Red Moon

Unknown.jpegAs a rule, I am excited about new Kim Stanley Robinson. I mostly enjoyed Aurora, and utterly adored New York 2140 and 2312. I know that not everyone loved those last two as much as I did… and I think a lot of people enjoyed Aurora more than me. Which tells you that Robinson meets different readers in different places, and that’s ok.

For me, Red Moon is closer to being like Aurora. I mostly enjoyed it, and it’s certainly exploring some interesting ideas, but I did not get giddy with joy in reading it. I have no hesitation in recommending it to other people who enjoy near-future SF, and for those who got bored by 2312 etc then this is likely to be more up their alley. Which is great! Cater to a range of preferences!

It’s also a bit hilarious to me that I read this so soon after finishing Ian McDonald’s Luna trilogy, given a few similarities but mostly differences.

Red Moon is set three decades into the future. Our moon has a lot of people living on it, mostly Chinese. Which, given the current state of the Chinese space programme and their lunar intentions, is not ridiculous. Other nations are represented there, too, but the bulk of the mining and such are being undertaken at a Chinese installation at the southern pole. The book is largely focused on Chinese characters, too, so it’s important to point out right now that I’m Anglo-Australian, and have no sense of whether Robinson has made any cultural missteps. It doesn’t feel like he has, to me, but it’s entirely possible that I’ve missed some offensive things. There are a couple of points where one of the main characters rails against some Chinese stereotypes, which gives me hope that Robinson is really aware of what he’s doing; but there’s also a point at which he says black swans are more rare than rhinos, and… images.jpeg(from here, of all places)

Yeh, we have a lot of black swans in Australia.

Anyway. Fred goes to the moon to deliver a quantum phone, and the person he is to meet dies when they meet. It’s clear to the reader that Fred isn’t responsible, but not to everyone around him. Fred then basically ends up being shuttled around the place, and sometimes used a political football. He ends up, through odd circumstances, traveling with Chan Qi: a young woman, daughter of a very senior politician in the Chinese Communist Party, vocal in a social change movement, and herself being sought by a variety of groups for their own political purposes. While Fred often seems to have little volition, and is tossed by the vagaries of those around him, and isn’t sure what to do in those circumstances, Qi rails against the structures around her – even when she too is able to do little about the problems that beset her. Qi definitely seems to be be the more active, in all ways, of the two; their companionship is an interesting comparison. Also interesting therefore is that while Fred is frequently a narrator throughout the novel, we rarely get any insight into Qi’s mindset.

Along with the novel being about Fred’s attempts to not get done for a murder he didn’t commit, Robinson is exploring a bunch of other ideas. China seems to be in a place ready for political turmoil, which Qi is contributing to; Robinson explores some of the reasons that might create this situation – most of which exist today – and some possible solutions. So it’s political, and social, and economic commentary; I’d be fascinated to know what Americans think, since it doesn’t paint the US in the best of capitalist lights; China also isn’t a utopia, but it’s also not a nightmarish dystopia.

And then there’s an AI, learning to learn and utilising surveillance systems, and the analyst enabling that; and Ta Shu, celebrity traveller and documentary maker, who gets dragged into the Fred/Qi mess, who is much older than them and has greater historical context and spends a lot of time reflecting on his own and China’s history. Also, an American Secret Service agent (female) on the moon, with a very annoying superior.

There’s a lot going on in this novel, and as a way of thinking about how people might live on the moon and struggle with the social changes of the coming decades, and what China might achieve as an increasingly dominant superpower, and how individuals act when constrained – it’s a very good way of exploring issues. As with Aurora, my main issue is actually with the ending. It was unexpected, and while I think I understand the reason for it, I found it unsatisfying. However, your mileage may vary! I still have no hesitation in recommending it.

Invisible Women

Unknown.jpegThis book should be read by anyone making policy, collecting data, or using data, about humans. Politicians, business people, public servants, medical researchers: all of them.

This book made me angry. That’s important to know. It’s also important to know that it was, mostly, good angry: it was appropriate and it makes me want to do something, although I’m not sure what.

I came across this book thanks to two Galactic Suburbia listeners, which is hilarious all by itself – that they both thought this book should be brought to our attention, and acted on that. It is, of course, exactly up our alley, and so I bought it.

The subtitle to the book is “Exposing data bias in a world designed for men,” and together with the title this does tell you exactly what the book is about. It’s about showing both how women are invisible – if data is not sex-disaggregated, if only men are tested or questioned or used – and data bias: men are assumed to be representative of humanity, men’s opinions are assumed to be representative (because they’re not thought of as men’s opinions), and so on.

The results are devastating.

The results in the book itself are devastating, for me – the extent to which women’s experiences are ignored, sex differences are ignored where they do actually matter (eg medication – the typical fat/muscle ratio in men and women is different, which means differences in how medications affect them), and so on. The results in real life are also devastating: only using male crash-test dummies in cars means cars aren’t safety tested for women, and cars aren’t safety designed for women (smaller on average, different bodies, etc); safety vests not fitting over boobs; building relief housing after disasters with no kitchens.

So, yes, I got angry.

I also got angry when Perez pointed out the areas where the data does exist, but it’s been ignored: mandating paid parental leave is good for the economy; how about anatomy diagrams that only show male bodies? And the areas where, because it’s a female-only issue (like PMS, or endometriosis) the research just hasn’t been done.

Perez, I imagine, also got angry when she was doing the exhaustive research needed for this book. There’s a lot of data, and a lot of footnotes. She’s also making firm, reasonable, and clear demands for change, and pointing out some ways that those changes could happen. Many of the changes will be hard: can you imagine what it would take to mandate political parties having genuine female representation? However, her data on what happens in countries that have increased female political representation is, to my mind, compelling; increased expenditure on education, for instance, and – unsurprisingly – issues that specifically affect women more than men: family planning, for instance, and policies around care. And anyone who thinks that these issues don’t need to be political ones, when they affect 50% of the population, needs to have a good hard think about whether they’re a misogynist. Perez also suggests some ways in which more, better, and new data can be collected… but it’s going to be a long hard slog to make the necessary changes, in the vast areas of data collection that exist now, before those changes are fully realised.

This is a brilliant book.

The Missing Ingredient

images.jpegI don’t remember how I came across this book – could have been through Gastropod? – but I thought it sounded like just my thing. Time as an ingredient makes a lot of sense, when you consider it! And overall, Linford does look at some interesting points in connecting food with time; I learned a few things and was encouraged in my love of cooking and food.

However, this book turned out to be not quite what I expected. On reflection, I think I was expecting something more like Michael Pollan’s Cooked, where he meditates on particular ways in which fire or air or whatever have an impact on cooking and food at length. This is not that. Instead, this is a long series of vignettes. Some of them do go over pages – there’s a good few pages on pickles, and on smoking, and the wonders of freezing., among others. But in general each topic within each timeframe (seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years) is relatively short, addressing the connection between the topic and time – the seconds between different stages of caramel, the time it takes to make true traditional Modena balsamic vinegar – and usually not going into the depth that my heart really wanted. (And sometimes the topics chosen in each chapter seem to be tangential to the concept of time as an ingredient, but maybe I missed the point.)

If what you’re interested in is a series of short stories about time and cooking, that you can easily dip into and out of, that are sometimes amusing and sometimes poignant and that remind you that cooking and good food are good things, then you will probably enjoy this book.

Luna: Moon Rising

Unknown.jpegThis book was sent to me by the publisher, Hachette, at no cost. It’s out now.

This is the third and final book in Ian McDonald’s Luna series, and it really doesn’t stand alone. New Moon and Wolf Moon (which apparently I didn’t review? must have been when I was stressed out) are both outstanding and terrifying and if you are interested in near-future, near-Earth speculation, with intensely human characters and scheming dynasties, you really want to read the whole series, so off you go.

There are spoilers for those first books, kinda be default, in what follows…

One of the awesome (and, ahem, anti-Ian McEwan) things about this series (and it’s not unique to it, of course) is the way that McDonald uses this alien, will-kill-you-in-a-moment place to work through human issues of greed, family, ambition, hope, friendship, pride… all of those things that storytellers have been mining for millennia. You’ve got battles happening with rovers and spacesuits in vacuum, and parkour in 0.6g (ETA: which is actually 1/6th gravity, not 0.6, ARGH thank you Scott), and as wide a range of marital and familial ties as can be imagined… and brutal corporate takeovers and arguments over inheritances and burgeoning romance. It’s so full.

Perhaps the most intriguing speculation of a near-future type is the way that McDonald imagines the Moon being regarded by Earth. The Moon is not a political entity; it’s a technological colony, for want of a better word, dominated by families who happen to come from different nations on Earth but who have little in the way of political or emotional ties to those places. But the Earth needs the resources of the Moon… but the families don’t want Earth interference… So Lucas Corta’s deal, to use Earth mercenaries and involve Earth politicians in the dealings of the Moon… that’s really quite problematic. I LOVE IT.

