Wednesday, 16 January 2019

#ReadShortStories to kick off 2019 (1 to 5)


A mixed bag of stories in this batch, although most of them are from Meet Me at the Intersection edited by Rebecca Lim and Ambelin Kwaymullina, an anthology I am approaching the end of. I've also thrown in a few miscellaneous stories since I have quite the backlog of free-floating stories awaiting my attention (as in, not part of an anthology or collection).


Trouble by Kelly Gardiner — A story of non-conforming girls in 1950s Melbourne. I enjoyed the local colour even if the end was not quite as I had hoped/shipped. Source: Meet Me at the Intersection edited by Rebecca Lim and Ambelin Kwaymullina

Sweet as Sugar Candy by Seanan McGuire — For a story billed as ruining marshmallows, it wasn’t quite what I expected. I’m not sure it was marshmallows, per se, that were “ruined” or the source of the horror. In any case, despite expecting something strange to happen I was a little surprised when it did. A delightful read. Source: Seanan McGuire’s Patreon

Planet of the five rings by Marissa Lingen — A funny flash story about first contact that I found quite unexpected (but was probably quite topical when it was first published). Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/549302a

Sheer Fortune by Jordi Kerr — A more Australian story that I would have expected from a short summary of it, with some strong New Zealish elements thrown in via the second character. Shifters, lesbians, high school. A nice read.  Source: Meet Me at the Intersection edited by Rebecca Lim and Ambelin Kwaymullina

Telephone by Yvette Walker — A timey-wimey story in which the main character receives a phone call from her teenage self. As she talks to this version of herself that had been trying to call and LGBT support hotline, she reflects on her life and how she got to where she is now (happily living with her wife). A sweet story, overall. Source: Meet Me at the Intersection edited by Rebecca Lim and Ambelin Kwaymullina

Monday, 14 January 2019

Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina

Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina is a very thoughtful and deliberate YA novel. It tells the story of three girls, Catching, Beth Teller, and Crow and deals with some brutal issues. However, the worst parts of the story and told with symbolism and only partly explained plainly, so I suspect younger readers could read the book without having to deal with the specifics of those parts.

Nothing's been the same for Beth Teller since she died. Her dad, a detective, is the only one who can see and hear her - and he's drowning in grief. But now they have a mystery to solve together. Who is Isobel Catching, and what's her connection to the fire that killed a man? What happened to the people who haven't been seen since the fire? As Beth unravels the mystery, she finds a shocking story lurking beneath the surface of a small town, and a friendship that lasts beyond one life and into another. 

Most of the story is told from the point of view of Beth, a ghost of a girl who recently died in a car accident. She spends her time following around her father, the only person who can now see and hear her. Her father, aside from not coping well with her death, is a detective and is working on a case involving an orphanage burning down and some connected adults being missing. Beth rags along helping him and providing a sounding board. The pivotal moment comes with they interview a witness, Catching, and the book starts having sections from her point of view.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but some aspects of the story were predictable. However, this was more than made up for by the unique way in which the story was told. Beth wasn’t a ghost seeking vengeance for her death and Catching told her story very symbolically. Catching’s version of her story was true, but so was the decoded version Beth’s dad later summarised. While this was a story about horrible things, Beth’s dad always made sure to protect his daughter from what he could (like not letting her see dead bodies), even though she was already dead. On the other hand, Beth and the reader aren’t shielded from discussions of racism and the Stolen Generations, just the more immediate crimes.

This is quite a short book and that meant it moved very quickly through the story. I read it in only two sittings (with a few pages grabbed at other times). I expect the length makes it more accessible to its intended YA audience, especially younger readers and those that might be daunted by thick books. I liked Catching Teller Crow. It was an enjoyable read (without being “fun”) and the story was expertly told in a creative way. I highly recommend it to YA readers who don’t mind a bit of realistic darkness in their books. I also wouldn’t hesitate to give it to most teens; in fact, I can imagine finding it on a high school reading list.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2018, Allen & Unwin
Series: No
Format read: Paperback (gasp!)
Source: Purchased from Dymocks

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant is an almost-standalone horror book by the author of several other horror books (and many non-horror books). There is a prequel novella, but it's almost impossible to get (only US-region ebooks are currently obtainable, as far as I can tell) and isn't required reading. I suspect Into the Drowning Deep spoils the impact of the novella too, but that's just a guess. (I would still read the novella if I could.)

Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.

Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.

Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves. But the secrets of the deep come with a price.

Having read two Mira Grant series before, I had some idea of what to expect from this book, style-wise. I got the horrifying mermaids I expected, complete with a relatively plausible explanation for their existence, including comparisons with other marine creatures. I'm not a marine biologist by any stretch of the imagination, but Grant's explanations of these sorts of things always come across and quite plausible or just a few steps away from reality, which makes them creepier.

There several interesting point of view characters in this book. Since it's a horror book, I found myself wondering which of them (if any) would survive until the end, which was a significant source of the tension in the book. It's hard to care very much about nameless background characters having their faces eaten off, but a lot more stressful when it's one of the characters you've become attached to. Also, after the initial wave of deaths, Grant found increasingly interesting ways to off people, which kept things interesting more than I would have expected — since they were also an excuse to further develop the world building.

If you've enjoyed other Mira Grant books, you will probably enjoy this one. If you have a phobia of water or the open ocean etc, this will probably be even scarier for you. Proceed with caution. (But as a note, I read the book far from the coast and it didn't really faze me. I might have found it a little more concerning if I had been able to see the sea.) I am keen to read the prequel novella if I can, even though it's contents are made pretty obvious from the content of this book. I will continue keeping an eye out for future books by Mira Grant.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published:
Series: Yes. There is a prequel novella, Rolling in the Deep, which I haven't read because it's basically impossible to get outside of the US.
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Kobo

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is a book I've been meaning to read for a while. Some time ago (within the past two years, I think) I acquired the audiobook and now, this past week, I finally had a long car journey in which to listen to it. If you were wondering, the round-trip of driving was only about 41 minutes short of the whole book, so that's pretty convenient.

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan..

But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words... And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

So. This is a YA (or new adult, perhaps, since it's set in college) novel about a girl who writes fanfiction starting college and navigating that while also dealing with various family and fandom issues. The original work she writes fanfiction of clearly inspired by Harry Potter, as is the general structure of the fandom community. And using that analogy, Cath writes immensely popular Harry/Draco slash and Fangirl is set just before the last book in the series comes out. (Actually, one thing that really bothered me was a throwaway mention of Harry Potter which absolutely cannot coexist in the same world as Simon Snow. The world cannot support both fandom in the same way. Anyway. Throwaway line, as I said, but one that definitely should have been edited out.)

Overall this is a contemporary romance story, dotted with a lot of geekiness. It's also a coming-of-age story about the first year of college for Cath and her twin sister Ren (but mostly focussing on Cath as the only point of view character). It dealt with some hard-hitting issues, liberally interspersed with fanfic-writing issues, which could easily be seen as trivial, but were clearly very important to Cath. The way in which all the issues were presented worked together to make this a book that was sufficiently upbeat (without being saccharine) to listen to on a long car journey. I'm sure I would have also enjoyed it in paper (and probably gotten through it in fewer hours) but it worked well as an audiobook.

I recommend Fangirl to geeky YA readers, especially those with at least a passing awareness of Harry Potter fandom. (That's how I'd classify myself, by the way. I have never gotten into reading or writing fanfiction, but most of my friends have at one point or another, and I'm pretty sure I got all the jokes.) On the other hand, my mother, who was forced to also listen to Fangirl in the car, had no knowledge of fanfiction and still enjoyed the book. It has broad appeal. I am somewhat interested in reading Carry On, a book based on the fic Cath was writing in Fangirl, but not enough to rush out and buy it immediately.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2013, St Martin's Press
Series: No, although there is a related book (Carry On, supposedly the fanfic Cath is writing in Fangirl, which has spawned its own series)
Format read: Audiobook
Source: Audible (freebie for signing up)

Friday, 4 January 2019

Looking back on 2018

As 2019 kicks off, it's time to look back on all the books and stories I read in 2018.

I only read 78 books, according to my spreadsheet. This includes novels, individually packaged novellas, comics and collections/anthologies of short stories. Slightly more books are logged on Goodreads because some of the short stories I read had their own entries. I find this number a little disappointing since I hoped to read 100 books, but perhaps that number is no longer feasible for me.

I also read 215 short stories from various locations. Many were in anthologies and collections, but a lot were from various online venues. I used Pocket to save most of those to read later, and according to the end of year message Pocket sent me, I read the equivalent of 20 books. I'm not sure how they have defined "book" and I suspect it's a bit more liberally than the editors of the anthologies I read. Overall, the short story reading probably makes up for the book reading, although it's interesting to see that there isn't quite an anticorrelation between books read and stories read. See my monthly reads charts below:


I think the above is more an indication that reading more leads to reading more, not that more short stories mean fewer books or vice versa.

I read 88% ebooks (12% paper, no audio), whereas for short stories it was 62% ePubs (meaning they were probably anthologies, collections or from my Uncanny subscription), 37% web (mostly things I saved in Pocket) and 1% audio. Breaking up the books into forms, I present the following pie chart:


51% novels, 31% novellas, 6% anthologies or collections, 8% comics and 4% magazines.

The gender stats for books are 80% female, 9% male, 1% nonbinary and 10% multiple people of different genders. For short stories, they aren't too different, except that I gave a lot more short story time to men than I did book time. We have 69% female, 23% male, 6% nonbinary and 2% multiple.

When it comes to countries, I remain stuck at around 50% US authors, which I can't seem to be able to shake. Unsurprisingly, short stories are more diverse than books, mostly, I expect, since there are just more of them and hence more chance of them being authored by a non-US author. I present the author-country pie charts below. For short stories the "other" category includes countries from which I read fewer than four stories in 2018. For books I'm pretty sure "other" was two or fewer.



If I have any reading resolutions (other than to more or less keep doing what I'm doing) it's to read a bit more broadly and a bit less US-ly. I feel like I have had that resolution for several years running, though. We shall see. My percentage of US writers has been pretty stable for years now. :-/

I kept track of a few other stats, but I think the above are the most pertinent. I will just mention that 35% of the books I read were review copies, and 44% of the stories I read were (as far as I could determine) by non-white authors.

And that about sums it up. Happy New Year and I hope you liked my graphs!

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

#ReadShortStories, that are intersectional, as the year draws to a close (211-215)

For all that this post is going up in the new year, this are the last short stories I read in 2018. That brings my short story total up to 215 stories, which I'll go into more detail (and stats) in a dedicated roundup post. In the meantime, these stories all come from Meet Me at the Intersection, an anthology edited by Rebecca Lim and Ambelin Kwaymullina. So far, it's been a lot more contemporary/realist and less spec fic than I usually read.

Dear Mate by Kyle Lynch — A distressing story, in some ways, about a young person who wants a job but has little idea how to get one. Although I didn’t realise how young he was until near the end, which did make it a bit less distressing. Source: Meet Me at the Intersection edited by Rebecca Lim and Ambelin Kwaymullina

Embers by Ezekiel Kwaymullina — A sad, short poem about dyslexia. Source: Meet Me at the Intersection edited by Rebecca Lim and Ambelin Kwaymullina

Harry Potter and the Disappearing Pages by Olivia Muscat — An essay/memoir about the author going blind at the start of high school and the frustrations of being disabled in modern society. Source: Meet Me at the Intersection edited by Rebecca Lim and Ambelin Kwaymullina

Fragments by Mimi Lee — The story of a young Chinese Australian dealing with her grandfather’s death and a difficult family situation. This was an interesting read but in some ways (the mental illness ways more than the grief ways) felt like it ily scratched the surface. I wouldn’t have minded it being longer but I can see why it made sense to leave it where it was. Source: Meet Me at the Intersection edited by Rebecca Lim and Ambelin Kwaymullina

Stars in our Eyes by Jessica Walton — A wonderful story about geeky teens and adults that made me laugh. Certainly the most fun story so far. Source: Meet Me at the Intersection edited by Rebecca Lim and Ambelin Kwaymullina

Saturday, 29 December 2018

Penric’s Fox by Lois McMaster Bujold

Penric’s Fox by Lois McMaster Bujold is chronologically the third novella in the Penric and Desdemona series, but the fourth that I’ve read. It immediately follows Penric and the Shaman. These novellas are set in the World of the Five Gods, but you don’t have to have read the novels to read the novella series, and indeed I haven’t.

Some eight months after the events of Penric and the Shaman, Learned Penric, sorcerer and scholar, travels to Easthome, the capital of the Weald. There he again meets his friends Shaman Inglis and Locator Oswyl. When the body of a sorceress is found in the woods, Oswyl draws him into another investigation; they must all work together to uncover a mystery mixing magic, murder and the strange realities of Temple demons.

This book follows on fairly directly after Penric and the Shaman (well, apparently, it's eight months later), which was slightly confusing since the last Penric book I read was Penric's Mission set ten years or so later. That said, it more or less stands alone, except that it helps to have read the very first book of the series, Penric and Desdemona, to understand Penric and the world and sticking to chronological order (even if the author doesn't) generally helps.

Anyway, this was an interesting and entertaining read. Penric and his friend Shaman Inglis end up investigating a murder which involves a missing demon and no clear motive. I very much enjoyed following Penric and friends as they stepped through the crime, discussed possibility and eventually (rather dramatically) landed on the final answer. As expected from Bujold, the story was also fairly amusing (although I hold that this series is less amusing than the Vorkosigan books).

Highly recommended for fans of the Penric and Desdemona series and not inaccessible to new readers (though it's not my recommended starting point). I have two more novellas left to read in the series so far, and this book has made me consider buying them immediately (and the only reason I haven't is because I'm waiting for an imminent ebook gift card).

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2017, self-published
Series: Penric and Desdemona book 3 of 6, both publicationly and chronologically speaking
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Apple Books

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

The Dinosaur Hunters by Patrick Samphire

The Dinosaur Hunters by Patrick Samphire is the first novella in The Casebook of Harriet George. Although it’s the first in the series, I actually read the second novella first, because it was included in The Underwater Ballroom Society anthology. While the two novellas do stand alone, I suspect reading them in order adds to the context for the second story.

Mars in 1815 is a world of wonders, from the hanging ballrooms of Tharsis City to the air forests of Patagonian Mars, and from the ice caves of Noachis Terra to the Great Wall of Cyclopia, beyond which dinosaurs still roam.

Sixteen-year-old Harriet George has never had the chance for an adventure. Now her older sister is determined to marry her off. Harriet can’t think of anything worse.

Meanwhile, her brother-in-law, Bertrand, has a problem. He’s never been much of a police inspector. As far as Harriet knows, Bertrand has never caught a criminal in his life. But now the famous jewel thief, the Glass Phantom, has come to Mars, and Bertrand has been given the job of tracking him down. If he fails, Bertrand will lose his job and the whole family will be ruined.

Harriet will not let that happen.

So she comes up with a plan: she will capture the Glass Phantom herself. Even if that mean that she and Bertrand have to follow the thief’s intended victim, the Countess von Krakendorff, on a dinosaur hunt in the perilous Martian wilderness. But there is far more going on in this expedition than mere robbery, and the dinosaurs are not the greatest danger.

If Harriet cannot solve the mystery, her family won't just be ruined. She and Bertrand may not make it out of the wilderness alive.

In this novella we are introduced to Harriet who, at the age of sixteen, is living with her older sister and brother in law, after the death of her parents. Her brother in law is a police investigator but, alas, not very good at his job. Because Harriet can see that her future depends on his ability to bring in a paycheque, she decides to help him solve an impossible jewel thief case (which has been handed to him to give his superiors an excuse to fire him when he fails). And so, Harriet dresses up as a boy and accompanies her brother in law on a dinosaur hunting expedition in the hopes of catching the thief.

This was a fun and entertaining read. Harriet is pretty cool and I was amused at how she successfully manipulated Bertrand and his employers to keep herself safe. The world building is super weird and almost not at all scientific. There are dinosaurs on Mars, and airships and a breathable atmosphere. And a lot of their technology runs on springs and compressed air, which is actually pretty cool. It’s also probably sort of period appropriate, alternate history aspects notwithstanding.

I definitely recommend this novella for readers of speculative fiction after a cosy and fun read. It was relaxing (despite a bit of dinosaur-related peril) and I would definitely go and get the next story in the series if I hadn’t already read it.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, self-published
Series: The Casebook of Harriet George volume 1 or 2 so far
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Kobo

Monday, 24 December 2018

#ReadShortStories that are mostly poems (206 to 210)

A transitional batch here. And a poetry heavy one. I finished off Uncanny Issue 22 (at last) and started reading Meet Me at the Intersection, an Australian anthology edited by Rebecca Lim and Ambelin Kwaymullina and featuring stories about a variety of minority identities.


Lorelei by Ali Trotta — A lovely poem about love and other things. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/lorelei/

What Grew by Sarah Gailey — I really liked this poem. It’s part body horror surrounding regular pregnancy and part fantastical. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/what-grew/

Okuri Inu, or the sending-off dog demon by Betsy Aoki — I am not sure exactly what this poem is about. My first thought was depression, but perhaps not. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/okuri-inu-or-the-sending-off-dog-demon/

Night Feet by Ellen van Neerven — A story about a teenaged girl playing soccer. And a bit how poverty and family circumstances are hurdles to that end. I expect the story would be more exciting for people who are into soccer, which I am not. Source: Meet Me at the Intersection edited by Rebecca Lim and Ambelin Kwaymullina

Dream by Graham Akhurst — A poem with formatting that didn’t work on my phone screen and was much more powerful when I was able to read it on the iPad. It’s also the kind of poem that becomes clearer with subsequent readings. Source: Meet Me at the Intersection edited by Rebecca Lim and Ambelin Kwaymullina

Saturday, 22 December 2018

#ReadShortStories (up to 205)


A bit of a different configuration in this batch, since I read through most of Resist Fascism before getting a chance to post incremental updates about the stories. To be less repetitive, I'm skipping those stories and jumping straight to the next ones I read, rounding them off to a multiple of five to keep things neat.

As you will soon see, I fell into a bit of a hole reading some stories published in Wired, after being linked to a Murderbot prequel. Wired's paywall only lets you read 4 stories a month, which is exactly why I stopped reading after four of their stories by authors that caught my eye. 🤷‍♀️

Then I went back to reading the issue of Uncanny I had put down a while ago. I originally put that one down because I was partway through a story that just wasn't doing it for me. Once I realised that no one was forcing me to read anything, I skipped the rest of that story and carried on with the issue. Huzzah.

~

Compulsory by Martha Wells — A short story about our beloved Murderbot, set before the main series. Contains no spoilers, so it’s also a good place for prospective readers to get a taste of the series. Source: https://www.wired.com/story/future-of-work-compulsory-martha-wells/

Trustless by Ken Liu — An interesting take on legal contracts: in the future they are coded (like computer code that needs to be compiled) and fully binding with regards to payment. As expected, a good read. Source: https://www.wired.com/story/future-of-work-trustless-ken-liu/

Farm by Charlie Jane Anders — A super depressing take on the future state of journalism that I hope never comes to pass. Source: https://www.wired.com/story/future-of-work-farm-charlie-jane-anders/

Real Girls by Laurie Penny — A nice little story about fake AI girlfriends and feelings. I quite liked it. It got the tone exactly right for what it was. Source: https://www.wired.com/story/future-of-work-real-girls-laurie-penny/

The Cook by C.L. Clark — A flash story about the romance between a soldier and a cook, both female. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/the-cook/

In Blue Lily’s Wake by Aliette de Bodard — A story set in the Mindship/Dai Viet universe. It’s about a plague that killed a lot of humans and one Mindship. The nature of the disease, involving strange hallucinations, made this a slightly surreal read and a little difficult to follow in my jetlagged state. But I mostly enjoyed it. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/in-blue-lilys-wake/

Persephone in Hades by Theodora Goss — A fairly narrative poem on the subject matter, examine motives. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/persephone-in-hades/