Catching Up and Reviewing Books

Anyone who’s been following me knows that I’ve managed to consistently churn out a biweekly radio show as well as a biweekly web series for the past couple of months. Although I’m proud of this achievement, I have to admit it comes at the expense of some ideas I had for the blog. However, all is not lost. I finally have a new job. (Yay!) I am now an editor at the excellent online publication For Harriet. I’ve written for them for a few months and took a chance and applied for an editor position. I was ecstatic to get the job since this is the type of work I’ve wanted to do for some time.

As you know, For Harriet is a publication for and by Black women, celebrating the fullness of our lives and experience. I love what this publication tries to do, especially since it intentionally eschews respectability politics to bring real issues and conversations to its readership. So far it’s going okay. Since I want to contribute to the mission of For Harriet, I’m still terrified I’ll make a huge mistake, but the team I work with had its shit together when I got here and are being patient with acclimating me. I’m still getting used to the flexible work schedule and hoping that it reflects in what I’ve done so far.

The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
Okay now on to other business. I recently finished N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy and I completely get the hype about it. When I was younger, I wasn’t into fantasy as much as I was into Afam literature, so I missed out when a lot of Black and other POC began breaking down the door to speculative genres. I had gotten into Octavia Butler by grad school and found pieces of speculative elements in the works of my favorite author Gayl Jones. I also revisited Phyllis Alesia Perry’s Stigmata since I saw parallels among this work, Kindred and Corregidora.

However, Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy does not follow this type of writing style or mythology. Instead, this work recalls what was up until now my favorite work of fantasy, Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy. But the Inheritance Trilogy does not focus on a central character throughout the entire series. Instead, each book comes from the point of view of different characters. Mortals are not simply at the mercy of gods, godlings and demons. They interact with them, tell stories about them and fear them as the gods and godlings are not exactly the benevolent kind. Then again, neither are the mortals.

Jemisin creates the type of epic world-building that we find in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, except I stopped reading that after about 60 pages into The Fellowship of the Ring. Her characters are unabashedly brown and come with all the complexities found within humanity — or godhood — or demonhood… Although I know I’ll never be on her level of writing, she gives me hope. For instance, while she does not give a name to sexualities with characters, she presents a queer view that is normalized in the realm of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. This is something I tried to do in a fantasy work of mine but worried that I was somehow erasing sexuality. Seeing a writer of this caliber do it gives me hope that I was on the right path.

And the characters. While I know many may prefer Yeine, the character who undergoes a drastic transformation in the first book The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, I took a shining to the protagonist of the second book, Oree of The Broken Kingdoms. Sieh is the protagonist of the final book, The Kingdom of the Gods, and a perfect continuation of the theme of transformation that flows through the series. We meet the characters, grow with them, transform with them, even though we may not always love them. We sympathize with them when they fall but also sneer at them when they fail to wreak havoc. Admittedly, I have to reread the series because I know there’s a lot I missed, but I got the basic plot of each book and a good feel for each character.

With fantasy series as all the rage right now, Jemisin’s work should definitely have its own film adaptation. This is the series we waited for and hopefully TPTB will pick up on it and give us the epic adaptation this series so richly deserves.

Concrete Park by Erika Alexander and Tony Puryear
Admittedly, I gave Concrete Park a chance because of Erika Alexander. Who knew our Maxine Shaw from Living Single was such a comic book geek that she would eventually create one with her husband Tony Puryear? The series became available in two volumes of hardback books and I copped copies as soon as volume 2 hit. I was not disappointed.

Concrete Park takes place on a prison planet where nothing grows and hardened criminals who managed to escape captivity live in a fake “freedom” where gangs run the town. It’s virtually an alien Wild West where guns and violence rules and compassion is almost nonexistent.

However, one of the most appealing aspects of this comic is that it consists almost entirely of people of color. Furthermore, Alexander and Puryear incorporate various aspects of these cultures, particularly through language that is explained in asterisks throughout the comic. They also include Radio Gigante with an actual radio station that plays on the comic’s website.

The illustrations are beautiful, the story is compelling and the attention to actual diversity does not feel forced. Right now, the story ends on a cliffhanger with volume 2, so hopefully we’ll get to see the next volume of this work.

Right now I’m in the middle of Ytasha L. Womack’s Afrofuturism, a book I’ve had for nearly a year and just now getting around to. It’s fascinating reading and really is going a long way toward my understanding of afrofuturism and its potential. I can tell you guys about that later. Until then, I’ll be at the new gig!