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Bloodchildren: Stories by the Octavia E. Butler Scholars ed. by Nisi Shawl

I recommend this anthology unreservedly. It's a collection of stories by writers of color who have been recipients of the Octavia E. Butler Scholarship, and it really showcases the variety of talent the scholarship has supported, and, I hope, gives these writers a strong platform for future work. Plus, it's an $8 ebook whose donation benefits the scholarship fund, so it's a win all around.

I tend to have a difficult time getting through anthologies and collections of short stories, as I can't help but compare the stories to one another. In this case, I did have some standout favorites but I definitely enjoyed all of the stories enough to finish them easily, which is unusual for me. I think that's a hallmark of a strong anthology and the organization of the stories within the volume really worked for me.

As a meta-aside, I really appreciated the two non-fiction pieces that opened the volume and sandwiched the reprint of Butler's "Speech Sounds". Hopkinson and McIntyre give personal accounts of Butler and give context for her legacy, both in terms of her work and in terms of her contributions in supporting other writers in the SF/F field. I cried reading each of these pieces, and was stunned at how much of an impact "Speech Sounds" has when read in this context as an introduction to work by talented up-and-coming writers. "Speech Sounds" is in so many ways a story about having no voice/ability to express oneself and feeling one's way in a bitterly dangerous world, only to find and nurture a new generation who are just beginning to find and develop that voice. This especially played against Hopkinson's introduction, in which she talks about being a young reader of color seeking "African diasporic culture, our aesthetics, our histories and lore, our speech stylings, our experiences and understandings of the world, our humor..." Hopkinson talks about how Butler was one of the first authors to do this for SF/F, and she went on to help protect and support other writers' voices to help expand the field further. To me, that is the work that the Octavia Butler Scholarship seeks to do for writers of color in the SF/F literary world, and that is the work Butler herself began before her untimely death. It was well-chosen and powerful, and it really prepared me as a reader to look with even more interest on the stories that followed, and to read them each as a representation of a *new* voice.

I think it's a grave mistake to compare all writers of color in SF/F to Butler (I have seen it happen so often on panels at conventions and in online discussions), and I'm glad to see this anthology --it's frustrating and does a disservice to their work. I think Shawl did well in curating examples of each writer's work that stood out from one another in a way that really enhanced their differences in structure, theme, voice, perspective. The anthology is arranged chronologically in terms of when the author received the scholarship, but it ends up working internally--the story placement worked for me most of the time, too.

"My Love Will Never Die" by Chris Caldwell: This was an underwhelming story for me, a gay vampire tale that ended up being kind of creepy non-con, which just isn't my thing. I really like Caldwell's style, though, and the ending did surprise me in execution. I would read more of this author's work if it were a theme I enjoyed.

"Falling Into the Earth" by Shweta Narayan: I *really* loved this story. It constructs a modern story that fits against the legends of Sita and Rama and does a brilliant job working the themes and cultural meanings from the legend into the modern life, and in the end questions the very foundations of narrative, finding a third future for the protagonists. Narayan strikes a nearly perfect balance in terms of description and characterization, with enough detail and enough deviation between the inset legends and the 'real' world, and I completely loved the ending and the way the story engages on an important level with so many questions, about tradition and culture and culture-shock, immigrant experience, female sexuality, wealth, power, consequences of one's actions, the possibilities of the future and finding something that works outside of things that seem almost fated. It was probably the first time I have ever loved a story written in the second person, too. As far as I'm concerned, this story is a knockout in every way.

"Free Bird" by Caren Gussoff: I'll be very interested to read the novel that is being developed from this story. I really liked the protagonist--an alien foundling being raised by a human roma family. The writing in this was sharp and wry, and I think its greatest weakness is that it was too complex a tale to develop fully in a short story--and that's a weakness that is already being addressed, according to the story's postscript. I felt like the human guy love interest brought in at the end was too flat, especially given how interesting the worldbuilding and the characters in the first two/thirds of the story were. The ending was a surprise to me, and felt rushed, but I really liked this world and would love to find more about it. I'll definitely follow this author with interest, and pick up the book if/when it happens!

"Impulse" by Mary Elizabeth Burroughs: This one was rather disjointed--it opens in a home for disabled teens, in which paraplegic children are suddenly able to walk, with some other strange occurrences with inanimate objects going unnoticed in all the excitement. Then, all humans in the world are suddenly unable to move at all, and inanimate objects everywhere gain rudimentary intelligence and motion, and the world enters a new world order. A bit depressing, and the story felt a bit cluttered to me, though I appreciate the thought experiment and the idea that well, in some stories we would just be fucked and that's the end.

"Dancing in the Shadow of the Once" by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz: This was a long one. It is the most SFnal story, about a woman brought from her tribal culture's homeworld and augmented with all this tech to extend her life and give her the ability to perform her culture's dances and stories for the oppressive culture's dignitaries. She eventually rebels and chooses to lose the augments that are killing her and return to her homeworld with her warrior lover. I liked this story, though I would have liked to read the next act and hear about her experience trying to re-enter her society. Lots of reflection on the nature of culture and the tension about preserving one's heritage for an outside audience. It felt a bit on the nose sometimes but I did feel caught up in the protagonist's problems and the choices she had to make. Decent worldbuilding, too.

"Legendaire." by Kai Ashante Wilson: This is my other standout favorite story in the anthology. This is a story of (what I might term) poly families, the difficulties of parenting, ghosts and inevitable tragedy and talent and gods. It's a story about a young man with a great talent for dance, who has gorown up on the poor side of the island in a family composed of two women and a male god, with a godling sister, and the young man eventually will be taken by a riotous ghostly roving parade of talented musicians. The family at the heart of this story feels lived in and real, with real concerns sited so beautifully within this world, and the worldbuilding was so beautifully done--it felt totally normal for the characters but utterly fascinating to me as a reader. I would have read about fourteen books about these characters, but as a short story this is a nearly perfect jewel. Narratively it jumped around a bit but I really liked that it gave so many perspectives and moments. I loved this a lot.

"Steal the Sky" by Erik Owomoyela: This one was fun but not really my thing. It read a bit like Firefly fanfic set in a steampunk AU Old West. It had some interesting alternate history stuff about animals and racism, and the worldbuilding was kind of cool, but in the end it's not one I would return to, personally.

"/sit" by Jeremy Sim: This one was sad and sweet, about a guy who's a bit of a lost soul and disappointment to his magic-using family, and whose dead grandma turns him into a dog so he can actually have a happy life living with his best friends, a couple he met in an online MMPORG. I liked the normalcy of this story, and found the character relatable in his sad way, and the ending delighted me.

"Re: Christmas, Bainbridge Island" by Dennis Y. Ginoza: This is one I'm still chewing over. The structure of this story is really fascinating and challenging--it is an email from an old woman, telling the story of her youth as a child witnessing one of the most reviled acts in the story's political history. It was engaging to work through this alternate history, though I feel like in the end I didn't get quite as much worldbuilding as I needed for full context, it was still a really poignant tale and I'll be thinking about it for a long time.

"The Runner of n-Vamana" by Indrapramit Das: This one felt a bit lighter than the others, perhaps because it was so short and lacked much dialogue. It revels in some tech stuff but also the humanity at the center of any legend. I liked the brother and sister relationship.

"The Saltwater African" by Lisa Bolekaja: A strong ending story, this was the tale of a slave woman with some magic who meets and hooks up with man newly enslaved and brought over from Africa. I liked this story's insistence on the things these characters made that were *for* them, disregarded by the white slave owners who technically 'owned' them. There was a lot here about family, and a fairly horrifying but awesome ending involving sex and a magic mechanical spider. A brutal story that I think is worth reading.


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