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[personal profile] bookgazing
Following a recent impassioned call for more short fiction reviewing, made by [twitter.com profile] ClowderofTwo, I'm trying to get back into regularly talking about the few pieces of short fiction I manage to read each month. Quality, not quantity is my battle cry! So, here's what I read in October:

Includes stories from Granta, FIYAH, Fireside, Uncanny, Luna Station Quarterly & Shimmer )
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[personal profile] justira
A Darker Shade of Magic photo cover_adarkershadeofmagic_zps12923fe2.jpg

Kell is one of the last Antari, a rare magician who can travel between parallel worlds: hopping from Grey London — dirty, boring, lacking magic, and ruled by mad King George — to Red London — where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire — to White London — ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne, where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back — and back, but never Black London, because traveling to Black London is forbidden and no one speaks of it now.

Officially, Kell is the personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see, and it is this dangerous hobby that sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to take her with him for her proper adventure.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save both his London and the others, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — a feat trickier than they hoped.

Friends! I bet you have figured out by now that I am the local curmudgeonly contrarian, and I don't like anything. Well STRAP IN, because I have POSITIVE REVIEW today! And for once, it's SPOILER FREE!

Yes! A Darker Shade of Magic was delightful, and I have exceedingly few complaints about it (of course it wouldn't be me if there were NO complaints).

 photo sofuckingexcitedomg_zpsjx1yby3u.gif


Like All the Birds in the Sky, this is a book of and about tropes. The setup is trope-tastic; you've heard this all before. You have your world-weary but young magician struggling with his place in the world, your dubiously moral cutpurse scrappy lady, your ruthless evil mage, your overall setting as a portal fantasy. It's all very by-the-numbers, but A Darker Shade of Magic is an exercise in colouring inside the lines and making it sing.

Read more... )
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[personal profile] helloladies
Transistor cover


From the creators of Bastion, Transistor is a sci-fi themed action RPG that invites you to wield an extraordinary weapon of unknown origin as you fight through a stunning futuristic city. Transistor seamlessly integrates thoughtful strategic planning into a fast-paced action experience, melding responsive gameplay and rich atmospheric storytelling. During the course of the adventure, you will piece together the Transistor's mysteries as you pursue its former owners.


Susan
"Buy a bundle with the soundtrack?" I asked myself at checkout. "Why on earth would I do that?!" LITTLE DID I KNOW.

Ira
LITTLE DID YOU KNOW. As the game's developer, Supergiant, is apparently wont to do, the soundtrack for this game is absolutely gorgeous and woven into its storytelling and characterization. The music is a great way to start this review because it's so much a part of the game's atmosphere and worldbuilding. The game is set in a city, Cloudbank, that is ever-changing based on the votes of its populace, from what's on restaurant menus to the colour of the sky to the weather. We start the game with Red, the female protagonist, and a man's voice coming from the titular sword, the Transistor, and we face the Camerata as our antagonists. The cast also includes a variety of diverse characters, including people of colour and queer folks, though the way the narrative treats them is... complicated. Red is a silent protagonist, but the sword talks plenty, providing narration, commentary, and interaction. This is accomplished by absolutely superb voice acting on the part of Logan Cunningham, the voice of the Transistor. It's especially effective when he has emotional moments with Red or when he's being affected by the Spines.

Transistor screenshot: stopping to hum


Susan
Logan Cunningham carried so much of the game for me, entirely on the strength of his voice acting. The man in the transistor is our narrator, our primary source of explanations and world-building, and the voice acting adds so much colour and emotion – which is really what you need in a game where the protagonist can't speak for herself. The way he says Red's name breaks my heart, there's a world of backstory in the way he says "Hello again, Sybil," his pitch-perfect reactions – Ira, I don't think I can tell you how much I liked that voice acting, and the bits you picked out are the bits that got me too.

(The other voices are good too – Royce sounds like Matthew McConnahey's character in True Detective, played back at a slower speed, Asher is the right level of awkward stiltedness for someone trying to reveal and conceal the truth at the same time, and the distortions of Sibyl are appropriately unnerving – but the man in the transistor is the stand-out part for me.)

The voice acting is also what sold me on Red and the transistor's relationship in the early stages of the game. Who and what they are to each other isn't really clear for at least half of the game – I admit, I spent the first few levels going "Please tell me he's not a charming creeper taking advantage, that is a trope I recognise" until I caught up. But through the voice acting, it's crystal clear that he adores her, even though he's essentially talking to himself the entire game.

This structure – the transistor speaking mostly in monologue rather than dialogue – means much of the story and characterisation is told in gaps. Because Red doesn't speak at all during the game, you have to actually look for her characterisation. A lot of it is done through what the other characters say about her, or through her gestures and comments on the OVC terminals – public-access computer terminals set up all over town to enable the mass voting that Cloudbank relies on – but interacting with most of the terminals is completely optional, which means that you can actually skip half of the characterisation of the game's main character. But the way it's done is excellent - she can leave comments on news items and surveys, so you can watch her type, delete, type -

("Is it following me?" she writes, but she posts something different entirely.)

Transistor screenshot: stopping to hum


And there are only two chances that I've found to have Red and the Transistor actually interact, both of which come through the OVC terminals (one I actually MISSED the first time around - when I say that it's possible to actually skip some of the characterisation, I'm not kidding!).

Ira
At this point I want to pause and consider the problem of silent women. Read more... )

SPOILERS BELOW

Spoilers )
justira: A purple, gender-ambiguous unicorn pony in the style of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. (lady business)
[personal profile] justira
All the Birds in the Sky cover

Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn't expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during high school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one's peers and families.

But now they're both adults, living in the hipster mecca San Francisco, and the planet is falling apart around them. Laurence is an engineering genius who's working with a group that aims to avert catastrophic breakdown through technological intervention into the changing global climate. Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the world's magically gifted, and works with a small band of other magicians to secretly repair the world's ever-growing ailments. Little do they realize that something bigger than either of them, something begun years ago in their youth, is determined to bring them together--to either save the world, or plunge it into a new dark ages.

A deeply magical, darkly funny examination of life, love, and the apocalypse.

Friends! What do you do when you deeply want to like a book and you just can't? Well, I suppose you take out all your feels in a review. Fair warning, this review discusses abuse, and, after a while and a marked cut, spoilers.

All the Birds in the Sky is a book about tropes, which is not surprising coming from the former editor in chief of io9. As the Tor.com review puts it, "it’s also a book about 'these sorts of stories' and genre fiction, though less directly." It's a blend of sci fi and fantasy tropes, and of tropes about the two coming together. Sci fi + fantasy is my stop — it's what I write myself, and I was very excited to see a mainstream book that mixed the genres. However, I ended up not really liking the execution. Patricia, a cis woman, represents magic/nature and is a witch. Laurence, a cis man, represents technology and science and is an engineering genius. Wired says that Charlie Jane Anders "worried a lot about playing into expectations", and in many ways I feel she was right to worry. The setup is not just classic, it's classical, drawing on the oldest associations of the masculine and the feminine in our culture. But as I said, this is a book about tropes — and about playing with them. The whole thing has a punchline that subverts many of the tropes that had been in play up to that point, but I'll discuss that after the spoiler cut. First, I want to talk about some things about the book that I liked!

Positive stuff! )

With slightly less enthusiasm I can also recommend the writing, which was by and large smooth with a surprisingly effective image or two scattered here and them like gems. I want to pull out a piece that worked for me and shows many of the themes of the book:
But maybe Laurence had been right and these devices were what made us unique, as humans. We made machines, the way spiders made silk. Staring at the red wasp-shaped chassis, she thought of how disgusted she had been with Laurence, not long ago. And maybe she shouldn't judge him — judging was a kind of Aggrandizement — and maybe this device was a culmination of everything she'd always admired about him from the start. And, yes, a sign that they'd both won out, over the Mr. Roses of the world.

"It's beautiful," she said.
p.151-152

In some places, it really works.

It's just that things get a bit tonally weird at various points, and this is where we transition to some talk about abuse and personal reactions.

Abuse and Personal Reactions )

Now, on to the spoilers!

Spoilers below )

Notes

  1. This is not to say I think the book overall reads like YA, because (a) it doesn't and (b) "this should be in the YA section" is often lobbed at women and is a form of gatekeeping, preventing women's stories from joining mainstream SFF adult literature and harking back to how women are seen as more juvenile and called by juvenile names. No thank you. (back to text)

  2. Not that there is anything wrong with heterosexuality and living the stereotype. I had a long talk with [personal profile] renay about this, and it's not that people who live like this have anything wrong with them or that Charlie Jane Anders is obligated to challenged gender norms at every turn on top of all the other risky work she's doing. There is something wrong with heteronormativity and gender norms, but nothing wrong with living agency-filled lives that embody the tropes. This post by bikiniarmorbattledamage outlines the difference between agency and sexism. The thing is, these are all fictional characters created by Charlie Jane Anders, and all the choices they make are ones she wrote for them. (back to text)




Supplementary Material
Renay on All the Birds in the Sky in her Lets Get Literate Column
Renay on All the Birds in the Sky in our Favorite Media of January 2016 roundup


Other Reviews
The Book Smugglers; see especially Ana's discussion of how this book busts down male privilege
Tor.com
SF Reviews
Locus
Journal Sentinel
The Amazon Book Review, with Interview with Charlie Jane Anders
SF Bluestocking
Civilian Reader
Wired
SF Signal
Page to Stage
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[personal profile] bookgazing


Black Wolves is the first book in a new epic fantasy trilogy set in lands of The Hundred, the same world that features in Kate Elliott's Crossroads trilogy. When the book opens, Captain Kellas, the man who long ago illegally climbed to the top of the impenetrable Law Rock without a rope, is hunting for a traitor among King Anjihosh's elite Black Wolves. Successful in his hunt, Kellas is summoned to eat with the royal family and from there becomes embroiled in palace life after the young Prince Atani disappears. Following Atani, Kellas is reintroduced to a beautiful woman he met briefly long ago. Turns out, she has mysterious connections to the palace. This meeting will change the course of his life, and potentially the lives of everyone in The Hundred, as it reveals long hidden secrets about the royal family.

Then, after 87 pages, Black Wolves abruptly skips ahead 44 years. Take a moment to digest the measure of Kate Elliott's mettle. She spends 87 pages settling the reader into her story; establishing the reader's connection to Captain Kellas, and encouraging readers to care about a particular cast of characters. In those 87 pages, she also re-establishes the connection fans of the Crossroads series had with Anji and Mai. Then she pulls the rug out from under everyone's feet by jumping 44 years into the future. In the process, she changes not just the time period of her novel but the makeup of the book's world. In that 44 year gap, which takes place in the blink of an eye for the reader, The Hundred undergoes extreme changes. Two main characters die. And, when the story begins again, it is told from an entirely new point of view; following the life of a (now grown) character the reader briefly met as a young adult in those early 87 pages. Captain Kellas doesn't become the centre of the narrative focus again until page 257. Allow me to express my admiration for Elliott's moxy.

Read more... )
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[personal profile] bookgazing
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.

Read more... )
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[personal profile] bookgazing
Red, white and blue Short Business logo


We never would have believed, before the dead girls started climbing out of their refrigerators, that people could be literally resurrected by sheer indignation.

Probably it should have been obvious. People have been brought back to life by far more ludicrous means and for far more ridiculous reasons.


If you need a moment of feminist recognition - a moment when you feel the relief of knowing someone else gets what you are low level angry about all the time - I highly recommend setting aside some time to read Sunny Moraine's "Eyes I Dare Not Meet In Dreams". Susan mentioned this story in Our Favourite Media of September 2015, and I'm so glad she did. I had heard absolutely nothing about this story anywhere else but I needed it in my life. Reminder to boost your favourite short fic, people.

Moraine's story is a piece of media criticism wrapped up in a sharp and solid fictional shell. A refrigerator appears in Pennsylvania; a dead girl climbs out of it. Across America, refrigerator after refrigerator appears. Women who have spent some time down the rabbit hole of TV Tropes, or y'know being alive and consuming media, are going to get the reference right off. Yes, Moraine's creepy short story is taking on that most despised of tropes - fridging the ladies.

Read more... )
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[personal profile] renay
My library ordered some books for me, so now I am in possession of six October Daye books. Here is the proof. Odds on how long it's gonna take me to plow through all of these? (One is done, but finished too late to end up in this column; it's possible you heard me screeching in agony.)



Read more... )
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[personal profile] bookgazing
Red, white and blue Short Business logo


Reading Amal El-Mohtar's "Pockets" sent me rushing back to re-read "The Truth About Owls". I read this odd story when it first appeared online in January, and my strongest memory of that reading is an intense respect for the author's craft but also a deep sense of confusion about the story's publication in Strange Horizons. Calling "The Truth About Owls" an SFF story felt tenuous even to me - a reader who loves to see genre boundaries set aflame.

What a difference new reading circumstances can make. Having excised my thoughts on 'real SFF' in my post about Sophia Samatar's "Walkdog", and having recently read Silvia Morento-Garcia's weirdly normal SFF novel Signal to Noise, I approached my second reading of "The Truth About Owls" with much less genre weight on my back. Before, I was mildly in love with this story. Now, I've reached the shouting-from-the-rooftops-let's analyse-this-in-depth stage. I can tell you're all super excited about that.

Read more... )

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Ira is an illustrator and gamer who decided that disagreeing with everyone would be a good way to spend their time on the internet. more? » twitter icon tumblr icon AO3 icon

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