THE BLUE-SPANGLED BLUE by David Bowles

The Blue-Spangled Blue
(The Path, Book 1)
By David Bowles
Castle Bridge Media — March 2021
ISBN: 978173647260
— Paperback — 452 pp.


I completed The Blue Spangled Blue awhile back, intending this review to go up on Skiffy & Fanty. But, I now have several reviews sent there that haven’t been edited and posted, and as the months pass I figured it’s best to just get it up here. The Blue-Spangled Blue is an ambitious and complex novel, an epic space opera that serves as merely the opening for a series that seems to be tackling weighty themes of family and religion. And it’s a novel that deserves to get some more notice.

Normally I compose my own version of plot summaries to fit in with the thoughts I have on a book, but in this case the official blurb suits just fine and would be easier to employ:

Tenshi Koroma’s people, the Aknawajin, were brought to the planet Jitsu as workers more than a century ago. Against all odds, they managed to win their independence from the world’s corporate owners. During a long period of isolation, a theocratic government arose, dominated by fundamentalist views. Now, as Jitsu begins to open itself to the rest of humanity, Tenshi—a controversial architect and leader of a religious reform movement—meets Brando D’Angelo, who has left Earth to accept a teaching position on Jitsu. As the two grow closer, Tenshi begins to teach Brando about her faith—The Path—and he decides to accept its tenets, to shatter his identity and rebuild himself with her guidance so that he can be worthy of a soul.

But the dogmatic struggles on Jitsu are a mask for the machinations of a diabolical mind, and the couple’s life will be forever altered by the cruelty of Tenshi’s enemies. In the aftermath, their family will find a perilous new Way along The Path. And their steps will echo throughout history.

The Blue-Spangled Blue shimmers in a diversity of cultural palettes: ethnicities, class, politics, languages, religion, and more. The religious aspect of cultural is central here, and represents the major thread of character development in the novel in the form of Brando. It’s both a philosophy or outlook and a purpose of action, even when those set Brando further apart from his own family and traditions.

I really appreciated the core facet of religion to Bowles novel. Religion is very frequently overlooked across genres, and when it does appear, including in something like space opera, it tends to be treated in primarily negative lights, or with clichés and ignorance. Bowles approaches the subject with respect, and puts as much world building into this aspect of a society’s culture as into other elements.

He doesn’t simplify things. Bowles depicts cultural practices as complex systems, mixtures that contain both conflicting aspects and principles that could unify. The cultural mixture becomes most evident in Bowles use of language with his characters, a mélange of terms from across current human cultures along with additions of speculative futuristic ones. He highlights how cultural clashes can engender strife – whether arising between two separate people or arising from within the spectrum of belief and practice of one people. And he also shows the power of cross-cultural alliances, symbolized in the relationship between Brando and Tenshi.

The complexities of The Blue-Spangled Blue‘s world building, and its host of characters make this an epic space opera novel. And that’s something that might also cause problems for some readers. There’s a lot to digest here. This could have easily been multiple novels in itself. Epic reads aren’t necessarily out of the norm for speculative fiction fans.

What might make things difficult in this case are issues of pacing, the one significant negative critique I would make of the novel. There are many chapters of exhilarating action, and slower ones of plotting or establishing the narrative framework. With the novel encompassing so many developments and interludes, however, there are stretches that seem to drag. The reader anticipates that things could come to a head. When things do, they don’t quite go as one may have expected. Resolution isn’t really there, it’s just an opening to more possibilities and new paths. It can end up feeling a little overwhelming.

However, I will say that going through those feelings (if they are there during reading) are well worth it. Bowles does not pull punches with the novel, with reader hopes or assumptions of who might live or die, whether heroes or villains are victorious. This lends a mature realism to the novel, while also allowing Bowles to show how strength to go on can be mustered from something like faith, even against all odds and setbacks, or powerful enemies lurking in the shadows.

The ambition of The Blue-Spangled Blue in depicting a complex, speculative human future with space opera plotting, and audaciously tackling politics and religion makes this is a notable novel in the genre to read. The execution has some issues, but any fans of epic genre fiction should be encouraged to take it on.

Newer editions of the novel helpfully include a series of invaluable appendices: 1) A glossary of terms; 2) A lexicon of foreign phrases in Baryogo and Kaló; 3) a Dramatis personae; 4) a break-down of star systems and their associated planets; 5) background on Jitsu’s official religion, The Path, and its adherents.

