[REVIEW] Starlion: Thieves of the Red Night, by Leon Langford

(Buy it here from Bookshop.)

What do you get when you cross Sky High, The Avengers and Yu-Gi-Oh? Toss in a little Harry Potter and Percy Jackson too and apparently, you get this fun middle-grade superhero fantasy novel by indie author Leon Langford.

It’s about Jordan Harris, a supernaturally gifted Black boy in an alternate Houston where the gods of mythology are real and have passed their gifts down to numerous heirs. The best and brightest go to superhero school. The less supported become vigilantes, running the risk of jail and permanent disgrace. It’s to avoid this disgrace that Jordan agrees to stop his solo crime-fighting activities and go undercover in a super-school to find a pair of villains trying to replicate the greatest tragedy in recent history. With the help of good friends, new teachers, and his stern, motherly older sister, Jordan has no choice but to increase his power levels and save the day.

I’m leaving loads of details out of this plot synopsis, but with good reason. This book is complicated — but in the best kind of way. The lore is deep and detailed, with anime-style illustrations to match. Preteen nerd me would have lived for a universe like this to lose myself in, and I think current young readers will have the same response. It’s a fun read with the kind of complexity trading cards and movie tie-ins are made of(*AHEM*), and I hope the book blows up into a series. The illustrations reflect this merch-readiness as well–I’ve included a few of them in this review, with the kind permission of the author.

There are also a lot of little Black cultural touches authentic to the real world included in the book that I appreciated–the strained affection between Jordan and his absentee superhero uncle, in particular, touched me. Some of the supporting cast are Latino and Southeast Asian as well. There are nods to heritage throughout this book that don’t distract from the action and adventure–rather, they add to it. The author explained his vision for this in an email exchange, and I have to say, I’m all here for it.

My personal mission with this book, was for audiences, young and old, to see themselves in a more powerful light. I owe so much of my childhood to Marvel, DC, and Shonen Jump properties, and I wanted to craft a universal experience for my audience that sent them on the same super-powered adventure. Starlion is driven by characters that were always marginalized or featured in a supporting role, and I wanted to flip the usual narrative and show that no matter, your race, age, or background, anyone can be a hero. 

I love that there are so many fun, joyous books out featuring Black and Brown boys now, and I recommend this for your little comics lovers. It goes on my fun Black fantasy kids shelf along with Raybearer Tarisai and TJ Young.

Deepest thanks to Leon Langford (@starlionbook) for the digital ARC of the book and his epic patience with me and the havoc my international move wreaked on the timing of this fair and impartial review!

(Beautiful people! I’m loving how much fun Black heroes are having in fantasy books for all ages these days and hope you are, too. If you want to find more books like this, please check out the Equal Opportunity Bookshop, but be aware that all purchases made if you click through to that site result in a commission being paid. Peace, and go read something good!)

[REVIEW] Forty Acres, by Dwayne Alexander Smith

(Buy this on Bookshop)

I had to think long and hard about what to say about this book and to be honest, I’m still not sure.

Let’s start with the premise. (Warning: I’m going all in with the spoilers for this one.) Martin Grey is an up-and-coming, black and bougie New York attorney. When he wins a case against a hotshot celebrity lawyer he finds himself invited to hobnob with some of the best of the Black and wealthy set. While drinking whiskey, puffing Cuban cigars, and getting pointers on how to handle the money and fame sure to come his way he’s invited to a rafting weekend, which turns out to have sinister intentions. Under the direction of the mysterious “philosopher” Dr. Kasim–a strange hotep-ish character mashup who reminded me at times of of Dr. Sebi and Lord Jamar–a group of rich, talented Black men are annually invited to live out a complicated, brutal revenge fantasy on a secret resort plantation where the descendants of white slave owners are held as slaves themselves and every Black man must be called master.

This is where I run out of intelligent things to say that aren’t vaguely horrified. The premise is so wild that I turned the pages just to see what else the author had come up with but the whole thing made me extremely uncomfortable. Even though Grey turns out to be the only sane man in his group and plays double agent to free Kasim’s captives, the descriptions of revenge-based brutality are pretty graphic and honestly–I’m not sure why they’re there. I don’t know a single Black person who’s wished for white people to be brutalized the way we were–the general cultural feeling is that we wish it hadn’t happened and want to heal the damage. The premise of this book is so weirdly antithetical to what I and most people truly believe will heal Black communities that I just don’t get the point. If you want a take on reverse slavery, Steven Barnes did a much better job in his meticulously world-built alternate history Lion’s Blood, with a much more purposeful story. As a thriller, the premise could have worked but the execution is too on-the-nose to have much of a thrill to it, in my opinion.

Besides that, the explicit nature of the book doesn’t mean that the writing is good. The characters are the sorts of bland brand-name obsessed caricatures of Black success you often see in urban fiction and a lot of the plot doesn’t really make sense outside of shock value. I read this in a constant haze of “WhaaAat?”, but I don’t think I could recommend this to anyone.

I don’t even know what to rate this, but I felt like I needed to be re-emancipated once I turned the last page. Travel these Forty Acres at your own risk.

(So…this one was a dud, fellow readers. If you want to check out some books by Black authors that deal with our struggles throughout American history, check out this booklist on the Equal Opportunity Bookshop. Please don’t forget–this blog is a labor of love, but we do have an affiliate relationship with Bookshop and any clicks and purchases you make from here will result in a commission being paid. Peace!)

Last Week In Books: Reviews and Adaptations

Time again for our biweekly roundup of diverse book news, fellow readers. This week I’d like to highlight reviews of upcoming and recent releases by some of my fellow bloggers, and also get into a few of the apparently ENDLESS film and television adaptations of books being released this fall.

Let’s start with the reviews;

  • Bob on Books is one of my book blogging inspirations; his review on the re-release of William Pannell’s 1993 book The Coming Race Wars is thoughtful, as usual and made me interested in a book that initially turned me off with its title. [Bob On Books]
  • Meanwhile, over on Open Americas, another thoughtful review, this time of Mansoor Adayfi’s memoir Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found In Guantanamo. Adayfi was a prisoner in Guantanamo, subjected to torture and interrogation, all due to a case of extremely mistaken identity–authorities insisted that Yemen-born Adayfi was an Egyptian general of some renown, even though Adayfi was nineteen years old at the time of his imprisonment. *whew* Not sure when I’ll have the stomach to read this, but the review does a very good job of providing the political and historical context for what is surely a gripping and infuriating read. [Open Americas]
  • Another personal inspiration of mine, Bibliophile on a Budget, has a great writeup of the fabulous-sounding essay collection Care Free Black Girls by Zeba Blay. The book is slowly inching to the top of my never-ending #tbr and Bibliophile’s review moves it up a notch. The book’s not out until October 19th, but it promises such a timely take on freedom and joy for Black women and girls in pop culture that I’ve already pre-ordered it. [Bibliophile On A Budget]

Now on to the adaptations…

  • Netflix thriller YOU is back for a third season. I’ve only read the first of the series of books by Caroline Kepnes that inspired the darkly hilarious series, but I’ve watched every episode(some multiple times). I admit it–I’m fascinated by the story of Joe Goldberg, whose bookishness covers a multitude of sins. [Netflix]
  • Teasers, trailers and thinkpieces abound for Amazon’s adaptation of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, and it isn’t even being released until November 19th. I was lukewarm on the books (I didn’t even finish the series) but I’m pretty excited for the show, admittedly because of the diverse casting and multiculturally inspired design vision. [Amazon Prime]
  • Apparently the adaptation of The Three Body Problem is still happening, despite a murder scandal among the production team and the author’s nasty habit of cosigning genocide. Okay then. [Deadline]
  • The new Dune film has been out in Europe and Asia for over a month now but I moved back to the US and therefore have to wait until October 22nd to see it. Much appreciation to global fans who have told us it’s amazing without actually giving any spoilers. I’m already stockpiling my snacks for Friday night. [CNET]

That’s it for this week, beautiful people. Don’t forget to check out the Equal Opportunity Bookshop–all clicks and purchases result in a commission being earned, which keeps this blog going. Enjoy your week, and read something good! Peace!

[REVIEW] White Ivy, by Susie Yang

(Buy it on Bookshop here.)

I moved to Boston recently, and as a result I’ve been slurping up books set there. Most of them are not diverse, to put it mildly. White Ivy, a book about a Chinese-American immigrant in the city, was a refreshing surprise.

There are a lot of reviews of this by Chinese-American readers on Goodreads, and you should definitely give them some time if you want a deep cultural analysis of this book. My perspective is empathetic, but limited. It doesn’t help that the book is a bit of a chimera.

