Thursday, August 29, 2013

There Always Time for the End of the World

The world isn’t what we think it is. There are secrets known only to a few of us, and if you stumbled across them you might go insane.

That’s the rational behind a particular subgenre of urban fantasy that includes such diverse fare as the successful Will Smith vehicle Men in Black and Tim Powers’ fantastic Three Days to Never. The genre is itself a branch off the horror story genre.

The Fuller Memorandum, book three of the Laundry Files, holds true to the best form of this type of story. Our intrepid hero, Bob Howard (not his real name), is an agent working for Her Majesty’s Occult Service, where he deals with everything from random hauntings to demonic possession. But there’s a leak in his department, and he’s the bait. Before long everything goes fantastically pear shaped, which is the best way for stories like this to go. After all, what’s more horrifying than finding that your best laid plans are missing essential details, or have been anticipated by the enemy?

I had read a Laundry Files short story a little while ago, but none of the novels. I’m also a big fan of Stross’s stories, and this story was no disappointment. Stross writes a judicious mix of first person account (as Bob Howard’s memoirs) and third person (framed as later reconstruction), all set in the familiar streets of London that turn into a maze beset by crazed cultists. The book makes occasional references to the Lovecraft mythos (like Bob Howard’s pseudonym), without making this a Lovecraft fanfic. The tone is light and chatty - Bob Howard explains that’s necessary to keep him from going insane from the horror - but that doesn’t lessen the tension one bit.

One particular feature of the story, the main villain, was especially fun. This is a character that starts out in a good light in the story, and not until the last few dozen pages is the villain’s identity revealed. The best villains don’t actually believe they’re doing anything wrong - can’t make omelettes without breaking a few eggs - and this villain is no exception.

Although The Fuller Memorandum is book three in a series, it’s perfectly readable without having read the previous two books. For that matter, The Apocalypse Codex, the fourth book in the series has just hit the shelves. Unless you need to satisfy your OCD itch not to read books in a series out of order, you should be OK to just dive into that one.

And dive in you should.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Godless Warriors

My daughter told me her friend’s wife had written this book and hands me a paperback entitled “God’s War,” by Kameron Hurley. For some reason I didn’t get around to reading until recently. Perhaps the thought of yet another war story turned me off. Perhaps the kinda-sorta Arab setting bothered me. I don’t know.

But I did finally read it, and it kicks ass! Nyxnissa, a reconstituted soldier who hunts down deserters for a living, gets in trouble while doing some side jobs. She is working on putting her life back together after getting out of jail when the queen sends her a Red Letter. Like all opportunities in her life, this one brings with it the threat of death to her and everyone associated with her, but Nyx is not the kind of woman who shrinks back from a challenge.

Hurley has accomplished a couple of notable things with this story

First is the matter of the setting. There are stories that take place in what seems to be somewhere interesting, but as I read along I find myself unable to believe the strangeness the author describes. It’s kind of like having someone describe a place that you know well, and adding, “but everyone has wings and the sidewalks are... green. And it rains soup.” It’s got all the believability of a spook alley or a Star Trek (original series) stage set.

While Hurley’s world has familiar components - desert, people, bugs - they are combined in new and interesting ways. She doesn’t spend a great deal of effort on explaining things. This is a world that just is, and her readers need to be on their toes to keep up. Nyx experiences it with an immediacy that is contagious. My yardstick for this kind of thing is: did it make me miss my stop while reading on the train? It did, more than once.

The other thing is religion. The story takes place during a religious war, and the religion is very much modeled after Islam, complete with religiously pursued sexism (not just misogynism) and five or six times a day prayer calls. It would have been easy to write a caricature of Islam, but Hurley manages to treat (her story's version of) Islam and religion in general with respect. Bad things happen, sure, but they happen because of people, not because of religion. Her story includes devout men and women, like Rhys the magician who confronts his devotion to his faith in light of his unwillingness to fight and die for it.

This story is groundbreaking enough that it seems some people have coined the term "bugpunk" to describe its gritty, crawly, slimy mix of biotech that makes things go. Some reviewers say that bugpunk is a subgenre of cyberpunk, but I think nothing could be further from the truth. Cyberpunk is a fantasy making a partial capitulation to the blandishments of technology, without conceding the human rationality that must go with that. Hurley if anything goes the other direction. Technology, take it or leave it, but human rationality remains standing.

