Cover Art

SUPERMAN SMASHES THE KLAN Part 2 hit comic book stores in December. It’s over a month old and I have been delinquent in reviewing it, until today. This story is appropriate for just about all readers. Rated PG.

For a review of Part 1, see this no spoiler review

Warning: This review will have spoilers if you have not read the first installment.

Inspired by the 1940s radio series Clan of the Fiery Cross, Gene Yang picks up the cliff-hanger from part 1. In part 1, Tommy Lee, a Chinese-American boy has been abducted by a white supremacist group, Klan of the Fiery Kross.

Yang does not sugarcoat the violence of the Klan

The aim of the Klan is to tar and feather Tommy, therefore teaching his parents a lesson. They resent the Lees moving out of Chinatown and into their white neighborhood. The Lee family has made this move because Dr. Lee, Tommy’s father, has been offered a job in a nearby lab.

All the storylines ratchet up a notch in Part 2.

Worth noting:

  1. Superman backstory: Superman continues to have flashbacks of his parents, aliens who look very different than humans. He is grappling with his own “alien” identity. His journey parallels the journey of the immigrants and their children in the story
  2. A little bit of romance: Yes, it’s a bit comedic and fun to see the budding affection between Superman and Lois and a little flare between Jimmy and Roberta, the main character in the story, the Lee’s spunky daughter.
  3. A community undergoing change: Yang captures an aspect of American life that rings true…especially, second generation immigrants moving out of the inner cities, out of enclaves and integrating into white America, changes that have historically led to tension. As in Part 1, Yang treats the “bad guys” fairly, always grappling with their feelings and their perspective. Not excusing their views or actions, but giving all his characters humanity.
  4. Another history lesson/bio on race relations in the US: At the end of the comic, a memoir section called Superman and Me describes Gene Yang’s childhood relationship with Superman and other comic heroes. Underneath Yang’s love affair with comics is the power of story and how they provided a sense of identity and empowerment for the author. In case you’re enamored by the history lesson, consider Yang’s early graphic novel masterpiece, American Born Chinese Definitely worth owning and passing around to friends, especially young teens.

Overall, this is a great middle to the story. I look forward to reading the finale, Part 3 when it is released on February 19, 2020.

Superman’s Flashbacks

A note on the art: The art in the series, created by Gurihiru, is colorful, capturing a blend of retro and anime. It seems apropos that this Japanese female duo would create the artwork for a comic grappling with some of the first Asian-American characters portrayed in a sympathetic way in the American Comics Universe.

To buy Part 1, click here

To buy Part 2, click here

Same comic, two versions of the cover art. I bought both.

SUPERMAN SMASHES THE KLAN, written by Gene Luen Yang and drawn by Gurihiru was released exactly one week ago, Wednesday the 16th of October and understandably, it is moving off the shelves fast. I highly recommend this first installment in the three part series. I rate this series PG and would encourage parents to read it with children and discuss the many aspects of the story that are rooted in history.

Short Review: Five Reasons to Own and Read SUPERMAN SMASHES THE KLAN:

  1. Be a collector! Only 3 installments to buy. Keep this historic series forever while using only an inch of space on your bookshelf!
  2. The drawings and colors are beautiful and stylized to deepen the reading experience.
  3. Learn history. There are historic truths woven into the story. Yang also adds autobiography relaying the story of how he has experienced racism and historical facts about the Ku Klux Klan at the end of the comic.
  4. The characters are well-drawn (literally and figuratively), avoiding cliches that sometimes populate comic book fiction
  5. The story is full of action, suspense, but doesn’t paint an overly simplified view of good vs. evil. This is one Gene Luen Yang’s strengths…the empathy he feels for all his characters, even the very broken ones.

Centerfold

To buy this book, Part 1 of 3, you’ll need to visit your local comic book store or click here. Also, if it’s been a while since you entered a well-stocked comics store, you owe yourself the treat. Go now and browse the shelves!

