Steampunk: An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories is in our library’s YA section. Which is fine as far as it goes – I’m more than happy to recommend it to teens – but there’s nothing about it that really demands YAness. Perhaps it’s just easier than trying to figure out if steampunk is science fiction or fantasy.
Anyway, the stories Kelly Link got for this collection are pretty excellent. Cory Doctorow’s “Clockwork Fagin” is about a Dickensian orphanage where the children kill their cruel master, make an automaton to fool their funders and self-organize into a worker’s collective. There are time-stopping train robberies and ancient Romans dealing with clockwork oracles, but they story that hit me most in the feels was Dylan Horrocks’ “Steam Girl.” It’s about a contemporary high school boy who meets a girl dressed in a leather flight helmet who’s an excellent storyteller about this heroine from Mars.
I’m becoming a fan of suggesting anthologies to readers at the library because of the sampler effect that helps people find what it is they really like. Steampunk! will be suggested by me.
So the joke in John Scalzi’s Redshirts is that in a Star Trek-like future a bunch of expendable crewmembers on a starship figure out that something is hinky about their incredible death rate. Anyone who goes on a mission with one of the bridge crew has a terribly low survival rate. The book is about some of these lower decks members figuring out what is going on and how to change the universe to improve their odds. Be warned: it gets kind of meta. (Normally I like that, but this didn’t set my brain/heart on fire.)
It was a decent enough book, but that may be because I’m enough of a Star Trek nerd to enjoy looking at the bizarre universe they live in and figuring out ways to rationalize it. It had some decent things to say about lazy storytelling and figuring out a better way to write. And it didn’t take very long to read. It wasn’t as funny as I’d hoped but I didn’t hate myself for taking a few hours out of my life with it.
Dallas is a time travel story about trying to kill President Kennedy. At one point the planet is destroyed. There are psychotic timetravelling hitmen and Number 5 is trying to stop a past version of himself.
I keep on digging the art in this book and Way’s approach to time travel (and the inaccuracy of such methods) was pretty sweet. This isn’t the kind of story you can just drop into, so make sure you read Apocalypse Suite to figure out who these characters are and why you should care first.
I loved How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu so much. It’s a story about a time machine repair guy named Charles Yu who’s been living safely off in a null-zone where time doesn’t really pass, thinking about his father who disappeared, the inability to change the past, the trajectory of a life and closed time-like loops. But really it’s about loneliness and memory.
It’s a quiet book, introspective. I think I’d thought it would be funnier, but instead it was just beautiful. Also a good crossover book for people who like literature and aren’t necessarily interested in “science fiction.” There’s lots of stuff tossed in there in technical language, that’s cryptic but decipherable. It encourages study and reading slowly, really settling into the book (which is not long at all).
Definitely one of my new favourites. Yu’s new short story collection, Sorry Please Thank You, is now on my must read list.
Apocalypse Suite is a time travel, get the team back together to fight something that’s gone horribly wrong, high adventure style comic that I enjoyed immensely. It’s Gerard Way’s first time writing a comic and it doesn’t really show.
The Umbrella Academy super team was once a bunch of orphan kids brought together to fight terrible threats (including an animated Eiffel Tower). This story takes place when their mentor has died and they regroup after scattering to the winds (or the moon) for years. Then one member comes back from the future and the team member who doesn’t do anything special feels slighted and it all spins out of control. It’s a great story, illustrated superbly by Gabriel Ba. Highly recommended.
Delia Sherman’s The Freedom Maze isn’t the kind of YA book I normally read. It’s a story of a 13-year-old southern girl named Sophie in the 1960s who goes out to her grandmother’s manor for the summer. Her mom is all about Sophie behaving like a proper white lady. Then she travels back in time 100 years (through the intercession of a Creature in the maze) and is taken in as a slave on the sugar plantation. The plantation owners think she’s the misbegotten daughter of their dissolute New Orleans brother.
The story is about Sophie learning to be a slave. She starts off in the house but gets framed for stealing and has to do much crappier work. She makes friends and comes of age and doesn’t get to go home when what she thinks was a fine adventure is done.
It was a pretty good story, and it was easy to be mad at the characters you were supposed to dislike, including Sophie’s bitch of a mother. It didn’t feel preachy though. I was a little bored, but I’m not a huge slice of life historical fiction person in the first place. It felt well-researched, and I was very happy that Sophie’s physical changes from living six months in the span of twenty minutes weren’t taken back, Narnia-style.
Douglas Rushkoff and Steph Dumais made Club Zero-G, a graphic novel about consensus reality and a shared dreamland dance club that the kids (young adults) don’t remember when they wake up. There are people in the future who are being hunted for daring to defy the consensus reality and they come back to the early 21st century in this dream club. Except that Zeke remembers it when he wakes up. He’s being used by the military to catch the mutant interlopers from the future and is trying to convince people in the waking world that Club Zero-G is real.
The best parts are dealing with the disjunction between the waking characters and the club characters, who are embarrassed about what assholes their waking versions are. It name checks Foucault and the collective unconscious in the way that makes this book probably work okay for a YA audience. I really liked the rough and colourful art, but I don’t think the story was as revolutionary as I get the feeling Rushkoff thought it was.
Jason Shiga’s Meanwhile is a choose your own adventure comic book with time travel, secret codes, mind-reading, the extinction of all life on the planet and ice cream. It is amazing. I have only played with the book a little bit but most of my attempts have ended up with everyone dead (my very first choice led to a ridiculously short story, but one in which everyone lived).
The very cool thing about it being a comic is following the line from panel to panel as it forks and crosses pages. I caught glimpses of really interesting endings, but there’s also a warning in the beginning of the book that there are endings you can only reach if you cheat. I haven’t played with it enough to really exhaust the endings, but everything I’ve done with it so far was awesome. Highly recommended.
Stephen Baxter’s Last and First Contacts is a collection of short stories that to me, have the common theme of scale. There are stories about dark matter ripping the universe apart, and about alien consciousness that is propagated by gravity waves, and story after story of life continuing without people, or with radically changed people. It was a collection of big stories and I liked that.
Strangely, the first story in the book, and the only new story, is the smallest scale, about an amateur German astronomer working on Von Braun’s rockets. I also really liked the pulpy alternate history exploration story about a world where the Pacific was uncrossable, not because of storms, but distance-wise. On a Nazi air-city they fly the distance from the Earth to the Moon over the ocean but never get to the Americas because of a fold in space that hides remnants of the past, mammoths and Neanderthals and dinosaurs. It was very neat.
Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca’s comic Street Angel is about an eighth-grade homeless girl who is a badass ninja skateboarder. The stories are about her beating the hell out of people who underestimate her and saving the city from mad scientists and Aztec gods who’ve brought pirates forward through time. There’s an Irish astronaut who became fluent in Australian for ease of alien contact. There’s a one-armed no-legged skateboarder Jesse (the Street Angel) is friends with, but who won’t do the Fastball Special, no matter how much she wants to.
It’s all kind of insane and hella foul-mouthed and violent. There are some really great spreads of chaos, especially in the Afrodisiac story. I wouldn’t recommend it to every teen, but for the right reader, this’d make an excellent gateway to alternative comics. (Also, this is not a very accurate depiction of being a homeless orphan, just to be clear.)