Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred, first published in 1979, is an incredible novel. Though it’s speculative fiction utilizing time travel, much of its focus is showing a glimpse into the past, and the way the author incorporated so much about society into such a well paced story is nothing short of masterful. It’s a book I find difficult to recommend because it’s filled with ugliness and brutality due to its forthright examination of slavery, and as such, may be too grim for some to endure. Yet I want to recommend it to everyone because it is a powerful book showing exactly what fiction can be.

Kindred tells the story of Dana, a black woman suddenly transported from 1976 to the antebellum South. She has no idea how she got from her living room to a riverbank and does not even realize that she’s in a completely different century from whence she came: all she knows is that a redheaded child is about to drown before her eyes if she doesn’t do something about it. Without hesitation, Dana jumps into the water, pulls the boy to shore, and saves his life using artificial respiration—but soon fears saving his life will cost her own when she turns around to find herself facing the boy’s father and his rifle.

Dana is convinced she is about to be killed but instead ends up back in her house as suddenly as she left. Her husband only saw her disappear for a couple of seconds and can barely believe her account of what happened to her even though she returned drenched and muddy. Dana can hardly believe it herself and dreads the thought of it happening again—and later that evening, it does.

Once again, Dana sees a child in danger: a lone child with red hair a few years older than the drowning boy, this time standing in front of burning draperies. She puts out the fire and prevents the house from going up in flames but is not sent home immediately after the threat is gone as she was before. Dana learns that this boy, named Rufus, is the child she pulled out of the river earlier, now a few years older, and that not only is she in a different state but also a different time: the year 1815. As she converses with him, she comes to realize that this boy, the son of a slave owner, is the exact same Rufus recorded as one of her ancestors in the family Bible that was passed down to her. Somehow, they are connected by more than blood and he seems to be able to pull her into his time whenever he’s in trouble—and does so throughout his lifetime, again and again, sometimes keeping Dana in the 1800s for a long time.

Before Kindred, my only experience with Octavia Butler’s work was her novel Parable of the Sower. Though thoughtful with a wonderful main character, I found it more an interesting book than a page turner, but Kindred is both gripping and reflective. It doesn’t spend a lot of time introducing Dana and her life in the present timeline (although it does fill in some details about her relationship with her husband Kevin and both their families’ displeasure with their interracial marriage later) but quickly plunges into her trips to the past. From the very beginning, I liked her and was also quite frustrated on her behalf as she kept getting pulled backwards in time to rescue to her accident-prone ancestor, often from his own folly. Dana is practical, compassionate, and far tougher than she gives herself credit for being, and the main reason I was glued to the book was to find out what happened to her.

Even though it is technically a book about time travel, I didn’t think that was the primary focus of Kindred. Both the basic idea of what’s happening to Dana and Rufus’ identity are revealed early, but how Rufus managed to pull her into his time or why precisely she went back instead of another is never explained. Dana definitely has an impact on the past as she saves Rufus several times and becomes an important figure in his life, but it’s not a book that’s about accidentally making major changes affecting the present or one that dwells too much on the butterfly effect (although Dana does have some concerns about what would happen to Rufus’ daughter Hagar and the rest of her line, including herself, if she were to fail to save him before he can father this child). Most of Kindred takes place in the past and shows Dana’s attempts to survive there, allowing readers to see events firsthand through her eyes as a black woman from the late 1900s transported to the antebellum South.

As such, it’s often a distressing story. When Dana returns to the present the first time after nearly being shot, she’s traumatized and her time in the past only gets worse from there as she witnesses firsthand—and is subject to—the inhumane treatment of slaves. She describes seeing someone beaten and how shockingly different it is from televised violence, as she can smell their sweat and hear their cries. She observes a chilling game played by slave children in which they pretend to sell each other to the highest bidder. It includes racial slurs, violence, and rape: it is unflinchingly honest when depicting the atrocities human beings are capable of committing.

This is why my thoughts kept turning to “Mind of Her Mind,” a superb essay on the work of Octavia Butler that Wendy wrote for Women in SF&F Month 2015, when reading Kindred, particularly this part:


Her protagonists’ experiences often made me feel uncomfortable, to say the least, not merely because she so openly broached such taboo topics, but because Butler showed me a frightening world where the scariest person was me. Butler’s writing feels as if she is holding a mirror up in front of the reader, revealing humanity at its best and at its worst and questioning your place within it. What we consider good and evil, right and wrong, is all called into question as Butler peers into our souls with her words.

Kindred is frightening because, despite the time travel and fictional characters, it’s rooted in history and mirrors society. I felt one line in particular that Dana uttered during a conversation with Kevin struck to the heart of this novel: “I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery” (pp. 101). It shows how the attitudes that permeate society reinforce racial inequality, and how it can be easy to be an observer of injustice, especially the further one is from being personally affected by it. Dana herself at times felt like an observer as a visitor from the past, but her white husband found it easier to dismiss the treatment of slaves as not as bad as he may have expected instead of seeing it as plenty bad enough.

Seeing Rufus at different points in time also shows a boy who could have grown up to be kind under different circumstances. As a child, he’s certainly absorbed what society has taught him and repeats what he’s learned from his parents, but Dana actually likes him and has hope that maybe, just maybe, she can be a positive influence and he won’t end up like his cruel father. Yet, he turns out to be largely terrible, though he and even his father still have moments when they are not completely heartless, making their more horrific moments all the more disquieting.

Kindred is the absorbing tale of a young woman forced to navigate the troubled waters of a hostile era she’s only experienced through books and television, and it’s also an in-depth examination of society, particularly racial inequality and its reinforcement. Given its exploration of slavery and related themes, much of it is quite harrowing, but it’s all the more powerful and memorable because of its candidness bringing the worst of humanity to light. Even though much of what is described is common knowledge, the way Octavia Butler presents it through Dana’s perspective is particularly impactful, and it’s tragic how relevant this story is in the year 2016.

My Rating: 10/10

Where I got my reading copy: I received it for Christmas a couple years ago (it was on my wish list).

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

Before I get to the latest books, here’s what’s been posted since the last one of these features in case you missed it:

  • Review of the November Patreon book, Biting the Sun by Tanith Lee
    • This one was hard to review because it was a book I liked having read more than a book I liked reading, and many of the issues I had with it actually made sense artistically, fitting with the story and character. A lot of the main ideas do not seem particularly original (at least, when reading it about 40 years after it was published!) and some of it is predictable, but there’s still something about how it’s executed that makes it unique and memorable—and makes me glad I read it even if the first book in the omnibus wasn’t particularly enjoyable to read.
  • Announcement of the December Patreon book, Sign for the Sacred by Storm Constantine
    • I love Storm Constantine’s Wraeththu books so I’m excited about reading this for December’s Patreon review and am reading it now. It didn’t hook me immediately like the Wraeththu books, but I am very interested in seeing where it goes!

Now for the books!

The Nature of a Pirate by A.M. Dellamonica

The Nature of a Pirate (Hidden Sea Tales #3) by A.M. Dellamonica

The third Hidden Sea Tales novel was just released last week (hardcover, ebook). Tor.com has an excerpt from The Nature of a Pirate, as well as from the first two books in the series:

Some prequel short stories are also on Tor.com:


Marine videographer and biologist Sophie Hansa has spent the past few months putting her knowledge of science to use on the strange world of Stormwrack, solving seemingly impossible cases where no solution had been found before.

When a series of ships within the Fleet of Nations, the main governing body that rules a loose alliance of island nation states, are sunk by magical sabotage, Sophie is called on to find out why. While surveying the damage of the most recent wreck, she discovers a strange-looking creature—a fright, a wooden oddity born from a banished spell—causing chaos within the ship. The question is who would put this creature aboard and why?

The quest for answers finds Sophie magically bound to an abolitionist from Sylvanner, her father’s homeland. Now Sophie and the crew of the Nightjar must discover what makes this man so unique while outrunning magical assassins and villainous pirates, and stopping the people responsible for the attacks on the Fleet before they strike again.

Additional Books:

Since January, I’ve been reviewing one book a month selected by a poll on Patreon so this month marks the end of one year of these reviews (all of which can be found here). The December theme is religion—fantasy books with descriptions involving divinities, prophets, priestesses, etc., in some way—and the choices were as follows:

The December book is…

Sign for the Sacred by Storm Constantine
Sign for the Sacred by Storm Constantine

In a world dominated by the austere religion Ixmarity, a charismatic prophet arises – Resenence Jeopardy. Once a vibrancer of the Ixmaritian Church, a sacred dancer, Jeopardy has escaped his bonds of faith and is drawing the sons and daughters of the rich families of Gleberune to his heretical movement. The Church moves against him and his followers with increasing zeal and cruelty.

Lucien Earthlight, also a former vibrancer, is obsessed with Jeopardy and travels the land always just behind the man he is compelled to find. His life is unravelling and melting into the surreal, which intensifies when he meets a mysterious boy in the city of Gallimaufry, whose words are far older than his years.

Delilah Latterkin’s life is shattered when Trajan Sacripent, a follower of Jeopardy afflicted by a terrible curse, slaughters her entire community. Young and innocent as she is, she is bound to Sacripent against her will and together they too travel to seek the prophet.

Cleo Sinister, a poisoner’s wife, finds her life touched by the death of a child – a son of Jeopardy brought to her husband for disposal. A mysterious inner call reaches out to her too, and she is driven to seek out the father of the child. Upon the road she meets a forlorn and broken paladin, Dauntless Javelot, who becomes her reluctant protector.

Meeting many strange and mysterious people along the path, as their worlds grow ever more peculiar, these travellers are fated to converge upon one spot: the city of Gallimaufry where, as the Church militia conspire to murder him, Jeopardy will reveal himself for perhaps the last time. But nothing is as it seems and, as their acceptance of reality is challenged continually, none of the company will survive these bizarre days unscathed or unchanged.

I absolutely LOVE Storm Constantine’s Wraeththu books so I am very excited to read this novel!

Biting the Sun
by Tanith Lee
384pp (Mass Market Paperback)
My Rating: 6.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.6/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.23/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.23/5

Biting the Sun is an omnibus containing both of Tanith Lee’s Four BEE novels, Don’t Bite the Sun and Drinking Sapphire Wine, originally published in the 1970s. These two short science fiction books work best as a single volume: the first introduces the world and explores the main protagonist’s struggles with finding meaning within its confines, and the second has more forward momentum and is a more satisfying story.


My friend Hergal had killed himself again. This was the fortieth time he had crashed his bird-plane on to the Zeefahr Monument and had to have a new body made. And when I went to visit him at Limbo, I was wandering around for ages before the robot found him for me. He was dark this time, about a foot taller, with very long hair and a mustache, all glittery gold fibers, and these silly wings growing out of his shoulders and ankles.
— pp. 3

Biting the Sun‘s narrator (whose name is never revealed) lives in the dome Four BEE and is Jang, a young-ish person who has completed hypno-school and the child stage of life but is not yet considered ready to be an Older Person. Jang are expected to spend about half a century completely devoted to seeking pleasure and recreation before moving on to the next stage of life, and their most common problem seems to be recognizing their own friends. Mortality is no longer an issue since humans can—and quite frequently do—change bodies, and when someone dies, their consciousness is simply transferred to a new body.

After being Jang for about a quarter of a century, the main protagonist becomes bored with hedonistic pursuits. Don’t Bite the Sun largely focuses on her attempts to find purpose in her life, only to find that her efficiently run society does not allow for much individual creativity or achievement. When Drinking Sapphire Wine begins, he (though the main character identifies as predominantly female and is usually a woman throughout these books, the narrator was male at the time) has become fascinated with reading the History Records and revives an old tradition—and in doing so, commits a crime unheard of for ages. As punishment, his memory will be erased and he will eventually be reintegrated into the community as a whole new person, but he is given a choice about whether to do so immediately or live out the remainder of this life first—as an exile in the desert in one final body that will ultimately age and die (which, he is informed, is not a recommended experience).

Biting the Sun is an odd pair of books. After finishing Don’t Bite the Sun, I felt that, though it was readable, I didn’t really like it: having to constantly refer to the Jang slang glossary at first was distracting, a bored main character makes for a somewhat boring story, the final chapter made me roll my eyes, and it was just overall a very strange book. And yet… It definitely grew on me, even if I still don’t love it. Drinking Sapphire Wine was a better book with more plot progression, and even though it utilized some common tropes and could be predictable, I found this omnibus fresher and more memorable than many of the books I’ve read (or tried to read) lately. My thoughts keeping going back to it, and I’ve found it’s a book I enjoy having read even if I didn’t always enjoy reading it (especially the first of the two books).

The highlight of this story is how immersive it is: readers are thrown right into the world and see it through the narrator’s eyes, getting a clear picture of what it’s like to be Jang, to live in a world with no responsibilities—one in which people can design their own bodies and change them almost like clothes. (Almost, because although people do often switch bodies, there are also some limits to how often they can do so!) Though these two books give a great overview of the main protagonist’s world, they do not delve into how it came to be that way or why certain rules are in place. Personally, I would have liked to have had a better understanding of the ins and outs of this universe Lee created, especially since there was a lot that I didn’t feel entirely made sense, but I also felt that this worked well with the story and character despite my preference. After all, the narrator has no reason to be concerned with the hows and whys of her world as she’s going through her everyday life, and my feeling that the universe was pretty and shiny on the surface but lacking depth was actually quite fitting given that this matched what she experienced.

Though character-focused due to the centrality of the main character and her obstacles, I didn’t feel like she had a wholly fleshed out personality beyond that she had a desire to create that wasn’t being met. Once again, this lack actually was suited to her world and situation since her world didn’t value or need individual creativity, and she is a sympathetic character as one who doesn’t fit in and is searching for a purpose, but I didn’t find her a particularly compelling character.

Biting the Sun does not have particularly original ideas (at least, to me as someone reading it about 40 years after it was published) but its execution makes it both unique and frustrating. Though I want more detail and depth, any shallowness or character or worldbuilding seems fitting since it is primarily about a character who does live a charmed (if dull) life—just as it seems fitting that the second book in the omnibus has more substance. It is, at least, an interesting book to ponder—an unforgettable book, even—even if it wasn’t entirely my cup of tea.

My Rating: 6.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

This book is November’s selection from a poll on Patreon.

Sci Fi Month 2016 Graphic

Since November is Sci-Fi Month hosted by Rinn Reads and Over the Effing Rainbow, the November book is science fiction!

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

I didn’t get one of these posts up last weekend so this covers the last two weeks, but the last couple of weeks brought some books that sound rather compelling!

I’m working on a review of Octavia Butler’s Kindred that I’m hoping to get up next week, though I’m not sure if I’ll be able to finish it with the baking and cooking I’ll be doing for Thanksgiving (plus I need to start a review of Biting the Sun by Tanith Lee, the November Patreon selection, soon!).

On to the new arrivals!

Pantomime by Laura Lam

Pantomime (Micah Grey #1) by Laura Lam

Laura Lam’s debut novel—winner of the 2014 Bisexual Book Award for Speculative Fiction and a finalist for various other awards including the Cybils and 2014 British Fantasy Society Best Newcomer Award—was just re-released in paperback in the UK last week. It will also be coming to the US in February. The Tor UK website has an excerpt from Pantomime.

The other two books in the series, Shadowplay and Masquerade, are being released with stylistically matching covers. (I really like the new covers!)

There is a UK-only Goodreads giveaway of the new edition of Pantomime ending December 15.


In a land of lost wonders, the past is stirring once more . . .

Gene’s life resembles a debutante’s dream. Yet she hides a secret that would see her shunned by the nobility. Gene is both male and female. Then she displays unwanted magical abilities – last seen in mysterious beings from an almost-forgotten age. Matters escalate further when her parents plan a devastating betrayal, so she flees home, dressed as a boy.

The city beyond contains glowing glass relics from a lost civilization. They call to her, but she wants freedom not mysteries. So, reinvented as ‘Micah Grey’, Gene joins the circus. As an aerialist, she discovers the joy of flight – but the circus has a dark side. She’s also plagued by visions foretelling danger. A storm is howling in from the past, but will she heed its roar?

The Found and the Lost: The Collected Novellas of Ursula K. Le Guin

The Found and the Lost: The Collected Novellas of Ursula K. Le Guin by Ursula K. Le Guin

This large collection containing thirteen novellas by acclaimed author Ursula K. Le Guin was released last month (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). The publisher’s website has an excerpt from The Found and the Lost.


Every novella by Ursula K. Le Guin, an icon in American literature, collected for the first time—and introduced by the legendary author—in one breathtaking volume.

Ursula K. Le Guin has won multiple prizes and accolades from the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to the Newbery Honor, the Nebula, Hugo, World Fantasy, and PEN/Malamud Awards. She has had her work collected over the years, but never as a complete retrospective of her longer works as represented in the wonderful The Found and the Lost.

This collection is a literary treasure chest that belongs in every home library.

The Unreal and the Real: The Selected Short Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin

The Unreal and the Real: The Selected Short Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin by Ursula K. Le Guin

This thick collection of thirty-nine short stories selected by Ursula K. Le Guin—some of which have won awards, including the Nebula, Hugo, World Fantasy, and James Tiptree Jr. Awards—is available now (hardcover, ebook).

The publisher’s website has an excerpt from The Unreal and the Real.


A collection of short stories by the legendary and iconic Ursula K. Le Guin—selected by the author, and combined in one volume for the first time.

The Unreal and the Real is a collection of some of Ursula K. Le Guin’s best short stories. She has won multiple prizes and accolades from the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to the Newbery Honor, the Nebula, Hugo, World Fantasy, and PEN/Malamud Awards. She has had her work collected over the years, but this is the first short story volume combining a full range of her work.

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

Six Wakes will be released on January 31, 2017 (trade paperback, ebook).


A space adventure set on a lone ship where the clones of a murdered crew must find their murderer — before they kill again.

It was not common to awaken in a cloning vat streaked with drying blood.

At least, Maria Arena had never experienced it. She had no memory of how she died. That was also new; before, when she had awakened as a new clone, her first memory was of how she died.

Maria’s vat was in the front of six vats, each one holding the clone of a crew member of the starship Dormire, each clone waiting for its previous incarnation to die so it could awaken. And Maria wasn’t the only one to die recently…

Additional Book(s):

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This week’s post covers the last 2 weeks of books in the mail. Here’s what happened since the last time this feature was posted in case you missed any of it:

On to the latest books in the mail!

Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection by Brandon Sanderson

Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection by Brandon Sanderson

This collection of stories set in the Cosmere universe will be released on November 22 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). It contains the Hugo Award-winning novella “The Emperor’s Soul,” as well as stories related to Elantris and Mistborn—and a brand new novella set after Words of Radiance. There’s a preface, a little bit about each setting, and a postscript after each story, and the title page for each story related to the novels clearly states whether or not there are spoilers, which books will be spoiled (if any), and whether or not any spoilers are major or minor.

Brandon Sanderson is doing an Arcanum Unbounded tour starting November 22 and will be visiting the following cities:

  • Provo, Utah (November 22)
  • Fort Collins, Colorado (November 29)
  • San Francisco, California (November 30)
  • Seattle, Washington (December 1)
  • Hoboken, New Jersey (December 3)
  • Chicago, Illinois (December 6)

For details on the tour locations and times, visit Tor.com.


An all-new 40,000-word Stormlight Archive novella, “Edgedancer,” will be the crown jewel of Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection, the first book of short fiction by #1 New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson. A must read for fans of the series.

The collection will include nine works in all. The first eight are:

“The Hope of Elantris” (Elantris)
“The Eleventh Metal” (Mistborn)
“The Emperor’s Soul” (Elantris)
“Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania, Episodes 28 through 30” (Mistborn)
“White Sand” (excerpt; Taldain)
“Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell” (Threnody)
“Sixth of Dusk” (First of the Sun)
“Mistborn: Secret History” (Mistborn)

These wonderful works, originally published on Tor.com and elsewhere individually, convey the expanse of the Cosmere and tell exciting tales of adventure Sanderson fans have come to expect, including the Hugo Award-winning novella, “The Emperor’s Soul” and an excerpt from the graphic novel “White Sand.”

Arcanum Unbounded will also contain the Stormlight Archive novella “Edgedancer,” which will appear in this book for the first time anywhere.

Finally, this collection includes essays and illustrations for the various planetary systems in which the stories are set.

Additional Books: