Writes editor John Joseph Adams…”The BEST AMERICAN SERIES is the premier annual showcase for the country’s finest short fiction and nonfiction. Each volume’s series editor selects notable works from hundreds of magazines, journals, and websites. A special guest editor—a leading writer in the field—then chooses the best twenty or so pieces to publish. This unique system has made the Best American series the most respected—and most popular—of its kind.”
To order this anthology, click Best of SFF 2019.
LaShawn’s story was first featured here…but why just read hers…there are so many great stories in this anthology.
It’s August, which means we’re almost done with summer, but it is not too late to steer your teen away from screens and toward reading. I have a soft heart for parents of teens. I have two kids and know well the battle parents wage relentlessly to engage their teens with anything other than their devices. (Truth…we parents have an addiction as well…which is why tackling this issue is so tricky!).
But why even fight? Why fight the powerful riptide that sucks our kids into the digital universe?
I interviewed reading specialist, Dr. Marnie Ginsberg, who focuses on training teachers of early readers and has two teenagers of her own. Even she is familiar with the struggle! This is what she says about teen reading…
“Good teen readers read hundreds of hours more each year than average readers. As a result of this reading practice, they keep developing their reading achievement. And reading achievement is strongly correlated with so many positive outcomes for teens and their future selves that one can hardly count them all…”
Dr. Ginsberg’s list included these: “Higher reading achievement leads to…
- better school achievement–in all subject areas, including math
- stronger oral and written language knowledge and skills
- better job prospects
- higher wage earnings
- better health; and even better life expectancy!
- Besides these long-term benefits, time spent reading helps in immediate ways, too, such as mood regulation and stress reduction.”
Yet, Dr. Ginsberg said that most teens today are not reading enough to enjoy these varied benefits of high reading achievement. Multimedia usage instead, soaks up most of the typical teen’s day–upwards of 8 hours a day.
If you are an educator and want to learn more about how to better teach young readers the skills that will help them succeed at reading, check out her website. ReadingSimplified
Discovering Great Stories Your Teens Will Love…
The challenge for parents and teachers is to help the teens in their life discover great stories. Our kids still love stories, but they tend to take them in via the screen. Stranger Things, the Netflix hit is my case and point. That series has become a must see event for most of our teenagers. It seems to be as important as any of the Avengers blockbusters. All that to say, stories still matter to our kids. Let this be your best ammunition as a parent. If you work hard at finding good stories in the books you are putting in front of their faces, your kids have a much better chance of sitting down and reading.
There are many compelling stories waiting to be uncovered by you/your teen, but how do you find them? Try going to Goodreads (book review site) or googling something like The Top 10 New Novels for Teens. Also, follow the lead of your teen who might have a favorite author or genre. I would advise heading to a library over a bookstore when looking for the right story because librarians are golden.
A great librarian is like a matchmaker. Librarians read enough to know the answer to a question like this…What is the best Middle Grade book with a female protagonist who isn’t an orphan that is under 300 pages. A great librarian will be able to give your teen one or two books that fit that description.
However, if you’re in a hurry and a little stuck, check out reviews on my website (not all are teen appropriate), but here are a few I would put forward that are teen appropriate.
All these books except for AMERICAN BORN CHINESE are speculative fiction or sci-fi.
- FEED, by MT Anderson. To buy the audiobook, click here.
- THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION, by Nancy Farmer. To buy this audiobook, click here.
- DOGSBODY, By Dianna Wynne Jones. Click here to buy.
- DESCENDER SERIES (graphic novel series), by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen (See below for links to purchase)
- AMERICAN BORN CHINESE (graphic novel), by Gene Luen Yang. Click here to purchase.
In addition to finding the right stories. Here are a few strategies that will encourage teen reading
- Take a road trip where screens are forbidden in the car and listen to an audiobook that everyone has agreed on. Bonus…if you pick the first book in a series (and there are many of those out there), your teen might pick up the subsequent books on his/her own.
- Make it a summer tradition (or an all-year tradition) to read aloud together as a family before bed each night. I know a few families that practice this habit and their kids cherish the time. Think of it in a similar category as watching television together…
- Don’t despise the graphic novel. There are sophisticated stories, characters and lengthy dialogue to be had in the modern graphic novel.
