Monday, November 2, 2020

"Ring Shout" by P. Djèlí Clark

A powerful and spooky novella that's a delight to read, Ring Shout is a darkly fantastic alt-history—a community fighting literal demons in the Klu Klux Klan. Narrator Maryse Boudreaux hunts these monsters with the help of a magic sword, ethereal advisors, and two other talented Black women, and soon discovers that the dark magic under the white hoods is evolving in dangerous ways. It's a fast but fairly intricate novella, doing a really good job of fleshing out its world and characters while propelling the story forward.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

"Waste Tide" by Chen Qiufan

In the first scene of Waste Tide, an environmental activist attempts a dangerous boarding of a giant ocean freighter. It's daring, acrobatically gifted, we understand the motivation—and it fails, disastrously. That kind of sets the tone for the novel, which shows a host of conflicting characters and factions being shown their own hubris by factors beyond their control.

I'd heard Chen Qiufan talk at FutureCon, and happened to run across Waste Tide at a bookstore not long after. A cyberpunk tale set in a Chinese town built around e-waste recycling, the novel follows local and foreign characters as they attempt to contain or exploit an unexpected technological mutation.

This was a fairly absorbing read; I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it. The social elements were the most compelling part of the book for me—the "waste people" organizing, and the elites who profit off of their labor. The plot is somewhat diffuse, misdirecting—the first half or more of the book concern a double-edged deal with an green-washing American company that turns out to be a narrative macguffin—and characters exhibit a kind of ineffective agency. They do things, they make choices, but they're rendered largely irrelevant by larger events: more powerful factions, a massive tsunami, a kind of accidental Singularity.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Ray Bradbury Experience Museum talk

Last week I got to participate in a panel on "Optimism in Dystopian Futures". It was hosted by the Ray Bradbury Experience Museum in Waukegon, and included some great folks:
  • Moderated by Dominic Loise. Recently of Open Books (and organizer/contact person for many SFF events there), Dominic is still in the Chicagoland bookscene, now at Half Price Books in Niles.
  • Marissa Lingen, SF writer who I've enjoyed hearing on panels before (notably ConFusion).  This panel used Marissa's article "The Roots of Hope" in Uncanny as a jumping-off point.
  • Keisha Howard, the Chicago-based founder of Sugar Gamers and an innovator/organizer/speaker in the gaming world.
  • Alec Nevala-Lee, an SF and non-fiction writer also in Chicagoland. Alec's book Astounding is a major work (an insightful and unflinching group biography of Campbell, Asimov, Heinlein, and Hubbard) that has sparked a lot of conversations about the "Golden Age".
  • Jake Casella Brookins, that's me!

An interesting conversation; I think a lot of us are struggling with how to think about hopefulness that isn't wish fulfillment in near-future SF, given the realities of the present. Lots of SF writers putting optimistic stories, but often they're not particularly rosy on the surface. We also struggled to fit Bradbury into a discussion of future-facing optimism; my hot take is that 1.) Bradbury generally feels powered by nostalgia, which doesn't quite click with futurity, and 2.) he's really at his best where he's at his weirdest, which is just kind of sideways to the question.

You can check out more videos on the RBEM Youtube channel, and you may want to check out their virtual comic convention, WaukeCon, this weekend.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

City Lit Books Closing


Sad news: City Lit Books, in Logan Square, will be closing on December 1st.

I have chosen to operate this business through some pretty difficult times and barely breaking even because engaging with the community was so exciting and enjoyable every day. Now, in the time of the pandemic, we have been reduced to an order fulfillment business with precious little customer interaction. In spite of incredible community support, revenues have fallen dramatically. Supporting an order fulfillment center is simply not sustainable, financially or emotionally.

You can read the entirety of Teresa's statement on their blog.

This is personally crushing—City Lit has been my main bookstore the entire time I've lived in Chicago, and I was introduced to my wife through their Weird & Wonderful book club—and also understandable, a shoe I've feared dropping for many beloved small businesses right now. With the relocation of Uncharted Books last year, it leaves Logan Square book-store-less.

Quique Rodriguez, coordinator for Weird & Wonderful, is committed to continuing the book club, which has been meeting virtually since March.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Still At It!

Hey all!

Obviously, have not been posting much this summer. Very strange times with clubs/events mostly gone virtual, and, to be honest, the combination of pandemic and social crises has not been great for my writing energy.

However, a lot of clubs, organizations, and bookstores are going strong: check out the calendar of events!

Big congrats to the Hugo Winners! Arkady Martine's A Memory Called Empire is a novel I quite liked, and anyone who's been anywhere near me in the last year has probably had El-Mohtar & Gladstone's This Is How You Lose The Time War thrust upon them; it deserves all the awards.

The award ceremony was strange, at best, a going-on-four-hour affair that seemed like a long-winded celebration of ancient trivia and dead racists, interspersed with awards for and speeches by a vibrant, young, future-looking group of artists. Lots of smart folks with good responses/criticisms out there; you might start with The Mary Sue's overview if you're out of the loop.

Big news for us Chicagoans: Worldcon will be here September 2022, which is rad! Looking forward to that, and hoping to help showcase some of the cool stuff going on in Chicago. More info at the Chicon website.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

In Case You Missed It, So You Don't: Virtual Edition!

Hey readers! Hope you are holding up okay. Some things to have on your radar:

  • If you somehow missed my shouting and muppetlike waving of arms about it, I just completed a big report on reading patterns in the Chicago SF club scene. Charts and graphs galore!
  • The bookstores page has also been updated a bit. A lot of of indie bookstores are doing delivery or curbside pick-up, and it's a great time to support them.
  • Upcoming Events are still being updated--definitely check with the club/organization if you're interested in attending, but a lot of them are shifting to online meetings.
Some noteworthy online things coming up:
  • Flights of Foundry: May 15-17. A virtual con hosted by Dream Foundry, a nonprofit that supports speculative artists in a variety of media. They have a great roster of talks, panels, and readings.
  • Tolkien Symposium on Fantasy Literature: May 16. Really great list of speakers, including Kij Johnson, V.E. Schwabb, and Rebecca F. Kuang.
  • Michael Zapata is doing two virtual talks for Chicago bookstores on May 21: one for Bookends & Beginnings, and another for City Lit. The Lost Book of Adana Moreau is a seriously great read, one of my favorites so far this year--worth checking out.
  • Wiscon is online this year, still waiting on details! May 22-25.
  • The Cyberpunk Culture Conference is online (with a really global approach) this year: July 9-10.
  • There are LOADS of virtual author talks going on, I have not yet really started trying to list them.
Finally, a couple fun links: