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.)

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