The Awkward Black Man – by Walter Mosley (Review)

Omnibus

Short Stories, Fiction, Scifi

Grove Press; September 15, 2020

336 pages (ebook)

3.0 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Grove Press and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

I know it’s not usually my cup of tea, but I read general fiction on occasion. But there’s a reason I mostly stay for science fiction and fantasy. Parts of my younger life were an awkward mess, or ruined by bullies, or anxiety, or MORE anxiety, or whatnot. So while I enjoyed this collection, it reminded me too much of a time where I always sought an escape.

The Awkward Black Man collects the stories of Walter Mosley, an author who’s been telling stories of inner city African American men since before I was born. While I’ve read some of his science fiction, it’s his mysteries that have always drawn my attention. My dad introduced me to Mosley’s books about a decade ago, when he started me on the Easy Rawlins series. While i was never the fan that my father was, I enjoyed some few of Mosley’s books because of the culture that they referenced were so dissimilar to my own.

Most of the narrators are black men (unsurprisingly), and most of them are also awkward. You can glean as much from the title. While Walter Mosley doesn’t shy away from talking about the disparity of racism, neither does he neglect that the bigotry cuts both ways. But while the Awkward Black Man isn’t about race, but it’s also not not about race. Prejudice colors the undercurrents of many of the tales. While sometimes it’s overt, other times it’s casual. It was always depressing.

Mostly these are just stories about life. Not how to live, nor how not to live. Mostly just how to be human. The characters within are entirely human (save the science fiction), which is probably the best thing I can say about the book itself. It paints a realistic picture of life—one that could be anyone’s life, and might as well be.

Several of these stories were just depressing, though. Some even seemed pointless. Rufus and Frank both appeared multiple times, enough that I learned that I didn’t want their lives, even though they proved to be equal parts entertaining, exciting, depressing and super, super awkward. Another thing to note is that I’ve never been a fan of the author’s science fiction—mostly it seems too far out there, too unrealistic, even silly—and the few scifi reads within didn’t disprove this.

My favorite stories were: Almost Alyce, where a man’s life spirals out from under him, but he does his best to claw it back, while staying true to himself. Between Storms, when a disaster strikes, a man’s life takes an unexpected turn, but when it is pulled from the ashes, he must decide whether or not to own up to the fear that led him to the brink. Local Hero, about a boy who always idolized his cousin, and what happened when that idol was laid low. Reply to a Dead Man, which reminded me of several different movies, and yet fit none of them precisely.

TL;DR

The Awkward Black Man paints a realistic picture of life—be it through the eyes of an old, black man, dying in his bed; a young, white woman who is shallow but not awful; a young, black man that has the life he’s always wanted, even if it isn’t his own; and many more. There exists racism within, yes, but it’s a double-edged sword, one that proves horrid no matter which end you’re on. Walter Mosley has never shied away from the awkwardness of race—and why would he start now? But while some of these stories center around racism, few of them are defined by it. Some are depressing for the racism within. A lot are just depressing. Others are ridiculous. Some are even pointless. But most are at least humanizing. At the end of the day, these are stories about people being people. A decent read—even if several of them are really depressing.

Tales of Beedle the Bard – by J.K. Rowling (Review)

Hogwarts Library #3

Short Stories, Fantasy

Bloomsbury; December 4, 2008 (original)

Pottermore Publishing; March 31, 2020 (audio)

109 pages (HC) 1 hr 35 min (audio)

3 / 5 ✪

A quick little reminder about how cool Harry Potter was. And probably a subtle hint to buy more merchandise and hey maybe your friends would like some too, and hey you know that one family member who hasn’t read the series, you could gift them it now, yeah?

Remember Harry Potter? Dude, yay-high, lightning scar, glasses, wizard. No, no, not “wizzard”. That’s the other one. This is the Daniel Radcliffe one. He was also in that other thing that you probably saw but then regretted it as it wasn’t Harry Potter.

If you don’t remember Harry Potter, I think the first book is still free a bunch of places. If you’re interested, google it. But for the people that remember the Wizarding World, Tales of Beedle the Bard is a quick reminder of how much fun that world could be. Especially at times such as these—where some of us are stuck in, others are stuck out, and the rest are in the fantastic land of in-between—fun is badly needed. Enclosed within the hundred-odd pages there are four new tales from the world of Harry Potter and one tale most of us have probably heard before.

The Wizard and the Hopping Pot begins the Tales, a brief reminder of how those that hoard their magic will never find peace from it. The Fountain of Fair Fortune was my favorite of the tales, and teaches the lesson that if you think your life is bad, well, someone else probably has it worse. The Warlock’s Hairy Heart pushes the point that you can’t hide from your feelings without the consequences being impossible to live with. Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump shows that anything can be lovely, but some things you can’t afford “to fake it til you make it”, and consequences be damned. And the Tale of the Three Brothers—which was featured in the books—returns to stamp home the point that you can’t hide from Death, because… no, wait. Never mind—the last one has no moral.

TL;DR

So, five stories, four of them new, and four with morals. I swear that the Tales were used as some kind of history read in Harry Potter, so these folk tales with morals attached make little sense here. I guess it’s just a little lore that will remind you how fun and cool Harry Potter was and how much you should go back and read them now. For diehard fans (which I am not—I like the world and the story enough, but y’know, I like other stories too) (it’s not a Stormlight level of good, anyway), I guess it’d be a must-read. If you’ve Audible, it’s free, so the read was worth it. But otherwise… meh. Pretty light, nothing too deep. It’s mildly fun and interesting, though nothing special.

Audio Note: The narration was the strongest part. A star-studded cast feature, each reading a separate tale. Considering this was free, it’s incredibly well narrated.