The art, rendered in fantastic color

Most science fiction fans love comics, but not all. I know a few who have avoided them in favor of novels, television and film, but the comic format has proven its heft in recent years with literary stories like American Born Chinese. Gene Luen Yang, the author of American Born Chinese, also wrote the much-acclaimed New Super-Man, in which an Asian American young man emerges as the Superman in the story. It is no surprise Yang was DC’s choice to bring SUPERMAN SMASHES THE KLAN to life. The story is an adaptation of a 1946 smaller story arc within a radio series called The Adventures of Superman. In it, an Asian-American family is threatened by the Ku Klux Klan and Superman is inspired to protect the children of this family from racist terror.

 

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…

  1. better school achievement–in all subject areas, including math
  2. stronger oral and written language knowledge and skills
  3. better job prospects
  4. higher wage earnings
  5. better health; and even better life expectancy!
  6. Besides these long-term benefits, time spent reading helps in immediate ways, too, such as mood regulation and stress reduction.”

RISE OF THE ROBOTS

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.

  1. FEED, by MT Anderson. To buy the audiobook, click here.
  2. THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION, by Nancy Farmer. To buy this audiobook, click here.
  3. DOGSBODY, By Dianna Wynne Jones. Click here to buy.
  4. DESCENDER SERIES (graphic novel series), by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen (See below for links to purchase)
  5. AMERICAN BORN CHINESE (graphic novel), by Gene Luen Yang. Click here to purchase.

    Cover Art for Machine Moon

DESCENDER, Volume 1 Tin Stars

DESCENDER, Volume 2, Machine Moon

DESCENDER, Volume 3 Singularities

DESCENDER, Volume 4 Orbital Mechanics

DESCENDER, Volume 5 Rise of the Robots

DESCENDER, Volume 6 The Machine War

 

 

In addition to finding the right stories. Here are a few strategies that will encourage teen reading

  1. 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.
  2. 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…
  3. Don’t despise the graphic novel. There are sophisticated stories, characters and lengthy dialogue to be had in the modern graphic novel.
  4. 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.

 

And…GOOD LUCK!

 

 

BY NNEDI OKORAFOR

BINTI, by Nnedi Okorafor, is a novella about a young woman from a desert tribe on Earth. Her people are called the Himba people and they make a vital piece of technology on Earth called an astrolabe. Binti is the name of the main character. The story, told in first person, begins with Binti climbing aboard a transporter that is taking her to a launch port, then onward to Oomza Uni. Oomza Uni is a university on a distant planet where Binti will have the opportunity to study mathematics with the best and brightest from all over the universe. She is the first of her people to be admitted, so there is the sense of her achieving a great honor. However, she and we (the reader) clearly understand how high the cost is as she leaves her tribe and family behind, potentially forever.

Binti is a 16-year-old, but this book is not a YA book according to the author. However, the back cover of the paperback calls it a “coming of age story”, which might put it in that genre for some. I believe it will appeal most to the middle grade and YA audience, with some degree of PG-13 gore (one incident).

The Novella, BINTI, won the Hugo award in 2016 and the Nebula in 2015 for best novella.

To order BINTI, click here.

What I enjoyed about BINTI.

  1. Sometimes, a novella is just right. There aren’t many around, but novellas can be a satisfying reading experience. To get through a story in one long sitting or two or three short sittings is a lovely thing. Also…light-weight, perfect for a 2-hour plane ride.
  2. The main character is unique and different than a typical caucasian protagonist. Her culture will feel different to many readers. Okorafor has ties to Nigeria and I am guessing that her place of origin impacts the writing of this world. That world is powerful in many respects in how it anchors the character’s identity. For the sci-fi reader who loves to enter into new cultures and worlds, this story will scratch an itch.
  3. Decent tension to keep the reader going.
  4. A satisfying introduction to an author’s burgeoning world. (two novellas follow this one)

It’s a bargain to order the complete trilogy. To do so, click here.

What annoyed me about BINTI and makes me hesitant to give it the highest review…

  1. Somewhat shallow character development. This is the negative of the novella format…it’s a challenge to develop the characters deeply.
  2. The conflict is resolved too easily.
  3. There are wonderful characters here, but I found the writing a bit underwhelming. My exposure to literary fiction makes me a snob sometimes…the writing won’t be a problem for most readers.
  4. The tech is more like magic in this story than science…or might as well be. I’m wondering if it will be explained in the next novella in a sciency way or not?

I write this post in honor of International Women’s Day and I hope it might spur you to pick up a novel or download an audiobook that you might not have read without a little urging. You won’t be disappointed!

