Friday, 28 February 2014

Supurbia Vol 2 by Grace Randolph

Supurbia Vol 2, created by Grace Randolph is the first collected volume of the ongoing comic book series Supurbia. I recently reviewed Volume 1 which was commissioned before it became an ongoing series. Volume 2 picks up right where the introductory story left off. I don't really recommend picking it up without having read Volume 1; more for the character introductions than any crucial plot points.
The fan-favorite phenomenon returns with new stories of sex, lies, and...superpowers! Meet the Meta Legion, the world's foremost faction of crime-fighting capes. But what happens when the masks come off and the heroes are faced with the sordid problems of everyday life in the suburbs? The members of the Meta Legion decided to protect their families and loved ones from their enemies by sequestering them in one quiet suburban neighborhood. But just because they've banded together, doesn't mean they like each other...
This volume had less of a contained story arc than the introductory one, which I suppose makes sense since it's been released as an ongoing series. Nevertheless, the four-issue volume makes a good episodic snippet, more so than an individual issue on its own. I suspect, as I keep reading and catch up to what has been released, I will wait for every fourth issue to read on. (Or perhaps I won't be able to wait, we'll see.)

My favourite story line in this volume was Helen Heart's — surprisingly, after not warming to her much at all in volume 1. She's the live-in girlfriend of Sovereign, who is kind of the Superman-equivalent of the bunch, an ex-villainess and often strung-out on drugs. Not only do we learn more about her (past and present) but we also get to see Sovereign around her out of bed. And gosh, he's a bit of a sociopath. I look forward to reading more about Helen's developing relationships with the other super-spouses as the story progresses.

I also enjoyed the continuing Agent Twilight/Night Fox secret gay relationship saga and the story line concerning Batu (Amazonian super) and her children, which I mentioned in my previous review. I suspect as I read more of these — at the moment I'm trying to space them out with novels as little rewards — my reviews will get briefer as it becomes harder to say anything substantial that a) I haven't already said and b) isn't a spoiler.

I continue to recommend Supurbia to anyone with even a passing interest in superheroes or comics. I do suggest starting with the introductory mini-series before jumping into the ongoing series.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2013, BOOM! Studios
Series: Supurbia, volume 2 of ongoing. Contains Supurbia Ongoing issues #1-4
Format read: e-Comic
Source: Purchased from ComiXology

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The Almost Girl by Amalie Howard

The Almost Girl by Amalie Howard is the first book I've read by the author. It caught my eye because it looked like a different sort of YA SF and also by default, being a Strange Chemistry book. The blub could be punchier, but isn't full of spoilers so I'm including it.
Seventeen-year-old Riven is as tough as they come. Coming from a world ravaged by a devastating android war, she has to be. There’s no room for softness, no room for emotion, no room for mistakes. A Legion General, she is the right hand of the young Prince of Neospes, a parallel universe to Earth. In Neospes, she has everything: rank, responsibility and respect. But when Prince Cale sends her away to find his long-lost brother, Caden, who has been spirited back to modern day Earth, Riven finds herself in uncharted territory.

Thrown out of her comfort zone but with the mindset of a soldier, Riven has to learn how to be a girl in a realm that is the opposite of what she knows. Riven isn’t prepared for the beauty of a world that is unlike her own in so many ways. Nor is she prepared to feel something more than indifference for the very target she seeks. Caden is nothing like Cale, but he makes something in her come alive, igniting a spark deep down that goes against every cell in her body. For the first time in her life, Riven isn’t sure about her purpose, about her calling. Torn between duty and desire, she must decide whether Caden is simply a target or whether he is something more.

Faced with hideous reanimated Vector soldiers from her own world with agendas of their own, as well as an unexpected reunion with a sister who despises her, it is a race against time to bring Caden back to Neospes. But things aren’t always as they seem, and Riven will have to search for truth. Family betrayals and royal coups are only the tip of the iceberg. Will Riven be able to find the strength to defy her very nature? Or will she become the monstrous soldier she was designed to be?
Honestly, I found this book very disappointing. First off, the first chunk was set mostly in a US high school, which I wasn't expecting (and which I thought might be because I'd forgotten the blurb, but no, it's right there, no mention of it) and wasn't in the mood for. I am, generally speaking, increasingly sick of reading about US high schools these days, and prefer to be warned so I can be in the mood to enjoy it more. Mind you, my favourite scene did occur in the high school setting when Riven beat up a bunch of would-be gang rapists and rescued a drugged girl, so there's that going for it.

I don't think Howard has done a perfect job of capturing Riven's voice. At times I felt there was more "telling" me she was a hard-as-nails soldier than showing me. I do acknowledge that this is a very difficult kind of voice to capture, and certainly isn't my biggest complaint. But although I usually like anti-heroes and morally questionable characters, I never warmed to Riven throughout the book. I think at some times the author was playing it safe instead of going all in and showing us her real homicidal thought patterns. Not that there aren't homicidal thought patterns, but they were often along the lines of "I could easily kill [whoever]" instead of anything more creepy or shocking. A bit of unrealised potential here. I was hoping for a story which spent more time (like, any) questioning the nature of humanity, which is what I was expecting from the title.

