Saturday, October 19, 2019

Book Review: Strange Waters

I’ve been on a sci-fi kick lately. When the Phoenix Fiction Writers announced a collection of short stories with water-related sci-fi—oh my goodness so much yes! As somebody who has lived in Hawai’i and is in love with the sound of lapping waves, the smell of sea salt, and the thrill of the ocean and how freakishly big it is, I was a little excited for this collection. Of course, I can be a little picky about my underwater stories and my sci-fi, but I was still looking forward to this one.

Thus I found myself with yet another advanced reader copy for the latest Phoenix Fiction Anthology, so I present you with my humble estimation of the book. All opinions are my own.

Book: Strange Waters by Kyle Robert Shultz, E.B. Dawson, Hannah Heath, Beth Wangler, Nate Philbrick, J.E. Purrazzi, and K.L. + Pierce
Genre: Fantasy, Science-Fiction, Short Stories
My rating: 5/5 stars
Year published: 2019
Short description: WATER-BASED SCI-FI!!! (and fantasy)

“Backpack Boy” by Nate Philbrick

Oh, my goodness. Featuring fear and bravery, pain and adventure, I found this story is so sweet and heartbreaking simultaneous. I called the parallels within the plot, but they in no way detracted from my ability to enjoy the story. I particularly liked the boy’s stuffed elephant as a character who encouraged the boy as he went along. And Philbrick’s description, as always is brilliant:

“The elephant was crayon-blue once upon a time, but a hundred adventures have sapped the colour. He’s a bit lumpy and old, but the boy loves to press his cheek into the ruffles under the elephant’s chin, where it’s soft and warm like Mum’s knit sweaters.”

Overall thoughts: most heartfelt

“Finer Things” by C. Scott Frank

I’m a little biased because I don’t care for romance, and one of the descriptions for this story is “star-crossed lovers.” Suffice to say I wasn’t much of a fan, and I didn’t find the sci-fi elements or the character development to be very believable. But maybe that’s just the skeptical, non-romantic in me speaking.

Overall thoughts: squishy but with good themes

“Roanoke” by J. E. Purrazzi

Wow, that ending though! A sci-fi adventure set on an aquatic world with a ship called The Wells. I need to go back and re-read the story when I’m feeling a little more awake, so I can get a better feel for the narrative and the beautiful descriptions. I sure hope there is more to this world than this one story because now I’m hooked!

Overall thoughts: dynamic world-building

“Kamynosa’s Labyrinth” by Beth Wangler

I’d been reading the stories one at a time, one each day, and I was just going to read the description when I blinked, and I’d finished it. Suffice to say I was hooked by the plot, the beautiful descriptions, and the characters. Can I also say that the style was reminiscent of The Princess Bride, referencing a longer text and giving us gems like this one:

“I will not bore you with a detailed exposition upon the nuances of the Labyrinth and its history, which Professor Daus-sun has described in great detail elsewhere. Suffice it to say that Kamynosa, curls perfectly tamed and best coral-stamped skirt twisted around her hips, read aloud the script whose origins were ancient even then.

Overall thoughts: beautiful prose

“Barnaby Brown and the Glass Sea” by. E. B. Dawson

Highly entertaining, though the ending was a more abrupt than I would have anticipated. Full of wit and characters who may or may not thrive in an academic society, this story is about the joy and frustrations of discovery, even if that discovery just so happens to be a stowaway. I sure hope there is more to the story of Barnaby Brown because it can’t end like that!

Overall thoughts: most witty

“Through the Lens” by K. L. + Pierce

Not my favorite of the stories. While I liked the combination of fantasy and sci-fi, I was a little confused as to why certain characters behaved the way they did. I think if the story had more pages to develop the characters, it might have made more sense. All the same, I enjoyed the sibling dynamic and the lengths Dion was willing to go to for his sister.

Overall thoughts: dedicated siblings

“Ric Vayne and the Curse of Ghoul Nebula” by Kyle Robert Shultz

Highly entertaining, as is usual for Shutlz’s work. At first, I was a little appalled at the drunken state of Ric Vayne during the opening, but as the story went along, he grew on me. The way he cared for Ovo and her freedom was so endearing. Though are we going to talk about how he nicknamed her Ovo because he thought she looked like an owl but couldn’t explain how the name “Ovo” looks like an emoji of a bird? No? Maybe it’s just me…

Overall thoughts: engrossing story

“The Underground” by Janelle Garrett

Fascinating. Honestly, the description didn’t have me too hooked—a girl is kidnapped by dragons, and her brother is trying to rescue her. Haven’t we heard this one before? But as the story went on, I got the sense that there’s more to the story than meets the eye. While I’m still not sure of all the details, as it’s a part of a series, The Steward Saga, I have a theory that it’s not just fantasy.

Overall thoughts: intriguing

“This Pain Inside” by Hannah Heath

Brilliant, as is usual for Heath’s work. A powerful story with well-developed characters and excellent themes, this one is actually set in an underwater society. I particularly liked the way Heath combined the science of what it might be like to live so deep and the fantastic abilities that come from the Ne, and I’d like to see the concept fleshed out into a longer piece.

Overall thoughts: excellent themes

Interested in Strange Waters? Have you read it yet? You might also enjoy these books: Antiheros by the Phoenix Fiction Writers (Shultz, Dawson, Heath, Wangler, Philbrick, Purrazzi, and Pierce), Skies of Dripping Gold by Hannah Heath, Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman.

Let’s chat! Has Strange Waters made it to your to-be-read list yet? Have you read it yet? Have any underwater fantasy/sci-fi recommendations?


