Issue #31

This is the June 2021 issue of Salon Futura. Here are the contents.


  • Cover: Clown Woman: This issue's cover is Clown Woman by Molly Rose Lee

  • Shards of Earth: A look at the new Adrian Tchaikovsky novel, Shards of Earth

  • The Album of Dr. Moreau: Hey, hey, we're a Monkee! Well, chimp actually, plus an elephant, an ocelot, an armadillo and a bat. With help from Daryl Gregory, the world's latest hot boy band has produced The Album of Dr Moreau

  • QualityLand: In the near future, Germany will be the Best of All Possible Countries: QualityLand by Marc-Uwe Kling

  • Worldcon Drama Again: What? It's only a couple of months since the last Worldcon fiasco. Of course we were due another one.

  • Blackheart Knights: Laure Eve's debut urban fantasy, Blackheart Knights, re-invents King Arthur in a near-future London

  • Birds of Prey: Cheryl explains why the Birds of Prey movie does not appeal to leopards

  • Red Dust: From Yoss, a star of Cuban science fiction, comes Red Dust, a mystery featuring a robot detective who is a fan of noir fiction

  • Editorial – June 2021: Cheryl is tired and cannot brain today

Shards of Earth

I have been meaning to catch up with Adrian Tchaikovsky’s work for some time. He’s clearly on the cutting edge of modern SF, and I’ve really enjoyed the readings I have heard him do. All I needed was a suitable entry point; a new series that I could make a start on. Shards of Earth fits the bill nicely.

I should note at this point that the new series does not (as yet) involve any giant spiders. There is a species that looks a bit like giant crabs, and another that looks very much like giant clams. There is also a very nasty species that looks like moon-sized sea urchins. But nothing arachnoid. Yet.

Moon-sized sea urchins? Yes, you heard right the first time. They are called Architects, though they don’t seem to actually build anything. More typically they will take existing things and re-shape them according to their rather eccentric artistic whims. This usually involves shredding things into bizarre shapes and putting things that were on the inside onto the outside. Items of space real estate likely to be re-shaped in this manner include spacecraft, orbitals and planets.

(As an aside, I have this odd feeling that the idea for the book might have come, in part, from Season 5 of Agents of SHIELD with its startling images of Earth after its destruction by Quake.)

Given that the Architects proved invulnerable, implacable, and entirely uninterested in communicating with the subjects of their artistic endeavours, this constituted a major crisis in which all intelligent life joined together as one to oppose them. Or at least to provide evacuation fleets and new homes for the refugees.

Still the Architects would have won easily, had humankind not accidently discovered how to talk to them, or at least get their attention. The Intermediary Program involved the identification and training of humans with a rare biological aptitude for interfacing with the fabric of the universe and thereby being able to make a loud enough noise on the right communication channels for the Architects to notice them.

Most Intermediaries died in the training program, but a few survived long enough to be sent into combat. They made contact. The Architects went back to wherever it was they had come from. The galaxy heaved a collective sigh of relief.

Fifty years later we have a book. Yes, this is an After the War novel. Idris Telemmier, the hero of the Battle of Berlenhof, the man who made the Architects go away, is in retirement. Well, more accurately he is in hiding. The Council of Human Interests, colloquially known as “Hugh”) would love to have him back in their service, which is why he is hiding out as the pilot of an elderly salvage vessel with a rag-tag, dysfunctional-but-lovable crew. Intermediaries, it turns out, make superb hyperspace pilots, so he earns his keep.

The crew of the Vulture God fits neatly into a standard SF trope that is quite popular right now and probably owes a lot to Firefly. There are several of them, but I want to highlight two. Firstly there is Kris, who is a disgraced elite lawyer. Her job is to make sure that the contracts the crew enters into are watertight, and to keep Idris out of the clutches of Hugh. Secondly there is Olli. In our time she would doubtless be described as having “birth defects”, but she turns out to be an absolute genius at interfacing with waldos of all sorts, which is really useful in space.

Is there a plot here, Cheryl? Yes, of course. Remember that we are 50 years after the war. What happens when memories of shared peril fade? Correct, former allies start fighting among themselves. In particular there is growing antagonism between Hugh and The Parthenon.

