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Book cover of Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee


Ninefox Gambit is a novel built from numbers. Big numbers. Deep space equations.

If, like me, your last encounter with serious maths was in the 90s then Ninefox Gambit may seem a daunting prospect. Stick with it — all those chains of calculation lead to some exciting places. A fortress of impenetrable ice. A spaceship helmed by an undead General. A world in need of change, revenge and justice. Forget those Statistics textbooks you used to doodle in. This is science fictional maths where there's space travel and explosions for everyone!

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Image of Hannah, Violet, Dee and Betty from The Rat Queens


In 2013, Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch's Rat Queens burst onto the graphic novel scene to a general cry of delight. As the blurb for Rat Queens, Vol. 1: Sass and Sorcery says, 'Who are the Rat Queens? A pack of booze-guzzling, death-dealing battle maidens-for-hire, and they're in the business of killing all god's creatures for profit.' Basically, they're an awesome-sauce gang of outrageous ladies. With their overwhelming quest for a destructive good time, their battle lust, and their defiant fashion sense, the Rat Queens provided the kind of rowdy, confident female gang many fangirls just couldn't resist.

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When it comes to Kameron Hurley's work I've lost it; I'm a fully fledged fangirl and a fool for her words. I signed up for her newsletter and I actually read it—that's how deep I'm in.

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Birds eye view shot of Reza getting out of a car carrying a gun by Goni Montes


Tonight it’s Shelly.

If I were capable of having feelings since Angie disappeared, I might have some for Shelly. Not because she’s finer than the rest of them—she is fine though, don’t get it twisted—but because at the beginning of the night, when she crawls into the back of my Crown Vic all prettied up and glittery, she always catches my eyes in the rearview mirror and asks me how I’m doing. Not in the concerned way but not in the throw-off way either: She really wants to know.

Anyway, I don’t think she’s into women, especially not middle-aged skinny butch ones with salt-and-pepper hair and angry lines in their faces and the memories of long lost lovers dancing around their subconsciouses.

And anyway, I’m not sixteen anymore, in fact I’m not even forty anymore and I’m not here for the quick thrill of teaching straight girls that what they really want is this, this, and this. Been there, done that. Far too many times.
And anyway: Angie.

Gee I wonder why I'm writing about this story. Ugh, Daniel José Older this was unfair - "Anyway: Angie" triple teamed me and took me down within the first few paragraphs. It pinged my chrome-ass women sensor, threw a dapper lesbian in my face and hit the big red 'emotions' buzzer with the simplest of phrases. 'And anyway: Angie.'; words that express true and strong emotional devotion as easily as a simple shoulder shrug. After I finished this story, I had to restrain myself from sending enigmatic midnight tweets like 'Weeping - this title is perfection'. I just hope Older knows that with great power comes great responsibility.

However, it wouldn't be fair to draw other readers in without handing out some spoilers about this story. Renay, you're going to want these spoilers. Character death spoilers )
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cover of The Mussel Eater shows a woman with blood on her lips craddling a dying man


“You smell like the sea,” says Karitoki.

“What else would I smell like?” she says, and beneath the salt and the brine and the under-tang of shellfish is a faint, sweet odour of rot, of mussels left too long on the beach and under the sun, of the torn fragments left by seabirds, breaking open calcium carbonate and leaving fleshy feet to spoil. When he is done with her hair, he sits back and watches her coat herself with oil.

As part of their quest for world domination, The Book Smugglers opened their new publishing arm Book Smugglers Publishing in 2014. The theme of their debut collection was Subversive Fairy Tales and they published six original riffs on older stories from "Red Riding Hood" to Scheherazade's story in One Thousand and One Nights. So, far I've read two of these stories and I'm impressed by Ana and Thea's selections.

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“Petra,” I said. “Hey. Hey from Spain.”

“Happy Apocalypse,” she said. “Hope you don’t mind me calling. It’s kind of a tradition now, you and me and the end of the world.”

“I’m coming home,” I blurted.

“Yeah?” Her voice lifted happily. Behind it, there was music, something choral and ancient–sounding.

“Yeah,” I said, and I pressed my free hand to my eyes to keep them dry in the chilly Spanish wind.


I found Claire Humphrey's "Four Steps to the Perfect Smoky Eye" smart and layered, so when I saw that someone had added another story of hers to our Hugo (2014-2015) spreadsheet I jumped right on it. "The End of the World in Five Dates" is rather different in form to "Four Steps to the Perfect Smoky Eye" - like "Four Steps to the Perfect Smoky Eye" it's built around linked episodes and follows one set of characters, but "The End of the World in Five Dates" skips through time quite quickly and requires the reader to follow some sharp story jumps.

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Everyone thinks my brother is nice. He set up a rescue centre for birds, after the terraforming accident poisoned the lake. That's always the image of him, holding a bird covered in sludge. The birds are never the same after they're cleaned, but the gossips never talk about that.


Polenth Blake's "Never the Same" is a strange, dark story that shows the importance of shaking up well used SFF narratives and introducing radically new fictional voices. It's also a story that left me wondering if I could trust anything that I'd read, and yet still weirdly satisfied by what I'd read.

A little like "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love" it's difficult to analyse "Never the Same" without giving away all the story's secrets, so consider this your spoiler warning.

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I had a lot of time so I read the newspaper. I read all of the latest news about the killer. He was supposed to be a young white man, blond, blue-eyed, hazel-eyed. He was supposed to drive a silver car, a beige car, a white car. He had been hunting here for months, years. He was likely to have no criminal record.

He caught another girl. Her school picture was on the front page. She had the same long hair as the others, bangs hairsprayed into a neat puff, braces on her teeth, a uniform sweater-vest. She'd been on her way to a music lesson, and they found her violin case, empty, tossed into the ravine. No fingerprints.

Dad said, "You'd better be thankful you aren't out there, walking the streets."

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The town in Claire Humphrey's "Four Steps to the Perfect Smoky Eye" is plagued by a serial killer who targets young women, so Beck's dad buys a safekeeper; a protective device that clamps into a vein on the wearer's arm. The safekeeper shoots electricity at attackers and reports any physical violence against its wearer to pre-programmed numbers. Getting Becks fitted with the device looks like a protective act of parental love and concern on the part of her father, but the reader can see immediately that this 'protection' is at best misguided as Becks is worried and feels pain as the safekeeper attaches itself:

"Oh. I thought it was going to be one of those tennis bracelets," I said, trying not to freak. But by the time I got the words out my dad had my wrist wrapped in his big solid hand, and he snapped the safekeeper on and it was too late.
The safekeeper bit like a viper, the teeth on the skin side finding my vein and latching there. The seal was good enough that no blood ran out, but it hurt like a bitch.


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Book cover of Fortune's Pawn shows Devi's face inside helmet overlaid with LED information screens


This year, Here Be Books is running an SFF Women Book Club. Their January pick was Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach.

As you may remember Renay quite liked this one, and her review convinced me to read Fortune's Pawn at the start of 2014 before the whole trilogy was even published. Getting me to start an in progress series that isn't The Raven Cycle is quite the bookish feat of strength.

I felt like I needed a refresher before reading the rest of the trilogy, and this new book club provided the perfect reason to dive back into Bach's comfort blanket of fun, high action, romantic space adventure. I wasn't able to join the Twitter discussion, but Here Be Books created a set of discussion questions for bloggers so here I am, running late, offloading my (many) feelings about the hard drinking Devi, her overprotective love interest, and the crew of The Glorious Fool.

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Still waiting for an invite to the short fiction party? Well let us dispense with the formalities, sweep you inside and get you the beverage of your choice!

Today, Short Business features blogger and short fiction enthusiast forestofglory who's keen to tell you all about her favourite short fiction of 2014. Whether you're planning to nominate short work for the Hugo Awards or just looking for a great story to read, let this post guide you through a variety of excellent options.


