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Julia, Skydaughter by Robin Wyatt Dunn

Julia, Skydaughter

by Robin Wyatt Dunn, Barbara Sobczyńska (Cover artist)

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Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
An interesting concept, but I couldn't get into it. Not enough details to piece together a settings, things just keep happening. I could not get engrossed. Writing style in general was ok. ( )
  silkypumpkin | Nov 23, 2016 |
This takes place sometime in the future, in a place that I'm guessing is somewhere in the Middle East. Julia is a 12-year-old revolutionary, prepared to die, if necessary, to overthrow the Secret Emperor. She's supposed to get deep inside the palace and record its architecture, so that her fellow revolutionaries will know exactly how to attack. In order to do that, she must become a harem girl, but at the same time she must avoid allowing anyone to see the special hardware she has hidden under her burqa, the hardware that connects her to an AI named Robin.

This was terrible in nearly every possible way. The best things I can say about it are that I didn't notice any typos and that there were kernels of cool things. Julia really does ride a giant mechanical beetle, for example. Also, Julia's love of Julia Roberts (from whom she derived her alias) and Batman helped humanize her, although those details left me feeling even more confused about the world-building.

Readers didn't get many world-related details – I'm really only guessing, based on Julia's burqa and her occasional mentions of her ancestors, that this took place somewhere in the Middle East, and I certainly couldn't say specifically where. There also weren't many character-related details. I knew that Julia had a mother (still alive?) and a father (who she thought was dead). I knew she liked Batman enough to have attached Batman wings to her burqa, although it was unclear whether she'd gotten to name Robin or whether the connection with Robin was a happy accident. I knew she liked Julia Roberts enough to choose to go by the name “Julia.” I knew that she'd gotten her first period a week ago and that she was still a virgin. That was it. All other characters were, at best, names and jobs only.

Are you wondering why Julia's period and virginity were important details? All I can say is that Julia's period apparently marked her as no longer a child, and her virginity enabled her to take certain drugs for...reasons. I'm not really sure. Julia's age combined with her virginity didn't seem to fit with how sexualized her POV was at times (by the way, this book is written in first person present tense). A few examples:

“My code name is River Delta. Which is appropriate, since I'm a woman now. And all women are deltas between their thighs...” (15-16).

“His hand closes over mine and I feel the thrill of being touched by a man...” (16) This man was literally just taking a coin from her, payment for the portrait she was about to have painted.

Later on, there was her drug-induced relationship with Rosefield, who was either another aspect of herself, the drug itself, or something she was manipulating while under the influence of the drug. I wasn't sure. Julia described herself as the virgin and Rosefield as her beloved dragon, coming to consume her.

There were a few moments when Julia felt a bit younger, but mostly her POV was that of an adult who happened to inhabit a 12-year-old body.

One of the main reasons I picked this book up in the first place was the AI. That turned out to be both disappointing and kind of disturbing. I was happy when the AI made its first appearance about halfway through, as Robin to Julia's Batman. However, at some point it morphed into Joker. I initially assumed it had been hacked, but it turned out that this was just another aspect of its personality. Its interactions with Julia when it was in Joker mode were...gross. And yet Julia still seemed to consider it an ally by the end of the book. I think? I don't know.

A large part of the problem was that none of it really made much sense. I thought the first half of the book was confusing, but things only got worse when drugs were introduced to the story. First person present tense + drugs is a recipe for disaster. I was left with the impression that neither the characters nor the story really mattered much. What mattered was the message...except I couldn't figure out what that was supposed to be.

In the end, this was a 102-page load of pretentious nonsense with a pretty cover. I liked the artist's work enough to look her up (her name is Barbara Sobczyńska), but I have zero interest in reading more of the author's works.

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.) ( )
1 vote Familiar_Diversions | Jul 24, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I read this book ages ago, but for some reason my review never saved here!

The book is different to how you may be used to reading, it's cut into sections, like thought patterns.
And, like thought patterns, the book seems to meander here and there, with little cohesiveness. However, this style of writing actually does (kind of) suit the book, but it did get a bit tedious towards the end. ( )
  daleala | Jul 3, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
It had an interesting context, but I was a bit confused as to how certain things played into the story, like the bugs and the need to sexualize the main character - considering her young age. While I understand that sexualizing a young girl is something that often happens, I'm not sure if it was really necessary for this story or even really added to it. It may have described the society a bit more, but I kind of felt gross reading about a young girl and that aspect of her life. It made it hard to continue. ( )
  Calithe | Jun 24, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A simple, nice and well-written book that pleased me to no end.

It was short and strange but infinetly palatable, showing me great sights and wanting me to last longer.

But anyway, a wondeful exercise in writing. ( )
  zjordi | Apr 22, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
Words Come From the Stars

I LOST MY DADDY IN THE REVOLUTION. My name is Julia. I am twelve years old. I got my first period last week, the same week of the bombing. There was a lot of blood.

So begins ”Julia, Skydaughter,” a novella by Robin Wyatt Dunn. Do not mistake this for a Young Adult story. Julia is forced to grow up fast in a hybrid world in which cyberspace is as real as outer space but a primitive theocracy represses her people. Her voice ranges from simple and direct to mysterious, much too old for her years (as a consequence of war), and erudite.

Her name isn’t really Julia, but her Arabic name is a secret. She has lots of secrets. Like, what is she hiding under that black burqa with Batman wings? You won’t guess by looking at the cover, but do look at it. Artist Barbara Sobczyńska’s rendering of the skydaughter is riveting. What a burqa, what a girl, and what a creature she is riding!

Underneath that burqa, futuristic satellite communications link her to an orbiting AI named Robin, a tribute to Julia’s god. Never mind what the state religion teaches. “I pray to my god,” she says, “Bob Kane, inventor of Batman, some crazy white guy in the the 20th century who gave me my awesome wings glued onto the back of my burqa.” This Arabic girl is as irreverent as she is brave: “My code name is River Delta. Which is appropriate, since I’m a woman now. And all women are deltas between their thighs.”

She has transmitters in her skull, a radio in her hand, and AI software strapped over her breasts. How will she evade the checkpoint scanner?

Julia is on a mission to liberate her people from a misogynistic priesthood run by a Secret Emperor who defeated invading space aliens. The world building here is not very explicit, and the story is hard to follow, but the girl’s point of view is compelling: “I remember when my Daddy first told me the story, when he showed me the pictures: real aliens, underground. Frozen in time. Their eyes were huge, like dinner plates. Like cybernetic armor in the comic books, shiny and silver and curved.” Digging a tunnel for supplies, “our fighters found the Foo fighter.”

But don’t hold your breath waiting to hear more about the aliens or if any of them survived their visit to Earth. Julia has other things on her mind right now, like her mother crying because they’ve lost Daddy, and now Julia is involved in the revolution—“But how are men supposed to succeed by themselves?” Julie thinks. “We are one flesh.”

At this point I backed up to page one, which began in the very simple cadence of a pre-teen, and found the answer to how she sounds so worldly and wise: “This story is being posted on the Net, from our ship,” she tells us. “I’m writing it so you know what happened. So you know what we found.”

An older Julia, not the twelve-year-old, is narrating, and she doesn’t sound happy about it. “I never knew that war could be so beautiful, or that it could hurt this much. A lot of times I want to kill people like you, people who just read about it on the Net. But other times I remember why I’m writing this story.”

How to get through the checkpoint is her first challenge, and focus becomes her religion: Focus. Focus. Focus. “I don’t know if you know this,” she tells us in the next breath, “but poets have long been killed by kings and emperors here in the Middle East.”

To me, that’s hilarious. If I need to explain why it cracks me up (hint: it’s not because killing poets is funny), you probably enjoy crude humor and slapstick while I generally do not. “Guardians of the Galaxy” failed to amuse me, though millions called it the best (and funniest) film of the year.

Dunn’s novella is a cerebral adventure, like nothing else I’ve read, except perhaps his short story “Dreamboat” (“Perihelion,” July, 2015), in which a hero named Robin directly addresses the reader: “I’m sorry. I realize that you on Earth have skydaughterprobably been reading a lot of propaganda, and that if you read this at all (and it’s actually uncensored) that you probably just figure I’m nuts. I know you’re probably still used to stories of brave astronauts nuking cockroach-shaped aliens into the Stone Age and stuff.”

Rarely is the “and stuff” as unorthodox, quirky, and thought-provoking as Dunn’s fiction. On the one hand, I get frustrated with experimental prose that makes me work extra hard at reading comprehension, but on the other hand, I’m one of the loudest complainers about formula fiction that is predictable, flat and pedestrian. Familiar is good for those who want easy reading. This is, in fact, a fast and entertaining read, unless you’re like me and stop to re-read passages, not just for clarity and comprehension, but because poetic prose often causes me revisit the same words for the sheer pleasure of it. This is a quick novella, if you want it to be, but it can also be a heady stroll through a garden filled with too many wonders to take in at once.

I love Julia’s asides: “Geometry is a beautiful logic in part because it is the language of Nature: angle resting on angle, planet to star. It is also the structure of radio transmissions: the invisible world is structured by lines of force that obey geometric laws.” If this doesn’t sound like something a burqa girl would be thinking, who are we to judge what should or shouldn’t be on her mind?

This twelve-year-old has a remarkable intellect, and she uses it to get deep into the temple. The only part I’ll share is that she offers a stranger, a boy named Hamid, a few coins get her through the gates. He risks his life and poses as a eunuch for a dangerous girl? #Gotta love Hamid!

An artist with nanobots in the bristles of his brush paints an extraordinary portrait of Julia. A man with an electric beard that shoots blue fire captures her and straps her to a table, demanding to know what she knows that he doesn’t, starting with how she made it through the gate. I will not tell how she gets out of this situation, but she has time to remember her father, who made armor in the village Factory for a woman leader known as Pharaoh. “The sounds of angry metal curving and twisting in the heat, and the buzz of quantum fields being embedded in Kevlar are my first memories of that place,” she says. How cool is that?

You know she’s going to escape Electric Beard, but you don’t know how. A flock of flying camels who need to oil their wings is just one of many mind-blowing aspects of this adventure.

The asides keep coming even while Julia realizes her village is likely being burned. “The priests say women are meant to serve because God said so. They say women are a man’s property because God said so. They say women are evil, the servant of Satan. They say our menstrual blood is a pollution. They say our breasts nourish serpents. (But they can ... that’s what the Sphinx is ... )” The camels are tired, the priests are saying that Pharaoh is actually “a simulation, just a computer program,” but Julia once met Pharoah in the flesh, so she doesn’t believe it.

Who does she believe? Who can she trust?

The state religion of this unnamed Arab emirate is one of many reasons Islamic computer hackers are fighting this repression, and Julia will play whatever role she must, even riding a giant dung-beetle robot. These beetles are armed with the latest anti-personnel weaponry, yet are also part of “an ancient religious symbology” and folk ritual. “She shall lead them on the back of a beetle, goes the ancient folktale, and who am I to argue?” she says.

I’m not going to try to summarize what happens next. I won’t even pretend to understand the quantum vastness and delicate maneuvers of Julia and the “dirty terrorists” who know that “the boundary markers of quantum events, like the ancient stone boundary markers of the Canaanites ... are subject to interpretation, meditation, keys in locks,” and Aamina’s job is to watch a glowing screen, just watch, “without her observation affecting the system” and so keep the lid on Schrodinger’s cat. “That’s a good kitty.” And before we know it, “The Scorpion Man” introduces Julia to the Little Grey Aliens, and Julia exhorts the reader, believe “everything happened exactly the way I am telling it.” Even the part where a starship mutates over a burning city, and Julia is “transmuted quark over quark into the interior of this starship.”

The Romans were familiar with dark matter, she says, and “Aeschylus was almost murdered for revealing what I am telling you: that words come from stars. They are a carrier wave of information and reality. They are not idle farts in the air.” Sorry, Julia, I can’t say that I ever thought they were, “nor even merely storeholds of myth and wonder, though they are all of those things.”

Words, whatever in fact they are, are like myriad Legos in the hands of this imaginative and playful author who has great fun putting them together.

“This is only a beginning, though the end of this part of this narrative,” Julia tells us. “Likely I will not be allowed to tell the next part of my journey, out from Earth, to Foo’s country.”

If that sounds like a door leading to a Book Two, stick around for the epilogue. Ten years have passed. Julia brings her story to a surprising, poignant, yet hope-filled conclusion.

It actually gave me goose bumps.

And so, regardless of whatever “flaws” this novella may have, I will proclaim “Five Stars!” just for the gentle beauty of Julia’s parting words. A must-read for every science-fiction fan who’s tired of familiar formulas and prefers the “speculative” to the “shoot ’em up with lasers” aspect of this genre. (“Julia, Skydaughter,” Robin Wyatt Dunn, John Ott) 5stars —Carol Kean
Dunn (Last Freedom) immediately captures a reader’s attention with a burka-wearing 12-year-old who has “Batman wings” and refers to her alien satellite aide as Robin, but the constant infusion of 21st-century references into the dystopian 25th-century setting distracts from the plot of this novella, which fades quickly after a strong opening.
added by deepsettpress | editPublishers Weekly (Aug 21, 2015)

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Robin Wyatt Dunnprimary authorall editionscalculated
Sobczyńska, BarbaraCover artistmain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Julia is fighting for her country. She is twelve years old. On the outside, a burqa. Underneath, satellite communications hardware linked to her AI in orbit.

Her mission: overthrow a theocracy.

An immersive look at a hyper-religious technological future, JULIA SKYDAUGHTER examines questions of morality and identity in the middle of a blazing fast adventure.
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