Tag Archives: LGBT

Mending Fences: A Review of A Prayer for the Crown-Shy

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers book cover. Image on cover is a close-up painting of a covered wagon travelling through a forest. Title: A Prayer for the Crown-Shy

Author: Becky Chambers

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: July 12, 2022

Genres: Science Fiction, Utopia

Length: 160 pages

Source: I borrowed it from my local library.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

After touring the rural areas of Panga, Sibling Dex (a Tea Monk of some renown) and Mosscap (a robot sent on a quest to determine what humanity really needs) turn their attention to the villages and cities of the little moon they call home.

They hope to find the answers they seek, while making new friends, learning new concepts, and experiencing the entropic nature of the universe.

Becky Chambers’s new series continues to ask: in a world where people have what they want, does having more even matter?

Review:

Content Warning: Theology and religion, but they share little in common with any theologies or religions of our world. I will discuss these topics in my review.

What could be more cozy or wholesome than a Tea Monk and a robot going on a road trip in a utopian world?

I am once again going to need to tread carefully in my review in order to avoid spoilers, but I did want to talk about the theological discussions and religious practices in this universe. Ms. Chambers created such a gentle framework for those beliefs that I was quickly able to relax and follow the characters’ thought processes as they compared beliefs and asked intelligent questions of those who disagreed with them. You should know that Sibling Dex loves and accepts everyone. Their beliefs are sacred to them, but they would never use them against those who have other beliefs or no beliefs at all. Don’t be nervous about reading this if you’re like me and generally avoid stories about religion or theology based on previous negative experiences with those topics in our world. It was important part of the plot for sure, but there wasn’t a single ounce of unkindness in Sibling Dex’s worldview.

My review of A Psalm for the Wild-Built gently criticized the loose plot structure of that book. I’m happy to report that the plot was thicker in this one. Yes, it retained it’s meandering philosophical and religious discussions that are so important to Sibling Dex and Mosscap’s character development, but they faced more conflicts and obstacles to their goals this time around as well. It was fascinating to me to see how they handled abrupt changes to their travelling plans and interactions with other living things that didn’t always go as predicted. This was exactly what they both needed to in order to show the audience how they’d changed as a result as their earlier adventures.

It was exciting to see how the world building was expanded. I finally learned more about how the villages and cities in this world are connected to each other and what their relationships with one another are like. Yes, I wanted to dive even deeper into this topic, but it made sense to stop where we did. I mean, it’s not like I welcome friends to Canada by going on a long monologue about my country’s history, culture, or social customs before asking if they want to try poutine. The important parts are shared as they come up in conversation, so it made total sense for the author to do the same here.

The character development was once again handled beautifully. Sibling Dex and Mosscap changed in all sorts of interesting ways as a result of their journey and their friendship. I chuckled as their assumptions about what humans or robots should be like occasionally bumped up against realities that bore little resemblance to what either of these individuals thought was going to happen. While I did find myself wishing the last scene had been given a little more time to flourish, I’m betting that it was written that way on purpose in order to set up whatever comes next.

This is the second instalment in the Monk & Robot series. I strongly recommend reading it all in order as there were several important scenes in A Psalm for the Wild-Built that are critical to understanding the character development.

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy made me yearn for more.

Gentle Science Fiction: A Review of A Psalm for the Wild-Built

Note: I’m (finally) reviewing the first book in the Monk & Robot series today and will review the sequel next week. Stay tuned! 

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers book cover. Image on cover shows a drawing of a robot, a person pedaling their travelling home, many plants, and winding paths on it. Title: A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Monk & Robot #1)

Author: Becky Chambers

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: July 13, 2021

Genres: Science Fiction, Utopia

Length: 160 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

In A Psalm for the Wild-Built, Hugo Award-winner Becky Chambers’s delightful new Monk and Robot series gives us hope for the future.

It’s been centuries since the robots of Panga gained self-awareness and laid down their tools; centuries since they wandered, en masse, into the wilderness, never to be seen again; centuries since they faded into myth and urban legend.

