Thursday, 1 January 2015

Reading Aussie Science Fiction in 2014

For the second year running, I've kept track of the Australian (authored) science fiction books I read. In 2013 I aimed to read at least ten books and managed fourteen. For 2014 I also aimed for at least ten and got to fifteen, so yay for slightly more books!

My Aussie SF reading this past year has also been a little more diverse than in 2013, with a wider variety of authors represented. Yay again. I'm going to continue keeping track of Aussie SF read in 2015 and again I'll aim to read at least ten books. Why change a good thing? The only caveat I'll add is that I'd like to read at least three new-to-me authors. I already have two in mind and we'll see what life brings for the third one.

So here is my list of the fifteen Australian-authored science fiction books I read in 2014:

Jump by Sean Williams (review)
The main strength of Jump is the worldbuilding. It doesn't come as a surprise, since Williams has written many a hard science fiction novel in the past, but the worldbuilding is rigorous and well thought-out. For example, in a post-scarcity society, why isn't overpopulation a problem? Well, it's not directly addressed but the Water Wars, fought over rising sea levels a generation ago, would contribute to a lowered present population. The rules governing d-mat are explained in a clear (albeit mostly metaphoric) manner so that it's easy to follow the parts of the plot which hinge upon them. It makes for an engaging story which doesn't get bogged down in technical details.
Rare Unsigned Copy by Simon Petrie (review)
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.
Carrier by Vanessa Garden (review)
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).
Peacemaker by Marianne de Pierres (review)
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.
Dead Americans and Other Stories by Ben Peek (review)
"Possession" shows us a glimpse into a desolate future and a look at a particular subterranean botanist's life. The future combines some sort of (post-) apocalyptic event and cyborgs as longevity-proofed humans (sort of). Really interesting once it got going.
Use Only As Directed edited by Simon Petrie and Edwina Harvey (review)
Although not all of the stories were necessarily cheery, I found the anthology relatively up-beat on the whole. There is a wide variety of stories contained within; every story sticks to the theme, but there are a lot of very different interpretations. I appreciate the lack of homogeneity and the novelty of getting something completely different each time I picked up the anthology.
Angel Rising by Dirk Flinthart (review)
I enjoyed Angel Rising and, although it was short, it was a pleasant way to pass an otherwise boring (and, frankly, chilly) train ride. It showed me a very different corner of the New Ceres world to the Cat Sparks story and I am curious to see what other authors have done with it.
Langue[dot]doc 1305 by Gillian Polack (review)
 The characters are not at all what I expected. Artemisia, the only historian on the mission, is positioned very much as the main character, even as she is isolated from the rest of the expedition due to a clash of personalities and (research) culture. The scientists, quite frankly, often acted very pettily and put me in mind of the public servants in Ms Cellophane. I felt like I should be on the side of the scientists (because I am one) but they were mostly such annoying people that I was very much on Artemisia's side throughout.
The Ark by Annabel Smith (review)
The Ark tells the story of the community living in a sealed seed vault. The why and how their community became sealed is most central to the story, while other personal relationships and the story of the unrest outside the vault are part of the background tapestry. I quite liked the way in which the external unrest was conveyed. Most of it came across in a series of emails between a couple in the vault and the wife's sister on the outside. We got glimpses but never a full picture, which gave us enough information to draw our own conclusions and make assumptions about the conditions outside.
Loving the Prince by Nicole Murphy (review)
Generally I found Loving the Prince to be an enjoyable read and I would absolutely recommend it to any speculative fiction romance fans. It kept me entertained throughout and I am interested in reading the sequel (although I'm also a bit sad it will probably star other characters).
This Shattered World by Amie Kaufmann and Meagan Spooner (review)
Overall I highly recommend this series. If you haven't read These Broken Stars then there's no reason that you can't read This Shattered World first. The reading experience would be better starting from the start since the over arching storyline plays out in that order, but I think the books will stand alone reasonably well. I really like with the authors are doing with this series and with their brand of YA SF in general. I'm very much looking forward to seeing what they do next, starting with book three.
Difficult Second Album. by Simon Petrie (review)
I came to a realisation while I was reading this book: Simon Petrie is my favourite (and hence best) living science fiction short story writer. Those stories which are science fiction (not quite all of them) deftly weave accurate science into their tapestries. Of course accurate science shouldn't come as a surprise from someone whose day job is computational quantum chemistry, but I still found it enjoyable enough as to be notable. (And let's face it, how much scientific accuracy is there in the combined science fictional oeuvre? Not enough.)
Clockwork Gold by Jenny Schwartz (review)
Clockwork Gold was a quick fun read. I recommend it to fans of steampunk and romance. In particular, I would definitely recommend it to readers who enjoyed Schwartz's other books. This might not have been my favourite steampunk read ever, but I will be checking out her other new steampunk novella.
Horizon by Keith Stevenson (review)
I had no specific expectations for this novel and ended up enjoying it quite a bit. Honestly my least favourite part was the opening because of all the vomiting (I am a touch emetophobic) but after that was done with it was smooth sailing. I quite liked the mystery aspect that was established right from the start. The crew (mainly seen from Commander Cait's point of view) wake up from deepsleep to find one of their number dead and something difficult to ascertain wrong with the computer. It takes most of the book to work out what happened and why. They also receive confusing communications from Earth which don't make anything much clearer.
Permutation City by Greg Egan (review)
My favourite sections, all the way through, turned out to be the bits from Maria's point of view. Superficially these sounded like they should be the most boring: a thought experiment featuring the molecular biochemistry of imaginary compounds does not seem like it should be interesting. But it really was. From an intellectual point of view I found those sections engaging and the idea of the Autoverse (the simulated universe) fascinating. I could very much relate to Maria's compulsive toying with it. 

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