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Cover of The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley

Somewhere on the outer rim of the universe, a mass of decaying world-ships known as the Legion is traveling in the seams between the stars. For generations, a war for control of the Legion has been waged, with no clear resolution. As worlds continue to die, a desperate plan is put into motion. Zan wakes with no memory, prisoner of a people who say they are her family. She is told she is their salvation - the only person capable of boarding the Mokshi, a world-ship with the power to leave the Legion. But Zan's new family is not the only one desperate to gain control of the prized ship. Zan finds that she must choose sides in a genocidal campaign that will take her from the edges of the Legion's gravity well to the very belly of the world. Zan will soon learn that she carries the seeds of the Legion's destruction - and its possible salvation. But can she and her ragtag band of followers survive the horrors of the Legion and its people long enough to deliver it?

I picked this up as part of my transcription duties for Fangirl Happy Hour – it's a lot easier to follow a discussion about a book if you've read it – and it turns out that I have more thoughts on it than I expected!

The plot that can be described without spoiling the book is this: Zan wakes up with few memories of who she is, and a mission to take over a living planet/ship called the Mokshi on behalf of women who claim to be her family. The women are part of the Katazyrna, the ruling family of their own living planet/ship, one bound into a network of other planets/ships known as the Legion; they want the Mokshi because it is a planet not bound into orbit with the rest of the Legion. And from there, things get... Complicated.

Read more... )
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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!

Read more... )
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Cover of Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

A page-turning debut in the tradition of Michael Crichton, World War Z, and The Martian, Sleeping Giants is a thriller fueled by an earthshaking mystery—and a fight to control a gargantuan power.

A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.

But some can never stop searching for answers.

Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?

So a lot of people compare Sleeping Giants to The Martian for reasons I can't really identify besides that they both have science infodumps, but I'm more interested in comparing it to The Iron Giant. In both stories, a child discovers (parts of) a giant robot in the forest behind their house, and both involve politics with Cold War-era sensibilities. But while The Iron Giant is an exercise in caring, Sleeping Giants is an exercise in failing to thrill.

Because let's be clear, Sleeping Giants is more of a political thriller than it is a giant robot story. If you're expecting giant robot action — and I was — you will most likely be disappointed.

Sleeping Giants is told through an epistolary format, composed of interview transcripts, journal entries, media reports, and other documents. I love epistolary books, so I got a kick out of that. However, all of the interviews are between the book's characters and a single unnamed interviewer(1), so we can more or less count him as one of the novel's main characters. Joining him in these interviews are Rose Franklin, Kara Resnik, Ryan Mitchell, Vincent Couture, and Alyssa Papantoniou. I'll come back to them later.

I've read a lot of reviews of this book, trying to pin down why it didn't work for me. Many of the negative reviews mention the book's format and how it made it hard for them to get into the story. They say that the epistolary format put distance between them and the characters: we're always hearing characters describe ("telling") their actions and feelings rather than experiencing those firsthand through narrative ("showing"). I think there's something to this criticism, but I don't think it's the whole story at all. For one, epistolary books can be extraordinarily successful at building emotional resonance. It all depends on the writing. That this epistolary book failed to connect with so many readers says more about Neuvel than about the format. His writing is fast, economical, and easy to sink into, but it doesn't realistically depict dialogue, which is a major flaw when 90% of your book is interview transcripts. It does a good job of conveying the science, which is I think why so many people compare it to The Martian, but in doing so it sacrifices the human touch that makes the science matter.

But this is not what made the novel unsuccessful for me. It is the unnamed interviewer.

