Sunday, 17 June 2018

#ReadShortStories (106 to 110)

This batch sees me finishing off Not So Stories — full review of the anthology coming very soon — and start in on Uncanny issue 21. I am looking forward to having a short break from themed anthologies (I do have more lined up, so it will be short) and reading a general mix of stories without obligations.

Strays Like Us by Zina Hutton — A story about Bastet, the Egyptian cat goddess, who no longer has a place in the world, and a stray kitten. The story was fine, but I’m not sure how well it fits with the other stories in the anthology. It put me more in mind of various forgotten/unworshipped god stories more than colonialism per se. Source: Not So Stories edited by David Thomas Moore

How the Simurgh Won Her Tail by Ali Nouraei — A lovely story within a story. A grandfather visiting his sick (cancer, I think) granddaughter in hospital and telling her the titular story. It was very heartwarming, despite the depressing hospital setting and the hints of life outside the hospital. Source: Not So Stories edited by David Thomas Moore

There is Such Thing as a Whizzy-Gang by Raymond Gates — A story about a boy in Australia, his uncle that likes to (mostly) benevolently tease him and the Whizzy-Gang that attacks him. Not a bad read, but I didn’t really spot any direct engagement with colonialism. Source: Not So Stories edited by David Thomas Moore

How the Camel Got Her Paid Time Off by Paul Krueger — If not for the title itself, this story would feel quite unresolved, which I have mixed feelings about. I didn’t mind the story overall, but I again didn’t find it to be quite what I expected. It’s about animals fighting (or not) for worker rights. Source: Not So Stories edited by David Thomas Moore

I Frequently Hear Music in the Very Heart of Noise by Sarah Pinsker — Part story, part history of the early 20 century music and art scene in New York. I didn’t love it. A lot of references went over my head and those that didn’t — meh. Source:

Friday, 15 June 2018

Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee

Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee is the third and final book in The Machineries of Empire trilogy. I have previously read and reviewed Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem. This is very much an overarching story told over three volumes and, even though each book introduces new point of view characters, the story depends very much on what went before. I do not recommend reading it out of order (start with Ninefox Gambit).

When Shuos Jedao wakes up for the first time, several things go wrong. His few memories tell him that he's a seventeen-year-old cadet--but his body belongs to a man decades older. Hexarch Nirai Kujen orders Jedao to reconquer the fractured hexarchate on his behalf even though Jedao has no memory of ever being a soldier, let alone a general. Surely a knack for video games doesn't qualify you to take charge of an army?

Soon Jedao learns the situation is even worse. The Kel soldiers under his command may be compelled to obey him, but they hate him thanks to a massacre he can't remember committing. Kujen's friendliness can't hide the fact that he's a tyrant. And what's worse, Jedao and Kujen are being hunted by an enemy who knows more about Jedao and his crimes than he does himself...

There are two main point of view characters in this final book: a servitor that spends a lot of time with the Cheris/Jedao that we've come to know and love over three books and a brand new Jedao constructed by Kujen and lacking most of his memories, which went with Cheris. Somewhat unexpectedly the book jumps forward nine years from the end of Raven Stratagem, which took a bit of getting used to. We do hear from Brezan but the mystery of what's going on with Cheris doesn't last nearly as long as it did in the previous book.

I really enjoyed getting to know more about the world of servitors and seeing further into their world. After the hints in the very first book that servitors would be important (when Cheris was the only one who bothered talking to them), I found this development very satisfying. Seeing the servitors from new!Jedao's perspective was also interesting since they didn't exist when he was human and he has no other memories of them. The other interesting piece of worldbuilding we get to see in more detail in Revenant Gun is the providence of their spaceships. I always thought it was cool that they were collectively called voidmoths (scoutmoths, needlemoths, etc) but now we finally learn that "moth" isn't just an affectation. The ships are bred and then modified. While living ships aren't exactly a unique idea, Lee does something new quite interesting with them that I won't spoil.

Revenant Gun was an excellent read. Being the last in a trilogy, of course this book brings the overarching plot to a close and, ends like any good dystopian series: with the overthrow of the oppressive regime. I enjoyed the whole series and I stand by the assessment I made in my review of Raven Stratagem: the first book has the steepest learning curve by far. The calendrical warfare stuff that took place near the start-ish of Ninefox Gambit was the hardest to get my head around and nothing in the later books really compares with that confusion. If you got through the first book and didn't like that aspect, but did like the characters, then I urge you to continue with the series.

Anyway, Revenant Gun was a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy and I look forward to seeing what Lee writes in the future. (And in the meantime, I still have a lot of his short stories to get to.)

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2018, Solaris
Series: Machineries of Empire book 3 of 3
Format read: ePub/paperback
Source: ARCs from publisher

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

#ReadShortStories about horrible things (101 to 105)

After a little break from short stories, in which I got sucked into a few novels, I am back at it. I'm still making my way through Not So Stories and still trying to break that book up with other stories to lighten the mood. I was less successful at lightening the mood in this batch, however, as the two random stories I chose were not exactly cheerful, alas. They're all strong stories, though.

How the Ants Got Their Queen by Stuart Hotston — A clear metaphor for colonialism, it’s ills and aftermath. Although the story was not subtle, I still found myself enjoying it. And the direction of the ending was not overly telegraphed, which was nice. Not a cheerful story (of course), but a good read. Source: Not So Stories edited by David Thomas Moore

How the Snake Lost its Spine by Tauriq Moosa — As you can guess from the title, this is another creature-origin type story. I liked the ideas in it, but I didn’t find it to be as strong as some of the others. The writing could have been tighter where I found it a little dull in places. Not bad overall, just not one of the best. Source: Not So Stories edited by David Thomas Moore

The No-One Girl and the Flower of the Farther Shore by E Lily Yu — An unusual story about a girl living on the fringe of society after her grandmothers’s death and the village in which she lives. Also a magical flower. I liked it but I’m not sure I fully understood it, mainly because the structure was not what I am used to. Source:

Unplaces: An Atlas of Non-existence by Izzy Wasserstein — I liked this story and the way it was told, somewhat obliquely. Annotations to a non-fiction book about fictional/lost places tell of a dystopian future world in which hope is not lost. Source:

The Cat Who Walked by Herself by Achala Upendran — This story is about how common domesticated animals, as well as Man and Woman found their place. I found this story quite upsetting in how it just kept escalating in patriarchal (not sure that’s the right word—hegemonic?) terribleness. The ending was satisfying but didn’t erase what went before. Source: Not So Stories edited by David Thomas Moore

Monday, 11 June 2018

Cryoburn — The Vorkosigan Saga Project

Cryoburn is the latest novel we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project and the second last in our chronological read-through. This novel follows Miles, accompanied by Roic, on Imperial Auditor business, and takes place after Flowers for Vashnoi and before Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen.

You can read Tsana’s review of Cryoburn here, and Katharine’s review here.

Katharine: Welp it’s going to be incredibly hard to discuss the book properly after an ending like that, but I’ll try anyway… Miles is off to Kibou-daini in his role as Imperial Auditor to do what he does best - investigate something strange by shaking things up and seeing what falls out.

Tsana: When we first encounter him, he is drugged and hallucinating and, having escaped his kidnappers, is wandering around in underground catacombs full of cryogenically frozen people/corpses. Which is super creepy, but a staple of life on Kibou-daini.

Katharine: Once he manages to get to the surface he runs into a very kind lizard-person who sneaks him into his home to rest and recuperate. Which is lucky, as Miles’ hallucinations could lead him pretty much anywhere, but in the morning he is safe, and the lizard-person is an 11 year old boy called Jin, who likes to adopt pets. And Miles is quite pet-like when he’s not hyperactively solving cases.

Tsana: It’s also fortunate that Miles is good with children because, once sober, he quickly asuages Jin’s fears around adults taking over and treats Jin respectfully rather than condescendingly like many adults apparently do. Which is an interesting insight into Miles’s personality in a few ways, I thought. On the one hand, it’s easy to dismiss “good with children” because, well, Miles has kids now so he’s had the practice. But on the other hand, I think he’s pretty much always been good with children, we just haven’t had as much chance to see that in other books. The first example that jumps to mind is in Komarr when he first meets Niki (now his stepson) and is perfectly happy bonding with him about jumpships (before he has any ulterior motives to befriend the kid).

Katharine: Spoiler shields up so I can say a thing!

*klaxon klaxon klaxon*

Saturday, 9 June 2018

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan is the first book in The Memoirs of Lady Trent, which has become a surprisingly long (five book) series while I wasn't looking. I remember seeing A Natural History of Dragons around the time of it's initial release, but the blurb and cover didn't grab me so I passed it up at the time. Now that it's been shortlisted for the Hugo Award for Best Series, I thought I should at least give it a go. I started reading the sample and had to click "buy" because I couldn't put it down.

Marie Brennan begins a thrilling new fantasy series in A Natural History of Dragons, combining adventure with the inquisitive spirit of the Victorian Age.

You, dear reader, continue at your own risk. It is not for the faint of heart—no more so than the study of dragons itself. But such study offers rewards beyond compare: to stand in a dragon's presence, even for the briefest of moments—even at the risk of one's life—is a delight that, once experienced, can never be forgotten. . . .

All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world's preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.

A Natural History of Dragons is set in a dragon-containing secondary world (with no other magic, as far as I can tell) with the country our protagonist is from based on Victorian England. I have to admit, part of the reason I delayed reading this book for so long was because historic fantasy plus dragons conjured up Temeraire by Naomi Novik in my mind (the Napoleonic era is not so distant in time from the Victorian) and I did not feel the need for another dry fantasy book with dragons. Happily, it is not a dry fantasy book, despite the diagram on the cover.

What I enjoyed most about this book was the protagonist's voice. It's written in first person in the style of a memoir from the point of view of a much older Isabella recounting events from her youth. This means that we get more snarky reflections than we would have if the book was told by the younger Isabella, as well as commentary along the lines of "I was young and stupid". It's also clear from the start that this is the first book in the series and that Isabella intends to recount additional adventures in future books, while dropping tantalising hints about them along the way. I may end up reading the next book immediately, even though that wasn't my original plan.

The approach to dragons in this book is pretty much as advertised. Isabella is very interested in the study of nature and pursues her studies of dragons very scientifically, albeit in a very nineteenth century way. We also see the ways in which being female hinders her ability to study, as well as the way in which her upper class does not. I also sort of expected it to be partly the story of her being stuck with a horrible husband after being expected to marry young, but that was not the direction the story took, avoiding that very common trope.

To my eye, Brennan presented a modified historical society well and the way in which dragons were studied and presented to the reader was quite believable and consistent — especially if you overlook the magical aspect of dragons' existence. It covers dissection, the difficulties of preservation and a journey to study dragons in their natural habitats. This was a very enjoyable read and I will definitely be reading the next book in the series, sooner or later. I recommend it to all fantasy fans, especially those who like dragons (but also don't find the prospect of reading about their dissection distressing.)

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2013, Tor Books
Series: The Memoirs of Lady Trent book 1 of 5
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from iBooks

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold

Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold is the latest book in the Vorkosigan saga that I've reread. For a while it was the last book in chronological order, but for the moment it's become second last.

Kibou-daini is a planet obsessed with cheating death. Barrayaran Imperial Auditor Miles Vorkosigan can hardly disapprove—he’s been cheating death his whole life, on the theory that turnabout is fair play. But when a Kibou-daini cryocorp—an immortal company whose job it is to shepherd its all-too-mortal frozen patrons into an unknown future—attempts to expand its franchise into the Barrayaran Empire, Emperor Gregor dispatches his top troubleshooter Miles to check it out.

On Kibou-daini, Miles discovers generational conflict over money and resources is heating up, even as refugees displaced in time skew the meaning of generation past repair. Here he finds a young boy with a passion for pets and a dangerous secret, a Snow White trapped in an icy coffin who burns to re-write her own tale, and a mysterious crone who is the very embodiment of the warning Don’t mess with the secretary. Bribery, corruption, conspiracy, kidnapping—something is rotten on Kibou-daini, and it isn’t due to power outages in the Cryocombs. And Miles is in the middle—of trouble!

From my first read, I remembered this as being quite dark read, but it's not really. Maybe it's a bit less funny than some of the other books in the series, but it's only the very end that punches you in the gut. The rest of the book, for all that it's about death and delaying death by freezing and hoping for a better future, isn't actually dark at all. Funny how an ending can make such a strong impression. I am also really glad that this isn't the last chronological book in the series any more.

I forgot how much Roic was in this book too, and after A Civil Campaign and Winterfair Gifts it was nice to see him confident in  his position and silently judging Miles (or m'lord). It's nice to see that kind of character development over several books. Same with Kareen Koudelka, but she didn't make as much of an appearance in Cryoburn or have any point of view sections so the effect is lessened. Speaking of seeing characters from others' points of view, I also enjoyed Jin's impressions of the grownups around him. I didn't have a very strong memory of him from my first read through (I only really remembered that he existed), but getting to know him again was fun. He and his family have joined the list of one-book Bujold characters that I wouldn't mind reading more about, at least in passing.

Cryoburn actually stands alone as a novel pretty well. While there's a lot of background that can inform the story, it mainly only informs Miles's past, which isn't as critical to this book as to some of the others in the series. It's not a bad place to start the series, although it's not completely representative of some of the other books. On the other hand, the series has become so diverse in styles that no single book is representative of it all. In any case, Cryoburn is not a book to miss if you're a fan of the series or science fiction generally.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2010, Baen
Series: Vorkosigan Saga, second last book chronologically, third last story in publication order
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Baen's online shop several years ago

Friday, 1 June 2018

The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts

The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts is a long novella — or a short novel, according to comments in the back-matter — about people on a very long-haul space flight that they mostly spend cryogenically frozen. The title comes from the idea of staging a revolution in short snippets over long periods of time. (Very long periods of time: the story opens about 65 million Earth-years after the journey started.)

She believed in the mission with all her heart. But that was sixty million years ago.

How do you stage a mutiny when you're only awake one day in a million? How do you conspire when your tiny handful of potential allies changes with each shift? How do you engage an enemy that never sleeps, that sees through your eyes and hears through your ears and relentlessly, honestly, only wants what best for you?

Sunday Ahzmundin is about to find out.

This book caught my eye because of the premise and because I’ve been in a science fiction mood for a while now. I haven’t read more than short fiction by Watts before (a long time ago when something was shortlisted for a Hugo, I think), so why not give this a try? In the end, though, I didn’t love it. It wasn’t a terrible book but, for me, it didn’t live up to the expectations set by the premise.

First off, it remains a great premise. The purpose of the long haul flight and one-way ticket to the future is to build Star Gates (not actually infringing copyright by being called that) around the galaxy for humanity to, later, be able to get around faster. The ship (actually a flying asteroid with a built in singularity generator) has to travel at sub-light speeds to set up the future FTL highway. The people on the mission know they can never go home and are brought out of stasis mainly for more complicated situations that the AI can’t be trusted to handle alone.

So far, so interesting. Where it fell down for me was in the balance between the science and the tech in the writing, and a bit in the characterisation. Near the start, I thought that the science was the most interesting aspect but we mostly got a bunch of characterisation. Near the end, when the human aspect was more interesting, there was more of a focus on the cool science (I'm being vague to avoid spoilers). Some of the meh could have been avoided by writing slightly more interesting characters. I found them all a bit bland, even the ones that were supposed to be interesting. I didn't feel very invested in the narrator, Sunday, even though she was overwhelmingly the character we got to know best. (I was also pretty surprised when a pronoun identified her as female a quarter of the way into the book, so, hmm.)

This isn't a bad book and if the blurb grabs you, you could do worse. But for me it was a disappointment because I had hoped for more. I was left with a feeling of somewhat wasted potential and I don't think I'll be bothering to seek out more Watts books. I'm glad I gave it a shot, though.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2018, Tachyon Publications
Series: Maybe? Looks like there are related short stories (thanks Goodreads), but I'm not sure how they're related.
Format read: ePub ARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

#ReadShortStories about all sorts of creatures (96 to 100)

It is still the first half of the year and I have hit the 100 story mark. Huzzah!

In this batch I've been continuing my reading of the anthology Not So Stories and thrown a few other random stories into the mix. I expect the most memorable story in this batch will end up being "Some Remarks on the Reproductive Strategy of the Common Octopus" by Bogi Takács, if only for the usual narration (but also because it's a good story).

Saṃsāra by Georgina Kamsika — A story set in the present day about a mixed race teenager reconnecting with her Indian heritage as she and her mother clean out her late grandmother’s home. It feels a bit out of place among the other Not So Stories I’ve read so far, but then so does the protagonist in her life, and maybe that’s the point. Source: Not So Stories edited by David Thomas Moore

Serpent, Crocodile, Tiger by Zedeck Siew — This is more like a few stories that ended up being tied together in a way I didn’t predict from the start. It tells Malay folktales as well as giving a few different modern perspectives on the tales and on the people having perspectives. It gives an interesting cross-section of views and various cultural influences. I enjoyed it although I found the sections that were academic excerpts a little too dry. Source: Not So Stories edited by David Thomas Moore

Some Remarks on the Reproductive Strategy of the Common Octopus by Bogi Takács — This story is told from the point of view of an octopus, living in a future world very different to our present. I kind of don’t want to say more because I think part of the charm of this story is discovering the shape of the world along with the narrator, and I don’t want to spoil that. A very interesting and enjoyable story. Source:

I Have Been Drowned in Rain by Carrie Vaughn — I was expecting a twist that never came, when I was reading this one. From the talk of fantasy archetypes near the start I was really expecting that one of the characters would turn out to be playing a D&D campaign or something. It was disappointing when it didn’t come and while the plot wasn’t overly bland, I also didn’t find it especially interesting. Source:

How the Tree of Wishes Gained its Carapace of Plastic by Jeannette Ng — A story telling the history of a wishing tree in Hong Kong and, by necessity, the history of the people and the place. A sweeping story of gods and history told in the style of a bedtime story. I enjoyed it. Source: Not So Stories edited by David Thomas Moore

Monday, 28 May 2018

#ReadShortStories highlighting colonialism and other things (91 to 95)

In this batch there's three more stories from Not So Stories, raging against colonialism in their own ways, and a couple of randoms, including one that's a spin off from a YA series that I read the first book of in 2012. The Not So Stories stories are all a bit emotionally heavy so I expect I will continue to intersperse them with miscellaneous stories. Stay tuned.

Queen by Joseph E. Cole — A story about slavery and human cruelty. Not exactly an enjoyable read but not a bad story either. It didn’t particularly grab me but it was still told in an evocative way (and I think I spotted several references to “Just So Stories”. Source: Not So Stories edited by David Thomas Moore

Utopia, LOL? by Jamie Wahls — This story was silly and fun but also serious. In a post-singularity future, a cryogenic-frozen man is reintroduced to society by an easily distracted tour guide. Not perfect, but I liked it. Source:

The Department of Alterations by Gennifer Albin — Set in the same world as a YA series I read the first book of several years ago. I haven’t got around to finishing the series even though I love liked the first book (Crewel) enough to track down books 2 and 3 from the US. This story was a little confusing with the world building quite hazy in my mind. The emotional impact was still there, however. Source:

Best Beloved by Wayne Santos — A Singaporean guardian of the living against the dead has taken up with a British official while still finding time for her duties. Until those duties become more difficult and she learns more of what the British are up to. A powerful story of love and devastation. Source: Not So Stories edited by David Thomas Moore

The Man Who Played With the Crab by Adiwijaya Iskandar — A father and daughter come across a westerner killing animals and demanding to be taken to their sacred crab so that he can kill it. A story that’s about as positive as possible, given colonial history. Source: Not So Stories edited by David Thomas Moore

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Paper Girls Volume 3 by Brian K Vaughan and Cliff Chiang

Paper Girls Volume 3 written by Brian K Vaughan and illustrated by Cliff Chiang is, obviously, the third volume in the Paper Girls comic series. I have previously read and reviewed Volume 1 and Volume 2. This is the kind of series that tells a single ongoing story, so I don't recommend starting anywhere other than Volume 1 if you haven't already read the previous volumes/issues. This review contains spoilers for the previous volumes.

The multiple Eisner and Harvey Award-winning series from BRIAN K. VAUGHAN and CLIFF CHIANG continues, as newspaper deliverers Erin, Mac and Tiffany finally reunite with their long-lost friend KJ in an unexpected new era, where the girls must uncover the secret origins of time travel... or risk never returning home to 1988. 

In this volume we see the four paper girls in prehistoric times continuing their disturbing adventure. They meet some more strange people as well as some... slightly less strange people. Some strange aspects introduced earlier start to make more sense in this volume, while other new mysteries are encountered.

I found this volume to be an enjoyable continuation of the ongoing story. I feel like this is getting to be one of those series where it's hard to review a volume on its own (I have similar problems reviewing Saga) because it really is just a chapter in a story that isn't finished. I am enjoying the format which introduces the setting of the next volume at the end of the previous one. It gives me something to look forward to when I get my hands on Volume 4.

I have been really enjoying Paper Girls and I recommend it to fans of SF, time travel, and weird stuff. For the optimal reading experience you should definitely start with Volume 1 rather than coming into the story in the middle. This is a series I plan to keep reading to completion.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2017, Image Comics
Series: Volume 3 of 4 so far, containing issues #11–15
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Local comic book shop