The story continues in The Deepest Green, also available from Castle Bridge Media, and another The Swirling Path, seems to be due in 2023. The latter is listed on Goodreads as Book 4 of The Path, which I assume is an error, as no Book 3 is listed at all, and I can find no mention of any other book in the series on the publisher’s site.


A LARGER REALITY, Edited by Libia Brenda

A Larger Reality:
Speculative Fiction from the Bicultural Margins
Edited by Libia Brenda
Kickstarter — Cúmulo de Tesla — 2018
190 Pages — eBook


A bilingual anthology available for FREE download in English or Spanish, A Larger Reality: Speculative Fiction from the Bicultural Margins (Una realidad más amplia: Historias desde la periferia bicultural) arrived via a Kickstarter campaign initiated by The Mexicanx Initiative, with help from Fireside Magazine.

Awhile back I discussed this collection with Trish Matson and Brandon O’Brien as part of the “Reading Rangers” series of short fiction review/discussion for Skiffy & Fanty. You can listen to the podcast here for all of our varied thoughts on it.

Edited by Libia Brenda, the collection has a diverse selection of stories that span speculative classifications from science fiction to fantasy to horror. Some are lighter adventures and some are more serious in tone, or more experimental in style. At least among the three of us in the “Reading Rangers” discussion, we differed on which we enjoyed most versus didn’t appreciate. But readers are likely to find several stories here of interest, and all give a unique Mexicanx perspective. Approximately half are translated from the Spanish for the English edition, with the remainder presumably translated from the English for the Spanish one.

The highlights for me were:

“Fences” by José Luis Zárate and translated by Joey Whitfield is a post-apocalyptic story that makes a great start to the collection by introducing a theme that pops up in other stories as well, the falsity of being restricted to or choosing between binary identity. Caught between two worlds both literally and figuratively, the protagonist of the story is a character that can be recognized by anyone who has lived abroad.  

“Aztlán” Liberated” by David Bowles is a science fiction military adventure featuring chupacabras that features indigenous characters in empowering roles. Reading it gives you feeling of watching an action movie.

 “A Truth Universally Accepted” by Julia Rios features themes and a plot that aren’t unfamiliar, but Rios uses them to create a potent exploration of identity and subjectivity. I’m not a fan of things written in the second person, but somehow this still worked for me.

“Kan/trahc” by Iliana Vargas and translated by Adrian Demopolus is a fascinating work that features a loss of coherence in both the protagonist and the text. Dark and surreally weird, the story has many levels of interpretation and is one that bears rereading.

“Ring a Ring ‘o Roses” by Raquel Castro and translated by Ruth Clarke involves a young girl who brings her pet zombie to school. One of a couple more comedic stories in the collection, this was both funny and touching, revealing the insecurities of childhood and how adults so easily ignore what children are up to.

“It All Makes Sense Here” by Alberto Chimal with translation by Jesse Ward, and “Music and Petals” by Gabriela Damián Miravete with translation by Megan Berkobien represent two of the more horrific stories in the collection. Many of Chimal’s stories deal with ambiguity, and here it is with what constitutes ‘monsters’ and how they are perceived and feared in society. Miravete’s story is a psychological horror of family secrets that is also quite disturbing.

“Clean Air will Smell like Silver Apricots”, written and translated by Andrea Chapela, with editing by Kelsi Vanada ends the collection with a poignant science fiction look at grief and memorials. Its bittersweet tone makes a nice palate cleanser after the stories that preceded.

As a contributor to Rachel Cordasco’s Speculative Fiction in Translation empire and champion of more translated fiction in general, I really appreciated the endeavor that this anthology represents. The high quality of the stories made it a success, and if you haven’t read it yet, you should go download a copy now. You can’t beat free.

CONTENTS:

  • “Fences” by José Luis Zárate (Translated from the Spanish by Joey Whitfield)
  • “Aztlán” Liberated” by David Bowles
  • “A Truth Universally Accepted” by Julia Rios
  • “Matachín” by Felecia Caton Garcia
  • “Kan/trahc” by Iliana Vargas (Translated from the Spanish by Adrian Demopolus)
  • “The Binder” by Angela Lujan
  • “Ring a Ring ‘o Roses” by Raquel Castro (Translated from the Spanish by Ruth Clarke)
  • “Shoot” by Pepe Rojo
  • “It All Makes Sense Here” by Alberto Chimal (Translated from the Spanish by Jesse Ward)
  • “Music and Petals” by Gabriela Damián Miravete (Translated from the Spanish by Megan Berkobien)
  • “Clean Air will Smell like Silver Apricots” by Andrea Chapela (Translated from the Spanish by the author, and edited by Kelsi Vanada)