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

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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

 

 

Magazine Rack

A few weeks ago one of my friends was throwing away a rotating magazine rack. I decided to salvage it, and have now gained a home for a small part of my SF magazine collection. It makes a wonderful display;

20170416_225122_resized

 

There’s still a lot of issues in storage under my bed. For the magazine rack I’ve mostly included issues magazines that I still need to read, that have some sort of significance to me, or that have really cool covers. The oldest magazine is the September 1962 issue of Analog. I also have issues of Asimov’s, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Interzone on the rack.

This magazine rack has also given me another platform to display my Lego on. It was fun getting my rocket out of storage, and I look forward to rotating it with other sets. Hmm… I better see what Star Wars Lego I have for May the Fourth.

I guess that’s all I really need to say here. No reviews, no essays, no stories; I just have a sweet magazine rack next to my desk that I wanted to show off.

~ 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

 

 

 

2017 Hugo Award Finalists

2017 Hugo Award Finalists

Wow, the Finalists for the 2017 Hugos have been announced. It seems like I’ve only just finished nominating. This is the biggest ballot on record, with 108 Finalists in total. Part of the reason this ballot is so much bigger is because there are six finalists in every category instead of five. So, I better get reading; voting closes July 15, and the winners will be announced August 11. No time at all really; so I gotta cut this into short and just list the finalists.

BEST NOVEL

  • All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor Books / Titan Books)
  • A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton / Harper Voyager US)
  • Death’s End by Cixin Liu (Tor Books / Head of Zeus)
  • Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris Books)
  • The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin (Orbit Books)
  • Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer (Tor Books)

BEST NOVELLA

  • The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle (Tor.com Publishing)
  • The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson (Tor.com Publishing)
  • Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
  • Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold (Spectrum Literary Agency)
  • A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com Publishing)
  • This Census-Taker by China Miéville (Del Rey / Picador)

BEST NOVELETTE

  • Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By The T-Rex by Stix Hiscock (self-published)
  • The Art of Space Travel by Nina Allan (Tor.com, July 2016)
  • The Jewel and Her Lapidary by Fran Wilde (Tor.com Publishing, May 2016)
  • The Tomato Thief by Ursula Vernon (Apex Magazine, January 2016)
  • Touring with the Alien by Carolyn Ives Gilman (Clarkesworld Magazine, April 2016)
  • You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay by Alyssa Wong (Uncanny Magazine, May 2016)

BEST SHORT STORY

  • The City Born Great by N. K. Jemisin (Tor.com, September 2016)
  • A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers by Alyssa Wong (Tor.com, March 2016)
  • Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies by Brooke Bolander (Uncanny Magazine, November 2016)
  • Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, Saga Press)
  • That Game We Played During the War by Carrie Vaughn (Tor.com, March 2016)
  • An Unimaginable Light by John C. Wright (God, Robot, Castalia House)

BEST RELATED WORK

  • The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley (Tor Books)
  • The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher (Blue Rider Press)
  • Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg by Robert Silverberg and Alvaro Zinos-Amaro (Fairwood)
  • The View From the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman (William Morrow / Harper Collins)
  • “The Women of Harry Potter” posts by Sarah Gailey (Tor.com)
  • Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016by Ursula K. Le Guin (Small Beer)

BEST GRAPHIC STORY

  • Black Panther, Volume 1: A Nation Under Our Feet, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze (Marvel)
  • Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening, written by Marjorie Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda (Image)
  • Marvel, Volume 5: Super Famous, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Takeshi Miyazawa (Marvel)
  • Paper Girls, Volume 1, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang, colored by Matthew Wilson, lettered by Jared Fletcher (Image)
  • Saga, Volume 6, illustrated by Fiona Staples, written by Brian K. Vaughan, lettered by Fonografiks (Image)
  • The Vision, Volume 1: Little Worse Than A Man, written by Tom King, illustrated by Gabriel Hernandez Walta (Marvel)

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION – LONG FORM

  • Arrival, screenplay by Eric Heisserer based on a short story by Ted Chiang, directed by Denis Villeneuve (21 Laps Entertainment/FilmNation Entertainment/Lava Bear Films)
  • Deadpool, screenplay by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick, directed by Tim Miller (Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/Marvel Entertainment/Kinberg Genre/The Donners’ Company/TSG Entertainment)
  • Ghostbusters, screenplay by Katie Dippold & Paul Feig, directed by Paul Feig (Columbia Pictures/LStar Capital/Village Roadshow Pictures/Pascal Pictures/Feigco Entertainment/Ghostcorps/The Montecito Picture Company)
  • Hidden Figures, screenplay by Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi, directed by Theodore Melfi (Fox 2000 Pictures/Chernin Entertainment/Levantine Films/TSG Entertainment)
  • Rogue One, screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, directed by Gareth Edwards (Lucasfilm/Allison Shearmur Productions/Black Hangar Studios/Stereo D/Walt Disney Pictures)
  • Stranger Things, Season One, created by the Duffer Brothers (21 Laps Entertainment/Monkey Massacre)

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION – SHORT FORM

  • Black Mirror: “San Junipero”, written by Charlie Brooker, directed by Owen Harris (House of Tomorrow)
  • Doctor Who: “The Return of Doctor Mysterio”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Ed Bazalgette (BBC Cymru Wales)
  • The Expanse: “Leviathan Wakes”, written by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, directed by Terry McDonough (SyFy)
  • Game of Thrones: “Battle of the Bastards”, written by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, directed by Miguel Sapochnik (HBO)
  • Game of Thrones: “The Door”, written by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, directed by Jack Bender (HBO)
  • Splendor & Misery[album], by Clipping (Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes)

BEST EDITOR – SHORT FORM

  • John Joseph Adams
  • Neil Clarke
  • Ellen Datlow
  • Jonathan Strahan
  • Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas
  • Sheila Williams

BEST EDITOR – LONG FORM

  • Vox Day
  • Sheila E. Gilbert
  • Liz Gorinsky
  • Devi Pillai
  • Miriam Weinberg
  • Navah Wolfe

BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST

  • Galen Dara
  • Julie Dillon
  • Chris McGrath
  • Victo Ngai
  • John Picacio
  • Sana Takeda

BEST SEMIPROZINE

  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies, editor-in-chief and publisher Scott H. Andrews
  • Cirsova Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, edited by P. Alexander
  • GigaNotoSaurus, edited by Rashida J. Smith
  • Strange Horizons, edited by Niall Harrison, Catherine Krahe, Vajra Chandrasekera, Vanessa Rose Phin, Li Chua, Aishwarya Subramanian, Tim Moore, Anaea Lay, and the Strange Horizons staff
  • Uncanny Magazine, edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trota, Julia Rios, and podcast produced by Erika Ensign & Steven Schapansky
  • The Book Smugglers, edited by Ana Grilo and Thea James

BEST FANZINE

  • Castalia House Blog, edited by Jeffro Johnson
  • Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Chris Garcia, Esther MacCallum-Stewart, Helena Nash, Errick Nunnally, Pádraig Ó Méalóid, Chuck Serface, and Erin Underwood
  • Lady Business, edited by Clare, Ira, Jodie, KJ, Renay, and Susan
  • Nerds of a feather, flock together, edited by The G, Vance Kotrla, and Joe Sherry
  • Rocket Stack Rank, edited by Greg Hullender and Eric Wong
  • SF Bluestocking, edited by Bridget McKinney

BEST FANCAST

  • The Coode Street Podcast, presented by Gary K. Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan
  • Ditch Diggers, presented by Mur Lafferty and Matt Wallace
  • Fangirl Happy Hour, presented by Ana Grilo and Renay Williams
  • Galactic Suburbia, presented by Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce and Tansy Rayner Roberts, produced by Andrew Finch
  • The Rageaholic, presented by RazörFist
  • Tea and Jeopardy, presented by Emma Newman with Peter Newman

BEST FAN WRITER

  • Mike Glyer
  • Jeffro Johnson
  • Natalie Luhrs
  • Foz Meadows
  • Abigail Nussbaum
  • Chuck Tingle

BEST FAN ARTIST

  • Ninni Aalto
  • Alex Garner
  • Vesa Lehtimäki
  • Likhain (M. Sereno)
  • Spring Schoenhuth
  • Mansik Yang

BEST SERIES

  • The Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone (Tor Books)
  • The Expanse by James S.A. Corey (Orbit US / Orbit UK)
  • The October Daye Books by Seanan McGuire (DAW / Corsair)
  • The Peter Grant / Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch (Gollancz / Del Rey / DAW / Subterranean)
  • The Temeraire series by Naomi Novik (Del Rey / Harper Voyager UK)
  • The Vorkosigan Saga  by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)

JOHN W. CAMPBELL AWARD FOR BEST NEW WRITER

  • Sarah Gailey
  • Mulrooney
  • Malka Older
  • Ada Palmer
  • Laurie Penny
  • Kelly Robson

 

The first thing that pops out to me is that to read all the novels, I’ll still have to read five books just like last year. I’ve already read three of the finalists (Ninefox Gambit, All the Birds in the Sky, and The Obelisk Gate), but of the three remaining, Death’s End and A Closed and Common Orbit are sequels, so I’ll have to read the previous books in the series to get the most out of them.

I’m in a somewhat similar predicament when it comes to the novella The Ballad of Black Tom. I’ve been meaning to read this one for a while, but after hearing that it is a subversion of Lovecraft’s The Horror at Red Hook, I decided to read the original first. But then, I also didn’t really want to read The Horror at Red Hook because I heard it’s really badly written and that even by Lovecraft’s standards it’s racist. I suppose I’ll see how much time I have.

Oh yeah, Chuck Tingle is back, but this time nominated in the category of Best Fan Writer, which I think is pretty cool. There is also a new dinosaur erotica story I am forced to check out. Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By The T-Rex by Knock-Off Chuck Tingle… I mean, Stix Hiscock.

Okay, maybe that was uncalled for. I haven’t even read his novelette, so maybe Mr. Hiscock is a perfectly respectable voice in the silly dinosaur erotica genre. I haven’t been keeping up with the latest dinosaur porn, so I wouldn’t know. I just get the impression from Mr. Hiscock’s two books and their publication date that he might be a copycat. Also, it’s a novelette! Space Raptor Butt Invasion was the perfect length for what it was; I’m not sure I’m looking forward to something much longer by someone without Chuck Tingle’s warm and somewhat silly style.

But nearly everything else on the list I’m looking forward to reading or watching. Quite a few of the stories have been on my radar for a while, and I’m also really interested in listening to Splendour and Misery by Clipping. I’m not really that into Hip-Hop, but I like most music, I love science-fiction themed concept albums, and Daveed Diggs was good in Hamilton.

The big question is whether or not I’ll have time for everything.

Should be a fun few months.

 

~ 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.