“Riot Baby” isn’t really about Ella and her magical “Thing”, nor is it about, as the synopsis suggests, the revolution for racial equality in this barely alternate and vaguely more futuristic version of America. I say that because the events that define Kev—the actual Riot Baby—like the LA riot of 1992, and the police brutality aimed primarily at Black communities is all very real, and in Ella and Kev’s world, only taken to a slightly bigger level by the futuristic technology and weaponry the police use to terrorize these communities. This book is really about the anger felt with structural racism and brutality shown through the lens of an intimate family view of those who suffer under such conditions. Ella, her mom, and brother Kev are all just trying to live, but that becomes almost impossible with how America treats its Black citizens. This book is written in such a beautiful, raw, and angry tone which demands readers to confront systematic racial injustice head on. This novella evokes so many emotions and is crafted in really a magnificent way—Onyebuchi is a masterful writer! But story wise? I had a really hard time connecting.
“The Tribulations of August Barton” is a sweet, kind of coming-of-age novella. Except it aims to show how the college experience has helped Augie find his voice, and with the help of his ex-prostitute grandma, Gertie, get a hold of his anxiety during a period of change. Augie may not have ventured very far to go to college (hey I didn’t, either) but it’s not about the distance. It’s about putting yourself in new situations and meeting new people, broadening your horizons in every sense of the word, and Augie definitely does that! Everything from his first time getting drunk, to falling in love, to even streaking in freezing temperatures, August finds his footing more than most in college. But throughout all of Augie’s adventures, there is this undercurrent of appreciating your elders, and spending time and enjoying the elderly while we have access to them that I found to be quite beautiful.
It’s no secret that I’ve always loved the Phantom of the Opera. I adore tragic love stories and gothic vibes. So really, this review shouldn’t surprise anyone as “Phantom Song” was inspired by the original Phantom of the Opera, and the author does some truly marvelous magic weaving in the original with the far-future world she’s built with the Toccata System. How the original phantom of the opera house is brought back with the ghost, and the Phantom Angel guarding over the city (which, honestly reminded me a bit of Batman but I kind of loved that, too) while also being the masked opera star of Landry City… This story was a perfect homage to a classic while braving its own unique path. I loved getting to know Claire, and seeing her beautiful relationship with Iz, as well as having Henry and Astra return. Plus, this book has creepy AI, murderous cyborgs, and themes of prejudice that apply to many groups and peoples today. Really, what's not to love?
One of my favorite things in sci-fi is the question of what it means to be human, and when do machines cross that line into being truly alive, capable of free will, of questioning their makers, of wanting to be a part of this thing called “life”. “Urban Heroes” leans hard into that question and I love it. You have the main character, Calista, who is on the run from the uprising between man and machine she was accidentally a part of. Calista is a pilot, which means she has an almost symbiotic relationship with her ship all for the low, low price of trading her arm for a robotic one. Calista runs in with people who have more machine parts then actual machines, and yet they are offered more rights than the true robotic AI populating their world. Which is occupied by floating cities now that the world has kind of crumbled away, or something. With Calista is Axton, who pretty much everyone and their mother wants to get their hands on. Why? That is slowly teased out over the course of this very short book, and I loved the tragedy that was Calista and Axton. This book makes you think, question what is truly alive, breaks your heart, and leaves you wanting more. Maybe too much more?
We’ve all heard the tale of King Arthur. How his Knights of the Round Table fought against Morgana le Fey and her army of darkness. Arthur eventually perished, becoming a legend of what chivalry was supposed to look like, how knights were to behave, and the romanticized version of Camelot was born. Now meet Judy Avery: an incredibly young—as in 19 years-old—PhD candidate who has based her dissertation on the fact that the fairy tale has some truth to it. Watch as she presents this dissertation to her own father, who is a scientist to the core, who uses—you guessed it—science to dispel things like Arthur and his Camelot. Judy faces disappointment, is told she needs to rethink her direction, and as a kind of weird joke, is sent to the place where Camelot is meant to be, but is now a cheesy tourist trap. Cue that it’s anything but, and Judy is in for a big surprise. I really love Arthurian fantasy retellings, I love that this was a gender reversal for who is “king”, but I had a hard time connecting to Judy.
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