Such a punch!

Mon 20 Jun 2022 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , | Leave a Comment | Posted by: Gavin

This week on on Book Riot’s Under the Radar SFF podcast Jenn and Sharifah discuss many interesting books (including Everyone on the Moon is Essential Personnel) and other things including a review of Alaya Dawn Johnson’s Reconstruction: Stories.

Alaya was recently chosen to co-write the first story in Janelle Monáe’s New York Times bestselling first book The Memory Librarian.

I enjoyed he podcast so much I used the voice memo app on my phone and then the dictation app on my laptop to make this lightly edited transcript. It’s definitely not 100% accurate as I was looking to capture the description of this book I love more than keep it to 100% of what was said. You can listen to the full episode or subscribe here:

Alaya Dawn Johnson is a writer whose career I have been happily following for some times now. This collection is such a punch. From the opening story right on through it is putting you on notice. You’re gonna go some places here and you’re not gonna be able to look away. It’s an amazing collection.
The title story is the last story in the collection and the longest  in the collection. It takes place during the end of the Civil War in the United States. You’re following a black woman who is a laundress, freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, and now following a regiment of black soldiers. It’s really good. That character, Sally, is so justifiably angry but one of the through lines of the story is a breakdown of the different kinds of anger and what they do to you and why you cling to them and how they affect you and how you move through the world through these different forms of anger. It’s so insightful and perceptive and so visceral and present.
The first story is such a punch. It’s called “A Guide to the Fruits of Hawaii” and it imagines a world — sort of our time — in which vampires are in charge and have enslaved humanity and put them in camps and are breeding them as a food supply and our main character is an overseer who is a human working for the vampires. So it’s about coercion and collaboration, what does it mean to survive? What does it mean to try to carve out enough power to do the good that you can while knowing that you are perpetuating harm? It’s so intense. It’s beautifully written.
The stories are not easy and I think they’re not supposed to be. I think Johnson is doing so much in here. There’s a huge range of what speculative elements she’s using between the stories and the tones shift and the settings shift. Each story is very different. They are so good. She is such good short story writer — she’s also an excellent novelist — but you really feel the power of her short fiction in this collection. And there’s a really interesting author note at the end.

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