Monday, 2 March 2015

The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu

The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu was originally published in China and has been translated into English by Ken Liu. It's a hard science fiction novel set mostly in the approximate present in China, and partly during the cultural revolution.
Three-Body Problem is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience this multiple award winning phenomenon from China’s most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin.

Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.
The Three Body Problem is probably the best hard science fiction novel I've read in a long time. Admittedly this is partly because I've been put off by a lot of the books I picked up being either too sexist etc or, well, not being hard. Although, since I've started thinking about it, if I had to compare the style and scope of ideas, Greg Egan springs to mind. But anyway, on with the review.

The book opens during the Cultural Revolution in China, with Ye, a graduate student, watching her father beaten to death. Through the course of the revolution she ends up at a remote top secret radio telescope base where all is not quite as it seems. The first few chapters were about Ye but then the story jumped forward to the approximate present and we didn't get back to her story for quite a while. It's not that I didn't enjoy where the story ended up going, but I felt a little "bait and switch" with the opening. But I was glad when later we did get to find out the rest of her story.

The other part of the story (two thirds, maybe?) followed Wang, a physicist in nano material research, set in the approximate present. The start of his story is a horrifying nightmare for a scientist. Weird and inexplicable and inconsistent physics results start occurring. Particle accelerators start producing chaos, the cosmic microwave background flickers and a glowing countdown follows Wang around, appearing every time he takes a photo, no matter what camera he uses. Wang is terrified, as would I be if I were in the same situation. I thought it was a really clever and terrifying concept that was especially suited to the science fiction genre. I don't think it would freak out non-scientists as much (when reading the book, I mean), but that's kind of the point.

The last third of the story is more unusual. In the course of events, Wang ends up playing a virtual-reality immersive video game (pictured on the cover), which has strange rules and doesn't have any clear goals at first, other than to not die. It takes a little while to work out its relevance. On the other hand, while reading it's clear from the context that the game is relevant to the strange things happening in the world, just not quite how until much later. It also provided an interesting commentary on some aspects of the history of science.

The Three Body Problem is a very idea-dense novel. There's a lot in it, especially if you're not familiar with recent(ish) Chinese history. That said, the culture is very accessible. However, I find it harder to comment on the accessibility of the science, since I'm a physicist. There are some footnotes both from the author and the translator explaining some of the references, mostly to science in the first case and culture in the second.

I would very highly recommend The Three Body Problem to fans of hard science fiction. The main overarching plot — which does take a little while to be revealed — is very science and idea driven, with the characters spending a lot of time trying to work out what's happening. I am definitely keen to read the next instalment which should be out in October this year. (Although Ken Liu is not translating the second volume, only the first and third. It will be interesting to compare.)

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2008 in Chinese, 2014 in English by Tor
Series: Three Body book 1 of 3
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Friday, 27 February 2015

Aurealis Awards Shortlist Announced

The Aurealis Awards shortlist has just been announced. You can go read the official release here. (Which has happily moved to blog format and away from PDF format, this year.) I've also reproduced the list below, with links to books that I've reviewed.

BEST FANTASY NOVEL

Fireborn, Keri Arthur (Hachette Australia)
This Shattered World, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (Allen & Unwin)
The Lascar’s Dagger, Glenda Larke (Hachette Australia)
Dreamer’s Pool, Juliet Marillier (Pan Macmillan Australia)
Afterworlds, Scott Westerfeld (Penguin Books Australia)
Daughters of the Storm, Kim Wilkins (Harlequin Enterprises Australia)




 

BEST FANTASY SHORT STORY

“The Oud”, Thoraiya Dyer (Long Hidden, Crossed Genres Publications)
“Teratogen”, Deborah Kalin (Cemetery Dance, #71, May 2014)
“The Ghost of Hephaestus”, Charlotte Nash (Phantazein, FableCroft Publications)
“St Dymphna’s School for Poison Girls”, Angela Slatter (The Review of Australian Fiction, Volume 9, Issue 3)
“The Badger Bride”, Angela Slatter (Strange Tales IV, Tartarus Press)


BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL

Aurora: Meridian, Amanda Bridgeman (Momentum)
Nil By Mouth, LynC (Satalyte)
The White List, Nina D’Aleo (Momentum)
Peacemaker, Marianne de Pierres (Angry Robot)
This Shattered World, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (Allen & Unwin)
Foresight, Graham Storrs (Momentum)


I think I need to get around to some of those Momentum books on my TBR...

BEST SCIENCE FICTION SHORT STORY

“The Executioner Goes Home”, Deborah Biancotti (Review of Australian Fiction, Vol 11 Issue 6)
“Wine, Women and Stars”, Thoraiya Dyer (Analog Vol CXXXIV nos 1&2 Jan/Feb)
“The Glorious Aerybeth”, Jason Fischer (OnSpec, 11 Sep 2014)
“Dellinger”, Charlotte Nash (Use Only As Directed, Peggy Bright Books)
“Happy Go Lucky”, Garth Nix (Kaleidoscope, Twelfth Planet Press)



BEST HORROR NOVEL

Book of the Dead, Greig Beck (Momentum)
Razorhurst, Justine Larbalestier (Allen & Unwin)
Obsidian, Alan Baxter (HarperVoyager)


BEST HORROR SHORT STORY

“The Executioner Goes Home”, Deborah Biancotti (Review of Australian Fiction, Vol 11 Issue 6)
“Skinsuit”, James Bradley (Island Magazine 137)
“By the Moon’s Good Grace”, Kirstyn McDermott (Review of Australian Fiction, Vol 12, Issue 3)
“Shay Corsham Worsted”, Garth Nix (Fearful Symmetries, Chizine)
“Home and Hearth”, Angela Slatter (Spectral Press)

BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL

The Astrologer’s Daughter, Rebecca Lim (Text Publishing)
Afterworld, Lynnette Lounsbury (Allen & Unwin)
The Cracks in the Kingdom, Jaclyn Moriarty (Pan Macmillan Australia)
Clariel, Garth Nix (Allen & Unwin)
The Haunting of Lily Frost, Nova Weetman (UQP)
Afterworlds, Scott Westerfeld (Penguin Books Australia)


BEST YOUNG ADULT SHORT STORY

“In Hades”, Goldie Alexander (Celapene Press)
“Falling Leaves”, Liz Argyll (Apex Magazine)
“The Fuller and the Bogle”, David Cornish (Tales from the Half-Continent, Omnibus Books)
“Vanilla”, Dirk Flinthart (Kaleidoscope, Twelfth Planet Press)
“Signature”, Faith Mudge (Kaleidoscope, Twelfth Planet Press)


BEST CHILDREN’S FICTION

Slaves of Socorro: Brotherband #4, John Flanagan (Random House Australia)
Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy, Karen Foxlee (Hot Key Books)
The Last Viking Returns, Norman Jorgensen and James Foley (ILL.) (Fremantle Press)
Withering-by-Sea, Judith Rossell (ABC Books)
Sunker’s Deep: The Hidden #2, Lian Tanner (Allen & Unwin)
Shadow Sister: Dragon Keeper #5, Carole Wilkinson (Black Dog Books)

BEST COLLECTION

The Female Factory, Lisa L Hannett and Angela Slatter (Twelfth Planet Press)
Secret Lives, Rosaleen Love (Twelfth Planet Press)
Angel Dust, Ian McHugh (Ticonderoga Publications)
Difficult Second Album: more stories of Xenobiology, Space Elevators, and Bats Out Of Hell, Simon Petrie (Peggy Bright Books)
The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings, Angela Slatter (Tartarus Press)
Black-Winged Angels, Angela Slatter (Ticonderoga Publications)


(Note that I was on the judging panel for Collection above and Anthology below. The links are to my reviews from before I knew I'd be on the panel and reflect only my own views and not necessarily the views of the entire panel.)

BEST ANTHOLOGY

Kisses by Clockwork, Liz Grzyb (Ed) (Ticonderoga Publications)
Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios (Eds), (Twelfth Planet Press)
Amok: An Anthology of Asia-Pacific Speculative Fiction, Dominica Malcolm (Ed) (Solarwyrm Press)
Reach for Infinity, Jonathan Strahan (Ed) (Solaris Books)
Fearsome Magics, Jonathan Strahan (Ed) (Solaris Books)
Phantazein, Tehani Wessely (Ed) (FableCroft Publishing)


BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL/ILLUSTRATED WORK

Left Hand Path #1, Jason Franks & Paul Abstruse (Winter City Productions)
Awkwood, Jase Harper (Milk Shadow Books)
“A Small Wild Magic”, Kathleen Jennings (Monstrous Affections, Candlewick Press)
Mr Unpronounceable and the Sect of the Bleeding Eye, Tim Molloy (Milk Shadow Books)
The Game, Shane Smith (Deeper Meanings Publishing)

Sunday, 22 February 2015

The Hush by Skye Melki-Wegner

The Hush by Skye Melki-Wegner is a standalone (gasp!) YA fantasy by the author of the Chasing the Valley trilogy. It's set in a completely different world but fans of Melki-Wegner's style will find similarly appealing elements in The Hush. (Also, how pretty is the cover? I love it!)
Chester is on the road, searching every town for clues about his father and why he disappeared.

But when he's caught accidentally – and illegally – connecting with the Song as he plays his beloved fiddle, Chester is sentenced to death. Only a licensed Songshaper can bend music to their will. The axe is about to fall...

But there is someone else watching Chester. Someone who needs his special talents. Who can use him for their own ends. And who knows the secrets of The Hush, where there is no music, only deadly Echoes who will steal your soul.

Susannah is that someone. The young captain of the infamous Nightfall Gang, Susannah has plans for Chester. Finally, she will have her revenge.
The Hush was a pretty great read. The world is one where music is inexorably linked to magic. Anyone can sing or (learn to) play an instrument, but anyone who isn't Conservatorium-trained isn't allowed to stray into capital-M Music. Chester, our main character, of course, does so by accident and the story opens with him in mortal danger because of it.

What saves Chester from dying at the very start of the novel (which would have made for a duller read), is the Nightfall Gang, a gang of thieves who steal from the rich and give to the poor (in a world where the was never a Robin Hood). They've never been caught because they know a secret very few other people are aware of. There is a parallel world called the Hush, where darkness and danger reign, and through which they can pass practically unseen.

The members of the gang provide a nice cross section of the key worldbuilding elements. Often when there's an ensemble cast, it can be hard to get a feel for the more secondary characters, but Melki-Wegner does a good job of making them all distinct and unique. They may have overlapping backstories (if they didn't they probably wouldn't all be in the same gang), but I found their wildly different personalities refreshing.

I have a pretty good knowledge of music and there wasn't anything major in The Hush that made me think, "wait, what?" There were a few very little things that made me go "hmm" but nothing that threw me out of the story. The music magic also fed in nicely to the worldbuilding, allowing the society to have music/magic driven technology, such as guns and medicine. On a story level, I found the ending — resolution and reveal — satisfying, especially when all the hints dropped earlier in the story came together.

I really enjoyed The Hush. It's a pleasingly complex read set in a fleshed out world. I highly recommend it to fans of standalones in particular, since they are relatively uncommon. I personally would have been happy with more book set in this world — both the world and the characters were pretty great — but everything was tied off enough that it would be a challenge for the author to come back to it. I also recommend The Hush to fans of Melki-Wegner's other books and to fans of... I'm not sure how to describe this flavour of fantasy (musicpunk?). If you're at all unsure, just give it a go.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: March 2014, Random House Australia
Series: Nope
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Friday, 20 February 2015

Symbiont by Mira Grant

Symbiont by Mira Grant is the sequel to Parasite, which I reviewed in late 2013, and the second book in the Parasitology trilogy (well, I assume it's a trilogy). This review (and also the blurb) contains spoilers for the first book.
The SymboGen designed tapeworms were created to relieve humanity of disease and sickness. But the implants in the majority of the world's population began attacking their hosts turning them into a ravenous horde.

Now those who do not appear to be afflicted are being gathered for quarantine as panic spreads, but Sal and her companions must discover how the tapeworms are taking over their hosts, what their eventual goal is, and how they can be stopped.
Honestly, that's not a great blurb. I've read worse, but it does skip over a lot of relevant nuance in the story. The parasite-induced zombie apocalypse was getting starting in the first book, but now it's in full swing. One thing I found both refreshing and interesting is how different this apocalypse is to Mira Grant's other series, Newsflesh.

Sal, the main character, came to the realisation at the end of Parasite that she was not entirely the human person she thought she was. In Symbiont, she starts off still coming to terms with what that means. The book is told mainly in first person and to show us what's going on outside of Dr Cale's lab, Sal gets into a lot of trouble that takes her to a variety of places. It's more plausible in context than I may have just made it sound, and does get around the need to provide the same background information solely in quotes and journal entries.

Symbiont introduces some new characters, two of whom particularly caught my attention. There was Ronnie, a human-tapeworm chimaera that Sal encounters at one point. The tapeworm part of Ronnie has been transplanted several times and is now residing in an adolescent black girl. But Ronnie started life as an implant for a male trucker and the worm part of him remembers this and feels entirely not at home in the girl's body. Basically, it's an interesting representation of a trans chimaera. Since the tapeworms themselves are hermaphroditic, chimaera gender comes from the interplay between the tapeworm and human elements of the person. Which I found interesting.

The other new character that caught my attention was Fishy, a lab tech recruited by Dr Cale. His backstory is that when the apocalypse struck, his wife went zombie and tried to kill him. Since then he's suffered a break from reality and thinks he's dreaming a very realistic video game. On the one hand, it's a plausible coping mechanism, and on the other hand, he provides sort of "fourth wall" commentary on events. (What's the book equivalent of breaking the fourth wall?) My favourite line was about the zombies having been "conceived by a creative team with an obsession for body horror". And the bits where he was talking about boss fights.

So, if you enjoyed Parasite, I definitely recommend reading Symbiont. It does suffer a little bit from middle book syndrome, but if you're invested in the story already, it's a nice volume that pushes the plot along. I am looking forward to book three coming out late this year (and I just saw the awesome cover for it; I really like the design aesthetic they've gone with for this series). I don't recommend starting with Symbiont, but I do recommend the series to fans of medical, apocalyptic and mild horror science fiction.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: November 2014, Orbit
Series: Parasitology book 2 of 3
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Google Play

Monday, 16 February 2015

Ditmar Ballot (Shortlist) 2015

I mentioned yesterday that the preliminary Ditmar ballot had been released and it has now turned into an official ballot. You can see it here and I've reproduced it below. You can vote here if you're eligible.

Links below are to my reviews where they exist or the thing itself if applicable. I should also add the disclaimer that I was a last-minute judge on the Aurealis panel for Collections and anthologies. Because of the last-minute-ness, I reviewed some of the eligible works last year before being drafted and it should be noted that those reviews are entirely my own opinion and do not reflect the opinion of the judging panel. The same is true of my comments on individual stories below, which should not be construed with my feelings on the anthologies/collections they come from.

Best Novel

  • The Lascar's Dagger, Glenda Larke (Hachette)
  • Bound (Alex Caine 1), Alan Baxter (Voyager)
  • Clariel, Garth Nix (HarperCollins)
  • Thief's Magic (Millennium's Rule 1), Trudi Canavan (Hachette Australia)
  • The Godless (Children 1), Ben Peek (Tor UK)
  • No Award 
I've read two and a half of these (the half being the Peek) and do have Thief's Magic waiting on my TBR. Shall have to try to get to it in time. Haven't read any of the books in that Nix series, either. I've heard a lot about it, but from my own point of view, it's a complete unknown quantity.




Best Novella or Novelette

  • "The Ghost of Hephaestus", Charlotte Nash, in Phantazein (FableCroft Publishing)
  • "The Legend Trap", Sean Williams, in Kaleidoscope (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • "The Darkness in Clara", Alan Baxter, in SQ Mag 14 (IFWG Publishing Australia)
  • "St Dymphna's School for Poison Girls", Angela Slatter, in Review of Australian Fiction, Volume 9, Issue 3 (Review of Australian Fiction)
  • "The Female Factory", Lisa L. Hannett and Angela Slatter, in The Female Factory (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • "Escapement", Stephanie Gunn, in Kisses by Clockwork (Ticonderoga Publications)
  • No Award 
An interestingly diverse shortlist, good to see so many different publications represented. A list heavily skewed towards feminist themes, which is interesting, and all a bit dark too. I have a good idea of which story I'll put first (the Gunn), but ranking the others will be a challenge.


Best Short Story

  • "Bahamut", Thoraiya Dyer, in Phantazein (FableCroft Publishing)
  • "Vanilla", Dirk Flinthart, in Kaleidoscope (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • "Cookie Cutter Superhero", Tansy Rayner Roberts, in Kaleidoscope (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • "The Seventh Relic", Cat Sparks, in Phantazein (FableCroft Publishing)
  • "Signature", Faith Mudge, in Kaleidoscope (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • No Award 
A bit less diversity in the source publications for this one. However, there is a spread from humorous to more serious, so that's nice to see. Some of these will be difficult to rank.

Best Collected Work

  • Kaleidoscope, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • The Year's Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2013, edited by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene (Ticonderoga Publications)
  • Phantazein, edited by Tehani Wessely (FableCroft Publishing)
  • No Award 
A disappointingly short shortlist here. There were so many strong anthologies and collections put out in 2014 I would have hoped more of them might have been widely-enough read to have made the shortlist. Not that these books aren't deserving, of course. (I haven't read the Best Of, actually, since it wasn't submitted to the Aurealis Awards for whatever reason.) Or perhaps the issue was too many equally ranked books in a strong fourth place. In any case, stand-by for the Aurealis shortlist to be released in a couple of weeks.

Best Artwork

  • Illustrations, Kathleen Jennings, in Black-Winged Angels (Ticonderoga Publications)
  • Cover art, Kathleen Jennings, of Phantazein (FableCroft Publishing)
  • Illustrations, Kathleen Jennings, in The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings (Tartarus Press)
  • No Award 
Hmm, I wonder what artist will win? I'm quite fond of the Phantazein cover, so I think that will be getting my first vote. I'll have to take a closer look at the other two to decide which I like more.

Best Fan Writer

  • Tansy Rayner Roberts, for body of work
  • Tsana Dolichva, for body of work
  • Bruce Gillespie, for body of work
  • Katharine Stubbs, for body of work
  • Alexandra Pierce for body of work
  • Grant Watson, for body of work
  • Sean Wright, for body of work
  • No Award 
I surprisingly long category and one I am a part of, which is always exciting.

Best Fan Artist

  • Nalini Haynes, for body of work, including "Interstellar Park Ranger Bond, Jaime Bond", "Gabba and Slave Lay-off: Star Wars explains Australian politics", "The Driver", and "Unmasked" in Dark Matter Zine
  • Kathleen Jennings, for body of work, including Fakecon art and Illustration Friday series
  • Nick Stathopoulos, for movie poster of It Grows!
  • No Award 
Quite similar to last year's shortlist, albeit with different art work.

Best Fan Publication in Any Medium

  • Snapshot 2014, Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely, and Sean Wright
  • It Grows!, Nick Stathopoulos
  • Galactic Suburbia, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, and Andrew Finch
  • The Writer and the Critic, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond
  • Galactic Chat, Sean Wright, Helen Stubbs, David McDonald, Alexandra Pierce, Sarah Parker, and Mark Webb
  • No Award 
So obviously I'm going to be biased towards Snapshot 2014 here, since I was a part of it. It Grows! is a movie that I haven't seen, and the other three shortlistees are all great podcasts.


Best New Talent

  • Helen Stubbs
  • Shauna O'Meara
  • Michelle Goldsmith
  • No Award 

William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review

  • Reviews in The Angriest, Grant Watson
  • The Eddings Reread series, Tehani Wessely, Jo Anderton, and Alexandra Pierce, in A Conversational Life
  • Reviews in Adventures of a Bookonaut, Sean Wright
  • "Does Sex Make Science Fiction Soft?", in Uncanny Magazine 1, Tansy Rayner Roberts
  • Reviews in FictionMachine, Grant Watson
  • The Reviewing New Who series, David McDonald, Tansy Rayner Roberts, and Tehani Wessely
  • No Award

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Tsana's February Status

Goodness, what a reading-packed month and a half 2015 has been so far! As I mentioned last month, I was drafted in as a last-minute Aurealis judge, so most of my reading so far this year has been for that. But now (as of twenty minutes before writing this sentence) I'm DONE! Whoo! I can go back to reading books I'm allowed to review! (Well, I can talk about the Aurealis books after it's all over and awarded, but that's not until April.) Now I can be mainly stressed about work instead of also about whether I've spent enough time reading. (To put it into perspective, I do not read quickly and yet I've finished 28 books this year. Up until the 18th of January, I was at parity for days of the year vs books read.)

So that's why there haven't been many reviews on the blog.

In other news, the preliminary Ditmar ballot was recently announced and you can have a gander here. I've been shortlisted for Best Fan Writer and under Best Fan Publication in Any Medium for Snapshot, so that's nice and exciting. I'll reproduce the full shortlist here with some light commentary when it moves from preliminary to final.

I had a couple of non-review posts over the past month. First up there was a guest post from Duncan Lay about realistic battle scenes, something which he does particularly well in his books. And I also had an interview with Kat Ross, who was one of the authors whose unpublished book was orphaned when Strange Chemistry went under. The book is Some Fine Day, which I reviewed before its intended release date, and it's coming out imminently from another publisher. If you go to the interview, there's also a competition to win stuff that you can still enter.

What Have I Read?

Not much that I've reviewed!
Yep, that's all. There should be many more reviews in the coming month.

Currently Reading


Symbiont by Mira Grant. It's the sequel to Parasite, which I read in 2013 when it came out. Not sure how much I can really say without spoiling the first book for you. It's more of the same story, which is a good thing.

New Booksies


From most recent to least, this time.
  • Hush by Skye Melki-Wegner, the first in a new YA series that I am excited about. For review from the publisher via NetGalley.
  • Cranky Ladies of History edited by Tehani Wessley and Tansy Rayner Roberts — an anthology I backed via crowdfunding (and also got an ARC, which was unexpected) full of stories about cool historical ladies (obviously).
  • Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, the third book in the loose series she started with Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire. I think this ones starts before the war. For review from the publisher via NetGalley.
  • Winning the King by Nicole Murphy, the sequel to Loving the Prince. Science fiction romance. For review from the publisher via NetGalley.



And wow, I kind of really thought there'd be more than four. I suppose I've been hiding from books more successfully than I thought. I'm not sure, but that's probably a good thing... Maybe... It's not like I'm in danger of running out.

Friday, 13 February 2015

A Book/Reading Meme

I don't usually do memes here but Aurealis reading has left my blog a little bereft of content, so why not. Courtesy of SF Signal:
  1. What was the last sf/f/h book you finished reading?
    • Amok: Antho of Asia-Pacific Spec Fic edited by Dominica Malcolm, read for judging purposes.
  2. What was the last sf/f/h book you did not finish reading and why?
    • None this year (obviously not counting the two books I'm actively halfway through). Going back to last year, it depends on your definitions. I started reading the audiobook of Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, but stopped because I wasn't commuting over the holidays and now I'm reading too much to want to listen to more fiction in the car (I've been catching up on mainly Galactic Chat podcasts instead). Books I left partly read last year I still vaguely hope to finish at some point include The Godless by Ben Peek and Help Fund My Robot Army edited by John Joseph Adams. The last book I consciously decided not to finish was Trucksong by Andrew Macrae because it was just not for me.
  3. What was the last sf/f/h book you read that you liked but most people didn’t?
    • I'm not sure. I don't pay a huge amount of attention to "most people's" reading habits. I don't think I've read any terribly controversial books recently, or if I did, they were the kind of controversial that people I associate with tend to approve of. If we're talking about quality of writing/story... I just don't know. Maybe Blades of the Old Empire by Anna Kashina. What books have I liked that you haven't, blog-reading people?
  4. What was the last sf/f/h book you read that you disliked but most people did [like]?
  5. How long do your 1-sitting reading sessions usually last?
    • On a good day in excess of an hour if I'm reading on the couch (usually that happens only on weekends). In bed I usually read for half an hour to an hour.
  6. What are you currently reading?
    • Symbiont by Mira Grant for fun and The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 8 edited by Jonathan Strahan, which is my last Aurealis book.
  7. Do you like it so far?
    • Can't comment on the Year's Best, but I am enjoying Symbiont. It's just taken a turn into "I don't know how you're getting out of this" territory, so that's fun.
  8. How long ago did you buy the book you are currently reading (or the last book you read)?
    • I bought Symbiont in November, which is when it came out.
  9. What was the last physical sf/f/h book you bought?
    • I bought ten paper YA books just before Christmas, which are listed here. I have read four of them so far.
  10. What is the sf/f/h sub-genre you like the most and why?
    • On principle I feel like I should say science fiction. I want  to like science fiction best. But in practice, what I like most are the kind of BFF books written by Australian Women since the late 90s/early 00s.
  11. What is the sf/f/h sub-genre you dislike the most and why?
    • Body horror. Horror with an excess of gore. Some of what I've read has struck me as gratuitous and not an effective way of advancing the plot. Other books have just made me too uncomfortable with their ickiness. I prefer to be made uncomfortable psychologically. (It seems more clever, usually, too.)
  12. What is your favorite electronic reading device?
    • My phone (iPhone 6+). Before I got my current phone late last year, my answer would've been the iPad, but it's the last device I have with large pixels (my laptop has a "retina display too") and being an iPad 2, there are a few interesting bugs it's acquired. Like I can't dim the screen all the way in landscape mode because it leaves an undimmed slice at the side. (The fix is to switch to portrait, dim, them switch back. And sigh. The sighing is important.) I still mostly read on the iPad because it's easier to prop up rather than having to hold my phone while lying in bed. Sometimes I get Voice Over to read books to me, in which case I use my phone because it has a better voice that the iPad isn't compatible with.
  13. What was the last sf/f/h eBook you bought?
    • Sourdough and Other Stories by Angela Slatter. Before that, Dangerous by Shannon Hale and The Swan Book by Alexis Wright.
  14. Do you read books exclusively in 1 format (physical/electronic)?
    • I feel like this question is answered above. I prefer ebooks for a bunch of reasons but I don't hate reading paper books. I'm less fond of audiobooks, but obviously not to the point of not enjoying them. (Well, it can depend on the narrator. Also, I've developed a desire to stab people who format their ebooks poorly enough to make my phone read out "new line" every time, or render the entire book as a link for some reason, or OMG you really learn the ways people can fuck up their formatting when you're using a screen reader.)
  15. Do you read eBooks exclusively on a single device (eBook reader/ smartphone / tablet)?
    • As mentioned above, I read on my phone and my iPad. Also my computer (the iBooks app syncs across all three mostly nicely). And when I travel I take the Kobo which is a piece of shit I have frequently wanted to throw at a wall, but it's a piece of shit with a week-long battery. It's terrible for reading PDFs, though. I read a PDF on it once only because I couldn't bear to put that specific book down. Have I mentioned my annoyance at PDF ARCs? Especially the trade paperback/hardcover sized ones for which I have to zoom every iPad page by hand. Ugh.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Interview with Kat Ross

Today I have an interview with Kat Ross, author of Some Fine Day. This was one of the books orphaned when Strange Chemistry went under. From memory I think it was two weeks from publication when it was cut. I had already read and reviewed it when the news broke. Since then, Some Fine Day was picked up by a new publisher, Skyscape (an imprint of Amazon's publishing arm), given a new cover and is slated for release in a week and a half (on 17/2/2015). I've included the new cover and blurb below, followed by the interview and, right at the end, some information about a giveaway, so be sure to scroll all the way down.

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A generation ago, continent-sized storms called hypercanes caused the Earth to flood. The survivors were forced to retreat deep underground and build a new society.

This is the story that sixteen-year-old Jansin Nordqvist has heard all of her life.

Jansin grew up in a civilization far below the Earth’s surface. She’s spent the last eight years in military intelligence training. So when her parents surprise her with a coveted yet treacherous trip above ground, she’s prepared for anything. She’s especially thrilled to feel the fresh air, see the sun, and view the wide-open skies and the ocean for herself.

But when raiders attack Jansin’s camp and take her prisoner, she is forced to question everything she’s been taught. What do her captors want? How will she get back underground? And if she ever does, will she want to stay after learning the truth?
You can check out the book trailer here.

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First off, the obvious question: why hypercanes? Where did the idea come from? (And how many hypercanes are there in the Southern Hemisphere? I have to know!)

I started thinking about mega-storms after reading an amusing piece in the Onion about a hurriphoonado wreaking a path of destruction across the planet. Of course, it was more amusing seven years ago, before Typhoon Haiyan and Hurricane Sandy and all the mounting evidence that our climate is going seriously haywire from the burning of fossil fuels. Anyway, I sat on the idea for a while but I always had it in the back of my mind. When I stumbled across a theoretical class of extreme storms called hypercanes, I thought, hmmmm. What if this actually happened? And what if they didn't go away? How would we cope? I have a little page on my website about them here.

I liked that your society wasn't as extremely totalitarian as it could have been. As one of the characters says, it's "vaguely fascist" but I think that makes it more realistic. What led you to that choice, rather than something more extreme?

Yes, Jansin's world is tottering on the brink when the story takes place. There's still an illusion of civil liberties, but they're being steadily eroded. And I think that's how it often happens. There's no coup d'etat or military takeover or single dramatic event. It's more of a slow slide into the abyss. The story doesn't have a cult of personality; there's no single bad guy at the top. The underlying problem is a scarcity of resources underground and competition for them with other prefectures, which is not an easily fixable problem.

Underground is not a very common setting, can you tell us a bit about the research you had to do to write it?

I did a lot! You have to think about every single aspect of life, especially the basics: where does the food come from, the water, the air? What about Vitamin D deficiency from never seeing the sun? What if there's a fire? Or an earthquake? What kind of jobs would there be? How do people organize themselves differently underground? A big one was the temperature increase as you go deeper into the earth's crust. I initially had set the prefecture very deep, mainly because it sounded cool (I'm on a magnetic bullet train speeding through the darkness at four hundred miles per hour, and that train is about six miles beneath the Earth's surface…) but in one of my later edits, I realized that it would be way too hot at that depth. For every 328 feet [100 metres — T] below ground, the temperature increases about 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit [3º C]. So I revised it to a little more than a mile down (which is still WAY deeper than I would ever want to go!)

Will we be seeing more of the post-apocalyptic world? (From the ending of Some Fine Day we have some idea of where the next book will probably start, but after that...?)

I really hope so! I do have about 50k words of the second book already written, and would love to finish if I get a greenlight from my editors. Hopefully I will have more concrete news on that in the next few months. Avoiding any major spoilers, I can say that most of the action in the sequel takes place above ground, in the continental U.S. I really wanted to explore what it could be like nearly 100 years from now if runaway climate change continues: we're talking massive wildfires, record-breaking tornadoes, basically a giant desert from the Mexican border to the Rockies. And there's definitely some surprises in store about who lives up there!

Thanks, Kat, for those interesting answers! You can find out more about Kat and her books on Twitter (@katrossauthor) or at her website.

~

And now for the giveaway! To celebrate the launch of Some Fine Day there are five awesome prizes up for grabs:
  • Grand Prize: Kindle Paperwhite with custom cover, preloaded with Some Fine Day
  • Second Prize (2): Signed copy of Some Fine Day
  • Third Prize (2): CD audiobook of Some Fine Day
This contest runs from February 7 to March 7 and you can enter using the Rafflecopter widget below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, 2 February 2015

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein is a YA novel set during World War II. I have previously read and reviewed Rose Under Fire, which is a companion novel — I want to say set in the same world, but that sounds silly when talking about a real world setting — with a small number of cross-over characters set a bit later in the war.
Oct. 11th, 1943-A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it's barely begun.

When "Verity" is arrested by the Gestapo, she's sure she doesn't stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she's living a spy's worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?
After reading Rose Under Fire, I was expecting Code Name Verity to be as relentlessly depressing, but it wasn't. I mean, it wasn't exactly a cheery novel, but there was some black humour to it and less horror on the page. I suspect the take-away message from that is that concentration camps, featuring in Rose Under Fire, are basically the most depressing thing ever.

So if Code Name Verity isn't about a concentration camp, what is it about? Two British girls — one a Scottish aristocratic spy, the other an English mechanic and pilot — who end up behind enemy lines in less than optimal circumstances. The story opens in the form of Verity's written confession to the Gestapo in the French city where she's been captured. Verity quickly tells us that she's traded wireless codes for better treatment from the Nazis and is now writing out a sort of "everything she knows about the British war effort" confession. Partly due to the Nazi-in-charge's indulgence, but mostly due to her own gumption, she writes her confession in the form of a story centring on her friend Maddy, who flew the plane that brought her to France. There are a few "here are the aeroplane names I can think of" bits, but for the most part it is written in a narrative style. We even get some "here is what's happening with me and the Nazi interrogators" bits at the start of most days/sections.

The opening sentence of Code Name Verity is "I AM A COWARD." for selling secrets to the Nazis for personal comforts. But if you look at the New York Times quote on the cover... well it might give you a bit of a hint about the unreliable narration. Whether or not you take the confession at face value, it still makes for a good read. But I found myself particularly intrigued as to where the story was going to go next when, at a bit past half-way, I realised Verity's retelling was catching up to the present.

The second half of the book is kind of a spoiler for the first half so I don't feel like I can say much about it. But it strongly informs the first half (from the very start, I laughed out loud when a tiny detail threw a much earlier detail into a new light) and the story doesn't make sense without the complete package. Let's just say the narration becomes rather more reliable.

I really loved this book. Although it doesn't look long, it's a bit denser than other YA books I've read recently, so I had to inhale it over three days (interspersed with other reading) but still ended up staying up to finish it. The characters are loveable (well, not the horrible Nazis, obviously, but you know what I mean) and the story is gripping. I also couldn't help thinking that it's the kind of book that lends itself perfectly to being analysed in a high school English class and would have made better reading than most of the books forced upon me in school.

I highly recommend Code Name Verity to everyone, particularly anyone with even a passing interest in World War II. The focus on female pilots — particularly British ones — is both rare and interesting. An excellent read.

5 / 5 stars

First published: 2012, Hyperion
Series: Yes. Well, collection of related stand-alone stories. First written of three so far.
Format read: Paper!
Source: Purchased from a non-Amazon-owned online book shop

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Space Dogs by Sophia Parsons Cope

Space Dogs by Sophia Parsons Cope is a comic drawn and written by an independent artist living in Melbourne (who also happens to be a friend of mine). Friendship or not, I was drawn to the idea of experimental space dogs getting up to things on their own (y'know, instead of just dying, like they all did).
SPACE DOGS is a comic about dogs in space- more accurately, it's speculative fiction about the last soviet space dog experiment... but let's face it, "dogs in space" sounds way cooler.
So this is very much a first issue. It has its own little story arc, but it seemed to me to be mainly working through the premise to set up future stories. I believe the plan is for there to be more issues if this first one does well enough (so go buy it — space and dogs, what more do you want?).

The first halfish of the story is set on Earth (in the USSR because, well, Soviet space dogs) but because the main doggy character, Raketochka, doesn't speak much Human, there are a lot of talking bubbles with floating Cyrillic characters, with the story told primarily through pictures. I thought that was a really cute way of doing it. Later, when Raketochka talks to other dogs, their speech bubbles are in English.

The art style is kind of similar to the front cover except not quite because the interior is all black and white. As I lack any sort of expertise in art, here is a small panel on the left to give you an idea. It's all very cute, anyway. If you're interested, you can see some "work in progress" pics on the creator's Instagram and Tumblr (go back about a month).

Space Dogs is a cute comic that delivers exactly what it promises. I would recommend it to fans of dogs, space and comics. But seriously, if the idea of dogs in space appeals to you, definitely give this a try. I read it as a PDF which looked quite good on my (admittedly also quite good) computer screen. There will be a print version eventually, but why wait? Space. Dogs.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: January 2014, self-published
Series: Hopefully. Issue #1
Format read: PDF
Source: Gumroad
Disclaimer: The creator is a friend of mine but I'd like to think this review is mostly unbiased.