Nominated for the Nebula. Give it a read!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

EmbassytownEmbassytown by China Miéville
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Embassytown is a fully achieved work of art." High praise from Ursula LeGuin (in her Guardian review), one of the writers who have really driven the potential for Science Fiction as artform. Best book I have read so far this year, for what that's worth, Embassytown is a maverick read, setting out a subtle but profound agenda, and then carrying it through to a stunning conclusion, much like Suzette Haden-Elgin's Native Tongue or Anthony Burgess's Clockwork Orange. If you have read it already, read the first few chapters again - it's amazing the detail employed to carefully inch the story forward, play it backward, then when all the pieces are in place, unleash it.

Miéville is known for his disapproval of the high fantasy genre, and this is the complete opposite of that, dealing with language not as a way of identifying class and race, but undermining this notion, as in the works of Burgess, Burroughs or Lessing, demonstrating how language creates class, language creates race, language creates culture, and then, going on to demonstrate, quite graphically, how language is also, to quote Burroughs, "a virus sent from space" - a destructive addiction.

China Miéville has always been a deep and deeply intelligent writer. Embassytown shows that he is, simply, a great writer who should not be ignored.

View all my reviews

Embassytown by China Miéville – review

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Demons through Different Eyes

When a year ago I was reading that a local author and friend of mine, Paul Genesse, was starting a shared world writing project, I was intrigued. His idea was simple: a secret alliance of humans is fighting demons, and has been, for all of human history. The alliance has gone by various names, depending on the language of the time, but in English they are mostly known as the Crimson Pact. Paul wrote a starter story to get participants off on a common footing, and invited flash fiction (short short stories of less than 1,000 words) contributions of all genres. The best contributors were invited to perhaps expand their short short to short story length. The result was compiled into an anthology that was published about six months ago, Crimson Pact volume one. Since then hundreds of thousands of additional words have been submitted to Paul, and he's now published Crimson Pact volume two, with the help of digital publisher Steven Saus (Alliteration Ink).

How do these stories hold up? There are contributors who are established authors in their own right, like Larry Correia, but most of the authors are relative unknowns: this kind of an anthology could not possibly have been published by a mainstream publisher, and yet Paul manages to present over two dozen stories that are almost without exception up to the highest standards of stories found in professional magazines like Isaac Asimov's or Analog.

The very first story "Body or Soul" by Chanté McCoy captured my attention. The setting was medieval, the characters archetypal but real. In this format there's not much room for wasted words, but she put the place before my eyes and allowed me to meet what might be real people, dealing with real problems.

"Cats, Caves, and Dynamite" by T. S. Rhodes was something completely different. Using a serious tone, but describing events bordering on the hilarious, Rhodes describes what happens when a hillbilly Vietnam vet with plenty of dynamite meets up with a demon.

"Last Rites in the Big Green Empty" by Lon Prater is about knowing right from wrong, set in the Vietnam War, or a reasonable facsimile. Prater keeps you guessing to the end about who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. When your actions are dominated by a desire for revenge and by hate and fear, how can you decide?

Patrick M. Tracy's "Red Bandanna Boys" tells of a horrifying future, a world torn by war, with unkillable demons egging us on. Lucky for us there are angels, too, though we might not recognize them as they help us with our challenges.

And about two dozen more, for a total of twenty-six stories, plus bonus material consisting of authors' notes explaining the genesis of their stories. This collection is well worth your time.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Turkish Delight

Those of us who are fans of science fiction and fantasy love to read about exotic and imaginary places. We sing paeans of praise to that sense of wonder evoked by planets orbiting distant stars, by vistas no human being has ever laid eyes on, and yet our own world offers so much that is miraculous and amazing and colorful and exotic! Ian McDonald has noticed it, as well. He took us to São Paulo with his 2008 Hugo nominated novel Brasyl, and he does it again with this 2011 Hugo nominated novel The Dervish House, taking us to Istanbul, queen of cities. (I know, Elton isn't singing about Istanbul there.) This is the third of the Hugo nominated novels that I read.

