Sunday, 31 December 2017

100 Short Story Challenge: Stories 91 to 100

Done! I actually finished in the wee hours of the 29th and then immediately wondered what on earth I should read next since I wasn't ploughing through short stories. But that's a problem for later. I have, however, decided that next year I'll keep posting posts similar to these ones with mini short story reviews as I read them. Maybe still in batches of ten but I'm thinking about it (would batches of five be better?). More on that in my reflection post in the new year. I just don't want to discourage myself from reading short stories — having a concrete bloggy output for them is very encouraging.

Anyway, stories 91 to 100, marking the completion of my challenge to read 100 short stories in the last few months of 2017!

  1. Fall Like Snow by Seanan McGuire — An ominous story which did not end as hideously as I had feared it might. But golly McGuire is good at ominous. Source: Seanan McGuire’s Patreon
  2. The Sad tale of the Tearless Onion by Ann Leckie — Flash that I listened to in audio. Short, amusing and a bit odd. Source:
  3. Three Boys and a Cat by Hamizah Adzmi — An amusing story about three boys wagging tuition class and trying to get a psychic prediction of their exam questions. Source:
  4. Velveteen vs the Isley Crayfish Festival by Seanan McGuire — A quick, fun introduction to a retired (for now?) superheroine, who features in several more stories. Recommended for fans of Tansy Rayner Roberts superhero stories and vice versa. Source:
  5. Making Us Monsters by Sam J Miller and Lara Elena Donnelly — An epistolary story of two men who had been lovers during World War I. The one who survived the war is magically receiving, in the 30s, letters sent in 1918. The story wasn’t bad, but never really grabbed me. I also found the voices fo the two characters a bit too similar to easily keep track of. Source:
  6. Margot and Rosalind by Charlie Jane Anders — A flash piece about a woman who created a hyperbrain. Interesting world building that I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of (in a longer story). Source:
  7. Portrait of Skull with Man by Vina Jie-Min Prasad — A weird and somewhat funny short story about a man posing with a skull. Source:
  8. Velveteen vs. The Coffee Freaks by Seanan McGuire — Another fun superhero story about a retired child hero that just wants to get to her job interview in Portland. Source:
  9. The Lost Xuyan Bride by Aliette de Bodard — a story set in the author’s Xuyan universe, on Earth and in roughly contemporary times. I found the world building fascinating with the detective noir story nestled nicely in it. I am definitely keen to read more stories set in this world. Source:
  10. And Then There Were (N-One) by Sarah Pinsker — A whodunnit set at a convention of parallel universe versions of the author. The main character is an insurance investigator given the task of solving the murder: which Sarah killed which other Sarah? An enjoyable read. Source:

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Komarr — the Vorkosigan Saga Project

Komarr is the latest novel we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. It falls after Memory and before A Civil Campaign. It introduces a new recurring character and gives us a closer look at the planet Komarr than we've had so far.

You can read Tsana’s review of Komarr here and Katharine’s review here.

Tsana: So this novel shows us the start of the next phase of Miles’s life, which changed dramatically in the previous book, Memory, when he was forced to leave the Dendarii. Now he’s solving mysteries/problems and having adventures… which isn’t too far from what was happening before, just with fewer soldiers. What did you think?

Katharine: I liked how he was basically shadowing one of the other Imperial Auditors, yet they still worked in unison and bowed to each others strengths. More jobs in life need to be like that.

Tsana: I think it helped that Vorthys knows for certain how competent Miles is, whereas most people Miles encounters don’t because they haven’t read his classified files. Also, the whole reason they’re both Auditors is because they’re competent, which is sometimes a tall order in real life… ;-p

Katharine: Very true, but I can dream of my version of utopia :p So yes, Miles is on one of his first investigations as an imperial auditor, and it’s taken them to Komarr, where a spaceship has happened to crash into the solar mirror that’s vital to the continual terraforming of the planet. Imperial Auditor Vorthys is the other chap with him, and his niece happens to live on Komarr, so it’s there they go to stay for what they first assume will be a few nights and nothing else.

Tsana: However, Auditor Vorthys’s niece is, Ekatarin, our other point of view character in this book. So we know from the start that she’s going to be important for the story — roughly half the book is told from her point of view, in alternating chapters with Miles’s point of view. And, minor spoiler, Ekatarin is set up to be another recurring character. As a result, her personal journey from the start of the book to the end is much more significant than Miles’s. Miles just gets the hang of this new Auditor gig, while Ekatarin goes through some big life changes.

Katharine: It’s good seeing how people view Miles every so often. We’ve seen him go through some pretty significant changes and so you think he doesn’t look as ‘mutie’ as he would have previously, but this book reminds us yet again just how the majority of people view him.

Ekatarin is from Barrayar, and old Vor. She married young to Etienne "Tien" Vorsoisson, who has a genetic disorder that he’s frightened of being publicly known - even though Vorzohn's Dystrophy is treatable - which just shows how judgemental Barrayans are about any condition. Ekatarin is worried for their son, Nikolai, and wants to start his treatment immediately… however Tien forbids it until they can treat it in absolute secrecy… which of course is far more expensive. This provides the majority of the tension between their once-happy marriage.

Tsana: When we got more of the backstory, it sounded like Ekatarin’s marriage to Etienne Vorsoisson started off well only because she was young (twenty to his thirty), idealistic and a bit naïve. As soon as things started to get a little challenging in their marriage, Etienne became emotionally abusive, mostly to Ekatarin, but also to his son. In the eight or nine years since (they’ve been married ten years at this point), Etienne’s moodswings, angry outbursts and a string of jobs in various locations, all quit prematurely, has eaten away at Ekatarin’s happiness and sense of self. It was really painful to read most of the married couple’s interactions.