This unnamed interviewer is one of the story's greatest strengths and also biggest failings. He's mysterious, cruel, and manipulative, but always seems to be working for the greater good. He doesn't seem to be affiliated with any known world government or private agencies, and yet wields enormous power. And with that power, he solves every problem the plot throws at us. For some people, the epistolary format really is a barrier for getting into the story. But I think for people like Ana, the main problem of this book is what Plinkett in his Star Wars reviews for Red Letter Media(2) called "the dissolution of tension" (transcript of relevant part here, scroll down to item #10). Plinkett analyzed the reason a lot of people couldn't get into the Star Wars prequels as being George Lucas taking all the tension out of the scenes. If there's a problem, the tension is immediately dissolved by either making the problem unbelievable, or presenting a solution right away. Sleeping Giants works much the same way, and let me give you a hint: when you're writing a thriller, you don't want the problems to go away easily. In a good thriller, problems pile on each other and build until the plot crescendoes. In Sleeping Giants, most problems are presented, and then the interviewer solves them right away. The problems are sequential, not additive. The first time or two that the interviewer does this, it works to build his character and speak to the degree of power and control that he has. But when it happens again and again, it weakens the characterization rather than strengthening it, and undermines the tension of the plot. Characters grow through adversity and change. Static characters have their place, but it's usually not forming the backbone of your story.

Put more succinctly, the interviewer, despite his mystery, is more of a statement than a question. Thrillers and mysteries thrive on questions. This book did not thrive.

But what about the other characters? Well, three of them are women, which I would normally count as a good thing. But Sylvain Neuvel has given me reason to distrust his handling of women. He did a list of SFF books with serious science, which I helped grade for Your Book List Will Be Graded. There was one woman on the list, and he said her book had "no real science to speak of". Could he really not think of one sciency book by a woman? Or at least not insult the one he did use? Meanwhile, Sleeping Giants wastes its women on cliches and lack of interaction. Possibly the most offensive in this sense is Kara. Kara Resnik is an Air Force pilot who, together with her co-pilot Ryan, discovers the second piece of the robot when it disables their helicopter on a mission in Syria. Rose Franklin's involvement in the plot is obvious from the jacket copy, but her POV takes a backseat halfway through the book for plot reasons. Vincent is a linguist brought in from Quebec to study the alien symbols discovered with the hand. Finally there is Alyssa, who is given very little screentime and is poorly developed as a mad scientist stereotype. But let's come back to Kara.

Kara is a mouthy lady, not a team player at all, and not interested in the interviewer's bullshit. All this, I like. But she quickly becomes a stereotype as she becomes embroiled in a love triangle with Ryan and Vincent. As a queer poly person in an open relationship, I find love triangle narratives tiresome in general for always being het and for their lack of plurality and symmetry, but I found this one particularly hard to sympathize with. Ryan is an underdeveloped puppy dog, Vincent is not particularly likable, and Kara isn't really given any reason for caring about either of them. In fact, she doesn't seem to particularly like either of them, but it's as if Neuvel couldn't think of another plot for a woman or had no other ideas for establishing the necessary conflict about who pilots the giant robot. This is one case where Neuvel's handling of the epistolary format really fell down for me: that the characters only ever talk to the interviewer about their relationships rather than us seeing them interact with each other. A simple fix for this would have been, for example, transcripts of some of the sessions inside the robot, between Kara and Ryan and/or Vincent, to show how they get along. It can still follow the epistolary format, but lets us actually observe the characters interacting.

This weakness in Neuvel's use of the format also plagued another relationship: that between Rose and Kara. We're supposed to buy that they get very close, and when Rose is removed from the narrative it's supposed to affect Kara deeply. But we never see any of the three women interact, because of Neuvel's choices. Essentially, this book fails the Bechdel test even though it has three female POVs in it.

I haven't talked about Alyssa much. It's hard to without spoilers. On the surface, she's a geneticist from the Balkans brought on as another scientist on the robot team. And she has a stutter. Which is the only speech anomaly depicted on the page and I kind of... side-eye that. Now, my degree is in linguistics, and in my program we studied a lot about transcription and how political it is. No one talks like they write, or like Proper Prescriptivist English says they should. Everyone has a lot of "er"s, "um"s, filler words, and other errata in their speech. Choosing how you transcribe someone can say a lot about both you and them. You can portray someone as uneducated or lower-class simply by including all the filler words and false starts in their speech. You can present someone as very polished and intelligent by choosing to edit that out. Neuvel's transcripts have all obviously been edited for clarity — except for Alyssa's. Her stutter is clearly and explicitly depicted and considering the ultimate trajectory of her character I find this choice... questionable. It's othering in a way that doesn't play nice with her ultimate fate.