I’ve seen it billed as a coming of age, a thriller, a racial commentary, and a gritty immigrant story. It’s all of those things and none of them. Ivy joins her parents in America when she’s five. They’re cold and grim, her younger brother is the favorite, and when Ivy’s beloved grandmother joins the family later, her contempt for America leads her to develop a peculiar hobby–petty theft. Ivy picks up the habit out of a desire to fit in with her white, well-bred classmates and gain the attention of her golden boy crush. When we catch back up with adult Ivy, her juvenile dishonesty has morphed into adult sociopathy. Ivy will do anything to be accepted by the Ivy League & summer cottage set, and when the kids she idolized in the past re-enter her life as impossibly acceptable adults, things get dark very quickly.

I empathize with Ivy, honestly. There’s an awful pressure in being the poor, “ethnic” smart kid surrounded by peers whose future is guaranteed and whose parents actually contribute to their success, rather than just demanding it. Ivy does terrible things, but you can clearly see why and how she gets there. I’m not saying her behavior is ok–I’m just saying I understand.

This book has remarkable characters who subvert stereotypes and have really intriguing, sensitive backstories that they all remember in completely different ways. There’s a lot of layers to the story and although I expected the two big twists at the end, they were still very interesting to read. My only real gripe is that I wanted a bit more drama from the ending and that last twist–whew. I needed that to be unpacked within the novel, not just alluded to and suddenly dumped on us in the last few pages.

Still, this is a hell of a first novel and a really good read. Four stars and some self-acceptance to White Ivy.

(Fellow readers, thanks for all your support! Please remember that this blog has affiliate relationships with Bookshop and any clicks/purchases result in a commission being paid to lil’ ol’ me. Go read something good!)

Last Week In Books: You Think You Can Stop Me, Mr. Zuckerberg? Think Again!

Been a long time, fellow readers. Facebook’s little BSOD moment has reminded me not to put all my eggs into one platform’s basket. So, in order to keep bringing you diverse book and diverse author news even in the case of a social media apocalypse, let’s try bringing this back on a biweekly basis, for now.

Without further ado…

  • Y’all know I have a deep and abiding love for all things TJ Young. This interview with author Antoine Bandele offers great insights on the hard work it took to get TJ and friends onto the published page and into all of our hands. [A Healthy Dose of Fran]
  • Speaking of love, romance writer Jasmine Guillory has revealed the cover and premise of her upcoming new novel, By The Book. Apparently it’s a retelling of Beauty and the Beast with a Black woman as the lead. Be still, my pre-teen romance reading heart. [Collider]
  • And speaking of pre-teens, there’s a lot to love about Book Riot’s take on re-assessing the children’s book canon, including their call for broader diversity in the books and their authors. I, too, would love to see titles like The Birchbark House, Julian at the Wedding, and Bodies are Cool suggested to all English-speaking little readers, everywhere. [Book Riot]
  • I ran out of cutesy lead-ins for this so–nope, wait, got one. Speaking of diversity(whew), the #ownvoices movement is coming under a lot of scrutiny lately and its creators are doing their best to retire it. Why? “Same old, same old: privileged folks tried to take power away from the marginalized. Writing, of course, is a business. #OwnVoices was created to market, promote, and sell the works of marginalized authors. But eventually the marginalized authors and readers who empowered that term were no longer dictating its parameters.” [Quill and Quire]
  • Last one for this week, lovelies–legendary Nigerian Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka gave a rare interview to the NY Times to promote his latest novel and–y’all. Go read it. Enjoy it. This man has lived a LIFE. [New York Times]

That’s it for this week, fellow readers. If you want to support the blog and see more frequent news, reviews, and booklists, consider heading to the Equal Opportunity Bookshop and adding to your #tbr–we have an affiliate relationship with them and earn a commission from your purchases. But purchase or no purchase, as always–go read something good!


[Review] Life After Death, Sistah Souljah

(If you don’t love yourself today, you can buy this here at Bookshop)

Did any of y’all ever read Christian end times spec-fic? By that I mean books like Left Behind, This Present Darkness, and other religious novels focused on spiritual warfare, heaven, hell, and salvation. There are a lot of odd things about evangeliculture but in hindsight, these books are one of the oddest. They were meant to be uplifting but were mostly just a lot of mean-spirited judgement, self-righteous crowing, and infodumps disguised as holiness preaching. There were always side characters who had the nerve to be pretty, spoiled women who weren’t saved and they were always tortured and vilified in horrible ways to prove that even women with personalities can be forgiven for existing if they just suffer enough, or something like that.

Life After Death is basically the Black hood Muslim version of those.

The spoiled pretty girl is the main character and the afterlife theology is all Islamic, but other than that, this is just another fundamentalist shamefest disguised as a novel. The reviews of this were bad, beautiful people, and while I don’t put too much stock in reviews(ironically), I found myself thinking that even the most scathing opinions of this were far too kind.

The best way to tell you exactly how bad this sequel to The Coldest Winter Ever is just to summarize it plainly. Winter Santiaga, as unlikable as ever, gets a reality show contract fresh off of the fifteen-year drug bid that ended the last book. While filming the first scene of the show, she’s fatally shot by a false friend and gets sent to a sort of purgatory. While there, she experiences relatively low-grade physical torture until she gets into a relationship with the son of Satan, whose given name is–and I apologize, but I could not make this up– Dat Nigga. Descriptions of brand name fashion fly around constantly because apparently even hell has shopping malls. They have lots of very graphically described anal sex and he turns her into a snake, then a dog. Bestiality ensues. (Yuck.) She escapes him, is rescued by a bunch of Catholic nuns, makes friends with a white feminist and a college girl, and they escape the weird purgatorial convent, steal a car and go to a…nightclub??? For some reason purgatory has a nightclub and not only does everyone know where it is, no-one is freaked out by the literal giant demon DJ even though all of these people are very aware they are dead and not in heaven. While in line for the club, she meets Satan, then goes to seduce Satan. Eventually she finesses Satan into agreeing to let her open a fashion label in hell but the whole deal goes south because Winter is the same sociopath she was in the previous book and all of her schemes eventually go sour because even demons get tired of her personality. As a result, she almost gets thrown in hellfire, but is ultimately rescued by her incredibly preachy unborn twin children that she aborted in the first book and completely forgot about. (I also forgot.)

And then, believe it or not, it gets even weirder and worse.

The bad reviews are ALL TRUE, beautiful people. I should have believed them– don’t make my mistake. One star and a one-way ticket to hell for Life After Death.

(Beautiful people and fellow readers–I actually felt bad about including the affiliate links in this post because I do not recommend this book. There are plenty of others I do recommend though, so feel free to take a peek at the Equal Opportunity Bookshop if you’re looking for something good to read. Any purchases made at that link or any other link on this site may result in a commission being paid to this site because we have affiliate relationships. I promise those funds will not be used to purchase any other Sistah Souljah books, ever. Peace! )

[REVIEW] Parable of the Sower: A Graphic Novel Adaptation, original text by Octavia Butler, adapted by Damian Duffy, illustrated by John Jennings

(Buy it on Bookshop here.)

I just moved back to America, and man, it is weird.

Watching the news from America in preparation for my return sometimes felt like watching a large angry monster run towards a cliff with someone you love strapped to their back, screaming. I haven’t lived in my country for 15 years. I was scared of returning to it. But I missed it and the people it (poorly) shelters, so I’ve been back for 20 days, and so far it’s okay.

I remember reading Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower for the first time in my early 20s and feeling horrified but also strangely vindicated. The people within–families of different races, religions, and household structures working with the knowledge that their internal tensions were nothing compared to the chaos and hatred outside–were dystopic projections of communities I knew. The negligence-enabled oppression under a profiteering government was also something I saw and struggled with, eventually leading to my departure from the US back in 2006. (I’m not saying Butler made me leave America–I’m just saying she was one of several confirmations that it wasn’t a bad idea.) Parable of the Sower begins in 2024, and I’m worried that it’s grimly prophetic. Climate change, corporate abuses, police corruption, and so many other issues from 2021’s headlines have all taken their toll. People who would be seen as upwardly mobile middle-class in earlier times live in gated communities, hiding their fragile prosperity from the world outside. But walls have gates and fires can burn away a lifetime in a second. 18-year old Olamina survives the total destruction of her small world and ventures out into chaos, gathering friends and allies under the idea that God is change–but building strong communities can shape God.

