Review – A Game of Thrones

AGameOfThronesA Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire #1)

By George R. R. Martin

Published August 1st 1996

Score: 8.5/10

 

It’s Game of Thrones. Game of Thrones! How can you not know about it already? What do you need me to say?

I guess I should say a bit more, though I suppose this review will be pretty general. After all, I’m an avid fan of the show, so it’s hard to not talk about the franchise as a whole. I suppose you’re all wondering why it has taken me so long to begin reading the books if I like the show too much. Well, the thing is these are very big books. Plus, I’d heard that there are a lot more character arcs in the books than in the show; it seemed like a lot of effort for a story I was already getting. I was relieved to see that in this book at least, things were pretty straight forward. There are eight viewpoint characters and three arcs, and it was all very easy to follow.

There are minor changes from the show, though no big ones at this point. Like most things, the book provides a lot more than the show in many aspects; we get more in the character’s heads, and get more of the history of the world and its characters. It was also just fun reliving the story in a different format; especially since this is the original A Game of Thrones experience. Even if you have watched all the TV show episodes, this book still has a lot to offer. What am I saying? Of course it does; it’s a book.

Now for those who don’t know much about the franchise at all, let me talk more generally about it. A Song of Ice and Fire has many of the standard fantasy tropes; Medieval Europe setting, kings, knights, dragons, magic, honour, all that stuff. But it’s still different. Most fantasy is concerned with good protagonists struggling against an external evil. Martin believes that the struggle between good and evil is fought ‘in the hearts of every human being’, and as such nearly all characters have their good and bad points. The setting is also a lot more realistic; Medieval Europe was not a place of peace and equality, and if you want to take your hoard of marauders across the narrow sea and reclaim your throne, you’re going to need to fund that trip. By raping and pillaging. There are also times were being good and honourable just aren’t enough to fix the world. This is a dark scary universe, and the characters all have to deal with that in their own way.

Oh yeah, and there is also a lot of sex and violence. This book doesn’t seem to have as much boobs and blood as the show, but that could just be due to the different mediums. There was one really ridiculous scene where Drago and Dany have sex… but he cums after only three thrusts. That poor couple. What could possibly be worse? Oh, wait a sec…

So as I said before, it’s Game of Thrones. But a book. Do I really need to say more?

 

~Lauren

2016 Hugo Award Winners

2016hugo2016 Hugo Award Winners

 

I got to watch my first ever Hugo Award Ceremony this morning. I enjoyed Pat Cadigan as the host, and whilst not all the winners were my first picks (which is to be expected in such a diverse fandom) I don’t think there were any undeserving winners. I also feel that this was a better outcome than last year’s sweep of No Awards. Mr. Noah Ward only picked up two wins (Best Fancast and Best Related Work), but the Rabid Puppies were well and truly put in their place. Well, mostly. But that’s a debate for another day. For now, here is a list of the winners.

 

 

Best Novel: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)

Best Novella: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com)

Best Novelette: Folding Beijing by Hao Jingfang, translated by Ken Liu (Uncanny Magazine)

Best Short Story: Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer (Clarksworld)

Best Related Work: No Award

Best Graphic Story: The Sandman: Overture written by Neil Gaiman, art by J.H. Williams III (Vertigo)

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form): The Martian screenplay by Drew Goddard directed by Ridley Scott (Scott Free Productions; Kinberg Genre; TSG Entertainment; 20th Century Fox)

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form): Jessica Jones: “AKA Smile” written by Scott Reynolds, Melissa Rosenberg, and Jamies King, directed by Michael Rymer (Marvel Television; ABC Studios; Tall Girls Production; Netflix)

Best Editor (Short Form): Ellen Datlow

Best Editor (Long Form): Sheila E. Gilbert

Best Professional Artist: Abigail Larson

Best Semiprozine: Uncanny Magazine edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trota, and Erika Ensign & Steven Schapansky

Best Fanzine: File 770 edited by Mike Glyer

Best Fancast: No Award

Best Fan Artist: Steve Stiles

Best Fan Writer: Mike Glyer

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer: Andy Weir

 

Congratulations to all the winners. Especially N.K Jemisin for taking out the ‘Big One’. I loved The Fifth Season so much. I have the sequel The Obelisk Gate waiting on my Kindle, and cannot wait to continue the story.

On a lighter note, it seems that no talk of this year’s Hugo’s is complete without mentioning Chuck Tingle. Space Raptor Butt Invasion came in 3rd Place in the short story category (right after No Award). After the awards, I began wondering what the Rabid Puppies had to say about the results. My search led to this gem of a website. So, I just want to say a big thank-you to Chuck Tingle, for all the silly laughs.

I think I should also acknowledge the 1941 Retro Hugo Awards. I haven’t said much about them because I knew I wouldn’t have the time to read two sets of nominees. However, some classics were nominated for the awards, and on Thursday the winners were announced. They are;

 

Best Novel: Slan by A. E. Van Vogt (Astounding Science-Fiction)

Best Novella: If This Goes On… by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science-Fiction)

Best Novelette: The Roads Must Roll by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science-Fiction)

Best Short Story: Robbie by Isaac Asimov (Super Science Stories)

Best Related Work: Category Dropped

Best Graphic Story: Batman #1 (Detective Comics)

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form): Fantasia written by Joe Grant and Dick Huemer, directed by Samuel Armstrong et al. (Walt Disney Productions, RKO Radio Pictures)

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form): Pinocchio written by Ted Sears et al., directed by Ben Sharpsteen and Hamilton Luske (Walt Disney Productions, RKO Radio Pictures)

Best Editor (Short Form): John W. Campbell

Best Editor (Long Form): Category Dropped

Best Professional Artist: Virgil Finlay

Best Semiprozine: Category Dropped

Best Fanzine: Futuria Fantasia by Ray Bradbury

Best Fancast: Category Dropped

Best Fan Artist: Category Dropped

Best Fan Writer: Ray Bradbury

 

All in all, I think this year has been a good one for the Hugo Awards. The Retro Hugos showcased some of the classics of the genre, while the 2016 winners paint a bright picture of our genre’s future. This year’s winners represent diversity; not diversity as in some new PC trend or quota system, but diversity as in a range of ideas and voices and stories that will keep science fiction and fantasy exciting for many years to come.

 

~Lauren

 

 

Review – The Many Selves of Katherine North

The Many Selves of Katherine North26073073

By Emma Geen

Published June 7th 2016

Score: 8

 

Was looking for a newly published book to read, and once I read the blurb for this book I went straight to Amazon and bought it. I had to interrupt this novel in order to get through the novellas for the Hugos, which was a shame, coz this is a novel where you have to be paying attention to all the time skips and body changes, but I was still able to follow along.

At the end it was worth the effort, as Kit’s journey through different animals and human treachery proved to be a very entertaining, thought-provoking read.

This book centres around a fictional technology called phenomenautism, which allows people to project their consciousness into an artificially made body. The most common use of this technology is animal research; the main character researches animals impacted by humanity by living as that animal for a time. The descriptions of the animals were really on point; my favourite was the octopus. Geen has done a lot of research on how animals experience the world, and it shows. Each new animal Kit gets to be feels different, and exciting. The technology itself – including all the side-effects and support needed to make it work – are described in great detail, without feeling like massive info dumps. We learn what is needed to keep the original body going while Kit is being an animal, we see how the artificial animals are made, we get some reference to how they are transported to their environment, we have a mention about how this technology impacts VR… all this, and I never felt like I was getting overloaded with exposition. We get the exact right amount of information for phenomenautism to seem like a real practice.

Kit is also an engaging character. She is nineteen, and has been jumping into different animals for seven years. The story is told from her 1st person perspective, and seeing how her experience in the animal world shapes her thoughts on human life is great. Though we also have to wonder if she’s becoming too detached from humanity at times. Eventually Kit realises that her employer, Shencorp, isn’t all it seems. They want to go from purely research based to allowing tourists to pay thousands to experience what it’s like being an animal. This raises a bunch of ethical questions about how humanity views and uses animals. It also gets Kit into a lot of trouble. When we first meet Kit, she’s on the run after discovering that Shencorp has done something really dodgy.

So the story starts big, with Kit on the run and with nowhere to go. It’s exciting watching her try to get by and plan how to take down Shencorp, and the flashbacks are good. But then the flashbacks get a bit too obtrusive for my liking. Well, not really the main flashbacks, but a lot of the time when we’re in the present, Kit ends up hiding somewhere and thinking about the past, so we kinda have two sets of flashbacks that slow the main story down. It makes the story drag a bit in the middle. A lot of that stuff needed to be pared back a bit, and maybe replaced with more parts about Kit trying to find food and shelter while plotting her revenge on Shencorp.

