Monday, 31 March 2014

Adaptation by Malinda Lo

Adaptation by Malinda Lo is the first book in the author's YA science fiction series. I have previously reviewed Ash, which was a lesbian retelling of Cinderella. Adaptation is set in the almost-present in the US.
Flocks of birds are hurling themselves at aeroplanes across America. Thousands of people die. Millions are stranded. Everyone knows the world will never be the same.

On Reese's long drive home, along a stretch of empty highway at night, a bird flies into their headlights. The car flips over. When they wake up in a military hospital, the doctor won't tell them what happened.

For Reese, though, this is just the start. She can't remember anything from the time between her accident and the day she woke up almost a month later. She only knows one thing: she's different now. Torn between longtime crush David and new girl Amber, the real question is: who can she trust?
I had mixed feelings about this book. Some of the time it was a mix of irritation and meh, but ultimately I enjoyed the read, I just didn't love it. I'll say up front that I do intend to read the sequel when it becomes accessible.

The first thing that irritated me was the airport scene at the start. After — as the blurb says — flocks of birds hurl themselves into aeroplanes, all the flights in the US are grounded and no one in the airport the main characters are stuck at behaves like sensible travellers would in that situation. It wasn't particularly relevant to the plot but it annoyed me. Especially when Reese's friend tells her they're worried airports are going to run out of food because they can't fly more in. WTF? She's at Phoenix Airport, a reasonable-sized city. Also, food is generally shipped to airports in trucks, especially when they're in cities (I mean, maybe super-remote ones, OK, but that is not the case here). Anyway, as I said, it wasn't relevant to the plot, but it pissed me off, not least because of the amount of time I've spent in airports of late.

Most of the book leaves the the science fictional aspect on the back-burner and focuses on Reese recovering from the car accident and Reece's budding relationship with Amber. I found this part of the book enjoyable but a little bland, apart from the hints of weird stuff having happened post-accident. The action picks up again as Reece and friends start investigating why her and David's accident treatment is so top secret.

There was a particular trope used during the climax — I won't say what because spoilers, but it wasn't a YA-specific trope — which I am sick of seeing and which almost pushed the book down half a star. But Lo subverts it quite satisfyingly, which salvaged the ending nicely.

There wasn't a love triangle in this book — although Reece had two love interests — and I liked the very accepting way everyone treated Reece's relationship with Amber. It was nice to see a homosexual relationship not being treated as a big deal, which I think is exactly what Lo was going for. I have to say, though, I felt ambivalent about Amber as a character.

Ultimately, it was a pleasant read, though not a remarkable one. I liked it, but I did love it. I recommend it to YA fans, especially those looking for a bisexual main character, which doesn't come up in many books (I can only think of one other series off the top of my head). I hope the science fiction element is stronger in the sequel, as that was the aspect I found most interesting.

4 / 5 stars

First published: April 2014, Hodder Children's Books in the UK/ANZ and 2012, Little, Brown Books in the US
Series: Yes. Adaptation series, book one of two so far.
Format read: eARC of UK/ANZ version (mind you, it retains US spelling, of course, apart from the blurb)
Source: (ANZ) publisher via NetGalley

Friday, 28 March 2014

Interview with Christian Schoon (+ extract + giveaway)

Today I have an interview with Christian Schoon, author of Zenn Scarlett and the newly-released Under Nameless Stars. As part of the blog tour organised by Strange Chemistry (the publisher, aka the YA imprint of Angry Robot), I also have an extract of Under Nameless Stars to share and you can enter to win copies of the books (ebook or physical, whichever is your preference, open worldwide) and a Name Your Own Star Gift Package. Interview is first, and scroll down for the extract and the competition.



Zenn Scarlett is set on Mars, while for Under Nameless Stars Zenn spends most of her time in space. Why Mars and was it always your intention to split the story into two books with very distinct settings?

First off, thanks for letting me drop in and hang around here on the blog. A little daunting, of course. You: Spacer Guild-certified astrophysicist. Me: author pretending to know something about space/ exoplanets/Alcubierre quantum bubbles as generated by a living biological system. But I’m hoping you’ll be gentle… So, the original book was a long, single arc. I wrote it without spending any time worrying about word count (I suspected I’d need to address the length issue eventually, but I let the initial manuscript be as long as it wanted to be.)

When it came time to put the beast onto the market, it was clear that it needed to be broken into two books. The logical dotted line to cut along in order to separate the two novels, as you’ve noted, wasn’t hard to spot: Mars… Not Mars. Why Mars? It’s had its ruddy finger tapping me on the shoulder ever since reading Edgar Rice Burroughs in grade school. Also, I’d always loved an old, under-appreciated classic sci-fi flick called Robinson Crusoe on Mars, directed by Byron Haskin (who also directed Disney’s original Treasure Island, a book that worked its way into Under Nameless Stars in the character of my chimpish Loepith, Charlie; he has more than a bit of the shipwrecked Ben Gunn about him. Thanks, Mr. Stevenson.) And, many of the alien life forms being treated at the Ciscan Cloister exovet clinic on Mars are big. Really big. Too big to get around in Earther gravity. The lower gravity on Mars gave a little added plot-motive to have such a facility located there (plus, a number of the big critters are aquatic, which also helps).

Zenn is a novice exoveterinarian, a profession that I don't think I've read about before. Where did the inspiration for this come from?

I hadn’t run into any other exovets in sci fi either, though there were a few exobiologists. As for Zenn, after leaving LA where I’d written film studio ad copy and scripts for teen/tween TV shows, my wife and I moved to the Midwest (where I had other family members), bought a farm, and started hosting various animals in various barns, sheds and pastures. Ended up volunteering with equine and wildlife rescue groups. Have had everything from mountain lions and black bears to draft horses and ferrets on the farm and, in connection with that activity, have met and gotten to know a number of small and large-animal veterinarians. One of these, our personal vet, impressed me with her utter fearlessness working with exotics like 17-foot Burmese pythons, cobras, rattlesnakes and water moccasins (her husband’s a herpetologist). Mix in my life-long fascination with space travel, evolution, exobiology and sci fi adventure tales, and, as if by magic: a 17-year-old novice exoveterinarian studying at a science-based cloister on a future, borderline-dystopian Mars.

Zenn deals with all sorts of unusual alien-animals — and aliens! — in the series. How much biological research did you have to do to be able to write about them?

Actually, I’m glad to say that the above mentioned interaction with animals and their caretakers/vets supplied me with a working knowledge of the basic biology needed in writing the books. That and a stint as a writer for a med school paper during college years. Plus, I’ve just always been interested in biology, wild animals, anthropology and evolution and have read a gazillion books on these and related topics. And, finally, I just fill in the gaps by making up the stuff I don’t already know and try to make it all sound credible.  Take an alien like the Cepheian ambassador. She’s basically a sort of crustacean suspended beneath a shell-like envelope full of methane and other nasty smelling, internally generated, lighter-than-air gases. Because Cepheians inhabit the sparsely populated upper atmosphere of a gas giant planet, females of her species rarely encounter a male member of the species. So, her male “consorts” are permanently attached to her and float in small, fluid-filled translucent globes girdling her body. Totally outlandish? Yeah, but there are abyssal fish here on Earth that have evolved exactly this solution to the problem of finding a mate in the vast and mostly empty undersea realm they inhabit. So, while the aliens and alien animals in both books are often bizarre, I generally try to somehow blend the out-there sci fi/speculative elements with something familiar to give my Earther readers some solid footing to stand on.

Are we going to see any more stories set in this world? What are you currently working on / what can we expect to see from you next?

I’ve roughed out the outline of Zenn’s next adventure. It involves the world where the Kirans have built their palaces and villages on the backs of humongous drifting sunkillers. But that book is having a cage fight right now with a few other projects I’ve got in the works, all involving sci fi worlds or Earth-bound monsters.

Finally, you have two very awesome covers for these books. Is there a story behind them? Did you get to have any input?

The cover art for both books got a lot of love from readers. I’d like to say they were both my idea, but… nope. As a debut author, I had very little input. I made some suggestions for the first book. These were ignored. And that turned out for the best. For Under Nameless Stars, I made suggestions based on the image for book one, and one of those suggestions was accepted, but since it grew out of the first cover, I can’t claim it as mine. I’m just glad the art-elves at Strange Chemistry are as talented as they are.

Thank-you for taking the time to answer my questions!

It was great to have a chance to share some author/book/science fictional stuff with your readers. Zenn very much appreciates. Cheers!

Read an Extract


Read and Share via


For a chance to win a copy (ebook or physical – your choice!) of both Zenn Scarlett and Under Nameless Stars PLUS a Name Your Own Star Gift Package*, answer the following question:

15. Dr. Mai Scarlett’s lab tech assistant’s name was
  1. Vremya
  2. Sophie
  3. Svetlana
  4. Cher

Write your answer in the Rafflecopter widget below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

* As an astrophysicist I have to include the disclaimer that naming your own star gives you an entry in a database (and a certificate and other stuff) and will not affect any official IAU (International Astronomical Union) designations. Here's some more info from the gift pack given away in a competition for the first Zenn Scarlett book.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The Lascar's Dagger by Glenda Larke

The Lascar's Dagger by Glenda Larke is the author's most recent release, and the start of a new trilogy. Glenda Larke has long been on my auto-buy list, so it comes as no surprise that this book was excellent. The blurb is short and sweet but only gives a small hint of what's inside. (Oh, and the handle and guard of the knife on the cover are totally not as described in the book.)
A theft in a faraway land — with repercussions that reach around the world...
The world thinks of Saker Rampion as a priest, a gentle man preaching peace. The truth is, he's a spy for the head of his faith, posted in the court of King Edwayn.

It's a time of fear — as a mysterious and monstrous disease sweeps the country — but also opportunity — lucrative trade is opening up overseas, and what's grown on the Spice Islands is rumored to cure the demonic plague.

However when the king uses his own daughter as a pawn in trade deals, Saker cannot help but get involved. And for his trouble, he may just end up excommunicated, or even dead...
I enjoyed The Lascar's Dagger a lot. It reminded me that, proportionally, I don't read as many complex BFF (big fat fantasy) books as I used to. (This is partially because since becoming a book blogger the increase in my book consumption has been in other genres and partially because I've already read the backlists of the authors I like who write that type of book. Now it's a matter of waiting for them to write more books.) And that I missed them.

The main character is Saker, a clergy spy and not a lascar, which I was expecting. The title is well chosen though, since the lascar's dagger is, in fact, on the page more frequently than the lascar. I was expecting more of this book to be set in the Spice Islands but I think that's coming in the sequel. Most of The Lascar's Dagger was set in the two more "Western" countries. That said, the title is well chosen since the somewhat magic dagger is quite vital as a driver of the plot. And although it wasn't entirely apparent, at first, how all the characters' paths were going to cross, it all came together quite nicely.

The Lascar's Dagger subverts many tropes and expectations. The most obvious one is that the clergy — well, the (western) religious order generally — has more gender equality than general society, especially the nobility. Men and women can both go study at university and the head of the religious order, the Pontifect, is female. That last fact isn't revealed until chapter four, when we meet her in person, despite Saker thinking about "the Pontifect" earlier. I admit I was quite pleased when I found out. It was also nicely juxtaposed later when an unpalatable character said something about women being inferior (some people laughed, some probably agreed).

