The Memory Librarian: And Other Stories of Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe

[Image ID: The cover of Janelle Monáe's "The Memory Librarian: And Other Stories of Dirty Computer" Janelle Monáe is front and center as Jane dressed as a Torch as she is in "Dirty Computer - An Emotion Picture." The Snapchat caption reads: "Fully forgot I preordered this XD" End ID]

“The Memory Librarian” is a fantastic dive back into the world of Janelle Monáe’s 2018 concept album “Dirty Computer.” In addition to giving us more of Jane, Zen and Ché, we get to see what the rest of the world is like, from impoverished children to the people at the very top who monitor society. If it’s been a while since you last watched “Dirty Computer – An Emotion Picture,” I highly recommend doing so before jumping in to read to refresh yourself on the world. Now let’s look at the stories:

The Memory Librarian feat. Alaya Dawn Johnson: This story introduces us to Seshet, the director librarian of Little Delta, who wanted to better the world through her work within the system of New Dawn, but not in the typical sense that New Dawn wants to better the world. A Black woman, with a number of opinions and feature that could  see her labeled a dirty computer, she keeps her eyes away from areas known to be congregating spaces for dirty computers as she monitors the memories of people in the city and this story sees her juggling her personal desires with the careful line she has to tread with her superiors. 

[Image ID: A snap of the text. The highlighted segment reads "Well, don't they fucking know? Is it possible that they haven't even realized? What has she done, wise Seshet, compassionate Seshet, even while precarious in power? She has not looked." The Snapchat captions reads: "The rebellion of not watching in a surveillance state" End ID]

This story introduces us to the system of New Dawn that is in place and digs into an idea introduced in “Dirty Computer – An Emotion Picture” of things that get caught up in memory collectors that aren’t memories, like dreams. 

Nevermind feat. Danny Lore: Here we meet Jane and Zen again and learn what they (and Ché) have been up to. Jane and Zen are living at the Pynk Hotel (as seen in “Pynk”) while also helping to rescue others from New Dawn. Jane shares the protagonist with a nonbinary individual named Neer, and we see, through the events of the story and an attack on the hotel, the importance of fighting for radical acceptance as well as showcasing, incredibly cleverly, how willing exclusionists are to get chummy with the oppressor, but also how important it is to show compassion to people who maybe are only reacting out of ignorance or lack of options. 

On that note, this story introduces us to blushounds, genetically augmented humans who can smell emotions. Used by New Dawn to track dissidents, they are themselves victims of New Dawn as we learned from one of them, Bat, who goes on to stay and heal at the Pynk Hotel. 

Save Changes feat. Yohanca Delgado: This story follows the daughters of Diana Morel, a woman who had rebelled and been caught alongside Jane, but had been caught and unable to escape the same way. Now she’s not fully there, canning Twinkies in Windex, and under the care of her daughters, because, apparently, something went wrong in her cleaning. Her daughters also have to deal with the stigma of being related to a noted rebel. 

[Image ID: A snap of the text. The highlighted portion reads: "...the promise of a fresh start at school had shriveled up on Amber's first day at City College, when one by one, each of her professors made her sit in the front row of each class and read a statement from New Dawn, informing her classmates who she was and warning them that any decision to fraternize with her was one they made at their own risk." The snapchat caption is a row of four grimace emojis. End ID]

This story also asks us, what if you had a single opportunity to change the past? While this is a sci-fi world overall, there are specific moments of magic throughout. It’s not explained it just is. In this story, it’s a stone that purports to be able to turn back time passed down to Amber by their father before he died. 

Timebox feat. Eve L. Ewing and Timbox Altar(ed) feat. Sheree Renée Thomas: I’ve put these two together, even though they aren’t next to each other in the book (they frame “Save Changes”) because they are similar in several ways, while they are opposites in others. 