My brief description and commentary on this novel does it no justice, and the graphic adaptation adds nothing new unless you love the art (I don’t.) The only reason I’d read this over the original is because it’s a little less disturbing– it simply shows us the horrible things Butler left to our imaginations. But do read this, in some form, please.

5 stars to Parable of the Sower, 4 stars to this adaptation.

(Beautiful people, the only way that things truly change for the better is through communities working hard to make it so. If you want some books about how to do that, I made a list here. If you want to support this blog–and even if you don’t–please be aware that Equal Opportunity Reader has affiliate relationships with sites like Bookshop, and any clicks/purchases made from here will result in a commission being paid. I use it to buy more books and give change to this one homeless dude I know. Peace!)

[Review] The Dragon Republic, by R.F. Kuang

(Buy it on Bookshop here.)

I spent the first quarter of this Poppy War sequel trying to remember why I liked the first book. Main character Rin is probably the most despicable hero I’ve ever encountered. Sure, she’s a fire-wielding martially-trained shaman-powered genius badass who singlehandedly won a war. She’s also a genocidal maniac.(If you’ve read the first book, you know she was created to answer the author’s question “What if Mao Zedong was a teenage girl?”) On top of that, she’s a sellout who turns her back on her roots in order to chase after the favor of her empire’s elites–this book primarily deals with her work to assist her school rival’s father, an esteemed general, bring the beginnings of democracy to the Nikan Empire in the aftermath of war. The motley crew of shamans, warriors and strategists that follow her to the front lines of this new war are really not any better–sometimes, they’re worse.(There’s ONE glaring exception, and if you’ve read these you’ll know that if there was ever a character who deserved a better book it’s Chen Kitay).

But a curious thing happened as I got closer to the halfway mark, where I promised I’d quit if I was still disgusted. Despite how hateful I found all of the characters, I still got invested in their vicious, brutal war and all of the political manipulations involved. Some truly horrible things happen in this book–any content warning you can think of probably applies– but they moved the action of the war and brought home just how high the stakes of the battle for The Dragon Republic are. Rin is truly awful, but the narrative doesn’t avoid making her face the consequences of her choices and asking very hard questions about what it means to wield great power within the limits set by a vengeful human heart. By the time I got to the end, the inevitable betrayals hurt a little and the resulting deaths made me a little sad.

Basically, I started this book thinking there was no way in hell I’d read the third installment and ended knowing that I will.

It’s not perfect–the attempt at a romance was ridiculous IMO and in case I haven’t been clear enough — IT’S MEAN. IT’S GROSS. IT’S UGLY. But it’s also really good writing that drew me in despite all of that.

4 stars and a vomit bag to The Dragon Republic

(Beautiful people and fellow readers! Don’t forget that this blog has affiliate relationships with other sites and any clicks/purchases you make from here may result in a commissioin being earned. If you want to intentionally throw a little cash my way, consider perusing and making an order from The Equal Opportunity Bookshop. Peace!)

[Booklist] 1984 Is Trash: Dystopias From The Global Majority

Why yes, I did wake up and choose violence today. Why do you ask?

Let me first say that for the time, place and the politics of its day, 1984 was brilliant. It contained very pertinent criticism of post-WWII European governments, strong warnings about government surveillance and police states, and it revolutionized social science fiction for all time.

But if one more person tries to tell me that 1984 is a perfect mirror of current politics or that Facebook is rife with Newsspeak or that *insert opposing politician and political/social stance here* is a textbook example of Big Brother and doublethink, or any other whiny, uncreative application of Orwell’s very specific dystopic vision to modern times I’m going to whack them over the back of the head with a copy of Animal Farm and wait for the Thought Police to come and get me.

Full disclosure: I’ve read 1984 twice. The first time I was a teenage super-nerd who naturally found my way to Orwell after reading copious amounts of Heinlein and Asimov. I found it disappointingly narrow and politically limited, even then. I also found Winston a thoroughly mushy and unrelatable character who was somehow disturbing for reasons that I couldn’t quite put my finger on at the time.

