SFF Shenanigans: Broken Places & Outer Spaces

After our false start Jess and I decided to tackle Broken Places & Outer Spaces: Finding Creativity in the Unexpected by Nnedi Okorafor for the Hodderscape challenge. The category is Nonfiction by a SFF Writer.

What was your initial reaction to the book? Did it hook you immediately, or take some time to get into?

Jess: It definitely hooked me right away, which is so important with a book of that length. I read it in one sitting.
Karena: I listened to the audio with Nnedi narrating which is one of my favorite things. So I was definitely interested right away and listened all at one time.
Jess: Oh right! I forgot you listened on audio. I love when authors narrate their own work.

Have you read anything else by the author? If so, what and did you have a favorite?

Jess: I’ve read Who Fears Death and the Binti trilogy.
Karena: Who Fears Death was my first. I read it with an SFF book group. I also have read the prequel The Book of Phoenix, Lagoon and the Binti trilogy.
Jess: I know she’s written a ton, but those are the only ones I’ve actually read.
Karena: I’ve liked everything I read by her so a favorite is hard. Maybe this nonfiction honestly.
Jess: I have Lagoon, but just haven’t gotten to it yet! story of the TBR
Karena: For reals. I read it because at one of her talks I went to she framed it as a better “alien invasion story.”
Jess: yeah, I really loved this! from the two novels I’ve read, I definitely preferred Who Fears Death. I liked Binti, but I wanted a little more I think.

What surprised you about the author’s experience?

Jess: I had no idea that she had scoliosis. That is like the worst thing I can imagine, getting paralyzed. especially completely unexpectedly like that.
Karena: I remember those scoliosis checks in middle school. How terrifying to be told you have a low chance for risks and then it happens.

What was your favorite quote/passage?

Karena: I liked that she plans to become a cyborg in 2029.
Jess: Yes! I loved that tie-in to her SFF work.

What aspects of the author’s story could you most relate to?

Jess: I’m a runner, so the thought of suddenly being paralyzed horrified me. While I didn’t relate to the experience, I found her description really visceral and I could really relate to how frustrating she found that as an athlete.
Karena: I’m not an athlete, but the experience of having everything change in an instant is something that I could relate to as the wife of a former service member. We would have this existence and then you get your new base assignment and you go from North Dakota to Okinawa, Japan.

Do you have any other thoughts?

Jess: Just that I’m glad I read it! and I probably wouldn’t have without this challenge, just because of the way that I am with nonfiction
Karena: I found it fascinating how she went from wanting to be an entomologist to becoming an SFF writer.


In conclusion, we both really liked Broken Places and Outer Spaces for our January book. February’s book is going to be Creatures of Want and Ruin by Molly Tanzer for the “Book based on Real World History” as it takes place during the United State’s Prohibition during the 1930’s.



SFF Shenanigans: January's DNF

So we tried. We really did. However, January’s selection A Memory Called Empire for Hodderscapes’s was a bust for both Jessica and I. Not to despair, we did read something for January anyway, Nnedi Okorafor’s Broken Places and Outer Spaces: Finding Creativity in the Unexpected for the Nonfiction by an SFF author category, which we’ll be posting about in a separate post. In this post though, Jess and I will be going through why we DNF’d this book and what our criteria for a DNF (Did Not Finish) is.

Karena


I DNF way easier than I used to. I have no real criteria. If I put it down and never feel the need to pick it back up…DNF. I figure I’m already going to die with books unread so why waste that time on books that don’t interest me. This is a long time in coming. I used to think I had to read all the books I ever picked up because we’re not supposed to quit, right? Take on a job of being a bookseller and that goes right out the window. There are deadlines for review publications, or newsletters, or just there’s always a new book coming out. I tried reading A Memory Called Empire not only in print, but also listening on audio. I couldn’t get through the first chapter. The pacing was just too slow for me. It felt clunky and disjointed.

Jess

A Memory Called Empire did a really specific thing that I don’t like in books -it tried to give us a way that another group of beings communicate. In this case, the aliens used body language that was super specific and very different from how the human characters do. I appreciate the effort, and I actually do like thinking about how communication would work between two groups that have different frames of reference for aspects of language that we take for granted (intonation, body language, facial expression, etc). That said, I didn’t think it was executed well. Every single time two characters interacted, we got at least a line or two about how and why communication was hard and how they were missing each other. It got repetitive and frustrating to read. (Another example of this done poorly, in my opinion, is Bel Canto by Anne Patchett, while The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers is one that does this really well.)

When talking about this blog post, Karena asked me to talk a bit about “the art of the DNF,” and that phrase has kind of stuck in my head. It is definitely something that I think of as more of an art than a science. The one feeling that I keep coming back to is – do I want to be reading this? If I noticed that I’m picking up my Switch more than my book or spending a lot of time on Instagram or putting on re-runs of old TV shows, then I’m probably just about to DNF a book. Of course, there are exceptions – if I get really into a new game or TV show or audiobook, then I like to lean into that. But if I’m spending a lot of time with my brain “turned off,” it’s probably because I’m not engaged in what I’m reading. I don’t like my brain turned off. Reading is one of my favorite things to do, so if I’m actively avoiding it, I put down whatever I’m reading. If I never come back it it, then it was likely the book’s fault that I wasn’t engaged, and I move on. All of that to say that I agree with Karena. There are too many books that I’m never going to read, so why waste my time with something I don’t really like?

