Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Tsana's December Status (pre-Xmas)

This state of my reading post comes to you after I ordered a pile of books for vaguely Christmas-related reasons (more like Dragon Age graphics card related reasons, but, well, long story). But said pile of books has yet to arrive so they will go into a future post. Looking at LibraryThing (which is the most accurate rendition of my book collection), I still got quite a few new booksies this past month. Oops?

I also discovered (well, got around to setting up) digital library loans, particularly of audiobooks. Those don't count as books bought/received, obviously, but they have contributed to books read.

And while there'll be more "looking back on the year" type posts in the following couple of weeks, I have already posted by Anticipated 2015 Reads list. I am also hoping that laying out what month those books come out in will help me curtail review books. I don't want to fall as behind as I have been for the last few months again.

Finally, in writing news, I had a flash story in Antipodean SF this month. You can read it for free here.

What Have I Read?

Currently Reading

City of Masks by Ashley Capes. I haven't gotten very far in, but I am enjoying it more than I expected (always a level of trepidation picking up a new fantasy author).

I am partway through some other books, but I haven't picked them up in a while. I should probably mention Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, which I've only recently started in audiobook form.

New Booksies

New books were very batchy this past month, so I shall list them as such. Purchased because I could:
  • Judgement Day (Science of Discworld 4) by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen
  • Mrs Bradshaw's Handbook by Terry Pratchett — also came with a special edition ticket thingy

Review books from Clan Destine Press:
  • The Blood She Betrayed by Cheryse Durrant
  • Arrabella Candellarbra & the Questy Thing to End All Questy Things by A.K. Wrox
  • AKA Fudgepuddle by Fin J Ross

 Purchased because it came out and/or I saw it:
  • Symbiont by Mira Grant
  • How Green This Land How Blue This Sea by Mira Grant (novella in the Newsflesh universe, set in Australia)

More review books, the first two from the author and the last from the publisher via NetGalley:
  • Clockwork Gold by Jenny Schwartz (already reviewed)
  • Curses and Confetti by Jenny Schwartz (third in the Bustlepunk Chronicles)
  • Rebels by Accident by Patricia Dunn

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Horizon by Keith Stevenson

Horizon by Keith Stevenson is a science fiction novel set in the medium future, mostly on a spaceship that's been sent to investigate the hopefully habitable planet Horizon and it's stellar system. I'm not really sure why the planet is on fire on the cover.
Thirty-four light years from Earth, the explorer ship Magellan is nearing its objective - the Iota Persei system. But when ship commander Cait Dyson wakes from deepsleep, she finds her co-pilot dead and the ship's AI unresponsive. Cait works with the rest of her multinational crew to regain control of the ship, until they learn that Earth is facing total environmental collapse and their mission must change if humanity is to survive.

As tensions rise and personal and political agendas play out in the ship's cramped confines, the crew finally reach the planet Horizon, where everything they know will be challenged.
I had no specific expectations for this novel and ended up enjoying it quite a bit. Honestly my least favourite part was the opening because of all the vomiting (I am a touch emetophobic) but after that was done with it was smooth sailing. I quite liked the mystery aspect that was established right from the start. The crew (mainly seen from Commander Cait's point of view) wake up from deepsleep to find one of their number dead and something difficult to ascertain wrong with the computer. It takes most of the book to work out what happened and why. They also receive confusing communications from Earth which don't make anything much clearer.

The action in Horizon centres on two causes: clashes of personality between all the crew, and external forces on Earth or more locally. Cait spends a lot of the book trying to strike a balance between personalities and situations. I really enjoyed her as a character. She had integrity and genuinely wanted the best for everyone. It was refreshing to read about a competent character trying to make the best of a difficult situation without being annoying (one of the other characters was annoying enough for the whole book) or making stupid mistakes. The other characters were also well-rounded with reasonably complex motivations.

The story was about half science half politics and I found the former more convincing. Not that the politics was bad, per se, but it was necessarily hazy — because the present Earth situation was a mystery to the characters — and the history was recounted only briefly. (I should note that there's a pre-launch history at the back of the book, but reading that after the story didn't really add much beyond the timeline aspect.) The science, on the other hand, was pretty good. Nothing made me angry (a good measure of accuracy) and there were only a couple of minor niggles I noticed that I'm pretty sure most people wouldn't. Stevenson is also consistent with noting the differences in manoeuvrability in low gravity throughout the book, instead of lazily cranking up the gravity (which was realistically generated through spin) and leaving it at that.

I want to talk about the ending but, of course, I don't want to go into major spoilers. I will just say that one aspect of the ending was a little too Arthur C Clarke for my liking. Not that I don't like Clarke, just that it had been done before and I didn't think it needed to be done again. That said, it wasn't a bad ending, taken in isolation.

I enjoyed Horizon and I would recommend it to all fans of science fiction. There's not a huge amount of Australian-authored SF out there and it's always nice to see more, especially when it's of this quality. SF fans who enjoy semi-science driven stories (it's not all about the science but the science is important to the story) will probably enjoy Horizon. I will certainly be keeping an eye on future novels Stevenson writes.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: November 2014, Voyager Impulse
Series: Don't think so
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Aussie SF Reading Challenge

Friday, 12 December 2014

Anticipated 2015 Reads

Inspired partly by Shaheen's 2015 Aussie YA list, I thought I'd try making a list of general books coming out in 2015 that I'm looking forward to. I've tried to make it complete but I've inevitably missed something. All speculative fiction and largely Australian authors (shocking, given my blog, I know). Oh, and I've put the unknown release date books in the middle instead of start or end so that they feel less left out. On the other hand, sequels with unknown release dates I've put in the month a year after the previous book's release, with a note.

— The Dagger’s Path by Glenda Larke (Orbit/Hatchett), sequel to The Lascar's Dagger

— Ruby Circle by Richelle Mead (Penguin), the last Bloodlines book

— The  Hush by Skye Melki-­Wegner  (Random  House), new series, sounds awesome
— The Buried Life by Carrie Patel (Angry Robot, got ARC)
— The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig (Voyager, got ARC)
— Prudence by Gail Carriger (Little Brown / Hatchett), first in the series about Alexia's daughter, what's not to like? I anticipate hilarity (and the series has been rename to The Custard Protocol, which says it all)
— Fall of Fair Isle by Rowena Cory Daniells (Solaris), same world as Besieged (Outcast Chronicles) but set much later
— Cranky Ladies of History (FableCroft, pre-ordered through crowdfunding), anthology about awesome women, what's not to like?

— Geodesica Ascent by Sean Williams (Open Road reprint, have ARC), not really a new release but I've been meaning to read it for aaages
— The Last Quarrel by Duncan Lay (omnibus edition, Momentum), released episodically from January, but the full edition is what counts (for me)
— Insert Title Here edited by Tehani Wessely (FableCroft), unthemed anthology 

— Age of X #3 by Richelle Mead (Penguin, date a guess)

— The Apportioners by Deborah Kalin (Twelfth Planet Press), the 12th of the Twelve Planets
— The Moth Cycle by Isobelle Carmody (Twelfth Planet Press), the 13th of the Twelve Planets
— Day Boy by Trent Jamieson (Text Publishing), new book, horror I think

— Dealbreaker by Marianne de Pierres (Angry Robot), sequel to Peacemaker

— The  Foretelling  of  Georgie  Spider  by  Amberlin  Kwaymullina  (Walker Books Australia), third book in the series starting with The Interrogation of Ashayla Wolf
— Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb (Del Rey / Voyager) sequel to Fool's Assassin

— Worldbreaker Saga #2 by Kameron Hurley (Angry Robot, date is a guess) sequel to The Mirror Empire
— The Lyre Thief by Jennifer Fallon, set in the world of the Hythrun Chronicles (after the events of the Demon Child Trilogy, I think)

— Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie (Orbit), sequel to Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword

— Fall (Twinmaker  #3)  by  Sean  Williams (Allen & Unwin, release date a guess), conclusion to Jump
Manners and Mutiny by Gail Carriger (Little Brown/Hatchett) last book in the Finishing School series

— Starbound  #3 by  Amie  Kaufman  &  Meagan  Spooner  (Allen  & Unwin), sequel to These Broken Stars and This Shattered World

What books are you looking forward to in the coming year? Any I've missed that you're excited about? Tell me in the comments!

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman is an unusual novel. Most of the story feels like it's YA or for younger readers, but the adult (point of view) framing of the story belies that. I would hazard that it's best suited to adults and perhaps older teens.
It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond this world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed - within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it.

His only defence is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is an ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang.
Before I read this book, I had seen a lot of people say a lot of things about it, mostly on Twitter (and Tumblr) and in contexts where I only got a snippet of their impression. I don't think I read any reviews before I read it. But while I had some vague idea of what other people thought, I didn't really know what to expect going in. Most of the people whose impressions I read were not people I know (retweets by the author and the like) and, I suspect, weren't people who usually read fantasy books. I was expecting a different kind of different book. What I got, however, was a solid modern fairytale.

The framing for the book is the adult main character returning to a place where some childhood memories were made and, well, remembering them. Most of the story is about a volatile period in his seven-year-old life, filled with magic and monsters and something like a terrifying adventure.

I suspect part of the appeal of The Ocean at the End of the Lane to mainstream readers (as in, don't usually read spec fic) is the ease with which the magical elements can be taken to be metaphors and coping mechanisms. But where's the fun in that? Why not let it be about the magic that only children can see and that adults are blind to? One of my favourite aspects of this novel was the interactions between the main character and his parents. It's not possible to tell the whole truth, or he's not believe when he does. I found it portrayed the way in which children live in their own separate but complete world very accurately. They may not properly understand some adult matters, but that doesn't mean they can't understand anything.

Ocean at the End of the Lane was a good read that I would recommend to pretty much everyone. I'm not a huge Neil Gaiman fan (I mean, I've liked his other books well enough, but not enough to go out of my way to read all of them) but I'd class this as one of his better books. From what I've read, I think I prefer him writing about children (if not for children so much in this case) more than his writing for adults. Also, I don't see a reason why precocious children shouldn't read this book, but I'm not sure an average seven year old would necessarily get as much out of it as an older reader. (I say this with zero baseline seven-year-olds in my life, so feel free to take it with a grain of salt.)

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2013, Headline
Series: No
Format read: Hardcover *gasp*
Source: Purchased from real life book shop

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Clockwork Gold by Jenny Schwartz

Clockwork Gold by Jenny Schwartz is a romance novella set in a stempunk gold rush Western Australia. I think it's set in the same universe as her other WA steampunk books (Wanted: One Scoundrel and Courting Trouble), but the characters and plot are completely unrelated.
There’s a conspiracy in the Goldfields of Western Australia, and the money men of London don’t like it. Dirigible pilot Rebecca Jones likes it even less. She has a messenger service to run, justice to pursue in a lawless land, and she can do without Special Agent to the Crown, Nathan Burton, hijacking her dirigible—and her heart—and disrupting her carefully laid plans. The result is adventure, romance and explosions.
Being a novella it's a fairly brief story with a reasonable plot centred on various shenanigans happening in the gold fields. There's a conspiracy that Nathan is investigating — which leads him to impose upon Rebecca for a dirigible lift — and there's Rebecca's personal vendetta to punish a corrupt and generally terrible policeman. On the latter front it deals with some heavy issues, but with a comforting happy ending.

I've said before that I'm not a huge fan of capital-R-omance, so it probably shouldn't come as a surprise that I was less enamoured with the romantic plot than I was with the steampunk elements. (What romance could trump mechanical echidnas designed to protect chickens from foxes?) I didn't particularly buy the premise — estranged-ish foster siblings — but I suspect others will feel differently.

Clockwork Gold was a quick fun read. I recommend it to fans of steampunk and romance. In particular, I would definitely recommend it to readers who enjoyed Schwartz's other books. This might not have been my favourite steampunk read ever, but I will be checking out her other new steampunk novella.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: December 2013, self-published
Series: No, but same universe (I think) as the Bustlepunk Chronicles
Format read: ePub
Source: Courtesy of the author
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge, Australian Science Fiction Reading Challenge

Friday, 5 December 2014

The Autumn Castle by Kim Wilkins

The Autumn Castle by Kim Wilkins is the first novel I've read by the author, though I did enjoy a novella collection of hers earlier in the year. I can also definitely state it won't be the last novel I read by the author. I should also note I read it as an audiobook borrowed from the library
Berlin in autumn: Christine Starlight lives in an artists' colony with her lover Jude, whose patience and beauty have eased her battle with chronic pain. But Christine begins to be haunted by childhood recollections of a little girl's disappearance and the flapping of a blackbird's wings. Then her world is rocked by the return of a childhood friend...

Mayfridh rules over a land where a wolf is the queen's counsellor, fate turns on the fall of an autumn leaf and mortals feel no pain. As Christine becomes addicted to Mayfridh's world, so Mayfridh grows addicted to Christine's, falling dangerously in love with Jude.
The Autumn Castle is sort of a portal fantasy in that there is the real world (Berlin in the early 00s) and there is fairyland, but a larger part of the action takes place in the real world. It's also more of a character driven story than a lot of the books I've read recently. There's no Quest and the world doesn't need saving from the start. There is a Bad Guy but several of the other characters are of dubious morality at one point or another. There are secrets, lies and conflicting desires. At a few points, I honestly wasn't sure how some issues were going to be resolved.

Christine is probably the easiest character to like. She means well and not in an offensively misguided way like some of the other characters. The chronic pain aspect was also a nice layer and I liked how it was portrayed in the book. It was something Christine was always aware of and something she wanted to avoid having define her.

The other characters were more difficult to like. Mandy, the serial fairy killer, was obviously reprehensible and irredeemable from the start. The sections from his point of view — mostly extracts from his memoires — are suitable icky and I enjoyed the way they were read in a German accent. In fact, most of the accents were pretty good in the audiobook although I was probably least convinced by the US accents of Christine and her boyfriend.

Mayfridh was an interesting character but one I increasingly lost respect for, especially towards the end. Having lived in fairyland for most of her life as a princess and then a queen, she's quite spoiled and, when she first comes to the real world, naïve about how things work. Both traits evolve as the book progresses but there were many reasons I wanted to tell her off towards the end.

The secondary characters all added significantly to the story and I appreciated the layers of complexity which we learnt as the story progressed. Several people turned out to be not quite what they seemed and there were a couple of revelations I really didn't see coming. A well-crafted story. And I liked the fairytale epilogue at the end. That was nice.

I highly recommend The Autumn Castle to fans of character-driven fantasy books. I think readers who usually don't read much fantasy would also enjoy it since, although the fantasy element is inextricable from the plot, the character-driven narrative is the more complex aspect. Assuming you like that sort of thing, anyway. There are some dark elements, so be warned: vicious murder and light torture within (but no rape, if that helps). The Autumn Castle is the first book in a "suite" of three unrelated novels (set in the same universe? I'm not even sure) and I intend to read the next one in the near future (probably as an audiobook as well; I have it in paper on another continent).

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2002, Harper Voyager (Bolinda Audio 2012 narrated by Richard Aspel) Series: Standalone but also the first of the Europa Suite
Format read: Audiobook
Source: Borrowed from the library
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis

Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis is the author's début novel. It first drew my attention because of some blogs I follow, then I happened to read some of author's short stories and knew I had to read her novel too.
Amara is never alone. Not when she's protecting the cursed princess she unwillingly serves. Not when they're fleeing across dunes and islands and seas to stay alive. Not when she's punished, ordered around, or neglected.

She can't be alone, because a boy from another world experiences all that alongside her, looking through her eyes.

Nolan longs for a life uninterrupted. Every time he blinks, he's yanked from his Arizona town into Amara's mind, a world away, which makes even simple things like hobbies and homework impossible. He's spent years as a powerless observer of Amara's life. Amara has no idea . . . until he learns to control her, and they communicate for the first time. Amara is terrified. Then, she's furious.

All Amara and Nolan want is to be free of each other. But Nolan's breakthrough has dangerous consequences. Now, they'll have to work together to survive--and discover the truth about their connection.
I loved Otherbound. It's meticulously thought through and beautifully written. Nolan is not a normal teenage boy and isn't sure how to be. He spends a large chunk of his life involuntarily living someone else's life. It's distracting to the point where he can't concentrate on school, ride a bike safely or do anything else normal teenagers do. He tries to keep his life together, but it's a constant struggle he rarely wins. But he's not doing anything stupid or irrational, which makes him more likeable than a lot of YA main characters. His doctors, who think he has a rare form of epilepsy with hallucinations, put him on some new meds which allow him to interact with the world he sees when he closes his eyes. And so the real story begins.

Meanwhile Amara lives in a well-drawn and fully developed fantasy world. Her life is complex, living on the run with a princess who's the only survivor of a palace coup, their protector and another servant. Amara's job is simple: make sure the princess never gets hurt, because if she bleeds her curse will kill her. And when the princess does get hurt, Amara gets to step in and suffer in her place because she's "lucky" enough to have healing magic. There is nothing happy about Amara's life but it's stable until Nolan realises he can take control of her body.

I really loved this book. I particularly appreciated Duyvis's attention to detail. Often, when I'm reading a book I'm having feelings over I'll explain the premise and characters to my husband (without spoilers for books I want him to read) and he always manages to find the plot-/worldbuilding-holes just from my summary. Not this time! Every detailed was accounted for even when some of those details were misdirection.

It was also well written on a sentence level. When my eyes excitedly jumped down the page because I wanted to know what happened next, I always went back to read the half-paragraph or whatever that I skipped.

I highly recommend Otherbound to all YA and adult fantasy fans. I would be remiss if I didn't also recommend it to readers looking for diversity. Nolan is hispanic and Nahuatl and has a prosthetic leg. The magic stuff also has many parallels with chronic illness (although isn't because magic). Amara had her tongue cut out at a young age (because she's a servant) and has to sign with her hands to communicate. But whether you care about diversity or not, Otherbound is excellent. Do yourself a favour and read it. I will definitely be keeping a keen eye on Duyvis's future work.

5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2014, Amulet Books
Series: No (shockingly)
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from the iBooks store

Monday, 24 November 2014

The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare is the first in a new series of fantasy books for middle grade/younger readers (as in pre-YA). It is, in a nutshell, about twelve-year-olds going to a secret underground magic school in the US.
Most kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial.

Not Callum Hunt. He wants to fail.

All his life, Call has been warned by his father to stay away from magic. If he succeeds at the Iron Trial and is admitted into the Magisterium, he is sure it can only mean bad things for him.

So he tries his best to do his worst - and fails at failing.

Now the Magisterium awaits him. It's a place that's both sensational and sinister, with dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future.

The Iron Trial is just the beginning, for the biggest test is still to come . . .
Because of the contemporary setting plus magic school element, comparisons to Harry Potter are inevitable. Aside from the starting age group, the fact that there is a school for magic, and the gender distribution of the three main-est characters, there's very little the two series have in common. The type of magic and the structure of the school are completely different. Instead of going to a series of different classes, the students are apprenticed to a master in small groups of five or less. That and the different type of magic make for a very different dynamic.

Black and Clare throw in some nice twists on the standard formula... which I can't go into detail about without spoiling, but they were my favourite part. My least favourite part was probably the "twelve-year-olds are stupid" aspect, but this wasn't especially prominent. However, I will say that I felt The Iron Trial was less apt to transcend it's target audience than the last middle grade book I read, which was a bit unfortunate. I listened to it as an audiobook borrowed from the library and, while I'm glad I didn't request an ARC and feel obliged to read it, I am interested in what happens next. There were some interesting things towards the end, particularly, which certainly made me want to see how it all works out. I will probably read the sequel in some form at some point.

I should also mention that the main character, Call, was injured as a baby in circumstances such that one of his legs never properly healed. Now he has a limp and his leg causes him chronic pain. I felt this was well incorporated into the narrative to show both realistic limitations and the fact that Call hated to let it stop him from doing anything. The story (so far, anyway) would have worked just as well without it, so it struck me as a nice inclusion.

The Iron Trial was a reasonable read. My dislike mainly stems from not being the target audience (I like YA, but younger books don't usually do it for me), which I knew going in. I would definitely recommend it to younger teens and pre-teens who like fantasy books (and perhaps are Harry Potter fans but have run out of those books to read).

4 / 5 stars

First published: September 2014, Scholastic (Audiobook narrated by Paul Boehmer)
Series: Magisterium book 1 of 5
Format read: Audiobook
Source: Borrowed from library

Saturday, 22 November 2014

No Need to Reply by Jodi Cleghorn

No Need to Reply by Jodi Cleghorn is a collection of flash stories. They are not speculative fiction — I felt that was important to say up front. For that reason, they are also not the kind of thing I usually read but they were a pleasant enough way to pass the time. The blurb summarises the theme of the collection better than I can:
Experimental in style, structure and form, the eight stories explore the pain and euphoria of finding your voice. From a man confronting the price of a lie and a woman wrestling with the legacy of her mortality, to a young girl lost in a war of misunderstandings, the collection delves into conversations that define the struggle to be heard.
This is actually a difficult form to review. I swore off individually reviewing flash stories (like I would a short story collection) last year which doesn't leave much to say. The stories are all flash pieces, of similar length and none are super-short short stories. They are also all some amalgamation of mood and character pieces, deftly balancing the two sides of that coin.

The stories are mostly sad, but for a variety of reasons. The opening and titular story, involving letters, was my favourite and a strong opening for the collection. In all her stories Cleghorn gradually reveals character and then deftly illuminates the situation, previously ambiguous. I did write a brief note for each story, mostly as a memory aid for myself and not as a review, which I include below in case you are interested.

I would recommend this collection to fans of contemporary fiction, particularly of the contemplative/literary variety. It's short on pages — how long could eight flash pieces really be? — but not on emotional heft. A thoughtful read.


No Need To Reply — Unopened letters

It Could Be — Friendship contemplation over a dirty sink

Squeeze Box — War veteran remembering his wife

Holding On — Woman visiting a lover in London

Olives — A woman’s conversation and contemplation over olives

Shuffling — A Tarot reading over Skype (or whatever)

Wishing, Happily Ever After — A day at the beach from a child's perspective

Closure — Basically what the title says (includes poem)

4 / 5 stars

First published: October 2014, eMergent Publishing
Series: No
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from author's website
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Difficult Second Album by Simon Petrie

Difficult Second Album by Simon Petrie is the author's second collection of mostly science fiction stories. I've previously reviewed his first collection Rare Unsigned Copy. I enjoyed Difficult Second Album a lot and found it overall a tighter collection than the first.

The main aspect that set Difficult Second Album above Rare Unsigned Copy is that it's a bit shorter and, more crucially, less overpopulated with flash and drabble stories. It's not that I dislike either of those, but too many can make for a more difficult read. The mix of story lengths/types in Difficult Second Album makes it rather not difficult to read.

I came to a realisation while I was reading this book: Simon Petrie is my favourite (and hence best) living science fiction short story writer. Those stories which are science fiction (not quite all of them) deftly weave accurate science into their tapestries. Of course accurate science shouldn't come as a surprise from someone whose day job is computational quantum chemistry, but I still found it enjoyable enough as to be notable. (And let's face it, how much scientific accuracy is there in the combined science fictional oeuvre? Not enough.)

Petrie switches between comedic stories and more serious pieces with ease. The opening The Fridge Whisperer had be in stitches, while some most of the flash stories had be groaning at puns. On the serious side there are a lot of excellent stories to choose from. The two tales set on Titan (same universe, I think but unrelated to each other), "CREVjack" and "Fixing a Hole" were excellent. The first was a crushing action yarn and the latter a story about a problem that needed fixing lest the characters all die. I very much enjoyed both of them. "Latency" is a story that starts off following a scientific expedition and ends up with a surprising discovery. "Elevator Pitch", the only novella in the collection, is a Gordon Mammon story revisiting space elevator hotel employee who solves crimes on the side. It's a nice blend of humour (and puns) and serious murder-solving business. I should also note that while I say it's a Gordon Mammon story, all such stories that I've read have completely stood alone, so don't worry if you have no idea what I'm talking about.

Difficult Second Album is an excellent varied read. I highly recommend it to fans of Petrie's work and newcomers alike. It's a good starting point to sample his story-telling range. I would particularly recommend it to fans of hard SF (although, again, not all the stories are SF). I, for one, am looking forward to finding out what clever title Petrie comes up with for his next collection.


Introduction, by Über-Professor Arrrrarrrgghl Schlurpmftxpftpfl — Lol. Again, worth not skipping over.

The Fridge Whisperer — Hilarious. Writer attempts to write (what seems to be The Hitchhiker's a Guide to the Galaxy) while his fridge gains sentience and wreaks havoc. Awesome.

Dark Rendezvous — A space explorer comes across a derelict ship drifting in a favourable direction for rendezvous. Where did it come from? Ominous. I particularly liked the attention to dust particle detail in the nebulous setting of the story.

Florence, 1504, Late Winter — Drabble

Dream(TM) — Flash

Things YOU Can Do To Defend Yourself … — Er... Heh.

The Speed of Heavy — An amusing space cargo caper involving an exchange student, some crickets and some bats. I lol'd.

London, 1666, Springtime — Drabble (So shaggy. Much dog. Wow.)

Latency — A really solid hard SF story. A research team on another planet studying it's only life form. Solid science, interesting concepts played with.

Moonlight — a haiku.

Because We’re Living In A Material World — Amusing and also bittersweet short story about a CERN experiment/accident.

Cruisy — Alien abduction story with a twist. The title makes more sense in retrospect.

CREVjack — A Titan story, full of action and danger and rather riveting for it. A difficult ending to read.

You Said ‘Two Of Each’, Right? — Biblically amusing flash

Fixing a Hole — Another Titian story, very exciting. Definite problem-solving hard science fiction.

21st Century Nursery Rhymes, #126: I Had A Little Nut Tree — poem

Buying a Ray Gun — Amusing story told in a script-like format and set in a ray gun store. Pretty sure there was a stylistically similar one in the first collection (but completely different plot).

X-Factor — An usual story set on Mars and involving genetics. I was left wanting to know more.

Elevator Pitch — A novella length story about our favourite space elevator detective, Gordon Mammon. I had thought the concept might start to get repetitive but it really doesn't. I enjoyed this story a lot, with its double mystery and firm grip of science (and sometimes cheesy humour). It was nice to have something lengthy to really sink my teeth into.

Lithophiles — Lovers turned to stone. An original idea.

Next! — Flash

The Man Who …
— Written in a more flowery style than most of the other stories, this is another solid hard SF tale. The story of comet hunters looking to send water to Mars.

Must’ve Been While You Were Kissing Me — Zombie speed-dating noir shaggy dog story.

The Assault Goes Ever On — Weird flash.

Suckers For Love — Alien mating romance. An ultimately disconcerting story. Squidlike.

5 / 5 stars

First published: September 2014, Peggy Bright Books
Series: Not really
Format read: ePub
Source: Review copy courtesy of the author
Challenges: Aussie Science Fiction Reading Challenge