I re-read the book in 2017 when it suddenly became a bestseller again and every other social media post by a wannabe politico was an interpretation of how any disagreeable social policy was somehow the new Ministry of Truth. This time I instantly realized exactly what bothers me about this book. I simply cannot get emotionally, politically or intellectually invested in an imagination that sees the worst possible thing for humanity being the loss of the ability to do whatever you want to do, whenever you want to do it, when that’s the present reality for a lot of actual people. If your vision of the end of the world still includes stable housing, steady work, three meals a day, and entertainment, I really can’t take your dystopia too seriously. If the worst thing you can think of is a loss of freedom that doesn’t otherwise impede your physical quality of life, I find it difficult to be invested in your struggle. If you’ve never had to seriously consider how to get free, then pardon me if I’m not impressed by your bland fantasies of oppression. The world has already been dystopic for many of our ancestors. Some of us are living our great-grandparent’s post-apocalyptic dreams, so excuse me if I can’t get excited about a fictional world in which the revolution is dependent on a very mediocre white dude and the shenanigans his sudden discovery of genital feeling and decent books lead him to. (I could write an entire essay just on how offensive I find it that in certain imaginations, even dystopia has to dance off the end of a white dude’s dick, but because I’m only choosing partial violence today, I’ll save it for another time.)

Look, all I’m saying is that if Roots isn’t the definitive dystopic novel, neither is 1984, ok?

Enough about books I don’t like, however. One of the things I love about the current literary diversity renaissance is that even the beaten-down trope of dystopia is being re-examined, re-contextualized and rewritten to include different perspectives. There’s also a lot of writing about what it would be like to survive them–a lot of these are more utopia than dystopia, which is in keeping with the historical context that a lot of people of difference (for lack of a better term) are dealing with. For many of us, the recent past is full of stories of people just like us who didn’t make it to the present in one piece, even in memory. We got here by embodying the wildest hopes of those who came before us, and it’s fitting that a lot of these dystopias are really stories of how we may eventually reach a better future.

And yes, there’s a very valid argument to make that dystopia is right now but I chose violence this morning, not depression. We’ll have to talk about that another time.

One more thing before I get into the list; wiser heads than mine have talked about the presence of real modern-day and historical dystopia in the cultures of BIPOC, LGBTQ and disabled individuals before. If you’re interested, check out this article featuring Indigenous sci-fi writers thoughts on what it’s like to be part of cultures that literally survived the apocalypse and this short story collection disguised as a Harvard academic paper breaking down reasons why the Latino diaspora is a living dystopia. These are great resources. I, however, am not an expert, I’m just a lady on the internet who reads a lot and likes to write about it. As always, be nice in the comments. If you can’t be nice, be very, very smart. If you can’t be very, very smart, be humble and a good communicator. If you’re the kind of person who eats the bottom of ice cream cones first, the whole list is HERE so you can just jump ahead and take a complete look without reading the breakdown.

So now onto our list of tales about the end of the world, and the five terrible minutes leading up to it…

Parables. Octavia Butler (Grand Central Publishing, 1993/1998)

This would hardly be a list of diverse dystopias without first paying tribute to the OG, La Grande Dame of Science Fiction herself, Octavia Butler and her masterwork duology, The Parables. The books, released in the mid- and late 90’s and set in 2025, were eerily prescient in some ways–there’s a businessman-turned-president who exploits white rage and Christian terrorism and uses the slogan “Make America Great Again”, income equality and prison industrialism are slowly making slavery legal again, and climate change has ravaged supply chains and food production. Where they aren’t being prophetic, the books are hopeful in a strangely cold, logical way, embodied in their pragmatic, hyper-empathetic cult leader protagonist Olamina.

I realize there are quite a few contradictions in the previous sentence, and I encourage you to read the books to find out what I mean and why they fit. If novels aren’t your thing, the first in the series has been made into a graphic novel that captures the essential desperation/hope dichotomy of the original. Find them HERE.

Moon of the Crusted Snow, Waubgeshig Rice (ECW Press, 2018)

The Parables are set less than five years in the future. Waubgeshig Rice’s slow-paced horror story about an Anishinaabe reserve cut off of from the rest of civilization feels like it might be set five weeks into the future. It’s a horror story about an old cultural menace in the body of a new interloper, who penetrates the isolated reserve’s fragile peace in a way that colonial history buffs will find sadly familiar. For all its horror though, this book has a remarkably hopeful resolution–although an unexpected one. Find it HERE.

Homecoming, Cheon Myeong-Kwan (Asia Publishers, 2015)

As I mentioned in my review of Sultana’s Dream, the West has a weird hubris when it comes to all things speculative fiction, especially dystopia. Other countries have their own literary visions of decay and decline, but they’re usually not translated often enough or accessibly enough, which is enough for some people to assume they must not exist. Fortunately, this novella by popular Korean novelist Cheon Myeong-Kwan is pretty widely available, and you can read the first 20 pages or so online(click the link). It’s a sad story set in a hyper-industrial future that stems from Korea’s overwork culture and impending underpopulation. Its wry ending will be very familiar to fans of Korean film’s trademark dark humor.

Lakewood, Megan Giddings (Amistad Press, 2020)

This book has the distinction of being one of only two medical dystopias that I know of.(The other is Neal Shusterman’s Unwind.) In an age where medical distrust and paranoia seem to be increasing, this is a chilling story set in the very near future about a young woman who drops out of college to literally sell her body for experimental use in order to financially support her family. The setup–a nice, smart girl from a good family forced to do this dreadful, dehumanizing thing–is a heavy, horrifying statement on the struggles young, talented BIPOC’s face when trying to get ahead following the rules of the American dream. The “Black tax” is real and so are other setbacks of historical, generational oppression–this is a dystopia far more plausible than some of the other ones on this list. Find it HERE.

Crosshairs, Catherine Hernandez (Atria Books, 2020)

Speaking of plausible dystopia, there are elements of this near future story that seem a little on the nose until you realize they’re grounded in present-day realities found in parts of the majority world. The protagonists, Firuzeh, Bahadur and Kay, are all the victims of a global domino effect–climate change leads to floods, which leads to homelessness, which leads to large numbers of domestic refugees. A conservative government takes the opportunity to round up people of color, disabled people, and LGBTQ+ people in camps to isolate them from the rest of the population, and like any good modern revolutionary story, an uprising by media is the key to changing the world. (Imagine if Cinna was the main character in The Hunger Games and you’ll have some idea how this goes.) This book has characters that are usually only in this genre as comic relief or noble sacrifices take front and center stage as heroes. The result is a strong, touching story. Find it HERE.

Patternmaster, Octavia Butler(Grand Central Publishing, 1976)

It’s rare that I feature two books by the same author on a list, and a lot of people would argue that Patternmaster isn’t dystopic. However, I argue strongly that it is–the regimented, hyper-talented world of the Pattern is a warning that we should never let the type of folks who are simultaneously on LLC Twitter, MLM Facebook and pledged to the Divine Nine take over, at least not without a fight.

Jokes aside, what this post-dystopia really looks at is a world where strict meritocracy is actually valued and instituted. It’s a much grimmer, far less utopic prospect than most people would imagine but I think Butler was on to something here.(She always was.) I often hear well-meaning people express the sentiment that things would be better if “the smart people” ran things, but is smart all it really takes to make a better world?

Patternmaster is part of a longer, very ambitious series that also looks at the consequences of genetic breeding programs, the capriciousness of natural chaos, and gender equality in megalomania, among many other things. Check them all out HERE.

Emergency Skin, N.K. Jemisin(Amazon Original Stories, 2019)

This novella is the only dystopia I’ve ever read that made me laugh out loud. It’s actually an unexpected bit of utopia disguised as dystopia, and so cleverly narrated and plotted that I wanted to cheer a little bit at the end.

There’s a pretty major twist that I think is critical to enjoying the book fully, so I won’t go into more detail. However, I will say that out of all the works on this list, this is the only one I’d tell everyone to buy ASAP and savor repeatedly. It gave me joy, a difficult and unusual thing for a dystopic story to do–so much so that I revoked my usual Amazon Clause for it. Find it HERE.

Futureland, Walter Mosely(Aspect, 2001)

Walter Mosely is well-known for his detective fiction, but he’s also the author of some of the grimmest, most incisive dystopic fiction I’ve ever read. Futureland is a collection of short stories, all interconnected and set in the same crapsack future plausibly built from our own hypercapitalist, racially unequal, globally unfair present. The stories are infuriating, thrilling, terrifying and darkly hilarious, sometimes all at the same time. Mosely is also remarkably sharp when it comes to geography, culture and global politics and like Butler, he can be eerily prescient at times. (When I first came across this news story, I immediately thought of several stories in this collection that feature this exact living arrangement, and how claustrophobic and miserable I felt reading them.) Mosely’s dystopic work is also notable because Black men are often the main characters, and a wide variety of Black men, at that–intellectuals, criminals, cowards, heroes, everymen, romantics. It’s rare that you see Black men written so thoroughly and diversely into dystopia except as muscle or sidekicks, and there’s a certain flavor that these characters bring into Futureland that is really worth spending a little time savoring. For some reason, the book is difficult to find in print, but check your local library or used bookstore. If you’re a member of Team Audiobook, you can find it HERE.

Tears of the Truffle Pig, Fernando A Flores(MCD X FSG Originals, 2019)

Full disclosure: I haven’t read this one yet. Reviews bill it as absurdist, but it seems to be about an alternate Texas where multiple border walls have been erected, extinct animals are brought back to life to entertain wealthy patrons, and narcotics are entirely legal. Sounds pretty dystopic to me. Everything I’ve seen and heard about this book make it sound like it brings the cultural joy and humor of Emergency Skin and mixes it with the clever commentary of The Sellout and Interior Chinatown. It’s a highly anticipated read for me, so I’m including it. If you get to it before me, tell me what you think. Find it HERE.

Somewhere in between politics and trendiness, the idea that a dystopian novel is meant as a warning to fix problems within society has been lost, I think. For all my ragging on 1984, it does expose social and political problems and warns against them quite well. So do the nine books on this list, with the added benefit of hindsight from historical and cultural dystopias and apocalypses and a few hopeful predictions for better futures, as well. See them all here, and may they inspire you to contribute to better futures in your own way.

(Beautiful people! It’s been forever since I wrote a booklist, but finally and at last I’m back on my grind. To see other booklists, click HERE. To support this blog, check out the Equal Opportunity Bookshop and consider making a purchase. Full disclosure–this blog has affiliate relationships with Bookshop and other sites. Any clicks and purchases you make from links you find here will result in a commission being earned, which I will promptly use to buy more books, so we all win, here. Peace!)

[REVIEW] Docile, by K.M. Sparza

(Find out more on Bookshop)

This book was kinda trash.

Now look–I love a good trashy book. Y’all have seen my no-bodice-left-unripped romance novel reviews. A little bit of junk food never hurt anybody, and the same goes for books.

But this book is not Twinkies, Takis and giant sour pickles. This book is mystery Starbursts, plain Tostitos and those chalky pastel sugar wafers that come in a twisty plastic sleeve.

In other words, it’s neither good for you or particularly enjoyable. Ostensibly, it’s a parable about consent and capitalism, highlighting how the drive to commodify oneself can warp personal sexual agency. Young Elisha lives in futuristic Baltimore, where debt is criminalized and people sell themselves into drugged, indentured servitude to avoid prison. The servants, called Dociles, are sometimes deeply damaged by the drug used to ensure compliance–so when Elisha sells himself to the highest bidder, he refuses to take it, and is very aware of the things his handsome new owner does to break him into a perfect companion.

Imagining chattel slavery as a sexy fun brand-named time is the whitest, most American thing ever and that ruins any points this book tries to make. I get that there are attempts to interrogate capitalist greed, healing from trauma, and nuances around consent issues here. They don’t work because intersectionality is ignored in order to shoehorn allegory into a bargain basement slavefic that repeatedly tries to make assault erotic.

Riddle me this, fellow readers–how exactly is it that this 5-minutes-into-the-future Baltimore seems to have completely eradicated racism yet still BROUGHT BACK SLAVERY?! And everyone’s okay with it, even the (numerous, over-described, hey-look-we-are-the-diversity) Black characters? How has homophobia become passé but coercion, grooming, and domestic assault totally ok? These critiques get handwaved because the author is queer and trans but trans people aren’t exempt from being racist and problematic just like Black folks aren’t immune to becoming transphobes.

There’s a lot of “sex” scenes that are really rape, a romance that is actually severe Stockholm syndrome, and a lot of pages devoted to the rich slaveowner tearfully realizing that maybe the slaves on mind controlling substances don’t really want to be his friends, so he should probably stop making drugs.

Yuck, man. 1 star and a psychotherapist to Docile.

(Yeah, give this one a miss, beautiful people. Or not–I can’t tell you what to do. If you want to find it, check out the links in the post, but be aware, this blog has affiliate relationships and any purchases you make at links you visit from here may result in a commission being paid. If you want to check out some other diverse speculative fiction without all the abuse and tone deafness, click HERE.)