The most awesome character, in my opinion, was Sorrel. I was delighted when her fate became entwined with Princess Mathilda's and I am very much looking forward to following her story in the second book. Mathilda was also a very interesting character. She reminded me of Marla from the Hythrun Chronicles by Jennifer Fallon, in that both the characters are smart, young noble women forced into marriage at a young age and powerless to control their own lives. Unlikely Marla, however, Mathilda doesn't have a wily adviser helping her out and her plans do not always work out how she wants them to. Where stories about intelligent and scheming girls (and boys) are fun to read, what Larke has created here is more realistic and just as enjoyable (albeit occasionally frustrating). I can imagine people not warming to Mathilda, especially since some of her actions are questionable, but I thought she was a great character.

Larke has written an excellent book that I highly recommend to all fantasy fans, especially those who like their fantasy serious, long, and with complex characters and motivations. I am very keen to read the next book in the series and I hope it's not too long a wait. For readers who have not read any Glenda Larke books before, this is a good a place to start as any book one.

5 / 5 stars

First published: March 2014, Orbit Books
Series: Yes. The Forsaken Lands book 1 of 3
Format read: eBook
Source: Purchased from iBooks
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Peacemaker by Marianne de Pierres

Peacemaker by Marianne de Pierres is the Australian author's latest science fiction / science fantasy novel. It's due out at the end of April, but if it sounds familiar, that might be because the author released a comic by the same name (and following the same story) in 2011. I haven't (yet) read the comic, other than the free sample consisting of only a few pages, and you definitely don't need to before picking up the novel. Closer to the release date, I will be running an interview with Marianne, so keep an eye out for that.
When an imaginary animal from her troubled teenage years reappears, Virgin takes it to mean one of two things: a breakdown (hers!) or a warning. Dead bodies start piling up around her, so she decides on the latter. Something terrible is about to happen in the park and Virgin and her new partner, U.S. Marshall Nate Sixkiller, are standing in its path...

Virgin Jackson is the senior ranger in Birrimun Park - the world's last natural landscape, overshadowed though it is by a sprawling coastal megacity. She maintains public safety and order in the park, but her bosses have brought out a hotshot cowboy to help her catch some drug runners who are affecting tourism. She senses the company is holding something back from her, and she's not keen on working with an outsider like Nate Sixkiller.
I was just staring at the cover while contemplating what to write, and wow the more you look, the more you see extra details in the image. There's the obvious bird, which I noticed right away, but there's also a person in her shirt, two people, even. I am liking this cover more and more.

Anyway, the actual book. I enjoyed it quite a bit. It had me turning the pages all the way through without wanting to put it down (except for when I had to). Virgin is a compelling character, despite making some poor decisions throughout the book. She spends most of the book under the weather in one way or another — attempts on her life, sleep deprivation, miscellaneous wounds — and has plenty of reason to be distrustful of almost everyone who tries to help her, so there are reasonable reasons for what I saw as lapses of judgement.

The setting is a future Perth with hover cars, very segregated neighbourhoods and more guns than one would expect to see in Australia. Virgin works as a ranger in a large park which is mostly a natural reserve but with a Western (as in cowboys) theme and some imported cacti. All in the name of tourism more than preservation. I've never been to Perth, but I can see how the seeds for this future world exist in the current world. It's not the future I would imagine, but unfortunately, globalisation and the spread of US culture does not make it implausible. (Although I don't get why Westerns are still a thing. Mind you, thinking about it, I suppose it's no weirder than Victoriana.) There were a lot of guns relative to present times, though, which was a bit, well, un-Australian. Mind you, it did fit with the Western theme of Virgin's park and Nate Sixkiller.

Speaking of Sixkiller, I felt fairly meh towards him. Cowboys just don't do it for me. That said, I liked how he and Virgin saved each other at various times and how de Pierres did not take the obvious plot-route with him. I liked Heart, Virgin's sort-of-boyfriend much more, even though I was suspicious of him for most of the book. I quite liked the fact that Sixkiller wasn't thrown with Virgin as a default love interest, since the "new person shows up and becomes love interest" trope is really very common in every piece of fiction in all forms of media. It's nice to see something different.

Although Peacemaker is set in the future it's not pure science fiction (or, by any stretch of the imagination, hard science fiction). As well as future tech, there's a good dose of mythology in the brought to life sense. It was pivotal to the book in general, but one aspect — trying to track down the origin of an artefact — felt a bit McGuffin-y to me, existing mainly to move the characters around (to places where important things happened). That's not a strong complaint though.

When I finished, I was left wanting to know if we would get more books (stand-by for my upcoming interview) and wanting to know more about some aspects of the world. Particularly the aspects which are most likely to be covered in any sequels, should they exist, so de Pierres has done her job well.

Peacemaker was an enjoyable read and I highly recommend it to fans of near-future SF, urban fantasy set in the future and future-Westerns. I'll definitely be picking up any sequels that happen, and I plan to read the comic book when I get around to it.

4 / 5 stars

First published: April 2014, Angry Robot
Series: I hope so...
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge, Australian Science Fiction Reading Challenge

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier

Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier is the first book I've read by the author. It's about three Mexican teenagers trying to find a better life in the US and it's an interesting take on werewolf mythology. It's got a long blurb, but not as spoilery as it could be.
Natividad is Pure, one of the rare girls born able to wield magic. Pure magic can protect humans against the supernatural evils they only half-acknowledge – the blood kin or the black dogs. In rare cases – like for Natividad’s father and older brother – Pure magic can help black dogs find the strength to control their dark powers.

But before Natividad’s mother can finish teaching her magic their enemies find them. Their entire village in the remote hills of Mexico is slaughtered by black dogs. Their parents die protecting them. Natividad and her brothers must flee across a strange country to the only possible shelter: the infamous black dogs of Dimilioc, who have sworn to protect the Pure.

