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

Too Like the Lightning26114545

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

 

 

Hugo Award Short Story Finalists 2017

Short Stories 2017

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…,

 

The City Born Great – N.K. Jemisin

Read it here

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

Read it here

That first paragraph was super tight;

“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.

 

Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies – Brooke Bolander

Read it here

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.

 

Seasons of Glass and Iron – Amal El-Mohtar

Read it here

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

Read it here

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.

~ Lauren

三体 by Liu Cixin and Wayfarers by Becky Chambers

20170529_092321I 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.

 

~ Lauren

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review – The Source

The Source

By Ayreon

Released 28th April 2017 (Mascot Label Group)

Starring:

James LaBrie, Simone Simons, Floor Jansen, Hansi Kürsch, Tobias Sammet, Tommy Karevik, Michael Mills, Russel Allen, Tommy Rogers and Zaher Zorgati

Score: 9/10

 

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.

~ Lauren

 

 

Review – New York 2140

New York 214029570143

By Kim Stanley Robinson

Published March 14th 2017 (Orbit)

Score: 8

 

2312 is the only other book by Kim Stanley Robinson that I have read (a scandal, I know!) and I loved it so much I had to grab this one too. New York 2140 is about well, New York in the year 2140. This is a future where we haven’t done enough to prevent global warming, and all the great coastal cities of the world have been drowned by rising sea levels. Even though the entire planet has been devastated, we focus on just a handful of characters who live in the Metropolitan Life Tower. Each character has their own story, and eventually they all come together.

The world building in this book is superb. Robinson goes into great detail laying out the flooded future city. Skyscrapers are self-sufficient islands, traffic is boats (except in winter, where the flooded streets freeze and walking becomes possible) and every day is a struggle to keep the city standing. This post-apocalyptic New York feels terrifyingly real, and all too plausible.

I loved the environmental parts of the world building, and the characters were all fun too. There weren’t any parts where I just thought ‘let’s get this over with and get back to the cool characters’, but at the same time no-one really stood out as a favourite character. It’s also interesting that the writing style changes for different characters. For example, Franklin’s parts are all told in first person, while Mutt and Jeff’s parts are mostly told through dialog, and the ‘citizen’ parts are all very stream of consciousness. The characters were interesting enough, but they weren’t the stars of the story. What you’re really here for is the ideas, and the huge disasters that have befallen the city.

We have downtown New York completely flooded. Animals going extinct so often that more extreme measures are being taken to protect them. We have crazy weather wrecking the world. My favourite part of the book was when a huge hurricane hit the city, and the characters were all doing what they could to stay safe and help others clean up afterwards.

I loved reading about this future and the state of the world. Unfortunately, the climate focus was only the main focus for the first half of the book. For the rest of the story the focus is on the financial aspect of the world. This was good for a while, but the world financial system is unbelievably complex and boring. Also the ending dragged out much longer than it should have.

I also better mention the info-dumps. Because it just wouldn’t be a Kim Stanley Robinson book without entire sections dedicated to dumping both plot-relevant and trivial information on us. I feel Robinson is one of those rare writers whose writing style makes such info-dumps quite pleasant to read. In the first such info-dump chapter, he even mentions that it is entirely possible to skip these sections, a bit like what Victor Hugo did with Les Misérables. We get info-dumps on finance, climate, history of New York, geography of New York, basically a lot of topics that fill out this future more.

I glossed over some of the info-dumps about financial systems, but while I would have preferred to read more about how climate change wrecked the world and the changes it has forced us to make, the focus on Wall Street didn’t ruin the story for me. I think it’s very important that the story wasn’t entirely about a group of tenacious people trying to be carbon neutral and thrive in a post-carbon world. The focus was on why we didn’t solve all our environmental problems until well after it was too late. The focus was on the regular people being unable or unwilling to change a world system that made the extremely rich richer while the people and planet went down the drain. This story reminds us that profit can still be made on a warming planet, hence why there is so much resistance to protecting the environment.

It made me angry, but angry with the real world rather than the story. I can see our system treating the world and us this badly. This book made me want to do something about the way the world is run, while also reminding me that no single individual can save the world. New York 2140 talks about a range of problems we’ll face in the future; the obvious environmental changes, the animal extinctions, the refugee crises, and uneven wealth distribution all get discussed in great detail. Do not read this book if you don’t want to find yourself depressed and angry with the world. Do read it if you care about global warming and the challenges that’ll bring.

~ Lauren

 

 

 

Review – Two Girls

Two Girls33792520

By Justin Sirois

Published 15/3/17 (Kindle Press)

Score: 7/10

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Lauren

 

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

2016 Novellas, Novelettes and Short Stories

Novellas, Novelettes and Short Stories

 

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

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

 

Novellas

 

The Coward’s Option

By Adam-Troy Castro

Analog Science Fiction and Fact

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

 

Progress Report

Rajnar Vajra

Analog Science Fiction and Fac

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

 

Penric and the Sharman

Lois McMaster Bujold

Spectrum Literary Agency

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

 

The Vanishing Kind

Lavie Tidhar

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

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

 

The Dream Quest of Vellitt Boe

Kij Johnson

Tor.com

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

 

Novelettes

 

You’ll Surely Drown if you Stay

Alyssa Wong

Uncanny

Read it Here

 

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

 

Not Quite Taterona Kempi

Ryan W. Norris

Analog Science Fiction and Fact

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

 

Touring with the Alien

Carolyn Ives Gilman

Clarkesworld

Read it Here

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

 

Foxfire Foxfire

Yoon Ha Lee

Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Read it Here

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

 

Everyone from Themis Sends Letters Home

Genevieve Valentine

Clarkesworld

Read it Here

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

 

Prodigal

Gord Seller

Analog Science Fiction and Fact

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

 

Short Stories

 

In the Absence of Instructions to the Contrary

Frank Wu

Analog Science Fiction and Fact

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

 

The One Who Isn’t

Ted Kosmatka

Lightspeed

Read it Here

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

 

Seven Birthdays

Ken Liu

Beyond Infinity

Read it Here

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

 

Last One Out

K.B. Rylander

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

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

 

That Game We Played During the War

Carrie Vaughn

Tor.com

Read it Here

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

 

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

Margret Ronald

Clarkeworld

Read it Here

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

 

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

Oliver Buckram

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

Hilarious.

 

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

 

~Lauren

 

 

Review – Lovecraft Country

Lovecraft Countryunboxing1v5

By Matt Ruff

Published 16/2/16

Score: 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Lauren

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review – The Three-Body Problem

The Three-Body Problem20518872

By Cixin Liu (Translated by Ken Liu)

Published 11/11/2014

(First English translation, originally published 2007)

Score: 9/10

I’m a bit late to the party here. This book has already sold over a million copies in China, and the hype for the English translation was massive back in 2014. It then went on to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2015, and everyone was talking about it at the time. Now the conclusion of this series, Death’s End is out, but I’m still just starting the series.

Let me first say, that I can see where all the hype comes from. This story is amazing. I really should have read it sooner. If you like hard science fiction and have heard of this book, I recommend you get it. If you are interested in an alien contact story told from a Chinese perspective, then get it. If you don’t like your science fiction hard and don’t want to explore complex ideas in physics and computers… then maybe give this one a miss. I wouldn’t say it’s as hard as some of Hal Clement’s stuff, and the focus is more on humanity than technology, but there is a lot of complex information in there, and the characterisation could be better.

I suppose there are a lot of info-dumps at times, but they were important enough, and spread out enough that I rarely felt like I was reading info-dumps. There are also some violations of the ‘show don’t tell’ rule that I think are justified due to the fact that this is a translation. There are a lot of translator’s footnotes, but to keep them to a minimum translator Ken Liu did add a few sentences to explain things that are such an obvious part of Chinese culture that the author had no need to explain them in the original text. Like how ‘Da Shi’ is a nickname that means Big Shi, or certain information about the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Sometimes this info-dumping stands out in a bad way, but I think leaving them out would have hurt the translation.

Reviewing this book is hard, because it’s very easy to spoil the plot. Not because there are any huge twists in the story, but because it’s the kind of story that works best when you go in completely ignorant of what’s happening and make those discoveries along with the characters. If this is your first time hearing about Three-Body Problem and you think it’s something you’ll want to read, my advice is DO NOT READ THE SYNOPSIS. You aren’t going to get any Snape kills Dumbledore level spoilers, but I think you’ll have more fun not knowing much.

That being said, I better say something about the plot. Basically, we start with Ye Wenjie, who sees her father publicly beaten to death during the Cultural Revolution. She then gets really screwed-over during the 70s, and does something that will change Human history. We then cut to the present, where nanotech engineer Wang Miao is asked to help investigate a bunch of strange suicides amongst elite scientists. Somehow, everything is connected by a virtual reality game called Three-Body, which is like Civilization but with frequent apocalypses. Also, there are aliens in there somewhere, and how Humans react to them is very important. I wish I could say more about the aliens; I think I drove my partner crazy talking about them.

Before I go, I should mention that this book is being made into a movie in China. It was meant to be released last year, but got pushed back to this year. As of now, I can’t find a trailer for it, but I am still pumped to see some of the scenes from this book brought to life.

Happy reading everyone,

~Lauren