Ghosts of Berlin: Stories by Rudolph Herzog – A Review

Ghosts of Berlin Rudolph Herzog

Ghosts of Berlin: Stories by Rudolph Herzog
Originally published in Germany under the title:
Truggestalten
Translated by Emma Rault
Published by Melville House
Released in the US October 8th, 2019
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

Note: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affects my opinion. 

Author Rudolph Herzog is best known for his BBC/ARD documentary about humor in the Third Reich, which he also turned into a book called Dead Funny (which I will definitely be reading). If I’m not mistaken, this collection of short stories is his first foray into fiction, and he did a damn good job.

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Rudolph Herzog

Ghosts of Berlin is a collection of macabre and strange tales set in Berlin. The stories include a man meeting a strange woman older than she appears with some interesting dietary habits, a ghost from the time of the Berlin Wall, and a bizarre man who seems to never age and enjoys riding people (yes, literally. Like, on their backs).

It’s quite difficult to describe these stories without giving too much away. There are elements of horror and surrealism, but they’re usually slight; the type of element in the story that leaves you with more questions than you started with. It’s artfully done, however, and I finished each story wishing for more while still being satisfied with what I’d been given.

At its heart, Ghosts of Berlin is a collection of stories placing people from today with the ghosts of the past, and it’s wonderful. I know the style won’t be for everyone, but if you are a fan of slightly unusual ghosts stories and subtly creepy tales, you won’t regret reading Herzog’s book. I’m certain that I’ll be re-reading it.


Have you read any of Rudolph Herzog’s books? What are your favorite books originally published in Germany? Let me know in the comments!




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Binti by Nnedi Okorafor – A Review

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Binti (Binti #1) by Nnedi Okorafor
Science Fiction | Novella
Published by Tor.com
Released September 22nd, 2015
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_2_and_a_half_stars

Binti is the first in a trilogy of science fiction novellas written by Nigerian-American writer Nnedi Okorafor. The series has been wildly successful, winning both the 2015 and 2016 Hugo Award for best novella.

The story is centered around Binti, a member of an ethnic group known as the Himba based on Earth. She is the first of her people to be accepted into an intergalactic university, called Oomza Uni. Her family does not wish for her to go, as they would rather she stay and assist her father in his astrolabe shop.

Nnedi Okorafor
Nnedi Okorafor

One night, Binti makes the decision to go to the university, hoping her family will one day forgive her. She can’t pass up such a unique opportunity. On the spaceship to take her to the university, things don’t go quite as planned when a hostile alien race, known as the Meduse, takes over the ship and Binti is the only one left alive.

As this is a novella, obviously there’s not much room for backstory, which is one of the reasons I had a great deal of trouble connecting to this story. The plot, structure, and world (or universe)-building is all easy to understand, but I didn’t find myself enjoying any of it, even as a die-hard science fiction fan. I know I’m in the minority with this opinion, but the story felt really flat and simplistic to me, and I don’t have any interest in continuing the series.

Despite the short length, Okorafor did a wonderful job of Binti’s character development. While the plot of the story is definitely important, Binti’s character is the main spotlight here. She has to protect herself against the Meduse and learn a great deal in a short period of time. Binti is immediately likable and carried the story. It was also nice to see a talented math-loving female character.

I loved the concept of this story and the importance that Okorafor placed upon cultural differences and acceptance, which is undoubtedly an important lesson. However, I found it hard to be sympathetic to the Meduse, who commit an act of terrorism and mass-violence upon boarding Binti’s ship. I get it – misunderstanding between cultures, language barriers, and all that – but damn, it was hard to feel much pity for them.

Despite not loving this novella, I’m still very much intrigued by Nnedi Okorafor’s writing. I have a copy of one of her other novels, Akata Witch, that I’m really looking forward to reading. This one just missed the mark for me.


Have you read Binti? What did you think? Let us know in the comments!





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Doctor Who: Nothing O’Clock by Neil Gaiman – A Review

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Doctor Who: Nothing O’Clock (E-Short #11) by Neil Gaiman
Science Fiction | Short Story
Published by Puffin
Released November 21, 2013
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_3_stars

This is another book that I read for the 2019 Reading Rush, this time for the prompt “Read a book with a non-human main character.” I was coming down to the very last day of the challenge, so thankfully I had this short story downloaded to my Kindle already.

Nothing O’Clock is one of twelve short stories written to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. The series had some fantastic authors contribute to it, such as Holly Black and Patrick Ness. Each short stories tells a tale of a different Doctor.

So far this is the only one of the twelve that I’ve read, but that won’t be the case for long. Neil Gaiman wrote Nothing O’Clock, which follows the Eleventh Doctor (played by Matt Smith in the television series) and his companion Amy Pond.

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When the society of the Times Lords still existed, they built a prison for a species known as the Kin, who were eventually forgotten about, especially after the Time Lords were destroyed. The Kin have escaped, however, and their plan is to legally take over Earth. The Doctor, as can be expected, is having none of this, and it’s up to him to save the day and return the planet back to humanity.

Neil Gaiman is no stranger to Doctor Who. He’s also written two scripts for the television series – “The Doctor’s Wife” and “Nightmare in Silver.” “The Doctor’s Wife” is actually one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes. All of the stories/scripts that Gaiman have written have been for the Eleventh Doctor, and he does such a great job with him.

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Similar to the two scripts Gaiman wrote, Nothing O’Clock is just as dark, creepy, and silly as you’d expect. I’ve always been appreciative of writers who can write the Eleventh Doctor well, and find that perfect blend of hero and madman.

The story is surprisingly complex for how short it is and would have fit right into the television series. The reason I’m rating it three stars is mainly due to the fact that I’m comparing it to other Doctor Who stories – both in the television series and in written form. Compared to the rest of the Doctor Who universe, this story falls a bit flat. It’s still very enjoyable though, so if you’re a Doctor Who fan, this story is a must-read.

Finally, a quick note – this story is available as a Kindle ebook as well as being included in Neil Gaiman’s collection of short stories, Trigger Warning


Have you read Nothing O’Clock or any of the other 50th anniversary short stories? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!




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Our Forest – A Short Story

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Our Forest by Penny Wright

This short story was inspired by a photograph I saw of a pair of children walking into a forest together. 


Our parents were arguing in the kitchen again.

It was starting to seem as though this was becoming a nightly routine. Father would come home from work, already upset at something his boss said to him or that a co-worker didn’t do, and he would look around the house and immediately find something to take his anger out on Mother about. It was typically something small and pointless, like a pair of shoes being in the middle of the floor, but he would yell at her, then she would yell at him, and it would continue on like that for hours.

The fighting bothered me, for sure, but I’ve always been more concerned about how it seems to affect Thomas, my little brother. Thomas has been my closest friend since he was born, his little baby hands held in my own as he learned to walk and then started following me everywhere I went. He’s so quiet and so well-behaved, and as a result, is easily forgotten when our parents attack one another. They don’t see how much their yelling bothers him, but I see it, and all I want to do is protect him from it.

It’s high summer here, and the sun is still up despite it’s being dinner time. The fighting is a bit louder than normal, and Thomas is hiding in our room, staring out the window. I grab his hand.

Thomas doesn’t speak, but dutifully slips his shoes on and follows me out of his room and down the front steps of the house. He doesn’t question, and I know he would follow me anywhere. Our home is set in front of the woods of a national park. Our grandparent’s refused to sell the land to the park, even though all of their neighbors did, and now we’re the only family in this part of town for miles.

We’re not supposed to play in the forest according to our parents, because there are bears and wolves and wicked people, but I’ve been sneaking in since I was old enough to play outside on my own. It’s the place I find most relaxing, and I forget all of the things that make me unhappy as soon as I walk past the first line of trees. I’ve never taken Thomas out here with me though. I’m not sure why I haven’t, but tonight is as good a time as any.

We walk deeper and deeper into the woods, Thomas still holding my hand and walking slightly behind me on my left. The ground is still damp from an afternoon thunderstorm, and it lends a misty, almost magical quality to the forest. Unseen birds chirp to one another among the branches, and we inhale the green scent all around us.

I stop walking for a moment and look down at Thomas, whose eyes are wide and looking all around him. He’s only six years old, but I can tell that his first impression of these trees and his surroundings are going to be something he remembers for a long time. Behind us, we hear a soft noise, and turn to see a small red fox walking along a downed tree, giving us only the briefest of glances before skittering off. A bluebird lands on a branch in front of us, chirps, and takes off again.

Thomas is smiling, something I haven’t seen in weeks. Our parents and their fighting are all but forgotten in his new surroundings, and I wish I could keep him out here with me forever. We walk further into the woods, his smile growing with every step.

 

Book Review: Tales from The Warming by Lorin R. Robinson

“Without taking her eyes off the emerald waters of the island’s central lagoon, she said: ‘This is unbearably lovely. What a tragedy that the people who contributed least to the causes of the warming are the ones who bear its greatest burdens.'”

The Book

Tales from The Warming: 10 Near-Future Stories Envisioning the Human Impact of the Climate Crisis by Lorin R. Robinson
Amazon | Goodreads 
Published by Open Books
Released April 20, 2017
Author Links: Website | Facebook | Twitter
I received a copy of this book from Open Books in exchange for an honest review.

What is it About?

Tales from The Warming is a collection of ten short stories that highlight the projected effects of climate change on our world. Each story takes place in the near future and is set in a particular location, starting with Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2022 and ending in Greenland in 2059. As Robinson writes in the forward,

“The stories in this collection are thought exercises in which I examine the human impact of the climate crisis. They are speculative fiction or, perhaps, they could be included in the recently named new genre – climate fiction.”

The stories are all vastly different, and cover subjects as diverse as human migration and climate refugees, to powerful cyclones, and self-sustaining engineering projects.

My Thoughts

As someone whose insomnia is caused, in part, due to the melting ice caps, the amount of plastic in the ocean, and sea level rise, I loved the idea for this book. I feel that one of the best ways to get people to care about climate change is to give them real-life examples of the consequences of dragging our feet on this issue, and that’s exactly what Robinson has done.

Each story is so different that I thought I’d share a few brief thoughts on each one:

Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Mt. Kilimanjaro
  • Kilimanjaro, February 2022 – Kent Whitaker is a journalist for the Environmental News Network and climbs Mt Kilimanjaro in order to do a segment on what’s left of the famous snows of Kilimanjaro. I enjoyed this one, heartbreaking though it was. The thing is, this is actually projected to happen. A part of the reason I loved it so much is that I’ve always been a fan of stories about mountain climbing.
  • Exodus, Polynesia 2027 – This tale of an island’s population making the decision to leave their ancestral home due to rising sea level was fascinating. Climate change refugees are inevitable, and this seemed like one of the most realistic stories in this collection.
  • The Perfect Storm, Bangladesh, 2029 – A poor family in Bangladesh ride out a massive cyclone in an old boat they found. The imagery is horrific; homes being washed away in the deadly flooding, bodies caught up on trees, entire communities gone.
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The Canals of Venice
  • Francesca and Paulo, Venice, 2032 – This was the only story in the book that I didn’t finish – I just sort of skimmed from the middle to the end of it. For some reason, I wasn’t able to relate to the characters, and although it’s a shame that Venice really is sinking, this story didn’t affect me in the same ways that the others did.
  • Smiley’s People, China, 2036 – Ahlim is a woman whose brother died from the pollution spewed out from their town’s coal-fired power plant, and she wants revenge. She joins an underground activist group and travels to that same plant to destroy it. While an enjoyable story, I wished it had been a little bit longer in order to give more space to Ahlim’s moral choices that she has to face in this sort of eco-activism/terrorism.
  • Deepest and Darkest, South Sudan, 2039 – This story is a tragedy. It takes place in South Sudan, a nation of hostilities and genocide. The main character, Dr. Bertrand, is part of Doctors Without Borders and travels to South Sudan in order to help run an understaffed clinic. Places like this are becoming rare, as the United Nations is running out of both resources and money as the effects of climate change force nations to look inward, and peacekeepers have started being killed. One night, the clinic is attacked and Dr. Bertrand flees with one of the other volunteers, along with three children who were being treated there.

    “How many generations will be able to retain their traditional way of life in the face of the south-bound march of the Sahara and the desertification that will make obsolete the term ‘Sub-Saharan?'”

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Miami
  • Tale of Two Cities, Miami and New Orleans, 2045 – Following a team of meteorologists as they track a dangerous category 5 hurricane heading towards Florida, this is a story that feels all too pertinent, especially right after Hurricane Florence dealt a great deal of damage to North Carolina. I actually started reading this story as my city was thankfully just missed by that particular storm. One of the characters in the story is a little awkward: Charlie Santore, a bald storm-chaser adored by viewers; it feels like Robinson was basing this character on The Weather Channel‘s Jim Cantore, a much more likable personality than the story’s Charlie Santore. Another quick note about this story is that it really doesn’t spend much time in New Orleans, which is great for the fictional people that live there and escape the brunt of the storm, but the end of this story was a little bit boring.
  • Escape from L.A., California, 2047 – I hated this story and found it to be really ridiculous. Aside from the narrator of the story being immensely unlikeable, here’s the main reason: Jeff Grant, a geologist, is driving his previous night’s one-night stand to the airport when an incredibly large earthquake strikes the area. In order to escape, the two of them somehow have time to make it to an airport, steal a plane, and fly to Las Vegas. What? Exactly. Also, the scene where Jeff and his lover meet felt like one of the most cliche things I’ve read in ages. The bad action movie scenes made this particular story difficult to read.
  • Cousteau City, Umm al-Quwain, 2051 – This is another story featuring journalist Kent Whitaker, this time doing his last assignment piece at an underwater marine research facility near Dubai. I really enjoyed this story, primarily because I adore the idea of self-sustaining and futuristic engineering projects.
  • Starting Over, Greenland, 2059 – The final story in this collection is about a family of mid-western American farmers who emigrate to a warmed Greenland, which has started offering free land to farmers. It’s interesting to think about human migration in the face of climate change, so I enjoyed reading this one.

Overall, I enjoyed the collection and appreciated that Robinson obviously spent a great deal of time doing research for each of the stories.

It would have been cool to see the stories be a little more intertwined, sort of like we did with Kent Whitaker. Since the stories take place in chronological order, I feel like it would have been easy to do so.

Verdict

I decided to give this book of short stories four out of five stars, despite being tempted to rate it three stars due to the earthquake in California story. It is an important book in terms of promoting action against climate change, and for that alone, I would recommend it to anyone.

About the Author

Lorin R. Robinson is a journalist and educator with a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. His latest book, The 13: Ashi-niswi, is a historical fiction novel based on Native American roots.