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

 

 

 

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Review – Beyond This Horizon

Beyond This Horizon540503

By Robert A. Heinlein (Writing as Anson McDonald)

Published 1942

Score: 6.5

 

I’m still thinking about how I feel about this one. I have read Heinlein years ago and enjoyed stories like Time Enough for Love, Job: A Comedy of Justice, and Stranger in a Strange Land but the last Heinlein story I read, Friday, I could not get into. I had a lot more fun with Beyond this Horizon. It contains a lot of amazing ideas, gems of quotable Heinlein social commentary, and some top-notch worldbuilding that even after 70 years feels exciting. However, I listened to this as an audiobook while driving to and from work. I got home on Friday just as a chapter finished, and I could see that I had twenty-six minutes of book left. I spent that night reading an issue of Asimov’s. (Shout Out to Liu Cixin’s The Sea of Dreams. Favourite novelette of the year so far.) There were pacing and storytelling bugs in this book so great, that I found myself near the end and being in no particular hurry to finish.

Let’s focus on all the good things about Beyond This Horizon. Heinlein often uses small details to make the future feel real. The best example is the famous line ‘The door dilated’, which has been praised for decades as the perfect example of an understated sentence that conveys a crystal-clear image of a high-tech future society. There were other little lines that did a lot to build this world. There are still info-dumps and a particularly obvious “And as you know…” spiel, but over all this book shows some of the future-making techniques that Heinlein has became famous for.

I suppose I should say what this book is about, and it’s here we get to some of my issues with it. It’s about Hamilton Felix, who lives in a world of positive eugenics and gun duels. He has been selectively bred to be awesome, and now the local geneticist wants to breed him with an equally awesome woman and make babies that are as perfect as possible. Hamilton refuses to have children until he knows the meaning of life. Then he gets mixed up in a future tiki-torch group that want to take over the government and use genetic engineering to make a society with castes (they get to be the leader caste of course). While this happens a man from the past (the 1920s) is found and tries to adjust to modern life, and Hamilton’s friend Munro-Alpha has problems in his love-life. Then the supremacist group tries to take over the world, and that plot climaxes about halfway through the book. After that we go on to the more mundane stuff about raising kids and researching supernatural stuff. I found this last section a bit boring, but then again children have never appealed to me.  There are a lot of interesting things in Beyond This Horizon. It’s worth reading for the ideas and world, but I feel it was too many good ideas jammed into too short a book to be a great novel. I read a lot I liked, but I found myself not excited about the book as a whole.

Let’s talk about characters. In particular, about the female characters. Heinlein does this thing where he writes strong female characters and supports equality between the sexes, but he also expresses a lot of gender stereotypes that come across as sexist today. If you’re familiar with Heinlein, you know what I’m talking about. If you aren’t, then I’ll just say that modern readers are in for a bumpy ride. Especially for the scene where Hamilton meets his love interest Phyllis.

Phyllis is an interesting example of how Heinlein writes women. She goes armed, unlike most women in this society, and when she gets in a firefight she is shown to be highly competent. She’s also flirty and has a lot of agency. Yet at one point, she states that making babies is “what she’s for”.

I guess what I’m saying, is that Beyond This Horizon is fair for it’s time. Progressive for it’s time even, at least when it comes to women. Possibly for race too. There is an n-bomb dropped, followed by the phrase ‘what does your colour have to do with anything?’ Besides values, the scientific understanding about how DNA works has also advanced since Beyond This Horizon was written. You really have to keep in mind that this book was written in 1942.

None of the other characters stand out for me, male or female. They were fun, but not memorable. If you haven’t read Heinlein before, then this isn’t the best place to start, but if you keep in mind the time it was written it’s still got a lot of good things going for it. I just wish all those good plots and ideas came together better.

 

~ Lauren

 

Review – The Darkness and the Light

The Darkness and the Light

By Olaf Stapledon

Published 1942

Score: 8

 

I’ll be reading the Retro Hugos this year. Or at least, all the ones I can find. Let’s start with The Darkness and the Light, an examination of two futures for humanity: one a utopia that has enough issues to remain interesting, and the other one of the most horrific dystopias I have ever encountered.

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Oh well, I did only pay $1.31. Still worth it.

Before I start talking about this story, I have to pause a moment and rip on the quality of the Kindle edition I got. I think someone copy and pasted a PDF without bothering to format it for eReaders. The formatting was painful to read. According to Goodreads, there is another Kindle edition out there by Gateway, but I haven’t been able to find it on the Australian Amazon store. Once I did get into the story the formatting became easier to ignore, which I’m going to say is an accomplishment in itself for Stapledon.

This book is entirely exposition, without dialog or even any named characters appearing. We get a full examination of the future of humanity. Stapledon extrapolates the after-effects of WWII, which eventually sees the Soviet Union and China take over most of the world. The last holdout against these tyrannical Empires is Tibet, and Stapledon explores two far-flung futures based on first the failure than the success of Tibet’s rebellion against the ‘darkness’. Stapledon leaves it up to the reader to decide which of the outcomes is the true future.

The world-building skill in The Darkness and the Light is amazing. Both futures are so well thought out that it is easy to forgive that history has marched on during the past 76 years. There were a lot of things in here that reeked of 1940s views, but there was also a lot of things that were progressive for the time, like a Zulu World President and Eastern traditions playing a huge role in making the good future good. After all, it was the Tibetan people who saved the world here. There are some parts modern readers may find objectional, but it hasn’t aged as badly as some books.

I’m impressed that the exploration of the utopian future was just as interesting as the rest of the book. Utopia can be boring, since struggle and conflict are so essential to a good story, but Stapledon makes it work here. We get to see what happens after the “Tibet saves the world and everyone lived happily ever after’ part. The New World still has issues, and they still face crises, but unlike the dystopian world and our own, the people in this world can work out most of their disagreements peaceably. The people in the good future also progress to the point where they gain a goal that we can never hope to attempt today. A goal that reminded me of Lovecraft in it’s nature but was totally unlike Lovecraft in tone. The best part of the utopian future was that humanity was no longer insignificant and helpless on a cosmic level and I enjoyed reading that.

I expected to come into this review and talk more about the bad future than the good, but I feel that we’re all familiar with what makes a good dystopia by now. I will say that the bad future Stapledon portrays was one of the most chillingly vile dystopias I’ve read in a long time. Stand-out features of this future include a radio device installed in the human brain that allows all thoughts to be monitored and eventually for commands to be issued. The sheer impossibility of any resistance against the state was terrifying. There was also a chapter detailing the state’s attempts to increase population by subjugation and flat-out torture of women that was especially horrific. The fate of humanity in this dystopia was disturbing. Completely implausible, but still a fitting, disturbing end.

I think the best part about this book is how relevant it feels in today’s world. We seem to be faced with two possible futures. On one hand, living standards around the world are the best they have ever been and look to increase, technology has the potential to lift millions out of poverty, to open new frontiers to human exploration, to connect us with our fellow humans in a way never before possible. Everywhere I look I see efforts to reduce the suffering of people and animals, to repair the damage that has been done against our environment and our society, and to push back against those vested interests that wish to maintain the current, exploitive status quo. There is a push towards the Light here in our own time, and the potential is amazing.

On the other hand, if you don’t live under a rock the path to Darkness is painfully obvious. The question we need to ask ourselves is whether it’s too late to save ourselves. In The Darkness and the Light, the bad future reached a point were it could no longer be redeemed long before it’s end. The loss of the Tibetan Resistance was a complete victory for the Darkness. Have we reached that point yet? I think there is a lot of horrible stuff that will happen within the next hundred years no matter what we do now, but humanity has pulled through upheavals before. I think our Tibet is yet to come, but it will come and it’ll be soon enough that we need to start working towards the future we want now.

I encourage everyone to read The Darkness and the Light. And I hope that when people get to the part about the Tibetal Resistance, they notice why it led to two vastly different outcomes. Spoiler alert, it wasn’t because of a natural event, a great man, or a pivotal battle going a different way. It was because of a difference in attitude. It was because of the actions of an entire population. Take note of how Stapledon’s Tibetans reacted to the tyranny around them, because that’s what we need more of today.

 

~ Lauren

Hugo 2018 and Retro Hugo 1943 Finalists Announced

I am excited to report that the finalists for this year’s Hugo and Retro Hugo Awards have been announced. Yes, I will actually look into the Retro Hugos this year. I think I’ll have time. For a full list of Finalists for 2018, see here (and the 1943 finalists can be found here

I’ll be concentrating on the Novel, Novella, Novelette and Short Story categories once again. For the novel category, there are two books I haven’t read; Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty and The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi. Both of these were stories I wanted to read last year, but never got around to. For Six Wakes, this was because the only way to access it was to order the paperback from the USA. I’m not opposed to this, but I was always hoping it would become available on Kindle or Audible. I can’t wait to finally get my hands on it. Somehow.

For the Novellas, we have an almost complete clean-sweep by Tor.com publishing, with Sarah Pinsker’s And Then There Were (N-one) from Uncanny being the only non-Tor entry on the ballot. Most of these novellas I have heard good things about, but haven’t read, so catching up on this category should be good. In particular, I’m looking forward to reading Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire. This story is the sequel to last year’s winner Every Heart a Doorway, and is another book I’ve neglected for too long.

Next are the novelettes. Quite a mixed bunch here, including Yoon Ha Lee’s Extracurricular Activities, which I nominated. Of course I did; it’s part of the Machineries of Empire series. The only other finalist I’ve read is Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time by K.M. Szpara, which  has still stayed with me for quite some time, but was not one of my favourites this year.

I’ve read half the short stories before and am happy to see Fandom for Robots by Vina Jie-Min Prasad as a finalist. That was a fun little story that I found myself re-reading again. The Martian Obelisk by Linda Nagata was also a standout story for me.

With the retro Hugos, there are a few names I recognise and look forward to reading. There are also a few that I’m not looking forward to. Second Stage Lensmen by Doc E.E. Smith is one of the nominees. When I first heard about Smith’s work, it sounded like something I would love. But I started on the Skylark series and was just not impressed. Damsels-in-distress, invincible, perfect heroes, humanoids = good, chlorine aliens = irredeemably evil, and the writing style itself all made me cringe. From what I’ve read of Smith, it was obvious that he was at his prime before the Golden Age that started in the 40s. On the other hand, the Lensmen series played a huge role in shaping science fiction. Lensmen is the epitome of classic space opera, and I know that there is a lot of cool stuff in the series. So I guess the only question is whether or not I need to read the whole series or just Second Stage Lensmen.

I’m excited about these finalists, and it’s good to have such a range of stories to keep me busy for the next couple of months. In the meantime, I do have a couple more reviews to publish, so I’ll try and get them done soon. If you’ve been disappointed by my lack of posts, then don’t worry: I’ll be a lot busier for a while.

