Sinopticon 2021: A Celebration of Chinese Science Fiction, translated and edited by Xueting Christine Ni

This celebration of Chinese Science Fiction — thirteen stories, all translated for the first time into English — represents a unique exploration of the nation’s speculative fiction from the late 20th Century onwards, curated and translated by critically acclaimed writer and essayist Xueting Christine Ni.

From the renowned Jiang Bo’s ‘Starship: Library’ to Regina Kanyu Wang’s ‘The Tide of Moon City, and Anna Wu’s ‘Meisje met de Parel’, this is a collection for all fans of great fiction.

Award winners, bestsellers, screenwriters, playwrights, philosophers, university lecturers and computer programmers, these thirteen writers represent the breadth of Chinese SF, from new to old: Gu Shi, Han Song, Hao Jingfang, Nian Yu, Wang Jinkang, Zhao Haihong, Tang Fei, Ma Boyong, Anna Wu, A Que, Bao Shu, Regina Kanyu Wang and Jiang Bo.

*****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

I’m always excited to see more Chinese literature make its way into Western canon and Sinopticon, a sci-fi short story collection from a whole host of Chinese authors curated by Xueting Christine Ni, makes an excellent addition. What I love about this collection that I’ve yet to encounter in single-author short story anthologies is the sheer breadth of story and topic. Chinese science fiction, or Kēhuàn, has tended to lean more into the hard science as this collection shows, but Ni has found some extremely interesting “softer” stories as well. Perhaps my favorite component of this collection is not actually the stories themselves (which are excellent) but the author bios Ni adds at the end of each short, briefly explaining the author’s background, their plethora of awards and recognitions, as well as the cultural ties of each story and why she picked that particular story in a collection representing Chinese science fiction to the West. For me, the absolute standout in this collection was ‘Flower of the Other Short’, by A Que: a surprisingly humorous post-apocalyptic zombie story about zombie sign language, deep philosophical discussions of art, and Brad Pitt. Other favorites included ‘Starship: Library’ by Jiang Bo, about an intergalactic librarian, her starfleet of books, and the nightmare of every zoning agent, and ‘Qiankun and Alex’ by Hao Jingfang, about an AI and a young boy who learn life lessons from each other. Overall, I rate this book a 4/5

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Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

42815556Project Runway meets Mulan in this sweeping YA fantasy about a young girl who poses as a boy to compete for the role of imperial tailor and embarks on an impossible journey to sew three magic dresses, from the sun, the moon, and the stars.

Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There’s just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.

Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.

And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.

**

Review:

Up this week on Bad YA Books that Baited Me with Beautiful Covers, we’ve got Spin the Dawn. Advertised as an Asian-inspired cross between Project Runway and Mulan, I was left wanting on all three aspects.Read More »

Of Dragons, Feasts, and Murders by Aliette de Bodard

53349060. sy475 Lunar New Year should be a time for familial reunions, ancestor worship, and consumption of an unhealthy amount of candied fruit.

But when dragon prince Thuan brings home his brooding and ruthless husband Asmodeus for the New Year, they find not interminable family gatherings, but a corpse outside their quarters. Asmodeus is thrilled by the murder investigation; Thuan, who gets dragged into the political plotting he’d sworn off when he left, is less enthusiastic.

It’ll take all of Asmodeus’s skill with knives, and all of Thuan’s diplomacy, to navigate this one—as well as the troubled waters of their own relationship….

*****

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review

Review:

I have a new favorite power couple?? Seriously, this novella is a delight to read. Vietnamese-inspired worldbuilding and delicious court intrigue, all driven by a slightly dysfunctional, mostly wholesome power couple. Asmodeus and Thuan have a delightful chemistry together, and while it’s clear that the two could benefit from several rounds of couples counseling, it’s easy to see their devotion and loyalty to each other underneath their bickering. I loved the contrast between Asmodeus’ blunt ‘I’ll murder anyone who gets in my way’ attitude and Thuan’s softer, diplomatic approach, with a side of “Oh no, what did he do this time”. Muder/Diplomacy is just such a good pairing trope.Read More »

Heaven Official’s Blessing (天官赐福) by 墨香铜臭

Tian Guan Ci Fu (Literature) - TV Tropes

为你,所向披靡!

C天R地小妖精攻×仙风道骨收破烂受

啊那个收破烂的天界公务员,跟鬼界第一大佬有一腿!

“Heaven Official’s Blessing”

Eight hundred years ago, Xie Lian was the Crown Prince of the Xian Le kingdom; one who was beloved by his citizens and the darling of the world. Unsurprisingly, he ascended to the Heavens at a very young age. Now, eight hundred years later, Xie Lian ascends to the Heavens for the third time as the laughing stock of all three realms. On his first task as a god, he meets a mysterious demon who rules the ghosts and terrifies the Heavens……yet unbeknownst to Xie Lian, this demon king has been paying attention to him for a very, very long time.

*****

Review:

Love exists and its name is HuaLian.

No really though. I picked this one up because a) I enjoyed the author’s other work Mo Dao Zu Shi and b) because I’d heard the main couple was super cute. I was not expecting to be hit by the world’s most perfect power couple of all times. Every interaction the two had left me screaming into my phone because they’re so adorable? And patient with each other? And communicate when they have conflicts? And they’ve seen each other at their absolute worsts? And actually behave like the 800-year-old immortal beings they are? True perfection.

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Wicked Fox by Kat Cho

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Eighteen-year-old Gu Miyoung has a secret–she’s a gumiho, a nine-tailed fox who must devour the energy of men in order to survive. Because so few believe in the old tales anymore, and with so many evil men no one will miss, the modern city of Seoul is the perfect place to hide and hunt.

But after feeding one full moon, Miyoung crosses paths with Jihoon, a human boy, being attacked by a goblin deep in the forest. Against her better judgment, she violates the rules of survival to rescue the boy, losing her fox bead–her gumiho soul–in the process.

Jihoon knows Miyoung is more than just a beautiful girl–he saw her nine tails the night she saved his life. His grandmother used to tell him stories of the gumiho, of their power and the danger they pose to humans. He’s drawn to her anyway.

With murderous forces lurking in the background, Miyoung and Jihoon develop a tenuous friendship that blossoms into something more. But when a young shaman tries to reunite Miyoung with her bead, the consequences are disastrous . . . forcing Miyoung to choose between her immortal life and Jihoon’s.

**

Review:

I have, once a, been bamboozled by what I’d hoped was a fun YA novel. I had such high hopes for Wicked Fox: gumiho/nine-tailed fox female protagonist, modern urban-Korean setting, super pretty cover. Unfortunately, I’ve instead been given an edgy edgy female protagonist with the personality of a rock, a male love interest who gets verbally abused by said MC and thinks to himself, man I bet she’s super nice, and a supporting cast of shitty people doing shitty things.

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Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

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With the heart of an Atwood tale and the visuals of a classic Asian period drama The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a tightly and lushly written narrative about empire, storytelling, and the anger of women.

A young royal from the far north is sent south for a political marriage. Alone and sometimes reviled, she has only her servants on her side. This evocative debut chronicles her rise to power through the eyes of her handmaiden, at once feminist high fantasy and a thrilling indictment of monarchy.

*****

Review:

Beyond the breathtaking cover, I went into this novella with zero expectations. I came out with a captivatingly intimate tale that still managed to encompass a broader scope. Between a combination of Vo’s delicate prose and quiet character interactions, I was absolutely spellbound as I read.Read More »

The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang

33099588Mokoya and Akeha, the twin children of the Protector, were sold to the Grand Monastery as children. While Mokoya developed her strange prophetic gift, Akeha was always the one who could see the strings that moved adults to action. While his sister received visions of what would be, Akeha realized what could be. What’s more, he saw the sickness at the heart of his mother’s Protectorate.

A rebellion is growing. The Machinists discover new levers to move the world every day, while the Tensors fight to put them down and preserve the power of the state. Unwilling to continue to play a pawn in his mother’s twisted schemes, Akeha leaves the Tensorate behind and falls in with the rebels. But every step Akeha takes towards the Machinists is a step away from his sister Mokoya. Can Akeha find peace without shattering the bond he shares with his twin sister?

****

Review:

Have you ever opened a book, read the first two paragraphs, and just been completely immersed in the worldbuilding? The Black Tides of Heaven is that book. Between the worldbuilding and the characters, this book is a must-read.

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The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

36686547Welcome to the Scattered Pearls Belt, a collection of ring habitats and orbitals ruled by exiled human scholars and powerful families, and held together by living mindships who carry people and freight between the stars. In this fluid society, human and mindship avatars mingle in corridors and in function rooms, and physical and virtual realities overlap, the appareance of environments easily modified and adapted to interlocutors or current mood.

A transport ship discharged from military service after a traumatic injury, The Shadow’s Child now ekes out a precarious living as a brewer of mind-altering drugs for the comfort of space-travellers. Meanwhile, abrasive and eccentric scholar Long Chau wants to find a corpse for a scientific study. When Long Chau walks into her office, The Shadow’s Child expects an unpleasant but easy assignment. When the corpse turns out to have been murdered, Long Chau feels compelled to investigate, dragging The Shadow’s Child with her.

As they dig deep into the victim’s past, The Shadow’s Child realises that the investigation points to Long Chau’s own murky past–and, ultimately, to the dark and unbearable void that lies between the stars…

****

Review:

de Bodard delights again in a perhaps the oddest retelling of Sherlock Holmes I’ve yet to encounter. The Tea Master and the Detective was both a fun and trippy reading experience.Read More »

Mooncakes by Wendy Xu, Suzanne Walker

44774415. sy475 A story of love and demons, family and witchcraft.

Nova Huang knows more about magic than your average teen witch. She works at her grandmothers’ bookshop, where she helps them loan out spell books and investigate any supernatural occurrences in their New England town.

One fateful night, she follows reports of a white wolf into the woods, and she comes across the unexpected: her childhood crush, Tam Lang, battling a horse demon in the woods. As a werewolf, Tam has been wandering from place to place for years, unable to call any town home.

Pursued by dark forces eager to claim the magic of wolves and out of options, Tam turns to Nova for help. Their latent feelings are rekindled against the backdrop of witchcraft, untested magic, occult rituals, and family ties both new and old in this enchanting tale of self-discovery.

****

Review:

I ADORED this comic. Nova and Tam are freaking adorable, the art is here is super cute, and just the overall story is very fun and sweet. This book first crossed my radar for its Chinese American rep (see, the title), and I was delighted to see the wealth of diversity in this book. Nova is hard-of-hearing while Tam is non-binary. There’s also Nova grandmothers, who are the sweetest yet extremely badass goddamn people in the entire world. Also Nova’s a witch and Tam’s a werewolf. Amazing. I loved the development of Nova and Tam’s relationship throughout the story. Yeah. This was just extremely adorable. If you’re looking for something cute and fluffy to read while the world is burning, this is the book. Overall, I rate this book a 4/5.Read More »

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by KS Villoso

“I murdered a man and made my husband leave the night before they crowned me.”46207682

Born under the crumbling towers of Oren-yaro, Queen Talyien was the shining jewel and legacy of the bloody War of the Wolves that nearly tore her nation apart. Her upcoming marriage to the son of her father’s rival heralds peaceful days to come.

But his sudden departure before their reign begins fractures the kingdom beyond repair.

Years later, Talyien receives a message, urging her to attend a meeting across the sea. It’s meant to be an effort at reconciliation, but an assassination attempt leaves the queen stranded and desperate to survive in a dangerous land. With no idea who she can trust, she’s on her own as she struggles to fight her way home.

****

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Review:

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is a book I have seen passed around many a ‘Top XXX self-published books you should read’ list. Having gotten the chance to meet the author through various blogging circles, I was delighted to hear that Orbit picked this book up. I’m glad to say that my support for this book was not unfounded. The Wolf of Oren-Yaro finds its life in its main character Talyien, and while Talyien is brash and at times unlikeable character, her force-of-nature personality makes it hard to pull away.

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