#REVIEW: SLAY, by Brittney Morris

Decided to go full-res on the cover, because I love it.

I’ve already talked a couple of times about my plan to read 52 books by women of color this year– no link, because it’s not complicated, that’s the entire plan— and I decided to start with Brittney Morris’ Slay, which had been on my unread shelf for a minute waiting for me to be in a YA mood.

The premise has been described as Ready Player One meets The Hate U Give, which … isn’t half-bad, actually, as these things go; it’s about a seventeen-year-old named Kiera Johnson, an honors student and coding prodigy who has created a Black-themed MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, for those of you who don’t speak fluent geek) called SLAY. And then one of the players is killed in the real world over a dispute connected to the game, and, well, all sorts of merry hell breaks loose.

Here’s the interesting thing about this book: having read it, and having had various and sundry opinions about how certain things were handled this way as opposed to that way, or how this aspect of the plot might align with my understanding of how the world works vs that aspect … I have come to the conclusion that a fair portion of My Opinions on this book don’t matter. At all. Which is … kind of a weird thing to say in a book review?

Nonetheless.

Y’all, this is the Blackest goddamned book I have ever read in my life, and any young Black women you may happen to know should have this book put into their hands as quickly as possible, particularly if those young Black women have any preexisting interests in science or technology or video games, and once you’re done making sure all the young Black women you know have read the book, you need to start making sure everybody else reads it too.

When stood up against that fact of the book, my lil’ white-dudeley quibbles about whatever goofy-ass thing I might want to nitpick are just not that goddamn important. Evangelizing for the book is.

So, yeah: read it. And buy some copies for your local schools. And then buy some more copies, and give those away. But, uh, buy it at a bookstore, because for no clear reason Amazon doesn’t think it’s out until this summer. I assure you, it’s available.

Monthly Reads: December 2019

Book of the Month: CHILDREN OF RUIN, by Adrian Tchaikovsky.

Unread Shelf: December 31, 2019

Christmas has been laughing and pointing at my desire to reduce the size of my unread shelf.

There may be a flurry of posts today and tomorrow, as I clean up a bunch of end-of-year stuff. We’ll see how productive I get.

On Reading: 2019-2020

It does sort of fascinate me how since I haven’t had the mental energy to write fiction and don’t have the intestinal fortitude to write about politics this blog has spent 2019 morphing into a book review site. Not a bad thing, necessarily, but it’s interesting to see how the site changes as my priorities change.

You should friend or follow me on Goodreads, if you haven’t yet.

At any rate, pictures first! Here are the books I read this year:

Some statistics that I realize only matter to me (but it’s my blog, and if y’all haven’t realized I’m a numbers nerd by now…)

  • According to Goodreads, that’s 135 books for a total of 49,866 pages. This does have full page-count for some books I DNFed but does not count any of the comic books I read this year, which Goodreads would have allowed me to add had I liked. I probably bought at least a few hundred comics this year. Let’s say around 50K pages and leave it at that.
  • 56 of those books were by authors I hadn’t read anything by before this year.
  • Diversity check: I deliberately didn’t keep track of author stats this year because I wanted to see how I read if I didn’t pay attention to who I was reading all that much. About 61 books were by women– nearly half, which isn’t too bad– and at least 41 were by people of color. I feel like that could have been higher.
  • Why “about” and “at least”? Because for some of them it isn’t quite immediately clear how they identify and for a couple at least I may just be wrong. I remember spending some time thinking Hannu Rajaniemi was Indian; he is Finnish, which makes him literally as white as it is possible to be. 🙂
  • Interestingly, despite those numbers, 12 of the 15 slots in my Best Books list this year went to women or people of color. I did not set that up on purpose.
  • One major failure this year was that I wanted to do a lot more rereading, and … just didn’t. If I remember right, I wanted to reread at least 30 books this year and only made it to fifteen. I have to do better on this score next year; eventually my bookshelves are going to literally collapse on me if I don’t do something.

135 books is quite a lot, even by my standards, and I probably won’t make it to that number again next year. Two goals: nebulously, I want to reread more of my books (again!) and I am going to focus on reading books by women of color this year. I want to have read 52 of them by the end of the year– one for each week in the year, although I don’t promise to literally read one of them each week. I’m thinking about making a point to review each of them as I go along, too, or at least a reviewlet; we’ll see what I do about that. Also, this is 52 books, not 52 authors, so if I end up reading three N.K. Jemisin books all three of them count. Just FYI. Trans, genderqueer, and nonbinary authors will be considered on a case-by-case basis; I’m probably going to count anyone who doesn’t explicitly identify as male, but I’m going to continue to call the list “women of color” because “people who do not identify as male of color” seems a trifle too wordy.

First, though, I gotta finish this big-ass book about cancer I just picked up, because obviously we gotta end 2019 and begin 2020 on a positive note, right?

In which I read The Witcher

… or, rather, I read the first two hundred pages of Blood and Elves, which I’ve come to discover is technically the third Witcher book, after two books of short stories, but is branded as the first book because it’s the first novel.

And it’s terrible. Absolutely unforgivably terrible. I went and looked at other bad reviews of it on Goodreads, and many of them seem to feel like the first two books (the short stories) were pretty good and then this one shit the bed, but that sentence with all the arrows pointed at it up there is where I decided I really was going to put this down, and then I read a few more pages anyway, and it’s just a Goddamned awful book. I’m going to lay a bit of the blame on the translator– I am willing to wager a small sum that the words she translated as “bite your own backside in fury” are a Polish proverb expressing angry frustration, but if that’s the case it should never have been translated literally. As a guy with a couple of degrees in Biblical studies I take translation pretty seriously, and there is no good reason to ever translate a proverb literally when you’re translating for a different culture. But it wasn’t the translator who wrote the endless conversations where characters explain things to each other that they already know, or the utter disgrace to women everywhere that is Triss Merigold’s character, or who decided to write two hundred pages about a guy called a Witcher where he does no Witching of any kind.

Seriously, the dude’s supposed to be a monster hunter. There is none of that in this book, or at least not in the first half. It’s dreadfully boring. And I was dumb enough to jump straight to the box set of the first three novels, so I not only have this thing sitting on my shelf now but two other books that I have no intention of reading. Bah.


And so long as we’re talking about works read in translation, the book before dipping into the world of the Witcher was Jin Yong’s A Hero Born, which is the first book of a massively successful series in China that has only recently been translated into English. This is one of those books that I ordered because I got flooded with people talking about it in a short period of time, and the phrase “Chinese Lord of the Rings” kept coming up.

I don’t know what the Chinese Lord of the Rings might be, but it is not Legends of the Condor Heroes. To be honest, having read it, I cannot for the life of me imagine what the hell possessed anyone to compare those two books to each other, other than the knowledge that it would get my specific subtype of nerd to order a copy. They were both initially published in the fifties. That’s all I’ve got. What A Hero Born is is a perfectly serviceable wuxia novel, or in other words a book set in ancient China that is all about powerful martial artists going around and doing things.

What things are they doing? Hard to say, because rather than describe the action most of the time Jin Yong just names the move and either expects you to know what that is (which I can’t believe is actually the case, but I suppose might be) or expects you to fill in the details yourself. In other words, you might have one character attack another with a Rooster Masturbates the Moose move and have that move be countered with an Insipid Charlatan, but the variant from the Batman Eats a Blueberry Crepe school of kung fu, not the normal one.

What’s that mean? Hell if I know. And clearly this works in China, and I didn’t hate the book by any means, but it was sort of a slog.

So, yeah. So far, not regretting writing my Best Books of the Year post with a couple of days left in the year.