If I told you there was a short story where two women of color fall in love in outer space, surrounded by puppies, you’d go out and buy it right away, right? No, you’d invent a time machine and go back in time and buy it five minutes before you started reading this review. That’s how badly you want cute f/f in space WITH PUPPIES.
My recs pitch for this book is: fashion college on the moon, with femme on femme Asian diaspora lesbian romance. Yes, I said on the moon.
Flowers of Luna, by biracial Japanese-American author Jennifer Linsky, has a very familiar structure and feel if you’ve been reading a lot of young adult and new adult contemporary f/f. Ran has just started college in fashion design, and the story is mainly about how she falls for a sexy, adventurous engineering student. Hana shows her a great time on the weekends but holds back a little too much of herself otherwise, which eventually causes problems. There are plenty of B-plots about group projects with Ran’s classmates, creating new clothing designs, and in staying in touch with her sister at another school far away.
Except, this one takes place on the freaking moon. So there’s an extra layer of fun and sparkle on top of the familiarity. The main character is biracial, and fairly in touch with her Japanese roots thanks to the moon’s culture having a lot of Japanese influence as a result of some postapocalyptic stuff that happened in Japan, driving everyone to seek homes elsewhere. She’s also a second-generation lesbian (or “mirror-biased”, in the slang of this imagined future; bisexual is “parallel-biased”) raised by two moms on a mining ship. Her parents were big heroes in some kind of major event that happened when she was too little to be involved, so she’s a little bit celebrity-adjacent and every once in a while it influences her interactions with the world and with strangers/new people.
But she’s on the moon to study fashion design, and on the moon you can socially get away with wearing clothing from different time periods or cultures to suit your whim, PLUS machines replicate whatever you design, so there’s basically no limit to what she can invent. (She does like doing some hand work, if she has the time for it.)
Hana, who Ran meets as a result of some weird posturing and playacting involving an insult in cosplay and the subsequent duel, is a Japanese diaspora engineering student who has to play it drab during the week so her being a cute lesbian doesn’t make her male classmates not take her seriously. But on the weekend, with Ran, she’s pretty sexually adventurous–for example, there’s a running gag about her not wearing underwear, even in public.
It’s hard to maintain true intimacy when one of you is holding back, so that’s the main conflict of the book, and there was a point in my reading where I kind of expected them to stay broken up and the MC to wind up with the nonbinary character she’d flirted with near the beginning. But the book’s main couple do work things out. I think I just wanted to be more convinced. Ran does acknowledge in the postlude that she has no idea what the future holds, but they’re enjoying themselves right now.
The moon environment itself is a very appealing place to spend your imaginary time, as a reader. There are cities, mostly Japanese and Russian influenced, with fake day and night, where you can visit cozy restaurants carpeted in tatami mats and floor cushions. “Shoes,” Hana reminds Ran. “The Moon is not a foreign country.” After the Japanese dinner they pop into Mr. Chung’s ice cream shop, where he does his best to balance heat and coolness with flavors like curry ice cream. “You must be careful to avoid an excess of yin; we live on the moon!”
They take a weekend date trip to Heinleinburg–many places in the moon civilization honor real historical figures in science and science fiction. Linsky writes, “Heinleinburg was settled by corporate pioneers who came to get wealthy from the moon. Set in Shoemaker Crater to be near the south polar ice fields, it had attracted everyone who dreamed of the moon; everyone who dreamed of riches; everyone who dreamed.” Love that kind of prose.
I want to specifically note that I initially overlooked this book because I thought, from the sample, that it was a different type of book, much weightier (the sample is from the insult scene in the beginning and I didn’t realize that was only cosplay playacting.) Had I known it was “lesbian college fluff on the moon”, I would have picked it up a lot sooner. Also, for a book that truly and thoroughly celebrates visual beauty, both of clothing and of women’s glorious, exquisite bodies, I think it would be better served by a different cover — just one woman’s opinion, of course!
In summary, Flowers of Luna is remarkably contemporary-feeling for sci-fi, a good gateway for SFF-intimidated f/f fans especially because the conflicts aren’t SFF-specific, while also including enough cool details to keep sci-fi fans happy.
Thank you for taking the time to read my review! I write more of them at http://shiraglassman.wordpress.com and on Goodreads, or check out my latest book, The Olive Conspiracy, Jewish fantasy about a young lesbian queen who must work together with her found-family, including her wife, a dragon, a witch, and a warrior woman, to save their country from an international sabotage plot.
Within an inventory of my virtues, I guarantee that patience will not be listed as one. Thus, had I not been relegated to bed for a week in order to ride out a nasty virus, chances are that I would have abandoned Trouble and Her Friends within the first fifty pages. However, lacking the energy or even the motivation to venture toward my bookshelf for a different title, I stuck with the novel ‘til the end – and now feel extremely fortunate for that fact.
After Evans-Tildale passes, Cerise returns home to discover her apartment half-empty and her lover, Trouble, nowhere to be found. Trouble, after all, had made it quite clear that if the new law meant to police the net were put into effect, she would be leaving the shadows. It was far too dangerous to continue “cracking” (hacking) within an environment controlled by real-world authorities.
Three years later, Cerise and Trouble as well as most of their friends, have abandoned their activities, relegating themselves to working within the “bright lights,” often as consultants or syscops themselves. Yet, after Cerise’s company, Multiplane, is hacked by someone calling themselves Trouble, whose immature and sloppily destructive style shows him as an imposter, the crew finds themselves reunited in an effort to stop the one who has upset the net and usurped Trouble’s name.
There is no denying that, especially within the first half, the novel moves so very slowly due to the amount of detail provided. Yet, what kept me going was my desperate need to know what would transpire once Cerise and Trouble reunited against a common enemy. The strength of their connection remained palpable in spite of Trouble’s absence, yet the nuances of their relationship were revealed without any of the professions of love that typically send me running.
Both Trouble and Cerise are, after all, incredibly competent hackers. They’re simply not wired for overt sentimentality, well aware that allowing emotion to override intellect may well prove deadly. Not only does this make for a much more interesting story, but that coolness comes across as incredibly sexy, especially as worn by Trouble, herself.
Published in 1994, Trouble and Her Friends engages with the virtual world in a manner that reflects the time. It actually rendered me a bit nostalgic for the early days of the Internet – minus the pay-by-the-minute usage rates. However, given the way in which the complexity of the plot was executed, the badass and incredibly likable protagonists and the subtly philosophical undertones, Trouble and Her Friends remains far from obsolete. Rather, it just might be considered something of a cyberpunk classic.
With the turn of the new year, I decided it was high-time I broaden my literary horizons. After all, I came of age in the ‘80’s and attended a university that deemed literary fiction (often times penned by male authors of western European descent) to be the be-all-and-end-all of that worthy of one’s attention, much less scholarship and acclaim. Fortunately, over my decades of exploration since, I’ve encountered the diversity I sought as a student. However, up to this point, I had yet to venture into the realm of genre fiction and was admittedly more than a bit intimidated by Sci-Fi. Could I suspend my disbelief long enough to allow for the building of a future world? Would I be just as satisfied with a plot-driven work as one rooted within the characters’ internal landscape? Would there be anything of substance that I might take away?
After a bit of online research, I felt that my best introduction lay in Kelley Eskridge’s Solitaire. I was drawn to the idea of a lesbian protagonist (as always), and several reader reviews alluded to well-drawn characters. In addition, Solitaire has received numerous recognitions. The forthcoming film, OtherLife, is noted as being loosely based on the novel.
As it turns out, it was, indeed, the perfect place for my first foray.
Ren “Jackal” Segura was held from the time of her birth as the Hope of Ko, a designation assigned to the first child of her corporate nation-state born in the first second upon the establishment of a one world government. As a Hope, she was given the most special of treatment, from respect and opportunity to outright adoration. Indeed, Jackal was blessed with a charmed life, until her extremely competitive and jealous mother let it slip in a fit of rage, “They give you everything and you don’t deserve it, you’re no more a Hope than I am!” Thus, Jackal unwittingly found herself privy, mere weeks before her investiture, to the unfortunate truth that, though her birth was calculated, she did not arrive into the world until several minutes past midnight.
When news of the cover-up comes to light after an accident in which Jackal is involved, killing 437 people, including an Earth Congress senator, her webmates and dozens of children, Jackal is given the choice of securing her own defense or pleading guilty in order to save her family from punishment. Choosing to protect her family, she is sentenced to 40 years in prison and later given the opportunity to fulfill that sentence within a mere eight years (10 months in real-time) by participating in a virtual confinement program that condenses the experience of real-life solitary confinement into a fraction of the time.
To my relief, the narrative was accessible right from the start, and the world built by Eskridge made logistical sense, even to a novice such as myself. Most of the characters were as well-developed as I anticipated them to be, especially Scully, a “solo” himself, trying to navigate life post-virtual confinement in the best way he knows how. Unfortunately, the least convincing character proves to be Jackal’s partner, Snow, though I’m quite sure this is due to the somewhat improbable interactions between Jackal and her partner rather than anything within the presentation of Snow, herself.
For me, the most compelling points of the story resided within the detailed experiences endured during Jackal’s virtual confinement, penned akin to a diary, revealing a progression from resolve, grief, fear, near-madness and dissociation to self-destiny, as well as the early days of her integration back into society, though one with which she was utterly unfamiliar. Within these chapters, the reader is able to witness Jackal’s internal evolution and the coping strategies she implements in order to keep herself from breaking beyond repair.
More profoundly, Jackal’s journey toward healing and reintegration became my journey, giving me pause within each step of the process. As the reader, I was provided the opportunity to witness, objectively, the benefits and pitfalls of each strategy and reflect upon my own application of it.
The apparent acceptance of a corporatized governmental system left me at something of a loss, however. Although its manipulative omnipresence was haunting throughout, Jackal continues to seek its validation, often expressing her desire to once again belong to Ko. Perhaps the author’s intent was to encourage readers to find ways in which to utilize the system for the public good, but, jaded as I am, I simply couldn’t buy into such a tidy line of thought.
Nevertheless, after a healthy dose of reflection, I continue to take comfort in Jackal’s resilience, the subtly underground communities that support those of us on the fringe and the value of offering hope to those who need it most.
Split-City Waltz takes places in a futuristic London where society has become sharply divided, philosophically and physically. Above-ground in the shiny Metropolis live everyone embracing technology that tracks and reports everything about their lives. Below, in the old underground network, live the network of people rejecting constant, invasive monitoring.
Allyn Morgan lives topside, working as a PI after being fired from her position as security chief because of a mysterious event that left her with major cybernetic reconstructive surgery. Allyn is a plucky and smart heroine, though just foolish enough to do a favor for an ex who she already suspects is working her. She ends up in deep trouble, and the only one who can help is the hacker, Terminal, a resident of the underground. This isn’t a romance so much as a How We Met story, with Terminal remaining mysterious throughout. Though she earns Allyn’s trust through their adventure. The penny waiting to drop is whether or not they’ll ever see each other again after they resolve their mutual problem.
Split City Waltz has excellent world-building, crafting a believable cultural shift that split the city into two groups – those who are tracked and those who forcibly removed their trackers in an event seared into the collective memory. It’s is a fast-paced, tech-filled run of break-ins and general sneaking around.
The only problem is that it was 15,000 words long and I was expecting a novel. Shame on me, honestly, for not checking the word count, but this isn’t the first time I’ve been fooled by this shape of a story in this genre. Can we give it a name? The short prequel? A novellatroduction? It’s too big a world for a short story, because it’s meant to be introducing a larger universe, and in this case, a series. But it’s too small to be a stand-alone. You’re left wanting by design.
I was three-quarters of the way into it when I realized it was almost done! Credit to Ada Redmond for keeping me on the wild ride, but it brought me up short when I realized we weren’t getting anything more than the set-up for a romance.
Sequel-delayed gratification makes sense, since Allyn is still working through her issues with her ex. The majority of scenes were action, so there was little time for Terminal and Allyn to even be in a room together, nevermind flirt. Terminal does hack directly into Allyn’s ear, so that was badass and a great opportunity for uncomfortable intimacy, but Allyn’s mission to find out Who Burned Michael Weston who set her up kept us moving forward. All romance had to wait. For the next book.
Read Split City Waltz if you love cyber-enhancements, hackers, the brains and the muscle pairing set-ups (Definitely recommended for fans of Person of Interest’s Shaw/Root!), and world-building of a future society that seems pretty plausible. But beware that it’s fast and short, and you’ll have to be patient for the next installment of Allyn and Terminal’s story.
Colossus of Arms is a sci fi story that has just as much to do with marble sculptures and polyamory as it does with space travel. From the first chapter, it reads as a story about a space expedition–but the exotic locale the spaceship is hurtling towards is Earth. The crew mostly consists of the offspring of Earth emigrants. Post-global warming, the environment became hostile enough that most people who could leave, did. Now they’ve returned to gather biological samples to bring back home, and to visit the place where their species began.
Despite initial impressions, though, this is not the story of the spaceship’s crew. It’s Nix’s story: a sculptor rooted deeply enough in her art to have never left Earth. Nix is visited by these human/alien guests, who bring enough high quality marble to justify the inconvenience. More inconvenient than company, however, is the arrival of Torrance: the leader of the group, and Nix’s love of her life that she was separated from decades before.
I found the premise of this story really interesting: it mixes together the alien and the familiar, with Earth as an alien planet both to the visitors and to the reader. The climate has changed drastically, making it a very different world. The visitors are human, but they’re humans from a completely new culture and environment, bringing technology and attitudes that clash with Nix’s sensibilities. Despite the sci fi framework, though, this is primarily a love story. It’s the tension between Torrance and Nix that drives the story forward. How do you face seeing the love you left behind? Can you ever go back?
The other love story is with Nix and her artwork. It makes perfect sense that she works with stone. Her no bullshit attitude comes across as hard and abrasive, but like the painstakingly detailed sculptures she creates, there is tenderness underneath. I enjoyed Nix’s gruff attitude, and I especially appreciated having a 60+ year old woman as a protagonist.
Unfortunately, the centrality of Torrance and Nix’s relationship doesn’t leave much room for character development in the rest of the crew. In the beginning, I found it difficult to remember who was who, and even by the end, I didn’t feel like I had much of a sense of who Derthan and Gantu were (though Jansee did come into her own by the end of the story).
It’s always interesting to see how different cultures can influence each other, but one aspect of this that felt unnatural was the insistence on non-monogamy throughout the novel. The visitors live in a culture where monogamy is unheard of, and they’re horrified at the idea. This makes sense from their perspective, but Nix–who (theoretically) practices monogamy–seems to agree completely with them that it’s a terrible system that only hurts everyone involved, which made it seem more like A Message than a natural part of their interactions. This also leads to several scenes that are not entirely consensual–the crew regularly tries to pressure Nix into sex. And even after she establishes how her views on sexuality differ from theirs, Torrance still pushes more than felt comfortable for me as a reader, especially if I’m supposed to be invested in their romance.
The spaceship’s crew is made up of different races (supposedly for maximum genetic diversity, but considering that Africa has the most genetic diversity, I would have though that would make for a mostly black crew). Unfortunately, the descriptions of their races were uncomfortable, from the black character being described as having “espresso brown skin” (here’s why you shouldn’t describe skin colour using food) and “overly generous” lips, to Jansee being described as having “classic East Asian features”.
I did have a few other complaints about the writing. It’s heavy on the adjectives and similes, and when these sneak their way into dialogue, it feels unnatural. I just can’t image someone saying that when they look at their lover, they feel like they’re looking at “deep sapphire blue ocean water”. I was also looking forward to seeing how the central conflict of the novel would conclude satisfyingly–would Torrance and Nix find a way to stay together?–and was disappointed when a new conflict was introduced and wrapped up in the last chapter without addressing the main tension. (There’s also another detail I felt was left unresolved: why were there only single women living in the land surrounding Nix?) There were some plot developments that surprised me, but I would have liked to see an epilogue tying the loose threads together.
I was fascinated by the concepts that Colossus of Arms introduces, especially delving so deeply into the creation of artwork within a sci fi story, though I was hoping for a little more from the mechanics of the storytelling. It is always interesting to see authors explore different ways of writing within genre.
This has been a sponsored review. For more information, check out the Lesbrary’s review policy.
As soon as I heard about Ascension, I knew I was going to read it. Although I haven’t read a lot of sci fi, it’s a genre that I want to get into more, and adding a lesbian main character is the best way to draw me in. In fact, in theory this seemed like exactly the kind of book I want a lot more of. In addition to being a lesbian, the main character is also black and has a chronic illness. The other main characters of the book are also diverse (in ways that are mostly spoilers), and all wrapped up in a space adventure story. Plus, that cover is gorgeous. In fact, I was a little bit worried to start this book because I wanted so badly for it to deliver.
Luckily, my fears were unfounded. Alana is a compelling lead, and though her life–her passion for repairing spaceships, her frustration with having a chronic illness–is not anything I have experience firsthand, it was described so well that I felt immersed in her experience. The plot was interesting and kept me turning the pages (especially that ending), but it was the characters that made this stand out to me. The romance is well done, but it’s a subplot, not any more important that the relationship between Alana and her sister. All the supporting characters were fleshed out, and I loved the intricate relationships and rapport they have with each other that seems to exist outside of Alana’s role. In fact, she finds it unintelligible at first.
This was a lot of fun to read, but is also thoughtful. There were several times that I stopped to note quotations to come back to, despite the apparent simplicity: “Standing near Tev felt seductively dangerous, like waving my bare palm over a flame.” Or:
My heart thundered. I almost wanted her to not answer Birke, to never move. If she never spoke. . . if we just didn’t look at them, we wouldn’t disturb those possibilities. We wouldn’t shake one reality into existence, eliminating all others. We could just hold our breaths and live inside this moment, letting endless possibility eddy around us. All that potential would go on and on, and one day the glass leaves outside would fall, shattering around us like stars, but we would persist, frozen in time.
There were a few plot points I didn’t understand (Spoiler, highlight to read: why did they have to detonate the device inside the ship? Why not just throw it out the airlock? Why did Birke blow up Adula? The explanation didn’t make sense to me.), but other than that I had no complaints. (And that confusion is very likely my own oversight.) I am really hoping that Jacqueline Koyanagi continues this series, because I’m invested–in the characters, in the world, and in the plot. This works well as a standalone, but I want more.
Natural Selection is a novella connected to the Adaptation duology, and it provides a little bit of backstory for Amber Grey. Each chapter switches between two different social occasions in her life: one a school camping trip on Earth, the other a coming-of-age ceremony on Kurra. Together they explain how Amber chose her identity, and how she became the person we meet in Adaptation.
As you probably know by now, I loved Adaptation and Inheritance, so I was looking forward to getting a little bit more out of this world. I am glad I waited a while before picking this one up, though. This is a novella, so it’s only 50 pages. It’s a solid story, but it’s not a book three. Going in with that expectation of a little bonus material, I was definitely satisfied. We get a little more detail on Kurra as well as Imrian culture, and I liked seeing more of what it felt for Amber to be split between two planets, not sure where she belongs. The Amber that we see in the series is so confident and put-together, it’s nice to see that she wasn’t always that way. And what queer woman can’t relate to the difficulty of crushing on your straight best friend?
At first I wasn’t sure that I liked the constant switch back and forth between planets and time periods between chapters, but by the end it really pulled together and felt like the only way to tell this story. On reflection, it also makes sense as a representation of Amber’s reality of not being able to settle into one life on one planet. I read this after finishing the series, but seeing as its numbered Adaptation 1.5, it would probably work even better read between books. It’s only $0.84 on Amazon as an ebook, so it’s definitely worth the price tag! It would probably also work as a bit of a sample of the Adaptation universe if you’re not sure if you want to pick up the series. I definitely enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to more from Malinda Lo.