Tag Archives: novella

The Black God’s Drums

image.pngThis novella was sent to me by the publisher, Tor.com, at no cost. It will be published on August 21.

As an Australian, I’m sure I only picked up the surface detail of what Clark is doing here in his alternative history of America. That was enough, though, to be both utterly intrigued by the world he’s imagined and to follow this awesome story that I really hope everyone goes out and grabs.

This is alternative history in two senses. One is that there’s airships and some other tech that doesn’t fit with what the nineteenth century actually had; a variation on steampunk I guess. The other is that, partly because of this technology, things went somewhat differently in Haiti after and during the slave revolt there, and when Napoleon tried to reimpose slavery; and, possibly connected to this although that’s unclear, things are also different in the USA: like it’s not the USA. This is post-Civil War, but instead of reconstruction, Confederates and the Union are still separate. Oh, and New Orleans is neutral, and basically seems to be operating as its own city-state.

There’s a lot going on here, and all of that is just background to understanding why our protagonist, Creeper, is trying to find someone to pass along some information to, and then ends up in an unexpected adventure.

This is a beautifully written novella, both fast-paced and with complex enough characters that I cared about them. Creeper is awesome, there are seriously odd nuns (I REALLY want a story about them please and thank you), and the captain of an airship who takes zero nonsense from anyone. Plus a scientist with dangerous knowledge in his head and… yeh, you get the picture. The characters are a multitude of colours and ethnicities and nationalities, as befits New Orleans as a neutral and open port; there’s really interesting discussion about old, African gods being brought to this new world, and what power they might have. This is alternative history that really works: it makes sense (see caveat above re: me and American history), and it challenges modern conservative white notions of what alternative history is; it also just straight-out challenges boring old racism pretty much just by its existence.

I loved it a lot and would be very happy to read more in this world.

Rogue Protocol

9781250191786_FC.jpgYeh. So. Soon after I admitted I was slack about reviewing Artificial Condition, I received the ARC from Tor.com for Rogue Protocol… the third in the Murderbot series. So now I am being A BETTER REVIEWER. But also it doesn’t come out until August 7, sooo… sorry about that. Honest.

If you haven’t read the first two, you really want to. Don’t read this unless you have. SERIOUSLY a former Security bot whose hacked their governance system and is trying to figure out how to live in society and not get shut down or have humans run away from them: WHY HAVEN’T YOU READ THIS YET. Also, the first novella in the series won a Nebula on the weekend, so it’s not just me in love with the whole concept.

Murderbot has managed to get away from the annoying humans whom they ended up helping in their possibly pointless search for justice. Now Murderbot is on their own search for justice, hoping that getting evidence of Evil Deeds to help the person who helped emancipate them will… do some good. Or something. Unsurprisingly, Murderbot ends up having to help more hapless humans in difficult situations. Because Murderbot just can’t help it. I’m a history teacher; I will teach you history if the occasion calls for it. My mother will join committees. Lois Lane will look for the angle, Batman will growl, Han Solo will make a quip. Murderbot will help you in your possibly doomed quest for safety and/or justice. It’s just the way it goes.

A super superficial reading of this series would suggest that Murderbot is searching for their humanity. But that, as I said, is superficial and does Murderbot a disservice: they are not human and are not looking to be human. They are, though, searching for a meaning to their identity, and possibly a way to interact with humans on their own terms. Which may or may not involve compassion, using their skills in useful ways, or killing the people who get in their way.

I love Murderbot and, increasingly, I love the interactions they have with other AIs. I mean the humans are fine and all but it’s the AIs who are really interesting. In the last story, we had ART, as Murderbot termed them; ART was more than they appeared, and had very definite ideas about some things. Here… well. The situation is very different. Miki is a whole other level of difficult to deal with: I think reading this immediately after Artificial Condition is really fascinating in terms of what AI identity means. I can’t wait to see how Murderbot develops after these interactions.

Wells is doing a marvellous job of reinvigorating the entire AI genre. I welcome it.

Artificial Condition

9781250186928_FC.jpgaka Murderbot Diaries part 2.

This novella was actually sent to me by the publisher um, quite a while ago. I read it then and I’ve talked about it on Galactic Suburbia but… my mind just hasn’t been in reviewing mode in the way it needs to be. So I feel bad. And now I’m reviewing it when it’s just come out. So at least if it sounds like your sort of thing, you can just go and buy it immediately?

Anyway, this follows directly on from All Systems Red, which is generally just known as Murderbot, after the character telling the story. If you haven’t read that, I don’t recommend reading this… but I DO recommend going and getting the first one, and THEN coming to this one, because what’s not to love about a robot that’s self-aware and knows that if the humans find out about that there’s going to be trouble, but maybe not as much trouble as if there’s not enough soap/space opera to watch in their downtime?

I might love Murderbot a lot.

Interestingly, I didn’t love this one quite as much as the first one. Don’t get me wrong, I devoured it and am very excited that there are more to come. But it wasn’t quite the same revelation as the first one – which is only to be expected.

Basically this is following Murderbot as they go off into the world (galaxy) alone, trying to figure out how not to be compromised, and also trying to figure out a bit of their past. For me, I think the best parts were Murderbot interacting with other AIs, and figuring out their limitations and how to interact with them without revealing too much. That whole negotiating yourself and others who are kind of like you and kind of really not.

It’s really, really great, even if it’s not quite peak swoon-worthy-ness like the first one. I can’t wait to read more of Murderbot as they figure out how to be what they want to be.

The Descent of Monsters

image.pngI was sent this as a review copy by the publishers, Tor.com. It will be available on July 31.

I could have had a review copy of Yang’s double novellas, The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune, but they came through when I was feeling a bit rushed and… look, I didn’t click the link, and I regretted it, ok? Because then they exploded and everyone was raving and I thought, yes I will get those eventually. And then I got the opportunity to review this sequel, and someone mentioned that not having read the first two made this one make less sense… so I bought Black and Red, and read those, so I could read this. Which is a long way around to say that all three of these books are excellent and amazing and you should definitely go buy the first two and then read this when you can. I do think that this one requires knowledge of the first two to make the most sense.

On which: in theory you can read Black and Red in either order. I read Black first and I cannot imagine doing it the other way around, maybe because my historian brain really insists on chronology. Your mileage, etc.

Tor.com calls this “silkpunk fantasy” which I guess is because it’s Asian-inspired instead of European-inspired. I don’t really know the origin of silkpunk, although I’ve come across it before (and yes I know silk originated in China). Interestingly, while I would classify it as fantasy it also has some elements of science fiction – this one perhaps more than the previous two – because one of the chief problems is that a research facility has committed atrocities and has also, um, kinda been destroyed. I don’t tend to think of people writing about research into magic-y sorts of things. (If you’ve got more recommendations about such ideas, SEND THEM MY WAY. Turns out this is something I really, really dig.)

This novella is written from a few different perspectives, using different styles – straight narrative, letters, official reports. The official investigation is being stymied because it’s not in the interests of the government to have it all come out, but the investigator refuses to give in. And this leads to characters from the previous novellas being dragged in, and wraps up some of the ends that I didn’t even realise were loose, especially from The Red Threads of Fortune.

Yang’s work is just… different from a lot of other stuff I’ve come across. The world building is fantastic – both the world itself, and the way it’s described. The characters are complex and refuse to be pigeon-holed; ‘diverse’ has almost come to be a non-descriptor, but it’s so relevant and important here. Motivations are complex, relationships are complex… it’s just great, ok? Black Tides is on the Hugo ballot this year. I won’t be surprised to see this on the ballot next year.

Time Was

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This novella was sent to me by the publisher, Tor.com, at no cost. It’s available from April 24.

I generally love Ian McDonald so when I found out Tor.com had bought one of his novellas I was pretty excited… and it is indeed excellent. It’s different from what I expected, although I don’t know what I expected, since Luna: New Moon is very different from The Dervish House, for instance.

The blurb calls it “A love story stitched across time and war, shaped by the power of books, and ultimately destroyed by it” and really I think you shouldn’t find out any more than that. The gradual unravelling of the mystery is part of the charm.

The story opens with a book collector and seller finding a letter pressed between the pages of a volume of poetry, and proceeds in fits and starts across time from there. It’s partly his story – of love and obsession and books – and partly that of the letter-writer. It’s about war and loss and love and obsession, and time. You’ll be a bit confused at first as the story skips to different times but it’s worth it.

I enjoyed the story that Emmett uncovered but I also really liked the way McDonald makes Emmett not just the finder of the story but gives him a story of his own – one that’s subservient to the mystery he’s unravelling not just for the sake of McDonald’s story but because he, Emmett, is obsessed. And has to deal with the consequences of that.

Definitely worth picking up when it’s available. A lovely story and beautifully written.

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach

imageDid your brain go totally Roald Dahl when you saw the title? Mine did. Anyway, this novella was sent to me by the publisher, Tor.com, at no cost. It will be available for you to read from 13 March, 2018 (which is this year!).

Somehow, don’t ask me how, I managed not to read “The Waters of Versailles,” Robson’s highly regarded short story from… last year? The year before? I don’t know how I managed not to read it, given everyone else was raving about it… I just didn’t get to it. I’m going to get to it now, because I’ve read this and it’s excellent.

Seriously, just go pre-order it. Do you like the paradoxes of time travel? Do you like cranky old women being cranky and smart? Do you like a bit of ancient Mesopotamia? GO. PRE-ORDER.

It’s well into the future, things haven’t gone so great for humanity but they’re maybe kinda improving, if people manage to focus on what’s relevant. Time travel is… probably not relevant. But it’s consuming a lot of attention. But maybe it could be used for something relevant? That’s what Minh is hoping, anyway, as she prepares a brief for an intriguing new job.

The world that Robson has developed here is suuuuper developed for such a short story; as in, I wouldn’t be surprised to read at least a novel just fleshing out the things that she hints at here in terms of economies and habitats and generational attitudes and… yeh. That bit alone is completely absorbing; reminded me a bit of Iain M Banks’ civilisations. And then you add time travel.

The opening is somewhat disconcerting, as there’s clearly two separate stories being told – one with gods and monsters, one with technology. Very quickly the links between the two become evident but exactly how things will resolve is not at all evident. I really enjoyed the way that Robson played off the two different civilisational points of view. I also really enjoyed the different characters she employs. Minh is my favourite, of course: how could she not be with her crankiness and her competence and her bloody-mindedness? But her companions are also great and offer excellent, necessary and important alternatives to Minh’s point of view.

I am well impressed with this novella.

Girl Reporter

Unknown.jpegI received a review copy of this because, well, I asked my good friend Tansy if I could read it early and she said yes… it’s coming from Book Smugglers in December and you can pre-order it right now.

I have described this as a distillation of Tansy, and I stand by that. If you listen to Galactic Suburbia, or probably Verity! as well, you’ll find as you read this book that you recognise a lot of things. Not the characters, as such, nor the plot beats, but the themes. It’s superheroes and feminism, yes, which Tansy is definitely obsessed with. But more than that, it’s got romance (she’s been reading a lot of them), motherhood (there’s been a few essays on the topic in the last few years), queer representation and ethnic diversity (she’s a champion for those things). It’s got people discussing ‘old’ media vs ‘new’ media, and speculation about new new media; millennials doing excellent things and not taking crap from their elders; and a whole bucketload of snark and banter. And given her obsession with Press Gang and Lynda Day, it was only a matter of time before that came out in her fiction. Also, it’s sooo Australian.

So yeh. This is a very Tansy book.

But wait! You don’t know who Tansy is? That’s ok! You’ll still enjoy this novella if you’re interested in superheroes, and especially if you’re interested in superheroes beyond them just punching villains and swooshing in capes. This is set in the universe of “Cookie Cutter Superhero” from Kaleidoscope and “Kid Dark Against the Machine” – and if you liked those, you’ll be super excited to know that some of the characters recur here (you can definitely enjoy this cold but it’s so worth reading those other two stories anyway). It’s a world where machines mysteriously appeared, many years ago all over the world, which turn ordinary people into superheroes with different powers (and outfits) – and return them to normal again too. The stories are set in Australia, and while the first two deal with superheroes themselves this one is specifically focussed on Friday Valentina, a vlogger with a famous mother and a variety of baggage. Her vlogging focus is superheroes and they do end up being very… involved… in the story.

It’s a hugely enjoyable story that also says some sharp things about a variety of relationships, and about Australian politics in passing too. I’m rather hoping there might be more stories in this world to come…

Binti: Home

Binti_final.jpgThis novella was sent to me by the publisher at no cost. It will be out on 31 January 2017.

What does it mean to go home?

What does home mean?

What does it mean to belong?

If others don’t accept you, can you belong?

Do genetics equal identity?

If you change, are you still yourself?

What makes people family?

Binti featured Binti leaving home and changing in some fairly drastic ways. Here, Binti goes home, for a bunch of complicated reasons, and is forced to confront the sorts of questions I’ve asked above. She’s forced to confront aspects of herself that have changed – and been changed – and, perhaps more difficult, how her family react to this. She’s also confronted with some unpleasant truths about home and family, all in (in my e-version) about 90 pages.

It’s a bold and striking story of humanity and tradition in the context of an alien-rich galaxy. It’s beautifully written (of course) and there’s a huge amount of tantalising detail that Okorafor just… doesn’t explain much. This in no way impacts on the story; it’s an indicator of rich Okorafor’s writing is. Binti is a wonderful character and I’m so glad to have another part of her story told. I suspect there may be at least one more story coming… .

Also, look at that cover! How awesome is that!

Highly recommended, likely to be on award ballots next year.

Sorcerer of the Wildeeps

This was provided to me by the publisher.

UnknownThis is not a straightforward novel. The plot is not linear, the characters are slippery, and so is the language sometimes. But it is engaging and haunting and (much as its trite to say) challenging.

1. The plot is not linear. The focal character, Demane, sometimes has flashbacks to his past experiences – and sometimes to the experiences of other people, and sometimes he’s simply reflecting on history. It’s not always clear when this is happening, which I think is a stylistic choice; it took me a little while to understand when that was happening, but once I left myself go with the flow it usually made sense. The only frustrating thing by the end of it was that I really, really wanted to know more about Demane’s history and that of the world he lives in, with its Towers and demigods gods who have gone back to the stars…
2. The characters are slippery: this is somewhat related to the lack of narrative linearity (did I mention this isn’t a problem? It’s not a problem, as long as you don’t mind having to work a bit). Demane is definitely not straightforward – he’s got one mammoth backstory that only gets revealed in dribs and drabs, and that’s nothing on Captain, whose life is like a picture that’s entirely in shadow except for one tiny bit where one spotlight hits. Again, not a problem, but it does make it hard to explain what you’ve just read: “There’s this guy who works with a merchant caravan at the moment but he’s had this amazing life in the past, where he was kinda taught magic except it’s not magic, and in the present he’s trying to keep everyone around him alive…”
3. The language is slippery too. I’m not referring to the dialogue here, which is written very much in a spoken style (I know nothing about Wilson but I presume he’s thought long and hard about the use of the n-word; I can’t imagine Tor leaving that in a book without it being very deliberate and considered, either); dialogue doesn’t bother me. I think the elusiveness of the language often related to the non-linearity of the narrative actually. It took me a few pages to get the hang of it anyway, and once I was properly immersed it flowed beautifully.

I will look out for more work by Kai Ashante Wilson. Well recommended.

The Lifecycle of Software Objects, by Ted Chiang

I read this online at Subterranean, where it originally appeared.

I found it really hard to rate this story on Goodreads. Not that I don’t think it’s an utterly incredible story – I do. But I found the very end a bit disappointing, so not for the first time I found myself longing for half-stars. And I have absolutely no idea how I missed reading it last year; I must just have completely missed the name Ted Chiang. I’ve finally got around to it now because it’s on the Novella ballot for the Hugos – against two of my all-time favourite stories, “Troika” (Alastair Reynolds) and “The Lady who plucked Red Flowers from beneath the Queen’s Window” (Rachel Swirsky).

It’s told in alternating sections from the point of view of Ana, a zookeeper retrained in software, and Derek, who’s always found a living in animation. They both end up working for a company that is creating digients – sort of like digital pets, designed to run on a platform that is as far away from Second Life as Second Life is from chatrooms, but is that sort of idea. Digients are designed as well as bred, trained as well as written, groomed as well as engineered. But much more than being a story that follows the development of a new form of digital life, Chiang also chronicles the development of Ana and Derek and their society as well, because this story takes place over years. The timeline is one of the aspects that I found less convincing, because it didn’t really seem like Ana and Derek aged. Yes, they learned, but the story must take place over at least ten years, and I didn’t think there was a big enough difference in tone or attitude for characters who experienced that period of time.

Overall, though, this is a wonderful wonderful story, and it definitely deserves its place on the Hugos ballot.