Reviews: Doing What the WFC Cannot Do

Under Your Skin

Get Out — Jordan Peele

2017’s Get Out was Jordan Peele’s directorial debut. The cast includes Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Lil Rel Howery, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, and Catherine Keener.

Photographer Chris Washington (Kaluuya) reluctantly faces a romantic rite of passage: accompanying his girlfriend Rose Armitage (Williams) to a family get-together. What would be stressful in any circumstances is even more so in this case, because Chris is African-American while Rose is white.

Rose assures Chris that her family is not racist but still, any number of unpleasant surprises may await Chris. And do.


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The Book of Life

The Reader — Traci Chee
Sea of Ink and Gold, book 1

Traci Chee’s 2016 The Reader is the first volume in her Sea of Ink and Gold series.

Sefia and her aunt Nin have been on the run ever since Sefia’s father was brutally murdered. Now, thanks to Sefia’s failed attempt at stealing a bandana, what had been a safe refuge is a refuge no longer. Someone may have recognized Nin and that means the pair have to flee. On their trail: killers seeking to recover a precious item stolen by Sefia’s parents.

The precious treasure is a book, whatever a book might be.


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Won’t Shed a Tear

Jade War — Fonda Lee
Green Bone Saga, book 2


Jade War is the second volume in Fonda Lee’s ongoing Green Bone Saga.

Ayt Mada has a simple dream: unify all of Kekon’s clans under her benevolent rule, the better to protect Kekon’s interests in a world filled with powerful, empires. The No Peak clan refuses to submit to Ayt’s Mountain Clan, so it must be destroyed for the greater good.

No Peak’s Pillar (leader) Kaul Lan had all the skills that might ensure No Peak’s survival in the face of the Mountain Clan’s aggression. Alas for No Peak, Lan was murdered, leaving the clan with Lan’s intemperate brother Hilo as leader. Hilo prefers direct, brutal methods. No Peak’s survival depends on Hilo growing into his unwanted role.


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The Same Thing If You Please

Lee Narae
Bloody Sweet, book 1

Bloody Sweet, Volume One, collects an astounding number of installments of this Lee Narae webtoon.

Shin Naerim’s mother performs a valuable, if unconventional, public service: she is a moodang, a Korean shaman. Shin Naerim also provides a valuable public service: she is a meek victim whom her classmates can torment without any fear of repercussions.


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Once Was Lost

Not Your Sidekick — C. B. Lee
Sidekick Squad, book 1

2016’s Not Your Sidekick is the first of C. B. Lee’s Sidekick Squad series.

A superflare activated the metagene possessed by a minute fraction of humanity, granting them superhuman powers.

World War III nearly made that development irrelevant. Nearly. Despite humanity’s best efforts at removing itself from the board, humans and civilization survived. Life in the North American Collective may all be a bit regimented, but for Jessica Tran it is the only life she knows.

Her hometown Andover may be in backwater Nevada, but it is one of the lucky few to have resident superheroes, Smasher and Shockwave (who just happen to be Jessica’s parents). Too bad that the town also has resident supervillains, Master and Mistress Mischief.

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Born With the Gift of a Golden Voice

Unsung Heroine — Sarah Kuhn

2019’s Unsung Heroine is a side-story in Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine series.

Lucy Valdez is a multi-competent person. She’s adept at hand-to-hand fighting; she’s a karaoke queen at a local hot-spot, the Gutter. She’s been a sweetheart to half of the city’s lesbian community. Yet one challenge eludes her: how to win the heart of Rose Rorick (which includes keeping said heart once Rose learns what the real Lucy is like).

Lucy’s cunning gambits to present Rose with an acceptable version of Lucy have left Lucy firmly friend-zoned. Happily, Lucy has a zany scheme to solve the problem: fix up her unattainable crush with someone else. Once Rose is partnered, perhaps Lucy’s obsession will fade.


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Does Anybody Hear Me

The Girl From The Well — Rin Chupeco

Rin Chupeco’s 2014 The Girl From the Well is a horror novel.

In the centuries since her lord betrayed and murdered her, Okiku has never found the peace that would allow her to leave this mundane world. She cannot take revenge on the men who tossed her down a well; they’re all dead. Consumed by a fury she can never slake, Okiku has turned her anger in another direction. She wanders the Earth, killing those who murder children.


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Gone, Gone, Gone Away

The Ghost Bride — Yangsze Choo

Yangsze Choo’s 2013 The Ghost Bride is a standalone novel of the supernatural.

Li Lan is the only child of a respectable Chinese family in colonial Malaysia. When the novel takes place, the British control Malacca (having taken it from the Dutch, who in turn had taken it from Portugal). The region’s colonial rulers are a fact of life, but one that is of little relevance to Li Lan’s daily life.

That life is difficult. Her mother died of smallpox. Her father survived, but with scars, inside and out. He has retreated to his study, where he smokes opium and engages in aimless scholarly pursuits. He is squandering the family fortune.