Is this something to do with Athena? Well yes, because Athena was born without a mother, hence the term “parthenogenesis”, which should be familiar to readers of feminist SF and my essays on interesting biology. The Parthenon is a community of genetically engineered, vat-grown women warriors. They are an elite fighting force, physically perfect, and trained from birth for that purpose. They see themselves as guardians of the galaxy. Everyone else sees them as a dangerous military dictatorship. Most importantly for our purposes, The Parthenon does not possess the knowledge of how to make Intermediaries. And Hugh is terrified of what they will be capable of if they acquire that technology.

So, a plan. Myrmidon Solace has been kept in cryo-sleep for most of the past 50 years, just in case her experience might be needed again. Thanks to being in the right place at the right time, Solace ended up as the personal bodyguard of Idris Telemmier at the Battle of Berlenhof, and continued in that role for the remainder of the war. Any two young persons thrown together in circumstances of mortal peril are bound to develop some sort of bond. The Parthenon’s High Command thinks that Solace might be able to persuade Idris to defect.

That’s mostly your set-up. Solace wants to persuade Idris to help her people. Idris just wants to disappear. The crew of the Vulture God mostly just want to get on with their next contract in peace, except for Olli who wants to get rid of the vile, eugenicist Parthenon woman as quickly as possible, and with extreme prejudice. And don’t forget the giant clams – sorry, the Essiel – because they do have an empire, and they do want the rest of the galaxy to submit to their rule, because everyone will be so much better off being taken care of by superior beings.

It is a common nostrum that science fiction books are not about the future, they are about the now of when they are written. That is absolutely true of Shards of Earth. A key element of the story is the inability of human politicians to unite against an existential threat until it is way too late. The Essiel have clearly been taking a leaf out of the Vladimir Putin playbook, fostering the growth of populist, far-right movements in Hugh territory to distract and weaken human government. On a personal level, Solace struggles with being seen as an agent of an Evil Empire when all her recent memories are of saving the galaxy from destruction, while Olli’s understandable distrust of eugenics, and therefore hatred of Solace, causes fractures among the crew of the Vulture God. It is all very spot on.

Finally, we have that core feature of space opera, the mysterious ancient civilisation. Who were the Architects? Where did they come from? Why did they leave so suddenly? And most importantly, will they be back. You know the answer to the last of those. The other questions are what will keep you reading eagerly to the end of the trilogy.

book cover
Title: Shards of Earth
By: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Publisher: Tor
Purchase links:
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Bookshop.org UK
See here for information about buying books though Salon Futura

The Album of Dr. Moreau

What if the creatures from The Island of Dr Moreau escaped, moved to the USA, and started a boy band?

No, I’m serious, that is exactly the premise of Daryl Gregory’s latest book, which I think is a novella (the Kindle app says it has 141 pages, but does not give a word count even though it very easily could). Of course that’s not all there is to the story. It is also a murder mystery, a meditation on the phenomenon of boy bands and the awful music industry practices that allow them to be created and exploited. There’s also stuff about eugenics, and the USA’s obsession with immigration, and a whole lot more stuff. Stick with me here, it will be worth it.

The WyldBoyZ have just played a hugely successful gig in Las Vegas. However, the following morning their manager, Maurice Bendix, known as Dr M, is found brutally murdered. Bobby O, who is part ocelot and very well endowed in the claw department, swears that he didn’t do it, even though he woke up next to Bendix’s eviscerated body and was covered in the dead man’s blood.

This is clearly case for Detective Lucia Delgado, primarily because she has a good track record in dealing with celebrity crime. She used to be a stage magician, so she has some understanding of the show biz mindset. Luce has only two problems. The first is that her teenage daughter, Melanie, is the WyldBoyZ’s biggest fan. And the second is her partner, Mickey Banks, who has a penchant for truly terrible puns.

Oh, and there’s finding out who actually killed Dr M, so I guess that’s three problems.

It’s not like there is any shortage of suspects. Dr M is an amalgam of everything bad about pop industry impresarios. He’s very clearly cheating on his charges, right down to giving himself writing and production credits on all of the songs even though he has no part in creating them. All of the band have good reasons to hate him. Well, all except Bobby, but that’s only because Bobby is so sweet that he couldn’t hate anyone for more than a few seconds. Then there’s Mrs M, who also hates her husband and is having an affair with Devin, the chimp member of the band.

Naturally, solving the murder also requires digging into the mystery of the WyldBoyZ’s origins in a secret maritime research lab, how they came to escape, and how Maurice Bendix found and enslaved them.

For 141 pages, there is one heck of a lot packed into this book. I was very impressed. I figured out some of how the murder was done before the end, but that was only because Detective Delgado is very good and occasionally has Banks do things do check out her suspicions. I did not see the big reveal coming, but I will note that The Album of Dr Moreau is also a science fiction story, as it should be given its ancestry. It is also obvious that Gregory knows a lot about music, from how pop songs are actually put together to the history of boy bands from the Beatles to BTS.

Oh, and the whole thing is packaged as a concept album, with each chapter being a distinct track. Of course it is. Doubtless available on Island Records.

book cover
Title: The Album of Dr. Moreau
By: Daryl Gregory
Publisher: Tor.com
Purchase links:
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Bookshop.org UK
See here for information about buying books though Salon Futura

QualityLand

In the near future, Germany, or possibly the EU, has taken the sensible step of declaring itself to be the Best Possible Country. Welcome to QualityLand, where life has never been better, and everyone has exactly what they want.

That is the premise of a novel by Marc-Uwe Kling, which was apparently a huge hit in Germany, and is now available in English translation. If I were doing an elevator pitch for it, I would describe it as the love child of Cory Doctorow and Douglas Adams. Kling has all of Doctrow’s fascination with the effect of the internet on society, but approaches it with the surreal, acerbic comedy of Adams.

The first thing that you will notice about QualityLand is that a new naming convention has been adopted. Boys are given a family name according to their fathers’ occupations; girls are given a family name according to their mothers’ occupations. Thus, of course, we have names like Henryk Engineer, and Hans Lorry Driver, coupled with names like Hannah Hairdresser and Melissa Sex Worker. If you have started to see a problem, I can add that Tony Party Leader is in fact the leader of the Progress Party, just as his father was.

Doctorow, when he was younger and less cynical, once wrote a novel extolling the virtues of a social ranking system called wuffie. Kling knows exactly how this will turn out. Every citizen has a Level rating, and the higher your level the more social privileges you have.

Of course everyone is happy, because they are sold everything they want by TheShop, a monopoly online retailer. You don’t even have to browse. TheShop knows exactly what products to send you, based on your Level, your interactions on the Everybody social network, and its infallible algorithms. QualityPartner will recommend romantic interests for you in the same way.

Our hero is a chap called Peter Jobless. He’s not actually jobless because he has inherited a scrap metal business from his grandfather. Peter actually wanted to be an AI psychologist, but it turned out that helping AI’s with mental problems is classed as a form of repair, and repairing anything has been made illegal as it is a threat to TheShop’s business model.

So people give Peter dysfunctional machines to dispose of. But he’s a soft-hearted chap, and once he’s been given something to destroy he becomes its owner. He can’t bear to actually put a thinking machine in a scrap metal press, so he keeps them all. Thus he shares his home with a LawBot who has developed a conscience, a CombatBot with PTSD, a tablet that has read too much Marx and Lenin and wants a robot revolution, a male SexBot who has fallen madly in love with a client and can’t get it up for anyone else, and an AuthorBot who wants to write science fiction. It is all very reminiscent of Doom Patrol.

All of this would be fairly irrelevant to life in QualityLand, were it not for the fact that Peter is sent a product from TheShop that he does not want: a pink, dolphin-shaped vibrator. His attempts to return it gradually escalate until they become a matter of national significance.

Meanwhile there is an election going on. The President for Life is dying, and a new one has to be elected. (It is a woman president, doubtless this has specific meaning for German readers.) The far-right QualityParty is putting up a loud-mouthed TV chef turned politician, Conrad Cook. Cook’s face is on the wrapping of half the food sold in TheShop so he has plenty of voter recognition. In desperation Tony and his colleagues decide to take the unusual step of putting up a candidate who is an android.

So politics jokes, Amazon jokes, sex jokes, and some serious discussion of where modern society is going. It is a heady mix. There is a definite male gaze to the text which some female readers may find tiresome, but the female characters do get a fair amount of agency and some of them come out on top, so I’m prepared to forgive Kling. It isn’t often that I enjoy a comedy novel, but this one had me laughing out loud in places.

QualityLand is translated from German by Jamie Lee Searle, who does a fine job of keeping just enough German references to keep the sense of setting while making the text eminently readable.

book cover
Title: QualityLand
By: Marc-Uwe Kling
Translator: Jamie Lee Searle
Publisher: Orion
Purchase links:
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Bookshop.org UK
See here for information about buying books though Salon Futura

Worldcon Drama Again

Another month, another meltdown on the Worldcon/Hugos front. Can’t we be better than this? Apparently not.

Early this year there was a huge fuss when DisCon 3 released policies suggesting that they would effectively be limiting the number of people who could be part of a finalist group to 4. Naturally a bunch of people were upset by this, and it ended up with most of the WSFS Division people resigning, and then with one of the co-chairs resigning. There were promises that things would be done better.

Then the list of Hugo Finalists was announced, and there was more drama, mostly because DC3 had failed to explain conversations that had taken place with Strange Horizons regarding their listing of some 87 or so people. This misinformation resulting from that is still being widely spread. You can see an explanation of the situation here.

This month an email was sent to Finalists explaining that, contrary to promises made in January, only 4 people from each Finalist group (and their +1s) would be allowed at the pre-ceremony reception. It wasn’t entirely clear why, but space and budget seemed likely explanations. There was also a strange comment about only 38 people being allowed on stage at any one time, which I can only interpret as a dig at Strange Horizons. No one had bothered to check how many people from each Finalist were actually planning to be at the ceremony.

Shortly thereafter most of the Hugo Admin team, and the head of WSFS Division, resigned. Apparently they had been unhappy, not only with the email they had been told to send out, but also with other aspects of how DC3 was planning to treat the Hugos.

As I am a finalist this year, I got to hear rather more about this than most people. In particular we got invited to a meeting (organised by the ever-resourceful Mary Robinette Kowal – thanks MR!) with a couple of representatives of the convention. One of those was Gadi Evron, the head of Events, and therefore the man in charge of putting on the Hugo ceremony. He assured us that there were no problems with space or budget.

All of which means that the email sent to finalists contained information that neither the Hugo Admin team, nor the people involved in running the ceremony, agreed with. I took a look at the organisation chart of the convention, and it was clear that there was only one person with the actual authority to overrule two separate divisions in that way.

Shortly thereafter, the one remaining con chair resigned.

There is, by the way, a potential issue with regard to time. I understand that there has been a lot of pressure on Gadi and his team to keep the ceremony time down below two hours. That’s understandable given last year’s embarrassing blow-out. However, the more categories we have, and the more people who are part of winning teams, the harder that becomes. Also if you are doing a hybrid ceremony to bring in winners who can’t attend, that is likely to add to the time. There’s a real conflict that Gadi has to deal with here, and maybe he can’t make everyone happy. My own view is that as long as the show is good, people won’t mind how long it runs. They only complain about the time the ceremony takes when they are bored stupid by it.

That is where we are at the moment. We do have a new head of the WSFS Division (commiserations, Linda Deneroff). We don’t yet have a new Hugo Admin team, but that will doubtless appear soon. And the con currently has no chair. Thankfully Worldcon is a dinosaur and is perfectly capable of running around for a few weeks without its head.

Naturally there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Lots of people are asking why this keeps happening, and what we can do to stop it happening again. Over at File 770 the retired colonels of fandom are harrumphing away about kids these days. Apparently this is all the fault of Strange Horizons, middle-class British people, and Archive of Our Own. I don’t think they have blamed woke liberals and the Black Lives Matter campaign yet, but I’m sure it is coming.

But what can we do? Not much. There is one administrative fix that I will get out of the way first, but a proper solution will be much harder to make happen.

In traditional Worldcon organisation charts, WSFS Division exists to manage the three things that every Worldcon is mandated to do: run the Hugo voting, Site Selection and the Business Meeting. But this doesn’t make a lot of organisational sense. The Hugo ceremony is normally run by Events (and the post-ceremony party by someone other than the Worldcon). The Business Meeting is a program item. And Site Selection is done at a table in the Exhibits Hall. It might make more sense to split the WSFS functions between those three divisions, because they have nothing to do with each other save for all being mandated by the WSFS Constitution. At Glasgow in 2005 Kevin and I had the whole of WSFS as part of Events, and that seemed to work OK.

That might help, but it is only a small fix. It doesn’t get to the root cause of the problem, which is that each Worldcon is a law unto itself, and all too often it ends up re-inventing the wheel. Lots of people are asking for more institutional knowledge to be passed on from one year to the next, but we’ve been asking for that for decades now and it doesn’t work. Nicholas Whyte, the recently departed head of WSFS Division, has oodles of experience of running the Hugos. He seems to have quit because he felt that he wasn’t being listened to. Gadi Evron was Deputy Division Head of Events in New Zealand, so he has masses of experience of what not to do, and certainly sounds like he learned a lot from it.

The problem is not individuals, the problem is the system. It is the bidding system, which encourages committees to become emotionally attached to the idea that they need to show they can put on the Best Worldcon Ever. It is the one-year nature of the event, which means that individual Worldcons have no incentive to consider the long-term good of the event, the Hugos and WSFS. And it is the total lack of meaningful sanctions for any Worldcon committee that messes up.

Various people have been calling for the Hugos to be separated from Worldcon, and a permanent (possibly professional) organisation to be set up to run them. The trouble is that most of the people calling for this have no idea how to make it happen, and that means that it won’t. It is possible, but it requires people to do some actual work. And yes, it means that significant numbers of people have to attend the Business Meeting.

In fact the first thing that you will need to do is destroy the Business Meeting, because if you don’t the people who go there every year will just reverse your changes the minute you stop paying attention. I know that a lot of people, Kevin included, enjoy the BM, but ultimately it is a means to an end. Participatory democracy is wonderful in theory, but once you get above a few hundred people in your community it becomes unworkable. It wouldn’t even have worked in Athens if they had given women, slaves and foreign-born residents a vote. (This may surprise you, but Kevin agrees with me on this.)

So you need to change the WSFS Constitution to make it into a membership-based organisation that has some sort of elected management. And you need to put that management in charge of running the Hugos. There’s a lot else that you could do as well, but that’s the absolute minimum and when it comes to getting things through the Business Meeting the less that you have to debate the better. One you have got rid of the BM it will be a lot easier to make other changes.

If people want to do this, I’m sure that Kevin would be happy to help draft the necessary legislation. I can’t bring it forward myself as I am barred from entering the USA, but I’d be happy to help drum up support.

Oh, and then you will need to make sure that you are a WSFS member and that you help to ensure that sensible people get elected to the management group. The reason that fandom has always been so heavily opposed to having such a thing is that if the wrong people get elected to such a thing, then you are totally and utterly screwed. Us middle class Brits can attest to that fact, because we (as a nation) voted in a far-right government with a massive majority.

Blackheart Knights

Arthuriana is clearly in the air at the moment. We have had the massively different takes of Legendborn and SisterSong, both of which I loved. We have Spear due from Nicola Griffith coming very soon. And we also have Blackheart Knights from Laure Eve. It has a woman in armour on a motorbike on the cover. How could I possibly resist?

Blackheart Knights is set in a future version of London that still has a veneer of technology but has reverted to a mediaeval society. Duelling by highly trained and presumably neutral gladiators (knights) is an acceptable way of settling legal disputes. Money is in the form of batteries, known as “tricks” because they contain electricity. There’s some very interesting worldbuilding going on here.