- Go on a phone-free, screen-free vacation where every member of the family gets to take his/her own book of choice This NY Times article gives tips on how to best unplug in case one phone must come along.
Today, I look at China Miéville’s, EMBASSYTOWN. Beware of spoilers. This won’t be a review of the novel, but a study of the Ariekei, the aliens indigenous to the planet Arieka.
First, a little advice…If you have the opportunity, consume EMBASSYTOWN via audiobook. To buy EMBASSYTOWN via Audible, click here. To buy the physical novel, EMBASSYTOWN click here. Language is central to the story, but the Ariekei language is best experienced when heard rather than read, therefore my encouragement to read via Audible. The Ariekei (also known as the hosts) speak from two mouths at once. One mind, but two words emerge from the creature when it vocalizes. In the audio reading, the sound producers overlay two words spoken at once, like hearing two notes played at the same time. The effect is marvelous and strange.
For a synopsis: One human culture, the Bremen, has adapted and figured out a method of speaking with and listening to the indigenous population of Arieka, a planet on the edge of the known universe. Their motivation for doing so is to maintain a colony on Arieka. Like a typical colonial power, the Bremen dig for metals and also trade with the Ariekei, whose biotech is advanced and valuable across the known universe. The Ariekei are advanced in many respects, but their language does not allow them to lie or even speculate.
Conflict arises in EMBASSYTOWN when one Bremen ambassador introduces lying into the Ariekei language. He does this in the hopes of taking control of the host population, but chaos ensues. The main character, a woman named Avice Benner Cho, steps in to save those living on the planet, both human and Ariekei.
How does Miéville give the aliens, the Areikei, personality and tap into audience empathy?
- Similar to the film Arrival (see post 2 of 3), point of view is key. POV rests in one human character who is relatable. Avice narrates this tale in the first person. Not only is she human, she was raised on Arieka and is known by the indigenous population. She is returning to her home after many years of traveling through space. Avice is the “in between” character. She describes, interprets and translates for the audience.
- Miéville finds colorful shorthand ways of describing the physical and personality attributes of particular Ariekei. Miéville, through his narrator, Avice gives the aliens nicknames, like Spanish Dancer. It’s genius because this shorthand gives the audience color, shape and depth to individual Ariekei and is so much better than than referring to all of them as “insect-horse-coral-fan things” another set of descriptors Avice muses on in the novel. An artist’s rendering in the top image is not necessarily what I had imagined when I pictured the Spanish Dancer, but Miéville doesn’t need me to have that specific picture in my mind. The broad brush strokes are there in the nickname and not just any nickname…calling the creature a dancer implies grace and dignity. The name takes an alien that might be perceived as monstrous and draws our attention to its beauty and gentleness. Maybe this is why ocean scientists call the sea creature (pictured above) a Spanish Dancer. The moniker is descriptive and if I’m visiting an aquarium staring at this thing through glass, if I am thinking of dancers instead of monsters, my eyes are drawn to its beauty. Miéville is doing the same thing when he has Avice call one particular Ariekei, The Spanish Dancer.
- The Ariekei have known Avice since she was a child. Avice has a positive association with the Ariekei. She was raised on their planet and thrived. Humans and Ariekei have lived together for many years in peace. This underlying truth makes a difference in how the audience feels about the Ariekei.
- The Ariekei are vulnerable to human abuse. The narrative of indigenous people groups used and abused by empires and greedy civilizations is not an uncommon story for the current sci-fi reading audience. Miéville dips into that narrative in this novel, portraying the aliens as complex, but also also as innocent, in large part because their language makes it impossible for them to lie. The audience empathizes with the vulnerable indigenous population. The narrative of “empire” taking over the “innocents” and using them for its own gain is familiar. That story taps into the audience’s empathy and our empathy lies with the Ariekei in this case.
- Avice relates to individual Ariekei, Miéville’s way of showing the audience that the Ariekei are not a monolith. Spanish Dancer is the most important Ariekei to the story, but there are others. As Avice relates to her and describes her and other Ariekei, the audience recognizes that though they are different from humans, the Ariekei are not all the same as one another. They are distinct in appearance and personality just as human beings are distinct from one another. (contrast this reality with the hive mind aliens, like the Formics in the Ender’s Game series, or the big computer brain of the Cylons “toasters” in Battle Star Galactica television series. I will tackle hive mind aliens in my final post on this topic.
Don’t miss this film. It’s easy to watch. Right now ANNIHILATION is free for Amazon Prime members.
Five Reasons to Watch this Film
- It puts forward a non-humanoid portrayal of an alien species invading our planet–always a welcome change in sci-fi land.
- Watch it for the tension, mystery and suspense (on par with films like Alien and The Thing).
- Watch it for dynamic, mostly female cast. Realistic and flawed characters with agency and intelligence.
- Watch it for the beautifully imagined world. The CGI and other effects are a visual feast.
- I also enjoyed the creepy music. I expect it will make your skin crawl as it did mine.
ANNIHILATION is based on The Southern Reach Trilogy novels by Jeff Vandermeer. Watch the film and read the first book (in particular), also called Annihilation. To read my review of the first novel, click here. The film diverges enough from the novel, spoilers aren’t an issue. Both stand alone and give the consumer something different. The most important commonality in both is the main character: Lena, as named in the film. She is not named in the book, but is only known as the biologist.
Alex Garland wrote the screenplay based on the trilogy, but focused on the first book. He takes that novel told in the first person, a story relayed by the journal entries of the biologist, and creates something that makes sense for the screen.
In one of the film’s earliest scenes, a comet or asteroid hits Earth, near a lighthouse on the North-Eastern coast of the US. Within a few years (we learn later), an anomaly develops in and around the area where the asteroid hit. It becomes circumscribed by what the government people call, the shimmer.
The story of Lena opens with her sitting in a chair in a mostly empty hospital-type viewing room. She is dressed in scrubs, surrounded by men and women in hazmat suits, many of whom watch her through windows. One man is interviewing her about her journey into the shimmer. She is only survivor who has returned of a 5-person team. As he questions her, the story unfolds.
The casting of ANNIHILATION is strong, with nuanced performances by Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh (as the psychologist and expedition leader).
This film was released on a February weekend in 2018, the weekend following the release of Black Panther. While the Marvel masterpiece sucked nearly all of the movie-going public into the theaters, one, two and three times to ooh and aah over that story, the graphics and the unfolding of a Wakanda power struggle, ANNIHILATION quietly drew its small and eclectic audience. It left the theaters before the Hollywood press had a chance to say much about it. In truth, even without Black Panther as competition for eyeballs, the film was rated “R”, and therefore would not have attracted the masses.
However, similar to a film like Under the Skin, this story is so creepy and alien in a way that pushes the imagination, the sci-fi fanatic will adore it…as should biologists, who will see their discipline elevated in a way not often witnessed on the big screen.
If you are a DVD watcher, here is a link for purchase.
I end with a favorite quote:
“Was it carbon based? What did it want? It came here for a reason. It came here for a reason. It mutated everything.”
In two days, Amazon Prime makes three seasons of THE EXPANSE available to members. This comes in advance of their release of season 4 and fans of the show, across the globe, are celebrating. This series almost came to a bitter and premature end. Firefly fans know exactly what I’m talking about.
THE EXPANSE (based on books by James S.A. Corey) had been canceled by NBCUniversal’s Syfy channel after season 3. Fans exploded in fury and came out of the woodwork to figure out how they could keep this series going.
The story of how the EXPANSE survived is one worth reading. It includes fans hiring a plane to fly a Save THE EXPANSE banner over the Amazon headquarters as well as George RR Martin and Craig Newmark (founder of Craig’s List), writing emails to Bezos. Bezos and his Amazon studio head, Jennifer Salke, paid attention. Season 4 went into production last year and will be released sometime in 2019. I’ll post the release date when announced.
If you are a scifi nut or you just love great characters, epic story telling and the casting of strong men and women, including a number of kickass women of color and you haven’t already stuck your nose into this series, I highly recommend. For a no spoiler review, see this guest post of THE EXPANSE written earlier this Fall by friend and math professor, John Mayberry.
The 6th and final post of a 6-day reading fest. I’m excited to recommend this series…all 6 volumes. I would rate DESCENDER as PG-13. This comic series is pretty mild compared to some of the stuff your kids are exposed to. Parents might want to view volume 4 to get a sense (regarding the one sex scene). Overall, the language was extremely tame. The violence was not graphic…not as graphic as many other comic series.
Also…FYI…don’t piss off you machines, those very helpful robots that make your life easier.
Today, I want to acknowledge my dishwasher, for all the hard work and quality service it does every other day or so…also, my robot vacuum machine. Also…the electric toothbrush, and much much more. Thanks to you, machines…I have more time to read amazing comics/stories like DESCENDER, THE MACHINE WAR.
Really, though, I have continued praise for the story. You can view my previous reviews on allscifi I’ve written a review for each volume. As a novel-writer, I am intrigued by the strengths and weaknesses of the comics genre. The visuals in this epic are so gorgeous and add so much to the understanding and the feeling the story. However, I did find myself missing lovely passages of linguistic poetry and the interior monologue that takes place in some novels and short stories.
THE MACHINE WAR does close with a longer interior monologue. A character the reader has not yet met, but one who makes sense in the story overall, she begins to narrate the post-story of DESCENDER, the pre-story of the coming series. This is the bridge character who will take center stage in the sequel to DESCENDER. The next series will be called ASCENDER.
Final word on the review. If you love comics…you will absolutely LOVE this series. The art and the writing are top notch. Furthermore, if you’re a scifi fan…you ought to read this tome. The narrative adds so much to our morality around how we understand ourselves, our machines, our planet and those who work in the shadows to make our lives easier. Let us no forget that real work has to be done by someone. More and more of that is done by machines…but much of it is still done by humans, people who we can easily marginalize and treat as less than human. This is important for all of us to remember. The best scifi stories teach us to be better humans. DESCENDER does exactly that.
Click here to buy this final in the series: DESCENDER, Volume 6 The Machine War
Six reviews in 6 days. Today marks the 5th day and review of volume 5 of DESCENDER. No spoilers for this volume, but beware of spoilers if you haven’t already read the first 4 volumes. You can see my first review of volume 1 here in case you stumbled upon this review as a first exposure to my website.
In RISE OF THE ROBOTS, Lemire delivers a number of answers to mysteries within the story world…not all of them, but enough to open up the possibility of some sort of redemptive ending to the saga. By the way, I don’t know the ending, so this is not a spoiler. I’m reading volume 6, the finale of DESCENDER tomorrow. In this volume, the planet Mata, an aquatic world, takes center stage. Mata itself is a mysterious place. It is less known by the UGC and there are early allusions in the first volumes of DESCENDER to the ruins of a great city in the water’s depths. Water is often a symbol in literature, so I look forward to seeing how Lemire works that thematic angle. You’ll also notice that the cover of this volume is a robot in a hazy blue environment…I’m interpreting that blue as an underwater world.
The unique (in the volumes so far) and fun surprise in volume 5 is a double page fold out. Lemire and Nguyen chose to dramatize the culmination of the RISE OF THE ROBOTS as it takes place across the UGC through the art. You’ll notice as you turn toward the final pages of volume 5 that a couple feel thicker than the rest. Be careful when you fold them out, so they don’t tear. This is the third reading of our copies of DESCENDER and so far, we’ve only had one issue with the binding (loose pages). I want these beauties to last a long time, so I am reading them carefully. I also love loaning out great books and I’m sure I will loan these out in the future, but I’ll ask my reader friends to read them gently.
Tomorrow, the final review of DESCENDER.
Click here to buy your copy of DESCENDER, Volume 5 Rise of the Robots
Day 4 and the 4th review. I’m tired as I write this because I had a full day and hosted 10 people at my house for a dinner party. They’re all gone now and the dishes are washed or are in the robot machine that cleans them (thank you, Kitchen Aid!)
So, here it goes…The DESCENDER saga continues, a ramping up of tensions across the Megacosm.
Slight spoilers if you haven’t read 1-3 yet. This volume confirms the PG-13 rating. There is a sexual encounter, not explicit, but emotionally portrayed/drawn by the artist. It’s not graphic in that there are no x-rated body parts on display, but still…it’s a sex scene. Some parents will want to view this before passing it onto their kids.
With that said, this sexual and emotional relationship doesn’t seem to be the main thing and doesn’t dominate the storyline from every angle, but it is one angle. The couple that gives into sexual desire has its relevance to the overall plot. I can’t say more without spoiling the story.
What continues in ORBITAL MECHANICS is character revelation while the battle lines become drawn.
Since I’ve written a couple of novels, I will say that the messy middle is the most difficult part of writing something of epic proportions. DESCENDER has the potential to be epic, so this volume works, yes, to pull us in and draw us deeper into caring about the characters and the outcome of the world in which they live.
Highlights for me emerged as curious plot turns took place. Not every turn surprised me, but many did. The story telling and the art are still fantastic. I know I will read to the end.
Buy it here
YES. Read on, you won’t be disappointed!
I continue this mad and highly pleasurable dash of reviewing 6 volumes in 6 days. Today is day 3, so I’m reviewing volume 3 of the DESCENDER series. No spoilers (unless you haven’t yet read volumes 1 and 2 yet…in which case there are tiny spoilers).
I’m going to have to call SINGULARITIES my favorite volume, so far. It’s filled almost completely with the backstories of all the important characters. If you’re like me, now that you’re hooked on these characters, you have the patience to read back into their histories and you’re going to love it! I also picked up volume 1 again to re-read the first few chapters.
Don’t you admire an author can draw you in with action and plot-driven narrative, when all the while, his/her real aim is to make you fall in love. I do. Kudos to Jeff Lemire for this original and expansive story world inhabited by not just humans, but aliens and robots as well, many of whom we are coming to love.
You will not be disappointed regarding the various bot characters. The backstory of Driller the Killer is included in this volume, as well as that of Tim-22, the sinister and perhaps, alter-ego of Tim-21. In the 19th century novel, Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde, evil and gentleness exist in one human, split personalities. In DESCENDER, the two Tim A.I. characters take on the representations. This is a captivating and common archetype in countless narratives we love…think, Darth Vader/Luke, Voldemort/Harry Potter, Edmund/Lucy. Opposite and rival archetypes reflect human experience. We all know we are not pure good or pure evil, we’re somewhere in between, but understanding the extremes must help us in some way, otherwise, why do we crave these stories? Does it help us live a more balanced life and make choices for “good” or not?
I will draw a conclusion by the end of DESCENDER in regard to its moral relevance for the average scifi reader, but for now, I’m enjoying the ride. I hope you are too…Here are the links for the last 4 because if you’re like me, by now you’re hooked.
Yes! Read this second volume and you might want to order the rest of the series now because if you’re like me, you’re pretty much hooked. This review of volume 2 will have a few spoilers if you haven’t already read volume 1.
MACHINE MOON did not disappoint. The stage is set and the characters are on the stage (although I’m sure there will be a few new faces in coming volumes) and the heat is cranking up for an epic conflict. In volume 1, the reader is introduced to Tim-21, an A.I. of extraordinary talent, intelligence and empathy. Tim-21 was created by scientist, Dr. Jin Quon, as a companion for humans. The hero, depicted as a gentle-spirited little boy, wakes after 10 years of sleep. He had been companion to a human child and living with him as a brother on a remote mining colony. He wakes to find hundreds of corpses of human miners, dead now for 10 years, and two other robots, lesser A.I. models still active. Following Tim-21’s awakening, the Megacosm made up of nine planets, becomes aware of his presence. His particular intelligence chip is perceived as having brought about a disaster which has wiped out much of civilization. As a result, Tim-21 is targeted by a number of powerful factions who want to destroy him or use him to gain power. He has few human allies, though a couple seem to be emerging. Moreover, his relationship with robotkind turns complicated in this second volume. The reader roots for Tim-21 knowing he is a pawn for nearly every other character, which adds to the tension and the page-turning nature of the story.
I need to take this opportunity to comment further on the gorgeous art of Dustin Nguyen in this series. You too can actually hold this artwork in your hands and it is amazing, worthy of your hard-earned cash.
The colors are intense when the story requires it and muted at other times. For example, backstory and memory are mostly color-less. There are precise pen drawing-style features of characters, with water-color wash to add to the texture and the dreamy quality of the world.
Click here for DESCENDER, VOLUME 2, you won’t regret it.