Saturday, 14 July 2018

Lumberjanes Vol. 4: Out of Time by Noelle Stevenson and Shannon Watters

Lumberjanes, Vol. 4: Out of Time written by Noelle Stevenson and Shannon Watters, and illustrated by Brooke Allen is, obviously, the fourth volume of collected Lumberjanes comics. Unlike some comic series, this one has rather gotten away from me with it's rapid release dates. This volume apparently came out in 2016 and volume ten is set to come out at the end of this year (according to Goodreads), which wow. Much comic.

Jen just wants a normal lesson with her cabin, teaching Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley the basic survival skills needed without any supernatural intervention. But when a blizzard hits camp, Jen finds herself separated from the girls and in more trouble than ever... until a mysterious taxidermist swoops in to save the day. Who is she and what is her relationship to Rosie? Join Jen as she finds a way back to her girls, and a way to save the day!

As you might have gathered from my intro, it's been a surprisingly long while since I read Lumberjanes Vol 3. That said, I'm glad I did read it because this volume builds a little bit on some of the events of that story. Not in a super crucial way, but I think readers coming into the story at this point might find themselves a little bit confused, especially about cats. And the forest.

In any case, like the volumes that went before it, Out of Time is a fun continuation of the Lumberjanes' story. For the first time we get a nice spotlight on Jen, the camp counsellor as she has her own adventure. We also get a bit of backstory about the history of the camp, which adds to the story. Oh, and a new character joins the team (temporarily?).

I enjoyed this volume and am looking forward to the many more volumes that await me (which I still have to go out and buy, alas). For fans of the Lumberjanes series, why wouldn't you keep reading with this volume? For readers new to the series, I suggest starting at Volume 1: Beware The Kitten Holly. They are quite quick to read, even for comic books, so you can get caught up (to, er, my level of behind-ness) in no time.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, Boom! Studios
Series: Lumberjanes volume 4 of ongoing series
Format read: PDF (but I also own the paperback)
Source: Humble Book Bundle: Summer Reading List by BOOM! Studios for the PDF and local comic book shop for the paperback

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Fence issue 1 by CS Pacat and Johanna the Mad

Fence Issue 1 written by CS Pacat and illustrated by Johanna the Mad is the first issue in what looks to be an ongoing comic book series about fencing teenagers. I picked it up as part of a Humble Book Bundle of comics ("Summer Reading List by BOOM! Studios") and I didn't realise that this was only the first issue when I started reading. (I see now that the first collected volume isn't quite out yet, alas.)

Sixteen-year-old Nicholas Cox is an outsider to the competitive fencing world. Filled with raw talent but lacking proper training, he signs up for a competition that puts him head-to-head with fencing prodigy Seiji Katayama...and on the road to the elite all-boys school Kings Row. A chance at a real team and a place to belong awaits him—if he can make the cut!

There's not much too say about a single issue that hasn't already been summarised in the blurb, so this will be a short review. I'm not generally a sport fan, but I have previously enjoyed things like Yuri on Ice, and a few teen gymnastics shows the names of which escape me. I expect Fence will join that list if I keep reading it, which I would like to. The obvious parallel of (to be revealed but with some cues already, including the author's track record) queer characters suggests to me that this will work well for fans of Yuri on Ice.

It's hard to form a conclusive opinion in just one issue, but this one presented an interesting opening to a story I would like to see more of. As I said, the collected volume isn't out yet, but I am interested in picking it up and reading more of this story. I would particularly recommend fans of Yuri on Ice have a look at this one.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2017, Boom! Studios
Series: Fence, issue #1 of ongoing series
Format read: PDF
Source: Humble Book Bundle: Summer Reading List by BOOM! Studios

Monday, 9 July 2018

#ReadShortStories and poems that are more varied (121-125)

This batch represents the end of Uncanny Issue Twenty-One, a short detour and the start of a new anthology: Mother of Invention edited by Rivqa Rafael and Tansy Rayner Roberts. I was a Kickstarter backer of Mother of Invention and I see it's full of authors that I like (starting with Seanan McGuire as you'll see below) so that should be a good read. Stay tuned for more.

Old Habits by Nalo Hopkinson — Ghosts living in a mall and replaying their deaths daily. Not a cheerful read, but I enjoyed it overall. Source:

Swallow by Hal Y. Zhang — Kind of a weird poem. Clearly I struggle with reviewing the more abstract ones. About fish and reincarnation maybe? Source:

A View from Inside the Refrigerator by Andrea Tang — I had to read this one twice to take it in properly, the second time after having reminded myself of the title, which explains it well. The poem of a fridged woman, the hero’s motive. A concept I can always get behind the dissection of. Source:

From the Editorial Page of the Falchester Weekly Review (A Lady Trent Story) by Marie Brennan — An epistolary story told through letters to the editor. More specifically, we see a dispute play out between Isabella, the protagonist of the Memoirs of Lady Trent series, and another naturalist. I found it very amusing, but I’m not sure that it stands well outside of the context of the series, but it slots in quite nicely after the third book, Voyage if the Basilisk (with only the most minor spoilers for that book). Source:

Mother, Mother, Will You Play With Me? by Seanan McGuire — A story about an AI child learning through games and growing up. I enjoyed it, although it wasn’t what I expected (from the title and author I expected something creepier). I liked how many different ideas it explored, and also the ending. Source: Mother of Invention edited by Rivqa Rafael and Tansy Rayner Roberts

Saturday, 7 July 2018

#ReadShortStories or poems from Uncanny (116 to 120)

Another exclusively Uncanny batch today. Not much left to go in Issue Twenty-One. The next batch will contain the last of it, I expect, along with something new. I have quite enjoyed the poems in this issue of Uncanny, more so than in the previous issue. Possibly because they're more narratively driven? Or more narratively driven in the style that appeals to me? Something like that.

Found Discarded: A Love Poem, Questionably Addressed. by Cassandra Khaw — Pretty much what it says on the label. I liked the allusions and conclusion of this one. Source:

drop some amens by Brandon O’Brien — An amusing poem about prayer-bombs falling on various people. Source:

The Fairies in the Crawlspace by Beth Cato — Horrifying and wonderful. A poem about fairies and a little girl that grows up. I really liked this one. Source:

די ירושה by Sonya Taaffe — According to Google Translate, the title means “Quite an inheritance”. A short poem, with an interesting resonance. Source:די-ירושה/

The Howling Detective by Brandon O’Brien — A mysterious murder of an evil person and a lagahoo (loosely speaking something like a Trinidadian werewolf) combine in this powerful story. I quite enjoyed it and the way it engaged with a difficult subject. I got momentarily lost in the chronology, but that’s probably because I was tired when I read it. Source:

Thursday, 5 July 2018

#ReadShortStories and a poem (111 to 115)

I've been making my way through Uncanny Issue Twenty-One, which is where all of this batch's stories are from. I'm not a fan of how the ePub issues have all the short stories, then the essays, then the poems, rather than mixing them up a bit. So I decided to do some mixing myself and threw in a poem (and some non-fiction, which I'm not reviewing) out of order. 

Unfortunately, since the new issue of Uncanny dropped a couple of days ago, being almost finished with this one isn't bringing me significantly closer to being up to date.

And Yet by A. T. Greenblatt — A haunted house as a portal to parallel universes — a pretty logical idea, really. Interestingly told in second person, which works well for it. Source:

Like a River Loves the Sky by Emma Törzs — A lovely, if somewhat sad, story about friendship, family and loss. And dogs and taxidermy. A nice read. I liked it.  Source:

The Testimony of Dragon’s Teeth by Sarah Monette — A story about ill-will and small malicious magic. Not a bad read, though not a favourite either. Source:

Pistol Grip by Vina Jie-Min Prasad — A bit graphics for my tastes, this is a short story about super soldiers who have drawn the short straw in life. Source:

Editorial comment: I am a little disappointed by how aggressively not my thing "Pistol Grip" is since otherwise Vina Jie-Min Prasad has become one of my favourite short story writers. (I'm still going to keep reading her stories, of course, but my expectations for this one were probably too high.)

The Sea Never Says It Loves You by Fran Wilde — I really liked this poem, despite not usually being much of a fan of Wilde’s writing. It’s a somewhat story-driven about how unsatisfying loving the sea is (as the title says). Source:

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Prime Meridian by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Prime Meridian by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a near-future novella that has been sitting in my TBR for a surprisingly long time, although the release date is this month. (The reason is that the review copies were sent out close to the crowdfunding campaign for the book.)

Amelia dreams of Mars. The Mars of the movies and the imagination, an endless bastion of opportunities for a colonist with some guts. But she’s trapped in Mexico City, enduring the drudgery of an unkind metropolis, working as a rent-a-friend, selling her blood to old folks with money who hope to rejuvenate themselves with it, enacting a fractured love story. And yet there’s Mars, at the edge of the silver screen, of life. It awaits her.

This book was kind of bleak, albeit not completely devoid of hope. Set in a future Mexico City so near that, aside from the colonies on Mars, it could be tomorrow. Amelia, our main character, has a shitty life living on the poverty line and dreaming of moving to Mars.

The story is mostly about her trying to make ends meet and save up enough to buy a ticket to Mars in a very gig-based economy (at least for the not-wealthy). Her main job is working as a sort of rent-a-friend (via an app) and, among other things, listening to an old lady talk about her life as a movie starlet in pulpy science fiction movies (especially the one set on Mars).

This wasn't a terrible story but I didn't love it. It was a very mundane kind of bleak which wasn't particularly what I expected from the cover art. I also thought there'd be more experiences of Mars in it, but Amelia doesn't see it for herself during the novella. We just hear a lot of different things about how much better or worse it is there which doesn't give much of a feeling of hope. I mean, I think that was what the author was going for, but it wasn't really what I was hoping to read.

I recommend Prime Meridian to fans of near-future and mundane SF who don't mind reading something that isn't too cheerful. I wasn't a huge fan, but I will probably check out some of the author's other work in the future (for example Signal To Noise, a novel I bought on sale some time ago).

4 / 5 stars

First published: July 2018 (backer copies December 2017),  Innsmouth Free Press
Series: No
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan is the third book in the Memoirs of Lady Trent series. I have previously read, reviewed and enjoyed the first two books: A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents. I have been enjoying the series so much that I have, so far, read the books in quick succession and, if anything, I enjoyed this third volume even more.

Devoted readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoirs, A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents, may believe themselves already acquainted with the particulars of her historic voyage aboard the Royal Survey Ship Basilisk, but the true story of that illuminating, harrowing, and scandalous journey has never been revealed—until now. Six years after her perilous exploits in Eriga, Isabella embarks on her most ambitious expedition yet: a two-year trip around the world to study all manner of dragons in every place they might be found. From feathered serpents sunning themselves in the ruins of a fallen civilization to the mighty sea serpents of the tropics, these creatures are a source of both endless fascination and frequent peril. Accompanying her is not only her young son, Jake, but a chivalrous foreign archaeologist whose interests converge with Isabella’s in ways both professional and personal.

Science is, of course, the primary objective of the voyage, but Isabella’s life is rarely so simple. She must cope with storms, shipwrecks, intrigue, and warfare, even as she makes a discovery that offers a revolutionary new insight into the ancient history of dragons

This time we follow Isabella and friends as she makes a trip around the world to study dragons in diverse locales. The premise of this one grabbed me right from when Isabella suggested the journey at the end of the second book and the journey itself didn't disappoint. The expedition team visits a few new countries, studies many dragons and makes some exciting discoveries. (If you're wondering how a journey around the world fit into a single volume of this not overly doorstopper series, the answer is by skipping many of the parts in which nothing except science happened.)

I particularly liked the world building in this book. Brennan's world building isn't exactly new, since we've already seen other part of the world in the first two books, but she continues to handle the development of the secondary world well. There are still clear parallels with our world, but the map isn't just a renamed version of Earth and hence some different geopolitical situations play out across it.

As well as enjoying the characters, many of whom are new and most of whom I hope we'll meet again, I want to note something character related that Brennan has done a good job with. A lot of people try to excuse not dealing with QUILTBAG issues in historical fiction because these are perceived to be modern concerns. Brennan does a good job of bringing some of them into the narrative in quite natural ways without at all altering the Regency/Victorian feel of her books. That said, they are very minor aspects of the narrative as a whole, but I still like how these things were handled in this book and the previous volume (and I'm not being more specific because spoilers).

I enjoyed a lot about this book and I am very keen to read the next one in the series. As has been happening with all the book in the Memoirs of Lady Trent, new information about dragons has been revealed and the promise of further adventures awaits. And I really want to see what happens with one of the newly introduced characters, who must at least be mentioned in future books from the hints we got.

As you have probably gathered, I am very keen to read the next book in the series, In the Labyrinth of Drakes. I will be doing so as soon as I can. In the meantime, I highly recommend Voyage of the Basilisk to fans of the series who have enjoyed the previous books. I think this instalment is even more enjoyable than the first two, so let that guide you if you are wavering.

5 / 5 stars

First published: 2015, Tor Books
Series: Memoirs of Lady Trent book 3 of 5
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased on iBooks

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Saga Volume Seven by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Saga Volume Seven written by Brian K Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples is the seventh volume in the ongoing comic series. As with the previous volumes, it tells the next chapter in the story, collecting issues #37–42.

From the worldwide bestselling team of FIONA STAPLES and BRIAN K. VAUGHAN, “The War for Phang” is an epic, self-contained SAGA event! Finally reunited with her ever-expanding family, Hazel travels to a war-torn comet that Wreath and Landfall have been battling over for ages. New friendships are forged and others are lost forever in this action-packed volume about families, combat, and the refugee experience.

I didn't actually read the blurb above before reading this volume, and, having read it, would not have called it an "event" in the traditional comic book sense. Marvel events completely disrupt series, which was not at all the case here. "The War for Phang" was more just a more coherent story arc in a series that often has a few different threads on the go at once. So if you have comic events, best to just not think of this book as an event book.

It is nice, actually, to have a more contained story arc in Saga. There was less trying to remember what those side characters had been doing (though still a bit of that) and more coherent narration by future Hazel across the whole volume. Of course it dealt with a lot of the same issues that earlier parts of the Saga narrative have delved into: racism/interracial relations, war, death. Tying it all together with most of the story set on Phang increased the impact of some of the emotional points. Speaking of emotional points, the ending was also powerful (no spoilers).

I definitely recommend this volume to anyone who has enjoyed the previous volumes of Saga. It's not an especially good place to pick up the story since it really is a long ongoing saga. I'm looking forward to reading the next volume, which will hopefully be soon since it's already out and in my possession.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2017, Image Comics
Series: Saga ongoing series Volume 7 of at least 9
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Some local comic book shop

Monday, 25 June 2018

Want by Cindy Pon

Want by Cindy Pon is a near-future science fiction YA book set in Taiwan that stands alone but is also the opening of a series. It's the first book by the author that I've read, though not for lack of trying; most of her other books are unavailable in Australia and Europe and it felt like I had to wait a while for Want to make it to Australia. Hopefully the planned sequel will arrive more promptly.

Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits that protect them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother, who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary.

Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO. Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is or destroying his own heart?

This novel is set in a near-future Taipei in a world where pollution has gotten bad enough that the rich walk around in environment suits and the poor die young. Zhou and his friends want to change the status quo and hatch an ambitious plot to do so. It involves infiltrating the world of the rich in the hope of helping the poor of Taipei. (The title comes from the idea of the divide between the "haves" and the "wants".)

I really enjoyed this book. Although I ended up reading it over a longer period of time than I usually do with YA books (for external reasons), I was consistently engaged with the story and the characters. It's told in first person from Zhou's point of view, meaning we see the most into his world, his past and his feelings. He sits somewhere in the middle among his friend group in terms of privilege and current circumstances, and we see the lives of the poor from several angles as well as the lives of the rich.

I found the story fun to read even when it was dealing with heavy concepts (aside from a few more poignant moments). I particularly found some events near the end delightful (but I won't spoil them here) and I felt that the book ended on a really strong note. Although the world's problems aren't completely resolved by the end of Want the main plot lines of the book draw neatly to a close. While I want to read the sequel because I enjoyed Want, I would also have been satisfied if no sequels had been planned.

I recommend this book to fans of YA, dystopias and near-future SF. In particular, readers looking for diverse settings in YA books will find much to like here. It's nice reading a book that's both not set in the US and acknowledges the existence of the rest of the world. I enjoyed Want and hope to read more by Pon in the future, whether it's the sequel or one of her other books (may they lose their geo-restrictions).

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2017, Simon Pulse
Series: Yes, book 1 of 2 planned so far
Format read: ebook
Source: Borrowed from the library (via Libby for Overdrive)

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Ms Marvel Vol 7: Damage Per Second by G Willow Wilson

Ms Marvel Vol 7: Damage Per Second written by G Willow Wilson is the latest collected volume of the Kamala Khan run of Ms Marvel. It follows on from Vol 6 which was (tolerably) set during the Civil War II event and which I have also reviewed. It collects issues #13–18 of the most recent numbering system run (the back of the trade says starting in 2015 but I think the issue numbering has restarted at least once since then).

Civil War II is behind her, and a brand new chapter for Kamala Khan is about to begin! But it's lonely out there for a super hero when her loved ones no longer have her back. It's time for Kamala to find out exactly who she is when she is on her own. Plus: it's election time! Kamala gets out the vote!

There are three story arcs collected in this volume. The first single-issue arc is about Ms Marvel encouraging New Jersey people to vote in the Mayoral election. I didn't mind this one, but politics centring getting people to vote is always strange from this Australian used to compulsory voting. I also put the comic down for a while after this issue and when I came back to read the rest and write this review I found it hadn't been very memorable.

The middle four-issue arc is overwhelmingly the dominant one in this collection and is the origin of the volume title. This story involves Ms Marvel gaming online in her down time and then having to deal with a computer-based villain. The story deals with the idea of there not being any privacy or secrets in the modern digital age, but there wasn't enough space to delve into this very deeply and the story is limited to issues surrounding doxing, more or less. It was interesting and memorable but I don't think it's one of my favourite Ms Marvel arcs. (I also side-eyed the computer stuff in it, but it fits in with the magic of the Marvel universe, I suppose.)

The final single-issue arc shows us Bruno's story who doesn't appear earlier in this volume after events in the previous volume. Bruno is going to school in Wakanda and we see him struggling to fit in as "the American" but also making friends and — most interestingly — dealing with his acquired disabilities. I really liked this arc and while I don't know how sustainable future Bruno stories will be if he continues being on the other side of the world from Ms Marvel, I hope we see more of him in the future.

I enjoyed this volume and I definitely recommend it to fans of Ms Marvel. I think it's probably also an OK place to pick up the story, but not the best starting point. As always I advocate starting at the start of the Kamala Khan Ms Marvel run for maximum Ms Marvel goodness.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2017, Marvel Comics
Series: Ms Marvel vol 7, containing issues #13–18
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Local comic book shop