Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The Fiery Heart by Richelle Mead

The Fiery Heart by Richelle Mead is the fourth book in her the Bloodlines series. You can read my reviews of the second and third books: The Golden Lily and
The Indigo Spell. This is going to be a short review because it's new year's eve, not a review copy and if you've read the first three, you've probably already decided whether you're going to pick up the fourth. If you haven't read the first three, the blurb (and the rest of the review) is made of spoilers, so go do that instead.
Sydney Sage is an Alchemist, one of a group of humans who dabble in magic and serve to bridge the worlds of humans and vampires. They protect vampire secrets - and human lives.

In The Indigo Spell, Sydney was torn between the Alchemist way of life and what her heart and gut were telling her to do. And in one breathtaking moment that Richelle Mead fans will never forget, she made a decision that shocked even her. . . .

But the struggle isn't over for Sydney. As she navigates the aftermath of her life-changing decision, she still finds herself pulled in too many directions at once. Her sister Zoe has arrived, and while Sydney longs to grow closer to her, there's still so much she must keep secret. Working with Marcus has changed the way she views the Alchemists, and Sydney must tread a careful path as she harnesses her profound magical ability to undermine the way of life she was raised to defend. Consumed by passion and vengeance, Sydney struggles to keep her secret life under wraps as the threat of exposure — and re-education — looms larger than ever.
This one had a lot more romance in it than the previous books. For whatever reason (most likely that I didn't spend much time pondering the events of the previous book before beginning), this came as a bit of a surprise. It was was interesting, however, to watch the shift in dynamic between Sydney and Adrian. Allowing herself to date a vampire was always going to be a big deal for Sydney, but Mead doesn't forget to highlight the Adrian's emotional shift either.

Speaking of Adrian... this paragraph is going to be a bit ambiguous because I want to avoid spoilers. The approach Adrian (and co) takes to deal with his spirit-use side-effects turned out to be more thought-out than I expected. Although I do wonder what will happen with that in the sequel(s) since the ending did rather leave things up in the air.

Speaking of the ending, it was rather disheartening. I'm not sure I'd quite call it a cliff-hanger, since the book went on just long enough to let us know what was happening (rather than leave us guessing). But it definitely did provide a strong "golly, how will they fix this?" situation. I definitely want to know what happens next, and I'll definitely be getting my hands on the next book, Silver Shadows, which Goodreads says will be out in July 2014.

A recommended read for fans of the series. If, for some reason, you got through this review without having read the earlier books, don't start with this one, start with book one, Bloodlines. Fans of not-standard-vampire YA should enjoy this series.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: November 2013, Penguin
Series: Bloodlines, book 4 (of, if I had to guess, possibly 6 like the Vampire Academy books)
Format read: paperback
Source: Purchased from Dymocks

Monday, 30 December 2013

Challenge round-up: Australian Women Writers

This past year I have again participated in the Australian Women Writers Challenge. As well as reading and reviewing books as part of the challenge, I also joined the team running the challenge website and writing "round-ups" summarising the reviews challenge participants had submitted. (You can take a gander here.)

I didn't set myself a set number to review, since I knew I'd be reading more than 10 AWW books by default (as in, without particularly setting out to). Instead my goal was to read and review "as many as I could", which turned out to be 39 books. The full list with links to reviews is below. I'm going to include snippets from my reviews for the books I haven't already talked about in a post-challenge round-up, which means if you want to know more about the horror or science fiction books I read, have a look at my respective Aussie horror and science fiction reading challenges. So it'll be mostly fantasy books discussed below.

Will I be doing the challenge next year? Of course. I'm still part of the organising team and I have no intention of not reading and reviewing books. Again I don't want to set a low goal that won't be a challenge, but perhaps in light of the fact I was so close to a round number this year, I should aim for 40 books next year. For those of you wanting to join the challenge for 2014, you can read more and sign up here.

Remember, you can click on the review link next to any book to read my full review of it.

  1. After the Darkness by Honey Brown (review)
  2. Through Splintered Walls by Kaaron Warren (review)
  3. The Dark GriffinThe Dark Griffin by KJ Taylor (review
    • The Dark Griffin is a compelling novel. Both the griffin and Arren suffer due to unfair circumstances they cannot be blamed for, and their parallel stories intertwine to powerful effect. Another brilliant fantasy read by a brilliant Australian author. I have read few run-of-the-mill fantasy novels (particularly BFF — big fat fantasy) by Australians, and The Dark Griffin certainly doesn't buck that trend.
  4. The Griffin's FlightThe Griffin's Flight by KJ Taylor (review
    •  The Griffin's Flight moves away from the exploration of racism that was The Dark Griffin; it's still there, but it's much less the main theme. In fact, thematically there isn't a single overarching theme tying everything together in The Griffin's Flight, which partly makes it feel a little middle-book-syndrome-y. Which isn't to say I found it boring or pointless, just that it was linking two disparate parts of the story: Arren's life as it falls apart in the first book, and the coming titular war of book three (The Griffin's War).
  5. Wolfborn by Sue Bursztynski (review)
    • For a short book, there several different aspects of mythology packed in — werewolves, faeries, gods — but not, I think, too many. It's hard to judge since I am relatively familiar with Celtic mythology, but I thought the different ideas were sufficiently fleshed out and tied in well to the story.
  6. Rayessa and the Space Pirates by Donna Maree Hanson (review)
  7. The Griffin's War by KJ Taylor (review)
    • Although the Griffin's War concludes the trilogy well, tying up all the important loose ends, I can see which direction the sequel series might take, without reading the blurbs (and having glanced at one of them, I can see I guessed right). I look forward to reading more stories set in this world in the future.
  8. Walking Shadows by Narrelle M Harris (review)
    • I really loved this book. I was expecting to enjoy it after having read Harris' Showtime collection, in which the titular story featured Lissa and Gary, and it surpassed my expectations. Walking Shadows was full of amusing narration (in first person) and entertaining exchanges between Lissa and the  people in her life. I laughed out loud many times. The fact that it was set in Melbourne didn't hurt, either.
  9. The Opposite of Life by Narrelle M Harris (review)
    • The vampire mythos in Harris's world is refreshing in not being overly romanticised. Vampires don't feel much because they're dead. Their brains also don't work as well and they get firmly entrenched in old habits. Modern technology has made it harder for them to not draw attention to themselves and so they're not generally inclined to run around killing people willy-nilly (any more).
  10. The Sunlit Zone by Lisa Jacobson (review)
  11. Ishtar edited by Amanda Pillar and KV Taylor (review)
  12. Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer (review)
    • Overall the stories deal with themes of identity and belonging in different ways, a trend I noticed only now as I was writing the mini-reviews above. I like how the more I think about them, the more I'm finding things to think about in them. There is nothing simple here. An excellent collection.
  13. Stray by Andrea K Höst (review)
  14. Rise of the Fallen by Teagan Chilcott (review)
    • The ending was strong, setting up the next book in the series well. I read that the last chapter was what inspired the author to write the book, and looking back, I can see how everything was leading up to that point. It was definitely the most clearly drawn scene.
  15. Lab Rat One by Andrea K Höst (review)
  16. Caszandra by Andrea K Höst (review)
  17. Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott (review)
  18. The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories by Joanne Anderton (review)
  19. Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan (review)
    • Sea Hearts is a thoughtful read rather than a fast-paced adventure. It is marketed as YA, but aside from having mostly young point of view characters, I wouldn't say it deals with uniquely teenage problems; it's a story for readers of all ages. I highly recommend Sea Hearts to all fantasy fans.
  20. One Small Step edited by Tehani Wessely (review)
    • The theme of One Small Step is addressed quite diversely between the stories. My personal favourites (in a very subjective way) were the ones that dealt with discovery in a more literal kind of way.  "Always Greener" by Michelle Marquardt opened the anthology strongly with human colonists on another planet and I felt it set the tone of expectation for what followed. The idea of deadly grass also stuck with me. "Firefly Epilogue" by Jodi Cleghorn about scientific discovery also struck me. "The Ships of Culwinna" by Thoraiya Dyer is another story that really stuck with me. Very well done, it's a story about old discoveries but, I thought, freshly told. "Morning Star"by DK Mok was another space-based journey of discovery and quite an emotional note to end the anthology on. Although they were quite different stories, there was some symmetry between the opening and closing; a search for safety in a hostile universe.
  21. Charlotte's Army by Patty Jansen (review)
  22. Hunting by Andrea K Höst (review
    • An aspect I particularly liked was the way in which so many little threads all came together in the end. There were some things which I took in stride as "just" being part of the set-up or backstory which turned out to be relevant to the main story. Hard to say more on this without spoilers. Also, a small thing but the fact that the main character's mentor was female not male was gratifying. And even though Ash was a girl dressed as a boy in a male-dominated society, there were actual other good female characters in the story (and only one of them was a laundry maid) who showed us other roles women could play in the society without having to dress as a man.
  23. Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near (review)