Do you ever DNF? Do you have criteria you have to meet before you do? What was your last one? Have you read A Memory Called Empire? Let us know in the comments.

Introducing Jessica: a SFF Cohort

Hi everyone! I’m so excited to be joining Karena as we tackle the Hodderscape 2020 SFF reading challenge! Karena and I bonded over our shared love of all things SFF (but specifically The Night Circus) and have spent a huge chunk of our friendship shouting at each other about books.

About me: I’m a lesbian children’s librarian with an affinity for magic in my books and whiskey in my coffee. I live with a chaos demon (read: tabby cat) who I named after a character in The Night Circus. I have a half dozen literary tattoos. When I’m not reading, I’m….well, I’m usually reading, but I’m also a runner and enjoy cooking and knitting.

My SFF origin story: You know, I can’t really remember a time before I loved SFF. My mom handed me The Hobbit when I was 8, and it was love from then on out. I went to school with Harry Potter and dreamed about doorways in closets to icy wonderlands and read too much Stephen King at much too young an age and played Zelda games on my GameBoy Color until my eyes went buggy.
Then I grew up. I grew up, and someone at some point told me that fantasy wasn’t “cool” anymore. So I dutifully read my classics and whatever was assigned to me in school and I got degrees in English and Comparative Literature and only read Very Serious stuff for years. (There were a lot of cishet white dudes during that period of my life.)
When I quit my PhD program, I wanted to learn how to really love books again. I went back for the classics that I loved as a kid – Lord of the Rings and Stephen King and the like, and then I started exploring the SFF section of bookstores more. An incredible thing had happened during the time that I was away – SFF woke up. Suddenly, there were more women on the shelves! And more than cishet white dudes saving the world between the pages! And there was so much queerness! The worlds in these books were bigger and more beautiful and more interesting than anything I had been asked to read in college. I found underground libraries and magical circuses and spaceships full of found family. I traveled between Londons and lived through the fifth season and caught a sexually transmitted city. I started reading high fantasy and science fiction and middle grade fantasy and urban fantasy and magical realism and…you get the idea. I fell back in love with reading. Now, you can find me at school with Mia Corvere and Ivy Gamble and dreaming about doorways to worlds of salt and ink and reading too much Catherynne Valente.

The Quick Sheet:
My wheelhouse: Queer ladies doing awesome things with magic or in spaceships or both.
Authors on my autobuy list: Catherynne Valente. Seanan McGuire. Erin Morgenstern. NK Jemisin. VE Schwab. Sarah Gailey. (Okay, my wallet just started screaming in protest, so I’m stopping there.)
What’s on my TBR: Right now? Godsgrave, because it’s been a long time since I’ve been so invested in a series that I had to grab the sequel immediately. Blue is the Warmest Color and We Set the Dark on Fire for my Coven Challenge. A reread of Drive Here and Devastate Me. A Mirror Empire because I’ve seen it pop up a bunch recently. And A Memory Called Empire for this challenge!
Which books on the Challenge I’m looking forward to reading: All of them? No, but seriously. If I have to choose, The City We Became and Docile have been on my list for a long time, and I know those two will inspire a special amount of screaming with Karena.
What do I do when I’m not reading: Training for my next race (currently the Brooklyn 2020 half marathon). Still playing Zelda games (just now on my Switch) until my eyes go buggy.


SFF Shenanigans with Jessica and Karena

My friend Jessica and I are going to be tackling Hodderscape’s 2019 challenge but in 2020. You will be seeing posts from her as we’ve decided to tackle our book selections together. Here is the list we’re planning on reading for the year.

A book based on mythology or folkloreThe Sisters GrimmMerena van Praag
A non-fiction book by a SFF authorBroken Places and Outer SpacesNnedi Okorafor
A work of sci-fi or fantasy in translationThus Were Their FacesSilvia Ocampo
A book being adapted for movie or TV in 2019/2020TBD
A novel featuring dragonsTurning Darkness into LightMarie Brennan
A work of sci-fi by a woman or non-binary authorChilling EffectValerie Valdes
A book told from multiple character POVsDocileK.M. Szpara
A book with a non-human protagonistThe City We BecameN.K. Jemisin
A retelling of a classic fairytaleGirls Made of Snow and GlassMelissa Bashardoust
A book set in a dystopian futureRiot BabyTochi Onyebuchi
A book set on a different planet or space stationA Memory Called EmpireArkady Martine
A book inspired by real-world historyCreatures of Want and RuinMolly Tanzer

Our first book for January is going to be A Memory Called Empire. It’s on the longer side so we are going to start out strong. It’s a space opera where most of the characters are queer. Huzzah! I also found this article on Strange Horizons with the author Arkady Martine which was pretty fascinating. Jessica and I will report back at the end of January with our thoughts. Also if you’re interested in following along, we’ll be using the hashtag #JKShenanigansSFF

Do you have any suggestions for 2019/2020 adaptions? Let us know in the comments. We are trying to veer away from the straight cis white dudes if possible.