Engel credits the inspiration of this book to George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. As the title suggests, it’s a story more inspired by 1984 than Brave New World. 2084 could almost be considered a modern, YA re-imagining of 1984.
2084 follows Vincent, a high school student who lives in an isolated community called a Seclusion. The ever-constant TVs of 1984 are no-where to be found in the Seclusion. Instead, everyone wears devices called lenses, which are contact lenses with the capabilities of a smartphone. Amongst all the mundane functions of the lenses, there are two big things they can do. The first is run simulations; VR programs that provide education and entertainment. In other words, brainwash the population, and then use pleasurable simulations to keep the people happy and unable to speak or think clearly, like the drug Soma in Brave New World.
Most importantly though, the lenses also record everything their wearer sees. For security reasons. This world has a terrorist problem you see. Vincent cherishes the few minutes a day when he can remove his lenses, but not long after the book starts, everyone gets new lenses that can’t be taken out. After that discovery, Vincent becomes a target for Newsight; the company that makes the lenses and which is lobbying for less restrictions on what it can do with the data the lenses provide.
2084 differs from 1984 in that in the latter, Big Brother’s dystopia is well established and so powerful that nothing can be done to stop it. In this story though, the permanent lenses are only just getting handed out and Newsight still needs to lobby the Senate. We have the appearance of hope, which makes Vincent’s escape and resistance more exciting. It also makes the setbacks he experiences more shocking.
Whilst there are a lot of intentional similarities between the two stories, there are some important aspects of the 1984 world that Engel doesn’t re-explore. There is no equivalent of Newspeak, which was disappointing considering how language played such an important role in limiting people’s ability to resist in 1984. The closest Engel gets is including a few slogans. Manipulation of the truth also isn’t one of Newsight’s concerns, and yet it was what terrified me the most about Orwell’s world, and what scares me the most about our current post-truth politics. Here though, Newsight hasn’t got the ability to change its mind about who the nation is at war with right in the middle of a rally and have the entire population roll with it. Or at least, I saw nothing in the story to suggest they could do that.
Of course, these are areas where I think Orwell has said all that needs to be said in a way that no-one else will be able to top, so shifting the focus to the constant attempts to use the threat of terrorism to undermine our privacy, and the ever growing power of large corporations isn’t a bad thing. The shift in focus helps 2084 feel like something new and distinct from 1984, but the more I think about it the more I miss Orwell’s most pervasive themes.
A lot of the best parts of this book are still those that resemble Orwell’s book the most. Whether you see this as a faithful homage or a blatant rip-off is a subjective issue, though I tend towards the former.
As to the quality of the writing, we get a mixed bag. There are some scenes written so well that they really drive the horror home. Most notable is when Vincent tries to take his new lenses out and realises that they are stuck to his eyeballs. On the other hand, this book really needed another run through with a red pen. There are some poorly worded sentences, and a number of grammatical and spelling errors. For example, using the word ‘gate’ instead of ‘gait’ in one instance. These errors aren’t everywhere in the book, but they were common enough to make me lower my rating.
2084 is not without its flaws, but it is still an impressive debut novel. Today more than ever, we need to remember what Orwell warned us about in 1984, and here we are once again reminded of just how easily we could find ourselves completely controlled.
This is a book that has been sitting on my bookcase for years. It is also the first novel by Rusch that I have ever read, though I have read many of her shorter works and enjoyed them. Alien Influences is a ‘fix-up’, a novel constructed from a number of short stories. I haven’t read the original stories and am not sure how much of this book is original or reused. I’m only going to judge this story as a whole.
Alien Influences is the story about Humans on a colony world called Bountiful, which produces a valuable drug and is home to an alien race called the Dancers. The Dancers have a number of differences to Humans, such as an apparent inability to recall the past. Their heart, lungs, and hands also work like our teeth; the baby forms fall out to make way for more permanent replacements. The Dancers speed up this process with a ritual that removes a child’s heart, lungs, and hands, allowing them to grow up. When a few Human children turn up dead and mutilated in the same way, this understandably causes some tensions between the colonists and the Dancers. There are also questions on how the colonist’s children are influenced by spending time with these aliens.
Given that this is a fix-up novel, the book suffers from some pacing issues and an uneven plot. We start with what seems like a murder mystery/ethical dilemma, with questions about how to ethically deal with aliens who see killing and mutilating children as a good thing, and cannot be taught that Humans don’t work that why because they learn through instinct and repetition rather than knowledge of the past. This story comes to a satisfying end (for a short story) but then the book goes on to other stuff. First we get the trials of the Humans involved in the whole affair. We also see the Human government being extremely corrupt and terrible, and get hints that there will be a legal drama that seeks to undo it… but that never really materialises. Then we have a time skip, and find out what happened to the children that were influenced by the Dancers at the start. One of these children has become a bounty hunter, and ends up having to go back to Bountiful and confront his past.
I really enjoyed the first part, even though the true nature of the murders was quite obvious. Though to be fair, part of the reason it was obvious was because of the blurb. I also liked the end part, where John is a bounty hunter going after first a creature called a Bodeangenie and then some very special Dancer jars. There were also cool bits in the middle, but overall it got pretty slow there. And we never really get to see anything get done about the big government cover-up. A lot of the problems facing the characters in the second part of the book seemed to just disappeared on their own during the time skip.
Another problem I had was that I went in expecting a science fiction book, but it’s more of a fantasy in a sci-fi setting. This threw me for a while, because I was trying to figure out how the magic worked rather than just accepting it as magic. I’ve read a lot of books lately that blur the line between science fiction and fantasy and enjoyed them, but this didn’t go over so well for me. Until right near the end it just feels like a SF story with fantasy elements being patched on.
Alien Influences has some interesting ideas, and a lot of really emotional scenes. I really felt for a lot of the characters, and enjoyed this story despite the issues with the fix-up nature of the plot.
Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee & Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer
Score: 10/10 for Both
After talking about this year’s Hugo nominees, I was excited to dive into not one, but two sequels to those books. First I read Raven Stratagem, the sequel to Ninefox Gambit, and then I immediately followed up it up with Seven Surrenders (Sequel to Too Like the Lightning) on Audible. All I can say is WOW, both books are amazing, and reading them so close together made July probably my best month for reading. Both are 10/10 books for me.
I suppose I should be giving these books both separate reviews, but since I have already reviewed the previous books in both series I feel doing full reviews would see me repeating myself a lot. I’ve also been a bit busy on my own writing, so I’ve had less time to do reviews.
I’ll start with Raven Stratagem. Last year I gave Ninefox Gambit a perfect score, but warned that it was a book that didn’t explain much of the world and would require the reader to pay a lot of attention. The first thing I noticed about Raven Stratagem was that there was a fair bit of exposition at the start to explain the world. This worried me at first, even though it is standard practice for sequels to have that bit of catch up exposition for people who haven’t read the first one. I feared that some of the wonder of the world would be lost if Yoon Ha Lee started explaining everything as we went. I soon found my fears were unfounded. Once the obligatory second-book exposition was done it was all action, and I found I really liked having everything I’d learned from the first book confirmed and re-explained.
In Raven Stratagem, the crazy undead general Shuos Jedao, who is possessing the body of Captain Kel Cheris, captures a fleet, and we see how the Hexarchate scrambles to respond to this new threat. We have epic space battles, a range of interesting characters, and no idea just how things are going to go down until the end.
Whilst the first book dealt with one battle and really showed how war is hell and the toll fighting a war takes on individual soldiers. In Raven Stratagem we zoom out, and instead see how even without actively participating in a war, life in an oppressive regime can be hell. The Hexarchate has a faction called the Vidona, who are responsible for the public, ritualistic torturing of heretics. (For extra horror, the Vidona are also this civilisation’s schoolteachers.) At one point, the Hexarchate tries to get Jedao/Cheris to give up by committing genocide against Cheris’s ethnic group. After this declaration, we get a few snippets from the point of view of these innocent genocide victims who have played no role in the story, just to show that once again the decisions those in power make have a real impact on other people.
There is one issue that Raven Stratagem has that I can already see has divided people. In Ninefox Gambit, we saw the world mostly through Cheris’s eyes. Her relationship with Jedao was one of the highlights of Gambit, and after the end of that book, I was really eager to get back in their head and see how that huge ending had altered them, and how much of each one of them was left. However, Stratagem doesn’t give us this until near the end. This is understandable, since if we were in their head and knew what Jedao was planning, a lot of the suspense would be gone, but it is a dynamic that is sorely missed.
The upside though is that we get other viewpoint characters who give us a much wider view of the world. And damn the worldbuilding continues to be amazing. The culture of the Hexarchate has a very East Asian feel to it, going off the naming conventions, food, artworks, card games etc. In Ninefox Gambit we spent most of the story at the Fortress of Scattered Needles, so we were limited in how much of this galaxy we saw.
Raven Stratagem was a perfect continuation of the series. At first, I thought it might be the end of the series, but I’ve been assured that this is a trilogy, and I will be looking out for any word on book 3.
Now we get to Seven Surrenders. I enjoyed Too Like the Lightning; it was a unique story completely unlike anything I’ve read before. However, there were parts of Too Like the Lightning that I felt dragged on a bit, and there was a lot about the world and the characters left unexplained. I feel that Seven Surrenders fixes these issues, and delivers an impossible to put down ride. There is no catch-up exposition at the start; In universe, Seven Surrenders is Vol.2 of Mycroft Canner’s history, and therefore it is expected that you’ve read Vol.1. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend reading Raven Stratagem without reading Ninefox Gambit, I think doing so would be possible, though very confusing. Not so with Seven Surrenders; if you try to start here, you’ll have no idea what’s happening. Too Like the Lightning and Seven Surrenders between them cover just seven days of plot and feature dozens of important characters.
Given that this book is an immediate continuation of Too Like the Lightning, most of the things I loved about it I’ve already talked about. The worldbuilding is great; we get shown those futuristic flying cars we’ve wanted for decades but we also see how they change the world. The big focus of the series is the politics of this new world, and as the story progresses and we see the conspiracies the rulers of this utopia have become involved in, we can’t help getting drawn into the plot. In Seven Surrenders, all these conspiracies begin unravelling at once and it is glorious to see.
We also get a better look at some off the characters. Our narrator Mycroft provides more information about why he did the horrible things he did, and we also discover the true nature of the enigmatic J.E.D.D Mason, which is quite a ‘Whoa, WTF’ moment. It’s really a testament to Ada Palmer’s skill that she can have so many memorable characters in one story. (Hell, she gets so many memorable characters in just one room, and it still works.)
This series discusses a lot of different ideas about religion, gender, and war. We see a peaceful world that hasn’t known war for 300 years, but throughout the series there is a dread that war might return to the world, and with the new technology and lack of experience, it’ll be the worst war ever known. This makes a lot of sense, and really made me think about the problems that come with maintaining peace for so long. I wasn’t so interested in the discussions on gender. This future society tries to avoid gendering people, and one of the characters tries to use society’s lack of experience with gender roles as a weapon. I’m not really buying that idea, and I also think it’s weird that all the ‘feminine’ social activities fall under the jurisdiction of just one of the Hives. But the discussion was done in an interesting way, and I didn’t feel like I was being preached at about the author’s views; this was just the way gender worked in this universe.
In short, Seven Surrenders was amazing. It wrapped up the stories quite well, whilst also setting the stage for the next pair of books, which will depict how this war will be thought.
2016 saw some amazing books, and already 2017 is proving to be just as good. I cannot recommend these two series enough; they just keep getting better.
And now that I’ve done that, I really need to read some of the older books that have been sitting on my shelf for a few years. Give them some love. At least until The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin comes out.
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.
All the Birds in the Sky – Charlie Jane Anders;
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.
A Closed and Common Orbit – Becky Chambers;
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?
Death’s End – Cixin Liu;
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.
Ninefox Gambit – Yoon Ha Lee;
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.
The Obelisk Gate – N.K. Jemisin;
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.
Too Like the Lightning – Ada Palmer;
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe – Kij 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.
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.
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.
This Census-Taker – China 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.
A Taste of Honey – Kai 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
I Finally read all the short stories for this years Hugo Award. All but one of these stories can be read free online, and I would recommend all but one of the stories on this list. Only That Game we Played During the War was on my nomination ballot, but that isn’t going to make my vote out of these finalists any easier. We have five amazing short stories this year, and they are…,
It seems everywhere I look nowadays, I end up seeing New York. I read this while also reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140, so I felt more connected to the setting here than I think I otherwise would have been. In other words, I know just enough about New York to appreciate how much someone who has been there would love some of the shout-outs to different areas this story makes.
For those who aren’t entirely in love with New York, there is still a lot to love about this story. It’s the story of cities coming to life in a reality-warping, eldritch way. The narrator is a homeless black man, who must now avoid unspeakable horrors as well as dealing with the everyday problems of getting food and shelter and avoiding the attention of the NYPD. The portrayal of police here may rub some readers the wrong way, but considering the way homeless people -especially homeless people of colour – are often harassed by police, I think the protagonist’s concerns are justified. There was a really intense chase scene here that I loved.
A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers – Alyssa Wong
“There was nothing phoenix-like in my sister’s immolation. Just the scent of charred skin, unbearable heat, the inharmonious sound of her last, grief-raw scream as she evaporated, leaving glass footprints seared into the desert sand.”
All the language in this story is beautiful and emotionally charged. Though one thing it doesn’t do is state clearly what it is happening. This is the type of story where you have to decipher what’s going on a bit, but I feel it was worth it. Once I got to the end I re-read the start and suddenly everything was clear.
In this story, Hannah and Melanie are two sisters that have power over both the weather and it seems over time. When Melanie uses her powers to commit suicide, Hannah attempts to alter the timeline to save her sister. This goes on more times than she can count, and comes with a heavy emotional toll.
I’ll re-read this story again before I actually cast my vote. It’s powerful, but I found it very esoteric first time around. Despite being short, this story tackles love and grief and rejection well, though I feel the writing style may be a bit too out there for some. I feel like it’s the sort of story that’ll get better with every re-read.
A super short fantasy/horror story; barely a thousand words long in fact. I’m finding it hard to comment on this story, as it’s so short I feel that mentioning anything about it here will away from the reading experience. I’ll say one thing; most of the story was told through a list of dot points. In a longer story, I would have found such a list a big no-no, but for something this length I feel it works really well. It’s a story of revenge, which contrasts the way rapists and killers often get fame of some kind to the way victims often face further degradation. But that’s not what’s going to happen this time, let’s just leave it at that.
A beautiful, modern fairy tale. It takes elements from two separate stories (The Enchanted Pig and The Princess on the Glass Mountain) and combines them into a tale of two women learning to free themselves from the unfair expectations and abuses of men. It subverts of a lot of the misogynist themes in fairy tales, while still keeping the magic.
The heroines of the story are Tabitha; a woman who is cursed to wear out seven pairs of iron shoes, and Amira, a princess who must sit atop a glass mountain and wait for a man to ride up to her in full armour. They meet and talk about their curses and geese, and become really close. It is possible to interpret their relationship as romantic, but it is just as plausible (and rewarding) to see them as friends.
That Game We Played During the War – Carrie Vaughn
This is one of the most fascinating depictions of telepathy I have ever seen. There is a war going on between two countries, one where everyone is telepathic and another of non-telepaths. The question on how to safely keep prisoners of war in this situation was very interesting. Likewise, we also see how easy it is for misconceptions about the enemy to terrify us during times of war. This story actually takes place after the war, with a non-telepathic nurse who both treated POWs and was herself a POW going into former enemy territory to visit her prisoner-turned-captor, and finish a game of chess they had started during the war. It is a really powerful story of reconciliation and peace.
An Unimaginable Light – John C. Wright
Originally appeared in the anthology God, Robot
A theological discussion between a robot and a human, that tries to examine free will and what it means to be human, and to prove a creationism. It doesn’t do this well, and what could have been a shocking reveal at the end just seemed silly. Shame, I think the plot and the reveal at the end could have been interesting if it was done by someone who wanted to tell a story, rather than spew bullshit.
The main female character is described with the words ‘pulchritudinous’, ‘callipygous’ and ‘leggy’ at the start, and later it is revealed that she has ‘creamy upper thighs’. Overall, the descriptions were bad, and the dialog was just terrible.
Then we get what I’m assuming are jabs at ‘lefties’. At one point a character replaces the phrase ‘his or her’ with the phrase ‘his or her or cis-his or cis-her or his-her or non-his or non-her’. I don’t know if that’s supposed to be satire, or if Wright really doesn’t know about gender neutral pronouns. You know, like ‘they’.
Best part about this story was when the male protagonist ended a debate about whether robots feel pain or are just mimicking it with a bitchslap and the line “I now require fellatio.”
In summery, this story is boring, hard to read, badly written, and overall stupid. Thank you Rabid Puppies.
The short stories this year were as a whole much more enjoyable than last year. I’m still tossing up on how to vote, but whichever one of these stories comes out on top would be a worthy winner.
I know it’s unfair to lump two great series together for one review, but after reading both series back to back for the Hugo Awards, I was struck by how utterly different they were to each other. These two series are total polar opposites, and I thought it would fun to compare the different views of the universe and alien life they have.
A word of warning. If you want to read both of these series back to back, start with Remembrance of Earth’s Past. Death’s End went to some really dark places, and I feel that reading The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet straight after was the best possible pick-me-up.
Okay, let’s talk a bit about the two series. You may remember Remembrance of Earth’s Past from when I reviewed the first book in the series, The Three-Body Problem, earlier this year. I tried not to go into too much detail about the plot on that review, since I think it’s a more fun read the less you know beforehand. I’ll try not to be too spoilery here, but I’ll have to reveal some information about the plot in order to discuss the whole series.
This series, (which I’m going to just refer to as 三体 from here on to save typing. The title is the Chinese title of The Three-Body Problem, and is often used to refer to the whole series) is hard science fiction. As in, no faster-than-light travel and detailed explanations for all the futuristic technologies we encounter. It is a story set in space and featuring aliens, but it is definitely not space opera.
The characters are scientists and military personal who over the course of many centuries try to defend Earth against alien invaders. I never really connected with any of the characters, but viewing the story as a long reaching future history nullified a lot of the characterisation problems. Of course, there were characterisation problems. Hard SF in general isn’t known for producing the most realistic, depth-filled characters, and this series in particular struggled at times.
Whilst I wasn’t that interested in any individual Humans in the story, I found myself deeply engaged and interested in the behaviour of humanity as a whole. Since there is no FTL travel in this universe, the human race has about 400 years of knowing that an alien invasion is on its way, and that we will never have the technology to defend ourselves. The reactions the general population has to each different development, and the out-of-the-box plans humanity has to come up with to try to protect itself, made for a fascinating, hard-to-put-down read.
The two books of the Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers were also hard to put down, but for different reasons. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit are space opera. Space opera with it’s easy FTL travel, journeys to different worlds, and numerous alien races. The technologies are not explained in great detail and at times the alien races feel a bit too human, but the characterisation more than makes up for it. In Angry Planet, we follow the crew of a hyperspace tunnelling ship.
They don’t get involved in any grand adventures, they don’t have to save the galaxy, nothing so exciting. They just have to go to this remote part of space and punch a hole in the fabric of space and time. On the way, they make stops to resupply and take shore-leave, and that’s about it. Occasionally something more serious does happen, but for the most part, they’re safe. Despite the lack of action, there is tons of character growth. Watching the crew grow, and watching how their relationships change as they learn more about each other was perfect.
A Closed and Common Orbit features a smaller cast of characters, and most of the action takes place on one planet, but it was still amazing. We watch Sidra the A.I. who is illegally downloaded into a synthetic body try to adjust to her new life, while also learning about Pepper, who was created to be a slave in a scrap heap on a restricted planet of enhanced humans, but escaped with the help of a friendly A.I. A beautiful character study, with what seemed to me a realistic depiction of an A.I’s struggles.
There are a lot of differences between these two series, but the one I’m most interested in is the two different views on alien life. In Wayfarers, humans are part of a galactic community. The Wayfarer itself is a multispecies crew, and Sidra goes out dancing with aliens. It’s not a perfect galaxy; there are wars, and prejudice, and not everyone likes humans, but it is a relatively safe and peaceful interstellar civilisation we get to enjoy. In 三体,this is not a possibility. Even if FTL travel was a thing, the universe is just too hostile and scary to support a multispecies civilisation. I can’t really go into details about why this is without giving out big spoilers, but Liu gives a very compelling reason for why we can’t all get along and go out clubbing together.
In 2010, Stephen Hawking warned that first contact with aliens could be a disaster for humanity. He compared Earth meeting aliens to Columbus landing in the New World, but with the destruction the Native Americans faced being repeated across the planet.
He does have a point. If aliens can reach Earth, then they probably have the technological superiority needed to destroy us. A counter-argument though would be that they would have no reason to do so. Any resources they could extract from the planet could be more easily obtained in space, and if they wanted a new home, then surely there would be plenty of uninhabited worlds out there for them to take. After all, Earth has been human-free but habitable for most of its life, so statistically, shouldn’t most habitable worlds be uninhabited? Slaves? If you can build a fleet of space ships, you can build a robot workforce. Ideology? Maybe, but if they’re the type to keep stirring up wars, they might not have the time or resources needed to explore the universe.
All things considered, if we make contact with aliens, we’d all be friendly, right? Technological restraints might prevent us from having the type of space opera universe we see in Wayfarers, but it’s not hard to picture some sort of community where we have peaceful relations with alien civilisations. Yet in 三体, Liu not only justifies why the trisolarian aliens are out to get us, but also paints a realistic picture of a universe where every alien race is hostile. I can’t say why, because that would spoil The Dark Forest, but if you really want to know without reading the books, google ‘dark forest theory’; the logic behind the 三体 universe should be easy enough to find from there.
三体 is a cynical and logical response to the optimism found in space operas like Star Wars, Star Trek, and other works like Wayfarers. Not only that, but the focus on technology and the realism the series employs make this hostile view of the universe seem not just possible, but highly likely.
It was a bit depressing seeing the usual tropes of an interstellar civilisation so drastically reversed. And yet it was also fascinating and thought-provoking. 三体 did dent my excitement at the prospect of meeting aliens and made the universe seem like a darker place, but I still enjoyed the series. Having your view of the universe changed is a big thing, and the 三体 books did it in a very enjoyable way. But I feel like I really needed a more optimistic space opera afterwards, and the two Wayfarers books were perfect for that. I loved both series, and both Death’s End and A Closed and Common Orbit deserve their places as finalists for the Hugo Award.
James LaBrie, Simone Simons, Floor Jansen, Hansi Kürsch, Tobias Sammet, Tommy Karevik, Michael Mills, Russel Allen, Tommy Rogers and Zaher Zorgati
I’m not going to make a habit of reviewing music. After all, just because readers are interested in the same books as me, doesn’t mean you’ll like the same music. But I have to talk about Ayreon at some point, especially now that there’s a new Ayreon album out and damn it sounds good.
Ayreon is the musical project of Arjen Anthony Lucassen, a Dutch singer, songwriter, musician and record producer. Ayreon albums are rock operas, with each one telling a complex story featuring multiple characters, each represented by a different vocalist. Describing the genre of Ayreon is tricky; the most apt label is prog, or progressive rock, but elements of power metal, folk, classical, and electronica music are also heavily featured. Each album tells a separate story, but all bar two of the albums are set in the same universe.
And this wider Ayreon universe is why I’m reviewing this album. The Ayreon albums tell a story of an alien race called the Forevers, who are kept alive by machines and no longer feel emotion. To help them regain these lost emotions, they seed Earth, thus creating Humanity (01011001). They run a number of tests on Humans (Into the Electric Castle and The Human Equation) but in the end we destroy ourselves (The Universal Migrator and again 01011001). We do attempt to prevent our destruction by sending a warning message back in time (The Final Experiment), but this isn’t so successful. It’s a great science fiction saga, which leans a bit on the fantasy side at times, but is a lot more complex than you’d think given the media.
The Source is a prequel to this saga, detailing how the original humans on planet Alpha became the Forevers. It details how the Alphans reliance on technology led to the destruction of their world and most of their population. The main characters are amongst the few survivors, who escape their dying world on a spaceship and relocate to an ocean world. To live on such a planet, they must undergo certain changes to their biology. They also aim to make other improvements using machinery, while also trying not to make the same mistakes as before.
I’ll admit, as a stand-alone story it isn’t the best Arjen has done, but as a prequel to the rest of the Ayreon story it works well. It is an emotional ride, and I loved hearing all the references to the wider story arc. Musically, it is a masterpiece. All the vocalists were great, and I especially loved Floor Jansen, Michael Mills, and Hansi Kürsch. But really all the performances were perfect. I’ve been listening to this album a lot since it came out. I’ve listened to the whole thing in its entirety, both with my full attention and in the background while driving. I’ve listened to individual songs (cannot get enough of Run! Apocalypse! Run! at the moment) but I don’t think I could pick a favourite one. Most of the tracks are good in very different ways; compare the heavy Everybody Dies with slower tracks like The Source Will Flow and All That Was. Arjen has unleashed another masterpiece on the world. He has been called a genius many times, and I feel that that label is well earned.
If you enjoy metal, or rock operas, or science fiction stories that kinda brush up against the fantasy border, then go check out Ayreon’s music. I find Youtube a good place to listen to music, but I think that makes me a bit of a weirdo when there are so many actual music streaming places out there. Check out Arjen’s official channel to listen to all the songs from The Source and see lyric music videos.
Reviewing music is much harder than reviewing books. I find it hard to articulate what I like about music; it’s a much more instinctual thing than books. But I can say that Ayreon is a truly epic, and unique experience. The Source is one of the best concept albums I have heard in a long time.