THE VALLEY OF HAPPINESS AND OTHER STORIES, by George Williams

24382826The Valley of Happiness and Other Stories
By George Williams
Raw Dog Screaming Press – 27th February 2015
ISBN 9781935738671  – 158 Pages – Paperback
Source: Raw Dog Screaming Press


CONTENTS:
“Striper” (Originally published in Journal of Curriculum Theorizing)
“Ghostly”
“Dummy”
“Televangelist at the Texas Motel” (Originally published in Gulf Coast)
“Slave for a Day”
“Deadly”
“Ginny Shay”
“Moon”
“The Valley of Happiness” (Originally published in Boulevard)
“Goat”
“The Bay of Drake” (Originally published in Reed)
“Buy Now, Pay Nothing”
“Beestings”
“Wabash” (Originally published in Boulevard)

The back cover of this new collection from Williams (Gardens of Earthly Delight) has a blurb of praise from Library Journal saying that he “…shows a darkly comic sensibility more akin to that of the filmmaking Coen brothers…than to more obvious literary influences…” and I agree that this describes his work excellently.
Each of the stories in The Valley of Happiness and Other Stories take a setup or core plot that seems very familiar, classical even in the American landscape of storytelling, but then gives it a tweak into some direction surreal, absurd, or just plain weird.  Dialogue spoken with ‘straight man’ seriousness sounds slightly comic, unfamiliar in the surrounding situation.
For instance, the opening story “Striper” begins as a quiet tale of friends fishing, and a sudden tremendous haul of a gigantic fish that seemingly shatters all known records. The folky nature of the story is drawn into the realms of the fantastic, the unusual by the size of the fish, and phone calls from scientific institutions wanting to examine and preserve it. But Williams will take things some steps further, the fish speaking, and the fisherman who caught him struck with novel feelings and needs leading to his physical transformation and refuge in the waves.
 “Dummy” deals with a ventriloquist and his dummy who go on a rampage of crime and destruction. The creepiness of the ventriloquist dummy (or dolls in general) have appeared in thrillers and horrors on small screen, large screen, and in print for long enough that it is a common trope. But Williams looks at things again slightly off kilter, in the minimalism of his text not stating outright who these people are, what the dummy is, but linking it into the psychology of the man.
The minimalism of Williams writing is one of the things that I loved most about his stories in his last collection. In this he continues that mastery of staccato dialogue and bare-bones evocative description. Yet, it is also apparent from a couple of the stories that he can do flowery just as well, particularly with “The Bay of Drake”.
 With this story Williams seems to have skewing both the story AND his characters into comic absurdity. Narrated by a member of explorer Francis Drakes’ crew, the story is written in a more antiquated and verbose style than all the others. We soon find that the crew has come ashore to California of modern day, with an invitation to a party for ‘play boys’ hosted by one ‘Huey Heifer’. The juxtaposition of the older with the modern, the uncertainty of whether Drake’s men have been lost in time or if they are just method actors REALLY devoted to their role, the calash of modern culture through the eyes of a more repressed age… they all play here to highlight the best of Williams even absent the minimalism.
Other stories here range from social commentary (“Slave for a Day”) to violently disturbing (“Ginny Shay”) to bizarrely empowering (“Beestings”), while others court closely to the literary focus on relationships (“The Valley of Happiness”) or a Bonnie-and-Clyde-esque genre crime story (“Wabash”). At approximately a quarter length shorter than his previous collection Gardens of Earthly Delight, I actually enjoyed this one more, just the right amount of this style for me without it losing its potency.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this from Raw Dog Screaming Press in exchange for an honest review.

ETTA AND OTTO AND RUSSELL AND JAMES, by Emma Hooper

21412221Etta and Otto and Russell and James
By Emma Hooper
Simon & Schuster – 20th January 2015
ISBN 9781476755670 – 320 Pages – Hardcover
Source: NetGalley


 At 82 years old Etta gets up one morning, packs some supplies, and heads out on a walking trek to fulfill her unfulfilled dream of seeing the sea, thousands of kilometers away from the Saskatchewan home she shares with her husband Otto. As Etta makes her gradual journey step by step, Otto remains at home reminiscing over the past that he has shared with Etta and their neighbor and long-time friend Russell.
Starting off toward her goal solitary, with no fanfare, Etta begins meeting people who have heard of her walk and lend her some support and companionship as she passes through towns. In the empty Canadian wilderness between she becomes joined by James, a talking coyote. Meanwhile the reader discovers through the reflections of Otto’s and Russell’s past that love and passion exists both between Etta and Otto, and between her and Russell. Amid the tides of war and the expectations of society Etta, Otto, and Russell experience difficulties and tenderness alike.
There is a lot to appreciate in this gentle literary novel. The elderly are not frequently featured or explored in novels in any serious way, and in film/TV they are mostly used for jokes. Having protagonists who are elderly – and one who is female and actively doing something amazing that even the young would be hesitant to attempt – is refreshing. The three human characters of the novel, both at their present old age and in the recollections of their younger years are well fleshed out, and really interesting, beautiful.
Etta and Otto and Russell and James is also marked by a distinct lack of conflict. Despite the love triangle featured here, there is nothing disastrous that comes about. The hardships, the longing and the guilt over having given into some of these are viewed in the novel through the long stretch of decades that have passed. In their old age the characters have become much more wise, patient, and forgiving to themselves. Having characters that are largely at peace, non-resentful, and appreciative of the life they have gotten to live even with its notes of sourness makes the novel feel similar, slow and optimistically contemplative despite that sadness over missed opportunities, unfulfilled desires.
It is Etta’s journey in the present – an attempt to satiate one desire that still remains possible – that creates some of the largest tension, in the worry of whether she will be able to make such an arduous journey without her health failing, physically or mentally. The appearance of James, a talking coyote companion injects the ‘magical realism’ into the novel. If merely a construct of Etta’s mind, is it something beneficial akin to a spirit guide, or a sign of danger? The line between real and fantasy blurs more as the novel reaches its conclusion, leaving an ending that can be interpreted in unique ways depending on the reader.
For readers who don’t mind the oddity and openness this novel contains or a lack of action, Etta and Otto and Russell and James is a meditative, emotionally complex novel that invites reflection and discussion. Even accepting the type of novel this is, I’m most uncertain how vital James is as a character, but rereading it with everything in mind with the coyote as an aspect of Etta’s mind may reveal more here than a first read was able to pick out. A good length for a book club, the novel would certainly be an ideal consideration for one.

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced reading copy of this from Simon & Schuster via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

THE GREEN KANGAROOS, by Jessica McHugh


22043543The Green Kangaroos

By Jessica McHugh
Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing – August 2014
ISBN 9780986059469  – 184 Pages – Paperback


With a plot tapped into addiction and attempts at recovery, The Green Kangaroos is an intense, inventive look into selfishness at its most extreme, most ugly. Like A Clockwork Orange it is less about the horror of the deviant and more about the horrors perpetrated by those trying to correct the deviancy. The year is 2099 and Perry Samson is unapologetically addicted to atlys, a powerful drug that is most potently euphoric with injection straight into the sexual organs, in Perry’s case the testicles. Even as Perry steps deeper into self-destructive depravity to attain fixes of atlys-induced happiness, his younger sister (with the help of their parents) pursues a radical recovery treatment for Perry in the undying hope that her brother can be reformed.
Works dealing with the powerful gravity of addiction and the dangers that it can bring directly to the addict or indirectly to friends, family, even strangers aren’t uncommon. What sets apart McHugh’s novel is the consideration that the agendas of those trying to cure the addict may be just as defined by destructively addictive tendencies, to a selfishness just as violent. Perry is generally unlikable, crass, and utterly selfish. Yet, he possesses a strong, honest self-perception. Atlys is a drug that makes him feel unbelievably happy, that fuels desires and centers him, regardless of whether it is helping or hurting him. Perry understands his predicament, that using this aptly named drug as a means of navigating through his existence is ultimately poisonous and destructive. He is fully aware that his need is pushing him further into situations he wouldn’t have considered before – including selling his flesh literally (‘potsticking’) and figuratively (prostitution) to fund some more of the drug. While he regularly lies to others to suit his desires, never does Perry lie to himself.
In contrast are the members of Perry’s family, particularly his little sister Nadine. Nadine is shown as firmly committed to the idea of saving her brother, but the matter of her motivations is less clear. She seeks out a new treatment option that to any rational person would be clearly too-good-to-be-true. Despite having a sense of this deep down, Nadine (and the parents) lie to themselves with the righteousness of their hopes and goals, and ignore any sense of dangers. They avoid asking questions or fully recognizing their predicament (or Perry’s) in the care of the doctors who run the recovery program. As the novel progresses it becomes increasingly clear that Nadine is not really looking for Perry’s salvation, but rather is pursuing her own selfish desires to have a ‘normal’, non-addict brother. She will lie to herself, risk herself and others to attain this state of happiness. Not wanting to reveal too much of the plot, the main doctor at the treatment facility has gone through the similar extremes of an addiction to the recovery process at the cost of anything, including the bodies of those he seeks to help.
McHugh’s The Green Kangaroos is thus a really perceptive and profound novel despite its short length and the gritty crassness of its subjects. The futuristic setting and speculative aspects of the recovery program are well imagined and integrated into the plot. At first given its setting in 2099 I wanted to see more of what general society was like, how it was different other than the bits of underworld jargon and environment that McHugh shows. But soon I realized the tight limitation of revealing this universe to Perry’s world and the institution of recovery help keep the focus of the novel intense, tight.
The language is certainly not something that will be to everyone’s taste. It is frequently vulgar and visceral in its depictions of sex and drugs in the underbelly of society. Yet, this shouldn’t be surprising for the topic or style of McHugh and this novel’s setting. In terms of the writing, there were a few instances where dialogue in particular seemed forced, the only critique to this that I can reasonably perceive. At first some of the similes feel too absurd, too much like provoking for reaction. However, I quickly realized these occur in Perry’s first person point of view chapters, and he is simply that kind of guy. McHugh’s writing definitely shines though in her descriptive passages. You can tell she has a love for words, and I most love the playfulness of her prose. This is really what drew me to her work originally. For instance, right from the start with the prologue, she plays on the word ‘junk’ in its multiple meanings and then parallels that at the start of chapter one with our introduction to Perry. McHugh’s imagination is strong and energetic, and she constructs a story well here from the words on up to the plot and themes. I’ll look forward to reading more, even when it is a genre or style that isn’t at the top of my usual reading tastes.

