Alaya Dawn Johnson’s The Summer Prince Blends Human Sacrifice, Samba

Photo: Alden Ford

courtesy Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy

One of the most distinctive YA novels of the season is Alaya Dawn Johnson’s The Summer Prince. The overstuffed Wikipedia description — “set on a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk Brazilian arcology ruled by a nanotech-empowered matriarchy” — is suggestive of the novel’s wide-ranging subject matter, which includes everything from algae-powered fuel cells to contemporary MPB music. But perhaps the most striking feature of this future world is its political system, in which a ruling class of ageless women ritually sacrifice their king every five years. Such a society is presented in a surprisingly positive light.

“I wanted to have a matriarchy that wasn’t also a horrible place to live,” says Alaya Dawn Johnson in this week’s episode of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “The book is about [the protagonist] June discovering the ugly underbelly of her supposedly perfect city, but despite all that I honestly think that Palmares Tres is probably a better place to live than modern America.”

Like many popular young adult novels, The Summer Prince features a love triangle, but Twilight this isn’t. In this story the young female protagonist June and her male best friend Gil both fall for the same young man, the doomed summer king Enki, who intends to spend the rest of his short life pursuing as many sexual conquests as possible.

“Maybe I’m wrong,” says Johnson, “but I felt that a matriarchy would have much less interest than a patriarchy in enforcing social and gender norms in the same way.”

Listen to our complete interview with Alaya Dawn Johnson in Episode 87 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above), in which she warns against wearing sandals in the jungle, waxes poetic about Veronica Mars, and explains why a vampire story just isn’t the same without menstrual blood. Then stick around after the interview as guest geeks E.C. Myers and Emily Asher-Perrin join hosts John Joseph Adams and David Barr Kirtley to discuss the new movie Star Trek Into Darkness.

Alaya Dawn Johnson on boys reading YA:

“A lot of adult readers and writers and educators will really bemoan the lack of books for boys now. ‘Boys aren’t reading because all these women write YA, and their main characters are all girls, and so boys aren’t really as into that, and they just need books for them, and what about the boys, we’re losing the boys.’ This is a common refrain. And I felt intellectually that it was a silly refrain, because for heaven’s sake girls read books starring boys all the time, so why can’t boys read books starring girls? I don’t think it’s healthy for anyone to encourage these hypothetical male readers in thinking that it’s okay to just shun reading about half the population on Earth. But I realized when I was talking to these teen boys that actually a lot of them don’t have that assumption … It made me really excited to realize that a lot of times the stuff keeping young male readers from reading books might not be their own preferences, it might be this cultural weight on them by the adults, who have much stricter ideas about what they should be reading.”

Alaya Dawn Johnson on the allure of summer kings:

“I was thinking about vampires, and specifically about what makes vampires a romantic trope, about what people like about not just vampires but supernaturally long-lived creatures in general, which is a thing that shows up in probably fifty to sixty percent of paranormal romances … And then for some reason I decided to reverse it. Could you create someone whose power was not in their longevity, but in the brief intense spark of their life? … And that leap is what made me start thinking about summer kings, which is not something that I invented. It’s a tradition that happens in lots of different societies around the world … Arguably it’s a trope that even has resonance in modern American society, if you look that the way that people will fetishize and almost worship people like James Dean.”

John Joseph Adams on the new Star Trek movies:

“What I disliked about these movies the most is that they are generic science fiction action movies with Star Trek characters, and that’s not why I watch Star Trek. There are plenty of other things I can watch that have that type of plot to it, and that type of sci-fi action, and that’s fine. But Star Trek to me — sure, there are moments of that — but to me it’s really about ‘exploring strange new worlds.’ And here they don’t do any exploring at all. It just doesn’t feel like Star Trek to me … One of the things that bugged me about the end of Into Darkness was when Spock was fighting on top of that ship … and then he leaps onto that other ship. That was a ridiculous action scene, and it felt like it came right out of Star Wars.”

Emily Asher-Perrin on Captain Kirk’s relationship with women:

“I’m actually a major Kirk apologist in this way, because I think that the secret thing no one actually knows is that Captain Kirk is a feminist and Spock is the one who’s sexist. Because if you look at the original series, the “Captain Kirk using women” trope only ever seems to happen when the ship is really in danger, where the point is ‘if I sleep with you, you’ll get distracted, or you’ll tell me something I need to know, and I need to save four hundred people.’ But the women he falls in love with on the series are always very powerful. A lot of times they’re smarter than him, and can sort of take him to task. He likes bright women, and is very respectful of the women he falls in love with, whereas Spock is always making these giant statements about females as a whole.”

Thank you. TiA.


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