A few characters I really enjoyed:

Wagner Corta, the wolf, and his sort-of-bipolar playing out differently on the moon from how it might on earth. I like that McDonald refuses to ‘diagnose’ him fully, although I would be very interested to hear what those with a better understanding of mental health descriptions and experiences think of this. I also greatly appreciated the enormous dilemmas and sacrifices he goes through in the series, in terms of conflicting priorities.

Luna Corta: I kept forgetting just how young she was because of how much she had gone through, escaping with Lucasinho and so on, and she continues to be buffeted by issues beyond her control in this book… although she begins to show that she can take some control.

Ariel Corta: continues to be one of the weirder and least predictable of all of the main characters. Ignoring family on the one hand and working hard for them on the other, never an easy person to get on with, driven by astonishing determination and stubbornness… I’m not saying I’d like to be friends with her, because I think she’d terrify me in person because she’d see all my weaknesses. But she’s definitely someone to admire.

That makes it look like I’m all Team Corta, and I’m not really, it’s just that they feel like they dominate the book, and indeed the trilogy, more than I expected from the events of the first book.

If you’ve read the first two books you know the issues that need to be resolved in the book. If you’re anything like me, you won’t anticipate how it will play out. I was surprised by most of what happened. I will admit that the very ending was… really not what I expected. I’ve had to think about it a bit, but I think I see what McDonald was doing. And I’ve decided I like it.

This is a magnificent series and I’m so glad it exists. Now I can’t wait to see what else McDonald does.

Permafrost

40048442.jpgAlastair Reynolds.

Time travel.

It’s just such a winning combination.

And the thing is, this is the author who as far as I can remember refuses to use FTL in his stories. So for him to write a time travel story means that there won’t be any Delorean zipping around. Instead, there’s a short but relatively serious discussion about WHAT, exactly, can be ‘sent back’ through time, and a very clever example of what it might mean to change things in the past – what impact that might have on the future.

The story, naturally enough, dips in and out of the time stream. It starts in the past and goes to the future and moves between them beautifully, gradually building up a picture of what has happened for the future to be as it is, and the choices that people make that have an impact ‘upstream’. The slow unfolding is horrific and brilliant.

I liked the characters, I was horrified by the world, and I was intrigued by the method of time travel. This is a fabulous novella.

Shadow Captain

Unknown.jpegThis book was sent to me at no cost by the publisher, Hachette. The trade paperback (which is lovely) is out now; smaller paperback in September.

I mean. HELLO. New Alastair Reynolds! I was so happy to get this to review. So hi, if you don’t know me I’m a massive fangirl, keep that in mind as you read I guess?

This is the sequel to Revengerfrom about three years ago. You probably want to read that before reading this because it sets up the sister relationship that’s at the heart of the story, between Adrana and Arafura (now Fura), as well as the horror in which Bosa Sennen is held throughout the… well, world is the wrong word, but you know what I mean. The area in which the book is set. And that’s the other thing that the first book sets up: that these books are set many, many thousands of years in our future, and they live in the Congregation – which is our solar system having been dismantled and the stuff of the planets used to construct an uncounted number of smaller worlds. Also, civilisation has not been continuous throughout that time; humanity has swelled and fallen over that time, inhabiting more or fewer world, having more or less connections between the worlds, and with technology progressing or lapsing. Which is what allows for the many ships who travel between the worlds to visit the now-uninhabited ones and find ‘treasures’ which may or may not work for them, dating back to previous civilisations.

I guess it’s like modern Britons or Libyans trying to make the Roman aqueducts work.

Anyway, if you haven’t read Revenger I highly recommend it – clearly – as a space opera with deep roots in nautical adventures (including in the language, it’s all coves and sails and broadsides), starring a defiant young woman having mad adventures.

Spoilers for Revenger below this…

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Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water

image.pngThis novella was sent to me by the publisher, Tor.com, at no cost. It will be available from 21 May.

Vylar Kaftan’s novella opens with Bee scrambling through darkness, which is pretty much all she can remember doing.  The official blurb reads:

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.

You can guess from the blurb that things are not as they seem, but you can’t guess the twists and turns of the plot – well, I couldn’t anyway.

The attitudes towards telepaths are a very interesting part of the story; as someone who grew up reading McCaffrey’s Tower& the Hive series (every. single. one), I’m always fascinated by whether ESP stuff ends up being celebrated, abused, shunned, or whatever. So that was something I enjoyed here.

Overall, though, I did not love this story, and I can’t put my finger on why not – which is a deeply unsatisfying thing to say in this review, I know, and I’m sorry. I think it’s partly around the pacing. For all that I am a big fan of fast-paced stories, I think this was a bit too fast; I didn’t feel like I got to know Bee before things changed, and then they changed again, and I was left feeling a bit cold towards her fate. There was also a lack of world-building that meant I didn’t quite get some of the actions of the characters other than Bee.

For all that, though, Kaftan has written a story with heart that confronts the issue of how humans react to difference. I did like Bee, and felt that her reactions – especially when feeling lost in the world – were beautifully realistic.

The Raven Tower

images.jpegThings to keep in mind:

1. I’m a total Leckie fangirl

2. Like, seriously.

3. This is nothing like the Ancillary books at all.

4. Not even genre, let alone anything else.

I received this book from the publisher, Hachette, at no cost. It’s out now WHICH IS EXCELLENT NEWS FOR EVERYONE LET THERE BE REJOICING.

I’ll admit that when I heard Ann Leckie was doing a fantasy novel I was… discombobulated. I do like fantasy but I’ve read a lot less of it recently for various reasons, and when I thought of how the author of the Ancillary books might translate to fantasy I started thinking of lush epic fantasy which is fine but not what I’m enjoying at the moment.

HOW WRONG I WAS. I mean, seriously. What was I thinking.

For starters: this is a standalone book. That’s right folks, you can read this book and not have to wait for a sequel. Which is great.

Ok, look, I actually read this without reading the blurb or knowing anything about it, just going on trust. And I really truly believe that this was the best option – having now read the blurb, it kinda gives you an idea of what’s going on but as so often happens, I think it sets up the wrong ideas in the reader’s mind. So if you trust me, and you trust Ann Leckie, just go find this and read it without reading anything else about it.

But if not, you can keep reading.

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Tides of the Titans

Unknown.jpegThis book was sent to me by the author, at no cost. As were the previous books, Crossroads of Canopy and Echoes of UnderstoreyBecause I am very lucky indeed.

This trilogy isn’t quite your standard trilogy because it doesn’t follow the same main characters throughout. Although the focal character is in the next two, she moves to the background; and the same happens between the second and third books. I really like this as a tactic because it means Dyer gets to explore the world of Titan’s Forest in much more complexity than might otherwise be possible – the three characters have such different roles in the Forest societies, and different motivations and personalities and so on. They interact with other characters in utterly different ways. But I also like that the three characters are all connected to each other, so we get to see family dynamics at play, and understand people from multiple perspectives.

I also like that none of the three main characters are particularly likeable; certainly not all the time. Don’t get me wrong – they’re compelling characters, and I generally understand why they think they have to do what they’re doing. But I frequently got exasperated with them for being selfish, or narrow-minded, or blinded by anger, or… other reasons. And this is a good thing, because it really is a fine line to walk to make me have a reaction like that but still be enjoying the character and the story overall. Dyer walks that line beautifully.

If you haven’t read the series yet, stop right here and go and do so: you really want to if you like complex societies and gods who aren’t that great really and live among humans, and quandongs and Australian trees getting even bigger than we let them get here, quests and revenge and family drama. Spoilers ahead for the first two books!

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Altered Carbon

images.jpegI first read Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon not long after it was published. I’ve read a few of his other books, too, and I really like his style. For reasons of “I have too many other books on my pile”, I haven’t got around to reading the rest in the series… although having been reminded of the book by the Netflix series, I’m going to remedy that this year. I’ve just re-read Altered Carbon itself.

Because my memory was fuzzy, I went into the show with only a vague memory of characters and plot. Which was good, actually, because it meant that I got to be surprised by plot twists and be immersed in the world-building.

I loved both the book and the show. This post contains spoilers for both, because I want to compare them.

I had heard some people complaining that the tv show was more simplistic than the books – which didn’t surprise me, although I couldn’t recall if I agreed. Having now re-read the book (and watched the show, um, twice), I disagree. Yes, the show has reduced some of the complexities, but in other ways it introduces more, and different, complexity. The two are actually quite different. It made me think of a film or tv show and its reboot: there are characters in common, and similar or identical plot beats, but with definite differences – perhaps to account for when it’s made, or directors’ stylistic differences, or whatever.

So the show is, I think, more racially diverse. (See this article for some good points on that topic and also some good points about the violence against women, which would be a whole other post for me and is covered here pretty well. DON’T READ THE COMMENTS.) It changes Kristin Ortega to be of Mexican(ish?) descent – in the book she’s described as having cheekbones courtesy of a Native American ancestor, which is weird and maybe racist? I’m Australian, I’m not sure of the nuance there – but otherwise doesn’t mention her appearance. (More on Ortega later.) The show makes Elliot and his family black – which is interesting but also changes the plot somewhat, since the whole point of why Bancroft wanted to have sex with Elizabeth Elliot is a physical similarity to his wife (who is white and blonde in both). Quellcrist’s physical appearance isn’t mentioned in the book, as far as I noticed, nor the race of other Envoys, so having at least some of them be not-white was positive.

What I think is the most stark difference between the two is the emphasis on family. In the book, we learn that Takashi had a difficult home life, but very little detail. We see that Laurens and Miriam Bancroft have a fairly distant relationship, and that Elliot loves his family, but they get little interaction on the page. In the show, though – what a difference. I adore the fact that Ortega’s family gets so much time (although I am a bit cranky about her being made so much shorter than Riker/ Tak, since in the book they’re almost of a height; I did enjoy the actor in the role, though). The familial argument about whether it’s a good idea to re-sleeve Grandma for a family celebration puts the whole issue of Catholics’ opposition to stacks etc into great relief. I also just love how MUCH Ortega we get in the show, even though she is clearly obsessed with getting her boyfriend back and clearing his name (which I do understand). In the book, she really is just there as suspicious support for Tak. Even her mum gets a bit of character development! That’s so cool!

Tak’s family also gets a great deal more depth – and maybe that’s coming from the other books, I’ll find out soon. But seeing his relationship with his sister, and then making Reileen be that sister grown up, is deeply intriguing. I wasn’t entirely convinced by her motivations in the show, although towards the end it started making a bit more sense… but it’s still a really interesting difference. It’s not like the Reileen in the book has much more character depth, so it’s a change not a loss.

The Elliots are far more present in the show than in the book – Vernon Elliot has zero to do with Tak and his mission in the book, unlike the show where he becomes an unwilling and not very helpful assistant. And we never meet Lizzie in the book; she’s just mentioned as waiting to be re-sleeved. So I love that she gets to have a hand in her own vengeance (much as I disapprove of violent vengeance in the real world…). The book has Ava Elliot be re-sleeved in a white body, but still female, while in the show she’s given a white man’s body. Part of the point of Tak’s training is that re-sleeving happens so often it’s meant to be straightforward, but that’s not the case for most humans – especially when they haven’t chosen it. What I was impressed by in the show is that although Vernon Elliot is initially bewildered and maybe horrified by the body his wife has been shoved into, he does come to grips with it and they do share intimate moments. And to my eyes, it’s not shown to be homophobia or transphobia, but more about that very specific experience of an unexpected body for his wife. (Trans folk etc should feel free to point out where I’ve missed stereotypes and so on, because I wouldn’t be surprised if I have.)

Even the Bancrofts, dirty Meths that they are, get more family exploration in the show. We don’t ever meet a Bancroft child in the novel, but two of them feature in the show and the son is a significant bit-part.

Perhaps the most intriguing change with Tak is his relationship with Quellcrist Falconer – and again, maybe this is coming from the later books, but it’s definitely not in this first one. It humanises him in a way that I think is really fascinating, since he commits such dreadfully violent acts and is himself subjected to terrible violence. Visually, to have a contrast with his time with Quell I found quite affecting. I think I have more sympathy for TV-Tak than I do with book-Tak, because there’s more emotional depth to hook into.

A curious change that I’m still trying to think through is the change from having the hotel be the Hendrix to one themed around Edgar Allan Poe. The Hedrix’s avatar is rarely a Jimi Hendrix lookalike (not until near the end, in fact), so I don’t think this is a case of erasing a black character. Perhaps the creators of the show thought that the AI of a Poe-hotel would be more likely to get into the spirit of an investigation? I have no idea. Also, the show creates the AI poker scenes and arguments from whole cloth, which I think is deeply interesting… and perhaps fits into the notion of family being a connecting theme across the episodes…

Finally, the book doesn’t have the Hello Unicorn! backpack, which is clearly a problem. (I found this article while looking for a picture.)In-The-Time-of-Battle-Unicorn-Backpack-Is-There-v3.png