With that said, here’s the list:

  1. Octavia Butler
  2. Ursula K. Le Guin
  3. Margaret Atwood
  4. N.K. Jemisin
  5. Julian May

Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler, author of KINDRED, passed away in 2006.  She was one of a handful of women to win multiple Nebula and Hugo Awards, as well as the Arthur C. Clarke Award. If you’re starting out and want a great taste of Butler’s writing, order or pickup BLOOD CHILD AND OTHER STORIES The novelette, BLOOD CHILD, won both the Nebula and the Hugo. If you’re a fan of graphic novels, try this version of KINDRED: GRAPHIC NOVEL

 

 

 

 

 

Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin, author of THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS passed away last year. Many love her for her fantasy, but she is perhaps chief among our mothers in the pantheon of many fathers who have written the most important science fiction in the last 40 years. She was the first woman to win a Nebula award and a Hugo, for THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS. My review of the novel is here. Much adored by her fans is the THE EARTHSEA CYCLE  novels that were intentionally targeted at the young adult audience (Le Guin was encouraged by her publisher to do so.)

 

 

 

 

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood, author of THE HANDMAID’S TALE, for which she won a Nebula award, The Arthur C. Clarke Award and the Booker Prize, has a contemporary fan base since her novel was adapted to television by HBO. That novel is worthy of your attention, but so are many of her others, like ORYX AND CRAKE, the first in the The MaddAddam Trilogy.

 

 

 

N.K. Jemisin

N.K. Jemisin is blowing the socks off the scifi community with her brilliant story-telling and characters that breathe prophetic.  The Broken Earth Trilogy belongs on every scifi fan’s shelf. She is the first author in the history of the Nebula to win three awards in three consecutive years. For a dip into her writing, try some of her short stories, many of which are award-winning and/or brilliant in their own right. This collection is what you need. HOW LONG ‘TIL BLACK FUTURE MONTH: STORIES

 

 

 

Julian May

Julian May passed away last year and will be the most obscure recommendation I make. I do so because I recently discovered her and feel her scifi to be completely wonderful, different and imaginative in a way I had not expected. She’s written a series called The Saga of Pliocene Exile which is a riveting tale with fantastic and memorable characters. I reviewed THE MANY COLORED LAND in the Fall. You can read the review here.

 

 

 

Women bring a unique voice to the science fiction landscape and they have mostly been welcomed by those who love the genre. They are still out-numbered on the shelves of your local bookstore and it’s good to be reminded of the best.

Who are your favorite female authors within the genre? I’d love to hear who you love.

 

THE MACHINE WAR

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

Click here to buy the first installment of the sequel to the DESCENCER, series ASCENDER, Vol. 1, The Haunted Galaxy

RISE OF THE ROBOTS

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

 

 

 

Tim-22, used, abused and almost scrapped

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.

DESCENDER, Volume 3 Singularities

DESCENDER, Volume 4 Orbital Mechanics

DESCENDER, Volume 5 Rise of the Robots

DESCENDER, Volume 6 The Machine War

 

Author, Maggie Shen King

“Science fiction is any idea that occurs in the head, but doesn’t exist yet, but soon will, and will change everything for everybody, and nothing will ever be the same again.”

Ray Bradbury

 

The Short Review

Three Reasons I Recommend you read AN EXCESS MALE…

  1. Learn about China, a rising power with imperial roots and aspirations. Let this novel wake us up to the reality of Big Data meeting Big Brother
  2. Fall in love with the characters put forward by Maggie Shen King
  3. Enjoy a good old fashioned love story/thriller. Actually….NO…the love story is unlike anything you have probably read, but the tale will thrill. Love, loyalty, duty are on display, nearly every page.

To buy AN EXCESS MALE, click here.

The Long Review, Also Without Spoilers

I recommend this novel with a few reservations. AN EXCESS MALE falls into the category of speculative fiction, though it bleeds into the scifi genre and would likely be enjoyed by anyone who loves “surveillance stories”, like Minority Report and The Net. This novel has a few PG-13 scenes, and some adult themes that might bore a young adult reader, but many young adults and those older who read speculative fiction will love the book. I would not recommend it for Middle Grade or younger.

