This book would not exist if not for the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, which reprinted classic fantasy novels, novellas, short stories and fragments from 1969 to 1974. I discovered this series through David Linday's A Voyage To Arcturus, a story so radically inventive and beautifully written that I still marvel that such a book exists. I've now read five books in the Ballantine series, and so far The Sorcerer's Ship is the swiftest and most playful. Hannes Bok (a Seattle native), was foremost an illustrator, not an author - in his introduction, Ballantine series editor Lin Carter describes Bok's home as delightful, chaotic and cramped with paintings. His artwork shows a vivid, colorful imagination, and The Sorcerer's Ship is full of that same substance. It's sad this book is out of print, because I believe middle-grade readers with an ear for Fantasy like The Hobbit, Wizard of Earthsea and Spirited Away would love Bok's story. Hopefully young readers will find The Sorcerer's Ship at a dusty bookstore and give it a chance.
What a beginning to my Directed Fieldwork with Seattle Public Library (SPL)! It's hard to imagine many cities in America - or the world, for that matter - that can boast a community so diverse in its interests and talents as to create an event like Banned! Books in Drag. Much as the title suggests, Banned! was a literary drag show. The performers each selected a title that has been banned, challenged or censored - books like Harry Potter and Fahrenheit 451 - and treated the audience to a drag number inspired by his or her choice. Even though this event is only in its second year, it was a smash hit: the line for entry went around the block. The place was packed. If you plan to come next year, you better get there early. My full account is on my Directed Fieldwork site.
Adichie begins her book with the story of how she first heard the word feminist. During an argument with an older male cousin, whom she admired, he paused an told her she was a feminist. At the time, she took it to be a compliment about her argument - later, she thinks it may have been a warning. I have to admit that, initially, the publication of We Should All Be Feminists felt dubious to me. I thought Random House was cashing in on the success of Americanah by publishing what was essentially the transcript of a TEDx talk. But my foot is in my mouth. I'm not sure I would've read We Should All Be Feminists if my wife hadn't bought it, which she couldn't have done were it not published. This book is small, but powerful. I needed to read it. Everyone needs to read it. These words need to reach as far as possible: Adichie tells us why in the title.
For those still parsing out the distinction between Science Fiction and Speculative Fiction, Fugue for a Darkening Island is a powerful example of the latter by an author who established himself as a master of the former. I picked up Fugue because one of Christopher Priest's earlier novels, The Inverted World, had impressed me to the point of evangelism (see, I'm still at it!). While the tone of Fugue is similarly cold and direct, the content is simply brutal - it has more in common with a book like Jerzy Kosinski's The Painted Bird, which outpaces Fugue's misery by degree, not kind. A challenging book, notable for its fine prose, non-linear narrative, and its anticipation, in 1972, of Europe's present refugee crisis.
After I heard Nalo Hopkinson's incredible interview on Geek's Guide to the Galaxy, where she spoke passionately and eloquently about Racefail, Junot Diaz, voodoo, and more, I knew I had to get familiar with her work. I read Sister Mine and was impressed, but nothing could prepare me for The Salt Roads. It's one of those books where you struggle to find points of comparison - the plugs on the back make reference to Toni Morrison and Edwidge Danticat, and while she stands toe to toe for prose, her imagination is in a whole different solar system. This is the kind of book that brings to mind Ursula K. Le Guin's excellent introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness, where she says that what sets science fiction apart from "older forms of fiction seems to be its use of new metaphors." That says it all. Even though much of The Salt Roads is set in the past, the way Hopkinson tells her story is breathtakingly new.