But that is the only complaint I have about this book. The Many Selves of Katherine North is an entertaining story, that asks big questions about identity, ethics, and the value of the animal world. There is also a cute fox cub. Highly recommended.

 

~Lauren

What a Time to be a Potter Fan

What a Time to be a Potter Fan14002449_10154587281983816_991037888_o

Includes Review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Like a lot of kids in the late nineties, my parents got me the Harry Potter books to encourage me to read. Mission successful I say; I love reading now, and J.k Rowling has been a big influence on my writing. Of course this wasn’t the only series I was reading at the time, nor the only series that shaped my reading tastes (thanks Animorphs), but it has been one of the biggest influences in my life. And I’m not the only one that has been inspired by the world of Harry Potter. Let’s look at some stats shall we?

It took Rowling six years to write Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The manuscript was turned down by twelve different publishers, and when Bloomsbury did publish the book, the initial run was only 500 books. It’s amazing to think that there was a time when Harry Potter was such a small brand. I mean, obviously it had to have been, but with hindsight the lack of interest is hard to fathom. It is hard for me to imagine Harry Potter as just being another somewhat popular children’s book, rather than the juggernaut it has become.

And a juggernaut it is. The franchise has sold over 450 million books, making it the best-selling book series of all time. The entire Potter franchise is worth an estimated 15 billion dollars, and has been translated into 73 different languages. There is even a tribute at King’s Cross Station.

Whilst the books are intended for children, myself and a lot of other adults also like them. Is this just because of nostalgia? Or do people want to read kids’ books and play Pokémon rather than grow up? I think it’s worth talking about that last assumption, because it assumes that there is a problem with adults and children sharing the same interests. Whilst there are certainly books and shows designed exclusively for either children or adults (such as Playschool and Pulp Fiction), in most things there is overlap. Besides, whilst the first two Potter books definitely felt like whimsical children stories, the series matures with its characters and there is a lot there for an adult to like.

Rant aside, I think the point is made very clear that Pottermania isn’t going anywhere. It’s also hard for me to say much about the series that you haven’t heard before, since nearly everyone has read the books or at least seen the movies. What more can be said about one of the greatest franchises of all time? Well, fortunately there is a lot of new Potter related material out now for us to discuss. Let’s start with Cursed Child.

13987259_10154587300548816_57287240_oReview: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

By Jack Thorne (script).  J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany (story)

Score: N/A

I’m not going to give this script a rating, because that would be unfair. A play after all is more than just its script, and having not seen the play I don’t think I’ve really got the proper Cursed Child experience, so I’ll refrain from making a decisive judgement.

I will say though that I liked the script. I’m not as crazy over it as I am about the novels, and there are flaws, but it’s okay. Cursed Child didn’t have the same vibe to it as the other books in the series. The magic and the world-building and even a lot of the themes from the main series are put aside for a character driven drama. It also doesn’t seem to have as much depth. Ron is almost a joke character, and a lot of parts in the plot are a bit simple. I can see why some people are disappointed in Cursed Child as a continuation of the Harry Potter story. Though, I should point out that this story isn’t focusing on the same things Harry had to go through. The main draw of the play is the strained relationship between Harry and his son Albus. Albus isn’t popular, isn’t anything like his father, and resents his father for being Harry Potter and the expectations that placed on Albus. Seems like a believable reason for a teenager to have a chip on their shoulder.

The highlight of the book for me though was Scorpius Malfoy. Apparently the actor who plays him is also getting a lot of praise; shame I can’t see the play. Not only is Scorpius the anti-Draco, but his backstory and personality are interesting and well executed. Like Albus, he is unpopular, partly due to rumours about his parentage, partly because he is a big nerd.

One criticism that Cursed Child drew is that it feels like Harry Potter Fanfiction. I got that vibe at times, but in Cursed Child’s defence there is a lot of fanfiction out there. Fanfiction.net has accumulated over 747,000 entries for Harry Potter fanfics, many of which continue the story. I think most plot points revolving around Albus and Scorpius would have been done in fanfiction at least once before.  Also, there seems to be a deliberate attempt at fanservice at times – not the sexy type – most of which I enjoyed. However, the big reveal at the end uses a Harry Potter fanfic plot element that I find extremely unrealistic. More so because for it to be plausible, it’d need to be foreshadowed pretty explicitly in the main books. I don’t like this particular element in fanfiction, and I certainly don’t like it in cannon.

In short, I did like Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Though as I said, it has flaws. It’s also hard to continue on a story that ended so well in Deathly Hallows. Still, it’s a fun little story, that takes an interesting look at the future for our beloved characters. I’d totally go see it if I could. Just don’t come into this story expecting an in-depth saga like in the books.  

Magical Beasts Everywhere!

fantastic beasts

 

Of course, Cursed Child is not the only new addition to the Wizarding World. On November 18, the new movie Fantastical Beasts and Where to Find Them will be released. This movie is looking awesome. Don’t believe me? Here, watch some trailers.

Trailer #1

Comic-Con Trailer

Fantastic Beasts is loosely based on a spin-off book by Rowling of the same name. Fantastic Beast the book however is presented as a copy of Harry’s own school textbook. The book is a simple bestiary however, not a tale of Newt Scamander’s adventures in New York.

The movie Fantastic Beasts is set in 1926 New York, so no mention of Harry Potter or Voldemort here. Instead we see how the Wizarding World operates in a different time and place. I for one am excited to see this world explored more in-depth. As well as the fantastic worldbuilding this movie promises to bring, it also appears we’ll get the amazing costumes and special effects we’ve come to expect from a Harry Potter movie.

One of the main characters in the movie is a muggle (or No-Maj as they are known in America), a development that I am really looking forward to. Whilst the main books have a great anti-discrimination message, I felt that the point was slightly undermined by how horrible most of the muggles in the story were. The only re-occurring muggle characters we see are the Dursley’s, who I find I hate even more as an adult than I did as a kid. Hermione’s parents are rarely seen in the series. Therefore, the implication of the trailers that Newt has a muggle friend/sidekick is a big plus for me. To make this even more interesting, information Rowling released on Pottermore reveals that at the time the movie is set, legislation called Rappaport’s Law was in place. Rappaport’s Law made it illegal for wizards and witches to interact with muggles more than needed to perform daily activities. The penalties for befriending or marrying muggles were harsh.

Pottermore Has Stuff Too

Now might be a good time to mention Pottermore. Rowling has written four pieces on the history of magic in North America, which are interesting, though somewhat brief. The reliance on Native American clichés and the claim that some real witches were killed during the Salem Witch Trials are a bit problematic, but overall the pieces give an interesting context for Fantastic Beasts. If you haven’t read them yet, you can read them here.

Pottermore has another new gem. The history of Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the American magical school, was put up recently. (read it here) As well as providing more context for Fantastic Beasts, this story is also interesting in its own right. I feel it builds onto the Wizarding World we know from the main books, and the characters mentioned here were quite interesting.

 

And now I am out of space, and struggling to find something to say about this amazing world that hasn’t been said a million times before. I’ll just end this with one more bit of good news. It turns out that Fantastic Beasts is the first movie in a new trilogy. We can rest assured that while Harry Potter’s story may be over, his world isn’t going away anytime soon.

~ Lauren

 

 

 

2016 Hugo Awards: Novellas

 

Novella Reviews

Well, I didn’t get to read all the novellas before voting closed. I couldn’t read Slow Bullets and The Builders in time, partly because of my poor time management skills, and partly because J. K. Rowling distracted me with a new Harry Potter story. It was still great fun reading them all. All five are novellas that I think deserve praise and recognition, but they are also five novellas that I wouldn’t have gotten around to reading if I hadn’t set out to read and review Hugo nominees.

So let’s set aside the politics, and just enjoy some good stories.

 

Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold25791216

A fantasy story about a young man who accidentally gets possessed by a demon. It is set in the Chalion universe (aka World of the Five Gods), which I am unfamiliar with. Despite this, I never got confused by the world or what was going on. This novella stands on its own and makes me interested in reading more of Bujold’s work.

The relationship between Penric and his demon Desdemona was a joy to read, and I would be very interested in seeing them go on more adventures. Demons in this setting are not necessarily evil, and being possessed of one gives one magical powers. At first Desdemona can only communicate with Penric by talking out loud with his own mouth. That combined with the fact that Desdemona has only ever possessed women before leads to a few funny moments.

This novella had an amazing, deep world, an interesting magic system, good characterisation and an action-packed climax. All in all, a total hit.

 

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

A very original story with a unique perspective. Binti is a teenage Himba girl. Himba referring to an indigenous Namibian people. I’m not going to give a detailed analysis here of who the Himba are, since Google is a thing, but they have a couple of traditions that play a big role in Binti’s story. Firstly, since they live in a desert with very little water, they cover their bodies and hair with otjize; a paste made of ochre and butterfat. Secondly, the Himba rarely leave their ancestral lands. This causes some complications for Binti, as she is excepted into the most prestigious university in the galaxy. And no, it is not within the Himba ancestral lands. It isn’t even on Earth.

So Binti has to make a journey away from her home and family, to be surrounded by people who do not share her customs. I found the start of this story, where Binti is travelling amongst strangers for the first time, to be really interesting. Once this introduction phase is done we get caught up in a conflict between humanity and their alien enemies. This part of the story was fun too, but there are a few things that I felt let it down. The science wasn’t really articulated that well, making a lot of what happened feel a bit more fantasy-esque that it should. I also feel that the resolution was a bit too neat for everyone involved, considering just how Binti got caught up in this conflict.

Despite its flaws, this story will stay with me for a few reasons. The first is that Okarafor takes a group of people who we view as ‘primitive’ and ‘tribal’, and shows them in the far future being adapt with technology yet still sticking to their customs. The second is that the idea of a planetary-wide university full of all sorts of people is just so appealing for me, and the third is that there are more stories about Binti on the way for me to look forward to.

 

25188109Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson

I’ve always had a soft spot for stories that have fantasy and science fiction tropes mixed together, so as soon as I knew that the magical god-emperor had a nemesis that built robots, I was intrigued. This story is about Emperor Kairominas and his world. Kai has a magical power called lancing, which allows him to do everything but control the weather. He is the most powerful and important person in the world; but his world is not the only one out there.

It turns out that in this universe the majority of people are brains in jars, living in simulated worlds that revolve around them. Fantasy worlds, futuristic worlds, contemporary worlds, and communal worlds where they can all meet and interact.

The nature of this universe raises a lot of ethical and existential issues for Kai and the other people he interacts with. Do their life really have purpose? Are their accomplishments real? Are the simulated people in their worlds real? And if so what rights do they have? But fear not; as interesting as the philosophy discussion is in this story, that’s not all that’s there. We have world-building – not just Kai’s world, but this whole brain-in-a-box system feels very much lived in – we have character development, we have giant robots and fights, this is a fun, action packed ride. And the ending… well, obviously I’m not going to say much about that, except that it was pretty damn powerful.

 

Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds

This story starts as a big war is coming to a close. There is a ceasefire, but that doesn’t mean that everything is suddenly peaceful. Scur, the main character, is left for dead after being captured by a savage war criminal on the other side. It’s like the set up for some sort of revenge fuelled rampage, except after Scur loses consciousness she wakes up in a hibernation berth on a derelict ship, along with hundreds of prisoners of war. Scur still wants revenge, but survival becomes the main concern of everyone. I’m not going to say much about the state of the galaxy outside their ship, because learning about that along with the characters was one of the best parts of the story. And really, it needs that slow reveal. Without the intrigue of learning more about the world and what has happened outside the prison ship, this story starts to feel a bit less original.

I liked the idea of the slow bullets. Tracking devices/information storage devices/bombs placed in the chests of every soldier. It’s really hard to talk about their importance without writing spoilers though; let’s just say that the characters have to make a huge decision about what happens to their bullets.

 

 

The Builders by Daniel Polansky25667920

A novella with 53 chapters. That alone is pretty impressive. This is a western fantasy, and is a story where all the characters are small anthro animals, which gave the story a nostalgic feeling for me. However, these animals aren’t cute and don’t sing songs; they murder each other violently and get drunk. It’s a straightforward story of the revenge fuelled rampage I thought Slow Bullet’s might go for at first.

The Builders is also very well written. I liked the style, and the characters were all fun badarses who were introduced very well. I wish the worldbuilding was as good. This tale takes place in a kingdom called The Gardens, which boarders a Kingdom to the South, which implies a fantasy world. However, France and Mexico and Turkey are also places in this world, so maybe it is actually a furry version of our world. Hard to say. It’s also hard to imagine the scale of this world, which I suppose is unavoidable in this medium. We know that badgers are amongst the largest animals and almost touch ceilings in a lot of buildings, but there are all manner of smaller creatures. Most seem to be rodents, but there are also cats and foxes.

This is a fun, dark, action-packed tale. However, I’d say this was my least favourite of the five nominees. Mostly due to lack of world-building, and also the quest the characters go on feels a bit pointless at times.

 

Well, that’s all for the Hugo Nominees this year. As I said, no time to look over everything. I guess I’ll see you all again when the awards are handed out. Or maybe earlier; we’ll see.

~Lauren