Shen King’s story belongs in the future, and yet the reality she portrays is around the bend…How many years away? Maybe ten.

The premise of the novel addresses the terrible truth China is now grappling with…that their one-child policy has resulted in 40 million unmarriageable men. By the year 2030, more than 25% of men in their late thirties will have no family of their own. What are the options for Chinese society? Here are three possibilities…

  1. Import wives from neighboring Asian nations or elsewhere. The problem…the Chinese, especially the government values a pure and loyal race. They elevate the Han Chinese culture and importing wives will dilute Han Chinese blood.
  2. Send those extra men to battle. Society does not need them for child-bearing, so let them win honor in fighting to extend China’s influence around Asia and the globe. The problem…many of these men are the only children, the beloved one child of their parents. Who will take care of the parents, those elderly loyal citizens of China who have lived and suffered under this oppressive law to bear only one child. What does it mean if the government plucks away and sacrifices their one and only on the battle field?
  3. Require that women in China take more than one husband. Most will take two…some will even take three husbands. A new family system will evolve around this patriotic duty. The problems that may result…READ THE NOVEL TO FIND OUT.

Maggie Shen King writes a story that assumes the third possibility. Women marry more than one spouse, all for the good of China. In a spirit and tone that celebrates her Taiwanese/Chinese heritage, Shen King imagines a world where men pay dowries, women of child-bearing age are precious and coveted, and single men bear a painful stigma. Shen King tells the story in the third person, changing the close narrator’s viewpoint chapter by chapter. She signals the shift by titling her chapters with the character’s first name. Two husbands, one wife and one potential husband…these are the characters the reader follows into a labyrinth of love, politics, corruption and societal rules that do not bend for individual freedoms.

I have only one complaint about the novel, that the ending felt rushed and a bit predictable, somewhat contrived. Pacing did not match the earlier portion of the story. It’s an issue that can happen when writing from multiple characters’ perspectives. In this case, the main character and to some extent the heart of the story got somewhat lost in the milieu. However, even with a few flaws, I found the book fascinating and worthwhile. It’s a fun quick read and will immediately get you thinking and feeling.

Educators, THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION provides a valuable and sensitive context for a discussion on genetics and cloning. To begin the journey, read the novel alongside your student(s). Next, discuss the science. There are a number of kid-friendly articles on cloning, I liked this one from Science News For Students

Finally, with an understanding of what cloning is, dig deep into the human story presented by Nancy Farmer in her deftly written account of a boy clone, Matt Alacrán.

 

To order HOUSE OF THE SCORPION, click here.

 

Here are a few questions to get the juices of discussion flowing.

  1. Who is Matt? How would you describe him?
  2. Why do you think others often treat him cruelly?
  3. How would you describe Celia?
  4. What does Celia feel about Matt?
  5. What does El Patrón feel about Matt? Why do you think he calls Matt “mi vida”?
  6. What does it mean to be owned by a person? (Tam Lin, Matt, Celia, and even Felicia…all of them tell stories that indicate they are owned and not free…owned by El Patrón.) How is it that El Patrón owns them?
  7. What is an eejit?
  8. How is an eejit similar or different than Matt?
  9. How would you describe Matt’s struggle with being a clone? Does it make sense to you? Why or Why not?
  10. Matt’s life makes a positive difference in the lives of many others in the novel. Make a list of those people.
  11. Do you believe the cloning of people will take place in our future? In no, why?
  12. If yes, How should clones be viewed by the society that creates them?
  13. Can you imagine a situation where you would choose to have a clone of yourself created or that of a loved one?

Synopsis of the Cloning Story:

THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION is a Middle Grade/YA novel that follows the story of Matt Alacrán, one soul and his battle to find meaning and love in the midst of his genetic reality. El Patrón, a powerful drug lord who has an appetite for eternal life, has allowed Matt to be created as his clone, but the assumption is that Matt will not to live much past his adolescence. El Patrón’s long-term plans are to harvest the boy’s organs for himself. Neither the reader nor Matt know all of this initially. The reveal happens little by little. This is not a horror story in essence, though there are horrific issues to grapple with…Primarily, this story is about a young person figuring out who he is, learning day by day what it means to be human.