In the snowy forests of Vermont they are discovered by Ezekiel Korte, despite his youth the strongest black dog at Dimilioc and the appointed pack executioner. Intrigued by Natividad he takes them to Dimilioc instead of killing them.

Now they must pass the tests of the Dimilioc Master. Alejandro must prove he can learn loyalty and control even without his sister’s Pure magic. Natividad’s twin Miguel must prove that an ordinary human can be more than a burden to be protected. And even at Dimilioc a Pure girl like Natividad cannot remain unclaimed to cause fighting and distraction. If she is to stay she must choose a black dog mate.

But, first, they must all survive the looming battle.
So there was a lot to like about Black Dog. Culturally diverse characters, interesting mythology, pretty good writing. My favourite aspect was the magic/mythology worldbuilding. The Black Dog take on werewolves was different to anything I'd seen before. There were, mostly tangential to the plot, traditional werewolves that change with the moon. But the black dogs central to the story were born that way and their "shadows" — the entity/curse of the black dog inside them — were uncorrupted and controllable (although control wasn't guaranteed). The power politics between black dogs were interesting and added to the texture of the story.

To go along with the black dogs there were also "Pure" women and girls, of which the main character, Natividad, was one. In some respects, the Pure are witches, with their power tied to the black dog curse. Black dogs benefit in various ways from having one of the Pure around; the Pure make them "more civilised" by exerting a magical calming influence. It's also desirable for black dogs to take Pure women as wives. What I didn't like about the concept of Pure magic (y'know, apart from the name which I found problematic in itself) is that it set Pure women up to be used by black dogs. Even if, like the Dimilioc wolves, the black dogs revere the Pure, it still irked me because although Natividad was powerful, by aligning herself with the Dimilioc wolves she lost a lot of autonomy. To be fair, so did her black dog brother, but that was portrayed differently (he willingly aligned with them to protect his siblings, she didn't have much of a choice).

On that note, when Natividad and brothers arrive at Dimilioc, it's basically accepted that she will have to pair off with one of the black dogs. Because she's only fifteen, she doesn't have to choose a mate until she's sixteen (and then that mate will have to constantly defend his position from the other black dogs, even though she chose him). Almost immediately, Ezekiel stakes a claim in Natividad and basically threatens to kill any other (male) black dog that tries to win her over. So I thought that was pretty uncool. It also squicked me out that Natividad a) liked him and b) kept being glad that there was an eligible black dog close to her age. Point b, in particular, I didn't like because as far as I gathered Ezekiel is twenty-one (or maybe twenty) which, at fifteen, is not such a small gap. Also, aside from being badarse but nice and not as creepy as he could have been, I wasn't sure what his appeal was supposed to be.

The bad guy was adequately evil and I liked how the recent history that was scattered throughout the story — involving a war between werewolves and vampires — was tangentially relevant to the action portion of the plot. As I've already said, this book had top worldbuilding.

I would recommend Black Dog to readers who want to see interesting werewolves and particularly to anyone looking for cultural diversity in their lead characters. For all that I've discussed some of its faults above, none of them were deal breakers for me and the book's strong points carried it through. I'm actually very torn about the star rating since the writing and worldbuilding put it very close to being a "four" book. Nevertheless...

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: February 2014, Strange Chemistry
Series: I don't think so? It felt very self-contained.
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Monday, 17 March 2014

Supurbia Volume 4 by Grace Randolph

To say this is a review of Supurbia Volume 4 is not entirely accurate. As I write this, Volume 4 has not been released yet and, according to Goodreads, won't be until August or possibly July. What this is a review of, is the four issues that will make up Volume 4. They're also the last four issues of the complete story arc, with an epilogue and everything. I have previously reviewed Volumes 1, 2 and 3.

In this (set of) installment(s), we learn some more uncomfortable truths about Hella's past and her present, particularly with Sovereign. The tensions between Night Fox and Agent Twilight were resolved somewhat dramatically and if there wasn't so much other stuff going on, I would have liked to have seen more of that. There's a lot of action in this last set of issues as the climax builds on, well, everything that's come before it.

Just as Supurbia is an unconventional superhero story, so does the resolution of this story arc follow an unconventional path. Honestly, I'm not sure I can say much without spoilers. I will say, however, that everything is tied up nicely; there's even an epilogue section set some time after the main action. There are also some unanswered questions left as a hook for (hopefully) more issues in the future.

Overall, Supurbia was a very enjoyable read. As I've said my my reviews of the earlier instalments, I highly recommend Supurbia to fans of superhero comics, especially the more unconventional ones, and anyone who enjoys narratives which buck the status quo. I think it's a good place to start for people unfamiliar with comics but with any passing familiarity with — for example — superhero movies. I think we've all absorbed the tropes through cultural osmosis, even if we're not hardcore fans.

4. 5 / 5 stars

First published: August 2014? BOOM! Studios (Individual issues published 2013)
Series: Yes. Supurbia Ongoing issues #9–12 out of 12 so far (where #12 ties off a complete story)
Format read: eComic on iPad
Source: Purchased (as individual issues) from ComiXology

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Tsana's March Status

The past month has been much more productive than the previous, in terms of reading and reviewing. Yay. External things also happened, like the Aurealis Awards Shortlists were Announced. I also talked about possible Ditmar and Hugo nominations since the nomination periods for both opened (and I was feeling motivated). Also, I interviewed Dani Kristoff.

What have I read?

What am I currently reading?

I just finished reading Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier — review coming in a few days —and I've just started Peacemaker by Marianne de Pierres. I haven't read very much, but I'm already enjoying it a lot.

New Booksies!

A mix of review copies and purchases this time. Assume review copy unless I mention buying it.

  • Carrier by Vanessa Garden — already reviewed
  • Peacemaker by Marianne de Pierres — looking forward to reading this Aussie SF. I'll also be running an interview with Marianne in April
  • Rupetta by NA Sulway — purchased because it won the Tiptree and was shortlisted for an Aurealis and also sounds awesome and I wouldn't've heard of it if not for the first two points.
  • All of Supurbia, purchased. See review links above. I'm not going to include cover art of all the issues below because there are just too many.
  • Bespelled by Dani Kristoff — already reviewed
  • The Wizard's Promise by Cassandra Rose Clarke — set in the same world as The Assassin's Curse and The Pirate's Wish, but I think it's about the daughter of the main characters in the earlier books.
  • Feather Bound by Sarah Raughley — new YA from Strange Chemistry because apparently I'm reading pretty much everything they put out.
  • Adaptation by Malinda Lo — I've wanted to read this for ages, but have resisted buying the US edition of the paper book. Now it's finally going to come out in the Commonwealth (well, UK/ANZ at least)! Really looking forward to getting to this.
  • The Unintentional Time Traveller by Everett Maroon — I saw an interview with the author and was immediately intrigued by the premise: boy with epilepsy time travels into past girl's body. And then it was only $3 as an ebook so how could I resist? (oh my goodness I thought I couldn't spell because when I was searching this on iBooks it didn't come up but turns out Yanks don't spell traveller correctly)
  • Allegiant by Veronica Roth — third in the Divergent trilogy. I won this book from Dark Matter Zine a little while ago (yay!) and it just reached me with some other things from Australia (in my defence, I was in Australia when I entered). Anyway, I've been spoiled for part of the ending for this, and that was one of the things that made me want to bother reading it after the disappointment of book 2.


Thursday, 13 March 2014

Metastasis edited by Rhonda Parrish

Metastasis is an anthology of cancer-related stories edited by Rhonda Parrish. As you can probably see from the cover, it's a charity anthology with 62.5% of the proceeds benefiting cancer research. Although it's not entirely a speculative fiction anthology (something which surprised me a little when I first started reading since it's mainly stories near the start which are "genre-less"), it is heavily biased in that direction. Big names included are Jay Lake (who opens and closes the anthology) and Kevin J Anderson. Most of the authors are new-to-me, but that's probably because most of the short fiction I've been reading of late has been heavily biased towards Australians.

As per usual, I've made short comments on each individual story (not so much the poems which intersperse them). See below.

I have to admit, I wasn't that big a fan of the way Parrish arranged the stories within the anthology. Similar stories were more likely to be next to each other than spread out. This made me compare some stories unfavourably to the similar ones that preceded them more so than if they'd been spaced out. It also introduced a feeling of sameness when the same themes or ideas were explored sequentially. On the other hand, I did like how the poems were spaced out. They alternated with some stories near the start, then the middle was just stories and then alternating poems came back towards the end. I think that worked nicely.

My favourite stories were "Quantum Therapy" by David Sklar, "Tide Pools" by Kevin J Anderson, "Next Placement" by Stephen Lickman — which also had a nice LGBT element — and "Arpeggio" by Gabrielle Harbowy. The first three are distinctly science fictional, which I think is why they appealed. "Arpeggio" is, as the title suggests, music-themed and the only story in the collection set significantly in the past. I liked it because it was about overcoming adversity post life-changing cancer, rather than during, which made it stand out. So did the music.

What I felt a bit leery of were the stories with cancer bestowing magical powers and/or cancer is an alien. Maybe people with cancer or who've had people close to them suffer from it (the latter strikes me as most likely). I haven't been strongly affected by cancer in my life, but as a sufferer of a chronic illness, I don't like being told that my disease gives me superpowers when in reality it makes my life harder. It's like telling blind people they have super hearing (like Daredevil). It rubs me the wrong way. But then cancer isn't quite the same as a chronic illness or a disability — although it can lead to one — so maybe others feel differently.

Anyway, if you want to read a lot of different takes on cancer narratives, then this is definitely the anthology for you. You should probably be aware, going in, that many of the stories aren't cheery, although several are hopeful or have the character coming to terms with their situation. Speculative fiction fans wanting to see a speculative treatment of cancer stories should also check this out. Because, let's face it, I can't think of (m)any cancer-centric stories that aren't straight contemporary fiction. (Although, remember, not all the stories are speculative.)

  • The Cancer Catechism – Jay Lake: Not speculative fiction and not so much a story as a fairly vivid description of what cancer and its associated rigamarole of treatment feels like to go through. For those that skip the author bios, it should be noted that Lake has experienced these things (and continues to do so).
  • Cancer: A Fairy Tale – Marge Simon: A poem, short and bittersweet.
  • Oil and Water – Michael Kellar: An interesting idea that, for me fell down a bit in the execution. The whole story is told in dialogue which feels a bit stilted. the cancer aspect is both tacked onto the end and the reason for the conversation. I think the concept could have made a better story explored in prose and possibly at a different point in time.
  • The Light Box – Barbara Daniels: Poem, liked it.
  • Time is the School in Which We Learn, Time is the Fire in Which We Burn – Candas Jane Dorsey: Quite poetically written but in dire need of better editing. A lot of typos and missing words. A good, philosophical story despite that. It has aspects of stream-of-consciousness, which I usually dislike, but it works here. Ultimately, I interpreted it as being about psychological battle. Also, I like the title.
  • Hunter – Beth Cato: Poem. Quite liked it.
  • Quantum Therapy – David Sklar: The first science fictional story. Details of future tech and climate (eg flooded New York) are sprinkled throughout. It’s also set in a future where most cancers have treatments but the main character has a particularly unusual one requiring a particularly unusual treatment. The author gets around some aspects of future society by making the main character a 20th Century fan, but I didn’t find that to be overly contrived. One of my favourite stories.
  • Alchemical Warfare – Sandi Leibowitz: Magic and dragons in the battle against cancer. Can’t say much more without spoilers. Ultimately not sure how I felt about the resolution of this one.
  • The Gypsy Cure – Bill Ratner: A sort of magic “Fantastic Voyage” story. Well written and I liked it.
  • Tide Pools – Kevin J Anderson: Not about cancer per se, but about a disease so rare it's not profitable to find a cure. Also about travel to parallel universes. An enjoyable read.
  • Next Placement – Stephen Lickman: An interplanetary soldier gets cancer from a radiation leak in transit. The steps she takes to try to fix it in the middle of an alien war zone lead to something unexpected. Good story, I liked it.
  • The Cure – Scott Lee Williams: An odd story, but not a bad one. Something unexpected happens when a man decides to stop chemo.
  • Painter X – Joely Black: Another alien-as-cancer (sort of) story. Honestly, I'm surprised at how popular this theme is. A pretty good read, although I can't decide if it was a happy or sad ending.
  • A Murder of Crows – Rie Sheridan Rose: Poem.
  • The Lady in the Doorway – T. Fox Dunham: Ghosts in the cancer ward. Not technically bad, but not one of my favourites. The reveal was pretty obvious once ghosts were mentioned.
  • The Dead Rise for Me – Morgen Knight: Another story with cancer bestowing magic powers. Not sure how I feel about that theme. This one didn't really do it for me.
  • A Brief Description of the Five Stages of Puppet Cancer – Dr. David McLain, EBS, DDF: I was expecting this story to be particularly depressing, from the title. Perhaps featuring a dying child. Instead it's a humorous description of a fictional cancer that turns people into puppets. Meh.
  • Cancer Maximized – Mary Ellen Maynard: a strange future in which cancer patients are celebrities; the more cancers they've had the better. It was a perplexing setting, but not a bad read. Wouldn't've minded reading more (or a longer story) in the world.
  • Hold that Blade – Beth Cato: Poem. Kind of pairs with her earlier poem (see above).
  • Missing – BD Wilson: Not really about cancer, although the main character is suffering from it. It's more about missing runaway children and the character's personal mission.
  • A Hunter Reflects Upon the Properties of Sunlight and Also of Ashes – Sara Cleto: Poem.
  • Unchanged – Michael S Pack: Honestly I thought this story was too short to do its central idea justice. There is a new cancer cure but it has some unpleasant side-effects quite different to anything in the present. I would have liked to read more about it.
  • Sylvia and the Gynandromorph Sea – Brenda Stokes Barron: a more literary story about butterflies. And cancer, of course.
  • Arpeggio – Gabrielle Harbowy: A good story.  I think it's the only one eat in the past, too. A harpist who lost her arm to cancer, loses herself in dreams of playing two-handed again. I think it worked quite well as a story.
  • Folklore of Lunenburg Country – Robert Dawson: Folklore and a search for a miracle cure. Not a bad yarn.
  • Like Sunlit Honey – Cat Jenkins: A flash piece. Nicely written and not overlay morbid for all that it isn't a cheery story. A good ending to the anthology.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: October 2013, Wolfsinger Publications
Series: No.
Format read: ePub
Source: Review copy courtesy of the editor

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Interview with Dani Kristoff

Today I have an interview with Dani Kristoff, author of Bespelled, a paranormal romance novella, which I recently reviewed. Do click through to the review if you haven't already. It's easily the best paranormal romance I've read recently.

I'm curious, did you conceive of the story in Bespelled first as a fantasy concept, as a romance concept or was it always going to be both from the start?

Bespelled was conceived as a paranormal romance from the start. It was kind of weird but I got the idea in one go and started writing the outline. I’d been at the Romance Writers of Australia conference on the Gold Coast and started  writing the outline on the way home, on the train, the airport lounge, the plane and when I got home, I had a 3000 word outline. It was one of the first stories I ever wrote an outline for. The idea came in one complete story so I had to capture it so I wouldn’t forget. The final story is pretty close to the original, only better.

I got the impression from Bespelled that there was a bigger world than we had got to see just in that story. Will there be more set in that world?

Yes, definitely a bigger world. I’d like to take my time exploring it. At the moment it’s a keyhole view of the world from those who exist along the periphery. I’ve drafted a prequel to Bespelled called Spirtbound, which is currently on submission with the editor. That’s Grace and Declan’s story.  I have a sequel planned, which is slightly darker, I think. As I write the stories more characters and ideas come up. However, I think they’ll be definitely light and sexy paranormal romance.

You've also had work published as Donna Maree Hanson, such as Rayessa and the Space Pirates. What's the difference in the type of stories we can expect from the two names? (If I had to guess, I'd say adult content?)

Rayessa and the Space Pirates was published under my own name. It’s a SF love story, space adventure that has no sex in it, placing it pretty much in the young adult territory as well as adult. Other YA, fantasy and SF novels I have looking for a home will probably come out under that name. Dani K is definitely for the more adult content, paranormal romance and straight romance. Actually I have another series starting under Dani K with a new publisher, which is darker and sexier and coming out later in the year. Dani K has more work than Donna at the moment.

What's your usual writing set-up?

Mmm, do you mean do I write every day? That sort of thing? Well at the moment I’d have to say no. I’ve been on holidays for two months and recently started back at work (I did a bit during the holiday, including two weeks at a retreat). That transition has been very draining  so I’ve done some minuscule amounts of revision. Currently I’m having a mini writing retreat which forces me to be productive and sit down and write. I finished a revision yesterday and I’m about to start on a blank page with something new. However, I have other things I should be revising. I finished a Masters in Creative Writing last year and I don’t know how I did it given I’m so tired in the evenings now. Then again, I’ve shifted to a new house too and that provides new distractions. Then there’s DVDs and books. Terrible things! They keep me from my main game. The other thing that has changed for me is that I’m working full time so I no longer have a writing day off. I’ll see how that goes for now and I may revert back. Unfortunately the money is good and having a new home means there’s lots to spend it on.

What are you working on now/next? Most of what we've seen so far has been on the shorter side, are there any novels in the works?

 I have longer works looking for homes-fantasy mostly. I like the shorter length books, although I have a bad habit of jamming lots of plot into them regardless of the length. I like the buzz you get from writing shorter length books, that roller coaster ride. I have a couple of novels at the 80,000 to 90,000 word length and some that length in progress. The taste these days seems to be for shorter works, maybe that’s ebooks, maybe that’s cost, I’m not sure. I cut back a 173,000 word dark dystopian fantasy to 130,000 so I could submit it. As a result it’s rather fast paced now and has less enjoying the view in the narrative.

Currently, I’m working on another story in Bespelled’s world, but I also have other works in progress in the YA side of things and a few things on the to do list this year. My dream novel project would be a Scottish historical romance and a Regency romance. At present though these are dreams as I’m thoroughly caught up in fantasy worlds with witches, warlocks and other mysterious folk at the moment.

Thanks, Dani, for taking the time to answer my questions!


You can pick up a copy of Bespelled from your favourite ebook store. You can also check out Dani's website, Twitter or Facebook page.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Bespelled by Dani Kristoff

Bespelled by Dani Kristoff is a paranormal romance novella by an author who has had less racy books/stories published under the name Donna Maree Hanson, including Rayessa and the Space Pirates, which I reviewed last year.
Elena Denholm is a mild-mannered half witch. As a favour to her cousin, she agrees to meet with top Sydney lawyer, Jake Royston, to negotiate a property deal. Sparks fly immediately, but before they can even take a sip of wine, let alone explore where the sizzle might go, Jake is hit by a love spell and is helpless against his feelings for Elena.

Jake may be at her mercy, but Elena is keeping her hands off — exploiting humans is a no-no. But Jake’s good looks and powers of persuasion are breaking down her resolve, and Elena knows she must do something fast.

Desperate to set things right before her resolve crumbles, Elena begins a frantic search to find the witch or warlock who hexed Jake and return him to his right mind, even if it means breaking her own heart...
I have to admit, my eyes skipped passed this cover entirely the first time I saw it because it looks like a straight Romance and the title doesn't suggest paranormal that strongy (although yes, it's implied, especially in retrospect, but it's not like "witch" is in the name). And, thinking about it, those models look nothing like the characters, especially the guy who spends a lot of time in a suit in the book. If you're curious, I don't have much interest in reading straight Romance, because I prefer to have some spec fic elements to add something extra to the plot. Bespelled does this admirably. Although the romantic element comes in at full throttle fairly early in the book, it does so for magical reasons (a malicious love spell) which remain central to the plot throughout.

I liked Elena, the main character. I found her relationships with people in her life, particularly her family, to be believable. She was abandoned by her mother and spent the first thirteen years of her life raised by humans, until her aunt found her. Then, as a half-witch, she doesn't fully immerse herself in coven life. She has a pro-human activist streak in her, but it wasn't exaggerated or very prominent to the story, which I liked. It adds to the layers of her character. Jake was a bit less developed, mainly because he spent a large portion of the book under a love spell and hence out of his mind. But he does end up having some unexpected development. I won't say more because spoilers.

There are a lot of steamy scenes in Bespelled and I found them quite well-written. Sometimes the language in detailed sex scenes can be unintentionally comical — ruining the moment — but I didn't find that to be the case in Bespelled. I was generally impressed with the book overall. I would recommend Bespelled to all fans of paranormal romance, especially those that enjoy some coherent plot between the sex scenes.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: February 2014, Escape Publishing
Series: Not yet?
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Friday, 7 March 2014

Supurbia Vol 3 by Grace Randolph

With Supurbia Vol 3 by Grace Randolph I'm almost up to date with the series and, as I just discovered, three quarters of the way through the current storyline. I've also reviewed Volumes 1 and 2 previously. And, as you may have noticed, I'm alternating reading volumes of Supurbia with novels. Also, technically, I'm not reading these as collected volumes, but as individual issues. It's easier to review them as volumes, however. Probably some minor spoilers below. Blurb for issue #5 because the volume's blurb as listed on Goodreads is absolute rubbish.
Dion and Jeremy take Eli and Zari on a vacation as Tia attempts to rescue Batu from Mongolia, her first superhero excursion after coming out of retirement...Hector’s dark magic slowly begins to take hold of Sara as her burgeoning friendship with Hella takes her down a dark path...Eve joins Robbie as he heads to the annual Superhero & Weapons Expo, but will Ruth’s devious plan throw a wrench into the works? The superhero soap continues, only in SUPURBIA!
What I liked in this issue was the shift in dynamic between Batu and her husband. From Amazonian-style warrior-goddess and feeble human man, they shifted towards woman and man a little bit, after Batu was rescued. It was a brief exchange on the page, but I found it moving and very sad.

The other sad part, I found was Eve — the newest character to the superhero extended family — trying to bond with her husband Robbie at the superhero/weapon/tech stuff expo. Things don't go as she was expecting and I found it a bit distressing on her behalf.

Other than that, there's a lot of action and danger as we've come to expect. Supurbia continues to be a great read that I would recommend to all fans of the superhero genre (be it in comic book form or not). I definitely recommend starting at the start for context. It's not as though it's a long series (yet).

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2013
Series: Yes. Supurbia Ongoing, issues #5–8 out of 12 issues. Alternatively, collected volume 3 of 4. So far.
Format read: e-Comic
Source: Purchased from ComiXology

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Under Nameless Stars by Christian Schoon

Under Nameless Stars by Christian Schoon is the sequel to Zenn Scarlett and continues that story immediately where it left off. As such, I definitely do not recommend reading Under Nameless Stars without reading Zenn Scarlett first. This review will also contain spoilers for the first book, as the set-up is crucial to understanding the context (the blurb also spoils the ending of the first book). I'll also have a review with Christian Schoon at the end of the month, so keep an eye out for that.
Zenn Scarlett’s novice year of exoveterinarian training on Mars isn’t quite going to plan…

After barely surviving a plot to destroy her school and its menagerie of alien patients, could things at the Ciscan cloister get any worse? Yes. Yes they could: Zenn’s absent father Warra Scarlett has suddenly ceased all communication with her. Desperate to learn what’s become of him, Zenn stows away aboard the Helen of Troy, a starliner powered by one of the immense, dimension-jumping beasts known as Indra.

With her is Liam Tucker, a towner boy who is either very fond of her, very dangerous to her, or both. On the verge of learning the truth about her dad, Zenn’s quest suddenly catapults her and Liam thousands of light years beyond known space, and into the dark heart of a monstrous conspiracy. Braving a gauntlet of lethal environments and unearthly life forms, her courage and exovet skills will now be tested as never before.

With the fate of entire worlds hanging in the balance, Zenn is racing headlong into trouble… again.
I enjoyed Zenn Scarlett as I was reading it (apart from some minor weird physics) but it didn't stand up all that well to retrospective contemplation and discussion. The redneck Martian farmers, particularly, continued to bother me. Happily, Under Nameless Stars isn't set on Mars at all, so the closest thing to a redneck is Liam, Zenn's sort-of love interest. I say sort of, because they spend most of the story apart and the ending very much emphasises that there are more important things to teenage girls than finding and settling down with a boy. That made me very happy.

Back to the setting, though. Picking up right where the first book left off, Zenn and Liam find themselves in a container on an interstellar spaceship. Most of the book, then, is set in space on ships among a variety of sentient alien species, a few humans and some alien animals (for Zenn, exo-vetinarian to heal, of course). My favourite character in Under Nameless Stars was Jules, a dolphin (yes, from Earth) who spends most of his time in a "walksuit", which is basically what it sounds like. I was actually a bit sceptical of him at first, until it was revealed that he was only 18 — calibrated in Earth/human years, as far as I could tell — and hence allowed to be a bit of an idiot. I say that in the nicest possible way, however. He's very into mystery and adventure novels and frequently orients his expectations based on popular tropes. It comes across as so ridiculous as to be funny, which is part of what made me like the character. The only thing that could have improved him further, in my opinion, is a more in-depth exploration of the walksuit as a "blending in with other sentient life-forms" aid and more time spent dealing with swimming vs walking.

Ultimately, I would characterise Under Nameless Stars as an action-packed space adventure story. It doesn't take itself too seriously and Zenn gets into strife very frequently. It was an engaging read and, unlike some books, I found myself not bothered by the physics of it all, mostly because all the physics — including the quantum tunnelling space horses — was pretty hand-wave-y and not specific enough to be problematic.

That said, I wouldn't recommend it to readers after a hard science fiction novel. It's probably closer to space opera, although I admit I'm a little hazy on that definition. I recommend it to anyone looking for a fun space adventure and, of course, to anyone who enjoyed the first book. As I said at the start, I definitely wouldn't recommend reading Under Nameless Stars without reading Zenn Scarlett first. And don't forget to keep an eye out for my interview with the author in a few weeks!

4 / 5 stars

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

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Ditmar and Hugo nominations

I decided that this was the weekend to get my Ditmar and Hugo nominations in order. And then I (mostly) did.


Starting with the Australian stuff, I basically nominated the eligible novels I gave five stars to that were eligible (having a spreadsheet of all the books I read with ratings and author countries comes in super useful).

I also want to mention two YA novels I was surprised not to see on the Aurealis short list (I suspect because of a large quantity of good books). Links to my reviews:

And two excellent collections:

And three short/long stories (I've noted the category) that particularly stand out to me, a while after having read them. Coincidentally, all of them come from One Small Step.
  • "Always Greener", Michelle Marquardt, in One Small Step, FableCroft Publishing. (novella/novelette)
  • "The Ships of Culwinna", Thoraiya Dyer, in One Small Step, FableCroft Publishing.  (short)
  • "Firefly Epilogue", Jodi Cleghorn, in One Small Step, FableCroft Publishing (short)

And I reckon it would be great to see Jo Spurrier, author of Black Sun Light My Way (sequel to her Winter Be My Shield) shortlisted for Best New Talent, especially since this is her second and final year of eligibility.

Also, if you feel so inclined, you might consider nominating me for Best Fan Writer.


For the Hugos, I had some similar thoughts but with some international additions that I also gave five stars to.

I'm also nominating Supurbia for graphic work, since I'm really enjoying that. And Galactic Suburbia (which sounds sort of similar) for fancast.

For Dramatic Presentation Long Form (aka movies), I enjoyed Frozen a lot, and Hunger Games: Catching Fire was good. I also enjoyed City of Bones and Star Trek Into Darkness. I kind of fizzled out on Short Form after Neil Gaiman's Doctor Who episode, though, since I don't want to spend too much time contemplating Doctor Who right now. Also the final episode of Futurama, Meanwhile, was very good.

Oh and the Five(ish) Doctors Reboot was the best. I'm putting it under best related work, because I think that's where it belongs. (Feel free to correct me, there's still time to change.)

There are definitely some gaps in my ballot, especially for the non-novel categories, so any reminders of stuff I (may have) read/seen/consumed are appreciated in the comments!