I do like one aspect of the epistolary format a lot: the documents we get to see are only pieces — the dossier file numbers of the documents jump ahead at uneven intervals, and I don't think any two files were ever sequential — and we have to assemble them ourselves to see the greater whole, just as the characters in the novel are struggling to assemble the giant robot. It has a nice symmetry to it.

But all of this is about how I couldn't care about the characters and their relationships very much, and that brings me back around to The Iron Giant. The giant robot in that story is sentient, so the characters actually form emotional relationships with it, but that's kind of my point: in that story, you come to care about a machine. In Sleeping Giants, many readers had trouble connecting with the human characters. Of course, The Iron Giant had a few tools at its disposal that Sleeping Giants did not: animation, music, voice acting, colour. But that's my point — The Iron Giant uses its chosen format and medium effectively. I rewatched the movie for this review, and I gotta say y'all: I teared up. I hadn't seen it in a long time, and it was like experiencing it for the first time all over again. The movie takes us firsthand through the discovery of the robot and Hogarth Hughes developing an emotional attachment to it: we see this happen in the masterful animation as they interact onscreen, we're guided to this by the gentle score and carefully chosen colour palettes, we hear this in the characters' voices. The movie uses every tool at its disposal to make us really feel the relationships between the characters and buy the simple message: "You are who you choose to be." Which brings me back to the writing. The writing in The Iron Giant is simple, but effective. Sleeping Giants, on the other hand, doesn't make good use of its medium(3). While the epistolary format works on a couple of levels — in the sense I mentioned above of assembling a puzzle, or to portray the interviewer — it's not very good at letting us experience the story. The most affecting part of the novel for me was the brief bit at the start from Rose's POV that appears to be straight narrative. It also has the best visual, of Rose at the bottom of the pit in the palm of the giant metal hand. That's good writing. But on a simple level of writing, The Iron Giant is superior.

The movie and the book also share some common themes. In an interview about his screenwriting work, Tim McCanlies says of The Iron Giant (bolding mine):
At a certain point, there are deciding moments when we pick who we want to be. And that plays out for the rest of your life. I feel like I got my sense of right and wrong from books and movies. Maybe a movie can be a life preserver for some kid. Any movie that can make us feel like we're all part of humanity is something we need to feel and more and more people don't feel that. Movies and literature provide us with that. That's what great art can do.

Similarly, in Sleeping Giants, the interviewer talks about what finding the alien-made giant robot means for humanity:
—My deepest wish is for this discovery to redefine alterity for all of us.


—The concept of “otherness”. What I am is very much a function of what I am not. If the “other” is the Muslim world, then I am the Judeo-Christian world. If the other is from thousands of light-years away, I am simply human. Redefine alterity and you can erase boundaries.

However, the two works take very different approaches to this, with Sleeping Giants being much more cynical. The Iron Giant is all about the joy of companionship and individuality. The implications for extraterrestrial life are not really explored outside the giant itself, but the movie definitely has things to say about souls, humanity, and belonging. In Sleeping Giants, the discovery of the giant robot is shown to largely increase tensions between countries rather than bring people together. One way this could have been addressed, keeping to the epistolary format, is by providing some excerpts of news reports or other stories about people's reaction to the robot becoming public knowledge. This would have really added depth to the storytelling and given a wider view of how the discovery of an alien construct affects humanity. Instead, we get a very narrow view of the situation, and for the most part all the characters except for Rose are pretty blasé about the discovery that we are not alone in the universe.

The political sensibilities of the book form another similarity with The Iron Giant. The climax of the film involves the titular Iron Giant being caught up in a conflict with the US military, who think it is a Soviet device. In Sleeping Giants, political considerations form much of the conflict and tension throughout the book. To retrieve the robot parts from around the world, the US must illegally enter hostile nations' territories. Once the other countries catch on to what the US is doing, there is some conflict about ownership of the robot parts. Once the robot becomes public knowledge, politics dictate everything about how the robot will be handled. All this political maneuvering is sadly executed by caricatures of countries like Russia and North Korea that would feel right at home in The Iron Giant's Cold War era setting. The book ends up largely being a political thriller, written by someone who doesn't understand modern politics.

To add final insult to injury, Sleeping Giants is unlike The Iron Giant in one important way: there's no climactic scene that shows off the robot's capabilities. It's kind of expected in a giant robot story that the giant robot does something, you know? But the climax of this novel is an escape sequence clumsily conveyed in the epistolary format over a phone conversation transcript.

At this point I'd like to discuss a couple of spoilers; mostly things I found inconsistent about the plot. If you haven't read the book, skip the next paragraph.

Spoilers! )

All in all, Sleeping Giants is not a good example of the giant robot genre. It has an interesting format, some good characterization at the start, and cool scientific explanations for most things. But it fails to have an emotional core, it plays with politics in an amateurish manner while depending on that same interplay for much of its narrative thrust, and it fumbles the epistolary format, especially for the climax. Give it a pass and watch The Iron Giant instead.

Other Reviews

The Book Smugglers
Tor.com, for a positive, thorough but spoiler-free introduction to the novel
The Bibliosanctum
A Universe in Words
Civilian Reader
SF Reviews
Bibliotropic, especially on the topic of Alyssa's stutter
Weighing a pig doesn't fatten it, especially on the novel's plot weaknesses
Karissa on Goodreads, especially when it comes to the pessimism and inconsistencies of the book
NPR, for another positive take


  1. The interviewer is never explicitly assigned a gender but I think I remember some characters calling the interviewer "sir", and the author refers to him as male in an interview, so I'll stick with that. (back to text)

  2. The Plinkett character in the Star Wars reviews is an ableist caricature and a violent misogynist. The points he makes about the Star Wars films are good, but I can't really recommend watching the whole thing, or at least not without a HUGE trigger warning. (back to text)

  3. In fact, I hear the Sleeping Giants audiobook is quite good, and in the hands of skilled voice actors I can imagine connecting with the characters much better. (back to text)

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[personal profile] spindizzy
The cover of The Assignment; two shirtless men whose faces are not visible.

Detective Nicholas Valenti, tall, dark and stoic, has been best friends with his partner, Sean O'Brian for six years. The two men have seen each other through divorce, disaster and danger and saved each other's asses more times than Valenti can count. Exactly when he started seeing his blond, intense partner in another light Valenti isn't really sure. He only knows that he wants O'Brian in a way that has nothing to do with friendship and everything to do with possession. It is a desire that he will have to hide forever because O'Brian is undeniably straight.

Just as Valenti is coming to grips with his new, unacceptable feelings for his partner, their police Captain puts them on a new case that could blow Valenti's cover once and for all. He and O'Brian are going undercover at the country's largest and most infamous gay resort to bust a notorious drug lord and stop the shipments of poison cocaine that are flooding the gay bars all over the city.

Now Valenti will have to make a choice between friendship and desire. He and O'Brian will play the roles of gay men that will push the limits of their relationship to the breaking point. Will their time at the RamJack forge a new bond between them or destroy their partnership forever?

Guys. Guys.

What the fuck did I just read?!

NSFW quotes and screaming behind the cut! )
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[personal profile] bookgazing
White, yellow and red book cover of Kameron Hurley's The Geek Feminist Revolution featuring an illustration of a llama

It's the start of July. I am trying to review Kameron Hurley's essay collection, The Geek Feminist Revolution. In my wisdom, I have decided an analysis of her essay, "I'll Make The Pancakes: On Opting In And Out of the Writing Game", would make a great entry point for my review. I reread it to remind myself of the piece's fundamental points:

The more women writers I read, from Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler to Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Toni Morrison, the less alone I felt, and the more I began to see myself as part of something more.

It wasn't about one woman toiling against the universe. It was about all of us moving together, crying out into some black, inhospitable place that we would not be quiet, we would not go silently, we would not stop speaking, we would not give in.

It's hard to see the keyboard when you're trying not to cry.

Read more... )
justira: A purple, gender-ambiguous unicorn pony in the style of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. (lady business)
[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... )
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.

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 )


  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
SF Reviews
Journal Sentinel
The Amazon Book Review, with Interview with Charlie Jane Anders
SF Bluestocking
Civilian Reader
SF Signal
Page to Stage
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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... )
justira: A purple, gender-ambiguous unicorn pony in the style of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. (lady business)
[personal profile] justira
 photo cover_planetfall_zpsl8doeyuf.jpg

From the award-nominated author Emma Newman, comes a novel of how one secret withheld to protect humanity’s future might be its undoing...

Renata Ghali believed in Lee Suh-Mi’s vision of a world far beyond Earth, calling to humanity. A planet promising to reveal the truth about our place in the cosmos, untainted by overpopulation, pollution, and war. Ren believed in that vision enough to give up everything to follow Suh-Mi into the unknown.

More than twenty-two years have passed since Ren and the rest of the faithful braved the starry abyss and established a colony at the base of an enigmatic alien structure where Suh-Mi has since resided, alone. All that time, Ren has worked hard as the colony's 3-D printer engineer, creating the tools necessary for human survival in an alien environment, and harboring a devastating secret.

Ren continues to perpetuate the lie forming the foundation of the colony for the good of her fellow colonists, despite the personal cost. Then a stranger appears, far too young to have been part of the first planetfall, a man who bears a remarkable resemblance to Suh-Mi.

The truth Ren has concealed since planetfall can no longer be hidden. And its revelation might tear the colony apart...

This review is split into two parts: the spoiler-free and the hella spoilery, because this is one of those books that's hard to talk about without ruining some or all of the experience. And Emma Newman's Planetfall is an experience I highly recommend, so if you're not sure about it, read the first half of this review and perhaps that will convince you. Afterwards, come back and talk about anxiety with me!

I mention anxiety because it is a central theme of the novel. No, that is not enough. Anxiety is more than a theme, it is the immersive medium of the novel. Renata Ghali, or Ren, is the 3D printer engineer for a colony on an alien world. When her love, if not her lover (the text is never clear on this), Lee Suh-Mi comes out of a mysterious coma with visions of humanity's destiny on an alien world, Ren and roughly 1,000 colonists follow her to the stars. One of the first things I want you to know about this book is that it stars a 70-year old biracial bisexual woman. That alone is worth remarking on. But beyond that the book is a fascinating exploration of the spaces between community and privacy, religion and science, and, yes, anxiety and ritual.

Spoiler-free review )

Unlocking the mysteries behind the anxieties is the driving force behind Planetfall, and it's a thoroughly enjoyable process.

And now, to SPOILERS

Spoilers beyond this point! )
justira: A purple, gender-ambiguous unicorn pony in the style of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. (lady business)
[personal profile] justira
Time Salvager photo cover_timesalvager_zps2f94b49a.jpg

Wesley Chu's Time Salvager has a serious tell-don't-show problem, and the biggest disservice that results from it is to the female characters. I have to admit I was not as excited about this book as a lot of other people were, but that's solely because I read the preview chapter available online and realized that the writing was terrible. It's clunky, it's sterile, and it's just not worth reading.

But let's talk about what the real problem of the book was for me. Well, two of them, intertwined. One, and the lesser transgression, is the lack of editing — and I can barely bring myself to call this the lesser of the two evils, as I'm an editor and hold that a good edit can work wonders for a manuscript. Those are wonders Time Salvager sorely needed. But that's only one problem. The other, which a good edit may have indeed fixed, is that Time Salvager silences its women. Some vague spoilers follow.

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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.)

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[personal profile] bookgazing

Survival is insufficient.

“All I’m saying,” Dieter said, twelve hours out of St. Deborah by the Water, “is that quote on the lead caravan would be way more profound if we hadn’t lifted it from Star Trek.”

Kirsten Raymonde, the heroine of Emily St. John Mandel's novel Station Eleven, lives in a dystopian version of Toronto. Twenty years after a violent flu virus has ravaged the world, killing huge numbers and rendering society technologically poor, Kirsten works as a professional actress. She tours with a band of musicians and actors called The Travelling Symphony who perform Shakespearean plays and classical music as they pass through the small towns that constitute post-epidemic society. The motto of the symphony, 'Survival is insufficient', a Star Trek quote from the old world, informs their company's choice to keep going even if sometimes 'it seemed a difficult and dangerous way to survive and hardly worth it'. Their motto is so important to Kirsten that she has it tattooed on her arm.

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[personal profile] helloladies
Cover of Nnedi Okorafor's book Lagoon showing a green illustrated sea scene with squid, sharks and a person at the bottom of the ocean surrounded by a spotlight

Today Jodie is joined by Meghan, from Medieval Bookworm, for a co-review of Nnedi Okorafor's Lagoon. Did this novel of aliens, squids and a magic closely tied to Lagos' oceans sink or swim with the ladies?

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[personal profile] renay
This week was dominated by me catching up on paid work between, I'll be honest, writing a lot of words about baking delicious treats for your werewolf boyfriend.

Totally unrelated, Teen Wolf comes back at the end of June and I'm not emotionally prepared.

Reading the last week:

Well, after looking forward to Uprooted for almost a year, putting off reading it because I was terrified of not loving it as much as I wanted to love it, and finally starting it while trying not to inhale it so I could savor it (I failed), I have finished and it was WONDERFUL. I loved it so much. It's giving me all the same warm, fuzzy emotions I felt with The Goblin Emperor. They don't compare beyond "whisked away to uncertain future!" but they're both so heartwarming. I wasn't sure I'd ever find a book that made me feel like The Goblin Emperor did ever again, but here it is!

Agnieszka was a delight to follow. The premise of the book really doesn't tell you how layered this story is at all. You go in knowing that every ten years, the wizard that protects the valley from the evil Wood comes and takes a young girl to serve him, and once she's gone she doesn't come back for ten more years, and then it's never for good, as they always leave. Agnieszka — and everyone else — is convinced he'll take her best friend, Kasia. But, of course, everything goes wrong from there and the story goes deeper and deeper into the history and political situation of the world. Every time I thought I knew what would happen Because Tropes, I was quickly assured I had no clue.

Plus, the Dragon was like, Rodney McKay if Rodney McKay transformed into a wizard with magical skills instead of Science. Into it.

On Goodreads, it shows me Friend Reviews and everyone who has it added and the list goes on and on and on and on. Everyone has been talking about this book and loving it (although I've seen a few valid qualms about some of the relationships) so if you haven't heard of it I need you to a) please share your hermit secrets with me and b) look it up and see if it sounds like your type of fantasy. I've always loved Novik's work; even stories that aren't my jam go down super smooth. She's so great at flow in narrative (that mysterious thing I can never explain), and this book definitely has that to spare. If I could hand Uprooted every major SF award right now, that would be half as many accolades as it deserves.

I also caught up on my Captain Marvel issues, which I got behind on because I was busy with books. I loved the previous volume of Captain Marvel a lot, but the issues I read this time were hit or miss. The story about Chewie was super cute, but then there's an whole story about having to speak in rhyme that was embarrassing. It's not that the premise was bad, but the whole conceit of rhyming regular speech was basically an invitation for me to be mortified for the characters/writer when it just completely fails to work. I do appreciate how many of the characters here are all really different women, and I would have been totally cool with at least ten more issues of Carol, Tic, and Rocket's Adventures in Space, but Secret Wars or something.

(I still don't understand Secret Wars. Apparently universes are colliding and characters are DYING? I don't…why, Marvel? Why?)

Anyway, I have two more issues and then I'll start Carol Corps, which I remain dubious about because Secret Wars. Battleworld. Where Doom is God or something. Ugh.

I'm currently reading an ARC of Trailer Park Fae by Lilith Saintcrow (what a rad name), who is a new-to-me author for review at B&N SF. I'm muddling through Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, too, because I'm going to dubcon [tumblr.com profile] rozurashii into a comic with me or keel over trying. Because I don't have enough projects already.
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[personal profile] renay
Well, since I got carried away about all the books I'm looking forward to (I have since read one of these books, it was AMAZING so clearly I have great taste), I've since banned myself from Edelweiss. Every time I try to go there it redirects me to Ace of Base's "I Saw the Sign", which'll hopefully have the result of convincing me not to type the URL for any reason ever. I didn't link to it, either, because I like everyone here and don't want to send you down that dark path, especially of the university presses. Don't Google it. Just move on, and enjoy a long life filled with experiences and way less mindless drooling over books not out yet, many of which will be hella expensive textbooks.

I've also acquired a Marvel Unlimited account. I want to read ALL the Captain America in order to be able to cry the maximum amount of tears when Captain America: Civil War drops. But I want to do it in some semblance of order to prevent confusion. I realize this is hopeless, yes. Let me have my dreams! So many comics!

(I'm also tempted to read Iron Man but everything I've heard about Superior Iron Man has made me livid so probably not the best idea.)

Reading the last week:

More thoughts, no real spoilers! )

I'm currently reading Uprooted and will finish it this week. I'm over the moon about it, which I'm sure is a surprise to exactly no one reading this.
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[personal profile] helloladies
Today we're excited to welcome [tumblr.com profile] justira to Lady Business to talk about Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith. Ira is an awesome illustrator, writer, and web developer. You can find more of Ira's work at their tumblr.

lime green cover of Grasshopper Jungle with two lines forming a V to denote the antenna of a grasshopper

I want to say that Grasshopper Jungle did one thing well but—honestly, I can't. I want to like that it has a bisexual protagonist and a love triangle that never collapses but I can't call the love triangle well done when one of its legs is underdeveloped and treated so poorly by the narrative. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Grasshopper Jungle blends pulpy—almost kitschy—Cold War era sci fi, a historical immigration account, and a small-town coming of age story. It's also written by someone who self-admittedly knows nothing about female folks, which is a bit unfortunate seeing as one of the alleged main characters is female. The novel fell flat or me in almost every aspect, with only a few bright notes: sometimes the writing and substance came together to say something interesting about the human impulse towards history-making, and the relationship between the protagonist, Austin, and his best friend, Robby, is well-developed and well-sustained. However, this is all embedded in a narrative that not only features rape apologia and massive fat shaming, but also constantly fails its female characters. And to top off that parade, the apocalyptic premise never manages to quite gel with the beating teenaged heart of the story.

I should be happy that a book with a bisexual protagonist is getting so much attention. But I can't support a book that fails on so many social and technical levels.

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[personal profile] bookgazing
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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[personal profile] renay
I first heard of Station Eleven via Ana's recap of a book event she went to, where the subject of the the importance of art after dramatic and catastrophic events were discussed in the context of the novel. This book has a lot to say about art, popular culture, and the stories that will persist after a worldwide disaster, and I thought the discussion Ana summarized was excellent. I decided to pick the book up to see if the contents held up to the ideas Ana shared in her post.

cover of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity. (source)

I've heard this book called a optimistic version of The Road, which means very little to me since I didn't read The Road. I do agree with the charge of optimism post-reading. Maybe if you've read The Road that's a good indicator of enjoyment, but if you haven't, well, there's a movie version and Viggo Mortensen looks dirty and worried in all the pictures and clips I've seen, which may help clarify the subject matter at hand. Or maybe you only like dirty Viggo Mortensen, in which case, godspeed to your streaming service of choice, my friend. Read more... )
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[personal profile] renay
I've been driving everyone around me up the wall with my complicated reactions to City of Stairs, a fantasy novel that dropped last September. I'm still a little angry about it, but less so now that I have some distance from my immediate reaction of "NO!!!", followed by ugly crying, followed by fuming for hours. When I meet a story that's so wonderful, and I love all the characters, the adventure is fun, the setting is fascinating, and there's a rich sense of history to the world, I want it to be perfect so I can recommend it without reservation. This is another good example of what happens when a book you love just hauls off and socks you in the jaw. Not maliciously, but as we all know, we don't read stories in a vacuum!

City of Stairs is doing so many things right that I'm crushed over the fact that I came away from the book so conflicted. I went through this with God's War by Kameron Hurley, too, where I had to leave the book alone for awhile because I was just so utterly disappointed that everything I loved also existed with one story element that made me so unhappy. Everything we love is problematic, the saying goes, so what's the right balance? What do we do with otherwise excellent books that repeat troubling patterns? Because obviously burning them in a pile while crying bitterly isn't cost effective or a good way to not smell like dead, burned books. Also, you just burned all those other parts you loved. Crap.

cover and blurb )

Shara Thivani, who comes to Bulikov with her secretary, Sigrud, to investigate the murder of historian Efrem Pangyui, is so wonderful. I loved her immediately after her first scene with her Aunt Vinya, a politician of note in Shara's home country of Saypur. She's intelligent and clever, but a little bit arrogant and condescending, too. In a scene very early on she talks about jingoism and is rather holier-than-thou about it, which is fascinating as the story that follows dismantles her self-satisfaction over being better than the people who engage in the sort of overt patriotism versus her own, more shadowy version. She's compassionate and kind, but she has important things to learn about the policies she's been enforcing, and it's a treat to go along with her as she unravels the mystery of what's happening in Bulikov and on the Continent itself. Her companion, Sigrud, is interesting on an interpersonal level because how are these people, of all the people in the world, partners? But he's also delightful — he got some of the best action sequences. There's multiple professional and personal relationships here between women like Mulaghesh and Vinya, as well, which is so wonderful. The top Saypuri leaders we get to know are all women, which was extremely satisfying. If they cut each other down or challenged each other, it wasn't because they were women, it was because they were politicians.

But to me the heart of the novel is about history — both personal and national — and how history can shape so much of what we do and who we are, and what the consequences are if we learn new things about history and misuse that information. What kind of people do we become when we learn new truths or have what we think we knew challenged? We often have a choice, and that choice has far-reaching consequences much longer and more influential than we can see. What's more important: the truth or our egos? People or power?

City of Stairs is lively in its writing, canny with its revelations, and boasts a crunchy critique about colonialism that unfolds until the very end, all wrapped up in an intriguing spy narrative package. Even in dark moments there is hope, friendship, love, and compassion. I enjoyed it so much. A summary:

PEOPLE IN POWER: Shara, don't do it.
SHARA: I did it.


SHARA: Vohannes, no.


BAD GUYS: *terrible actions*
SIGRUD: *silent decision to beat some guys down*
SHARA: Oh, not again...

But I have some caveats. Although, when don't I? 10,000 points to the person who can name the last book I didn't have caveats over. Character spoilers beyond this point. )

Special Thanks!

To Sunil ([twitter.com profile] ghostwritingcow) for assuring me I wasn't a jerk, and providing excellent edits. ♥

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