Katharine: Especially as we see Ekatarin light up when eased into security around her uncle when they go out for lunch together, and then again as Miles becomes determined to make her laugh. We see hints of what she used to be passionate about - she has a deep interest in botany, but the constant moving made keeping her own garden pretty pointless after a while of barely a year in the same place. She has one plant that’s over seventy years old - that Tien throws from a great height at a certain point in the story when the options are either her, the plant, or himself.

Tsana: Maybe we are getting into spoiler territory now. (plant spoilers!)

~~~ spoiler shields up! ~~~

Thursday, 28 December 2017

100 Short Story Challenge: Stories 81 to 90

A bit of a scramble to get the last few stories in before the new year. Luckily, the holidays have afforded more time than usual for reading and I think I will make it in time.

In this batch, I finished off the Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015, so keep an eye out in the new year for my full review of it. Other than that, we again have a mix of online fiction.

  1. Entangled Web by E C Myers — A quick story set in a world with quantum smartphones that allow you to see how other versions of you are living. An interesting idea piece. I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of the world. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  2. Blue Ribbon by Marissa Lingen — An affecting story about a group of teens and younger kids who get locked out of their space station after quarantine is enacted during a series of races they competed in. Tragic. One of my favourite stories in this anthology. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  3. Bodies are the Strongest Conductors by James Robert Herndon — A troubling story about a teen with an unusual medical condition and his friend. I didn’t exactly enjoy this story, but I also felt like I couldn’t look away. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  4. Pineapple Head by Joel Enos — An odd story that didn’t go where I expected it to from the ominous hints (I thought) it gave the reader near the start. It’s about two gay boys connecting over time. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  5. Grass Girl by Caroline M Yoachim — A shirt story about girls made of wood and the bamboo girl who feels out of place and uncool among them. I liked the symbolism. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  6. The Birds of Azalea Street by Nova Red Suma — This story started out creepy and gross, but finished satisfyingly. I started out not very into it but ended up liking it more than the opening made me think I would. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  7. How to Survive and Epic Journey by Tansy Rayner Roberts — A hilarious story about adventuring from the perspective of a female Argonaut (as in, Jason and the). It pulls no punches regarding how terrible the patriarchy and Jason were. And how justified/misunderstood Medea was. Source:
  8. That Seriously Obnoxious Time I Was Stuck at Witch Rimelda’s One Hundredth Birthday Party by Tina Connolly — An amusing story that unfortunately suffered from the comparison to the previous one I read, which was much funnier. An unhappy teenage not-witch surrounded by young and adult witches. Source: 
  9. Waiting on a Bright Moon by JY Yang — A very engaging and unexpectedly epic space fantasy story. A tale of multi-planet empire, magic portals formed through song, a lot of women loving women, and rebellion. This one’s going on my Hugo nominations next year. Source:
  10. The Martian Obelisk by Linda Nagata — A story about hubris and hope in a post apocalyptic world. I found the main premise, of instructing AIs to build an obelisk on Mars, a bit odd, for all that it made sense in the context. The story didn’t completely grab me, however, which is unfortunate because I think the ending would have had more impact if I’d connected more with the protagonist. Source:

Only ten more stories to go!

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

On a Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard

On a Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard in a novella set on a far-future space station that I've been meaning to read for some time now. It's a standalone part of her Xuya universe, which I think I've dipped into before with at least one short story, but there are currently a lot more stories in that world than I've gotten around to reading.

For generations Prosper Station has thrived under the guidance of its Honoured Ancestress: born of a human womb, the station’s artificial intelligence has offered guidance and protection to its human relatives. But war has come to the Dai Viet Empire. Prosper’s brightest minds have been called away to defend the Emperor; and a flood of disorientated refugees strain the station’s resources. As deprivations cause the station’s ordinary life to unravel, uncovering old grudges and tearing apart the decimated family, Station Mistress Quyen and the Honoured Ancestress struggle to keep their relatives united and safe. What Quyen does not know is that the Honoured Ancestress herself is faltering, her mind eaten away by a disease that seems to have no cure; and that the future of the station itself might hang in the balance…

This was an interesting read with the story told from two somewhat conflicting points of view. The setting is a space station named Prosper, tending towards a lack of prosperity thanks to a multi-planet war that has called away the most educated and capable family members. The station has been left in the hands of its AI mind — the Honoured Ancestress — and Quyen who is now in charge of the station, despite not having been properly trained for the role.

On the other side of the story there's Linh, recently a magistrate, but now a refugee from the war. She comes to Prosper station seeing refuge thanks to a family tie and ends up clashing with Quyen. The story mainly follows the problems facing the two women, which have significant overlap as they come at them from different angles.

I found the switching in points of view, when we swapped between Quyen's view of Linh to Linh's view of Quyen (and both their views of other characters) quite fascinating. There was very little agreement between them and their opinions of each other were starkly different to their opinions of themselves. Their overlapping problems came together in the ending in a satisfying way.

I enjoyed this story enough that I went and bought the other available novella as soon as I finished it. I also hope to read some more of the short stories set in this universe sooner rather than later. I recommend On a Red Station, Drifting to fans of science fiction generally and, in particular, to anyone interested in reading about a Dai Viet-inspired space-based culture.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2012, Immersion Press
Series: Xuya universe (standalone)
Format read: ePub
Source: purchased from Kobo shop

Sunday, 24 December 2017

100 Short Story Challenge: Stories 71 to 80

I sped up a little for this batch by throwing in some flash stories after reading a particularly long story that dragged a bit. A mix of sources, again. Notably adding Antipodian SF to and Twelfth Planet Press's Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015.

Stories 71 to 80:

  1. Lullaby for a Lost World by Aliette de Bodard — This story started dark and got darker. It’s about sacrifice for the greater good and rebellion against pain and suffering. Source: 
  2. The Ways of Walls and Words by Sabrina Vourvoulias — This story took a while to grab me, which was unfortunate since it was quite long and a bit slow. It’s about two girls imprisoned and in service, in an unkind situation. The setting is, I’m pretty sure, colonial times in what is now the Dominican Republic. Their histories and friendship were interesting. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  3. Hold-Time Violations by John Chu — a weird physics story with an emotional twist. The worldbuilding was a little tricky to follow (on purpose, I think), but I liked the story. Source:
  4. The Numbers Danced by Laurie Bell — SF horror flash. Tense and with a twist. Source:
  5. Good Intentions by Simon Petrie — Flash. A bait and switch shaggy-dog story that made me groan even as I conceded it’s cleverness. Source:
  6. The Passengers by Botond Teklesz — Flash and shorter than I expected. A snapshot of a future. Source:
  7. A Reluctant Zombie by Natalie JE Potts — Flash. Amusing. Farts and death were involved. Source:
  8. A Last Supper by Philip Berrie — An odd and dark short story. More zombies. I’m not sure how I feel about this one… Source:
  9. Pandora’s Smile by Joanna Galbraith — An amusing and silly short story that I enjoyed. Source:
  10. Reflections by Tamlyn Dreaver — The setting of this story seemed promising, but I had difficulty getting past the lack of (semi-)scientific explanation as to how the moon could be terraformed. The story of a girl being forced to move away upon the failure of that terraformation didn’t, unfortunately, do enough to draw me in. Not bad, but not enough for me. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.

Only twenty more stories to go! Will I make it? I hope so!

Friday, 22 December 2017

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol 4: I Kissed a Squirrel and I Liked It by Ryan North and Erica Henderson

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol 4: I Kissed a Squirrel and I Liked It written by Ryan North and (mostly) illustrated by Erica Henderson is the forth volume in the current/modern run of Squirrel Girl comics. This volume contains a three-issue arc nestled between a couple of stand-alone issues.

The hero who refuses to be beat celebrates 11 consecutive issues without a new #1! And she's letting you seize the chance to be the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl in a choose-your-own path encounter with Swarm, buzzkill made of bees! Then, Doreen takes charge of her life -her love life, that is - and starts dating. But just who will kiss a Squirrel and like it? Surely not...Mole Man?! When the subterranean super villain falls deep in love, he's willing to hold the world hostage to get Doreen's attention. Can she save everything without becoming Mrs. Mole Man? But enough with the hearts and the flowers and the kissing, you read this book for computer science and super heroics (not necessarily in that order). You'll get both - and more - in a showdown with Count Nefaria!

As always, Squirrel Girl makes for a fun read. The first issue was a "choose your own adventure" comic, which was amusing but slightly annoying to follow. Funny, but not a gimmick I'm keen to see too often. The story involved Swarm, a villain made of bees.

Next up was a three-issue arc in which Squirrel Girl attempts online dating and has some unfortunate experiences. Some of the dates are just mediocre, but one (which involved a superhero truther — denying their existence as part of a large conspiracy complete with animatronics) leads to an encounter with Mole Man. Mole Man had been planning to go on an evil rampage, but when Squirrel Girl is civil to him and convinces him to leave, he decides to hold the world to ransom to get a date with her. Classy. Lots of nice feminist commentary from Nancy in this one, though. And lots of gross stuff from the media, of course.

And the final issue in this volume is a short one-off in which Squirrel Girl battles a villain mainly using the powers of computer science, so that was pretty cool.

All in all, an enjoyable read and one for fans of Squirrel Girl and female-led superhero stories generally. This volume doesn't rely very much on events of the past, so I don't think it's a terrible place for new readers to start. Of course, starting at volume 1 gives you more Squirrel Girl to enjoy, but I suspect the comics are still enjoyable out of (volume) chronological order.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, Marvel
Series: Yes, vol 4 of ongoing comic book series. This volume contains issues #7–11 (of the 2015B run).
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Purchased at (I think) All Star Comics in Melbourne

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Romancing the Werewolf by Gail Carriger

Romancing the Werewolf by Gail Carriger is a novella set in the world of the Parasol Protectorate, Finishing School and Custard Protocol books. I have reviewed many other books set in this world, which you can browse here. This novella doesn't require reading any of the other books, although other books will lend some (unessential) background on the characters and world. If you do want to read it chronologically, it takes place after Imprudence, with a prologue that ties in with the events of Timeless (and I thought also one of the earlier Parasol Protectorate books, but I read those too long ago to remember the chronology clearly, so I might be wrong). The book (and perforce this review) does contain some spoilers for earlier books, however.

Biffy, newly minted Alpha of the London Pack, is not having a good Christmas. His Beta abandoned him, his werewolves object to his curtain choices, and someone keeps leaving babies on his doorstep.

Professor Randolph Lyall returns home to London after twenty years abroad, afraid of what he might find. With his pack in chaos and his Alpha in crisis, it will take all his Beta efficiency to set everything to rights. Perhaps, in the process, he may even determine how to mend his own heart.

In this novella we really see Biffy being the Alpha of the London werewolf pack for the first time. He's still coming into his own as an Alpha and is a bit uncertain on some fronts. It's also naturally a time of upheaval for the pack, which doesn't help. Biffy's point of view is split with Lyall's, who returns to London after a twenty year absence at the start of the novella. We also get to know some of the minor members of pack a bit better, who we hadn't seen in much detail in the earlier books. Really, Biffy, Lyall and Channing were the only major side werewolf characters in the main books, but here Channing is in the background, leaving room for the rest of the pack to step forward.

The structure of the novella is pretty standard for romance, with the alternating points of view. The romance is split with some amusing other events — centred around the mysterious delivery of babies to the werewolf residence. I don't generally read for the romance elements but I was surprised at how much the other plot took centre-page. I mean, the novella does have "Romancing" in the title, so I was expecting more romance. That said, the culmination of the Biffy/Lyall was nice, and satisfactory. I could have done with less of the "oh no, he doesn't like me that way anymore" angst on both sides.

In any case, I certainly recommend Romancing the Werewolf to fans of Gail Carriger and manner-punk. There was much to delight and amuse the reader in this story, from the discussion of curtains to waistcoats and the main plot. I am always happy to read more stories set in this universe, be they novels or novellas, and I look forward to more coming out in the future (there should another novella and the next Custard Protocol novel in 2018, whoo!).

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: November 2017, self-published
Series: Supernatural Society 2 of 2 so far (but more planned)
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Kobo

Monday, 18 December 2017

Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold

Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold is the latest book in my re-read of the Vorkosigan saga. It comes chronologically after Memory and before A Civil Campaign, nestled quite closely, chronologically, between the two. It is split in point of view between Miles and a new character, Ekaterin.

Komarr could be a garden with a thousand more years' work, or an uninhabitable wasteland if the terraforming fails. Now, the solar mirror vital to the terraforming of the conquered planet has been shattered by a ship hurtling off course. The Emperor of Barrayar sends his newest imperial auditor, Lord Miles Vorkosigan, to find out why. The choice is not a popular one on Komarr, where a betrayal a generation before drenched the name of Vorkosigan in blood. Thus, the Komarrans surrounding Miles could be loyal subjects, potential hostages, innocent victims, or rebels ready for revenge. Lies within lies, treachery within treachery, Miles is caught in a race against time to stop a plot that could exile him from Barrayar forever. His burning hope lies in an unexpected ally, one with wounds as deep and honor as beleaguered as his own.

I had forgotten, until I started re-reading Komarr, how unlucky Ekatarin was, in life, before the events of this book (or, well, Miles came along). Her past is heartbreaking, even though she often reminds us that it could be worse. She has a lot to overcome in this book before she can start to come into her own.

On the other side of the equation, we have Miles, who has tagged along with Imperial Auditor Vorthys (who happens to be Ekatarin's uncle) while he investigates a small disaster that happened in Komarran orbit. Miles is partly getting used to his new role, but he's also still Miles. While this book can't be mistaken for military SF like some of the earlier Vorkosigan books, it's still got a similar vibe, combining a mystery to solve and a reasonable dollop of action. Two of the main ingredients in a lot of the Vorkosigan books.

This was a very enjoyable read that made me laugh several times. It's not the most cheerful of the Vorkosigan books — that would be the next one chronologically, A Civil Campaign — and it has it's dark moments. But as with most of the Vorkosigan books, I had trouble putting it down and practically inhaled it once I got going.

This isn't the worst book to start with if you haven't read any Vorkosigan books before. It's the start of a new phase in Miles's life and hence doesn't rely too heavily on events of the past, although there are a lot of references to earlier events, they're only mildly spoilery for the earlier books and the story certainly doesn't hinge on any of them. That said, all the Vorkosigan books are good, so in general I recommend reading them in chronological order. But if you like intrigue and engineering, partially terraformed planets and clever dialogue, I highly recommend Komarr.

5 / 5 stars

First published: 1998, Baen
Series: The Vorkosigan saga, chronologically after Memory and before A Civil Campaign
Format read: ePub as part of the Miles in Love Omnibus
Source: Purchased from Baen several years ago

Saturday, 16 December 2017

100 Short Story Challenge: Stories 61 to 70

I'm getting closer to caught up! As I write this (rather earlier than it's going to be posted, I'm afraid) I have 30 stories left to read in 20 days. That's not so bad! Perfectly manageable, right? In any case, come January I'll write a post about how this whole short story reading challenge went, what I learnt along the way, and so forth. In the meantime, here are stories 61 to 70:

  1. Bucket List Found in the Locker of Maddie Price, Age 14, Written Two Weeks Before the Great Uplifting of All Mankind by Erica L Satifka — A flash story told in the form of a bucket list (as per the title), complete with some crossed out items. Also more hints about the coming end than I expected. I liked it more than I expected to. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  2. Her Heart Never Came Down Again by Seanan McGuire — a lovely, bittersweet story about an astronaut and her engineer wife. Also an ill-fated, unusual voyage, grief, hope and perseverance. Source: Seanan McGuire’s Patreon 
  3. Phlashback by Simon Petrie — a third story in the “CREVjack” and “Goldilock” sequence, this time picking up shortly after the previous story left off and shifting point of view characters (again). Finally we get to learn more about pharmhands and their place in the scheme of things on Titan. Another tense story. Source: Wide Brown Land by Simon Petrie
  4. Placenta by Simon Petrie — about a pregnant woman who suddenly finds herself in a life- and baby-threatening situation and must do a bit of sciencey problem-solving to survive. It also gives us a snapshot of an abandoned part of Titan, which strongly reminded me of an Abandoned Photography blog I’ve followed. Source: Wide Brown Land by Simon Petrie
  5. Function A:Save (Target.Dawn) by Rivqa Rafael — a lovely story about a coder and the president’s daughter/her almost-girlfriend. Set in a near future with bio-hacking and fancy medicine, this story was engaging, a little magical and, ultimately, satisfying. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  6. Noah No-one and the Infinity Machine by Sean Williams — an odd yarn set in the Jump universe, but much earlier that that trilogy. I expected it to have a dark ending, but it ended up being quite lighthearted. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  7. Forgiveness by Leah Cypess — a challenging story about a physically abusive relationship in a future where there are chips to control that sort of behaviour once it’s reported. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  8. Probably Definitely by Heather Morris — a nice story about a ghost and a teenager still working on finding their place in life. I am impressed at how naturally-seeming the author’s non-use of pronouns was. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  9. I’m Only Going Over by Cat Hellisen — a slightly odd story about a weird girl at a party and the protagonist trying to chat with her. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  10. How the Maine Coon Cat Learned to Love the Sea by Seanan McGuire — A fairytale/genesis story about maine coon cats coming to North America. Short and sweet. Source:

Not long to go now!

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Memory — the Vorkosigan Saga Project

Memory is the latest novel we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. It falls after Mirror Dance and before Komarr. In Memory the story sees significant changes in Miles’s life and in the lives of some of the people around him. This book has major spoilers for Mirror Dance, so stop reading now if you haven’t read that book!

You can read Katharine’s review of Memory here and Tsana’s review here.

Katharine: And so we meet Miles back with the Dendarii - and quite quickly we see Miles land himself in some pretty terrible action. After dying in an earlier novel we see the side effects have continued; namely that he has seizures - usually at inopportune times, which we later learn is because they’re triggered by stress.

Tsana: For a book that I mainly remembered as being about Simon Illyan, this one really did have some significant life changes for Miles. For all that Miles has had the opportunity to fix a lot of his medical problems — he’s been gradually replacing his skeleton with stronger artificial bones, for example — he’s also been accumulating new ones and now, after much hardship, they’ve finally caught up with him severely enough that it’s time for a medical discharge. From the start of the book, he has seizures left over from his cryorevival but he hasn’t actually told anyone about them. So things go horribly wrong when he goes on a field mission and has a seizure in the heat of battle.

And we’re getting into spoiler territory very early on. Should we put up the spoiler shields or jump to discuss something less spoilery?

Katharine: Sure thing. Beep boop beep!

-- spoilers --

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Preview chapter: The Last Guard by KJ Taylor

Following up on my review of The Last Guard by KJ Taylor, the first book in a new series set in the author's griffin universe (The Fallen Moon Trilogy and The Risen Sun trilogy are set in the same world), I have a sample chapter to share with you all. First, in case you don't feel like clicking through to my review, the blurb and then the sample is under the cut. And just so you're not surprised, note that it isn't from the first chapter...

Southerner Sergeant Kearney "Red" Redguard is the last of a disgraced family, and a loyal guardsman. And with a murderer stalking the streets, the city guard is his city's best defense.
But in the North, King Caedmon Taranisäii is gathering his army, and the cruel Night God prepares for the downfall of the South. A new dark griffin roams the land, warning of the war to come.
Betrayed and sent on the run, Red must fight to save his homeland.
But it may already be too late...

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Provenance by Ann Leckie

Provenance by Ann Leckie is set in the same universe as the Imperial Radch trilogy (which starts with the Hugo Award-winning Ancillary Justice), but stands alone. It's set after the events in the Imperial Radch trilogy but can be read completely independently of that series. It's set on a planet outside of the Radchaai Empire and there are only a few mentions of an event that happened right at the end of the Imperial Radch trilogy (and which is sort of a spoiler but not in any important ways).

Following her record-breaking debut trilogy, Ann Leckie, winner of the Hugo, Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke and Locus Awards, returns with an enthralling new novel of power, theft, privilege and birthright.

A power-driven young woman has just one chance to secure the status she craves and regain priceless lost artifacts prized by her people. She must free their thief from a prison planet from which no one has ever returned.

Ingray and her charge will return to her home world to find their planet in political turmoil, at the heart of an escalating interstellar conflict. Together, they must make a new plan to salvage Ingray's future, her family, and her world, before they are lost to her for good.

I have to admit, I was a reasonable way into this book before I worked out what it was about. I didn't mind, though, because I found the the main character, Ingray, interesting to follow. We start off not knowing very much about her or her motives and learn piecemeal as we watch her actions and choices (and as various backstory is filled in as necessary). We know even less about the other characters, with the narrative holding a tight third person perspective, and learning more about them certainly held my interest.

By the time I was sure about what kind of book this was, I decided the best way to describe it was as a "comedy of diplomacy". Like a comedy of errors, but with more people from different planets inadvertently getting in each other's way. And a main character who didn't set out to get in the middle of it all, but did, to quite a significant extent. It was very entertaining.

This is a standalone novel, and the story is very much tied up by the end of the book. However, it's very much whet my appetite for more (possibly standalone) stories set in the same universe. We learn about one alien species in Provenance that were only mentioned in the Imperial Radch books (the Geck) and I am keen to learn more about some of the other aliens. I feel there are some key questions left unanswered in general.

