The 2019 Hugo Award for Best Novel Nominees, as Pokémon

trainercard-Lauren (2)

Ever wonder what this year’s Hugo nominees would look like if they were Pokémon? Of course not, but I do, because Pokémon is life. Yup, it’s that time again; my Hugo Nominee 2019 Pokemon theme team is ready. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, I explained everything two years ago, right here.

Time to meet the team.

King StarykSpinning Silver

By Naomi Novik

Published July 2018 (Del Rey)

Pokémon: Alolan Ninetales

I had mixed feelings on the last Novik book I read. Uprooted was a great story, but there were elements that I disliked. With that in mind, I wasn’t sure if I’d be into Spinning Silver, and didn’t make any plans to read it. In the end though, I’m glad this book was a Hugo Nominee because I ended up loving it so much.

We meet many fascinating characters in Spinning Silver. It was that rare book where every viewpoint character and storyline interested me. The world and magic system were also winners. The setting is a fantasy Russia with a parallel winter kingdom inhabited by icy fey folk known as the Staryk. The story borrows many beats from the story of Rumpelstiltskin; Jewish moneylender Miryem brags that she can turn silver into gold. The Staryk King hears this and comes to her three times with silver coins he wants turned to gold. If Miryem fails, she’ll die. If she succeeds, she’ll become his queen. Hard to say which is worse.

I chose Alolan Ninetales to represent Spinning Silver because it shares similar traits with the Staryk King. Thanks to Ninetales’s snow warning ability, it ‘brings the winter’ (hail) just like the Staryk King, and it doesn’t like humans on it’s mountain. The type combination of fairy and ice also matches up with the Staryk theme.

 

SpacebornRecord of a Spaceborn Few

By Becky Chambers

Published July 2018 (Hodder and Stoughton)

Pokémon: Clefable

I love the Wayfarers series. There’s not a lot of plot or action but reading a story in this universe feels like I’m dropping in on a galactic society and living amongst all the cool aliens for a while. I like learning about this universe, and it’s not just lore or history I uncover, but things like food and pop culture and other aspects of day-to-day life. Chambers makes the Galactic Commons feel real.

Record of a Spaceborn Few is so far my least favourite of the series. There’s nothing wrong with it; it still has the same great worldbuilding and characterisation as the other two. But it is set in an entirely Human environment, so I saw less of my favourite part of the series, which is aliens. In Record of a Spaceborn Few, we follow five different characters living on the Exodan Fleet, Humanity’s home in the stars. The Fleet is made up of generation ships, so Spaceborn Few contains a lot of the worldbuilding aspects and story tropes of a generation ship story. The twist though, is that the Exodan Fleet has made contact with the Galactic Commons quite some time ago. The Fleet has been given a sun to orbit, outsiders can come onboard and trade, and Humans are able to go off and colonise other planets or live on alien worlds. The question is than raised, what is the purpose of a generation ship that has reached its destination?

I chose Clefable for this book, as it and Clefairy are said to have come to Earth from space. Seems like the closest parallel to the Exodan Humans that the Pokémon World has to offer.

 

CelesteelaThe Calculating Stars

By Mary Robinette Kowal

Published September 2018 (Tor Books)

Pokémon: Celesteela

I’d been meaning to read this book and it’s sequel, The Fated Sky, for a while now. So glad I’ve now read them both because this series is amazing. I did not expect to fall in love with the Lady Astronaut series as much as I did.

In the Lady Astronaut universe, a killer meteorite hits the Earth in 1952. This causes an accelerated Green House effect to kick off, with human extinction being a likely outcome. This kickstarts the space age much earlier than in real history, as making homes on other planets is seen as vital to the survival of the human race.

Protagonist Elma York is a pilot and computer who wants to be an astronaut. She is more than qualified for the job, but this is 1952, so the idea of women astronauts is just not something that seems realistic. Elma has to sell a 1950s American public and the government on the idea of lady astronauts, as well as contend with jerkface Commander Stetson Parker, who hates her and believes women don’t belong in the astronaut corps, and also confront her own mental health issues. As someone who does have issues with anxiety, I found Elma super relatable and just really wanted to cheer for her and be like her. I also loved her relationship with her husband Nathanial.

I also need to praise the narration on the audiobook. The Calculating Stars is told in first person, which I find to work well in audio format. Also, Kowal herself narrates the audiobooks for both books. As well as knowing the characters and story better than anyone, she’s also a professional voice actress, and her performance is amazing.

An important thing to note is that whilst the premise of the story is very much alt history, this series doesn’t read like an alt history book. It’s a story about Elma, and overcoming racism and sexism. Not about how history would have changed if a meteorite hit Washington D.C in 1952. The meteorite is not the focus of the story; the characters are, and if you’re looking for alt history this isn’t the story you want.

I went with the Ultra Beast Celesteela to represent this book. Celesteela is a feminine bamboo rocket. Celesteela is primarily inspired by Princess Kaguya from the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, but also has rocket features; most likely a nod to the SELENE lunar orbiter spacecraft (nicknamed Kaguya in Japan.) As the primary goal in The Calculating Stars is a moon mission, Celesteela’s connection with the SELENE and it’s feminine appearance made it a perfect choice for this position in the team.

 

RevenantRevenant Gun

By Yoon Ha Lee

Published June 2018 (Solaris)

Pokémon: Volcarona

This is the conclusion of Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire series. I’ve talked about this series and Yoon Ha Lee a lot in previous blog posts, so I’ll keep this brief. In the Machineries of Empire universe, people have the technology to alter the laws of reality. This reality warping is powered by maths and belief, so calendars are the basis of society. Calendars that tell the people when it’s time to torture heretics to death.

A society that relies on ritualistic torture to power its spaceships, weapons, and other technologies tend to have issues with rebellions. Revenant Gun shows the result of the uprising started in the previous books, whilst also finally giving us a good look at big bad Nirai Kujan and an explanation of why the Hexacharte is set up the way it is. Hard to say much more about Revenant Gun, since as the conclusion of the trilogy, it is full of spoilers for Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem.

So, here’s some praise for the series as a whole. The worldbuilding is insane and super cool, I love the characters, and the story brings up so many questions related to military ethics. Also, I love Lee’s writing. He’s descriptions can feel almost poetic at times. The downside to the series though is that the insane world building might be a bit too insane for everyone. I read some pretty hard science fiction at times, and there were points in Ninefox Gambit when the exotic technology got a bit WTF. Though, if you’ve made it through Ninefox Gambit, then Raven Stratagem and Revenant Gun will make perfect sense.

I’m looking forward to one day re-reading this series. I know there’s details I missed first time around, and Revenant Gun finished the series so perfectly.

This series uses animal motifs a lot, which have guided my choices for Pokémon the last two times I did this. I had a Ninetales for Ninefox Gambit, and a Honchkrow for Raven Stratagem: nice and simple. The title Revenant Gun doesn’t instantly make me think of a Pokémon, but the story’s focus on the leader of the Nirai Faction (whose emblem is a moth) and the spaceships (that are actually creatures called moths), made me realise pretty quick that a moth Pokémon should take this space. I chose Volcarona because it is the most powerful moth. Sorry Dustnox and Venomoth.          

 

Disco BallSpace Opera

By Catherynne M. Valente

Published April 2018 (Saga Press)

Pokémon: Forretress

Eurovision in Space. 

Space Opera was one of my favourite reads last year. Here Valente provides us with one of the sillier examples of a galactic community full of interesting aliens. After a massive war, the spacefaring peoples of the galaxy decided that it could never happen again, so they now resolve their conflicts with a singing competition called the Metagalactic Grand Prix. Any new civilisations wishing to remain extant after making contact with the rest of the galaxy must prove their sentience by competing in the Metagalactic Grand Prix and not coming in last. This year Humanity is forced to compete, with one-hit-wonder band Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeros performing.

It is absolutely ridiculous, and that’s why I love it. The humour is very Douglas Adams, but also really modern. There is commentary on racism and philosophical musings on the nature of sentience. Whilst the premise is silly, the book’s main question of ‘Doesthe Human Race deserve to continue?’ is treated quiet seriously. Plus, it’s Eurovision in Space! The humour may not be to everyone’s taste, but I thought it was great, and Valente provided enough worldbuilding and backstory to make an interesting, fun story out of this crazy idea. My only complaint is that this novel would have probably been fine as a novella. There isn’t that much plot, so things could have gone quicker.

I could have gone for a singing Pokémon for this book, but I decided I just wanted to get as close to that big disco ball on the cover as I could. So, Forretress it is. I’ve been using Forretress on my actual Pokémon teams for years, and I’m glad for another chance to put this shiny metal bug thingy to good use.

 

CoyoteTrail of Lightning

By Rebecca Roanhorse

Published June 2018 (Saga Press)

Pokémon: Manetric

I enjoyed this book a lot. Eventually. It had a lot of info dumps and flashbacks, but by the end I was hooked. 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. Trail of Lightning’s portrayal of Native American culture and beliefs is refreshing, especially after seeing how other fantasy authors try to use these elements. The world Roanhorse has crafted with this base is absolutely amazing. We are presented with a dark tale in a magical realm about a troubled girl. I am eagerly awaiting more.

One of the most prominent supernatural characters in Trail of Lightning is the trickster Coyote. Like all gods and demi-gods in this world, he appears in a flash of lightning. So, the electric dog Pokémon Manetric seemed the best fit for the team.

 

I am really digging this team. For the first time since starting this project, I may actually have a team of six that mostly work together. And they’re all pretty strong Pokémon too. It’ll be interesting doing this project next year. By then Pokémon Sword and Shield will be out, so there’ll be a whole new game with new Pokémon (but also without access to some old Pokémon.)

2018 was a great year for science fiction and fantasy, and these six books show that. I’m glad I read all of them, and would happily recommend all six.

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Shifting topic a bit, but this is actually my 100th post. Wow, I can’t believe I’ve written so much. Here’s to a hundred more.

Happy Reading,

Lauren

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April 2019 Reviews

This is going to be a short one, since a lot of the books I read last month are for the Hugo Awards and I’ll talk about them later. Also, this will probably be my last monthly review post. I don’t think this format is working; it’s encouraging me to review almost everything I read, which is turning reading and reviewing into a chore rather than a hobby. Plus I’m mostly reviewing new release or popular books lately, so I don’t feel like I’m adding much new to the conversation.

So, okay, two reviews. Let’s go.

United States of Japan25809801

By Peter Tieryas

Published March 2016 (Angry Robot)

Score: 6/10

 

I wanted to love this one so much. United States of Japan was described to me as Man in the High Castle meets Pacific Rim and the sequel is called Mecha Samurai Empire. I wasn’t expecting the most thoughtful story ever, but I was expecting to have a lot of fun whilst seeing some of Philip K. Dick’s themes. What I got didn’t have enough Man in the High Castle or Pacific Rim for me.

By the way, I didn’t like Man in the High Castle. It has some great worldbuilding, and whilst an Axis victory in WWII has been explored before, I liked the way Dick explored it in High Castle. But the plot itself did nothing for me and I was really glad to be done with the book. Listening to USJ was a much more enjoyable experience for me than reading High Castle was, but it also made me realise just how well Dick portrayed his defeated USA, and that one of the reasons High Castle is such a strong story is because it emphasises how much chance and luck shape history. How we really could be living in a totalitarian nightmare (Or, a more totalitarian nightmare if you will) if different decisions were made or things went the wrong way. USJ didn’t pack as much punch for me, and to my surprise, that disappointed me just as much as the lack of cool mech battles.

Not that there aren’t mech battles; there was a really cool one at the end. There was a lot of cool stuff throughout the book, but between each awesome part (mech battles, life and death video game tournaments, etc.) there was a plot that didn’t grab me, following characters I didn’t like, with a twist that was painfully obvious as soon as we got the flashback scene halfway through the book.

Maybe I’m being too harsh with this book. There was a lot of good worldbuilding, and I had fun with some parts, but it just didn’t click for me. I think a big part might have been Tieryas’s writing style. A lot of his similes felt intrusive, and I didn’t like the long metaphors he used during the more graphic scenes of the story. And there was a lot of torture in this story, so this was a problem I came across a lot. To be fair, this could have been a narration problem, since I was listening to this as an audiobook, or I could have just been extra critical due to my other disappointments.

United States of Japan isn’t a bad book. I don’t think it’s a good book, but there are much worse stories out there.

 

36686547The Tea Master and the Detective

By Aliette de Bodard

Published March 2018 (Subterranean Press)

Score: 8/10

Yes I know this is a Hugo Nominee and I should talk about it later, but I’ve read and reviewed all the other nominees for Best Novella before. I don’t want to re-review the others, but I don’t want to make a post about all the novellas and only talk about one in-depth. I’m probably not going to do a separate post for all the categories this years: we’ll see how things go.

The Tea Master and the Detective is part of de Bodard’s Xuya Universe;a series told mostly through short stories. I’ve read a few of the short stories in this universe, but this is my first Xuya novella. I am very impressed. The universe itself has always interested me; it features a world where the Chinese colonised the west coast of the Americas, leading to Asian and Central American cultures having a larger influence in the world. Tea Master and Detective takes this premise into a far future with galactic Confucian empires of Chinese and Vietnamese inspirations. We don’t get to see that much of these Empires in this story, as we focus on a ship that makes tea and a mysterious private investigator solving a murder mystery at the edges of an empire.

The Shadow’s Child is a shipmind; an A.I spaceship born of a human mother who can interact with humans by holograms. She was traumatised by an accident in deep space that saw her crew die, and now makes a living blending brews of tea that contain herbs and drugs to keep a person alive in deep space. The story being told from The Shadow’s Child’s point of view was my favourite part of the book, because I just loved how de Bodard showed the everyday life of an A.I in this universe. The Shadow’s Child is a spaceship with spaceship issues, but she lives in a society where shipminds can sit down for a meal with humans. Not that they eat, but holographic foods trigger fond memories. Aside from the wonderful worldbuilding we get to experience through her, I also liked her as a character.

Even though this story is about investigating a murder, I hesitate to call it a murder mystery. I believe to earn that distinction the mystery has to be fairly solvable by the reader, but not too obvious. The mystery in Tea Master and the Detective was more just a story, with no chance for the reader to really examine clues. Despite this, I liked the detective Long Chau, and would like to see her in a proper Xuya murder mystery story at some point. Preferably with The Shadow’s Child as a partner.

 

In other news my Pokémon SoulSilver Nuzlocke challenge is going… well, it’s going. I’ve had a few setbacks. Both of the losing Pokémon type and of the getting addicted to Voltorb Flip and wasting away in the game corner instead of saving the world from Team Rocket. But I’m okay now. I’ll get there. I’ve also started falling really behind in my Goodreads Reading Challenge. Probably all that time flipping Voltorbs. I want to play and talk a lot more about video games in the future. I have a draw of unfinished games going back to the Gamecube era that I’ve been meaning to get through for years.

For this post’s Song of the Month, I’m going to post something that doesn’t really fit the SF/F theme, but I have had this song in my head for weeks now. Rammstein’s newest music video about getting carried away by a good song, despite heavy censorship. At least, that’s what I think it’s about.

RADIO

 

Be warned, there are titties in this video. As well as radio humping and an ear getting cut off. Just standard Rammstein stuff.

One more thing before I go… look how cute Knight has been this week:

He has finally discovered that the bed is nice and warm. And yes, he does have a run in his stocking.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I gotta go cry over the results of the Australian election.

Happy Reading everyone,

Lauren.

 

February/March Reviews

Well, I’ve been busy, but I still read a lot of awesome books. With two months in one go, this is going to be a long post, so strap in and let’s get right into it.

Eifelheim16638610

By Michael Flynn

Narrated by Anthony Heard

Published January 2006 (Blackstone Audio)

Score: 8/10

Book Bingo Tiles: Title Starts with E

This is one of those books that ever since I’ve heard of the concept I’ve wanted to check it out, but I’ve never been that motivated. This story is about aliens landing in a medieval German village and the local priest convincing the town to see these strange beings as people rather than demons. It’s not the type of first contact setting that we see a lot of. Not saying it’s a unique idea; Poul Anderson wrote about aliens meeting knights in The High Crusade back in 1960. But it is an interesting idea and I love how Flynn has presented it.

Eifelheim began as a 1986 novella about an historian and a physicist each pondering mysteries that tied into what happened to the village of Eifelheim back in the 1340s. This novella has been incorporated into the novel as the ‘Now’ sections of the book, which serve as a present day framing story for the 14th Century alien portion of the book. I wasn’t a big fan of the ‘Now’ sections, and found myself wanting to get back to the ‘real’ story whenever they came up, but I must admit the story wouldn’t have been so intriguing or the ending so strong without them.

A strange thing about this book is that it tells you pretty early on how the story will end. Since we are reading about the events in the middle ages, we know that the answer to the mystery of the ‘Now’ section is aliens, and because the big mystery of the ‘Now’ section involves the desertion of Eifelheim, we soon realise what’s in store for the characters we’re following in the middle ages. Also, there was a certain historical event that happened in the 1340s that we know from the start is going to affect our characters big time. In effect, this book spoils itself, and strangely enough that isn’t a bad thing. There’s no big twists, because if we’re paying attention to what’s going on we can figure out a lot of the reveals before the characters do, but seeing the characters respond to these reveals, and even wondering how they’ll even uncover them when communication is such a problem makes for an interesting read.

This book is meticulously researched, showing the reader every detail of life in a medieval feudal village. In a way, that’s good because it makes the scenario and the characters feel very real. On the other hand, I felt the book got bogged down in the little details at times. There was one part where characters were at the lord’s table discussing politics for so long that I just zoned out. Flynn’s research makes the story feel like an accurate, non clichéd depiction of Medieval Europe. The importance of logic and reason during this age is highlighted in a way that we rarely see when talking about the ‘Dark Ages’, and whilst there is a lot of primitive superstition involved, Flynn also shows the positive side of religion in this time.

As well as getting the facts right, Flynn also does an excellent job at getting us inside the heads of the medieval characters. Their worldview is just as alien to us as that of the actual aliens, and it made for a very engaging and thought-provoking read.

Finally, as an atheist, the fact that Flynn wrote a book that made me happy to see aliens converted to Christianity shows how much skill went into this story.

 

35271523Senlin Ascends

By Josiah Bancroft

Published January 2018 (Orbit)

Score: 8/10

Book Bingo Tiles: Steampunk or Silkpunk

Maybe it’s a stretch to call this book steampunk, but there are certainly elements of the genre in here. There are airships, mechanical arms, massive steam engines and while the setting is not explicitly Victorian in it’s setting and sensibilities, the setting does have an old-time feel with no modern technology and history that feels more like fantasy. Goodreads has it listed as Steampunk, so I may as well tick it off now, but I may try reading a more explicitly steampunk book later for that challenge.

As for the book itself, Senlin Ascends is a fantastic adventure through the Tower of Babel, an ancient wonder that is a whole world onto itself. The titular character, Thomas Senlin, takes his wife Marya to the Tower for their honeymoon. The honeymoon is ruined within hours when the two get separated by the huge crowds. Senlin, realising that he has both train tickets and his wife is stranded at the Tower without him, sets off to find her. This simple sounding task is complicated by the fact that Senlin’s guidebook forgot to mention that the Tower is a hive of treason and villainy and that climbing it is going to be one hell of a quest.

I enjoyed this book a lot. A lot of great worldbuilding went into making the Tower, and Senlin really has to go through a lot of changes to find Marya. We only see the first 4 floors of the Tower, but already we can see this massive world full of wonder. It’s all a lot of fun, though some things can feel a bit contrived.

All in all, I love this book, but I’m not sure yet if I love it enough to commit to a four book series. Which is a problem because the ending of Senlin Ascends really does need to be continued. A month after reading, I feel I probably will continue the series at one point, but it hasn’t yet sucked me in and made me impatient for more like some other series have.

Oh, and Senlin Ascends was originally a self-published book before getting picked up by Orbit, so if you like unique adventures and want to show some love to self-published writers, definitely give this book a go.

 

Dragon Pearl34966859

By Yoon Ha Lee

Published January 2019 (Rick Riordan Presents)

Score: 9/10

Book Bingo Tiles: Has Ghosts

I think I’ve already committed myself to reading everything Yoon Ha Lee writes from now on, but I think the premise of Dragon Pearl would have sucked me in even if I didn’t know who wrote it. This is a story about Min, a Gumiho (fox spirit) who lives on a backwater planet and must hide her magic. When she hears her brother Jun has deserted his post in the Space Forces to go looking for a magical dragon pearl, she knows something is wrong and goes to save him.

This is a Korean fantasy crossed with space opera; a specialty of Yoon Ha Lee, but not something I’ve seen from anyone else. Most of the action takes place on a battleship, and whilst the story has all the hallmarks of military science fiction, there are also dragons and tigers and goblins and ghosts aboard this ship, and it feels like they belong in this SF setting. If I had to pick just one scene to show how the science fiction and fantasy elements entwine so seamlessly, I’d go with the part where the ship is under attack and Min and another cadet are assisting in engineering. Whilst the ship has the conventional wires and panels, it’s main source of power is chi, and it has chi lines (like a reiki thing.) Min monitors and adjusts the chi energy from her computer, and because the ship’s chi corresponds to the chi lines of a living person, Min is in danger of ‘synching’ with the ship, and any injury the ship gets will affect her.

Min’s shapeshifting powers could have been a mess in the hands of a lesser writer. She just has to think of what she needs and she’ll automatically transform into the perfect illusion. Her charm also allows her to convince people of nearly anything. There was a risk that Min would be able to charm or shapeshift her way out of any situation, but Lee set just enough limits to make her believable and the danger seem real (conjured objects disappear when not on her person, some characters can detect magic, using magic drains energy etc.) Given the ethical dilemma of constantly deceiving people, Min also ends up in situations where she questions whether she should use her powers in certain ways. Her powers are very convenient, but nothing she does ever feels like an asspull.

Dragon Pearl is aimed at a much younger audience than what I usually read. More a children’s book than YA. Because of this, I felt that some things may have been dumbed down or over explained. Not sure if that is the case or if I’m just not used to reading stories aimed at younger readers. As much as I loved the Machineries of Empire series, the way it plunged readers into strange concepts and societies with little explanation was a bit overwhelming at times, so Dragon Pearl was a welcome change of pace. If Machineries of Empire didn’t do it for you but you still want to check out Lee’s work, this could be a good place to start. …though, also any Yoon Ha Lee short story you find online could work as well. Maybe even better. Point is, Dragon Pearl is awesome.

 

36546128The Haunting of Tram Car 015

By P. Djѐlí Clark

Published February 2019 (Tor.com)

Score: 10/10

Book Bingo Tiles: Starts with H

I greatly enjoyed P. Djѐlí Clark’s previous novella, The Black God’s Drums, and since Haunting of Tram Car 015 promised a similar mix of fantasy and alternate history, I was sure I’d enjoy this one too. And I was right. I loved The Haunting of Tram Car 015 so much. I know there are more stories set in th

The world of Tram Car 015 is an alternate 1902 Cairo where Djinn and magic have been unleashed. With the aid of Djinn magic, Cairo has become one of the most industrialised and prosperous cities in the world. It’s also a rather progressive place, with the world’s first vote on women’s suffrage taking place as the story of Tram Car 015 unfolds.

In this Cario, magic is so commonplace that there is a Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities that investigate any paranormal problems. Our story follows two agents as they investigate the titular haunted tram. Despite trams being an unusual spot to become haunted, they don’t at first think that this case will be too difficult. Soon however it becomes apparent that there is something dangerous in Tram Car 015 that could threaten the whole city.

In the two novellas by P. Djѐlí Clark I’ve read so far, I’ve been swept away by a type of magic I haven’t encountered often. I’ve read historical fantasy before, but P. Djѐlí Clark’s stories make the magic and mythology truly world-changing. I love how much Tram Car 015 and The Black God’s Drums turn the world upside-down, with the magic not just adding to the story, but changing who gets to shape the world.

 

City in the Middle of the Night37534907

By Charlie Jane Anders

Published February 2019 (Tor Books)

Score: 7.5/10

In my first draft of this review, I wrote the title of this book as ‘City on the Edge of Forever’. And that isn’t the first time I’ve mixed up the title. Last time I read anything by Anders, it was her award winning debut novel All The Birds in the Sky, which was a charming, enjoyable mix of science fiction and fantasy. City in the Middle of the Night is firmly on the SF side, giving us a heartbreaking drama on the tidally locked planet of January.

First off, I loved the worldbuilding here. Anders has thought hard about not just the physical aspects of life on a tidally locked world, but also how an unchanging sky would affect humans. Phrases such as ‘walking from day to night’ take on a very different meaning, and the lack of natural indicators of the passage of time affects every aspect of life. Early in the book, we are in a room where a gap in the shutters allows a beam of light to reach into the room. Since the sun doesn’t change it’s position, this beam has been constantly hitting the same part of the wall with the same intensity for years, causing the paint to flake. I loved this detail, because it is a very good way to get the reader to realise the implications of a world of perpetual light.

I also liked the main character Sophie. She goes through so much, and suffers from PTSD. Despite this, she is still able to grow and try to make her own destiny. Discovering this world through her eyes was amazing.

Mostly, this was a well written, captivating book. Though I’m not sure how I feel about the ending yet.

 

I Was going to talk about short fiction too, since I’ve read some amazing stories. Binged some of my back issues of The Dark and the November/December Issue of Analog had some amazing stories, as well as a fascinating article about the International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN, pronounced as yawn) by Marianne Dyson. But this post is already getting too long. So I’ll…

…oh, yeah, song of the month. Or song of the months in this case. So, last year I had a month long Queen binge. Then on my flight to Japan I watched the Bohemian Rhapsody movie and spent the rest of the month going through my Queen catalogue again. So in today’s post, I’m going to honour Queen, by sharing one of their songs. A fantasy-fuelled, magical, rather nonsensical song that’s so loved by many, please go to Youtube and enjoy:

Bohemian Rhapsody The Fairy Feller’s Master- Stroke 😛

What? Everyone knows about Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s like, the best, most famous song ever written. I’d rather highlight one of the more underrated gems.

Until next time, happy reading everyone,

~Lauren

2019 Hugo Season

It’s that time of year again where the Hugo Nominees are announced. This year I’m going to try and read the novels, novellas, novelettes, short stories and maybe graphic stories of both the current 2019 awards, and the 1944 Retro Hugo awards.

Damn, I have a lot to read in the next couple of months. For a full list of the nominees for both Hugos, click here.

All the novels for this year’s award I have either read, or they were on my To Read list, with the exception of Spinning Silk by Naomi Novik. I’ll probably like it, since there was a lot about Uprooted (Novik’s 2016 Hugo Nominee and Nebula Award winning previous novel, and the only other book of hers I’ve read) that I liked. However, there was also a lot about Uprooted that I didn’t like, which is why it wasn’t on my To Read list before. The other two novels that I need to read, The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal and Records of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers I have been looking forward to for a while.

I was surprised to see that Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse made the list. Don’t get me wrong, I mostly liked the book and am eagerly awaiting the sequel, but I didn’t feel it was award-worthy. I felt there were some pacing and info-dumping issues early on, and there were so many other great novels last year. But on the other hand I know this book did something special for a lot of people, and ultimately the Hugo Award is a reflection on what the community loved.

With the novellas, the only one I haven’t read yet is Aliette de Bodard’s The Tea Master and the Detective, which surprise surprise, is also the only novella on the list to not be published by Tor.com. As in previous years, the quality of the novellas is very high, and I have no idea how I’d rate the ones I have read.

Last year I imagined that I was pretty well informed about all the short fiction coming out, but I have read hardly any of the novelettes and short stories on this year’s list. Some of them I have heard about before, and I am really looking forward to reading through this list. Same story with pretty much everything on the Retro Hugo list. Some I’ve read, some I haven’t, but there are a lot of big names on that list, so I know that if I can get my hands on half the stories in the list, I’m in for a treat.

Now I need to get reading. And also need to figure out which Pokémon to use for this year’s theme team. Anyone think Forretress looks enough like a disco ball to pull of Space Opera?       

I went to Japan

Osaka Colour Pencil
Osaka Castle

…and I want to go back again as soon as I can. I loved everything over there, from the ancient shrines and palaces, to the modern world of Tokyo, with its shops and sky scrapers and giant robots.  This was my first overseas trip, and I just saw so many amazing things. I’e been having a blast sharing my happy snaps with friends and family, and I’ve also been drawing some of the things I’ve seen. I had to talk more about my experiences.

Sorry if you wanted more reviews. They’ll come soon.

My partner and I flew into Osaka, after a stop-over at Kuala Lumpur. I have never been in an airplane for that long, so that was an experience. Air travel is a rather everyday event, but there is so much that goes into it. If I’d wanted to travel to Japan 100 years ago, I would have been having a very different experience. It’s things like this that remind me that we are already living in a futuristic world.

I did make another observation while flying. On my journey I began reading Charlie Jane Anders’s new novel The City in the Middle of the Night. Not finished yet, but loving it so far. This book is set on a tidally locked planet where humans live in the habitable twilight realm and there are no natural indicators of the passage of time. While flying from Osaka to Kuala Lumpur, I got to a part in the story with characters adjusting to life in a city where no-one really bothers to officially keep track of the time. Everyone is on their own schedule and there is no attempt to synch up. When I got to Kuala Lumpur all jet-lagged and air sick, I felt like I had been transported to this crazy city. My body had no idea what time it was or how much sleep I had. Meanwhile all around me everyone else had just come in on flights from all over the world, and with people on so many different timezones it was rather disorientating. The Burger King always had a line because it was always someone’s lunchtime, and there were people sleeping everywhere. Now whenever I think of life on a tidally locked planet, I’m going to imagine it as constant jet lag at a busy international airport.

Now onto the actual adventure.

We stayed six nights in Osaka, and from there had day trips into Nara, Kyoto and Hiroshima. A day trip to Hiroshima from Osaka is only possible thanks to the Shinkansen bullet train. On regular trains, the trip takes five hours one way, but the Shinkansen makes it a manageable two. Again, I’m reminded how far technology is advancing and how small the world is getting. Of course, going to Hiroshima meant seeing the Atomic Bomb Dome (Genbaku Dome) and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum. That was an emotional experience.

Genbaku Dome
Atomic Bomb Dome

It seems lately that most apocalypses in fiction are caused by climate change rather than nuclear war. That’s understandable, with the end of the Cold War, nuclear war isn’t quite the boogeyman it once was. Meanwhile, we’re starting to see both the affects of climate change, and the reluctance of humanity to acknowledge and address the issue. In this age, it’s possible to forget just how close we still are to nuclear annihilation. Going to Hiroshima was hard, and the museum there does a great job of showing just how horrific the bombs were, and reminding us of just how many of these weapons there still are, and how ready people are to use them. It’s definitely a place people should see if they get the chance.

Torii
Itsukushima Floating Torii Gate

I should note that when I went there, most of the museum was closed for renovations. I don’t know how I would have gone emotionally seeing the whole thing. Being a day trip, we also couldn’t stay to see everything because we were going to the nearby Miyajima island. You may have seen pictures of Miyajima before, or at least of the floating torii gate the island is famous for. After going to Miyajima and seeing the torii and the Itsukushima shrine at low tide, I really want to go back to the island. Would be great to see the place at high tide, where the torii and shrine appear to float on the water, and would also be good to go up the mountain and see all the temples up there. The whole island feels really magical, and I would love a few days to explore it all.

deer graphite
Deer and lantern at Nara

Whilst Japan is a very modern country, there are also amazing ancient places to see. Nara was amazing, with deer that bowed for treats. They seem polite, but if you don’t feed them after they bow they get pushy. The highlight of Nara though was the Great Buddha at Todai-ji. The largest bronze statue of Buddha in the world, housed in one of the world’s largest wooden buildings. Being in this building was really awe-inspiring, and seeing something so big, and so ancient (built around 743CE) makes me understand the people who claim aliens built any impressive ancient wonder a bit better. Of course, the idea shows how little credit we give ancient peoples and has no evidence to back it up, but being around some huge ancient buildings makes me understand the disbelief better.

The temples and palaces of Kyoto are amazing, I especially enjoyed wandering around Higashiyama and the Kiyomizu-dera temple at evening. The area was lit up and everything was open late due to a festival, and it was just beautiful. The neighbourhood was full of old machiya houses lining a winding road of mostly foot traffic. As we went up hill, we even saw a pagoda in the distance. Also, one of the machiya houses was a starbucks. I really wanted to stop there, but the place was full. I’d love to go back to Kyoto and stay for a couple of nights.

We also saw a Samurai Kembu show at the Kyoto Samurai Kembu Theatre. Kembu is a form of interpretative dance with swords and fans set to traditional music and poetry. It has been used by the samurai for centuries, but modern kembu seems to have kicked off after the Meiji period when he samurai were stripped of their swords. The show we went to contained not only great choreography, but also explained a lot of elements of samurai culture in a fun way.

Tokyo
Tokyo

After a busy week exploring so many different parts of Japan, we took the Shinkansen to Tokyo. Akihabara to be exact. I’ve always thought that I could never live in a city, but after spending four nights in Tokyo, I think maybe Sydney just sucks. There was one department store called Radio Kaikan which had so many places selling Pokémon cards. As well as playing the card game, I also collect cards by some of my favourite illustrators. Since I don’t need to actually be able to read the text for this collection, I went crazy and bought a lot of common cards. My Tomakazu Komiya and Midori Hanada collections got a nice boost.

New friends getting ready to come home

Speaking of Pokémon, yes I went to the Pokémon Mega Centre and it was awesome. Bought myself some new plushie buddies, including a Ditto as Trubbish. Which reminds me, I should join Twitter so I can follow the Ditto as Electrode page. And also so I can do other Twitter stuff I suppose. I did so many Pokémon related things, that I became inspired to do a Nuzlocke. A Nuzlocke challenge is playing through a Pokémon game with the following restrictions: 1. You may only capture the first Pokémon you encounter in each area, and 2. If a Pokémon faints, it is considered ‘dead’ and cannot be used again in the game. 3. All Pokémon must be given nicknames, to increase how attached you get to them. There are endless additional rules to add, but these three are the universal ones. I’ll be playing on SoulSilver, because those gen 2 remakes are probably the best Pokémon games – hell, maybe even the best games – ever. I get so happy every time I play Silver.

Sakura
Cherry Blossum at Ueno Park

Whilst shopping in Tokyo was amazing, that wasn’t all we did there. We visited both Yoyogi and Ueno Parks, and whilst it isn’t technically cherry blossom season yet, we did get to see a few early bloomers. Such pretty trees. We crossed that massive crossing in Shibuya, and I also watched the madness from the Starbucks upstairs. Yes, I know it’s just crossing the road, but there are so many people everywhere that it felt pretty cool. Went up the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building and saw the whole city. It stretches on forever! And we made a stop at Asakusa Temple. That was our last full day in Tokyo and at that point I just wanted to stay on holiday forever. But I got a fortune at the temple and it told me to go back to my homeland. Stupid pragmatic fortune ruining my fantasy.

Gundam
Unicorn Gundam

And finally, we saw the Unicorn Gundam in Odiaba. My partner is really into anything giant robot related and has a ton of gunpla kits. When I was planning the holiday, his only condition was that we see the big Gundam. I could do whatever I wanted for the rest of the holiday, as long as he got to see the Gundam transform. So we went to Diver City (getting off at the Tokyo Teleport station. Love the name) and after a lot of gunpla shopping, we got to see this big boi light up and transform. It was awesome.

The whole trip was awesome.

I want to go back so bad.

But before I do that, I have another holiday to plan. Next year Worldcon will be held in New Zealand, and I can’t miss that.

 

~ Lauren

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

 

 

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.

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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