Monday, February 10, 2020

Review: Steel Frame by Andrew Skinner

Title: Steel Frame
Author: Andrew Skinner
Pages: 478
ISBN: 9781781087053
Publisher: Solaris
Published: 27 August 2019
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher


Buy it from:
The Book Depository

Epic tale of giant-robot battles, built around a personal story of redemption and healing.

FLY HARD
Rook is a jockey, a soldier trained and modified to fly ‘shells,’ huge robots that fight for the outer regions of settled space. When her shell is destroyed and her squad killed, Rook is imprisoned, left stranded, scarred and broken. Hollow and helpless without her steel frame, she’s ready to call it quits.

When her cohort of prisoners are sold into indenture to NorCol, a vast frontier corporation, Rook’s given another shell – a near-decrepit Juno, as broken as she is and decades older – and sent to a rusting bucket of a ship on the end of known space to patrol something called “the Eye,” a strange, unnerving permanent storm in space.

Where something is stirring...
Rook has two choices: she can either rot in jail or she can become an indentured conscript in a war where corporations battle for the rights to reclaim alien artifacts from a mysterious region in space. Only one option would allow her to fly again...

Andrew Skinner's debut novel, Steel Frame, can best be described as Pacific Rim in space, but that would do it a disservice. Steel Frame offers far more than just giant robot battles, it delivers a nuanced look at loss, the aftermath of trauma and finding the strength to fight back from the brink of despair.

The walls keep a roll of who has come and who has gone, a century's history scratched by hand, into paint that covers untold years more."

Skinner's prose evokes a sensory overload which brings his unforgiving world to life. You can almost smell the oil and hydraulic fluid and feel the immensity of the shells looming over you as you turn each page.

Rook and her squad of fellow jockeys, Hail, Lear and Salt are fascinating characters. Being convicts they are  treated as disposable, as something lesser than the real corporate employees. It's this shared history and outcast status which makes them such a formidable team. While out on patrol they encounter an ominous warning - DON'T LET THEM TOUCH YOU - sparking a devastating chain of events.  Still reeling from loss, they find their strength in each other and rise to the occasion to fight a foe unlike any they've encountered before.

The best part about Steel Frame is definitely the growing bond between Rook and her shell. There is just something so touching in their unusual relationship. Both are broken and hollow, but they find each other and become something more. Melding together into something greater than their individual parts.

Steel Frame is one heck of a ride. There are tense, high-octane battles, mysterious alien artifacts and a seemingly unstoppable foe. The story never drags and as things head to a nail-biting conclusion you lose all sense of time until you turn the last page and discover that it's all over. The ending is completely heartrending, but very apt. The steel frame remembers. I might have teared up just a little bit...

Andrew Skinner is definitely a rising talent to keep your eyes on. If his debut can do this to me, I can't wait to see what he does next.

The Verdict:
Steel Frame is one heck of a ride! Tense, fast-paced action with giant robots battling it out, but behind the giant steel facade it has so much more to offer - a story filled with nuance and a gigantic heart to match.  Giant robots have never been this heartbreaking before. Highly recommended!

The Rating: 7.5/10 (Very Good)

Thanks to Solaris for providing me with a review copy.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Opening Lines: Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O'Keefe

Some novels have the ability to draw you in from the start. A single line or paragraph can grab your attention in such a way that the novel just demands to be read. Opening Lines is a feature where I'll share some of the best opening lines that hooked me.

The first thing Sanda did after being resuscitated was vomit all over herself. The second thing she did was to vomit all over again. Her body shook, trembling with the remembered deceleration of her gunship breaking apart around her, stomach roiling as the preservation foam had encased her, shoved itself down her throat and nose and any other ready orifice.


Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O'Keefe

The last thing Sanda remembers is her gunship exploding.

She expected to be recovered by salvage-medics and to awaken in friendly hands, patched-up and ready to rejoin the fight. Instead she wakes up 230 years later, on a deserted enemy starship called The Light of Berossus - or, as he prefers to call himself, 'Bero'.

Bero tells Sanda the war is lost. That the entire star system is dead.

But is that the full story? After all, in the vastness of space, anything is possible . . .

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Thoughts on the SCKA Short Work Nominees


Since this seemed to be the quickest SCKA category to get through I decided to tackle the short works first. I'm easing into the whole thing. Dipping my toes in before I jumped into the large time investment required to tackle the novel categories.

All the stories nominated are of an exceedingly high standard and you can't fault any of them on quality. In the end it all boils down to personal taste and if a story resonates with you or not. Since these aren't really reviews as such, I'll settle for just sharing some quick thoughts on each story. 

Do Not Look Back My Lion by Alix E. Harrow
I love Alix E. Harrow's work and this story is no exception. It tells the tale of a society devoted solely to war and the impact it has on those that are left behind having to face the reality of pledging their children from birth to the machinations of bloodshed and death. Interesting role reversals in gender dynamics and a very touching relationship at its core. A melancholy yet hopeful read.

Doll Seed by Michele Tracy Berger
An interesting take on racism and prejudice mirrored in the lives of dolls. Interesting concepts, but perhaps somewhat too long. My interest flagged towards the end.

