Review – Two Girls

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By Justin Sirois

Published 15/3/17 (Kindle Press)

Score: 7/10

 

I came across this book on the Kindle Scout program. After reading an excerpt, I nominated it for publication and when it was published, I got an advanced copy. From the excerpt, I didn’t think I was going to get anything awesome that would blow me away, but I really liked the idea. I went into this expecting a fun YA story with an interesting premise, and found myself liking it more than I expected.

In this book, we get a world where every human birth results in identical twins. These twins seem to be more connected and dependent on each other than regular identical twins, to the point where if one twin gets sick, the other will too. They are identical to the point where people view them as one person with two bodies.

Enter Penny and Sam Van Best. Sixteen-year-old high school students and, of course, identical twins. Unlike other identical twins though, they struggle to look and act identical. That may not seem like a big deal in our world, but in a high school environment where every pair of twins is expected to match perfectly, this creates some problems. Penny wants to be normal and fit in, which means that she and Sam must appear to have the same interests and style. Sam however hates being the same as her sister, and doesn’t care what other kids think. Both are also very different people, and their fellow students pick up on their differences and aren’t always that nice about it.

There is also a plot with a corrupt government and a paramilitary group out to get Sam and Penny’s mother. The plot was alright, but I actually enjoyed the ‘petty’ teenage dramas that Sam and Penny had better. The conflict between a longing to fit in and a desire to be unique was very relatable to me, and done really well. I think I would have enjoyed this story just as much if the stakes were lower, and it was just a high school drama in this twin-dominated world.

There is also a romance element. Again, the twin dynamic made the romance in this book much more interesting. In this world, the twins always match, and so a pair of twins will always date another pair of twins. Unlike the other twins though, Penny and Sam don’t have the same tastes, so they’ll never find a pair of boys they both like. There is this one boy that Sam has a crush on, but as she spends time with him she discovers that having a crush on someone does not actually mean you know them, or that you are guaranteed to be compatible. It’s a very realistic approach to teenage crushes and romance, despite the twin element.

The twin mutation in this book is well thought out, and we also see hints that it has led to a darker world. The first hint we get is at the very start, where the girls are competing in a popular rifle shooting contest on the last day of school, using their state-issued guns. Yes, state-issued guns in schools. We also see how the twin mutation has changed day to day life with the way the characters talk. ‘Anytwo’ replaces ‘anyone’ in a lot of speech. At first I liked this, as it showed just how the twins were seen as a matching set rather than individuals, however, it quickly became infuriating as characters would say two instead of one even when referring to a singular person. (e.g. I’m not the ‘two’ who did such-and-such.)

There were a few other things about the story I didn’t like. As I mentioned, the plot didn’t really interest me that much. It was also painfully obvious what the twist was, but I have no idea why it was a twist. It was information that could have (and should have) been told to Sam and Penny at the start. Though, I suppose if the girls had such a big thing to worry about, it would have changed their actions and we wouldn’t have gotten the character development we did.

I also found myself liking Sam a lot more than I liked Penny, but I got the feeling I was supposed to like Penny more. At one point Sam realises that she’s been selfish for making it so hard for Penny to match her, and we get a list of douche moves Sam had pulled in the past to support this. However, in story we see Sam going out of her way to match Penny for a special event, and suppressing her impulses to sabotage Penny’s matching outfits. I felt like the whole Sam has been selfish thing was forced.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Better yet it’s the start of a series! The weird thing is, I’m kinda more interested in seeing how the relationships work out than I am in following the plot, which is weird for me. Not that the plot is bad, I’m just not as invested in it. Though, given the subtle world-building and the way things ended, I have a feeling that the plot may get more interesting next book and am looking forward to it.

One last thing, be careful when Googling the title of this book. And just remember that it doesn’t involve a cup at all.

~ Lauren

 

EDIT: Just found out that Book Two in this series is up on Kindle Scout right now. If you have an Amazon account and feel this is a series you’d like to see more of, go here to nominate it. As of writing this, there are 24 days left to nominate.

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2016 Novellas, Novelettes and Short Stories

Novellas, Novelettes and Short Stories

 

Maybe this post is a bit late. I’ve been quiet lately because I wanted to catch up on some of the best short fiction from last year, and if I stopped to write a review of each story I’d quickly lose all my reading time. And also, I’ve been playing the new Zelda game a lot, so that has left less time for reading. But now nominations for the 2017 Hugo Awards are closed, and I feel it’s about time to talk about some of the highlights and discuss some of my votes. I don’t think I need to say much about the novels I voted for, since all but one have their own review, but I rarely get to talk about shorter fiction, so that’ll be my focus today. Not all the stories mentioned made it onto my final ballot, but I still felt it was worth mentioning them.

Due to the large number of stories I’ve been looking at and the fact that I’ll probably end up talking about a few of these after the Hugo Nominations are released, I won’t say too much about each individual story. So for the first time in over a year, I’m going to give a whole bunch of twitter-style book reviews.

 

Novellas

 

The Coward’s Option

By Adam-Troy Castro

Analog Science Fiction and Fact

Alien criminals may have surgery that stops them doing crimes instead of slow & painful execution. They choose execution. Scary tech

 

Progress Report

Rajnar Vajra

Analog Science Fiction and Fac

Alien kitten must learn his people’s history & pass tests to prove he deserves to live. Humans are precursors. Predictable but fun.

 

Penric and the Sharman

Lois McMaster Bujold

Spectrum Literary Agency

Set in World of 5 Gods. Possessed Sorcerer tracks down rouge shaman. Shaman isn’t such a bad guy but. Love this world and these characters

 

The Vanishing Kind

Lavie Tidhar

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

A film noir detective story in London. Except the Nazis won WWII and the ‘detective’ is a Gestapo agent. Believable & dark alt history.

 

The Dream Quest of Vellitt Boe

Kij Johnson

Tor.com

Re-visit of Lovecraft’s Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath that isn’t sexist or racist. Great worldbuilding, and fun adventure.

 

Novelettes

 

You’ll Surely Drown if you Stay

Alyssa Wong

Uncanny

Read it Here

 

Western with magic. Ellis has magic that involves reanimated skeletons. His BFF is whore. Told in second person. Really cool magic.

 

Not Quite Taterona Kempi

Ryan W. Norris

Analog Science Fiction and Fact

Millions of years after Humans gone successors find timecapsule and learn of us. But how do they understand records? Clever story.

 

Touring with the Alien

Carolyn Ives Gilman

Clarkesworld

Read it Here

Aliens land on Earth and one wants a tour. These aliens are super alien & their translators are also strange. Good Human main character too.

 

Foxfire Foxfire

Yoon Ha Lee

Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Read it Here

Magic fox must kill 100 humans to become human. For no 100 decides to eat a mech pilot in the middle of war. Magic & giant robots? Awesome!

 

Everyone from Themis Sends Letters Home

Genevieve Valentine

Clarkesworld

Read it Here

Colonists on Themis send letters home. But is their planet real? Told all in letters. Raises interesting ethical questions.

 

Prodigal

Gord Seller

Analog Science Fiction and Fact

We can make dogs smarter and able to talk. But then should we still treat them like dogs? Sad talking dog story.

 

Short Stories

 

In the Absence of Instructions to the Contrary

Frank Wu

Analog Science Fiction and Fact

Deep-sea explorer robot falls in love. His crush wants him to study octopus, so he does. Goes surprising dark places.

 

The One Who Isn’t

Ted Kosmatka

Lightspeed

Read it Here

A very weird tale. A boy is in a room and doesn’t remember ever being outside. The only other person is the one who isn’t him.

 

Seven Birthdays

Ken Liu

Beyond Infinity

Read it Here

We see what Mia gets up to on seven different birthdays. The world changes a lot during her life, and Liu makes the far far future amazing.

 

Last One Out

K.B. Rylander

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

Post apocalypse. Only 1 old lady survives. Her robot companion wants to make her happy even though he doesn’t get whats so great about music

 

That Game We Played During the War

Carrie Vaughn

Tor.com

Read it Here

Chess and telepathy and war. A moving tale that looks at some of the darker consequences telepathic powers have.

 

And Then, One Day, The Air Was Full of Voices

Margret Ronald

Clarkeworld

Read it Here

We find alien signals. But we know they are extinct now. A mother tries to re-connect with her son while talking about why aliens are dead.

 

An Open Letter to the Person Who Took My Smoothie From the Break Room Fridge

Oliver Buckram

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

Hilarious.

 

I’m glad I did go out looking for more short fiction, but hopefully this year I can spread my reading out a bit more. Most of the time, readers focus on novels. Before I found Analog and Asimov’s Science Fiction, the only short stories I’d ever read were in Stephen King collections or second hand anthologies. As this post shows though, there is actually a huge selection of short fiction out there. I hope my tiny reviews and the links provided give you some ideas on where to go next time you have a book hangover and just want to read something quick and satisfying.

 

~Lauren

 

 

Review – Lovecraft Country

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By Matt Ruff

Published 16/2/16

Score: 9

I ordered this book from the states and even made a post about receiving it a couple of weeks ago. I was super excited to read Lovecraft Country and can now say that it didn’t disappoint. This story is part pulp horror/science fiction, part social commentary, and part historical fiction. I had an absolute blast reading this.

Lovecraft Country follows three African-American families as they get caught up in this white sorcerer’s evil plot. On the blurb we are told that the story is about Atticus Turner going on a road trip with his uncle George and friend Letitia in order to rescue his father, but actually, that sub-plot gets resolved rather early in the book. After that, various people amongst Atticus’s family and circle of friends end up having their own paranormal adventures, each one part of the wider plot. Matt Ruff has said that he initially envisioned Lovecraft Country as a TV show, and the structure of the book makes that origin clear.

At first I was a bit unsure about this format. I was really liking Atticus’s story. It reminded me a bit off Lovecraft’s Shadow over Innsmouth, and the road trip through racist America was quite interesting. Disturbing, but interesting. I wanted to explore more of this situation. I wanted to know a bit more about this cult and the magic they had stumbled across. However, I did come to like the different chapters. Each little story played with a different trope and exposed different forms of institutionalised racism. I particularly liked the ‘Dreams of the Which House’ chapter, as it featured Letitia buying a house and facing opposition from both a very angry and powerful ghost, and some white neighbours ready to do anything to drive her out. As well as haunted house and evil cults, we also come across treasure chests in hidden dimensions, doorways to other worlds, houses frozen in time, appearance changing elixirs and, of course, a tentacle-monster or two. The variety of pulp fiction adventures was great.

Another reason I came to like this segmented approach to the story was because it featured a really good cast of characters. I suppose it would have been good to spend more time with a few of them and see a bit more development, but it was good getting a peek at the whole family’s lives as these weird things happened to them. I ended up feeling really happy for everyone in the end. But I shouldn’t spoil that here.

At times, Lovecraft Country deals with some serious subject matter and I feel it does so well. It’s hard to imagine how America’s segregation policies made everyday life difficult for African-Americans, even in parts of the country that didn’t have the dreaded ‘Jim Crow’ laws. The horrors the characters in Lovecraft Country face daily rival the horrors they face once the cultists come into their lives. It was a real eye-opener seeing all the different forms racism has taken over the years.

Despite the serious and often depressing subject, Lovecraft Country manages to remain a really fun book. Between all the troubles the character’s face, there’s a lot of triumphs, adventure, and even fun. I commend Matt Ruff on striking the right balance between exploring racism and having fun with classic horror tropes. Thought I must admit this isn’t a frightening book. There is a constant sense of danger for the characters, but nothing that’ll keep you up at night.

My only real complaints about this book, is that it just doesn’t feel Lovecraftian enough for me. Yes there’s the cultists, and the ancient language of Adam and even the tentacles, but we seem to be missing the real eldritch element. It’s there, but since we never see the main villain’s plans come to fruition, or even get a clear picture of what his goal is apart from take over all the other covens, it felt a bit lacking to me. We also never see the villain do anything completely evil; sure, he kills a lot of people, but in doing so he does save our heroes.

Though come to think of it, maybe the lack of focus on the elder gods and the reality-beyond-our-own-that’ll-drive-us-mad and all that makes sense. Cosmic horror has been replaced by the underlying horror of living with institutionalised racism.

All in all, I’d highly recommend Lovecraft Country. It was great reading a book that took its inspiration from Lovecraft’s work while also throwing away all the racist bullshit he put in his stories.

~ Lauren