Once I started reading and found myself in the US, I was looking forward to finally seeing the other world that Riven comes from. Mostly I liked that aspect. The zombie soldiers (Vectors) were suitably creepy and difficult to kill and the half-animal, half-machine creatures that lived in the wastelands also added to the setting. The society, however, wasn't quite as consistent or interesting as I would have liked. It was inconsistent, particularly, on the topic of gender equality. At first all signs pointed to fairly equal, if brutal (the main character, a teenage girl, is a general after all) but later there were some throw-away elements that belied that impression (the role of courtesans, a girl being punished for a boy liking her), leaving me unsure what to think. My issue, by the way, isn't with the nature of the society either way but how it was portrayed.

And the science. Oh goodness, don't go into this book expecting anything resembling actual science. To explain the universe jumping technique of eversion, it looked like the author just threw sciencey-sounding words at the page and hoped. For example "sub-quantum" mechanics was thrown up several times — often in conjunction with string theory and/or gravity distortion — and let me tell you the very definition of the word quantum ensures that it makes no sense with the prefix "sub" in front of it. This annoyed me. So did a later section which talked about natural selection on a cellular level over the span of a human gestation, which just, buh? And I'm no biologist.

This book didn't work for me. It wasn't the worst thing I've ever read, but I don't think I'll be bothering with the sequel. Readers looking for an action story with lots of fighting may enjoy The Almost Girl. Readers looking for science fiction in their YA would be better off looking elsewhere.

3 / 5 stars

First published: January 2014, Strange Chemistry
Series: Yes. Book 1 of 2.
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Monday, 24 February 2014

Supurbia Volume 1 by Grace Randolph

Supurbia is a comic series created by Grace Randolph and illustrated by Russell Dauterman. This review is of Volume 1, which consists of four issues. I purchased them separately (because on the Aussie version of Comixology it was 50¢ cheaper that way) but I'm treating them as a single volume for review purposes, especially since individually each issue does not tell a complete story. The cover art of the omnibus (top right image) is the same as the first issue and I've included the covers of the other three issues below. I've also included the blurb from Goodreads.
What goes down when the capes come off? Meet the "Real Housewives" of Earth's greatest super-team, the Meta Legion! It's the egos, the tantrums, and the betrayals of the super set. Find out what happens behind the masks as superhero families are faced with the sordid problems of everyday life - and then some!
This miniseries is primarily about the wives/girlfriends and children of a team of superheroes. The point of view jumps around a bit — especially in the first issue when we're being introduced to everyone, which I found a little difficult to follow — but generally it is the significant others of the Meta Legion superheroes who take centre-page. (see what I did there?) There's quite a variety among the characters. The character new to the scene who provides an in for the audience is the newly married Eve. She and her husband are just moving into the suburban street where the Meta Legion live in secret, pretending to be normal. There's also the strung-out druggie ex-villain girlfriend of one of the most powerful supers, the super wife whose given up her crime-fighting career to ensure her daughter doesn't loose both parents at once, the husband of an Amazonian super and their two kids, and a few others.

The epic crime fighting happens as a backdrop to the relationships between the characters. The blurb describes it as "Real Housewives" but I don't think that's accurate. (Mind you, that's without having seen the show, but it's certainly nothing like the image the show projects.) Really this first volume touches on a lot of issues that various characters are dealing with. Knowing that there are more comics in the series makes me happy that they will probably be addressed in more detail down the line.

My favourite sub-plot in this one was Amazonian super Batu's relationship with her kids. She has a boy and a girl and, according to her culture, her superpowers should be passed down to her daughter. She pretty much ignores her son and refers to her husband as her "mate". But her daughter isn't developing superpowers as quickly as Batu would like...

This four-issue introductory volume has a self-contained storyarc, although the end clearly sets up further stories about the characters. I would recommend reading the entire volume before deciding whether to continue with the series, as I did. The first issue only introduces the characters but doesn't give a good idea of what the rest of the volume will be like.

I recommend Supurbia to fans of alternative superhero stories (whatever that means, I'm not actually sure myself), superheroes in general and anyone who likes seeing female-led stories (which should be everyone, of course). As a relative n00b to comics, I would also recommend them to other n00bs looking for a relatively easy entry point.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2012, BOOM! Studios
Series: Supurbia, Volume 1. Currently followed by "Supurbia Ongoing" which, as far as I can tell, is going to be much longer (already at 12 issues).
Format read: e-comic
Source: Purchased from ComiXology

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Carrier by Vanessa Garden

Carrier by Vanessa Garden is the first book I've read by the author, although her (unrelated) début novel came out not too long ago. Carrier is a short novel released by Escape Publishing, the ebook-only arm of Harlequin AU. And it is pretty short, even for YA, but it packs a significant punch despite its light weight (or perhaps because of it).
From the day she was born, Lena has viewed the world through the jagged window of a razor-wired fence. The hundred-acre property she shares with her mother in the Australian outback may keep her safe from the Y-Carrier disease, but it is no longer enough to hold Lena’s interest, and her mother’s increasingly tight grip on her free will is stifling.

Just as her curiosity blooms and her courage rises, she meets a boy through the fence — the first boy she has ever laid eyes on. His name is Patrick and he comes with a dangerous yet irresistible invitation of adventure beyond the fence, an invitation to which Lena cannot say no.

But Lena’s newfound freedom is short-lived and she soon discovers that the Y-Carrier disease is not the only enemy she faces on the outside. Her new enemies want something Lena has, and they are willing to do anything to get it...
I really enjoyed this book. The Australian setting was, of course, something I like to see and the story was fresh and different. Being a short book it was relatively fast-paced but didn't feel rushed at any point. Mostly the pacing meant that Lena didn't have much time to relax before the next disaster/major event (except for at the very end, but I'll get to that).

Lena has spent her whole life living on a fenced-off property with her mum. Her family fled to the desert after/during an epidemic struck Australia (and it helped that Perth had the warning of the East Coast going first, in terms of getting away prepared and while it was still relatively safe). The disease, Y-Carrier, infects both men and women, but infected men only develop a permanent rash, while women die a rapid and painful death. Predictably, there aren't many women left around, and those that are are highly sought after by, well, all the men in different ways. Out in the desert seventeen years after the disease first struck, Lena and her mother still fear men who might be Carriers (and, particularly in the case of Lena's Mum whose more aware of these things, they fear violet gang rapes like a couple that happened off the page before the story begins). Although the text doesn't explore the issue in great detail, I found the new-era gender politics it did touch upon interesting; in a world of mostly men women are both very vulnerable and very powerful.

When Lena first meets a boy she is fascinated by him because she has literally never met anyone other than her mother and her now-deceased father and cousin Alice. Usually insta-love in YA is irritating, but in this case it's more insta-fascination (on Lena's part anyway) and didn't really bother me until the very end (although even then I still think it made sense).

Sick of being cooped up with her mother, when Lena finally leaves her adventures end up being not quite what she (or I) expected. It's always nice to be surprised by books that don't quite fit the existing mould. I don't want to go into too much detail on this because spoilers, but I will say that as well as some of the events in the middle being not quite as predicted, the ending is very un-Hollywood. (Well, unless you define Hollywood as "full of special effects", then perhaps we can call it non-traditional.) This is the second non-US-authored YA book I've read recently where the ending was bittersweet. I can see some readers being disappointed by the ending for this reason — and also possibly because some weird stuff happens during the climax, but that at least was definitely foreshadowed — but for me it worked and felt more "right" than any of the obvious alternatives.

As I said, I enjoyed Carrier a lot. It was the first book I read this year that made me excited enough while reading to give it five stars. It's self-contained, but I certainly wouldn't object to reading more in this world, perhaps a book set several years down the line when some children we meet in Carrier would be teenagers. Either way, I highly recommend Carrier to fans of YA post-apocalyptic/dystopian fiction. Carrier isn't dystopian (there aren't enough people around for any concrete flavour of civilisation, let alone any sort of government), but I know that the two sub-genres have a lot of cross-appeal. I would particularly recommend it to readers looking for a slightly different take on the post-apocalyptic narrative.

5 / 5 stars

First published: March 2014, Escape Publishing (Harlequin AU)
Series: Don't think so but wouldn't object if it were.
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge, Australian Science Fiction Reading Challenge

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Aurealis Awards Shortlists Announced

The shortlists/finalists for the Aurealis Awards have just been announced! And so spec fic awards season begins! (Well, unless you count things like Hugos being open for nominations as awards season, which, eh.)

You can read the official press release on the Conflux website (who are the convenors this year) and I'm sure it will soon appear on the Aurealis Awards website too. Also, if you're in or near Canberra, you can attend the ceremony on the 5th of April (details at previous links).

On to the actual shortlists! Links go to my reviews of those books where they exist. No commentary this time, thought I'd save it for the Ditmars.

Aurealis Finalists

Savage Bitch by Steve Carter and Antoinette Rydyr (Scar Studios)
Mr Unpronounceable Adventures by Tim Molloy (Milk Shadow Books)
Burger Force by Jackie Ryan (self-published)
Peaceful Tomorrows Volume Two by Shane W Smith (Zetabella Publishing)
The Deep Vol. 2: The Vanishing Island by Tom Taylor and James Brouwer (Gestalt Publishing)

Kingdom of the Lost, book 2: Cloud Road by Isobelle Carmody (Penguin Group Australia)
Refuge by Jackie French (Harper Collins)
Song for a scarlet runner by Julie Hunt (Allen & Unwin)
The four seasons of Lucy McKenzie by Kirsty Murray (Allen & Unwin)
Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan (Hachette Australia)
Ice Breaker: The Hidden 1 by Lian Tanner (Allen & Unwin)


“Mah Song” by Joanne Anderton (The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories, FableCroft Publishing)
“By Bone-light” by Juliet Marillier (Prickle Moon, Ticonderoga Publications)
“Morning Star” by D.K. Mok (One Small Step, an anthology of discoveries, FableCroft Publishing)
“The Year of Ancient Ghosts” by Kim Wilkins (The Year of Ancient Ghosts, Ticonderoga Publications)

The Big Dry by Tony Davies (Harper Collins)
Hunting by Andrea Host (self-published)
These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (Allen & Unwin)
Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near (Random House Australia)
The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn (University of Queensland Press)

“Fencelines” by Joanne Anderton (The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories, FableCroft Publishing)
“The Sleepover” by Terry Dowling (Exotic Gothic 5, PS Publishing)
“The Home for Broken Dolls” by Kirstyn McDermott (Caution: Contains Small Parts, Twelfth Planet Press)
“The Human Moth” by Kaaron Warren (The Grimscribe’s Puppets, Miskatonic Press)
“The Year of Ancient Ghosts” by Kim Wilkins (The Year of Ancient Ghosts, Ticonderoga Publications)

The Marching Dead by Lee Battersby (Angry Robot Books)
The First Bird by Greig Beck (Momentum)
Path of Night by Dirk Flinthart (FableCroft Publishing)
Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near (Random House Australia)

“The Last Stormdancer” by Jay Kristoff (Thomas Dunne Books)
“The Touch of the Taniwha” by Tracie McBride (Fish, Dagan Books)
“Cold, Cold War” by Ian McHugh (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Scott H Andrews)
“Short Circuit” by Kirstie Olley (Oomph: a little super goes a long way, Crossed Genres)
“The Year of Ancient Ghosts” by Kim Wilkins (The Year of Ancient Ghosts, Ticonderoga Publications)

Lexicon by Max Barry (Hachette Australia)
A Crucible of Souls by Mitchell Hogan (self-published)
These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (Allen & Unwin)
Newt's Emerald by Garth Nix (Jill Grinberg Literary Management)
Ink Black Magic by Tansy Rayner Roberts (FableCroft Publishing)

“The Last Tiger” by Joanne Anderton (Daily Science Fiction)
“Mah Song” by Joanne Anderton (The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories, FableCroft Publishing)
“Seven Days in Paris” by Thoraiya Dyer (Asymmetry, Twelfth Planet Press)
“Version” by Lucy Stone (Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #57)
“Air, Water and the Grove” by Kaaron Warren (The Lowest Heaven, Pandemonium Press)

Lexicon by Max Barry (Hachette)
Trucksong by Andrew Macrae (Twelfth Planet Press)
A Wrong Turn At The Office Of Unmade Lists by Jane Rawson (Transit Lounge)
True Path by Graham Storrs (Momentum)
Rupetta by Nike Sulway (Tartarus Press)

The Year's Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2012 by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene (Eds), (Ticonderoga Publications)
One Small Step, An Anthology Of Discoveries by Tehani Wessely (Ed) (FableCroft Publishing)
Dreaming Of Djinn by Liz Grzyb (Ed) (Ticonderoga Publications)
The Best Science Fiction And Fantasy Of The Year: Volume Seven by Jonathan Strahan (Ed) (Night Shade Books)
Focus 2012: Highlights Of Australian Short Fiction by Tehani Wessely (Ed) (FableCroft Publishing)

The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories by Joanne Anderton (FableCroft Publishing)
Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer (Twelfth Planet Press)
Caution: Contains Small Parts by Kirstyn McDermott (Twelfth Planet Press)
The Bride Price by Cat Sparks (Ticonderoga Publications)
The Year of Ancient Ghosts by Kim Wilkins (Ticonderoga Publications)

Friday, 14 February 2014

Rare Unsigned Copy by Simon Petrie

Rare Unsigned Copy (subtitle: Tales of Rocketry, Ineptitude, and Giant Mutant Vegetables) by Simon Petrie is a large collection of (mostly) stories. By my count, there were 44 entries in the contents. Minus three things which really weren't stories (I'll leave the thrill of discovery up to you), that leaves 41 stories which I've more or less commented on individually below. Which was a lot. I enjoyed pretty much all of them, but from a practical point of view I think I'm going to instigate a policy of not attempting to comment individually on flash (or shorter) stories. What is there to say that isn't a spoiler?

That, of course, has nothing to do with my enjoyment of this book. I really did enjoying reading Rare Unsigned Copy. Many of the stories are humorous and most of them gave me something to think about, humorous or not. Some of my favourites were, in contents order, "Fomalhaut 451", which had a lovely twist,;"Podcast", which has an excellent pun in the title and an AI character I particularly liked (for reasons I won't spoil); "Running Lizard" wasn't funny at all, but was chilling in its original take on were-creatures; "Haystacks, Needles, Large Extinct Marine Reptiles" was both depressing and absolutely hilarious; "Trajectory" was very visceral, sincere and not at all funny. There were also the Gordon Mammon series of stories, spaced out in the middle of the collection. I enjoyed the continuity and the unusual crimes (and the jabs at Andromeda Spaceways, heh).

