Monthly Archives: April 2020

Review: Black Nerd, Blue Box by T. Aaron Cisco

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Give yourself time to read when you pick up this book, because once you start, you won’t be able to stop reading T. Aaron Cisco‘s memoir, Black Nerd Blue Box: The Wibbly Wobbly Memoirs of a Lonely Whovian.

You don’t need to be a Doctor Who fan, or Black, or even a Nerd. If you love words, and the idea of extended bursts of witty, angry, insightful “one-sided dialogues” makes you just the slightest bit curious, you need to pick this up. If you happen to have all three characteristics, then you’ve finally got the chance to hang out with someone who … wait … is not exactly like you, because … what the heck were you thinking? Because you have three things in common, you’ll be the same? I bet you think you’re from Chicago, too. (Teaser: inside joke for readers of this book.)

I should also state clearly that, though it’s a memoir, and we all “know” it’s grown-ups who read memoir, this book could be an inspiring discovery for any young reader at YA-level or above who identifies with any of the above characteristics. Or for one who likes music their friends think is stupid. Or for one who self-identifies as anything out of the so-called mainstream.

Black Nerd Blue Box transports you into the mind of a fellow traveler in this universe and reveals just enough of that person’s experiences and inner life to allow you to connect with what resonates with your own. With that connection established, Cisco takes you on a journey, skipping through moments like the Doctor skipping across times and worlds. It’s not always a jolly adventure. There’s heartache as well as humor. Doctor Who asides will be enjoyed by fellow Whovians, but non-fans can catch up with the series later and not miss a beat in this life story.

Unless you happen to be an alternate-universe version of the author with only one or two minor differences from this time-line’s one, you will undoubtedly stumble across moments that teach you something about yourself, maybe a hard lesson, maybe one you need to go back and reread a couple of times, run a highlighter across until you really get it.

The chapter where he writes about his mother’s battle with cancer is wrenching in ways you won’t expect. Cisco was only a child at the time–but he has a stunning ability to convey the way that experience impacted his younger self. If you only have time to read ONE chapter, read this one, because it will change the way you think about talking to children about illness, about living with the prospect of dying, and about the nature of optimism.

I’m not saying Black Nerd Blue Box is a tear-blaster. It’s a humanity-sharing-lesson-learning experiment in self-revelation. About a third of the content is a hilarious inside-his-head discussion/ argument/ philosophy discourse. I laughed out loud twice while reading this on my phone–because I did not want to take the time to go back and boot up my computer after I’d read the first two pages on my phone–and I do NOT laugh out loud while looking at my phone. It’s embarrassing when people look around to see who’s the nerd laughing at their phone.

If you’re still hesitating, you know, you could do a trial of Amazon kindle unlimited and collect a copy-to-keep later. Make a note to remind your future self. Timey-wimey stuff isn’t just for nerds and aliens.

Cisco has fiction for you to read, too. Look for Teleportality, Dragon Variation, and The Preternaturalist. Amazon has all three, Barnes and Noble (my preferred shop) has only the first two at present. I can’t claim to have read them, but I skimmed the online sample of The Preternaturalist (love that title!), and the voice of the first-person narrator is lively and entertaining…much like Cisco’s own voice in this memoir.

You can find out more on his website, Black Intellectual. Lest you doubt his nerd credentials, you can find him writing for TwinCities Geek, such as his breakdown of Star Trek: Short Treks. Or if you’re in the Minneapolis area, you might meet him at the local Trek/Who trivia night.

Two Poems by Anwegwe

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Sunset #734

the fire dies down, and the colors rise up
rivers flow amber, gold, and blood-rose
cascading one upon the other
wave upon wave around the sky
pushing back the eastern dark
holding the light for one last hour
giving us time, time to remember
all of the days we have had together
the glorious days beneath the sun

The main character in my recent book, All That Was Asked, is a poet. It’s a first-person narrative, and he keeps mentioning how people reacted to a poem, or how much he enjoyed writing a poem, or that he likes to watch sunsets because they inspire poetry. But . . . there aren’t any poems in the book itself. It seemed to me I couldn’t quite measure up to the standard implied in the text . . . one gets the impression, although Ansegwe is self-effacing about it, that he’s actually rather good.

Still . . . it’s nagged at me, that I didn’t have any poems by Varayla Ansegwe. After spending hours and days and weeks and months with him, I’m sort of a fan, if you will. If I were a real fan, I’d have his work, wouldn’t I?

So I gave it a try. It’s interesting, to try to write personal-style poetry from someone else’s perspective. The one above results from all those mentions of poetry related to watching sunsets. Imagine our hero trotting down the hill after enjoying a really nice day’s-ending light show, muttering to himself, wriggling his fingers, anxious to scribble down this latest idea. We can leave it to your imagination how he improved this “draft”.

For a second poem, I tried to combine two things from his background. First, it seems Ansegwe had a fairly decent collegiate-level ranking in, well, whatever ball game is popular in Korlo. I envision it as sort of like baseball, maybe like an upsized version of kickball, with a larger, rugby-sized ball. Lots of running, jumping, catching, throwing–very energetic. Second, it’s evident that he was quite the one for romantic entanglements.

If I can gather enough of these, I’ll put together a little “collection” that I can share at events and such. Oh, and as a reminder . . . consider these as translated from Korlovian.

(Photos are mine. All from our own universe, alas.)

Intercept

In this moment,
there is only the ball, gliding on its parabolic arc.
It requires all of your mind to calculate the leap
the extension of your arm, the stretch of your fingers
the breath you draw at its approach
the strength you need to hurl it to your comrades.
 
For this moment, you do not know that she is gone.
For this moment, your heart is no more than a muscle.
Whether the ball glides into your hand
whether it skims your fingertips and caroms off under the lights
either way, you will crash to earth again
the world's gravity will bear you down
the moment will end
and you will know.
 
But in this moment, you leap
and time stretches to meet you.

Review: Memory and Metaphor, by Andrea Monticue

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Sharon Manders is having a very bad day. She’s been drop-kicked into the distant future–a thousand years out of time–and has no memory whatsoever of making any plans to go anywhen. She’s an archaeologist with a thriving career in good old 21-century Earth. And here she is in the 31st century, where everyone’s calling her by some other name that she doesn’t recognize. And she’s accused of treason, sabotage, terrorist acts. She has a lot on her plate, and she’s going to have to move fast while trying to figure out just what happened.

And you’ll be reading along, trying to figure that out, too. When she finally solves the last layer of that puzzle, you’ll lean back and say, “Oh, yeah, why on Earth didn’t I think of that?” But you won’t have thought of it. Andrea Monticue leads you quite a merry chase. I really can’t roll in too much detail without spoiling the whole thing for you.

Let’s just say a woman from our time finds herself plunged into a high-tech future with AI, biological engineering, and dangerous politics. Just when you think you have everything figured out, Monticue rotates the horizon by 37 degrees and you’re floating in space again, looking for answers. The book has to end (which you will not want it to do) and she ties all those twists and tangles together in one stunner of a unique conceptual shift.

Engaging characters, complex political situations that nonetheless remind you of the mistakes humans make right here on Earth in the “distant past”, and a plot that moves ever faster–all that will keep you glued to the page/e-reader.

At the very least, if all you take from this story is the tech (and there’s way more to it than tech), you will not think about artificial intelligence the same way, not ever again.

I got my copy directly from the publisher, at last year’s Bay Area Science Fiction Convention (BayCon), and was lucky to meet the author, who has the experience and technical background to make this story come alive.

So . . . my copy is autographed. You can get a signed first edition, too, direct from the publisher, at Paper Angel Press. Or you can choose your favorite digital medium or snag the trade paperback from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Full disclosure: at this point, I’ve also had a book published by Paper Angel Press. I was impressed by Monticue’s book and her publisher, enough so that I submitted my own book, hoping to follow in her footsteps. Rest assured there are way, way more explosions (literal and metaphorical) in Memory and Metaphor!

If you read it, review it

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In olden times, when you read a book that you liked, you would tell your friends. You might lend them your copy . . . then chew your fingernails anxiously until it came back safe. (Shall I digress to that time I found my best friend had thrown away my copy of Fellowship of the Ring . . . ? “But I thought you were done with it,” she said. Nothing like rummaging through a bag of garbage to retrieve your favorite book.) And then your friend would tell their friends, and so on.

Mysterious Box
Image credit: Diamondmagna
(CC BY-SA 3.0)

To perform this essential function in the publishing industry, we often employed these boxlike objects that sat on a desk or hung from the wall. Each one had a wire going from the back that plugged into a special kind of outlet, a useless-seeming outlet that you couldn’t plug a toaster into. And on top, there was a thing sort of like a front-door handle, though smaller.

When you picked it up, you’d hear a humming noise coming from one end of the handle-thing. Then, if you carefully pushed a certain sequence of buttons on top of the box–or even more interestingly, spun a dial on top of the box in a particular pattern–the humming noise would be replaced by your friend’s voice. And they could hear you, too! Then you would say something like, “I just read this book. You absolutely have to read this book. Make your mom take you to the bookstore tomorrow and get it. And there’s a whole series, too, I’ve got to go with you, so I can get the next book in the series!”

I have heard that there were other uses for this device, but they do not matter.

Now, big-city people may have decided what books to read based on some review in a newspaper or in a fancy magazine, but real fans relied on direct recommendations from friends.

The same is true today, but–like many of us–I’m guilty of not holding up my end of the stick. We’re all buying our books with the assistance of the internet–even if we’re relying on our local indie bookseller for product, we’re finding our reading online. And we need to be telling all our friends–and nowadays, that is apparently everyone else on the internet–what we liked and why.

So, I’m adding a section to this website dedicated to reviews. I’m being a better reader and adding reviews to my purchases at online sellers. Contact me if you think there’s a book out there I should review (not that I’m aiming to become a book reviewer, mind, but I do want to find books I’ll enjoy reading). And, by the way, when you buy a book from B&N or Amazon or Smashwords or wherever, if you liked the book, take a few seconds before you buy your next book and tell everyone. You don’t have to write an essay– this isn’t homework, it’s socializing. Just tap out a couple of sentences to let people know what was good about it. “hey, fellow readers, try this book, I liked this one thing especially –“

Or you could just pick up the phone and call.

© 2012-2020 Vanessa MacLaren-Wray All Rights Reserved