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

Monday, 6 May 2019

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire is a standalone novel set in a world similar to the real world, but bursting with alchemy. As far as I’m aware, it is not linked to any of McGuire’s other books or series.

Meet Roger. Skilled with words, languages come easily to him. He instinctively understands how the world works through the power of story.

Meet Dodger, his twin. Numbers are her world, her obsession, her everything. All she understands, she does so through the power of math.

Roger and Dodger aren’t exactly human, though they don’t realise it. They aren’t exactly gods, either. Not entirely. Not yet.

Meet Reed, skilled in the alchemical arts like his progenitor before him. Reed created Dodger and her brother. He’s not their father. Not quite. But he has a plan: to raise the twins to the highest power, to ascend with them and claim their authority as his own.

Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.

The opening of this book grabbed me immediately with the in media res working particularly well thanks to the unusual timeline structure of the book. While we do get a lot of the main story in chronological order, it is interspersed with bits that come out of order, as well as the point of view sections of the antagonist and a thematically-linked children’s fairytale. Overall it makes for an interesting reading experience. That said, I did feel like the book dragged a little in the middle and to me it felt quite long, which is the worst thing I can say about it. (Note, also, that it is objectively on the long side, but it still should not have felt that way.)

Back to the content, this is a story of alchemically created twins, separated by the length and breadth of the USA, and left to grow up in isolation. They were created to channel immense power for their maker but a lot of their upbringing was left to chance. We follow them through their lives as they learn about each other, push each other away, meet by chance, push each other away and so forth. At first I found the story a little confusing — while the start grabbed me, it took a little while to fully understand what was happening. Then I grew more invested in the characters and wanted to know what would happen next, despite the slower middle section. The climax came not a page too late, to kick off the last portion of the book.

This is a dark fantasy book, shading to the horrific, that I expect fans of McGuire’s other books will enjoy. In general tone I found it most similar to the Wayward Children books, although the story structure (and length) was quite different. It’s certainly not science fiction horror like the Mira Grant books are, though this was not immediately apparent to me when I started reading. All in all, a structurally interesting read that I recommend to fans of dark fantasy.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: May 2019, Tor.com
Series: No.
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Hugo Short Story Round-up

Those of you who have been following along with my blog and my #ReadShortStories posts will have seen my mini-reviews of the Hugo-nominated short stories as I read them. But I did not read them in a group, so I am collecting them here together in a single blog post.

I found this to be a strong category and there were no stories I actively disliked. "STET" is definitely the story I have the most mixed feelings about, and that is mainly due to its structure, which is also sort of the point. The ranking of the rest of the stories felt a lot more subjective to me; none of the stories stood out as especially better or worse than the others and my ordering of time comes down to personal preference more than anything else. So, although the voting is not yet open, I include the stories and my mini reviews of them in the order I expect I will put them on my ballot. Although I reserve the right to change my mind, especially if I end up engaging in some interesting discussions about them that change my mind.

If you've already read the stories, what's your opinion of them? How much do you disagree with my ranking?

(Story title links below go to where they can be freely read online.)


The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat” by Brooke Bolander — I found this dinosaur-esque fairytale very entertaining. I even laughed a few times. From the chatter in the podcast around it, I gather the rest of the Uncanny dinosaur issue, which I haven’t read, is set in a shared world. But this story absolutely stood alone. It also wasn’t what I expected, since it also contained humans, not just raptors. And a witch. Anyway, very entertaining.

A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies” by Alix E. Harrow — A lovely story about a witchy librarian, who just wants to help her patrons, and one patron in particular who hasn’t been dealt the best hand by fate. I quite enjoyed it.

"The Court Magician" by Sarah Pinsker — An unexpected but interesting story about a poor boy, street magic and the more powerful real magic he eventually learns about. I liked it.

"The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington" by P. Djèlí Clark — A story told in nine snippets pertaining to the lives of nine black slaves, set in a parallel world where magic and magical creatures exist. It was an interesting read, but felt a little long because of its structure.

"The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society" by T. Kingfisher — An amusing story about the tables turning on a group of fairies who usually get their way and enjoy leaving humans to pine after them. Short and sweet.

STET” by Sarah Gailey — Hands down, the most interesting thing about this story is the form in  which it’s presented. The actual story is sad and all, but I do think the impact is lessened by the format. An interesting experiment but I didn’t feel as drawn into the story as I would a more conventional narrative, though it was still heartbreaking.




Sunday, 28 April 2019

#ReadShortStories, even if only because they're Hugo shortlisted (56–60)

I spent some of my weekend making a push on the Hugo ballot and the last three stories in this batch are the result. I've now finished the short story ballot, so a comparison of all the Hugo short story nominees will be coming soon. Stay tuned.



The Shadow We Cast Through Time by 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. Source: New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl

A Billion Dots of Light by Matt Thompson — Flash about a very dehumanised pod-generation ship. Pretty horrifying and with a bit of a clichéd ending. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01105-w

The Court Magician  by Sarah Pinsker — An unexpected but interesting story about a poor boy, street magic and the more powerful real magic he eventually learns about. I liked it. Source: http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/the-court-magician

Nine Last Days on Planet Earth by Daryl Gregory — The story was OK but I found it a bit old fashioned. I’m also not sure that the title made sense in the end with the direction the story took, but I don’t want to spoil it by explaining. I was weirded out by how often the (gay!) protagonist described how beautiful his mother was. That was super weird, and only got more so with repetition. Overall, the science parts with the apocalypse were interesting, the rest was fine. Source: https://www.tor.com/2018/09/19/nine-last-days-on-planet-earth-daryl-gregory/

The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat by Brooke Bolander — I found this dinosaur-esque fairytale very entertaining. I even laughed a few times. From the chatter in the podcast around it, I gather the rest of the Uncanny dinosaur issue, which I haven’t read, is set in a shared world. But this story absolutely stood alone. It also wasn’t what I expected, since it also contained humans, not just raptors. And a witch. Anyway, very entertaining. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/the-tale-of-the-three-beautiful-raptor-sisters-and-the-prince-who-was-made-of-meat/


Monday, 22 April 2019

The Disasters by M K England

The Disasters by M K England is a YA space adventure story, in which a group of teens are the only hope for most of humanity. It was mostly a fun read, but there were some physics issues that I found quite distracting.

Hotshot pilot Nax Hall has a history of making poor life choices. So it’s not exactly a surprise when he’s kicked out of the elite Ellis Station Academy in less than twenty-four hours.

But Nax’s one-way trip back to Earth is cut short when a terrorist group attacks the Academy. Nax and three other washouts escape—barely—but they’re also the sole witnesses to the biggest crime in the history of space colonization. And the perfect scapegoats.

On the run and framed for atrocities they didn’t commit, Nax and his fellow failures execute a dangerous heist to spread the truth about what happened at the Academy.

They may not be “Academy material,” and they may not get along, but they’re the only ones left to step up and fight.

In many ways this was a fun book. The characters were entertaining and diverse which was fairly refreshing to read. The narrating character, Nax, ends up being the de facto leader of the little team and being inside his head wasn't terrible. It was a good mix of uncertainty, some silly teenage stuff and world-saving plans.

The worldbuilding of this future was based on some sort of magically fast jump drives (that weren't described in detail), which allowed for the colonisation of several habitable planets spread around the galaxy. A bit confusingly, the law is that once someone leaves Earth they can never come back to the planet. The closest they can get is in orbit if they want to talk to their loved ones over live video chat. This wasn't really explained in depth and, while it seems like the kind of thing that might be subverted in this sort of book, it was not. A little baffling, overall.

The biggest problem I had with this book, however, was the complete disregard for the laws of physics. Starting with the part where the space ships had rudders (overall, they behaved a little too much like planes, even when they were in vacuum). There was just so much that didn't make sense on that front that I couldn't ignore it and I couldn't enjoy the book. Every action scene generated a lot of "WTF" for me. Very disappointing. Perhaps if the book overall had been a little bit tighter and faster-paced, I could have ignored more of the physics gaffes. But as it was, I did not enjoy The Disasters and dragged out my reading of it because I just wasn't keen to get back to it. Alas.

So I would recommend this to fans of YA and action adventures in space, but the physics was appalling and I can't recommend it on that front. Obviously, that's not something that will bother everyone, but since it's a YA book and potentially influencing the understanding of space and physics in young minds, I cannot approve.

3 / 5 stars

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

Friday, 19 April 2019

#ReadShortStories for whatever reasons (51–55)



Some miscellaneous reading in this batch, somewhat driven by the Hugo shortlist. I will also be posting Hugo roundups by category once I get through an entire category. I am close to finishing short stories, but I am waiting for the Hugo packet for novellas and longer.


The Madness of Memory by Kameron Hurley — On a world with two races, not only the slave race is enslaved. But there are other problems for the ruling species. A thought provoking read with an expected resolution to an unexpected problem. Source: Kameron Hurley’s Patreon

The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington by P. Djèlí Clark — A story told in nine snippets pertaining to the lives of nine black slaves, set in a parallel world where magic and magical creatures exist. It was an interesting read, but felt a little long/slow because of its structure. Source: https://firesidefiction.com/the-secret-lives-of-the-nine-negro-teeth-of-george-washington

STET by Sarah Gailey — Hands down, the most interesting thing about this story is the form in which it’s presented. The actual story is sad and all, but I do think the impact is lessened by the format. An interesting experiment but I didn’t feel as drawn into the story as I would a more conventional narrative, though it was still heartbreaking. Source: https://firesidefiction.com/stet

A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix E. Harrow — A lovely story about a witchy librarian, who just wants to help her patrons, and one patron in particular who hasn’t been dealt the best hand by fate. I quite enjoyed it. Source: https://www.apex-magazine.com/a-witchs-guide-to-escape-a-practical-compendium-of-portal-fantasies

Amped Life by John Cooper Hamilton — Creepy and sort of funny flash piece about astronauts kept awake for maximum productivity with pills. I liked the twist. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01042-8

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Atlas Alone by Emma Newman

Atlas Alone by Emma Newman is the latest standalone novel set in the Planetfall universe. In some ways it makes most sense as an almost-direct sequel to After Atlas, but it certainly stands alone just fine. There is a new protagonist, who did appear in After Atlas but whom I have very little memory of from that book. In fact, After Atlas is the book I remember least of the series (not entirely sure why) and despite that I had no problems getting into Atlas Alone. It does contain a pretty major spoiler for events that happen at the end of After Atlas and near the end of Before Mars, however, so beware on that front. That massive spoiler is also in the blurb below.

