Season Eleven is longer than usual, since it contained repeats from past seasons, although it was bookended by new episodes. I never thought I’d say this- but I was let down this season. I realize that IRL LeVar is a busy man (I am so happy that the third season of Star Trek: Picard will have him and the original Star Trek: The Next Generation crew in it!) but I was disappointed to have six remixed episodes in the middle be repeats from previous seasons.
I Was a Teenage Space Jockey by Stephen Graham Jones
In this interesting magical realism tale, two Native American sixth graders get bullied at an arcade and end up locked in for the night. One of them, who is worried that his older brother has left home and could have come to an untimely end, seems to get sucked into one of the video games where he sees different fates for his brother. The game ends well, giving him hope that his brother is alive. This short story was very realistic about racism and challenging family dynamics but then took a small magical detour towards the end
#ClimbingNation by Kim Fu
When a popular Instagram climber falls to his death, a former college classmate of his attends his funeral. April had followed him and felt a kinship although she lies about the level of their real-world connection to his friends and family. Worming her way into the inner circle, she sows seeds of discontent among them, especially when it is revealed he might have had a stash of gold that he was hiding at a remote cabin. This was a disquieting story, showing the fraudulent nature of connection between “celebrities” and those that follow them.
Down in the Dim Kingdoms by Tobias Buckell
Set in an alternative future, a secret civilization in the middle of our Earth has been discovered and exploited by two explorers. About fifty years later, one of the original colonizers gets a nasty comeuppance when he rewards his evil granddaughter’s behavior, and she turns on him. This was an interesting and dark little tale that I quite liked.
Family Cooking by Ana Maria Curtis
A granddaughter with magical cooking skills is tasked with preparing food for her grandmother’s second wedding but finds that her complicated feelings about her Abuela interfere with her magic. I didn’t really get the magical realism angle, but I applauded Isa for caring so much about her mother’s feelings.
The King of Bread by Luis Alberto Urrea
A refreshing detour from fantasy, this is a realistic coming-of-age tale set in the late 1960s (Star Trek is mentioned!). A Mexican-American youth is being raised by a single father after his mother was deported and recounts his life with his father, who drove a bread truck for a living. I enjoyed this bittersweet story of looking back and trying to understand your parents.
River’s Giving by Heather Shaw, Tim Pratt, and River Shaw
Written by a mother, father and teen child team, this is a sweet (but rather saccharine) tale of learning how to have a giving spirit. In this fantasy world, a village is used to receiving mysterious yearly gifts that arrive by the river. When they don’t arrive one year, a young man travels up the nearby mountain to investigate why. He discovers a dragon and teaches him to want to give, not just take. It reminded me of the classic story How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
The Usual Santas by Mick Herron (originally on S10)
Set in London, eight mall Santas discover a ninth among them at the year-end Christmas Eve party. Is one of them an imposter, or could he be the real Santa? Who then led the crime caper at the mall, in which many gifts were given to orphans and the needy the next day?
The Last Cheng Beng Gift by Jaymee Goh (originally on S3)
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 regard 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.
The Truth About Owls by Amal El-Mohtar (originally on S2)
Schoolage Anisa is an immigrant from Lebanon whose family now lives in Glasgow, and who is fascinated by owls. She processes her anxiety about her father who still travels to his family’s war-torn region and the memories she has of home by studying predatory owls. While she briefly rejects her family’s background and Arabic language, by the end she is starting to accept her heritage and becomes more comfortable with herself. This was an engaging short story about embracing your culture.
The Simplest Equation by Nicky Drayden (originally on S5)
A sweet tale of love. 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!
Silver Door Diner by Bishop Garrison (originally on S8)
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 Foster Portfolio by Kurt Vonnegut (originally on S6)
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
Wok Hei St by Guan Un
This clever title can be read as Wok Heist or Wok Hei Street, both of which have meaning to the story. This magical realism tale is set in Malaysia during a televised cooking competition when a cherished wok is stolen from one of the contestants, and a man with some magical powers who owes the first contestant favors retrieves it for her from the other dishonest chef.
The Lady of the Yellow-Painted Library by Tobi Ogundiran
I hated this story, for it made librarians look evil and crazed. A traveling salesman mislays a book, and the supernatural librarian is bent on retrieving it. Predictable ending.
The Golden Hour by Jeffrey Ford
Haunting time travel story about a married couple who get separated from one another during their travels. The elderly man awaits his wife to find him again, and in the meantime is befriended by a writer, who harbors his own mysteries. The explanation of time travel was unique and the narrative has several layers to be thought about once you are finished with the story.
Mister Dawn, How Can You Be So Cruel? by Violet Allen
Sometime in the near future, dreams can be controlled, so the rich hire dream concierges to give them a perfect fantasy of their choosing. Esther is quite good and is hired away by a rival company where she gets to develop new software to reach more customers. But this new company turns out to be morally corrupt, and when Esther finds out what her dream research might be truly used for, she puts on blinders so she can keep her research money and keep on working on her pet project.
The Destination Star by Gregory Marlow
In this tender story, a generational ship is traveling towards a far-away planet to save humanity, but without warp drive, it will take many generations to arrive. Ben is an older man who does maintenance on the ship and he reminisces about his early years on the ship and when it was revealed to him and his peers that they would be a generation that would live their entire lives on the ship. He has come to accept the bittersweet truth that they need to work for the greater good, although they will never reap the benefits themselves. In the end, LeVar ties it into how many generations of slaves never experienced freedom, but they had to go on living their lives and raising future generations having faith that there would be a better tomorrow for the descendants.
D.P. by Kurt Vonnegut
Set in Germany a decade or so after WWII, a bi-racial orphan wonders about his parentage, especially because the local villagers have nicknamed him Joe Lewis, after a famous boxer from America. When a group of American soldiers is camped nearby, the boy steals away to meet them, hoping his father is one of the soldiers. A Black soldier takes pity on him, recognizing the boy feels like a displaced person (hence the title of the story) and treats him kindly before returning him to the orphanage. A poignant story that makes me want to read Vonnegut’s short story collection, Welcome to the Monkey House, which also includes The Foster Portfolio.
Down in the Dim Kingdom, I was a Teenage Space Jockey, #ClimbingNation, and The Destination Star were my favorites of the season. I suggest you check out his podcast if you haven’t already, “But you don’t have to take my word for it.”