In Regards to Your Concerns About Your Scare BnB Experience by Effie Seiberg
 A client representative deals with a disgruntled client after a disastrous stay at a BnB. A fun, lighthearted story which delivered a giggle and a few smiles. Compared to the other stories on offer it lacked impact.

Even When The World Has Told Us We Have Ended by Cat Hellisen
 After the world has ended, a living human becomes the Muse for the dead, downloading inspiration into their reconstructed minds. Beautiful, haunting prose and a story that's quite unlike anything I normally encounter. This story can be read and interpreted in so many ways and that's where its power lies.

The Ocean That Fades Into Sky by Kathleen Kayembe
 This is the only story that just didn't work for me and I can't exactly pinpoint why. I lost interest halfway through. Might have to come back to it at some later stage.

The Blanched Bones, The Tyrant Wind by Karen Osborne
Short, sweet and powerful story about seizing your own destiny and throwing off societal expectations.

In This Moment, We Are Happy by Chen Qiufan
A look at the changing face of reproduction and what the future might hold. Touching and thought-provoking in equal measure.

Black Matter by Vivian Shaw
Necromancy meets Air Crash Investigation. A dark, enjoyable tale with engaging writing and fascinating premise

This Book Will Find You by Sam Beckbessinger, Lauren Beukes & Dale Halvorsen
Magic. Blood. Mayhem. A very dark, horrific tale dealing with the cycle of violence in an abusive relationship. Wonderful twist in the ending. Absolutely freaking loved this story!

The Migration Suite: A Study in C Sharp Minor by Maurice Broaddus
Tracing the journey of a family throughout its many generations throughout the past and into the future. A touching look at reclaiming your freedom and finding your home.

***

Have you read any of these? Which stories were your favourite?

Friday, January 31, 2020

Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards 2020: The Nominees


Toss a pebble to* your author
O, readers of plenty,
O, readers of plenty.

Creators of worlds
with magical words
they astound and thrill
It's time to pay the bill

Subjective kind of chaos
The time is here

Toss a pebble to your author
O, readers of plenty,
O, readers of plenty.

The lines don't scan all that well and trying to make them rhyme was a chore, but at least it has a semblance of a meme-worthy vibe to it. Although the chorus is the best bit, even if I have to say so myself. (*Important note: Do not toss pebbles AT authors. The pebbles should be given TO authors.)



With that incoherent introduction and magical musical interlude out of the way it's time to announce the nominees for The 2020 Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards (SCKA). With the powers of eight book bloggers combined and using various other esoteric means the nominees for this year's awards have been narrowed down to the following works:

*Drum roll*

BEST FANTASY

  • The Ten thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
  • The True Queen by Zen Cho
  • Realm of Ash by Tasha Suri
  • Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron
  • Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • The Bone Ships by RJ Barker
  • The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

BEST SCIENCE FICTION

  • Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O'Keefe
  • Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear
  • A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
  • Wanderers by Chuck Wendig
  • The Outside by Ada Hoffman
  • Steel Frame by Andrew Skinner
  • All City by Alex DiFrancesco
  • Fleet of Knives by Gareth L. Powell

BEST BLURRED BOUNDARIES

  • The Infinite Noise by Lauren Shippen
  • Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
  • The Migration by Helen Marshall
  • The Institute by Stephen King
  • David Mogo, Godhunter by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
  • The Last Supper Before Ragnarok by Cassandra Khaw
  • The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg
  • The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris

BEST NOVELLA

  • Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh
  • This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
  • The Deep by Rivers Solomon
  • Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky
  • Incompleteness Theories by Wole Talabi
  • To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers
  • We Are Made of Diamond Stuff by Isabel Waidner

BEST SERIES

  • The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden
  • Elemental Logic by Laurie J. Marks
  • Empires of Dust by Anna Smith Spark
  • Children of Time Duology by Adrian Tchaikovsky
  • The Rosewater Trilogy AKA Wormwood Trilogy by Tade Thompson
  • Swords and Fire by Melissa Caruso
  • Luna Series by Ian McDonald
  • The Winnowing Flame by Jen Williams

BEST SHORT WORK


That's a lot of books. A whole lot! Over the coming months the judges will narrow things down to a shortlist and then ultimately crown a winner in each category. Each winner will be awarded an exclusive, hand-picked pebble from an exotic locale.

A huge congratulations to all the nominees! I'm excited to dive right in and discover new authors, some wonderful stories and brand new worlds.

Let the reading commence...


Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Review: MACHINA from Serial Box

Machina graphic
Machina, the latest serial from Serial Box takes two of my favourite things, AI and space exploration, and combines them into a thrilling narrative that captivates from the very start.

Written by Fran Wilde, Malka Older, Curtis C. Chen and Martha Wells, Machina features ecological collapse. egocentric CTOs, ruined friendships, a high-stakes AI competition and weaponised artificial intelligence - and that's just in the first episode!

