No February Reviews (Yet?)

So, I’m going over to Japan in a few days. Now whilst I’ve been busy preparing for my holiday it was always my intention to have my February reviews up before I left. However, there has been a death in the family that has sapped both my time, and my will to be productive, so no reviews for now. I might put last months reviews up when I get home from my holiday, or maybe I’ll just make a combined February/March post next month.

I will say that I have read some interesting stories last month. Michael Flynn’s 2006 novel Eifelheim had me completely engrossed, and Josiah Bancroft’s novel Senlin Ascends has introduced me to a fascinating world. I’m also up to date on the gorgeous graphic story Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takada, and I’ve read some exceptional short fiction in Analog and The Dark, though I am still not up to date with either magazine. I have so much to talk about, and hopefully I’ll be in a state of mind to do so soon.

In other big news, Pokemon Gen VIII has been announced, with the new games named Sword and Shield. The setting is the Galar Region, aka, Pokemon UK, which means that this new region looks a bit like Westeros. The Game of Thrones similarities continue with the logos have what appears to be a wolf-like Pokemon in the design. Hell, the art for Pokemon Sword looks like it could be Longclaw. I’m still not sure about the starters, though I do seem to be in a minority for not instantly wanting Scorbunny. Again, there is a lot to talk about with these new games, but I’m just not in a position to do so at the moment.

In January I included a review of a music album, and whilst I don’t have any plans to include regular music reviews, I did like sharing songs. I’m going to try and include a Science Fiction/Fantasy music video of the month in my monthly reviews. Not necessarily a new release song, but just a music video or song with SF/F themes that I’ve been enjoying lately.

This month, my featured song will be a shout out to an amazing band that I saw live in February. The one and only Ninja Sex Party. Go listen to Dinosaur Laser Fight, the song that introduced me to the band and which was a highlight of their Sydney show. Yes, it is as weird as it sounds, but NSP is so awesome.

I’ve got a lot of conflicting feels right now. There’s been so much excitement, but also a lot of sadness and anxiety. I’m going to miss my Nana, and it feels wrong to be going on with my life, especially with such amazing exciting things happening. But that’s not the way the world works you know. Death happens, and the world keeps turning. Still, I’ll be back soon with more reviews, and maybe if people are interested some highlights of my trip.

Until then, Happy Reading,

~ Lauren

 

 

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Saga

Saga20190216_182803_resized

By Brian K. Vaughn (Writer) and Fiona Staples (Illustrator)

Published: 2012 – ongoing.

I have just become caught up on this series. I started reading Saga last year, but didn’t want to talk about it until I was up-to-date. Well, now I’ve just finished Vol.9 and I’m not sure if I’m okay. This series has gotten me emotionally invested in its characters more than any other recently, and Vol.9 was a bloodbath. Good thing I wasn’t rostered on at work that day, because I read the whole issue in one go and then thought about it the rest of the day. It was quite disturbing, but also reminded me why I love this series so much.

I was also reminded why I delayed reading Vol. 9 for so long. I picked up a few spoilers, including one about a certain character death, and then heard there would be a long hiatus, and kinda wanted the happy ending of Vol.8 to be where I left things before I had to wait. But at the same time, it’s hard to stay away from such a great story.

Saga is often described as Space Opera Game of Thrones, because there is a lot of violence, explicit sex scenes, and beloved main characters die often. But that’s where the resemblance ends. Saga is also funny, heart-warming, and super weird. It’s this story with these two planets, Wreath and Landfall, that have been at war for centuries. Then Marko and Alana, soldiers from the two planets, fall in love and defect, and have a baby named Hazel. This pisses off both of their governments, who don’t want people finding out that procreation between their two species is possible. Or that their peoples can live in peace. So the little family spend the rest of their lives on the run. And there are robots and magic. Also ghosts, a large cat that says “Lying”, giant monstrous spider-people with armless human torsos, sex scenes involving said spider-people, Abortion Town, and dragon auto-fellatio. And of course, Ghüs!

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A big theme of this story is parenthood and the challenges of raising a child. Usually this topic doesn’t interest me, but Hazel’s family is so awesome that I’m drawn in. Also, this series doesn’t sugar-coat parenting. Alana and Marko fight at times, sometimes Hazel is a little brat, and the fact that her existence has caused a lot of problems is mentioned. The very first scene of the comic depicts Hazel’s birth, complete with shitting and a bloody umbilical cord. I hate the ‘babies fix everything’ cliché, and like that despite being so focused on loving families and parenthood, Saga averts that trope.

20190216_181558_resizedSaga also focuses on war and pacifism. Marko takes a vow of non-violence, but at many points he must resort to violence to protect his family, or is driven to violent rages. I’ve noticed that a lot of works that promote pacifism make non-violent solutions easy, or at least, it always works out for the best. In reality, refusing to fight back often leads to beatings or imprisonment or death. That’s what makes non-violent resistance/protest so heroic.

Marko and other characters often find themselves in situations where failure to fight back or hurt others will get them hurt. Yet despite non-violence being such a hard path, it’s one that needs to be taken. All the heartbreak in Vol.9, is a direct consequence of violence in the earliest issues and the ensuring cycle of revenge. Also, Marko and Alana wouldn’t even have fallen in love if they hadn’t been able to trust an enemy in the first place.

Saga tackles a lot of important issues, but it is also delightfully weird. Whilst I had heard of Saga years ago, and knew that it was highly regarded and had won a lot of awards, what finally persuaded me to check out the series was the Funko Pops. It was my first time actually seeing the cast, and there is just something so appealing about these character designs. I just thought that they looked so strange, and fun, and also there was a cat and a dude with a TV for a head. I was very intrigued, and I am so glad I got to fall in love with all these characters. I ended up loving nearly everyone. Alana is awesome, Marko is great, and Prince Robot IV and The Will are awesome whilst also generating a lot of mixed feelings. And yes, I did end up collecting all the Pops. I wish there were more, but then I’d be out of shelf space.

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Let’s talk about the art next. In short, Fiona Staples’s art is amazing. Figures of the character’s wouldn’t have drawn me in if Staples’s hadn’t made them all look amazing. The different planets and aliens we meet all look great, even when we’re being shown something disgusting. Looking at you Fard*. It’s like, I don’t want to see that, but I can’t look away. With each page turn, you never know if you’ll get something cute or disturbing. And everything is just so colourful, but also really clear. Even with big action scenes, I can always follow along with whats happening. The fact that Staples is able to convey so much emotion with characters that have TV screens for heads is impressive.

The series is really diverse, with two non-white leads and a lot of queer representation. Though, I know race in a space opera setting is a weird thing, since the characters mostly aren’t human and therefor skin colour doesn’t sequel race. Still, every species we see with human skin tones come in a wide range of human skin tones, rather than particular hues being associated with different species.

20190216_204656_resizedBeing a series with tons of character death, having a high ratio of queer characters means a lot of queer characters dying. There is also a storyline that follows a gay couple from a homophobic planet, which does lead to homophobic slurs cropping up. I’ve come across criticisms of the series for both these aspects, and whilst I don’t agree that it makes Saga problematic, I’m also aware that I don’t get the final say on whether or not it is. I just love that whilst Saga is the story of Hazel and her straight cis parents, it still presents a universe where gay and transgender people exist.

I never really read a lot of graphic stories before. Maybe the occasional manga, but when I imagined Western comics, I only pictured superheros. Saga has really opened my eyes to what the medium can do, and I can’t recommend this series enough. Saga will draw you in with the promise of weird, messed up stuff. Then, it’ll deliver a heartwarming, thought-provoking story about family, war, and the power of stories and our media. Then it’ll show you a huge dick. That’s just how this series rolls and I love it so much. I can’t wait for the hiatus to be over.

~Lauren

* Do a Google Image search of ‘Fard from Saga’ at work. I dare you.

 

 

 

January Reviews

First month of the year and I’m making an okay start with my goal of reading 100 books. So far, I’m only 3 books behind schedule. That’s okay for now though. I got to catch up on some of my magazine back issues and graphic novel series, as well as read a few books I’ve been meaning to get around to for a while.

 

Uncanny Issue #23: Dinosaur Issue40642225

Published July 2018

Score: N/A

Book Bingo Tiles: Has Dinosaurs (random bingo card)

I don’t subscribe to Uncanny, but I do get an issue every now and then. Also, Uncanny’s stories are published online and can be read for free, so I often read individual stories that get recommended to me. This issue was a bonus Kickstarter stretch goal; a shared universe dinosaur issue. Hence the awesome T-Rex on the cover.

I loved this idea, knew I wanted the issue, and enjoyed reading it a lot. As with any magazine or short story collection, there are some stories that I liked a lot more than others, but there weren’t any in this set that I disliked. Well, maybe Nails in my Feet by Mary Robinette Kowal. It wasn’t a bad story, but it seemed weirdly out of place being all about a puppet complaining. But it was well written and super short, so if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s the only thing I’ve read by Kowal and not liked I probably wouldn’t have thought much of it.

The stand out for me was The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat by Brooke Bolander. It’s a dinosaur fairy tale. Yup, dinosaur fairy tale. It is one hell of a ride. I’d say it alone is worth getting the whole issue for, but this is Uncanny, so you could read this story here without getting the magazine.

But getting the whole issue is still a good idea. Even though all the stories are about dinosaurs, there is a lot of variety. The shared universe seems more like a shared multiverse, with dinosaurs entering fairy tale worlds, wuxia-inspired worlds, an innocent town (in verse) and our own world. Of course, raptors seem to be the dinosaur of choice for a lot of the stories, but raptors are cool, so I didn’t mind.

 

In the Vanisher’s Palace

By Aliette de Bodard

Published:

Score: 7.5/10

Book Bingo Tiles: Shifters (Ally’s Appraisals card)

A f/f retelling of Beauty and the Beast set in fantasy post-apocalyptic Vietnam. Also, the beast is a shape-shifting dragon.

I loved how this story uses Vietnamese mythology and manners. I don’t know a lot about Vietnamese culture, but I felt Bodard did a good job of immersing the reader in the world without over-explaining or confusing someone who hasn’t encountered these honorifics or the mythology before.

I loved the characters in this, especially Yȇn (the beauty) and the dragon Vu Cȏn (the beast). Their relationship works better than a lot of other beauty and the beast re-tellings because despite them being instantly attracted to each other, they are aware of the power imbalances in their situation, and addressing the problems of this unequal footing is a huge part of the story. Early on, Vu Cȏn even has to remind her children about the differences between consent, and enthusiastic consent. This story never feels like Yȇn has Stockholm Syndrome, and it never feels like the reader has to excuse Vu Cȏn’s actions to find her likable. Both of them are trying to be good people and do what they can to make the world a better place. The only thing I didn’t like about their relationship is that the sex scenes are unappealing. Vu Cȏn is described as cold, and wet, and I think compared to a swamp at one point, even while in human form. I get it, Vietnamese dragons live in water, and I bought that Yȇn was into it, but I wasn’t. It really made it really not feel like a romance story to me.

This is a story that uses both fantasy and science-fiction elements. The world has been ravaged by cruel alien invaders referred to as Vanishers, but there are also dragons and a magic system that involves worlds physically manifesting. Because of this, I never felt like this was a fairy tale, even though I saw a lot of elements from Beauty and the Beast. I also had trouble visualising some descriptions of the palace and some spells. Not sure how much of that is on me. Some scenes did work for me, like when Yȇn and Vu Cȏn’s children are walking through a hallway and the floor turns into windows. The palace is supposed to be a place where the normal rules of reality don’t apply and everything is confusing, but sometimes it left me a bit confused trying to work out what things looked like.

 

38244358In an Absent Dream

By Seanan McGuire

Published: January 2019

Score: 9/10

The fourth entry in McGuire’s Wayward children series, but you don’t need to have been following the series to enjoy In an Absent Dream. It helps a lot, and I don’t see why you’d want to start the series on book 4, but it can be done. Every second book in this series is a stand alone story about one of the children from the main plot encountering their portal world.

This story follows Lundy, the teacher from Elanor West’s school, as she finds a door to the Goblin Market. Like book 2 of the series, Down Amongst the Sticks and Bones, I absolutely loved the worldbuilding here. The Goblin Market felt like an enchanting, magical place and despite all the hardship Lundy endures there, every time she went back to it, I felt happy to be returning with her.

One gripe I had was that the ending depends on Lundy’s tendency to find loopholes to rules, but I feel this was merely an informed attribute. When her teacher wants her to leave the classroom so she can lock up and Lundy just wants to stay at her desk reading, she tries to convince her teacher that she doesn’t need to follow the rules. She also uses the rules of her boarding school to get into a position where she can escape, and she gets a bit creative with negotiating debt in the Marketplace, but I never felt like she engaged in the level of loophole abuse that would have led her to the decision she made at the end.

In the end though, I still loved this novella. I listened to it as an audiobook narrated by Cynthia Hopkins, and the narration was flawless.

Now the big question… can I use this story to tick off the ‘Has Unicorns’ tile on my book bingo challenge? One of the side-characters, Vincent, is a unicorn-centaur… but I suppose unicorn-centaurs aren’t actual unicorns.

 

The Dunwich Horror

By H.P. Lovecraft

Published: 1928

Score: 8/10

Bingo Tiles: Has Monsters

One of Lovecraft’s classic stories, which even today is a good horror story. The Dunwich Horror is part of the Cthulhu Mythos and is included on most lists of best Lovecraft stories and classic horror. The story follows Wilbur Whateley, a strange child born to a degenerate hillbilly mother in an isolated place called Dunwich and educated by his wizard grandfather. No-one knows who little Wilbur’s father is, but there are hints that he isn’t exactly human. Wilbur ages much faster than than a normal child, and eventually stands nine feet tall. There are also hints of strange rituals from the house, and despite the family constantly buying cattle, their herd never grows.

After many years, the monster that the Whateley’s had been hiding breaks loose and starts terrorising the countryside. And no, I don’t consider that a spoiler; there are always monsters or Elder Gods being summoned and unleashed in these stories, that’s like, Lovecraft 101. The scenes of the invisible giant monster going around causing havoc were amazing.

This could have been one of my favourite Lovecraft stories, if it hadn’t been for the dialog. Lovecraft didn’t include a lot of dialog in his stories, but in this one the characters talk a lot. The Dunwich locals speak in a dialect, and the way Lovecraft has written their speech was hard to follow. Maybe it’s just me, but I just came to dread whenever anyone spoke. Also, it’s Lovecraft, so, expect some cringy comments. Not as flat out racist as other works, but there’s still some stuff. Also, you can tell that Wilbur’s mother is ‘degenerate’ because she’s an albino.

This is a must read for Lovecraft fans.

 

Unheavenly Creatures

Coheed and Cambria

Released: October 2018

Alright, this isn’t a book. This is the latest album from progressive metal band Coheed and Cambria, and now that I’ve finally listened to the whole album I have to praise it. I have been listening to the songs Unheavenly Creatures and Old Flames for months now. Especially Unheavenly Creatures; damn I love that song.

Buying the album made me aware of other great songs including my new favourites It Walks Among Us, True Ugly, and Lucky Stars, which despite beginning with the lyrics “This could be the biggest mistake we make in this life”, would make a great wedding first dance song. Though I’d need to run the song choice by my partner. As well as the first dance idea. And also the whole wedding thing.

Most of Coheed and Cambria’s albums are concept albums based around frontman Claudio Sanchaz’s Amory Wars comic books. Which no, I haven’t read yet, but they are on my radar now. Maybe. I like the music and I enjoy the concepts, but I came across the written story of this album and the writing didn’t appeal to me, so I’m weary about reading the comics.

This album is my first exposure to Coheed and Cambria, so I can’t really comment on how it works as a continuation of the overall story or how well it compares to previous works. What I can say is that Unheavenly Creatures is a wonderful piece of musical storytelling. We are treated to a romance between Nostrand (Creature) and Nia (Sister Spider). They rob a bank with the ‘help’ of another criminal called Otto, and the robbery doesn’t go to plan. Nia is left for dead, and Nostrand and Otto are arrested and sent to prison planet The Dark Sentencer.

Even if you know nothing about the story or the world and don’t get much of the story from listening to the album, this is still great progressive metal and well worth a listen for any metalhead.

 

That was my January. There were a few other reads: I’m still catching up with my back issues of Analog, but whilst there were some enjoyable stories in the October/November issue I read last month, there was nothing that really stood out to me. I am finally caught up on the graphic novel series Saga, but I really want to gush about it so I’ll make a separate post about the whole series soon.

This February I don’t plan to read as many books, but I am going to actually read some novels. And I’ll be caught up on Monstress soon too. I’ve also come by a number of new books, and so far February is shaping up to be a really good month for me.

Happy Reading,

~Lauren

Future Science Fiction Stories and The Original Science Fiction Stories

I was in my local second-hand bookshop the other day, and as soon as I walked in the door I saw a pile of science fiction magazines. Most were Analog issues from around five years ago, but there were also three magazines that were much, much older.

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I am now the proud owner of Future Science Fiction, June 1958 issue, and two issues called just Science Fiction Stories from March 1956 and March 1955. The March 1955 issue of Science Fiction Stories is now the oldest book I own. I know nothing about these magazines, but I still had to get them. There are some familiar names on covers. Isaac Asimov has contributed an essay in one issue, and the cover story for one issue is a short story called The Spaceman’s Van Gogh by Clifford D. Simak, an author I’ve been meaning to try. Finding the time to actually read thee magazines is going to be a challenge though. Due to their age and fragility, I don’t want to take them to work with me, and my kitten Knight is eager to stick his nose into everything I do, including reading. But even if it takes me years to read these issues, having them on my shelf still satisfies my urge to collect.

As usual with old magazines, I find myself fascinated by the ads. The ad for the book club and it’s featured book on the back of the June 1958 Future Science Fiction issue was really interesting. It was selling the book Satellite! By Erik Bergaust and William Beller, a book about the U.S plans to launch the American answer to Sputnik. The blurb ends saying the book discusses the possibility of manned flights to the moon. Looking back at these ads from 2019, it’s hard to imagine living just before the start of the space age. But even at the time this magazine came out, the ad was dated. This ad ran in June 1958. The first American satellite, Explorer I, was launched January of that year. It’s a reminder just how fast technology was moving back then.

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Also, the book cost 10c for bookclub members. I know inflation is a thing and 10c back then was a lot, but I can’t wrap my head around 10c for a book.

I’ve always been interested in history, and I think I enjoy these old magazines for that reason as much as the stories.

 

Happy Reading,

~Lauren

 

 

 

Hello 2019

So it’s now 2019. The year of Akira, Bladerunner, The Running Man, The Island, and probably a few other stories. From now on I’m going to have a little helper with all my posts. Meet Knight. He likes sleeping on the keyboard and chasing stuff on the screen. From now on, I’m blaming him for any typos that appear in this blog.

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If you’re still following my blog, you’re probably more interested in what I’m reading than my kitten. Though he is cute and I like showing him off. So, time to talk about how I’m going to motivate myself to read more this year.

Goodreads Challenge

Last Year on Goodreads I challenged myself to read 50 books, though once I started breezing through some graphic novels I upped it to 60, a number I met. One problem I have with this challenge is wondering what to classify as a book, since I do read shorter fiction, and some novelettes have their own entry. Previously I have classified novels, novellas, magazine issues and graphic novels as ‘books’. Occasionally, I will throw in a novelette, usually if it was part of a series and I wanted to tick it off. Last year I added two ‘books’ that probably shouldn’t have counted. I added The Quantum Magician to my challenge, even though I also added all four Analog issues I read it in. My reasoning was that I didn’t want to forget I’d read it, but technically it is represented on the list twice.

But this year I’m doing 100 books. I think with a number that high, I’m justified in throwing in everything. The important thing is just to keep reading.

Book Bingo

I missed doing a book bingo challenge last year, so now the bingo cards are back. I didn’t want to choose my own challenges, since I’d probably make that too easy. My friend Ally over at Ally’s Appraisals is doing her own book bingo challenge, and has invited others to use her card. The challenges on her card look like fun, so I’m going to give it a go.

With the help of my partner, I also made a book bingo generator for a randomised challenge. From a list of around 160 challenges, 25 were randomly assigned to this card.

bookbingo2019mine

The rules for the randomised challenge are:

  • Each book can count for one tile normally, however books used for alphabet challenges (e.g. Title Starts With N) can be used for one additional tile. I did a few trials of the generator before getting my card, and I feel like I have a higher than normal number of alphabet tiles on this one, so that’ll be interesting.
  • Each card may have any one tile changed to a free square. Traditional bingo cards have the middle tile as a free square, but I really want to read more by Australian authors, so I’m going to leave that one, and instead am going to change ‘Has Magic Swords’ to a freebie.

 

If anyone else would like to try my book bingo generator, leave a comment and I will generate a card for you. The template I used was from Ally’s Appraisals, but I’m working on one of my own. I don’t know if anyone would be interested in seeing the whole bingo challenge list, but if anyone has ideas for challenges let me know and if your suggestion isn’t on my list I’ll add it.

Books I’m Looking Forward to

I have a feeling that 2018 is going to give us a loot of amazing books. Here are just a few that I am looking forward to.

Dragon Pearl – Yoon Ha Lee34966859

January 15 2019 Rick Riordan Presents

I think at this point I’d read anything with Yoon Ha Lee’s name on it, but I think this book could have sold me by just the synopsis alone. Dragon Pearl is a YA space adventure with elements of Korean mythology. The main character, Min, is a teenage fox-spirit, who wants to join the Space Forces and see the rest of the galaxy, just like her older brother Jun.

I am intrigued by stories that mix fantasy and science fiction elements, and I’ve seen Yoon Ha Lee mix the two very well in short stories such as Foxfire, Foxfire which features a fox spirit and a mech pilot , and The Starship and the Temple Cat where a cat ghost has a run-in with a massive rouge starship.

The City in the Middle of the Night – Charlie Jane Anders

February 12th 2019 Tor Books

A new novel by the author of All The Birds in the Sky, set on a tidally locked planet called January where day and night don’t change, and time is what the ruling class say it is. An excerpt can be found here, and I want to read more.

The Raven Tower – Ann Leckie

February 26th 2019 Orbit

A fantasy novel by the author of Ancillary Justice? Of course I’m buying this one.

The Haunting of Tram Car 015 – P. Djѐlí Clark

February 19 2019 Tor.com

I read P. Djѐlí Clark’s novella The Black God’s Drums a couple of months ago, and now I want more. The Haunting of Tram Car 015 is a novella set in a 1912 alternate Cairo with steampunk and fantasy elements, featuring Djinn and demons. This novella is exactly what the title says; tram car 015 is haunted. Two officers have to go in an perform an exorcism, but things end up getting complicated.

37794149A Memory Called Empire – Arkady Martine

March 2019

Space Opera about an ambassador from a small mining station going to the capital of a great galactic empire and getting caught up in a political mess with a lot of murder. Okay, I don’t know much about this one. I only know that Arkady Martine wrote The Hydraulic Emperor, that this is space opera with a galactic empire, a setting that I nearly always enjoy, and that the cover has the biggest space throne I have ever seen.

Descendent of the Crane – Joan He

April 2nd Albert Whitman Company

A debut novel set in a Chinese inspired fantasy kingdom where magic is banned. After the death of her father, young queen Hesina seeks the aid of a soothsayer to find his killer. I’ve heard this one described as a Chinese Game of Thrones, and am eager to give it a go.

This is How You Lose the Time War – Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

July 16th 2019 Saga Press

Two agents on opposite sides of a temporal war begin taunting each other… but then their bond becomes something more. I’m not usually a romance reader, but the idea of a time-travel romance novella has me intrigued.

 

As well as those new books, there are some sequels I want to continue on with. The next book in Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series, In an Absent Dream, will probably be out by the time I post this. The Conclusion to Ada Palmer’s Terra Ignota series, Perhaps the Stars is expected to be released this year, though I have found little information about it. I hope it is out in 2019, but if not that’s okay. I want to read the entire series back-to-back when it comes out, so a bit of a wait might not be a bad thing. JY Yang’s Tensorate and C.L. Polk’s Kingston Cycle series will also continue in July of 2019, with The Ascent to Godhood and Greystar respectively. And of course, the next graphic novel in the Adventure Zone adaptation, Murder on the Rockport Express will also be out in July.

Wow, July is going to be a busy month for me. But then again, with a target of 100 books and two bingo challenges, I think the entire year will be a busy one for me.

 

Happy Reading,

~Lauren

 

 

 

 

My 2018 in Books

I have read a lot in 2018. I completed my Goodreads challenge of 60 books, started reading graphic novels more regularly, diversified my short fiction reading, and covered this year’s Hugo Awards, even though I dropped the ball a bit when it came to the Retro Hugos. I have had so much fun with my reading this year, and I’ve also enjoyed raving and ranting about the books I’ve encountered on this blog. With 2018 on it’s last legs, it’s time to recap some of my highlights. Whilst I have read a lot of great stories this year, for this post at least I’m going to focus on 2018 releases.

2018 Releases I Read

Frankenstein in Baghdad – Ahmed Saadawi (translated by Jonathan Wright)30780005

Full Review

I read this one back in March, and at the time wasn’t sure how I felt about it and gave it a score of 6.5. Looking back, that score was way too low. I have been thinking about parts of this book a lot over the last year. Whilst there are some parts of the book that bored me greatly, there were also thought-provoking, and disturbing parts that a year on, are what stays with me. Plus the talking Saint George painting still makes me giggle. This isn’t a particularly easy book to read, and if you’re into a more science-fiction Frankenstein story, you’ll be disappointed, but this book says a lot about war and innocence and the cycle of revenge and whilst there were parts that I didn’t get or that bored me, I’d still like to read it again some day. Even though I remember some parts of the book feeling like a chore to get through. Despite my initial ‘meh’ feelings, I’m still glad I read it.

Revenant Gun – Yoon Ha Lee

Full Review

Great ending to the Machineries of Empire trilogy. If you enjoyed Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem, you’ll be very happy with this conclusion. This series has a lot of crazy, far out worldbuilding, with weird and fantastical technologies and one of the most evil Evil Empires I have ever come across. All written with Yoon Ha Lee’s beautiful style. I’m really looking forward to re-reading this series one day, as I know there’ll be a lot of details I missed first time around.

36144841Deep Roots – Ruthanna Emerys

Full Review

A sequel that I loved a lot more than the first book. Emerys’s Innsmouth Legacy series is an amazing reinterpretation and subversion of the Lovecraft Mythos. The protagonist of the series is Aphra Marsh, one of the last survivors of the Deep Ones from Lovecraft’s Shadow Over Innsmouth. After recoonecting with her family beneath the water and forming a bond with a new found family in Winter Tide, Aphra is in New York to find other distant relatives. Her search leads her to cross paths with the Outer Ones from The Whisperer in the Darkness. If you’re looking for a taste of the series, the novelette that started it all, The Litany of Earth can be read for free on Tor.com

The Quantum Magician – Derek Künsken

Full Review

I read this story as it was serialised in Analog, meaning I read it really spread out. I enjoyed it, but think it would have been better to read the whole story all together, because it is a very complicated heist set in a big, strange universe full of interesting – and sometimes disturbing – transhumans. I would like to re-read it, but doing so isn’t a huge priority at the moment. There are other stories Künsken has published in the same universe, which explore similar issues of human evolution. I’ll try to read more of Künsken next year.

Witchmark – C. L. Polk

Full Review

I enjoyed this book a lot. It was a super charming fantasy set in a magical fantasy world similar to Edwardian England, and featured a great m/m romance. It reminds me a bit of Full Metal Alchemist in regards to the world and magic system, and some elements of the magical society reminded me of Harry Potter, though you really have to squint to see the resemblance. Despite how much I enjoyed Witchmark, it has begun to fade from my memory. I still want to read the sequel, Greystar, which will be out in July next year, but I’m not as excited about it as some other sequels.

Space Opera – Catherynne M. Valente35297390

Full Review 

This book was hilarious. Comparisons to Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy are common and well deserved. The plot of Space Opera can be summed up briefly as ‘Space Eurovision with planets getting destroyed’. Earth is invited to join a galactic community, but to prove humanity’s sentience, we must participate in space Eurovision and not come last. The story is as crazy as it sounds and I loved it.

Semiosis – Elizabeth Burke

Full Review

A stunning debut featuring one of my favourite alien types, intelligent plants. This book follows a human colony across seven generations as they learn to live alongside the plant life of their new world. The multi-generational aspect of the story can be a bit of a turn off for some, but it allowed for some amazing worldbuilding and a chance to explore a lot of issues about pacifism and inter-species communication.

The Consuming Fire – John Scalzi

Full Review

The sequel to The Collapsing Empire and part of Scalzi’s Interdependancy series. This series talks about climate change denial using an awesome interstellar empire and plenty of Scalzi’s sarcastic humour. I read this as an audiobook narrated by Wil Wheaton, which made the humour even better. Whillst there is a lot of laughs, this is not a comedy book. There is tons of political intrigue, though not as much action as in the first book. This series keeps getting better.

36373298Trail of Lightning – Rebecca Roanhorse

I just finished reading this one, and given how little I’ve read this month I think this little snippit may be the closest to a review I give Trail of Lightning. It took me a while to get into this story, as there were a lot of flashbacks and dream sequences near the start, but once I did I was hooked. So hooked that the cliffhanger at the end would have driven me crazy, if my copy of the book hadn’t come with an excerpt from the upcoming sequel that answered one important question. Oh yeah, there is a sequel, Storm of Locusts due for release in April next year.

Trail of Lightning follows Maggie Hoskie, a monsterslayer living in Dinétah, formally the Navajo Reservation. Outside the Rez, the world has been nearly destroyed by climate change, but inside the monsters and legends of old have risen once again. This is essentially an urban fantasy story that plays respectfully with elements of Navajo mythology and beliefs. We are presented with a dark tale in a magical realm about a troubled girl. I am eagerly awaiting more.

The Murderbot Diaries – Martha Wells

I’ve read and reviewed a lot of great novellas from Tor.com this year, but the series I really want to give an extra shout-out to is Martha Wells’s The Murderbot Diaries. The first entry in the series, All Systems Red, was released last year and has won both the Hugo and Nebula Award for Best Novella. The following three stories in the series, Artificial Condition, Rouge Protocol, and Exit Strategy all came out in 2018 and this whole series was so great. I listened to them on audiobook with my partner and we both loved the series. Murderbot is a Construct; part human, part machine. It was built to be a security guard with no free will, but it hacked it’s governor module, gained free will, and used it’s new freedom to do a halfarsed version of it’s job whilst bingeing TV shows. Despite trying not to care about anything, Murderbot ends up forming a lot of connections with both humans and bots, and learns to see the world and itself from the media it consumes. Watching it grow throughout the series was an absolute joy. Oh yeah, and the action scenes were amazing.

There is a Murderbot Novel in the works with an expected 2020 publication date, and last week a Murderbot short story was published in Weird titled The Future of Work: Compulsory 

 

Want to Read 2018 Novels

As I said before, there were a lot of great books released in 2018, and the ones I’ve mentioned here are just the tip of the iceberg. Here is a list of 2018 books I put on my To Read List this year and a sentence or two about why I want to read them.

The Vanishers Place – Aliette de Bodard41724928

A f/f Vietnamese retelling of beauty and the beast, where the beast is a dragon who traps the protagonist because she needs a tutor for her children. And it’s written by Aliette de Bodard, who’s work I’ve enjoyed before, and am starting to take a greater interest in.

Annex – Rich Larson

I’ve been impressed by a few of Rich Larson’s short stories this year, especially Meat and Salt and Sparks, so I’ve been wanting to check out his debut novel, which features teens trying to survive after an alien invasion. One of these teens is Violet, who is trans and only able to live as a girl because of the freedom the apocalypse has given her.

The Thousand Year Beach – Hirotaka Tobi (translated by Matt Treyvaud)

This looks like a weird story. Thousand Year Beach is set in a post-human virtual world that is supposed to be a recreation of a nice European harbour town populated by A.Is, but then it gets invaded by spiders. That’s about all I know, and all I think I want to know before I read it.

The Book of M – Peng Shepard

A story about the Forgetting – a strange plague that involves shadows disappearing, new powers being bestowed, and the loss of all memories – and one couple’s quest to survive in this strange world after one of them loses her shadow. It sounds really sad, but very interesting.

35500976My Boyfriend is a Bear – Pamela Ribon (Writer) and Cat Farris (Illustrator)

I know nothing about this except what is in the title, the concept and a few screenshots of the art and that is enough to sell me on this book. And no, this is not a gay romance; wrong bear.

The Calculating Stars – Mary Robinette Kowal

An alternate history where an asteroid in bikmpact speeds up the space program and colonies are established on Mars much earlier. This is the first novel in the Lady Astronaut series, which started as a short story in 2013. I loved how Kowal explored the role of women in WWI during her novel Ghost Talkers, and this series follows Elma York as she aims to become an astronaut and go to Mars despite the sexism and bias of the time.

Record of a Spaceborn Few – Becky Chambers

The 3rd book in Becky Chambers’s Wayfarers series. Each book tells a different story in the same universe, with only minor connections between the three books. I loved Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit a lot and I think I put this one on my list before I knew anything about the story. The Wayfarers universe contains some amazing aliens and a galactic community that strikes a good balance between alien-aliens and the human-like alien communities we see in places like Star Trek. This book is set on a fleet of human generation ships that has to ask itself a hard question: What is the purpose of a ship that has reached its destination?

Senlin Ascends – Josiah Bancroft35271523

Originally self-published in 2013, but re-released this year by Orbit. Senlin Ascends is a story about a man who goes to the Tower of Babel – a mountain-like ancient building full of wonders – for his honeymoon. He gets separated from his wife, and to find her must climb the tower. Everything about this tower sounds crazy and I want to learn more.

Vita Nostra – Marina and Sergey Dyachenko (translated by Julia Meitov Hersey)

The English translation of a best-selling Ukrainian dark fantasy. Sasha goes to school at an Institute of Special Technologies, which turns out to be a magic school that uses terror to keep the students in line. Being more into science-fiction and fantasy, I was originally uninterested in this one, but after hearing how much it has been praised, I think it’ll be worth giving a go.

Nine – Zach Hines

A Young Adult story where humans have nine lives and get physical and mental upgrades each time they die. Burning through lives is a huge thing in this world, and I really want to see what a culture obsessed with death and rebirth looks like.

 

I would like to read a book from this list next. Or at the very least, a 2018 book next. I would love to hear suggestions for which book I should read next, so feel free to leave a comment or vote in this poll.

 

These 2018 releases only made up a small part of my booklist this year. I also read nominees for this year’s Hugo Awards, which introduced me to some amazing stories I missed last year, like John Scalzi’s The Collapsing Empire and Seanan McGuire’s Down Amongst the Sticks and Bones. Both of these books really got me hooked on their series too. I also read three amazing previous Hugo Award winners (American GodsThe Left Hand of Darkness, and The Demolished Man) and a lot of great short fiction. Two highlights of my year were Nova by Samuel R. Delany, a hidden gem from the 60s that has convinced me that Delany deserved every word of praise he has received over the past few decades, and The Will to Battle by Ada Palmer, the third book in her Terra Ignota series, which since finishing back in January I have been dying for the conclusion to the series. There is no series quite like Terra Ignota and I can’t wait to read all four books back to back.

So, that’s my 2018 in books. Well, a brief look at it anyway. Next up I’ll be looking towards 2019.

Happy Reading Everyone,

~Lauren

Review – The Demolished Man

The Demolished Man38604679

By Alfred Bester (Narrated Gerard Doyle)

Published December 2017 (Tantor Audio) Originally Published March 1953

Score: 9/10

I tried to read The Demolished Man many years ago, before I truly got into science fiction. I heard a summery of the plot somewhere else and thought it sounded interesting, but didn’t go out of my way to track it down. A while later, after I’d nearly forgotten about the book, I was looking for something to read in a second-hand book store and came across what I thought was The Demolished Man, but was actually a novelisation of the 1993 movie Demolition Man written by Robert Tine. Yes, the movie starring Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes. The one with the seashell gag. I realised pretty quickly I hadn’t gotten the book I expected. Ever since then, I’ve been meaning to read The Demolished Man, but just haven’t gotten around to it. Now, probably a good twelve or so years later, I’ve finally done it. So, was it worth the wait?

Yes. Hell yes it is.

The Demolished Man is set in a future where espers (of the mind reading variety) are a part of mainstream society. In a world where mind-reading cops is a normal thing, it is thought to be impossible to get away with pre-meditated murder. This is a story about business tycoon Ben Reich attempting to murder his rival D’Courtney without getting caught. Powell, an esper police officer, is soon on Reich’s case. It’s an unusual murder mystery, because detective and reader are both fully aware of the identity of the killer, but actually proving it (there are laws about reading someone’s mind without consent and the validity of esper testimony) is a massive undertaking. The middle of the book involves Powell and Reich moving and counter-moving against each other, and it was a lot of fun. I obviously can’t talk about the ending as much as I’d like for spoilery reasons, but I will say it was beautifully surreal and super creepy. I was reminded of the Star Trek episode Remember Me, and can’t help wondering if Demolished Man provided some inspiration.

The Demolished Man was written in 1953, and sometimes science fiction books don’t age well. Of course, how well a book has aged can often be a subjective thing. Demolished Man features a lush jungle on Venus, typewriters, a room-sized computer, a very 1950s Freudian view on the mind, and some of the female characters are a bit… well, good for the day, but still problematic. None of that made me enjoy the story any less. Unless you’re the type of reader who just can’t get into older science fiction, it should be possible to enjoy this book as much as someone reading it back in the 50s would have.

As outdated as the world of Demolished Man may be, it was still an absolute joy to read about. The technology, the slang, and the many different ways espers are integrated into this society make Bester’s world feel real. Even before the murder-mystery part of the plot kicked off, it was fun to just read about life in this future. This book had some amazing worldbuilding, and the characters were mostly enjoyable and fun to follow.

Bester’s writing style made everything in this book even better. In Harry Harrison’s introduction to the novel, he mentions that Bester cut his teeth in comic books and that his style reflects that. I had no idea what that could mean at first, but from the first scene I got to see the comic-inspired style first hand. Some of Bester’s scenes read as if he is describing frames of a comic book, and it works much better than I would have ever imagined. The Demolished Man feels fast-paced and action-packed. Since I listened to this as an audiobook, I also have to give some credit to narrator Gerard Doyle, who did a fantastic job bringing Bester’s characters to life. The only downside to the audiobook version is that I missed all the weird typographic quirks from the texts, such as names like ¼Maine (Quartermaine) and Wyg& (Wygand), and an exiled esper having the 2 in his rank crossed out. To be honest, I don’t think I missed much: those spelling choices probably would have annoyed me, but if you want the full Demolished Man experience I suppose actually reading the book would be the way to go.

One thing that did annoy me about this book was the main romantic pairing. It contained a bit of insta-love, a great power-imbalance, a super convenient revolution, involves a woman regressing to babyhood, and a lot of weird Freudian aspects that made it feel creepy. Though the characters involved seemed somewhat self-aware of these issues, which I think made it less bad, but still pretty bad.

Final verdict: The Demolished Man may feel dated in places, but it is still a very worthwhile read. And also, it is much better than Demolition Man. Don’t confuse the two.

 

Happy Reading,

~Lauren

 

 

 

 

November 2018 Reviews

As promised, I read a lot this month. A lot of that was short fiction, which I find harder to talk about than novels, but I did come across so many interesting stories. I also listened to the very first Hugo Award winner, Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man this month, but this post was getting a bit too long so I’ll talk about that in a few days. Damn, getting through a full-length review of The Demolished Man without calling it Demolition Man at least once is going to be a challenge.

First things first, I read the graphic novel Monstress Vol. 1: Awakening By Marjorie Liu (writer) and Sana Takeda (Artist). It was amazing. The story is really dark, the artwork is beautiful, and there are talking cats. I’ll put off reviewing it until I’m up-to-date with the series though. I also read a newish Tor.com novella, and a lot of short fiction.   

 

Short Fiction41546530

I finished two SF fiction magazines this month: Analog Science Fiction and Fact July/August 2018 (yes, I have fallen behind) and Uncanny #24, the Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction special issue.

Disabled People Destroy is my first foray into the destroy series, and I’ll definitely be grabbing any future issues (I hear Uncanny is doing a Disabled People Destroy Fantasy issue next year). The essays were real eye-openers, and most of the stories were great. Most featured disability in some way, with my favourites being The Stars Above by Katharine Duckett, Disconnect by Fran Wilde, and the reprint By Degrees and Dilatory Time by S. L. Huang.

Another story that really stood out was Birthday Girl by Rachel Swirsky. I enjoyed the story, but was left scratching my head wondering what made it science fiction. Birthday Girl is about Bella going to her niece Natalie’s birthday party and watching her deal with similar mental health issues that she did. It was emotional, and really good, but I couldn’t see how it fit the SF brief. I was caught up for a while on the fact that Natalie is Bella’s biological daughter due to egg donation, and had fun thinking about how the story would have been received in an earlier time, when such technology was unheard of. Then it hit me; the fact that Natalie is growing up in a time and a society that can accommodate her Tourette’s and Bipolar Disorder is the speculative element of the story. The guests at the party are understanding when she has a meltdown, and her conditions are explained to the other children as individual challenges to overcome, just like not being good at certain things. Compared to Bella’s childhood, where she was called sick and left scarred from being placed in an institution, this is a radical view of the future.

At the same time, I was reading Analog July/August 2019. The main attraction in this issue was Adam-Troy Castro’s A Stab of the Knife, the long awaited meet up between two characters in Castro’s Andrea Cort universe. The Andrea Cort stories I find in Analog can be hit and miss for me, but I feel the reason why some miss is because I have only a very casual relationship with this series. Every few years I’ll see an Andrea Cort story in Analog, and how well I remember the characters and world at the time will greatly influence my enjoyment of the story. After reading A Stab of the Knife, I am now motivated to seek out the novels in this series. The first one, Emissaries from the Dead sounds interesting. One element that I liked in Stab of the Knife were the characters of Oscin and Skye Porrinyard. They are a single entity in two different bodies. A bit like Justice of Toren in Ancillary Justice, except the Porrinyard’s are still human, and having just two bodies (and the two bodies being opposite sexes) creates an interesting dynamic between the characters.

Another standout story was Marissa Lingen’s novelette Left to Take the Lead, which follows a young woman from the Oort Belt serving an indenture on Earth as her uncles try to bring the whole family back together. It was a wonderful character-driven story that despite being set in one rural part of Earth, manages to show us a vast solar system.

I should also mention Generations Lost and Found by Evan Dicken, which features a generation ship so short on resources that the crew are all extremely modified and specialised, to the point where the bridge crew spend their whole lives in their chairs and maintenance workers have long segmented bodies with no legs for crawling through access shafts; a necessity since failing air-scrubbers have made the hallways no-go zones. This setting and the descriptions of the crew were so creepy, and made me feel a bit claustrophobic, but the crew were happy, which made the story even stranger.

 

38118138The Black God’s Drums

By P. Djѐlí Clark

Published August 2018 (Tor.com)

Score: 8/10

The Black God’s Drums is an alternate history story with steampunk and fantasy elements. Yoruba mythology is central to the plot, with the protagonist Creeper being possessed by Oya, goddess/orisha of wind. I only knew the very basics of Yoruba mythology, but the gods and powers that appear in the story were easy to understand and appreciate without being over-explained. The setting was also beautiful, being an alternate 1880s New Orleans where the Civil War ended in an armistice. Reading that, I’m reminded that Sarah Gailey’s River of Teeth was set in a different alternate history in a similar time and place (1890s Louisiana Marshland.) I did not enjoy River of Teeth, and one of the reasons I gave was that I didn’t know enough about the setting to appreciate the historical changes. The thing is, that is just as true for this story, and yet I loved it. I guess I just prefer steampunk to westerns, but that wasn’t all that sold this world to me. There is a lot of worldbuilding into this novella, really exploring how the American Civil War and the Haitian Revolution differed from our history and the affects these events have on this world.

The story is told from a first person view, and I loved Creeper’s narration. She talks just like how I imagine a 19th Century New Orleans street kid would talk, making the prose immersive. Most importantly, the characters were amazing; I really liked Creeper, and the plot was action-packed and super fun. I hope we can see more of Creeper and this wonderful world.

 

The Caloris NetworkThe Caloris Network: A Scientific Novel

By Nick Kanas

Published May 2016 (Springer)

Score: 5

I did not enjoy this one. I’ve come across Nick Kanas’s non-fiction in Analog before. He is a Professor of Psychiatry and has written a few articles on the psychological affects of space travel that I’ve found interesting. I thought I’d be fun to check out his fiction, and I was wrong.

The Caloris Network is about a scientific mission to Mercury attempting to find the source of a strange signal. The source of the signal turns out to be a silicon-based alien. I’m not putting a spoiler warning on that, because the silicon-based alien is kinda the selling point of the book. It’s even in the title. I was looking forward to alien communication on Mercury, but before I could get immersed in the story, I noticed the dialog. On day 14 of the Mercury mission – that is, after months of travel together and I assume some sort of mission brief – the crew have a conversation which explains the history of the signal they’re investigating, and the radiation related risks involved. Not only is this a clumsy way to convey information that all the characters should know, but the exposition was delivered in long jargon filled monologs. Most of the dialog in the story feels clunky and un-natural. There are a lot of saidisms (“Kilborn interrupted”, “Akira intervened”, “Questioned Anthony”.) It’s not the worst dialog I’ve seen, but it was a chore to get through.

One reason I made sure to finish this story was to compare it to Hal Clement. I have so far enjoyed everything of Clement’s that I’ve read, but he also has a habit of making his characters give big lectures on the science. Why can’t I be so forgiving for Kanas?

I think it comes down to the pay-off. Sure, Clemet drops a lot of info-dumps and science lessons, but you are rewarded with an adventure on a crazy, seemingly-impossible world. Learning how things work in a Hal Clement story is fun. All Kanas’s Mercury has to offer is the alien entity and the sun. It is actually an important part of the story that the alien and the sun are the only two things of note around. The attempt to communicate with the alien could have been interesting, but while other characters do that in the background, our protagonist realises that she can just send her thoughts and feelings to the alien via telepathy. For some reason, she only figures this out after the main conflict of the plot has been resolved.

Oh yeah, the plot. All the conflict happens because the Space Navy (yes, Space Navy ) is super eager to attack new stuff. And also because there is a ridiculous love triangle. I didn’t even care about the main pairing, let alone the love triangle.

So how did a story I hate so much make it to a 5? Well, there is an in-depth science behind the story section that has some interesting information about Mercury and silicon-based lifeforms, including an explanation of the Clay Hypothesis for the origins of life. I still consider myself a carbon chauvinist, but I am rethinking that.

As an example of the ideas in the fact article, The Caloris Network works, but as a fun and engaging story by itself, it didn’t work for me.

 

I crossed an important milestone when I finished The Caloris Network. I have now read 60 books this year, completing my Goodreads Reading Challenge. Maybe I should push myself to do 100 next year. But for now, I have to go finish up that Demolished Man review.

Happy Reading,

~Lauren

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 2018 Reviews

I was thinking of doing NaNoWriMo this year, but a combination of busy start to November, no new ideas, and getting back into my long-neglected novel have shot that. To make up for that, I’m going to try and read as many books as I can this month so I can give my readers a lot of reviews.

Until then though, here are three very different, and very interesting novels I read in October.

 

SemiosisSemiosis

By Sue Burke

Published February 2018

Score: 9.5/10

 

Semiosis is the debut novel by Sue Burke, and wow, what a debut. Of course, I have a thing for sentient plants, so this was always going to be a hit for me. Though even without the fun I always get reading about plants or machines thinking, this book still has so much to dig into. Semiosis is colony science fiction at its best.

In Semiosis, we follow the first seven generations of a colony on a planet called Pax. The original colonists founded Pax with the intention to create a society based on pacifism and harmony with nature. This didn’t really go as well as planned, and the following generations struggle to uphold these ideals as they encounter signs of other sentient life, including a glass city and a grove of strange rainbow bamboo.

The relationship the humans have with the native plant life is fascinating. There are many cases in real life Earth nature where plants control animals. Some of this control can be simple, like plants releasing a scent that attracts predators to deal with offending grazers, or plants shaping their flowers to fit only their desired pollinator. If we want to see even more intricate plant/animal relations, we need to examine the Myrmecophytes (literally ‘ant-trees’) which provide a colony of ants with everything it needs in exchange for services such as pollination, seed dispersal, gathering of nutrients, and defence.

The relationship between the Myrmecophytes and their ants is called mutualism. In biological terms, mutualism is described as two organisms of different species existing in a relationship where each individual fitness benefits the other. In Semiosis, the humans of Pax find themselves becoming the ants to a sentient native plant and as time passes human and plant must establish just what mutualism looks like when both parties are intelligent enough to discuss their situation and long for more from life than just survival. Is mutualism really compatible with human ideas on equality and pacifism? Does being the ants of this relationship mean giving up freedom? And before this discussion can even take place, communication must be established, which given how different humans and plants are is quite an undertaking.

As fascinating as the subject is, there are a few issues with the story. The multi-generational nature of the story means that you don’t spend a lot of time with most of the characters. It also leads to long time jumps, which in turn means some important character and social development happens ‘off-screen’. The story does seem to change direction halfway through, which can also be off-putting. None of these issues took away too much of my enjoyment of the book, but they are things that I can see annoying some readers.

 

Seven Ancient Wonders

(Published as Seven Deadly Wonders in the US)

By Matthew Reilly

Published December 2005

Score: 6.5

 

I don’t dislike this book. When I score things, I think of five as the ‘meh’ point. A six is alright, and I bumped this score up to 6.5 because I did enjoy reading this book. Or at least, most parts. Seven Ancient Wonders is pure tomb-robbing, ancient Egyptian fun, which I liked despite some flaws.

Before we learn anything else about the plot and world of Ancient Wonders, we are introduced to a team of badarse soldiers/tomb raiders with their special little girl as they are dropped into a forgotten Ptolemaic Egyptian mine full of crocodiles and fire and rolling boulders and baddies with guns. One good thing I noticed right away is that Ancient Wonders provides handy maps and diagrams of nearly every new tomb and trap, so it is very easy to follow along with the action. Seven Wonders is a fun action story with cool gadgets and magic, starring Awesome Aussie Jack West Jr. and a hunt for pieces of the magical top of the Great Pyramid.

So, a fun story, but why only a six? Well, the tone of the story made a lot of things forgivable, but the history side of things annoyed me a bit. Saying Alexander the Great conquered the world is a bit of a stretch, and Hatshepsut was not the only woman Pharaoh, which both Reilly and Jack West knew, since they talked about Cleopatra VII. There were also a few other lines that didn’t make sense, and some unbelievable things (like how a 2000+ year old trap that requires a live crocodile falling down a pipe teeth first still works), and a few dumb actions by certain characters, such as a villain making an important MacGuffin accessible by the heroes in order to ‘lure them out’, when the heroes would have no idea if the item was legit until they had already been ‘lured out’.

So, these are all nitpicky problems that didn’t ruin the book for me, but there were enough of them to pull me out of the story. There’s also the fact that this is a long story, over 500 pages. The strength of this book is the intense action scenes, and it can be hard to maintain that moment for such a long story. I thought Reilly pulled it off, but if you are unable to suspend your disbelief, this could be a very long read.

Seven Ancient Wonders was a fun read that I enjoyed, but it’s something you have to try not to think about too hard.

 

The Consuming Fire (Interdependency #2)

By John Scalzi

Narrated by Wil Wheaton

Published October 2018

Score: 8/10

 

I reviewed the first book in Scalzi’s Interdependency series here earlier this year. One of my complaints about The Collapsing Empire was that it felt like a set-up to the rest of the series, but after reading The Consuming Fire I’m not sure how I feel about that comment. Consuming Fire at times felt like it was setting up things, but we got more pay-offs than in Collapsing Empire. In fact, that ending was so satisfying, even if there was a slight ass-pull element to it. I won’t talk too much about the story as a whole, since I summed up the plot of the series pretty well in the last review. I’ll just mention a few highlights, and some disappointments.

First, something I didn’t like; the amount of exposition and repetition. Yes, I know, it’s the second book in a series so there’s going to be some recapping, but everyone brought up the attempted space-shuttle assassination thing way more than necessary. Also, some things were way over-explained.

I did like that the climate change denial parallels were more obvious. I know that message fiction can be a real turn off to some people, but I still think Scalzi avoids bashing us over the head too much with it, whilst still taking a jab at leaders who try to deny, minimise, or use the coming changes for their own benefit.

Scalzi’s humour in this book was great. Scalzi humour relies on a lot of snark, sarcasm, and unexpected profanity, which is a perfect fit for narrator Wil Wheaton. I actually read The Collapsing Empire, so this was my first time experiencing a Scalzi story as an audio book. It was also my first time listening to an audiobook narrated by someone I’ve listened to in other media, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. There were times when I pictured some characters as Wil Wheaton, but besides that I enjoyed the narration. Made me laugh a lot.

 

Now that that’s done, time to get busy. I’ll see you all next month. Or maybe even earlier.

 

Happy Reading,

Lauren

 

September Reviews

Alright, a bit of a September/October page, since I wanted to talk about Rogue Protocol and Exit Strategy together. And, also because I’ve been pre-occupied. Yeah, I admit it, I failed at a monthly review thing after just one month.

I’ve read a lot of short fiction, but today I’m going to talk about the two novels and two novellas I have read since my last review post. All have been 2018 release, and all I loved a lot.

 

Witchmark36187110

by C.L Polk

Published June 2018

Score: 8.5

I caved into reading this one after seeing it advertised and talked about a lot, and I was not disappointed. I really liked the world and magic system, both of which reminded me of the anime Fullmetal Alchemist with maybe a dash of Harry Potter, except with a more Edwardian England feel. Witchmark takes place in a fictional country called Aeland, which has been fighting a war with Laneer for years. The protagonist Miles is a doctor and a war veteran, who treats other veterans suffering shell-shock. Miles is also a witch. In this world, there is a secret society of witches that control most of what happens in Aeland. These witches are the nobility of the country, and are all inter-related. Witches can be born outside this society, but they are considered incapable of wielding their powers without going mad, and as a result are locked away in witch asylums. Miles was born into the upper class, but ran away at an early age, because this nobility has some pretty messed up practices. Like enslaving the less powerful witches, so they are forced to be magic batteries.

The story itself is a paranormal mystery, where Miles must discover who killed one of his patients, unravel a conspiracy about the war, find out why some of his patients are going crazy and killing their families, and navigate a reunion with his sister and the world he left behind. All the while he is aided by a strange, unnaturally handsome man named Tristan. I’m not usually a big fan of fast romances, but I really enjoyed the one between Miles and Tristan.

I enjoyed everything about this book. Loved the world and characters, there was a lot going on in the plot, but it all came together in the end. This book also examines a lot of big issues, such as war, servitude, and class privilege. This is an amazing first novel.

 

Space Opera36136118

by Catherynne M. Valente

Published April 2018

Score: 9/10

Alright, this was awesome, but it may not be for everyone. The premise of this book is simply ‘Eurovision in space’, with Humanity forced to compete and threatened with annihilation if we lose. As soon as I knew this book was a thing, I knew I had to read it.

As the summery and title may suggest, this is a comedy book. The humour is heavily influenced by Douglas Adam’s Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and even though I liked Hitchhiker, I was a bit weary about Valente’s style as I started the book. I got into it quickly enough. I also liked that even though it was a comedy, there were some hard, very serious truths beneath the surface. The reason humanity is being asked to sing is so the rest of the galaxy can judge whether or not we are sentient and deserving of a place in their community. Throughout the book, a lot of arguments as to why we may deserve to be destroyed are bought up, and the stars of the book, Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeros, encounter a fair bit of racism from their fellow humans, and have their own flaws and regrets to work through.

Another thing that will probably turn a lot of people off this book is that there is not a lot of plot. The first half of the book is mostly worldbuilding, which interested me because Valente has created some really fun aliens, but didn’t pull me into the story. As much as I liked the aliens, I did keep getting a few of them mixed up at times. Once our stars reach the host planet of Space Eurovision though, the plot picks up. I binge read the last quarter of the book, constantly saying ‘just one more chapter’ the whole time. It was so fun, and so crazy. I’ve been telling everyone how fun this book is, and now I’m happy to recommend it to the world.

 

Rogue Protocol and Exit Strategy

by Martha Wells

Published August and October 2018

 Score: 8/10 and 9.5/10

I have been in love with the Murderbot Diaries series so far, but I’ll admit I was worried when I started Rogue Protocol. Maybe it’s because I was listening to it directly after Artificial Condition (was listening to it with my partner on a long car trip), but the start of Rogue Protocol just felt so long and repetitive. I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe my poor Murderbot was going to become a bad series.

I shouldn’t have panicked. Murderbot found itself on a terraforming station with new humans to protect and some of the toughest enemies it has yet encountered. Rogue Protocol became a thrilling action-packed adventure, that not only had Murderbot be a total badarse, but also forced it to undergo a lot of personal growth. The ending left me totally blown away.

Exit Strategy concludes the novella series, and it is such an amazing conclusion. Murderbot finally meets it’s humans from All Systems Red, and it has it’s final showdown with the evil Greycris company. Exit Strategy is another action-packed and emotional ride, and whilst it wraps up the quartet, it also leaves the door open for the series to continue. Which is good, because a Murderbot novel is in the works.

Whilst reading and listening to the Murderbot series, I often thought how cool it would be as a video game. Fighting and hacking like Murderbot would be fun, and there is a lot of scope for puzzles and stealth missions. But then I realised that a Murderbot game would be mostly escort missions, which are usually the worst. Oh well, it’s still an amazing series. Also the audiobooks narrated by Kevin R. Free are really well done. Can’t wait for the novel.

 

And that’s my September and early October. There was another book I nearly finished, but that deserves it’s own full review. Or to be completely forgotten; either one works. Until then, happy reading.

~Lauren