Passing Strange is a novella set in San Francisco. It follows a group of queer women, some of which are magical. Most of the story is set in 1940, but the first chapter takes place in modern day, and from the first page the atmosphere drew me in.
This book is exactly like its cover: atmospheric, gay, apparently quiet but beautiful if one takes the time to look at the details. Yes, I love this cover, and it’s a plot-relevant beautiful cover (one of the main characters is an artist), which makes everything even better.
The descriptions of the setting were my favorite part of this novella. Not only because they were really pretty – the writing is great, of course – but because this story wouldn’t be the same without them. Passing Strange is about San Francisco just as much as it is about its characters. There’s a focus on the “hidden” parts of the city, the ones tourists visited as if they were a zoo – Chinatown and LGBT clubs – and the story comments on racism, sexism and homophobia through these scenes.
The characters were, for me, the weakest point. There were too many of them, but only the main couple – Emily, a singer, and Haskel, a mysterious illustrator whose gender is unknown to most – and their friend Helen (who works as a dancer in Chinatown) were actually developed. I liked them, and kept confusing the others.
The ending was one of my favorite novella endings. It wrapped up the story perfectly, just like the beginning drew me in immediately. If you’re looking for a historical f/f book on the quiet side with just a hint of magic, try Passing Strange; it’s definitely worth it.
My rating: ★★★¾
In Waters of Versailles, a former soldier introduces toilets to the court thanks to a magical water creature, but this power might not be completely in his control, and will the court ever truly accept him anyway?
It’s a novella on the shorter side, free on Tor.com.
I read this story because the premise was a great idea – if there’s magic, of course people use it to make actually useful things like toilets and plumbing, but you don’t see anyone in fantasy novels trying to gain status this way!
It was a very easy read, but I found this story mostly forgettable and I’ve nothing to say about it. I read it five days ago and I’ve already forgotten most of it – it’s the kind of story that is entertaining even if nothing about it stands out but the premise, the kind of story that is entertaining even if you’ll never think about it again.
My rating: ★★½
Cosmic Powers is an anthology of sci-fi stories from 18 different authors; many of them were new to me.
I found it slightly disappointing: there were many stories I couldn’t even get into; not all of them were necessarily bad, some were just really not my kind of sci-fi. On the other hand, the stories I was looking forward to were just as good as I expected.
I’m going to review only the ones I tried to get into (not the ones which I DNFed immediately from lack of interest), which are 12 out of 18.
A Temporary Embarrassment in Spacetime by Charlie Jane Anders: ★½ DNF
Charlie Jane Anders’ writing really isn’t for me, I already knew that because I tried her Nebula-winning novel All the Birds in the Sky and couldn’t get past the first chapter, and I couldn’t complete this story either: it’s a space comedy set around an eldritch orbiting mass, and I get tired of comedy after a few pages. Not for me; I gave it one and a half stars because it had some genuinely funny moments.
Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance by Tobias S. Buckell: ★★★★
While the worldbuilding was confusing at first, I loved the writing and the themes. This is a story of a crab-like maintenance form that contains a human mind and a human CEO who believes every mind who does not reside in a flesh-and-bone body is inferior. It’s a fascinating far-future sci-fi story which raises some really interesting questions about what it means to be human.
The Deckhand, the Nova Blade and the Thrice-Sung Texts by Becky Chambers: ★★★½
While the narration and the diary format were intriguing, the story itself was not: it’s a chosen one narrative played straight, with no twists ever, which makes it quite predictable but also an easy read. I think that just like The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, this is supposed to be heartwarming and I just don’t get why. It wasn’t bad at all, the writing was fine and I liked the main character’s voice, but it felt meaningless to me.
The Sighted Watchmaker by Vylar Kaftan: ★★½
I didn’t get this one. I think it was meant to be a story about god and… sci-fi theology themes? Growing up as a species? Whether or not evolution can work if it’s controlled by a god-like entity, maybe. I don’t know, I found it quite confusing even if it had some interesting parts.
Infinite Love Engine by Violet Allen: ★ DNF
Unfamiliar Gods by Adam Troy Castro and Judy B. Castro: ★ DNF
Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World by Caroline M. Yoachim: ★★★
It was too long and got confusing near the end; otherwise, this was a really interesting story. It follows Mei, a scientist who is dreaming of other worlds and wants to travel through space faster than light. It had beautiful descriptions: magical temples, spaceships, towers on the Europa moon.
Our Specialty Is Xenogeology by Alan Dean Foster: ★ DNF
Golden Ring by Karl Schroeder: ★ DNF
Tomorrow When We See the Sun by A. Merc Rustad: ★★★★¾
According to this story, space is non-binary and very pretty. I agree.
This follows a Wraith – an organic drone – who works as an executioner and is trying not to get its and the dead’s memories erased. It took me some time to understand what was going on, but I didn’t mind that because the descriptions were beautiful and I loved the worldbuilding. Also, eel spaceships and so many non-binary characters.
Bring the Kids and Revisit the Past at the Traveling Retro Funfair! by Seanan McGuire: ★★★★
A clone is fighting against her identical sister in a Dyson sphere, escaping with a scientist and trying to repair the gravity support. It was a fun, fast-paced story with a lot of action, and Seanan McGuire’s writing is great as usual. I don’t exactly understand what the title has to do with the story (yes, I know the main character has a traveling funfair, but it’s not actually part of the story).
The Dragon That Flew Out of the Sun by Aliette de Bodard: ★★★★½
Another short story in the Xuya (Vietnamese-inspired space opera) universe, of course I loved it. This is about the aftermath of war, displacement, the lack of meaning of conflicts and what repercussions these have on the following generations and their myths. I love Aliette de Bodard’s writing and the imagery of this story.
Diamond and the World Breaker by Linda Nagata: ★★★★
A story about a group of worlds who are trying not to become an utopian society to become a better society – which was an interesting concept and is less complicated than it sounds – and about a mother and a daughter who have to work together to avoid disaster, even though they’re almost never on the same side. I really like mother-daughter stories and this was no exception.
The Chameleon’s Gloves by Yoon Ha Lee: ★★★★★
This story is set in the Machineries of Empire universe and it’s the main reason I bough the anthology. Of course, it didn’t disappoint. Unlike the other two short stories I read from this universe, this didn’t follow a character we know from the novels, but an alt (non-binary person in the Hexarchate) who has been exiled by the Kel (military faction) and is now an art thief to make a living—until the Kel claim to want them back. I love the themes of loyalty/betrayal that Lee’s space stories often have, and the writing was as good as it usually is; also, it was really interesting to learn more about the Kel.
The Universe, Sung in Stars by Kat Howard: ★★★★★
This was as beautiful as it was short and now I want to read more by Kat Howard (I’ll try to get to An Unkindness of Magicians this year). This story is about a world where people can wear galaxies in their hair and stars on their necks, where universes sing and the main character builds orreries to replicate them.
Wakening Ouroboros by Jack Campbell: ★★
A story about choices set at the end of the world and told from the point of view of the two last humans. I mostly skimmed it, as I found it boring and didn’t like the writing.
Warped Passages by Kameron Hurley: ★★★★★
This is a prequel story to one of my favorite sci-fi books, The Stars Are Legion. It follows two sisters (Kariz and Malati Bhavaja) who are trying to escape the legion, ships who have been trapped by an alien entity and whose engines don’t work anymore. And now I think I know who built the Mokshi and what the ships are like (giant organs that were eaten by a weird cephalopod-like parasitic entity? It always gets weirder and I love it). Just like The Stars Are Legion, it’s a story about agency/free will and family.
The Frost Giant’s Data by Dan Abnett: ★ DNF
I had never found another anthology in which I didn’t care about this many short stories, but I also found some new favorites, so I’m not completely disappointed.
My rating: ★★★