Necdet (Nedjdet), a young man fighting with mental illness, moves to the big city, Istanbul, where his brother Ismet has a place. Ismet leads an Islamic street court, a tarikat, and lives in a dervish house, an ancient structure built hundreds of years ago by a now defunct Islamic sect that somehow survived centuries of wars and fires and urban renewal. Living under the same roof is Can (Jan), a nine-year old boy who is isolated from the world because of his life threatening illness which forces him to wear deafening plugs in his ears. Can’s only friend seems to be Georgios, an older Greek whose career as an economist has been sidelined by politics and his youthful participation in anti-government protests, which also lost him his life’s true love.

Adnan and his wife Ayşa (Aysha) also live in the dervish house. Adnan is a stock broker, about to make it big with three co-conspirators in a scam involving radioactive natural gas from Iran, while Ayşa, a scrupulous dealer in religious antiquities, is hunting for a legendary mummy that might be found somewhere in Istanbul. Finally, there is Leyla, a young woman fresh out of college struggling to prove her independence to her family, a noisy clan of people ranging all over Turkey, while working for a cousin who is trying to start up a nano technology business.

It is only a few years into our future, and the people of Istanbul must contend with religious extremism, with an overbearing police presence, and with political turmoil as the EU is finally going to admit Turkey into its ranks. In other words, not much has changed. Connected initially only by the dervish house, McDonald plots the course of the lives of the dervish house’s inhabitants and their supporting cast over the next few days. The plots intersect, sometimes directly, sometimes only incidentally, in the streets and alleys of Istanbul, and from one side of the Bosphorus to the other.

I enjoyed this story very much. McDonald had me spellbound from the second page, and the finish was complete and satisfying. (The first page has a guide to pronouncing romanized Turkish words: sounds formidable, but it wasn’t any kind of a problem.) Against the backdrop of Istanbul, described by McDonald in vivid but sparse brushstrokes of prose, this story was a great adventure well worth my time.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

A Fifty Year Old Vor-gin

Ah, yes, the name of Vorkosigan is well known throughout SF fandom. Lois McMaster Bujold is not only an entertaining story teller, but that little trickster, leaving a trail of havoc in his wake, must strike a chord with many folks who look in the mirror to sadly survey their own lack of physical prowess. The adventures of Miles have appeared in the Hugo short list a number of times, and Bujold has managed to take home that coveted rocket more than once on the strength of these stories. Cryoburn is yet another in this series of successes for this year’s Hugos, and the second nominee that I finished.

Miles finds himself the victim of an abduction, but are we worried? We most decidedly are not. We follow him instead, gleefully chortling as he lays one trap after another, occasionally "unpacks" an explanation for those around him who are less fleet of mind, and draws his prey into his net. If you’re a fan, you no doubt expect Miles to solve all of the puzzles. Well, I won’t spoil the story by telling you how it does in fact end.

This was actually the first Vorkosigan story I've ever read. I didn't know what to expect, but Bujold quickly drew me into the story. The various character are described engagingly, and the plot moves along at a pace that kept me turning pages. If I have any complaints, it’s that the setting was too generic, leaving me with a mental impression of a Star Trek set, with hastily spray painted styrofoam facades that have no substance behind them. Even potentially evocative locations like the cryo-crypts, were present in name only. While in this tale that’s easy to overlook - it was all about the action, after all - I’m thinking that for a Hugo caliber story I would want more substance to occupy my mind’s eye.

However you may feel about that, I thought this was a fun story.

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Sunday, May 01, 2011

The Gods Themselves

I tend to upset many of my more conventional atheistic friends when I point out to them how much being an atheist depends on faith. Faith, they say, has to do with superstitions. But I tend to agree with Sam Harris, who writes in The Moral Landscape that faith is not defined by what one believes in, but that one believes in something.

I believe that the universe is a predictable (no? how about this one then?) place (within the laws of probability that appear to govern quantum mechanics), whose laws human beings can discover through observation. I agree that such a place doesn’t necessarily exclude what some people might call a deity, but it would be at most a powerful being whose motives - being inhuman (like that one?) - are suspect at best.

There are a few authors who attempt to tackle the problematic relationship between people and deities. Philip Pullman in His Dark Materials describes a powerful being who is responsible for a lot of human misery by telling people mean things to do to other people. Clearly it is right to go to war against such a being, as well as his human servants. Jay Lake’s deity in Mainspring is more distant, a representative of Newton’s orderly clockwork universe who occasionally intervenes so that things continue moving as intended - the classic prime mover.

Roger Zelazny’s deities are more personal; often they walked among mortals, incarnations with supernatural powers. In Lord of Light Zelazny casts the idea in terms of access to powerful technology that is denied to others - a re-telling of the Prometheus myth. Neil Gaiman’s deities in American Gods and Anansi Boys also walk amongst mortals, but their survival depends on human belief, a kind of reverse solipsism. They use their natures and powers to persuade or coerce humans to believe.

N.K. Jemisin’s book The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is my first of the Hugo nominated reads this year, mostly because it was my last of the Nebula nominated reads, and the only one of two Nebula nominated novels that also got the nod for the Hugos. Kingdoms is the first of a series, it seems, but it is a self-contained novel, concerning the relationship between one young woman and several very real and personal deities.

Yeine is yanked from her comfortable and predictable existence as a princess of the Kingdom of Darre to go to the empire’s capital, where her estranged grandfather nominates her as one of his heirs. From the beginning she realizes that her days are numbered, but she intends to use her limited time to find out who murdered her mother, and perhaps exact a revenge. She soon discovers that she herself is part of a much deeper and older plot.

The deities that serve the Arameri, the ruling clan, are an ever-present reality. Yeine describes them as weapons. Sieh, one of these deities, agrees with her. He says he prefers that word to calling them slaves. After all, slavery is forbidden in the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. The other deity with whom Yeine has a rather more intimate relationship, Nahadoth the Dark Lord, is not merely philosophical about his position. Since he was the leader of the rebellion that enslaved them, he also bears the brunt of human indignity heaped on them.

The story is far more complex than my two-paragraph synopsis, of course. Jemisin’s stylistic competence shines, as she writes from Yeine’s point of view - a Yeine who has already died, and is now retelling her story to someone who is unidentified for much of the novel. The plot weaves back and forth, galloping along with events one moment, and returning to contemplate something in the past the next. It is not conventional, but also not laborious to read.

Yeine and the deities are well fleshed out characters. Yeine’s human compatriots are less so, serving as archetypal stand-ins for moral failings and moral strengths. It’s a curious reversal of roles, but then the story turns out to be a reversal of conventional Christian theology.

It has been a promising start to my Hugo reading this year. It’s high fantasy, no elves, nifty ideas, and food for thought. Highly recommended, whether you’re voting for the Hugos or not.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Conjuring Austen

This new type of fantasy appears to be all the rage: take a romance, fold in liberal amounts of fantastic elements, be they magic, zombies, or vampires, and, hey presto! a new potboiler. A lot of them are fun, like Gail Carriger’s stories of the Parasol Protectorate, or Naomi Novik’s excellent Temeraire series. However, since they are so much fun, everyone seems to be in on the act, from established writers to fairly green Newbies. Mary Robinette Kowal is hardly a newcomer, and her story Shades of Milk and Honey reflects skill and polish.

Jane Ellsworth, going on 29, is plain and has resigned herself to spinsterhood, when events conspire to bring not one, but two suitors into her life. Her younger sister Melody is beside herself with jealousy.

These are the makings of your typical Victorian romance. What makes this story something other than a venture into sensibilities and tastes of a bygone age is that Jane is quite an accomplished glamourist - a person skilled at creating illusions from the ether.

As you can see from the story’s setup, its elements are practically rote. The story wouldn’t be remarkable if it weren’t for the skill that Kowal applies in putting all of the required elements in place, without making the entire business seem contrived.

Quite a bit like an accomplished glamourist, I’d say.

Anyway, like all Victorian romances, this one has the appropriate amount of upset and quandary, and finishes off with a proper happy ending. If you’re going to read it, it’ll be not for something entirely new, but for something familiar but well done. Afterwards, you might have a strong hankering for re-reading Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

I did enjoy the story a lot. I wish it hadn’t been so short.

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

An Alien World

In my quest to find great f&sf books published in 2010 I’ve taken up the Nebula Award nominees. Often those are excellent picks.

“Who Fears Death” by Nnedi Okorafor is the story of Onyesonwu (her name translates as the story’s title), a young woman living in a future version of the Sudan. Some things haven’t changed, and so it is that Onyesonwu is the product of weaponized rape, and has to survive in a climate of intense racism directed at her and her parents, while towards the west a war of ethnic cleansing is brewing.

Onyesonwu is by no means an ordinary person, but she struggles as much as anyone else - perhaps more, because of her unique burden. She does learn to use her strengths, and in the end she goes to confront her father, the man who raped her mother.

The story’s makes use of African folk tales and beliefs, alongside of remnants of technology that indicate this is all happening at some future time. Magic and technology, side by side, create a vivid backdrop for the story, told by Onyesonwu to her biographer.

Younger readers ought to have some guidance while reading the story, as it deals not just with issues of rape and racism, but it also talks about female genital mutilation, a practice carried out in large parts of Africa, even though most governments there have outlawed it. In Okorafor’s narrative most young girls undergo the procedure voluntarily, albeit under a great deal of social pressure. I have no idea to what extent that reflects reality.

“Who Fears Death” is one of my favorite stories published in 2010.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Gem Spotting

There's not a lot of money in short stories, so it's not surprising that the short story doesn't receive as much attention as novels do, but some of the best SF published still comes in that format. Many magazines have excellent editors, so the stories are at least quite good, and often they are amazing. Authors may also be invited to contribute to anthologies. Those can be veritable treasure troves.

Some authors publish enough of these gems that they will in turn be published as a separate anthology. I love it when I come across these collections, because they will almost invariably be some of the most satisfying reading I'll do all year.

Walter Jon Williams's collection The Green Leopard Plague is a fantastic anthology of nine of Williams's best short stories. They range from a disturbing view of future childhood, "Daddy's World," to a raucous buddy-adventure, "Send Them Flowers." "Incarnation Day" and "Pinocchio" also deal with growing up, taking place in a future that Williams describes as a world "where everything went right." Of course in Williams's utopias there's still plenty of room for excitement, drama, and even tragedy. There's a man who has lost his true love to a rare incident of permanent death, "Lethe," a couple celebrating their 1,000th wedding anniversary, "The Millennium Party," and treasure hunting in the China Sea, "The Tang Dynasty Underwater Pyramid." The book's titular story, "The Green Leopard Plague," is one of this utopia's origin stories, a fantastic braiding of two points of view. "The Last Ride of German Freddy" is an alternate history fiction, re-imagining some of the events surrounding the fight at the OK Corral.

Each of the stories comes with a brief post-script by Williams, explaining some of the story's genesis, and adding even more to its enjoyment.

I wish I could promise you that all single-author anthologies are going to be as satisfying as The Green Leopard Plague, but at least I can promise you that this particular collection will be some of the best reading you'll do.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Under Whelming

If Herman Melville tried to sell Moby Dick today, he would be disappointed. Fashions change, and how we tell a story is as much part of fashion as any other cultural construct. For example, the time-honored "once upon a time," which everyone knows will introduce a story of kings and beautiful princesses and talking frogs, is a fashion.

We don’t use it anymore, except when re-telling the old stories. New stories, even when they involve kings and talking animals, generally do not start that way.

In other countries fashions are different. That’s no surprise. What may surprise some people is that even such a thing as how to tell a story has different fashions in other countries, and other times. There’s a certain rhythm to a story, plot points everyone understands must be included, short cuts for characterization, all kinds of established tradition and accepted fashion that make story telling possible in a cultural context. Without this context, a story teller must work much harder to reach a given audience.

I enjoy reading stories from other countries. Most of the time things proceed along familiar paths. Then I notice the tiny departures from familiar fashion, the minor infractions of the rules I know. Most of the time they are enjoyable, like a new flavor in ice cream, or a mysterious spice in a sauce.

But some fashions are torturous. Some fashions crippled feet, maimed bodies; some fashions killed. There are also bad story telling fashions, of which Moby Dick is an example.

Guy Gavriel Kay’s Under Heaven takes place in historical China. Names have been changed, and in Kay’s story ghosts really do cry under the sky of abandoned battle fields, and shamans have real magical powers, but otherwise it is a recognizable version of China. The story begins on a battle field, where Shen Tai is gathering the bones of the dead to bury them and lay their ghosts to rest. I really liked Shen Tai. Kay describes him as a man who is always searching for his center, seeking a life that has meaning. This has lead to his act of piety during the time he is mourning the death of his father, general Shen Gao, whose last battle took place where Tai is now gathering the bones.

