The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories (2017) Edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin

“Indeed We created man from dried clay of black smooth mud.  And We created the Jinn before that from the smokeless flame of fire”
(Quran 15:26-27)

Up until quite recently, I was only familiar with the word “genie” as a descriptor for supernatural beings that have a reputation for living in old lamps and granting wishes. The stories in this collection use either “djinn”, “jinn” or “genie” to represent these entities that are very different from the Robin Williams-voiced, cute, animated character seen in Disney’s Aladdin. So, what are these mysterious, misrepresented creatures? Here is what the website “islamreligion.com” says about them:

“The Jinn are beings created with free will, living on earth in a world parallel to mankind.  The Arabic word Jinn is from the verb ‘Janna’ which means to hide or conceal. Thus, they are physically invisible from man as their description suggests.”
(Source: islamreligion.com. Link here.)

the-djinn-falls-in-loveIn The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories, editors Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin have compiled a wonderfully varied collection of 22 tales of “Djinn” from authors including Nnedi Okorafor, Sami Shah, Monica Byrne, Claire North, Kamila Shamsie, Kirsty Logan, K.J Parker, Saad Hossein, James Smythe and Neil Gaiman. It was nice to find a mixture of writers I knew as well as ones who were new to me; one of the great things about short story collections.

And what a collection this is. I haven’t enjoyed a short story collection as much as this in a long time. This is a wonderful book and a book full of wonders. Every tale is well told. It’s a cornucopia of enchanting tales that sheds light on the human condition as well as the supernatural Djinn. It was difficult to select a favorite so I’ll write a couple of lines about the stories that really stood out for me. Continue reading

Burning Chrome (1986) by William Gibson

“It was one of those nights, I quickly decided, when you slip into an alternate continuum, a city that looks exactly like the one you live, except for the peculiar difference that it contains not one person you love or know or have spoken to before.” – The Winter Market (p.161)

22323Released two years after Gibson’s Hugo Award winning debut novel Neuromancer (1984), Burning Chrome is a collection of ten short stories penned by the author between 1977 and 1985. Three of the stories are collaborations: The Belonging Kind (1981) with John Shirley, Red Star, Winter Orbit (1983) with Bruce Sterling, and Dogfight (1985) with Michael Swanwick. This collection also includes Gibson’s first published story Fragments of a Hologram Rose (1977). I will limit my review to the stories which impressed me the most.

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The Beauty (2014) by Aliya Whiteley

“Humanity […] reflects the very strangeness of the land that grows, spores, seeds, and then dies around us. […] Whether reading crime, fantasy, horror, literary or science fiction, the realisation that anything is possible belongs within the land, and therefore within ourselves.” –Aliya Whiteley, ‘The Lay of The Land: Weird Possibility in the English Countryside’

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The Beauty
is Aliya Whiteley’s second novella. It was published in 2014 by Unsung Stories, a small UK publishing house that has since published her 2016 novella, The Arrival of Missives. It is a story I had been meaning to read for over a year, ever since fromcouchtomoon raved about it on her blog. Living in Japan meant it was difficult for me to get hold of a copy, so I was delighted to finally buy one during a recent trip to England over the New Year.

The story is set in a post-apocalyptic England where something unspecified and deadly has happened to the women. A small group of male survivors are hanging on to existence as they attempt to come to terms with a world without women, and all that this entails. Nathan, the narrator, is a young storyteller whose nightly tales seem to be keeping “the Group” going. Until a walk in the forest leads to a shocking discovery for Nathan … Continue reading

Additions to the Tbr Pile 

Happy New Year to everyone! Here’s to another year of reading and (hopefully) blogging.

I enjoyed a great trip back to Manchester, England to visit my dad. The return journey to Japan took longer than expected due to delayed flights and a rather surreal transit in Beijing airport. But I made it home with bags and senses in one piece. Just.

I tried my hardest NOT to buy more books over in the UK but as you can see from the picture above, I failed. Only four, right? That’s what I keep telling myself. At least I didn’t have to post any over this time. Continue reading

Counter-Clock World (1967) by Philip K. Dick

“The two basic topics which fascinate me are “What is reality?” and “What constitutes the authentic human being?” – Philip K. Dick, from a speech he gave in 1978

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Counter-Clock World
is the twelfth PKD novel I’ve read this year, accompanied by a monthly quota of 75 pages of The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick. Out of the twelve books I’ve read, this has become one of my favourites. It is built on a simple concept: what if people’s lives started running backwards? So, instead of being born as a baby from the womb, people are “old-born” from the grave and age in reverse, getting younger year by year. Dick calls this process “the Hobart Phase”.

“Those who were presently being old-born had been the last to die: final mortalities before June 1986. But according to Alex Hobart, the reversal of time would continue to move backwards, continually sweeping out a great span;” (p.14)

The older we get, the more we dream of slowing or halting the aging process. Isn’t this what so many of us desire? But this is a PKD story which means it has his unique take on such a concept. And if we stop and actually think about the ramifications of reverse-aging, we might not see it as being such a great thing after all. For one thing, can you imagine regaining consciousness in a coffin six feet underground? Continue reading

Ten Thousand Light-Years from Home (1973) by James Tiptree, Jr.

I’m starting this review with 2 quotes I like about the American writer Alice Sheldon (1915–1987) who wrote speculative fiction under the pen name James Tiptree, Jr.:

 

“It has been suggested that Tiptree is female, a theory that I find absurd, for there is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree’s writing.” — Robert Silverberg

“What her work brought to the genre was a blend of lyricism and inventiveness, as if some lyric poet had rewritten a number of clever SF standards and then passed them on to a psychoanalyst for final polish.” — Brian Aldiss

 

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Art by Chris Foss

When I was looking for recommendations of quality sci-fi books written by women, Admiral Ironbombs suggested any of Tiptree’s short-story collections. This was the first published collection of her short stories. It was published in 1973, the year of my birth and the reason why I chose to read this collection first. There are fifteen stories collected here, all of which are worth reading. Even the weaker tales have something special that separates them from similar fare of the same period.

With most of these intriguing tales the reader is dropped into a fully-formed world without any explanation. Tiptree excels at showing rather than telling, which could put some readers off. That would be a shame because these short stories are brimming with imagination, ideas and some unforgettable imagery. Here are some brief thoughts on the stories that really stood out for me.
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A Maze of Death (1970) by Philip K. Dick

“A bug crawled up on to his right shoe, paused there, and then extended a miniature television camera. The lens of the camera swung so that it pointed directly at his face.” (p.30)

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Bored with his mundane life, Ben Tallchief prays for something “more creative and stimulating”. A transfer to the planet “Delmak-O” seems to be the change he is looking for. He joins a group of recent arrivals who are unsure of what their “mission” is, aside from colonizing the planet. They are awaiting communication of their orders but the communication system fails. Then one of the colonists is found dead. Was it a sudden allergic reaction to the new surroundings of the planet or something more sinister?

As the group begins to explore Delmak-O, they discover they are not alone on the planet. Tiny artificial bugs with cameras are seen creeping around the colony. A large “Building” is sighted by some of the colonists, although its location cannot be agreed upon. And there is an organic life form called a “tench” that sounds like a big, sentient jelly but is capable of giving oracular advice.

“The great globular mass of protoplasmic slush undulated slightly, as if aware of him. Then, as the question was placed before it, the tench began to shudder …” (p.172)

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