Nnedi Okorafor's Who Fears Death
What It Is: Who Fears Death is the story of Onyesonwu, a girl whose birth is the result of a rape that constitutes a weapon in war among tribes. Onyesonwu's mother retreats to the desert where she gives birth to Onyesonwu, who is an Ewu. Ewus are children born of two races who carry stigma due to their mixed race and violent conception. Onye's mother survives and manages to find healing, and even love when she settles into a village and marries. As Onye grows up it is discovered that she has amazing magical abilities and the potential to become a powerful sorceress. Onye must fight to find teachers who will prepare her for the day that she must leave home on a quest to fulfill her destiny and change the future of her people.
Why It Is Awesome: Okay, so first of all, my summary does this book no justice. Okorafor's magical dystopia in a post-apocalyptic Africa is beautiful, heart-breaking, complex, thoughtful, brave, exciting and absolutely absorbing. This is one of those rare books that manages to be about large, real-world issues while being an engaging story and a quick read. She takes on race and gender-related violence without side-stepping the horror of it and without glossing over the emotional pain and life-consequences these things lead to. Through Onyesonwu's perspective, we go through anger, rebellion, despair, and find our way to hope and healing. The ultimate goal of the character is a world that is changed for the better.
Genre work is often a great way to talk about things that we face in the real world at a slight remove. Who Fears Death offers the very best of that and tackles huge subjects without preaching. The reader experiences the world through Onye's eyes, widening our capacity for empathy as it entertains. It's a book that will make you want to cry, sing and believe in magic.
This book is so good that I'm intimidated writing my little squeepants review of it because I'm afraid that my words will fall short in describing my own experiences reading it.
Check out Nnedi Okorafor's blog here.
Warren Lapine's Just Like The Jetsons
What It Is: A collection of short stories by Warren Lapine, an author whose award nominations and credits as a published writer as well as a publisher himself would take all day to recount. Cyborgs and lost love and everything between is contained herein.
Why It Is Awesome: Holy artistic range, Batman! Okay, genre fiction, much like music, has about a billion sub-categories. Warren Lapine expresses more of them in this collection that I can even begin to name.
One of my favorite stories in the collection is called "Can Spring Be Far Behind." Rooted in the technical idea of an implant that provides perfect recollection, it swerves into the emotional territory of romance, or rather, a romance that has ended. There is explores the psychological benefits of memories that fade. If we cannot replay perfect memories of that which we have loved and lost, left to our own consciousness those memories fade and we can heal. In the story, the main character keeps replaying the memories searching for what went wrong, trying over and over again to find an answer and coming up short until, one day he accidentally triggers a different memory, about another passion and it is perhaps, through this that the character finds a way to heal from loss. Into this brief narrative is woven pieces of classical poetry, which adds a level of appreciation for literary gems of yore and builds something new around them. The technical mcguffin of the memory implant combined with discussion about poets like Tennyson, Keats, and Shelley is brilliant and seamless. Such elements in the hands of a lesser writer could clash or seem disparate, but not here.
There is a generosity in this collection that I absolutely adore. At the end of each short story, Warren Lapine offers brief commentary explaining a bit about what led to each story, what he was thinking about, his creative objectives, etc... These segments are like gold for developing writers or science fiction fans. We get to see a little bit of what happens "behind the curtain."
To find out more about what is going on with Warren Lapine these days, follow him on Twitter @WarrenLapine