Review of “Exit West”, by Mohsin Hamid

Rating: 3/5 stars.

When Saeed and Nadia finally had coffee together in the cafeteria, which happened the following week, after the very next session of their class, Saaed asked her about her conservative and virtually all-concealing black rode.

“If you don’t pray,” he said, lowering his voice, “why do you wear it?”

They were sitting at a table for two by a window, overlooking snarled traffic on the street below. Their phones rested screen-down between them, like the weapons of desperados at parley.

She smiled. Took a sip. And spoke, the lower half of her face obscured by her cup.

“So men don’t fuck with me,” she said.

The quote above appears at the end of Chapter One, and sums up the essence of what I like about the novel. It does equally well as an example of what turns me off as well.

I love that the setting and characters give me a unique and interesting perspective on the world, one which I seldom have access to. They surprised me, and confronted me with assumptions and prejudices that I wasn’t aware I harbored, even considering myself fairly open-minded and educated about the world. In this way, Exit West demonstrates to me that there simply aren’t enough diverse voices from a Middle Eastern lens that are making it into the mainstream consciousness, leading to a limited set of narratives from which we draw our judgments and conclusions about its culture and diaspora. I appreciate that this novel expands that perspective. Further, the characters are likeable and I immediately sympathized with their position, foibles, and desires.

With such strengths, it might seem odd that I am giving a rating of 3/5 stars. The fatal flow in the novel is this: despite the unique perspective and sympathetic characters, it was hard for me to feel engaged with the story itself. The tone, while sometimes genuinely funny and surprising, often just comes off as smug and cheeky to me. The style is literary and detached; even violent deaths are described matter-of-factly, and it feels like it takes a very long time for things to happen. Given the violence and suffering of the backdrop of civil war, I found myself craving something more direct, clear, and raw to bring it home emotionally.

That, or perhaps I’m just not literary enough to appreciate the excellently crafted prose when the plot feels understated and beneath the surface… I’m no pulp reader — lack of character depth and hacked-together stocked plots do really annoy me. I do want to think when I read, but in the sense that I want to learn something new, maybe have my mind blown, and perhaps be inspired. I don’t want to be craving more connection while applauding politely, as artisan turns of phrase pirouette on by.

Overall, I’m glad this novel exists, and I don’t think I wasted my time reading it… but you won’t find me singing it’s praises or strongly recommending it to friends.

My Digital Communications

I posted this to my Facebook account earlier, and am cross-posting here.

Hello friends! There continues to be some (understandable) confusion about my ongoing transition in digital communication, which has lately resulted in some missed communications and misunderstandings.

*** I will NOT see or respond to any Facebook updates, event invites, messages, etc from you. ***

The short story is: I am eliminating (to the greatest extent possible) Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon, and all subsidiary services owned by these companies (such as GoodReads, Instagram, WholeFoods, etc) from my life.

As you can imagine, this is not very easy to do (not the least because Amazon keeps buying yet more companies), which is why the process has been happening in stages, will likely forever be imperfect, and is taking a really long time (2 years so far).

The remaining exceptions are my Facebook Author Page (which is why I still need a personal FB account… for now), and WhatsApp (which is owned by Facebook, but at least it’s end-to-end encrypted). I may keep the FB account active with just this post to refer people elsewhere, since it does seem to be where people will look first.

You can reach me in the following ways:

Phone – call/text/iMessage
Email – ProtonMail
Secure Messaging Services – Signal (preferred), or WhatsApp
Microblogging/Updates – Mastodon (
Photos – Snapchat or Mastodon
Books – BookLikes (, transition from GoodReads in progress)
Blog –

I will probably cross-post this to my blog as well. Sorry for any confusion or misunderstanding, and I’d love to stay in touch with you! Just, you know, not through supporting these companies and the profound negative impact they have on our personal identities, privacy, civil cohesion and democracy, local economies, wealth inequality, and the weaponization of information.

Happy Thanksgiving, and I hope you and your loved ones are well.

“The Storyteller” Picked Up by Rampant Loon!

My latest short story, The Storyteller, has been bought by Rampant Loon Press! I’ve been working on this one on-and-off for about five years now. It’s gone through several periods of mothball status and at least two rounds of workshop critique from my writer group — so by no means an easy road to the finish. Ringing in at around 5700 words (pared down from over 7000), it’s also one my longest short stories.

The Storyteller is a response to a couple of converging thought threads that I’ve had in recent years. Firstly, I wondered if it was possible to envision a scenario in which humanity unites around something besides a common external threat. I wanted to attempt the kind of  “optimistic” scifi that also doesn’t avoid meaningful conflict, which it seems many people are looking for but can’t quite find these days.

Secondly, I have been itching for a long time to write something a little more “out there” than the near-future, hard-scifi of Red Soil Through Our Fingers. This story is a step in the direction of the more fantastic and mind-bending science fiction that I enjoy reading, but still falls short of my ideal. Still, I think it at least better reflects who I am as a writer today, more so than the other works of mine that are currently available.

Finally, it’s also just a relief to get something new out there at all. For various reasons, my writing really bogged down following the publication of Red Soil Through Our Fingers, and it’s been over two and a half years since I’ve been able to publish anything new. I’m hoping that this gives me a motivation spurt to get my writing back on track, and get my finished story portfolio caught up a bit with the idea queue in my head.

Now that The Storyteller has been purchased, I have hopes it will appear in a forthcoming issue of Stupefying Stories magazine. I’ll be sure to blog and toot when it is released!

Review of “The Three-Body Problem” by Liu Cixin

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past #1)The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Loved it. Fantastic, mind-blowing ideas and many-layered cultural setting, social systems, and characters. My only complaints are 1) the dialogue comes off as stiff and overly-constructed (which I assume I can attribute to the difficulty of translating from Chinese), and 2) the exposition and plot advancement (especially as we begin to learn more about the Trisolarans) often feels very heavy-handed.

Let’s see how it scores on the Nalin Scale of SciFi Elements that really hook me:

  • Ideas: Excellent
  • Wonder and Awe: Excellent
  • Identity: Excellent
  • Myth/Ritual/Infinity: Very Good (and I suspect the sequels will push even further)

Some of the best science fiction I’ve read in awhile. Will definitely read the sequels.

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“The Parched Lands” is now available for free at Smashwords

The Parched Lands, my short story that was first published in 2013 in Issue 7 of Crossed Genres Magazine, is now available for free from Smashwords, as well as other ebook retailers such as Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and the Apple iBook Store. Retailers besides Smashwords may take several days to index the story.

(Kindle Users: I no longer distribute on Amazon. However, you can still read my books! Buy from Smashwords, and you will be able to download the book in .mobi format. You will need to move the .mobi file to your Kindle (via USB), or you can read it via the Kindle Reader mobile or desktop apps.)

Amanthi is a teenage student in a not-so-distant future school system of hyper-testing and top-down control. In this world, creativity is a liability — but Amanthi is not deterred from dreaming. My short story, “The Parched Lands”, delves into the tangled issues of race, tracking, high-stakes testing, and creativity starvation that run through America’s public school systems.


Sci-Fi Story Elements That Really Hook Me!

For well over a year now, I’ve been spinning my wheels on a sequel to Red Soil Through Our Fingers. Despite the well-known writing advice that the first draft will be crap and you just have to power through it, somehow the three drafts I’ve started and scrapped so far seemed to have more wrong than merely being ordinary first-draft crap. Something really fundamental felt like it was missing.

So I finally took a break from trying to write the fourth do-over and decided to just freewrite about what I love in the sci-fi novels that I read. I analyzed my very favorite speculative fiction novels for common threads, and tried to distill them into individual motifs. The results were enlightening, and subsequent work has helped me re-plan and restructure the work-in-progress to better align with the elements of speculative fiction that I find exciting.

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My RavenCon Schedule

I’ll be at RavenCon 2018 next weekend (April 20-22)!

The Con of Opportunity returns to Williamsburg, Virginia with over 300 hours of programming in one action-packed weekend! Gaming, panels, signings, kids’ programming, workshops, readings, vendors, authors, artists, tournaments, costuming, anime, movies, concerts, books, books, and more books!

My panel schedule is below:

Ask a Scientist: Kids Edition – Saturday, April 21 • 1:00pm – 1:55pm – Room G. Those curious scientific questions we’ve always wondered about but have never been able to ask a scientist, until today!
(Robert V. Aldrich*, Les Carter, Richard Groller, N.A. Ratnayake)

2001: A Space Odyssey: 50 Years – Saturday, April 21 • 4:00pm – 4:55pm – Room E. A discussion of the 50th anniversary of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and how it stands up to today.
(Jennifer R. Povey, N.A. Ratnayake, Chris Shrewsbury, John C. Wright*)

Reading: Chris A Jackson and N.A. Ratnayake – Saturday, April 21 • 8:00pm – 8:55pm – Room 4. (I will probably read from unpublished work, either from one of the two novels I have in progress or a short story that is currently in submission circulation.)

If you can’t make any of these panels, you can also find me wandering the con. I’ll be live tweeting (@quantumcowboy) and tooting ( throughout the weekend. I’ll also have the remaining few promo USB drives containing Red Soil Through our Fingers plus my two published short stories.

VVEV: Reflections on the Collection (No Spoilers)

I’ve been posting a review/response to each of the five sections of Visions, Ventures, and Escape Velocities: A Collection of Space Futures, which is available for free from Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination thanks to a grant from NASA. In this post, I’ll switch gears to some concluding thoughts about VVEV as a whole.

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Response to VVEV: Section V – Concluding Thoughts

VVEV is illustrated by by Maciej Rebisz.

This is Part 5 of a six-part response to Visions, Ventures, and Escape Velocities: A Collection of Space Futures, which is available for free from Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination thanks to a grant from NASA. I say “response” and not “review” because I intend to engage with the ideas presented from my own point of view.

Section V of VVEV is entitled Concluding Thoughts, and contains three essays:

  • The Luxury Problem: Space Exploration in the “Emergency Century, Kim Stanley Robinson, in conversation with James Bell
  • The Practical Economics of Space, Clark A. Miller
  • High Hedonistic and Low Fatalistic, Linda T. Elkins-Tanton

This blog post contains spoilers!

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Response to VVEV: Section IV – Exoplanets

VVEV is illustrated by by Maciej Rebisz.

This is Part 4 of a six-part response to Visions, Ventures, and Escape Velocities: A Collection of Space Futures, which is available for free from Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination thanks to a grant from NASA. I say “response” and not “review” because I intend to engage with the ideas presented from my own point of view.

Section IV of VVEV is entitled Exoplanets, and contains one short story and two essays:

  • Shikasta, by Vandana Singh
  • The New Science of Astrobiology, by Sara Imari Walker
  • Negotiating the Values of Space Exploration, by Emma Frow

This blog post contains spoilers!

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