The story is told in two threads that will meet in the present day. One is told over a single year and features a young woman called Red who has a burning desire to become a knight. The other is told over nineteen years and tells how Art Dracones, bastard son of King Uther, wins the crown for himself and sets out to build a better society.

There’s not a huge amount more than I can tell you here, because you all know Arthur’s story and anything I say could easily become a spoiler. There are things that shouldn’t be spoiled. What I can tell you is that magic is a key part of the story. There are people whom Eve calls “godchildren” and whom I shall call “mutants” because that fits the near future setting much better. As with the mutants that we know and love, there are various groups of powers, but each individual is unique. Naturally they are viewed with deep suspicion by ordinary humans.

I loved much about this book. The worldbuilding is fabulous: just enough detail to be unique and fascinating, not too much to overwhelm the story. There are some great characters, with some nice innovation on the standard Arthurian cast. Gawain (sorry, Garad) in non-binary. Where I think it falls down is that it ends too quickly. Possibly it has to be constrained to a single volume for the story to work as conceived, though that’s sad because there is so much Arthuriana to play with. But the sudden rush to a climax in the last few chapters feels too pat and a bit forced.

Nevertheless, if you are into Arthuriana, or even just things like Shadowrun, I’d recommend this book. There’s a wealth of imagination on show here. I can see people setting role-playing campaigns in this world. As with the original Arthur cycle (and Pendragon which is based on it), everyone will know how the story ends, but there is 19 years of history to play out in order to get there. I think it would work very well.

book cover
Title: Blackheart Knights
By: Laure Eve
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Purchase links:
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Bookshop.org UK
See here for information about buying books though Salon Futura

Birds of Prey

OK, before I start I have to explain something. Leopards and hyenas are natural enemies. Firstly, the lazy bastards keep stealing our prey by ganging up on us in huge numbers. And secondly, unlike leopards who are creatures of impeccable taste, hyenas are exactly the sort of vile creatures who would eat people’s faces. It was probably them who started that horrible meme in the first place.

So when I discovered that Harley Quinn had a pet hyena, I’m afraid I was somewhat poorly disposed towards this movie. OK, hyenas to have a certain amount of feminist badassery, albeit thanks to some highly dubious childbirth techniques, and calling him Bruce is funny. I bet he does do that. But even so; hyena. Strike one.

Having got that out of the way, Birds of Prey is a fairly entertaining movie. It is not in the least bit realistic. It is also about comic book characters so it doesn’t have to be. Plus it is film about a bunch of highly capable women, some of whom do their best to be decent human beings, one of whom is a badly behaved kid, and one of whom is an utterly terrible person by her own admission. And she is a psychiatrist so she should know.

The plot basically consists of a long sequence of men proving what hopeless, misogynistic assholes they are, and our heroines getting excuses to beat the crap out of them in various elegant and entertaining ways. There is something about a diamond that is the key to the riches of a mafia family, but that’s easily forgotten.

It is funny, and frankly I’m not sure what else you can do with Gotham City. Adam West and co figured this out decades ago, and Frank Miller’s attempts to make Bruce Wayne into square-jawed macho action hero have only succeeded in making him more laughable. Comedy is the way to go, and Birds of Prey is pretty good in that department despite the utter awfulness of much that goes on. Margot Robbie is clearly having an absolute whale of a time. There is perhaps a limit to the number of times you can fairly laugh at some thug getting kicked in the nuts, but if that limit exists the film did not manage to find it.

As for the Hugos, I’m still thinking. I’ve watched three of the films thus far and I still think that Soul is probably the best. The three I haven’t seen all look to be various shades of awful. If I’m feeling rebellious when I fill in my ballot I might yet vote for Harley.

But not for Bruce.

Red Dust

Yoss, I am told, is a legend of Cuban science fiction. I am ashamed to say that this book is the first I had heard of him. If you haven’t either, there’s an interview with him on his publisher’s website which reveals that he also fronts a heavy metal band. Interesting chap.