Li Lan, as the child of a well-to-do family, should have been financially secure; her family should be attempting to arrange a marriage with a young man of good family. She is neither secure nor betrothed. When her father does entertain a marriage offer, the groom is problematic. Lim Tian Ching is a scion of the well-to-do Lim family. It’s just that he’s dead.


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Staying Alive

Severance — Ling Ma

Ling Ma’s 2018 Severance is a standalone post-apocalyptic novel.

Born in China, raised by her immigrant parents in the USA, Candice Chen found a rewarding tolerable niche for herself as an office drone at Specta, packaging expensive bibles for the religious book market. It’s an empty, meaningless life, but then, Candice is no worse off than most workers.

Cue the zombie apocalypse.


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Family Circle

Exile — Lisa M. Bradley

Lisa M. Bradley’s 2019 debut novel Exile is a standalone near-future novel.

Leaking chemicals have affected the inhabitants of a previously unremarkable Texan town. Impulse controls have been shredded; psychosis and violence are rampant. The federal government’s response? Quarantine the community (now renamed Exile) and supply necessities. Exiles can only leave town if they can demonstrate that they are 4-S: strong, smart, sane, and sterile.

Protagonist Heidi Palermo is determined to leave. She’s 3-S: strong, smart, and sterile. As for sanity … compared to the rest of her family she’s sane. That’s not sane enough for the government.


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When You Believe

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns — Julie C. Dao
Rise of the Empress , book 1

2017’s Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is the first volume in Julie C. Dao’s Rise of the Empress series.

Xifeng has been raised from birth to marry Emperor Jun. It is a lofty ambition (very much so given that Xifeng is a poor orphan) but it is not entirely unreasonable. Xifeng’s abusive aunt Guma claims to possess magical powers; she insists that one day Xifeng will be great and powerful. Also, Xifeng is an unparalleled beauty, which should smooth her rise to empress .

Tired of Guma’s beatings, Xifeng flees with Wei, a young soldier who is utterly besotted with Xifeng. Alas for Wei, she is not besotted with Wei. Xifeng has a plan. A plan that involves the emperor.


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The Ship That Sailed the Time Stream

The Girl From Everywhere — Heidi Heilig
The Girl From Everywhere, book 1

2016’s The Girl From Everywhere is the first volume in Heidi Heilig’s YA time-travel series, The Girl From Everywhere.

Sixteen-year-old Nix Song has seen more of the world than most people. She has spent most of her life on her father’s ship, the Temptation, sailing the seven seas … and the timestream. Her father, Slate, is a Navigator. His special powers mean that all of recorded history is within reach.

There is of course a catch.


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And When I Walked

Natural Selection — Malinda Lo

2013’s Natural Selection is an ancillary work to Malinda Lo’s Adaptation1.

Amber was born on distant Kurra before moving with her parents to Earth. She looks human enough to pass without notice. None of Amber’s schoolmates know that an alien is among them2.

This piece describes two rites of passage: one on Kurra (obligatory for Imrians like Amber) and one on Earth (not a formal rite of passage, but nonetheless a formative experience for Amber). Amber’s Earth experience takes place two years before her Kurra rite.


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A Box Just For Wishes

The River Twice — Brenda W. Clough
Edge to Center, book 1

2019’s The River Twice is the first volume in Brenda W. Clough’s Edge to Center series.

It’s good to be the king! And if one lives in a purported republic with a dubious record of democratic transfer of power, it’s good to be the grand-daughter of the President. Calla Ang’s grandmother is Madame President of Jalanesia and (save for the tragic deaths of Calla’s parents when she was but a child) Calla’s life has so far been prosperous. Her future as the likely inheritor of her grand-mother’s position seems secure.

Her comfortable life is disrupted by the sudden appearance of a bewhiskered Englishman.


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Searchin’

Unraveling — Karen Lord

Karen Lord’s 2019 Unraveling is a standalone fantasy.

Forensic therapist Dr. Miranda Ecouvo put detectives on the trail of a serial killer. He’s caught and convicted. But it’s not clear why the killer killed or who put him up to it. Human justice cannot solve this. But someone else can.


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A New Dawn

New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color — Nisi Shawl

Nisi Shawl’s 2019 New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color is, unsurprisingly, an anthology of original speculative fiction by people of color. It takes its title from an Octavia E. Butler quotation:

“There’s nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns.”

The anthology includes seventeen stories plus ancillary material. As a whole it is worth tracking down and reading, but the following are of particular note.


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Strange Magic

The True Queen — Zen Cho
Sorcerer to the Crown, book 2

2019’s The True Queen is the second volume in Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown series.

Amnesiacs Sakti and Muna arrive on the island of Janda Baik, preceded by a great storm. They know their own names, but nothing else of their past. They look much like each other, so it is supposed that they are sisters. They are offered a home by the formidable witch Mak Genggang and begin to make new lives for themselves.

Complications ensue.


