Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Memento by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Memento by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff is a prequel novella set in the Illuminae Files world. I have previously reviewed the first two books in the series, Illuminae and Gemina. While I have read the third book, Obsidio, I have not reviewed it since I did not get a chance to read the final fancy typeset version, which is now on another continent. (I read an earlier version for science-checking purposes.) The printed booklet version of Memento is the only version I have read and came as a preorder bonus for the authors' new book.

December, 2574. Forty-three days before the BeiTech attack on Kerenza IV.

This is the story of my first friendship.

This is the tale of my first murder?

Some monsters are born.

But I?

< ERROR >

I was made.

I won't say this was a fun read per se, but as with the main books in the series it was presented in a fun way, with transcripts of conversations and a few pages of strange word art. I did not think I remembered the main characters (other than AIDAN) from the main series and, given the series, it was not hard to guess the shape of the ending. I enjoyed the new protagonist, Olivia, who had an interesting story arc.

Memento does not contain any significant spoilers for the series. Being a prequel meant that certain events were set in stone, but we did see them from a new perspective. The events that overlap between the novella and the first book, Illuminae, happen near the very start of Illuminae, so I would not consider them to be spoilers. It's reasonable read for someone wanting a sampler of the series (although it might not be easy to obtain — I'm not entirely sure how broadly it will ultimately be distributed).

This was an interesting read and I recommend it to fans of the Illuminae Files as well as new readers who can get their hands on it. It's a reasonable introduction to the series, and is a quick and self-contained read. I also like the way in which it was presented — although I generally prefer ebooks, the unique formatting of this series lends itself better to print and the staple-bound booklet of Memento was kind of cute.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: Alfred A Knopf (US), 2019
Series: Illuminae Files, prequel/volume 0.5
Format read: Paper!
Source: Preorder bonus with Aurora Rising

Sunday, 14 July 2019

#ReadShortStories all over the place (106–110)

Stories from a variety of sources in this batch. Aside from finishing off my Hugo novelette reading (stay tuned for a round up of all those stories), I listened to an audio story while travelling (possibly it was a novella, but I'm including it here) and read a paper story, so a range of formats.


Rules for the Care and Maintenance of Phoenix Eggs For Wayward Daughters by Tansy Rayner Roberts — An amusing flash/listicle story about caring for a Phoenix egg, just like it says in the title. Source: Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Patreon (and subsequently newsletter)

When We Were Starless by Simone Heller — Exquisitely detailed world building as we follow a tribe and their spiritual leader across a world unable to sustain life. Their world is very different from ours and, although the tribe is not human, they are recognisably people who have forgotten their distant past and are distrustful when confronted with a remnant of it. The story felt fantastical when I started reading but became more clearly science fiction as I read further. A very well-thought-out story. Source: http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/heller_10_18/

Into Darkness by Anike Kirsten — Implausible but sort of interesting flash. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01798-z

Let Sleeping Princes Lie by Tansy Rayner Roberts — An entertaining story in a parody fairytale world with royalty and reporters and the need to dodge stray spinning wheels. I enjoyed it. Source: http://sheepmightfly.podbean.com/e/let-sleeping-princes-lie-part-1 (also available in print)

The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections by Tina Connolly — A fantasy story about magical pastries that forcibly evoke certain memories. Well, the actual story is about the wife of the baker that makes them and the tyrannical King who has taken the throne. It was an interesting that I enjoyed even as I wondered how it would end satisfactorily. Source: https://www.tor.com/2018/07/11/the-last-banquet-of-temporal-confections-tina-connolly/



Thursday, 11 July 2019

Interview with Ada Hoffmann

Today, rather than a review, I have an interview with Ada Hoffmann to share with you all. Ada Hoffmann is the author of The Outside, which I recently read and reviewed and enjoyed immensely.

Q. One of my favourite things about The Outside was the backstory of the gods, angels and trappings of religion. How far do you think we are from creating AI sufficiently intelligent to become gods?

A. Thank you! I think that we are actually quite far from this. In real life there's an issue of how much responsibility we give to AIs, how we rely on algorithms in making certain kinds of decision. But with current technology it's really not an issue of the AI becoming intelligent and taking over. It's much more about humans in power trying to hide their acceptance of bias, institutional violence, and unchecked capitalism behind a veneer of machine-like objectivity.

The AI in The Outside really isn't "hard" science fiction, in the sense of extrapolating future scenarios I think are likely — instead it's there because of the emotional hold that AI and aliens have on us as readers, the role they play in our cultural imaginations as superior beings. There's an article up on the Uncanny blog where I talk about this in a bit more detail.



Q. You focus on Nemesis out of the AI gods in The Outside, with Aletheia being present in the thoughts of several characters. Out of the other gods, which are only mentioned in passing, do you have a favourite, and can you tell us a bit about them?

A. I definitely have a list of all the other Gods and their portfolios somewhere. I think my favorite is Philophrosyne, the God of love. She's not specific to any particular form of love but oversees all of them; she encourages people to be kind to their loved ones, families and friends as well as strangers, guests and their community at large. She doesn't have much to do in this book but in many ways She's the polar opposite of Nemesis, even more so than Arete, who's in some ways positioned as Nemesis' more-shiny-and-better-intentioned counterpart. I also have a soft spot for Gelos, the God of joy, pleasure, and entertainment. He has a childlike, playful personality which contrasts with most of the other Gods. I think that Gelos's angels are rarely seen, but every year or two they suddenly appear on some planet with a pop-up art installation or carnival-like thing and it's a doozy.



Q. I personally enjoy seeing scientist characters in books and Yasira came across as quite believable in that respect. Can you tell us a bit about where you drew inspiration for creating her character?

A. Well, I'm an autistic person in STEM in real life (computer science) so some of it's drawn from that. But mainly Yasira was drawn up to the constraints of the other parts of the book that already existed. I had Akavi and Ev in my head long before I had Yasira. I knew I needed her to be Ev's student, so that logically meant another physicist, and I needed her to have a big personal and emotional stake in finding out what's going on with Ev, so I gave her the big project of power generation on the Pride of Jai, which inevitably goes wrong. The actual science in the book is quite handwaved, in my opinion. The parts of Yasira that are drawn more from life are her emotions - pride in her work, but also impostor syndrome, anxiety, and burnout.


Q. What can we expect to see from you next? Will you be writing more books/stories in the same universe or are you working on something new?

A. I am definitely hoping to write more in this universe. The Outside has a strong resolution and stands on its own, but it clearly sets things up with regards to where the characters might go next. We're still in negotiations with the publisher about a second book, so stay tuned! In the meantime, I have also been tinkering on and off with a WIP novel about dragon palaeontology.



Q. Followup: Have you written or are you planning to write any short fiction set in The Outside world?

A. Yes! There's a story called "Minor Heresies" which is already out; it appeared in an anthology called "Ride the Star Wind," and was reprinted in "Transcendent 3: The Year's Best Transgender Speculative Fiction." It's set about 200 years earlier than The Outside, and features a shapeshifting Vaurian who stumbles upon something he ought not to. I'm hoping to eventually publish more short stories fleshing out this world. There's one about Enga, for instance — a minor angel character from the book — which needs revisions, and which I've been sitting on and not revising for an embarrassingly long time, but I need to get back to it. I really enjoy her.


This next question contains a small spoiler, so I will put it under a spoiler shield for those who haven't read the book. Don't hover/highlight/read on if you want to come to the book completely unspoiled! 


Q. The Outside seems like it was influenced by Lovecraftian themes (minus a literal Cthulhu). What inspired you to take that direction with The Outside?

A. To be honest, the Lovecraftian themes came from somewhere very old — they appeared in the same D&D campaign where I originally encountered Akavi, the book's main antagonist. Pitting him and Evianna Talirr against each other - Law vs. Chaos, villain vs. villain — was the original impulse that led to the creation of the novel's setting and everything else in it. When I paired them with the science fiction system of AI Gods, it made for a religious allegory that I really liked: mechanistic Gods who reward and punish according to clear rules, vs. completely wild, unknowable mysticism, both incredibly dangerous to the mortals who get in their way.



Thank you Ada for stopping by and answering my questions!

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone is a short novel about two time-travelling agents who start corresponding with each other. It's written in a poetic style and is half-epistolary, half-prose.

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

And thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more.

Except discovery of their bond would be death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?

This is a remarkable book, told in a very poetic style, with chapters alternating between snippets of our characters’ lives and the letters they send each other. Although it is written as prose, one feels as though one is reading poetry. The use of imagery and metaphor is strong and frequent and the relationship between the characters shifts as they become more obsessed with each other as they learn more about the other.

At first I had difficulty keeping the characters straight in my mind — Red and Blue, from futures Garden and Agency, wait, which was which again? — but then it became clearer as they obtained more identifying characteristics. There was [the one that had happened to] and [the one that did this thing], to keep it spoiler-free. I started reading this book while travelling and I don’t recommend reading it in a noisy environment. It was easier to enjoy at home, calmly. Or at least with noise-cancelling headphones on. It is the kind of book that demands your full attention to properly take in its words and worlds.

I don't generally like spending too much time comparing books to other things, but it feels particularly topical in this case. This Is How You Lose the Time War is a book that pushes many if the same buttons as Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman or Killing Eve but with a more poetic writing style than Good Omens and more emphasis on the relationship between enemy agents than Killing Eve. (I speak of the TV show Killing Eve, here — the books it’s based on look dreadful.) Also, in the struggle for a better future, no one side is clearly better than the other, which is not how most oppositional relationships are portrayed. In Killing Eve, Villanelle is the assassin so MI6 agent Eve clearly has the moral high ground. And things are both more and less ambiguous in Good Omens, where the two sides are literally heaven and hell. But if you liked either of those stories for their protagonist relationships, this is the book for you. Especially if you wished there was more time travel in them.

Actually, before I wrap up, I will say a few words on the time travel aspect. It's both integral to the story and sort of minimally done. No mechanics are explained, which makes sense for the style of the book, and all the time travel feats are basically magic, as far as we mere time-bound mortals are concerned. Sometimes that sort of thing bothers me, but in this case it fits in perfectly with the style of the book. The time travel is absolutely not the point, the letters between Blue and Red are, and doing it any other way would have been bizarre. For all that I've said the prose is very poetic, it's also very sparse (in the way of poetry, now that I think about it). For this reason, it took me a little while at the start of the book to feel grounded in the story (or as grounded as one can be in such a story) but, again, it makes perfect sense for what it is.

I really liked this book. I highly recommend it to fans of doomed and/or oppositional romance (is that the right term?), poetic letters and magical time travel. It's a quick read but a powerful one. If you're not sure whether the style is right for you, I think it's something you could quickly determine by reading the sample chapters on your favourite ebook store. In any case, I highly recommend This Is How You Lose the Time War.

5 / 5 stars

First published: July 2019, Jo Fletcher Books
Series: No, I don't think so
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee is a collection of short stories set in the same world as the Machineries of Empire series (Ninefox Gambit, Raven Stratagem and Revenant Gun). Although not all the stories require familiarity with the main series, I generally recommend having read the series before picking up Hexarchate Stories since some of the flash pieces and especially the concluding novella work better with knowledge of the characters and series events. (Though many of the stories absolutely stand alone.)

The essential short story collection set in the universe of Ninefox Gambit.

An ex-Kel art thief has to save the world from a galaxy-shattering prototype weapon...

A general outnumbered eight-to-one must outsmart his opponent...

A renegade returns from seclusion to bury an old comrade...

From the incredible imagination of Hugo- and Arthur C. Clarke-nominated author Yoon Ha Lee comes a collection of stories set in the world of the best-selling Ninefox Gambit. Showcasing Lee’s extraordinary imagination, this collection takes you to the very beginnings of the hexarchate’s history and reveals new never-before-seen stories.

I really enjoyed this collection. Even given the slightly unusual way in which I read it; skipping over stories I had previously read meant I skipped some award worthy reads. (The reviews for those stories, by the way, are copied from my original reviews of them in italics below.) I was particularly taken with the three longer stories that were new to me: "The Chameleon's Gloves", "Gamer's End" and "Glass Cannon". The first two are meaty stories more about life in the universe than about the specific characters that featured in the series (although Jedao does appear in "Gamer's End"). "Glass Cannon" is a novella that takes place after the trilogy and, as such, is pretty spoiler-heavy for the events at the end of Raven Stratagem. Mostly because "Glass Cannon" dominates this collection in terms of page-count, my usual summing up is after the story mini-reviews (and after a spoiler shield).


“The Chameleon’s Gloves” — A fascinating story about a Kel outcast set before even the Heptarchate came into existence. And if that sentence made no sense, it’s a story about a thief given a job no one should have ever had to sign up for.

“How the Andan Court” — Flash/prose poem that I’ve read beforeA flash piece that is more of a love letter explaining the absence of roses.

“Seven Views of the Liozh Entrance Exam” — Longer flash musing on Liozh examinations, told from a relative future perspective, after the faction had fallen.

“Omens” — A short story about a couple’s date, dripping with significance if you’re paying attention and have read the Hexarchate books.

“Honesty” — A short story about very young Jedao and his even younger sister.

“Bunny” — Another young Jedao and sister, this time dealing with a missing cat. A cute story.

“Black Squirrels” — A hilarious story of a Shuos academy prank.

“Silence” — A family interlude told from the point of view of Jedao’s older brother Rodao. A straightforwardly enjoyable read.

“Extracurricular Activities”previously readSet in the same universe as Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem, this story follows Jedao while he is still young. He goes on an undercover mission to extract a friend from academy. I really enjoyed this story. It was funny with serious moments. A good read for both readers of the novels and new comers to the world.

“Gloves” — Pretty much smut, with a bit of character exploration thrown in. I can’t imagine the framing details working very well for someone who hadn’t read the series.

“Hunting Trip” — A vignette featuring Jedao and a general stopping at a zoo en route to a hunting trip.

“The Battle of Candle Arc”already read: Shuos Jedao leads a Kel army to victory against heretics. I had some memory of this particular battle being mentioned in the novels (Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem), but misremembered the context. In any case, an interesting read, even more so since it was published years before the novels. Clearly the authors has been living in this world for a long time. Also, the explanations of the factions and calendar were done particularly well, especially given how complicated they can get. This story is a good introduction to the world.

“Calendrical Rot” — Things get weird. Apparently this was almost the prologue to Ninefox Gambit, so it’s interesting to me that it works as a short story.

“Birthdays” — Young Cheris and her family move out of their ghetto and have to give up some of their traditions. A nicely told flash story.

“The Robot’s Math Lessons”previously readAn adorable flash story about a robot making friends with a little girl (who I think is Cheris from Ninefox Gambit). — And yes, it was Cheris. This story is referenced in "Glass Cannon".

“Sword-Shopping” — Cheris and her girlfriend go to buy a sword. A cute flash piece.

“Persimmons” — A cute flash story about a servitor arrived at Kel Academy from a small village. Who doesn’t like sentient robot stories?

“Irriz the Assassin-Cat” — A cute flash featuring a cat soothing a child.

“Vacation” — Different characters take a trip to the zoo in this flash piece.

“Gamer’s End” — A second person short story about an advanced trainee sitting a test under Jedao. It’s one of the longer stories in this collection and is not so much filling in past anecdotes as telling a self-contained story set in the same world. And the second person narration adds some interesting flavour.

“Glass Cannon” — This is a novella (well and truly; it takes up the entire second half of Hexarchate Stories) set after Revenant Gun. It contains a lot of spoilers for the end of the Machineries of Empire series and I definitely don’t recommend reading it without having read the series. Not only will it be confusing, but it will also spoil some of the surprises and enjoyment of the series. In fact, a proper review of it is spoileriffic, so I will restrict it to my full review of Hexarchate Stories.

Full review with massive spoilers for Revenant Gun/Machineries of Empire. Do not hover over/highlight  the spoiler-shield below if you don't want to be spoiled.
“Glass Cannon” was an excellent read. Taking place after the end of Revenant Gun, it follows Moth!Jedao after he escapes imprisonment by the Shuos. His one desire in life is to get his memories back from Cheris and gain some sort of closure regarding the gaps in his memory, many of them from his youth. Cheri’s, meanwhile, is living a normal life in a settlement of her own ethnic group (much depleted after the events of the main series). She is just starting to get bored with a normal life teaching maths when that life gets disrupted by the escaped Jedao and the soldiers on his tale. Despite the inconvenience to her life, she agrees to transfer Original!Jedao’s memories to Moth!Jedao, since they have been haunting her. And so they set out on a quest to retrieve a device necessary for the transfer, and run into various troubles along the way.

Aside from being a really enjoyable story, “Glass Cannon” also manages to address some of the aspects of the world building that did not fit into the main series. Certain revelations from Revenant Gun — let’s say those loosely related to servitors and their factions and the human (non)regard of them — is raised here. So as well as following our beloved characters, we get to follow a little bit more progress in the Hexarchate, admittedly, not quite to completion, since that would be a much longer story.

I definitely recommend reading “Glass Cannon” as a sequel to the series if you enjoyed Machineries of Empire. I think Hexarchate Stories is worth buying for this novella alone, but the other included stories were also worth reading (but if you have already read the longer short stories/novelettes, the flash fiction may not feel weighty enough to bother buying the book for, but “Glass Cannon” certainly is).


This was a great collection, even if it was a little unbalanced in story lengths, and I definitely recommend it to fans of Yoon Ha Lee's books. While some of the stories are good entry points to the series, the majority of the flash stories work better if thought of adding something to the universe, rather than full stories in their own rights. For the prospective reader who wants to read Hexarchate Stories but not the trilogy (but why?), I see no reason why the first half of this collection can't be enjoyed, but I repeat my caution about "Glass Cannon" being full of spoilers and probably confusing without the trilogy context. On the other hand, if Lee plans to revisit the Hexarchate/Heptarchate universe again, sign me up for reading more stories/books set in that world.

5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2019, Solaris
Series: Machineries of Empire, stories set in the world of
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Friday, 5 July 2019

#ReadShortStories 101 - 105

In this batch I finish off Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee (but you'll have to wait for my next post to see my full review of the novella, "Glass Cannon") and read a couple of other stories, including a Hugo shortlisted novelette by Zen Cho.


Vacation by Yoon Ha Lee — Different characters take a trip to the zoo in this flash piece. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Gamer’s End by Yoon Ha Lee — A second person short story about an advanced trainee sitting a test under Jedao. It’s one of the longer stories in this collection and is not so much filling in past anecdotes as telling a self-contained story set in the same world. And the second person narration adds some interesting flavour. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again by Zen Cho — A wonderful story about an imugi trying to ascend to a heavenly dragon form. It takes a long time and learns many things along the way. Both about the Way and, eventually, about humans. A very enjoyable story with an emotional and bittersweet ending. Source: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/sci-fi-fantasy/if-at-first-you-dont-succeed-try-try-again-by-zen-cho/

The Letter by Emma Newman — A short piece about someone who wasn’t chosen to go on the Atlas spaceship with the pathfinder, and her coping with that. An encouraging read. Source: Emma Newman’s newsletter

Glass Cannon by Yoon Ha Lee — This is a novella (well and truly; it takes up the entire second half of Hexarchate Stories) set after Revenant Gun. It contains a lot of spoilers for the end of the Machineries of Empire series and I definitely don’t recommend reading it without having read the series. Not only will it be confusing, but it will also spoil some of the surprises and enjoyment of the books. In fact, a proper review of it is spoileriffic, so I will restrict it to my full review of Hexarchate Stories. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee


Sunday, 30 June 2019

The Outside by Ada Hoffmann

The Outside by Ada Hoffmann is the author's debut novel. It is a far-future science fiction story with some really interesting world-building details and an autistic protagonist. I enjoyed it a lot.

The Pride of Jai was supposed to be humanity's greatest accomplishment—a space station made entirely by humans and their primitive computers, without "divine" cyber-technology provided by the sentient quantum supercomputers worshipped as Gods. And it was supposed to be a personal triumph for its young lead scientist, physicist Yasira Shien, whose innovative mathematics was key to the reactor powering it.

But something goes wrong in Yasira's reactor, leading to an unexplained singularity that destroys The Pride of Jai and most of the people on it—and placing Yasira in the sights of angry Angels, the cyborg servants of the Gods.

According to the angels, Yasira's reactor malfunction was the latest in a rising tide of disasters, intentionally caused to exploit vulnerabilities in the very pattern of spacetime and usher in horrific beings from beyond reality itself. They believe that the woman behind the disasters is Yasira's long-vanished mentor, Dr Evianna Talirr—and they believe that Yasira, Dr Talirr's favorite student, is the only one who can help them find her.

Spirited off to the edge of the galaxy and with her whole planet's fate, and more, hanging in the balance, Yasira must decide who to trust: the ruthless angels she was always taught to obey without question—or the heretic scientist whose plans could change everything she knows to be true about reality.

Really, the most interesting part of this story was the world-building and everything that went with it. From the very beginning, we see that humanity has spread through the galaxy, but that their level of technological advancement isn't necessarily what we might normally expect. As we learn fairly early on, this is because the gods have declared certain technologies to be heretical — in particular, anything that comes close to AI since the gods themselves are very advanced AIs. They allow people use (god-built) advanced technology such as portals, but prevent humanity from fully understanding how it works. This is the climate in which our protagonist, Yasira, finds herself accidentally building heretical technology. And not just any technology, technology that malfunctions unusually and gets a lot of people killed.

This kicks off a story in which Yasira is pulled around by powerful people with competing interests while, at first, she doesn't fully understand what's going on. Although there's a lot of dramatic science fiction (bordering on horror) stuff going on, at its core the story is about Yasira's journey of self-discovery and understanding. We see her being different things to different people and, eventually, coming to understand who she is to herself. All this against a backdrop of science fiction horror events — although I want to stress the book itself isn't horror, it contains some elements borrowed from the genre.

In the end, good books can be the hardest to review. I liked The Outside for the reasons mentioned above (though how much I can keep repeating the phrase "world-building" without straying into spoiler territory, I don't know). It also worked well as a package and, intrigued as I was by the setting, I would definitely be interested in reading more set in this world, whether or not it's about the same characters. The book is self-contained but was left open for possible "further adventures", so I'm crossing my fingers. I highly recommend this book to fans of science fiction, perhaps with a dash of horror, weird science (although it's not heavy science, aside from a few irrelevant details near the start), and moral ambiguity. I will definitely be keeping my eye out for more from this author.

5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2019, Angry Robot
Series: I don't think so, but there's potential for more books in the series, which I would definitely be up for
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Sunday, 23 June 2019

#ReadShortStories until you reach 100 (96–100)

...and then keep reading.

So this batch, which brings my yearly total of short stories up to 100, all come from the collection Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee. I had a lot of waiting time and it was just so easy to keep reading them. They are all on the sort side, although that is partly because I had previously read many of the longer stories in this collection.

Calendrical Rot by Yoon Ha Lee — Things get weird. Apparently this was almost the prologue to Ninefox Gambit, so it’s interesting to me that it works as a short story. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Birthdays by Yoon Ha Lee — Young Cheris and her family move out of their ghetto and have to give up some of their traditions. A nicely told flash story. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Sword-Shopping by Yoon Ha Lee — Cheris and her girlfriend go to buy a sword. A cute flash piece. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Persimmons by Yoon Ha Lee — A cute flash story about a servitor arrived at Kel Academy from a small village. Who doesn’t like sentient robot stories? Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Irriz the Assassin-Cat by Yoon Ha Lee — A cute flash featuring a cat soothing a child.  Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee


Friday, 21 June 2019

#ReadShortStories to stave off anxiety (91–95)

All flash in this batch. Not really intentionally, but that's how it turned out. I wasn't expecting the large number of flash stories in The Hexarchate Stories, which isn't a bad thing, but has lead me to read more of them in a row than I might have otherwise.


In The Spaces of Strangers by L P Lee — A little predictable, but not a bad flash piece about swapping bodies and predatory scams. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01578-9

Twenty-six Seconds on Tetonia-3 by Wendy Nikel — Easily the best flash piece I’ve read in Nature this year. Heartfelt and with good, developed worldbuilding. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01579-8

Silence by Yoon Ha Lee — A family interlude told from the point of view of Jedao’s older brother Rodao. A straightforwardly enjoyable read. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Gloves by Yoon Ha Lee — Pretty much smut, with a bit of character exploration thrown in. I can’t imagine the framing details working very well for someone who hadn’t read the series. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Hunting Trip by Yoon Ha Lee — A vignette featuring Jedao and a general stopping at a zoo en route to a hunting trip. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Friday, 14 June 2019

#ReadShortStories because you can't put a book down (82–90)

A longer batch today to avoid repeating the stories that appeared in my most recent review of The Manticore's Vow. The majority of these stories come from the same collection: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee, and are all set in the universe of the Machineries of Empire books (which start with Ninefox Gambit). I will try to mix up the next few batches so that it's not all stories set in the same world — especially since I still have some Hugo reading to finish off.


It’s All My Fault, Or The Beanstalk Sucks by Ian Randal Strock — Don’t think the story makes sense physically, but wasn’t that interesting in any case. Post-nuclear apocalypse followed by an experiment gone wrong. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01508-9

The Chameleon’s Gloves by Yoon Ha Lee — A fascinating story about a Kel outcast set before even the Heptarchate came into existence. And if that sentence made no sense, it’s a story about a thief given a job no one should have ever had to sign up for. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

How the Andan Court by Yoon Ha Lee — Flash/prose poem that I’ve read before.  Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Seven Views of the Liozh Entrance Exam by Yoon Ha Lee — Longer flash musing on Liozh examinations, told from a relative future perspective, after the faction had fallen. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Omens by Yoon Ha Lee — A short story about a couple’s date, dripping with significance if you’re paying attention and have read the Hexarchate books. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Honesty by Yoon Ha Lee — A short story about very young Jedao and his even younger sister.  Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Bunny by Yoon Ha Lee — Another young Jedao and sister, this time dealing with a missing cat. A cute story. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Black Squirrels by Yoon Ha Lee — A hilarious story of a Shuos academy prank. Source: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

The Manticore's Vow and Other Stories by Cassandra Rose Clarke

The Manticore's Vow and Other Stories by Cassandra Rose Clarke contains three short stories set in the world of The Assassin's Curse books, recently repackaged as The Magic of Blood and Sea. Although I have read both of the novels in this world, it was several years ago and my memory of them is quite hazy. This means that I was effectively coming to these stories from a stand-alone perspective.

A vain assassin takes an assignment with dire consequences. An aristocratic lady fleeing her past is besieged by pirates. And a manticore princess sets out on a life-changing adventure . . .

The Manticore’s Vow collects three stories set in the world of Magic of Blood and Sea, all exploring the origins of some of its most memorable characters: Naji, the scarred assassin, Marjani, the pirate queen, and Ongraygeeomryn, the man-eating manticore. Explore a world of dangerous magic and thrilling adventures with this trio of gorgeous, swashbuckling tales.

Overall, I found these stories stood alone fine, especially the first two. My favourite story was, without a doubt, “The Automaton’s Treasure”, which hooked me most quickly and kept my attention the best, even though there were times when very little was happening in the story (granted the boring parts of the long sea voyage were skipped over). For the other two stories, I didn’t connect with the protagonists as well and hence did not find myself especially invested in them. My thoughts on each story are given at the end of this review, as per usual.

This book works well as a companion to the longer works set in the same universe while also working alone well. In fact, I suspect a reader unfamiliar with the larger world might not immediately realise that the stories are connected to each other since they take place in different regions of the world. This collection serves as a sampler of the author’s work, but not exactly a good introduction to the novels, since they are about tangential characters. I think it will appeal most to readers who want more from the world after having read the novels.

~

The Manticore’s Vow — Narrated in first person by a manticore, this story follows a young manticore, her human servant and some friends as she misadventures in her father’s kingdom. I enjoyed it well enough, particularly towards the end of the story.

The Automaton’s Treasure — A sea voyage interrupted by pirates and a sentient automaton made this story quite the exciting adventure. I enjoyed it more than the first story in its collection.

The Witch’s Betrayal — An assassin with a difficult kill and an obstruction from someone he had considered a friend. It was OK but nothing special. I think the most strongly linked to the novels in the same world (based on my vague memories).

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2019, Interstellar Flight Press
Series: Same world as The Assassin's Curse books / The Magic of Blood and Sea
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Monday, 10 June 2019

#ReadShortStories all over the place (76–80)

I'm still making my way through the Hugo Novelette shortlist, as evidenced by only one of those novelettes appearing in this batch of reading. I also started a new collection: The Manticore's Vow by Cassandra Rose Clarke. It's very short — only three stories — so expect to see either the rest of the stories soon or the review of the whole thing imminently.

It is almost interesting to note that all five stories in this batch came from different sources. (Although I put in the Uncanny link for the Aliette de Bodard story, I actually got it from the Hugo voter packet.) Unfortunately Emma Newman's story is currently not accessible to people who don't subscribe to her newsletter, but she has promised that the stories will be collected together in a book eventually.



Remember by A J Lee — An OK flash piece. A predictable twist and an insufficiently dramatic ending, perhaps. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01507-w

What Travis Built by Emma Newman — A short piece filling in an off-page moment set after After Atlas. A sweet vignette about the romantic relationship between two characters and also a farm-sim game. Source: Emma Newman’s newsletter

The Thing About Ghost Stories by Naomi Kritzer — The story opens like a nonfiction essay but then settles into the lived experience of the narrator, who is a ghost-story collecting anthropologist. As well as discussing different types of ghost stories, the story gives us a glimpse into the narrators life with her ageing mother. I quite enjoy this story, for its discussion of ghost stories as well as the main story. I guess I had enough of a scientist to enjoy such categorisations. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/the-thing-about-ghost-stories/

The Dragon That Flew Out of the Sun by Aliette de Bodard — A story of racial tensions arising from one group destroying the planet of another (well, rendering it uninhabitable). I liked both the idea and the execution. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/the-dragon-that-flew-out-of-the-sun/

The Manticore’s Vow by Cassandra Rose Clarke — Narrated in first person by a manticore, this story follows a young manticore, her human servant and some friends as she misadventures in her father’s kingdom. I enjoyed it well enough, particularly towards the end of the story. Source: The Manticore’s Vow By Cassandra Rose Clarke

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey is an urban fantasy book about a PI investigating a suspicious death at a magical boarding school in the US. I had previously read Gailey's novellas about hippos in an alternate American South (and upsetting violence against said hippos), but this is her debut novel.

Ivy Gamble has never wanted to be magic. She is perfectly happy with her life—she has an almost-sustainable career as a private investigator, and an empty apartment, and a slight drinking problem. It's a great life and she doesn't wish she was like her estranged sister, the magically gifted professor Tabitha.

But when Ivy is hired to investigate the gruesome murder of a faculty member at Tabitha’s private academy, the stalwart detective starts to lose herself in the case, the life she could have had, and the answer to the mystery that seems just out of her reach.

This book starts in a typical urban fantasy investigator way, with Ivy, the protagonist, being given an interesting case to solve. What makes the case unusual for Ivy is that it involves a magical boarding school, when she has always lived in the non-magical world we are all familiar with. In fact, the only reason Ivy is already aware of the existence of magic is because her twin sister has magical powers and went away to a (different) magical boarding school when they were in high school. As a reader, what I found a bit unusual about this book was seeing a boarding school from an adult outsider's perspective, which I don't think I've come across before.

As well as trying to solve the murder, Ivy finds herself mixed up with some slightly strange teenagers, a hot teacher and having emotionally complicated conversations with her estranged sister, who is now a teacher at the school where the murder occurred. I found the setting added a point of interest to what was otherwise not a terribly unusual story — although I will say that some of the magic that comes up is a bit more uncommon, overall. It also explored how magical solutions could be applied to typical teenage problems in a way that wasn't explored in the obvious example of Harry Potter. For example, magical contraception and abortion get a look in, at one point. (Because of course that would be a problem that came up in a co-ed boarding situation.)

I enjoyed this book more than I expected to. I was hesitant to read it because of the hippo thing, but I was assured no hippos appeared or were harmed in it, which was indeed the case. It's a fairly different tone and setting to the River of Teeth world, so I don't recommend deciding whether to read it based on that. If the idea of a PI set loose on a magical school appeals to you, then I highly recommend giving this book a go.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2018, Tor
Series: I don't think so
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Hugo Novella Roundup

I was in the fortunate position of having read almost all of the Hugo shortlisted novellas before the list of nominees on the ballot was announced. This meant that I didn't have much reading to do before writing this round-up, but on the other hand, some of the shortlisted books have faded a bit in my memory, since I read most of them very close to the release dates. So ranking these novellas, all of which I enjoyed, is going to be a bit tricky.

Before I get to the novellas, if this is the first of my Hugo round-ups that you're seeing, you might be interested in my round-up of Hugo shortlisted short stories, which I prepared earlier. Discussions of (some of) the other categories to come!

The full Hugo shortlist with links to my review of each novella is below, if you want to quickly scroll down to have a look at it. The list is in no particular order — I think I grabbed it from Tor.com — because it's quite tricky to rank these novellas, for a few reasons. Artificial Condition and Binti: The Night Masquerade are, respectively, a middle and final part of larger stories. Even though I very much like those stories (Murderbot 5eva), I'm not sure they work very well as standalone novellas, which they should for this award, in my opinion. In contrast, Beneath the Sugar Sky and The Tea Master and the Detective are both parts of ongoing series but stand alone perfectly well. Beneath the Sugar Sky has some characters recur from earlier novellas in the series, but is a fully self-contained story. The Tea Master and the Detective may have direct sequels or companion novellas in the future, but for the moment it is merely set in the same universe as many of the author's other stories (the overall series is also nominated for a Best Series Hugo Award). That leaves Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach and The Black God's Drums as completely independent and self-contained stories (or at worst, self-contained first books in series, but I'm not sure on that last point).

But which book did I like best? It's currently a three-way tie between Beneath the Sugar Sky, Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, and The Tea Master and the Detective. Right now I'm leaning towards putting Beneath the Sugar Sky first, then tossing a coin for second and third, and for the remaining places. Once again, this is a very strong ballot and I wouldn't be disappointed by any of these novellas taking home the rocket trophy.


Artificial Condition by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing)
Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com Publishing)
The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com Publishing)
Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson (Tor.com Publishing)
The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard (Subterranean Press / JABberwocky Literary Agency)





Sunday, 2 June 2019

Algorithmic Shapeshifting by Bogi Takács

Algorithmic Shapeshifting by Bogi Takács is a collection of mostly speculative poems. I'm not a big reader of poetry, but I have mostly enjoyed, for example, the poems that appear in Uncanny Magazine. Since I also enjoy Takács's writing, this seemed like a good place to start reading more poetry.

Algorithmic Shapeshifting is the first poetry collection of Bogi Takács, winner of the Lambda award for editing Transcendent 2: The Year's Best Transgender Speculative Fiction, and finalist for the Hugo and Locus awards. Algorithmic Shapeshifting includes poems from the past decade and previously unpublished work. The scope of the pieces extends from the present and past of Jewish life in Hungary and the United States to the far-future, outer-space reaches of the speculative—always with a sense of curiosity and wonder.

There is a variety of poems contained in this collection, from very short to longer works and written in different styles. Some are more narrative and some more abstract. A lot of them tell a story, although a few (fewer than I expected, to be honest) went over my head. Some were very sweet love poems, some were chilling dystopian tales. Most tended towards the science fictional or the fantastical, which definitely appealed to me. Several poems engaged with Jewish themes in various ways. A few were less conventional (I think that's the right description) such as "The Tiny English-Hungarian Phrasebook for Visiting Extraterrestrials" which told a story in a clever way, and "The Oracle of DARPA", which was an amusing poem in the form of an interview between DARPA trying to build a weapon and an oracle giving oblique answers and unexpected side effects.

With short story collections and anthologies I usually include comments on each story unless it's flash fiction. I didn't think that would work for me with poems, so instead I'm just going to discuss/react to some of the poems that stood out for me. I was expecting "A User Guide to the Application of Gem-Flowers" to be horrific rather than wholesome. I was wrong. "Trans Love Is" was very sweet, as were a few other love poems I didn't explicitly mark out. "Periodicity" and "Flee to Far Shores" were both about leaving bad political situations and migration; I found them quite meaningful. I found the sort-of-reveal at the end of "The Third Extension" quite satisfying. "A Hail of Pebbles and Dust" was particularly science fictional, about a tidally locked planet. I liked the way "The Size of a Barleycorn, Encased in Lead" engaged with the idea of time-proof sign-posting (for nuclear waste). "Six Hundred and Thirteen Commandments" told a nice story in several verses spread across time, about completing commandments in different lives.

Finally, I want to mention that I had a review copy of the ebook and there were a few typographical notes in there about how the ebook differs in presentation from the original, intended form. One poem ought to have had two verses printed on opposite sides of a double page spread. Another was originally published in an animated form online and, although there description prefacing it was quite accurate, I didn't fully understand the point until I clicked through to see the original version. It's interesting, given these two examples, that neither the ebook or the paper book can be truely said to be the definitive version of the entire collection. I kind of like the idea of there no being one true version...

If you are a fan of poetry or Takács's writing more generally, then I heartily recommend this collection. I am far from being an expert in speculative poetry, but I enjoyed it a lot and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to others who are also interested in reading more speculative poetry (perhaps in between their speculative fiction).

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: May 2019, Aqueduct Press
Series: Not in the usual sense
Format read: eARC
Source: Review copy courtesy of the author

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson is a novella set in a post climate-collapse world, with a few other apocalypses thrown in. I did not realise, before I started reading, that it was science fiction. Possibly that’s because I didn’t read the blurb properly (or at all — I don’t remember), but I think it’s mainly that the cover didn’t strike me as obviously science fiction rather than fantasy. As a result, since I’ve been more in the mood for SF than F of late, I didn’t pick it up when I first saw it and have come to it now because it was shortlisted for a Hugo Award.

Discover a shifting history of adventure as humanity clashes over whether to repair their ruined planet or luxuriate in a less tainted past.

In 2267, Earth has just begun to recover from worldwide ecological disasters. Minh is part of the generation that first moved back up to the surface of the Earth from the underground hells, to reclaim humanity's ancestral habitat. She's spent her entire life restoring river ecosystems, but lately the kind of long-term restoration projects Minh works on have been stalled due to the invention of time travel. When she gets the opportunity take a team to 2000 BC to survey the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps at the chance to uncover the secrets of the shadowy think tank that controls time travel technology.

I enjoyed this novella. It touches on a lot of different ideas and concepts that interest me. The characters are working to rebuild the surface of the Earth after severe ecological collapse and various other disasters have plagued humanity in the meantime, including a plague which lead to the main protagonist having prosthetic (tentacle) legs. It also touches on bodily autonomy and the morality of interacting negatively with people in the past if the timeline is erased when you leave (or is it?). While all these issues are interesting, Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach is still only a novella in length, so the issues aren't delved into in as much depth as they could be.

Before I finished reading, when I mentioned that I was part-way through this book, some people mentioned that they'd liked the book but not the ending, which made me a bit apprehensive. I bring it up because what I expected from their completely spoiler-free reactions was not at all what I got. In short, the ending was a little abrupt, which was slightly disappointing because I wanted to see more of what happened with the characters, but I thought it made sense in the context of the book. Actually, my main criticism is the way in which the rules of time travel remain a bit vague. One character tells the others what they are, but the other characters remain sceptical about some of them, so we, the reader, aren't sure whether to believe him either. Other aspects of the worldbuilding were more detailed, which I liked, but the uncertainty surrounding the time travel bothered me. Not enough to dislike the book, just enough to feel unsure about some of the resolution.

Overall, however, this was an entertaining read and I recommend it to fans of mid-future SF, climate apocalypse fiction, and also time travel stories. It's Hugo shortlisted is well-earned and I will be having trouble ranking it among the other novellas.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2018, Tor.com
Series: No
Format read: ePub
Source: Hugo Voter Packet

Thursday, 23 May 2019

#ReadShortStories in context (71–75)

In this batch I finished off the fiction in Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction, the special edition of Uncanny, and caught up on a couple of Nature Futureses.

I want to briefly talk about a a short story in DPDSF which I read a while ago, “A House by the Sea” by P. H. Lee. When I read it, I did not realise it was from that particular issue of Uncanny because, for whatever reason (probably Twitter) it was presented to be without context. At that time, I didn't really "get" the story, because of said lack of context. When I came across it more recently, within DPDSF, I immediately recognised it when I started reading and, more importantly, the story suddenly made perfect sense. I had initially suspected that it was about disabled people, but now I had firm context to that effect. Does that mean it's a less good story if it isn't guaranteed to work without that context? I'm not sure, but I suspect a few of the stories in this particular issue of Uncanny fall into the same category of making more sense within their intended context. Is this ultimately a good or bad (or neutral) thing? What do you think?


This Will Not Happen to You by Marissa Lingen — I liked this one. A story about the frustrations of being diagnosed (too late) when chronically ill. Presented in a somewhat sarcastic tone to someone (sort of) who thinks these things only happen to other people. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/this-will-not-happen-to-you/

By Degrees and Dilatory Time by SL Huang — A thoughtful read about a man getting artificial eyes after a cancer diagnosis. It’s entered mainly on his feelings and sense of self. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/by-degrees-and-dilatory-time/

Listen by Karin Tidbeck — Another enjoyable story, this one a bit more alien in that it literally involves interactions between planets and different types of people. A neuroatypical protagonist is translator for aliens whose speech other people cannot remember after they have heard. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/listen/

Without Access by Deborah Walker — Flash, kind of interesting world building but a blatant premise. Unsubtly about internet/social media addicts but also with aliens. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01316-1

Brick City by Robert S Wilson — Not a bad flash piece, charting the end of life and eventual fate of an obsolete android. I found the ending appropriate but was a bit confused by the intended emotional resonance. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01429-7

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan is a short novella about a woman imprisoned in a cave system on an alien planet. Or so it starts. She does not fully remember who she is or what her crime was, but at least she is not alone. Her fellow prisoner seems to know more than she does but is reluctant to divulge the information.

All Bee has ever known is darkness.

She doesn’t remember the crime she committed that landed her in the cold, twisting caverns of the prison planet Colel-Cab with only fellow prisoner Chela for company. Chela says that they’re telepaths and mass-murderers; that they belong here, too dangerous to ever be free. Bee has no reason to doubt her—until she hears the voice of another telepath, one who has answers, and can open her eyes to an entirely different truth.

This novella grabbed me straight away. Even though it is not very clear at first what's happening, I was drawn in my my desire to find out more about the world. I wasn't expecting the story to be about telepaths (probably because I don't pay overly much attention to blurbs), but it played out more interestingly than I would have expected. On the one hand, the plight of telepaths in this future world is central to the story since it's closely bound with the reasons for Bee's imprisonment. On the other hand, the actual conflict is backgrounded with the main focus being on Bee's personal struggle. In a society at war, we are presented with a very stark example of the personal being political.

I don't think I can say much more without spoiling the story, but I found it consistently very readable. The setting and story was a bit unusual, and at the same time the personal journey was very unexceptional in the context of fiction (aside from the parts that were). I recommend Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water to fans of soft science fiction/science fantasy — there's no avoiding the telepathy aspect of the story — and to any readers interested in personal stories with political backdrops.

4 / 5 stars

First published: May 2019, Tor.com
Series: Don't think so
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Sunday, 19 May 2019

New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl

New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl is, like it says on the cover, an anthology of original speculative fiction by people of colour. Aside from that commonality, there is quite a diverse group of stories contained within. On the one hand, this means there should be a story for every type of speculative fiction reader, but perhaps that not every story will work for every reader.

Anthology of contemporary stories by emerging and seasoned writers of many races

There’s nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns,” proclaimed Octavia E Butler.

New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color showcases emerging and seasoned writers of many races telling stories filled with shocking delights, powerful visions of the familiar made strange. Between this book’s covers burn tales of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and their indefinable overlappings. These are authors aware of our many possible pasts and futures, authors freed of stereotypes and clichés, ready to dazzle you with their daring genius.

Unexpected brilliance shines forth from every page.

I found this anthology to be quite the mixed bag. There were some cute stories, some dark stories, some stories dealing with very interesting ideas, some that I didn't feel I "got" but that I'm sure will be meaningful for other readers. As such, I'm finding it hard to have an opinion on the anthology as a whole. As usual, I recorded my thoughts on each story as I read it — and you can find these below — but an overall impression is difficult. I also ended up reading New Suns over a long period of time, which doesn't help.

A few of the stories which stand out for me are:

  • "The Virtue of Unfaithful Translations" by Minsoo Kang, which was based on a delightful premise. It wasn't the easiest read, but absolutely worth putting the effort in for.
  • "The Freedom of the Shifting Sea" by Jaymee Goh was a meatier read than some of the others and featured a memorable cross-species romance.
  • "One Easy Trick" by Hiromi Goto was cute and entertaining.
The above is not an exhaustive list, so I do encourage you to read the mini-reviews below if you haven't already.

Overall, New Suns is an anthology filled with diverse perspectives and written by diverse authors. If you are looking to branch out a bit in your short story reading and try some new authors, this would be a good place to start. 


~

The Galactic Tourist Industrial Complex, Tobias Buckell — What if a lot of different aliens all decided that Earth was a perfect tourist destination? Find out how mere humans live on the edges of a society that mainly relies on tourist income to Manhattan. Interesting parallels as well as interesting aliens.

Deer Dancer, Kathleen Alcalá — A story about a collective living arrangement in some sort of post-apocalyptic future (climate change I think). It was mostly slice-of-life, interesting but lost me a bit towards the end.

The Virtue of Unfaithful Translations, Minsoo Kang — I originally started reading this story on the second of two long-haul flights and it transpired that I was far too tired to take the story in. When I restarted it later, better rested, I realised I had had no idea what it was about from the first attempt. It doesn’t help that it’s written in a very dry style, in the manner of a non-fictional historical essay, and that the story itself emerges gradually. Once established, it was a very interesting and amusing read, if not exactly an exciting one.

Come Home to Atropos, Steven Barnes — Told in the form of a horrifyingly unsubtle infomercial, this story is about assisted dying and euthanasia tourism. The overtones of historic and modern slavery seemed a bit gauche for an infomercial but certainly added to the plausibility of the story overall. (Also, the story was more a a take on racism than an interrogation of the concept of assisted dying.)

The Fine Print, Chinelo Onwualu — The premise of the story was a bit unpleasant (from a feminist point of view) and I didn’t feel the story itself really made up for that, despite acknowledging it. The writing was fine but I didn’t really enjoy the plot.

unkind of mercy, Alex Jennings — A slightly creepy story. It reminded me of the episode of Doctor Who with the ghost angels that was part of the Tenth Doctor’s last season finale. With a very different ending, of course.

Burn the Ships, Alberto Yáñez — A story of conquerors from the east colonising an empire in southern America. There is oppression and slaughter and vengeful magic. I think the setting is an alternate world rather than a precisely real historic setting. It was a longer story and featured culture that I have not come across too frequently in stories.

The Freedom of the Shifting Sea, Jaymee Goh — One of my favourite stories in the collection. A multigenerational epic featuring a mermaid/mermillipede (any description from me isn’t going to do her justice, I suggest just reading the story). I liked the twist on the traditional mermaid idea and the way the story spanned many years, in bursts.

Three Variations on a Theme of Imperial Attire, E. Lily Yu — As the title says, variations on the story of the Emperor’s new clothes. It adds to the obvious take and was written in a very readable voice.

Blood and Bells, Karin Lowachee — This story was a slog to get into and I ended up setting it aside for quite a while. When I came back to it and read further it was more interesting (to see the actual plot develop). Gang warfare and a father trying to protect his kid in the middle of a murder investigation.

Give Me Your Black Wings Oh Sister, Silvia Moreno-Garcia — An enticing story about a witch living in a city and attempting to lead a normal life. I enjoyed the time and writing style especially.

The Shadow We Cast Through Time, Indrapramit Das — A dark and fantastical take of a far future but lowish-tech colony on some alien planet. The story evoked a compelling mood, but I found it a bit too slow to draw me in effectively, for all that it was interesting during sufficiently long bursts of reading.

The Robots of Eden, Anil Menon — A dystopian/utopian future in which most affluent people have implants that regulate their emotions and protect them from life’s emotional struggles. I was quite intrigued by the story of a banker dealing exceptionally well with divorce and even befriending his ex wife’s new husband, with the dark realities of the world lurking beneath the surface.

Dumb House, Andrea Hairston — A bit of a slice of life story set in a dystopian rural US. A woman living in a “dumb house” fends off salesmen trying to upgrade her to a smart house. The character development was interesting but I felt that a bit more of the worldbuilding details could have been included; some aspects were clear, some foggy.

One Easy Trick, Hiromi Goto — A cute story about a woman, her belly fat, and a forest. I quite enjoyed it and found it a bit unexpected, in a good way.

Harvest, Rebecca Roanhorse — A kind of creepy story. I found aspects of the ending a little too ambiguous but, nevertheless, it was well written.

Kelsey and the Burdened Breath, Darcie Little Badger — A bit of a mystery but mostly a ghost story. I enjoyed the mythology of it and wouldn’t have minded a longer/meatier story.


3.5 / 5 stars

First published: March 2019, Rebellion Publishing
Series: No
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Friday, 17 May 2019

#ReadShortStories and travel in mind as well as body (66–70)

As I mentioned in the last batch, I decided to make a concerted effort to finish New Suns after having neglected it for a little while. Once I did that (the last few stories were enjoyable, I had just stalled after one or two stories I didn't enjoy in the middle-ish of the anthology), I moved on to making my way through Uncanny's special issue Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction. That's where the latter stories in this batch have come from.

One Easy Trick by Hiromi Goto — A cute story about a woman, her belly fat, and a forest. I quite enjoyed it and found it a bit unexpected, in a good way.  Source: New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl

Harvest by Rebecca Roanhorse — A kind of creepy story. I found aspects of the ending a little too ambiguous but, nevertheless, it was well written. Source: New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl

Kelsey and the Burdened Breath by Darcie Little Badger — A bit of a mystery but mostly a ghost story. I enjoyed the mythology of it and wouldn’t have minded a longer/meatier story. Source: New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl

Abigail Dreams of Weather by Stu West — Cancer kids (or similar) living on a space station during a meteor shower. A cool scene-setting story, although there wasn’t very much to it beyond the worldbuilding. Also opened with a lot of vomit, which I could have lived without.  Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/abigail-dreams-of-weather/

Disconnect by Fran Wilde — This story was about a woman with wandering joints (literally they seem to disappear and reappear in space) who is also a physics lecturer (well, adjunct, since it’s set in the US). Since I have stupid joints and am an astrophysicist, it seemed like I should have enjoyed this story. Alas, instead I got the very strong feeling that the author only had a passing knowledge of physics at best, which was very frustrating. Ultimately, this story did not work for me at all.  Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/disconnect/




Wednesday, 15 May 2019

#ReadShortStories on trains in other countries (61–65)

This batch starts off with a bit of randomness, but then I started on a concerted effort to finish off New Suns (which is a few more stories beyond those shown here). It helped that I did a bit of recreational travelling and actually had time to read without worrying about work stuff. (I didn't get much reading done on my last trip, partly because it was for work and partly because I had a lot of deadlines around the same time, so this was a nice change.)


The Fast Stuff by George Zebrowski — A surprisingly incoherent story that felt like a bit of a slog despite being flash (really, it’s one page, I should not have gotten bored) and despite the author’s noted accolades (not that I’d heard of him before). A pilot yearns to fly impossibly fast. (And then he does, because aliens.) Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01180-z

Act of Kindness by Emma Newman — A nice little Planetfall universe vignette. Showing another character’s point of view during a scene from After Atlas. Source: Emma Newman’s newsletter

Gulliver at Home by Anatoly Belilovsky — Flash concerning aliens and astronauts, written in a more interesting way than I might have expected. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01249-9

The Robots of Eden by Anil Menon — A dystopian/utopian future in which most affluent people have implants that regulate their emotions and protect them from life’s emotional struggles. I was quite intrigued by the story of a banker dealing exceptionally well with divorce and even befriending his ex wife’s new husband, with the dark realities of the world lurking beneath the surface. Source: New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl

Dumb House by Andrea Hairston — A bit of a slice of life story set in a dystopian rural US. A woman living in a “dumb house” fends off salesmen trying to upgrade her to a smart house. The character development was interesting but I felt that a bit more of the worldbuilding details could have been included; some aspects were clear, some foggy. Source: New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl


Friday, 10 May 2019

Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky is a standalone novella centred around a “big dumb object” in a science fictional sense. I haven’t read any of the author’s novels, but apparently did read his novella in Monstrous Little Voices, which was not very memorable. I think Walking to Aldebaran is a definite improvement on memorability, if nothing else.

My name is Gary Rendell. I’m an astronaut. When they asked me as a kid what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, “astronaut, please!” I dreamed astronaut, I worked astronaut, I studied astronaut.

I got lucky; when a probe sent out to explore the Oort Cloud found a strange alien rock and an international team of scientists was put together to go and look at it, I made the draw.

I got even luckier. When disaster hit and our team was split up, scattered through the endless cold tunnels, I somehow survived.

Now I’m lost, and alone, and scared, and there’s something horrible in here.

Lucky me.

Lucky, lucky, lucky.

This book starts a little slowly with our first person protagonist walking through crypt-like passages in space. We get a feel for the crypts and the backstory is slowly meted out over the course of the novella. At one point I started to wonder whether there would be much plot to it or whether we would just a description of the space-bending alien artefact from the inside. But then we get some fresh hints about backstory still to come and the plot progresses. By the end, I found myself enjoying the book more than I expected to.

We get a reasonably detailed description of the crypts and the weird physics inside them. We get enough backstory to understand why the astronauts went there and (eventually) why Gary ends up alone. There was a reveal that came right after I thought “wait, was that <spoiler redacted>?” But another similar thought was not followed up my confirmation either way, since it’s not something Gary could have known and was not in a position to guess. Things like that open the text up for a lot more discussion and speculation than I would have expected, making this all the more satisfying a read.

Overall, Walking to Aldebaran was an interesting read, exploring a nifty alien artefact. Where it shines is towards the end, where the true story is revealed and we see Gary’s journey as a whole. I found myself pleasantly surprised although I wasn’t bored by the first half of the book either. I recommend Walking to Aldebaran to fans of philosophical science fiction or fans of big dumb objects.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: May 2019, Rebellion
Series: No
Format read: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley