalzi has a new series, and this is a doozy of a first book. Let me get a couple things out of the way first: You don’t have to have read the Old Man’s War series to get this (they’re completely separate storylines, if not universes). You don’t have to have read any Scalzi previously to get into it (and it might be a solid jumping on point, for reasons below).
The doomed empire in question is the Interdependency, a network of planetary systems linked by the Flow, a handy extra-dimensional field that allows people to travel relatively quickly from one planet to the next. (No FTL travel here, sorry folks.) Except that the Flow is having problems, potentially civilization-ending ones, and no one wants to talk about it because then they would make less money! No seriously, they need to make their money while the getting is good.
The Interdependency is ruled by merchant guilds, and this was both a strength of the plot and a weakness for me. Everyone’s motives are super clear and very believable, and the politicking is spot on. But when you’re looking at the oncoming apocalypse, a lot of it comes across as unbearably petty. Which is probably the point, but definitely had me contemplating chucking the book across the room in frustration a few times.
Anyway! The book is vintage Scalzi: the characters are well-drawn and quippy as all get-out, the plot moves along at a crisp pace, and the spaceships are named after 1920s songs. You could almost call it “good clean fun” except for all the sex scenes and f-bombs — about which I am certainly not complaining! Some bonus reading: 5 books Scalzi was thinking about when he wrote it, and an excellent fancast.
What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
Have you read Kelly Link? (Go read Kelly Link.) How about Borges, or Garcia Marquez? (Go read those too.) Murakami? Rushdie? A.S. Byatt? If you’ve read and loved any of the above, or even if you haven’t, you need to be reading Helen Oyeyemi.
This collection is jaw-droppingly, heart-stoppingly good. Whether she’s writing about an apartment with too many strange doors, or puppetry, or a drowned kingdom, or a hidden garden, or making Little Red Riding Hood far more horrifying than I thought possible, Oyeyemi is at her best. The sentences are beautiful, the worlds and characters are just the right mix of familiar and uncanny, and the flow from story to story seamless. She’s deftly and subtly bound the collection together through a single image — keys — and a few recurring characters, and I found myself scavenging the pages for when they might appear.
I’ve been a fan of Oyeyemi’s work since I first read Boy, Snow, Bird, but What Is Not Yours… blows everything I’ve read by her out of the water. It is short stories done right; it makes the fantastical real and the mundane strange; I couldn’t read it fast enough, and I couldn’t bear for it to be over.