Book (Manhwa): In the Bleak Midwinter by Kat, Ali

Cover art for in the Bleak Midwinter on Webtoon

In the Bleak Midwinter
by Kat, Ali
published by Webtoon (37 chapters, ongoing)
2020 – present

Finally, another sci-fi story! YAAAAAAY!

Anya decides to cryogenically sleep for a year to avoid processing grief for her mother and sister in android-related accidents, only to wake up 25 years later in a human-versus-android hellscape.

Worse, the digital readout on her wrist which was counting down the years and minutes until she meets her “soulmate” lights up when she leaves her cryo-pod and sees a man… who immediately shoots her dead.

What the hell? Well, that was a short review, onto the next… wait, she comes back to life? And multiple people are after her as an advantage they could use to win the war they’ve been waging while she slept?

Everyone has Russian names, it snows constantly, Anya has terrible nightmares, and her brother is still a jerk (because some things never change). The art is a mix of video-game textures, eerie lights with convincing halos, and characters that look best straight on or in full profile. I like the eeriness and ambiguity of the characters called The Ten, and Anya’s combination of being terrified yet also being willing to try very risky plans rather than watch other humans die.

Each episode has music, which adds to the mood (but you can keep it very low).

I’m delighted to find a sci-fi story on the Webtoon platform.

Book: System Collapse (The Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells

System Collapse (The Murderbot Diaries)
by Martha Wells
published by Tor

This is the 7th or so book in the Murderbot Diaries, so if you haven’t read these, you should go start at the beginning, as this volume rightly jumps into the action immediately without introducing the characters, including Murderbot itself.

Our favorite, broadcast-drama-obsessed, autonomous human+synthetic Security Unit is back in another round of saving humans from bad situations on planets with sketchy alien contamination!

Murderbot has even more on its mind than usual, because of a recent incident that is undermining its confidence. Confident or not, there are murderous agriculture-bots, scary ruins, evil human-enslaving corporations, and the constant threat of alien contamination that can’t wait for Murderbot to even pretend to get comfortable. Which Murderbot would not convincingly pretend anyway, despite its practice routines about imitating full humans.

I continue to appreciate the alien contamination threat that lurks in the background. The idea that ancient civilizations left behind tools to perpetuate their societies, only to have them accidentally infect later civilizations whose individuals AND machines go on to build crazy stuff under their influence… It intrigues me. There is so much potential for trouble there!

I also like Wells’ vision of nearly constant communication channels, so that information/situations/data can be shared so efficiently. I mean, I hate it in my current life, because all of those channels are filled with people who want something at work, but I love it in the wandering through abandoned ruins on unfamiliar planets practicality way. Good communication tools could support actually good communication – it could happen!

The humor, the debates about which kinds of hatches are scariest, the swearing / sarcasm / name-calling – it all gives the relationships between the characters a warmth that shows Murderbot is building meaningful relationships, especially with other machine intelligences.

This is another fun read from Wells, and a satisfying adventure.

Book (Manga): The Blood of the Butterfly by Remin

The Blood of the Butterfly
by Remin
published by

In a grim future, giant alien insects invade earth and violently devastate the population. A heroine appears to fight them; after her death, through risky experiments, the government imbues a group of orphans with her powers. These young people are humanity’s only defense against body-snatching and massacres by these aliens.

One day, another child appears, and seems to also have insect-battling abilities. How is that even possible? And will his arrival turn the tide so that humanity can finally win?

This is a dark tale of a brutal future where children with differently manifesting powers fight on behalf of people who both admire and ostracize their heroes for their freakish abilities. Meanwhile, the arrival of a new child suggests the government keeps strange secrets.

It is high stakes and somewhat dark in subject matter. Kids risking their lives to fight aliens (while adults… don’t) is a grim topic, though it gives them some agency, and they fight to win.

This was my first Tappytoon comic, and I found it well-paced, well drawn, and interesting.

Book: This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone

Book: this Is How You Lose The Time War
by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
Audiobook published by Simon & Schuster Audio

I had no idea that this audiobook (from would be SO ENGAGING!

Time traveling agents comb through battlefields in the aftermath of devastating wars, and gather intelligence to make adjustments in time and events so that their own side will win. But at one battlefield, there is a note. A taunting, gloating note. An invitation to the finder from a skilled strategic rival to… do what, exactly?

Whether it is a dare or a trap, communicating with the enemy is highly dangerous. And yet, elaborately coded exchanges between these professional rivals begin, woven and shaped through time, so that only a specific arch enemy will spot and interpret it.

And those communications are… thrilling.

Are communications with enemy rivals supposed to be thrilling? Are finding their cleverly devised codes supposed to make your not-necessarily-human heart race?

This is a well-acted, FUN, page-turner-if-this-had-pages story of rivalry, risk, intrigue, and mutual admiration that delighted me. I recommend it highly.

Book: How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu

How High We Go In the Dark
By Sequoia Nagamatsu
Audiobook published by Harper Audio

How High We Go In the Dark is a book about a plague that reshapes humanity for centuries. (Note, this is not about the plague we are in at the moment. Also: it is intense to read about a world reshaped by plague, while in a world pretending not to have an ongoing plague at all…)

Melting permafrost reveals the remains of ancient people, who thaw and release the Arctic Plague upon the world, a pandemic of terrifying symptoms and profound lethality. The scale and scope of the suffering it causes remakes the world in surprising ways.

If you have wondered how serious a plague would need to be for society to adjust its values around voluntarily ending life to limit suffering; to refocus the economy around the business as its core; or how the risk of humanity’s end could drive new goals for space exploration, Sequoia Nagamatsu has wondered about this more – elaborately, delicately, thoughtfully. Through a series of interconnected chapters / short stories / vignettes, we learn about the Arctic Plague through the eyes of people who discover it, die from it, spare their loved ones from dying of it, mourn their losses, try to cure it, survive it, and travel between worlds to create a future without it.

Nagamatsu’s world building is remarkable – so plausible, so human, yet so far from the particular choices we are making during our current plague. The characters have motivations that are varied, but make sense. The settings are notable in the way the characters describe how they feel when they experience them, yet are never so detailed that you require footnotes. The emotional journey of coping with global grief and hope is handled so well. The story reveals humanity adapting to this challenge in surprising ways under the worst circumstances.

I listened to the audiobook version of this from, which is brilliantly acted by a cast of about fifteen voice actors (!), whose characters are compelling. (For those of us who live in the SF Bay Area, some of the voices sound pleasantly local in our port-city, collecting-people-from-afar-and-influencing-each-other way.)

This has been my favorite book of 2023. I think of it often, and have recommended it internationally! Go read or listen to this excellent book.

Book: Unknown Number by Azure

Unknown Number
by Azure (
published on Twitter

This is a sci-fi story about parallel universes, and a person who makes contact with a parallel version of themselves to see how their life could have been different. It’s concise! It’s great! Go read it.

Book: Noor by Nnedi Okorafor

Audiobook cover at

by Nnedi Okorafor
published by Penguin Random House
audiobook read by Délé Ogundiran
audiobook published by Tantor Media, Inc.

This amazing African Futurist novel engrossed me completely this weekend!

AO has a many cybernetic enhancements, having been born with life-threatening birth defects, and having further been maimed in an unexplained autonomous vehicle accident. She’s followed her fiancé to a new city, made a life for herself, improved her body, and found a meaningful profession. After a rough day coping with the abrupt end of her engagement, she just wants to have a nice dinner. At her local market, however, locals who have been radicalized by a passing imam against the evils of cybernetics have other plans for her…

In a time of environmental devastation, oppressive corporate monopolies, and wireless energy transmission, AO finds herself on the run with a nomadic herdsman, a bloody nose, and an increasing awareness of the surveillance technologies that have infused every element of Nigerian society.

The tech is great; the inserted documentary about how some of the tech was invented is engaging and wonderful; the the environments, both urban and desert, are well described; the cosmopolitan people, the languages, the different traditions, the meals – all are vividly and richly laid out in world building of great depth for such a brief and satisfying novel.

I recommend Noor highly to everyone who likes a great, earth-bound, science-fiction story in a vivid near-future that never lets up the pace.

Film: The Matrix Resurrections

Oh! So, I mentioned how excited I was about this 4th Matrix film back in September, and I’m happy to report that I adored it for unexpected reasons.

Yes, it’s funny, and self-aware, and makes jokes about being forced to make a 4th film in a franchise by Warner Bros – yes, all that.

Yes, I saw it in theaters, and it looked great. (And then I watched it again online, and it STILL looked great.) It is action packed! The effects are pretty! The story lines about re-evaluating life’s meaning and struggling with middle age are relevant!

The pleasant surprise, something I hadn’t realized during filming here in San Francisco, was how wild it is to see the setting of your real life used in a film. Sure, I often enjoy seeing scenes from San Francisco in films, but this was different. This was very specific. SO specific. A building where I worked for 10 years is a settling for key scenes in the film. The coffee shop meetings and fights were set there. The top of the building serves as a backdrop in other scenes. And nearly all of the chase scenes and outdoor night scenes were filmed on the surrounding blocks, where I have walked (and shopped, and dined, and caffeinated) countless times.

Even some of the later scenes, where the protagonists flee into other buildings, felt eerily familiar, because I have been in those buildings, too! My second viewing required sending time stamps and photos of filming locales that I’d walked past just days before to a friend, so he could see what the doors in the lobby scene looked like from the other side… Plus time stamps of when our current mayor has her cameo.

I know it wasn’t as big a blockbuster as the first one, but the film is still a treat for hardcore fans (yes, I own the prior 3 films; yes, I’ve seen the first film more times than is reasonable) who were interested in how people managed to recover after events in this world after the ending of the prior trilogy, and anyone who has worked in the area north of Montgomery Street BART!

Manga: Kaiju No. 8 by Naoya Matsumoto

This is the cover for the compilation of the first 7 chapters. And it’s COOL.

Kaiju No. 8
by Naoya Matsumoto
published by Viz, San Francisco
2021 (ongoing)

Kafka Hibino has a dirty job: cleaning up the mess after giant monsters (kaiju) that attack his home city are violently “neutralized” by the nation’s Defense Force.

Kafka didn’t PLAN to be cutting up monster guts: he planned to fight against the kaiju directly at the side of childhood best friend, Mina Ashiro. But his plans went sideways, and decades later, he handles sanitation, while Mina leads the Defense Force’s third division as a national hero(ine), using weapons made from previously killed, powerful kaiju.

But… one day, things go very wrong, and Kafka becomes a part-time kaiju himself. Which is… SO AWKWARD. How will he ever get into the Defense Force and work with Mina if he is the enemy?

This is a charming adventure with dangerous monsters, dangerous humans, loyalty, teamwork, men gossiping in bathhouses, monster intestines, secret identities, partial kaiju transformations, very sharp blades, unexpected alliances, and fun illustrations between chapters.

I subscribe to Viz’s Shonen Jump, so I have access to all available chapters (1 through 54 as of mid-January 2022), and have been delighted by the story so far! Chapters 1-7 are available in book form, and I imagine the rest of the story will be bundled and released in the future.

I’m looking forward to future issues!

Book: FTL, Y’all! Tales from the Age of the $200 Warp Drive, edited by C. Spike Trotman and Amanda LaFrenais

FTL, Y’all! Tales from the Age of the $200 Warp Drive
edited by C. Spike Trotman and Amanda LaFrenais
published by Iron Circus Comics

I love sci-fi, and so this anthology of what people would do if faster-than-light travel was possible, cheap, and open to anyone who could assemble some off-the-shelf parts was irresistible.

I think I actually said, “OH NO” out loud in the shop, because my first thought was, yes, some people would make their parents’ old Camaro into a FTL travel device, and go into space with NO PREPARATION AT ALL. I would like to thank the editors for assuring me that I’m not the only one who would fear this…

This anthology has it all: people who are competent with interstellar travel! People who are not! People who prepare! Cool ships! Quiet disasters! People on the run from the authorities! Other forms of life! The absence of other forms of life! Social media! Pop culture references to famous sci-fi movies! A wide range of illustration styles in a wide range of stories… I really enjoyed this hefty, speculative collection of adventures from a collection of talented artists.