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

 

 

 

 

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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

2018 Hugo Award for Best Novelette Finalists

Alright, I finished my Hugo reading just before voting closed, and now I present my thoughts on this year’s novelettes. Whilst writing these reviews, I realised that I tend to not find novelettes as exciting or memorable as short stories and novellas. Or at least, I haven’t come across as many novelettes that got to me as I have short stories and novellas. Maybe I should go on an awesome novelette binge soon. These five stories were a good place to start. Now onto the reviews

 

Children of Thorns, Children of Water

– Aliette de Bodard34851372

Read it here

I didn’t really feel much of anything for this story. It was enjoyable, well written, with an interesting world and good characters, but I felt like I was missing a lot of context. This is to be expected, since this novelette is just the one of the latest entries in de Bodard’s Dominion of the Fallen series, and I have read neither of the novels set in this world. I think if I was more familiar with this series, I’d have enjoyed this story a lot.

The highest praise I can give this story is that it made me want to read the first novel in the series, The House of Shattered Wings. The setting is so intriguing; Paris has been devastated by a war between fallen angels, and in the aftermath great houses have taken over and wield magic. There is also a strong Vietnamese influence, with a Dragon Kingdom also residing in the city. It really interested me that most of the magic comes from the fallen angels, but the dragons have a completely different magical system, and it was cool seeing the two systems interact.

I wish I had more feelings about this one, but I don’t think my lack of enthusiasm should be seen as a negative.

 

33985428Extracurricular Activities – Yoon Ha Lee

Read it here

I enjoyed this story a lot, but I’m not sure how much readers unfamiliar with Lee’s Machineries of Empire series would get out of this. Those unfamiliar with the series may feel the way I did about Children of Thorns, Children of Water. So much of my enjoyment from this story was seeing Jedao as just a normal Shuos spy/assassin, before the whole Hellspin Fortress thing. This story also expands the worldbuilding of this universe, and it was interesting to see Jedao outside Hexarchate space.

Even if you haven’t read any of the novels in this series, this is still a fun little story, with a lot of humour, a clever caper, and some kinky uses for goose fat. The Machineries of Empire series is amazing space opera, and despite being a novelette, Extracurricular Activities captures much of the same feel. It was also different to the other stories in the series in that it doesn’t focus on the Hexarchate’s reality-altering mathematical technology, but on old fashion assassin business, with pathogen-based duels and hairstyle etiquette also playing a part.

Extracurricular Activities is very a caper, which features queer and poly characters and showcases a fascinating corner of Lee’s universe. This story is a must for fans of Lee’s work and of Shuos Jedao. For those unfamiliar with the series, the novel Ninefox Gambit is the best place to start.

 

The Secret Life of Bots – Suzanne Palmer

Read it here

At first I thought this would be all comedy and fluff. A tiny robot (less than 3cms in size, so, tiny tiny) is tasked by the spaceship it serves to kill a pest that gets termed ‘ratbug’. We quickly find out that our little bot is an old obsolete model that has been given busywork while all the other bots are busy rebuilding Ship, who has been sitting in a junkyard for years and is being taken out on an important mission. Ship and the human crew distrust older, multipurpose bots like the protagonist because they have a tendency to improvise, making them unpredictable. The story cuts between the humans discussing their serious mission, and the bot, who will stop at nothing to complete its mission to catch the ratbug.

And mostly, I got what I expected from this story. Our bot is so old it is simply called ‘bot 9’, whilst every other bot on ship has a four or five digit designation. It is also the only bot on the ship that doesn’t have access to the bot internet. It’s quest to slay the ratbug is quite amusing, but as we find out more about the human crew’s mission, the stakes get raised, and we are presented with a problem that requires a clever, very SF solution. Would definitely recommend this story.

 

Small Changes over Long Periods of Time – K. M. Szpara

Read it here

This is an amazing gay vampire story that explores a lot of transgender issues. I had mixed feelings about it after the first read, but it has stuck with me. Finley is FtM transgender, and his life is changed when he is bitten by a vampire. A lot of my misgivings came from not liking the old vampire Andreas that turns Finn: Finn doesn’t consent to getting bitten, and yet the two end up having a somewhat friendly relationship. Andreas also has mind reading and strong powers of persuasion that fix just about every problem they come across.