All in all, I would definitely read more Simon Petrie stories. I recommend this collection to all fans of speculative fiction. Although most of the stories were science fictional, I'd say they were pretty accessible even to people who don't usually read science fiction. (And a bunch were fantasy or somewhere in between.) Petrie doesn't shy away from exploring untapped corners of common narratives, and when he sets out to write hard science fiction, you can be sure the details are spot-on. Highly recommended.

  1. Introduction — lol
  2. The Day of the Carrot — an amusing tale of giant vegetables. I liked the choices of authors for the interspersed pseudo quotes.
  3. Fomalhaut 451 — flash fiction. Main character sent to investigate a dead habitat. Why is it empty? Where did all the people go?
  4. Bodysurfing — another flash. Odd. Body swap dealer a bit dodgy.
  5. Three-Horned Dilemma — Triceratops rampaging through your backyard. How do you deal with that?
  6. Downdraft — I wasn't in the right headspace to read this one initially, so I came back to it later. It's not a bad story, but not quite my sort of thing. I prefer my fantasy in novel form and this one was definitely a serious secondary world story. Also sad.
  7. Podcast — inadvertently stranded in an escape pod, trailing the main shop through hyperspace. Limited supplies and a broken hyperspace switch with only the pod's AI for company. A very enjoyable story. One of my favourites so far.
  8. Three-Hundred-and-Twenty-Seventh Contact, and Rising — not strictly a story per se. Or maybe it could be classed as micro fiction.
  9. Talking with Taniwha — a lovely and thoughtful hard SF story about learning to communicate with very alien aliens. I love the depth of world building and consideration that went into this one.
  10. Undergrad — a drabble
  11. Bookseller — another drabble
  12. Q-Ray — an amusing tale about galactic scavengers and their search for artefacts made by long-dead, enigmatic aliens. They get into a lot of trouble retrieving an artefact, much to my entertainment and their distress.
  13. Surrogacy — another body swap story, but one treating the subject more seriously. Swap bodies to avoid pregnancy and postnatal depression in exchange for quitting smoking for the other person. The secrecy was the most simultaneously troubling and interesting aspect.
  14. Dragonsick — flash. Would-be treasure hunters learn what dragons get up to at night.
  15. Scuttle — satirising Star Trek and exploring the possible motivations of space crabs wanting to steal the ship.
  16. Tsiligup — flash. Body swap boxing
  17. Murder on the Zenith Express — a Gordon Mammon story, the first I've read (but I know they're plural because a collection of them exists). Amusing detecting, tongue in cheek world building and was obviously originally published on Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.
  18. Guy Walks into a Bar... (Theme and Variations) — more a collection of jokes that a story per se.
  19. Single Handed — Another Gordon Mammon story. I liked the slightly twisty mystery resolution. Although considering the title upon finishing it, it does become a little cringeworthy. I'll have to tell myself that it's really a reference to Gordon's solo detective work...
  20. Niche — Flash. Lots of moths.
  21. The Fall Guy — Gordon Mammon again. Very clever reveal. I liked it. Also a recurring character from the first Gordon Mammon story.
  22. Reverse-Phase Astrology as a Predictive Tool for Observational Astronomy — an amusing fake research paper.
  23. Sixes, Sevens — A human is granted access to an alien library but the aliens' cryptic statements do not make it easy for him.
  24. Horse of Wood — A different take on teleportation shenanigans. Put me in mind of Jump by Sean Williams, but with a different twist on improving the technology.
  25. Jack Makes a Sale — Drabble
  26. To Arms — an argument with an inventory robot. Amusing.
  27. The Ballad of P’toresk — an amusing tale of never ending planetary conquest.
  28. Running Lizard — a haunting story about a series of gruesome murders, a forensic psychologist who is also a were-creature, and her brother.
  29. Highway Patroller — Drabble.
  30. Lacerta pynbawii — another drabble, not sure I got the song reference though.
  31. Hare Redux — a shaggy dog story leading up to a particularly terrible pun.
  32. Scratched — a girl saves a mouse from hr cat. Not really speculative, which ultimately surprised me.
  33. Critical — amusing flash about unusual aliens.
  34. Haystacks, Needles, Large Extinct Marine Reptiles — a hilarious, if dark, story about time travellers trying to mitigate any changes to the past.
  35. MRE — I can't say much more than "alien invaders" without giving away the main plot, I think.
  36. Redactio ad absurdam — a collection of amusing ideas more than a story. Made me laugh out loud.
  37. The Elder — flash. A conversation between trees.
  38. Trajectory — a visceral tale of one man's mission to chase down thieves that raided his space colony. Difficult to read at times because Petrie does not skimp on the details of unpleasantness. A poignant ending.
  39. DragonBlog — the story of a dragon-slayer told in blog style. Amusing.
  40. Working Girl — drabble.
  41. Mole of Stars — short flash. Probably better if you know what a mole is (it’s a chemical term meaning 6.02 x 1023 particles), but even so, a poignant end.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2010, Peggy Bright Books
Series: no.
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from publisher's website (note that there's a day or so delay between purchase and getting the file)
Challenges: Australian Science Fiction Reading Challenge

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Tsana's February Status

Another month, another update. I haven't quite gotten around to making any of the banners I intended to for this series of posts, mostly because I've been sick and had some important deadlines. Maybe by next month. But I did just make one for Australian fantasy, as you can see on the left, and on my Aussie authors page.

This month, my story "Transit of Hadley", was published in Aurealis issue #67. It's about early generation ship colonists on a water-world with no natural land and slightly different gravity. At some point — probably when I've had more sleep/the weekend — I'm planning on writing a post on the other blog about the science that went into it.

In the meantime, you can read more, including an excerpt from "Transit of Hadley" here. (A link which will not point to the right thing once the March issue comes out.) And you can buy a copy of the magazine here.

What have I read?

Since my last post I've read and reviewed the following books:

What am I currently reading?

Well I'm still reading Rare Unsigned Copy by Simon Petrie. I've made some progress since last month and am now up to 89% of the way through. Slow progress because, basically, I've mostly been reading novels. Short stories take more effort in some ways and I've been sick and deadliney, making me strongly prefer a longer story. I'm so close to finishing really hope I manage to do so soon (like tonight or tomorrow) as I have two more review books of short stories awaiting my attention (one which I'm feeling increasingly guilty about not having started).

I picked up A New Kind of Death by Alison Goodman and read a couple of chapters before deciding it was a bit too dark for my current (quite ill at the time) mood. I haven't picked it up since because I've continued not to be in the mood for anything quite so dark. I fully intend to finish it at some point, but I'm not really sure when that will be. For the time being, I'm taking it off my currently reading virtual shelf but leaving it on my bedside table.

And the book I intend to read next is The Almost Girl by Amalie Howard, a YA book from Strange Chemistry. I've been looking forward to it for a while, but didn't read it earlier (it came out in January and anyway it's an ARC) because I was a bit YA'd out. Obviously, will report back when I have read it. And the next volume of short stories I'm planning to read in Metastasis edited by Rhonda Parrish, see below.

New Booksies

And finally new booksies since my last post. Only review copies this time around.
  • The Immortal Crown by Richelle Mead, the second Age of X novel, sequel to Gameboard of the Gods. Looking forward to this, although it's not coming out until late May, so I probably won't be reading it too soon.
  • Wall of Spears by Duncan Lay — already reviewed.
  • Stolen Songbird by Danielle L Jensen — new YA from Strange Chemistry. Something with a more strongly fantasy bent, for a change, as far as YA goes.
  • Metastasis edited by Rhonda Parrish — a speculative fiction anthology of cancer stories. Profits will be going towards cancer research. The anthology I intend to read next.
  • A Memory of Death by Trent Jamieson — the fourth Death Works book. Already reviewed.
  • Under Nameless Stars by Christian Schoon — the sequel to Zenn Scarlet. A bit hesitant about this one since the first book was one I enjoyed at the time but which soured a bit in retrospect once I'd had time to think about it. We'll see how this one goes.
  • Dead Americans and Other Stories by Ben Peek — a collection of short stories by an Australian author. I'm not sure but I wouldn't be surprised if I'd read at least one of his stories before. I know I also have the novella double Above/Below (with Stephanie Campisi) waiting for me.


Tuesday, 11 February 2014

The Memory of Death by Trent Jamieson

The Memory of Death by Trent Jamieson is a sequel to the Death Works trilogy (beginning with Death Most Definite, published by Orbit) and — to my surprise when I opened it — it's also a novella. Furthermore, the premise is kind of a spoiler, in the sense that I think the story is more enjoyable if you don't know what to expect going in. Happily, the blurb does not give it away as I feared it might. And a final note, before I get on with the bulk of the review, this novella really should be read after the original trilogy. Although some backstory is given, I don't think it will make as much sense as a whole without the background provided in the trilogy. And, of course, it contains spoilers for the resolution of said trilogy. So does the blurb, to an extent. You've been warned.
Steven de Selby gave up his love, his life, and his lucrative position as Head of Mortmax, the corporation in charge of Death. Then he found himself banished to the briny depths of hell. But hell has never held him before ...

Now Steven's back from hell, after escaping from the cruel Death of the Water, but he's not sure how or why, or even if. No-one at Mortmax trusts him, and he's running out of time to prove he is who he says he is.

Steven is about to discover that hell really is other people, and the worst of them may well be himself.
I don't know much about the upcoming sequel — other than the title, The Carnival of Death — but The Memory of Death reads a bit like it might be a bridging novella between the trilogy and the next story. It has it's own story, of course, but it's mostly the story of How Steve Gets Out Of The Mess Of Book Three's Conclusion. It's the set-up for something more, which I look forward to reading and which I suspect won't make as much sense without the bridge that is The Memory of Death.

This novella opens with Steven waking up on a beach and thinking "what the hell?" and continues to build on that initial confusion throughout. By the end we do find out what the hell was going on and, to an extent, why. That plus some action and icky (/creepy) events along the way make up the entire novella (obviously I'm leaving out spoilers here; the spoiler bits are pretty good). As I said, although it's self contained, it definitely feels like its setting the stage for the next story.

