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.

20190104_120523

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

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

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

 

 

 

 

Can’t Stop Buying Magazines

For the past nine years, I have had a subscription to a little magazine called Analog Science Fiction and FactThis year I wanted to read short fiction from a lot of different places. More Uncanny, more Asimov’s, more from Tor.com. I also backed two other magazines on Kickstarter: horror magazine The Dark, and the return of Amazing Stories, both of which gave me subscriptions as a backer reward. On top of that, I also have a lot of back issues of Analog, going back to the sixties. With so much to read, I found myself with a lot of unread magazines on the magazine rack and my kindle. I decided that the best plan of attack would be to let my Analog subscription lapse and add it to a rotating roster of magazines.

Then I received my finale notice in the mail. Last chance to renew or I would miss out.

And I couldn’t do it.

I just couldn’t give up my bi-monthly Analog subscription. At least, not yet. Maybe when I run out of storage space it’ll be easier, but for now, I want my familiar and reliable stories showing up in my letterbox.

So, since I’ve been a bit quiet, and since I have a few new goodies to show off, I thought I would share the results of my latest fiction buying rampage.

20180929_001746_resizedFirstly, the last few months of Analog. I’m still on the May/June issue, which is good, though it keeps getting pushed aside for anything on my kindle. Since I do a lot of reading whilst on my breaks at work, I find it easier to read on my kindle, since I don’t need to actually hold the book and can therefore eat at the same time. I suppose the fact that this issue’s novella, The Last Biker Gang by Wil McCarthy wasn’t really my thing hasn’t helped me get through this one. But things have picked up. Currently up to My Base Pair by Sam J. Miller, which has an interesting premise (A fad that involves having kids that are clones of celebrities) that is disturbing because of how likely our society is to actually do something that fucked up if we had the technology.

I’m really looking forward to the July/August Issue, with it’s lead novella being A Stab of the Knife by Adam-Troy Castro. This is a crossover between two of Castro’s popular series, and after how much I enjoyed Blurred Lives (Analog Jan/Feb 2018) and The Cowards Option (Analog March 2016) I’m looking forward to the characters from both stories meeting up.

20180929_001824_resizedA few days ago, I got the first issue of my new subscription in the letterbox. As I said before, I backed two magazines on Kickstarter, and one of my rewards for Amazing Stories was a subscription to the print magazine. Amazing Stories was one of the first SF magazines, first printed in 1926, and having gone through various incarnations since then. This current magazine is the first time Amazing has been printed since 2005.

I am really looking forward to getting into this. Amazing Stories aims to deliver optimistic, wonder-filled stories that take a more positive view on the human future, which is something that tends to be missing from well, everything lately. Also, I just love the look of the magazine. It’s a lot bigger than my other magazines, a throwback to the bedsheet format of old. And the artwork has a retro vibe as well.

My kindle backlog is also growing. I have three issues of The Dark to go through. I’ve been enjoying the magazine so far. The issue I have finished, #37, had a few standout stories, two of which were reprints (Beehive Heart by Angela Rega and The Crow Palace by Priya Sharma), but The Hurrah (aka Corpse Scene) by Orrin Grey was new and really stood out. It’s a story of a woman trying to find tapes of a rare no-budget horror film her dead mother stared in, and as you’d expect, things get a little spooky.

I also have a Uncanny Vol. #23 and #24 waiting to be read: the Shared-Universe Dinosaur issue and the Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction issue. Most Uncanny material can be read free online, but I prefer reading from a book or kindle to a computer.

Issue #23 is part of the Destroy series of magazines, that has previously appeared in Lightspeed. Uncanny’s Disabled People Destroy issue seeks to:

“Destroy science fiction. Why? Because disabled people have been discarded from the narrative, cured, rejected, villainized. We’ve been given few options for our imaginations to run wild within the parameters of an endless sky.

This issue destroys those narratives and more.”

The entire summery can be found here.

I am really looking forward to this issue, as I imagine I’m going to encounter a lot of stories that tackle important subjects and themes that I wouldn’t come across otherwise. Science Fiction as a genre has not always been the most inclusive place, and for decades the types of voices that were heard was limited. I’m really glad that magazines like Uncanny are so dedicated to broadening the field. And of course, the dinosaur issue will be amazing because it’s about DINOSAURS.

Besides all the short fiction, I also bought myself a nice new hard-cover illustrated book last weekend. And The Ocean Was Our Sky, written by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Rovina Cai. I’ve mentioned Cai before, after I found her illustrations of Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series. Her pictures make this book look beautiful, and every review I’ve seen promises an amazing reverse-Moby-Dick story. This is another book I cannot wait to jump into.

So, I think that’s everything I’ve bought on this latest fiction binge. I should start reading and doing less… oh wait, no, there’s something else. Something bigger.20180929_001906_resized

I found Peter F. Hamilton’s Void trilogy in Vinnies* for $4.50. I read the two novels of Hamilton’s commonwealth saga years ago and loved them, but the sheer size of his books has made me reluctant to read more of his work. Looks like I’m committed to this trilogy though. I have no idea when I’ll have the time to read the books, but I couldn’t not buy them. Look at all that book. 2292 pages of space opera for under $5, how could I say no to that? Op shops are awesome.

Okay, that’s all. Now I’ve got no more time to write. I have to start reading all these stories if I ever want to finish them. It’s important I focus and dedicate myself to reading through this pile of short (and obscenely long) fiction.

Oh but wait, Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente is available at my library now. Distraction time!

~Lauren

 

 

*St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Shop. I’m pretty sure those exist overseas, but not sure if they’re called Vinnies elsewhere.

Recent Reads, July-August 2018

There have been so many new books released these past three months, and it seems my reading has been too fast for my reviewing. I think going forward, I might try and do monthly mini reviews.

 

The Revenant Gun36373688

By Yoon Ha Lee

Published June 2018

Score: 10/10

I don’t think I can actually give a review for just The Revenant Gun. It’s the final volume in a trilogy that won me over long ago, and it completed the series perfectly, so 10/10.

The Machineries of Empire trilogy has been a wild ride, and whilst it blew me away, it’s not the easiest series to follow and understand. There is little exposition, the characters all have unusual names, so they can be hard to keep track of, and the technology is pretty far out. In fact, at first I was thinking of it as ‘they invented magic’. But that’s all stuff you’d have to get through in Ninefox Gambit. If you enjoyed book one, you’ll love the whole series.

The Revenant Gun is set many years after the end of Raven Stratagem, and involves all the key players still left in the fight for the Hexarcharte playing their endgames. For millennia, the Hexarchate has relied on human sacrifice and torture to survive, and after the machinations of Cheris, Jedao, and everyone else who has found this system unacceptable, the immortal architect of the Hexarchate, Nirai Kujan, is setting out to take back control. This is a huge climax for the series, and such a wonderful end.

 

35684941The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins

By Clint McElroys, Griffin McElroy, Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy, and Carey Pietsch

Published July 2018

Score: 7.5/10

The Adventure Zone is a hit podcast where three brothers and their father play Dungeons and Dragons. The McElroy’s (Who you might also know from the podcast My Brother, My Brother and Me) first campaign, the Balance arc, spanned 69 episodes across three years. It was hilarious, heart-warming, and a hell of a lot of fun. The Adventure Zone; Balance has been a significant part off my life over the past few years, as my partner and I would listen to the latest episodes in nearly every car trip and constantly discuss the show. Ever since hearing a graphic novel adaptation of the show was coming, I’ve been excited.

Now I’ve read it and it is such a good adaptation. The art is fantastic, and there is still plenty of fourth-wall breaking and reminders that the characters are playing a game of D&D. It is an amazing adaptation that captures the feel of the show. The downside though is that this is only an adaptation of the first campaign in the story, Here There Be Gerblins, which I feel is the weakest quest in the story. The campaign was based on the Dungeons and Dragons starter set adventure Lost Mine of Phandelvar, so it has a different feel to the other campaigns, which were designed around Griffin’s Balance storyline. Some names had to be changed due to licensing issues, so Klarg is now G’nash.

This is a fun adaptation, and an excellent start to the series in graphic novel form. I can’t wait for book 2, Murder on the Rockport Limited.  

 

Deep Roots36144841

By Ruthanna Emerys

Published July 2018

Score: 10/10

The Whisperer in Darkness

By H.P. Lovecraft

Published 1931

Score 8/10

Emrys’s Innsmouth Legacy is a genius reinvention of Lovecraft’s mythos. Deep Roots is the second novel in the series, which follows Aphra Marsh, Deep One and one of only two survivors of the government raids on Innsmouth at the end of Lovecraft’s A Shadow Over Innsmouth. In the first book of the series, The Winter Tide, Aphra agrees to help the FBI investigate a Soviet spy who may have information on powerful magic, and along the way finds a new family, and reconnects with her people’s elders, who live at the bottom of the ocean.

In Deep Roots, Aphra and her brother Caleb are looking to rebuild Innsmouth by finding long lost relatives. People who have ancestors from the town and may have enough Deep One blood to undergo the metamorphism that will allow them to become aquatic immortals. Or at least to have children that may inherit this ability.

The Marsh’s search leads their group to New York City, were they encounter Francis and her young son Freddy. Unfortunately, Freddy has gone missing, and our heroes find him hanging out with the Outer Ones from The Whisperer in Darkness.

The Whisperer in Darkness was one of Lovecraft’s later stories, and marked a shift towards science fiction. This novella follows Professor Albert Wilmarth as he writes a sceptical article about strange bodies that are sighted after flooding in Vermont. Wilmarth begins a correspondence with Henry Akeley, a local of Vermont who has seen signs of monsters near his isolated house in the hills. Akeley sends Wilmarth a record of a ritual with humans and these monstrous Mi-go chanting to Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep, as well as other information that convinces Wilmarth that the monsters are real. As the letters go back and forth, Akeley is convinced that the Mi-go are watching him, and that they wish to silence him. With every letter, Akeley’s situation grows more perilous, until out of the blue he makes peace with the Mi-go, who he now refers to as ‘The Outer Ones’. He explains to Wilmarth that the Outer Ones are travellers who look for people to talk to, and have the technology to allow their friends to travel to far away planets. He assures Wilmarth of the Outer-One’s friendly intentions and invites him for a visit. Wilmarth is excited by the possibility, but he still has a lot of doubts about the Outer One’s intentions.

In Deep Roots, Aphra and the gang have similar misgivings about the Outer Ones, and finding out the actual agenda of these bohemian fungus aliens is vital not just for earning Freddy’s co-operation, but potentially for protecting humankind itself.

Lovecraft saw ‘the other’ as a subject of horror, and his mythos reflects that. Emrys’s genius is that she takes the same mythos and portrays ‘the other’ as a source of strength and opportunity. Deep Roots has so many Lovecraft staples: The Deep Ones of Innsmouth, the Mi-go/Outer Ones, the K’n-yan, a trip to the Dreamlands and a meeting with the Ghouls, another perspective on the Yith, and probably more that I’m not thinking of. And yet despite being all about the most well known works of horror, this book and series feel like a 1950s urban fantasy.

I liked The Winter Tide a lot, but I absolutely love Deep Roots. It seems at the moment there are no more Innsmouth Legacy books in the works, but Emrys hasn’t ruled out a return to Aphra’s world. I hope we do return one day.

 

38608575The Quantum Magician

By Derek Künsken

Published October 2018

Score: 7/10

The Quantum Magician was serialised in Analog Science Fiction and Fact in the Jan/Feb, Mar/Apr, and May/Jun 2018 issues. I started reading this book as soon as I got the Jan/Feb issue, but then I kept getting distracted and didn’t continue until June. This novel is a complicated heist in a hard SF world, so taking so long to read it was not a good idea. If it wasn’t for Analog providing a recap, I would have been completely lost when I finally got to part 2. Actually, I probably should have just started again, because I was still a bit lost. This is a book you need to be paying attention to, but I feel like it’s worth it.

This story follows conman Belisarius Arjona, a man of the subspecies Homo Quantus, who can entre altered states of mind that allow him to perceive quantum states. Like most people I know very little about quantum mechanics, but Künsken does a wonderful job of both describing what Belisarius and the other Homo Quantus perceive, and in ensuring the story always makes sense.

Belisarius is hired to get a fleet of advanced warships through a heavily guarded wormhole, a job that will require a team consisting of all the different subspecies of humanity, including the aquatic Tribe of the Mongrel, an A.I that thinks it is Saint Matthew, and the Puppets.

Oh damn, don’t get me started on the Puppets. They were engineered to be a slave race, who are small in statue and the scent of their masters triggers a sense of religious awe that the Puppets cannot survive without. But the Puppets overthrew their masters (for their own protection) and keep them imprisoned, only parading them around to get their fix. The scenes with Puppets worshipping their masters were extremely disturbing. There was some messed up shit there that raises questions about morality and free will.

The Quantum Magician is a fun heist in a fascinating, sometimes disturbing world. Would definitely recommend it when it is released in October. I’ll try and re-read it at some point. Magician is Künsken’s first novel, but some of his short fiction is set in the same universe, so I’ll have to remember to check out more of his work.

 

The Descent of Monsters

By JY Yang

Published July 2018

Score: 7.5/10

I’ve been enjoying JY Yang’s Tensorate series so far. The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune were amazing novellas that drew me into a unique silkpunk world with an interesting story and cast of characters. The Descent of Monsters continues this story, but it is very different to the previous novellas.

This story is told entirely through letters and journal entries. Because of that, we don’t get to feel as much of the world as we did in the previous novellas. We also don’t get any explanation on the culture or magic system, so whilst Black Tides and Red Threads can both stand alone, Descent of Monsters needs to be read third. It’s also interesting that the main character in Descent was not in the previous novellas, so we get to see the beloved characters from the first novellas from an outsider’s perspective.

The story of Descent follows up on a lot of story erm… threads that were introduced in Red Threads. I enjoyed seeing this storyline followed, but I didn’t enjoy this story as much as the previous novellas. I miss seeing as much of the Tensorate world as Yang can describe, and our new hero Chuwan picks up the idiot ball near the end.

Despite these misgivings, I still greatly enjoy this series and this book. I love where the story is going, and I love the normalisation of queer characters and correct pronoun use for non-binary characters. The next entry in the series, To Ascend to Godhod, is set to be released next year, and I am looking forward to it.

 

Beneath the Sugar Sky

By Seanan McGuire

Published January 2018

Score: 10/10

When I read Every Heart a Doorway, the first in the Wayward Children series, I found it enjoyable but felt it didn’t live up to the hype. Because of that, it took me a while to pick up Down Amongst the Sticks and Bones, but when I did I fell in love so hard. Then I was excited to read Beneath the Sugar Sky and so far it’s my favourite of the three.

The Wayward Children series is about children who slip through portals into fantasy worlds (think Narnia) and then find themselves back in our world. What do you do when you become a hero in a magical place and are then forced back into your original world, where you no longer fit in? I’ve always loved the premise, and with each book McGuire’s exploration of this premise gets better. Sugar Sky returns to Elenore West’s Home for Wayward Children, and we follow some of our favourite students, Christopher and Kade (who have returned from a Day of the Dead inspired world and a fantasy world of fairies and goblins respectively), along with newcomer Cora the mermaid and Nadia the drowned girl, as they deal with the fallout of the murders in Doorway. Rini, a girl in a dress made of cake, falls from the sky, looking to stop her mother Sumi (one of the girls murdered in Doorway) from dying before she returns to a candy land to overthrow the Queen of Cakes and give birth to Rini. Rini brings with her a magic bracelet that can travel between worlds, so we get an actual quest and it is amazing.

McGuire’s writing style is magical, with this series having a strong fairy tale feeling. I also loved the characters and worldbuilding, and in Sugar Sky the contrast between the characters, who come from logical, and sometimes dark worlds, and the richly detailed and highly illogical candy land of Confection was awesome.

I came across an artist named Rovina Cai, who was commissioned by Tor.com to provide illustrations for the series. (See them here) She captures the feel of the series really well, and these illustrations are worth checking out.

There are two more known Wayward children stories in the works. In an Absent Dream is due out in January 2019, and tells the story of Lundy in the Goblin Market. All I can find out about book 5 is that the title is Come Tumbling Down, and expected publication is in 2020. I imagine McGuire has a lot more stories to tell in this series, and I look forward to following the Wayward Children for years to come.

 

These were the standouts from the past few months, but I have read other things that I’d like to talk about later, such as Saga and Galaxy Patrol. This will do for now though. As much as I like my long detailed reviews, I’ll try and do monthly smaller ones. Hopefully doing so will allow me to discuss a larger variety of topics.

Happy Reading,

~Lauren

 

A Late Update on the Hugo Awards

If you’ve been as interested in the Hugos as I am, you would have heard about the winners by now. If not, you can check them out here.

As expected, N.K. Jemisin’s The Stone Sky won the award for Best Novel, making Jemisin the first author ever to win the award three years in a row. She also gave an amazing acceptance speech.

In the short fiction categories the winners were All Systems Red by Martha Wells (Novella), The Secret Life of Bots by Suzanne Palmer (Novelette), and Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience™ by Rebecca Roanhorse (Short Story). I enjoyed all these winners, and was especially excited by All Systems Red winning. I love Murderbot.

I was happy to see so much love for the TV show The Good Place. The episodes Michael’s Gambit and The Trolley Problem were both finalists for the Best Dramatic Performance: Short Form category, with The Trolley Problem winning the Hugo. Both were good episodes, but good for different reasons, so for me it was really hard to pick between them.

Nice to see the team from Uncanny Magazine get so much recognition, both as winner of the Best Semiprozine, and with editors Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damien Thomas picking up the award for Best Editor, Short Form. Uncanny is a great place to find high quality fiction. And a lot of their content is free to read online.

There were so many moments in the ceremony that made me happy. I’m glad I watched the entire thing. About two thirds of the way through I had to leave for work, so I kept it playing on my phone in the car. No, I didn’t watch it while driving, I was just listening.

Next year’s Worldcon and Hugo Awards will be held in Dublin, so that’ll probably be a late night for me. I’ve seen a lot of good books come out this year, so it’ll be interesting seeing what next years Finalists look like.

What excites me most though is that in 2020, Worldcon will be held in Wellington, New Zealand, which means I’ll be able to go. Time to start planning now.

 

Happy Reading,

~Lauren

The 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novel Finalists, As Pokemon.

trainer card

Last year I gave myself a fun little project: to make a Pokémon theme team based off the finalists for the Hugo Award for the Best Novel. I did the same thing this year, though so far the team hasn’t had a lot of success when it comes to battles. Still, with the Hugo Winners being announced later today, now seems like a good time to talk about the finalists all in one place. And to talk about Pokémon, because I can related everything in life back to Pokémon. Everything.

 

The Stone Sky – N. K. JemisinLunatone

Lunatone

 

“… so much of the people’s attention is directed towards the ground, not the sky. They notice what’s there: stars and the sun and the occasional comet or falling star. They do not notice what’s missing.

But then, how could they? Who misses what they have never, ever imagined?”

– The Fifth Season

The moon has always been an important part of the Broken Earth trilogy. It is the keystone of the worldbuilding, which in turn is the driving force for so much of the characterisation. In Stone Sky, we see just how important the moon is to everything in this series.

Given the role the moon plays in Stone Sky, it was obvious which Pokémon I wanted to use to represent this story. Though technically, Lunatone is a meteorite that gains power from the moon…, but I think the connection is obvious enough for this theme team. Just look at it.

The first book in Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy, The Fifth Season, won the Hugo Award for best novel in 2016. The sequel, The Obelisk Gate won the same prize in 2017, making Jemisin the third author to win the award in back to back years, after Orson Scott Card and Lois McMaster Bujold. If The Stone Sky wins today, Jemisin will be the first author to win the award for Best Novel three times in a row. In fact, I’m pretty sure she’ll be the first author to win any of the written fiction awards three times in a row.

I think it could happen too. The Stone Sky has already won this year’s Nebula Award, and it’s hard to imagine it missing the Hugo when both previous books got it. The Stone Sky was a huge, powerful conclusion to a very emotional journey. Don’t bother trying to read it as a stand alone: if you are unfamiliar with the series, pick up The Fifth Season and catch up.

 

AbsolThe Collapsing Empire – John Scalzi

Absol

Just because I think The Stone Sky is the likely winner, it doesn’t mean I didn’t love the other finalists. Scalzi’s The Collapsing Empire was a book that I kept putting off reading, but when I finally got around to it I was so happy. The Collapsing Empire is exciting, action-packed space opera, and the start of what is looking to be a really fun series.

I ended up choosing Absol, the disaster Pokémon, to represent The Collapsing Empire. Absol is known to predict disasters and appear before humans to warn of the disaster. Unfortunately, it’s habit of appearing just before disasters has led people to assume it causes disasters, and it is unfairly seen as a bringer of doom.

In The Collapsing Empire, a huge disaster is coming and people are ignoring all the warnings. A series of tunnels through space called The Flow are about to change direction, cutting all the worlds of the Interdependancy off from each other. As the name of this space empire suggests, all the worlds are interdependent, and only one is able to survive being cut off from the rest of civilisation. Many people within the Interdependancy have known about the impending disaster for years, but no-one has made any public announcements or plans. The last Emperox to try to prevent a Flow-related disaster was accused of fear mongering, and her warnings went unheeded.

It should be pretty obvious the parallels between the dangers facing the Interdependancy, and our own issues with not acting on climate change. I love that even though The Collapsing Empire is an accessible, fun read, it still manages to tackle such a huge theme.

 

Six Wakes – Mur LaffertyCrustle

Crustle

I couldn’t get a copy of Six Wakes until after I’d already read the other finalists and raised Pokémon for each one. I was tossing up between two different Pokémon for this final spot on the team: Cofagrigus the coffin Pokémon, as a representation of the cloning tanks the character’s bodies are kept in, or Crustle, the hermit crab. Cofagrigus would have worked better on the team, but in the end, I felt Crustle fit the theme better.

Six Wakes is about more than just a murder mystery in space with clones. In a world where the human mind can be turned to data and transferred into new bodies or digital storage devices, it can be hacked and modified as easily as computer data. Lafferty does an excellent job at exploring all the implications for this technology. Characters can have their personalities altered, memories deleted, or their mind copied.

One particularly nightmarish and plot relevant hack is called Yadokari, which is Japanese for Hermit Crab. Crustle, the Stone Home Pokémon, is the closest we have to a hermit crab.

 

BronzongProvenance – Ann Leckie

Bronzon

Provenance was pretty much impossible to compare to a Pokémon. There are no Pokémon that can easily represent coming of age stories or comedy of manner tales. There isn’t any obvious Pokémon that matches this story.

I thought of choosing a Pokémon that could resemble the Geck, and alien species who view Humans as near incomprehensible. I really enjoyed learning about the Geck in this story. Ditto, a Pokémon able to transform into anything, would make a good representation of the Geck mechs, which are able to shapeshift into just about anything.

But Provenance isn’t a story about Humans interacting with aliens. It’s a story about Ingray Aughskold’s quest to secure the status she sees as her rightful inheritance. Ingray is such a loveable character. She wears big skirts and hairpins, is plagued with anxiety and makes her fair share of bad decisions, but she is also smart and resourceful, as well as brave. Her quest starts with her busting a thief out of a high security prison so he can help her retrieve stolen artefacts that will ensure Ingray inherits her mother’s name. The story then finds itself shifting to heist, then to family drama, then political drama.

At every turn, we come back to the artefacts. Ingray’s culture places enormous value on artefacts and mementos. These artefacts are used not only as symbols of the culture, but also as signs of status and important parts of personal identity. In the Pokémon world, there are a few mons that are based on items, but I chose Bronzong, a Pokémon based on ancient Japanese dotaku bells. There is kinda a bell in Provenance, though it’s actually a bowl that was struck like a bell. Close enough.

 

Raven Stratagem – Yoon Ha LeeHonchkrow

Honchkrow

Wow, I really seem to have an issue with getting through my posts without a Yoon Ha Lee reference lately. I’ll keep this brief. The Machineries of Empire series can be described as:

 

“The story of the raven general who sacrificed a thousand thousand of his soldiers to build a spirit-bridge of birds to assault the heavens.”

Raven Stratagem

I probably shouldn’t provide more context or explanation, as that could lead to spoilers. There aren’t any raven Pokémon, but there are crow Pokémon, which I feel is close enough for this team.

If there’s one thing the above quote should convey, this is a series that deals heavily with military ethics. It’s also a very hard world to just dive into, with some very complicated worldbuilding. Raven Stratagem explained more things than Ninefox Gambit, but being the second book in the series it will make no sense if you start with it.

 

DhelmiseNew York 2140 – Kim Stanley Robinson

Dhelmise

I’ve wanted to make a team with a Dhelmise for ages, but because the anchor, I mean, the sea creeper, is so hard to catch I never really got around to it until I decided that Dhelmise would be the New York 2140 of my team. We’re talking about a submerged New York, so I figured a rusty anchor would get the point across. Even better, there is a ship wreck mentioned in the story.

There were other Pokémon I thought of for this role. Beartic the polar bear would have fit. One character’s story involves transferring polar bears from Alaska to Antartica, as that is seen as the only long term hope for the species survival. Polar bears, like everything else in Robinson’s world, have been deeply affected by climate change.

Where’s Scalzi talks about climate change with a comfortable space-empire metaphor, Robinson bluntly tells us exactly how the world will be now that we’ve screwed up so much. And damn, he makes this flooded New York feel so real. We see the natural disasters, the orphans, the too-little-too-late attempts to fix things, and the unrecognisable coastlines.

This is a long read, weighed down with Robinson’s trademark fascinating infodumps. Okay, that may have been an anchor pun, sorry. Bottom line is, New York 2140 is really engaging, and I’ve named my Dhelmise NY2140.

Speaking of Dhelmise, this thing is four meters tall and preys on Wailord, the blue whales of the Pokémon world. Damn.

 

I don’t think I’ll be able to say much about the winners later. The ceremony will begin at 1pm local time, and I’ll have to go to work right after. Worldcon76 has plans to live stream the ceremony here.  The Hugo Awards website will also offer text-based coverage here, which was a lifesaver last year when I stayed up until 4am only to have the video fail on me.

I haven’t had time to write much about the Retro Hugo’s, but the winners were announced a couple of days ago, and can be found here. 

I better go do all my normal day to day stuff before the ceremony. If anyone is interested in battling my theme team, let me know. They could do with some attention.

Happy Reading,

~Lauren