But after a recent re-read of Small Changes, I find myself cutting Andreas some slack. After all, I’m one of many people that has been complaining about how vampires have lost their monstrousness over recent years, and there is no pretence of actual romance between the two, or any suggestion that the biting was the right thing to do. It reads more like Andreas made a selfish decision and is trying to fix things. Besides, Dracula had telepathic and hypnotic abilities, so Andreas having those powers is fair.

What this story does amazingly well is use vampirism to explore transgender issues. Once turned, Finn finds himself going through a lot of the same stuff he did when he transitioned: isolation, lack of control over his body and unsympathetic doctors for starters. The super-healing vampire powers cause Finn’s body to “repair” changes made for his transition, which he understandably finds horrific, and makes being a vampire an endless transition.

Szpara’s vampires live in a version of our world where vampires have become known and regulated. There are blood banks and blood doner registries, a long list of laws and regulations on who cannot be turned into a vampire (which includes trans people, of course), and medical clinics that are careful to close before sundown. Again, I cannot stress how well Szpara uses vampires to convey what it is like to be trans. Best of all, these vampires burn in the sun, as vampires should. I’m glad I reread Small Changes over Long Periods of Time, because there is so much to this novelette.

One last thing, there are sex scenes in this story. Bloodlust is very literal.

 

A Series of Steaks – Vina Jie-Min Prasad

Read it here

I’ve been very interested lately in the progress of artificial meat technology. Some companies seem to be getting close to making convincing lab-grown meat affordable. Even if lab-grown meat does become affordable, I can imagine that despite its potential to address issues related to animal welfare, human nutrition and climate change, there will be a lot of people against it. You know, being artificial and all that. Even if the technology is accepted, I image there will always be a prefrence for the real thing.

A Series of Steaks follows Helena, a beef forger with a hidden past, as she is forced to complete an impossible order or have her secrets exposed. We then get a high stakes (I swear I didn’t notice the pun until I typed it) forgery story that keeps us hooked while exploring the implications and the mechanics of this meat printing technology.

Despite working in a legal grey area, Helena and her assistant Lilly are both likable and easy to root for. The characters, technology, and the Nanjing setting all contribute to a fascinating plot, and I found the end very satisfying.

This story was very different to Vina Jie-Min Prasad’s other Hugo finalist (Fandom For Robots), and from these two stories I am very interested in seeing what she writes next.

 

Wind Will Rove – Sarah Pinsker

Read it here (as a PDF)

Generation ship stories tend to be good at making me emotional, and Wind Will Rove is no exception. This is a story about Rosie, a fiddle player and history teacher on a generation ship that has been travelling long enough to have a large population that has never known Earth, but not so long that the original crew are all gone. In that time, the ship has suffered damage to its databases, causing most of the information about Earth to be lost.

One thing about generation ships is that between people getting on and their descendants getting off, there will be generations of people who didn’t sign up for an interstellar voyage, but who nevertheless must spend their entire lives on the ship. Stories exploring the raw deal these middle generations have aren’t new, but I think Wind Will Rove deals with the potential of a generation ship losing its past in a very effective way.

Pinsker points out that there isn’t much incentive for these middle generations to cling to their past. Their experiences and issues are nothing like what the people of Earth had, and will be nothing like that of their descendants when the ship lands. They’ll never get to explore, or conquer, or discover, or even know what wind feels like. There is a clash between the people of Rosie’s generation and those older than her, who feel compelled to recreate all the culture and history lost when the databases were wiped and to preserve – unaltered – the songs and stories they still have, and Rosie’s students, who feel that this obsession with the past is meaningless to their lives and a distraction to establishing a culture that reflects their own experiences.

This clash isn’t just philosophical, it’s able to tear apart families, and it’s easy to see this desire to do away with the past cause problems down the track. This is one of the best stories I’ve seen for exploring the plight of these middle generations, and Pinsker sells it by showing us how easily our history is already being lost and purposely re-made. When Rosie plays a song that makes her think of a farm, her mental image of what a farm is subtly off. Even more amusing is the differences between the ship’s recreation of the movie Titanic and what everyone knows happened in the original. To be fair to the characters in this story though, we all know there was room for two on that door.

Wind Will Rove is an excellent story, that drives home the issues of generation ships, and discusses our relationship with history with more nuance than plenty of longer works. Definitely worth tracking down this story.

 

The winners of the Hugo Award will be announced on August 19. Like always, I’ve read a lot of great fiction in the lead-up to the awards, and I’m so glad there are no alien strippers getting boned by T-rexes this year. It’s so nice that there was no attempt to sabotage the awards.

Happy Reading,

~Lauren

 

2018 Hugo Award for Best Short Story Finalists

So sorry everyone, I seem to have gotten behind in my Hugo Award reading and reviewing. Maybe doing both the regular Hugos and the Retros was too much for me. Or maybe I can blame getting my wisdom teeth out. It sucks when life gets in the way of reading.

Okay, I’ll be honest, there were a few newer books I couldn’t wait to read, and I finally finished Metroid Prime. Yes, an amazing game I got about sixteen years ago, I finished for the first time this month. I have a problem with distractions.

All six of this year’s nominees for the short story category are amazing. We have anime-loving robots, warrior spirits in swords, a world of wind-up toys, and much more. All six nominees can be read for free online, and I have provided links in my reviews.

 

35706454

The Martian Obelisk – Linda Nagata

Read it here.

The Martian Obelisk is set in a world where there isn’t a lot of hope for the future. The titular obelisk is seen by some as a memorial or tombstone. I think one reason this apocalyptic future is so moving is that it isn’t technically an apocalypse. There is no single event that brings humanity down, but instead it seems that a wide range of problems take us down. As Nagata puts it:

 

‘It was not supposed to happen like this. As a child she’d been promised a swift conclusion: duck and cover and nuclear annihilation. And if not annihilation, at least the nihilistic romance of a gun-toting, leather-clad, fight-to-the-death anarchy.

That hadn’t happened either.

Things had just gotten worse, and worse still, and people gave up. Not everyone, not all at once – there was no single event marking the beginning of the end – but there was a sense of inevitability about the direction history had taken.’

 

This future is anti-climactic, but it is highly believable and therefore engaging. We follow architect Susannah Li-Langford as she uses remote technology to build a giant obelisk on Mars out of materials left over from failed colonies. Yes, Mars is dying too. Susannah’s lifework is interrupted by an unknown vehicle approaching the obelisk, and her and her patron must decide how to respond. From here we get a ray of light in this dark world, as Susannah decides whether to protect her work, or throw it away on a small chance to make the world a little better. The Martian Obelisk shows both the best and the worst parts of humanity, and stresses the importance of hope no matter how bleak the future looks.

 

Fandom For Robots – Vina Jie-Min Prasad

Read it here.

This is such a fun story, I re-read it completely the very day after I first read it. In Fandom for Robots, Computron, the world’s only sentient robot – who is an old, obsolete box-shapes contraption – becomes a fan of a Japanese anime series that stars a robot just like him called Cyro. Prasad’s writing is super fun and Computron’s characterisation is amazing. This paragraph about Computron waiting for the next episode of his show pulled me in:

‘Computron checks his internal chronometer, as well as the countdown page on the streaming website. There are twenty-two hours, five minutes, forty-six seconds, and twelve milliseconds until 2 am on Friday (Japanese Standard Time). Logically, he is aware that time is most likely passing at a normal rate. The Simak Robotics Museum is not within close proximity of a black hole, and there is close to no possibility that time is being dilated. His constant checking of the chronometer to compare it with the countdown page serves no scientific purpose whatsoever.

After fifty milliseconds, Computron checks the countdown page again.’

 

We get a funny, quirky, and touching story about Computron connecting with other fans of Hyperdimension Warp Record and learning to write fanfics. There is a lot of humour as this unemotional robot interacts with an online anime fandom, but this story is more than just a comedy. Interacting with the fandom gives Computron a community outside the robotics lab, including a friend. The fandom also gives Computron an opportunity to teach other fans about older, non-android robots, and just seeing a robot like himself, facing robot-related issues, helps Computron overcome his own painful memories. This story is a wonderful demonstration of how empowering it is to see yourself represented in fiction, and the joys in being part of a fandom.

 

Sun, Moon, Dust – Ursula Vernon

Read it here.

Farm boy Allpa lives in a medieval fantasy world and is given a magical sword by his dying grandmother. From the sword three warrior spirits – named Sun, Moon, and Dust – come forth to train him to be a master swordsman and help fight his enemies.

Allpa shows them how he grows potatoes.

When I first read this story, I found it amusing and thought the male/male romance was good for a 5000 word story, but I didn’t think it was award worthy. Reading it again, I appreciate it more, especially now that it’s clicked just what it means that this is a story about a young person in a fantasy setting getting a magic sword and a call to adventure, but happily staying home and tending his farm. Not everyone is an amazing hero, and that’s cool. As Sun says; “But there are all kinds in this world, and sometimes it is good to be reminded of that.”

This story didn’t blow me away in the same way the others on this list did, but it is still a charming story with fun characters that turns a staple fantasy trope on it’s head with good humour and a lot of heart. I’m glad I re-read it, because it is a fun, meaningful story that has earned a place on this list.

 

Carnival Nine – Caroline M. Yoachim

Read it Here.

I was not expecting a story about wind-up toys to be so emotional. In this world, all the characters get wound up everyday by the ‘maker’ and the amount of turns they’ve been given dictates how much they can do. From the start, I loved how well this works as a metaphor for how much we have to do and how little time we get, but Yoachim ended up saying a lot more with this premise.

This story is about Zee, a girl with a good mainspring that can hold a lot of turns, often somewhere between 30 and 50. With her extra energy, she longs for a life of adventure, and one day when she has 52 turns (more than anyone she’s ever met) she skips out on her chores to go to the carnival. From there we follow Zee through the rest of her life, as she gets her adult limbs, eventually joins the carnival, gets married, and makes a child. Literally makes a child from spare parts.

Zee’s son Mattan gets 4 turns on his first day. He never gets more than 10. Zee has to spend her extra turns carrying Mattan, because walking would burn through all his turns. Mattan barely talks, because doing so uses up turns, which have to be saved for important things. Zee is looking after a disabled child, and despite her and Mattan being wind-up toys, the struggles of having to be a full time carer, and of needing full time care are accurately portrayed.

Carnival Nine is a touching story, brought to life by amazing worldbuilding and characters.

 

Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand – Fran Wilde

Read it Here.

I didn’t really get this story the first time I read it. By the end, I figured it had something to do with the way the world sees disabled people, and I was mostly right. Despite the lack of clarity, this piece is able to convey a lot of emotion. You are being guided around a Victorianesque freakshow by the narrator, and everything about this story, from the view-point (second-person and low to the ground), the descriptions of the different rooms, the narrator’s tone, and the surreal nature of the story makes for a powerfully uncomfortable experience.

After a re-read and a bit of research on Fran Wilde, I felt like I got the story. Even before then, I got enough to appreciate Wilde’s writing and the experiences she was conveying. There are a lot of people out there who’ll find this story resonates with them a lot more than it did with me, and for those who don’t get it, you’ll come away with a lot to think about.

This was more a surreal experience than a story, and Wilde’s writing makes it a memorable, thought provoking experience.

 

Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience TM – Rebecca Roanhorse

Read it Here.

Another second-person story, and another clever, uncomfortable story. In Indian Experience, we examine the damage done by cultural appropriation and the struggle to hold on to an Indigenous identity.

Whilst the story is told in second-person, the ‘you’ is not implied to be the reader. ‘You’ is Jesse Turnblatt, an Indian (Native American) man who guides tourists through virtual reality experiences. Jesse’s most popular experience is Vision Quest, a program that offers tourists a ‘dash of mystical Shaman’, ‘a spirit animal’, and ‘the approximation of a peyote experience’. In other words, a stereotype labelled as authentic. I wasn’t keen on the second-person perspective being used this way, but the story was good enough to get me past it, and at the end, I realised there was a very good reason why the story was told this way. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to talk about why this works without spoilers.

This is a brutal story, that addresses issues of race, identity, and cultural appropriation. I felt that the ending brought everything together, using the virtual reality technology in an interesting way to deliver its messages. I greatly enjoyed Roanhorse’s writing, and am now interested in her new novel, the Lightning Trail.

 

The deadline for voting in this year’s Hugos has snuck up on me. I’m currently finishing up the Novelettes and will have those reviews up soon. I’m also still working on the shorter fiction for the Retro Hugos; or at least, the ones I have access to. My thoughts on the best stories of 1942 will be posted here in a couple of weeks. Or in sixteen years.

Happy reading everyone,

~Lauren

2018 Hugo Award for Best Novella Finalists

I was thinking earlier this year that maybe I should cover other awards, after all, the Hugos aren’t everything. But doing both the regular and retro Hugos this year has shown me why that is not a good idea; there is so much to review, and so many other things to read. Thankfully all the novels and novellas I’ve read so far have been a lot of fun. I’m not sure if I’ll end up reviewing the novelettes and short stories, at least not for a while. But I’m all caught up on the 2018 novellas, and after a little break to read Yoon Ha Lee’s Revenant Gun and feeding my new addiction to Saga comics, I’ll find the Retro Hugo nominees and read the hell out of them. For now, let’s meet the 2018 Hugo Nominees for Best Novella.

 

The Black Tides of Heaven – JY Yang33099588

The Black Tides of Heaven is the first entry in the Tensorate series, and it has got me well and truly invested in this world. The Tensorate is a richly detailed silkpunk world with heavy East Asian influences and a clever magic system called Slackcraft (Seems to be a thread analogy: magical energy is slack until a ‘tensor’ comes and pulls at it.)

I’ve always had an appreciation for fantasy worlds that include technology, as it has seemed strange that magic should always come at the expense of scientific advancement. Here we have a society where magic is a basis of power, and a ‘Machinist’ rebellion is building, which seeks to use technology to empower people who are not proficient in magic. Exploring the social and political implications of guns and other technology being introduced to a magical, fantasy setting is a real treat, and not something I come across too often. The scene with the Sunballs I found particularly haunting.

But this isn’t the point of the story, and I would be remiss to paint Black Tides of Heaven as a story about technology or rebellion. It is the story of two twins, Akeha and Mokoya, as they grow up under the toxic influence of their mother, the tyrannical Protector. They were born as barging chips, threatened with separation at the whim of their mother, and eventually find different paths in life.

The story takes place over many decades, which leads to big time skips that given the novella length make some events feel rushed or not fully described. Akeha joining the Machinists seemed to come out of no-where for example.

33099586Another strength of the story is how Yang handles gender and sexuality. In the Tensorate, children are treated as genderless until they confirm their gender. This can happen at any age, and slackcraft is used to prevent any markers of adulthood from showing until confirmation happens. Mokoya and Akeha are identical twins, but both get confirmed as different genders. Akeha’s decision to be confirmed as a man is a surprise to his family and a source of tension between him and Mokoya. Akeha’s love interest is also a man, and you know what, I love how stories with LGBTI+ themes are becoming such a strong presence within the genre.

Black Tides of Heaven was released along with the next book in the series, The Red Threads of Fortune. The novellas are described as standalone introductions to the series, but I would start with Black Tides of Heaven, as Red Threads of Fortune takes place later chronologically and references events in Black Tides.

One last thing, have you seen the cover art from this series? Despite being novellas, I would not mind having physical copies of these books on my shelf.

 

32758901All Systems Red – Martha Wells 

This was a fun story about a security android (called a SecUnit) who is charged with protecting a group of scientists on a dangerous planet. The plot is simple, interesting, and works because the SecUnit protagonist, which calls itself Murderbot, is a fantastic character.

Murderbot is self-aware, and has hacked its own ‘governor module’, which means it no longer has to obey humans. Rather than go on a rampage, it downloads hours of TV shows and puts the bare minimum effort into its job so it can be by itself watching shows.

The scientists under Murderbot’s care see it as just another tool, until one day an explosion injures a member of the crew and Murderbot shows its face in order to keep the injured human calm. The crew come to realise that they have overlooked Murderbot’s personhood, which leads to some soul-searching amongst the group, and overtures of friendship towards Murderbot. Murderbot is so shy that this new attention causes it anxiety.

As an introvert myself, I related to Murderbot quite well. Not only is Murderbot introverted, but it is sarcastic and apathetic to a lot of what goes on around it. I’ve seen the first paragraph quoted a lot, and I’m going to repeat it because it sums up the character and story so well:

I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. It had been well over 35,000 hours or so since then, with still not much murdering, but probably, I don’t know, a little under 35,000 hours of movies, serials, books, plays, and music consumed. As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure.

When I first heard of All Systems Red, I was expecting a ‘science team on remote planet deal with killer robot story.’ I was not expecting to laugh so much. I was not expecting to feel so much empathy for Murderbot. This was a fun, action-packed story. I’ve recently read the sequel, Artificial Condition, and I feel Murderbot’s journey is going to keep getting better.

 

And Then There Were (N-One) – Sarah Pinsker

Insurance investigator Sarah Pinsker is invited to a convention on a remote island by a version of herself from a different reality, who has discovered how to open portals to alternate timelines. Everyone attending the convention is an alternative version of Sarah Pinsker, and everyone is looking forward to seeing how different events could have changed their lives. The fun is cut short by a murder, so Sarah the insurance investigator must discover who killed a different iteration of herself.

I love this premise so much. Who hasn’t wondered what it would be like meeting different versions of yourself from alternate timelines? Everyone wants to know how different events might have played out differently and led us to become different people. This story goes about exploring these questions in a fun way, and even before the murder mystery came into play, I was interested in seeing how the convention was being put together.

The mystery was crazy. How can it not be when everyone involved is the same person? There were so many pieces to put together, and whilst it was a bit hard to follow everything, I feel the mystery – and the story – came to a satisfying end.

 

Binti: Home – Nnedi Okorafor30038654

It’s hard for me to write about this one, because I’ve read the third novella in the series, The Night Masquerade, more recently than Home, and despite how much I enjoyed this series I’m not ready to re-read parts of it yet. I don’t think that a re-read would help either, since The Night Masquerade is a direct follow on to Home and having read it will always influence the way I see the previous entries in the series.

One thing that struck me about Home was how deeply it explored Binti’s cultural roots and the repercussions her decision to defy her people’s taboos have caused. In the first Novella, Binti left the lands of her people, the Himba, to go to a huge university in space. It was her dream come true, but the Himba are not supposed to leave their homes. Now that Binti has come home, she is confronted with the anxiety and shame she has caused her family by leaving. She must reconcile her culture, which has always been such a pillar of who she is, with other aspects of herself, like her desire to leave for university, as well as other changes she has faced along the way. Binti is of two different worlds now, and coming home forces her to discover just who she has become.

Binti also suffers from PTSD as a result of the actions in the last book. After feeling that things wrapped up a bit too nice and friendly in the last book, I was glad to see such a huge does of reality. What happened in Binti was horrific, and I’m glad that the impact those event had on Binti hasn’t been glossed over. Binti’s struggles to reclaim her life – even though she doesn’t know what her life should be like anymore – made her a very compelling character.

All in all, this wasn’t what I was expecting from the series. After the first book and all the trouble Binti went to get to Oozma University, I was looking forward to seeing more of the university and seeing Binti interacting with more aliens. However, Binti’s story has always been about her coming of age and finding a path that harmonises all the different facets of who she is. To fully explore this, and to fully heal from the trauma of the previous book, she needed to come home.   

 

31450908Down Among the Sticks and Bones – Seanan McGuire

The second instalment of McGuire’s Wayward Children series. The first novella, Every Heart a Doorway, was the winner of last year’s Hugo Award. Whilst I liked Every Heart a Doorway, I felt as if it didn’t live up to the hype. My main gripe with EHaD was that it was too short to explore both it’s own plot and adequately tell the stories of all the other characters and magical worlds. Down Among the Sticks and Bones tells the story of twins Jack and Jill in their world, before they returned to Earth and the events of Doorway happened. This more focused plot, with one fully realised world, two of the more interesting characters from EHaD, and McGuire’s amazing writing promised to be everything I was hoping for in Every Heart a Doorway, and as expected I found myself loving this book more than the original.

This story was well and truly a dark fairy tale, with an all-present narrator who leads us on a creepy journey through the moors with Jack and Jill. The characterisation and worldbuilding were amazing, I’d met the characters and heard about the world in the first book, but here is were they really shine. We learn everything about the twins: the story starts with their parents deciding to have children, and we follow them for years before they find their magical staircase. Jack and Jill’s parents (who would never call them Jack and Jill, it’s always Jacqueline and Jillian), each have their own idea of what they want their perfect child to be, and each molds one of the twins into their perfect daughter.

Jacqueline is her mother’s perfect princess; the pretty one, who would never be allowed to wear jeans. Meanwhile Jillian is the closest her Dad will get to that son he always wanted, and so she is expected to be the athletic, tough tomboy. Is this depiction highly exaggerated? Maybe, but there are a lot of parents who try to make their kids fit into certain roles, and the exaggeration fits in with the fairy tale story-telling. It’s also a good look at how many different ways there are to be a girl, and how important it is to let kids be kids and let them find their own roles.

Jack and Jill find themselves in the moors, a cruel world under a huge red moon, full of vampires and werewolves and drowned gods. There had been a few descriptions of the moors in EHaD, but I’d always thought of it as a small place until now. Down Amongst the Sticks and Bones paints a cruel, dark, and huge world.

The next novella in the series, Beneath the Sugar Sky, returns to Elanor West’s school, but the forth book seems to be another backstory. I’ll be quite happy if McGuire continues to alternate between the main story in the ‘real world’ and the children’s backstories.

 

River of Teeth – Sarah GaileyRiver of Teeth (River of Teeth, #1)

There has been a lot of love for this book, and it feels like I was one of the few people not completely blown away with the premise. Alright, ‘western revenge-plot with killer hippos’ is a pretty cool premise, but it wasn’t an instant sell for me. It sounded fun, but not anything that would blow me away.

Now I’ve read River of Teeth and come to a conclusion: it’s a fun book, but it didn’t blow me away. There was a lot of cool worldbuilding, but the story didn’t pull me in. I didn’t think much of the plan, and a lot of things just seemed to happen to the characters, rather than from their own agency. One thing that I felt was rushed was the main romantic pairing. I liked seeing these two characters come together, but I feel they went from strangers to madly in love unrealistically fast.

Which brings us on to the characters. They were a fun, diverse cast of hippo riders. I feel their diversity both helps and hurts the story. It helps because it’s great seeing a varied cast in a western, and as we were meeting the characters I was really interested in them, but the way these characters fit into the 1890s America setting felt a bit off at times.

I’ll use Hero to explain what I mean. They’re a non-binary or intersex character. When they first meet the protagonist Houndstooth, they get right up in his face and say: “Ask. I know you’re wondering. If we’re going to work together, you may as well ask.”  I loved this exchange; it shows that Hero cops shit for being non-binary in this time period, and Houndstooth’s reply sets their relationship up beautifully. However, for the rest of the book everyone gets Hero’s pronouns right, including a stranger who has never met them and only sees them unconscious. Using the singular ‘them’ is something people living in the 21st century who are aware of gender-diversity stumble over at times, seeing 19th century U.S. Marshals and mercenaries say it so naturally was odd. If the world had been more fantastical, rather than historically-based, I wouldn’t have any issues with the diverse cast, but aside from one easily resolved speed-bump where they need a white man to buy their supplies, they don’t come across the attitudes I was expecting them too. Which is a shame, because they had some interesting reactions to the small issues they came across.

Despite my issues, this book was still a lot of fun. I was struggling to put it down close to the end, and whilst I’m not in love with the series, I’m not against continuing. Seeing more of the world and the attitudes in it, spending more time with the characters, and seeing the actual result of their plan may address the issues I had and make me like River of Teeth more.

Review – The Uninvited

The Uninvited3564508

By Dorothy Macardle

Published 1942

Score: 9/10

 

A ghost story set in England during the 1940s. It read like a period drama and as I started reading I really did not expect to enjoy it as much as I did. The writing is beautifully descriptive, the characters are amazing people to go on such a journey with, and I loved how they went about dealing with their haunted house.

The Uninvited was originally published in 1941 under the title Uneasy Freehold, and then in the following year was published in the US under it’s current title. In 1944 the book was adapted into a movie, which was notable for being the first film to portray ghosts as ghosts, rather than illusions or comical misunderstandings. The trailer can be found here. I haven’t watched the movie yet, but if you have seen the 1944 movie, keep in mind that like all adaptations the book is different.

The book was wonderfully written. It is about brother and sister Rodrick and Pamela moving out of London to their dream house in the countryside. The house is a mansion by the cliffs that needs a lot of work, but they are still amazed that they were able to afford it. (Maybe the term ‘mansion’ isn’t technically correct, but it was a big house with lots of rooms. I wish I could afford a place like that by writing reviews.) I was excited for them, and when they started being woken up by ‘disturbances’ I was invested in their problem. I really wanted them to find a way to stop the haunting and live in their beautiful house in peace.

Unlike other books I’ve been reading lately, The Uninvited had a very English drama feel to it, and was definitely more literary than the genre fiction. The fact that it’s set in a different time meant that, like when I read Frankenstein in Baghdad earlier this year, I occasionally felt like some parts flew over my head, especially in some conversations. It didn’t stop me from enjoying the story though, and I think I really needed a break from classic SF, so The Uninvited went down well.

I found this book nearly impossible to put down. Rather than treat the ghost as a mindless angry monster, Pamela and Rodrick try to understand the haunting. They record everything, investigate the life and death of the house’s previous resident, and try to find a way to put the restless soul to rest. All the while they must look out for Stella, a young lady born in their house who is highly at risk from the ghost. The motives and history of the ghost made for an amazing mystery with a satisfying – though maybe obvious – ending.

Macardle’s writing really brings this story and the characters to life. The descriptions of the ghost and all the disturbances around the house were quite spooky, and while maybe it is tame compared to today’s horror/supernatural stories, if you love haunted houses and ghosts, this is a must-read.

 

 

 

 

Reviews: The Collapsing Empire and Six Wakes

The Collapsing Empire and Six Wakes

 Finished the two Hugo Nominees I haven’t reviewed yet. I’d been meaning to read both of them earlier, but The Collapsing Empire I never got around to, and Six Wakes seems to have not made it to my country yet. Couldn’t find it on the Australian Kindle store or in Australian shops. I had a similar problem with Too Like the Lightning last year, but I did manage to get that one from Audible. Six Wakes wasn’t even available there. Not unless I wanted to subscribe to the US Audible. If that would have worked. I was thinking of just waiting until I got the voter packet, but in the end I just didn’t want to wait anymore and ordered a copy online. After all that effort, I am so glad to be able to finally read and review these books.

The Collapsing Empire

By John Scalzi

Published March 21st 2017 (Tor Books)

Score: 8/10

The Collapsing Empire is a fun, accessible, and impossible-to-put-down space opera that I enjoyed every moment of. We are taken into a world called the Interdependency, where all human inhabited worlds are connected by an extra-dimensional field called The Flow, and no world has the resources to survive without trading. There are great houses and royalty and rebellions and scientists and ship captains galore. Everything great about the genre. Well, nearly everything. No aliens, but there’s no need for them here.

The problem with the Interdependency is that The Flow is about to collapse, leaving all those interdependent worlds to fend for themselves. To make matters worse, there is only one world in the Interdependency that is an actual habitable planet, and due to how far away from the trade routes it is, it’s been used as a backwater for exiles for decades. The story follows three characters – a scientist studying The Flow, the daughter of a house and trader, and the newly crowned Emperox – as they realise just how screwed the Interdependency is.

All three storylines are a lot of fun, and the main characters all feel real. It’s nice that there were so many strong female characters here. It’s like reading an old-school space opera, but with modern sensibilities in mind. The parallels between the collapse of The Flow and the inability of previous Emperox’s to respond to the threat and our own issues with responding to climate change were great, and didn’t feel too preachy.

What let me down though is that The Collapsing Empire felt more like the set up to the series, rather than a complete story in itself. Though I imagine if the second book was out now I wouldn’t care too much about that.

 

Six Wakes

By Mur Lafferty

Published January 31st 2017 (Orbit)

Score: 7.5

Six Wakes is a locked-room murder mystery with a twist. We dive into a world divided between humans and clones. Clones get their minds copied and implanted into a clone of themselves when they die, and there are strict rules governing the whole process. The story starts when the crew of a ship heading towards a new planet wake up from the cloning process with no memory of how they died and their previous bodies floating dead in the ship and their computer damaged.

The story takes place over five days as the crew try to repair the damage and piece together what happened. It’s a simple but intriguing premise, and as we learn more about the characters and unravel the mystery the book becomes impossible to put down. There is a lot of action on the ship itself, but also a lot of opportunities to explore the ethical implications of the cloning technology. It is mentioned that with the technology to copy a human mind and download it into a new body, there also comes the ability to ‘hack’ a person: To change aspects of their personality or alter their memories. Some of the technological speculation reminded me of the game Soma by Frictional Games, where mind copying – and how it isn’t the same as mind transference – is a big deal. Especially the parts that focused on the captain of the ship.

There is a lot of information to take in and I’m not sure if that hindered the ‘fairness’ or solvability of the mystery. I didn’t figure out what happened until the characters did, but I also tend to gloss over dates and timeframes, so someone who is paying more attention might figure out who the killer was earlier. Not that being able to solve a mystery yourself should be an essential part of a mystery, but I tend to prefer mysteries that I could have possibly figured out myself.

For a story that takes place over a few days with a handful of characters in a confined area, Six Wakes packs in a lot of world-building. What does personhood mean when we can be re-programmed? Does cloning make life cheap? Or was it always cheap? How do religions react to the technology? This book contains interesting questions, great world-building, and a fantastic plot. The characters are a bit forgettable though. Six Wakes is a fun book, and I’m glad I put in the effort to get myself a copy.

 

~ Lauren