Friday, 20 July 2018

#ReadShortStories about feminist robots (126-130)


Not a huge amount of variety in this batch of short stories as I continue reading Mother of Invention, the anthology edited by Rivqa Rafael and Tansy Rayner Roberts. On the one hand, that does mean that this post is just presenting a chunk of anthology stories. On the other hand, clearly I'm enjoying Mother of Invention enough that I'm not feeling the need to seek out other stories to break up the theme.

This was a solid batch of stories that I enjoyed fairly consistently. That said, my favourite was the last in this batch, "Sexy Robot Heroes" by Sandra McDonald, which was delightful and thoughtful and a consistently interesting read. A bit surprisingly, this is also the only story in this batch by a new-to-me author. Hmm.


Junkyard Kraken by DK Mok — A roboticist builds an ocean-exploration robot after failing to get funding for it. A fun story, especially thanks to the inclusion of other AI robots, such that it can be forgiving for being a bit unrealistic. Source: Mother of Invention edited by Rivqa Rafael and Tansy Rayner Roberts

An Errant Holy Spark by Bogi Takács — A Jewish AI growing up, learning, and trying to talk to aliens. Written in the unique style I’ve come to expect from this author, the inner voice of the AI was very different to conventional (robot/AI) tropes. An interesting story and premise, with baffling aliens. Source: Mother of Invention edited by Rivqa Rafael and Tansy Rayner Roberts

The Goose Hair of One Thousand Miles by Stephanie Lai — A story written in the form of an annotated translation of a wuxia story. The story itself is particularly bizarre, to my eye, because of the way the robots are included and thanks to the aspects the commentary focuses on. Even so, it engages with ideas of colonialism well. Source: Mother of Invention edited by Rivqa Rafael and Tansy Rayner Roberts

The Art of Broken Things by Joanne Anderton — An eerie story based on a really interesting premise/theme. I liked the idea and the way different aspects of the story meshed together, but at the same time it creeped me out a bit (mostly in a good way). Source: Mother of Invention edited by Rivqa Rafael and Tansy Rayner Roberts

Sexy Robot Heroes by Sandra McDonald — I really liked this story. It featured a trans girl mechanic, a whole barge of girl mechanics, and androids bound to serve them. It was the right mix of sentimental and sensible. Source: Mother of Invention edited by Rivqa Rafael and Tansy Rayner Roberts

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

City of Lies by Sam Hawke

City of Lies by Sam Hawke is a debut novel and the first in a new fantasy series by the Australian author. I picked it up mainly for its Australian-ness: to show support and because I’ve historically enjoyed many big fat fantasy (BFF) books written by Australian women.

Jovan wears two faces. Outwardly, he is the lifelong friend of the Chancellor’s charming, irresponsible Heir. Quiet. Forgettable. In secret, Jovan is a master of poisons and chemicals, trained to protect the Chancellor’s family from treachery.

His sister, Kalina, hides her frustrations behind a mask of calm. While other women of the city hold positions of power and responsibility, her own path is one of secrets and lies— hidden even from her own brother.

When the Chancellor succumbs to an unknown poison and a revolutionary army lays siege to the city, Jovan and Kalina’s structured world unravels. Trapped and desperate, they soon discover their civilized country also has two faces; behind the beauty and sophistication is an ugly past built on oppression and treachery…

City of Lies takes place in a capital city that sits in the middle of the country, surrounded by estates with farms and a few other cities closer to the foreign borders. The city is run by a chancellor and a council and out protagonists are the legal children (actually nephew and niece) of the Chancellor’s most trusted advisor. The story is told through their (first person) points of view in alternating chapters.

Jovan is the closest friend, advisor and protector of the Chancellor’s heir. His main ancestral job is to check the heir’s food for poison. Not because he’s a disposable food taster, but because he’s been trained to detect poison in even small amounts of food and is immune (or at least resistant to) many poisons, and always has antidotes on hand. Coincidentally, he also has something like OCD (it’s not named in the context of the fantasy world), which stops some people from taking him seriously and, to some degree, hampers his political career. It’s also just something he has to work around. From his point of view we see a lot of the inner politics and problems of the city, as he sticks pretty close to Tain, the heir.

Jovan’s sister, Kalina, is the other point of view character. Having been barred from the family profession due to ill health (in this fantasy world where men and women are treated equally), Kalina still finds ways to help her brother and Tain. Most people dismiss her because they see her as physically weak and hence consequential, but she’s smart and has hidden reserves of determination that not even her brother realised were there. Kalina is written as a very convincing example of chronic illness and the way it’s perceived and engaged with by society. She comes from a privileged family, so has the benefit of the best available medical care (in a pre-industrial society) but still has to contend with people underestimating her. Basically, not only is she a well written character but she kicks arse (but not literally) and I really enjoyed reading the story from her point of view. I highly recommend this book for the disability/chronic illness representation alone.

Of course, there’s more to City of Lies than just good characterisation. The story itself is gripping and kept me interested the whole way. It opens with poisoning throwing the young main characters (who I guessed to be in their 20s maybe?) into the spotlight and positions of power and quickly moves on to a siege of the city. As well as the practical wartime concerns of defence and food distribution, the traitor in their midst hangs over their heads, lowering their trust in everyone else.

I have to say, I was impressed with how this book didn’t drop too many hints as to the source of the treachery. I didn’t see the reveal coming, which is unusual for me these days. And the answer to the question of why the city was being attacked was meted out gradually so that we didn’t understand the whole picture until near the very end of the book. I found it an effective way to keep my interest up through this long tome. (All those short stories I’ve been reading just emphasised the length of this novel, lol.)

This was an excellent read and I highly recommend it to fans of fantasy (especially BFF) and to specific fans who are interested in seeing a society with gender equality with some disability/chronic illness representation thrown into the mix. (Note that the society is, of course, not perfect. If nothing else, there has to be a reason for the war at the heart of the plot.) I’m told there’s a sequel coming, and I look forward to reading more about these characters. On the other hand, the story in this first book is self-contained with no cliffhangers at the end. The overarching problems aren’t resolved at the end, but most of the open plot threads are tied up, making me keen, but not desperate, for the next book.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: July 2018, Tor (US) and August 2018, Transworld/Penguin Random House (UKANZ)
Series: Yes. Book 1 of Poison Wars series
Format read: ePub ARC
Source: (US) publisher via NetGalley

Monday, 16 July 2018

Lumberjanes: Bonus Tracks

Lumberjanes: Bonus Tracks is the collected volume of Lumberjanes one-shot special issues. I didn't really know what to expect when I picked this book up. I bought it because it (and Volume 4 of the main story) were what was available in the comic book shop. I'm glad I did grab this book, though, as it exceeded my expectations.

The Lumberjanes short stories collected for the first time in paperback!

Join April, Jo, Mal, Molly and Ripley as they explore their all-girls camp. From ghost ponies to strange plants, these Lumberjanes are ready to take on anything that comes their way as long as they have each other.

Once I overcame the slight weirdness of seeing different artists draw familiar characters in slightly different ways — exacerbated by the fact that I had just read one of the regular volumes — I really enjoyed the short stories presented here. This volume contains five stories written and illustrated by different creators. Each is a self-contained story and they don't require very much prior knowledge of the series except for the general setting. I think there were a couple of very minor references to events in Lumberjanes issues I haven't read, but the plot certainly didn't hinge on them.

It's not a terrible sampler to get an idea of whether you want to read more Lumberjanes, even if the writers are not the regulars. That said, I think readers will get a little bit more enjoyment out of Bonus Tracks if they've read a bit of Lumberjanes before, since these stories do none of the work of establishing setting or character (which makes sense, given the context). I don't want to say much about the content of the stories since they're so short it would feel like spoilers; I think the blurb says enough. However, I will note that my favourite story was the one written by Holly Black, "Faire and Square", but it was a very close race between all of them.

I highly recommend this volume to fans of Lumberjanes. As far as I can tell, it can be inserted anywhere in your Lumberjanes journey and still be enjoyable.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2018 (for the collected volume), Boom! Studios
Series: Lumberjanes, non-series one-shots
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Local comic book shop

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Lumberjanes Vol. 4: Out of Time by Noelle Stevenson and Shannon Watters

Lumberjanes, Vol. 4: Out of Time written by Noelle Stevenson and Shannon Watters, and illustrated by Brooke Allen is, obviously, the fourth volume of collected Lumberjanes comics. Unlike some comic series, this one has rather gotten away from me with it's rapid release dates. This volume apparently came out in 2016 and volume ten is set to come out at the end of this year (according to Goodreads), which wow. Much comic.

Jen just wants a normal lesson with her cabin, teaching Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley the basic survival skills needed without any supernatural intervention. But when a blizzard hits camp, Jen finds herself separated from the girls and in more trouble than ever... until a mysterious taxidermist swoops in to save the day. Who is she and what is her relationship to Rosie? Join Jen as she finds a way back to her girls, and a way to save the day!

As you might have gathered from my intro, it's been a surprisingly long while since I read Lumberjanes Vol 3. That said, I'm glad I did read it because this volume builds a little bit on some of the events of that story. Not in a super crucial way, but I think readers coming into the story at this point might find themselves a little bit confused, especially about cats. And the forest.

In any case, like the volumes that went before it, Out of Time is a fun continuation of the Lumberjanes' story. For the first time we get a nice spotlight on Jen, the camp counsellor as she has her own adventure. We also get a bit of backstory about the history of the camp, which adds to the story. Oh, and a new character joins the team (temporarily?).

I enjoyed this volume and am looking forward to the many more volumes that await me (which I still have to go out and buy, alas). For fans of the Lumberjanes series, why wouldn't you keep reading with this volume? For readers new to the series, I suggest starting at Volume 1: Beware The Kitten Holly. They are quite quick to read, even for comic books, so you can get caught up (to, er, my level of behind-ness) in no time.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, Boom! Studios
Series: Lumberjanes volume 4 of ongoing series
Format read: PDF (but I also own the paperback)
Source: Humble Book Bundle: Summer Reading List by BOOM! Studios for the PDF and local comic book shop for the paperback

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Fence issue 1 by CS Pacat and Johanna the Mad

Fence Issue 1 written by CS Pacat and illustrated by Johanna the Mad is the first issue in what looks to be an ongoing comic book series about fencing teenagers. I picked it up as part of a Humble Book Bundle of comics ("Summer Reading List by BOOM! Studios") and I didn't realise that this was only the first issue when I started reading. (I see now that the first collected volume isn't quite out yet, alas.)

Sixteen-year-old Nicholas Cox is an outsider to the competitive fencing world. Filled with raw talent but lacking proper training, he signs up for a competition that puts him head-to-head with fencing prodigy Seiji Katayama...and on the road to the elite all-boys school Kings Row. A chance at a real team and a place to belong awaits him—if he can make the cut!

There's not much too say about a single issue that hasn't already been summarised in the blurb, so this will be a short review. I'm not generally a sport fan, but I have previously enjoyed things like Yuri on Ice, and a few teen gymnastics shows the names of which escape me. I expect Fence will join that list if I keep reading it, which I would like to. The obvious parallel of (to be revealed but with some cues already, including the author's track record) queer characters suggests to me that this will work well for fans of Yuri on Ice.

It's hard to form a conclusive opinion in just one issue, but this one presented an interesting opening to a story I would like to see more of. As I said, the collected volume isn't out yet, but I am interested in picking it up and reading more of this story. I would particularly recommend fans of Yuri on Ice have a look at this one.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2017, Boom! Studios
Series: Fence, issue #1 of ongoing series
Format read: PDF
Source: Humble Book Bundle: Summer Reading List by BOOM! Studios

Monday, 9 July 2018

#ReadShortStories and poems that are more varied (121-125)


This batch represents the end of Uncanny Issue Twenty-One, a short detour and the start of a new anthology: Mother of Invention edited by Rivqa Rafael and Tansy Rayner Roberts. I was a Kickstarter backer of Mother of Invention and I see it's full of authors that I like (starting with Seanan McGuire as you'll see below) so that should be a good read. Stay tuned for more.


Old Habits by Nalo Hopkinson — Ghosts living in a mall and replaying their deaths daily. Not a cheerful read, but I enjoyed it overall. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/old-habits/

Swallow by Hal Y. Zhang — Kind of a weird poem. Clearly I struggle with reviewing the more abstract ones. About fish and reincarnation maybe? Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/swallow/

A View from Inside the Refrigerator by Andrea Tang — I had to read this one twice to take it in properly, the second time after having reminded myself of the title, which explains it well. The poem of a fridged woman, the hero’s motive. A concept I can always get behind the dissection of. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/view-inside-refrigerator/

From the Editorial Page of the Falchester Weekly Review (A Lady Trent Story) by Marie Brennan — An epistolary story told through letters to the editor. More specifically, we see a dispute play out between Isabella, the protagonist of the Memoirs of Lady Trent series, and another naturalist. I found it very amusing, but I’m not sure that it stands well outside of the context of the series, but it slots in quite nicely after the third book, Voyage if the Basilisk (with only the most minor spoilers for that book). Source: https://www.tor.com/2016/04/05/from-the-editorial-page-of-the-falchester-weekly-review-a-lady-trent-story/

Mother, Mother, Will You Play With Me? by Seanan McGuire — A story about an AI child learning through games and growing up. I enjoyed it, although it wasn’t what I expected (from the title and author I expected something creepier). I liked how many different ideas it explored, and also the ending. Source: Mother of Invention edited by Rivqa Rafael and Tansy Rayner Roberts

Saturday, 7 July 2018

#ReadShortStories or poems from Uncanny (116 to 120)


Another exclusively Uncanny batch today. Not much left to go in Issue Twenty-One. The next batch will contain the last of it, I expect, along with something new. I have quite enjoyed the poems in this issue of Uncanny, more so than in the previous issue. Possibly because they're more narratively driven? Or more narratively driven in the style that appeals to me? Something like that.

Found Discarded: A Love Poem, Questionably Addressed. by Cassandra Khaw — Pretty much what it says on the label. I liked the allusions and conclusion of this one. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/found-discarded-love-poem-questionably-addressed/

drop some amens by Brandon O’Brien — An amusing poem about prayer-bombs falling on various people. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/drop-some-amens/

The Fairies in the Crawlspace by Beth Cato — Horrifying and wonderful. A poem about fairies and a little girl that grows up. I really liked this one. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/the-fairies-in-the-crawlspace/

די ירושה by Sonya Taaffe — According to Google Translate, the title means “Quite an inheritance”. A short poem, with an interesting resonance. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/די-ירושה/

The Howling Detective by Brandon O’Brien — A mysterious murder of an evil person and a lagahoo (loosely speaking something like a Trinidadian werewolf) combine in this powerful story. I quite enjoyed it and the way it engaged with a difficult subject. I got momentarily lost in the chronology, but that’s probably because I was tired when I read it. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/the-howling-detective/

Thursday, 5 July 2018

#ReadShortStories and a poem (111 to 115)


I've been making my way through Uncanny Issue Twenty-One, which is where all of this batch's stories are from. I'm not a fan of how the ePub issues have all the short stories, then the essays, then the poems, rather than mixing them up a bit. So I decided to do some mixing myself and threw in a poem (and some non-fiction, which I'm not reviewing) out of order. 

Unfortunately, since the new issue of Uncanny dropped a couple of days ago, being almost finished with this one isn't bringing me significantly closer to being up to date.

And Yet by A. T. Greenblatt — A haunted house as a portal to parallel universes — a pretty logical idea, really. Interestingly told in second person, which works well for it. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/and-yet/

Like a River Loves the Sky by Emma Törzs — A lovely, if somewhat sad, story about friendship, family and loss. And dogs and taxidermy. A nice read. I liked it.  Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/like-river-loves-sky/

The Testimony of Dragon’s Teeth by Sarah Monette — A story about ill-will and small malicious magic. Not a bad read, though not a favourite either. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/testimony-dragons-teeth/

Pistol Grip by Vina Jie-Min Prasad — A bit graphics for my tastes, this is a short story about super soldiers who have drawn the short straw in life. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/pistol-grip/

Editorial comment: I am a little disappointed by how aggressively not my thing "Pistol Grip" is since otherwise Vina Jie-Min Prasad has become one of my favourite short story writers. (I'm still going to keep reading her stories, of course, but my expectations for this one were probably too high.)

The Sea Never Says It Loves You by Fran Wilde — I really liked this poem, despite not usually being much of a fan of Wilde’s writing. It’s a somewhat story-driven about how unsatisfying loving the sea is (as the title says). Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/sea-never-says-loves/



Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Prime Meridian by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Prime Meridian by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a near-future novella that has been sitting in my TBR for a surprisingly long time, although the release date is this month. (The reason is that the review copies were sent out close to the crowdfunding campaign for the book.)

Amelia dreams of Mars. The Mars of the movies and the imagination, an endless bastion of opportunities for a colonist with some guts. But she’s trapped in Mexico City, enduring the drudgery of an unkind metropolis, working as a rent-a-friend, selling her blood to old folks with money who hope to rejuvenate themselves with it, enacting a fractured love story. And yet there’s Mars, at the edge of the silver screen, of life. It awaits her.

This book was kind of bleak, albeit not completely devoid of hope. Set in a future Mexico City so near that, aside from the colonies on Mars, it could be tomorrow. Amelia, our main character, has a shitty life living on the poverty line and dreaming of moving to Mars.

The story is mostly about her trying to make ends meet and save up enough to buy a ticket to Mars in a very gig-based economy (at least for the not-wealthy). Her main job is working as a sort of rent-a-friend (via an app) and, among other things, listening to an old lady talk about her life as a movie starlet in pulpy science fiction movies (especially the one set on Mars).

This wasn't a terrible story but I didn't love it. It was a very mundane kind of bleak which wasn't particularly what I expected from the cover art. I also thought there'd be more experiences of Mars in it, but Amelia doesn't see it for herself during the novella. We just hear a lot of different things about how much better or worse it is there which doesn't give much of a feeling of hope. I mean, I think that was what the author was going for, but it wasn't really what I was hoping to read.

I recommend Prime Meridian to fans of near-future and mundane SF who don't mind reading something that isn't too cheerful. I wasn't a huge fan, but I will probably check out some of the author's other work in the future (for example Signal To Noise, a novel I bought on sale some time ago).

4 / 5 stars

First published: July 2018 (backer copies December 2017),  Innsmouth Free Press
Series: No
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan is the third book in the Memoirs of Lady Trent series. I have previously read, reviewed and enjoyed the first two books: A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents. I have been enjoying the series so much that I have, so far, read the books in quick succession and, if anything, I enjoyed this third volume even more.

Devoted readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoirs, A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents, may believe themselves already acquainted with the particulars of her historic voyage aboard the Royal Survey Ship Basilisk, but the true story of that illuminating, harrowing, and scandalous journey has never been revealed—until now. Six years after her perilous exploits in Eriga, Isabella embarks on her most ambitious expedition yet: a two-year trip around the world to study all manner of dragons in every place they might be found. From feathered serpents sunning themselves in the ruins of a fallen civilization to the mighty sea serpents of the tropics, these creatures are a source of both endless fascination and frequent peril. Accompanying her is not only her young son, Jake, but a chivalrous foreign archaeologist whose interests converge with Isabella’s in ways both professional and personal.

Science is, of course, the primary objective of the voyage, but Isabella’s life is rarely so simple. She must cope with storms, shipwrecks, intrigue, and warfare, even as she makes a discovery that offers a revolutionary new insight into the ancient history of dragons

This time we follow Isabella and friends as she makes a trip around the world to study dragons in diverse locales. The premise of this one grabbed me right from when Isabella suggested the journey at the end of the second book and the journey itself didn't disappoint. The expedition team visits a few new countries, studies many dragons and makes some exciting discoveries. (If you're wondering how a journey around the world fit into a single volume of this not overly doorstopper series, the answer is by skipping many of the parts in which nothing except science happened.)

I particularly liked the world building in this book. Brennan's world building isn't exactly new, since we've already seen other part of the world in the first two books, but she continues to handle the development of the secondary world well. There are still clear parallels with our world, but the map isn't just a renamed version of Earth and hence some different geopolitical situations play out across it.

As well as enjoying the characters, many of whom are new and most of whom I hope we'll meet again, I want to note something character related that Brennan has done a good job with. A lot of people try to excuse not dealing with QUILTBAG issues in historical fiction because these are perceived to be modern concerns. Brennan does a good job of bringing some of them into the narrative in quite natural ways without at all altering the Regency/Victorian feel of her books. That said, they are very minor aspects of the narrative as a whole, but I still like how these things were handled in this book and the previous volume (and I'm not being more specific because spoilers).

I enjoyed a lot about this book and I am very keen to read the next one in the series. As has been happening with all the book in the Memoirs of Lady Trent, new information about dragons has been revealed and the promise of further adventures awaits. And I really want to see what happens with one of the newly introduced characters, who must at least be mentioned in future books from the hints we got.

As you have probably gathered, I am very keen to read the next book in the series, In the Labyrinth of Drakes. I will be doing so as soon as I can. In the meantime, I highly recommend Voyage of the Basilisk to fans of the series who have enjoyed the previous books. I think this instalment is even more enjoyable than the first two, so let that guide you if you are wavering.

5 / 5 stars

First published: 2015, Tor Books
Series: Memoirs of Lady Trent book 3 of 5
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased on iBooks