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One of the best things about my participation in the Hugo Awards is that it has lead me to realize how much awesome SFF short fiction is being published. As I’ve become more aware of SFF short fiction as the number of authors and online magazines I follow has increased. I am now much more aware of new things that I want to read. This year I’ve read an impressive amount of short fiction. I’ve read about 85 works online and 4 anthologies, plus collections which included original work. Of course I still haven’t read anything like all the of short SFF work published this year. There is just so much!

Anyways, based on what I’ve read here are my favorite short works from 2014. I’ve divided them by length based on Hugo categories. If you have nominating privileges this year I hope you’ll consider nominating some of these stories. And even if you aren’t a World Con member I hope you’ll read and enjoy some of these works.

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How to tell your fake boyfriend you would like to become a robot:

1. Tell him, "I would like to be a robot." You can also say, "I am really a robot, not a female-bodied biological machine," because that is closer to the truth.

2. Do not tell him anything. If you do, you will also have to admit that you think about ways to hurt yourself so you have an excuse to replace body parts with machine parts.

3. Besides, insurance is unlikely to cover your transition into a robot.


A. Merc Rustad's "How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps" reminded me strongly of last year's Hugo contender "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love". Charming, quirky, artfully secretive, and with a similar melancholic emotional pull to Rachel Swirsky's story, "How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps" is for everyone who enjoys literature, robots, and crying in inappropriate places.

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"How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps" is available for free at Sciegentasy magazine.

Other Reviews

Susan Hated Literature
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Once, upon a lime, there was a frog.

This frog was the most handsome in all the land, the only frog able to balance his thin green body upon the fat round fruits that fell from Salima Sultan Begum's handsome lime trees. He pressed his candy-yellow toes firmly into the green skins and rolled to and fro and fro and to, all the while chirruping, because the empress also loved the sounds of her garden. This he knew as he was a gentleman frog, and it was important to know the likes and dislikes of one's empress. He, being the only frog, put on a certain show.


Here we are - only the second Short Business post of 2015 - and I've already got to talk about I don't quite get a short story. I've read E. Catherine Tobler's "Once, Upon a Lime" twice now, and I'm still not really clear what it means to give to the reader and what it expects back. Oh well, I suppose there's nothing for it but to forge on and hope someone pops up in the comments with a bit more knowledge than me.

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Once, Upon a Lime is available for free at Strange Horizons.

Supplementary Materials
Podcast: "Once, Upon a Lime" read by Anaea Lay

Other Reviews
Tangent Online
Locus
Yours?
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profile of a grey female figure carrying a grey bow, her eyes are covered by a skein of golden threads which trail to the edge of the image's border


A new year and a new crop of SFF short stories are eligible for The Hugo Awards! Three months before nominations close, hundreds of eligible stories… Yep that's definitely excitement you can sense, not panic.

Last year, I started our Short Business feature because I wanted to learn more about short SFF fiction in the run up to the Hugo voting period. I've always wanted to spend more time reading short fiction, but like Renay, I find short fiction difficult to navigate alone. I wanted to see if blogging about short stories could motivate me to push through the confusing parts and help me get a better grasp on the short form. And it started to work - after starting the feature I found I could read a confusing short story without falling into a swirling vortex of personal doubt and I could make some sort of sense of what I was reading.

More and more short fiction is being published online, and I have access to a gigantic amount of stories that tweak my interests. It's a little overwhelming, but I'm going to continue trying to work short fiction out with my words. So, before Hugo nominations close in March, I plan to read some of the stories our friends and readers have added to our Hugo spreadsheet.

I'm starting with Marie Brennan's "Daughter of Necessity" - a retelling of Penelope's quest to vanquish her unwanted suitors. I love retellings of Ancient Greek stories so "Daughter of Necessity" seemed like the perfect way to kick off Short Business in the New Year, especially as Brennan's A Natural History of Dragons is on my (long) list of highly anticipated novels.

By day she crafts; by night she unmakes. Surely somewhere, in all the myriad crossings of the threads, there is a future in which all will be well. Marie Brennan offers an intriguing new spin on a classic tale.


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"Daughter of Necessity" is available for free at Tor.com.

Other Reviews

io9
Tangent
Susan Hated Literature
Yours?
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Jo, the firstborn, "The General" to her eleven sisters, is the only thing the Hamilton girls have in place of a mother. She is the one who taught them how to dance, the one who gives the signal each night, as they slip out of the confines of their father's townhouse to await the cabs that will take them to the speakeasy. Together they elude their distant and controlling father, until the day he decides to marry them all off.

The girls, meanwhile, continue to dance, from Salon Renaud to the Swan and, finally, the Kingfisher, the club they come to call home. They dance until one night when they are caught in a raid, separated, and Jo is thrust face-to-face with someone from her past: a bootlegger named Tom whom she hasn't seen in almost ten years. Suddenly Jo must weigh in the balance not only the demands of her father and eleven sisters, but those she must make of herself. (source)


Everyone kept telling me to read this, so hey friends: YOU WIN. You were all 100% correct, and I shouldn't have looked at you dubiously when I heard the words "fairy tale retelling". I apologize for doubting you, especially Ana, since you think I would've learned my lesson after Chime and The 10 PM Question specifically (I will never learn my lesson, probably). Read more... )
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book cover for The Lie shows a young soldier holding staring at his hat in his hands and a scene of another soldier standing by barbed wire in No Man's Land


Cornwall, 1920, early spring.

A young man stands on a headland, looking out to sea. He is back from the war, homeless and without family.

Behind him lie the mud, barbed-wire entanglements and terror of the trenches. Behind him is also the most intense relationship of his life.1

Daniel has survived, but the horror and passion of the past seem more real than the quiet fields around him.

He is about to step into the unknown. But will he ever be able to escape the terrible, unforeseen consequences of a lie?


God, I am so sick of publishers using book blurb code for LGBTQ books. There are gay soldiers in "The Lie", OK? This happens:

'We were laughing. He was hauling me up. We staggered together and I could smell the drink on him as well as on me. I felt drunker than I'd been all night. I don't know what happened then except our faces must have got close. I tasted my own blood and then his mouth, his spit and the taste I seemed to know already because I knew the smell of him so well. Him, himself, as if we'd come out of the same womb. How good he tasted. We were no use on our own, either of us. If I was ever going to be myself I needed him.'




Gay soldiers.2

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Other Reviews

The Telegraph
The Guardian
Kirkus
The Historical Novel Society
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I nod. "Awful day." And because we say it all the time, because it's the kind of silly, ordinary thing you could call one of our "refrains," or maybe because of the weed I've smoked, a whole bunch of days seem pressed together inside this moment, more than you could count. There's the time we all went out for New Year's Eve, and Uncle Tad drove me, and when he stopped and I opened the door he told me to close it, and I said "I will when I'm on the other side," and when I told Mona we laughed so hard we had to run away and hide in the bathroom. There's the day some people we know from school came in and we served them wine even though they were underage and Mona got nervous and spilled it all over the tablecloth, and the day her nice cousin came to visit and made us cheese-and-mint sandwiches in the microwave and got yelled at for wasting food. And the day of the party for Mona's mom's birthday, when Uncle Tad played music and made us all dance, and Mona's mom's eyes went jewelly with tears, and afterward Mona told me: "I should just run away. I'm the only thing keeping her here." My God, awful days. All the best days of my life.


Much like "All Our Pretty Songs", Sofia Samatar’s "Selkie Stories Are For Losers" mixes folklore with a contemporary story of intense female friendship, love and troubled families set against the backdrop of summer jobs. I’m a big fan of small town stories which light up regular lives through the use of carefully chosen detailing. And I love fantasy stories which bring magic down to earth by setting it in everyday situations. So, the variation of urban fantasy in Samatar’s story, which mixes the deliberately mundane like the details of crappy jobs, random jokes, aimless hours spent hanging around with folklore, is a knock out hit for me. The combination of the magical and the commonplace creates a sense of specificity which grounded me and made it easy for me to relate to the story.

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Other Reviews

Susan Hated Literature
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Purple book cover for The Shadowed Sun shows a flaming sun eclipsed by a purple disc over a mountain top scene


N. K. Jemisin has cruised her way into my list of favourite authors over the last few years with her Inheritance Trilogy – three books that mix fantasy, romance and politics into an epically seductive potion. In 2012, she published the Dreamblood Duology and launched a new science fiction world that was just as fascinating as that found in "The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms".

I enjoyed "The Killing Moon", the first book in the duology, and got knocked down by its ending. Still, it didn’t quite take over my life and emotions with the same force as the Inheritance trilogy. After reading about the order in which Jemisin finished her novels I think that the writing just wasn’t polished enough to effortlessly suck me under. Techniques are tried out in "The Killing Moon" which felt more assured in "The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms", and the novel sometimes handed important information to the reader in a clumsy way. While "The Killing Moon" told an absorbing story its technical side was perhaps not as accomplished as the three later books built with more experience.

Enter the duology’s second book, "The Shadowed Sun". Maybe my heart beats so strong for this book because it benefits from Jemisin’s experience of having finished "The Killing Moon" and submitted it for publication? Perhaps being familiar with the world helped me to dive into the story more easily? Or it might just be that the character’s in "The Shadowed Sun" were more my kind of people. I just know I’m now this novel’s newest ambassador.

Let me count the ways I love it – the five wonderful elements that mean you should shove this novel into the limited space on your shelves right now.

Some spoilers )

Other Reviews

The Book Smugglers
Tor
Kirkus
SFF World
Shut Up Heathcliff
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In the beginning, "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love" seems set to live up to its whimsical title. It starts, as you would expect, with the narrator explaining that her partner would make the most charming terrible lizard:

If you were a dinosaur, my love, then you would be a T-Rex. You’d be a small one, only five feet, ten inches, the same height as human-you. You’d be fragile-boned and you’d walk with as delicate and polite a gait as you could manage on massive talons. Your eyes would gaze gently from beneath your bony brow-ridge.


He sounds adorable. In my mind’s eye, I gave this dinosaur a cane and bow tie.

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Other Thoughts

Calico Reaction - discussion thread
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green book cover of Ascension shows a woman who looks remarkably like Gina Torres dressed in a space suit


Between the joyful exuberance that permeates Jacqueline Koyanagi’s debut and the family-like crew at the centre of her story, it’s unsurprising that several reviewers have drawn parallels between "Ascension" and "Firefly". Like "Firefly", "Ascension" has a lot of heart. It’s an emotionally warm book which manages to make a large space ship, hanging in the immense blackness of space, feel like a cosy domestic environment. It also enthusiastically throws itself into portraying life’s adventure, tragedy and weirdness, and draws out truly touching emotional moments without being saccharine. What I loved best about "Firefly", beyond the specifics of character and setting, was its constant beating heart; its clear love for people, stories and SFF creation. "Ascension" has that same quality and I was easily drawn into a novel which felt as if it had been built with love, excitement and enthusiasm.

"Ascension" has space adventures, werewolves, hot female starship captains and mysterious, dissolving women. It’s got space gardens, explosions, make-outs and friendships! Fun radiates off this book as it plays with SFF tropes and draws its characters through their adventures. Reading Ascension reminded me of watching TV programs like "Xena: Warrior Princess", "Star Trek Enterprise", "Merlin" and, yes, Firefly – SFF shows that filled their character’s lives with friendship and love and wonder. These programs often also included the angst I've come to crave, but I ultimately watched them because they were fun SFF creations which believed people could achieve amazing acts of heroism. SFF, they said, didn’t all have to all be grim and dark. Sometimes it could involve ridiculous disguises, implausible but satisfying rescues, or friends and lovers who stuck by each other.

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Supplementary Materials

Olivia Waite - K is for Jacqueline Koyanagi

Other Reviews

Liz Bourke
The Literary Omnivore
The Book Smugglers
sandstone78
Foz Meadows

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