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LeVar Burton Reads

LeVar Burton Reads: Season Nine

Season Nine was dominated by speculative fiction that LeVar loves, so he ran a writing contest looking for writers to send in short stories from this genre, with the winner’s entry read next season.

The Bank of Burkina Faso by Ekaterina Sedia

We are all familiar with the scam of a foreign-born prince who needs our help in attaining his funds… but what if were true? In this short story an exiled prince now living in Moscow teams up with the widow of a military general to recover their fortunes from the Bank of Burkina Faso. This magical realism tale weaves together dogs and dreams into a very odd conclusion.

Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot by Robert Olen Butler

In this odd little tale, a husband is reincarnated as a parrot and bought unknowingly by his widow who is now dating the man that the husband had been jealous of. In fact, that jealousy had led to his death and he pines away for his wife, as a lack of communication then and now prevents him from ever being happy with her.

Dark Spaces on the Map by Anjali Sachdeva

A 107-year-old woman is interviewed about her experiences as a form of cultural anthropology and she needs to decide what she is willing to share in this speculative fiction story. Memory becomes subjective when compared to photos and verified documentation, but it also takes away emotional weight from the person remembering the past. Does everything need to be shared especially when it could put someone in a bad light or the facts can be manipulated to fit an agenda? This story was timely, for I recently saw a friend from middle school, and she shared stories that I barely remembered or remembered differently, and it made me really ponder memories and how perspective can adapt a shared experience into different memories of it.

Milagroso by Isabel Yap

Milagroso means “miracle” and that is what Marty is looking for as he returns to his hometown in the Philippines with his family. Marty is a selfish scientist who helps engineer synthetic food and had turned his back on his dying elderly father, only coming back for an annual festival that promises a special phenomenon of real food being transformed from fake food. The miracle occurs and he is torn as to whether he will allow his children to eat the authentic fruit, as he and others are so brainwashed that synthetic food is better.

The Angel of Khan El-Khalili by P. Djèlí Clark

Set in 1912 in an alternative Cairo, this steampunk story is set within the author’s Dead Djinn series. A young woman, burdened with guilt, seeks a miracle from a mechanical angel in the Ministry of Alchemy. But every gift comes with a price, and she must reveal her dark secrets to obtain a gift to help her sister. Ultimately, this is a story about forgiveness and I thought the world-building was strong for such a short tale.

The War of the Wall by Toni Cade Bambara

This story is a refreshing slice-of-life story set during the Vietnam War instead of the speculative fiction that dominates his podcat. In this short story, two youth are dismayed that an artist is creating a mural in their city neighborhood and are worried that she will ruin the wall that so many people congregate near. She doesn’t seem friendly or responsive to other’s overtures, so the boys plan to graffiti the wall. But once back from their trip out to the country to visit family they come back to see the mural beautifully finished and honoring their culture and incorporating their community into it. The story really captured personalities and capably showed how change can be viewed with distrust but can end up being for the best.

You Perfect, Broken Thing by C.L. Clark

In this apocalyptic future, a degenerative disease has taken hold of the population, and medicine is in short supply. Athletes participate in a grueling race to win shots for themselves and their loved ones, but the training also speeds up the disease’s toll on their bodies. One participant pushes her body to the limit for a chance to save her lover and daughter, with a win at all costs mentality, but her sacrifices prove worth it.

The Years of My Birth by Louise Erdrich

This excellent tale is a layered story with a moral dilemma. When a white baby girl is born disabled she is rejected by her mother, who takes home her healthy twin brother instead. Tuffy is adopted by a Native American nurse and raised on a Chippewa reservation. Her new family helps rehabilitate her, leaving her with few signs of her original diagnosis and she knows she is loved. But years after her parent’s death, her biological mother contacts her and wants to meet with her, showing her true colors with an agenda that becomes clear quickly. Tuffy is faced with an unenviable decision regarding her brother and we are left not knowing what happens next, yet knowing Tuffy’s heart, we can guess what she will do despite how reprehensible her twin is.

 Words We Say Instead by Brit E. B. Hvide 

The story started out slow but gained traction, as a veteran space pilot is at a shady spaceship dealership, looking for old technology that has been banned by the government. Turns out years ago, she and other pilots were given AI ships that connected to their brain waves, and these ships became like family to them. When they were ordered to decommission their ships due to potential problems with the technology, she reluctantly complied but has regretted it in the decades since. Now she searches for bits of old technology that she hopes she can reinstall and seeks penance for betraying her AI ship years ago.

Shock of Birth by Cadwell Turnbull

A man who feels that he was switched into another body at a different age and in a different city plus there are details about the world at large that are incorrect, reminded me of the Star Trek: TNG episode The Inner Light. That is praise indeed, as that is one of my favorite ST episodes ever. As there is no proof and no way to switch back even if he convinced others of his new reality, he unhappily continues through life. Only at the end does he start to realize he needs to make the best of his situation and live in a manner that would honor his old life. No matter if we are time travelers or not, the message of blooming where you are planted is a good one! 

Tía Abuela’s Face, Ten Ways by Lisa M. Bradley

Coping with death can be very challenging, as a space anthropologist finds when she arrives back at Earth to find that her beloved great-aunt has died. Chided by some family members at not being there at the end of her aunt’s death, she takes it upon herself to honor her in an extreme way. Set sometime in the future, technology enables her to transform her face into what her Tía looked like. Although she seems sane, I felt this was an incredibly unhealthy way to deal with her grief. My mother and aunt both recently died within five months of one another, and while I miss them terribly and like to wear jewelry of theirs or use some of their household belongings in my own home, what this woman does is disturbing.

On the Lonely Shore by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Best described as a Victorian Gothic with a fantasy twist at the end, the story builds slowly. Balthazar is an ailing young man sent to live seaside along with his companion Judith, as his family is strangely uninvolved. A romance develops between the two, although his health deteriorates and he seems to be dying, but Judith is more aware of his condition than he realizes. This atmospheric short story has a melancholy end, and its conclusion will leave you with questions.

My favorites this season were Dark Spaces on the Map, The Years of My Birth and The War of the Wall. I look forward to hearing the winning entry from the contest next season, so in the meantime I suggest you check out his podcast if you haven’t already, “But you don’t have to take my word for it.”

-Nancy

LeVar Burton Reads: Season Eight

I love being introduced to new authors by LeVar’s podcast, and then serendipitously finding that author in other works and books soon after. This podcast has really expanded my reading boundaries and I look forward to listening to a new story weekly for several months at a time while each season lasts.

Silver Door Diner by Bishop Garrison

A young boy stops in a diner and is taken under the wing of a waitress there. Thinking he is a runaway she tries to get a few answers from him, but the conversation goes sideways when he reveals he is an alien observing Earth before a nuclear war happens and a time loop occurs. Their conversation is sweet and the ending reveals that perhaps there is a chance for Earth after all.

The Takeback Tango by Rebecca Roanhorse

Roanhorse crafted an excellent layered story set in space about a crime heist but also went deeper about the evils of Imperialism and the fight against cultural appropriation. A young woman who survived a slaughter of her people on her home planet, and then later of her adopted family, wants to take back cultural artifacts from the invaders. She meets a young man at the gala she has infiltrated and while it is predictable that he will become an ally (and maybe something more) their banter was delightful. I really enjoyed this short story.

Daddy by Damion Wilson

Daddy, a short speculative fiction story, deftly combined the melancholy of caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s with teleportation. The story begins grounded in the reality of a woman whose mother and sister are dead, with her recent divorce and her father’s declining mental capabilities weighing on her. When he starts appearing at locations far away from his assisted living home, she is confused. The fantasy/sci-fi aspect of the conclusion tie in nicely to this well-written tale.

Alluvial Deposits by Percival Everett

Everett is an evocative writer, he makes a town and its inhabitants come alive, so the town itself becomes a character. Robert, a Black hydrologist, needs to take water measurements in a small Utah town but runs across a racist older woman who runs him off her property but not before hurling racist insults at him. There are the required quirky small-town residents at the diner he frequents, and in the end, when he goes back with a sheriff to gain access to the property he has some compassion for the old bigot when he sees what a small life she lives. Healing and reconciliation are the themes of this short story gem.

The Regression Test by Wole Talabi

A regression test “is defined as a type of software testing to confirm that a recent program or code change has not adversely affected existing features”, and in this story, an elderly woman is asked to test some new software that is based on the mind of her mother, who was considered a genius during her lifetime. As she asks this AI some probing questions, she realizes there must be some glitches, and then the story takes a hard turn. Author Wole Talabi is also an engineer, and I like how he combined his skill set with a sci-fi twist.

Flyboys by Tobias Wolff

Flyboys was such a poignant coming-of-age story about the changing nature of friendships. Two boys are creating an elaborate airplane and realize they need a key component that a third boy has in his family barn. The boys head over to the third boy’s house, and the narrator shares that he used to be good friends with this third boy but had recently drifted away from him as he didn’t know how to handle that his friend had some medical problems and that his big brother had died. Instead of being there for his friend, he took the easy way out and befriended the rich boy, but that new friendship wasn’t balanced. The three boys work well together and the first two head back home with the part they need. What will happen next? Will the two let the third into their project and social circle? Or will they remain a twosome, excluding the third, as he was only good for what they could get from him? This story really made me look back at friendships from my youth. There were times I felt left out and discarded, but I also know there were times I did the same to others. Friendships ebb and flow, but a sudden ending of a friendship can be heartbreaking, and this story really brings that message home.

Killer of Kings by Anjali Sachdeva

This fantasy frames the real author John Milton who wrote Paradise Lost, as being inspired by an angel who becomes his muse. The angel inadvertently reveals some doubts about God’s infallibility, which works itself into his writings, and is later replaced by another angel to Milton’s dismay. This short story is solid, but I myself was not moved by it.

An Equal Share of the Bone by Karen Osborne

An Equal Share of the Bone was a melancholy sci-fi short story that grabbed me by my heart and didn’t let go. A trio of space sailors are on the hunt to kill a theriida, a type of space whale, filled with plasm that could make them rich. When they successfully capture one and begin the harvest, things go terribly awry, and hard decisions are made. Greed, loss and regret are capably shown, but a small nugget of hope remains at the end of the tale.

Salt by Rosemary Melchior

Sigga is a teen who has been banished to a penal colony on an icy island because her community declared her a witch when she spoke out against some injustices she witnessed. But her quiet determination hints that she is not to be underestimated as she leaves the relative safety of the penal settlement and heads northward towards her goal. What she is seeking to obtain revenge against those who wronged her was the perfect twist in this evocative story.

Getaway by Nicole Kornher-Stace

In this Groundhog-inspired tale, a heist goes very wrong, and the five women are caught in a never-ending time loop. The getaway driver tries hundreds of different scenarios but the outcome is always the same. But slowly as she learns from her mistakes, she realizes the loop is expanding to include more time, so perhaps sometime far in the future she will escape the loop, so she just learns to live with what she is given in the here and now.

Vaccine Season by Hannu Rajaniemi

A young boy visits his estranged grandfather in this speculative fiction tale, in hopes of giving him a vaccine that would help him in the post-pandemic world. His grandfather resists and shares some poignant back-story to explain why. In a moment of danger, the grandfather has to make a split-second decision in regards to his grandson. While it had a hopeful and thought-provoking ending, I did feel a choice was forced upon him unfairly.

St. Valentine, St. Abigail, St. Brigid by C.L. Polk

A sapphic love story about a teen who finds out that the magic she uses to help her girlfriend comes at a cost. The tale has fairy-tale underpinnings as Theresa Anne was given to her mother as a first-born price paid by some anonymous couple who wanted some wish granted, similar to Rumpelstiltskin and Rapunzel. She and her mother are witches aided by magical bees with sacrifices and destiny tied up into this melancholy short story.

This was an enjoyable season with Flyboys, Salt, and The Takeback Tango being my favorites stories. Try listening to the podcast yourself, “but you don’t have to take my word for it”. Plus, now that the season is over, give LeVar what he wants- the Jeopardy hosting gig!

-Nancy

LeVar Burton Reads: Season Seven

Season Seven’s theme was “surrender”. LeVar stated that sometimes we can not control our lives and the circumstances we are thrust into (Covid!), so these stories follow the idea that often we need to adapt and change to our surroundings. 

Pockets by Amal El-Mohtar

In the story, Nadia begins to discover strange items in her pockets, and some of them are so large as to not make sense that they could be found there. She confides in a friend who is a scientist, for she wants to know if this strange phenomenon can be explained. During the experiments, they meet another woman who is experiencing something similar and she helps Nadia stop questioning how and why and become more accepting of this new gift

Your Rover is Here by LP Kindred

A cab driver, Ahmad, is driving a fare out to a church and thinks his rider is singing to himself but then figures out it is actually evil chants. Ahmed then reveals he is actually a Jinn and combats the other man who was trying to hurt the congregation due to racism. This magical realism tale has a nice urban vibe and has an #ownvoices author, but didn’t excite me.

The Nine Curves River by RF Kuang

The fantasy story was devastatingly beautiful. Told from the older sister’s perspective, two sisters leave their island so the younger sister can give herself willingly to the dragon who will then end the drought in the region. Based on Chinese mythology this story of regrets and sacrifice will rip your heart to shreds. Read expertly by LeVar, he brought the dragon’s voice to life. I now want to read the author’s novel The Poppy War, for this tale is based on one of the character’s backstories.

Room For Rent by Richie Narvaez

This science-fiction tale had some bite, as you think about the different viewpoints of colonialism and how the dominating group justifies their actions. In this story, a pregnant alien is looking for a room to rent but finds out her new home is overrun with vermin, which actually turn out to be humans. We find out several types of aliens have overtaken Earth and now the original humans are being exterminated. At first, this alien seems kind and protects the humans, but soon enough her perspective changes and she condones her actions of killing them because she believes her kind deserves the land they unjustly took over. While this story has many parallels all over the world, my first thought was how whites took over Native American land and portrayed them as savages to excuse their genocide.

Cricket by Kenneth Yu

In this magical realism tale, the long-lived matriarch dies, leaving behind a large family that includes Richard the youngest son. It was his duty to take care of his mother and he looks bitterly at his older siblings whom he perceives as more successful as he. A magical cricket begins to speak to his family and says necessary truths to them all, especially about appreciating their life, but Richard in a rage kills it. A sad fable about how we need to not look outward for validation but try to improve the life we have in the here and now.

Madre Nuestra, Que Estas en Maracaibo by Ana Hurtado 

Yesenia is a put-upon mother from Venezuela who moves back to her parent’s home to care for her dying grandmother. Her marriage is ending, her children aren’t obedient, she left her unsatisfying career as a lawyer, plus then her parents heap more expectations upon her. Yesenia’s devout grandmother has always prayed for those at risk of purgatory, but when she is about to die herself, these souls come back and Yesenia has to fight them off thus helping pave a way to heaven for her Abuela and improving her life in the process.

Dune Song by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

In this post-apocalyptical desert world, a young girl struggles with surviving in a parched world. To keep villagers safe they are restricted to a fenced area, and if they leave, they are then banished. She and another youth decide to leave the safety of their village, so it becomes self vs community. The ending didn’t quite work for me, as I wasn’t sure if the wind storm signified their salvation or doom. I actually assumed the latter.

Wherein Abigail Fields Recalls Her First Death and, Subsequently, Her Best Life by Rebecca Roanhorse 

In this alternative timeline, set in the 1880s in New Mexico, Abigail is a Black young woman who is seeking revenge against the sheriff who killed her father years ago. She gives up her love interest to stay back and fulfill the covenant she made to kill him but realizes her hate is keeping her from living her best life. This story reminds me of the YA novel Dread Nation from Justina Ireland that also had an F/F romance set in the Old West with a magical realism angle. The podcast has a lengthy afterward by LeVar where he speaks of not being anti-white just because he is pro-Black. 

Low Energy Economy by Adrian Tchaikovsky

An asteroid miner on a solo space mission ruminates on his life as he mines for materials that Earth needs. He left his home hundreds of years ago, as he is put into hyper-sleep between landings, but he made the choice to take this job for his starving family would be fed for possible generations so long as his mining missions are successful. He is lonely and dying, with no way home, when upon his next awakening he is unexpectedly given the gift of seeing how his life’s work has benefitted his homeworld. A sweet tale about not giving up, even when you wonder if you are making a difference.

A Good Friday by Barbara Jenkins

Set in a Trinidad bar, a playboy meets a beautiful and religious woman but isn’t sure he wants to strike up a relationship with her because of her devoutness. But the tables are turned when she begins to take control, and ultimately he becomes her plaything. The story grew on me as it went, and because the story is framed as the man reminiscing years later, you don’t know if this new couple has a happy ending or not.

The Story We Used to Tell by Shirley Jackson

I was eagerly anticipating this story, as I have read other creepy tales by Shirley Jackson, a master of the short story. It started promisingly, with a woman visiting her recently widowed friend on her country estate when her friend suddenly disappears. After some investigation in her friend’s bedroom, she discovers a painting of the house and sees her in it, and then she herself is sucked in. I wish this eerie and atmospheric story had been a bit longer to flesh it out more. 

Little Man by Michael Cunningham

This re-telling of the Rumpelstiltskin tale will make you think how this gnome-man has been villainized unfairly (actually I always thought that!). In this story, we follow along as Rumpelstiltskin sees how a miller has gotten his daughter into an impossible situation with the king, and steps in to help. While somewhat thankful she takes up the king on his offer of marriage afterward, although he seems to be a horrible tyrant. Rumpelstiltskin tries to talk her out of it, but all she seems to want is riches and comfort, so that is when he strikes the deal with her for her first-born. That he loses and the king and queen unjustly remain in power, speaks to how life can seem so unfair at times, with the phrase “no good deed goes unpunished” seemingly apropos.

Mother of Invention by Nnedi Okorafor

This African futurism short story was longer and thus divided into two podcasts. Anwuli is a pregnant Nigerian woman who has been cast off by the father of her child after it is revealed he is married. The wife of her lover is vicious to Anwuli, placing the blame of the affair on her when her anger should be directed at the husband that betrayed her. Also shunned by her friends and family she retreats to a smart house, that cares for her when a deadly pollen storm unexpectedly hits the area and she goes into labor. The AI in her house ends up being kinder to her than any real people, and the ending was somewhat ambiguous as to what will happen next to Anwuli, her lover, his family and the houses that care for them.  An intriguing story that intertwined technology and human nature. A third podcast wrapped up this season with Levar interviewing the author Nnedi Okorafor

My favorite by far from this season was The Nine Curves River. Two others I would choose as my top picks are Room for Rent and Little Man.  As always I enjoy the stories that LeVar shares and suggest you check out his podcast if you haven’t already,  “But you don’t have to take my word for it.”

-Nancy

LeVar Burton Reads: Season Six

I have to admit I was somewhat disappointed with season five of Burton’s podcast, but this season more than made up for it! In fact, I had so many favorites, that I would consider this season the best yet. Plus, I finally caught up with the podcast and was current when he released each story. Before I had been a year behind but worked diligently to listen to each story as it was released in real-time.

Tideline by Elizabeth Bear

In an apocalyptic future, a lone surviving war machine, Chalcedony meets an orphaned human boy. Chalcedony (who is named for a lovely form of quartz) is a sentient robot and teaches Belvidere how to survive, but also teaches him about past civilization and culture from her databases. She helps raise him to maturity, always teaching him, and also building necklaces to memorialize her lost comrades. But her power cells are degrading and she knows she will eventually shut down. She prepares him for rejoining the scattered humans that remain and sends him off with her memorials and tells him to share her memories and knowledge with those he finds. A beautifully melancholy story about sacrifice, humanity and sharing our knowledge for the good of others.

Valedictorian by NK Jemisin

Zinhle is a senior in a near-future dystopia who is true to herself and refuses to lie about her abilities or mask her intelligence even when she knows she will be “culled” at graduation, along with the ten least performing students. Her walled-off society is small and rigid and is not accepting of people who are different, so there is the possibility that the unknown outside world could actually be more welcoming. Reminded me of the 1986 Twilight Zone episode Examination Day and the short story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.

As Worlds Collide by Stephen Michell

A newly married Canadian couple adjust to a new world order as mythical creatures begin to inhabit their world. They try to make sense of it, as everyone else does, but are rewarded for their quiet observation when two of the creatures speak to them. Later they calmly face un uncertain future together as shrines begin to open around the world, knowing that everyone’s lives are about to change, but it can be viewed as a beginning, not an ending…

SPAM by Savannah Burney

This short story dealt with a mildly racist (can you be mildly racist or are you just plain racist?) bed and breakfast owner who reluctantly shelters a mother and child who have been displaced because of an apartment fire. The curmudgeonly owner has no patience for the girl’s persistent questions, as he is a creature of habit with OCD tendencies, but at the very last moment, he extends a bit of grace to the child. This story included some great character studies, and I appreciated the bit of hope at the end that people can change for the better.

End Game by Nancy Kress

An excellent short story with a nasty bit of a twist at the end. Two young men meet in school, and one goes to become a renowned scientist who wishes to quiet his mental static so he can focus more on his work at hand. He has a medical breakthrough using a junior scientist as a guinea pig and all goes well until it doesn’t. His friend realizes what is happening with the contagious spread, so it’s Twilight Zone ending has an uncomfortable parallel with what is going on in the world today with the Covid-19 virus.

Skinwalker, Fast-Talker by Darcie Little Badger

The beginning opens with the catchy “No shit, there I was”. A journalist for a tabloid-type magazine is assigned a job to research a possible Skinwalker aka a Coyote of Native American lore and is surprised as anyone to find out this conman is the real thing. She is able to con him into revealing his true self but knows that the public actually believing the story is another thing entirely!

Staying Behind by Ken Liu

This story was devastatingly beautiful and well-done. In this speculative fiction tale, technology has advanced so far that human consciousness can now be downloaded, and the world population does so in mass, leaving behind a devastated and depopulated world for those who do not wish to do so. Is this thought-provoking tale the reader ponders what is the better choice- having a utopian online life yet no corporeal existence or living in a world where the remaining population is struggling for existence as the populace loses its technological abilities and they slide towards frontier living. The short story is told through the lens of one family and the ending will gut you, as you can’t help but wonder what you and your family would do under the same circumstances.

A Kiss with Teeth by Max Gladstone

Vlad is a vampire who gave up his bloodthirsty ways when he fell in love with a vampire hunter and had a child with her. He has worked hard to masquerade his supernatural powers and his young son seems none the wiser. But he feels trapped in having to always suppress his urges and is very close to breaking his blood fast by killing his son’s teacher. But this “mid-life” crisis is discovered by his wife and she councils him to be more true to himself so he can be a better father. The ending was pleasing, and I enjoyed the premise of this short story, however, the middle really dragged.

Let Those Who Would (aka The Segment) by Genevieve Valentine

Very 1984 with how the news was being manipulated and shown to the public. In this world, the news agencies would rather create their own stories with actors instead of interviewing real participants so that way they can control the narrative. Orphaned children are used as pawns in these stories, and one young woman helps another realize how much danger she will be in if she acts in the next segment. This is the second story that was found in the anthology that I read several years ago,  After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia. The story gained deeper meaning through LeVar’s reading of it.

Recitatif by Toni Morrison

The story begins in the 1950s when two young girls, Twyla and Roberta, meet at an orphanage although both of their mothers are still alive. You are told they are of different races, but Morrison deliberately does not give any obvious markers of who is who, to force the reader to decide according to their preconceived notions. These two will meet again at different stages in their lives- in the late 1960s and then again several times in the early 80s. As adults, their marriages and life stations differ broadly, and they get caught up in some racial strife as their town is redistricting their schools and it affects their children. In addition to the ambiguity about their race, how memories can be imprecise was addressed, which made me reflect on my childhood memories with a friend I had a following out with. How I remember some shared experiences could be very different from hers and gave me a lot of food for thought. Considering this story came from Morrison, I am not surprised that it is among my favorites from LeVar’s podcast.

The Foster Portfolio by Kurt Vonnegut Jr

The Foster Portfolio, set in 1951, was a fascinating peek into human nature. A young investment counselor meets the modest Foster family to help them with their finances and discovers the husband is sitting on a huge inheritance that he is keeping from his wife. The repressed husband is intent on providing for his family with his own labors and doesn’t wish to touch the money, despite having to work two jobs and pinch pennies to afford things for his wife and son. He wants to honor his mother who sacrificed for his family when his father left his family to play the piano and get drunk in bars. This all seems decent until you find out he is hiding a double life from his wife- but it’s not what you would think. The ending made me think of secrets in a marriage, and the judgments we place on our children and spouses, and how some obligations can become warped if not addressed. You must watch this delightful 2017 short movie (19 min) adaptation of the story: https://vimeo.com/399253153

My favorites this season were Tideline, Staying Behind, Recitatif and The Foster Portfolio. Burton visited some of the same authors he has featured before, but for good reason, as I enjoyed listening to each story. As I am finally caught up, I now will turn to Marvels, a podcast about the Fantastic Four, since I loved the two seasons of Wolverine’s podcast. I look forward to season seven of LeVar’s podcast, “But you don’t have to take my word for it.”

-Nancy

LeVar Burton Reads: Season Five

Season Five, y’all! Twelve stories are part of this season, with the fantasy genre being the most dominant of the short stories.

The Simplest Equation by Nicky Drayden

The Simplest Equation was a sweet tale of love, quite a difference from the toxic love found in the previous story of Levar’s podcast (in season four). Two students sit near each other in a college math class, and Mariah hopes that this new alien girl Quallah, whose species are known for their math skills, can help tutor her. The two get to know one another and fall in love, but then Quallah gets an offer to go off-world to study so Mariah uses math equations to build her a declaration of her feelings. The unique conclusion proved that the simplest equation is love!

Shoggoths in Traffic by Tobias S. Buckell

This magical realism story begins with two co-workers from Michigan who steal a car from a criminal and plan to drive it to Miami for a significant payout but run into a problem in Indiana. Witnessing a hit and run, they are leery to help due to them driving a stolen vehicle, but try their best to get the motorcycle rider to the ER. That their navigation keeps glitching ties into the unlikely connection between magic and technology. I wasn’t entirely sold on who the dude they were helping claimed to be, but it was a fun story nevertheless.

Cuisine des Mémoires by N.K. Jemisin

Ever since I listened to this I have been seeing the author, N.K. Jemisin’s name everywhere! This tale evocatively showed how we often pair food with memories, as a birthday dinner at a mysterious restaurant promises that any meal can be recreated. A divorced man is skeptical and orders a meal made by his ex-wife and it is recreated to the last spice. Memories flood him and he tries to figure out the mystery but learns more about himself in the process.

Small Medicine by Genevieve Valentine

In this futuristic tale, a young girl’s grandmother dies, and the grandmother is replaced by a robot to ease her family’s grief. While these robots are built to look like loved ones that have passed on and meant to be a solace to grieving family members, they end up confusing them and not letting them move on. The disquieting story makes you ponder what happens to the natural order of things when life becomes too modified by technology.

Face Value by Sean Williams

Face Value reminded me of a Sherlock Holmes or Inspector Poirot caper set in a speculative future with transporters and fabricators. In this tale two peace-keepers listen to an inventor talk up his newest invention, a supposedly rare metal that he wishes to turn into currency. Of course, all is not what it seems, and the first inspector called in the second just so he could pontificate on how he figured out the inventor’s ruse.

Blur by Carmen Maria Machado

I grew frustrated with this magical realism tale. It began very promisingly as a woman on the way to visit her girlfriend, who loses her glasses at a rest stop, which renders her unable to continue driving. Stricken with fear that her abusive girlfriend will be furious with her, a man she meets decides to help her finish her journey, but then the story goes sideways. While there is a lot of symbolism about her accepting that she needs to step into a new reality and leave her girlfriend, I believe the message got muddied with the surreal aspect of it.

Tiger Baby by JY Yang

Felicity is an accountant in her 30’s, who unhappily still lives at home and dreams of being a tiger. In fact, the dreams are so regular and realistic, she actually feels she is the wrong body. Dismissive of her parents and newly pregnant sister, instead she takes great pleasure in feeding the neighborhood stray cats, but at this stage, I pitied and disliked her for her delusions and inability to connect with people. When she loses her job, something magical happens to Felicity but it is not quite what she had always dreamed about but might be more what she needed.

The House on the Moon by William Alexander

In this futuristic short story set on the moon, a disabled middle school student on a field trip visits a castle that had been shipped up from Earth. The rich owner had been an eccentric man who had been part of the Eugenics War but had been pardoned by the government and allowed to move to the moon. Some disquieting truths are brought up, and we realize the boy almost lost his life because of his disability. The ending was implausible, but there were enough interesting threads to think on, that I wish this story had been longer as to delve deeper into how discrimination affects people with disabilities.

The Water Museum by Nisi Shawl

In a future drought-affected world, a man is tasked with assassinating a woman named Granita who owns the rights to the Great Lakes watershed and runs a water museum. Granita was quite a character and I found her very appealing as she toyed with the man she picked up hitchhiking, who didn’t realize what he had gotten himself into. However, in the end, the reader realizes Granita is profoundly selfish as she used her wealth to hoard water and deprive thousands of people of its use for her own wasteful and narcissistic purposes. A lesson in that a pretty face and charismatic personality can hide a dark heart.

Jump by Cadwell Turnbull

I really engaged with this tale, as I connected with the couple Mike and Jesse who inexplicably experience something so fantastic that it can not be explained or recreated again. Mike is desperate for it to happen again, but this miracle or glitch in the universe’s design can’t be replicated, although he and Jesse try for years to do so. Eventually, Mike’s obsession begins to rend their relationship apart and the couple divorce. As they say their final goodbyes, Mike asks Jesse to try one last time, and… we don’t know what happens next! Although the conclusion was very predictable that it would end that way, I actually found it perfect.

The Specialist’s Hat by Kelly Link

This spooky tale was very ambiguous, and that made it stand out, as you will wonder what just happened when the story is over. Twins Claire and Samantha have recently lost their mother, and have moved with their father into their ancestral mansion out in the country- a typical setup for a horror story concerning children. Many plot twists are thrown in such as missing presumed dead ancestors, an absent father walking in the woods with a mysterious woman, a ghostly babysitter, a creepy twin vibe and a strange hat up in the attic. More questions will be raised than answered by the end of the tale, and you will not be clear what elements of the story are fantasy, horror, psychological or symbolic.

The Hofzinser Club by Michael Chabon

As coincidence would have it, I am two/thirds of the way through the novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, in which this story is now found in- although it originally was a short story first, and then dropped into the novel as a backstory for one of the main characters immigrant Joseph Kavalier. In this tale, Josef (before he Americanized his name in the novel) Kavalier, who lives in Prague in the 1930s, is a promising escape artist. He and his brother Thomas wish to join The Hofsinzer Club, an exclusive club for magicians. While talented, Josef’s wish to emulate Harry Houdini goes awry and the boys nearly drown during a dress rehearsal of an escape trick in the river. A very evocative story, and a refreshing step away from the fantasy stories that have been dominating the podcast lately. The author and Star Trek fan, Michael Chabon, is now executive produce of Star Trek: Picard and I am hoping Burton’s inclusion of the story means we will see his Star Trek character Geordi LaForge in the Picard series.

I struggled with this season, as not many of the stories really affected me. If I have to pick favorites they would be Jump and The Hofzinser Club, but they both pale to some earlier favorites I have had in previous seasons. But nevertheless, I look forward to season six, “But you don’t have to take my word for it.”

-Nancy

LeVar Burton Reads: Season Four

LeVar Burton Reads season four included some real gems in the following eleven short stories!

Miracle by Tope Folarin

A young man, a recent immigrant, attends an evangelical Nigerian church where the congregation has gathered to witness the healing powers of a pastor who they believe can perform miracles. When he is chosen and the prophet declares that his eyes are healed, yet he still needs his glasses, he plays along for he realizes that the true miracle is the faith one holds and that his family is safely together in America.

Free Jim’s Mine by Tananarive Due

Lottie, a slave pregnant with her first child, escapes with her Cherokee husband William, and hopes for freedom. Lottie is eager to find her Uncle Jim, a former slave who is now free, in North Carolina as part of their journey as they head North. Jim warns them that he doubts their journey will end well and decides to hide them for the evening in a mine shaft. In the wet gloom, they are faced with supernatural evil, and Lottie discovers her uncle bought his freedom at a high cost. While the story starts with a historical fiction angle, it takes a dark turn and was quite effective.

Kwoon by Charles Johnson

Set in Chicago, a young man named David opens a martial art studio to not only teach fighting skills but to teach others self-control and accountability. Ed, an older new student joins and challenges David to a fight in front of other students, but fights dirty and beats David up. Although we are given Ed’s perspective of why he choose to do this, this puts David’s livelihood in jeopardy as he was shamed in front of everyone. But David perseveres in the end, not through physical fighting, but through his attitude and values. I was really rooting for the aptly named David, in what turned out to be a David and Goliath tale.

The Best We Can by Carrie Vaughn

Star Trek and other science fiction stories would lead you to believe that “first contact” is a game-changer for Earth civilizations and pushes us to discover the rest of the universe and countless other species. But this short story wryly recounts how when a scientist finds an abandoned alien space vessel in Jupiter’s orbit, how bureaucracy gets in the way of progress. This story seemed very realistic in how a discovery that you think would be life-changing ends up as almost an after-thought in the scientific world.

Mister Hadj’s Sunset Ride by Saladin Ahmed

In this old west tale, a young bounty hunter recounts his previous adventures with an older Arabian bounty hunter, whom he shared a common heritage with. The two men fight an evil preacher and his two sons and have a showdown with these men, with a bit of a supernatural twist. Often when we think of early immigrants, we think of those with European backgrounds, but this story had a welcome diversity although it also showcased how people lose their customs and family connections. This storyline reminded me of the graphic novel High Moon.

Republica and Grau by Daniel Alarcón

Maico is a ten-year-old boy who is forced to beg with a blind man on a street corner and is to bring all his wages home to his abusive father. The boy is compliant and does what he can to please both his father and the blind man until they both betray him and use him as a pawn. I was aghast at both men, whose selfish machoism affected both Maico and his poor mother. I was so proud of Maico of how he stood up to them, and what he did to end his partnership, yet…what does the future hold for him? As a reader, you hope this coming-of-age moment is the pivot for turning his life for the better, but reality is often harsh and you know he will face consequences for his actions.

The Galactic Tourist Industrial Complex by Tobias S. Buckell

I found this tongue-in-cheek short story delightful. Sometime in the future, Earth has become a tourist playground for wealthy aliens, with Manhattan being the favored location. While aliens are looking for authentic experiences in the city, life for humans actually living on Earth has become anything but, as the entire economy is based on the service industry and catering to tourists. A cab driver, whose flying taxi is on its last legs, has to deal with an alien falling to their death from his vehicle and trying to avoid an interspecies war when the aliens family investigates. While this tale is amusing, it’s also a reflection on how our society relies on social media with trying to make their life look perfect when really it’s only a facade.

Toward Happy Civilization by Samanta Schweblin

In this surrealistic short story, a man is caught at a railroad station when the ticket master won’t give him a ticket out of town because he doesn’t have the correct change. Oddly, the ticket master and his wife take him in along with other passengers and they form a makeshift family of sorts. Eventually, they try to escape this purgatory type of existence, but the entire time I just wondered why they didn’t revolt or walk to the next station. Highly unsatisfying- my least favorite of the LeVar Burton Reads stories.

Flying Carpets by Steven Millhauser

This coming of age story was of the magical realism genre, which I typically do not like, but this story gets it right. A pre-teen youth is given a magical flying carpet to master, and although you might first think of Arabian Nights, he lives in an anonymous suburb. Master it he does and pushes it to the extreme limits before tiring of it and putting it away. The flying carpet is more a metaphor for growing up and outgrowing things you previously loved.

The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate by Ted Chiang

A lyrical Arabian Nights fable meets science fiction time traveling tale in this evocative short story. Fuwaad, a merchant in Bagdad, enters a new silver shop in the marketplace and unexpectedly is shown a time-traveling hoop that the shop owner, who is also an alchemist, explains to him. He is told three stories of people who have utilized time travel-“The Tale of the Fortunate Rope-Maker,” “The Tale of the Weaver Who Stole from Himself,” and “The Tale of the Wife and Her Lover” – and thus we begin a tale within a tale. Finally, Fuwaad tries the time travel himself, going back 20 years, as he hopes to right a wrong from his past although he is told that events can not be undone- the past or future will not change. Lessons are learned in these lovely circular tales of fate and were worth the two storytelling sessions taken on the podcast to finish.

L’Aquilone du Estrellas (The Kite of Stars) by Dean Francis Alfar

The story starts out promisingly as 16-year-old Maria Isabella from the Philippines falls in love with a young man who is an astronomer. Determined to catch his attention, she convinces a butcher’s boy to help her find all the materials she will need to construct a kite that she could fly to the stars and get the astronomer to fall in love with her. But the quest to find the materials takes her 60 years and during that time she conscripted the butcher’s boy to help, thus wasting both of their lives. Despite being her traveling companion for decades she never once asks him his name or returns his affections. Her obsession was cruel, misguided and foolish to the extreme. While she is successful in obtaining what is needed, it comes at a steep price, and I hated her for it. I was shocked the LeVar said this was one of his favorite stories, as this tale of unrequited love was one of my least favorites.

This season proved to be it’s most uneven- I had more favorites than usual, but then it had two stories that I hated. My favorites included The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate, Republica and Grau, The Galactic Tourist Industrial Complex, and Free Jim’s Mine. The two I disliked were The Kite of Stars and Toward Happy Civilization.

As of now, I only have one more season until I catch up. LeVar’s selections are always interesting (even if I don’t like them) and I have been exposed to so many wonderful authors and stories through his podcast. Listen for yourself, “but you don’t have to take my word for it.”

-Nancy

Finally Fall Book Tag

Fall is by far my favorite time of the year, so I was pleased to receive the Finally Fall Book Tag from one of my favorite bloggers Lashaan from Bookidote! He is part of an amazing blogging duo with Trang, so I always look forward to both of their posts, as they partner on their blog as Kathleen and I do! Please check out his original post and make sure you read more of their well-written blog.

Locke & Key is a fantastic supernatural series that creates a vivid backdrop for the Locke family. I can’t wait for the Netflix series next year!

The audio version of this amazing YA book will gut you! Check out my Goodreads review about this gritty thriller.

I am currently listening to A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson about his adventure of walking a significant part of the Appalachian Trail. My husband and I are avid hikers, yet toting a 50-pound pack vs a small backpack are two completely different things. I am enjoying finding out about the realities of the trail, and I can dare to dream that I’d be in good enough shape (and have the time) to complete this epic hike someday.

I have been reading about the ElfQuest tribe since I was in high school!

 

Look, its ElfQuest again! In this particular story, Tyleet is telling some other elves a story about the human child she adopted and how both tribes benefitted from it.

Snow, Glass, Apples is a delightfully dark fairytale by Neil Gaiman about Snow White told from the step-mother’s view. But it’s the art by ColleenDoran that elevates this tale.

I am a big fan of the podcast LeVar Burton Reads, for it includes dozens of short stories read by the esteemed storyteller.  Favorites include: Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience, Jackalope Wives, Different Kinds of Darkness and The Fliers of Gy.

I adore the early YA novel A Long Way From Chicago about the indomitable Grandma Dowdel.  The chapters are in essence short stories about two siblings visiting their Grandma each summer, and I can re-read it again and again.

I love to read cuddled up in a blanket on a comfortable chair in the same room as my family! ♥

 

Thanks again to Lashaan for this fun tag (plus the use of the graphics from his post), but as fall is truly almost over, I will not be tagging anyone, because the holidays are around the corner!

-Nancy

Extra fall awesomeness: The fall colors left Illinois a few weeks ago, but I was lucky enough to travel to Georgia with my college friends recently and hike through parts of the Chattahoochee National Forest, which is part of the southernmost part of the Appalachian Mountains. The colors were still vivid there, so here are a few pictures of autumn glory:

 

LeVar Burton Reads Live

I have stated the LeVar Burton is the celebrity I most want to meet, and perhaps I will, as Burton now travels around sharing short stories with a live audience. These eight stories appeared between season three and four on Burton’s podcast and included interviews with the authors afterward.

Playing Nice with God’s Bowling Ball by N.K. Jemisin

Playing Nice with God’s Bowling Ball was an enjoyable short story that juxtaposed a police procedural with a fantastical crime. When Jeffy, a young boy, confesses to a detective that he is responsible for a playmate’s disappearance, she needs to investigate. What Grace, the detective, finds out about Jeffy defies logic, with an explanation that points to a black hole, aliens and a possible world collapse. Still not entirely sure of what truly happened, Grace takes precautions to safeguard the future by helping Jeffy come to terms with his power. This was a fun story that had elements of the X-Files, Guardians of the Galaxy and Law and Order in it.

Asymmetry by Kendra Fortmeyer

Asymmetry was an interesting short story that kept you off-kilter, as the reader isn’t sure if the story is supposed to be fantasy or a metaphor. The story begins with a fantasy element-two women both show up for a date and it turns out they are clones of one another. Reeling from a recent divorce the women go home together and take turns going into work while the other stays home. Although they are the same person, one of the women begins to recover faster from her heartbreak while the other holds onto her grief, but then begins to shrink in size. The ending makes it seem as if the story is a metaphor for getting over sorrow, but no matter, it was an enjoyable story.

The Vishakanya’s Choice by Roshani Chokshi

Sudha is a Vishakanya, a poison maiden who is utilized as an assassin in the Middle East. She is forced into this role, for her fates said she would be a young widow, so Sudha is told she will serve her king better in this role. Assigned to kill a rival king, Sudha reluctantly heads to his kingdom to do so, but finds him ill and almost at death’s door. He recognizes her purpose and the two come to an agreement of how they both can help one another. I found this story a perfect length, as Chokshi is a lyrical writer who brings her culture’s folklore to life but can tend towards purple prose in a full-length novel.

Four Stations in His Circle by Austin Clarke

At first, I hated the story- as a Barbados immigrant tries to social climb in Toronto and loses his cultural identity in the process. This man was so goal-orientated on buying a particular house in a tony neighborhood that he rejects his mother dying back home on the island and all his former friends, so he can save money and be accepted by his neighbors when he finally is able to move there. But by the end of the story, my opinion had changed for while I still hated the main character, his empty life of not fitting in either world made me reflect on losing oneself for the sake of appearances.

In The City of Martyrs by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

This short story reminded me of the novel 1984 with a dash of The Hunger Games. A young man sees a woman on a crowded city street whose face gives him déjà vu and gives him a memory that tickles his thoughts without him being able to fully realize it. He searches her out at the city palace and finds out his connection to her plus how the corrupt regime has been able to send so many young soldiers to war. This fantasy tale was solid, with some parallels to real-world kidnapings by authoritarian governments.

A Dark Night by Edward P. Jones

The story description is “a stormy evening leads to a dark night of the soul,” and while part of that was true, it felt disjointed and cobbled together. The story begins with several senior citizen women gossiping and reminiscing about their past and ends with two women fearfully waiting out a storm. The characters were written with precision, but the beginning, middle and end of the story didn’t mesh together well.

Driftglass by Samuel R. Delany

In this particular story, an amphiman (surgery has been developed that gives humans gills) who was hurt in a deep-sea explosion in his youth now lives by the seaside in a village of fisherman. Life goes on around him, and he is an integral part of village life, as dangerous work continues in the ocean trenches and he is worried about how it will affect his loved ones. I view this story as speculative fiction, for although it reads like magical realism now, it was written in 1967 so the author was speculating on what he thought might happen in the future, yet it has a timeless feel.

Mono No Aware by Ken Liu

In this sci-fi/dystopian story, a meteor is headed on a collision course with Earth, and countries are scrambling to build space ships to escape. A Japenese boy, Hiroto, is able to board a US ship that is the only ship that was able to leave orbit in enough time, and thus he tries to represent his home country nobly as the years go by and the ship looks for a welcoming planet to make a home on. When a malfunction occurs and he is the only one that can repair it, he makes the ultimate sacrifice to make sure everyone on board gets back on course to safety. The title refers to a Japanese term for the awareness of impermanence, or transience of things, and both a transient gentle sadness at their passing as well as a longer, deeper gentle sadness about this state being the reality of life (translation from Wikipedia).

All eight live readings were delightful, and I enjoyed hearing the interview with the writers afterward. Hearing the authors share what they were thinking as they wrote their stories was illuminating and gave more insight to the story. Make sure you tune in to this podcast,  “but you don’t have to take my word for it.”

-Nancy

LeVar Burton Reads: Season Three

Once I discovered LeVar Burton Reads aka Reading Rainbow for adults last year, I have been enjoying listening to LeVar read short stories on his podcast on a weekly basis.  As such, here are short reviews of twelve excellent stories.

Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience by Rebecca Roanhorse

The lead into season three packed quite a punch. Author Rebecca Roanhorse expertly pulls you in with a tale of cultural appropriation but then has yet another twist at the end that will make you question your assumptions.

Jesse is an American Indian who reluctantly works for a virtual reality company in Arizona that tourists pay to experience an “authentic” Indian experience that is anything but. He knows he is playing into white people’s unrealistic fantasies about spirit quests but it pays the bills. When a young white man that Jesse names White Wolf seems to really want to get to know Jesse and his real-life Indian experiences, Jesse meets him outside of the VR environment and shares what he knows. Even Jesse’s wife meets up with this new friend of his, but that is when the story goes sideways. Reminiscent of Westworld and Inception, Jesse’s life is upended by White Wolf and the level of appropriation goes way deeper than originally expected. This sci-fi story is one you will listen to again and again to pick up clues missed earlier and deserves the Hugo, Nebula, and Apex Magazine Reader’s Choice Awards that it won in 2017.

Sea Girls by Daniel Wallace

Typically I am not a fan of magical realism, but this story gets it just right. Two school mates who don’t know each other well, both encounter a mermaid who washes up a beach. While surprised to see one, they both know they exist and are fascinated by the fishy look of her, as she is not the beautiful siren of yore. The teen boy wishes to push her back into the ocean to save her, but the teen girl cautions him that all is not what it seems and to be careful. Her warnings prove to be true as the mermaid tries to drag the young man into the water with her. Despite the short length of the story, the characters are fleshed out and this tale of fantasy and reality intersecting was strong.

The Last Cheng Beng Gift by Jaymee Goh

This short story about parental expectations even in the afterlife was a bit of a downer. Mrs. Lin, a Chinese matriarch who resides in the Underworld, is still receiving gifts from her adult children during Cheng Beng, a festival honoring your ancestors. She and her other dead friends still participate in petty jealousies and one-ups in regards to the gifts they receive. Mrs. Lin, in ghostly form, visits her daughter and disapproves of her current life. While Mrs. Lin does reach a better understanding of her daughter, the entire story was rather sobering.

Fires by Rick Bass

Fires was excellent at world-building as the descriptions of the environment (you never find out where- perhaps Montana or Alaska) made you feel as though you were in the middle of bear country. A man and woman are thrown together for a season and seem suited for one another, but the woman is there simply to train for races and has to head home in the late summer, thus no romance develops. I was enjoying this slice-of-life interlude when the woman does something so mind-bogglingly foolish, that could have had huge ramifications, that the story ended on a sour note for me. While it might have been a metaphor for her feelings, I couldn’t get past the danger of it all.

Multo by Samuel Marzioli

Multo was a powerful ghost story that would be perfect to tell at a campfire. In this story, a man recounts his youth, when his family bonds with another Filipino family and he is introduced to the story of the ghost called Multo that has attached to the grandmother from the other family. During a sleepover, the ghost eerily tells the boy he will be next and years later when the grandmother dies, the man worries the ghost is coming for him…

Fantaisie Impromptu No. 4 in C#min, Op. 66 by Carlos Hernandez

Artists are said to often give their heart and soul to their work, and in the case, it is literally true. A concert pianist’s wife insists her husband’s soul is in a piano, after his debilitating illness and death. But if his soul is locked into a piano what of his eternal soul in heaven? In this tale science and faith intersect with a “deus ex machina” ending.

Fyrewall by Stefani Cox

In this short speculative fiction story, Daesha lives sometime in the future in the LA area, in which an advanced firewall keeps the city safe from raging wildfires. Her grandmother invented the technology of the wall, and Daesha is tasked with keeping it updated, yet she and her work crew seem to have lost the technical understanding in how it was created and how to truly fix it when a tear occurs and puts the city at risk. While the story mentions that the inhabitants inside are very diverse and inclusive, the story fell short on world-building, although I came away with the lesson of making sure you pass down your knowledge to future generations.

Jackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon (who also writes as T. Kingfisher)

Jackalope Wives was a delightful and atmospheric tale. It had a Southwestern feel, with Native American mythology overtones, that included the vivid imagery of fictional jackalopes dancing around a fire. When a foolish young man tries to kidnap one of these creatures to become his wife, he doesn’t complete the steps needed to transform her into a human leaving her scarred and mute, he takes her to his Grandma Harken to help. While his Grandma seems tough, she has the expected heart of gold and tries to help the girl heal. When that doesn’t work, Grandma heads into the desert with her, to meet up with someone she believes will help despite knowing there will be a price to pay. While I saw the twist coming, I was very pleased with the conclusion and how poignant it was.

The Cell Phones by Karen E. Bender

A Jewish woman celebrating Rosh Hashanah at Synagogue ruminates on her life and her worries about the direction the nation is headed in. A bit of magical realism creeps into the story when her cell and everyone else’s cells also go off during service and people’s complaints fill the building for everyone to hear. Only when the calls are acknowledged and not hushed do the phones stop ringing. The parallel is clear- we need to recognize other people’s worries and not blow them off, as everyone deserves to be heard. *I ended up reading the entire book collection by Bender for I felt she connects our changing 21st century with precise character studies and offers insight into the cultural dissonance that many of us are feeling right now.*

Singing on a Star by Ellen Klages

In this troubling short story, a kindergartner (I think the character should have been older) goes to her friend’s house for a sleep-over and her friend takes her through a portal to another dimension. Uneasy with the people she meets there, for it gives her an uncomfortable vibe, she is relieved when they go back home. Her friend swears her to secrecy, and she keeps to it, even when her friend later disappears. The disquieting conclusion has her gain a way to enter the other dimension on her own, and I cringed at the idea that this dangerous new world held any appeal to the girl. Readers are left wondering what she will do next, and the mother in me thought of parallels in which a child could be so taken in by obvious danger. An adaptation of this story could be a good match for a Twilight Zone or Ray Bradbury Theatre type of episode.

Yiwu by Lavie Tidhar

Yiwu combined science fiction and magical realism in an urban future. At first, you are transported to a timeless bazaar in China where a shopkeeper sells lottery tickets in which a winner’s deepest wish is realized. When someone’s winning ticket doesn’t result in a change the shopkeeper heads to the lottery offices to explore why. The new setting is jarring and took me out of the story, but the conclusion wraps up the story in a sweet way, as not everyone’s happy ending needs to be big and dramatic

Morning Child by Gardner Dozois

This short story with an apt title sucked me in immediately. The world-building was strong and the particular situation with John reminded me of the fantasy novel A Spell for Chameleon (I was a huge fan of Piers Anthony’s Xanth series in middle school- although I find them very problematic now). The ending was obviously melancholy as you wonder how William will cope with John’s untenable condition long term.

My favorites this season were Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience and Jackalope Wives, as I have thought about those two stories quite a bit since listening to them. If for some strange reason you haven’t discovered LeVar’s podcast, you must tune in,  “but you don’t have to take my word for it.”

-Nancy

Catch up on previous seasons at: Season One, Season Two

 

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