    • Allyse Near is an author to watch. I will not be surprised if Fairytales for Wilde Girls makes next year's Aurealis shortlist. I look forward to seeing what Near writes in the future. I highly recommend Fairytales for Wilde Girls to all fans of dark fairytales and gothic fantasy. It's not a terrifying read, but it is dark and there are definitely elements of horror throughout. Readers of YA and adult fantasy alike will find much to enjoy in this book.
  24. Trader's honour by Patty Jansen (review)
  25. The Company Articles of Edward Teach by Thoraiya Dyer (review)
    • The story follows [the two teenage protagonists] as they learn how to function in [the world of Blackbeard] and try to survive. Dyer shows us a traumatic and life-changing experience for the teens in a brutal cut-throat (literally) world. I enjoyed reading about how each of them came to terms with their situation and their lives and how their experiences changed them.
  26. A Trifle Dead by Livia Day (review)
    • I really loved the picture the author painted of Hobart. I've only visited Hobart once, but I had no difficulty imagining the various settings. It also made me want to move to visit Hobart again. The setting also extended to numerous pop-culture references, from obscure super heroes to Tumblr and Twitter. They made me smile many times. It's also this aspect of geek culture that I think makes this crime novel particularly accessible to a lot of spec fic fans. It also makes it a very "now" book, but I'm not convinced that's a bad thing.
  27. Black Sun Light My Way by Jo Spurrier (review)
    • Black Sun Light My Way was an excellent read. I don't recommend skipping Winter Be My Shield, so if you haven't read the first book, do that first. In general, though, I highly recommend this series to all lovers of epic/high/big fat/whatever you want to call it fantasy. As I said earlier, it's not for the faint of heart, but on the other hand it's not significantly worse (in terms of ick and violence) than a lot of the genre.
  28. Jamie Reign: The Last Spirit Warrior by PJ Tierney(review)
    • I quite enjoyed Jamie Reign, despite it's predictability. It was a fun, quick read and I recommend it to fans of adventure stories, magic and martial arts. As I mentioned at the start, it's definitely the kind of book that will appeal to younger readers. I look forward to reading more books in this series when they come out.
  29. Chasing the Valley by Skye Melki-Wegner (review)
    • Chasing the Valley is an excellent tale of growing friendship and camaraderie. In some ways it's a traditional journey type story but Melki-Wegner brings enough originality to the table (in worldbuilding and so forth) to make it stand out. Her writing is polished and, as I said, I could tell as soon as I started that I was in for a good read. I'm glad I read this and I am very much looking forward to the rest of the series. This book is a cut above a lot of the YA renditions of high/epic fantasy I've come across.
  30. Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil (review)
    • At its heart, Life in Outer Space is a story about Sam, a year 11 boy, his friends and, to a lesser extent, his enemies. The book tackles a few common teen issues such as parents getting divorced and difficult parents. There's also Sam's best friend, Matt, who mysteriously quits karate after years of loving it and Sam doesn't know how to confront or deal with the issue. Although there were some moments of teenagers being silly, I thought it was all quite realistic, despite Sam navigating his life with constant reference to movies.
  31. When the World Was Flat (And We Were in Love) by Ingrid Jonach (review)
  32. Madigan Mine by Kirstyn McDermott (review)
  33. The Shattered World Within by Patty Jansen (review)
  34. King Breaker by Rowena Cory Daniells (review)
    • Daniells is particularly good at writing characters that behave in irritating, yet entirely plausible ways. The group of point of view characters and their friends are all intelligent and well-educated (which makes sense since most of them are royalty) but their minor antagonists (as opposed to Cobalt the usurper) tend to be frustratingly short-sighted, ignorant or just horrible people. The utterly believable way in which Daniells wrote them had me heckling the page on several occasions and cheering when they were defeated — and a satisfying number of annoying characters got punched in the face, so that was also quite gratifying. I have said many times before that a mark of a good writer is the level of emotional investment they can get the reader to place in their characters, and Daniells has proved herself, once again, to be more than adept at doing so.
  35. Reunion by Jennifer Fallon (review)
    • One of the things I've always thought Fallon did quite well is write complexly motivated characters. Not only that, but the way she weaves their story lines together to form an intricate web is masterful. At every turn each character does the thing that absolutely seems most right to them in the situation but that has ramifications they could not have predicted. Generally rather entertaining ones.
  36. Mistification by Kaaron Warren (review)
  37. The Blood of Whisperers by Devin Madson (review)
    • The Blood of Whisperers was an enjoyable read. It took me a little while to become truly invested in the characters, but once I did it became difficult to put down. I would recommend it to fans of Japanese/Asian-flavoured fantasy or anyone who enjoys stories about rebels and political machinations (although I wouldn't say it's heavy on political intrigue per se). I am looking forward to reading the next book which is apparently due out in December, so not a long wait at all (yay).
  38. The Skeleton Key by Tara Moss (review)
    • I highly recommend this series to fans of not-too-heavy urban fantasy. Although I've said The Skeleton Key is darker than its predecessors, it's still on the lighter side of the urban fantasy genre, in my opinion. It builds on the earlier books more than The Spider Goddess did, so I don't recommend reading it before the others. But all in all, an enjoyable read, particularly in a week when I needed something relaxing to take my mind off business.
  39. These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meaghan Spooner (review)

Saturday, 28 December 2013

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner is Kaufman's début and the first book I've read by either author. I have to admit, the pretty cover and the fact that Kaufman is Australian swayed me to give this one a shot, since the blurb did not sound all that promising to me (or, more accurately, sounded like it could be all romance and not much else). But happily, that was not the case. Blurb:
It's a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets to the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone.

Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they're worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help.

Then, against all odds, Lilac and Tarver find a strange blessing in the tragedy that has thrown them into each other's arms. Without the hope of a future together in their own world, they begin to wonder - would they be better off staying in this place forever?
In some ways These Broken Stars reminded me of the Andre Norton book I read earlier this year, Storm Over Warlock. Not stylistically at all, but thematically. Both books are about survival on a mostly empty planet with a "not quite what it seems" vibe. The biggest difference is the modern style of These Broken Stars, which I find considerably more readable than most of ye olde SF. And, honestly, These Broken Stars made more sense.

Although the romantic plot line is prominent, it doesn't really start until maybe half-way through (or a bit more). In the immediate aftermath of crashing on a mysterious planet, both Lilac and Tarver are more concerned with survival and rescue than anything else. And although Tarver is the one with military survival training, Lilac is very knowledgeable about computers, electronics and physics. Their different skill sets mean that both of them save the other a few times throughout the story, which I absolutely loved. Lilac was definitely not a damsel in distress, which was pleasing (and that really is one of my least favourite character archetypes ever).

Although I probably wouldn't go so far as to call the book hard science fiction — since most of it was about on-planet survival and not tech or science — what science was present was accurate or plausible. There were no scientific faux pas to jolt me out of the story, which was a pleasant change, as far as far-future YA SF goes. In fact, the only thing that made me thing "hmm, that's a bit odd" was that backstory about colonies rebelling a lot. We don't really have enough information (and perhaps its forthcoming in later books), but from what we were told, I was thinking that maybe they should rethink their colonisation strategies. This was very much a minor background thing, though.

In terms of plot, we know upfront that rescue will come because the chapters are interspersed with snippets of Tarver being debriefed back in civilisation. Since romance is also somewhat inevitable, you'd think there wouldn't be many surprises left, mysterious nature of the planet notwithstanding. But, quite refreshingly, there was one significant event I didn't see coming, which is all I'll say because spoilers. In short, this is not a "by-the-numbers" YA read. It's thoughtful and genuine and I can't wait to read more. If this book is an example of the future of science fiction, bring it on.

This was an engaging and enjoyable read. The authors combine plausible science with a balanced romantic storyline and a plot which kept me keenly turning pages. I highly recommend These Broken Stars to fans of YA and science fiction, or one or the other. It wouldn't make a terrible introduction to YA for a SF fan and would be an excellent introduction to SF for a YA fan, particularly one who hasn't read much SF (outside of the dystopia subgenre). I am looking forward to getting my hands on the next book, This Shattered World, when it comes out.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: December 2013, Disney-Hyperion (US) / Allen & Unwin (Aus)
Series: The Starbound Trilogy, book 1
Format read: eARC and paperback (I really was swapping between them)
Source: publisher via NetGalley and purchased from Dymocks (signed by both authors!), respectively
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge, Aussie Science Fiction Reading Challenge

Friday, 27 December 2013

Challenge round-up: Aussie Science Fiction

This year I challenged myself to read at least ten science fiction books by Australian authors. I managed fourteen books by eight authors, which is pretty good. I suppose ideally I would have had at least ten different authors there, but on the other hand, reading multiple books by three of them is obviously a sign that I was enjoying what I was reading. Rather than go through in strict book order, I want to talk a bit about the books in author and subgenre groupings. The full list with review links and in my reading order is at the end.

Simon Haynes writes comedic science fiction which doesn't skimp on the science (compare with, for example, Douglas Adams, who made a lot of stuff up). Of his books I read the two most recent Hal Spacejock books (5 & 6 in the series, although they all stand alone) and laughed my way through both of them. I also read the third (and most recent) Hal Junior book, which is set in the same universe but for younger readers. In general, I've really wanted to know how the Hal Junior books tie in (chronologically) with the Hal Spacejock ones, and The Gyris Mission brought me a little closer to working it out, so that was exciting. I'm looking forward to reading more Hal books as they become available.

Hal Spacejock: Baker's DoughHal Spacejock: Safe ArtHal Junior: The Gyris Mission

The next series I want to talk about is Andrea K Höst's Touchstone Trilogy. These weren't the first books of Höst's that I read but they sold me on reading everything else she writes although, with respect to this challenge, most of the rest of her books are fantasy. (I got my mum to read them too, and I think she's reread them twice now.) They're ultimately a bit more science fantasy than hard science fiction, it's hard to go wrong with psychic space ninjas.

StrayLab Rat OneCaszandra

The third author I read multiple books from is Patty Jansen, and this time they weren't all from the same series/universe. Also, there were two novellas. Charlotte's Army is set in the ISF/Allion universe, which I've read stories/novels from before. The other two, Trader's Honour and The Shattered World Within were, very distantly, set in the same universe. I enjoy both universes of Jansen's books, but I was particularly grabbed by the latter two and I look forward to reading more books in that world.

Charlotte's ArmyTrader's HonourThe Shattered World Within

The remaining five books can be loosely broken up into YA and, er, Other. The YAs are Rayessa and the Space Pirates by Donna Maree Hanson, a not-too-serious novella, When the World Was Flat (And We Were in Love) by Ingrid Jonach, and These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meaghan Spooner, the former author being the Australian one. Honestly, aside from their target audience, these three have very little in common and I would recommend them for very different reasons/moods. (Also, if you're reading this on 27/12 in Australia, then the review link for These Broken Stars won't be live until tomorrow, although I did already post it to GR and LT.) I'm interested to see what all of these authors put out next.

Rayessa and the Space PiratesWhen the World was Flat (And we were in love)These Broken Stars

And finally, we come to Other. On the one hand there's The Sunlit Zone by Lisa Jacobson, a verse novel set in the near future, which I read primarily because it was shortlisted for the Stella Prize. It was sort of stealth-SF, in that I wouldn't expect the author to ever admit that she wrote science fiction (y'know, like Margaret Atwood). I also don't particularly expect her to do it again, so I don't know that I'll be reading any of her other works in the future. On the other hand, there's Simon Petrie whose novella Flight 404 was also my first exposure to his work. It was thoughtful, hard SF and I'll definitely be reading more of his work in the future. (In fact, I've already purchased a short story collection, now I just have to get around to it...)

The Sunlit ZoneFlight 404

As for the coming year, I have every intention of continuing to read as much Aussie SF as I can manage. Although I'll be aiming for at least ten again, I've decided not to set an official number... in large part because I'm sick of having to remember to update my sliders. ;-p But I'll definitely be keeping track of the Aussie SF I read.

How about you? Will you be taking up the challenge to read more Australian-authored science fiction?

  1. Hal Spacejock: Baker's Dough by Simon Haynes (review)
  2. Rayessa and the Space Pirates by Donna Maree Hanson (review)
  3. The Sunlit Zone by Lisa Jacobson (review)
  4. Flight 404 by Simon Petrie (review)
  5. Stray by Andrea K Höst (review)
  6. Lab Rat One by Andrea K Höst (review)
  7. Caszandra by Andrea K Höst (review)
  8. Charlotte's Army by Patty Jansen (review)
  9. Trader's honour by Patty Jansen (review)
  10. When the World Was Flat (And We Were in Love) by Ingrid Jonach (review)
  11. Hal Spacejock: Safe Art by Simon Haynes (review)
  12. Hal Junior: The Gyris Mission by Simon Haynes (review)
  13. The Shattered World Within by Patty Jansen (review)
  14. These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meaghan Spooner (review)

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Mars, Inc by Ben Bova

Mars, Inc (subtitle: The Billionaire's Club) by Ben Bova is a new standalone novel not set in the same universe as his Grand Tour solar system books. There were a few confusing moments where I wasn't sure about the universe, particularly as someone called Yamagata showed up and didn't do anything that went against the Yamagata in the Grand Tour books. But maybe it was an homage. Or something. Blurb:
How do you get to the Red Planet? Not via a benighted government program trapped in red tape and bound by budget constrictions, that’s for sure. No, what it will take is a helping of adventure, science, corporate powerplays, a generous dollop of seduction—both in and out of the boardroom—and money, money, money!

Art Thrasher knows this. He is a man with a driving vision: send humans to Mars. The government has utterly failed, but Thrasher has got the plan to accomplish such a feat: form a “club” or billionaires to chip in one billion a year until the dream is accomplished. But these are men and women who are tough cookies, addicted to a profitable bottom-line, and disdainful of pie-in-the-sky dreamers who want to use their cash to make somebody else’s dreams come true.

But Thrasher is different from the other dreamers in an important regard: he’s a billionaire himself, and the president of a successful company. But it’s going to take all his wiles as a captain of industry and master manipulator of business and capital to overcome setbacks and sabotage—and get a rocket full of scientist, engineers, visionaries, and dreamers on their way to the Red Planet.
I had previously only read Grand Tour books by Bova and I was hoping that Mars, Inc would be as sciencey as some of those were, particularly the Mars trilogy, which I enjoyed. Alas, it was not to be. It's not that the science in Mars, Inc is soft, but it's not a book about science or scientists. It's a book about a businessman. It's a how-to guide for funding and organising a crewed mission to Mars. I am firmly of the opinion that science is significantly more interesting than business, so I can't say I found this an overly interesting read. It wasn't boring enough for me to stop reading, but still, fans of science fiction beware.

Being a book primarily about rich businessmen, it is heavily populated by old white guys and packed full of much of the unpleasantness that entails. And why couldn't there have been even one female billionaire in the mix? Oh, that's right, women can only be secretaries and journalists. It's a very sexist book, with references to tokenism sprinkled throughout. Calling a black woman a "two-for" (or however it was spelled) and a "dark-skinned Latina" a three in one is distinctly not cool. I could almost have forgiven it if it was clear that the characters were the ones being dicks, but there was too much of that sort of thing in the narration (as in, the parts not clearly in Thrasher's head). There was no need, for example, to point out that in a meeting with the US President and others, the President's secretary was the only woman in the room. Obviously it wasn't necessary to set the scene up that way in the first place, but pointing it out did not help. Far too often the (very minority) presence of women is pointed out in a self-congratulatory way by the characters. They "even" have two female astronauts (out of seven). Someone give them a medal.

(Also aren't secretaries in the sense of assistants and organisers usually called PAs or EAs these days? They certainly are in Australia.)

Thrasher is a "reprobate", which is the euphemism of choice for sleaze in Mars, Inc. There is a supposedly wholesome romantic relationship "developing" throughout the book but I found it nauseating, especially when it was the female character hero-worshipping him for no clear reason, before he'd even begun to think of her as an option. (And then he keeps calling her "kid" even after they get together? Ewww.)

There are a lot more instances of rankling sexism, but it's been a few days since I finished reading (I kept using jetlag as an excuse to put off writing this review) and the reading was done on Kobo which doesn't lend itself to easy highlighting. Suffices to say, what I've mentioned in this review is not at all exhaustive.

It's not that I didn't have previous evidence of Bova writing sexist stuff, but I had the futile hope that, since not all of his other books (that I've read) were that bad, maybe this wouldn't be either. (I mean, Saturn and Titan made me a lot angrier than the other Mars books, for example.) I was wrong. The Old White Man aspect of the plot didn't help either.

Rampant sexism aside, the plot was fairly readable, despite being about businessmen rather than scientists. There's an organisational aspect and the quest for funding, there's a bit of intrigue thrown in, there are Thrasher's personal issues with which woman he wants to sleep with which night, there's a side story about rocket powered commercial flight... (the latter being driven by Thrasher's desire to not spend too much time flying between cities, a sentiment I found myself sympathising with deeply as I sat in a jet and crossed threeish continents.) Plotwise there's a lot going on, enough to offset the fact that it's not science-based SF. It's the variety of the plot that stopped me throwing the Kobo aside in frustration. Well, that and the fact that most of the ARCs I actually wanted to read were PDFs and those don't Kobo well.

If you've gotten this far through the review, you'll have gathered that I didn't enjoy Mars, Inc. Because of the problems with it, I feel I can only recommend it to readers interested in a how-to guide for getting to Mars in the near future. Although I've said it's low on science, what science there is is accurately described. I don't think I'll be picking up any more Ben Bova books, and certainly not in the near future.

3 / 5 stars

First published: December 2013, Baen
Series: Not as far as I'm aware
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Challenge round-up: Aussie Horror Reading Challenge

This year I challenged myself to read at least five horror books by Australian authors, preferably more. Well, I managed to read eleven Aussie horror books, so yay! I defined horror a little broadly, including scary/creepy books that weren't necessarily marketed as horror, but not including paranormal books unless they were actually scary or creepy. Looking over the list now, there's a surprising number of short story collections.

So here's the list, with short excerpts from the corresponding reviews. Click through the obvious links for the full reviews.
After the Darkness by Honey Brown (review)
Although the book is called After the Darkness, it's really about how hard it is to leave the darkness behind. ... It's also about how darkness is often contagious, touching on the way in which abuse victims often go on to re-enact their trauma as a way of coming to terms with it. And the hopelessness that comes with fearing for your life. And having to relate to people in a life you have to pretend is normal.
Through Splintered Walls by Kaaron Warren, a collection of short stories (review)
"Creek" is about quaking women who drowned in creeks. They claw their way through Australia's shallow creekbeds and call out, demanding to know what happened to their loved-ones. Olivia, our protagonist, first encountered them when she was young and has been haunted by them ever since.

Ishtar edited by Amanda Pillar and KV Taylor, an anthology of three novellas about the goddess Ishtar (review)
The three novellas cover the past, the present and the future and together tell an overarching story of Ishtar's trail through thousands of years of humanity. Overall, I was impressed at how well the three novellas hung together and told a cohesive overarching story.

Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott (review)
McDermott made me think about the relationship between the mundane and the horrifying. One doesn't have to peel back many layers to find unpleasantness in the sisters' lives, but McDermott keeps peeling until all they're left with is reality (or some facsimile thereof) and each other.
The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories by Joanne Anderton, short story collection (review)
Overall, I was very impressed with Anderton's worldbuilding in all the stories. Each story read like a glimpse into a complete and carefully constructed world. Just because the stories are short, Anderton in no way skimped on the thought put into them. Even for the stories set in some approximation of the modern world, careful details made them stand out.
Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near (review)
Isola has a particular attachment to a book of fairytales her mother used to read from when she was younger — darker fairytales than the usual Grimm and Andersen — and throughout the text we're treated to several of the stories from that book. I've found those sorts of interludes jarring in other books, but in Fairytales for Wilde Girls they flowed and tied in with the overall story nicely.
Happy Endings by Will Elliott, short story collection (review)
"The Hungry Man" is probably the scariest story, but I'm not sure I can say why without spoiling it. I also quite liked "Charlie the Sheep" and "Axed". And the novella "Lucy's Wrists" is an interesting trip into a psych hospital with a doctor experimenting on some of his patients.

Madigan Mine by Kirstyn McDermott (review)
 Madigan Mine is eerie, haunting (and haunted) and intense. Alex's journey is not an easy one for him nor for the people around him. Right up until the end I wasn't sure if he was going to survive the book. McDermott's début is an excellent start to what I hope will be a long career.
Mistification by Kaaron Warren (review)
From a subgenre perspective, Mistification defies classification. It's not horrific in the same way as other Warren books and stories I've read have been, but it's still a bit eerie. Nothing terribly horrible happened (well, not to the main characters anyway), but it was far from a cheery tale. And there was magic, it could've been magical realism if not for the way the existence of magic was stressed. It's also quite literary — character, not plot, driven — and that might not be for everyone. I think it's a book that will be enjoyed much more by people who can appreciate the writing rather than demanding an action-based plot.
The Beckoning by Paul Collins (review)
As I've said, this book was not for me, but I think people into psychic antichrist cult type books will enjoy it. And I think it would probably work as a movie. Fans of straightforward horror, with violence, creepy cult leaders and potentially world-ending doom will probably enjoy this one more than I did.
Path of Night by Dirk Flinthart (review)
The pacing in this novel is brilliant. It's not a short read, but even though it took me a while to get through (because life etc) it was sufficiently well-paced that it felt like it would be a quick read. It wasn't all action all the time, but there was never a dull moment. I felt I always wanted to know what happened next, even when the point of view switched away from Devlin and Jen to the characters on the other side of the equation.
All in all, I consider that I successful challenge. Not every book I read was a hit, but there were significantly more hits than misses. I look forward to continuing to read Aussie horror in the new year.