Red Dust is a mystery novella staring a robot detective. Raymond lives and works on a giant space trading station called the William S Burroughs. It was constructed by the Galactic Trade Confederation when they discovered the Earthlings. It is parked out near Saturn and acts as a gateway between the humans and the rest of the galaxy. Quite rightly, the alien races who run the Confederation, don’t entirely trust these unpredictable new creatures.

If you are expecting a galactic Confederation with almost-friendly aliens such as Vulcans and Ferengi, think again. There are three alien races in Red Dust. There are the xenocidal insectoid Grodo, the huge, reptilian Colossaurs, and the Cetians who look exactly like humans but very much aren’t. All three races are entirely out for their own interests. We shouldn’t be surprised that a Cuban writer has a much darker view of galactic society than those of us who live in countries with a seat on the UN Security Council.

Raymond is actually a security droid, a Positronic Police Force officer or “pozzie”. His real identifier is MSX-3482-GZ, but he happens to have a passion for 20th Century English-language literature, in particular noir detective stories, hence his name. Some of his colleagues have different passions. They have adopted names like Zorro and Achilles. There are, of course, no dingy bars on the Burroughs. Nor are there beautiful dames who might lead an unwary gumshoe into danger. There aren’t even any murders. The security is too good. So when one does happen everyone is caught by surprise.

Naturally the authorities panic, and Raymond, having been very close to the incident and far too curious for his own good, gets put in charge of the investigation.

From there things escalate rapidly. I got the impression that Yoss had made his antagonist a bit too powerful, and consequently poor Raymond was robbed of much of his agency, but the ending worked well enough for me to be happy with the book. There are a fair few robot jokes along the way, which helped.

The one thing that concerned me about the book is the inclusion of a bunch of characters who are from a Roma community. They seemed to be a bit of a cultural stereotype. Not being Roma myself, I’m not going to pass judgement, but I would like to know what actual Roma think about the book.

Of course one of the issues with translation is that anglophone culture is not universal. So what I think, and what an anglophone Roma person might think, doesn’t necessarily translate to what a Cuban Roma person might think.

Talking of translation, David Fyre appears to have worked on a number of Yoss’s books. That’s always a good sign because author and translator will have had time to build up a good working relationship. Fyre has done a fine job here.

The book is only a novella, so it is a short read. I enjoyed it. Why not try a bit of Cuban science fiction for a change?

book cover
Title: Red Dust
By: Yoss
Translator: David Fyre
Publisher: Restless Books
Purchase links:
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Bookshop.org UK
See here for information about buying books though Salon Futura

Editorial – June 2021

Here I am again for another month. There’s a lot going on in my life, but most of it is not stuff you would want to read about here. I will leave ranting about British politics to my personal blog.

Of course there is Worldcon drama too, and that I can rant about here, so I have done.

Mostly, however, I’m just tired. There’s a ‘zine, it is more interesting than me.

Before I go, though, one quick tech point. Google is withdrawing FeedBurner. It will be dead by the next issue. I will be porting the functionality to another service, but if you rely on Feedburner to tell you about new posts here you may want to look for the July issue manually, just in case.

Issue #30

This is the May 2021 issue of Salon Futura. Here are the contents.


  • Cover: Steampunk Gears: Do we have a steampunk review in this issue? That might explain this cover.

  • A Master of Djinn: A review of A Master of Djinn, the new steampunk Cairo book from P. Djèlí Clark

  • Fugitive Telemetry: A review of the latest Martha Wells Murderbot book, Fugitive Telemetry

  • Defekt: Nino Cipri returns to the whacky world of LitenVärld furtniture stores in this new novella, Defekt

  • The Vanished Birds: Cheryl takes a look at The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez, who is one of the finalists for this year's Astounding Award.

  • Requiem Moon: A review of Requiem Moon, the second volume of CT Rwizi's African-themed fantasy series.

  • The Old Guard: A review of the Hugo Finalist movie, The Old Guard, and the graphic novel on which it was based.

  • Wonder Woman 1984: The Amazons are back. There's good and bad. The good is mostly in the extras on the disc.

  • Editorial – May 2021: The sun is shining in the UK. Cheryl is taking bets on how many days this will last. Meanwhile, in-person appearances are being planned.

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