Review: A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix E. Harrow

This is fifth review of the Nebula Award nominees in 2019. You can see the full list of short story nominees here. Scroll down for some of the other reviews this year or search by title. 

A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies” by Alix E. Harrow is well written and well worth your time to read, but I want to get one small criticism out of the way right up front. The title is totally misleading. There is a compendium, and it plays a critical role at the end, but that is not the point of the story. Also, the arcane tone conveyed by the title doesn’t reflect the contemporary setting of the story subject. Ok, on to larger topics.

The story, in a nutshell, is from the perspective of a librarian who is also a witch (or vice versa). She sees unhappy people in her library from time to time and wants to help them, though there are rules about witch’s not giving people magical information that her kind have compiled over the centuries. In this story, there is a particular youth, an African American boy, who the narrator believes is having a difficult time and is seeking magic in this world and/or a portal to another one. The question is, does the narrator break the rules to help the child or not? Continue reading

Snippet of a story

I should be working on the WIP, but this is had to get on paper. Let me know what you think.

When people talk about the purge now they mostly fall in one of two camps. Some worship at the altar of mysterious holy-or-unholy retribution. We got it ‘cause we deserved it or, flip side, we got it because some badass demon decided to visit it upon us and we were just simple little sheep led to slaughter mainly due to poor demon-identification skills. The other camp, those who persist in hoping that rational thought will save us, talk it out by trying to knit pieces of science together like a lifeline. We can trace the “vector” back to “case 1” and then science the hell out of it and then stop it. Stop it! Stop it!!!

Problem is god is a cagey son-of-a-bitch, demons are immortal and science is so damn slow.

So you could see how this was going to go down. God’s men would put your mind at ease about the end, demon fighters and demon deputies ate up all the media time trying to figure out how who was doing the demon’s work for him or why his work was good for the country, and the science types had to fall back on prayer that somebody with real skills and knowledge was working on a solution somewhere.

Those of us who clearly understood this scenario, regardless of our natural biases, had only one true option. Stay or go. Not fight or flight, mind you, because we do both all too often. The option was and is stay or go. Stay where you are, fortify your walls and yourself and deal with what comes, or go where you want to be to fortify your walls and yourself and deal with what comes.

I thought I was a stay, but now I’m a go. That’s how Clare and I, and the dog, ended driving hard across the southwest toward the rising sun and home.

Updraft soars above the clouds without visible supports

Far behind the popular curve on this one, I just finished Updraft by Fran Wilde, which was published in 2015 as the first novel in the Bone Universe series. Cloudbound and Horizon are the subsequent titles. Updraft was an enjoyable read, well worth the investment of time, and deserving of its acclaim, but it was also an example of how young adult (YA) novels sometimes sketch the big picture with the thinnest of brushstrokes, and that may not be enough.

There is plenty to say about the novel’s character development and plot, which you can see in a review on Strange Horizons here, but world-building was its core strength. Survivors of some unnamed historic tragedy live high above the ground, above the clouds even, in towers made of living bone. There were key details, such the living tiers shaped like vertebrae in a spine; mostly invisible, tentacled monsters sail around the towers and eat people on occasion; and the challenges of navigating air currents while flying. All important aspects and engaging, but as a reader I felt the novel wasn’t fully fleshed out. We never learn– Continue reading

Ray Day is coming: why you should memorize writing that moves you / El día de Ray está cerca: ¿Por qué deberías memorizar los escritos que te conmueven?

F451Do you remember the first time you read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451? Do you remember Montag’s arrival at the camp in the woods where the drifters who had escaped the authoritarian government memorized books? That scene has never left me, and ever since Bradbury died in 2012, it has seemed more important than ever.

Is it because I love books? Is it because stories are central to my very being? Is it because our current political leadership is trending authoritarian? Is it because net neutrality is in danger? Is it because those grubby drifters strolling through the forest and reciting great works, seemed authentically human in a world where those with power were (are?) technologically advanced, corrupt and soulless?

Yes.

August 22nd is Ray Bradbury’s birthday. Last year I proclaimed the day “Ray Day,” and, just like the drifters, a few friends and I memorized a few lines from stories we love to honor of Bradbury and, more importantly, to honor his message to all of us about the importance of stories and all the interesting, vital, moving, shocking, essential thoughts humankind has ever recorded.  Continue reading