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Down Came The Rain And Washed The Spider Out.

Storm of Locusts — Rebecca Roanhorse
Sixth World, book 2

2019’s Storm of Locusts is the second volume in Rebecca Roanhorse’s Sixth World series1.

The oceans rose, civilization fell, and the gods returned. Possibly not in that order. The Walls of Dinétah keep the worst of the chaos outside Diné lands. Yet life inside the Walls can still be challenging, thanks to a plague of wandering monsters. Against the monsters stand a chosen few, the beneficiaries of what are called clan gifts. Superpowers. The chosen ones may lead lives that are all too often pitiably short, but it’s worth it to protect friends and families from the stalking horrors.

Maggie Hoskie’s gifts — speed, bloodlust — make her a superb monster-hunter. The events of the earlier volume, Trail of Lightning, left her in possession of a magic sword. She will need it soon. Too bad she has no idea how to wield it.


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What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda
Monstress, book 1

Monstress, Book One1 collects the first eighteen issues of Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s epic secondary-universe fantasy manga.

The semi-magical Arcanics are descended from godlike beings. When properly processed, their body parts can be transformed into the extremely useful substance Lilium. The humans, in particular the witches of the Cumaea, see the Arcanics as beasts fit only for slavery or for slow, painful conversion into Lilium. The Arcanics disagree. Hence the seemingly endless wars between the Arcanics and the Federation of Man.

The most recent war ended when the entire city of Constantine and all within it were burned from the face of the planet. Believing this was a work of a new Arcanic weapon, the Federation agreed to peace … for the moment.

Which gets us to one-armed Maika, an Arcanic who when we first meet her is about to sold into slavery or worse.


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Hunt The Haunted

The Haunting of Tram Car 015 — P. Djèlí Clark

P. Djèlí Clark’s 2019 novella, The Haunting of Tram Car 015, is a supernatural police procedural. It shares its setting with A Dead Djinn in Cairo.

Agent Hamed Nasr of Egypt’s Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities has learned many odd things over the course of his career, but he’s never learned to lay ghosts. Nevertheless, Nasr and new partner Onsi Youssef are summoned to Ramses Station to deal with what’s said to be a haunted tram car. Could this finally be a true haunting?

No. Whatever the entity is, it is not a ghost. It is, however, real. It is definitely hostile.


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Don’t Pay No Union Dues

Stan Sakai
Usagi Yojimbo Saga, book 8

The Usagi Yojimbo Saga, Volume Eight is an omnibus that collects books 29 through 31 of Stan Sakai’s eponymous series. At its centre is the masterless lapin samurai Miyamoto Usagi, who wanders through a slightly skewed version of Edo-era Japan.

Because I got this as an e-arc, I failed to grasp how much of a tome Volume Eight is. On paper, it’s probably weighty enough to cause serious back pain when lifting the volume.


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Ballots Not Bullets

Infomocracy — Malka Older
Centenal Cycle, book 1

Malka Older’s Infomocracy is the first volume in her Centenal Cycle.

Twenty years ago, the people of the world came together in an unprecedented step to form a new international order. Since the first global election, war among participating jurisdictions has been eradicated, and prosperity and trade have spread.

Key to the new status quo: Information, the organization that ensures everyone’s access to reliable information.


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Set Fire to the Rain

Fate of Flames — Sarah Raughley
Effigies, book 1

2016’s Fate of Flames is the first volume in Sarah Raughley’s Effigies series.

Maia is an Effigy, imbued with powers beyond mortal ken. On the plus side, awesome powers yay. On the minus side, Maia only gained her new fire-based powers because the previous fire Effigy, Natalya, died. The lifespan of an Effigy is measured in years … if they are lucky.

Maia can expect to spend the rest of her short life fighting monsters.


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Eve of Destruction

The Rosewater Insurrection — Tade Thompson
Wormwood Trilogy, book 2

Tade Thompson’s 2019 The Rosewater Insurrection is the second volume in his Wormwood trilogy.

Researcher Aminat Arigbede and her psychic husband Kaaro have a happy marriage. Their domestic bliss is ephemeral … they live on a planet that is slowly but inexorably being taken from the human species by alien invaders.

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It Looks Like Rain

An Excess Male — Maggie Shen King

Maggie Shen King’s 2017’s An Excess Male is a standalone near-future SF novel.

Lee Wei-guo is one of forty million men who make up China’s so-called Bounty, the number of men in excess of the number of women. It’s a legacy of China’s one child policy that has been complicated by misogynistic choices to favor male children and abort or abandon females. Managing the Bounty is a pressing public policy challenge. Responses have included legalizing polyandry and assigning sex workers to the superfluous men.

Wei-guo is forty; his chances of finding a bride are waning. But there’s a glimmer of hope. He has enough money saved for a dowry1; he and his fathers can afford to pay a matchmaker for a few lunch meetings with prospective brides. One such has agreed to meet with Wei-guo and his fathers.

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