~Lauren   

 

 

2017 Hugo Award Results

Well, that was an adventure. The livestream for the Hugo Awards didn’t work, which was frustrating, but the text-based live coverage saved the day. The team running that were excellent. At one point a guy in the audience started livestreaming the event on Bilibili. The stream wasn’t very consistent for me, so, there was more frustration, but I wasn’t giving up that easily. Between the two sources I got a decent look at the ceremony. A lot happened, but I am super tired, so I’m just going to go ahead with the results:

 

Best Fancast: Tea and Jeopardy

Best Fan Writer: Abigail Nussbaum (No win for Chuck Tingle this year)

Best Fan Artist: Elizabeth Leggett

Best Fanzine: Lady Business

Best Semiprozine: Uncanny

Best Professional Artist: Julie Dillon

 

Best Editor (Short Form): Ellen Datlow

Best Editor (Long Form): Liz Gorinsky

 

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form): The Expanse: Leviathan Wakes

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form): Arrival

 

Best Graphic Story: Monstress Vol. 1: Awakening – Marjorie Liu & Sana Takada

Best Related Work: Words are My Matter: Writings about Life and Books, 2000-2016 – Ursula K. Le Guin

 

Best Short Story: Seasons of Glass and Iron – Amal El-Mohtar (My top pick!)

Best Novelette: The Tomato Thief – Ursula Vernon (Another top pick of mine won. Ursula Vernon made a cool speech about dead whales, but the video lagged right at the punchline.)

Best Novella: Every Heart a Dorrway – Seanan McGuire (Not my top pick, but we all knew this would be the result. Every Heart a Doorway is a worthy winner.)

Best Series: The Vorkosigan Saga – Lois McMaster Bujold (Presented by George R.R. Martin. I really have to start reading this series now.)

Best Novel: The Obelisk Gate – N.K Jemisin (Wow, I was not expecting that. Was really hoping for Ninefox Gambit. But I can’t fault the voters; every nominee deserved to win, and The Broken Earth Trilogy is absolutely amazing. I can’t wait to read the final book next week. I think this is the second time a sequel has won the Hugo in the year immediately following the first book, with Speaker for the Dead being the first. I’ll fact check that tomorrow… too tired right now.)

 

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Author: Ada Palmer

 

There was also an award handed out at the start of the ceremony to the Hugo Awards from the Guiness Book of Records. Turns out the Hugos are now the longest running SF award in history.

There were a lot of amazing nominees, and all the winners deserved their rockets. I’ll have to go and rewatch some of the speeches when the recording comes out, since I missed most of them. For now though, it’s passed 5am, I’m wondering if it was worth staying up so late. If your interested in seeing how the votes went down, the Hugo Report can be found here.

Time for some sleep. Goodnight everyone.

~Lauren

Less Than a Week to Go

Just a reminder that The Hugo Award Ceremony Will be held in just a few days time, and Worldcon has released details about the coverage of the award ceremony which can be read here. The winners will be announced on Friday the 11th August, and the ceremony will start at 19:30 local time. Which is 02:30 on Saturday where I am (near Sydney).

I watched last year’s ceremony on Ustream, and they currently have an off air video titled Hugo Awards. This year Worldcon is live streaming the ceremony on their official Youtube channel. Live text-based coverage can also be found on the Hugo Award’s official site

After the ceremony, the results should be easy enough to find online. I’ll try to do a wrap-up post myself, though since I’ll be staying up until at least 3am to watch the ceremony, I might be too tired and lazy to do it the following day.

The 2017 Hugo Award for Best Novel Nominees, as Pokémon

trainercard-Lauren (1)

Voting for the 2017 Hugo Awards is now closed. I have reviewed all the short fiction and talked about all the novels at some point on this blog, but I think it’s time to have a talk about all six nominees in the same place. And we’re going to look at these novels in what I consider a perfectly logical way. By seeing what the six nominees would be like, it they were Pokémon.

I think I’ve made it clear by now that I love Pokémon. Not only do the Pokémon games provide an enjoyable RPG experience , but the ability to battle other humans leads to a rich, complicated strategy game.

For those unfamiliar with how Pokémon work, let me give a quick description. Battles are between two Pokémon Trainers, who both have a team of six Pokémon, and the teams fight a turn-based battle with one Pokémon from each team in play at a time. Each of the six Pokémon has hitpoints (HP), which when depleted will cause the Pokémon to faint from exhaustion and be unable to fight. Each Pokémon can learn up to four ‘attacks’ that they can use to wear down their opponent’s HP.

I put the word attacks in quotation marks because not all techniques are simple attacks. Some of these techniques allow a Pokémon to heal itself, or make itself more powerful, or cripple the opponent by putting them to sleep or poisoning them. Even the weather and terrain can be altered. And even if you did just want to go all out attacking, you would still need to take into account types. There are 18 elemental types in this game. Each attack is assigned one of these types, and each Pokémon can have up to two types. These types have a rock-paper-scissors-like relationship of strengths and weaknesses against each other. For example, if you attacked a fire type Pokémon with a water type attack, it would do a lot more damage than a grass type attack of equal power.

There are 802 Pokémon. Those 802 different creatures represent not just a huge variety in type combinations, but also in stat variation. Some species have more hit points than others, some are more powerful and so do more damage. Then we go back to those techniques; there are 719 of them in total.

A Pokémon team is composed of 6 Pokémon. 6 out of 802. And each of those 6 can only learn 4 moves between them. As you can imagine, this makes choosing your team hard. You have to choose six Pokémon that’ll be able to stand up to any team imaginable. Building a Pokémon team involves thinking long and hard about how your Pokémon will complement each other. Building a team that works well together takes a lot of planning.

Or, you can make a theme team. Don’t worry about synergy. Just choose Pokémon that resemble six house motifs from Game of Thrones. Or six Pokémon that look like cats. It’s fun coming up with such teams, and since they’re likely to not be a balanced team, battling with them can provide an extra challenge.

Since there are six novels nominated for this year’s Hugo Award, I decided to make a 2017 Hugo Award for Best Novel team. Or, just Team Hugo 2017 for short. So, let’s talk about the nominees, and what Pokémon each book would be.

709Trevenant

All the Birds in the Sky – Charlie Jane Anders;

Trevenant

Choosing one Pokémon to represent All the Birds in the Sky was hard. The biggest challenge was that this story combines both fantasy and science fiction storylines together. It’s a story with witches and AIs and two-second time machines and talking birds. With two very different genres interacting with each other, how could I choose one Pokémon to represent both? I could have chosen Mismagius, to represent a witch, or Metagross, as a supercomputer, but choosing one of them would be ignoring half the book and half its world.

For a while, my pick for this book was Dodrio, a three-headed bird. This was to represent the Parliament of Birds that we meet early in the book, and also a reference to the title. But then I thought about it more, and decided that the tree the birds meet in is probably a better representation of the story as a whole. The two main characters both ponder a tree related riddle throughout the story, and that tree itself is more special than even the birds realise. I’m afraid I may be edging towards spoiler territory here, but I’ll just say that the tree is where the fantasy and science fiction elements of this story both come together. Can’t explain how, you’ll have to read the book to find that out.

There are many tree Pokémon I could have chosen. I decided on Trevenant because it shares a few features with the Parliamentary Tree. Trevenant is known to be very protective of the creatures that nest in it, likewise, the parliament tree hosts birds of all types. Trevenant’s pre-evolution Phantump is said to have been created by the spirits of lost children possessing tree-stumps. This morbid origin shows a union of the natural world with the human world. Likewise in All the Birds in the Sky, we see a union between the natural (magical) and human (technological) worlds, that involves the parliament tree.

 

600px-479Rotom-Wash

A Closed and Common Orbit – Becky Chambers;

Rotom-W

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. A Closed and Common Orbit; a space opera that explores an AI’s attempt to live in organic society and a slave girl’s efforts to repair a spaceship and escape her planet, represented by a washing machine?

 

I swear, I’m not crazy.

I had trouble picking one Pokémon for this book because there were two stories here. There is Sidra’s story, about a ship’s AI reluctantly possessing a fake Human body and passing in a galactic society that forbids giving AIs such bodies. Then there is Pepper/Jane’s story, about a young girl genetically engineered to slave away in a junkyard, who escapes and then gets raised by a spaceship’s AI. Jane and the AI spend years repairing the ship, so that they can finally leave the planet and be free.

I was thinking about using Porygon-Z for this one, since it is a digitally created Pokémon intended for space travel. However, it felt like I was leaving out Pepper’s story, and using the ‘Virtual Pokémon’ seemed to be hinting at a more cyberpunk story. Although, in hindsight, Porygon-Z’s glitchy nature could work well with the fact that Sidra and Pepper both go against what they were ‘programmed’ to do. Hmm… the more I think of it, the more I question my decision. But oh well, the Dubious Discs needed to get a Porygon-Z are hard to come by, and my team did need a water type.

So, why Rotom? Well, Rotom isn’t really a washing machine. Rotom is a small electric/ghost Pokémon that possesses the motors of appliances and controls them. You could say Rotom is a ghost in the machine. Rotom isn’t the appliance it inhabits, like how Sidra isn’t the Human bodykit she inhabits. Sidra’s disconnect with her artificial body is the driving force for a lot of what she does. Meanwhile, Rotom is an expert at manipulating machines, Just like Pepper. Pepper not only makes a living repairing machines, but it was this expertise that allowed her to repair the spaceship and escape from the junkyard. A junkyard that was probably full of discarded fridges, mowers, fans, ovens and washing machines.

Yes my logic may be a bit farfetched here, but I still think Rotom is a good addition to the team.

Also, Rotom is motor backwards. How did I never see that before?

 

798Kartana

Death’s End – Cixin Liu;

Kartana

 

Death’s End was a really hard one. There are so many mind-blowing concepts that this book explores. Mutually Assured Destruction, the effect of sub-light interstellar travel on humans, alien invasion, suspended animation, changing spacial dimensions and the results of fiddling around with universal constants, the terror at knowing how insignificant we are and how hostile the universe is. So many concepts, but not a lot of Pokémon to fit the bill.

I considered Absol, the Pokémon that foresees disasters, since a big part of this book is about Humanity knowing a disaster is inevitable. I also thought of Stunfisk, since it is flat and two-dimensional space plays a big role in this book.

In the end though, I decided an Ultra Beast would be the best fit. Ultra Beasts aren’t quite Pokémon. They arrived in the Pokémon world through a wormhole, and because they are so alien, pokéballs don’t work on them. They are also quite aggressive at first, since they have been caught in a wormhole and taken from their homes. This aggressive alien invasion parallel, the transition between different dimensions, and the idea that being cut off from your home planet can change a person for the worst represents Death’s End quite well I think.

But which Ultra Beast? Kartana obviously. Why obviously? Well, it’s origami. It is a tiny, flat piece of paper with the potential for great destruction. Which probably makes sense to people who have read the book, but if I explain the connection anymore I’m going to spoil the ending.

 

600px-038Ninetales

Ninefox Gambit – Yoon Ha Lee;

Ninetails

This should be an obvious one. Ninefox Gambit gets a ninefox. There’s no huge leaps of logic or overthought symbolism here. Just, ninefox. Simple.

In Ninefox Gambit, we are introduced to the Hexarchate; a controlling, vast interstellar civilisation, controlled by six government factions. Each of the factions is given an animal motif, and the ninefox is the sign of the Shuos, the faction responsible for spying and assassinations. One of the main characters, Shuos Jedao, is a general from this faction. Since most generals in the Hexarchate come from the Kel – the factions that controls the military – him being a ninefox is important. More important though, is that he is probably crazy, and once destroyed his whole army. That has given him the title of the ‘immolation fox’, which is why I chose the fire type original Ninetails, rather than the ice/fairy type Alolan variant.

I suppose if I thought about it more, I could have come up with something that represents Jedao’s status as an undead consciousness, or the fact that him and Cheris share a body. I probably wouldn’t have been able to find a Pokémon that represents the horrors of war this book portrays since the game is intended for kids. In the end though, there’s no reason to make such an abstract connection when both Nintendo and Yoon Ha Lee included Kitsune/Kumiho in their worlds.

 

703Carbink

The Obelisk Gate – N.K. Jemisin;

Carbink

I suppose it’s weird that I didn’t choose a ground type, since the magic system in this world is tied to the Earth and earthquakes. It would have been really nice to get a Pokémon that could use the attack Earthquake. I was considering Lunatone for this role, as it gets Earthquake and the moon is important in this series. Froslas would also be appropriate, since orogene magic works by drawing energy from the orogene’s environment, causing the air around them to go ice cold. Part of the reason they are feared so much is because they can freeze someone solid by using their powers. Froslas would make a good proxy of Essun, the protagonist of the series. Essun is a powerful orogene, who has gone through several upheavels in her life at the hands of anti-orogene authorities and a general population that hates orogenes.

But in the end, I went for Carbink because I wanted to represent the titular obelisk gate. The gate is made of hundreds of large obelisks that float above the world, each one being made of a precious stone. Carbink is a precious stone that floats. Given how important the obelisk gate, and individual parts of it, are for Essun and her daughter Nassun, I thought it would be appropriate to choose a Pokémon that can represent it. Ores are also significant because the Fulcrum, an organisation that trains and exploits orogenes, names it’s orogenes after different ores. The Fulcrum may not control Essun anymore, but in this book we see the devastating ways it still affects both her and her daughter.

 

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Too Like the Lightning – Ada Palmer;

Banette

There were a lot of options for this political story. The flying cars play a big role, connecting the entire world together, so Magnazone could represent this book. Or Durant, since the main power blocks on the planet are no longer nations, but groups called Hives. 18th Century Paris and the gender roles and costumes from this period are also important, so Mega Gallade or Mega Gardevoir would also fit if they were obtainable.

But the most important thing in the world, according to the characters of this book, is thirteen-year-old Bridger and his miraculous ability to bring toys to life. This book touches on a lot of interesting topics; a post-nationalist future, a lot of theological discussions, whether we can ever achieve peace. Bridger and his power added a layer of magic to this story that made me get into it despite some slow points at the start.

Banette is an old discarded toy that has come to life. Bridger finds his toys amongst the rubbish. None of his creations seem to be fuelled by a grudge at being thrown out, but other than that, I think Banette would fit right in with Bridger’s other creations.

 

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Of course Ninefox Gambit used Nasty Plot. Everyone uses Nasty Plot in that book.

If you have Pokemon Sun and Moon, you can see this team in action over the Vs. Recorder (accessible over the computer in Festival Plaza) by entering the code R95G-WWWW-WWW7-TE4Y. If you would like to battle Team Hugo 2017, feel free to contact me and ask for a battle. My friend code is 1547-5851-7576.

All six nominees this year were amazing. Last year, The Fifth Season was my top pick, and I wasn’t surprised to see it win. This year, I honestly don’t know which book will come out on top. 2016 was a great year for Science Fiction and Fantasy, and the six books that got nominated for the Hugo are all very special.

The winners will be announced at the Hugo Award Ceremony at Worldcon75 on the 11th August. So far I haven’t been able to find the time the ceremony will take place, but I assume it will be confirmed closer to the date. Last year I watched the ceremony live at ustream (Link), though I noticed Worldcon75 also has an official Youtube channel too. I’ll share more details about how to watch the awards closer to the date.

 

Until then, happy reading and happy gaming.

~ Lauren

Hugo Award Novella Finalists 2017

I’ve now finished reading all the written fiction nominated for the 2017 Hugos. And I did it all before the voting deadline this time. Yay! This year was full of really strong stories, and the novellas were some of the best I think. Most I have read, or have been intending to read for a while, so I’m really glad to have finally read and reviewed them all.

 

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Penric and the Shaman – Lois McMaster Bujold

Penric and the Shaman is the sequel to Penric’s Demon. I read this last year and loved it, but since then I’ve read the sequel, Penric’s Mission, and every time I try to think of Penric and the Shaman, I end up thinking about Penric’s Mission instead. Shaman explores a different type of magic to the chaos demon magic we were introduced to in Penric’s Demon. Shaman magic is based on nature and animals, and there is some mistrust between Shamans and Sorcerers.

This story not only explores the magic and theology of a really well developed fantasy world, but is also a murder mystery with no actual antagonist. I found out that this story references a lot of things from Bujold’s novel The Hallowed Hunt, which I am now eager to read.

It’s hard to say how well this story stands on its own. It’s a sequel, but it doesn’t follow straight on from Penric’s Demon. Compared to Penric’s Demon and Penric’s Mission, I don’t think it’s as good, but it is still a fun read. I’m just going to say that the entire series is amazing, with a fascinating magic system and compelling characters.

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The Dream-Quest of Vellitt BoeKij Johnson

This is a retelling of H.P Lovecraft’s Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. Johnson wrote this story as a way to revisit something she loved in childhood but contained things she found problematic. I have to say, mission successful. This Dream-Quest has everything great about the original, but the writing feels modern, and not racist or sexist at all. Johnson’s Dream-Quest is an adventure story in a strange, fantasy world full of strange creatures, fantastic areas, and insane gods. The protagonist is the titular Vellitt Boe, a teacher at Ulthar’s Women’s Collage. I really enjoyed reading an adventure story about an older woman; Vellitt isn’t the type of heroine I would expect to find in a story like this, but she was such a fun character.

As well as great characters, this story has an amazing world. Of course, the credit for the Dreamlands has to go to Lovecraft, but Johnson has done an excellent job of bringing this world to life once again. Her descriptions of all the locations Vellitt visits are wonderfully evocative. Lovecraft’s worlds and mythos are wonderful, but Kij Johnson is a much better writer, adding more depth to the Dreamworlds and crafting an amazing plot. With dialog! Lovecraft was never that good at writing dialog. If you are interested in Lovecraftian stories but don’t like the man’s views or some of the themes he put in his stories, then I cannot recommend this re-telling enough.

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The Ballad of Black Tom – Victor LaValle

Another Lovecraft retelling from Tor.com. I am loving all these modern takes on Lovecraft. Like Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country, The Ballad of Black Tom explores the horrors of racism through Lovecraftian themes. This is a re-imagining of Lovecraft’s The Horror at Red Hook, which I haven’t read yet. I was intending to read The Horror at Red Hook before I read Black Tom, but at the end of the day, I didn’t want to delay reading a really good story in order to slug away at what is considered to be one of Lovecraft’s most poorly written works. Especially since it supposedly relies on the reader being xenophobic in order to be frightening. Maybe I’ll go back and read it if I get all these novellas read before voting closes. Whilst I don’t have any desire to read The Horror at Red Hook, I loved The Ballad of Black Tom enough to be interested in that extra context.

This is the story of Tommy Tester, and Detective Malone. But mostly of Tommy Tester, aka Black Tom. Tom hustles to make a living, and ends up crossing the path of a man who wants to wake the Sleeping King, bringing about the end of the world as we know it. You’d think Tom would want to get the hell away from that level of evil, but being black in the 1920s means Tom actually does get to face great evils from other places too. It’s quite scary seeing just what can happen when you push someone too far.

Then the second half of the novella focuses on Detective Malone, and more on the gory, traditional Lovecraft horror. Some of the things Malone encounters are quite horrific, and the descriptions of these horrors would make Lovecraft proud.

This is another must read for anyone interested in Lovecraft’s mythos but unwilling to read the originals. Actually no, this is a must read for any horror fan out there.

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Every Heart a Doorway –  Seanan McGuire

This novella has received so much hype. I’ve been wanting to read it for ages, but the price in the kindle store was more than I was willing to pay for a novella. I’m glad I didn’t go out and buy this story straight away; this story is amazing, but I feel it falls short of the hype.

Every Heart a Doorway is about what happens to children that travel to magical worlds after the adventure ends and they return home. These children come home to parents that are worried sick about them, and who don’t believe that they have been on magical adventures. The kids have changed during their time in their magical world, and have come to view the other world as home. The story features a secluded boarding school where these wayward children get sent to so they can ‘recover from their delusions’. However, the headmistress has actually been to her own magical world, and helps her students in ways the parents wouldn’t approve of.

It’s a wonderful story, with really engaging characters, diverse magical worlds, and a great fantasy vibe even as the plot began to get really dark. The writing is top notch, and it features transgender and asexual characters. But when you hear a story being praised for a year, and see that story win tons of awards, the bar gets set extremely high, and Every Heart a Doorway fell short of my expectations.

The big problem for me was with the pacing; the plot rushes forward before we’re really finished getting introduced to all the characters and the setting. This causes problems with the character’s reactions to the action. For example, the main character – Nancy – discovers the mutilated body of another student. A few minutes later, she is asking one of the other students about the world they went to. I don’t think these are problems with the plot itself or the characterisation. I just feel that there wasn’t enough space for both the character’s backstories and the plot to be fully explored, and by cramming both together everything was thrown off. Every Heart a Doorway needed to be longer.

That being said, I can’t wait to read the next novella in the series, Down Among the Sticks and Bones. I feel that since it focuses on what I thought was the best part of Every Heart a Doorway (going to a magical world) I’ll probably like it even better.

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This Census-TakerChina Miéville

I’m not really sure what to make of this one. It’s been on my to-read list for a while, but I just had a lot of trouble getting into it. It was confusing at first, but slowly the world building and the story started falling in place. It had a lot of details I really liked, and I also liked the writing style.

This story is about a little boy who lives on an isolated hill with no-one else around except his parents. One day, he witnesses his father kill his mother, but none of the townspeople downhill believe him, so he is forced to continue living on the hill alone with his father. It’s creepy, but I’m not sure I’d consider this horror.

I really liked the characters. Only two of them actually get names, but I never noticed until after I was done. As for the worldbuilding, I would have liked a bit more, but what we got gave us a nice, subtle look at a world falling apart, with hints of past wars. I suppose more information would have ruined the effect, but I feel that there was a bit too much left unexplained.

That being said, I still had trouble with this story. It ended abruptly, and whilst the writing and characters and worldbuilding were all really good, I had trouble getting into it. I think it was that slow start; by the time I had the story figured out and was getting interested, it was starting to draw to a close.

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A Taste of HoneyKai Ashante Wilson

Every other novella on this list I had heard about before reading. A Taste of Honey was the only one that I hadn’t heard of before, and I had no idea what to expect going in.

And damn, this story blew me away. Which is weird, because it is mostly a romance in a high fantasy setting; not the sort of thing I usually go for. It’s the story of Aqib, master of the menagerie in the kingdom of Olorum. One night while walking the prince’s cheetah, he meets Lucrio, a visiting Centurion from the Empire of Daluça. The two hit it off and begin a whirlwind romance. There are some problems though; firstly, Olorum is a very homophobic place, so Aqib and Lucrio must keep their relationship a secret. Secondly, Lucrio and the other Daluçans are returning home in a few days, meaning Aqib must choose between young love and his family obligations.

The story is written in an interesting style, which jumps between different times in Aqib’s life. Aqib is a wonderful, multi-dimensional character who I really came to care about, and this style and the pacing helps bring Aqib’s world and challenges to life. His relationship with Lucrio, as well as all the members of his family, all felt real. Though I would have liked to see more of his father and brother after Aqib made his decision. And I suppose the idea of such a strong romantic relationship forming in such a short time is a bit silly, but the way Wilson writes make it feel real.

The worldbuilding was good. Daluça is Fantasy Rome, and I feel Olorum might be an expy of North Africa, or the Moors, but it felt like a fantasy world. A fantasy world that runs on Clarke’s Law; everything the ‘gods’ say is extreme technobabble that makes no sense to Aqib or the reader, but it made the magic and the religion of the world seem real and unique.

I loved the ending of this story. I feel that deserves special mention, because it is the type of ending that could have been handled badly. That ending had the potential to feel like a rip off and cheapen the story, but in Wilson’s hands it felt perfect. I was so happy reading it. It was the perfect ending to an absolutely amazing story. Definitely want to read The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps now, which I believe is set in the same universe.

 

Okay, that’s my Hugo reading done for the year. I may have a look at the Best New Writer nominees since I have the time, but on the other hand I feel I need to go read something else for a while. Oh well, we’ll just have to see what happens next. Until next time, happy reading everyone.

 

~ Lauren

Hugo Award Novelette Finalists 2017

This was a really fun group of novelettes. Three fantasy stories, and three science fiction stories. Well, kinda three science fiction stories. Touring With the Alien and You’ll Surely Drown Here if you Stay were both on my ballot, and I feel they’ve come up against worthy competition for the most part.

I think it’s interesting that all six nominees were written by women. I don’t know if that’s happened before. I think it’s even more interesting that this is interesting, since for many years it was normal for all nominees in a given category to be men.

Before I get to the reviews, let’s address the elephant in the room. Yes, there is dinosaur porn on this list.  I don’t get graphic with my review, and don’t use any bad words.

 

The Art of Space Travel – Nina Allan

Read it Here

A well written story where the science fiction elements are a background for a character driven family story. The main character, Emily, is the housekeeper at a hotel where two astronauts going on a one way trip to Mars will be staying. The upcoming mission and the presence of the astronauts causes Emily to reflect on certain parts of her own life. As she thinks about all the future children who’ll be born on Mars with no connection to their Earth heritage, she also tried to find her unknown father, who she believes is connected to the failed first Mars mission.

It’s a nice story, with some really strong character development. Though, I have to wonder if it really is SF enough to be a Hugo nominee. Of course, the fact that it was nominated means it has passed that requirement, and I enjoyed this story enough that I’m not complaining.

 

The Jewel and Her Lapidary – Fran Wilde

Read it Here

A fantasy with a gemstone-based magic system. I’ve been on a Steven Universe binge lately, so reading about rulers called jewels, and gems that can ‘speak’ made me visualise this story in strange ways at first. The world building was good, but I feel this story might not have been long enough to give us both the world building and the character development it could have had. Maybe if it was a bit longer, or if we got rid of the travel guide segments. They were kinda cool, giving the story this ‘ancient, long forgotten-legend’ vibe, but I feel those words could have been better spent.

All in all, I liked this story a lot. It is a story of a royal court being betrayed by their servant and then conquered by an outside general. The only survivors are the princess Lin and her handmaiden (or rather, her lapidary), Sima. Lapidaries like Sima have power over the magical gems that the kingdom uses, but they are also enthralled by them. Lin and Sima must keep a powerful gem out of the usurper’s hands, while also saving Lin from having to marry the usurper’s son. The girls are young and somewhat powerless, and they’ll have to make some tough choices to get through this ordeal.

 

The Tomato Thief – Ursula Vernon

Read it Here

A fantasy with a Western feel. Grandma Harken lives out in the desert, and grows tomatoes.  When someone starts stealing her tomatoes, she sets out to find the thief, and ends up getting drawn into helping a woman trapped by a magic spell.

The story has a folk feel to it, and is influenced by Native American mythology. I say influenced, because while there were familiar elements, I don’t think any Native American peoples had train gods. This story does something I really like in fantasy stories; it shows the magic and/or mythology modernising with the rest of the world. Supernatural forces taking over the newly built railroad and then working out a truce with the spirits in the desert is fascinating to me. Of course, it wasn’t the main focus of the story, but it is one detail that made this world and this mythology seem so real to me.

After reading this story, I found out that it was actually a sequel to a nebula award-winning short story titled ‘Jackalope Wives’. There were a few events and references in The Tomato Thief that make more sense now that I know they tie into an earlier story, but I had no problem following along with this story. Despite being a sequel, it stands on its own.

 

Touring with the Alien – Carolyn Ives Gilman

Read it Here

Anything with unique aliens that are widely different to humanity is always a winner with me. In this story, alien spaceships have landed and after many years, no-one knows what they actually want. Avery gets a job giving one alien a tour. Yes, driving an alien around America in an RV. Of course Avery doesn’t see much of the alien – no-one has ever seen an alien – but she does get to know the alien’s interpreter. A human that was raised by the aliens and has no idea how to be human. It was fascinating seeing the two of them interact, and the aliens had such a different way of experiencing the world, which I had to think about a lot afterwards.

 

You’ll Surely Drown Here if you Stay – Alyssa Wong

Read it Here

Another western fantasy. This and the short story “A fist of permutations in lightning and wildflowers” were the first stories by Alyssa Wong that I’ve read, and I am eager to read more.

This story is about an orphan named Ellis who lives in a brothel, and his only friend is Marisol; one of the young ladies who works there. Ellis can shapeshift and reanimate the dead, amongst other things. One day a group of strange men arrive in town, and want to make use of his abilities. It’s a love story and a haunting story about things we can’t fully understand. Being written in second person made me feel a lot more connected to Ellis. I haven’t seen a lot of stories written in second person, but here Wong really makes it work.

 

Alien Stripper Boned from Behind by the T-Rex – Stix Hiscock

You Can Buy it Here if You Want

It is exactly what it says in the title. I don’t know how much more descriptive I can be. There were some funny parts, some titillating parts, and some plain-old dumb parts. This Novelette did make me laugh out loud at times, but more importantly, it made me shudder at the thought of sharp predator claws anywhere near a clitoris. There were parts of foreplay that also seemed like they would be quite painful. Like, really painful. Having a T-Rex sink his teeth in me seems like a horrible, horrible way to die.

There were also lots of typos.

I told my partner about this story, and he suggested that maybe the main character’s species could have weaponised their nipple-laser orgasms. Since her ex was a tentacle monster, we imagined them storming the battlefield together, with the tentacle monster aiming the breasts whilst jerking off their partner. Imagining that as a canon part of this universe made the story better.

 

Well, that’s this years novelettes done. I’ve also finished the Novels, so that just leave the Novellas. And then I’ll see what other categories I have time to look into.

~ Lauren

Review – Too Like The Lightning

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By Ada Palmer

Published 10/5/2016 (Tor Books)

Score: 8

 

I didn’t really know what to make of this book at first. I saw this book everywhere last year, with a lot of people raving about it. I put it on my ‘to read’ list, but was a bit reluctant to read it. Nothing I’d heard about the story really grabbed me. Then when Too Like the Lightning got nominated for a Hugo, I found out that it wasn’t available on the kindle store on Amazon’s Australian site, so I ended up getting it as an audio book. I was a bit doubtful going into this story, but I have to say that I’m glad I finally read it. Too Like the Lightning is an intelligent, cool, and unique book, and I am now firmly committed to continuing the series.

Too Like the Lightning is a hard story to describe. It is listed as political science-fiction, but it doesn’t really fit into any mold I have come across. It is a story told by notorious criminal Mycroft Cannar about the seven days during which a long era of peace and stability came to an end. Mycroft chooses to tell this story in the style of an 18th Century memoir, and often breaks the fourth wall. The philosophies of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment also play a huge role in this story.

Most of this book was dedicated to introducing us to the world of the 25th Century and the incestuous political system that keeps it going, with the actual plot being rather slow. I feel it needed to be this way, because this future world is very complicated, very strange, and yet it is presented so well. The story follows two different threads; the theft of a valuable seven-ten list (a list that ranks the most powerful people in the world, and that has an impact on the future balance of power) and Mycroft trying to protect Bridger, a boy who can bring inanimate objects to life.

Yes, he can bring inanimate objects to life. This is why I find it so hard to put this book in a simple category; it is science fiction with flying cars and everything, but this inexplicable miracle adds a fantasy feel to the story. I loved Bridger and his toy soldiers so much. I would have liked to spend more time with them, but it is made clear that the story of the seven-ten list is the main story Mycroft has been made to narrate. I feel it is a bit unfair to judge the plot of Too Like the Lightning, since not much is resolved. Don’t get me wrong, we get enough answers, but Too Like the Lightning and Seven Surrenders feel like two halves of the same book, and without reading Seven Surrenders, I feel I have an incomplete view of the plot.

This book does some very interesting things with gender. In this society, it is taboo to display gender, or refer to people with gendered pronouns. Our narrator Mycroft does gender people, however it is made clear that the pronouns he assigns other characters don’t necessarily correspond to their actual sex, but rather how Mycroft wants us to view said character. For example, the main antagonist is assigned male pronouns, though it is made clear that the character in question is a woman. It’s a fascinating way to look at gender politics, and the assumptions we make about people based on their gender.

I should also mention again that I didn’t technically read this book. I listened to it as an audiobook, narrated by Jefferson Mays. Considering this is my first audiobook, I can’t really say how good the narration was compared to other audiobooks, but I feel that Mays did an excellent job here. His narration drew me into Mycroft’s story, and I liked a lot of the character voices he did. I’m going to continue to get audiobooks after this; I didn’t think I’d be that big a fan of the format, but considering how much I drive, they actually work quite well for me.

All in all, Too Like the Lightning is a unique, intelligent book. In some places, it does feel like it’s trying too hard to be smart. There was a chapter where almost all the dialog was in Latin. Not like, in universe they were speaking Latin but we read it as English, we actually had to read the Latin. Between each line of dialog there was a translation, and it made the entire conversation drag on. The focus on the 18th Century and the Enlightenment was interesting, but it gave the story a very Eurocentric feel despite having a diverse cast and a lot of the action taking place in Chile. I suppose it doesn’t help that the Middle East has been mostly destroyed, a large part of Africa is a reserve, and most of Asia is represented by one faction. Whilst we’re talking about the story’s flaws, I should mention that some of the debauchery near the end felt a bit over-the-top.

But I’m still eager to continue this series. If you aren’t put off by the antiquated writing style and the minor flaws I just mentioned, then you’ll find Too Like the Lightning to be a fascinating book unlike anything else you’ve read before.

 

~ Lauren