Saturday, January 4, 2020

"The Empress of Salt and Fortune" by Nghi Vo

A lovely and well-constructed novella, The Empress of Salt and Fortune follows a kind of archivist monk as they catalog the contents of the former residence of the titular empress. The surface story is very gentle and quiet, with Cleric Chih and their assistant, a magical bird, recording objects and learning more about them from Rabbit, an elderly servant.

The story they learn along the way, though—a deeper history of how the empress In-yo orchestrated a coup from her exile, and the secrets from that struggle that Rabbit has kept for decades—is an empire-spanning story of intrigue, deception, and violence, so it's fascinating to see it filtered in this very anthropological way. Each chapter starts with Chih describing objects of a different room, and then recording the oral history that they evoke from Rabbit.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Notable 2019 Reads & Re-Reads

As is my wont, I'm wrapping up the year by going back over what I've read. This was a pretty great year, book-wise, with a couple really outstanding new releases.

I didn't read or write quite as much as I'd planned this year: big life events (e.g. "marriage") and an occasionally-overpowering work schedule. That said, have ventured a bit more seriously into reviewing, and am working myself up to a few more serious projects.

My book-club schedule was also a bit more modest this year, but it's great to see them all going strong. Chicago's bookstore and lit scene continue to impress; the Chirbies were particularly good.

Wiscon was lovely, empowering, and thought-provoking, as usual. I didn't get to many SFF events in the latter half of the year, but caught some great stuff early on--including Maria Dhavana Headley on Beowulf, Nisi Shawl on Octavia Butler, Three Literary Perspectives on The Handmaid's Tale, and loads of content around One Book, One Chicago's selectionDo Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep?including a great panel at DePaul.

Anyways, here's my list, and some brief notes. Happy reading!

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

"The Return of the Incredible Exploding Man" by Dave Hutchinson

Dave Hutchinson is a weirdly good writer, and I don’t quite know how to characterize The Return of the Incredible Exploding Man precisely because of that skill. Absorbingly readable, it’s nonetheless doing some very odd things at the meta level, things that left me with a definitive feeling of “huh” when it was all over.

Alex Dolan is a recently out-of-work science writer, a Scot, who is offered a lucrative book deal by an eccentric American billionaire, Stan Clayton. Reluctantly signing on, Dolan makes his way to the still-developing Sioux Crossing Supercollider in Iowa, Clayton’s pet project. Lightly enmeshed in the lives and politics of the science team and native Iowans, Dolan is also roped into light espionage by the British government, and faces an escalating series of threats from an unknown antagonist. Finally, three-quarters through the novel, Dolan must deal with a bizarre accident at the supercollider, and its aftermath.

Sunday, September 8, 2019


In case you missed it, so you don't:Hey all, apologies for the quietness on Positron lately.  Lots going on offline for me. A couple SF/F things that have caught my eye, and then a grab-bag of Chicago events:
  • I'm very pleased to see that the 2020 SFRA conference will be in Bloomington, Indiana.
  • Wired had a great article, What Sci-Fi Can Teach Computer Science About Ethics, featuring some work done here in Chicago. Emanuelle Burton & Judy Goldsmith presented on some of this work back at the 2016 Worldcon, and it's rad to see it getting some attention.
  • Congrats to the 2019 Hugo Winners, including Chicago's Mary Robinette Kowal for The Calculating Stars.
  • Jeannette Ng's Campbell Awards speech, was brief and to the point, calling out Campbell as a fascist and highlighting what's going on in Hong Kong. This take on Campbell is accurate and not new, but I think the combination of lots of people reading Nevala-Lee's Astounding with the resurgence of fascism and white supremacy made it the perfect time for Ng to call it out.
  • In response to this speech and the conversation it sparked, the name for the award is being changed to "The Astounding Award for Best New Writer". Which is pretty rad.
  • In the wake of this, there were a lot of conversations going on around other problematic or potentially-problematic awards, including The Tiptree. That name is not being changed at this time, but Alexis Lothian has a great write-up from the Tiptree Motherboard on the topic.
Lots of good stuff going around Chicago lately:

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Review of Jo Walton's "Lent" @ the CHIRB

In case you missed it, my review of Jo Walton's Lent is up at the Chicago Review of Books.

This was a fun book to review, primarily because it's so weird generically: you'd definitely want to shelve it as fantasy, but it doesn't sit very exactly into any of the categories it draws on. Alternate history, time travel, and historical fiction are all in the mix. As with a lot of Walton's work, there's a unique but winning kind of character study that powers a lot of theological/philosophical exploration.

It was a real treat to write something for the CHIRB--they're a great publication in their own right, and I really dig how much they're functioning as a kind of amplifier/attractor for the Chicago literary scene. Hopefully will do some more for them soon!

Friday, May 3, 2019


In case you missed it, so you don't:

Two exciting events on Saturday, May 4th!
  • The DePaul Pop Culture Conference, A Celebration of Disney, runs all day at the DePaul loop campus (247 S. State). Academic panels, artist talks, screenings--these have been a treat every year.
  • It's the live recording of the first episode of Uncanny TV! The award-winning SFF magazine is coming to screens of all sizes. This looks like a phenomenal free event for SFF-lovers.
Also keep on your radar:
  • May 8th: Unabridged Books is hosting Julia Fine for the paperback release of What Should Be Wild.
  • May 9th: it's the next installment of Deep Dish, Chicago's premier SFF reading event!
  • May 24th-27th is Wiscon! Wiscon is seriously the best.
  • May 30th: head to Bucket O'Blood for a discussion of Headcheese with author Jess Hagemann.
In case you missed it on Positron:
And, as always, if you are looking to meet other speculative book-lovers, check out the calendar for tons of upcoming clubs!