Sunday, October 13, 2019

Let's Talk about Murder in Fiction

Sherlock: Let’s talk about murder. Imagine someone’s going to get murdered at a wedding. Who exactly would you pick?

Mrs. Hudson: I think you’re a popular choice at the moment, dear. 

—from “The Sign of Three”, Sherlock

When I was in high school, I used to be obsessed with murder mysteries. My mom and I watched the entirety of CSI Miami, and I went on to read all the Sherlock Holmes books and fangirl about and critique the movies and shows. Nowadays, I don’t read near as many mysteries, save Sanderson’s The Alloy Era series, but I still enjoy the occasional who-done-it because of the intellectual challenge.

As I’ve gotten older and my tastes have changed, I can no longer tolerate some things that I once did. I still enjoy action and adventure, but I don’t like much violence, and I’m more sensitive to death in stories.

Death in fiction is disturbing. Sure, it’s not as intense as it would be in real life, but it’s not appealing all the same. Yet it’s there more often than not. But what exactly are the different stances on death, and how do readers deal with them?

Caution: this post contains spoilers for films The Mission and Les Miserables. Proceed at your own discretion. Likewise, this post may contain controversial opinions that are not necessarily the same as those of readers.

Pacifism vs. Revolutionaries

In the film The Mission, two priests have an argument about morality and the defense of the mission where they serve. *caution: spoilers ahead* As the Spanish are coming to claim the territory and sell the natives at the mission into slavery, one priest—who happens to be a reformed slave trader—argues that they should fight back, and the other—the man who led the first to become a priest—argues for peaceful protest.

For a while, I really struggled with the dilemma—if I found myself in the situation, which would I choose? Would I fight to protect peoples’ freedom even if it meant killing, or would I protest nonviolently, standing up with people even if it meant injury or death? And does it really matter because they both die as martyrs in the end? *end spoiler*

A little while later, I was reading Les Miserables and reflecting on the rational behind why many of the young—and sometimes old—men joined the revolution, whether it was to escape poverty and destitution, to stand up for human rights, or simply because they had nothing but their lives to lose. While I don’t remember all of the great prose, I remember thinking, “Wow, Victor Hugo is so persuasive he could convince me to be a revolutionary.”

*spoiler* Of course, like in The Mission they all die, save Marius. *end spoiler*

Another time, my dad put on the movie Tears of the Sun in which a group of Special-Ops are on a mission to rescue a doctor in Nigeria and end up bringing refugees along with them. As the team and the refugees are headed for safety, the Special-Ops team fightr off rebels along the way. My dad told me situations like the ones in the film were one of the reasons he joined the military—to protect the innocent.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” 
—Edmund Burke

In the end, I decided I’d rather be a revolutionary than a pacifist. I’m not for killing but when it comes to the innocent, I’m for protecting them.

Casual Death and the Value of Life

Perhaps one of the most disturbing moments concerning reading came when I was studying for my English Lit degree. We had read The Road for or speculative fiction and were discussing it in class. When we inevitably addressed the cannibalism present in the book, one of my classmates said, “I don’t see why the girl had such a hard time with it.” Essentially, she gave me impression that in a post-apocalyptic world, killing somebody else to ensure one’s one survive was acceptable.

I was stunned. How could somebody blatantly disdain a child’s horror and advocate for cannibalism? Weren’t they missing the point of the book?

Another novel—one that I actually enjoy—that addresses the devastation of death is Illuminae: “Sure, the story kicks off with the deaths of thousands of people, but *** forbid there be cussing in it, right?”

While profanity is a topic for another time (one I briefly touched on in Controversy in Fiction: Censorship), the book makes an excellent point. Why is death more readily accepted in fiction than swearing? So it’s okay to read about a book about genocide or a cozy mystery—an interesting choice of words—but when you have a bunch of swear words in a young adult novel reflecting the degradation of society, some readers lose their minds.

I’m not saying that I’m an advocate for swearing in fiction, but I do think it’s important for readers to establish their priorities. Perhaps one of my favorite quotes considering justice versus mercy concerning death comes from Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring:

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the wise cannot see all ends.”

Let’s chat! What’s your take on murder in fiction? Have any favorite quotes from fiction that influenced your stance?


Update: next week I’ll be posting a book review a day early in celebration of the book’s release day. While you’re welcome to come by on Sunday, the review will be up on Saturday.

Movie references: Sherlock, CSI Miami, The Mission, Les Miserables, and Tears of the Sun

Literary references: Brandon Sanderson’s The Allow Era, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae, and J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Haiku Collection: Down South (Audio)

I’m not used to living in a place where it’s still 95 degrees Fahrenheit in October. I’m ready for fall weather, especially the crisp sweater-worthy mornings. Though at the same time, I’m still hoping it doesn’t come just yet because I’m still living out of my suitcase. All I have are the same seven summer shirts I’ve been wearing since June. (Somebody save me.)

Some days, I still enjoy living in the American South. Other days I hate it. I enjoy my jobs, which is a wonderful change, but the bug population here is nuts. That and the buildings here are hideous, and recycling is basically nonexistent.

Moving back to the States after living in Europe for the past four years has been an adjustment for sure. As my mom put it, my family may be American by birth, but we’re European at heart. It may take some time to settle in. But I’m not quite there. Not yet.


the way the light shines
on the water at sunrise
birds herald the day

Stick Bug

she dance, the way she
steps—back—forward—back with those
green legs she sways, here

Wasp Nest

don’t. move. when she lands
on your collar, take her out
of doors, say goodbye

Culture Shock

hits me like a wave—
would that only the salt is
making me cough hard


Let’s chat! What did you think of the poems? What’s one unique trait you like about where you live?