One day, the life of a tea monk is upended by the arrival of a robot, there to honor the old promise of checking in. The robot cannot go back until the question of “what do people need?” is answered.

But the answer to that question depends on who you ask, and how.

They’re going to need to ask it a lot.

Becky Chambers’s new series asks: in a world where people have what they want, does having more matter?

Review:

Content Warning: Theology. It is nothing like the religions or theologies of our world, though, which I will explain in my review.

If peaceful science fiction is your thing, look no further.

Sibling Dex was one of the most unusual characters I’ve met in a long time. They were an agender tea monk who had already changed their occupation several times and were still not satisfied with it. The desire to learn more about the world was relentless in them even though humanity had created a utopian existence in which half of the land was reserved for wildlife sanctuaries and the other half was carefully managed to provide for everyone’s basic needs. I was intrigued by how this character reacted the changes they brought upon themselves as well as the ones they never could have predicted.

You may have noticed that I haven’t discussed the plot itself in this review. I’m purposefully writing this very carefully in order to avoid any spoilers, but I also want potential readers to know that the plot wasn’t as well-formed as I would have liked it to be. Sibling Dex went on a journey into the wilderness to find answers to their existential questions, but that storyline never quite coalesced in the way I hoped it would. As this appears to be the beginning of a series, I’m hoping that the sequel or sequels will be more assertive in seeking out answers for this character and giving them more conflict to deal with. I loved meeting them and having such a gentle introduction to their unique world, but I was a bit disappointed by how everything suddenly ended for them in the final scene with so many questions still left unanswered.

This story includes numerous references to religion and philosophy, but they bear little if any resemblance to what people in our world think of when they use those terms. Yes, Sibling Dex was a monk as I mentioned earlier, but their religious beliefs and practices were almost wholly centred on their own behaviour as opposed to worrying about what others did. You will find no threats of eternal punishment, long lists of rules to follow, or harsh judgements of non-believers here. That wasn’t how Sibling Dex behaved about at all, and I found it incredibly refreshing. They simply wanted to be the best monk they could be, and their journey was in part related to how their faith and their understanding of philosophy might be able to help them figure out what to do next with their restless soul.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built was a breath of fresh air.

A Review of Dare vs. The Doll

Dare vs the Doll: A not-actually-scary horror short story Kindle Edition by Si Clarke author. Image on cover is a photo of a scruffy little dog looking up with alarm at someone standing next it in rain boots. Title: Dare vs. The Doll – A not-actually-scary horror short story

Author: Si Clarke

Publisher: White Hart Fiction

Publication Date: March 30, 2021

Genres:  Horror, Parody, Humour, Romance, Contemporary

Length: 31 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Who expects a haunted doll to be such a nuisance?

When Dare’s dog discovers an abandoned doll on their doorstep, Dare assumes it’s nothing more than a lost toy… until it begins to talk.

After the doll offers up a string of bad suggestions and unhelpful advice, Dare is left wondering if the isolation of lockdown has finally proved too much.

Struggling to get rid of the bed-tempered toy, Dare has no idea that this not-quite-scary fiend will accidentally change everything.

With a dash of humour, this queer cosy-horror short story is a fun, quirky tale – perfect for readers who like the idea of being scared more than the reality of it.

Review:

Content Warning: One haunted doll. This was also technically set during a Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 or early 2021, but none of the characters were sick or anything during it.

Some problems are much easier to solve than you might think!

Dare was an amazing main character. I will leave it up to readers who have autism to comment on those aspects of this character, but I really enjoyed their matter-of-fact approach to any number of problems, from the sudden appearance of a rainstorm to the probably evil doll that they couldn’t seem to get rid of no matter what they tried. Honestly, Dare was exactly the sort of person I’d hope to have around in an emergency. If only all characters in Horror stories were this sensible and practical!

I would have liked to see the author spend more time on the parody elements of the plot, especially when it came to making fun of how many characters behave at the beginning of horror stories. Those were the best scenes in this short story in my opinion, and I would have loved to have more of them. The author did an excellent job of acknowledging the expectations of that genre while also showing a much more realistic reaction to learning that one’s dog has accidentally brought home a haunted doll. I simply needed more of these elements in order to give this a higher rating due to how important those themes were to the storyline.

The romantic plot twist was as unexpected as it was delightful. I rarely find stories that mix romance and horror together, especially if they’re about Queer characters. This is even more true when I narrow that list down to authors who have done so successfully for me as a reader. They are such wildly different genres that it’s pretty difficult to find the right balance between the lightheartedness of most romance and the heavier themes of most horror, so it was a great deal of fun to see how it happened here.

Dare vs. The Doll made me chuckle.

Learning to Be Good: A Review of The School for Good Mothers

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan book cover. Image on cover shows a pink wall with a long, dark corridor in the middle of it. Title: The School for Good Mothers

Author: Jessamine Chan

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication Date: January 4, 2022

Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopia, Contemporary

Length: 336 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

In this taut and explosive debut novel, one lapse in judgement lands a young mother in a government reform program where custody of her child hangs in the balance.

Frida Liu is struggling. She doesn’t have a career worthy of her Chinese immigrant parents’ sacrifices. She can’t persuade her husband, Gust, to give up his wellness-obsessed younger mistress. Only with Harriet, their cherubic daughter, does Frida finally attain the perfection expected of her. Harriet may be all she has, but she is just enough.

Until Frida has a very bad day.

The state has its eyes on mothers like Frida. The ones who check their phones, letting their children get injured on the playground; who let their children walk home alone. Because of one moment of poor judgment, a host of government officials will now determine if Frida is a candidate for a Big Brother-like institution that measures the success or failure of a mother’s devotion.

Faced with the possibility of losing Harriet, Frida must prove that a bad mother can be redeemed. That she can learn to be good.

A searing page-turner that is also a transgressive novel of ideas about the perils of “perfect” upper-middle class parenting; the violence enacted upon women by both the state and, at times, one another; the systems that separate families; and the boundlessness of love, The School for Good Mothers introduces, in Frida, an everywoman for the ages. Using dark wit to explore the pains and joys of the deepest ties that bind us, Chan has written a modern literary classic.

Review:

Content Warning: Physical abuse, emotional abuse, child abuse, child neglect, kidnapping, mental illness, and suicide. I will briefly mention the abuse and mental illness in my review.

What does it mean to be a decent parent, and who should decide how and when to judge the parenting of others?

Some of my favourite scenes were the ones that explored the science fiction elements of the plot. This school wasn’t like anything we have in our world, although it did take a while for the fantastical elements of it to make themselves known. I was eager to figure out how the scientific advancements that were described there worked and if they would accomplish the goals that the program was designed to pursue. Every new revelation only made me yearn to learn even more. As much as I want to gush about this topic in great detail, it’s best if other readers discover everything for themselves.

This tale needed more character development. The act that lead to Frida being sent to The School for Good Mothers was so bizarre that I was disappointed by how little time was spent exploring why she did it when she had so many other options available to her. It was a pattern that repeated itself after she was sent to the school and began getting to know the other mothers there. The audience learned the reasons why everyone had ended up there, but we really didn’t’ get to know the characters well as individuals. Nearly their entire identities were swallowed up by what they did, why that made them terrible mothers, and how they were learning to be better. I did wonder if this might have been purposefully written this way to make a point about how women are expected to subsume all of their desires, hopes, and dreams to parenthood, With that being said, text never really made that clear, and I struggled to emotionally connect with the characters because of how tricky it was to get to know them as individuals.

I was impressed by the attention the author paid to how race, social class, sex, mental health, and other factors affected how parents were judged in this universe. Not only were the rules much less stringent for folks who were white, male, able-bodied, and wealthy, breaking them had far fewer negative consequences as well. This book did a wonderful job of exploring the nuances of intersectionality and showing how the system set some people up for success and others for failure from day one. If it had continued to focus on this instead of veering off into other directions, I would have gone with a much higher rating.

It was also confusing to me to see how many different types of mothers were sent to the same school. Some of them were found guilty of things that weren’t even examples of abusive or neglectful parenting. They could easily be explained away as cultural or parenting philosophy differences. Other parents were an entirely different story, though, and I actually ended up agreeing with the authorities that those specific mothers were too dangerous to currently have custody of their children due to issues like serious physical abuse. This isn’t to say I necessarily thought they should lose custody permanently, only that it was really odd to me to group the small number of them who needed extensive help in with parents who left dirty dishes in their sinks or let their children walk a few blocks away to the local library. While i understood the point the author was making about the grossly unfair expectations society places on mothers that is often poisoned by racism, classism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice, it simply didn’t make sense to me from a storytelling perspective to group everyone together like this. Surely the authorities should have been smarter than that and at least assigned characters to different classrooms or treatment modules based on the severity of their convictions.

The ending was well written. It was the logical outcome of everything Frida had experienced and learned during her year at the School for Good Mothers. I enjoyed looking back and taking note of the foreshadowing that had been shared earlier, too. The author struck a nice balance between hinting at what was to come to the audience without giving us too many clues about everything she had up her sleeves. A sequel would be nice, but I also felt satisfied by how the main storylines were resolved and what probably happened to the characters after the end of the last scene.

The School for Good Mothers was a thought-provoking read.

Top Ten Tuesday: LGBT+ Book Quotes

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

Pride month is just around the corner. Since all in-person events for Toronto’s Pride events have been cancelled again this year thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, I decided to start the celebration a little early here instead. May it be safe for us to celebrate in person next year!

 

“The single best thing about coming out of the closet is that nobody can insult you by telling you what you’ve just told them.”
Rachel Maddow

 

“Race, gender, religion, sexuality, we are all people and that’s it. We’re all people. We’re all equal.”
Connor Franta

 

“But this is your life, and it will stretch out before you, and you are the only person who can make it whatever you want it to be.”
Christina Lauren, Autoboyography

 

“Rainbows are gay space lasers. That’s why they’re not straight.”
Oliver Markus Malloy, Introvert Comics: Inside The Mind of an Introvert

 

“Being different is what makes us fun, remember?”
Maulik Pancholy, The Best at It

White piece of cloth that has a rainbow and the phrase "love is love" painted on it.

 

“But you can have more than one family. You can choose your family.”
Phil Stamper, As Far As You’ll Take Me

 

“She’s happy with who she is. Maybe it’s not the heteronormative dream that she grew up wishing for, but… knowing who you are and loving yourself is so much better than that, I think.”
Alice Oseman, Loveless

 

“We all have our own unique place in the infinite gender universe.”
Ashley Mardell, The ABC’s of LGBT+

 

“The joy of discovery is one of the biggest pleasures you’ll ever know.”
Samra Habib, We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir

 

“In conversation with one of his friends, the openly gay Dr. William Hirsch, Fred Rogers himself concluded that if sexuality was measured on a scale of one to ten: ‘Well, you know, I must be right smack in the middle. Because I have found women attractive, and I have found men attractive.”
Maxwell King, The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers

In Pursuit of Justice: A Review of The Gest of Robyn Hode & Little Joan According to Alaina of Dale

Title:The Gest of Robyn Hode & Little Joan According to Alaina of Dale Author: T J Therien Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: May 30, 2019 Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Historical Length: 83 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: The story as you know it is a lie. Discover… Read More

Hopeful Science Fiction: Machine of Loving Grace

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter. Last winter I discovered the… Read More

Hopeful Science Fiction: Skin City

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter. Earlier this year I discovered… Read More

Hopeful Science Fiction: St. Juju

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter. A few months ago, I… Read More

Safe Haven: A Review of Everfair

Title: Everfair Author: Nisi Shawl Publisher: Tor Books Publication Date: 2016 Genres: Fantasy, Alternate History, Steampunk Length: 384 pages Source: I borrowed it from the library. Rating: 3 stars Blurb: From noted short story writer Nisi Shawl comes a brilliant alternate-history novel set in the Belgian Congo. What if the African natives developed steam power… Read More