Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Hugo Novelette Round-up

Time to talk about the Hugo novelette short list! I have previously written about the novellas and short stories and now it's time to look at the in-between length.

This is a mixed bag of stories, with some science fiction and some fantasy stories thrown in, with a variety of moods between them. My favourite two, which are currently vying for top place on my ballot are "If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again" by Zen Cho and The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander. The latter I loved when I read it, thinking it was a novella until Hugo time rolled around, and the former I hadn't come across until this shortlist came out. In fact, I hadn't read any other stories here before they appeared on this shortlist, so I came to them relatively unbiased.

After the two stories mentioned above, I enjoyed "The Thing About Ghost Stories" a lot, which maybe shouldn't surprise me since I loved "Cat Pictures Please" by the same author. I enjoyed "The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections" by Tina Connolly and “When We Were Starless” by Simone Heller equally, although the latter had more depth to its world building and the former had a good ending which was both obvious and unexpected. The story going on the bottom of my ballot will be "Nine Last Days on Planet Earth" by Daryl Gregory, which I did not enjoy much, for the reasons I list below.

I think my vote will be loosely in the order I mentioned the stories, with a bit of jiggling around to be decided when I actually submit it. What about you? Which novelettes did you like most or dislike? Let me know in the comments!

~

"If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again", by Zen Cho — A wonderful story about an imugi trying to ascend to a heavenly dragon form. It takes a long time and learns many things along the way. Both about the Way and, eventually, about humans. A very enjoyable story with an emotional and bittersweet ending.

"The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections", by Tina Connolly — A fantasy story about magical pastries that forcibly evoke certain memories. Well, the actual story is about the wife of the baker that makes them and the tyrannical King who has taken the throne. It was an interesting that I enjoyed even as I wondered how it would end satisfactorily.

"Nine Last Days on Planet Earth", by Daryl Gregory — The story was OK but I found it a bit old fashioned. I’m also not sure that the title made sense in the end with the direction the story took, but I don’t want to spoil it by explaining. I was weirded out by how often the (gay!) protagonist described how beautiful his mother was. That was super weird, and only got more so with repetition. Overall, the science parts with the apocalypse were interesting, the rest was fine.

The Only Harmless Great Thing, by Brooke Bolander — This was published as a separate book, much like the Tor.com novellas, and hence it got a standalone review from me. You can read it here.

"The Thing About Ghost Stories", by Naomi Kritzer - The story opens like a nonfiction essay but then settles into the lived experience of the narrator, who is a ghost-story collecting anthropologist. As well as discussing different types of ghost stories, the story gives us a glimpse into the narrators life with her ageing mother. I quite enjoy this story, for its discussion of ghost stories as well as the main story. I guess I had enough of a scientist to enjoy such categorisations.

“When We Were Starless”, by Simone Heller — Exquisitely detailed world building as we follow a tribe and their spiritual leader across a world unable to sustain life. Their world is very different from ours and, although the tribe is not human, they are recognisably people who have forgotten their distant past and are distrustful when confronted with a remnant of it. The story felt fantastical when I started reading but became more clearly science fiction as I read further. A very well-thought-out story.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Memento by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Memento by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff is a prequel novella set in the Illuminae Files world. I have previously reviewed the first two books in the series, Illuminae and Gemina. While I have read the third book, Obsidio, I have not reviewed it since I did not get a chance to read the final fancy typeset version, which is now on another continent. (I read an earlier version for science-checking purposes.) The printed booklet version of Memento is the only version I have read and came as a preorder bonus for the authors' new book.

December, 2574. Forty-three days before the BeiTech attack on Kerenza IV.

This is the story of my first friendship.

This is the tale of my first murder?

Some monsters are born.

But I?

< ERROR >

I was made.

I won't say this was a fun read per se, but as with the main books in the series it was presented in a fun way, with transcripts of conversations and a few pages of strange word art. I did not think I remembered the main characters (other than AIDAN) from the main series and, given the series, it was not hard to guess the shape of the ending. I enjoyed the new protagonist, Olivia, who had an interesting story arc.

Memento does not contain any significant spoilers for the series. Being a prequel meant that certain events were set in stone, but we did see them from a new perspective. The events that overlap between the novella and the first book, Illuminae, happen near the very start of Illuminae, so I would not consider them to be spoilers. It's reasonable read for someone wanting a sampler of the series (although it might not be easy to obtain — I'm not entirely sure how broadly it will ultimately be distributed).

This was an interesting read and I recommend it to fans of the Illuminae Files as well as new readers who can get their hands on it. It's a reasonable introduction to the series, and is a quick and self-contained read. I also like the way in which it was presented — although I generally prefer ebooks, the unique formatting of this series lends itself better to print and the staple-bound booklet of Memento was kind of cute.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: Alfred A Knopf (US), 2019
Series: Illuminae Files, prequel/volume 0.5
Format read: Paper!
Source: Preorder bonus with Aurora Rising

Sunday, 14 July 2019

#ReadShortStories all over the place (106–110)

Stories from a variety of sources in this batch. Aside from finishing off my Hugo novelette reading (stay tuned for a round up of all those stories), I listened to an audio story while travelling (possibly it was a novella, but I'm including it here) and read a paper story, so a range of formats.


Rules for the Care and Maintenance of Phoenix Eggs For Wayward Daughters by Tansy Rayner Roberts — An amusing flash/listicle story about caring for a Phoenix egg, just like it says in the title. Source: Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Patreon (and subsequently newsletter)

When We Were Starless by Simone Heller — Exquisitely detailed world building as we follow a tribe and their spiritual leader across a world unable to sustain life. Their world is very different from ours and, although the tribe is not human, they are recognisably people who have forgotten their distant past and are distrustful when confronted with a remnant of it. The story felt fantastical when I started reading but became more clearly science fiction as I read further. A very well-thought-out story. Source: http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/heller_10_18/

Into Darkness by Anike Kirsten — Implausible but sort of interesting flash. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01798-z

Let Sleeping Princes Lie by Tansy Rayner Roberts — An entertaining story in a parody fairytale world with royalty and reporters and the need to dodge stray spinning wheels. I enjoyed it. Source: http://sheepmightfly.podbean.com/e/let-sleeping-princes-lie-part-1 (also available in print)

The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections by Tina Connolly — A fantasy story about magical pastries that forcibly evoke certain memories. Well, the actual story is about the wife of the baker that makes them and the tyrannical King who has taken the throne. It was an interesting that I enjoyed even as I wondered how it would end satisfactorily. Source: https://www.tor.com/2018/07/11/the-last-banquet-of-temporal-confections-tina-connolly/



Thursday, 11 July 2019

Interview with Ada Hoffmann

Today, rather than a review, I have an interview with Ada Hoffmann to share with you all. Ada Hoffmann is the author of The Outside, which I recently read and reviewed and enjoyed immensely.

Q. One of my favourite things about The Outside was the backstory of the gods, angels and trappings of religion. How far do you think we are from creating AI sufficiently intelligent to become gods?

A. Thank you! I think that we are actually quite far from this. In real life there's an issue of how much responsibility we give to AIs, how we rely on algorithms in making certain kinds of decision. But with current technology it's really not an issue of the AI becoming intelligent and taking over. It's much more about humans in power trying to hide their acceptance of bias, institutional violence, and unchecked capitalism behind a veneer of machine-like objectivity.

The AI in The Outside really isn't "hard" science fiction, in the sense of extrapolating future scenarios I think are likely — instead it's there because of the emotional hold that AI and aliens have on us as readers, the role they play in our cultural imaginations as superior beings. There's an article up on the Uncanny blog where I talk about this in a bit more detail.



Q. You focus on Nemesis out of the AI gods in The Outside, with Aletheia being present in the thoughts of several characters. Out of the other gods, which are only mentioned in passing, do you have a favourite, and can you tell us a bit about them?

A. I definitely have a list of all the other Gods and their portfolios somewhere. I think my favorite is Philophrosyne, the God of love. She's not specific to any particular form of love but oversees all of them; she encourages people to be kind to their loved ones, families and friends as well as strangers, guests and their community at large. She doesn't have much to do in this book but in many ways She's the polar opposite of Nemesis, even more so than Arete, who's in some ways positioned as Nemesis' more-shiny-and-better-intentioned counterpart. I also have a soft spot for Gelos, the God of joy, pleasure, and entertainment. He has a childlike, playful personality which contrasts with most of the other Gods. I think that Gelos's angels are rarely seen, but every year or two they suddenly appear on some planet with a pop-up art installation or carnival-like thing and it's a doozy.



Q. I personally enjoy seeing scientist characters in books and Yasira came across as quite believable in that respect. Can you tell us a bit about where you drew inspiration for creating her character?

A. Well, I'm an autistic person in STEM in real life (computer science) so some of it's drawn from that. But mainly Yasira was drawn up to the constraints of the other parts of the book that already existed. I had Akavi and Ev in my head long before I had Yasira. I knew I needed her to be Ev's student, so that logically meant another physicist, and I needed her to have a big personal and emotional stake in finding out what's going on with Ev, so I gave her the big project of power generation on the Pride of Jai, which inevitably goes wrong. The actual science in the book is quite handwaved, in my opinion. The parts of Yasira that are drawn more from life are her emotions - pride in her work, but also impostor syndrome, anxiety, and burnout.


Q. What can we expect to see from you next? Will you be writing more books/stories in the same universe or are you working on something new?

A. I am definitely hoping to write more in this universe. The Outside has a strong resolution and stands on its own, but it clearly sets things up with regards to where the characters might go next. We're still in negotiations with the publisher about a second book, so stay tuned! In the meantime, I have also been tinkering on and off with a WIP novel about dragon palaeontology.



Q. Followup: Have you written or are you planning to write any short fiction set in The Outside world?

A. Yes! There's a story called "Minor Heresies" which is already out; it appeared in an anthology called "Ride the Star Wind," and was reprinted in "Transcendent 3: The Year's Best Transgender Speculative Fiction." It's set about 200 years earlier than The Outside, and features a shapeshifting Vaurian who stumbles upon something he ought not to. I'm hoping to eventually publish more short stories fleshing out this world. There's one about Enga, for instance — a minor angel character from the book — which needs revisions, and which I've been sitting on and not revising for an embarrassingly long time, but I need to get back to it. I really enjoy her.


This next question contains a small spoiler, so I will put it under a spoiler shield for those who haven't read the book. Don't hover/highlight/read on if you want to come to the book completely unspoiled! 


Q. The Outside seems like it was influenced by Lovecraftian themes (minus a literal Cthulhu). What inspired you to take that direction with The Outside?

A. To be honest, the Lovecraftian themes came from somewhere very old — they appeared in the same D&D campaign where I originally encountered Akavi, the book's main antagonist. Pitting him and Evianna Talirr against each other - Law vs. Chaos, villain vs. villain — was the original impulse that led to the creation of the novel's setting and everything else in it. When I paired them with the science fiction system of AI Gods, it made for a religious allegory that I really liked: mechanistic Gods who reward and punish according to clear rules, vs. completely wild, unknowable mysticism, both incredibly dangerous to the mortals who get in their way.



Thank you Ada for stopping by and answering my questions!

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone is a short novel about two time-travelling agents who start corresponding with each other. It's written in a poetic style and is half-epistolary, half-prose.

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

And thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more.

Except discovery of their bond would be death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?

This is a remarkable book, told in a very poetic style, with chapters alternating between snippets of our characters’ lives and the letters they send each other. Although it is written as prose, one feels as though one is reading poetry. The use of imagery and metaphor is strong and frequent and the relationship between the characters shifts as they become more obsessed with each other as they learn more about the other.

At first I had difficulty keeping the characters straight in my mind — Red and Blue, from futures Garden and Agency, wait, which was which again? — but then it became clearer as they obtained more identifying characteristics. There was [the one that had happened to] and [the one that did this thing], to keep it spoiler-free. I started reading this book while travelling and I don’t recommend reading it in a noisy environment. It was easier to enjoy at home, calmly. Or at least with noise-cancelling headphones on. It is the kind of book that demands your full attention to properly take in its words and worlds.

I don't generally like spending too much time comparing books to other things, but it feels particularly topical in this case. This Is How You Lose the Time War is a book that pushes many if the same buttons as Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman or Killing Eve but with a more poetic writing style than Good Omens and more emphasis on the relationship between enemy agents than Killing Eve. (I speak of the TV show Killing Eve, here — the books it’s based on look dreadful.) Also, in the struggle for a better future, no one side is clearly better than the other, which is not how most oppositional relationships are portrayed. In Killing Eve, Villanelle is the assassin so MI6 agent Eve clearly has the moral high ground. And things are both more and less ambiguous in Good Omens, where the two sides are literally heaven and hell. But if you liked either of those stories for their protagonist relationships, this is the book for you. Especially if you wished there was more time travel in them.

Actually, before I wrap up, I will say a few words on the time travel aspect. It's both integral to the story and sort of minimally done. No mechanics are explained, which makes sense for the style of the book, and all the time travel feats are basically magic, as far as we mere time-bound mortals are concerned. Sometimes that sort of thing bothers me, but in this case it fits in perfectly with the style of the book. The time travel is absolutely not the point, the letters between Blue and Red are, and doing it any other way would have been bizarre. For all that I've said the prose is very poetic, it's also very sparse (in the way of poetry, now that I think about it). For this reason, it took me a little while at the start of the book to feel grounded in the story (or as grounded as one can be in such a story) but, again, it makes perfect sense for what it is.

I really liked this book. I highly recommend it to fans of doomed and/or oppositional romance (is that the right term?), poetic letters and magical time travel. It's a quick read but a powerful one. If you're not sure whether the style is right for you, I think it's something you could quickly determine by reading the sample chapters on your favourite ebook store. In any case, I highly recommend This Is How You Lose the Time War.

5 / 5 stars

First published: July 2019, Jo Fletcher Books
Series: No, I don't think so
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee is a collection of short stories set in the same world as the Machineries of Empire series (Ninefox Gambit, Raven Stratagem and Revenant Gun). Although not all the stories require familiarity with the main series, I generally recommend having read the series before picking up Hexarchate Stories since some of the flash pieces and especially the concluding novella work better with knowledge of the characters and series events. (Though many of the stories absolutely stand alone.)

The essential short story collection set in the universe of Ninefox Gambit.

An ex-Kel art thief has to save the world from a galaxy-shattering prototype weapon...

A general outnumbered eight-to-one must outsmart his opponent...

A renegade returns from seclusion to bury an old comrade...

From the incredible imagination of Hugo- and Arthur C. Clarke-nominated author Yoon Ha Lee comes a collection of stories set in the world of the best-selling Ninefox Gambit. Showcasing Lee’s extraordinary imagination, this collection takes you to the very beginnings of the hexarchate’s history and reveals new never-before-seen stories.

I really enjoyed this collection. Even given the slightly unusual way in which I read it; skipping over stories I had previously read meant I skipped some award worthy reads. (The reviews for those stories, by the way, are copied from my original reviews of them in italics below.) I was particularly taken with the three longer stories that were new to me: "The Chameleon's Gloves", "Gamer's End" and "Glass Cannon". The first two are meaty stories more about life in the universe than about the specific characters that featured in the series (although Jedao does appear in "Gamer's End"). "Glass Cannon" is a novella that takes place after the trilogy and, as such, is pretty spoiler-heavy for the events at the end of Raven Stratagem. Mostly because "Glass Cannon" dominates this collection in terms of page-count, my usual summing up is after the story mini-reviews (and after a spoiler shield).


“The Chameleon’s Gloves” — A fascinating story about a Kel outcast set before even the Heptarchate came into existence. And if that sentence made no sense, it’s a story about a thief given a job no one should have ever had to sign up for.

“How the Andan Court” — Flash/prose poem that I’ve read beforeA flash piece that is more of a love letter explaining the absence of roses.

“Seven Views of the Liozh Entrance Exam” — Longer flash musing on Liozh examinations, told from a relative future perspective, after the faction had fallen.

“Omens” — A short story about a couple’s date, dripping with significance if you’re paying attention and have read the Hexarchate books.

“Honesty” — A short story about very young Jedao and his even younger sister.

“Bunny” — Another young Jedao and sister, this time dealing with a missing cat. A cute story.

“Black Squirrels” — A hilarious story of a Shuos academy prank.

“Silence” — A family interlude told from the point of view of Jedao’s older brother Rodao. A straightforwardly enjoyable read.

“Extracurricular Activities”previously readSet in the same universe as Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem, this story follows Jedao while he is still young. He goes on an undercover mission to extract a friend from academy. I really enjoyed this story. It was funny with serious moments. A good read for both readers of the novels and new comers to the world.

“Gloves” — Pretty much smut, with a bit of character exploration thrown in. I can’t imagine the framing details working very well for someone who hadn’t read the series.

“Hunting Trip” — A vignette featuring Jedao and a general stopping at a zoo en route to a hunting trip.

“The Battle of Candle Arc”already read: Shuos Jedao leads a Kel army to victory against heretics. I had some memory of this particular battle being mentioned in the novels (Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem), but misremembered the context. In any case, an interesting read, even more so since it was published years before the novels. Clearly the authors has been living in this world for a long time. Also, the explanations of the factions and calendar were done particularly well, especially given how complicated they can get. This story is a good introduction to the world.

“Calendrical Rot” — Things get weird. Apparently this was almost the prologue to Ninefox Gambit, so it’s interesting to me that it works as a short story.

“Birthdays” — Young Cheris and her family move out of their ghetto and have to give up some of their traditions. A nicely told flash story.

“The Robot’s Math Lessons”previously readAn adorable flash story about a robot making friends with a little girl (who I think is Cheris from Ninefox Gambit). — And yes, it was Cheris. This story is referenced in "Glass Cannon".

“Sword-Shopping” — Cheris and her girlfriend go to buy a sword. A cute flash piece.

“Persimmons” — A cute flash story about a servitor arrived at Kel Academy from a small village. Who doesn’t like sentient robot stories?

“Irriz the Assassin-Cat” — A cute flash featuring a cat soothing a child.

“Vacation” — Different characters take a trip to the zoo in this flash piece.

“Gamer’s End” — A second person short story about an advanced trainee sitting a test under Jedao. It’s one of the longer stories in this collection and is not so much filling in past anecdotes as telling a self-contained story set in the same world. And the second person narration adds some interesting flavour.

“Glass Cannon” — This is a novella (well and truly; it takes up the entire second half of Hexarchate Stories) set after Revenant Gun. It contains a lot of spoilers for the end of the Machineries of Empire series and I definitely don’t recommend reading it without having read the series. Not only will it be confusing, but it will also spoil some of the surprises and enjoyment of the series. In fact, a proper review of it is spoileriffic, so I will restrict it to my full review of Hexarchate Stories.

Full review with massive spoilers for Revenant Gun/Machineries of Empire. Do not hover over/highlight  the spoiler-shield below if you don't want to be spoiled.
“Glass Cannon” was an excellent read. Taking place after the end of Revenant Gun, it follows Moth!Jedao after he escapes imprisonment by the Shuos. His one desire in life is to get his memories back from Cheris and gain some sort of closure regarding the gaps in his memory, many of them from his youth. Cheri’s, meanwhile, is living a normal life in a settlement of her own ethnic group (much depleted after the events of the main series). She is just starting to get bored with a normal life teaching maths when that life gets disrupted by the escaped Jedao and the soldiers on his tale. Despite the inconvenience to her life, she agrees to transfer Original!Jedao’s memories to Moth!Jedao, since they have been haunting her. And so they set out on a quest to retrieve a device necessary for the transfer, and run into various troubles along the way.

Aside from being a really enjoyable story, “Glass Cannon” also manages to address some of the aspects of the world building that did not fit into the main series. Certain revelations from Revenant Gun — let’s say those loosely related to servitors and their factions and the human (non)regard of them — is raised here. So as well as following our beloved characters, we get to follow a little bit more progress in the Hexarchate, admittedly, not quite to completion, since that would be a much longer story.

I definitely recommend reading “Glass Cannon” as a sequel to the series if you enjoyed Machineries of Empire. I think Hexarchate Stories is worth buying for this novella alone, but the other included stories were also worth reading (but if you have already read the longer short stories/novelettes, the flash fiction may not feel weighty enough to bother buying the book for, but “Glass Cannon” certainly is).


This was a great collection, even if it was a little unbalanced in story lengths, and I definitely recommend it to fans of Yoon Ha Lee's books. While some of the stories are good entry points to the series, the majority of the flash stories work better if thought of adding something to the universe, rather than full stories in their own rights. For the prospective reader who wants to read Hexarchate Stories but not the trilogy (but why?), I see no reason why the first half of this collection can't be enjoyed, but I repeat my caution about "Glass Cannon" being full of spoilers and probably confusing without the trilogy context. On the other hand, if Lee plans to revisit the Hexarchate/Heptarchate universe again, sign me up for reading more stories/books set in that world.

5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2019, Solaris
Series: Machineries of Empire, stories set in the world of
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Friday, 5 July 2019

#ReadShortStories 101 - 105

In this batch I finish off Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee (but you'll have to wait for my next post to see my full review of the novella, "Glass Cannon") and read a couple of other stories, including a Hugo shortlisted novelette by Zen Cho.


Vacation by Yoon Ha Lee — Different characters take a trip to the zoo in this flash piece. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Gamer’s End by Yoon Ha Lee — A second person short story about an advanced trainee sitting a test under Jedao. It’s one of the longer stories in this collection and is not so much filling in past anecdotes as telling a self-contained story set in the same world. And the second person narration adds some interesting flavour. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again by Zen Cho — A wonderful story about an imugi trying to ascend to a heavenly dragon form. It takes a long time and learns many things along the way. Both about the Way and, eventually, about humans. A very enjoyable story with an emotional and bittersweet ending. Source: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/sci-fi-fantasy/if-at-first-you-dont-succeed-try-try-again-by-zen-cho/

The Letter by Emma Newman — A short piece about someone who wasn’t chosen to go on the Atlas spaceship with the pathfinder, and her coping with that. An encouraging read. Source: Emma Newman’s newsletter

Glass Cannon by Yoon Ha Lee — This is a novella (well and truly; it takes up the entire second half of Hexarchate Stories) set after Revenant Gun. It contains a lot of spoilers for the end of the Machineries of Empire series and I definitely don’t recommend reading it without having read the series. Not only will it be confusing, but it will also spoil some of the surprises and enjoyment of the books. In fact, a proper review of it is spoileriffic, so I will restrict it to my full review of Hexarchate Stories. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee


Sunday, 30 June 2019

The Outside by Ada Hoffmann

The Outside by Ada Hoffmann is the author's debut novel. It is a far-future science fiction story with some really interesting world-building details and an autistic protagonist. I enjoyed it a lot.

The Pride of Jai was supposed to be humanity's greatest accomplishment—a space station made entirely by humans and their primitive computers, without "divine" cyber-technology provided by the sentient quantum supercomputers worshipped as Gods. And it was supposed to be a personal triumph for its young lead scientist, physicist Yasira Shien, whose innovative mathematics was key to the reactor powering it.

But something goes wrong in Yasira's reactor, leading to an unexplained singularity that destroys The Pride of Jai and most of the people on it—and placing Yasira in the sights of angry Angels, the cyborg servants of the Gods.

According to the angels, Yasira's reactor malfunction was the latest in a rising tide of disasters, intentionally caused to exploit vulnerabilities in the very pattern of spacetime and usher in horrific beings from beyond reality itself. They believe that the woman behind the disasters is Yasira's long-vanished mentor, Dr Evianna Talirr—and they believe that Yasira, Dr Talirr's favorite student, is the only one who can help them find her.

Spirited off to the edge of the galaxy and with her whole planet's fate, and more, hanging in the balance, Yasira must decide who to trust: the ruthless angels she was always taught to obey without question—or the heretic scientist whose plans could change everything she knows to be true about reality.

Really, the most interesting part of this story was the world-building and everything that went with it. From the very beginning, we see that humanity has spread through the galaxy, but that their level of technological advancement isn't necessarily what we might normally expect. As we learn fairly early on, this is because the gods have declared certain technologies to be heretical — in particular, anything that comes close to AI since the gods themselves are very advanced AIs. They allow people use (god-built) advanced technology such as portals, but prevent humanity from fully understanding how it works. This is the climate in which our protagonist, Yasira, finds herself accidentally building heretical technology. And not just any technology, technology that malfunctions unusually and gets a lot of people killed.

This kicks off a story in which Yasira is pulled around by powerful people with competing interests while, at first, she doesn't fully understand what's going on. Although there's a lot of dramatic science fiction (bordering on horror) stuff going on, at its core the story is about Yasira's journey of self-discovery and understanding. We see her being different things to different people and, eventually, coming to understand who she is to herself. All this against a backdrop of science fiction horror events — although I want to stress the book itself isn't horror, it contains some elements borrowed from the genre.

In the end, good books can be the hardest to review. I liked The Outside for the reasons mentioned above (though how much I can keep repeating the phrase "world-building" without straying into spoiler territory, I don't know). It also worked well as a package and, intrigued as I was by the setting, I would definitely be interested in reading more set in this world, whether or not it's about the same characters. The book is self-contained but was left open for possible "further adventures", so I'm crossing my fingers. I highly recommend this book to fans of science fiction, perhaps with a dash of horror, weird science (although it's not heavy science, aside from a few irrelevant details near the start), and moral ambiguity. I will definitely be keeping my eye out for more from this author.

5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2019, Angry Robot
Series: I don't think so, but there's potential for more books in the series, which I would definitely be up for
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Sunday, 23 June 2019

#ReadShortStories until you reach 100 (96–100)

...and then keep reading.

So this batch, which brings my yearly total of short stories up to 100, all come from the collection Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee. I had a lot of waiting time and it was just so easy to keep reading them. They are all on the sort side, although that is partly because I had previously read many of the longer stories in this collection.

Calendrical Rot by Yoon Ha Lee — Things get weird. Apparently this was almost the prologue to Ninefox Gambit, so it’s interesting to me that it works as a short story. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Birthdays by Yoon Ha Lee — Young Cheris and her family move out of their ghetto and have to give up some of their traditions. A nicely told flash story. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Sword-Shopping by Yoon Ha Lee — Cheris and her girlfriend go to buy a sword. A cute flash piece. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Persimmons by Yoon Ha Lee — A cute flash story about a servitor arrived at Kel Academy from a small village. Who doesn’t like sentient robot stories? Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Irriz the Assassin-Cat by Yoon Ha Lee — A cute flash featuring a cat soothing a child.  Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee


Friday, 21 June 2019

#ReadShortStories to stave off anxiety (91–95)

All flash in this batch. Not really intentionally, but that's how it turned out. I wasn't expecting the large number of flash stories in The Hexarchate Stories, which isn't a bad thing, but has lead me to read more of them in a row than I might have otherwise.


In The Spaces of Strangers by L P Lee — A little predictable, but not a bad flash piece about swapping bodies and predatory scams. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01578-9

Twenty-six Seconds on Tetonia-3 by Wendy Nikel — Easily the best flash piece I’ve read in Nature this year. Heartfelt and with good, developed worldbuilding. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01579-8

Silence by Yoon Ha Lee — A family interlude told from the point of view of Jedao’s older brother Rodao. A straightforwardly enjoyable read. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Gloves by Yoon Ha Lee — Pretty much smut, with a bit of character exploration thrown in. I can’t imagine the framing details working very well for someone who hadn’t read the series. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Hunting Trip by Yoon Ha Lee — A vignette featuring Jedao and a general stopping at a zoo en route to a hunting trip. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee