Tag Archives: #Comingofage

Davis, Milton & Ojetade, Balogun (ed); Steamfunk! (2013)

Illustrated by Marcellus Shane Jackson

Steamfunk! is my first encounter with the genre. Like all anthologies I have ever read, some of the stories appealed to me while others did not. No wonder really, considering the span of genres. Steamfunk is a US-centric collection of stories that love their steam. I keep on wondering to what extent steam could be an energy source. There are some ideas here that I have not seen before.

According to Balogun Ojetade the Steamfunk! anthology came about because:

The Steamfunk anthology came about from a conversation that I and several authors had online about the lack of Steampunk stories told from a Black / African perspective. We all agreed we would create an anthology in which we would tell such stories. Author Maurice Broaddus suggested we call it Steamfunk and author / publisher Milton Davis agreed to publish it.

They chose the correct person to illustrate the cover. Marcellus Shane Jackson has done a great job capturing the essence of each  story. There are cosmetic problems with my kindle version, mostly to do with ↵. It’s a distraction from the stories themselves.

The Delivery by Milton Davis

In the late 1800’s women needed chaperones to go anywhere. Anthony Wainright paid for one of the puppet-men (steam-powered robot) from GWC Factories to escort his fiancée, Miss Appelgate, from Freedonia to New York City. When they get there, Mr. Wainright has not come to meet them. Instead she is kidnapped by a Beuregard Clinton. Clinton shot the puppet-man and managed to hit one of the steam veins. Mr. Stiles, from the airship, fixes him. The puppet-man is fixed and he and Mr. Stiles must off to find and save Miss Appelgate from her kidnappers.

Tough Night in Tommyville by Melvin Carter

Problem-solvers Rudy and Boatwright get off the hopper at Thomasville. They have been hired by head gang-boss of the underbelly of Thomasville, Stanford “Rip” Tatum, to solve the problem of Rip’s ex and her river-wolf. Grace Baptiste-Neely and Lloyd “Daddy” Green supposedly hijacked and killed people Rip would prefer lived. Plenty of surprises line up to whack them in the face like a marching band on coke.

Men in Black by P. Djeli Clark

The title does not have anything to do with cockroaches invading earth. Whitewood and Blackwood are neighbouring towns. Mainly whites live in one of them and only Blacks live in the other. 40 years after slavery ended tensions still run high and it takes little to get lynching blood cooking. Laurence, from Blackwood, heard his dad say that this next lynching of a coloured man was unjust. So Laurence convinces Big Walter to see what it is all about. Whitewood certainly gets the surprise of its life during the sham trial.

Mudholes and Mississippi Mules by Malon Edwards

Genetic tinkering brought about Aeshna with her compound eyes and insect mouth parts. All she and Petal want is to be left alone. But that cannot be when Aeshna is able to judge a person’s soul and mete out appropriate punishment. Petal is another changed human fitted with a steam clock for a heart and a compost boiler for guts. One day Bald Man Head comes on an errand from the Hanged Man. I liked these two women and the story was fun to read. Especially towards the end.

A Will of Iron by Ray Dean

A Will of Iron is based on the well-known The Ballad of John Henry.

A man is nothing but a man,
But before I let your steam drill beat me down,
I’d die with a hammer in my hand, Lord, Lord,
I’d die with a hammer in my hand

People fighting to keep their jobs from being replaced by new technology is an old and familiar one.

The Path of Ironclad Bison by Penelope Flynn

Zahara and Porter are left in the desert to die. They had both fallen a long way from a steady income with Cross Continental Airship Line. Was all that was left for the two friends a slow and painful death in the desert?

The Refugee by Kochava Green

In the world of Kochava Green humans must extremely careful around bodies of water or they risk the fate of the Lepidoptera larvae. The St. Lauritz All-Mother cloister are extremely lucky in getting a woman from San Lazare wishing to become a novice. The All-Mother cloisters accept women from all walks of life, no-holds-barred.  Sister Amelia brings unique strengths that aid in the survival of the women. She, in turn, finds a new purpose to life. Refugee is one of my favourite stories.

The Switch by Valjeanne Jeffers

Revolutions seldom bring change, only new overlords. Z100 was a key player in the revolution that made women property. Because she had been a spy, she was exempt from those rules. But only as long as she did not marry. She was careful in her choice of men by never having humans for lovers. Life-like robots were her get-out-of-jail card. What is easy to forget is that no matter how tight your security is, all security protocols have weaknesses.

Benjamin’s Freedom Magic by Ronald T. Jones

Slavery is a common tool in human history. One of the many problems with slavery is the de-humanizing of people. In rare cases that might actually work to a slave’s advantage because masters generally do not see slaves or servants. Infiltrating the slaves is the only way our investigator, Sam, sees to find out what Cicero Jensen and Secretary Patterson are trying to hide in Jensen’s barn. In the process Sam learns a bit about himself, his attitudes and how far people will go to keep a secret.

Once a Spider by Rebecca McFarland Kyle

This was another favourite. Nansi is a shape-changing human/spider. Imagine the size of that spider! Her dual identity is a result of her Trickster father. At night Nansi, the spider, fights crime in the city. She is not the only shape-changer. There are wolves and tigers as well. One night, to protect a new-born baby, Nansi kills a tiger. That choice changes her life and the life of the city.

On Western Winds by Carole McDonnell

Through the journal of the Headmistress of a women’s college we learn what happens when the ocean brings a dock, or part of it, to the beach by the college. The dock is to be brought inside the city walls. A short time later, body parts turn up on the same beach. Then a sub-mariner hears a pulse coming from the depths of the ocean.

The Lion Hunters by Josh Reynolds

I really liked this one as well. It is time for the initiation of the Masai boy Saitoti into the ranks of lion-hunters. Eleven lion-hunters travel to Mombasa to meet with Ethiopian Bahati Mazarin. She tells them that there are two lions she wants killed. That is, if they are lions. Rumours would have it otherwise. Bahati Mazarin is coming with them to hunt. Saitoti cannot help but wonder why she is coming along with them or why she specifically asked for their group and hopes it has nothing to do with his history.

The Sharp Knife of a Short Life by Hannibal Tabu

Clara Perry is on the strangest journey of her life. Unbeknownst to her, Clara’s cryogenic chamber was not sitting in Las Vegas waiting to be opened years into the future. Instead, persons unknown had sent her to the planet Pless to introduce them to technology. It turns out Pless has human-like people on it, people who breathe air Clara can breathe, eat food Clara can eat and behave in a manner Clara can relate to. She soon establishes herself as a woman to be reckoned with. Widow Perry breaks gender roles and class roles enabling her integration with people from the various walks of life on Pless. I really liked this story as well. There is something about realistically portrayed strong women that I like. Not that steamfunk is realistic, but I hope you understand what I mean.

The Tunnel at the End of the Light by Geoffrey Thorne

Every ‘jack knew that secrets were death on the rim. But secrets had been kept from the younger generations of Breaktown. When a rip tears Kally Freeman from Other Country to somewhere else, Bannecker Jack does not hesitate to jump after her. “Where did we come from?” “How did we get here?” were questions the child Bannecker often asked his mother. He is about to find out.

Rite of Passage: Blood & Iron by Balogun Ojetade

Warden Clemons tells prisoner John William Henry that he is about to experience the breeze of the Virginia wind and the smell of its dirt again. Only thing is, John Henry will do that by being part of a chain-gang working on laying tracks for The C and O Railway. Oh joy. John Henry uses this as a chance to run away. He is shot but manages to make his way into an opening in the side of a hill.


Reviews:

Yates, A.M.: Stealer (2016)

Cover by Clarissa Yeo

As the bus-doors squealed shut, she fantasized about stealing the rainbow-striped balloon and drifting away to wherever the wind blew. Maybe to wherever her father was.

Victim mentality is difficult to let go. A person gets so wrapped up in what has been that they forget the future does not have to look the same. There are choices. However, getting to that point when one’s self-image seems shot to pieces and one’s position as underdog appears set in stone, is nigh to impossible.

Dee is 17 years old and considered an odd-ball. She is taller than most, has unusual hair and a scarred back. Her position on the social status totem pole is low. Laura, her only, and now ex-, friend, left her for a higher place. Predatory kids consider her easy bait.

“Don’t feed the wolves. Never feed the wolves.”

To top it all Dee thinks she is probably insane. She hears and sees stuff that the other kids apparently do not. Take Danny’s broken pencil:

Every tooth mark incised the instrument with Danny’s belief in magic – belief in gods who used magic.

And, the pencil…… It glowed and floated.

Her way out of victim mentality and hiding from the wolves slowly begins when the Vasquez brothers go after Danny. Dee ends up with dog shit in her hair, but facing her fears is slowly becoming possible.

Dee has a strange collection. A broken pencil, broken key-chain, broken glasses, broken lighter, broken needle and broken guitar pick probably do not seem like much to most of us. But Dee senses that these objects represent something more, and the only person with whom Dee dares talk about what she sees and hears is her grand-father. He is also the person who reveals who her father is, a man called River who turned up and disappeared right before his eyes. As it turns out, Dee’s heritage becomes essential to her survival. One day, a guy disappears with her collection. Dee desperately wants her things back but has no idea how to go about that.

Then, she sees a speaking glow bug that calls itself Nid. A a deal is made. Nid’s freedom pays for travelling to the place where the box has gone and making sure Dee gets back, safe and sound, to her family.

Yates has done a great job on her new world. Crescent is both similar and dissimilar to our own world. Society is highly stratified into different Breeds. At top are the “Leaders” and near the bottom are “Stealers”. Guess which one Dee belongs to. The right to naming and defining is a right we fight wars over. Stealers are a perfect example of what happens when the powers that be use their power to re-name. Stealers used to be called “Scouts”.

A scout is a person who seeks information about the unknown, one who goes in front, one who acts as a buffer for those behind while a stealer is a person who takes what does not belong to them. Instead of being part of a team, Stealers are now enslaved by those who can afford to own them. Propaganda has it that the only thing Stealers do well is run from trouble and steal your things. Propaganda also has it that as long as people fulfil the duties Leaders claim each breed must, all needs will be taken care of. As Stealer shows, propaganda in Crescent is as true as propaganda anywhere.

Some of the foreshadowing is obvious and trendy. For instance, Dee and Hunter. If two people meet, and that meeting is hostile, it is likely they will become lovers. Yates copies what has been urban fantasy fashion for a few years by throwing in a competitor for the main character’s affections.

Dee follows in the tradition of mystery parent giving the child great powers. Then something happens and those powers become immense. Although Dee does use her unexpected powers to get out of sticky situations, Yates usually manages to avoid the trap of overdoing it. Yates also writes Dee as a believable confused and surprised young woman in a confusing and surprising situation. Moving to a new culture is difficult. Language, traditions and presentation in Crescent are different to the ones of her own home town somewhere in the US.

Stealer is the first book in a Young Adult trilogy. It is 292 pages. Yates tells a story full of action and adventure with interesting characters, both the main- and the side-characters. I could identify with some of them. Crescent is a fun world with solutions I do think I have seen before. I really liked Stealer and definitely recommend it.


Reviews:


Stealer is available at: AMAZON, SMASHWORDS, Amazon UK, NOOK, APPLE, KOBO

Joiner, Ann Levingston: Vision Quest (2010)

Vision Quest, Ann Levingston Joiner

The Vision Quest is the first short-story exploring the lives of Daniel “Two Horses” Thorne-Redstone and his friend. We are only introduced to Two Horses in The Vision Quest.

After Daniel had been on his own vision quest, his name became Two Horses and he was now considered a Penateka warrior. While visiting his grandmother, Two Horses shared his experiences of his vision quest. Two Horses’ vision quest is fraught with danger and mystery.

I cannot speak to the story’s authenticity with regards to the Penateka vision quests. The information I found pointed towards it being fairly OK. Nor am I certain of the story’s intended audience.

With those provisos, I found The Vision Quest a warm story about a young man’s coming-of-age ritual and his understanding of that ritual.

Recommended.

 

Pierce, Tamora: Wild Magic (The Immortals I) (1992)

Wild Magic is the first book in The Immortals four book series. It can be read alone or with the other three. The setting is in Tortall. In the world of Tortall and its neighboring countries, magic is called the Gift.

Daine is our main character. She is 13-years-old and an orphan. Daine has an unusual ability to communicate with animals. In spite of this, her gift does not show the hallmarks of the Gift. It turns out that her magic is a more dangerous, unpredictable and unusual magic, Wild Magic. In fact, Daine seems to be brimming with it.

Daine’s father is unknown (unknown to her). Before her mother managed to get around to telling Daine who he was, bandits killed her and Daine’s grandda and tried to burn down the homestead. At the time, Daine and Cloud (her pony) were away helping a breech-birth lambing.

“Coming out of their place, I couldn’t see anything anywhere but fog, couldn’t smell, couldn’t hear. I was clear to our village before I knew.

“They hit around dawn. The mill was burned, the miller dead. They took the wheelwright’s oldest girl and the headman’s wife. Really, they mighta passed my house by, Ma having the Gift, but they remembered she was pretty too, see.

“They fought—all of them. Ma, Grandda, dogs, ponies, horses—even the stupid chickens. Even Ma’s geese. Not the rabbits. They left. Well, they never fight, and you can’t ask them to go against their nature. But the rest fought. They killed some of the bandits.

“The bandits went crazy. They killed everything on the farm and didn’t carry any of it away, Mammoth told me. Mammoth was my boss dog. He said they was too cared of animals who fought like that.

“Mammoth told me what happened, and died.

“So we buried them, me and Cloud, every last one of our family. Cloud’s dam and sire, her brothers are in those graves.

“I straightened up the house, what was left. The raiders had tried to burn it, but only the upper story and the roof were gone. Ma had a bunch of charms against fire in the kitchen, so most of the downstairs was saved.

“It was two days before anyone came to see. After Ma helped them birth their children, nursed when they was sick. Two days! She could’ve been alive and hurt all that time! If the bandits had passed us by, Ma would have been at the village with medicines and bandages, making me and Grandda help.

Daine brought what she could from her home and left. Onua is the first person we know about who encounters Daine’s unusual ability to converse with animals. It turns out Daine is also unusually good with the bow and arrow. Way better than natural ability would make her. But Daine does not acknowledge that her abilities have anything to do with magic. That would mean confronting an episode we do not find out about until we are well into the story.

The second person Daine meets after Onua, is Numair, shape-shifter and magician. He is the one who spots the degree of her magic and identifies it. Numair is also the person who helps Daine understand that she must learn to control her magic. Otherwise Daine might end up unintentionally killing herself or others. So Daine battens down and does her best to stuff information into her head while at the same time ending up as Onua’s assistant. Turns out Onua is head hostler of the horses that the Riders use. Riders are semi-cavalry who go out in small groups to route out bandits and try to keep Tortall out of trouble.

Strange creatures attack Tortallians. Immortals seem to have escaped the God’s dimension that magicians had imprisoned them in 400 years previously. They are back and making sure people know it. Some of the Immortals are cruel beings, some are indifferent and some are helpful. Like people everywhere, I suppose.

Daine and her friends are attacked by the scarier versions of the Immortals. These creatures are difficult, but not impossible, to kill. Daine faces many difficult choices during Wild Magic. Some of them involve placing others in danger and understanding the meaning of free will. Other choices involve killing other intelligent creature. Not a simple matter for a 13-year old girl.

Daine also has to face pirates and the royalty of Tortall. For those who have read The Lioness series, you know that they can be a bit unusual. For Daine, who has grown up in a hierarchical and patriarchal society, Tortall royalty comes as a shock. But face them, she must. We meet characters from The Lioness series (another great children/young adult series that Pierce has written. The Immortals falls into the same age category.

Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


Translations:

  • Czech: Pierceová, Tamora, Zaklínačka koní; Trans: Eva Kadlecová; Praha, CPRESS, 2014
  • Danish: Vild Magi; Trans: Bjarne Skovlund; Ruds-Veby, Tellerup, 1998 (ill: Bodil Molich)
  • German: Dhana: Kamph um Tortall; Trans:  Elisabeth Epple; Würsburg, Arena, 1998
  • Indonesian: Wild Magic – Sihir Liar; Trans: ; Jakarta Pusat, Elex Media Komputindo, 2013
  • Swedish: Vild Magi; Trans: Ylva Spångberg; Stockholm, Bonnier Carlsen, 2003

Jensen, Megg: Anathema (Cloud Prophet I) (2011)

Keeping slaves is generally not something people openly admit  today. Many countries continue this practice and my contention is that most states participate in this tradition while closing our minds and eyes to that fact. Traditionally, people have become slaves either through being conquered by another nation, power-hunger or through criminal acts.

Sometimes being conquered happens via false promises. Such is the case with the Serenian island in Anathema. Serenians were lured by promises of help from the Malborn. Once the Malborn were in force on the island, it took ten years for them to eradicate opposition. Criminals were those who would not obey the three “rules” Malborn leaders had set as a condition of harmony between the two people. “Trust, adore and obey” was what the Malborn required from the Serenians. Once you were deemed a criminal you would either be killed or enslaved along with your entire family. Add to that their military prowess, and the Malborn were bound to win.

Reychel remembers nothing but slavery. At fifteen slaves were branded with their master’s mark. This mark and their shaved heads clearly divided slaves from the rest of the population and it also make it extremely difficult for successful escapes to happen. Kandek, her master, is about to lose two of his slaves, one of whom is Reychel. The other is Ivy, Reychel’s best friend. First out is Ivy.  Fortunately for Reychel, her turn comes soon after. Her escape was public and unusual.

When slavery is all a person has known all sorts of things about being a free person had to be learned. There was a whole network set up to help escaped slaves deal with their new status. Blending in was vital. Both of them also had to come to terms with Reychel having magic powers of some sort. Ivy already knew about hers. Her ability to calm others, even to the point of forcing them to do things, becomes an important element of the story. Learning Reychel’s ability is also essential. The reader knows this long before Reychel does.

Another discovery Reychel ends up making is the value of her friendship with Ivy. Why did Ivy want her rescued, and why is Ivy acting so strange now that they are out of slave quarters? Sometimes people have different opinions of what friendship is and what friends are for.

Usually, slaves weren’t worth enough for a master to mount a search for too long. That was the case with Ivy. Reychel, however, was the exception to the rule. Kandek will not give up. If not for the friendship of one of the militia both girls would have been caught within the first weeks. There is a love interest with Marc, the militia guard. Another discovery about Ivy is the result of that interest.

Ivy is a fun character. Reychel is in line with a young adult hero type. So is Marc. All three are important to the story and the action-filled adventure Megg Jensen gives us.

Recommended.


Reviews:


Anathema can be found at Amazon

Staveley, Brian: The Emperor’s Blades (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne I) (2013)

In spite of its length, I found The Emperor’s Blades an easy and quick read. Brian Staveley wrote in a manner that drove me on as a reader. My entry into this world happened due to falling for the excerpt offer. I had fun and consider this a great first novel.

Now that I’m reviewing it, I’m kind of wondering why Brian Staveley was lauded to the extent that he has been. He brings nothing new to the field of epic fantasy. His main characters are fairly stereotypical as well.

The daughter of the emperor, Adara, behaves in a manner that does not fit with her upbringing and education. Her youth (20 years old) and recently murdered father (emperor) excuses some things, but someone with the political savvy she is supposed to have, the various political arenas attended while growing up and the testament written by her father indicates a person with less stereotypical behavior.

Kaden, the oldest son, was fun. He is the heir to the throne (the boy with the golden eyes) and three years younger than his sister. He has been kept completely away from the machinations at court and all need for frippery has been beaten, toiled and starved out of him. The Shin monastery is an ascetic and violent one. All of this is to teach him the art of emptying his mind of all emotions over a length of time. The novices are taught to endure pain of almost all kinds. How they actually manage to have an overweight and out of shape novice at the monastery is a mystery to me.

Valyn (the youngest sibling) has been trained to be a team leader for 8 years. A team leader of the Kettral. Kettral is both name of the bird used for transportation and the group of killers these kids are training to be. His upbringing is no less brutal than his brother, although self-control seems to be a trait the Kettral does not train their charges in. At first I pictured these kids being trained in the manner Seals are trained. Their physical training is certainly on par with that. But the cohesion, obedience and understanding seem to be lacking. Granted, Valyn is only 15, but he has been at this for eight years already. As impressionable as kids at the time that he was sent to the Kettral, these qualities should have been like breathing to novices.

The other problem I had with the Kettral were the birds themselves. Details, I know, but I am autistic and details is what I get hung up in. Imagine how huge a bird that is supposed to carry 5 people has to be. One on top and 4 that are carried in harnesses.

Source: National Geographic
Source: National Geographic

An ostrich can carry a person. But it cannot fly. The problem with a bird flying around with people hanging off it has to do with the weight of the person, the weight of the bird and the bird’s wing span. Some things can improve the likelihood of the bird being able to carry one person – lower gravity, density of air, level of oxygen and so on. But being able to fly with people on its back and hanging in harnesses is impractical biologically and physics-wise. Not even the world’s largest bird, the Giant Teratorn (extinct), would have been able to do such a thing. I will concede to magic being a part of the Kettral’s abilities, but five (5) humans. I’m having a hard time with that.

But like I said at the beginning Mr. Staveley’s writing made the story fun in spite of the “new author” problems. Fun and uncomplicated.

Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


The Emperor’s Blades available at Amazon UK


Translations:

McCaffrey, Anne & Ball, Margaret: Acorna: The Unicorn Girl (Acorna I) (1997)

The Acorna books are part of Anne McCaffrey‘s Federated Sentient Planets Universe stories. Acorna I and II are written in conjunction with Margaret Ball.

As you see from the art above, very few artists have tried to depict Acorna as she is described in Anne McCaffrey and Margaret Ball’s stories about the Unicorn girl/woman. Acorna’s characteristics are: a silvery mane and silvery curls on her calves, cloven hooves, two jointed fingers, and finally silvery eyes with pupils that can narrow. In The Unicorn Girl, Acorna is flat-chested.

I find myself unable to place any sort of age-group on this story. At times the writing has a very young feeling, possibly even entering the Children’s category. Then it changes and both writing and content is a little older. Perhaps that is due to the collaboration between the two authors. The first rescue of Acorna is one example of the very young style. As if by magic the young alien and her three benefactors get out scotfree of what ought to have been a difficult situation. In the labor camps the writing style is older and harsher. These changes confused me and led me to pay less attention to the story.

The plot itself is pretty good. There are aliens, escapes, human/alien interaction, corruption and goodies and baddies. As good and evil characters go, most of the ones in the story weren’t solidly into one or the other category. There are a couple of exceptions, but these are mainly minor characters.

Anne McCaffrey and Margaret Ball address an incredibly serious issue in their story – that of child slavery. Child slavery is in the real world becoming increasingly visible. At the time Acorna I was published (1997) child slavery was becoming something journalists brought into the light more often. Closing our eyes to troubles around the world is now becoming something we have to choose to do.

I liked Acorna’s adoptive fathers. There was enough silliness in them to make for humor in the story of orphan Acorna. Along with humor, there is action and conniving. I recommend Acorna I. I have to warn you that it is somewhat different to Anne McCaffrey’s other writing.


Reviews:


Acorna: The Unicorn Girl available at Scribd


Translations