Monday, 31 December 2012

New Booksies: epic end of 2012 haul

It's been a long time since I did a New Booksies post. So long, in fact, that I have acquired rather a lot of new books since my last post. I should have done an intermediate post but... I didn't. There was business and laziness and travels, and now it's Christmas. And since there are books to be had for Christmas, I decided to post this on New Year's Eve, since only then can it be all inclusively end of 2012-ish.

I have a lot of books to report. In vaguely chronological order and by category, here it goes...

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Transgressions by Phillip Berrie

Transgressions by Phillip Berrie is the first book in what I assume will be a fantasy trilogy. The following review contains minor spoilers, but nothing pertaining to vital plot elements.

Transgressions is about Wamzut, a wizard who, before the action begins, lost his body and almost died in a magical battle. He was saved as a disembodied soul only due to a magical insurance device he had in place. The story opens with a priestess, Nessa, helping him take possession of a body whose soul has vacated it due to an unrelated magical attack. The new body is not that of an 80 year old man, however, but of a young, half-elven woman.

There is plenty of scope for this to go badly in terms of how it is treated in the text, but Berrie pulls it off without making it creepy. Wamzut, now going by Attina, the name of the woman whose body he's possessing, vows to find and stop the magical creature that killed Attina and commences that quest more or less immediately (after dealing with a few practical matters). Of course, things don't go entirely to plan and so, a more-epic-than-intended journey begins.

As far as the trans aspect goes, Wamzut is still at heart a man and refers to himself as male unless he's specifically referring to his body (and even then he usually says "Attina's body"). He also continues to be attracted to women and, after some (entertaining) urging on Nessa's part, a physical relationship blooms between them. I do think perhaps a bit more time could have been devoted to him angsting about his new genitalia, instead of being skimmed over, but the "how to be a woman" conversation was also skimmed over, underscoring that the focus of the story is on magical events rather than the new gender.

The world building was well thought out. There were lots of small world-fleshing-out bits dropped in, which I enjoyed. A particular favourite was the psychic wave that rolls with the sunrise which interferes with some types of magic and jolts magic-wielders awake if they're sleeping.

I found the prose a little stilted at times, but given that it's told in first person by a technically 80 year old man, it is, perhaps, understandable. I got used to the style more quickly than I expected to but I suppose your mileage may vary.

Transgressions is very much a book 1. A lot of goals are introduced which Wamzut begins to world towards but not all are completed. The book did end at a logical break point but I was left wanting to know "but what about...?" It's definitely the first portion of a larger story and I am keen to read the next instalment to find out what happens.

I recommend Transgressions to fantasy fans, particularly those who enjoy stories about travelling between worlds/dimensions. Although I didn't think the trans aspect was handled poorly, I'm not sure I'd recommend it as a trans narrative; it's definitely more a story about magic than gender.

4 / 5 stars

Published: November 2012, self-published
Series: Book 1 of ? (guessing it will be a trilogy)
Format read: ebook
Source: Review copy provided by the author
Disclaimers: The author is a friend and once upon a time I read an early draft of part of the opening, which influenced my reading slightly (thanks to vaguely remembered story facts), but not my review.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, first caught my attention when it was discussed on the Galactic Suburbia podcast a while ago. Although it's technically not a spec fic book, it has some spec ficcy sensibilities (indeed Bray's most recent book is much more obviously fantasy-ish) and I think it will broadly appeal to fans of spec fic and mainstream YA.

The premise of the book is simple: a planeload of teenage beauty pageant contestants crashes on a deserted island. All the adults are killed, leaving only fourteen (I think) contestants alive. Alone on the island, the girls have to find a way to survive — find food, avoid the giant snakes, build shelter.

There are many characters, only four of the surviving girls are background characters, but they are easy to distinguish from the start. I admit I didn't necessarily remember all their states at first (except for Miss Texas who was very distinctively Texan) but their personalities and other characteristics made them easy enough to keep track of. As far as diversity goes, Bray seems to have ticked almost all the necessary boxes: there's the Jewish girl who's against the ideals of the pageant, the black girl, the Indian second generation American girl, the gay girl, the trans girl, the deaf girl, the dumb girls, the girl who gets an aeroplane tray stuck in her head, and a few others that are harder to summarise in a stereotype. Not that the characters are stereotypical. They all have complex back-stories and a wide variety of reasons for participating in the pageant. All the minority issues were dealt with well, as far as my knowledge of them goes, with the possible exception of the bisexual girl but she wasn't handled that poorly, just a tad stereotypically.

At its heart, Beauty Queens is an indictment of the beauty and pageant industries and the beauty standard. Through the interactions of the characters and their journeys towards self-discovery on the island, the story explores what it means to be female in a materialistic society obsessed with perfection and the limitations (and secret powers) of feminine expectations.

All the issues explored in Beauty Queens can get a bit heavy. Luckily, the story is interspersed with commercial breaks from The Company (which runs the pageant and makes all the products and is generally a force of evil) and a background plot involving conspiracy, an evil lair with a piranha tank, an arms deal and a dictator of a small Caribbean republic (well, I think it's Caribbean). The silly elements are a perfect counterbalance to the more important issues explored. And in some cases, like the commercials, serve to highlight the issues further in an amusing way.

Beauty Queens was an excellent read. I highly recommend it to everyone.

5 / 5 stars

Published: May 2011, Scholastic (US)
Series: nope
Format read: paperback
Source: (requested) Christmas present

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Salvage by Jason Nahrung

Salvage is a novella by Jason Nahrung, put out by Twelfth Planet Press, and the first longer work of his I've read (I think I've read a short story before, just don't ask me which one).

Salvage is set on an island near Brisbane, where a couple take their first holiday after a miscarriage. Melanie is the main character and the story primarily follows her continuing journey in coming to terms with the miscarriage, the coldness that has crept into their marriage since, and her husband, Richard's, distraction with work.

While on the island, she meets Helena, a somewhat mysterious waif, with a medical condition that prevents her from fully enjoying their surroundings. She is also holidaying there with her husband. The two women strike up a friendship, but it turns out to be not entirely what Melanie expected.

I liked Melanie as a character but I'm not sure I'd want to be friends with any of the other characters in real life. Richard, while not positioned as an antagonistic character per se, was central to some of Melanie's issues. I'm not sure that I would have put up with him as much as Melanie did.

I found Salvage to be quite dark. I'm inclined to classify it as the horror version of magical realism. The fantastical elements didn't come to the fore until near the end and would have surprised me if I hadn't been expecting them (since Twelfth Planet Press do primarily publish speculative fiction). The publisher is categorising it as "Australian Gothic" which I think is fairly apt. As far as the horror element goes, there was a bit of ickiness and a bit of violence, but nothing which is likely to give me (most people?) nightmares.

I recommend Salvage to people after a quick, dark read. (It's definitely not a cheery story.) I think people who are into contemporary/mainstream/whatever-you-want-to-call-it books would also enjoy Salvage as, like I said, the fantastical elements are relatively minor. I'll certainly be on the look out for more books/stories from Jason Nahrung.

4 / 5 stars

Published: June 2012, Twelfth Planet Press
Format read: Paperback
Source: Publisher giveaway due to minor printing error (which it took me a while to locate)

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken is an unusual YA dystopian novel. It's unusually long for YA (almost 500 pages) and the world Bracken has built is not how I would have envisaged her initial premise playing out.

One day, children in America aged between 10 and 14 start dying suddenly and unpredictably. It starts just before Ruby's tenth birthday. She survives but, it turns out, she and the other few survivors aren't normal or lucky. They have powers which make the adults terrified of them. So terrified that they're sent away to faux-rehabilitation camps. Ruby spends six years in such a camp, pretending to have the most benevolent set of powers although she actually has one of the most dangerous sets, before she's broken out by a vigilante group. And so the main adventures of being on the run begin.

I had a big problem with the underlying premise of this novel. There are several sets of "psi" powers (as in the Greek letter Ψ, presumably because it sounds like psychic), coded by colours in the book: greens are basically savants, blues can move things around with their minds, yellows can influence electricity, oranges can influence other people's minds, and reds... I'm not sure but they sounded dangerous, possibly they can manipulate fire. I can understand people being afraid of oranges, but what I really really don't understand is why the kids were all locked up instead of being militarised or at least used for the benefit of the country. Bloody hell, the US was the only country to be afflicted and they didn't use it as an opportunity to get an upper hand on the rest of the world. No, instead their economy crashed and all the other countries stopped talking to them. And how did no one fully consider (and do something about!) the long-term implications of children either dying or having psi powers? If you lock up all the surviving children, what's going to happen to the country when you're old and there is no younger generation to keep things going? What. The. Frack. I understand the reasoning behind society falling apart, but even I have slightly more confidence in the US government to make use of the situation. It's not as though they were disorganised; they did manage to lock almost all the kids up in camps. And then left them there, or got rid of the most dangerous ones. About the only sensible thing they managed to do was to experiment on some of them (which is horrible for the children, of course, but a logical thing for a government to do in the circumstances), but that doesn't seem to have gotten them anywhere.

Rant over. On to the other aspects of the book.

Unlike some YA books which codify special powers up front, Darkest Minds refers to them indirectly, leaving the reader to work them out gradually. I enjoyed this type of presentation, although not knowing exactly what other kids were capable of was a bit frustrating, especially when it was clear that Ruby did have some idea.

I liked the other characters sixteen-year-old Ruby spends most of the book with: two blues, one, Liam, an idealistic hero wannabe who orchestrated a breakout at his camp, and Chubs, a geek who is the one to usually point out their stupid ideas. There's also Zu, a ten-year-old yellow who the others look after and who saves the day a few times. The budding romance between Ruby and Liam was slow and believable. There was no ridiculous instant attraction (which would have been all the more ridiculous in the setting since Ruby had spent most of her six years in the camp segregated from the boys), and no making (overly) stupid decisions because of their love.

For someone whose education stopped at grade four and who was not exposed to any TV, books, movies or other pop-culture for the past six years, Ruby knew way too much. Aside from a few pop-culture references (which I didn't object to coming from the other characters who'd spent much more time on the outside than she did), she knew far too much about rock music. What ten year old has enough of an appreciation of Led Zeppelin, the Doors and the Who to still remember what they are six years later? There were some appropriate gaps in her knowledge (she didn't know how to drive, couldn't read maps) but generally I felt that she knew too much for her circumstances.

The story moved too slowly for my liking, however. The writing was technically fine and the prose was mostly above average so that I didn't feel the urge to skip paragraphs. However, the story dragged. At almost 500 pages it was unnecessarily long. There were a few definite sections of not much happening that could definitely have been compressed, especially one part where it was inevitable that things were going to end badly, but they took rather a long time doing so (perhaps to lure the reader into a false sense of security? It didn't work). It was the prose and the emotional ending which pushed this book up an extra half-star for me.

Ultimately, Darkest Minds wasn't a terrible book. I know I've criticised it a lot, but that's because it was the sort of book where I could clearly pinpoint what didn't work for me. Being the first of a trilogy (according to wiki), it doesn't quite stand alone. The story is not complete, there are questions left unanswered (like, why wasn't the rest of the world affected?) and characters whose fates are unknown. However, for the first of a YA trilogy, it stands alone better than some. The main arc of the story is complete and we are not left with a cliffhanger. I recommend it to anyone looking for a meatier/longer YA book than average. Or perhaps to someone sick of ultra-high-stakes dystopias (although I don't promise that the stakes won't be raised in the sequels). It's definitely not a quick read fluff book.

4 / 5 stars

Published: January 2013 (should already be in Aussie shops), HarperCollins AU
Series: Darkest Minds, book 1 of 3
Format read: eARC
Source: Courtesy of the publisher, via NetGalley

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Reading Challenges for 2013

Those of you who have been paying attention will have noticed that I've been participating in the Australian Women Writers Challenge this year. If you were paying particularly close attention, you might have realised that the reviewing component of the AWW2012 is what tricked me into led to me becoming a book blogger.

In 2012 I aimed to complete two separate AWW challenges: read and review 10 science fiction books by Australian Women — a tall order, given the paucity of science fiction by Australian authors generally — and to read as many (OK, originally I think I said 10, but I always knew it would end up being more than that) fantasy/other books by AWW as I could. And I did. I sourced some rather obscure SF books, used the challenge as an excuse to buy even more fantasy books and off I went.

But the fantasy part wasn't exactly a challenge. In almost all cases they were books I would have read anyway. I did discover some new authors through interacting with others doing the challenge, which I might not have heard about otherwise (or not as much), but mostly I read books I expected to read. I probably would not have gotten a Twelve Planets subscription if not for the challenge, but by the time the ebook subscription became available, I was already sold on the series. The main thing I can conclusively say is that without the challenge, I almost certainly would not have become a book blogger and probably would not have read as many books as I did this year.

In 2013, I'll definitely be continuing to post AWW reviews — I am in fact one of the curators, now, for the challenge's review archives for speculative fiction — but I feel like setting a specific goal for number of AWW books read generally is superfluous. 44% of ALL the books I read in 2012 were by AWW (and, if you're interested, 85% were by women generally).

Instead, I want to set two separate challenges for myself in 2013:
  • Read 5 horror books by Australian authors
  • Read 10 SF books by Australian authors
(Note that I've said Australian authors without specifying genders.)

The SF part should be obvious: I like SF and I want to promote what little of it comes out of Australia. I already have some books to start with since I didn't get around to reading all the books I sourced for 2012, finding instead some unexpected new releases to make up the numbers.

Allow me to explain the horror part further. When I was compiling my statistics about gender in Australian spec fic publishing (post 1, post 2), I saw that the overwhelming majority of spec fic published in Australia/written by Australians is fantasy. I have already addressed the lack of science fiction, but it is the lack of horror that is most stark. In 2011 only eleven horror books written by Australians were published (according to the Ditmar eligibility list). So few were published that there wasn't even an Aurealis Award given out in the horror category. Looking at the Australian Horror Writers Association's page for the Australian Shadows Award, no award was given out in the novel category for 2011 either. They have a reading list of eligible books for the 2012 award and there are only 7 novels on it so far (incidentally, I've read two of them already: Slights and The Price of Fame and one more is near the top of my TBR).

I don't read much horror, but I'm not against it, it's just not much of it crosses my path. So I want to branch out a bit and read more of it. I already have another two Kaaron Warren books lined up, the aforementioned near the top of my TBR pile book Walking the Shadows by Narrell M Harris (yeah, it just got pushed back into 2013, although I didn't think it was actually "horror" but we'll see), an anthology from Morrigan, Scenes from the Second Storey, assuming I remember to grab it when I'm back home, and we'll see what else the year brings. Five books is a modest goal, and I hope I exceed it, but given it's roughly half the yearly novel output of Australian horror writers, it seems reasonable.

I've made some banners for the purpose, too. If you want to use one or both of them on your blog, feel free, just please link back to here.

I'll be adding them to my side bar with counters once 2013 rolls around.

What reading challenges are you setting yourself for 2013? Will you be participating in the AWW2013? Do you want to join in on one or both of my SF and horror challenges? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Roil by Trent Jamieson

Roil is the first book of Trent Jamieson's Nightbound Land duology. I've had it on my TBR since around the time it came out, but have only just got around to reading it. From the blurb:
Shale is dying. A vast, chaotic, monster-bearing storm known only as the Roil is expanding, consuming the land.
Where once there were twelve great cities, now only four remain, and their borders are being threatened by the growing cloud of darkness. The last humans are fighting back with ever more bizarre new machines. But one by one the defences are failing. And the Roil continues to grow.
With the land in turmoil, it’s up to a decadent wastrel, a four thousand year-old man, and a young woman intent on revenge to try to save their city – and the world.
Roil is set in a very different world to ours. Every layer of it is different, and so it takes a little while for the world to be fully built up — to Jamieson's credit, he avoids large chunks of info dumping — the blurb doesn't do that aspect justice. The Roil itself is a seething storm of monsters and destruction which can only be fought with cold. There's a bit of a steampunk aspect to the endothermic weaponry (ice cannon, ice rifles, cooled swords) and the transportation, but against the backdrop of the world being destroyed, it didn't feel as steampunky as another book might.

Margaret (see cover art) comes from a city that is already surrounded by the Roil. The other cities think it was destroyed when the Roil overtook it, but thanks to the ingenuity of her parents, the city was able to survive for twenty more years, keeping the monsters at bay with sophisticated ice cannon although they couldn't hold the ever-present darkness back. The story opens with the fall of Margaret's city and her flight out of the Roil.

Around the same time, David, a young drug addict, watches his father get assassinated and knows that he's next. In the course of fleeing for his life, he meets up with Cadell an Old (ancient) Man, and the only hope for defeating the Roil.

Ultimately, it's not just the Roil and its monsters that our main characters are up against; there are human forces with their own agenda — like the man who wants David dead — for them to contend with also.

I liked reading about both Margaret and David, although Margaret is definitely the more kickarse character and David is a bit wet behind the ears. There was a third character, Medicine Paul, who I found it harder to relate to because for the first half of the book I wasn't entirely sure whether I should be on his side or not. I suspect he'll play a more prominent role in the sequel.

The way Roil is written, you have to trust some aspects of the worldbuilding to make sense later on, which didn't bother me but might bother some readers. Also, while I wouldn't call Roil a horror book, it definitely has some aspects of horror, like someone being eaten by spiders and lots of people being possessed by evil moths. Fair warning. Perhaps dark steampunk fantasy would be an apt sub-genre/description. It also can be read as a metaphor for global warming but doesn't have to be and can definitely be enjoyed either way. I'm not sure if the parallels were the author's intention but they do exist. Oh, and points to him for getting thermodynamics right (with the endothermic weaponry etc), always good to see.

I enjoyed Roil more than I expected to after reading certain goodreads reviews. I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for something different in their fantasy or in their steampunk. Trust me, there's nothing pedestrian about the world Jamieson has created.

4.5 / 5 stars

  • Published: August 2011, Angry Robot Books
  • Series: Nightbound Land, book 1 of 2
  • Format read: ebook (DRM-free ePub from publisher's website), also available in paperback
  • Source: bought myself

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Final Aussie Women Writers post for 2012: fantasy round-up 4 + a list of ALL the books

It's close to the end of the year, I've recently talked about the science fiction books I read as part of the AWW Challenge but there are still some books I read as part of my fantasy/misc challenge which haven't been collected in a round-up. This is that round-up. <cue dramatic music> And as a bonus, I'll also list all the books I've read for AWW this year.

Since this last round-up only, er, rounds up five books, it's a little less varied. Or, as one could put it, the Rowena Cory Daniells show round-up.
  • I read the second two books in Daniells's Outcast Chronicles: Exile and Sanctuary. Which were excellent. I highly recommend the series to anyone who enjoys epic fantasy. Daniells is the cream of the crop.
  • I also read The King's Man, a novella Daniells wrote in her King Rolen's Kin series. It follows a character who disappears at the end of the second book (presumed dead by the point of view characters in the trilogy), and to whom many horrible things happen. Daniels is good at torturing her character.
And for something completely different...
  • I read urban fantasy book Harbinger by Peta Crake, about a mortal messenger of the (multi-polytheistic) gods. It was a fun read and a light change of pace, well, apart from all the suffering the main character had to go through...
  • And finally, I read Shine Light by Marianne de Pierres, the dramatic conclusion to her Nightcreatures trilogy, which began with Burn Bright. It made me wish I'd read the whole series in one go (or at least, close together, not separated as it was by release dates). So if you haven't read it yet, take heed and make sure you have access to all three.
If you're wondering why I haven't included any covers, it's because they're below, along with all the other covers of all the other AWW books I've read. (If you're reading this post from the front page of the blog, it's below the cut.) I wanted to show them all together for completion, somewhere other than my dedicated AWW 2012 page, which will be going away when it's 2013.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

A Galactic Holiday by Stacy Gail, Sasha Summers & Anna Hackett

A Galactic Holiday is a three-novella anthology edited by Angela James and with novellas by Stacy Gail, Sasha Summers and Anna Hackett. The stories are all science fiction romances (or romance science fiction, more accurately) with a Christmassy theme. A copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher, Carina Press, for review purposes.

The first story was How The Glitch Saved Christmas by Stacy Gail. The heroine is a Chicago cop in a future where most of the police force have undergone body modifications, making them somewhat cyborgy and giving them super strength, speed, built in google search, etc. The heroine is the only one on the force resisting the change. Before body mods became standard, she was the top detective. Since refusing to get them, she's been demoted and is treated as a pariah on the force.

The story opens when she's been called to a crime scene where someone broke into an apartment to deliver a Christmas tree and presents to the household's children. The detective in charge of the case is our hero, who has secretly loved the heroine for years, but whom the heroine finds annoying because he's replaced her as top detective since being the first on the force to get body mods.

The resolution of the whodunit aspect was a bit twee, but maybe that's my general dislike of Christmas spirit talking. The romance aspect was OK, but I thought the heroine went from thinking the hero was annoying to realising she was attracted to him a bit too quickly.

The second story was Galileo's Holiday by Sasha Summers. The heroine was a loner "tugger" (owner of a small ship which transports things) whose ship is destroyed by raiders on an icy moon. The hero comes to her rescue quickly, helping her hide from the raiders who blew up her ship. She goes with him to the nearby colony, where she learns all about holidays and celebration. And spends an awful lot of time angsting about how she's going to have to leave him to get on with her life because all she knows is how to be a loner tugger.

Aside from the fact that it's a romance and so we know they're going to live happily ever after, the hints about how she was going to reconcile with that were a bit heavy-handed. She spends a lot of time fixing electronics for the colony, since none of them can do it and she's good at it, thanks to years alone, making sure here own stuff worked. The colony's previous electronics guy died, but before he settled there, he also used to be a tugger. Golly!

That aside, she was pretty kick-arse at being a heroine, what with fixing everything and being brave and saving the day.

The third story was Winter Fusion by Anna Hackett. The heroine and the hero are negotiators for their respective planets, in charge of coming to a trade agreement. Before he goes off, the hero's boss instructs him to seduce the heroine to get a better deal, which he has no intention of doing, but no need to guess how that turns out.

During their negotiation, someone tries to kill them, facilitating them being trapped in a remote cabin for a while. The hero comes from a very utilitarian planet where they don't have families or holidays, so the heroine takes the opportunity to teach him about Yule and presents and, to a lesser extent, family.

My biggest source of annoyance was at how quickly the heroine recovers after finding out he'd been ordered to seduce her. Because she knew him so well after their few days together. It made me wonder, from a story-telling point of view, why bother introducing the plot point at all, when it didn't even add much tension?


One thing I liked about this collection generally, was that the heroines were all competent and skilled and didn't play the damsel in distress. If they needed saving, they saved the hero in turn at some point.

Overall this anthology wasn't quite my thing, mostly being a bit light on the science fictional world building. At times, particularly in Galileo's Holiday, it felt like I was reading a romance story that happened to have some sci-fi trappings, which isn't what I want out of my fiction. But if it's what you like, go for it. I recommend this anthology to romance fans with at least a passing interest in science fiction. If you're after hard science fiction, maybe give it a miss. It's definitely romance first, science fiction second.

3 / 5 stars

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Aussie Women Writers Science Fiction Challenge 2012

This year, I participated in the Australian Women Writers Challenge. I decided up front to split my challenge up into two components: science fiction and fantasy/other. The idea was that there isn't an awful lot of science fiction published in Australia/by Australian authors, so I wanted the challenge to force me to go out of my way to track down books. Also, trying to read 10 fantasy books by Australian women was hardly a challenge for me, as it's more or less my default reading category.

I undertook to read 10 science fiction books by Australian Women and N fantasy/misc books (where N turned out to be 35). The original challenge I signed up for stipulated that I should review 6 of them, but I ended up reviewing all of them and hence this blog was born. (Well, technically it was born on Tumblr, then later migrated here.) I've already written up three fantasy/misc round-ups — one every ten books — and you can read them here: round-up 1, round-up 2, round-up 3. Still forthcoming is the round-up for the last of the fantasy books, so stay tuned.

Science fiction books read:
(not entirely in reading order)
  • Spare Parts by Sally Rogers-Davidson -- review 

Hard to track down at the start of the year — I could only find it as an audiobook — but the author has since been re-releasing her out of print books in ebook as well as print from Lulu. Excerpt from my review:
Spare Parts is about Kelty, a 19 year old “C-grader” (in a caste system which goes down to D), whose prospects were reduced when she narrowly missed out on a place at university (because C-graders can only get in with scholarships). The book is set about a hundred years in the future in the sprawling suburbia of Melbourne, albeit a Melbourne more filled with high-rises and with even dodgier trains than at present.
I rated it 5 stars. I definitely enjoyed it more than Rogers-Davidson's other book:
  • Polymer by Sally Rogers-Davidson -- review

I got a hold of  Polymer after Rogers-Davidson re-released it herself. From my review:
The main story takes place within the pages of a long-lost journal written by Polly Meridian (aka Polymer). On the night of her graduation ceremony, her space station home is invaded by aliens. (Aliens, in this book, pretty much means “people not from the same place as me who might be human or could be blue aliens”.) She almost dies in the invasion but is “lucky” enough to be taken prisoner and enslaved instead.
I got a few more of Rogers-Davidson's books on sale and have them lined up to read next year. I think if I'd read Polymer first, though, I might not have taken advantage of the Black Friday discount. (So it's a good thing I read Spare Parts first!)

  • Nightsiders by Sue Isle -- review

One of the Twelve Planets being released by Twelfth Planet Press. It was actually the second in the series that I read, the first being Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts, pre-blog. From my review of Nightsiders:
Nightsiders is set in Western Australia, in and around Perth. I want to say it’s post-apocalyptic, but that’s not quite true. It seems part local apocalypse, part generalised catastrophic climate change. The Australian climate has changed so that the west coast is no longer particularly habitable, with hints at the start that things are better in the east. The former city of Perth is now generally referred to as Nightside, because the people living there have turned nocturnal, seeking shelter during the heat of the day and going about their business in the marginally cooler nights.

  • Wanted: One Scoundrel by Jenny Schwartz -- review 

    Courting Trouble by Jenny Schwartz -- review  

Wanted: One Scoundrel by Jenny Schwartz is an Australian steampunk novella from an author I discovered thanks to the AWW Challenge. I also read the sequel novella Courting Trouble, and decided to count them as one book together since they're short. From my review of Wanted: One Scoundrel:
 Wanted: One Scoundrel by Jenny Schwartz is set in and around the Swan River colony — mostly in Perth and Fremantle. The protagonist, Esme, is the daughter of a gold prospector and inventor who struck it rich relatively recently. She is also a suffragette spearheading a political party with the goal of giving women and non-Anglos rights and votes.

The story opens with her realisation that, since her main political opponent has somehow arranged for all political debates to take place at gentlemen’s clubs, she needs a male spokesperson to be a figurehead leader. Unfortunately, all her present male supporters are too busy with their own affairs to devote sufficient time to actually leading a political party. So, with the aid of her captain uncle, she set about finding herself a newly arrived scoundrel (“fresh off the boat” — would that there weren’t other connotations to that phrase) whom she intends to pay to be her puppet.
And Courting Trouble picks up not long after Wanted: One Scoundrel left off. From my review:
Esme is a suffragette in Perth the Swan River colony, 1895. Book 1 introduced her love interest, the Californian Jed, who is still courting her now. Or trying to work out how to court a suffragette without making her angry. Their interactions amused me, especially Jed's attempts at courting. He's not very good at doing so at the start without reducing Esme to a damsel in distress and I completely shared Esme's anger at some of his antics.

  • The Rhesus Factor by Sonny Whitelaw -- review

Simultaneously an ecological disaster story and a pandemic story. Although it's not your conventional pandemic. It's the only book of Sonny Whitelaw's that I've read and I'd like to get a hold of more. I've also just learnt from her website, that a new edition of The Rhesus Factor is being released. Apparently she's fixing up some of the details which have actually come to pass in the ten years since it was first released. From my review:
In essence, The Rhesus Factor is an eco-thriller. Set in the near future when the Gulf Stream has stopped, climate change is decidedly noticeable and drug-resistant epidemics are sweeping the Earth. Since it was written about ten years ago, some of the technology of our very near future isn’t quite here (no space planes to hop across the pacific in a matter of hours, not even for the US Airforce) but some of her predictions are eerily true. There was a throwaway paragraph that included severe bushfires in southern Australia and Brisbane flooding, for example. Granted, those aren’t exactly outlandish predictions, and the Gulf Stream is still with us, but still, some of the crazy weather Whitelaw describes doesn’t feel like it’s as outlandish as it would have been ten years ago.

  • Black Glass by Meg Mundell -- review

This can be described as YA near-future minor dystopia. Not remotely similar to the kind of dystopian YA novels being pumped out of the US, though. It's only a small step in that direction and most of the misfortune that befalls the young protagonists is the sort of thing that might befall children on the street in the present. Short-listed for an Aurealis Award. From my review:
The most science fictiony element, and my second favourite part of the world building (my favourite being that it was set in Melbourne and I enjoy visiting home vicariously), was the side story of Milk the mood engineer. He uses scents and subtle changes in lighting to evoke moods and emotions in whoever is in range of his devices. His mission is to artistically make the spaces he works with more harmonious and the people in them happier. I thought it was a fascinating concept and explored with surprising depth in the relatively short novel.

The central-most characters, Tally 13 and Grace 16, are sisters who, up until the first chapter or so, have spent their lives following their deadbeat father around small Australian towns, often leaving town at a moment’s notice. The story starts when an accident kills their father and separates the sisters. They had been planning to run away to the city (Melbourne) “soon” but now they are forced to make their way there separately.

  • When We Have Wings by Claire Corbett -- review

Set in a Sydney where the rich have surgery to attach wings to their backs which allow them to fly (and which Corbett researched well so that the physics lines up), When We Have Wings explores what it means to be human and what it means to be poor when the rich are super-abled. A very enjoyable read and an excellent debut, I look forward to reading what Corbett writes next. From my review:
The story follows two characters: Zeke, a PI investigating a nanny kidnapping the child of a flyer couple, and Peri, the nanny on the run. The mystery of why and where the nanny took the baby is not the real mystery, however — especially since about half the story is told from her point of view. The real mysteries become apparent when Zeke digs a little deeper and when events get away from everyone.

  • And All the Stars by Andrea K Höst -- review

A really excellent YA read which reminded me a bit of Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden, but with aliens and set in Sydney. (And standalone rather than the start of a long series.) I see an Aurealis shortlisting in its future. This is the first book by Höst I've read, and it's made me keen to read more of her books. From my review:
The novel opens with an apocalyptic alien invasion. Spires, piercing the ground, appear in many large cities around the world, including Sydney where our protagonist, Madeline, lives. Madeline survives the impact of the spire piercing the train station she was just leaving only to be infected by the mysterious alien dust the spires belched out. The dust gives her, and those others who survive the infection, blue (or green) patches of skin and some super powers. Then the invasion begins in earnest.
Madeline starts off coping with the invasion alone, but that doesn't last long. She soon meets Noi, an apprentice chef, and they quickly team up with some boys from a boarding school who'd had the presence of mind to get organised after people got sick and started dying from the dust.

  • Shifting Reality by Patty Jansen -- review  

The first full-length novel I've read by Patty Jansen. I enjoyed the portrayal of a non-Western culture on a space station. In this case, it was the mostly Indonesian working class on a space station run by the interstellar successor to the UN. From my review:
Melati is a third generation resident of New Jakarta space station. She's one of few of her class (those of Indonesian decent) to work with the ISF (International Space Force — the successor to the UN). Her job is training cohorts of engineered soldiers who are grown as children. They grow and are trained up quickly into adult workers. The story opens when something strange happens with the new cohort batch and one of them wakes up not as the mindbase Melati had programmed, but as someone completely different. The question is who and why?

  • Blue Silence by Michelle Marquardt -- review

Published in 2002, this book has stood the test of time well. Unfortunately, it's out of print and tricky to get hold of. If you can, however, it's worth it. Very character-driven SF about what happens after a mysterious ship full of human-like aliens docks with one of the space stations in orbit around Earth. From my review:
Senator Maya Russini is the leader of the group of people who first board the ship. A mission which one of the group does not return from alive. Are the aliens dangerous? What do they mean for the various political machinations happening within the space station's government and between them and other governments?
I liked Maya. She was an excellent example of a female character that doesn't need to run around kicking people in the head to gain power. She's also secretly a telepath (secret because she didn't register when she turned 21), but in a nice twist, she's the weakest kind of telepath, only able to read emotions, not thoughts. I think Marquardt has done a good job of portraying a society in which women are equal without making a big deal of it. (There are, in the end, more male characters, but that's mostly because the two main aliens are male.)

Friday, 14 December 2012

Reads Tsana is Most Looking Forward To

I have to admit, I wasn't originally planning to do an anticipated reads list. But then someone on twitter mentioned that all the anticipated (fantasy) reads lists she'd seen were populated entirely or mostly by male authors. Since most of my favourite writers are female, obviously my most-anticipated list is going to be mostly female-authored books. And if no one else was going to make a list like that, I suppose I'd better. (And to be clear, this isn't intended to be a "women only" list, but it has turned out a mostly women list.)

Also, the list can be divided into three parts: YA, not YA and books with uncertain release dates which might not actually be in 2013, but are books that I am SUPER KEEN to read. Why should 2013 releases get to have all the fun on all the blogs? Can't we look further forwards than just one year?

Aside from those categories, the books aren't listed in any particular order.

Non-YA Books
  • Black Sun Be My Guide by Jo Spurrier, the sequel to Winter Be My Shield, which was one of my favourite books in 2012. It's due out in June 2013 from Harper Voyager AU.
  • Valley of Shields by Duncan Lay, the sequel to Bridge of Swords, which I read and (obviously) enjoyed earlier this year. It's due out in April 2013, also from Harper Voyager AU.
  • A Trifle Dead by Livia Day, the first crime book from fantasy author Tansy Rayner Roberts coming out from Twelfth Planet Press sooooon
  • The Fall of Fair Isle trilogy by Rowena Cory Daniells, being re-released by the author as ebooks, after being out of paper print for a while, coming some time in 2013. You may have noticed, I'm a big fan of her books generally.
YA Books
  •  Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare. The concluding volume in The Mortal Instruments trilogy (book 1, book 2), which I've enjoyed immensely. Personally, I'm predicting a tragic ending and I'm looking forward to reading how she pulls it off.
  • The Pirate's Wish by Cassandra Rose Clarke. The concluding volume in the story begun in The Assassin's Curse. A pirate, an assassin, a curse and an incomplete story. Of course I want to know what happens in the end.
  • Etiquette and Espionage - Gail Carriger. The first book in her new finishing school series. I've adored her Parasol Protectorate series and I'm pretty much up for anything else she feels like writing in a similar style. She also has the first book of a sequel series, Parasol Protectorate Abroad, called Prudence and Imprudence, coming out later in 2013, but I figured I should just pick one to be excited about for this list.

Non-specific Release Dates
  • Reunion by Jennifer Fallon, Rift Runners book 3 (book 2 review). I believe this has been delayed due to Earthquakes in New Zealand, and there's no definite release date yet (but maybe it will come out in 2013, we can hope).
  • Next Vorkorsigan book from Lois McMaster Bujold.
    Because they're awesome. I have no idea what or who it will be about, or when it will be released (let's hope for 2014), but I love this series and always want to read more of it.
  • Glenda Larke's next series book 1 of which is tentatively titled The Lascar's Dagger. Because she's one of my favourite authors and since her Watergivers trilogy concluded in 2011, I haven't had the chance to review any of her books here yet.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Blue Silence by Michelle Marquardt

Blue Silence by Michelle Marquardt was originally published in 2002 and is sadly now out of print. Although I see it's in stock at Infinitas as of this writing. It was a winner of the George Turner Prize (as my edition proclaims on the cover).

The story opens when a mysterious ship docks with one of the space stations in orbit around Earth. The ship is, on the outside, an exact replica of one that was sent out into deep space 180 years ago, and then never heard from again. The difference? This ship has new drive technology which was only invented a couple of years ago. And instead of the seven original crew members, it's full of stasis pods and five hundred creatures, half of whom look human, half of whom look almost human.

None of the aliens know where they came from or why — they have no memories before waking up docked with the space station — and the authorities on the space station don't really know what to do with them either.

Senator Maya Russini is the leader of the group of people who first board the ship. A mission which one of the group does not return from alive. Are the aliens dangerous? What do they mean for the various political machinations happening within the space station's government and between them and other governments?

I liked Maya. She was an excellent example of a female character that doesn't need to run around kicking people in the head to gain power. She's also secretly a telepath (secret because she didn't register when she turned 21), but in a nice twist, she's the weakest kind of telepath, only able to read emotions, not thoughts. I think Marquardt has done a good job of portraying a society in which women are equal without making a big deal of it. (There are, in the end, more male characters, but that's mostly because the two main aliens are male.)

Her friend Ienne, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, also gets involved with the aliens. Unlike Maya who mostly regards them as suspicious and dangerous, Ienne is always looking for a way to use them to his advantage (there's a treaty they and another space station are wrestling over). He also goes out of his way to be rude to everyone with the occasional exception of Maya.

As I noticed when I was past half-way, Blue Silence is a very character driven story, unusually so for science fiction. The world does not need saving, nor does any war break out. Instead the action comes directly from the interactions between the characters, including two of the aliens who I don't think I can say much about without spoiling key elements. There is excitement and there's no missing the climax, but it's not like a plot driven story where all the action was building up to an inevitable climax and world-saving event. In the end, we know more about the aliens, but we don't know everything. Some answers are only hinted at or presented as speculation. In a way, this was slightly annoying because I like to know all the answers (arguably why I'm a scientist in real life), but it worked for the book. The story wasn't about the people trying to study the aliens, it was about people whose paths happened to cross theirs.

Also, the science, which I feel obliged to comment on, was well done. It wasn't a technology-oriented story, but having been published ten years ago, there was a risk the technology would feel a bit dated now. It didn't. They didn't have smart phones, but they did have pagers which were functionally mobile phones and received the equivalent of email on ubiquitous computers.

I highly recommend Blue Silence to anyone looking for something a bit different in their science fiction. It also emphasises the variety we have in the Australian science fiction field, something you might miss if you only looked at the most recent few releases.

4.5 / 5 stars

Monday, 10 December 2012

Tsana's Best of 2012 Reads

Inevitably, I find myself looking back on the many (more than 100!) books I've read in 2012 and thinking about which books stood out the most for me. I have been keeping track of my favourite (5 star) reads in the sidebar, but there are ways for books to stand out (in a positive way) without me awarding them 5 stars.

So I have devised a few psudo award titles to convey my most memorable and recommended reads of 2012. Note that the award titles don't necessarily convey why I think the book is worthy of mention; that's what reviews are for. In no particular order, sixteen memorable books or series that I read in 2012:

Most Psychologically Disturbing Book
Slights by Kaaron Warren - I still think about it in the context of slighting people/being slighted and bits of soul ending up in the slightee's death room.

Book Which Reminded Me Most of High School
Shift by Em Bailey - And by reminded me of high school I mean in the sense of manipulative and mentally ill friends. In case you missed it, I was enthusiastic enough when I read Shift to also interview the author: link.

Series With Best Non-standard YA Love Triangle
The Trylle Trilogy: Switched, Torn, Ascend by Amanda Hocking - spoiler: she doesn't choose the first boy that comes along AND she has a sensible reaction to being watched in her sleep.

Book With The Coldest Setting
Winter Be My Shield by Jo Spurrier - I learnt what snow blindness actually is from reading this book.

Funniest Book
Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold - It sort of surprised me that Pratchett wasn't really a contender for this one, but I suppose he has been getting darker and less laugh-out-loud funny in recent times. (Although The Unadulterated Cat was hilarious, it was less memorable than the Bujold.)

Best Book/Series Written By A Man
The Mistborn Trilogy: The Final Empire/Mistborn, The Well of Ascension, Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson - I admit there wasn't a huge amount of competition, but Duncan Lay's Bridge of Swords was a very close contender.

Best Book Set In Melbourne
The Price of Fame by RC Daniells - Other contenders were Black Glass by Meg Mundell (which I didn't enjoy as much) and Shift by Em Bailey which had some scenes in Melbourne but has already got an award. Spare Parts by Sally Rogers-Davidson is also set in Melbourne, but a less recognisable one. The Price of Fame definitely paints the most intricate picture of my home city, however.

Best Series of Collections by Australian Women
The Twelve Planets from Twelfth Planet Press - So far I've reviewed Nightsiders by Sue Isles, Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti, Thief of Lives by Lucy Sussex, Showtime by Narrelle M Harris, and Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan.

Best Concluding Volume To A Fantasy Trilogy
Reign of Beasts by Tansy Rayner Roberts - the whole series was great, but I read the first two pre-blog.

Best Book Containing Pirates
The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke - And a teenage girl who was actually keen to learn maths so she could properly navigate her (future) ship. I can't wait to read book two in 2013.

Best Fantasy Book In a Modern Urban Setting
Zoo City by Lauren Beukes - I was tempted to call it Best Book Set In South Africa, but that felt a bit  like cheating.

Best Book Containing Aliens
And All The Stars by Andrea K Höst - and teenagers with sensible plans. I think this is also my favourite YA book overall for 2012.

Author Who Tortures Their Characters Most
Rowena Cory Daniells - I set this one to author because I couldn't decide between The King's Man and The Outcast Chronicles: Besieged, Exile, Sanctuary. The former has very compressed suffering, but the latter has so many more pages in which to visit misfortune upon all the characters.

Favourite Collection of Russian-flavoured Short Stories
Moscow But Dreaming by Ekaterina Sedia - also contains several non-western fairy tale type stories.

Most Surprisingly Science Fictional Book In The Classic "What If" Tradition
What's Left of Me by Kat Zhang - It was definitely still a YA dystopia, but it impressed me with it's exploration of the premise. See review for more details.

Best Series Featuring Angels
The Infernal Devices: Clockwork Angel, The Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare - Something I discovered this year was that angel books bother me. I thought it was just Fallen by Lauren Kate (read pre-blog) which I didn't like, but I didn't enjoy Rebecca Lim's books either. I think what makes me like Cassandra Clare's books is that she treats angels as just another magical creature (along with demons, warlocks, faeries, vampires, werewolves...) rather than making them overly divine. I eagerly await the conclusion to the series.


But wait, there's more! Sort of. Watch this space, because I have yet to do my concluding round-ups for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, in particular for the science fiction component (10 SF books by AWW) which I'm just finishing off now.

So stay tuned!

Sunday, 9 December 2012

New Booksies

A bit of a buying spree this time. I decided to spend 3 of my accumulated (it had gotten up to 5) books. I bought:
  • Ishtar, a collection of novellas edited by Amanda Pillar and KV Taylor and containing novellas by Deborah Biancotti, Cat Sparks and Kaaron Warren.
  • Hal Spacejock: Baker's Dough by Simon Haynes the fifth book in the series (see my review of the second Hal Junior book here - a kids' series set in the same universe).
  • Walking Shadows by Narrelle M Harris, featuring characters which appeared in one of the stories in Showtime.

Then, because they're having a 2 for 1 sale and, apparently, books on sale don't always count towards buying limits... I bought, from Strange Chemistry:
  • Shift by Kim Curran (which I've already reviewed)
  • Katya's World by Johnathan L Howard

I've enjoyed everything I've read by Strange Chemistry (which has been everything they've put out so far except the above two books), so I'm hoping for the best. I'm not sure how I missed Shift when it came out, but I admit I'm a bit sceptical of Katya's World because non-Russians appropriating aspects of Russian culture tends to end with me being annoyed. At least with the sale, if I'm annoyed I can console myself that it was free. Or so the logic goes. Or maybe it will be awesome which will be a bonus. We'll see.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Shift by Kim Curran

Shift by Kim Curran is the author's debut novel and is not to be confused with the other book called Shift (by Em Bailey) that I read and reviewed this year.

The premise of Shift is fairly high-concept: some people have the ability to change decisions they've made in the past and "shift" the world on to the reality in which those decisions were the ones they really made. Of course there are caveats: only children between the ages of pre-teen and 18 or 19 can do it before they grow out of it, they can't influence events they weren't a part of, and they can only change decisions that were consciously made, not automatic, non-thinking reactions. Generally, they only remember the old reality for a few minutes before they assimilate fully into the new reality. The sixteen-year-old main character's — Scott's — extra-special power (apart from being rather powerful) is that he can remember other realities for longer.

And of course, there's a government agency regulating shifters and their training.

Shift was a fun, fast-paced read. There are a lot of explosions and surprisingly competent eleven year olds. The bad guy was truly horrifying (although, a warning for those that care, part of his ickiness is centred about his fatness and lack of personal hygiene) and reminded me a bit of Sylar in early Heroes (the TV show) when we still thought he was all-powerful and ate brains. Also, it's set mostly in London, which is quite refreshing, as was the slang and spelling.

I couldn't help but feel, when I got to the end, that Shift didn't quite deliver on what the blurb and prologue. I was expecting more shifting, more chaos, and more doom (admittedly, not more explosions; those were sufficient). I was reading carefully, noting each time Scott made a subtle conscious decision in the narrative, and the only time he actually shifted back to a point on the fly after learning about his powers was near the start (and, forgivably, pretty unsubtle). There were a few points during the thick of things when I wanted to shout at him to go back to that last decision point I'd noted to save whatever. I was also expecting it to end up being more complicated in terms of shifting between realities, Scott having old memories and what was real and what was really going on? A bit more like the movie Prime. Or, if not actually that insanely complicated, less linear than it was. Basically, I had higher expectations of the concept. But perhaps Curran will up the ante in the sequels.

That said, I did enjoy reading Shift and found it difficult to put down. I even set up my phone (for the first time in this way) so that it would read it aloud to me while I was driving. So it's definitely an addictive type of read (probably because of the explosions). I recommend it to anyone who's after a light, action-packed, quick read. It's mercifully not (very) dystopian, and has mystery and conspiracy to keep the reader interested.

4 / 5 stars

Thursday, 6 December 2012

The King's Man by Rowena Cory Daniells

The King's Man by Rowena Cory Daniells is a novella set in the King Rolen's Kin universe. It follows, Garzik, one of the characters whose fate in the trilogy is not definitively known (he's presumed dead when he disappears). It (and this review) contains some spoilers for the ending of book two, The Uncrowned King, but not any for book 3, The Usurper. The story starts just before the end of book two and while it fills a gap the trilogy doesn't cover, I don't think previous knowledge of the trilogy is required to enjoy this novella. I read the trilogy something like two years ago and it took me a while to remember who characters were when I started The King's Man. I found, however, that the story made perfect sense in the interim.

The King's Man follows Garzik (the younger brother of Orrade for those of you who've read the trilogy), a fourteen or so year old lord's son who was close to the royal family. When their kingdom is under attack he is sent to light the warning beacon but is waylaid and captured by slavers on the way. This is the beginning of his many misfortunes.

Daniells does not pull any punches and many horrible things happen to Garzik. There were many moments where I cringed on his behalf and several generally tragic moments. It felt like each time something could go wrong or could work out OK, the worse case happened. However, all of this served to give Garzik a trial by fire (or inferno) forging him into a stronger person by the end of the story. I really hope he appears in the sequel to King Rolen's Kin.

What I found interesting in The King's Man is the way in which Daniells uses other characters to illustrate Garzik's own character traits. Most obviously this is done with a similarly aged and noble boy in the same situation as Garzik in the second half of the novella, who copes much less well with his circumstances than Garzik does. But Daniells also uses a variety of other characters who all react in different ways to Garzik at various times. It was refreshing to have such a broad range of perspectives presented, even though most of them were from minor characters. Just because everyone agrees something is horrible, doesn't mean they won't react to it in different ways. Garzik is a survivor, but he's not the only kind of survivor we encounter in the story; a variety of horrible things happen to every character.

The King's Man was a great read and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy. Those of you waiting to find out what happens next to Byren and the other main characters in King Rolen's Kin won't find answers in this novella. It will, however, remind you why you loved the series so much in the first place. And it builds on the world Daniells has already set up by exploring an area not covered in the trilogy. While I'm at it, I also highly recommend the King Rolen's Kin trilogy which I read before I started this blog. It's a really great piece of political intrigue type epic fantasy set in a cold world where only a small strip of land around the equator is habitable (it also takes place on a smaller scale than the Outcast Chronicles). And I have it on good authority that Daniells is currently writing the fourth King Rolen's Kin book, so it shouldn't be too long a wait for more "adventure, betrayal, revenge and unrequited love" (to quote the author's tweet).

4.5 / 5 stars

A review copy of this book was provided to me by the author.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Shifting Reality by Patty Jansen

Shifting Reality by Patty Jansen is a novel set in the same universe as several of her short stories. I have previously reviewed the short story "The Rebelliousness of Trassi Udang", which is set on the same space station as Shifting Reality.

Melati is a third generation resident of New Jakarta space station. She's one of few of her class (those of Indonesian decent) to work with the ISF (International Space Force — the successor to the UN). Her job is training cohorts of engineered soldiers who are grown as children. They grow and are trained up quickly into adult workers. The story opens when something strange happens with the new cohort batch and one of them wakes up not as the mindbase Melati had programmed, but as someone completely different. The question is who and why?

Meanwhile, the ISF and tier 1 residents have a generally low opinion of the tier 2 (from which Melati came). Similarly, Melati's family and neighbours disapprove of her working for "the man", leaving Melati stuck in the middle, somewhat outcast from both cultures. All this is emphasised when trouble starts to brew and suddenly more enforcers are checking people for ID more frequently, preventing some miners (the main workers of New Jakarta) from going to work. Between that, the troubled new cohort and the baby smugglers she suspects are zeroing in on her cousin, Melati has her hands full.

I really enjoyed this novel. There were a few slightly slow patches near the start, but by about halfway I couldn't put it down, staying up late to finish reading. Melati is a great character who stands up for what she believes in an entirely plausible way. The type of comments Grandma made about being true to her roots and Melati's reaction that she didn't understand the new world they were living in rang true. I can't comment on the authenticity of the Indonesian and other cultural elements Jansen included, but the general themes of being a third generation no-longer-quite-a-migrant-at-that-point felt similar (albeit on a larger scale) to some of my own experiences.

Jansen tied together seemingly disparate several story lines into one cohesive plot well, and by the halfway-ish point I was dying to know how the remaining plot elements were going to turn out to be related. Shifting Reality stands alone, but there is definitely room for sequels and I hope we get to read more about Melati (and the characters whose fates were unknown at the end!). There were also some references in Shifting Reality which have made me move Charlotte's Army, a novella set in the same universe but earlier, up in my virtual TBR pile.

I highly recommend Shifting Reality to anyone looking for some new science fiction, perhaps with a different cultural flavour. I've read several short stories of Jansen's in the past (including this one, which I reviewed earlier this year, and my favourite from last year) and I have noticed her writing improving with time. I definitely look forward to future stories set in this universe (especially if they're about Melati).

4.5 / 5 stars

Friday, 30 November 2012

Venom by Fiona Paul

Venom is Fiona Paul's debut novel. It's historical YA and, in a slight departure from my usual reading, does not contain any fantasy of SF elements. It's set in historical Venice and does involve a bit of a murder mystery, so I (correctly) presumed that it would not be entirely outside my usual reading comfort zone. A copy of this book was provided to me for review purposes by Harper Collins AU via NetGalley.

Cass — Cassandra — is a Venetian noble young woman who lives with her aging aunt and has been betrothed for many years to a boy she finds a bit dull. The story opens with her friend's funeral and gets interesting when, that evening, Cass discovers her friend's body in her family tomb has been replaced by another, obviously murdered, girl. In the course of making this discovery, she meets the mysterious and somewhat alluring Falco, a painter. Together they set out to try and learn who committed the murder and why. A quest that becomes somewhat more urgent when they discover a second body. And of course, betrothed Cass falls for the roguish Falco, even though he drags her through dangerous and eye-opening situations.

The opening of Venom annoyed me a little bit. It seemed that Cass fell into the cliché of feeling trapped in a noblewoman's life and detesting sewing because it was an easy thing to complain about. I thought she ignored her fiancé's existence too readily and, from comments that her other friend made, running off with Falco on a spur of the moment seemed somewhat out of character. She also complained about corsets a lot — and they do make a good metaphor for her supposed gilded cage — but in the end her corset proved to be rather useful. And the fact that she managed to sneak away several times without too much trouble does somewhat belie the caged part.

By the end, however, Cass was annoying me less. I felt that she ultimately made some sensible choices, even if she had to make some careless and selfish ones along the way. I also appreciated that her lesson learned was a bit subtle and didn't attempt to bludgeon the reader over the head.

The other thing that bothered me was some of the modern American phrases that snuck in to the writing. The setting was pretty genuinely Venetian but there were some phrases which struck me as too modern — in the colloquial sense, rather than explicitly anachronistic — and clashed with the Italian words and phrases also thrown in.

Ultimately, I would recommend Venom to fans of YA or historical fiction. It's the first in a series, but it's quite self-contained. The only loose threads at the end are minor and I don't have much idea which direction a sequel might take. I will be interested to see where it does go.

3.5 / 5 stars

Thursday, 29 November 2012

New Booksies

New booksies! Because yay, books.

Since my last post, I have acquired:

The King's Man by Rowena Cory Daniells (review copy). It's an accompanying novella to her King Rolen's Kin trilogy which I loved. From the first couple of pages it seems to start a bit before the end of the trilogy and to follow a minor character. It's being released by Solaris soon (and is short, being a novella), so expect a review quite soon.

Two books by Sally Rogers-Davidson: The Greenhouse Effect and Concubot (which don't count towards book-buying restrictions because Lulu spammed me a discount voucher and husband felt it balanced out the Steam games he bought also on sale). I've previously reviewed Spare Parts and Polymer by her and I'm particularly looking forward to Concubot because it's set in the same world as Spare Parts.