I went to Japan

Osaka Colour Pencil
Osaka Castle

…and I want to go back again as soon as I can. I loved everything over there, from the ancient shrines and palaces, to the modern world of Tokyo, with its shops and sky scrapers and giant robots.  This was my first overseas trip, and I just saw so many amazing things. I’e been having a blast sharing my happy snaps with friends and family, and I’ve also been drawing some of the things I’ve seen. I had to talk more about my experiences.

Sorry if you wanted more reviews. They’ll come soon.

My partner and I flew into Osaka, after a stop-over at Kuala Lumpur. I have never been in an airplane for that long, so that was an experience. Air travel is a rather everyday event, but there is so much that goes into it. If I’d wanted to travel to Japan 100 years ago, I would have been having a very different experience. It’s things like this that remind me that we are already living in a futuristic world.

I did make another observation while flying. On my journey I began reading Charlie Jane Anders’s new novel The City in the Middle of the Night. Not finished yet, but loving it so far. This book is set on a tidally locked planet where humans live in the habitable twilight realm and there are no natural indicators of the passage of time. While flying from Osaka to Kuala Lumpur, I got to a part in the story with characters adjusting to life in a city where no-one really bothers to officially keep track of the time. Everyone is on their own schedule and there is no attempt to synch up. When I got to Kuala Lumpur all jet-lagged and air sick, I felt like I had been transported to this crazy city. My body had no idea what time it was or how much sleep I had. Meanwhile all around me everyone else had just come in on flights from all over the world, and with people on so many different timezones it was rather disorientating. The Burger King always had a line because it was always someone’s lunchtime, and there were people sleeping everywhere. Now whenever I think of life on a tidally locked planet, I’m going to imagine it as constant jet lag at a busy international airport.

Now onto the actual adventure.

We stayed six nights in Osaka, and from there had day trips into Nara, Kyoto and Hiroshima. A day trip to Hiroshima from Osaka is only possible thanks to the Shinkansen bullet train. On regular trains, the trip takes five hours one way, but the Shinkansen makes it a manageable two. Again, I’m reminded how far technology is advancing and how small the world is getting. Of course, going to Hiroshima meant seeing the Atomic Bomb Dome (Genbaku Dome) and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum. That was an emotional experience.

Genbaku Dome
Atomic Bomb Dome

It seems lately that most apocalypses in fiction are caused by climate change rather than nuclear war. That’s understandable, with the end of the Cold War, nuclear war isn’t quite the boogeyman it once was. Meanwhile, we’re starting to see both the affects of climate change, and the reluctance of humanity to acknowledge and address the issue. In this age, it’s possible to forget just how close we still are to nuclear annihilation. Going to Hiroshima was hard, and the museum there does a great job of showing just how horrific the bombs were, and reminding us of just how many of these weapons there still are, and how ready people are to use them. It’s definitely a place people should see if they get the chance.

Torii
Itsukushima Floating Torii Gate

I should note that when I went there, most of the museum was closed for renovations. I don’t know how I would have gone emotionally seeing the whole thing. Being a day trip, we also couldn’t stay to see everything because we were going to the nearby Miyajima island. You may have seen pictures of Miyajima before, or at least of the floating torii gate the island is famous for. After going to Miyajima and seeing the torii and the Itsukushima shrine at low tide, I really want to go back to the island. Would be great to see the place at high tide, where the torii and shrine appear to float on the water, and would also be good to go up the mountain and see all the temples up there. The whole island feels really magical, and I would love a few days to explore it all.

deer graphite
Deer and lantern at Nara

Whilst Japan is a very modern country, there are also amazing ancient places to see. Nara was amazing, with deer that bowed for treats. They seem polite, but if you don’t feed them after they bow they get pushy. The highlight of Nara though was the Great Buddha at Todai-ji. The largest bronze statue of Buddha in the world, housed in one of the world’s largest wooden buildings. Being in this building was really awe-inspiring, and seeing something so big, and so ancient (built around 743CE) makes me understand the people who claim aliens built any impressive ancient wonder a bit better. Of course, the idea shows how little credit we give ancient peoples and has no evidence to back it up, but being around some huge ancient buildings makes me understand the disbelief better.

The temples and palaces of Kyoto are amazing, I especially enjoyed wandering around Higashiyama and the Kiyomizu-dera temple at evening. The area was lit up and everything was open late due to a festival, and it was just beautiful. The neighbourhood was full of old machiya houses lining a winding road of mostly foot traffic. As we went up hill, we even saw a pagoda in the distance. Also, one of the machiya houses was a starbucks. I really wanted to stop there, but the place was full. I’d love to go back to Kyoto and stay for a couple of nights.

We also saw a Samurai Kembu show at the Kyoto Samurai Kembu Theatre. Kembu is a form of interpretative dance with swords and fans set to traditional music and poetry. It has been used by the samurai for centuries, but modern kembu seems to have kicked off after the Meiji period when he samurai were stripped of their swords. The show we went to contained not only great choreography, but also explained a lot of elements of samurai culture in a fun way.

Tokyo
Tokyo

After a busy week exploring so many different parts of Japan, we took the Shinkansen to Tokyo. Akihabara to be exact. I’ve always thought that I could never live in a city, but after spending four nights in Tokyo, I think maybe Sydney just sucks. There was one department store called Radio Kaikan which had so many places selling Pokémon cards. As well as playing the card game, I also collect cards by some of my favourite illustrators. Since I don’t need to actually be able to read the text for this collection, I went crazy and bought a lot of common cards. My Tomakazu Komiya and Midori Hanada collections got a nice boost.

New friends getting ready to come home

Speaking of Pokémon, yes I went to the Pokémon Mega Centre and it was awesome. Bought myself some new plushie buddies, including a Ditto as Trubbish. Which reminds me, I should join Twitter so I can follow the Ditto as Electrode page. And also so I can do other Twitter stuff I suppose. I did so many Pokémon related things, that I became inspired to do a Nuzlocke. A Nuzlocke challenge is playing through a Pokémon game with the following restrictions: 1. You may only capture the first Pokémon you encounter in each area, and 2. If a Pokémon faints, it is considered ‘dead’ and cannot be used again in the game. 3. All Pokémon must be given nicknames, to increase how attached you get to them. There are endless additional rules to add, but these three are the universal ones. I’ll be playing on SoulSilver, because those gen 2 remakes are probably the best Pokémon games – hell, maybe even the best games – ever. I get so happy every time I play Silver.

Sakura
Cherry Blossum at Ueno Park

Whilst shopping in Tokyo was amazing, that wasn’t all we did there. We visited both Yoyogi and Ueno Parks, and whilst it isn’t technically cherry blossom season yet, we did get to see a few early bloomers. Such pretty trees. We crossed that massive crossing in Shibuya, and I also watched the madness from the Starbucks upstairs. Yes, I know it’s just crossing the road, but there are so many people everywhere that it felt pretty cool. Went up the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building and saw the whole city. It stretches on forever! And we made a stop at Asakusa Temple. That was our last full day in Tokyo and at that point I just wanted to stay on holiday forever. But I got a fortune at the temple and it told me to go back to my homeland. Stupid pragmatic fortune ruining my fantasy.

Gundam
Unicorn Gundam

And finally, we saw the Unicorn Gundam in Odiaba. My partner is really into anything giant robot related and has a ton of gunpla kits. When I was planning the holiday, his only condition was that we see the big Gundam. I could do whatever I wanted for the rest of the holiday, as long as he got to see the Gundam transform. So we went to Diver City (getting off at the Tokyo Teleport station. Love the name) and after a lot of gunpla shopping, we got to see this big boi light up and transform. It was awesome.

The whole trip was awesome.

I want to go back so bad.

But before I do that, I have another holiday to plan. Next year Worldcon will be held in New Zealand, and I can’t miss that.

 

~ Lauren

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No February Reviews (Yet?)

So, I’m going over to Japan in a few days. Now whilst I’ve been busy preparing for my holiday it was always my intention to have my February reviews up before I left. However, there has been a death in the family that has sapped both my time, and my will to be productive, so no reviews for now. I might put last months reviews up when I get home from my holiday, or maybe I’ll just make a combined February/March post next month.

I will say that I have read some interesting stories last month. Michael Flynn’s 2006 novel Eifelheim had me completely engrossed, and Josiah Bancroft’s novel Senlin Ascends has introduced me to a fascinating world. I’m also up to date on the gorgeous graphic story Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takada, and I’ve read some exceptional short fiction in Analog and The Dark, though I am still not up to date with either magazine. I have so much to talk about, and hopefully I’ll be in a state of mind to do so soon.

In other big news, Pokemon Gen VIII has been announced, with the new games named Sword and Shield. The setting is the Galar Region, aka, Pokemon UK, which means that this new region looks a bit like Westeros. The Game of Thrones similarities continue with the logos have what appears to be a wolf-like Pokemon in the design. Hell, the art for Pokemon Sword looks like it could be Longclaw. I’m still not sure about the starters, though I do seem to be in a minority for not instantly wanting Scorbunny. Again, there is a lot to talk about with these new games, but I’m just not in a position to do so at the moment.

In January I included a review of a music album, and whilst I don’t have any plans to include regular music reviews, I did like sharing songs. I’m going to try and include a Science Fiction/Fantasy music video of the month in my monthly reviews. Not necessarily a new release song, but just a music video or song with SF/F themes that I’ve been enjoying lately.

This month, my featured song will be a shout out to an amazing band that I saw live in February. The one and only Ninja Sex Party. Go listen to Dinosaur Laser Fight, the song that introduced me to the band and which was a highlight of their Sydney show. Yes, it is as weird as it sounds, but NSP is so awesome.

I’ve got a lot of conflicting feels right now. There’s been so much excitement, but also a lot of sadness and anxiety. I’m going to miss my Nana, and it feels wrong to be going on with my life, especially with such amazing exciting things happening. But that’s not the way the world works you know. Death happens, and the world keeps turning. Still, I’ll be back soon with more reviews, and maybe if people are interested some highlights of my trip.

Until then, Happy Reading,

~ Lauren

 

 

Can’t Stop Buying Magazines

For the past nine years, I have had a subscription to a little magazine called Analog Science Fiction and FactThis year I wanted to read short fiction from a lot of different places. More Uncanny, more Asimov’s, more from Tor.com. I also backed two other magazines on Kickstarter: horror magazine The Dark, and the return of Amazing Stories, both of which gave me subscriptions as a backer reward. On top of that, I also have a lot of back issues of Analog, going back to the sixties. With so much to read, I found myself with a lot of unread magazines on the magazine rack and my kindle. I decided that the best plan of attack would be to let my Analog subscription lapse and add it to a rotating roster of magazines.

Then I received my finale notice in the mail. Last chance to renew or I would miss out.

And I couldn’t do it.

I just couldn’t give up my bi-monthly Analog subscription. At least, not yet. Maybe when I run out of storage space it’ll be easier, but for now, I want my familiar and reliable stories showing up in my letterbox.

So, since I’ve been a bit quiet, and since I have a few new goodies to show off, I thought I would share the results of my latest fiction buying rampage.

20180929_001746_resizedFirstly, the last few months of Analog. I’m still on the May/June issue, which is good, though it keeps getting pushed aside for anything on my kindle. Since I do a lot of reading whilst on my breaks at work, I find it easier to read on my kindle, since I don’t need to actually hold the book and can therefore eat at the same time. I suppose the fact that this issue’s novella, The Last Biker Gang by Wil McCarthy wasn’t really my thing hasn’t helped me get through this one. But things have picked up. Currently up to My Base Pair by Sam J. Miller, which has an interesting premise (A fad that involves having kids that are clones of celebrities) that is disturbing because of how likely our society is to actually do something that fucked up if we had the technology.

I’m really looking forward to the July/August Issue, with it’s lead novella being A Stab of the Knife by Adam-Troy Castro. This is a crossover between two of Castro’s popular series, and after how much I enjoyed Blurred Lives (Analog Jan/Feb 2018) and The Cowards Option (Analog March 2016) I’m looking forward to the characters from both stories meeting up.

20180929_001824_resizedA few days ago, I got the first issue of my new subscription in the letterbox. As I said before, I backed two magazines on Kickstarter, and one of my rewards for Amazing Stories was a subscription to the print magazine. Amazing Stories was one of the first SF magazines, first printed in 1926, and having gone through various incarnations since then. This current magazine is the first time Amazing has been printed since 2005.

I am really looking forward to getting into this. Amazing Stories aims to deliver optimistic, wonder-filled stories that take a more positive view on the human future, which is something that tends to be missing from well, everything lately. Also, I just love the look of the magazine. It’s a lot bigger than my other magazines, a throwback to the bedsheet format of old. And the artwork has a retro vibe as well.

My kindle backlog is also growing. I have three issues of The Dark to go through. I’ve been enjoying the magazine so far. The issue I have finished, #37, had a few standout stories, two of which were reprints (Beehive Heart by Angela Rega and The Crow Palace by Priya Sharma), but The Hurrah (aka Corpse Scene) by Orrin Grey was new and really stood out. It’s a story of a woman trying to find tapes of a rare no-budget horror film her dead mother stared in, and as you’d expect, things get a little spooky.

I also have a Uncanny Vol. #23 and #24 waiting to be read: the Shared-Universe Dinosaur issue and the Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction issue. Most Uncanny material can be read free online, but I prefer reading from a book or kindle to a computer.

Issue #23 is part of the Destroy series of magazines, that has previously appeared in Lightspeed. Uncanny’s Disabled People Destroy issue seeks to:

“Destroy science fiction. Why? Because disabled people have been discarded from the narrative, cured, rejected, villainized. We’ve been given few options for our imaginations to run wild within the parameters of an endless sky.

This issue destroys those narratives and more.”

The entire summery can be found here.

I am really looking forward to this issue, as I imagine I’m going to encounter a lot of stories that tackle important subjects and themes that I wouldn’t come across otherwise. Science Fiction as a genre has not always been the most inclusive place, and for decades the types of voices that were heard was limited. I’m really glad that magazines like Uncanny are so dedicated to broadening the field. And of course, the dinosaur issue will be amazing because it’s about DINOSAURS.

Besides all the short fiction, I also bought myself a nice new hard-cover illustrated book last weekend. And The Ocean Was Our Sky, written by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Rovina Cai. I’ve mentioned Cai before, after I found her illustrations of Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series. Her pictures make this book look beautiful, and every review I’ve seen promises an amazing reverse-Moby-Dick story. This is another book I cannot wait to jump into.

So, I think that’s everything I’ve bought on this latest fiction binge. I should start reading and doing less… oh wait, no, there’s something else. Something bigger.20180929_001906_resized

I found Peter F. Hamilton’s Void trilogy in Vinnies* for $4.50. I read the two novels of Hamilton’s commonwealth saga years ago and loved them, but the sheer size of his books has made me reluctant to read more of his work. Looks like I’m committed to this trilogy though. I have no idea when I’ll have the time to read the books, but I couldn’t not buy them. Look at all that book. 2292 pages of space opera for under $5, how could I say no to that? Op shops are awesome.

Okay, that’s all. Now I’ve got no more time to write. I have to start reading all these stories if I ever want to finish them. It’s important I focus and dedicate myself to reading through this pile of short (and obscenely long) fiction.

Oh but wait, Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente is available at my library now. Distraction time!

~Lauren

 

 

*St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Shop. I’m pretty sure those exist overseas, but not sure if they’re called Vinnies elsewhere.

Keeping Busy

So, there is an embroidery machine in my house at the moment. My partner borrowed it from a friend  to make Monster Hunter-related patches. The monster designs are still a work in progress, but whilst he was working out how to work the machine he asked me if there were any designs I would like as patches, and I immediately thought of the faction emblems from Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire series that are on the Solaris site. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know how much I loved that series, and everything else Yoon Ha Lee that I’ve read. I only have a small bag though,  so he just did the Kel and Shuos emblems for me. I’m very happy with the results, and thought they’d be worth sharing. I’ll add more pictures when I decided how to arrange them on my bag.

Ninefox Patches

Speaking of Machineries of Empire, the final book in the Series, The Revenant Gun, will be out later this year. I know I have mentioned that, but I haven’t been so excited for a new book in ages. The conclusion of the trilogy takes place nine years after the end of Raven Stratagem and will follow a teenage, cadet incarnation of Shuos Jedao, who has been tasked by Nirai Kujen with re-conquering the Hexarchate. He has no memory of his time as a general or the massacre he committed, but he is good at video games.

That probably won’t make a lot of sense to people who haven’t read the other books or at least followed my reviews, but trust me, it is going to be awesome.

Whilst I’m here, I should probably apologise for the lack of reviews. The most recent novel I read was Ada Palmer’s The Will to Battle. Since I have already reviewed both previous books in this series (Too Like the Lightning and Seven Surrenders) I don’t want to do a review on it. All I’ll say now is that this series just keeps getting better, and I am as excited to read the final book, Perhaps the Stars as I am to read The Revenant Gun.

I’ve also been reading some short fiction from last year for the Hugos. I read Linda Nagata’s The Martian Obelisk last night and added it straight to my ballot. I use a site called Rocket Stack Rank to keep up-to-date on short fiction, and have found a lot of gems on it that I would have otherwise missed.

I’ve also been reading Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi, which I’ll review when I’m done. I’m not sure what I’ll be reading next. There are a few novels from last year that I should read before nominations for the Hugos close, but the death of Ursula K. Le Guin has made me realise that it is an absolute travesty that I have read barely anything she has written, so fixing that oversight is a bigger priority at the moment.

Le Guin’s work has influenced so much of modern science fiction and fantasy, and her death earlier this month has really shaken the SFF world. I’ll be late to the party, but reading more of her work is something I look forward to.

At the end of the day, I cannot promise more regular blog posts. But I do hope you enjoyed looking at some of my crafts.

Happy Reading,

Lauren.

 

My 2017 in Books

The End of Year Novella Rush

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

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

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

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

 

My Goodreads Reading Challenge    

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

 

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

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

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

 

My Book Bingo Card

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

A Hugo Winner: Every Heart a Doorway – Seanan McGuire

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Reading Resolutions for 2018

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

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

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

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

 

What to Expect in 2018

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

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

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

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

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

 

Happy Reading in 2018,

~Lauren

 

The 2017 Hugo Award for Best Novel Nominees, as Pokémon

trainercard-Lauren (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

709Trevenant

All the Birds in the Sky – Charlie Jane Anders;

Trevenant

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

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

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

 

600px-479Rotom-Wash

A Closed and Common Orbit – Becky Chambers;

Rotom-W

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

 

I swear, I’m not crazy.

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

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

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

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

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

 

798Kartana

Death’s End – Cixin Liu;

Kartana

 

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

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

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

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

 

600px-038Ninetales

Ninefox Gambit – Yoon Ha Lee;

Ninetails

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

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

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

 

703Carbink

The Obelisk Gate – N.K. Jemisin;

Carbink

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

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

 

354Banette

Too Like the Lightning – Ada Palmer;

Banette

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

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

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

 

ninefoxnastyplot2
Of course Ninefox Gambit used Nasty Plot. Everyone uses Nasty Plot in that book.

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

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

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

 

Until then, happy reading and happy gaming.

~ Lauren

My Bookcase is Under Attack!

My house has been all cold and damp lately, which has led to some fungal invaders setting up camp. At first I thought they were just confined to the bathroom, but the last few days I’ve noticed it cropping up in other places too. One of those areas was my bookcase, so tonight I bit the bullet and pulled all my books off to see the damage. As you can see, it wasn’t pretty:

moldy1
Ewwwwww!

The good news is the mold only seemed interested in my bookcase, not the books themselves. In that bottom corner I had a really nice hardcover book which still has clear white pages. I was so relieved to see there was no permanent damage done. I’m pleased to say that the bookcases are all clear now; front and back.

This endeavour has however reminded me that my bookcase needs an attack of a different sort. You see, last week I went to a convention in Sydney called Supanova. As happens at conventions, I ended up buying a new book (The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu) and when I got home I just didn’t have any room on the shelf for it. Oops. The terrible truth is, I need a book cull.

You would think I wouldn’t have this problem, since I get most books on my Kindle, but I do like a good old fashioned dead-tree book at times. I asked for a bunch of physical books for Christmas, and made the decision not to ever buy physical books for myself again. From then on, if I wanted a paperback or hardcover, I’d put it on a Christmas or birthday wishlist and only get myself ebooks. It seemed like a sensible idea since I live in a small house.

Now here’s a picture of all the dead-tree books I have bought myself since I made that decision:

books
A good mix of old and new I think. I also bough Dark Forest and Death’s End as paperbacks, but I wanted them on short notice and already had Three-Body Problem in paperback, so I feel they don’t count as impulsive book collecting.

 

Most were from op shop binges, and so far the only one I have read is Lovecraft Country. I made the decision that one of these would be the next book I read, but then I noticed that I had quite a lot of unread books that have been waiting a long time to be read. Some I might not get around to, and others I really want to try to read before the end of the year. There are also a lot of books that I have read, that I think I have to admit to myself won’t be read again. So, cull time.

A bit off topic, but going to Supanova was awesome. I saw lots of cosplayers, bought a lot of stuff, and got my Maze Runner trilogy signed by James Dashner. So, that’s three books that won’t be in any danger during the upcoming cull.

Now the question is, what to read next? And what to review next. I’ve nearly finished the Hugo Novella finalists, so I’ll be looking for something new to read soon. I suppose the logical thing to do would get one that’s been on my bookcase for ages, probably an older science-fiction story. It would be fun to review some classic SF, since I love the classics but have been reading and reviewing a lot of modern stuff lately.

Oh, but the sequel to Ninefox Gambit just came out. Sorry older books, looks like it’ll be a little bit longer before I start attacking that backlog I need to read.

~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

 

 

Book Delivery

I Got a Book in the Mail!

I get most of my books through the amazon kindle store. As much as I like physical books, I have limited space. Besides, moving house four times in recent years has made ebooks seem very appealing; I don’t have any problems carrying them.

But now that I can only access the kindle store from Amazon’s Australian site, there are some books I cannot get this way. In particular, there was a book released last year that really grabbed my interest, and when I couldn’t get it on my kindle I was rather disappointed. Fortunately, good old-fashioned online delivery combined with gift cards meant I could finally get my hands on it. Can you guess which book I’m talking about?

 

unboxing1v2
Ooooo… What Could It Possibly Be?

 

unboxing1v5
Ta-Da!

 

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff interested me for several reasons. The big one is my interest in cosmic horror, but also the premise of the story. A young army veteran named Atticus Turner embarks on a road trip across New England (USA) with his uncle George and childhood friend Letitia to find Atticus’s missing father. Before we even get to the crazy rituals and magic, this is already a terrifying and dangerous prospect for Atticus and co because they are black, and the year is 1954. To quote the New York Times Book Review;

 

“At every turn, Ruff has great fun pitting mid-twentieth-century horror and sci-fi clichés against the banal and ever-present bigotry of the era. And at every turn, it is the bigotry that hums with the greater evil.”

 

The one thing I hated about Lovecraft’s stories were the constant racist overtones, so it seems fitting to read a book that uses Lovecraftian themes to tackle the horrors of racism. I know I have a lot of other books to read, but Lovecraft Country will be jumping to the head of the queue. You can expect a review soon, and hopefully it lives up to the hype I’ve given it.

In the meantime, 10/10 on that front cover. I wasn’t sure what to make of the ‘pretend to look old and well used’ look at first, but I feel it works well. And what do you see first at the bottom? Tentacles? Or the KKK?

Lauren’s Super Speculative Fiction Book Bingo Card

This year I have made my own book bingo card, with some challenges I want to complete. I’m going to put more effort into finishing these challenges than I did for last year’s one; not that there was anything wrong with the challenges last time, I’m just more motivated to set reading goals this year.

I’m hoping to read more previous winners of the Hugo Award for Best Novel this year. I have my own checklist of Hugo and Nebula award winners that I’ve been working through for a few years, and so far I have read 12 out of 69 Hugo winners, and 8 out of 51 Nebula winners. I put a few Hugo winners on my Christmas and Birthday wishlist this year, and for Christmas I received American Gods by Neil Gaiman, The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, and Neuromancer by William Gibson. I’m aiming to tick off a few more Hugo winners this year, which is why this Book Bingo card has five ‘Hugo Winner’ challenges, arranged in such a way that no bingo can be made without one.

2017book-bingo

The rules for this challenge are simple: each book can only count for one challenge, and I have until the end of the year to complete it. If anyone else is interested in giving themselves a reading challenge or making themselves read more Hugo winners, then feel free to copy the card and play along with me. A list of all the winners of the Hugo Award for Best Novel can be found here. Happy reading everyone.

~ Lauren