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Alex Brown

The End Is Nigh: Chuck Wendig’s The Raptor and the Wren

There’s something about Miriam Black. Maybe it’s her addictive, destructive personality. Maybe it’s her ability to see how you die or her magical power to control birds with her mind. Or maybe it’s just that she’s a total badass with an attitude as harsh as her haircut. Whatever that brutal bite of personality is, Miriam brings it in full force in The Raptor and the Wren, the fifth book in Chuck Wendig’s fiery, ferocious series.

[“And that’s when she knows how to finish it.”]

Pull List: Iceman, Mister Miracle, and Existential Crises

We’re kicking off a new year of Pull List with two series that couldn’t be more different. Both feature men who are haunted by their troubled families, and each is still trying to untangle the damage to his psyche from his unpleasant childhood. But that’s about where the similarities end. The divide between the characters is bigger than Marvel vs. DC. Where Iceman is charismatic and playful, Mister Miracle is deep and introspective. Bobby Drake is a charming do-gooder and walking dad joke factory while Scott Free is an angst-ridden warrior who may be losing his mind.

Perhaps the biggest difference is that one comic book is demonstrably better than the other.

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Coming Home: Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti Series

One evening, Binti Ekeopara Zuzu Dambu Kaipka of Namib runs away from home. She is a teenager and Himba, a people from southwestern Africa. They believe in staying close to their native land and that women should cover their bodies and hair in otjize, a mixture primarily comprised of “sweet smelling red clay.” Otjize in hand, Binti climbs aboard a living spaceship called the Third Fish as it heads off to Oozma University. Most of the passengers are Khoush, the dominant people in Binti’s country, and they look down on the Himba. But Binti is the first of her kind to be accepted into the prestigious uni and won’t let anything stand in her way. That is, until the Meduse, a jellyfish-like alien species engaged in a centuries-old war with the Khoush, attack the ship. Binti’s people didn’t start this war, but she may be the one to end it.

[“I was on the threshold now, between home and my future.”]

Pirates, Goddesses, and Killers in This Season’s New Young Adult Fiction

A new year means it’s time to squee about all the soon-to-be released young adult science fiction and fantasy books for Spring 2018! I’ve been waiting for quite a few of these for months already, and they’re so close to being released that I have already cordoned off a section of my apartment for a brand new stack in my already-towering To Read Pile. Get your library cards ready, friendos.

Something not on my list but high on yours? Share with the class down in the comments.

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“Real” Is a Four-Letter Word: Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children Series

Every now and again you read a book or a series that hooks you from word one and never lets go. It burrows deep into your brain and you find your mind wandering back to it at random moments. That’s what Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series is for me. It’s been a few months since I finished her darkly beautiful series in two days and I still can’t stop thinking about it. If you run in bookish circles, you’ve probably heard how great Wayward Children is, but trust me, it’s even better than that.

[“She was a story, not an epilogue.”]

The Top Spec-Fic Comics of 2017

It’s that time of year when everyone writes up lists of the best of the best and the worst of the worst. And Pull List is no exception. We’ve had a pretty great year for new comics, especially in the indie realm. DC’s Rebirth is still chugging along while Marvel continues to shoot itself in the foot then blame everyone else but themselves. As always, there’s lots of meh stuff cluttering up the market, but finding good quality series is pretty easy as of late.

Don’t think of this roundup as a “best of” but rather a list of “really cool titles you should be reading.” The only eligibility requirement was that it had to be released for the first time in 2017, including the release of the first issue, first time being published in print, or first time being published in English. No trades of series that premiered in previous years (which is why there’s hardly any Rebirth), and I’m not counting events either (hence no Legacy or Civil War II titles).

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The Top Young Adult SFF of 2017

Another year, another huge pile of books stacked up around my bookcases (I ran out of shelving room years ago). This has been a pretty stellar year for young adult fiction, particularly in the realms of science fiction and fantasy. So great, in fact, that it took me three days to whittle this down to the ones you see here. My first pass had nearly three dozen entries! As hard as I tried, I simply couldn’t get it down to my top ten, so instead here’s a list of fantastic YA SFF released this year broken down into various categories.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to pillage my local library to make my To Read stack even taller.

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Once Upon a December: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

Katherine Arden’s The Girl in the Tower picks up right where The Bear and the Nightingale left off, with Vasya Petrovna on the run with her magic stallion Solovey. Disguised as boy—respectable girls cannot travel safely alone in 14th century Russia—she is determined to see the sea and explore the world. Along the way she collides with a gang of well-equipped bandits burning villages to the ground and kidnapping young girls.

At the same time, Vasya’s brother Aleksander, now a highly respected monk in Moscow, and Grand Prince Dmitrii set off to investigate the raids at the behest of a strange new boyar calling himself Kasyan. The men’s path soon intertwines with Vasya’s, making her gender-bending ruse all the more risky.

Further complicating matters is her growing bond with Morozko the frost demon. Neither of them quite know where their relationship is headed, but whatever the destination, the journey there is sure to be fraught.

[“…I am not afraid.”]

Black Excellence: Honoring Kwanzaa through Science Fiction and Fantasy

It may be the holiday season, but for many people that goes beyond just Christmas or Hannukah. In my case, it means honoring my ancestors and culture through Kwanzaa. I’ve celebrated Kwanzaa alongside Christmas for nearly two decades now. While I no longer go through the whole ritual of lighting the mishumaa saba (seven candles) in the kinara (candleholder) or setting out the mazao (crops) and kikombe cha umoja (unity cup) on the mkeka (mat), I still try to honor the Nguzo Saba (Seven Principles) on which Kwanzaa was founded. One of the ways I do that is by spending the week of Kwanzaa focusing on work created by African Americans, from television to movies to comics to books to businesses and beyond.

Traditionally, zawadi (Kwanzaa gifts) are given only to kids and always include a book and a heritage symbol. Now, most of you aren’t children, but this year I decided to give you lovely readers zawadi anyway. Here is a little list of science fiction and fantasy books whose themes play on one of the seven principles. Each was written by Black author, features a Black main character (and often a predominately Black cast), and spans the African diaspora. The definitions of each principle are quoted directly from the Official Kwanzaa Website.

And if you have a book or comic to add, please do so in the comments! After all, Kwanzaa is all about community.

[“Kwanzaa yenu iwe na heri!”]

Pull List: The Witch Boy, M.F.K., and the Magic of Middle Grade Fantasy

It’s not often I dedicate an edition of Pull List to graphic novels or middle grade SFF, but lucky you I get to do both this month. Molly Ostertag’s The Witch Boy is a delightful, charming story of a kid accepting himself for who he really is, while Nilah Magruder’s M.F.K. is a quirky adventure tale of two kids exploring a dangerous world. While these graphic novels are perfect for tweens, there’s a lot for adults to love in them as well. And we all need a little joy in our lives, don’t you think?

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All the Known Portal Worlds in Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children Series

In Every Heart a Doorway, the first novella in the stellar Wayward Children series, author Seanan McGuire explores what happens when children who disappeared into magical worlds returned to the real world. Her portal worlds are connected to our own through magic doors. Not just any child can cross the threshold; something innate in their being or in the other world draws them in.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a prequel showing how Jacqueline and Jillian became Jack and Jill during their time in one of those other worlds. The consequences of leaving your home world for the real one come to roost in the forthcoming third novella, Beneath the Sugar Sky. Although the Wayward Children series is only three novellas (so far), McGuire has built a vast multiverse, one I tried to organize here.

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Shoot First, Ask Questions Later: Lila Bowen’s Shadow Series

If ever there was a fictional character in need of a vacation getaway, it’s Rhett Walker from Lila Bowen’s Shadow series. The poor boy is knee deep in his destiny of killing what needs killing and saving what needs saving, but instead of circumstances improving they only just keep getting worse. The joys of pregnancy, blossoming romances, and honest heart-to-hearts are soured by heartbreak, loss, and terrible deaths. Good thing, then, that Bowen is so talented that she can turn tragedy and turmoil into a damn good tale.

[“It would appear I rarely choose what’s easy, Rhett.”]

Where to Start with the Haunting Work of Joe Hill

Joe Hill is the kind of author whose works burrow under your skin. Months after finishing one of his books, certain scenes will pop up in your memories at unexpected moments. Characters will haunt you, their travails or deaths stalking you during work meetings, Twitter scrolling, even through other books. Hill writes horror fiction with a style as eviscerating as it is visceral. His works critique and peel apart our sociocultural ideals by pushing his characters to the extreme, and he does it all with geeky Easter eggs and literary eloquence.

There was a time not long ago when I could bring up author Joe Hill and no one would have any idea who I was talking about. Nowadays nearly every reader I encounter has heard of him, but many haven’t yet read any of his works. The son of authors Stephen and Tabitha King, Hill has written numerous novels, short stories, and comics, as well scripts for two TV shows (even though neither made it to air). His back catalogue, while a boon to long-time fans like myself, can be overwhelming for a newbie unsure of which to read first. Some are intimidated by his larger tomes while others by the horror tag. But I maintain there’s at least one Joe Hill story for everyone. It’s just a matter of digging around until we find it. Let’s see if I can’t do something about that…

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“There Is Juju in This Book”: Exploring Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch series

Hey you! Yeah, you. C’mere and take a seat. I’m about to tell you about a fantastic middle grade/young adult series by the amazing Nnedi Okorafor. The Akata Witch series is an electrifying tale about an inspiring African girl. It’s gorgeously written and filled with magic, excitement, and even a little romance. It beats the Chosen One trope at its own game with the help of West African deities and socio-cultural traditions. I know I always say “you need to read this,” but you really need to read this.

[“My name is Sunny Nwazue and I confuse people.”]