But Provenance isn't a story about aliens. It's a story of a comparatively small civilisation, it's cultural quirks and its neighbours (with their own cultural quirks). They bear little similarity to the Radch (and in fact, seeing the Radch from their point of view was fascinating) and exist far outside of the Radchaai sphere of influence. Unlike the Imperial Radch books, this is not a story about colonialism, but rather about cultural history and the significance this takes in society. It's also a much more light-hearted story than that of a sentient warship. Just saying.

I highly recommend Provenance to fans of science fiction who are looking for a relatively light-hearted read. It's full of amusing or perplexing social and diplomatic situations and, while I wouldn't classify it as an outright comedy per se, I laughed out loud many times while I was reading. I hope Leckie writes more books — standalone or series — set in this universe.

5 / 5 stars

First published: September 2017, Orbit
Series: No, but set in the same world as the Imperial Radch trilogy, after the events of those books
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Kobo shop

Sunday, 3 December 2017

100 Short Story Challenge: Stories 51 to 60

I am starting to catch up on this short story reading thing, though I am still a little behind. This batch of stories has some more stories from Simon Petrie's upcoming Titan-themed collection Wide Brown Land and a handful of stories from miscellaneous sources.

I am really enjoying reading random stories that catch my eye (or, more accurately, random stories that caught past-me's eye so that they got added to Pocket and were subsequently able to catch present-me's eye...). I am thinking that when I get to the end of this challenge I will probably post a list or two of thematically linked stories that I particularly liked. One of the lists will almost certainly be something along the lines of "awesome stories about robots/AI/computers", which I expect will include both "Abandonware" by An Owomoyela and "Interlingua" by Yoon Ha Lee from this batch.

  1. More Than Nothing by Nisi Shawl — A slightly confusing flash story (I wonder if it’s related to something larger?) about a defiantly praying girl. Source:
  2. Broadwing by Simon Petrie — A crash landing and a long wait for rescue. It felt like a scene-setting piece to give us a good feel for Titan and a bit of background on flight and the landscape. Source: Wide Brown Land by Simon Petrie
  3. Emptying Roesler by Simon Petrie — About an inspector, a man in an abandoned building (on Titan) and illegal activities. This story ended abruptly, albeit in a logical place. I would not have minded finding out what happened next to the characters. Source: Wide Brown Land by Simon Petrie
  4. Interlingua by Yoon Ha Lee — A delightful story about sentient space ships that design games to entertain their crews on long voyages. Things get a bit strange when our protagonist ship designs a game to prepare their crew for an alien contact mission. I really enjoyed this story: both the premise and the execution. One for fans of Ann Leckie (if you’re not already a Yoon Ha Lee fan, like I am). Source:
  5. The White-Throated Transmigrant by E. Lily Yu — I wasn’t sure what to expect from this story. What I got was taxidermy and a past worth escaping. Well written and engaging. Source:
  6. CREVjack by Simon Petrie — This was a reread (see earlier review here: I came back to reread it after I started “Goldilock” since that story felt like a sequel and I couldn’t remember the specifics of this earlier one. The ending remains emotionally difficult to read. Source: Wide Brown Land by Simon Petrie
  7. Goldilock by Simon Petrie — a direct sequel to “CREVjack”, picking up moments after that story left off. It continues in a similarly tense and action-packed vein with another very dramatic ending. Source: Wide Brown Land by Simon Petrie
  8. Persephone by Seanan McGuire — A sad flash story set in a dystopian future. Source:
  9. Abandonware by An Owomoyela — A touching story about grief and computers and, unexpectedly, psychohistory (which will be just as enjoyable if you don’t get that reference). I started reading it to fill in some time, but then couldn’t put it down. Source:
  10. Kia and Gio by Daniel José Older — A story about ghosts, aliens and unrequited love. A nice read. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.

Only 40 more to go!

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

100 Short Story Challenge: Stories 41 to 50

I have definitely fallen behind again. In my defence, my recent work-related travel wasn't very conducive to reading, but that's a poor excuse. Anyway, I have just under 50 stories left to read in just over a month. Can it be done? We'll see.

I’ve dipped into a few books of short stories this batch, as well as a couple of random online magazines. There’s Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein, from Twelfth Planet Press, which I’ve made a bit of a dent in, and Wide Brown Land by Simon Petrie, a new collection of his Titan-set stories that will be out next year.

  1. Song in the Key of You by Sarah Pinsker — a nice story about a near future when “everyone” has personal soundtracks playing from their wrists and a girl who can’t afford the device but loves music. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  2. Blood, Ash, Braids by Genevieve Valentine — A witchy fantasy story about the the Night Witches in WWII (Russian women bombing Nazis from planes). An enjoyable read about friendship, protection and magic. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  3. Mosquito Boy by Felix Gilman — A concept that didn’t really grab me. The narrator tells us of the emergence/existence of mosquito boy creatures (why are there no mosquito girls?). That’s pretty much the whole story. Meh. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  4. The Rainbow Flame by Shveta Thakrar — This story is about teenaged girls questioning the world and their place in it. Except it’s a world made of magic and stories and, of course, things aren’t exactly as they have been told. I found it a bit slow to start and, while it picked up and got more interesting, it’s not a favourite. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  5. The Sixth Day by Silvia Anna Hivén — A strange apocalyptic world in which the edges of reality seem to be stretching out and disappearing. It was interesting and a bit disturbing. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  6. Storm in a T-Suit by Simon Petrie — An interesting story. A storm on Titan, a rescue mission, a tragic backstory and a crazy theory, all made for a thoughtful and engaging read. Source: Wide Brown Land by Simon Petrie
  7. For Sale: Fantasy Coffins (Ababuo Need Not Apply) by Chesya Burke — An outcast girl with a special, magical role to play for her Ghanan home city, which will make her die young. Source: Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein.
  8. Rib by Yukimi Ogawa — A nice story about a skeleton woman and the little boy she helps. It was a bit weird, but also heartwarming. Source:
  9. Hatchway by Simon Petrie — A story about peer pressure as well as the pressure of Titan’s atmosphere, with chilling elements for both the protagonist and the reader. Source: Wide Brown Land by Simon Petrie
  10. The Shape of the Darkness As It Overtakes Us by Dimas Ilaw — Not what I was expecting at all. This is a story about stories and the way they can sustain us in difficult times. The difficult times in particular being oppressive and violent martial rule in the Philippines. Source:

Stay tuned for more frequent story posts as I try to catch up on this challenge I've set myself...

Monday, 27 November 2017

The Last Guard by KJ Taylor

The Last Guard by KJ Taylor is the first in a new trilogy, The Southern Star, set in the same universe as The Fallen Moon trilogy, which I reviewed on this blog — The Dark Griffin, Griffin's Flight and Griffin's War. There is also a second trilogy, The Risen Sun, which falls between The Fallen Moon and  The Southern Star, which I haven't (yet) read.

Southerner Sergeant Kearney "Red" Redguard is the last of a disgraced family, and a loyal guardsman. And with a murderer stalking the streets, the city guard is his city's best defense.

But in the North, King Caedmon Taranisäii is gathering his army, and the cruel Night God prepares for the downfall of the South. A new dark griffin roams the land, warning of the war to come.

Betrayed and sent on the run, Red must fight to save his homeland. But it may already be too late...

The Last Guard features new protagonists, as far as I know, and a new story arc. It follows on from the events in the first two trilogies, but a lot of those events are now considered (recent) history. To explain context, some of the key events of the Fallen Moon trilogy were mentioned and I think the same is true of the Risen Sun trilogy, although that was, of course, harder for me to spot. I felt like there were enough hints about the earlier events that I wanted to go back and read the missing trilogy to fill in the gaps. However, no crucial information was missing from The Last Guard and the book worked by itself as a story. My verdict is: you don't have to have read the earlier books/series to enjoy The Last Guard, but there will be extra layers of significance (or more quickly apparent significance) if you have.

On to the actual story! The bulk of the book follows Red, a city guard who is very good at his job and takes pride in it. The story starts with a few strange crimes in the city that draw Red's attention and soon escalates to something a bit more extreme, as hinted in the blurb. Red is soon fighting for his life, his city and his country as everything he'd gotten used to in life comes crashing down around him.

I liked Red as a character and the few times the point of view shifted to other characters I always felt a bit impatient to get back to Red. Not that the other characters were boring or anything, but the main story very much moved with Red. I wouldn't be surprised if that balance shifted a bit in the next book, though I won't spoil why I think that. We also get to know a few of the griffin characters on both sides of the growing conflict. I found it interesting to compare the griffin-human relationships with, for example, the dragon-human relationships in other books like the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik. I think the idea of griffins would appeal to fans of dragons, but they come with a different background and, of course, less mythological baggage.

I recommend this book to fans of epic fantasy and of the author's earlier griffin series (The Fallen Moon and The Risen Sun trilogies). It's certainly in a similar vein to the first series and fans of Taylor's other books will find much to enjoy in the continuing events taking place in that world. That said, this first book stands alone as an introduction to a new series without requiring the earlier books to make sense. It's not a bad place to start and if you read The Last Guard and find yourself wanting to know more about the world, you can always go back and read the earlier books without having to wait for the second Southern Star book to come out.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: December 2017, Black Phoenix Publishing Collective
Series: The Souther Star trilogy, book 1 of 3 (with the series itself being the third of three so far, following the Fallen Moon trilogy and the Risen Sun trilogy)
Format read: eARC (PDF)
Source: provided by the publisher
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Girl Reporter by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Girl Reporter by Tansy Rayner Roberts is a novella set in the same universe as her short story "Cookie Cutter Superhero", published in Kaleidoscope, and the novella Kid Dark Against the Machine. You don't have to have read the earlier stories to enjoy or understand Girl Reporter, but the characters from the earlier stories show up and provide minor spoilers for their backstories.

In a world of superheroes, supervillains, and a machine that can create them all, millennial vlogger and girl reporter Friday Valentina has no shortage of material to cover. Every lottery cycle, a new superhero is created and quite literally steps into the shoes of the hero before them--displacing the previous hero. While Fri may not be super-powered herself, she understands the power of legacy: her mother is none other than the infamous reporter Tina Valentina, renowned worldwide for her legendary interviews with the True Blue Aussie Beaut Superheroes and her tendency to go to extraordinary lengths to get her story.

This time, Tina Valentina may have ventured too far.

Alongside Australia's greatest superheroes--including the powerful Astra, dazzling Solar, and The Dark in his full brooding glory--Friday will go to another dimension in the hopes of finding her mother, saving the day, maybe even getting the story of a lifetime out of the adventure. (And possibly a new girlfriend, too.)

This novella was a positively delightful read. It blends Roberts' humour with social commentary on the state of superhero fiction and various contemporary issues, especially those surrounding representation. Additionally the novella is so Australian it hurts (in a good way). Despite the alternate universe setting, Roberts finds plenty of opportunity to engage with modern Australian culture and hark back to the Australian culture of the 80s and 90s. I expect there will be some references that non-Australians will miss, but the novella won't be the worse for it. And everything really important is explained anyway.

The other delightful thing about this novel is the upbeat and clever voice of Tina Valentina. I will always have a soft spot for snark, but it's also nice to have a protagonist who is pretty upbeat and excited about things, despite some cynicism. Also, Tina drops backstory into the narrative very naturally, whether it's superhero history or about her mother. Roberts has nailed alternate-dimension young Millennial, and I say this as a non-super-dimension older Millennial.

This was my favourite of all three stories in the "Cookie Cutter Superhero-Verse" so far. I hope there will be more. I love the setting and all the characters so far have been great. There hasn't been very much superhero fiction (that I'm aware of) set in Australia and the strong Aussie-ness of the setting really boosts the book into an even more exciting take on superheroes, rather than yet another superhero story set in New York.

I highly recommend Girl Reporter to all fans of superhero stories. It's fun and fresh and full of diversity. Being a novella, it's also a pretty quick read. I can't wait to read more books set in this world.

5 / 5 stars

First published: December 2017, Book Smugglers
Series: Cookie Cutter Superhero-Verse, third instalment of three so far. Stand-alone.
Format read: ePub ARC
Source: review copy provided by author
Disclaimer: Although the author is a friend, I have endeavoured to write an unbiased review
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold

Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold is the latest book in my re-read of the Vorkosigan saga. It comes chronologically after Mirror Dance and before Komarr. I had remembered this as "the Illyan book", but of course, it's still mostly another Miles book, focussing on a transitionary period in Miles's life (and also in Simon Illyan's life).

Miles hits 30... Thirty hits back.

Miles turns 30, and--though he isn't slowing down just yet--he is starting to lose interest in the game of Wall: the one where he tries to climb the wall, fails, gets up, and tries again. Having finally reached a point in his life where he can look back and realize that he has managed to prove his courage and competence, he can move on to bigger and better things.

This book follows Miles on a more internal journey than usual. Although there is some excitement in it, there is less action and fewer daring rescues. In fact Miles spends a lot of the book coming to terms with the fact that all his adventures have caught up with him, medically speaking. After having spent so long overcoming his disadvantages though sheer determination, the abrupt realisation that he can’t will his way past his latest problem is not a shock he deals with well. But, Miles being
Miles and also the protagonist, events conspire to push him in a new and interesting direction.

As I hinted in my introduction, this is also a book that features Simon Illyan quite prominently. Previously he appeared in Miles’s life mostly as a slightly distant authority figure — despite having known Miles since birth, their professional relationship was mostly very professional (avoiding mild treason notwithstanding). But now we get to learn more about Illyan’s job and it’s demands. And we see that Miles is actually one of the closest people to him. And of course, it’s useful to have Miles on your side if something goes wrong.

The other character we get to see more of in this book (not for the first time) is Ivan. He provides an amusing side plot and counter to some of Miles’s darker moments. And of course, he gets dragged into Miles’s plans.

This book is clever and, even though I remembered most of the ending, it stood up well upon rereading. It’s a thoughtful book and, while parts of it are very difficult for Miles, it wasn’t as difficult for readers, compared with its immediate prequel, Mirror Dance, for example. Because it’s such a transitionary book, I don’t think I’d recommend it as a stand-alone, but it works very well in the broader context of the series and as a marker of this turning point in Miles’s life. And, as (almost) always, it made me excited to read the next book in the series.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: Baen, 1996
Series: Vorkosigan Saga, chronologically after Mirror Dance and before Komarr
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Baen several years ago

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Unmagical Boy Story by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Unmagical Boy Story by Tansy Rayner Roberts is the second novella in the Belladonna University series. It chronologically follows Fake Geek Girl and precedes The Bromancers, although I read and both of those novellas first. They're all relatively self-contained and reading them out of order only really leads to mild character development spoilers and spoilers regarding the introduction of new characters.

One magical university, divided between the Colleges of the Real and Unreal. One pub. One indie band. A lot of drunk witches on a Friday night. One shattered friendship, due to be repaired. One Practical Mythology paper which really has to be finished by Monday... Oh, and trolls. Let’s see who survives Friday night drinks!

This is a fluffy story about a grumpy post-grad which touches on some deeper issues. Viola Vale come from a rich upper-class family who are, and consort with, important decision-makers in the magical world. And of course they look down on non-magical people. The story is about Viola coming to terms with one of her best friends (also from an upper-crusty family) having been in a magical accident that stripped him of his power. It's a story of learning understanding and acceptance and Viola's journey is quite pronounced. She goes from wanting to fix her, now unmagical friend, Chauv, to accepting him as the person he now is.

The other, slightly less significant, story of acceptance is Viola's slow-building tolerance for Chauv's new friends, flatmates and girlfriend, who are basically the Fake Geek Girl gang. She goes from generalised distain for people she sees as beneath her to grudging acceptance (but not of the music), and something approaching respect for Sage and Hebe.

All it all, this was a fun, short and relaxing read with enough depth to properly address the more serious issues that it raised. I enjoyed it and I recommend it to all fans of Roberts' writing and to fans of humorous or lighthearted fantasy and geek culture. I look forward to more instalments in the series.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, self-published via Patreon
Series: Belladonna University, novella 2 (after Fake Geek Girl, before The Bromancers)
Format read: ePub
Source: The author's Patreon
Disclaimer: Although the author is a friend, I have endeavoured to give an unbiased review
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge