Review – Phasma

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By Delilah S. Dawson

Published August 2017 (Del Rey)

Score: 7/10

 

I haven’t read a lot of tie-in novels, and I probably wouldn’t have picked up this one normally. I got Phasma because I was looking for an audiobook my partner and I could listen to in the car during the long Christmas holiday drives. In that respect, it was a good buy. We’re having fun going through the book (he isn’t finished yet), and the production value and narration on the audiobook is amazing. January LaVoy did a great job, and there is a lot of music and sound effects from the movies used.

As for the story itself, well, it’s the only Star Wars book I’ve ever read, so I can’t compare it to the rest of the expanded universe. As a story I found it alright. Quite enjoyable, and it showed a lot more of the Star Wars universe than what we see in the movies. We get a look at the inner workings of the First Order, including information on how they train and recruit their stormtroopers. We also see the world of Parnassos, a post-apocalyptic planet with some really cool killer beetles. Most of the story on Parnassos takes place in a desert, but it is made perfectly clear that there are other environments on the planet, which when you consider how many single biome planets we see in Star Wars, impressed me more than it should have.

The main draw of this story though is Captain Phasma’s backstory. I found it delivers. Phasma here is ruthless, a highly competent fighter, and a capable leader. The fact that she will do anything to survive is constantly shown, and watching this be something her warriors admire her for, to something that makes them uneasy, was a good journey. It wasn’t a perfect depiction, but this story got me to care more for the character, and I hope we see some of her bad-arseness in the next movie.

There were problems with the story. Firstly, the framing device didn’t work. We have a rebel spy named Vi being tortured in secret by Phasma’s rival Captain Cardinal. Cardinal wants information that he can use against Phasma. He is in a huge hurry to get it. He also hates the Resistance. Yet he allows Vi to talk on and on about things that don’t help him at all. We also get two very long, drawn out chapters about Cardinal’s mental state. The second one was interesting, as we saw him reacting to the implications of Phasma’s place in the First Order, but they were still long.

I think listening to this as an audiobook made me enjoy the story a lot more than if I’d read it. I’m also really into this book because it’s one my partner is listening to as well, and it’s rare I can talk to him about a book that he’s read too. I rated it a seven, but it only just scrapes into the seven range. Phasma is a fun adventure story, which I feel will be great for anyone that loves Star Wars. There are flaws though, and whilst this story did a lot of things I liked, in the end, it was just a nice, fun, alright story.

~Lauren

 

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My 2017 in Books

The End of Year Novella Rush

20180102_111314_resizedAt the start of the year, I set myself a reading challenge on Goodreads. 50 books in one year seemed doable in January, but towards the start of December, less so. Which meant I turned my attention to all those novellas I’d been putting aside in favour of full-length books. I should have gotten around to it sooner; there have been some great novellas this year.

The highlight of this novella binge has been catching up on Lois McMaster Bujold’s Penric and Desdemona series. I started this series when the first novella, Penric’s Demon, was nominated for the 2016 Hugo Awards and became hooked on Bujold’s world and characters. Earlier this year I read the third book in the series, Penric’s Mission, which saw an older Penric help a widow after her brother was blinded for false charges of treason. This month, I read Mira’s Last Dance, and The Prisoner of Limnos, the 4th and 6th entries in the series and direct continuations of the story in Penric’s Mission. This trilogy-within-a-series has been amazing, especially The Prisoner of Limnos. The series has great worldbuilding with a fun magic system, amazing characters, a thrilling plot, and a sense of humour that I quite enjoyed. These books are set in Bujold’s World of the Five Gods/Chalion universe, which I really need to explore more.

I also read George Orwell’s Animal Farm for the first time in late November. I was familiar with the story, and had watched the 1954 animated movie before. Given Animal Farm’s status as a classic, I can’t really say much that hasn’t been said many times before. Even though the Soviet Union is long gone, this little book is still an important read, as we would do well to keep in mind that dictators like Napoleon the Pig are still a possibility even today in the West. We must be careful we spot them before it becomes too late.

The other recent novellas I’ve read are Snapshot by Brandon Sanderson and The Murders of Molly Southbourn by Tade Thompson. Snapshot is a detective story that makes use of a fake world of sorts: a complete recreation of a past day. I really enjoyed it. I thought I could see the ending coming, and whilst I was partly right, Sanderson managed to add a twist I wasn’t expecting. This story really lives up to the hype. Murders of Molly Southbourn has also gotten a lot of praise, but this story just didn’t do much for me. The concept is that every time Molly bleeds, the blood grows into a new Molly who tries to kill her. It is a gory, creepy body-horror story, but whilst it had some cool parts, I feel that the plot didn’t deliver.

 

My Goodreads Reading Challenge    

Speaking of my Goodreads Reading Challenge, I did succeed in reading 50 books in 2017. Kinda. I originally decided that by ‘book’, I would only count novels, novellas, complete short story collections and complete magazine issues. I did however end up adding a couple of novelettes to the list when it looked like I wasn’t going to make it. We can argue whether I cheated or not, but the point is I had a wonderful time with my books this year. According to Goodreads, I have read 12,781 pages across 50 books. Considering that there is quite a bit of short fiction that I haven’t logged with the site, I’ve really read a lot more. I’ve talked about most of the novels and many of the novellas I’ve read, but for those interested, my complete 2017 reader challenge can be found HERE.

 

I’ve found that one benefit of keeping a record of what I read is that looking back at the stories reminds me of the significant events that occurred in my life whilst I was reading those books. I first noticed this when every time Naomi Novik’s Uprooted was mentioned, I couldn’t help but remember reading the book on my Kindle whilst laying on a mattress on the floor of my new house. It is as if my world intersected some other magical world at that point, and I am glad for one more reminder of how it felt to buy and move into my own home.

This year has been a somewhat quieter one for me, and therefore reviewing the books I’ve read doesn’t trigger such special moments. Just mundane ones, like that time I drank a whole Red Bull at work and then couldn’t sleep. At about 4am I gave up on sleep, went to my bookcase, and took down the copy of Neuromancer my partner had given me for Christmas. I didn’t get to sleep that night, but Gibson made the early morning much more bearable. On a more positive note, I went to look after my Nana whilst I was reviewing novellas for the Hugo Awards. I hadn’t seen her for a while, and it was nice to catch up. After she went to bed I finished reading The Ballad of Black Tom, and now that gory Cthulhu tale has an unintended sweet happy spot in my heart.

I find it interesting how stories (and songs too) can become linked to our memories. Just one more magical thing about books. If anyone else has any stories about strange associations that some books evoke, I’d be interested in hearing them.

 

My Book Bingo Card

 

Haven’t forgotten this little challenge I set myself. Much. Here is what my bingo card looks like at the end of 2017. I didn’t fill it, but at least I got a bingo. I also added Phasma to it even though I’m still reading that book, just to make it look a bit less empty.

 

A Hugo Winner: Three-Body Problem – Cixin Liu Has a Dragon: Tech Mage – Chris Fox Graphic Novel or Comic Book:

 

 

Translated Book: The Dark Forest – Cixin Liu High Fantasy:
Alternate History:

 

 

A Hugo Winner: Every Heart a Doorway – Seanan McGuire

 

Space Opera: A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet – Becky Chambers Book from a Wider Franchise: Phasma – Delilah S. Dawson

 

 

Animal Main Character: Animal Farm – George Orwell
Owned for over a Year: Alien Influences – Kristine Kathryn Rusch Alien Characters: Cycle of Fire – Hal Clement A Hugo Winner: Neuromancer – William Gibson

 

Self Published: 2084 – Mason Engel Continue a Series: The Stone Sky – N. K. Jemisin
Written before the 20th Century:

 

 

Recommended by a Friend: Horror: The Ballad of Black Tom – Victor LaValle A Hugo Winner:

 

Short Story Collection: The Fox’s Tower and Other Tales – Yoon Ha Lee
Has Magic: Lovecraft Country – Matt Ruff

 

A.I Character: A Closed and Common Orbit – Becky Chambers LGBTI Themes: A Taste of Honey – Kai Ashante Wilson Re-read a Favourite: A Hugo Winner:

 

 

Reading Resolutions for 2018

Again, I’ve set myself a 50 book challenge on Goodreads. It’s a challenging amount, but I feel a doable one. And again, I’ll try to only count works of novella length or longer. Unless I suppose the shorter story was already on my ‘to read’ list.

I think I’ll skip the bingo card this year. I just forgot about it for most of the year, and the Goodreads challenge is motivation enough. Though if anyone is interested in bingo cards, I’d be happy to make a challenge.

One side challenge I will task myself however is to read at least 5 Hugo Winning Novels or Novellas. Not including the 2018 winners if I read them for the first time this year. I’m also thinking of reading some of the short story Hugo winners with a friend of mine. She isn’t much of a reader, but over the past couple of years I’ve ended up reading to her on a few occasions and enjoying that. Not sure if this could translate to an interesting series of reviews for this blog, or even if it’ll happen, but who knows?

My next two resolutions are somewhat in conflict. I wish to diversify my short fiction reading this year. I have a subscription to Analog, which I wish to keep. However, reading every issue of Analog means less time for other magazines. In particular, I want to read more Uncanny and more Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. To make my goal of reading more diverse short fiction harder, I also want to read more of the back issues I have collected over the years. Most of these are old issues of Analog from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. If I read these, I will review them on this site. Maybe something like Jamie Todd Rubin’s seemingly abandoned Vacations in the Golden Age, but given the piecemeal nature of my collection, less structured. One reason why I haven’t already started such a project is because I want to add an art component to it. I’ve always loved the artwork from these old magazines, and I’ve really been slacking off in my drawing, so it’ll be good to have some practice.

 

What to Expect in 2018

I know that lately my reviews have been fewer and far between. I intend to keep reviewing, but I want to shift the focus of this blog away from just reviews. Either discussions of short stories or reviews of old magazines could help to breathe new life into my little blog. I’m also thinking of sharing more of my own writing. I know I said that last year, but I have more interesting things in the works now.

Last year, I finished the 1st draft of a novel I’m calling Beyond the Fence. It’s about an alien. A very alien alien who must learn to live with Humans even though this species doesn’t even use language or see the world through just one set of eyes. This year, I’ve began the long process of re-writing it. So far, I’m 30,000 words in. I plan to put the first chapter up on this blog when I’m done, but before then it would be nice to get another set of eyes on my work. I always get terrified showing people my work, but that’s something I’m going to have to change. When I get further along I’ll start asking for some beta readers.

Depending on how things work out this year, I may also do a NaNoWriMo challenge in November. I was planning to do it this year, but this November turned out to be busy and I didn’t want to stop working on Beyond the Fence. This year, I’m going to make it a priority.

I’ve also been working on a table-top role-playing game with my partner that has a futuristic, space opera setting and theme. Hopefully we’ll be at the playtest phase in February, and if all goes well I might share some of this universe on this blog.

And finally, I have joined the 76th Worldcon as a supporting member, meaning I will be nominating and voting in the Hugos yet again. As with the previous two years, I intend to keep up a similar coverage of the awards, and to review the fiction nominees.

 

Happy Reading in 2018,

~Lauren