Emergency Skin – by N.K. Jemisin (Review)

Forward Collection #3

Scifi, Dystopian

Brilliance Audio; September 17, 2019

33 pages (ebook) 1hr 4m (audiobook)

4 / 5 ✪

Imagine, if you will, an Earth that has died. It had advanced so rashly, so perilously, without taking into account the weakness of some members of its society and how surely they would lead to its eventual destruction. Now this destruction has come to pass. Your ancestors, by some stroke of luck, have survived, ferried away by the last vestiges of humanity to scrape out a living aboard a distant colony-ship with the remnants of your species.

Now imagine your upbringing. You are raised on stories of how the Earth was lost. Whom and what led to its downfall, how it could have been prevented, and how your ancestors had been saved. For years, you were bred for success, strengthened with facts and knowledge, and honed to endure your survival on your eventual mission back home.

Home—to the Earth that was lost. There are some few, primitive peoples still there, backwards and wallowing in their filth, mating with swine and goats while killing and eating one another just to survive. Now you are on a journey back to the homeworld—to retrieve a necessary mechanism essential to the survival of your colony, your people.

Oh, and there are a couple other things your leaders neglected to tell you. Hardly matter, not important. But, they were nice enough to gift you with a cutting-edge implant to monitor your mission and provide any additional details you may require. It has a lovely, sophisticated accent, borne from sophisticated minds. They just neglected to mention how racist, sexist and otherwise terrible it is. And, for that matter, how different the Earth is from the way you’ve pictured it all this time. But those are minor details, footnotes to your quest, which should command your full attention. For your life—no—the survival of your very species, is in your hands.

Behold the master of the second-person narrative point-of-view returns! Yes, we’ll need to work on the title. It IS a bit cumbersome. N.K. Jemisin is back will a short story that will change the way you look at… well, nothing really. It IS quite good though, if just a short diversion from life.

It’s a good short story, but little more. I listened to the audio version, which was about an hour long. There really wasn’t anything world-shattering about it, nothing that changed my perception of reality or shook my worldview. Yes, there was some racism, some sexism, some otherwise blatant bigotry—but it’s not like any of those things are particularly NEW.

It’s a good story; entertaining, immersive. It’s just so short—even though it could’ve been shorter. There’s not much to complain about, but there’s not much to praise either. Jemisin’s writing speaks for itself. She can definitely spin a yarn, that’s for sure. I had a slight issue with just how fast the brainwashing of a lifetime unraveled—it really should’ve taken more time, and I feel like the author purposefully limited the story to keep the length short.

It’s a shame, in a way, but nothing to dwell on. Seeing as how it was free and how it was about an hour read—let’s not overthink things. Read it, if you have Amazon Prime. Read it, if you’re bored, or really like N.K. Jemisin. Read it, if you enjoyed the other Forward stories. Read it for any other reason, but don’t expect to be awed. While the tale isn’t golden, it ain’t bad either.

Randomize – by Andy Weir (Review)

Forward Collection #6

Short Story, Scifi

Amazon Original; September 17, 2019

28 pages (ebook); 48 min (audio)

2 / 5 ✪

Niki Hawkes just did this too over on her site, and her review’s about the same—if a little less positive. She influenced me to read this, though you really wouldn’t expect it from what she said about it.

A short heist thriller, from The Martian author Andy Weir, aims to deliver both suspense and drama for an morning commute or afternoon tea. Sadly, this story falls well short of anything thrilling—instead managing only to fill that afternoon with mild disappointment. And tea.

Nick Chen has an problem. IT Manager for the Babylon Casino in Vegas, his job is safe as long as his boss’s money is. So far, the random number generator running the casino’s keno system has done what it does best: randomly generate numbers. But with the release of quantum computers, that’s no longer the case. Now the numbers can be tracked and predicted, so long as the someone has the money, equipment and expertise to do so. It may seem like long odds, but Nick prefers no odds to long ones. Fortunately, Nick has a solution. And all it’ll take is approval from his boss, Edwin Rutledge. That, and a ton of money.

Sumi Singh has a problem. A genius of epic proportions, she married down—but fell in love. Despite her faith in her husband Prashant’s business, they’re a bit empty on funds, a bit lacking in space, and a bit out of time. They need money—and they need it now. Luckily, Sumi has a plan. And all it’ll take is a quantum computer, a prescribed set of numbers, and a certain casino. And she can already smell the success.

So, a short story, built upon a heist like Ocean’s 11. Too bad it’s so short.

Randomize tells a complete story in a small package. Only 28 pages, or 48 minutes in audio form. It wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t very interesting. After an incredibly quick setup, Weir skips right to the suspense. Except there really isn’t any. It’s a thriller that didn’t thrill. It’s fairly tepid, really. With the quick build, there wasn’t a sense of conflict, nor a chance to bond with or care about any of the characters. Now the characters seemed legitimately interesting. But then everything’s wrapped up and the story ends. I find it difficult to care about anything that takes half the time trying to explain the technology that makes the story coherent only to later wrap everything up in half a damn page.

TL;DR

Imagine a 10 minute version of Ocean’s 11. How would one inject such a thing with all the action, all the suspense, all the drama into a piece so short? Well, as it turns out, one wouldn’t. Randomize is a thriller that doesn’t thrill. A way to spend your commute or your afternoon if you don’t care about substance, excitement or plot. It’s not the worst thing that you could read, but even if you think it might be—then it’s over. If you got it free (like I did), and you’ve some time to kill: knock yourself out. Otherwise, skip it.

So, just a quick one today. Tomorrow there’ll be a longer, better review of an upcoming ARC, due out Tuesday. Maybe come back and check it out! Also, has anyone read any of the other Forward Collection? Are they worth reading? I’ve done a pair now, and my opinion of them is pretty split. If you missed the review of Summer Frost—find it here!