Saturday, January 18, 2020

Review: Cage of Souls by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Title: Cage of Souls
Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Pages: 602
ISBN: 9781788547376
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Published: 4 April 2019
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher


Buy it from:
The Book Depository

The sun is bloated, diseased, dying perhaps. Beneath its baneful light, Shadrapar, last of all cities, harbours fewer than 100,000 human souls. Built on the ruins of countless civilisations, Shadrapar is a museum, a midden, an asylum, a prison on a world that is ever more alien to humanity.

Bearing witness to the desperate struggle for existence between life old and new is Stefan Advani: rebel, outlaw, prisoner, survivor. This is his testament, an account of the journey that took him into the blazing desolation of the western deserts; that transported him east down the river and imprisoned him in the verdant hell of the jungle's darkest heart; that led him deep into the labyrinths and caverns of the underworld. He will meet with monsters, madman, mutants.

The question is, which one of them will inherit this Earth?

I’m not quite sure how to go about reviewing Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Cage of Souls. I was drawn to the novel by the premise. Set in the far future, the sun is bloated, Earth is dying and the last vestiges of humanity are clinging to a life built on the ruins of the civilisations that came before. Endlessly recycling and reusing the artifacts of ages gone by, the population of the last city on Earth exists within two extremes, both technologically advanced and primitive at the same time.

Cage of Souls is not the story of this world, not entirely, instead the world just becomes the background in the account of a single person’s life; the life of Stefan Advani an academic with the tendency of being absent at just the right time. It’s the chronicle of a life filled with hardships, tragedies and triumphs and the people he encounters on his journey. For good or ill, they all have a part to play in shaping his life and expanding his worldview. At the same time this is also a requiem for humanity as it lingers on the brink of oblivion, waiting for something else, perhaps something better, to inherit the legacy it leaves behind.
"For the stars are very far away, and however fast our machines carried us, it was not fast enough. The gaps between stars are so great that nothing can cross them quickly, not even light, which is fastest of all. We never found a way to skip between the stars to meet the people we were sure awaited us there. That broke the back of our optimism. The spirit of man was crushed by the distances between the stars."
This is a slow-paced, introspective read set in a fascinating world with a memorable cast of supporting characters. Don’t go in expecting lots of action or a happy ending. The story unfolds slowly as Advani recounts his past and the events that led to him being incarcerated in the inhospitable prison called The Island. He paints a grim picture of an unforgiving world evoking a sense of melancholy and dread. Here the journey is far more important than the destination. Tchaikovsky forces you to look inward, to contemplate the cages we build for ourselves, both personally and as a society. And that’s what makes Cage of Souls such a powerful read. The plot becomes secondary to the self reflection it inspires.

The slow pacing means this might not be for everyone, but if you stick with it this is a rewarding read in more ways than one. Once again Tchaikovsky astounds with his boundless imagination and versatility in his craft.

The Verdict:
Cage of Souls is a slow-paced, introspective read. It is very different from Children of Time in both tone and execution. Be prepared to take things slowly and enjoy the journey. There are some ingenious ideas being played with, even if some of them remain largely unexplored they are fascinating in the possibilities they hold. Recommended!

The Rating: 7/10

Thanks to Charlene from Jonathan Ball Publishers for the review copy.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Review: New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl

Title: New Suns
Edited by Nisi Shawl
Pages: 308
ISBN: 9781781086384
Publisher: Solaris
Published: 12 March 2019
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher


Buy it from:
The Book Depository

There’s nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns,” proclaimed Octavia E. Butler.

New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Coloru showcases emerging and seasoned writers of many races telling stories filled with shocking delights, powerful visions of the familiar made strange. Between this book’s covers burn tales of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and their indefinable overlappings. These are authors aware of our many possible pasts and futures, authors freed of stereotypes and clich├ęd expectations, ready to dazzle you with their daring genius

Unexploited brilliance shines forth from every page.

Includes stories by Kathleen Alcala, Minsoo Kang, Anil Menon, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Alex Jennings, Alberto Yanez, Steven Barnes, Jaymee Goh, Karin Lowachee, E. Lily Yu, Andrea Hairston, Tobias Buckell, Hiromi Goto, Rebecca Roanhorse, Indrapramit Das, Chinelo Onwualu and Darcie Little Badger

New Suns Original Speculative Fiction by People of Colour is an anthology showcasing 17 speculative fiction stories written by people of colour. The stories included run the gamut of what speculative fiction has on offer - tales of horror, science fiction, fantasy and stories pushing against the boundaries of classification. The diverse list of contributors draw from the rich tapestries of their own lived experiences and unique cultural heritage to infuse their stories with something special. Most importantly the anthology offers a platform for overlooked talent to shine in all their iridescent hues..

Anthologies are often the most difficult to review and New Suns in particular was tougher than most since it forced me to venture out of my comfort zone, exploring stories from authors with lives and perspectives very different from my own. And that’s a good thing. New perspectives bring new understanding with wonderful new imaginations to explore.

As with any anthology not all of the stories resonated with me. If I like at least half of the stories I consider an anthology a success and New Suns didn’t disappoint. Some standout stories were:

The Galactic Tourist Industrial Complex by Tobias Buckell: Alien tourism to Earth takes a decidedly different turn after an unfortunate incident during a cab ride. A quick, fun story exploring why aliens might find our world attractive. ⭐⭐⭐

Come Home to Atropos by Steven Barnes: An infomercial for euthanasia vacations in a third-world country. Dark humor with a tinge of revenge. ⭐⭐⭐

unkind of mercy by Alex Jennings: A truly unnerving story of beings occupying the same space as we do with sometimes dire consequences. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Three Variations on a Theme of Imperial Attire by E. Lily Yu: An updated version of the Emperor’s New Clothes which hits uncomfortably close to home in today’s society. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Give Me Your Black Wings Oh Sister by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: A beautifully written, haunting tale of the ghosts we carry within ourselves. This has to be my favourite story in the entire collection. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“Some ghosts are woven into walls and others are woven into skin with an unbreakable, invisible thread. You inherit the color of your eyes, but also this thread which chokes you and bites into your heart. If you look back into any family tree you find paupers and merchants and poets and soldiers, and sometimes you find monsters.”

Harvest by Rebecca Roanhorse: Another dark and bloody tale. Love morphs into an act of revenge or is it justice?. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Kelsey and the Burdened Breath by Darcie Little Badger: A touching take on ghosts and ghost hunting. Kelsey shepherd’s souls to the other side with the help of her disembodied dog, but when people are killed she is tasked to locate the burdened breath responsible for the killings. A touching ending and a very interesting take on souls. This was another firm favourite. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Verdict:
Perhaps New Suns’ greatest downfall is that there is no unifying theme aside from the fact that the stories are written by persons of colour. A common theme might have better tied the stories together.  If you are looking for diverse stories by diverse authors then this is certainly an anthology worth checking out. While not all the stories might resonate, you are bound to find at least a few new authors to explore. A good read with some great stories to discover.

The Rating: 6.5/10 (Good)

Thanks to Charlene from Jonathan Ball Publishers for the review copy.

Monday, January 13, 2020

New Arrivals: A Festive Season Haul

Since all my family and friends shy away from given me books as gifts with the old, "You already have so many books. We don't know what to get you..." excuse it has become a tradition for me to spoil myself with bookish gifts. If you don't treat yourself who will?

The plan was to splurge on some Black Friday book sales, but it seems South African retailers have a) no idea how to run an actual Black Friday sale and b) don't have any good book deals. This meant that I ended up not buying any books.

A week afterwards I decided to use my Black Friday book budget to order fivebooks from Reader's Warehouse. Just as my order shipped they announced a 30% off sale if you order 3 or more books. Of course that meant that I had to order even more books...


I ended up picking up a total of 13 books. I'm not sure when I'll get to them, but I have no regrets. None.


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