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.

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Opal Charm: The Path to Dusk by Miri Castor

Opal Charm: The Path to Dusk by Miri Castor

Despite being the third book published in the “Opal Charm” series, “Opal Charm: The Path to Dusk” is actually a prequel that follows Opal’s older brother Jermaine as he comes into the power called Twilight that runs in the Charm family. 

However, just because this book is a prequel, it doesn’t neccessarily mean that you need to read this book first, if you haven’t already read the other two books in the series, “Opal Charm: The Path to Dawn” and “Opal Charm: Hope in Nautical Dusk.” It became a situation, in my opinion, similar to the “Redwall” books. There are multiple different ways you could read them. You could read them in the order published (“Path to Dawn” —> “Hope in Nautical Dusk” —> “Path to Dusk”),  you could read them chronologically (“Path to Dusk” —> “Path to Dawn” —> “Hope in Nautical Dusk”), or you could start with “Path to Dawn,” bounce back in time and read “Path to Dusk” and then move on to “Hope in Nautical Dusk.” Ultimately the choice is up to you.

Having read the books in the order published myself,  it’s was really great to see how the characters were different in “The Path to Dusk.” They’re younger, they haven’t experience the pain of losing a sibling and child. As the third installment, it’s retrospectively showing us the character development and personality shifts that happen following a tragedy. It was also really nice to see Jermaine and how he fit into the family dynamic, as in the other two books we only really see him as part of the other world, Athre, that he nearly died trying to save.

Another thing that I find indescribably enjoyable is the ability to catch little bits of foreshadowing, because I’ve already read the other two books, I know what the ultimate outcome of this book has to be. 

On a  structural level, I really loved how the book flowed. While it’s not a book you can really zoom through, it’s pacing is excellent and the chapters, while varying in length, never feel unmanageably long. The chapters encapsulate what they need to, without dragging into the unnecessary. 

Furthermore, LGBTQ characters abound as always. Adaeze who first appeared in “Path to Dawn” is asexual and we meet her girlfriend, Lavanda, in “Path to Dusk”! Additionally, Limbani, a disabled trans girl who first appears in “Hope in Nautical Dusk,” also makes an appearance!

If you’ve read the other books you’ll know Adaeze and Lavanda are no longer together and I have to say there was a very small part of me that was worried Lavanda was going to die, but she didn’t! They do break up but there are no buried gays.

The only warnings I can really think of at the moment are for general fantasy violence, but nothing you wouldn’t expect from this kind of young adult novel. 

“Opal Charm: The Path to Dusk” will be released on September 3rd and can be preordered here!

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Hunter x Hunter by Yoshihiro Togashi: A Ten Year Retrospective

Volume One Cover Feat. Gon Freecs
Hisoka the clown

Roughly ten years ago I read Hunter x Hunter (circa 2009). I was 14/15 at the time and just a bit too young and naive to enjoy the manga/anime to it’s fullest. I loved it, that’s for sure, but did I get the nuance, the queercoding? Unclear. I did latch on to the queer coded antagonist, but it would be years before I even heard of queercoding much less figure out how to look for it. All I knew at the time was that my favorite character was the very flamboyant clown who was horny for bloodlust. 

Recently, I flew headfirst back into Hunter x Hunter. It’s really great and it’s really even better than I remember. I can’t say you can call this a traditional book review as I’m mostly just going to talk about what I love about the manga.

Kurapika
  1. It’s basically Naruto with a smaller, more fleshed out cast, on speed run. And also better, more self-contained arcs. The plot actually moves forward at a decent pace without sacrificing character development Within 13 volumes, you get through three entire arcs. If you enjoyed Naruto initially, but got annoyed with/tired of it quickly you might enjoy HxH. 
  2. It’s really funny, but also really emotional and it can definitely get heavy too. The humor doesn’t feel out of place against the heaviness though. 
  3. The entirety of Kurapika’s character. I did not appreciate this boy enough when I read HxH the first time around. Kurapika is drawn in a way that tends to reserved for female characters, with big eyes, what looks like eyeliner and a small mouth. His clothing is also very androgynous, he’s even mistaken for a girl at points, but the narrative is very clear that he’s a guy.  Adding to this further, in the anime he even has a female voice actor. This has led to some Choice™ trans headcanons by fans.
  4. There may or may not be a canon trans character? I’m not actually far enough along in the manga to have met this character, but apparently there is some gender incongruity with Killua’s sister Alluka. The fandom as I’ve seen it seems to have taken it as canon and running with it, but I can’t weigh in on it myself just yet. I am definitely looking forward to getting there though. 

There are some things that people might want to be wary of getting into HxH. It’s definitely not for everyone. 

  1. Earlier I compared HxH to Naruto. The violence in HxH is much more graphic that anything I can remember from Naruto.
  2. Hisoka’s horniness for violence is explicit, there are allusions to erections. It’s not subtle. 
  3. In relation to point two,  Hisoka expresses interest in seeing how Gon, the 11/12 year old protagonist, develops his fighting prowess throughout the series. This is NOT an inherently sexual interest, but certain areas of the fandom see nothing wrong with shipping an 11 year old with someone who’s an adult at worst and an older teenager at best. 

Opal Charm: Hope in Nautical Dusk by Miri Castor

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[Edit: Originally published March 4, 2017]

This is not a spoiler free review.

Opal Charm is back with a new adventure! Actually it’s not new per say, but it’s a new segment of her ongoing quest. We get to see Opal working with her powers a lot more than we did in the first book, how she develops and strengthens them. We also get to her her develop alongside her brother Jermaine, who for a large portion of the last book was presumed to be dead. I think Jermaine and Opal’s relationship is probably my favorite familial relationship in the book.

We also get a lot of really excellent world and language building for Athre. Opal ends up working (undercover) in a political/bureaucratic place within the government that they’re working to overthrow. Through this and several other events the politics of this world slowly gets more and more revealed to us. The same happens with language. We get snippets of the Athrenian language and culture through Opal learning them, and they get used again and again after they’re introduced. I always love it when fantasy stories have a language that’s been created for it.

Friendship is such an important theme in Hope in Nautical Dusk, just as much as it was in The Path to Dawn. Aaron and Anza/Hope continue to be these fundamental forces of friendship for Opal, but are also a source of conflict. The friendship between Aaron and Opal and Anza and Opal or crucial to the story both in character development and driving plot and it’s beautifully done.

Queer characters abound! Opal starts figuring out her sexuality (she’s bisexual), Adaeze is asexual and her former romantic partner was a girl. We’ve got two, I repeat, Two trans characters, Hinata and Limbani. Hinata’s a trans man and Limbani is a trans woman. I was super excited about that. I love them both so much.

The only big warning I’d give for this book is that there is pretty major character death. Some of this is reversed by time manipulation but some isn’t.

This book is available for preorder here. It comes out officially March 19th.

Related Reviews: Opal Charm: The Path to Dawn

@miricastor

Opal Charm: The Path to Dawn by Miri Castor

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[Edit: Originally published October 23, 2016]

Opal Charm is my favorite kind of unreliable narrator. We only know what Opal gives us and through her own biased lens. She’s dealing with so much emotionally that it screws with her perception of things. Her overcoming that is actually a major point in the story which I thought was absolutely fantastic. Her growth from beginning to end was incredible and wonderfully written.

Opal Charm just wants to get through eighth grade. She’s isolated and miserable and her home life leaves a lot to be desired. But then the new girl at school turns here whole world upside down. And what’s this power she’s supposed to have?

The Path to Dawn revolves around Opal and where she stands in her life, we get a lot of the inside of Opal’s head in relation to how she’s dealing with things, like a messy home life, dealing with her brother’s death three years past, and being the proclaimed savior of an alternate universe. The flashbacks are wonderfully placed and wonderfully executed.   

The Path to Dawn is a little bit of a slow read. (Though that’s not why it took me a million years to finish reading it.) The action takes place over a long period of time and the build up to the action involves a lot of decision making and more subtle events. Most of the really big climactic action, takes place within a single chapter. This is not to say that it’s boring, but it’s a book that demands you take your time with it.

Warnings:

I’m not going to lie Opal’s parents, her mother in particular, read as abusive to me. Part of that may be due to Opal’s unreliable narration, but not all of it. Opal’s mother is constantly assuming that she’s lying/doing drugs/etc., and she belittles Opal’s grief in light of her own. Some of this comes from Opal’s parents own poor ways of dealing with things, though that doesn’t make their actions any better. A lot of what pings as abusive to me is stuff I’ve experienced in my own life. Tread cautiously if you think that a situation like that might affect you aversely. I certainly know there were scenes with Opal’s parents that I had trouble reading. 

Illness (spoiler alert): A major plot point is that the water in their town gets poisoned leaving a lot of people sick. There are a couple scenes in the hospital and a lot of worry about the illness and characters dying.

All in all, I loved the book and the teaser for book two provided at the end of The Path to Dawn has me on the edge of my seat waiting for more.

You can find the book on Amazon here.

Related Reviews: Opal Charm: Hope in Nautical Dusk

Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

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[Edit: Originally posted  July 13,  2016]

Adults turning into monsters, time travel, orchids that infect rats, ghosts, missing chickens, abundant casual queerness. All these things can be found in the short story collection Falling in Love with Hominids. I cannot recall the last time I read a short fiction collection that I enjoyed so absolutely. There was not a single story I found myself bored by or disinterested in reading.

Falling in Love with Hominids is a sci-fi/fantasy collection. There isn’t one type that you could boil all the stories down to though. They’re different types of sci-fi/fantasy. Some I would call urban fantasy, others might be slightly more“classic” sci-fi. There are others still that are outside those two categories, there’s a “zombie” story, a ghost story. There’s something here for everyone. Whether you have a preference for fantasy, sci-fi, or something different. 

My particular favorite story in the collection was one called “Emily Breakfast.” A story about a missing chicken and just full of casual queerness and sci-fi/fantasy. The main two characters, a gay couple, Cranston and Sir Maracle get up to make breakfast only to discover that one of their chickens (Emily Breakfast) has gone missing. 

Of course this leads to a search, aided by the neighbors, a lesbian couple and their son and a poly triad and their daughter along with some helpful messenger lizards. Oh and did I mention that chicken are descended from dragons and can snort fire? Because they can. This particular fact comes up when Cranston and Sir Maracle’s cat, Rose of Sharon, gets in a scuffle with the other two chickens, Lunch and Dinner. After the scuffle Cranston lectures Rose of Sharon, “‘Now do you see why we don’t want you in there [the henhouse]?’ he asked her. “Chickens are descended from dragons, you idiot.’”

Emily Breakfast is recovered in the end and all is well.

Another one I really really enjoyed was “A Raggy Dog, A Shaggy Dog.” This was about a woman and the orchids she took care of along with some city rats that were getting infected by orchids like that fungus that infects and takes over the brains of ants. It was very interesting and it’s a very different kind of story than “Emily Breakfast” was.

There are such an excellent variety of stories. There’s even one that’s an extrapolation on The Tempest, focusing on Caliban and Ariel. If you’re a sci-fi/fantasy fan there will almost definitely be something in this collection that catches your fancy. Though of course, I can’t speak for everyone.

A few warnings. This is an adult book, there are mentions of sex in a couple stories but nothing explicit. There also one story, “Blushing”, towards the end of the book that has some mildly graphic descriptions of gore and blood.

You can find the book here.

Related reviews: An Anthology of Fiction by Trans Women of Color, Eggshells

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Titans by Victoria Scott

[Edit: Originally published on March 28, 2016]

Are you tired of “a girl and her horse” stories? Well, okay, this is a story about a girl and her horse, but it’s a biracial girl named Astrid and a robotic horse named Padlock. The robotic horses are the Titans that give the book it’s name. It’s a beautifully crafted story and it’s really hard not to fall in love with every single character. Even if you’re sure you’re going to despise them. My favorite character ended up being someone I thought for sure was going to be the antagonist of the book, but in the end he wasn’t.  

Titans is a story about relationships. The relationships that you have with family and friends, as well as relationships between competitors and strangers, and people from different socio-economic classes.

While romantic relationships are certainly touched on, there is no proper love interest for Astrid. The guy who you think might be her love interest? Spoiler alert he ends up with the her bff, which I thought was a pleasant twist. 

One of the largest themes in the book is the class divide, between upper and lower class. Titan racing is for the upper class. It costs a lot of money to buy a Titan and enter the races, but then Astrid, who is not from that upper echelon gets her chance to race. The feel of the story really kind of reminds me of the movie A League of Their Own, about the start of the women’s baseball league. It’s not quite an underdog story or a story about an outsider trying to fit in, it’s more complicated than that. 

Again what I have is an advanced readers copy, but the book is now for sale and can be found right here.