 In “Timebox” a young couple getting their first apartment together find that time stops when they are in their pantry and a disagreement erupts about how to use it, which also brings to the surfaces differing opinions on activism and community aid based on the class differences they experienced growing up.  Between the disagreements and their own uses of the box, they fall apart and the story ends painfully unresolved with more questions than there are answers. I was genuinely startled when I hit the end and realized there wasn’t any more. 

“Timebox Altar(ed)” on the other hand, revolved around a group of children, living in an incredibly impoverished area, outside of a larger New Dawn-monitored city, mostly forgotten unless someone is flagged to be taken away for cleaning. Stumbling into an abandoned railroad crossing full of junk, they build an ark and, after a kind stranger instructs them on working with intention it turns out that when an individual sits inside the ark, they are transported somewhere that gives them a glimpse of a beautiful, hopeful future and “The Power of Yet.” As the last story in the collection, the message of a healed future ushered in by the youngest generations was a powerful note to end on. 

This is so much longer than I usually go, but I really wanted to talk a bit about each story, because they all have so much to offer, and are incredible as a whole. If you enjoy sci-fi, Afrofuturism and/or urban fantasy, this is definitely a book for you.

If you enjoy my content and would like to see more, please consider buying me a Kofi or supporting me on Patreon

Your’s Truly, Johnny Dollar edited by Tommy Hancock

After getting my roommate into “Your’s Truly, Johnny Dollar,” the radio drama, earlier in the year, I was expecting the fan content we made to be the newest content coming out for the show for the foreseeable future. I could not have been more wrong.

For the most part, this collection of stories was an absolute joy to read, containing just about everything I love about America’s favorite freelance insurance investigator. Pretty dames, Johnny always footing the bill for his colleagues meals (regardless of gender) and, of course, Johnny getting a bump on his head for his troubles or, you know, thrown in a bear baiting pit (“The Soda City Matter” by Joshua Reynolds).

While it was a hard choice, I believe my favorite story the collection was “The Carbuncle Matter” by Joe Gentile. It’s… wait for it…. a Johnny Dollar and Sherlock Holmes crossover. Not in the sense that the work they case side by side, but Johnny Dollar is investigating a case that is essentially a continuation of a case that Sherlock Holmes and John Watson worked in the 1880s.

While the radio series ran from 1949 to 1962, most of the stories are very ambiguous about just when they are set. The only one that had a concrete date attached to it was “The Driven to Kill Matter” by Eric Fein, which was set in 1954. That said, not knowing the exact years doesn’t hurt the stories, you can easily intuit that these aren’t modern if by nothing else than how cheap everything seems in Johnny’s expense accounts.

Something I appreciated throughout the stories was that Johnny was portrayed as very forward thinking in his time, and as a result there are things touched on that never would have made it into the original radio show, except possibly as coded villainy. Specifically in “The Who Killed Johnny Dollar Matter” by Tommy Hancock, there is explicit reference to the queer goings on in Greenwich Village, it’s not a huge moment, but I found it a significant moment for a property that would not historically have dealt with that at all, much less in a positive light.

Now, aside from me, personally, headcanoning Johnny Dollar as a chaotic bisexual due to some of his interactions with other men coming across as basically flirting, there are no canonically LGBTQ characters in the book, so it didn’t quite get that far.

Now I will say, there is some period typical racism that I think could have been avoided. There was the tired (white savior) bad guy working alongside African criminals to combat colonialism trope in one of the stories, but it does seem like it was supposed to be an attempt at critiquing colonialism and the diamond trade. 

The biggest offender, however, was “The Swamp Manor Matter” by Barry Reese, which employed the white slavery trope (specifically white sex slavery). Now, there were cultural anxieties during the time that the original Johnny Dollar was running about this, but if the vast majority of the stories in the book manage to avoid such tropes, then I question its use. In today’s day and age “white slavery” has become something of a Nazi/white supremacy dogwhistle as well, which was an uncomfortable connection, though I certainly don’t want to accuse the author of that. Regardless, I was more than a little disappointed by this story.

If you enjoy my content please consider supporting me Patreon or buying me a Kofi.

