Monday, 27 June 2016

Lois Lane: Double Down by Gwenda Bond

Lois Lane: Double Down by Gwenda Bond is the second novel about a teenage Lois Lane set in a near future world. I have previously read and reviewed the first novel, Fallout.

Lois Lane has settled in to her new school. She has friends, for maybe the first time in her life. She has a job that challenges her. And her friendship is growing with SmallvilleGuy, her online maybe-more-than-a-friend. But when her friend Maddy’s twin collapses in a part of town she never should’ve been in, Lois finds herself embroiled in a dangerous mystery that brings her closer to the dirty underbelly of Metropolis.

Like the first Lois Lane book, this one also features weird science fictional phenomena, teenaged reporters and teenaged Superman on the other end of an online chat. It also still has a lot of story elements in common with Veronica Mars (the TV show), which isn't a bad thing.

In this story, we see Lois trying very hard to maintain her friendship with Maddy — not because anything exactly goes wrong, but more because she's terrified of stuffing it up. The friendships that were established in the first book are developed further in this one, including Lois's non-school relationships, like with her sister and SmallvilleGuy. This is all set against the backdrop of trying to solve some weird stuff that's been going on with Maddy's twin sister, who we only met briefly in the previous book.

The most enticing aspect of this book, for me, was the background developments relating to superheroes. For example, speculation about a "flying man" intensifies on the conspiracy theory messageboards Lois frequents. While we, the reader, know about Superman and much more of SmallvilleGuy's backstory than Lois does, the story never mentions anything that would be outside Lois's knowledge. This is a really interesting method of storytelling and only works because the audience is guaranteed to make the additional links. And I say this as someone not especially invested in DC comics, who hasn't read any pertaining to these characters and has only been exposed to a bit of TV (mainly Supergirl, which has done a similar thing with Superman's character so far, and The New Adventures of Lois and Clarke, whenever that aired on Australian TV a loooong time ago). You don't have to be an expert on the Superman mythos to enjoy this book.

That said, I do know enough to know that the setting of these Lois Lane books is different to that of other renditions of the same characters. I would really like to see more of this universe. Both because I want more Lois stories, and because I am interested in how the future will play out given the higher technological level of the present. How does Superman growing up with smartphones change things? How will Lois and Clarke eventually work at the Daily Planet together in a world of dying print journalism? How will keeping in touch online from their teens affect their adult relationship? Aside from the key issue of being Superman, there's a lot of honesty between then, and I can't imagine Clarke coming to work at the Daily Planet without SmallvillGuy revealing that part of his identity to Lois (which would then make her even more suspicious...). What about facial recognition (because, wow, that's a problem I have with Supergirl and her "disguise" too...)? These are all questions I would love to see at least partially answered in future books.

I really enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it to fans of Lois Lane (duh) and Veronica Mars. Any magical superhero elements are really minor, if that's not your sort of thing, and the near future technology is much more prominent. You don't have to have read the first book for this one to work, but I do recommend doing so, if only for the progression of Lois's friendships and so forth.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: May 2016, Switch Press
Series: Lois Lane book 2 of 2 (so far, but fingers crossed for more to come)
Format read: Hardcover
Source: Purchased at Minotaur

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Formaldehyde by Jane Rawson

Formaldehyde by Jane Rawson is a weird book. I picked it up at Continuum because I've heard lots of good things about the author and because I was unlikely to see it in paperback form again any time soon. I have A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists in my TBR but haven't gotten around to it, so this was my first experience of Rawson's work.

Lives are turned upside down by a bureaucratic error in this Kafkaesque work of neo-absurdism.

This was, as I have already said, a weird book. I have to admit, I was expecting more speculative fiction than I got, but there wasn't zero. The story follows four people, two each twenty-two years apart, and some of the ways in which their lives intersect. There's Paul, whom one could call the main character, although the story doesn't really revolve around him. Paul's story starts when he finds himself declared dead although he clearly isn't (actually, this confused me for a little and had me thinking he might be a ghost or something), and leads him to embark upon trying to get the paperwork fixed so that he can exist again.

Along the way, he meets a girl called Benjamin and has a brief fling with her. The other two characters, whose stories are mostly told twenty-two years earlier, are Paul's parents, Derek and Amy. The two women have the most speculative elements in their stories, surrounding Amy's pregnancy and Benjamin's age, but I probably shouldn't say more than that. The book masterfully ties the lives of four people together in unexpected ways.

Although this is not quite the kind of book I would normally read, I enjoyed it. I am definitely interested in reading more of the author's work, although I imagine I will lean more towards more speculative stories than this one. Meanwhile, I recommend Formaldehyde to fans of absurdist or Kafkaesque stories.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2015, Seizure
Series: No.
Format read: Paperback!
Source: Purchased at Continuum from Slow Glass Books

Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Monday, 20 June 2016

Silk Vol 1: Sinister by Robbie Thompson

Silk Vol 1: Sinister written by Robbie Thompson and illustrated by Stacey Lee, Tana Ford and Veronica Fish is the first collected volume of Silk comics after Secret Wars. It also follows on directly from the pre-Secret Wars Vol 0: The Life and Times of Cindy Moon.

Silk is back and badder than ever! Cindy Moon -- the other victim of the radioactive spider that bit Peter Parker -- has been working to find the missing members of her family since she escaped the bunker that was her home for so many years. But Silk's quest has taken her down a darker path than expected, and now she's in cahoots with the most ferocious feline in the Marvel Universe: the Black Cat! But not everyone in the Cat's criminal crew is happy about the arrangement. Nor is a certain friendly neighborhood CEO of Parker Industries, and that will bring Cindy into conflict with Spider-Man and the Goblin King! What could have led her to this? Who is Espectro? And will Cindy go so far there's no redeeming the Sinister Silk? 

Silk Vol 0 was one of my favourite Marvel trades. I didn't enjoy this second volume quite as much... But that just means it wasn't my absolute favourite, most exciting new trade of the year. It had a lot to live up to. And quite frankly, Sinister was more than just more of the same. Having already established Silk as a character with a purpose (finding out what happened to her family), this volume has Silk fighting bad guys, in a fairly standard superhero way, and being a double agent, which is less standard. Along the way, Silk encounters and fights a large number of green goblin minions, works for a bad guy and has a few run-ins with Mockingbird and SHIELD.

I am continuing to really enjoy Silk and I will definitely be picking up the next volume. I highly recommend Silk to basically everyone, but I recommend starting with Volume 0 rather than this one. It's not that this is a bad place to start, just that you get even more awesomeness if you start earlier.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2016, Marvel
Series: Silk ongoing series, collecting issues #1–6 from the second 2015 run (2015b), following on from Silk Vol 0
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Purchased from All Star Comics in Melbourne

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Black Widow Vol 3: Last Days by Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto

Black Widow Vol 3: Last Days written by Nathan Edmondson and illustrated by Phil Noto is the final volume of the Black Widow sequence that ended just before Secret Wars. It contains issues #13–20 of the 2014 Black Widow run with no need for random extra issues to bad out the volume (yay). I have previously read and reviewed volumes 1 and 2.

The world has turned against Black Widow. Her web is broken. How will she deal with this? The final path to Chaos is at her feet, but will her own demons keep her from finally taking it? What happened to Isaiah? Can Black Widow still turn to the Avengers, or even to S.H.I.E.L.D.? Natasha wants answers about Chaos and now she has a list of people who have them.

This volume of Black Widow had a lot of flashbacks. On the one hand, they were interesting because we got to learn more about her past, but on the other hand, they didn't necessarily move the main story forward. The main story being the one that the first two volumes were leading up to: Black Widow versus Chaos. Given how much trouble Chaos caused earlier on, especially in the first two volumes, I did feel that the final confrontation with a representative of Chaos was over too quickly and too easily. Not to mention that I wouldn't've minded a bit more explanation of the weird stuff going on with Chaos anyway (but there was a hint that we might be seeing more of that later, I suppose...).

I didn't dislike this volume, but it didn't grab me as much as the earlier ones. I ended up reading over a much longer period of time than I usually do, almost an issue at a time, until I got to the last few. There was also much less of an actual "Last Days" storyline, especially when compared with Ms Marvel's and Silk's corresponding volume and issue. Which isn't a bad thing, and probably makes sense given that Black Widow ended the earliest before Secret Wars, but was a bit of a surprise.

I recommend this volume to fans of Black Widow. I didn't love it — the art is still nice though — but I do intend to keep reading Black Widow in the future (is there a post-Secret Wars version? I'm not actually sure). Last Days does conclude the stories started in the earlier volumes and gives us more back story on the character. And we get to see the cat again. (Superheroes with cats are the best, as we all know.)

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2015
Series: Black Widow (2014) Vol 3 of 3, containing issues #13–20.
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Purchased from some meatspace comic book shop or other

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Radioactive Spider-Gwen Vol 1: Greater Power by Jason Latour

Radioactive Spider-Gwen Vol 1: Greater Power written by Jason Latour and (mostly) illustrated by Robbi Rodriguez is the first volume of post-Secret Wars Spider-Gwen, and follows on from the pre-Secret Wars Vol 0 of (non-radioactive) Spider-Gwen. This new volume contains issues #1–6 and a single complete story arc.

Gwen Stacy is back in the webs and has an all-new, all-different mystery to solve: the reappearance of the Lizard! The Spider-Woman of Earth-65 was convinced that the Lizard died in her arms along with Peter Parker. But a new reptilian rampage leaves her with doubts not only about Peter's life, but his death as well. Troubles begin to mount as the Osborns of Gwen's world make their debut, and she finds herself on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s most wanted list! Perhaps some wise words from a mentor figure could help - how about Jessica Drew, the Spider-Woman of Earth-616? What lessons about power and responsibility will Jess have to share, and what use will they be when Gwen battles the Goblins?

I have to admit, I was a bit sceptical of this volume going in. I liked but didn't love Vol 0 and the blurb for this one made it sound like it would be continuing to centre Peter Parker in what should be Gwen's story. I was pleasantly surprised. Although the spectre of Peter Parker does loom large in this volume, it mostly does so for people other than Gwen. Harry Osborne, and to a lesser extent SHIELD and the police, are the ones who have not moved on from Parker's death. Which doesn't mean they're making life easier for Gwen, since they blame her alter-ego for it.

My favourite thing about this volume was the new info we got on how SHIELD and other superheroes work in this alternate universe. We already knew from Vol 0 that Matt Murdock was not above board, but now we get to learn about Captain America and the director of SHIELD. Minor spoilers to follow...

The BEST THING about Gwen Stacey's universe is that Peggy Carter is the director of SHIELD — with an eye patch and everything! A close second best thing is that Captain America is not Steve Rogers, but a black woman called Sam. How did no one tell me about this before I read it??? The only slight downside about Cap is that Falcon, who is a teenager in this place and time, is still called Sam, which could get confusing. But he has an entertaining role to play too, even if it's less major than Cap's and Peggy's roles.

I also quite liked the plot of this volume. To loosely summarise, it ends with Gwen coming up against  the Green Goblin and doing a much better job of it than any versions of Spidey that I've seen (which is mainly the movie ones and not all of them by any stretch of the imagination). Gwen also finds herself at odds with Cap and elements of SHIELD, a situation that needs to be resolved before she can move on. Oh, and there's a cameo from pregnant Spider-Woman in one of the issues, which was amusing even if the corresponding Spider-Woman trade has yet to be released.

This was a great comic, much more interesting and enjoyable than the first Spider-Gwen trade. If you were feeling meh about the character or creative team after that volume, I recommend giving this trade a go anyway. Obviously, if you're already a fan of Spider-Gwen, why wouldn't you have already read this new volume? Go on! I am looking forward to grabbing the next trade when it becomes available.

5 / 5 stars

First published: May 2016, Marvel
Series: Spider-Gwen on-going series. The first volume of the second run (2015b), containing issues #1–6
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Bought from All Star Comics, Melbourne

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Kid Dark Against The Machine by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Kid Dark Against The Machine by Tansy Rayner Roberts is a novella published by the Book Smugglers, set in the same world as her short story "Cookie Cutter Superhero" which appeared in Kaleidoscope. If you want to be more surprised by the story, it might be better NOT to read the blurb...

Back when he was called something else, Griff knew everything about superheroes, sidekicks and the mysterious machine responsible for creating them. Now, Griff is just an average guy, minding his own business. A volunteer handyman at the Boys Home—his former home—Griff spends his days clearing out gutters and building clubhouses for the orphans at the Home. Nothing heroic or remarkable about that, right?

But all of that changes when one of the Home kids starts having weird dreams about another Machine—an evil version that churns out supervillains. Griff remembers the call of the Machine, and reluctantly decides to help the kid on his mission.

And then they waltz back into Griff's life. Those bloody heroes. Including him—The Dark—one of Australia’s mightiest and longest-running superheroes.

What’s a retired secret superhero sidekick to do?

I don't very often read blurbs before I read things and I suspect this is one of the stories where not reading the blurb first is more fun. Especially if you've already read "Cookie Cutter Superhero" and know you want more. And I think this blurb has a few too many spoilers in it.

Kid Dark Against the Machine is set in an alternate Australia where superheroes exist and, in fact, there is a machine (well, several for different countries) that manufactures superheroes. No one knows where these machines came from, but they did and they seem to be governed by a lot of esoteric rules and a degree of randomness. And what about supervillains, where do they come from?

We learn more about supervillains in this novella, but the question of how the system came about at all still remains. I, for one, am hoping that the author will provide us with some more answers in the form of stories. Or just more stories, that would also do.

I highly recommend Kid Dark Against the Machine to fans of superheroes, light-hearted fantasy and Tansy Rayner Roberts. Obviously, if you enjoyed "Cookie Cutter Superhero", then this story is for you. It features a different main character, but Solar and the other superheroes do make an appearance. I am eagerly awaiting more stories set in this world.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2016, the BookSmugglers
Series: Same world as the Kaleidoscope short story "Cookie Cutter Superhero"
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from the Book Smugglers
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Sunday, 12 June 2016

How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea by Mira Grant

How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea by Mira Grant is another novella set in the Newsflesh universe. It is set well and truely after the trilogy and, since it features a major secondary character, I definitely do not recommend reading it if you haven't read the whole trilogy, unless you really like spoilers (although I suspect the spoilers won't make much sense if you haven't read the series, so there's also that). Here is my review of Feed, the first book in the Newsflesh trilogy.

Post-Rising Australia can be a dangerous place, especially if you're a member of the government-sponsored Australia Conservation Corps, a group of people dedicated to preserving their continent's natural wealth until a cure can be found. Between the zombie kangaroos at the fences and the zombie elephant seals turning the penguin rookery at Prince Phillip Island into a slaughterhouse, the work of an animal conservationist is truly never done--and is often done at the end of a sniper rifle.

Aside from generally liking Grant's work, I picked up this novella in particular because it's set in Australia (and I'm Australian, in case you missed that). The latter also accounts for my mixed response to the novella. On the one hand, zombie kangaroos held back by the (upgraded) Rabbit-Proof Fence is pretty awesome, as were the occasional zombie wombat and koala. On the other hand, there were a lot of minor elements that just didn't feel properly Australian.

A large part of this is accounted for by the fact that the story is narrated a Pom in Australia and yet is written in American English. About the only saving grace was that when the Aussies spoke, they at least spelled "arse" correctly. But no one even called Mahir a Pom, which was pretty weird give how irreverent and teasing they were otherwise. Also, at one point they were running through a forest instead of the bush, which felt incredibly wrong since the only forests we have in Australia are rainforests, and they certainly weren't in one of those. There was also a pervading sense of not being quite right, which was harder to pin down.

A key aspect of the plot was conservation and protecting various Australian animals from extinction, which kind of made sense, given how much of this is currently going on. It was a little weird thinking of kangaroos as endangered since currently most (?) species are not, to the point where they need to be culled regularly to prevent mass-starvation. But it definitely felt right when thinking about all our cute fuzzy animals which are endangered by varying degrees of severity.

The road trip they take near the start of the novella actually followed a road I myself drove along recently... which had me wondering where all the cows and sheep had gone. Presumably they were all exterminated post-Rising (and if memory serves, no one eats mammals anymore), but a mention of empty farmland or an abundance of crops in the place of stock would not have gone amiss. It was just another of those little markers of inauthenticity.

But overall, I liked the novella. I would recommend How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea to fans of Mira Grant, with the caution that if you're a stickler for authentic Australian settings, it might annoy you a little bit. On the other hand, it's not like everything was wrong, so I expect many people will be quite happy with the level of Australian-ness. And remember, there are many spoilers if you haven't read the entire Newsflesh trilogy.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2013, Orbit
Series: Newsflesh, a spin-off novella set after the main trilogy
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Google Play

Friday, 10 June 2016

Singleton Short Stories

I read a few isolated short stories and thought I'd post a few words about them. So here we are.

First Kill by Jennifer Fallon is set in the same world as the Hythrun Chronicles, the Demon Child trilogy and The Lyre Thief. It features Kiam Miar, an assassin who is one of the main characters in The Lyre Thief. This story, like the title suggests, is about the young assassin's first — graduation — kill. As far as I can it's set before the events at the end of the Demon Child trilogy, but you don't have read any of Fallon's books for this story to make sense. That said, if you have read The Lyre Thief and enjoyed the character of Kiam Miar, this is a good story to read.

When I started reading, I wasn't sure how Fallon was going to make the story interesting rather than a straight recounting of Kiam killing someone. I obviously don't want to spoil it, but there is more going on than a straightforward assassination and the story showcases young Kiam's cleverness.

You can read the story on or pick it up from your favourite ebook retailer.


Finnegan's Field by Angel Slatter is another original and, being a Slatter story, how could I not read it? It was horrifying. (Intentionally so.) I will note that at one point, maybe halfway through, I caught myself thinking "Oh, but that's one horror element, the rest of the story doesn't feel that much like horror..." But then I got to the end. This story is definitely horror. Also, if you don't like reading about bad things happening to children, don't read this one. Like, really, don't. Read The Bitterwood Bible or something instead.

The story is about a little girl who goes missing one day, like children sometimes do. Unlike other missing children, she shows up again three years later. The first thing her parents notice, once she's home and safe and clean, is that she didn't grow as much as they would have expected in three years. The subsequent things her mother notices are a bit more dire and a bit more supernatural. Set in small town Australia with a helping of Irish folklore, this is an excellent read for fans of dark fantasy and horror and, of course, fans of Slatter.

You can read the story on or pick it up from your favourite ebook retailer.


Glass Slipper Scandal by Tansy Rayner Roberts is an original short story podcast on Sheep Might Fly, the author's fiction podcast. I listened to all eight episodes of it in one go during a car trip, which added up to less than two hours. I was quite glad to get it all in one go since I am very much not a fan of episodic stories, especially when the episodes are so short (10-15 minutes each).

The story itself is set in a magical kingdom where Prince Charming is being forced to look for a wife and a large ball is being held. The protagonists are a relatively new journalist and one of the princesses, who has motivations beyond wanting to marry the prince. Told with Roberts' characteristic humour, this is a light-hearted tale that twists several fairytale tropes. The newspaper element also leant itself well to exaggerated proclamations of scandal, which added to the amusement. Recommended for fans of light-hearted and humorous fantasy.

You can listen to the story by subscribing to the Sheep Might Fly podcast, or by following the links here.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Split Infinity by Thalia Kalkipsakis

Split Infinity by Thalia Kalkipsakis is the second book in the Lifespan of Starlight trilogy, following on from book 1, Lifespan of Starlight, which I read and reviewed recently. I really enjoyed this sequel, and it made me realise that the only reason I didn't give Lifespan of Starlight 5 stars (I gave it 4.5) is because reading bad goodreads reviews before reading the book had me anticipating it taking a turn for the crappy, which it didn't. Split Infinity continued on in the same trope-avoiding way as the first book. Oh, also, the blurb and this review contain MAJOR SPOILERS for the first book.

A split-second decision, a single time-skip. The world that you know, gone in a blink.

Now a sharp and adept time-skipper, Scout jumps years ahead to find the world transformed. Technology has accelerated and the people she knows have grown up, or disappeared. Most pressing, the government that she was trying to escape has used the time to prepare for the return of the time skippers. Caught between finding the mother she left behind and time-skipping ahead with Mason, a series of events lead Scout deeper into the tunnel than ever before.

The only way out is by the strength of her love and the power of her mind. The illusion of time has one more surprise, one with the power to change everything.

As you probably gathered from my preamble, I enjoyed this book a lot. One of my favourite things about it is that Scout, the main character, is pretty smart and doesn't make stupid decisions for no better reason than to further the plot (a YA pet peeve of mine). In fact, whenever I thought "she should do blah" to solve whatever problem she was facing, she generally did or did something even more clever. That's not to say that the book was predictable, just that obvious smart courses of action weren't conveniently ignored by the protagonist.

I mentioned in my review of the first book that I didn't think the government quite counted as dystopian because almost everyone (who wasn't in Scout's position) was basically doing OK. In this book, which is mostly set a bit further in the future than we see in the first book, the repressiveness of the government took a turn for the worse and definitely feels more dystopian. Whether or not Scout (and friends) will be directly addressing that beyond just trying to keep themselves safe is unclear. Although it's more dystopian than the first book, it's not following the obvious beats of a YA dystopia (yet — I suppose the third book could change that).

On the topic of not following obvious beats, there were a few time travel beats that I thought this second book might end on and to be honest, until the very end I kind of wanted it to end that way. But once the end game was playing out, it became clear that the book wasn't going to end quite the way I expected. There is another cliff hanger, though (that bit I did expect).

In my review of the first book I didn't talk much about time travel because I didn't want to give that aspect of the story away. This second volume is very much more of a time travel narrative, so I think it should be mentioned. One of the things that I think makes this series so successfully compelling is that it took two unrelated, solid ideas — everyone being chipped and time travel — and combined them to make a story greater than the sum of its parts. It helps that the portrayal of being chipped is done in a relatively fresh way (like when Scout has trouble crossing the road without a chip), and that the method of time travel is novel and both constrained (jumping forward, not moving from where you were and arriving naked) and liberal (anyone can learn to do it).

Finally, Scout has a very close relationship with her mother, which doesn't change when the whole time travel thing starts. Scout's mother isn't conveniently out of the way or kidnapped, does worry about her, and is a motivator for Scout to do various things. Her mother's strong presence is balanced by the fact that Scout has a lot of freedom, especially for a 14 or 15 year old, but I appreciate her not being orphaned or neglected from the outset.

To reiterate, I enjoyed Split Infinity a lot and would whole-heartedly recommend it and the first book to fans of character-driven YA and science fiction. Although there is a romantic element in the books, it was actually stronger in the first book than the second, and isn't very prominent overall (and wow did I appreciate the fact that Scout didn't do anything to stupid for cute boys). I am eagerly awaiting the last book in the series, alas I think I'll be waiting about a year to read it.

5 / 5 stars

First published: May 2016, Hardie Grant Egmont
Series: Lifespan of Starlight book 2 of 3
Format read: Paper!
Source: Purchased (from Big W...)
Challenges: Australian Women Writers ChallengeAussie Science Fiction Reading Challenge

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Please Do Not Taunt the Octopus by Mira Grant

Please Do Not Taunt the Octopus by Mira Grant is a Newsflesh novella, set in the same world as Feed and sequels. I admit I mainly picked up this specific Mira Grant novella because of the title. I was justified in my choice when the octopus's eyes on the cover came up under the transparent loading symbol on my iPad, making them appear to flash just before the book opened.

As Dr. Abbey knows, there are difficulties in running an underground virology lab in a post-Rising America. 

And unwanted guests must be dealt with.

This book is set after the Newsflesh trilogy, I'm pretty sure. It's been a while since I read it, but from memory, it's definitely set after the second book, and probably after the third. My point being, don't read this if you don't want to be spoiled for the later Newsflesh books. Some of the most important later events are spoiled in this novella.

Warnings aside, I enjoyed this novella. The strangest thing was confusing which Mira Grant world I was reading in near the start. The main character reminded me a bit of a character in Parasite and Symbiont, so my mind kept drifting over into that world until zombies became more prominent. Obviously this won't be a problem for everyone, and was mainly an issue for me because I read those books more recently.

The main character — telling the story in first person — is a mad scientist running an illegal private lab during the zombie post-apocalypse. Her life involves paperwork, making sure the research is going to plan, and toying with the CDC plants/spies sent her way. But then a different spanner is thrown into the works, proving to be more than just a hiccup for her to overcome. It was the kind of story where the initial setup is interesting by itself, but the additional complication pushes it into even better storytelling territory. My one complaint is that the titular octopus didn't play a larger role.

This was a fun novella that I would highly recommend to all fans of the the Newsflesh universe. It's fairly different (other than the setting) to the trilogy, mainly because there is not journalism or politics. It probably is more similar in style to the Parasite books, despite being set in a different universe. I want to recommend it to people who haven't read the Newsflesh books, but I hesitate because of the spoilers for the trilogy.

4.5 / 5

First published: 2015, Orbit
Series: Newsflesh universe, a novella best read after the main trilogy
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Google Play

Friday, 3 June 2016

The Tame Animals of Saturn by Adam Browne

The Tame Animals of Saturn by Adam Browne is a short, illustrated book. As far as textual length goes, it's in the realm of long novelette to short novella, and illustrations of the titular animals are presented around and between the text.

A large-format, heavily-illustrated compendium of fantastical animals inspired by the imagined extraterrestrial menagerie of nineteenth-century Christian mystic, Jakob Lorber.

I am inclined to describe this book as surreal, in what I think of as the artistic definition. I have also heard it called absurdist philosophical steampunk. Whatever you call it, that style is not really my sort of thing, to be honest. I'm probably too much of a scientist to get very into fantastical descriptions of animals of Saturn, particularly when coupled with a story-telling style I'm not especially enamoured of (the prose was a little purple). Which is not to say that others won't enjoy this book, just that I didn't.

The story is written more in the style of philosophical non-fiction than conventional fiction, and concerns itself with describing the inhabitants of a fantastical Saturn and their goings on. It also focuses on Jakob Loder and his writings, fixating at times on the possibility of a Saturnian Loder to parallel the real Austrian one. I suspect someone who had studied more old philosophers and philosophy than I, may have gotten more out the book, too.

The illustrations were detailed pencil drawings, mostly, depicting the surreal and/or absurd animals described in the text. Many of them were grotesque and, to me, a bit disconcerting. Although it went well with the text, it is not my favourite art style either (you can probably see a trend here...).

The Tame Animals of Saturn was an odd book and one I probably wouldn't've picked up myself. That said, I recognise most of my response is personal rather than objective and, if what I have described appeals to you, absolutely give this book a go.

3 / 5 stars

First published: March 2016, Peggy Bright Books
Series: No
Format read: eARC
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor is a novella that was on my radar for a while, but particularly came to my attention when it was shortlisted for ALL THE AWARDS this year. I purchased it for being the most interesting-seeming novella on the Hugo shortlist.

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti's stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself - but first she has to make it there, alive.

Binti starts off as a lovely story about a young woman with strong cultural ties stepping outside of her comfort zone and leaving her planet and her home for the first time. Leaving her family behind is difficult and she knows they will be angry with her for going. But she holds onto her heritage, taking her traditions with her when she leaves Earth. Although Binti begins as a story of adjusting to new experiences and being surrounded by new people, all of them from different cultures, it takes a sharp turn for the dire, partway through Binti's journey to university.

The story of Binti's belonging — or not belonging — turns from a story of potential social awkwardness into one of survival when Binti is confronted by hostile aliens. I quite liked that Binti was physically changed by her traumatic and otherwise life-changing experience.

I have to admit, I wasn't expecting this shift in story, but it definitely made for an interesting read. In particular, the final resolution was not entirely expected, but was very satisfying. That said, I would've loved to have read the conversation Binti has just after the close of the novella! Perhaps if there are more stories set in the same world (which I have heard may be the case), we can find out how that played out.

I highly recommend Binti to all fans of science fiction, novellas, and stories about diverse cultures. It's not a long tale — I read it in a single sitting — but an engrossing and exciting one. I will certainly be keeping an eye out for more of Okorafor's work, which this was my example of.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2015, novella
Series: Apparently more stories in this world are forthcoming
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from iBooks