Six months after she left Earth, Dee is struggling to manage her rage toward the people who ordered the nuclear strike that destroyed the world. She’s trying to find those responsible, and to understand why the ship is keeping everyone divided into small groups, but she’s not getting very far alone.

A dedicated gamer, she throws herself into mersives to escape and is approached by a designer who asks her to play test his new game. It isn’t like any game she’s played before. Then a character she kills in the climax of the game turns out to bear a striking resemblance to a man who dies suddenly in the real world at exactly the same time. A man she discovers was one of those responsible for the death of millions on Earth.

Disturbed, but thinking it must be a coincidence, Dee pulls back from gaming and continues the hunt for information. But when she finds out the true plans for the future colony, she realizes that to save what is left of humanity, she may have to do something that risks losing her own.

This was an excellent book and different again from the earlier books in the series. The new protagonist, Dee, did show up in After Atlas and the events of that book are why she is now on an American-built starship following the Pathfinder on a twenty-year journey to another planet. What does one do to kill time on a space ship? Play lots of full-immersion games and try to get an idea of who else is on the ship. Then get an invite to a leet gaming server, get suspicious of the people on board and strike up a conversation with a game designer who does not respect personal boundaries.

At first I was surprised at how much of this story took place in immersive games, especially when I also realised how far I had gotten in terms of pages read. But then the true story became clear and turned out to not be quite what I had expected. (Trying not to spoil here.) Although I very much guessed something that wasn't revealed to the main character for some time, the story took a lot of unexpected turns, right up to the dramatic and powerful ending (which only caused me to loose a little sleep, thanks to the timing of when I got up to it). Overall, Atlas Alone was a remarkable book in what has been a remarkable series.

As I said in my preamble, Atlas Alone does follow most directly from After Atlas, and the other books in the series aren't required reading. But they are all excellent and I don't think reading them in publication order is a bad thing either. Also, I think After Atlas is the most depressing book (for all that I don't remember it too clearly) while I found the others more enjoyable reading. Don't get me wrong, this isn't exactly a "fun" series. It deals with some heavy issues, most notably death and mental illness. I laughed aloud a few times reading Atlas Alone, but that was more at sarcasm or outrageous developments than actual humour. None of which stops me from loving this series.

To reiterate, this continues to be an excellent series and I hope it gets some more recognition, preferably in the form of a Hugo nomination for Best Series (hint to Worldcon members who are eligible to nominate). I look forward to more Planetfall novels in the future. They have all had very different but deeply psychological takes on their protagonists and I would love to read more.

5 / 5 stars

First published: April 2019, Gollancz
Series: Planetfall, book 4 of 4 so far but sort of a direct sequel to After Atlas
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Perihelion Summer by Greg Egan

Perihelion Summer by Greg Egan is a standalone science fiction novella from Tor.com. The combination of author I like and imprint of consistently good novellas meant that I was definitely going to read this at some point. Happily I got an early copy, so I can share this review just before release.

Greg Egan's Perihelion Summer is a story of people struggling to adapt to a suddenly alien environment, and the friendships and alliances they forge as they try to find their way in a world where the old maps have lost their meaning.

Taraxippus is coming: a black hole one tenth the mass of the sun is about to enter the solar system.

Matt and his friends are taking no chances. They board a mobile aquaculture rig, the Mandjet, self-sustaining in food, power and fresh water, and decide to sit out the encounter off-shore. As Taraxippus draws nearer, new observations throw the original predictions for its trajectory into doubt, and by the time it leaves the solar system, the conditions of life across the globe will be changed forever.

The premise of this book is a fairly technical apocalypse, involving black holes. There are some maths and physics details near the start, but it’s not opaquely technical, in my opinion. Most of the story focuses on the characters dealing with the disaster and its aftermath and observing and interacting with others doing the same. There were a lot of thoughtful little bits included, which made the read more delightful. For example the headlines from various newspapers (which will be most appreciated by Australian and British readers, I think) and comments about Australian spying in Timor-Leste.

I found Matt’s relationship with his mother both interesting, in the difficulties it added to the book, and a bit incomprehensible, with regards to her attitude. I ended up thinking about her attitude a lot and I think it comes down to this: I can understand apocalypse-denial, but not once the apocalypse is actually happening. As a child of refugees, the idea of not leaving a doomed home to save yourself when you have the ability to just baffles me. I know the mother character’s feelings are reflecting real people’s attitudes but somehow it’s even worse when shown in such an extreme situation. Anyway, that part — Matt’s interactions with his family — gave me a lot of feelings, in the way that good books often do.

This was an excellent read and I couldn’t put it down, even though I had to sleep. I highly recommend it to fans of realistic (ish) apocalypse fiction and Greg Egan’s other books. It’s a brilliant combination of character dynamics and accessible science. I really must get around to reading more Greg Egan.

5 / 5 stars

First published: April 2019, Tor.com
Series: No.
Format read: Paper ARC *gasp*
Source: Won in a Twitter competition

Thursday, 4 April 2019

#ReadShortStories (46 to 50)

The milestone of reaching 50 short stories read for the year comes just as I begin my Hugo reading, with story number fifty coming from the short story shortlist. If you would like to join me in reading the Hugo nominated fiction (or non-fiction etc) then I draw your attention to this post on File 770, which goes through the short list and directs you to where you can read/watch/listen to everything for free or, at least, read an excerpt or watch a trailer.


Internal Investigations by Naomi Alderman — This story was interesting in so far as it looked at hacking the mind/body, but not exceptionally original in doing so. It was well written enough to be enjoyable and creepy, which counts for a lot. Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00pbgrk

The Frequency of Compassion by A. Merc Rustad — There were too many very wrong throwaway statements about space/physics for me to enjoy this story. For me they overshadowed what was otherwise a nice story about an agender and neuroatypical protagonist making first contact at the edge of the solar system. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/the-frequency-of-compassion/

The Stars Above by Katharine Duckett — An excellent story, my favourite in the issue so far. A small Kazakhstani village returns to nomadism and living off the grid after aliens invade. The protagonist being a foreigner worked well for the outsider view and the links to family back in the US. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/the-stars-above/

The Things I Miss the Most by Nisi Shawl — An unexpected story essentially about a hallucination generated by a futuristic treatment for seizures. I found it touching and difficult to have a single opinion on, in a good way. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/the-things-i-miss-the-most/

The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society by T. Kingfisher — An amusing story about the tables turning on a group of fairies who usually get their way and enjoy leaving humans to pine after them. Short and sweet. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/the-rose-macgregor-drinking-and-admiration-society/


Tuesday, 2 April 2019

#ReadShortStories (41 to 45)


More disabled people destroying science fiction in this batch. And a couple of flash pieces from Nature Futures.

I have been too busy using up all of my brain spoons on various things (mostly work) so these preambles might continue to be short for the foreseeable future. Feel free to leave me a comment if you actually miss them.


Birthday Girl by Rachel Swirsky — A look at how approaches to mental illness/neurodiversity in children have changed over a generation. Highlighted by comparisons between the protagonist and her young niece. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/birthday-girl/

An Open Letter to the Family by Jennifer Brozek — An epistolary story set in the far future. A woman tells her family of upcoming medical plans. It was a more interesting take than I expected from the opening paragraphs. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/an-open-letter-to-the-family/

Heavy Lifting by A. T. Greenblatt — A coder/hacker girl working with her slightly douchey friend to tack down factory robots gone rogue in a (vague) post-apocalyptic world. A fun read.  Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/heavy-lifting/

A Picture is Worth by Beth Cato — An amusing flash piece about Martians who have severe ideological differences to the human race. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00884-6

The Librarian by Robert Dawson — A flash piece about a neglected library staffed only by a robotic librarian. I got an unnecessarily bitter vibe from it, though it wasn’t exactly a bad story. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00905-4

Saturday, 30 March 2019

#ReadShortStories (36 to 40)


A mixed bag here, from flash to long novella to getting back into New Suns to starting a new (to me) issue of Uncanny. I really enjoyed "Geometries of Belonging" by Rose Lemberg and I am definitely going to read more stories set in that universe. On the other hand, I was stuck part way through "Blood and Bells" for a long time which is one reason why my progress on New Suns has been so slow of late. The book is already out so I will try to get through the last few stories quickly and get my full review written up and posted soon.


Please [redacted] My Last E-mail by Kurt Pankau — A flash in the form of an email about an earlier email that was definitely not full of factual information about a robot army. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00797-4

Geometries of Belonging by Rose Lemberg 
Although I was warned, I was still surprised at how long this story was. It’s a novelette but it must be close to the upper limit. It took me a few days of reading in short- to medium-sized bursts to get through it. But I really enjoyed it. 

The world building is quite substantial so it did take me a little bit to get fully immersed in the world, but once I did I was hooked. The attitudes of the main character are deftly used to highlight the way the world works and even allow us to learn about other countries in this world. There were significant elements of both trans and autistic (I think) experiences, though not named as such, because fantasy world. I found these were presented in a very compelling way that left much scope to empathise with the protagonist. 

I gather there are other stories set in the same world and I am now very keen to read them and plan to track down what I can. 

Blood and Bells by 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. Source: New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl

Give Me Your Black Wings Oh Sister by 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. Source: New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl

The House on the Moon by William Alexander — A mostly fun story but an unsubtle one. A kid with a cane on the moon, a field trip to a castle, some depressing recent (future) history. Quite readable, though the ending was a little confusing, with an element out of left field. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/the-house-on-the-moon/

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

The True Queen by Zen Cho

The True Queen by Zen Cho is set after the events of Sorcerer to the Crown, but is not a direct sequel since it follows a different group of characters. I enjoyed Sorcerer to the Crown and generally recommend starting there to get a delightful introduction to the world, but if you can't get your hands on it, I don't see a problem with starting with The True Queen (especially if you don't mind being spoiled for the end state of Sorcerer to the Crown).

Fairyland’s future lies in doubt

The enchanted island of Janda Baik, in the Malay Archipelago, has long been home to witches. And Muna and her sister Sakti wake on its shores under a curse, which has quite stolen away their memories. Their only hope of salvation lies in distant Britain, where the Sorceress Royal runs a controversial academy for female magicians. But the pair travel via the formidable Fairy Queen’s realm, where Sakti simply disappears.

To save her sister, Muna must learn to navigate Regency London’s high society and trick the English into believing she’s a magical prodigy. But when the Sorceress Royal’s friends become accidentally embroiled in a plot – involving the Fairy Queen’s contentious succession – Muna is drawn right in. She must also find Sakti, break their curse and somehow stay out of trouble. But if fairyland’s true queen does finally return, trouble may find her first . . .

This was an excellent read. I had put off starting it for a little while because I wanted to finish other books I was part way through first. But (eventually) putting them aside and starting The True Queen was an excellent decision. I remember enjoying Sorcerer to the Crown very much when I read it, but that was a few years ago and in audiobook form, so my memory of it was hazier than I would have liked. I need not have worried, though since The True Queen follows a new character and gives us a good grounding in the world — and the Malaysian side of the world, at that — before introducing us to most of the recurring characters.

Muna starts off the book with no memory of who she is or why she washed up on a beach. She and her sister are taken in by a powerful local witch and, when little progress is made in curing them of the mysterious curse, they are sent to England to find out more. That's where things go wrong and also where the main connection to the earlier book lies.

I really enjoyed The True Queen. It made me laugh with its incidental humour and told an intriguing story which was captivating even though we, the reader, were given more than enough information to make connections that the protagonist overlooked for perfectly understandable reasons. And through the second most prominent character, Henrietta, we got a closer look at English society, the ways in which Prunella — the first Sorceress Royal — had changed society and the ways in which she hadn't.

I highly recommend The True Queen to anyone who enjoys fantasy with a dollop of humour or regcency-ish settings or Malaysian settings, for that matter. I continue to adore Zen Cho's writing (have you read her short stories?) and I will avidly read anything else of hers that I come across.

5 / 5 stars

First published: March 2019, Macmillan
Series: Sorcerer Royal, book 2 of 2 (so far)
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Sunday, 24 March 2019

More Awards News - Aurealis Series and Tiptree


I am a little slow posting this news, but I didn't want it to pass without mention. Not long ago, I posted about the Aurealis Awards short list. The shortlist for the Sara Douglass series award came out a bit later and, though I missed it at the time, I wanted to share it with you all. This is only the second time the Best Series Aurealis will be awarded, so it's very interesting to look at the composition of the shortlist. (You can see the first shortlist at the bottom of this page.) I've included this year's shortlist below, and you can also see it here.

The other award which was recently announced is the Tiptree Award. This one is a bit unusual in that they announce the winner, an honour list and a long list all in one go. The winner this year is Gabriela Damián Miravete for her short story “They Will Dream In the Garden”. You can read the Honour and Long List at the Tiptree website.

2018 Sara Douglass Book Series Award shortlist


Blackthorn & Grim [Dreamer’s Pool (2014), Tower of Thorns (2015), Den of Wolves (2016)], Juliet Marillier (Pan Macmillan Australia)

Captive Prince [Captive Prince (2014), Prince’s Gambit (2014), Kings Rising (2016)], C S Pacat (Penguin Random House)

Electric Empire [The Diabolical Miss Hyde (2015), The Devious Dr Jekyll (2015), The Dastardly Miss Lizzie (2017)], Viola Carr (HarperCollins Publishers)

The Fire Sermon [The Fire Sermon (2015), The Map of Bones (2016), The Forever Ship (2017)], Francesca Haig (HarperCollins Publishers)

Zeroes [Zeroes (2015), Swarm (2016), Nexus (2017)], Deborah Biancotti, Margo Lanagan & Scott Westerfeld (Allen & Unwin)


Friday, 15 March 2019

#ReadShortStories (31 to 35)


More progress on the New Suns anthology in this batch of short stories, plus a detour to a couple of other stories. I now have a Nature subscription, so I expect to be reading each week's Nature Futures story in paper when the magazine/journal arrives. I imagine that will increase the proportion of flash fiction featured here.


Burn the Ships by 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. Source: New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl

The Freedom of the Shifting Sea by 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. Source: New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl

Three Variations on a Theme of Imperial Attire by 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. Source: New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl

The Last Child by L R Conti — A flash about artificial life that grows and learns but is programmed to end when its task is finished. This one rubbed me the wrong way a bit. I wasn’t a fan. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00749-y

Emergency Landing by Seanan McGuire — I was promised this would ruin flying for me, but it wasn’t at all what I expected on that front. Horror, yes, but not centred around the actual plane part. Source: Seanan McGuire’s Patreon

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine is a story of galactic empire and the author’s debut. I was drawn to it by two blurbs: the summary from the publisher and the recommendation from Ann Leckie. Combined they gave the impression that the book would appeal to fans of the latter, and I don’t think that impression was wrong.

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn't an accident--or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.

Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan's unceasing expansion--all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret--one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life--or rescue it from annihilation.

The story in A Memory Called Empire follows the Ambassador from a small space station colony and she begins her placement in the grand galactic empire. Her people, the Lsel, use brain recorders to preserve knowledge and before Mahit leaves she receives the memories of the previous ambassador. Except they’re fifteen years out of date and no one knows what actually happened to the previous ambassador. Finding out is her main motivation.

On the one hand, this is the story of someone alone in a foreign planet. On the other hand, she’s not entirely alone, since she has Yskander, the previous ambassador, in her head, and it’s not entirely a foreign world since she’s been studying their language and in love with their culture for a long time. Of course, things are not so clear cut, which is also the source of much of the tension in the book. That and a series of events entirely out of Mahit’s purview.

I found this to be an interesting and entertaining read. At times it would drag for a minute, but then there’d be a funny quip or a dramatic event and the story would pick up again. That aspect did emphasise how long this book was, which I hadn’t entirely expected, but since it was enjoyable, I also didn’t mind.

A Memory Called Empire explores empire and dominant culture. How to resist it and the extent to which that isn’t entirely possible. The more we learn about Mahit’s predecessor’s approach to his job, and the more more we see of the citizenry’s reactions to Mahit, the more dominant the empire seems. The political intrigue aspect of the plot was well done also (and I always like political intrigue in my stories), and included some unexpected turns.

I highly recommend this book to all fans of space opera, interstellar empires and politics seen from a person and outsider perspective. While the general style of the book has some similarities to Ann Leckie’s works, I feel most comfortable comparing it with Provenance rather than Ancillary Justice for the tone evoked. A Memory Called Empire is the first of a series but it tells a self-contained story. I want to know more of this world and how certain events develop, but we, the readers are not left in the lurch to wait for a sequel.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: March 2019, Tor
Series: Teixcalaan book 1 of 2 announced
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

#ReadShortStories from varied sources (26 to 30)


Another random batch here. It's been a period of slow reading for me, of late. Too much other stuff going on, particularly with important and potentially life-changing deadlines hanging over me. Such is academia. In any case, I have scraped together some stories from various sources (five sources for five stories), all of them interesting reads.



unkind of mercy by 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. Source: New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl

The Day Girl by Rivqa Rafael — A sort of steampunk story about a woman working in a factory that makes a healing potion. A well written and interesting read that I would not have minded having more of. Source: http://escapepod.org/2019/01/24/escape-pod-664-the-day-girl/

Valentine's Day by Xia Jia — A short and horrifying science fiction story about a Valentine’s Day date gone viral, in a future with minimal privacy in public. Horrific thought, good story. Source: https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/wnj7p4/valentines-day

Ten Things Sunil and I Forgot to Prepare for, When Preparing for the Apocalypse by Shane Halbach — The title is an accurate description of the story. As well as the list of forgotten things, there is normal prose detailing the situation. Note that it’s a YA story and also that the plan wasn’t very good. Source: http://www.castofwonders.org/2019/01/cast-of-wonders-343-staff-picks-2018-ten-things-sunil-and-i-forgot-to-prepare-for-when-preparing-for-the-apocalypse/

The Tentacle and You by John Wiswell — A flash story about what to expect upon implantation of your new tentacle. It escalated in a compelling way. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00684-y

Saturday, 23 February 2019

#ReadShortStores while travelling (20 to 25)


A mixed bag of stories this batch. I did a lot more reading of stories that interested me in the moment than I usually do. It can be fun to read without much obligation.

Articulated Restraint by Mary Robinette Kowal — A short piece about a training session intensified by a life-or-death situation in orbit and a sprained ankle. It was nice to get back to the Lady Astronaut world, even for a brief read. I can’t tell how well this story stands without the background reading, though. Source: https://www.tor.com/2019/02/06/articulated-restraint-mary-robinette-kowal/

Come Home to Atropos by 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.) Source: New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl

The Fine Print by 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. Source: New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl

Threnody for Little Girl, with Tuna, at the End of the World by Seanan McGuire — A story about the last tuna in the world and the woman that got to name him. I hadn’t been sure what to expect from the title, but I got an interesting read, set in a not so distant future. Source: Seanan McGuire’s Patreon

A House by the Sea by P H Lee — A weird story. Not sure what it’s meant to be about, other than open to some interpretation. And probably something sinister like abuse. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/a-house-by-the-sea/

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Aurealis Awards Shortlist Announced

It's that time of year when the Aurealis Awards finalists are announced. You can read the official announcement here, and I have reproduced the lists below. The links below go to my reviews where those exist (albeit a little sparse this year). A lot of books already on my TBR and some new ones to add.

(PS If you're interested, the Nebula Award Finalists have also been announced.)

Best Science Fiction Novel

Scales of Empire (Kylie Chan, Voyager)
Obsidio (Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff, A&U)
Lifel1k3 (Jay Kristoff, A&U)
Dyschronia (Jennifer Mills, Picador)
A Superior Spectre (Angela Meyer, Ventura Press)
The Second Cure (Margaret Morgan, Vintage)

Best Fantasy Novel

Devouring Dark (Alan Baxter, Grey Matter Press)
Lady Helen and the Dark Days Deceit (Alison Goodman, HarperCollins)
City of Lies (Sam Hawke, Bantam)
Lightning Tracks (Alethea Kinsela, Plainspeak Publishing)
The Witch Who Courted Death (Maria Lewis, Piatkus)
We Ride the Storm (Devin Madson, self-published)

Best Horror Novel

The Bus on Thursday (Shirley Barrett, A&U)
Years of the Wolf (Craig Cormick, IFWG Publishing Australia)
Tide of Stone (Kaaron Warren, Omnium Gatherum)

Best Graphic Novel/Illustrated Work

Deathship Jenny (Rob O’Connor, self-published)
Cicada (Shaun Tan, Lothian)
Tales from The Inner City (Shaun Tan, A&U)

Best Children’s Fiction

The Relic of the Blue Dragon (Rebecca Lim, A&U)
The Slightly Alarming Tales of the Whispering Wars (Jaclyn Moriarty, A&U)
The Endsister (Penni Russon, A&U)
Secret Guardians (Lian Tanner, A&U)
Ting Ting the Ghosthunter (Gabrielle Wang, Puffin)
Ottilie Colter and the Narroway Hunt (Rhiannon Williams, Hardie Grant Egmont)

Best Young Adult Novel

Small Spaces (Sarah Epstein, Walker)
Lifel1k3 (Jay Kristoff, A&U)
Catching Teller Crow (Ambelin Kwaymullina & Ezekiel Kwaymullina, A&U)
His Name was Walter (Emily Rodda, HarperCollins)
A Curse of Ash and Embers (Jo Spurrier, Voyager)
Impostors (Scott Westerfeld, A&U)

Best Collection

Not Quite the End of the World Just Yet (Peter M Ball, Brain Jar Press)
Phantom Limbs (Margo Lanagan, PS Publishing)
Tales from The Inner City (Shaun Tan, A&U)
Exploring Dark Short Fiction #2: A Primer to Kaaron Warren (Kaaron Warren, Dark Moon Books)

Best Anthology

Sword and Sonnet (Aiden Doyle, Rachael K Jones & E Catherine Tobler, Ate Bit Bear)
Aurum (Russell B Farr, Ticonderoga Publications)
Mother of Invention (Rivqa Rafael & Tansy Rayner Roberts, Twelfth Planet Press)
Infinity’s End (Jonathan Strahan, Solaris)
The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year (Jonathan Strahan, Solaris)

Best Science Fiction Novella

‘I Almost Went To The Library Last Night’ (Joanne Anderton, Aurum, Ticonderoga Publications)
The Starling Requiem (Jodi Cleghorn, eMergent Publishing)
Icefall (Stephanie Gunn, Twelfth Planet Press)
‘Pinion’ (Stephanie Gunn, Aurum, Ticonderoga Publications)
‘Singles’ Day’ (Samantha Murray, Interzone #277, TTA Press)
Static Ruin (Corey J White, Tor.com)

Best Science Fiction Short Story

‘The Sixes, The Wisdom and the Wasp’ (E J Delaney, Escape Pod)
‘The Fallen’ (Pamela Jeffs, Red Hour, Four Ink Press)
‘On the Consequences of Clinically-Inhibited Maturation in the Common Sydney Octopus’ (Simon Petrie & Edwina Harvey, A Hand of Knaves, CSFG)
‘A Fair Wind off Baracoa’ (Robert Porteous, A Hand of Knaves, CSFG)
‘The Astronaut’ (Jen White, Aurealis)

Best Fantasy Novella

‘This Side of the Wall’ (Michael Gardner, Metaphorosis Magazine, January 2018)
‘Beautiful’ (Juliet Marillier, Aurum, Ticonderoga Publications)
‘The Staff in the Stone’ (Garth Nix, The Book of Magic, Voyager)
Merry Happy Valkyrie (Tansy Rayner Roberts, Twelfth Planet Press)
‘The Dressmaker and the Colonel’s Coat’ (David Versace, Mnemo’s Memory and Other Fantastic Tales, self-published)
The Dragon’s Child (Janeen Webb, PS Publishing)

Best Fantasy Short Story

‘Crying Demon’ (Alan Baxter, Suspended in Dusk 2, Grey Matter Press)
‘Army Men’ (Juliet Marillier, Of Gods and Globes, Lancelot Schaubert)
‘The Further Shore’ (J Ashley Smith, Bourbon Penn #15)
‘Child of the Emptyness’ (Amanda J Spedding, Grimdark Magazine #17)
‘A Moment’s Peace’ (Dave Versace, A Hand of Knaves, CSFG Publishing)
‘Heartwood, Sapwood, Spring’ (Suzanne J Willis, Sword and Sonnet, Ate Bit Bear)

Best Horror Novella

‘Andromeda Ascends’ (Matthew R Davis, Beneath the Waves – Tales from the Deep, Things In The Well)
‘Kopura Rising’ (David Kuraria, Cthulhu: Land of the Long White Cloud, IFWG Publishing Australia)
‘The Black Sea’ (Chris Mason, Beneath the Waves – Tales from the Deep, Things In The Well)
Triquetra (Kirstyn McDermott, Tor.com)
‘With This Needle I Thee Thread’ (Angela Rega, Aurum, Ticonderoga Publications)
Crisis Apparition (Kaaron Warren, Dark Moon Books)

Best Horror Short Story

‘The Offering’ (Michael Gardner, Aurealis #112)
‘Slither’ (Jason Nahrung, Cthulhu Deep Down Under Volume 2, IFWG Publishing Australia)
‘By Kindle Light’ (Jessica Nelson-Tyers, Antipodean SF #235)
‘Hit and Rot’ (Jessica Nelson-Tyers, Breach #08)
‘Sub-Urban’ (Alfie Simpson, Breach #07)
‘The Further Shore’ (J Ashley Smith, Bourbon Penn #15)

Best Young Adult Short Story

‘A Robot Like Me’ (Lee Cope, Mother of Invention, Twelfth Planet Press)
‘The Moon Collector’ (D K Mok, Under the Full Moon’s Light, Owl Hollow Press)
‘The Sea-Maker of Darmid Bay’ (Shauna O’Meara, Interzone #277, TTA Press)
‘Eight-Step Koan’ (Anya Ow, Sword and Sonnet, Ate Bit Bear)
‘For Weirdless Days and Weary Nights’ (Deborah Sheldon, Breach #08).

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh

Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh is a YA book set in a world in which there is a very nearby Earthlike exoplanet and a very fast (compared with reality) spaceship engine has been invented. The story is about a group of teenagers who were trained up from the age of 13 and forced to compete against each other for a place in the British expedition to claim and start colonising Terra-Two.

A century ago, scientists theorised that a habitable planet existed in a nearby solar system. Today, ten astronauts will leave a dying Earth to find it. Four are decorated veterans of the 20th century’s space-race. And six are teenagers, graduates of the exclusive Dalton Academy, who’ve been in training for this mission for most of their lives.

It will take the team 23 years to reach Terra-Two. Twenty-three years spent in close quarters. Twenty-three years with no one to rely on but each other. Twenty-three years with no rescue possible, should something go wrong. And something always goes wrong.

I have mixed feelings about this book overall. (That seems to be a bit of a developing trend with the new British science fiction I’ve read over the past year or so.) It won’t surprise my regular readers that some of the science annoyed me a little bit. But the way it played out in this book, there was only one annoying physics thing in the first two-thirds (or more maybe) of the book, which was some confusion and nonsensical imprecision about the artificial gravity. But I was willing to overlook it since everything else that could have been a problem was vague enough to not be glaringly wrong. Fine. But I should have realised that it was a harbinger of errors to come. These things generally are. The most climactic scene and its aftermath were unfortunately also the most scientifically baffling and inconsistent. I went from being kept awake by the excitement to being kept awake by my annoyance, and had to read something else for a bit.

The thing is, I didn’t hate this book, but there were a lot of other small factors that annoyed me and I want to mention them since they might be relevant to other people. One is that near the start one of the characters was sort of set up as being asexual — or at least on that spectrum — but it’s not really explored or interrogated at all and in the end might not be what the author intended. Another is that the UK Space Agency seemed to have much less regard for mental health than any real-world space agencies. There were sections of the book when I was amazed that they didn’t have proper contingencies in place for depression and the inevitable loneliness of being confined with the same nine other people for forty years. Given the number of psychological studies around long term space missions, this was strange and unjustified.

But overall, this wasn’t a terrible book. There was a focus on the character dynamics and I quite liked how the point of view moved between characters. Rather than rotating in a fixed way, we tended to get a focus on one character while something interesting was going on with them, with maybe a few interludes about other characters, before moving on to focus on another character. It was a method that worked very well for the large cast of six point of view characters. The background details of worldbuilding were also interesting and added flavour to the story. The launch took place in 2012 and there are a few mentions of the London Olympics while they’re on. There was also a pleasing awareness of the space programmes other countries were running, which had some impact on the story, albeit not as much as I sometimes wanted. For example, just as I thought we were going to learn more about the Chinese mission, the book skipped ahead and ended, so that was a bit disappointing, for all that it was a sensible place to end.

Overall, I recommend this book to fans of science fiction, though perhaps not those who get as or more annoyed as I do about physics in books. I’ve called this a YA book at the start and it does focus on young people. But for most of the book they’re around 20, which might be stretching some people’s definitions. The plot structure also differs from a lot of speculative fiction YA, so your mileage may vary if you care about age bracket designations.

3.5 / 5

First published: March 2019, Simon & Schuster
Series: No.
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Friday, 15 February 2019

The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie

The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie was not at all what I expected. When I first heard that there would Leckie had written a fantasy book, I was ambivalent. I like her SF, but haven’t recently felt the need for new fantasy series in my life. But then some friends with early review copies started gushing about and I figured I might as well join their ranks.

For centuries, the kingdom of Iraden has been protected by the god known as the Raven. He watches over his territory from atop a tower in the powerful port of Vastai. His will is enacted through the Raven's Lease, a human ruler chosen by the god himself. His magic is sustained via the blood sacrifice that every Lease must offer. And under the Raven's watch, the city flourishes.

But the power of the Raven is weakening. A usurper has claimed the throne. The kingdom borders are tested by invaders who long for the prosperity that Vastai boasts. And they have made their own alliances with other gods.

It is into this unrest that the warrior Eolo--aide to Mawat, the true Lease--arrives. And in seeking to help Mawat reclaim his city, Eolo discovers that the Raven's Tower holds a secret. Its foundations conceal a dark history that has been waiting to reveal itself...and to set in motion a chain of events that could destroy Iraden forever.

There are two main storylines in this book and both are told from the point of view of a god, in a world where there are many gods of different powers. One story tells the god’s history — first awareness, how the world has changed since then, learning to communicate with humans, etc — while the other story follows a human in the “present day”. The latter story is also told by the god so it’s actually I second person as though the god is speaking to the other protagonist.

At first I was happy to go along with the interesting premise, before I had a clear idea of where the story was going. But then, once the threads started to come together, it became rather difficult to put the book down. Especially as it ramped up towards the end because gosh was that a dramatic ending that I’m not going to spoil (!!!).

The easiest book to compare The Raven Tower to is Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods, but only really because of the shared subject matter. The ideas of small gods are very similar, but aside from that the two books have little in common. I’m not sure I’ve read anything else similar to The Raven Tower. The intertwining of the two stories was expertly done, with many of the transitions leaving me wanting more, only to start reading the next section and be reminded that I had wanted more of that one too.

I highly recommend The Raven Tower to fantasy fans, especially those who enjoy reading about different types of gods and different systems for the existence of said gods. I also recommend it to readers who are looking for standalone fantasy books. While it's possible more stories could be written in this world in the future, I think it's unlikely and would lessen the impact of this one.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: February 2019, Orbit
Series: Don't think so
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley