Sci-Fi and Fantasy: P. Djèlí Clark’s “A Master of Djinn” (c) 2021.

P. Djèlí Clark’s “A Master of Djinn” (c) 2021


A fantastic and very enjoyable tale: an intriguing mystery, of djinns and humans, in an alternate historical fantasy, Cairo in the early twentieth century. A story that weaves in and out of a modern Cairo, and its ancient streets, steampunk technology, and ancient magic.

The story is set in Cairo in 1912: Cairo is a great world power, rivaling London and Paris.

Agent Fatma el-Sha’arawi works for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities. The Ministry investigates cases involving magic, alchemy, and supernatural entities like the djinns, ifrits, and ghuls.

Fatma is called in to investigate the fiery deaths of Lord Alistair Worthington and the Brotherhood of Al -Jahiz.
Al-Jahiz was a mystic and djinn who, in the late 19th century, opened a portal that allowed djinn and other supernatural entities to enter the world. With the help of the djinns, Egypt builds its steampunk technology

A new academy graduate, Hadia Abdel Hafez works on the case together with Fatma. Hadia is a great admirer of Fatma; a suffragette; and an active supporter of women’s rights.

A man claiming to be Al-Jahiz claims to have killed Lord Worthington. When the man shows his power to control djinns and other supernatural entities, Cairo is thrown into chaos and turmoil.

Fatma suspects the man is an imposter. But how is he able to control the djinn? For Fatma, it is imperative to expose the imposter before Cairo falls into his power.

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Neil Clarke, ed.: “The Best Science Fiction of the Year Volume 5 (c) 2020; short stories from 2019.

Neil Clarke, ed.: “The Best Science Fiction of the Year Volume 5 (c) 2020.

Fascinating sci-fi stories from 2019.

I greatly enjoyed reading these stories. Some stories were a re-read for me. The authors include well-known and new writers. It was a great way to “catch up” on more recent stories by writers whose stories I have read in the past. And a great intro to works by writers new to me.

Selected stories – very brief summary:

  1. Alastair Reynolds: “Permafrost”
    Ecoclimate fiction; time travel; 2080: In the Arctic Circle, a group of scientists, engineers, and physicians plan an alteration to the past, to avert a global catastrophe.
  2. N. K. Jemisin: “Emergency Skin”
    Winner — 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novelette.
    Evolution. After many centuries — Return to an Earth devastated by climate changes. How have those left behind adapted and survived?
  3. A. T. Greenblatt: “Give the Family My Love”
    Hazel, an anthropologist, is in deep space, on an alien planet: The Librarians and Archivists. The Librarians are explorers and have visited Earth. Their Library contains archives and information from all over the Universe. Searching for solutions to Earth’s ecological devastation.
  4. Alec Nevala-Lee: “At the Fall”
    Researching the ocean deeps using AI hexapods (jellyfish) and toroids. The AIs are designed to study hydrogen sulfide vents formed at the sites of dead whales in the depths of the sea. Eunice is an AI jellyfish on a deep dive; When there is no response for several months from the research designer, Eunice decides to track her way home to Seattle, using fallen whale locations.
  5. Rebecca Campbell: “Such Thoughts are Unproductive”
    “Problematic” citizens. People who talk about climate change, wildfires, the refugee crises or oil pipeline leaks, or any of the world’s problems, disappear.
  6. Karin Lowachee: “Sympathizer”
    Humans arrive on the moon and find aliens there, the striviirc-na from a deep space planet. Commander Enas Gray gets orders from EarthHub to kill the aliens.
  7. Kali Wallace: “The River of Blood and Wine”
    The planet Xiva is home to the pitka. When humans colonize Xiva, they assume the pitka are unintelligent and are hunted as prey. But the pitka build mounds, carve symbols, and work as a community. Sunan, the game warden’s son, believes the pitka are sentient.
  8. Tegan Moore: “The Work of Wolves”
    Sera is an Enhanced Intelligence Search-and-Rescue dog. Time is of the essence: When systems operations begin to break down in a fusion energy array, Sera is assigned to locate a destructive drone that has been released into the fusion array.
  9. A. Que (Chinese): “Song Xuiyun”; transl. by Emily Jin
    Brain-controlled technology.
    Wu Huang is a cab driver: A holograph interface with her car enables her to drive the car from her home. She picks up two passengers, Song Xuiyun and her son Li Chuan, who is not well. Li Chuan is a designer for Domain Co., a developer of brain-controlled tech.
  10. Karen Osborne: “Cratered”
    Searching for rare-earth minerals on the moon, geologists Kate and Arjun come across a fireplace in Mare Crisium.
  11. Indrapramit Das: “Kali_Na”
    VR story. Durga, a young woman, and the AI divinity Durga or Kali_Na (not Kali).
  12. Ray Naylor: “The Ocean between The Leaves” — Bodyshops and mind transmigrations.
  13. Carolyn Ives Gilman: “On the Shores of Ligeia”
    Seth, an astrobiologist, is exploring Titan in Virtual Reality when unknown drones buzz him…
  14. Marie Vibbert: “Knit Three, Save Four”
    Hilarious sci-fi story!! Stowaway aboard a spaceship uses her knitting skills to save the ship and herself.

Other writers in the anthology:
Suzanne Palmer; Mercurio D Rivera; Cixin Liu (transl by Ken Liu); Tobias S. Buckell; Elizabeth Bear; Gwyneth Jones; Dominica Phetteplace; Vandana Singh; Annalee Newitz; Aliette de Bodard; John Chu; Yoon Ha Lee; Rich Larson.

Reading – Literary Fiction: Amitav Ghosh: “Gun Island – A Novel” (c) 2019.

Amitav Ghosh’s “Gun Island – A Novel” is a fantastic multilayered story:

A transformative personal journey that is interwoven with Bengali folklore; the Sundarbans, an area of mangrove forests in the Bay of Bengal; historical fiction; climate and environmental changes; displacement, refugees, and survival. A story of love, hope, family, and heritage.

Dinanath Datta, or Deen, is a Bengali American antiques and rare-books dealer in Brooklyn. He is originally from Kolkata or Calcutta. One winter, while visiting family in Kolkata, he hears a Bengali folktale from Nilima Bose, who has spent a lifetime living and working in the Sundarbans, the mangrove forests of Bengal.

The folktale is about a Bengali folk hero, Bonduki Sadagar, or the Gun Merchant, and Manasa Devi, the goddess of snakes and poisonous creatures. The tale is linked to a shrine in the Sunderbans. Nilima urges him to visit the shrine before storms and cyclones sweep it away.

Deen learns more about the Sundarbans from Piya Roy, also a Bengali American. Piya is a marine biologist studying the effects of climate change on whales and dolphins, once abundant in the Sundarbans. The Sunderbans have been devastated repeatedly by cyclones. Piya also works at Nilima’s Badabon Trust, a charitable organization that is particularly active in the Sundarbans.

Deen talks to an old friend, Cinta Schiavon, Professor at the Universita di Padova, and a famous Italian historian, about the folktales. She encourages him to visit the shrine. Finding himself intrigued he agrees to make a trip to the shrine. He figures out from the local legends that it was probably built in the 17th century. In his brief visit, he meets two young men, Tipu and Rafi, from the Sunderbans. His visit ends with a terrifying encounter with a king cobra at the shrine.

When he returns to Brooklyn, he cannot forget his visit to the shrine. He is invited to Venice, to work on a documentary about refugees, many of whom are Bengali.

In Venice, he learns more about the tale of the Bonduki Sadagar. And he finds himself drawn into relief efforts for the refugee crisis.

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Sci-fi & Fantasy: Ken Liu’s “The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories” (c) 2016.

Ken Liu: Master storyteller with multiple awards & finalist awards: Novels, short stories, and translations.

“The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories” won the 2017 Locus Award for Best Collection.

An excellent anthology of 15 stories by Ken Liu.
Fascinating stories drawing in one way or another on Chinese culture, history, folklore, and mythology.

The title story “The Paper Menagerie” won the 2012 World Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction; the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Short Story, and the 2011 Nebula Award for Best Short Story.

Summaries – selected stories:

“The Paper Menagerie” —
Jack recalls his young days growing up Chinese-American and rediscovers his mother’s love for him through the origami animals she created, and animated through her magical abilities.

“Mono No Aware” — won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Short Story.
The transient nature of all things. A profoundly moving story of sacrifice, endurance, survival.
An asteroid approaches Earth. People escape in starships. Hiroto is on “The Hopeful” on a 300-year journey to settle on a far distant planet.

“Good Hunting” —
A bittersweet story with dark twists and turns.
A “hulijing” is a Chinese demon who steals hearts. A young man Liang, and Yan, a young hulijing, become friends. Can the magic of the old days survive in the new age of steam and electricity, of railroads, and the great cities of Hong Kong and Canton? Learning to survive in a time of changes, the young man Liang becomes an engineer, helping to develop and build automata. When he meets The hulijing Yan again, she asks for his help to regain her lost magical powers.

“The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” (Finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards)–
A thought-provoking story of time travel and discovering buried history.
Interweaving historical fiction, this is a story of traveling to the past, exposing the buried past, and the resulting complexity of legal and political issues. Who controls the past?
Dr. Akemi Kirino is a physicist at the Feynman laboratories and discoverer of the Bohm-Kirino particles. She develops The Kirino Process, using entangled particles to view the past. Her husband, Dr. Evan Wei, is a Chinese – American historian. Using the Kirino Process, he exposes a buried past: 1940, WWII, Japan’s biological and weapons experiments on humans in Harbin, China.

“The Waves” —
Evolution in space. Maggie Chao is aboard the Sea Foam, a solar sail generational starship, on a journey to a deep space planet. Earth develops a nano-computer that stops aging, making humanity immortal. If the families aboard the Sea Foam decide to become immortal, what consequences will they face, aboard the starship, with its limited resources, and on the new planet? Each individual decides to choose immortality or not. Maggie chooses immortality. Children who choose immortality remain children.

“The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” — (finalist for the Nebula and Sturgeon Awards).
Extraterrestrial civilizations: every species has a unique way of passing on its history, knowledge, and wisdom through unique books. Speech recorded as inscriptions on soft malleable surfaces; stone organs in their brain as the repository of lives, thoughts, and wisdom; mind mapping; shifting patterns of field potentials; very tiny creatures, reading, and writing on the minuscule scale, books and objects of the past that can no longer be read or deciphered by other species.

“Literomancer ” — (Nebula Award finalist)
A profoundly stirring and thought-provoking story of Chinese culture and history.
In 1961 Lilly Dyer is a schoolgirl at an American military base when her family moves to Taiwan from Texas. She meets Mr. Kan, a literomancer who uses the individual Chinese characters in names and words to bring to life stories from the past and to predict the future. A young orphan, Teddy, lives with Mr. Kan. Lilly’s friendship with Teddy and Mr. Kan blossoms. From Chinese characters, Lilly learns from Mr. Kan about Chinese history. The story twists and turns.

“The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” (Nebula Award finalist).
Historical fiction.
Tian Haoli lives in a cottage at the edge of Sanli village. He is a songshi, a litigation master. He knows how to read & write. Ordinary people come to him for help in matters of the law and justice, when there is no one else they can turn to. Monkey King is a trickster demon, with whom Tian loves to talk, debate, and discuss how to resolve problems. Tian, an ordinary man, faces an extraordinary challenge: The Manchu Emperor is determined to wipe out all accounts of the Yangzhou massacre. Tian comes across an account of the massacre. How can he save it from being destroyed?

“All the Flavors — A Tale of Guan Yu, the Chinese God of War, in America” (Nebula Award finalist)
Historical fiction. A story of Friendship. Learning about another culture. A story of endurance, of learning to survive, to adapt in an unfamiliar land.
Set in Idaho City, 19th century. A group of Chinese miners settles in Idaho City. A young American girl, Lily, becomes friends with them. From Lao Guan, Lily learns about China, and Chinese history, and the story of Lord Guan Hu.


Sci-Fi & Fantasy: (1) Aliette de Bodard: “The Citadel of Weeping Pearls – Xuya Universe” (c) 2015; 2017; (2) Lavie Tidhar, ed.: “The Best of World SF” (c) 2021 (vol. 1) – selected short stories.

Aliette de Bodard’s sci-fi novella “The Citadel of Weeping Pearls”

Richly imagined, a bittersweet tale of a mother and her two daughters; of mindships, deep space technologies, teleportation, and time travel.

The story is set in the Xuya Universe, in the string of orbitals and a multitude of planets called the Scattered Pearls.

The “Citadel of Weeping Pearls” is made up of many ships, its founder and ruler are Bright Princess Ngoc Minh. From a very young age, Bright Princess shows an unusually brilliant and inventive mind.

The Princess is the eldest and favorite daughter of Mi Hiep, Empress of the Dai Viet Empire. When she refuses to give up her research, Mi Hiep banishes her daughter to the outermost edges of the Scattered Pearls. In the Citadel, Bright Princess develops deep space technologies, including teleportation. One night the Citadel vanishes.

When the Dai Viet Empire is threatened by the Nam federation, Mi Hiep knows she needs Bright Princess’s help to defend the Empire. She sends Bright Princess’s younger sister to the outermost belt of the Scattered Pearls, to find the Citadel and Bright Princess Ngoc Minh.



Selected stories from the anthology by Lavie Tidhar, ed.: “The Best of World SF” (c) 2021 (vol. 1).

This is an international collection of 26 sci-fi and fantasy short stories, each unique, from 23 countries.

Some of the stories have been previously published, quite a few of them in the Uncanny and Clarkesworld magazines.

This is a brief summary of some of the stories I’ve read to date. Very imaginative stories, thought-provoking


Aliette de Bodard – “Immersion” (c) 2012.
France; French & Vietnamese heritage.

“Immersion” won the 2013 Best Short Story Nebula and Locus awards.
Quy is from the Rong culture, living in a universe filled with technology by the Galactics — the dominant power in the galaxy. Everyone wears an immersion avatar. A thin metal mesh fits around the head, synchs with the brain, and shapes an avatar around the person, based on a given culture. But the underlying logic is Galactic. Immersed in their avatar, a person can lose awareness of their own culture, their own identity…

**

Chen Qiufan – “Debtless” (trans. from Chinese by Blake Stone-Banks); (c) 2019.
Chinese.
A fantastic story of hope, risk, death, and …greed.
A story of asteroid mining and debt.

Complex mining facilities, unpredictable equipment failures, accidents.
The space miners do not remember how they have ended up as asteroid miners. Their memories of personal names, families, personal and work info, their money earned, debt owed, are all encrypted into genetic code. They still are very much human, with unique identities, idiosyncracies, emotions. Who “owns” them, and why?

**

Vina Jie-Min Prasad — “Fandom for Robots” (c) 2017.
Singapore.

“Computron” is a classical robot, a sentient robot, the only sentient robot of that kind created by Dr. Karel Alquist. Computron is now part of the Simiak Robotics Museum, able to engage in objective discussions with visitors. Computron discovers fanfiction and ends up collaborating, without revealing that he is a robot, in fanfiction about a cybernetic robot called Cyro.

**
Tlotlo Tsamaase — ” Virtual Snapshots” (c) (2019)
Botswana.
Story set in a time of climate and digital change.
Co-existing worlds: In the old world some children are birthed naturally by their mothers.
In the digital world, children are born in the DigiWorld, maintained by life-sustaining machines; and cannot venture out without a solar-powered avatar.

**

Vandana Singh – ” ‘Delhi” (c) 2004.
India

Aseem can see apparitions from different time streams – from past & future.

Sometimes he meets travelers like him: they can see him, he can see them; some even converse with him. He assumes perhaps it is just the way his brain is wired. He sees himself, in a Delhi of the future …

**
The Wheel of Samsara’ by Han Song (trans. from Chinese by the author).
China
A story of the Big Bang: Set in Doji Lamasery in Tibet. The Wheels of Samsara are bronze wheels along the temple wall.
**
Yi-Sheng Ng; “Xingzhou” (c) 2019
Singapore.

A story of the evolution of the continent of Xingzhou. It is literally a Continent of Stars, of suns connected by bridges. People from Earth come to work on the continent which is ruled by aliens. A highly imaginative story that brings together sci-fi and fantasy — a tale of hyperspace travel…the Yog Sothothian Occupation…rebellions…

**

Francesco Verso “The Green Ship” (trans. from Italian by Michael Colbert); 2018
Italy.
A near-future story of refugees crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa and being rescued by the Green Ship, a floating bio-habitat.
**

Tade Thompson “Bootblack”
UK.
A time travel story, of a stranger who visits Cardiff. Linus Carter is a shoeshine when he meets the stranger, the “shining man.”
**

Hannu Rajaniemi — “His Master’s Voice” 2008
Finland.
Post-human world. A necropolis in the Antarctic. Genetic algorithms and autogenesis.