With Earth becoming increasingly uninhabitable, humanity looks to space for salvation. In the arid California desert, two companies compete for the opportunity to send their AI robots to colonize Mars. Scientists and staff mingle at Moonshot Bar and, as personal tensions build and business practices get shady, there might be more than scientific discovery at stake.

Initially Machina focuses largely on the competition between DevLok and Watchover as their respective teams compete to develop the AI which will pave the way for human colinisation of Mars. Taking two very different approaches, both in design philosophy and management styles, the rivalry between the two companies spill over into the relationships and interactions of their employees. There’s an unpleasant history locked away in the past, but the ramifications of that event is still the driving force behind the different routes the characters take..

All the characters are engaging and distinct. Some you will love to hate, others will make your heart crumble to bits. The standout character for me was Cameron, one of the best representations of a non-binary character I’ve come across. They just steal the show with their touching budding relationship, how they cope despite their struggles with anxiety and just their overall pure awesomeness. An honourable mention also has to go to Pseudo, the robotic dog/bartender at the Moonshot Bar. Who would have guessed so much personality could be given to a robotic dog?

Told in ten episodes each episode is largely self-contained, with the overarching story building up to a truly nail-biting finale in the last two episodes. With only 30 pages left, I didn’t want it to end. Things suddenly got really interesting, morphing into something far greater and impactful than I ever expected. The ending is superb and hints at so much potential yet to come. I sincerely hope they take us on the journey to Mars and whatever awaits us there.

Machina deals with some fascinating concepts - surveillance and privacy (let’s just say Watchover’s name might be a tad too prophetic!), sentience, ecological custodianship and our increasing reliance and use of AI.

Machina is an absolutely gripping look at the not too distant future. Filled with great characters, fascinating AI and some startling twists this is one serial you definitely don’t want to miss!

There is so much I want to shout about, but sadly can't for fear of spoilers. Trust me, this is a great story which will melt your heart and set every geeky cell in your body abuzz. I think the narrated version will be something beautiful to behold.

***

Machina launches on 29 January 2020 and as always you can read or listen to the first episode for free over at Serial Box. You can order the entire first season for $9.99.

The Rating: 7.5 (Very good)

Thank you to Serial Box for providing me with an eARC for review purposes.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Opening Lines: All Systems Red by Martha Wells

Some novels have the ability to draw you in from the start. A single line or paragraph can grab your attention in such a way that the novel just demands to be read. Opening Lines is a feature where I'll share some of the best opening lines that hooked me.

I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. It had been well over 35,000 hours or so since then, with still not much murdering, but probably, I don’t know, a little under 35,000 hours of movies, serials, books, plays, and music consumed. As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure.


All Systems Red by Martha Wells

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it's up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

New Serial from Serial Box: Machina

Machina, the latest serial from Serial Box combines two of my favourite things, AI and space exploration, and combines it into a thrilling narrative that captivates from the very start.

Featuring ecological collapse. egocentric CTOs, ruined friendships, a high-stakes competition and weaponized artificial intelligence - and that's just the first episode!

With Earth becoming increasingly uninhabitable, humanity looks to space for salvation. In the arid California desert, two companies compete for the opportunity to send their AI robots to colonize Mars. Scientists and staff mingle at Moonshot Bar and, as personal tensions build and business practices get shady, there might be more than scientific discovery at stake.

Machina is written by Fran Wilde, Malka Older, Curtis C. Chen and Martha Wells.

Each episode is available in both audio and text format. You can order the entire first series of Machina at Serial Box.

The race to get us to Mars is on! Who will win?

Machina launches on 29 January.





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 (Very Good)

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 clichéd 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.


Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards 2020


Pandora's box has been opened and, since there's no going back now I can finally reveal a secret. Late one evening while minding my own business on Twitter I was accosted by a decidedly shady-looking being wearing a huge coat and an eyepatch. Some words were said, there might have been a secret handshake and somehow I suddenly found myself recruited as a judge for The Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards. To be honest it was all kind of a blur....

What Kind of Awards?
The Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards* was started by C from The Middle Shelf in 2017 to provide a platform for a group of speculative fiction book bloggers to nominate, discuss and award their favourite books of the year. It's the only award* that will rock you. Literally!
(*Well, not exactly awards. We don't take ourselves quite seriously enough for that. And well, it wouldn't be the best stories, just the best stories according to us.)


Eligibility:
  • To be eligible for the awards works need to be:
  • Published for the first time in any format in the prior calendar year
  • Republished in a substantially revised format (e.g. a novella being expanded to a novel) in the prior calendar year
  • They are reprinted in the prior calendar year wherein either:
  • For the first time in English;
  • For the first time in the UK; and\or
  • Is republished by a new publisher major publisher when previously published by an independent publisher.

The Rules:
There are some rules. More guidelines actually. They are in constant flux but can be summed up as:
  • to read at least 100 pages or 50% of every novel/novella nominee in a category – or the first 2 books of a series for the best series category – before final voting
  • to have fun and embrace chaos
  • to listen to the concerns of marginalised voices
It's all rather chaotic, but in a good way.

The categories:
  • Best Fantasy Novel
  • Best Science Fiction Novel
  • Best Blurred Boundaries
  • Best Novella
  • Best Complete Series (final instalment published in 2019)
  • Best Short Fiction (Newly introduced for the 2020 awards)

The Judges:
KJ aka @crusaderofchaos (that's me!) is a South African book blogger specialising in all things speculative fiction with a particular love for science fiction. He can be found plodding away at the keyboard trying to make words make sense whenever inspiration, work and power blackouts allows. Occasionally he event posts the reviews at www.worldsinink.blogspot.com

Matt aka Womble aka @Runalongwomble is a book tempter ahem blogger at Runalongtheshelves.net and is the sweet voice on your shoulder telling you that it’s ok to get a new book. Can also be found on Twitter for additional book tempting.

C aka @TheMiddleshelf1 fell into sci-fi and fantasy at 13 and has been hopelessly addicted since. The creation of web provided the means to talk and share about that with actual people when it appeared so C can be found nowadays at www.themiddleshelf.org

Adri aka @AdriJjy is a semi-aquatic mammal currently living in the UK, where she divides her spare time between reading, interacting with dogs and making resolutions about doing more baking. She is a co-editor at 3x Hugo nominated fanzine Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together.

Jane aka @pipsytip is a book blogger and podcaster at www.dumpylittleunicorn.co.uk who has found herself living in the depths of South East London. She loves science fiction and fantasy and blurred genres in between.

Kris aka @hammard_1987 blogs at www.cloakedcreators.com and in various venues around the internet. They spend far too much time reading genre fiction and insist on telling people about them. They love trying everything, the weirder the better

Imyril aka @imyril has been reading for almost as long as she’s been walking (with fewer obvious bruises). She shares her FEELINGS and other opinions about fantasy, sci-fi and speculative fiction at There’s Always Room For One More.

Sara aka @SharadeeReads is a blogger at www.thefantasyinn.com. Morroccan-born Frech Resident, she’s a fan of kissy and stabby books. Ideally both at the same time.

Nominations:
We are currently in the nomination phase for the awards. Deciding which works to nominate is an agonising process. How do you pick just one? How?!.  A list of nominees should be announced as soon as they are finalised. If all goes to plan (which it rarely does) it should be before the end of the month.


Friday, January 10, 2020

Opening Lines: Moving Mars by Greg Bear

Some novels have the ability to draw you in from the start. A single line or paragraph can grab your attention in such a way that the novel just demands to be read. Opening Lines is a feature where I'll share some of the best opening lines that hooked me.

The young may not remember Mars of old, under the yellow Sun, its cloud-streaked skies dusted pink, its soil rusty and fine, its inhabitants living in pressurized burrows and venturing Up only as a rite of passage or to do maintenance or tend the ropy crops spread like nests of intensely green snakes over the wind-scoured farms. That Mars, an old and tired Mars filled with young lives, is gone forever. Now I am old and tired, and Mars is young again. Our lives are not our own, but by God, we must behave as if they are. When I was young, what I did seemed too small to be of any consequence; but the shiver of dust, we are told, expands in time to the planet-sweeping storm...


Moving Mars

She is a daughter of one of Mars's oldest, most conservative Binding Multiples--the extended family syndicates that colonized the red planet. But Casseia Majumdar has a dream of an independent Mars, born in the student protests of 2171. During those brief days of idealism she forged bonds of friendship and hatred that set the stage for an astonishing war or revolution on Mars.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Most Anticipated 2020 Sci-Fi & Fantasy Releases

The most exciting thing about the start of any new year is the chance browse through publisher catalogs trying to find the forthcoming books to get excited about. A new year means new books, new releases from favourite authors and brand new debut authors to discover. Here's my list of science fiction and fantasy titles I'm the most excited for.

Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list and that dates are very much subject to change.

January

Not So Stories - David Moore
Release date 2020-01-23 / ISBN 9781781087800

A contemporary and hugely relevant anthology of culturally diverse writers responding to and engaging with Kipling’s Just So Stories.

Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories was one of the first true children’s books in the English language, a timeless classic that paints a magical, primal world and continues to delight readers to this day.

It’s also deeply rooted in British colonialism, and can be troubling to modern readers. Not So Stores attempts to redress the balance, bringing together new and established writers of colour from around the world to take the Just So Stories back, giving voices to cultures that were long deprived them.

February

New Horizons - Tarun K. Saint
2020-02-06 / ISBN 9781473228689

The citizens of Karachi wake up and discover the sea missing from their shores, the last Parsi on Earth must escape to other worlds when debt collectors come knocking, and a family visiting a Partition-themed park gets more entertainment than they bargained for.

These stories and others showcase the epic scope of science fiction from the South Asian subcontinent. Offering a fresh perspective on our hyper-global, often alienating and always paranoid world, New Horizons brings together tales of masterful imagination where humanity and love may triumph yet

Light of Impossible Stars - Gareth L. Powell
2020-02-18 / 9781785655241
Low on fuel and hunted by the Fleet of Knives, the sentient warship Trouble Dog heads to the Intrusion—an area of space where reality itself becomes unstable. But with human civilisation crumbling, what difference can one battered old ship make against an invincible armada?

Meanwhile, Cordelia Pa and her step-brother Michael eke out their existence salvaging artefacts from an alien city. But when Cordelia is snatched from her home, she begins a journey that will help her understand the strange songs she hears in her head and the strange things that happen around her. What extraordinary affinity does she have for this abandoned alien technology, and how can it possibly help the Trouble Dog?

March

Re-Coil - J.T. Nicholas
2020-03-03 / ISBN 9781789093131
Carter Langston is murdered whilst salvaging a derelict vessel—a major inconvenience as he’s downloaded into a brand-new body on the space station where he backed up, several weeks’ journey away. But events quickly slip out of control when an assassin breaks into the medbay and tries to finish the job.

Death no longer holds sway over a humanity that has spread across the solar system: consciousness can be placed in a new body, or coil, straight after death, giving people the potential for immortality. Yet Carter’s backups—supposedly secure—have been damaged, his crew are missing, and everything points back to the derelict that should have been a simple salvage mission.

With enemies in hot pursuit, Carter tracks down his last crewmate — re-coiled after death into a body she cannot stand—to delve deeper into a mystery that threatens humanity and identity as they have come to know it.

Made to Order edited by Jonathan Strahan
2020-03-05 / ISBN 9781781087879

A cutting-edge anthology, published on the 100th anniversary of the word “Robot”, exploring the impact it has had on the world, the possibilities and place of robots in society going forwards.

100 years after Karel Capek introduced the word with his play R.U.R. “Robots" are an everyday idea, and the inspiration for countless stories in books, film, TV and games.

They are often among the least privileged, most unfairly used of us, and the more robots are like humans, the more interesting they become. This collection of stories is where robots stand in for us, where both we and they are disadvantaged, and where hope and optimism shines through.

Featuring stories by John Chu, Daryl Gregory, Alice Sola Kim, Rich Larson, Ken Liu, Carmen Maria Machado, Ian R. Macleod, Annalee Newitz, Suzanne Palmer, Vina Jie-Min Prasad, Alastair Reynolds, Kelly Robson, Sofia Samatar, Rivers Solomon and Peter Watts.

Sixteenth Watch - Myke Cole
2020-03-10 / ISBN 9780857668059

A lifelong Search-and-Rescuewoman, Coast Guard Captain Jane Oliver is ready for a peaceful retirement. But when tragedy strikes, Oliver loses her husband and her plans for the future, and finds herself thrust into a role she’s not prepared for.

Suddenly at the helm of the Coast Guard’s elite SAR-1 lunar unit, Oliver is the only woman who can prevent the first lunar war in history, a conflict that will surely consume not only the moon, but earth as well.

The War of the Maps - Paul McAuley
2020-03-19 / ISBN 9781473217348

On a giant artificial world surrounding an artificial sun, one man – a lucidor, a keeper of the peace, a policeman – is on the hunt. His target was responsible for an atrocity, but is too valuable to the government to be truly punished. Instead he has been sent to the frontlines of the war, to use his unique talents on the enemy. So the lucidor has ignored orders, deserted from his job, left his home and thrown his life away, in order to finally claim justice.

Separated by massive seas, the various maps dotted on the surface of this world rarely contact each other. But something has begun to infiltrate the edges of the lucidor’s map, something that genetically alters animals and plants and turns them into killers. Only the lucidor knows the depths to which his quarry will sink in order to survive, only the lucidor can capture him. The way is long and dangerous. The lucidor’s government has set hunters after him. He has no friends, no resources, no plan.

But he does have a mission

April

The Human - Neal Asher
2020-04-16 / ISBN 9781509862443

Their enemy seems unbeatable. But humanity is indomitable . . .

A Jain warship has risen from a prison five million years old, wielding a hoard of lethal technology. Its goal is to catch their old enemy, the Client, and it will destroy all who stand in its path.

Humanity and the prador thought their mutual nemesis – the bane of so many races – was long extinct. But the Jain are back and Orlandine must prepare humanity’s defence. She needs the Client’s knowledge to counter this ancient threat. But is the enemy of your enemy a friend? Earth Central even looks to the prador for alliance. These old enemies must now learn to trust one another, or face utter annihilation.

As the Jain warship crosses the galaxy, it seems unstoppable. Human and prador forces alike struggle to withstand its devastating weaponry ­­– far in advance of their own. And Orlandine’s life’s work has been to neutralize Jain technology, so if she can’t triumph, no one can. But could she become what she’s vowed to destroy?

The Human is the final, thrilling, book in Neal Asher’s Rise of the Jain trilogy.

The Last Emperox - John Scalzi
2020-04-16 / ISBN 9781509835355

Can they escape the end of an empire?

Entire star systems, and billions of people, are about to be stranded. The pathways that link the stars are collapsing faster than anyone expected, accelerating the fall of civilization. But though the evidence is insurmountable, many are in denial. And some even attempt to profit from the final days of this golden age.

Emperox Grayland II has wrested control of the empire from her enemies. But even as she works to save her people, others seek power. And they will make a final, desperate push to topple her from her throne. Grayland and her depleted allies must use every tool at their disposal to save themselves and humanity – yet it still may not be enough.

Will Grayland become the saviour of her civilization . . . or the last emperox to wear the crown?

The Last Emperox is the conclusion to John Scalzi’s Interdependency series.

May

If It Bleeds - Stephen King
2020-05-05 / 9781529391541

A collection of four uniquely wonderful long stories, including a stand-alone sequel to the No. 1 bestseller THE OUTSIDER.

News people have a saying: 'If it bleeds, it leads'. And a bomb at Albert Macready Middle School is guaranteed to lead any bulletin.

Holly Gibney of the Finders Keepers detective agency is working on the case of a missing dog - and on her own need to be more assertive - when she sees the footage on TV. But when she tunes in again, to the late-night report, she realises there is something not quite right about the correspondent who was first on the scene. So begins 'If It Bleeds', a stand-alone sequel to the No. 1 bestselling THE OUTSIDER featuring the incomparable Holly on her first solo case - and also the riveting title story in Stephen King's brilliant new collection.

Dancing alongside are three more wonderful long stories from this 'formidably versatile author' (The Sunday Times) - 'Mr Harrigan's Phone', 'The Life of Chuck' and 'Rat'. All four display the richness of King's storytelling with grace, humour, horror and breathtaking suspense. A fascinating Author's Note gives us a wonderful insight into the origin of each story and the writer's unparalleled imagination

Network Effect - Martha Wells
2020-05-05 / ISBN 9781250229861

Murderbot returns in its highly-anticipated, first, full-length standalone novel.

You know that feeling when you’re at work, and you’ve had enough of people, and then the boss walks in with yet another job that needs to be done right this second or the world will end, but all you want to do is go home and binge your favorite shows? And you're a sentient murder machine programmed for destruction? Congratulations, you're Murderbot.

Come for the pew-pew space battles, stay for the most relatable A.I. you’ll read this century.

Deal with the Devil - Kit Rocha
2020-05-12 / ISBN 9781250209368

Nina is an information broker with a mission--she and her team of mercenary librarians use their knowledge to save the hopeless in a crumbling America.

Knox is the bitter, battle-weary captain of the Silver Devils. His squad of supersoldiers went AWOL to avoid slaughtering innocents, and now he's fighting to survive.

They're on a deadly collision course, and the passion that flares between them only makes it more dangerous. They could burn down the world, destroying each other in the process...

Or they could do the impossible: team up.

Firewalkers - Adrian Tchaikovsky
2020-05-14 / ISBN 9781781088487

Firewalkers are brave. Firewalkers are resourceful. Firewalkers are expendable.

The Earth is burning. Nothing can survive at the Anchor; not without water and power. But the ultra-rich, waiting for their ride off the dying Earth? They can buy water. And as for power?

Well, someone has to repair the solar panels, down in the deserts below.

Kids like Mao, and Lupé, and Hotep; kids with brains and guts but no hope.The Firewalkers.

The Doors of Eden - Adrian Tchaikovsky
2020-05-20 / ISBN 9781509865895

The world is stranger than they'd thought. And more dangerous than they'd feared.
Lee’s best friend went missing on Bodmin Moor, four years ago. She and Mal were chasing rumours of monsters when they found something all too real. Now Mal is back, but where has she been, and who is she working for?

When government physicist Kay Amal Khan is attacked, the security services investigate. This leads MI5’s Julian Sabreur deep into terrifying new territory, where he clashes with mysterious agents of an unknown power ­who may or may not be human. And Julian’s only clue is some grainy footage ­– showing a woman who supposedly died on Bodmin Moor.

Khan’s extradimensional research was purely theoretical, until she found cracks between our world and countless others . . . Parallel Earths where monsters live. These cracks are getting wider every day, so who knows what might creep through? Or what will happen when those walls finally come crashing down.

June

Stormblood - Jeremy Szal
2020-06-04 / ISBN 9781473227415

Vakov Fukasawa used to be a Reaper, a biosoldier fighting for the intergalactic governing body of Harmony against a brutal invading empire. Now, he fights against the stormtech: the DNA of an extinct alien race Harmony injected into him, altering his body chemistry and making him permanently addicted to adrenaline and aggression. It made him the perfect soldier, but it also opened a new drug market that has millions hopelessly addicted to their own body chemistry.

But when Harmony tells him that his former ally Reapers are being murdered, Vakov is appalled to discover his estranged brother is likely involved in the killings. They haven’t spoken in years, but Vakov can’t let his brother down, and investigates. But the deeper he goes, the more addicted to stormtech he becomes, and Vakov discovers that the war might not be over after all. It’ll take everything he has to unearth this terrible secret, although doing so might mean betraying his brother. If his own body doesn’t betray him first.

A vibrant and talented new voice in SFF: alien technology, addictive upgrades, a soldier determined to protect his family, and a thief who is prepared to burn the world down . . .

The Vanished Birds - Simon Jimenez
2020-06-16 / ISBN 9781789093926
Nia Imani is a woman out of place and outside of time. Decades of travel through the stars are condensed into mere months for her, though the years continue to march steadily onward for everyone she has ever known. The captain of a transport ship contracted to the Umbrai corporation, she lives only for the next paycheck, until the day she meets a mysterious boy, fallen from the sky.

A boy, broken by his past, and hunted by his present. For he is one of the few born with the gift of the Jaunt. The ability to travel instantly anywhere in the universe. An ability that threatens the vicelike control of the settled worlds by corporations such as Umbrai.

Fumiko Nakajima, the great scientist responsible for the design of bird-like Stations that Umbrai uses to control vast tracts of space, has been searching for one such as he for a thousand years.

Together, they set out to protect the boy, a journey that will cross the decades and light years all the way out to the fringes of settled space where the laws of civilisation do not apply, and they will have only each other to rely on.

July

Survivor Song - Paul Tremblay
2020-07-07 / 9781785657863

When it happens, it happens quickly.

New England is locked down, a strict curfew the only way to stem the wildfire spread of a rabies-like virus. The hospitals cannot cope with the infected, as the pathogen’s ferociously quick incubation period overwhelms the state. The veneer of civilisation is breaking down as people live in fear of everyone around them. Staying inside is the only way to keep safe.

But paediatrician Ramola Sherman can’t stay safe, when her friend Natalie calls – her husband is dead, she’s eight months pregnant, and she’s been bitten. She is thrust into a desperate race to bring Natalie and her unborn child to a hospital, to try and save both their lives.

Their once familiar home has becoming a violent and strange place, twisted in to a barely recognisable landscape. What should have been a simple, joyous journey becomes a brutal trial.

The Relentless Moon - Mary Robinette Kowal
2020-07-14 / ISBN 9781250236968

The Earth is coming to the boiling point as the climate disaster of the Meteor strike becomes more and more clear, but the political situation is already overheated. Riots and sabotage plague the space program. The IAC's goal of getting as many people as possible off Earth before it becomes uninhabitable is being threatened.

Elma York is on her way to Mars, but the Moon colony is still being established. Her friend and fellow Lady Astronaut Nicole Wargin is thrilled to be one of those pioneer settlers, using her considerable flight and political skills to keep the program on track. But she is less happy that her husband, the Governor of Kansas, is considering a run for President.

Chimera Code - Wayne Santos
2020-07-23 / ISBN 9781781087978

Neuromancer for a non-binary age: an action-packed techno-thriller with a side of magical realism.

Everything’s for hire – even magic.

If you need something done, they’re the best: a tough, resourceful mage, a lab-created genderless hacker and a cyborg with a big gun.

But when they’re hired by a virtual construct to destroy the other copies of himself, and the down payment is a new magical skill, Cloke knows this job is going to be a league harder than anything they’ve ever done.

Driftwood - Marie Brennan
ISBN 9781616963447

In this first novel set in award-winning author Marie Brennan’s incomparable Driftwood fantasy universe, enter a post-apocalyptic realm where the apocalypse has not ended, where fragments of worlds cohere into shifting myths. Yet even as everything fades, Drifters gather to tell conflicting legends of Last, the guide—the one man who seemed immortal, but may have been a fraud.

Who is Last?

Fame is rare in Driftwood—it’s hard to get famous if you don’t stick around long enough for people to know you. But many know the guide, Last, a one-blooded survivor who has seen his world end many lifetimes ago. For Driftwood is a strange place of slow apocalypses, where continents eventually crumble into mere neighborhoods, pulled inexorably towards the center in the Crush. Cultures clash, countries fall, and everything eventually disintegrates.

Within the Shreds, a rumor goes around that Last has died. Drifters come together to commemorate him. But who really was Last? Lying liar, or heroic savior? A mercenary, a charlatan, a legend? A man, an immortal—perhaps even a god?

August

House of Styx - Derek Kunsken
2020-08-20 / ISBN 9781781088050

Life can exist anywhere. And anywhere there is life, there is home.

In the swirling clouds of Venus, the families of la colonie live on floating plant-like trawlers, salvaging what they can in the fierce acid rain and crackling storms. Outside is dangerous, but humankind’s hold on the planet is fragile and they spend most of their days simply surviving.

But Venus carries its own secrets, too. In the depths, there is a wind that shouldn’t exist.And the House of Styx wants to harness it.

Architects of Memory - Karen Osborne
2020-08-25 / ISBN 9781250215475

Terminally Ill salvage pilot Ash Jackson lost everything in the war with the alien Vai, but she'll be damned if she loses her future.

Her plan: to buy, beg, or lie her way out of corporate indenture and fine a cure.

When her crew salvages a genocidal weapon from a ravaged starship above a dead colony,

Ash uncovers a conspiracy of corporate intrigue and betrayal that threatens to turn her into a living weapon.


September

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars - Christoper Paolini
2020-09-17 / ISBN 9781529046519

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is a brand new epic science fiction novel from New York Times and Sunday Times bestselling author Christopher Paolini.

During a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, xenobiologist Kira Navarez finds an alien relic that thrusts her into the wonders and nightmares of first contact. Epic space battles for the fate of humanity take her to the farthest reaches of the galaxy and, in the process, transform not only her - but the entire course of history.

***

This list is sure to grow as I stumble upon even more books to covet. Which books are on your most anticipated lists?

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Review: The Witcher Book Series

In preparation for the release of the Witcher series on Netflix I thought it would be a great idea to read the books first. Many people would have you believe that the Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski is one of the best fantasy series out there, but to me it turned out to be a decidedly average reading experience. After finishing the final book of the main story, The Lady of the Lake, I was left with a sense of seething disappointment. A week later I’m still annoyed at how it ended. Was this really what all the hype and glowing praise was for? Really?!

The narrative style throughout the series felt clunky, even jarring at times. Having a narrative that is being told as a story within a story deprives it of both immediacy and slows the pacing down considerably. There are times where Sapkowski goes off on a tangent, going into the minute detail of politics and warfare (and lists of names, so many names), leaving the plight of the main characters as a mere afterthought.

Don’t get me wrong, there are moments of brilliance. The world and premise is fascinating. You can’t help but fall in love with the Geralt, Ciri, Dandilion (Jaskier for fans of the show), Yennefer and the other party members who join up later. Ciri in particular steals the show and deservedly so, I think she might even be a more interesting character than the even Geralt himself.

The ending is where everything just falls apart. It almost feels as if Sapkowski got bored and decided to end things as quickly as possible. I won’t go into the particulars, but by the end the main driving force behind the entire story suddenly decides to change their mind. Just like that Ciri is no longer deemed important. This renders all the conflict and all the people that sacrificed their lives to protect her completely and utterly pointless. Even Ciri’s powers (powers that could alter everything!) are only used as a last ditch effort to provide the semblance of a happy ending.

The series had such great potential, but it just doesn't live up to the promise. The ending is lacklustre and unrewarding. Slogging through all the digressions and strange narrative structure to get to such an unsatisfying conclusion just wasn't worth it. My greatest disappointment is that the series could have been so much more.

In comparison The Witcher series on Netflix is truly amazing. Great acting, stunning visuals and far more action orientated. It's a far superior way to experience this fascinating world. And I almost always prefer the books. Seriously, just check out the trailer below and you'll understand what I mean.



If you are a fan of the show and want to read the books you might want to stick to just the two short story collections The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny. The novels might just break your heart with frustration.

The book series consists of a total of seven books: two short story collections, five novels containing the main story and a prequel novel. The suggested reading order for the series would be as follows:
  • The Last Wish (2007) [Short stories]
  • Sword of Destiny (2015) [Short stories]
  • Blood of Elves (2008)
  • The Time of Contempt (2012)
  • Baptism of Fire (2012)
  • The Tower of the Swallows (2016)
  • Lady of the Lake (2016)
  • Season of Storms (2018) [Prequel]

Once my disappointment subsides I might try to read Season of Storms and Sword of Destiny, but for now I've decided to put them aside.

The rating: 5.5/10 (Average)

***

Have you read the Witcher series? What did you think?

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2020 Reading and Blogging Goals

In 2019 I set myself three simple goals - to read 30 books, to read more comics and to review more. Most importantly I gave myself permission to have fun without stressing about deadlines, content schedules or any of the other perfectionist pressures I seem to impose on myself.

Taking the pressure off seemed to have done wonders! I managed to read 81 books (52 novels, 23 graphic novels, 4 novellas and 2 anthologies) with a total of 28,000 pages which made 2019 my best reading year since 2011.

This year I want to continue with keeping things simple and being less anxious about blogging:

Read a total of 40 books:
A total of 40 books should be easily manageable and is slightly higher than my goal of 30 books for the previous year.

Read at least 20 books I already own:
With a nod to 2020 I want to read at least 20 books I already own. I really need to chip away at Mount TBR the number of unread books I own is nearing the 500 mark and must be stopped.

Buy fewer books & read books within 2 months of buying them:
In 2019 I spent WAY too much money on books. I blame it on getting into comics. The largest proportion was spent on my steadily expanding collection of omnibus/collected editions. I thought books were expensive in South Africa, but comics are even MORE expensive. (Graphic novels only made up 38% of my purchases, but amounted to 77% of my total expenditure).

I purchased a total of 76 books during the year (47 novels and 29 graphic novels), but only managed to read 13 of them. This means I'm buying far more books than I'm actually reading. This year I want to read newly purchased books within 2 months of buying them in order to curb Mount TBR's exponential growth. This should also help keeping down the amount of books I buy (hopefully!)

Start doing quick reviews:
I tend to put off reviewing books unless they are review copies I received from publishers. In order to be able to do more reviews and actually review more backlist titles from my own shelves I'm going to try to start doing quick reviews. These reviews will be short, 2 paragraphs or less, and should be easier to write and post. Basically wrap-ups of books I didn't do full reviews for.

Here's hoping that 2020 will be filled with awesome books.

Let's do this!

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