This book was sent to me by the publisher, Allen&Unwin, at no cost. It’s out today; RRP $19.99.
I enjoyed but wasn’t blown away by Zeroes; I was immensely more impressed by Swarm. With a few niggles about the haste with which this third book ended, I am basically very satisfied with how the trilogy concluded. It levelled up nicely, ramped up the consequences and problems being faced, complex-ified the characters… and it’s a very fast-paced read. Hugely enjoyable.
The basic premise, in case you’ve missed it: six kids in a little town in America, all born in 2000, have powers, of a sort. They’re all different powers and take varying degrees of control. None of the kids is really all that happy to have their powers. They end up working together basically because of Nate, or Bellwether, whose power is a persuasive one. So if you’re into superpowers and their consequences for individuals and families and communities, this should definitely be on your radar. Continue reading →
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Analysis of the protest against Wonder Woman as honorary ambassador on the Mary Sue
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This book was sent to me by the publisher, Allen & Unwin, at no cost. It’s available now; RRP $19.99.
When I read the first book in this series, Zeroes, I was a bit underwhelmed. I felt like it didn’t fully deliver on its promises – not quite dramatic enough, somehow, or heroic, or problematic. I didn’t hate it… I was just a bit disappointed. So while I was very excited to receive the sequel to review, I experienced some trepidation.
And then I picked it up. And then I couldn’t put it down. And I read the entire thing in an afternoon… and, ahem, evening; it’s been a while since I read past my bedtime in order to finish a book.
Folks, the sequel is better than the first. Shocking, I know. Continue reading →
This book was provided to me by the publisher at no cost.
I wanted to adore this book. I really enjoyed it, but I didn’t adore it. I’m trying to work through why…
Some general comments and then spoilers will be flagged.
The premise is one of superheroes, where the heroes are adolescents and most of them don’t feel, or want to be, heroic. Their ‘powers’ aren’t obvious (no one is turning green) and sometimes they don’t seem particularly useful, either. At some point in the past they’ve discovered each other and tried to work together, to see whether and how they might become a team… but then it turned sour, and they haven’t really worked together for a year. But when one of them is caught up with the police (his own fault, really), he asks for help and things go from there. Up, and down, and twisty-windy. The plot revolves around accidentally stolen drug money, a bank robbery gone very wrong, people in the wrong place and a bunch of teenagers trying to fix things and occasionally messing up.
We get chapters from each of the Zeroes, although not always alternating; the story begins from the perspective of Ethan (Scam), then Kelsie gets the fourth chapter and then gradually the others are introduced. This structure is exactly as useful as it seems, with multiple perspectives on events and people and ideas. It was an aspect I really liked, but it also contributed to one of the reasons I didn’t adore the book (I didn’t fall in love with any of the characters; more on that below). The characters are nicely varied: girls and boys, different ethnic backgrounds, one blind, families of different structures (those that we see anyway). They definitely have different personalities, which are not entirely tied to their ‘powers’ – which is great. There is some connection (Kelsie can work a crowd and loves going out dancing, for instance), but the question of cause and consequence isn’t tied down.
I liked that the action takes place over just a week; there’s no interest here in dragging a story out. It’s fast-paced over all, as it needs to be when there’s scary underworld types involved and things need to get fixed pronto. There are a few adults around – more parents are mentioned and briefly involved than you might expect in a teens-save-the-world story – but they don’t get in the way of said teens getting into a lot of trouble. The story is set in Cambria, which it turns out is really a name for a town in the US; I don’t know whether it’s intended to be set in the real town or not, but at any rate it’s a dinky little town rather than NY or Chicago, say, which I think is an interesting choice. It lets the characters develop their powers before having to deal with The Big Smoke, I guess (bets on that happening in a later novel?). There’s little real world building – it’s the America of today, and the city itself plays little part in the story, so there’s no need to make it really come alive.
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Tansy: Andre Norton Sargasso of Space; I am Princess X, Cherie Priest; The Wicked & The Divine, by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie; Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.
Alex: Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie; Newt’s Emerald, Garth Nix; Zeroes, Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, Deb Biancotti.
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This is another book that I’ve given my mum recently. She started reading it and rather smugly emailed to say that now she doesn’t feel so bad about being one sometimes. She says:
I particularly loved “A Song for Sacagawea” because it is the story of all those unsung women who were forced to help conquerors take their lands. They were looked on as trade goods, but much of the exploration/exploitation wouldn’t have occurred without them. There is a similar story of a woman who translated for the conquistadors in Central America [she means Malinche]. Much as I admire those women, their treatment really p….d me off, of course. Don’t quote me on that, though.
Anyway, I am so totally excited that this book exists. I supported it in its Pozible funding, I did a little bit of supporting in terms of writing a blog post (I had big intentions to do a few but whoosh there went the month), and generally YAY stories about real historical ladies!
So I finally got around to actually reading it. Firstly let me say I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE WITH THE ORDER OF THE STORIES, TEHANI AND TANSY.
The first few stories were the sorts of things I expected. Mary I as a child, Lady Godiva, Mary Wollstonecraft… and then Bathory Erzsebet. Who is someone I had never come across and who was very, very not nice. Very not nice. Like, Deborah Biancotti you had already scarred me with your Ishtar and now my brain is even WORSE. Because this story does not redeem Erszebet. It shows that women are quite capable of being cold and cruel and nasty. And, at a chronological and geographical distance, this is almost something to be pleased about… since after all, we are just human.
Hmm. Getting to Erszebet has meant skipping over Mary (a story showing how difficult her childhood must have been, thanks Liz Barr), and Godiva (thank you, Garth Nix, for making her more than just That Nude Lady) and Wollstonecraft (Kirstyn McDermott, I have always loved her at a remove – that is, knowing only basics of her life, I knew she was wonderful. This fictional take helps just a bit more).
Leaving Europe, Foz Meadows goes to the Asian steppes with “Bright Moon” and a fierce tale of battle and kinship obligation; Joyce Chng to China and silkworms and captivity. Nice Shawl teases with “A Beautiful Stream” by talking about events and people from the 20th century I felt I ought to know and drove me to google find out if I was right (yes); Amanda Pillar pleased me immensely by being all provocative about Hatshepsut, one of my favourite historical women ever.
Sylvia Kelso stunned me by talking about two women from Australia’s history that I had no knowledge of (a doctor? lesbians?? in the early 20th century?!) and Stephanie Lai puts flesh on the bones of Ching Shih, the female Chinese pirate I’ve only encountered in passing. I would like to thank Barbara Robson profusely for writing Theodora so magnificently and by incorporating Procopius, to show just how such historical sources can be used. Lisa L Hannett continues (what I think of as) her Viking trend, while Havva Murat takes on Albania’s medieval past and the trials of being born female when your father wants a son.
I don’t mean this as a negative, but I am so not surprised that Dirk Flinthart wrote of Granuaile, the Irish pirate. I was surprised where he took her; pleasantly so, of course. LM Myles brought in one of my other very favourite and bestest, Eleanor of Aquitaine, this time as an old, old woman – still cranky and sprightly and everything that was great about her. I didn’t love Kaaron Warren’s “Another Week in the Future,” but I have no knowledge of Catherine Helen Spence so I had no prior experience to hang the story on. Laura Lam brought in a female pirate I’d never even heard of, the French Jeanne de Clisson, while Sandra McDonald writes a complicated narrative of Cora Crane: there are unreliable narrators and then there are unreliable timelines and sources and they get fascinating.
Thoraiya Dyer introduces someone else I’ve never heard of, by way of 19th century Madagascar and a royal family negotiating the introduction/imposition of European ideas. Juliet Marillier brings a compassionate, loving and beloved Hildegard of Bingen, while Faith Mudge caps the whole anthology with Elizabeth I.
Look, it’s just great. A wonderful range of stories, of women, of styles, of close-to-history and far (but still with that element of Truthiness). I think we need a follow-up volume. I’d like to order Jeanne d’Arc, Julia Gillard, the Empress Matilda, Pocahontas, Eleanor Roosevelt, Malinche, and the Trung sisters. Kthxbai.
You can find Cranky Ladies over here.
Soooo this anthology came out in 2013 aaaand I’ve only just got around to reading it. Um. Oops. I have no excuse for this. It just didn’t happen.
The subtitle is “An Anthology of Discoveries” and what’s really interesting is that this is such a broad anthology but yes, the theme of discovery – of place, or self, or strangers – is the unifying factor. Sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes it’s subtle; sometimes there are world-shattering consequences and sometimes not so much.
The other superbly interesting thing about this anthology is that it’s all women. From memory of Tehani discussing the process, pretty much accidentally so. And it’s not all just dresses and kissing! (Sorry; /sarcasm.) It’s basically a who’s who of established and emerging Australian writers, too, which is a total delight.
Some of these stories really, really worked for me. Michelle Marquardt’s “Always Greener” is a lovely SF story that ended up being simultaneously darker and more hopeful thanI expected (yes that’s a contradiction, too bad). And then to have it contrasted with the fantasy of Lisa Hannett and Angela Slatter’s “By Blood and Incantation” – which is not my favourite HannSlatt but is still quite good – neatly skewered expectations that it was going to be an SF anthology, pointing out that ‘discovery’ is a mighty broad concept. And then “Indigo Gold” by Deborah Biancotti! Detective Palmer!!! and !!! The Cat Sparks story is awesome (it feels like ages since I read a Cat Sparks story), Penelope Love is quietly sinister in “Original,” Faith Mudge does fairy tale things beautifully in “Winter’s Heart.” And the final story, “Morning Star” by DK Mok, is a magnificent SF bookend to match Marquardt but on a much grander, more extravagant scale.
This is a really fun anthology and I’m sorry it took me more than a year to read it. You can get it right here.
This fourth in the Twelve Planets series, from Alisa at Twelfth Planet Press, comes back to the idea presented by the first collection – that of an interconnected suite of stories, which build on and enhance one another but also stand by themselves. I think this comes second only to Love and Romanpunk for me, so far, and as I’ve already discussed, I’m in no way unbiased about that delightful little book.
The overarching idea here in Deborah Biancotti’s set is, as the title suggests, the use and abuse of power – especially when it is given to ordinary, or even undeserving people. The blurb asks “Hate superheroes? Yeah. They probably hate you, too.” It feels to me that the idea of ordinary people having powers and struggling with them is something that’s only become interesting in the last few years. Biancotti does not present unreservedly heroic or villainous people, in general, here. They do some stupid things… but they’re not out for world domination. They do some heroic things… but they have their struggles and failures, too.
The first story is “Shades of Grey,” in which Esser Grey confronts the idea of immortality and finds it not really to his liking. His reasons for not liking it involve some intriguing of character development, and the consequences should be ruinous for him but mostly end up being so for other people around him instead. I don’t think you can like Grey, exactly, but his story is an excellent introduction to the issues of power as Biancotti imagines them. And we are also introduced to the wonderful Detective Palmer, who keeps popping up throughout the rest of the sequence. Like in the second story.
“Palming the Lady” might be my favourite of the set. Not that it’s a pleasant story, by any stretch of the imagination. There’s a somewhat spoilt rich boy, son of a famous father, who claims to being stalked by a homeless woman; Detective Palmer, newly in the bad books at work, is assigned to look into it. Which means talking to said homeless woman at much closer quarters than she is comfortable with, and finding out more information than she is comfortable with. The ‘stalker’ is confronting on a number of levels: for her appearance, and her (lack of) status, and her talent. And for the conjunction, too, of a remarkable talent in an unremarkable woman. I did not like the rich boy, Matthew, but fortunately most of the story is actually about Palmer, who shows delightful tenacity as well as an endearing capacity for not understanding things immediately. Also, a weary love of humanity.
My dislike of Matthew made me slightly wary of “Web of Lies,” the third story, because it features him again. Fortunately, this is quite a different story, and quite a different Matthew too. It begins at his father’s funeral an unspecified amount of time after the second story,and – appropriately – features his mother to a much greater extent than “Palming the Lady.” There, Palmer met her once and dismissed her as having “a prescription problem.” This story delves into her life and shows it to be about far more than simply a bored housewife and overuse of valium. This one creeped me out quite a lot; somewhat sinister mothers will do that. Matthew is theoretically the centre of the story, with his problems in understanding the power that he is coming into, but the mother is where my interest really lay.
The fourth story is quite different, and it took me a while – in fact, until reading the next story – before I really understood how “Bad Power” really fit into the suite. I think it works overall, but certainly when I first started it I was a bit confused. Partly this is the difference in narrative voice: where the first three are third-person, modern Australia, and set in wealthy enough areas, this one is first-person, somewhere ill-defined, and very definitely not well-educated. It’s an unpleasant story (again). In this case the unpleasantness comes about because of other people’s reactions to our narrator’s power, which haven’t been explored on a medium-to-large scale in any of the other stories. And it definitely provides interesting context about how attitudes towards ‘power’ have changed, as well as attitudes towards individuals and, hmm, maybe social responsibility? After I got into the rhythm of the narrative style this was a really good story.
Exploding the Twelve Planets paradigm, this collection has FIVE stories, finishing off with “Cross That Bridge.” In many ways it ties together aspects of all four of the previous stories in nice, but not too neat, ways – ways that still leave me hungering for more story set in this world, for sure. We’re back with police work, this time with a Detective Ponti (heh, Latin joke!) at the helm, looking for a missing child. This is probably the most hopeful of all of the stories, where power is used largely for good – or at least mostly non-destructive – purposes, and where indeed an actual purpose for the powers exhibited so far can be imagined, and undertaken.
As should be obvious, all of these stories tie together, and I can see the reasoning behind the sequencing. However, I think you could probably read them in any order (hmm, except perhaps #2 and 3, which should be read in sequence) and enjoy the exploration of ideas they present. You could also, crucially, enjoy them completely independently – although I would imagine that that would leave you wanting more, to an even greater extent than I do at the moment. This collection really works.