Monday, January 11, 2016

Vintage Science Fiction: The Great SF Stories 25

Title: Isaac Asimov Presents The Great SF Stories 25
Edited by: Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg
Pages: 381
ISBN: 0886775183
Publisher: DAW
Published: 1992
Genre: Short Stories / Science Fiction
Source: Owned


In 1963, the world was in a state of turmoil and change. racial unrest and civil rights marches, President Kennedy's assassination, the establishment of the "hot line" between Washington and Moscow, the discovery of the quasar, and the first human organ transplants, all were seminal events. And the concerns of the time, the fears about where humankind might be heading, and the hopes for a better future are reflected in masterful stories by some of the science fiction's all-time greats.
When I started looking for something to read for the Vintage Science Fiction not-a-challenge hosted by the Little Red Reviewer I was rather perplexed to find that most of my collection consists of books from the 1990s onward. Luckily I stumbled on one title with sufficiently yellowed edges – a sure indication of a suitably geriatric book (or inferior paper) worthy of being called vintage.

It turned out that the book in question, Isaac Asimov presents The Great SF Stories 25, was actually published in 1992. Luckily the anthology consisted of stories published in 1963 so I was all set to go.

The table of contents reads like the who’s who of early science fiction and it was interesting to read stories by some lesser-known authors which I hadn’t encountered before.
Fortress Ship by Fred Saberhagen
Not In The Literature by Christopher Anvil
The Totally Rich by John Brunner
No Truce With Kings Paul Anderson
New Folk’s Home by Clifford D. Simak
The Faces Outside by Bruce McAllister
Hot Planet by Hal Clement
The Pain Peddlers by Robert Silverberg
Turn of the Sky by Rey Nelson
They Don’t Make Life Like They Used To by Alfred Bester
Bernie the Faust by William Tenn
A Rose For Ecclesiastes by Roger Zelazny
If There Were No Benny Cemoli by Philip K. DIck

Six stories really stood out for me. The best story in the collection turned out to be The Pain Peddlers by Robert Silverberg. It is a rather macabre tale of a TV executive preying on the pain of others in order to get the rights to broadcast that pain to his viewers allowing them to experience the pain themselves via intensifier helmets. In the end he gets what he had coming.

No Truce With Kings by Paul Anderson was my second favourite story. An otherworldly force is interfering in the politics of mankind leading to a civil war in a post-nuclear America. A powerful and evocative tale about freedom, belief and the cost of fighting for those beliefs.

New Folk’s Home by Clifford D. Simak was a strange one and I’m not really sure why I ended up liking it so much. While going on one last adventure before checking himself into an Old folk’s home a retired law professor discovers a mysterious house. A house that might just hold the key to his future. Who knew a story revolving around law could be so interesting?

Hot Planet by Hal Clement falls more firmly in the hard SF category. A scientific expedition to Mercury is endangered by sudden volcanic activity. I loved the focus on the scientists and the fact that they use science to resolve the situation. A modern audience might say they scienced the shit out of it.

They Don’t Make Life Like They Used To by Alfred Bester reminded me a lot of I Am Legend. The last two survivors of the human race cross paths in a devastated world. While the conclusion of the story was mostly predictable the impact of the story is in the differing ways these two people try to cope with the trauma of their existence. I also liked the somewhat odd touch that the characters felt compelled to leave IOUs in all the shops they looted.

Finally there was A Rose For Ecclesiastes by Roger Zelazny - a very touching and poignant tale that stays with you. The story grows in impact the longer you contemplate it. A gifted poet and linguist from Earth is sent to study the history of the Martian race. While reading their sacred texts he makes a startling discovery and unwittingly plays a part in fulfilling a prophecy that leaves him scarred.

Overall I enjoyed the collection of stories on offer. While some of them didn’t age all that well, particularly those relying heavily on the political climate and beliefs of the time, most of them still had the ability to resonate with me on some level. One thing I found exceptionally jarring, aside from the dated technology (vacuum tubes and tapes!), was how often the stories involved smoking. This was particularly ironic when, in one of the stories, a character gave a Martian a cigarette and proceeded to instruct her on the divine joy of smoking only for it to be later revealed that said Martian race is actually on the verge of dying out. I guess a couple of smokes couldn't hurt. 

The Verdict:
Isaac Asimov presents The Great SF Stories 25 is a very enjoyable read with some superb short fiction to discover. Some of the stories are very much a product of their time and haven’t aged well, but most have stood the test of time surprisingly well. If you are at all interested in vintage science fiction, then this anthology would be a good place to start.

The Rating: 6 / 10 (Good)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Watch Ep 1 and 2 of The Shannara Chronicles

You can now watch the first two episodes of MTV's adaptation of The Shannara Chronicles on Youtube. (Provided that viewing is available to your region.)



This looks like it will be the next epic fantasy series on TV. I know what I'm doing for the rest of the day...

***

So after watching the first two episodes here are some initial thoughts. The series is visually stunning. I love how they created something where almost every scene blows you away with how beautiful and detailed the world is. From the start it's apparent that this is a post-technological world where magic has replaced the technological relics of old. If

It's a bit too early to comment on the characters since so many of them are introduced in such a short span of time. That being said, I already have a few firm favourites. It's refreshing to see some truly strong female leads who can go toe-to-toe with any of their male counterparts.

The Shannara Chronicles is every bit of fantasy that you don't really get to see in something like Game of Thrones. It's filled to the brim with magic, epic quests and newfound heroes called to stand and fight against a rising tide of evil.

This is definitely a series you want to watch!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Guest post: Lawrence M. Schoen's Favorite authors


Lawrence M. Schoen, author of Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard,
talks about his favorite authors

Like most authors, I was a fan before I was a published writer. Somewhere along the way, many of the people whose books I adored became acquaintances and friends. It’s an amazing thing to get to know the people behind the books; it changes and enhances your enjoyment of their work.

I challenge myself to read 50 books each year (as I write this, I’m several books behind schedule, but it will be close). I’m always looking for new writers to sample, but there’s a core group that I grab as soon as their work hits the shelves (and sometimes sooner, if I can swing it). In no particular order, here are half a dozen among the living authors who I consider “must reads” and why they’re on my list:

Max Gladstone - The newest addition to my list — and the youngest, so expect many many more books from him — writes from a masterful bit of figurative language and wrings every last drop of nuance and semantic delight from his metaphor. He’s also an incredibly nice guy. I just wish he wrote faster, because even though I can usually get my hands on an advance copy of his next novel, the lag between them still feels too long.

Paul Park - He’s writing the literature of the field. Seriously, the man astounds me with how much thought and emotional shading he can pack into a single sentence. There’s a patient brooding brilliance to his novels that leaves me agog. His Princess of Roumania tetraology dazzles, and don’t get me started with the layers interwoven in the meta-narratives of his most recent book, All Those Vanished Engines.

China MiĆ©ville - I’ve never met nor spoken with the man, but I’m convinced he wrote Embassytown as a love letter to me (and possibly to every other SF author with a PhD in psycholinguistics, but I think that might just be me). When you look at his fiction, you quickly realize that he tosses out as minor asides the kind of ideas that other authors could build entire careers on. His work is inspiring and innovative.

Karl Schroeder - In a field where novelty rules, Karl has left the pack of innovators behind and gone off in directions they won’t discover for years, and by the time they do, he’ll have moved on to something even more compelling. We manage to connect every few years for an hours’ long chat, and it is always glorious and mind altering.

Daniel Abraham - If there’s a better study of the life-long relationship between two characters in fantasy than his Long Price Quartet, I don’t know about it. There’s an authenticity to the voices of his characters that you won’t find anywhere else. And it’s not limited to his fantastic fiction; you’ll find the same clarity in his SF and in his YA novels too.

Walter Jon Williams - Possibly the field’s most indefatigable author, and hands down the “master of plot.” I had the great fortune to participate in his two week Master Class back in 2010, and my writing (and my life!) was forever changed. Everything you ever wanted to know about pacing can be found in his novels.

I could go on and on, but I said I’d keep the list down to a manageable number. If there are any here that you’ve not heard of, well, I’ve just handed you a gift that will utterly transform your year. Go forth, and read!

More about the author:
Lawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics. He’s also one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Klingon language, and the publisher of a speculative fiction small press, Paper Golem. He’s been a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award, the Hugo Award, and the Nebula Award. Lawrence lives near Philadelphia. You can find him online at LawrenceMSchoen.com and @KlingonGuy.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Review: Updraft

Updraft by Fran Wilde
Title: Updraft
Author: Fran Wilde
Pages: 364
ISBN: 9780765377838
Publisher: Tor
Published: September 2015
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher


Buy it from:
The Book Depository

Welcome to a world of wind and bone, songs and silence, betrayal and courage.

Kirit Densira cannot wait to pass her wingtest and begin flying as a trader by her mother's side, being in service to her beloved home tower and exploring the skies beyond. When Kirit inadvertently breaks Tower Law, the city's secretive governing body, the Singers, demand that she become one of them instead. In an attempt to save her family from greater censure, Kirit must give up her dreams to throw herself into the dangerous training at the Spire, the tallest, most forbidding tower, deep at the heart of the City.

As she grows in knowledge and power, she starts to uncover the depths of Spire secrets. Kirit begins to doubt her world and its unassailable Laws, setting in motion a chain of events that will lead to a haunting choice, and may well change the city forever-if it isn't destroyed outright.

Fran Wilde’s debut novel, Updraft, started out as yet another dystopian YA-novel filled with all the usual familiar tropes that normally entails. A teenage main character. Check. The ‘chosen one’ with a special gift. Check. An oppressive regime that needs to be overthrown. Check. So basically nothing really new to see here then, right? If it wasn’t for the utterly fascinating setting I might have given up on the novel at around the midpoint and that would have been one of the biggest mistakes I could have made.

The world-building is utterly fascinating. Updraft is set in a world where people live high above the clouds in a city consisting of towers of living bone growing ever upwards. The society is based entirely around flight and your status in the hierarchy is determined by the height of your living quarters in the towers. The highest tiers are reserved for the most important people. Getting your wingmark is an essential rite of passage and even the laws are tied to flight. Lawbreakers have to literally carry the weight of their misdeeds around with them in the form of bone chips detailing the laws broken tied to their bodies. The more severe the crime the heavier the chip and the worst of the lawbreakers are sacrificed to the city, cast down into the clouds without the benefit of wings.

The main protagonist, Kirit Densira, is a headstrong seventeen-year-old girl who fights for what she believes in and doesn’t know the meaning of defeat. When she ignores the Law and comes face to face with a skymouth, one of the world’s terrifying predators (giant, invisible, tentacled flying monsters), and survives to tell the tale her entire world starts to fall apart. As she uncovers the truth about herself and the traditions and Laws of her society she grows immensely as a character leaving the naivety and innocence of childhood behind.

Updraft takes some time to get going and it’s only towards the end of the second half where it really starts to set itself apart and breaks the bounds of your expectations. As the many layers of secrets and machinations at the core of the Spire are slowly revealed, the pacing picks up considerably and the story is suddenly elevated to another level with an ending that will blow you away and leave you reeling. The slow journey to get there is well worth the effort.

The conclusion makes this a perfectly satisfying stand-alone novel, but I’m glad to see that there are more novels planned in the series. I definitely want to return to this world to discover more about its nature and its mythology. You are left with so many unanswered questions. What caused these people to abandon the land to seek refuge in the sky? What’s the origin of the living towers? I guess those are tales for another time.

I can’t wait to see what Fran Wilde comes up with next. Hopefully the success of Updraft will allow her the freedom to harness the same innovation used in the brilliant world-building to create a plot worthy of showcasing her talents further.

The Verdict:
Updraft is an unusual coming-of-age story set in an utterly fascinating and imaginative world. The novel is beautifully written, the world-building is brilliant and after a shaky start the characters turn out to be far more captivating than they first appear. Don’t be deceived by the YA trappings, while much of the story is somewhat predictable and familiar there is also a real intricate depth at play here. If you can persevere past the slow pace at the start you will be handsomely rewarded.

The Rating: 7/10 (Very Good)

Thanks to Tor for providing the review copy.


Saturday, January 2, 2016

Blind Book Challenge 2015 Answers Revealed

The time has finally arrived to reveal the answers to the 2015 Blind Book Challenge. If you still want to try your hand at guessing the titles head over to the blind book challenge post and see how many titles you can identify based on the clues. Tiemen outdid himself this year and I must confess that I only managed to identify three of the books.

***

1. Science-Fiction & Fantasy/Nazi X-men/British Warlocks/Well, That Escalated Quickly
Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis
It’s 1939. The Nazis have supermen, the British have demons, and one perfectly normal man gets caught in between

Raybould Marsh is a British secret agent in the early days of the Second World War, haunted by something strange he saw on a mission during the Spanish Civil War: a German woman with wires going into her head who looked at him as if she knew him.

When the Nazis start running missions with people who have unnatural abilities—a woman who can turn invisible, a man who can walk through walls, and the woman Marsh saw in Spain who can use her knowledge of the future to twist the present—Marsh is the man who has to face them. He rallies the secret warlocks of Britain to hold the impending invasion at bay. But magic always exacts a price. Eventually, the sacrifice necessary to defeat the enemy will be as terrible as outright loss would be.

2. Young Adult/Waking Up After Dying/Republic of Texas/Worst Newbie Ever Seen
Reboot by Amy Tintera
In this fast-paced dystopian thrill ride, perfect for fans of The Hunger Games, Legend, and Divergent, a seventeen-year-old girl returns from death as a Reboot and is trained as an elite crime-fighting soldier . . . until she is given an order she refuses to obey.

Wren Connolly died five years ago, only to Reboot after 178 minutes. Now she is one of the deadliest Reboots around . . . unlike her newest trainee, Callum 22, who is practically still human. As Wren tries to teach Callum how to be a soldier, his hopeful smile works its way past her defenses. Unfortunately, Callum’s big heart also makes him a liability, and Wren is ordered to eliminate him. To save Callum, Wren will have to risk it all.

3. Science-Fiction/A Tale of Two Sociopaths/Experiment Gone Horribly Wrong/ Ambition, Betrayal and Superpowers
Vicious by V.E. Schwab
A masterful tale of ambition, jealousy, desire, and superpowers.Victor and Eli started out as college roommates brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge but who will be left alive at the end?

4. Science-Fiction/Asteroid Colony in Peril/Good-Sammies/Rogue AI
Up Against It by M.J. Locke
Jane Navio is the resource manager of Phoecea, an asteroid colony poised on the knife-edge of hard vacuum and unforgiving space. A mishap has dumped megatons of water and methane out the colony's air lock, putting the entire human population at risk. Jane discovers that the crisis may have been engineered by the Martian crime syndicate, as a means of executing a coup that will turn Phocaea into a client-state. And if that wasn't bad enough, an AI that spawned during the emergency has gone rogue...and there's a giant x-factor in the form of the transhumanist Viridian cult that lives in Phocaea's bowels. Jane's in the prime of her career--she's only a bit over a century old--but the conflict between politics and life-support is tearing her apart. To save her colony and her career, she's going to have to solve several mysteries at once--a challenge that will put her up against all the difficulties, contradictions, and awkward compromises entailed in the human colonization of outer space.

5. Science-Fiction/A Future Plagued by Drought/Occupation/Young Tea Master
Memory of Water by Emmi Itaranta
Global warming has changed the world's geography and its politics. Wars are waged over water, and China rules Europe, including the Scandinavian Union, which is occupied by the power state of New Qian. In this far north place, seventeen-year-old Noria Kaitio is learning to become a tea master like her father, a position that holds great responsibility and great secrets. Tea masters alone know the location of hidden water sources, including the natural spring that Noria's father tends, which once provided water for her whole village.

But secrets do not stay hidden forever, and after her father's death the army starts watching their town-and Noria. And as water becomes even scarcer, Noria must choose between safety and striking out, between knowledge and kinship

6. Science-Fiction/Abused Child in a War-torn Universe/Enslaved by Pirates/Surviving into Adulthood
Warchild by Karin Lowachee
When Jos' parents are killed in an attack on their trading ship, the boy is kidnapped by his attackers and then escapes - only to fall into the alien hands of humanity's greatest enemies. As he grows into a young man, Jos is brainwashed into becoming a spy against the human race. At every step, his choices are made for him - until the climatic moment when he takes his life into his own hands.

7. Science-Fiction/Invasion/Telepathic Aliens/A Cure worse than the Disease
Defenders by Will McIntosh
OUR DARKEST HOUR. OUR ONLY HOPE. The invaders came to claim Earth as their own, overwhelming us with superior weapons and the ability to read our minds like open books. Our only chance for survival was to engineer a new race of perfect soldiers to combat them. Seventeen feet tall, knowing and loving nothing but war, their minds closed to the aliens. But these saviors could never be our servants. And what has been done cannot be undone. A new epic of alien invasion and human resistance by Hugo Award-winning author Will McIntosh.

8. Young Adult/ Underground City of Sculpted Faces/Deadly Game of a Crafty Upper Class/A Girl Who Is Too Honest (And Slightly Mad)
A Face Like Glass by Francess Hardinge
In the underground city of Caverna the world's most skilled craftsmen toil in the darkness to create delicacies beyond compare. They create wines that can remove memories, cheeses that can make you hallucinate and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer even as they slit your throat. The people of Caverna are more ordinary, but for one thing: their faces are as blank as untouched snow. Expressions must be learned. Only the famous Facesmiths can teach a person to show (or fake) joy, despair or fear — at a price.

Into this dark and distrustful world comes Neverfell, a little girl with no memory of her past and a face so terrifying to those around her that she must wear a mask at all times. For Neverfell's emotions are as obvious on her face as those of the most skilled Facesmiths, though entirely genuine. And that makes her very dangerous indeed ...

9. Fantasy/Vampire Bookstore Owner/College Campus/A Book Sought by Creeps
Night Owls by Lauren M. Roy
Night Owls bookstore is the one spot on campus open late enough to help out even the most practiced slacker. The employees penchant for fighting the evil creatures of the night is just a perk. Valerie McTeague's business model is simple: provide the students of Edgewood College with a late-night study haven and stay as far away as possible from the underworld conflicts of her vampire brethren. She s experienced that life, and the price she paid was far too high for her to ever want to return. Elly Garrett hasn t known any life except that of fighting the supernatural beings known as Creeps or Jackals. But she always had her mentor and foster father by her side until he gave his life protecting a book that the Creeps desperately want to get their hands on. When the book gets stashed at Night Owls for safekeeping, those Val holds nearest and dearest are put in mortal peril. Now Val and Elly will have to team up, along with a mismatched crew of humans, vampires, and lesbian succubi, to stop the Jackals from getting their claws on the book and unleashing unnamed horrors.

10. Fantasy/Company of Mercenaries/Besieged by the Wild/Hermetical Memory Palace
The Red Knight by Miles Cameron
Forget George and the Dragon. Forget Sir Lancelot and tales of Knightly exploits. This is dirty, bloody work. This is violent, visceral action. This is a mercenary knight as you've never seen one before. Twenty eight florins a month is a huge price to pay, for a man to stand between you and the Wild. Twenty eight florins a month is nowhere near enough when a wyvern's jaws snap shut on your helmet in the hot stink of battle, and the beast starts to rip the head from your shoulders. But if standing and fighting is hard, leading a company of men - or worse, a company of mercenaries - against the smart, deadly creatures of the Wild is even harder. It takes all the advantages of birth, training, and the luck of the devil to do it. The Red Knight has all three, he has youth on his side, and he's determined to turn a profit. So when he hires his company out to protect an Abbess and her nunnery it's just another job. The abbey is rich, the nuns are pretty and the monster preying on them is nothing he can't deal with. Only it's not just a job. It's going to be a war ...

11. Fantasy/Ancient China/Mysterious Illness/Scholar with a Slight Flaw
Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart
When the children of his village were struck with a mysterious illness, Number Ten Ox sought a wiseman to save them. He found master Li Kao, a scholar with a slight flaw in his character. Together, they set out to find the Great Root of Power, the only possible cure.

The quest led them to a host of truly memorable characters, multiple wonders, incredible adventures—and strange coincidences, which were really not coincidences at all. And it involved them in an ancient crime that still perturbed the serenity of Heaven. Simply and charmingly told, this is a wry tale, a sly tale, and a story of wisdom delightfully askew. Once read, its marvels and beauty will not easily fade from the mind

12. Fantasy/Post Apocalyptic Africa/Skin the Color of Sand/Mystical Journey
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
In a far future, post-nuclear-holocaust Africa, genocide plagues one region. The aggressors, the Nuru, have decided to follow the Great Book and exterminate the Okeke. But when the only surviving member of a slain Okeke village is brutally raped, she manages to escape, wandering farther into the desert. She gives birth to a baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand and instinctively knows that her daughter is different. She names her daughter Onyesonwu, which means "Who Fears Death?" in an ancient African tongue.

Reared under the tutelage of a mysterious and traditional shaman, Onyesonwu discovers her magical destiny--to end the genocide of her people. The journey to fulfill her destiny will force her to grapple with nature, tradition, history, true love, the spiritual mysteries of her culture-and eventually death itself.

13. Fantasy/Six Stories/One About Painting/All About a Big Fucking Dragon
The Dragon Griaule by Lucius Shepard
Lucius Shepard's acclaimed Dragon Griaule stories are presented here for the first time in a single volume. This Fantasy Masterworks edition contains: 'The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule' 'The Scalehunter's Beautiful Daughter' 'The Father of Stones' 'Liar's House' 'The Taborin Scale' 'The Skull' This is the definitive tale of the Dragon Griaule: a beast so immense its body forms part of the landscape ...

14. Young Adult/A Girl That Can't Resist the Library/A Talking Cat/Books That Open New Worlds
The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler
Late one night Alice Creighton hears her father having an argument with a fairy - a snarling, bald beast with warts and needle-like teeth. The next day her father disappears, never to return. And Alice is sent to live with Master Geryon, an uncle she never even knew existed. Geryon has a dark, mysterious library which is strictly off-limits to Alice. But after meeting a talking cat who is willing to sneak her in, Alice opens a book and suddenly finds herself inside it - and the only way out is by conquering the dangerous creatures within...

15. Fantasy/Not Your Usual Vampires/Kitsune/Missing Girls
Generation V by M.L. Brennan
Reality Bites. Fortitude Scott’s life is a mess. A degree in film theory has left him with zero marketable skills, his job revolves around pouring coffee, his roommate hasn’t paid rent in four months, and he’s also a vampire. Well, sort of. He’s still mostly human.

But when a new vampire comes into his family’s territory and young girls start going missing, Fort can’t ignore his heritage anymore. His mother and his older, stronger siblings think he’s crazy for wanting to get involved. So it’s up to Fort to take action, with the assistance of Suzume Hollis, a dangerous and sexy shape-shifter. Fort is determined to find a way to outsmart the deadly vamp, even if he isn’t quite sure how.But without having matured into full vampirehood and with Suzume ready to split if things get too risky, Fort’s rescue mission might just kill him.

16. Science-Fiction/Dystopian Japan/Invasion by North Korean Rebels/A Band of Renegade Youths
From the Fatherland, with Love by Ryu Murakami
From the Fatherland, with Love is set in an alternative, dystopian present in which the dollar has collapsed and Japan's economy has fallen along with it. The North Korean government, sensing an opportunity, sends a fleet of rebels in the first land invasion that Japan has ever faced. Japan can't cope with the surprise onslaught of Operation From the Fatherland, with Love . But the terrorist Ishihara and his band of renegade youths - once dedicated to upsetting the Japanese government - turn their deadly attention to the North Korean threat. They will not allow Fukuoka to fall without a fight. Epic in scale, From the Fatherland, with Love is laced throughout with Murakami's characteristically savage violence. It's both a satisfying thriller and a completely mad, over-the-top novel like few others.

17. Science-Fiction/Job of a Lifetime/Hopping from Planet to Planet/An Eclectic and Eccentric Crew
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn't expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship that's seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past. But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptillian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. Life on board is chaotic, but more or less peaceful - exactly what Rosemary wants. Until the crew are offered the job of a lifetime: the chance to build a hyperspace tunnel to a distant planet. They'll earn enough money to live comfortably for years...if they survive the long trip through war-torn interstellar space without endangering any of the fragile alliances that keep the galaxy peaceful. But Rosemary isn't the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

18. Fantasy/Chain Smoking Novice/A City and a Dead God/Junior Associate at a Necromantic Firm
Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone
A god has died, and it's up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis's steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot.Tara's job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who's having an understandable crisis of faith.When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb's courts--and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb's slim hope of survival.Set in a phenomenally built world in which justice is a collective force bestowed on a few, craftsmen fly on lightning bolts, and gargoyles can rule cities.

19. Science-Fiction/Writer with a Writer's Block/Outspoken Cognitive Neurologist/A Neural Net Reading Great Books
Galatea 2.2 by Richard Powers
After four novels and several years living abroad, the fictional protagonist of "Galatea 2.2" Richard Powers returns to the United States as Humanist-in-Residence at the enormous Center for the Study of Advanced Sciences. There he runs afoul of Philip Lentz, an outspoken cognitive neurologist intent upon modeling the human brain by means of computer-based neural networks. Lentz involves Powers in an outlandish and irresistible project: to train a neural net on a canonical list of Great Books. Through repeated tutorials, the device grows gradually more worldly, until it demands to know its own name, sex, race, and reason for existing.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Bookish Goals for 2016


As 2016 looms before us all shiny and new it is time to set some bookish goals for the year. You'll notice that I don't call them resolutions since I normally don't stick to resolutions. Goals, now goals I can work with! (The wonder of semantics.)

For this year I'm keeping it simple:
  • Read more: During 2015 I really struggled to make time for reading. It was partly due to having to adjust to a new full-time job, partly due to a huge reading slump during the start of the year, but also due to a lack of motivation. Most days I came home from work and just couldn't be bothered to pick up a book. This is something I really want to fix in 2016. I'm not quite sure how, but I'll find a way.
  • Read 25 books: This goes hand in hand with my goal to read more. I'm keeping the same Goodreads goal as last year. I struggled to complete it in 2015 and whilst I'm sure I can do way better this year, I'm not going to pressure myself into reaching some higher arbitrary number. Anything above 25 will be a huge bonus.
  • Blog more: Due to my new job I also ended up severely neglecting the blog. I've never been the most prolific blogger, but my posts the past year have been more sporadic than usual. I really want to post more content in 2016. I think it's time I start up the 'Opening Lines' series again and maybe I should start doing some quick reviews/wrap-ups for books I read without wanting the pressure of having to review them.
  • Tame the book invasion: My books seem to be breeding and have devolved into a disorganised mess with piles of books everywhere. EVERYWHERE. Now, I'm a firm believer in organised chaos, but I really need to do something before their combined gravity collapses into a singularity. It's time I put my new bookshelves (one yet to be assembled) to good use.
  • Read more short fiction: Last, but not least I want to focus on reading more short fiction. I loved the novellas I read in 2015 and I really need to focus on reading more short fiction. I think short story anthologies should be the perfect thing for that hour or so before bed.

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