Tai gains the attentions of various powerful people. There is the princess in the West, who makes him an extravagant gift. There are other people who want him dead. Tai must balance his fight for survival with other things that are important to him: people whom he cares about, people whom he owes loyalty, and, of course, the emperor, the Son of Heaven. I worried about Tai, about his love Spring Rain, about his sister Li-Mei. I had a nice hate going for the foolish first minister, and I was terrified what Roshan might end up doing, especially since the Banished Immortal foreshadowed what would happen. It was great! It’s a ripping yarn, full of beautiful and wily women, powerful men, and dangers at every turn.

I was truly enjoying the story. I told Elysa she should definitely read it.

And then I got to about two-thirds into the story, and Kay lost me.

Up until that point, Kay tells the story well. It is interesting, exciting, difficult to put down.

But suddenly Kay lapsed into a passive voice. He started blathering about historians, and the problem of truth. Where is that coming from? Kay, it seems, is writing this story with a Point. Yes, it must be capitalized. For the rest of the book Kay is drumming home his Point, not even a new and interesting one, and almost completely abandons the tone he has set in the first two-thirds.

I think I know the reason. Reading Kay’s acknowledgements at the end, he writes of studying Tang China, of reading the works of the poets of the day (which even included a Banished Immortal). I have read stories from old China, myself. I think I recognize the mode. I think Kay is imitating a Tang period story telling fashion, in all its torturous form.

The result is disappointing. Why Kay’s editor didn’t make him re-write the last part of his book I don’t know. Kay writes that he’s worked on this story for a long time. I wonder if his story telling instincts were at war with his desire to tell a story in the fashion of the ancient Chinese poets.

I give Under Heaven passing marks. For me, the start of the book is worth reading it. If the entire book had held up to the beginning, it would have been one of my choices for this year’s Hugos.

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

What Dreams Within

Immigrants can have it hard. When I came to the states in '72, I didn't speak English all that well, and I was hopelessly obtuse when it came to picking up American customs. Üter Zörker, the Simpsons character in the lederhosen: that was me. Lucky for me, with my light skin and blond hair and blue eyes, once I got rid of my lederhosen I didn't stand out as an immigrant - not in Utah suburbia, anyway. So, while I experienced some of the trials that immigrants go through, I certainly had none of the trouble someone from Mexico or from Africa might have had.

Ekaterina Sedia is also an immigrant. She is from Russia, and, like me, she probably manages to blend in well enough. But there must be some part of being an immigrant that we all have in common, which transcends culture and perhaps even gender.

The House of Discarded Dreams tells the story of Vimbai, a young woman from Zimbabwe who is struggling to come to terms with herself as both American and Zimbabwean. Vimbai's mother is no help to her; everything is political, and difficult, and Vimbai, much like her father, prefers to avoid conflict. So when she comes across an ad for a house mate, she makes enquiries, and soon joins Maya and Felix in a ramshackle beach house.

The house and its inhabitants work a dreamlike magic on Vimbai. She finds a psychic energy baby stuck in the phone, and one day the ghost of her departed grandmother joins them. That night the sea rises and takes the house off its foundations. When Vimbai wakes in the morning, they are adrift in the middle of the ocean, with no land in sight. Instead of panicking, the three humans and their otherworldly companions make the best of things. The house seems to contain the stuff of their dreams, and they spend time exploring. Things work well enough, until they find themselves besieged by their own nightmares. Not to mention they're running out of things to eat.

Writing in the vein of magic realism, Sedia displays skill and facility few authors have. This is no jumbled mess of dream images. Instead, Sedia manages to weave together the more or less real experiences of Vimbai and her companions with stories from Africa, from Zimbabwe. Vimbai's diffidence towards her origins are thoroughly explored, and from my own experience her journey towards accepting her origins is realistic. Sedia also makes it moving and insightful, something that even non-immigrants will appreciate.

The result is an enchanting little story. Psychic energy baby gives it... seven thumbs up!

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