Dates: An Anthology of Queer Historical Fiction Stories edited by Zora Gilbert & Cat Parra

Dates Volumes I and II, featuring one (1) good cat butt.

As a queer historian and fiction lover, the Dates anthologies are basically literary catnip for me. The art and writing in these volumes is absolutely exceptional. It is clear that the authors and editors put an immense amount of love and care into producing the works in these books. 

While the stories in these two volumes hardly shy away from the difficulties that present themselves in queer life, the stories are first and foremost, uplifting. These are not stories about the sadness and tragedy of being queer, they are here to bring happiness. More than just that, in a world where we are inundated with tragedy porn from cisgender heterosexual creators, happy queer stories by queer creators is incredibly important.

Volume one runs into some of the standard issues that a first volume can have. It’s a little rough around the edges, but it makes up for those rough edges time after time with the content it provides. Starting out with a comic set in prehistoric times, volume one of Dates really does have something for just about everyone, there are women who love women and men who love men, trans people of all sorts, asexuality, everything.

Volume two takes this even further, the few rough edges that I found in volume one are not present in volume two at all. It’s a longer book, which means it has room to fit even more than the first volume did. This is particularly noticeable in two stories. “The Ibex Tattoo” and “Intersexions.” 

“Intersextions,” you might be able to intuit, is a comic about an intersex person. Having admittedly read the two volumes a couple months a part, I do believe this was the first instance of a story featuring an intersex person in Dates. The importance of “The Ibex Tattoo,” comes from a different place. The point of view character suffers from some sort of chronic pain. It is as much a story about the place of disability in a relationship and a community as it is about the lesbian relationship this character is part of.

Before I wrap this up I want to talk briefly about themes. There aren’t super explicit overarching themes in each of the Dates volumes. There’s no subheader saying “Love” or “Acceptance” or anything like that, but as I read through the second volume and reflected on my reading of the first a few things popped into my head. The first volume, in my reading, seemed to hold stories that were particularly involved in seeking acceptance, either self-acceptance or acceptance from others and the second volume seemed to deal more in stories of transformation, of making choices, of change. Now this is by no way concrete, as I learned when trying to sort my own writing into categories, queer stories, by definition, tend to defy the ability to be categorized, but it’s something to consider if you’re trying to figure out which of the two volumes you might prefer, if you’re only looking to get one of the two.

You can find both volumes in both print and ebook form here.

ALSO: The Kickstarter for Volume 3 is live! So support it for more top tier queer content!!!

No snaps this time.

The Queen of Cups: A Short Story by Ren Basel

The Oracle lives by the sea and for the right price, she will read your fortune or provide a blessing. Theo is one such blessing seeker. 

Exciting things to note right off the bat:

  • Trans characters!!! More than one!!! The main character Theo, uses they/them pronouns.

That’s really the big thing I wanted to yell about, given the fact that at least for me, someone saying “Did you know this book/story/movie/tv show/whatever has a trans character in it?” is a sure fire way to get me to check out the thing. 

But if that’s not enough for you, here’s some more good reasons you should check out this story.

It’s really well written. It’s easy to read and flows super well. It’s divided into sections, kind of like mini chapters, which does a really good job of scene changing in such a short story (it’s only 13 pages).

It’s good. I was so enthralled reading it, I got scolded by the train conductor because I hadn’t noticed her approach and therefore did not have my ticket out and ready because I’d been so absorbed. Whoops. But yeah, really good, the author does a really good job of maintaining tension throughout the story. There is not a boring moment.

I would love to see these characters again in another story. They are all wonderfully written and incredibly compelling and I could read a whole novel of them. 

Another thing that I really love is that the queerness inherent in the story is just there. They’re just presented as is. There’s not angst over identity, there’s no transphobia or other queerphobia, it’s just the way things work.  Theo is they, the lesbian couple are having a baby together, it’s normal and good. These are some of my favorite kinds of stories to read. I cannot recommend this story enough. “The Queen of Cups” is really worth every penny.

Warnings (these are also listed in a note on the copyright page in front of the story):

  • Deep water
  • Death by drowning 
  • Spiritual possession
  • Brief mentions of alcoholic beverages

“The Queen of Cups” comes out on March 1st. You can pre-order it here.

Look Who’s Morphing by Tom Cho

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[Edit: Originally published July 20, 2018]

Look Who’s Morphing is a short story collection that follows a Chinese Australian central protagonist, and often various members of their family, through a series of strange events such as seeing themself displaced by a Caucasian man named Bruce and having to help their Auntie Wei after she is possessed by a demon when she puts on a apron with fake breasts on it. 

Something I enjoy about these stories is their ability to make the uncanny come across as commonplace. Never once did I stop reading and go, “That’s weird,” I would read a section like, “I say goodbye to my auntie and uncle and turn to leave. But, before I can leave, an army of orcs suddenly enters the house and attacks us. As this is a classic Dungeons & Dragons scenario, I know exactly what to do,” and my thoughts are just, “Of course, makes perfect sense,” because the story has been set up in such a way, that this feels like a reasonable turn of events. 

The stories in Look Who’s Morphing are very short, something that I think works very well with the level of absurdist they can veer into. I do not think I would want to read a full novel of something like this. That could very easily run the risk of feeling like you were getting hit over the head with “Look how ridiculous this is!”

Short story collections can allow for so much variety in a single book in a way that it is very difficult for a novel to do. It allows for a theme to be explored in a multitude of different ways, which is exactly what Look Who’s Morphing does with the theme of identity. It looks at cultural identity, sexual identity, gender identity, by moving through scenarios that handle them in a fun and strange way that doesn’t dilute the underlying meaning behind the story. 

You can find it here.

Related Reviews: Falling in Love With Hominids

“Eggshells” by Ziggy Schutz from Behind the Mask

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[Edit: Originally published May 19, 2017]

When Pen falls and gets a concussion (and not even while superheroing) the repercussions are a lot more long lasting than she maybe expected. 

There’s this trope in action genres, that’s basically, hit a person on the head as an easy and harmless way to knock them out. Except that’s not how brains work. If you go unconscious you have a concussion. 

I’ve followed Ziggy on Tumblr (from my personal) for a while now, and she is nothing if not passionate about concussions being treated appropriately in fiction, because fiction surrounding concussions has a direct affect to how concussions are dealt with in real life.

“Eggshells” has some of the best representation of a person dealing with a concussion and post-concussion syndrome in fiction that I have ever read. And that’s not the only amazing thing about this story. It is beautifully written. The characters and their relationship are so incredibly well formed and vivid. The relationships are diverse and incredibly well written.

I think one of my favorite relationship dynamics was between Davie and Pen. 

There is a scene between the two of them when, they’re both holed up in Pen’s room because their parents are arguing and they’re trying to avoid getting dragged into it. It’s in this scene that my favorite exchange in the story takes place.

“Davie snorts. ‘How should I know? I’m adopted.’
‘Careful!’ She reaches over and slaps a hand over his mouth. ‘Say that too loud and they’ll decide it’s time to revisit nature vs. nurture.’
He promptly licks her hand.
Because she is a veteran superhero with hundreds of hours of training under her belt, she does not shriek.”

It tells you so much about the characters in such a small moment.

If this isn’t enough to get you on board, Pen’s a lesbian. We learn this in a beautiful moment that highlights the obliviousness of straight people. It’s A+ and not at all tropey.

@hulklinging

You can find the whole anthology here.

Related Reviews: Falling in Love with Hominids, Love in the Time of Global Warming, Dreadnought

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“Murder on the Einstein Express” from Murder on the Einstein Express and Other Stories by Harun Siljak

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[Edit: Originally published  October 29, 2016]

This really is the “Science” part of Science Fiction. I feel like I kind of got a crash course in theoretical physics, if that’s even the right term. I’m certainly no scientist. But if you are a scientist or simply enjoy science this seems like a collection that would be right up your alley. 

“Murder on the Einstein Express” is a very clever story. The story takes place at a university, some teachers have constructed a new experimental class for students to take. It’s segmented into 10 mini chapters, an introduction and then the nine lectures that comprise the course. 

What’s being taught is a thought experiment. The analysis of a physics laden short story, “Murder on the Einstein Express.” Where protagonists A. and N. are trying to solve the murder of Laplace’s demon. Every lecture the Professor reads a bit of the story to the students and then they discuss the elements that come up in that section.

There were some parts, particularly the math parts, that had me reading sections over and over because I was struggling to wrap my head around it and I wanted to. This ended up being detrimental to my reading and I had to resign myself to fact that I wouldn’t understand everything, and indeed you’re not supposed to. Plenty of the students in the story are confused as well and there are also places where the Professor tells the students that if they want to learn more/better understand, to seek outside materials. After that I didn’t feel so bad about not knowing. 

It was a very good story and I greatly enjoyed it despite not having a science background. Though if you’re looking for science fiction of the “easy to read space adventure” type this isn’t the place you’re going to find that. This is like I said before, very science heavy science fiction. It’s stuff I think my dad, who is a scientist, would enjoy greatly. 

You can find the book here.

Related Reviews: Freudian Slipstream, Questioning the Tree

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“Freudian Slipstream” from Small Doses of the Future by Brad Aiken

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[Edit: Originally published September 30, 2016]

“Freudian Slipstream” is the third story in the collection Small Doses of the Future and it’s definitely a fun one. 

It starts on a beach and immediately something feels off. As you keep reading, that offness becomes more and more apparent, until you get some key information about the scenario. Spoilers, it’s not real. It’s a mental construct designed to keep a person’s brain active while they’re in stasis. This particular man, a scientist, is working on a cure/antidote for a toxin that is produced by an alien life form on a planet that humans have a colony on. 

Many of the other short stories in the book have some sort of social commentary tied into them. Not to say that that’s a detriment to those stories, because it definitely isn’t, but this story in particular has less of that. It’s more the “shit, something is going down in space and we have to fix it” kind of story than the “should highly developed AIs be considered people” kind of story. Both kinds of stories are equally good, but they’re different kinds of stories. 

I really don’t want to spoil too much because part of the joy of the story is discovering what’s going on as the story moves forward. It has a very excellent surreal feeling to it that leaves you feeling, at times, like you’re grasping at straws just as much as the main character is. 

If you’re looking for a quick, entertaining science fiction read, “Freudian Slipstream” is definitely a good story to check out.

You can find the collection Small Doses of the Future here.

Related Reviews: Questioning the Tree, Murder on the Einstein Express

“Questioning the Tree” from Small Doses of the Future by Brad Aiken

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[Edit: Originally published September 23, 2016]

I meant to review two stories for today, but school happened so there’s only one. I will likely review another story from this collection at a later date, however. 

So, Questioning the Tree, or the medical science fiction story that I could totally see Leonard McCoy writing if he were so inclined to write 21st century science fiction. 

Questioning the Tree is a short story about the medical world, particularly how doctors are allowed to relate to patients. No longer do doctors make the diagnoses, they rely on a scanner of sorts to make the diagnosis and then the doctors must follow through on what that diagnosis is. They don’t really have much interaction with the patients anymore. And when the machines get things wrong, there’s nothing they can do to help the patient, because of the Tree. The Tree basically determines what the doctors can and cannot do and how they’re supposed to answer and work with their patients. The big thing is that the doctors cannot physically touch their patients. 

That’s what got me thinking about Leonard McCoy, who is a very hands on kind of doctor and would definitely not be pleased if he wasn’t allowed to touch his patients. 

The story opens with our protagonist, Dr. Jenkins, arriving to work at the hospital to find that one of his colleagues has been arrested for deviating from the aforementioned Tree and treating a patient in ways that weren’t allowed. The story follows Dr. Jenkins and how torn he feels about being part of this. He doesn’t feel like he’s being true to what doctors are supposed to be, what he went to medical school to do, but at the same time he doesn’t want to lose his job and be arrested. Yet things keep happening.

It starts with his nurse, who asks him questions like she thinks he might not fully believe in the Tree.

Then he runs into an old friend from med school, Doug, who as it turns out is running an illegal clinic where they treat patients with traditional methods. Jenkins almost shows up, but before he gets the chance the clinic is raided and everyone arrested. 

After this Jenkins lays low, doesn’t do anything, until finally he’s had enough. The story ends with Dr. Jenkins opening up his own secret illegal clinic, and helping a patient he hadn’t been able to properly help at the hospital he worked at. 

I very much enjoyed the hopeful note it gave and that it didn’t end on a dark note like it could have. As well as being a fun and enjoyable read it’s also a very insightful piece.

You can find the whole book of stories here.

Related Reviews: Freudian Slipstream, Murder on the Einstein Express

“Mirrorverse” and “Guilt City” from Tomorrowland by Joseph Bates

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[Edit: Originally posted September 16, 2016]

I really love this whole collection and just picking two to review was hard, but Mirrorverse and Guilt City are probably my two favorite stories for different reasons.

No Mirrorverse doesn’t have anything to do with Star Trek, in fact it’s DC comics that gets the nod with the idea of multiverses. Now the premise of this story is that there’s this machine, a “Belton Multiverse Spectrometer” that allows the viewer to see an infinite number of universes when they hook it up to their TV. The protagonist writes tech reviews for a newspaper and he’s been assigned to review this machine. Well, review/advertise, since the company that made the machine is paying for a good review. It makes an interesting point about reviewing that made me think about my own work in reviewing books. No one’s paying me to do this, for the most part I review what I read and that I enjoy, but that’s neither here nor there.

The protagonist takes this product home and sets it up. He already had plans for tonight, his ex-wife is coming over watch a movie and hang out, so he decides to combine checking out the Multiverse Spectrometer with that. Now, it’s important that you know that the ex-wife’s current husband doesn’t know that she has these dinner and movie dates with her ex-husband. There’s no cheating though the protagonist thinks about it, and it does prompt him to search for himself and his wife among the multiverses and that’s what he and his ex-wife end up watching when she comes over.

This is a particular kind of science fiction that I really enjoy. A casual interaction with some futuristic element by the average person. It reads like something that could happen today, with the exception of the Multiverse Spectrometer, and I really like stories that do things like that.

I had the privilege to hear Joseph Bates read Guilt City aloud when I attended a reading of his several years ago and it’s stuck with me ever since. It is an incredibly poignant work dealing with, as you might have guessed from the title, guilt.

A man diagnosed with a terminals illness seeks forgiveness from all the people he’s every wronged in his life. Everyone. No matter how small the slight. And invites them to live in city that he’s built in his backyard, rent-free. 

It’s a good idea, in theory, a seemly good way to garner forgiveness before he dies. But things start to get out of control quickly. The city is not as complete as the people living there were hoping. There’s a constant flood of requests for additions, changes, repairs, and with no rent and no taxes being paid. It’s a little difficult to keep up.

It keeps getting more and more difficult and then, the man ends up not dying when the doctor expected he would. He’d expected to die before he had to actually deal with how big the city had gotten and how many credit card bills he has to pay off.

And things keep happening. Guilt keeps building. He can’t start charging people rent, after they’ve been living rent-free. His mother doesn’t help when her Christmas gift to him is a box of unfulfilled requests from the people living in the city. 

At the end, the police come with an order to move the city out of the neighborhood. It’s the end of the man’s worries right? No, as it turns out, he’s the one who has to tow the city to whatever it’s new location will be. 

It’s beautifully written and it really gets you thinking about just how much guilt can weigh you down if you let it. 

I would highly recommend checking out the whole collection