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!