BAD GRRLZ’ GUIDE TO REALITY, by Pat Murphy

21842809Bad Grrlz’ Guide to Reality
(Wild Angel and Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell)
By Pat Murphy
Open Road Media – 15th April 2014
ISBN 1480483206  – 578 Pages – eBook
Source: NetGalley


 I had originally planned for this one to fit into Skiffy & Fanty’s 2015 theme of female authors, but after reading it I wasn’t sure that the genre would be a suitable fit, as wonderful as this omnibus is. Composed of two complete novels, Wild Angel and Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell, Bad Grrlz’ Guide to Reality is two thirds of a meta writing exercise tried out by Pat Murphy, a writer whose back catalog of fiction I increasingly realize I need to seek out in its totality.
The one third missing from this omnibus is There and Back Again, the first novel of the loosely linked ‘series’, and as you can probably surmise from the title, it’s inspired from The Hobbit. And, apparently the Tolkien estate took exception to that. Following some threats it was apparently taken out of print, and in this state it remains. The purpose of the three meta volumes and some of their links (which arise mostly in the third novel) seem to be lost due to this unfortunate control, but for the most part the two novels here can be read effectively on their own (particularly Wild Angel) or in combo as presented by Open Road Media in electronic format for a great price.
There and Back Again was the fantasy component to the trilogy and you can probably tell from its titel that the second novel of the omnibus here is the science fiction component. This leaves Wild Angel, which is basically a Western adventure, or historical novel. I found Wild Angel absolutely brilliant and empowering, dominating over Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell, which seems bound in the meta construction of the trilogy, interesting, but not profound.
In Wild Angel, a young girl named Sarah witnesses, while hidden unseen, her parents horrifically murdered by opportunistic bandits in the hills of California. Scalping the victims to make the attack superficially appear like a native American raid, the bandits steal the gold that Sarah’s parents were collecting while Sarah flees silently into the wilderness. Traumatized and alone amid nature, Sarah is adopted by a she-wolf who raises her among the pack. As Sarah grows and learns survival as a wolf, one of the thieves secures the gold and begins using it to establish a reputation in the budding old west town, only to hear rumors whispered of a young wolf-girl in the wilds, a potential witness to his crimes and ill-gained position.
 Partially inspired by Tarzan, more generally the novel seems influenced by timeless legends of feral children and most particularly the archetype of the wild woman (turned to from time to time for feminist analysis as by Estés). Murphy also uses Sarah and the plot to explore feminist themes and to criticize concepts of Western culture exceptionalism. The civilization of Western expansion is contrasted to the civilization of native populations and the inherent biological capabilities, instincts, and intelligence of humans when even stripped of all ‘civilized’ remnants. This permits Murphy to highlight absurd social constructs that people, especially females, are expected to conform with for no rational purpose other than to facilitate separation or oppression. Things that otherwise we take for granted until stripped down to the simplest of lives that Sarah enjoys.
Beyond the significance of its themes, Wild Angel is simply well written and a fun read. It has a good mixture of contemplative seriousness, light humor, conflict and danger, and tenderness. In contrast, Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell is far more limited in scope and vision. Taking place on a cruise ship full of eccentric characters as it heads into the Bermuda Triangle, the novel mixes quantum physics with a murder mystery to tie together the other two novels in the series into its recursive plot. It is in this third novel that the Bad Grrlz’ Guide (to Physics) comes into play, comparing facts of quantum physics such as entanglement, with events in the macro. Aboard the ship reality begins to go askew as events turn surreal and the line between characters real and imagined, living and dead, begin to blur as if existing in two states simultaneously.
Events from both There and Back Again and Wild Angel are retold by characters in this book, for instance one ‘scene’ in Wild Angel where a surreal turn of events uncharacteristic for that novel’s setting and tone. In Wild Angel, this is where the universe of Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell become entangled with its plot. Characters appearing in Wild Angel (and presumably There and Back Again) reappear in this third novel, including a character named Pat Murphy. The real Pat Murphy actually writes Wild Angel as an artist and adventurer named Max Merriwell, who is also a major character in that novel, and who writes frequently under pseudonyms like Mary Maxwell. This recursive structure for the novels with its gender swapping is in the background of the other novels, not essential to the stories or themes, but relating to them. In b Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell this becomes the crux, in relation to modern physics and in relation to writing. Point to point decisions, quantum events end up defining observed reality as a wave of possibilities collapse. Or in the Bermuda Triangle, the reverse happens and perspectives, possibilities all coexist like in the mind of an author, a creator.
Personally I found Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell too gimmicky in this respect, and think that its surreal, almost farcical nature would have fit better into shorter form. Though more lighthearted, Murphy does still compose this final novel exceptionally well, keeping a consistency with references to the previous novels and vice versa, despite the walls, laws, of normal macro reality breaking down. Very different novels, though interlinked on many levels, both are worth checking out. And now I’ll have to scour second-hand shops for There and Back Again.

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced reading copy of this from Open Road Media via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

NEAR ENEMY, by Adam Sternbergh

22078949Near Enemy
Spademan Series
#2
By Adam Sternbergh
Crown – 13th January 2015
ISBN 0385349025  – 306 Pages – Hardcover
Source: NetGalley


Near Enemy does everything that you could ask from a sequel, and it does it all well. If you are new to Adam Sternbergh’s Spademan protagonist and post-terrorist-dirty-bomb New York City setting, then do yourself a favor and go find Shovel Ready, which I reviewed here previously. If you enjoyed Shovel Ready, chances are you’ll like this even more.
 The second novel takes something that is introduced in the first, the limnosphere, and expands upon its implications into a plot. As a virtual world where the affluent can escape from dilapidated reality, the limnosphere is not a new concept to science fiction universe. But Sternbergh does explore it in interesting ways that make Near Enemy a fun kind of mystery/cyber punk mashup. The novel opens with the morally ambiguous Spademan contemplating the target he has been hired to kill, a young ‘bed-hopper’ who is part of an underground that effectively hacks into other people’s limn experiences. Spademan’s hesitance over carrying out the hit turn dangerous when this limnosphere voyeur informs him that someone has worked out a way to kill people within the virtual world so that the physical body dies too. Spademan soon finds himself further involved in a situation that threatens one of the only pillars of stability holding up the post terrorist attack society of the city.
The previous novel in this series focused mostly on Spademan as a character, and was cast in a distinct noir tone with the standard femme fatale to get mixed up in the protagonist’s business. These noir stylings remain here, but Near Enemy goes a bit further in exploring the state of this devastated near-future New York City, where the leaders and officials maintain a rough order through corruption and conspiracy.
The plot from the first book is further developed alongside the main threads of this novel, with key characters returning and progressing further, in interesting ways. Most notably, one of the villains from the first book becomes increasingly apparent as an actual ally, creating a morally ambiguous character complementary to (and distinct from) Spademan’s ‘hitman with a heart’ persona.
As with Shovel Ready, this will likely appeal to people that go for mystery/crime thrillers inthat classic vein of gritty protagonists, and to readers that appreciate the speculative plot built around these limnospheres, both in terms of their societal role and potential to be abused for nefarious purposes/power. A fun read with well handled plot twists and characterization, Near Enemy proves Sternbergh does have a series in him, and I look forward to enjoying it continue.

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced reading copy of this from Crown Publications via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

AFRICA39: NEW WRITING FROM AFRICA SOUTH OF THE SAHARA

20613772Africa39: New Writing from Africa South of the Sahara
Edited By Ellah Wakatama Allfrey
Bloomsbury USA – 28th October 2014
ISBN 1620407795  – 384 Pages – Paperback
Source: Goodreads


CONTENTS:
“The Shivering”, by Chimamanda Ngoszi Adichie
“The Banana Eater”, by Monica Arac de Nyeko
Excerpt from The Tiger of the Mangroves, by Rotimi Babatunde
“Two Fragments of Love”, by Eileen Almedia Barbosa
“Why Radio DJs are Superstars in Lagos”, by A. Igoni Barrett
Excerpt from Our Time of Sorrow, by Jackee Budesta Batanda
“‘Alu’”, by Recaredo Silebo Boturu
“Mama’s Future”, by Nana Edua Brew-Hammond
“The Occupant”, by Shadreck Chikoti
“The Professor”, by Edwige-Renee Dro
Excerpt from New Mom, by Tope Folarin
“No Kissing the Dolls Unless Jimi Hendrix is Playing”, by Clifton Gachagua
“Talking Money”, by Stanley Gazemba
“Day and Night”, by Mehul Gohil
Excerpt from The Score, by Hawa Jande Golakai
“The Pink Oysters”, by Shafinaaz Hassim
“Echoes of Mirth”, by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim
“The Old Man and the Pub”, by Stanley Onjezani Kenani
“Sometime Before Maulidi”, by Ndinda Kioko
Excerpt from All Our Names, by Dinaw Mengestu
“Number 9”, by Nadifa Mohamed
Excerpt from Rusty Bell, by Nthikeng Mohlele
“Cinema Demons”, by Linda Musita
Excerpt from Ebamba, Kinshasa-Makambo, by Richard Ali Mutu
“By the Tracks”, by Sifiso Mzobe
“My New Home”, by Glaydah Namukasa
“I’m Going to Make Changes to the Kitchen”, by Ondjaki
“Rag Doll”, by Okwiri Oduor
“The Is How I Remember It”, by Ukamaka Olisakwe
Excerpt from The Wayfarers, by Chibundu Onuzo
Excerpt from Ghana Must Go, by Taiye Selasi
“The Sack”, by Namwali Serpell
Excerpt from Harlot, by Lola Shoyenin
“Amoz Azucarado”, by Nii Ayikwei Parkes

Africa39 is a project celebrating “thirty-nine of the most promising writers under the age of forty with the potential and talent to define trends in the development of literature from Sub-Saharan Africa and the diaspora.” Born from the Hay Festival and the designation of Port Harcourt, Nigeria as the UNESCO World Book Capital of 2014, the anthology collects fiction from the invited authors in the forms of short stories and novel excerpts. Having read some stellar African fiction (mostly from Francophone countries) and having travelled to Botswana, I was really intrigued and interested in this collection, particularly to discover some potential new authors or works.
Because I largely looked at this as a diverse introduction to talented writers from Sub-Saharan Africa, I didn’t need each story or excerpt to stand on its own and delight, just merely impress enough of some skill in the author, and more so themes tackled that seemed interesting to me. The voices and points of view are varied, as are the settings and tones. Some are focused on a specific historical or political situation whereas some or more personal, focusing on shared human emotions that would be familiar to most any reader.
While the short stories universally worked well in the anthology, I found the novel excerpts to be more problematic. I personally dislike novel excerpts as a concept/practice. There is a reason why these words are in the context of a story that is novel length. They cannot be divorced from the larger context and remain the same. A few in this collection do stand on their own, but whether they are really expressions of the novel in microcosm is uncertain. But most seem dreadfully incomplete, or (in the case of one where I have already read the whole novel) fail to show the genius and beauty of the full work. I already read and reviewed All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu. I adored the novel. But rereading the excerpt in this I didn’t feel much at all, it is too small a piece to have meaning.
I wish that the editor for this had only solicited or accepted actual short stories. The problem I know is that not ever talented fiction writer can do the short form. Some authors are great at novels, but not shorter works (or vice versa). But the excerpt doesn’t exactly do them justice either. Worse, some of the excerpts are from novels in the process of being written. So these may never be fully completed or see the light of day as currently envisioned.
Thus, this anthology really does serve best as a writing sampling, ideal for readers who are interested in Sub Saharan African literature and want to see simple samples from the current prospects and stars. While many of the stories in the collection do more, and would be on par with any other literary collection, they don’t necessarily make up the majority.

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced reading copy of this from Bloomsbury via Goodreads’ First-Reads Giveaway Program in exchange for an honest review.

THE GALAXY GAME, by Karen Lord

18142342The Galaxy Game
(Sequel, in setting, to The Best of All Possible Worlds)
By Karen Lord
Del Rey – 6th January 2015
ISBN 0345534077  – 336 Pages – Paperback
Source: NetGalley


If you have read and enjoyed Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds, then you should be eager to read her new The Galaxy Game. If you haven’t read her previous novel set in the same universe as this one, then you should go and read The Best of All Possible Worlds. I wish I had, and despite the flaws I see in The Galaxy Game, I’ll starting back at her earlier work and eventually rereading this one again with a bit more familiarity under the belt to guide/support me as a reader.
The Galaxy Game presents itself as a stand-alone novel in its plot (which it truly is), and I had every expectation to adore it as my introduction to Karen Lord’s praised writing. Indeed there is a lot here to affirm that she has exceptional writing talent, and interesting, unique things to say. Unfortunately her writing fails in easily reaching a new reader in the case of this novel, its multileveled complexities obscure its worth.
The plot of the book is rather straightforward and doesn’t really hint at the strengths of Lord’s writing that lie beneath it: her language and her universe building. The heart of the novel is a teenager with psionic powers named Rafi. For historical reasons within this universe, societies largely mistrust these powers and Rafi is effectively kept ‘prisoner’ under government watch at a special school. While he lives a normal teenage life of close friendships and hobbies, the looming responsibilities of adulthood, pressures from his family, and uncertainty over his powers all hover over his daily routines.
Most of this plot exists as a slow build, a nuanced character study that begins to reveal key aspects to Lord’s universe in these novels. Though with a teenage protagonist on a seemingly standard coming-of-age journey, this is far from a young adult book. After a tantalizing prologue, I stepped into this story eager to go along, not really minding that it proceeded so slowly. What I did mind, was that Lord seemed to assume so strongly that readers were familiar with her universe, how it is set up, what the people are like, who different players are. Very little is offered to give a reader bearing.
Alone this might not be a death toll. Complex, subtle novels can work tremendously, even rushing in without firm footing. However added to the assumptions of familiarity and the slow, meandering plot, Lord additionally writes her interesting themes into yet another layer of complexity: multiple points of view. Thankfully these are limited to mostly third person and a first person, but the similarities of third person voices (particularly early on as you are trying to get used to everything), make it hard to tell who is speaking.
Eventually, circumstances force Rafi to flee to a planet where his psionic abilities are far more common, and appreciated. Despite being in a more familiar, accepting environment, Ravi discovers this planet and society comes with its own challenges, one society amid a shifting galaxy of politics, and games.
For all the befuddlement that may befall a reader, The Galaxy Game does have some elements that make it stand out, beyond to beauty of the prose and the interesting sociopolitical commentary at play. Sports pops up in science fiction from time to time, but not too frequently. Lord combines the psyonics with a sport called Wallrunning, one aspect of her world building here that did seem evocatively described, and some of my favorite moments from the book were the parts featuring this. Another great element is simply Rafi. Perhaps it is partly the empathy the reader can sort of feel with Rafi at being out of place, lost, in this society, but parts from the point of view of Rafi (and to a lesser degree his friends) are the closest to familiarity I felt while reading this.
Other reactions to The Galaxy Game seem similar to mine. For instance Sunil Patel’s contribution to the new review section of Lightspeed Magazine echoed well many of my own frustrations with seeing so much potential here, but not coming away really fulfilled.  On the other hand, writing for NPR, Amar El-Mohtar had a much more positive reaction despite recognizing the challenging nature of this novel. Aside from differences arising from familiarity with The Best of All Possible Worlds, another factor that I realize may significantly alter one’s perception of the The Galaxy Game could be the format in which you read it. El-Mohtar speaks in her review of needing to flip back to pages previously read. I would have loved the capability to do that, but having an electronic copy alone, this wasn’t possible (well at least not very facile). So get the physical copy if at all possible if you give this one a try.
One final point: in struggling to put my thoughts over this novel into words I did also listen to this fantastic, fascinating interview that Skiffy & Fanty did with Karen Lord on The Galaxy Game. Whether you to decide to read the novel or not (or if you already have read it), I think it’s well worth a listen.

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced reading copy of this from Del Rey via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.