Tag Archives: sf

Elysium Fire

UnknownThis book was sent to me by the publisher at no cost. It’s out now… because I’ve had it sitting here waiting for a review for a few more weeks than I feel happy admitting to… oops.

If you’ve read my blog or listened to Galactic Suburbia, you’ll know that Alastair Reynolds is one of my all-time favourites. One of those authors where I don’t even both reading the blurb, I just want the book. So I was very excited last year when I heard that there was going to be a new Prefect Dreyfus story, because I loved The Prefect (now re-released as Aurora Rising).

You know how books are advertised as “a Nancy Drew mystery”? Well, this is “A Prefect Dreyfus emergency”. I love it.

While it’s not a direct sequel to the first Dreyfus story, there are elements that continue from that first book; you could read this and pick up on those things relatively easily, but it would spoil the first book for you. And I love the first book so I suggest going with The Prefect Aurora Rising and then coming to this one. If you like police procedural/ mystery type stories in an epic space setting – ten thousand habitats in orbit around a planet, all only connected by the most direct democracy imaginable – then I can’t see why you wouldn’t want to read both.

So, all that said: Tom Dreyfus is once again acting more like a policeman than he’s meant to, following leads that don’t look like leads to most other people, and generally making a nuisance of himself in pursuit of Justice and Truth. Oh, I’ve just realised why I like him so much. Anyway, someone appears to be trying to destroy that democracy I mentioned as well doing bad things to individual citizens, and Dreyfus is having none of it. Races against the clock, persuading reluctant allies, dealing with unexpected foes, and zooming around the Glitter Band all follow ineluctably and create a delightful story.

I like Dreyfus because he’s not perfect and he’s not just banging a drum about some theoretical ideal; he knows the Glitter Band’s democracy isn’t perfect but it’s the system he’s there to protect. He knows he doesn’t always get it right, but he tries and keeps trying. He’s a good friend and an occasionally subordinate employee but only when it seems necessary – and unlike Poe Dameron, he expects to cop to the consequences.

I also liked this book because, like The Prefect before it, it’s not just about Dreyfus; a couple of the other characters also get some space – Jane Aumonier more so in this book than the first, which I also really enjoyed because I love her a lot.

This is a fun read, and a fast one (for me anyway) – the pacing is tight and definitely rolls your through events as consequences start piling up. I’m kinda hoping there might be another Prefect Dreyfus emergency somewhere in Reynolds’ brain…

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.

Octavia E Butler: Modern Master of SF

Unknown.jpegGerry Canavan wrote a fabulous essay in Luminescent Threads about ‘disrespecting Octavia’ – about whether or not work in Butler’s archives that remains unpublished ought to be published now, against her wishes. It’s a thoughtful essay that acknowledges it’s not an easy question to consider, and makes the unpublished work sound fascinating while admitting its flaws.

I knew Canavan was writing a biography of Butler when we asked him to write for us, and I’d been meaning to get hold of it… well, all year. I finally did and I finally read it and it is exactly as wonderful as I had hoped.

To call it a biography isn’t quite accurate. It is that, to an extent; you certainly learn the outlines of Butler’s life, and Canavan is quite explicit in looking at the struggles Butler faced in finding the time to write, how much re-writing she did because she wasn’t happy with work at various points, and other aspects of her life like receiving the MacArthur fellowship and so on. But this is also an extended critique of Butler’s work – both published and unpublished, because one of the amazing things about this book is that Canavan had access to the many hundreds of boxes of papers that Butler left when she died so suddenly. They’re stored at the Huntington, and their finding guide alone is over 500 pages in length.

Makes me want to start printing out and filing emails.

Each of the chapters is based around a particular creative period in Butler’s life, which I liked because it foregrounds that the creative output is the focus of the book but/and that it happens in tandem with the actual events in Butler’s life. Canavan traces themes across her work, as well as the ways in which so much of her fiction (12 published novels and 9 short stories!) can be seen as connected to one another: through early drafts and plot ideas as well as the motivating ideas. It makes me desperately want to read some of that unpublished work when I read about what she was trying to do in them… although Doro/Jesus sounds a bit weird even for me.

This is not a long book and it’s not a dense book. It’s not a nitty-gritty, every-day-at-a-time biography, and it’s not a highly technical literary analysis – it’s far more approachable and engaging than either of those would be. This is a book for people who love Butler’s work and want to know more about her and her work. It works brilliantly.

Persepolis Rising

Unknown.jpegI received this book from the publisher, Hachette, at no cost. It’s out now; RRP $32.99 for the trade paperback.

I love James SA Corey and his (their) capacity to write awesome words that simultaneously lift up the heart and rip it to shreds. Previously, on this topic, see these posts. If you’re already on the Expanse train, you don’t need to read a review; you probably already have a copy or you’ve got it lined up for Christmas or something. If you haven’t read them yet… well, if you’re into space opera and deeply compelling characters and an epic, long-running saga where the books get published on time (burn), and you’re not intimidated by this being book 7, you should just go get yourself Leviathan Wakes already and START READING.

I can’t talk about this book without spoiling the rest of the series. You’re warned.

… and further, perhaps with this book more than any other of the series, I can’t even really talk about the BOOK without spoiling it, and I want to give massive kudos to the blurb writer who managed not to spoil the first page which, folks, is such a game-changer that I had to re-read it a few times to actually grasp what it was telling me. My darling has seen the TV show and it’s killing me that I can’t tell him about the first page. This never happens, because we basically don’t ever read the same stuff, so I can spill my angst about characters or authors without spoiling him for things. But this time? Oh, no. Now he’s invested in the TV version and he doesn’t even want me discussing those things what happens to Miller.

So… the non-spoiler version is that as always we follow our redoubtable Roci and her crew. Unexpected and probably bad things happen to our solar system. I continue to really like Holden while simultaneously appreciating that he continues to be complicated, both as a person and in the way people view him; Naomi and Bobbie vie for my very favourite, while Amos and Alex aren’t too far off. I continue to want to be Avasarala when I grow up. I love the way that politics are presented – messy and fraught and difficult and lived-in and having serious consequences. This is not an easy future that Corey imagines for us. It’s just so damned human. Also, w00t for the Roman history overtones. There’s battles and there’s conspiracy and there’s making the wrong decisions and just being wonderfully human. Argh, I love it and it hurts my heart and I want the next book sooner than I’ll get it…

Spoiler below in case you’ve read it or don’t care…

Continue reading →

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…

Lotus Blue

Unknown While this may not be a uniquely Australian perspective on the future – other places have deserts – there’s still definitely a strong Australian flavour running through this world. The Dead Red Heart, the dust and sand, the mad tankers (Sparks acknowledges a debt to Andrew Macrae’s Trucksong), the caravans, the grim survival in the face of crappy odds. Also the place names that occasionally gave me a giggle, to see them cropping up in this devastated future.

Cat Sparks is a friend… but she’d never expect anything but the truth from me, so don’t worry; this is definitely a fair review.

So it must be pointed out that you shouldn’t come to this book hoping for a happy post-apocalypse world, or a happy post-apocalyptic story. That is not how Sparks rolls. There is unpleasantness and violence and maiming and death and loss and lots and lots of hideous sand. This is a world where human survival relies on following rules that enable communities to survive even if you don’t understand them; where groups have to be wary of other groups because even though helping each other is a good idea, sometimes my group against yours might mean we survive at your cost. Did I mention the sand? There’s a lot of sand. Life is hard and for most people, requires hard work and sacrifice. Well, for most people… and that (naturally) is one of the tensions that Sparks works through here.

This is a world after global conflict, some indeterminate period in the world’s past, that involved soldiers created by humans – robots, cyborgs, and all manner of variations on the theme. Exactly what happened in the past is never spelled out; I got the feeling that a whole bunch of conflicts got conflated and thus, a thoroughly mangled world – which isn’t unimaginable. But the history itself doesn’t matter so much, except insofar as the remnants can be either helpful or harmful to the humans still making their way. Coming off Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn series, this is refreshing, and I liked it: for most of the population survival is more important than history, and that makes sense.

The novel is made up of a large and varied cast, whose stories eventually intertwine. There’s an adolescent on a caravan in the desert fed up with her life; a supersoldier reawakened; an old, old woman eking out the end of her life; a grifter; and representatives of those doing better than everyone else, come to see what the rest of the world is like. It was good to read the variety of perspectives and remember that human survival will mean a diverse range of experiences.

The story at its most basic is a straightforward one. But the thing that really made this stand out was the world building. It helped that I happened to be reading this in a blast of hot days, but even if it had been the middle of winter I would have felt hot, felt parched, felt distressed by the unrelenting nature of the world – this is a world that really can’t support humans very well anymore. But humans are determined and bloody-minded, and that comes through too.

One thing that annoyed me was in the proofreading. There were a number of instances where commas were in weird places. And of course I can’t now find an example because I forgot to mark them, so it looks like I’m complaining out of turn. But they were definitely there: commas as though there were three adjectives but there was only two, for instance. Not a problem with the story, but something that threw me a few times.

Overall this is (I can’t believe) a great debut novel from Sparks. I hope she has more vices stories in her after she finishes her PhD…

Nexus

UnknownThis 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 →

Terra Nullius

UnknownThis book was sent to me by the publisher, Hachette, at no cost. It’s out now, RRP $29.99.

Terra nullius has a specific resonance for Australians who know anything about their history. It’s the legal fiction under which Britain decided they could colonise the land that’s now Australia, because it was ‘nobody’s land’ – that is, no one that the British recognised owned it. Because the British didn’t recognise the traditional owners as ‘owning’ the land, for a whole bunch of reasons. So for Claire G Coleman to use that as the name and premise of her book is brilliant, and pointed, and tells you a lot about what the book is on about before you even open it.

Coleman, who identifies with the South Coast Noongar people, won the black&write! writing fellowship in 2016 with this manuscript. The main reason why I think that’s awesome – aside from the obvious one that it’s a great book – is a bit spoiler-y, and that’s a bit of a problem with discussing this book at all…

The blurb talks about Natives, the Colony, and Settlers. It says “This is not Australia as we know it. This is not the Australia of our history. This TERRA NULLIUS is something new, but all too familiar.” Along with the fact that this is a didactic book (in no way a criticism) that does its message-work with clear prose, understandable characters, compassion and a lot of toughness… I can’t really say much more about the book without revealing what makes it something other than a book about Australian history. There’s runaways and enforced schooling and hiding from Settlers and Settlers complaining about the environment… and… other things.

I want to throw this book at all white Australians. And I would be fascinated to hear what non-Australians think, especially people living in other colonised lands. I don’t know enough about how that’s spoken of elsewhere to know whether the resonance would work in a non-Australian context… but I think there’s enough commonality for it not to be a completely foreign experience.

And now, for those of you who don’t mind spoilers:

Continue reading →

Provenance

UnknownI received this book from the publisher at no cost.

I really really liked this book. It’s very different from the Ancillary books, despite being set in the same universe; the concerns are different and the setting is different. What’s not different is the awesomeness of the writing itself, and the sheer excellence of the story and that the characters are delightfully well-rounded and gripping.

I told you I liked it.

Some of the things I really liked are minorly spoilery, so they’re below, but at heart it’s a ripping good story with characters I genuinely cared about in a society that’s just different enough to be alien and similar enough to be familiar, with the differences being intriguing. There’s political shenanigans and surprising coincidences and sibling rivalry and questionable identities…. Also, if you have read the Ancillary books (in no way necessary, although there is a tangential spoiler for the books), it’s fun to see how other societies view the Radch (unsurprisingly, with suspicion).

It appears to be a stand-alone, in case unfinished trilogies put you off. I didn’t quite read it in a day, but close. I adore Imray, the main character, a lot.

These spoilers don’t spoil the story, but just in case you want to discover them yourself:

SPOILERS:
1. The gender stuff! Choosing your own gender and your own name! With THREE options, and no suggestion that there’s any link to any physical bits! Such a neat way of doing it. And it’s just… there… and doesn’t play a role in the plot itself, because really why should gender play a part in what someone can do? As I write this I realise that that’s actually really significant: Imray has chosen to be female but there’s no suggestion that she is impaired by that, and none of the non-binary folk are hampered by their choice either… they’re all just people.

2. The vestiges! I see this as a nod to the Roman lares, the household gods, and the fact that leading families would have remnants from their famous ancestors to boost their own standing. But of course heaps of people do this sort of thing – investing objects with numinous power – just look at celebrity objects that get sold for stupid amounts of money. I loved that even when the authenticity (provenance!) of objects was questioned, Imray realised that in one sense at least it doesn’t matter if an object is genuine, because of the way it accumulates power and authority thanks to how people think about it. I really, really enjoyed this aspect.

3. Imray herself. Her appearance is largely irrelevant to the plot, which I really only noticed the one of two times that it <i>was</i> mentioned, in passing. And those mentions were about things like a particular space suit not being designed with someone of her roundness in mind. This is a person who’s not tiny but… no one cares. Also, she cries several times – and is never criticised for it, never made to feel like that’s a weak, womanly thing to do. She tries not to cry, a few times, so as not to betray her emotions – but it’s not gendered.