I recommend The Memory of Death to fans of the Death Works series, but I'm not sure I'd necessarily recommend it to new readers. On the other hand, the latter part of that may change once The Carnival of Death is out, depending on how that goes. I enjoyed revisiting Steven, Lissa and Tim in the Death Works universe. It has certainly whetted my appetite for whatever comes next.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: February 2014, Momentum
Series: Yes! Death Works book 4 of 5? (at least, book 5 is definitely coming, there might be more after that)
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Aussie Horror Reading Challenge

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Alienated by Melissa Landers

Alienated by Melissa Landers is the author's début novel. I have to admit, the main reason I picked this up was because of the gorgeous cover. Isn't it lovely? I was dreading finding out that the book wouldn't live up to it, but I think it more or less worked out.
Two years ago, the aliens made contact. Now Cara Sweeney is going to be sharing a bathroom with one of them.

Handpicked to host the first-ever L’eihr exchange student, Cara thinks her future is set. Not only does she get a free ride to her dream college, she’ll have inside information about the mysterious L’eihrs that every journalist would kill for. Cara’s blog following is about to skyrocket.

Still, Cara isn’t sure what to think when she meets Aelyx. Humans and L’eihrs have nearly identical DNA, but cold, infuriatingly brilliant Aelyx couldn’t seem more alien. She’s certain about one thing, though: no human boy is this good-looking.

But when Cara's classmates get swept up by anti-L'eihr paranoia, Midtown High School suddenly isn't safe anymore. Threatening notes appear in Cara's locker, and a police officer has to escort her and Aelyx to class.

Cara finds support in the last person she expected. She realizes that Aelyx isn’t just her only friend; she's fallen hard for him. But Aelyx has been hiding the truth about the purpose of his exchange, and its potentially deadly consequences. Soon Cara will be in for the fight of her life—not just for herself and the boy she loves, but for the future of her planet.
There's a lot to discuss in Alienated, more than I expected actually. This is partly because the blurb and cover make it look like it will be primarily a romance novel, low on issues. It wasn't really either. The aliens are played very much as the other that many people (I would say somewhat red-neck-y people) fear for not necessarily valid reasons. Basic xenophobia. Cara, as the host of an alien teen, bears a lot of the brunt of the xenophobic fear, including from people she was previously on good terms with.

I felt that Alienated did use aliens as analogues for racism, especially in the kinds of slurs and reactions of by-standers and the anti-alien lobby/terrorist group. Your mileage may vary on that point. Landers doesn't pull any punches with people's reactions to Aelyx and the aliens generally. There's a build-up throughout the book in terms of what Cara actually witnesses, culmination in very dramatic events. There was one scene near the end that really made me cringe at how horrible some people were being, especially when it was directed at Cara, rather than being more generalised and diffuse anti-alien sentiment. I wouldn't be surprised if people more knowledgeable on the topic than I am will see direct parallels to historical racism events.

I can't review a science fiction book without making some comment on the science. In general, Alienated was was science-lite so there's not much for me to directly complain about, just a lot of hand-wavey technology. BUT. The aliens cane from another galaxy, which struck me as kind of ridiculous. There's one bit where Aelyx explains to Cara how hard it was for them to find humans — ie other intelligent life — and the way he explains it makes more sense if taken as though he is talking about searching within part of the Milky Way. The numbers are off, not to mention the very practicality he's talking about. There's also a few passing comments about how the alien light-speed travel and a reference to relativity which don't actually gel with character experiences. Despite mentioning the possibility there was no actual time-dilation. Also, the aliens are genetically compatible with humans, which is just weird, but I hold out hope that there might be a plot-based reason for that (other than convenience, I mean).

So the science wasn't awesome (but not the worst ever) but the story was better than I expected. I have to admit, when I got up to the climax, I became very sceptical of how the story was going to end — that is, whether it would be satisfying — but it didn't quite go exactly how I expected. I will probably pick up the next book in the series (it's US YA, of course it's a series) to see what happens next.

I would recommend Alienated to fans of YA and YA SF. In particular, those looking for a read that can be confronting at times will find much to like here. The story deals with Cara's alienation from her peers — which while having an unusual cause is not unusual for a teenager to experience — as well as more extreme levels of vilification for hosting an alien (which she didn't actually have a choice about) and being nice to him (because she's not a terrible person). I suspect the cringe-worthy scene I mentioned above might be more confronting for some people than others. Anyway, it's not a bad read, and I encourage others to have a look at it.

4 / 5 stars

First published: February 2014, Disney Book Group
Series: Yes. Alienated, Book 1 of ? (my guess would be 3, but not sure)
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Thursday, 6 February 2014

The Prince of Soul and the Lighthouse by Fredrik Brounéus

The Prince of Soul and the Lighthouse by Fredrik Brounéus is the first novel published in English by the Swedish author who now lives in New Zealand. I didn't realise until I started reading, but it's actually a YA book. Obviously I missed the main character's age in the blurb... that or I forgot the blurb to a greater extent than I usually do.
What happens when we die?

This has been the third question on mankind’s FAQ list since the dawn of time (numbers one and two being: Is this edible? and Excuse me, would you care to breed?).
I know what happens. Believe me, I’d rather not. But I do.

There is a lighthouse, and it guides our souls along the narrow path to being reborn as humans. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, as my undead granddad and the Tibetan special mission monk in my kitchen have kindly told me, there’s a problem with the lighthouse. And if the world is to be saved, someone needs to fix it.

Which is where I come in: George Larson, eighteen years old. Who could possibly be better suited to save the world?

Well, almost anyone. Especially as being a teenage guy is nothing at all about question three but all about questions one and two.

And really, that's complicated enough as it is.
This was an engaging read. George is an ordinary teenager who wants to be a famous musician and get the girl. Then a spider communicates with him and he starts to have weird dreams in which his recently deceased grandfather visits him to drink coffee and smoke. When his mother finds a cigarette butt and some ants spell out SOS, he starts to really freak out. Things don't get less weird from there.

The Prince of Soul and the Lighthouse might have a long title, but it was a pretty short novel. Most of the story is taken up by George and associates gallivanting around New Zealand on a quest given to him by a monk (and also, like, the universe). The writing style is well paced and quirky, with several conversations occurring between various body parts of George's. The style also felt quick to read (which may just be me) so that it felt like I was turning pages quite quickly. It also made me giggle at times.

In terms of weird happenings, the plot is the sort where it's not easy to guess what's going on until someone explains it to the main character — and the monk spends a lot of time not explaining anything. But this does add to the tension and excitement. And confusion, both for the George and the reader, but not in a bad way. It kept me turning the pages despite some of the odder plot twists.

I want to mention the ending because it was sort of unusual. It definitely fit with the story and it wasn't a surprise per se, but looking back, it was pretty, well, un-Hollywood. I want to say un-USian, but given that there are yanks in the story in opposition to George, that's less specific. What I'm trying to say is that the Swedish/New Zealish author wrote a story that probably would not have been framed the same way if it had been written by a yank. (The portrayal of the bad guys notwithstanding.) I would be interested to hear if anyone else who's read The Prince of Soul and the Lighthouse feels similarly.

I have to say there were a few plot-y revelations that I felt sceptical of, but overall it was a fun read. I would recommend The Prince of Soul and the Lighthouse to readers looking for a slightly unconventional and humorous YA novel. It's a quick read and I think fans of adult quirky books will also enjoy it. Oh, also, there are a few illustrations scattered throughout, if that's your kind of thing.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2012, Steam Press
Series: Nope.
Format read: ePub
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Wall of Spears by Duncan Lay

Wall of Spears by Duncan Lay is the final book in the Empire of Bones trilogy. You can read my reviews of the previous books in the series Bridge of Swords and Valley of Shields. This is the kind of BFF (big fat fantasy) series that definitely needs to be read in order, so if you haven't read the first two books, then I suggest skipping this review and clicking on one of the earlier reviews.
It is time to decide who will rule the lands and control the magic. Will it be Forland, with its lust for bloody conquest? Will it be Dokuzen, with its dreams of a slave empire, or will it be Vales, armed only with Rhiannon and her magic - and the truth about why the rulers of Dokuzen claim to be elves? Into this mix comes Sendatsu. Rejected by his true love, hated by his father, hunted by his former best friend, he now burns with the desire to build a better world for his children. Betrayal follows lies which follows more betrayal as the true power behind the vicious struggle is revealed. The fate of all the lands rests on a sword's edge ...
In this concluding volume, the conflicts set up in the first two books — between the mighty Forlish army and everyone else, between the "elves" and the humans, between the Velsh and the Forlish and elves — all come to a head. With Sumiko, the evil magic-weaver, gaining more and more power among the elves, tensions are running high. Obviously the fact that she's continuing to try to kill the main characters adds to the conflict.

The level of intrigue and machinations was probably my second favourite thing in Wall of Spears. Everyone has hidden (to most of the other characters) motivations and everyone is lying to everyone else about them (well, the Velsh less so). It makes for a complex read and no dull moments.

My least favourite thing wasn't really a writing quality thing at all, but a decision one of the characters made. I really can't say what it was because spoilers (you'll know if you've read it), but the reasons for their choice made me feel a little bit icky. On the other hand, it was a relatively minor point in the end and did not ruin my enjoyment of the book in any way.
I'm sure I've mentioned in my earlier reviews that Duncan Lay writes the most epically cinematic fight scenes. Wall of Spears is no exception. The battles are visceral and described in elaborate detail — down to the blood spatter and the stench — without falling into the trap of too much description slowing down the action. Lay makes it easy to picture every move his characters make. There was also an epically awesome chase scene at one point. Easily the best chase scene I've ever read, with the same cinematic detail imbued in the fight scenes (and my favourite thing about the book).

Ultimately, if you've read the earlier books in the series you probably already know whether you're going to read the third book. (Basically, if you liked the earlier books you definitely should.) If you haven't read the earlier books in the series but still read through this review for whatever reason, then you should go and start with book 1, Bridge of Swords, particularly if you have any interest in BFF.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: February 2014, Harper Voyager Australia
Series: Yes. Empire of Bones book 3 of 3
Format read: iBook
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher