Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Foundation


Based on the award-winning novels by Isaac Asimov, Foundation chronicles a band of exiles on their monumental journey to save humanity and rebuild civilization amid the fall of the Galactic Empire. Coming to Apple TV in 2021.

***

The forthcoming adaptation of Isaac Asimov's Foundation looks amazing. This is definitely something to look forward to and it might even tempt me into trying something Apple has brought into the world. We'll have to wait and see...

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Trilogy of Trilogies: 3 Fantasy Trilogies I Need To Read

The best things come in threes and nowhere is that more apparent than the fantasy genre's obsession with trilogies. As part of #WyrdAndWonder I take a look at 3 fantasy trilogies I still need to read.

Echoes of the Fall by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Book covers for the Echoes of the Fall Trilogy by Adrian Tchaikovsky

I absolutely adored Adrian Tchaikovsky's Shadows of the Apt series. From what I can gather his Echoes of the Fall trilogy has ties to that world, so I'm really excited to get to these.

The Broken Earth by N.K. Jemisin

Book covers for the Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season was one of those exceptional books that completely drew me in with its unique use of viewpoint and slowly unveiling the complexity and cruelty of its world. I've been waiting to get my hands on a physical copy of The Stone Sky before tackling the rest of the trilogy, but with things as they are I might just have to get an ebook copy and dive in.

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Book covers for the Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson

Yes, it's true. I haven't even read the Mistborn trilogy yet. I hang my head in shame. I have owed the box set of this since 2013 and while I'm not sure why I haven't gotten to it them yet, I will get there. Eventually...

***

Which trilogies are on your list?

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Space Force Is Coming!

The trailer for the latest Netflix series, Space Force, has just been released and it looks awesome!


With a great cast of actors and a sense of humour this seems right up my alley. Space Force looks like it could just be the comedy series we all need during these dark and unusual times. I can't wait for May 29!

Thursday, April 30, 2020

April Reading Wrap Up and O.W.L.S Readathon

What a strange time we live in. The COVID19 lockdown for South Africa started on 26 March.  Being confined at home with all the reading time in the world didn't sound all that bad. All the reading time we could ever want. Wasn't this what we always wished for?

Turns out being in the middle of a pandemic isn't all that conducive to reading. For the first two weeks I couldn't even pick up a book. Dealing with the anxiety, stress and guilt of the situation just sapped all my energy both physically and mentally. Normal went out the window and all I could do most days was nap.

Thankfully participating in the O.W.L.s Magical Readathon during April seems to have reignited my reading. Turns out having some definite reading prompts to complete is a great motivator. Checking them off the list was just so satisfying and just the distraction I needed.

I managed to complete all 12 of the O.W.L prompts.
Ancient Runes: Heart on the cover or in the title -  Every Heart A Doorway
Arithmancy: Read something outside your favorite genre - Immortal Hulk Vol 3
Astronomy: Night Classes: read majority of this book when it's dark outside - Immortal Hulk Vol 4
Care of Magical Creatures: Creature with a beak on the cover - Misspent Youth
Charms Lumos Maxima: White Cover -  The Cabin at the End of the World
Defense Against the Dark Arts: Book set at the sea/coast - The Skinner
Divinitation: Assign Numbers to your TBR. Use a random number generator to pick your read - Red Moon
Herbology: Title starts with an M - Micro
History of Magic: Book featuring witches/wizards  - Carpe Jugulum
Muggle Studies: Contemporary - Funny, You don't look autistic
Potions: Book under 150 pages - Spider-Men
Transfiguration: Book/series that includes shapeshifting - If It Bleeds


It seems my brain is slowly adjusting to the new normal and April turned out to be my best reading month ever. In the end I read 11 novels, 1 novella, 1 novella collection and 19 graphic novels for a grand total of 7840 pages.

While I'm able to read for fun, I'm still struggling to get back into reviewer mode. I only managed to do a full review for Stephen King's If It Bleeds. Hopefully with time that will sort itself out as well.

Some brief thoughts on the novels and novellas I read during April:

Red Moon by Kim Stanley Robinson: A good enough read, but very politics heavy and slow. Unlike what the title would suggest, half the book takes place on the Earth and there is constant ping pong between the Earth and the Moon. Not quite what I hoped it to be. 6/10 

Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin: Interesting take on the vampire mythos set on steamboats in the Mississippi. A bit slow at times and nothing truly innovative. 6.5/10

The Skinner by Neal Asher: Just as brilliant as the first time around. Fascinating biosphere, loads of action and snarky drones with that distinctive Asher flair. 8/10

Micro by Micheal Crichton and Richard Preston: Honey, I shrunk the Kids with a thriller makeover. A fun, popcorn read which takes some huge liberties with the science. 6/10

The Cabin at the end of the World by Paul Trembley: Good psychological thriller with some surprising twist and turns. Not at all what I expected, in a good way. 6.5/10

Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett: My third re-read and still as fun as ever. Vampires face off against the Witches and it doesn't end well for them. A fun, comfort read. 7/10

Ghostland an American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey: An interesting exploration why certain places are reported to be haunted. 6/10

Funny, You Don't Look Autistic by Micheal McCrelary: A funny, informative look at the life of someone on the autism spectrum. 6/10

Misspent Youth by Peter F. Hamilton: Experimental rejuvenation therapy gives a man a second chance at youth. Sadly it also seems to turn him into a nymphomaniac which detracts hugely from the few interesting concepts at play. Not one of Hamilton's best works. 5.5/10

The Lady from the Black Lagoon by Mallory O'Meara: Part memoir and part history lesson, it shines a light on the forgotten work of Milicent Patrick and exposes the rampant sexism and prejudice still at play in the entertainment industry. 7/10

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire: A wonderful novella exploring the lives of those that have to cope with living in the mundane world after visiting fantastical worlds. Great concept and captivating characters. 7/10


Friday, April 24, 2020

Review: If It Bleeds by Stephen King

Title: If It Bleeds
Author: Stephen King
Pages: 448
ISBN: 9781982137977
Publisher: Scribner
Published: 21 April 2020
Genre: Horror | Novellas
Source: Library


Buy it from:
The Book Depository

From #1 New York Times bestselling author, legendary storyteller, and master of short fiction Stephen King comes an extraordinary collection of four new and compelling novellas--Mr. Harrigan's Phone, The Life of Chuck, Rat, and the title story If It Bleeds--each pulling you into intriguing and frightening places.

Stephen King’s latest collection of four novellas, If It Bleeds, offers up some dark delights to satisfy and terrify both Constant Readers and those new to his work. In classic Stephen King fashion the tales plunge right to the heart of the human condition exploring our deepest fears and innermost desires in a way only King can.

Mr. Harrigan’s Phone: A teenager discovers that the iPhone of a deceased friend offers an otherworldly connection between the living and the dead. A connection that offers justice in an unjust world, but at what cost?
“In the twenty-first century, I think our phones are how we are wedded to the world. If so, it’s probably a bad marriage.”
A bittersweet, touching tale of lasting friendship and the bonds it forges. I particularly enjoyed that the story is set in a time where the internet and cell phones were just starting to be used and the huge transformation they would bring could hardly be imagined. A time that reminded me far too much of my own teenage years. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Life of Chuck: Mysterious billboards start to appear as the world begins to crumble away. A weird, yet poignant story dealing with mortality in more ways than one - the certainty and anticipation of death and the loss of the multitudes we each contain. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

If It Bleeds: After a school tragedy Holly Gibney from the Finders Keepers detective agency goes in search of what might be another outsider, a monster feeding on the pain and anguish inflicted by such tragedies. What she uncovers puts her and those closest to her in mortal danger. It should come as no surprise that the titular story turned out to be the best story in the collection. While reading this I was completely lost to the world. King draws you in from the very start and holds you at the edge of your seat until the nail-biting conclusion. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Rat: An aspiring author makes a Faustian bargain in order to tame those treacherous words preventing him from finishing his novel.
“...but when he looked at the screen, every word there seemed wrong. Every word seemed to have a better one hiding behind it, just out of sight.”
With this story King deftly encapsulates the hardships of creativity and the agonising act of creation. Just writing reviews I constantly struggle with those treacherous words, trying to find the just the right word or perfect phrase to convey my thoughts. Actual hours can be put into a single sentence and most often I fail. This story really hit very close to home and I can only imagine how much worse the struggle is for actual authors. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Reality was deep, and it was far. It held many secrets and went on forever.

Stephen King’s writing is a treat. With the bare minimum of words he manages to breathe life into his characters and the worlds they inhabit in a way so few other writers manage to do. Keen-eyed readers will even be able to spot some subtle self-referential nods to his other works. Each time I encountered one it instantly put a smile on my face.

If It Bleeds is a great collection of novellas filled with dark delights and the comforting embrace of a masterful storyteller.. Let’s face it, in times like these we are all in dire need of some of Dr. King’s Cough & Cold Remedy... well, the fictional kind at least. Highly recommended!

The Rating: 8/10 (Great!)



Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Opening Lines: Afterland by Lauren Beukes

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.

'Look at me,' Cole says. 'Hey.' Checking Miles's pupils, which are still huge. Shock and fear and the drugs working their way out of his system. Scrambling to remember her first-aid training. Check list as life-buoy. He's able to focus, to speak without slurring. He was groggy in the car, getting away. But soon he'll be capable of asking difficult questions she is not ready to answer. About the blood on her shirt, for example.


AFTERLAND by Lauren Beukes

In a future where most of the men are dead, Cole and her twelve-year-old son Miles are on the run from the most dangerous person she knows... her sister.

Miles is one of the lucky survivors of a global epidemic. But, in a world of women, that also makes him a hot commodity. The Department of Men wants to lock him away in quarantine, forever maybe.

A sinister cult of neon nuns wants to claim him for their own; the answer to their prayers. And boy traffickers are close on their heels, thanks to Billie, Cole's ruthless sister, who Cole thought she left for dead.

In a desperate chase across a radically changed America, Cole will do whatever it takes to get Miles to safety. Because she's all he's got

Friday, April 3, 2020

On My Radar: Afterland by Lauren Beukes

As weird as the world currently is there are still new books coming out, even if they might be limited to ebook releases for the time being. One of the titles I'm excited about is the latest novel from South African author Lauren Beukes. Like the current times the release dates are a bit complicated. There will be three different releases, each with a different date and different covers.

Afterland by Lauren Beukes

AFTERLAND by Lauren Beukes
South African release date: 6 April 2020 (ebook release with physical copies to follow)

In a future where most of the men are dead, Cole and her twelve-year-old son Miles are on the run from the most dangerous person she knows... her sister.

Miles is one of the lucky survivors of a global epidemic. But, in a world of women, that also makes him a hot commodity. The Department of Men wants to lock him away in quarantine, forever maybe.

A sinister cult of neon nuns wants to claim him for their own; the answer to their prayers. And boy traffickers are close on their heels, thanks to Billie, Cole's ruthless sister, who Cole thought she left for dead.

In a desperate chase across a radically changed America, Cole will do whatever it takes to get Miles to safety. Because she's all he's got.

US Cover for Afterland by Lauren Beukes
US Cover. Release date: 28 July 2020

UK Cover. Release date: 1 September 2020

***

I think the South African cover is my favourite. The neon colours just grabs your eye in a way the other covers just can't manage. Which cover do you prefer?

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Stay Far, Far Away Bingo Reading Challenge

We all need something to keep our minds off of the current state of the world. While trying to ease my anxiety during my lunch break at work today I came up with the Stay Far, Far Away Bingo reading challenge.

If you've ever played bingo, or seen bingo played you can participate. Each time you read a book related to a specific prompt you cross it out, get 5 in a row and you have successfully completed the challenge. It couldn't be easier.

(This beautiful, high-tech version courtesy of @LetsRead)

(A low-fi version for those of us still stuck with monochrome printers.)

The rules are simple:
  • You need to read one book per prompt. This means the same book can't be used for multiple prompts.
  • Not all books need to be science fiction. While most prompts are science fiction related there are some genre-agnostic prompts for the times you might need a change of pace.
  • You can take as much time to finish the challenge as you want. No deadlines. No pressure.

I hope this brings a small bit of fun into your reading lives. And while you are at it also check out The Book Tempter's TBR Book challenge. Quite a few of the challenges overlap, so you can do both at the same time and make your TBR a tad bit smaller.

Please feel free to share the books you ending up reading in the comments below or on Twitter using the hashtag #FarFarAwayBingo

Have fun and stay safe out there!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

New Arrivals: The Panic Edition

With everything going on in the world right now we need to find joy in the small things. For me that means buying books. The process of opening a newly arrived package and smelling the sweet aroma of new books provides an immense sense of comfort.

Since March is my birthday month I decided to spoil myself with a couple of books. The first two batches are books I ordered as a birthday gift to myself. I ordered these in February, but they took a while to get here.



And then the world went crazy. The first COVID-19 cases started to appear in South Africa, our currency nosedived and things are looking more uncertain as the number of cases increase daily. There was a flash book sale on a local online site. The selection of SFF titles wasn't great, but that didn't stop me.


I know nothing about these comic trades. They were cheap. I bought them.


The Lovecraft omnibus editions were total cover buys. I just love their pulpy horror look. The rest were the only science fiction and fantasy titles left, so I got them all.

Some people panic buy toilet paper, I buy books.

Wash your hands, stay isolated with some good books and be safe out there!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Review: Light of Impossible Stars by Gareth L. Powell

Title: Light of Impossible Stars
Author: Gareth L. Powell
Pages: 364
ISBN: 9781785655241
Publisher: Titan Books
Published: 18 February 2020
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Purchased


Buy it from:
The Book Depository

Low on fuel and hunted by the Fleet of Knives, the sentient warship Trouble Dog follows a series of clues that lead her to the Intrusion - an area of space where reality itself becomes unstable. But with human civilisation crumbling, what difference can one battered old ship have against an invincible armada?

Meanwhile, Cordelia Pa and her step-brother eke out their existence salvaging artefacts from an alien city. But when Cordelia starts hearing the city's song in her head, strange things start happening around her. What extraordinary affinity does she have for this abandoned technology, and how can it possibly help the Trouble Dog?

After reading Embers of War I absolutely fell in love with Trouble Dog, a sassy sentient spaceship with attitude in spades and her small crew of flawed, traumatised people as they try to make amends for their violent pasts by saving lives instead of taking them. Embers of War was a great introduction to some fascinating characters, a universe filled with endless promise and an ending that hinted at a discovery that could change their civilization forever.

I couldn’t wait to dive into the second book, Fleet of Knives, but by the time I was ready to pick it up the release of Light of Impossible Stars was so near I decided to wait just a bit longer in order to binge the rest of the trilogy in one go.

"You could have been a bit less blunt."
"I’m a warship, Captain. I don’t do 'less blunt'".

Fleet of Knives was an enjoyable read, but it felt like an interlude with groundwork being laid for something bigger and better. A quintessential example of middle book syndrome. It was great to fly with Trouble Dog again, but it just didn’t captivate me to the same extent as the impressive Embers of War. This time around the alien engineer Nod absolutely stole the show and overshadowed everyone else with a cuteness overload.

Light of Impossible Stars, the final book in the trilogy, is very different in tone from Embers of War and things quickly take a very dark turn. As everything falls apart around them the Trouble Dog and her crew are thrust into a struggle for survival, not just for themselves but for humanity as a whole. What difference can one ship even make?
"And still the carnage went on. It permeated our dreams and flavoured the food we forced ourselves to eat. We were impotent witnesses out here, beyond the borders of human-explored space, unable to influence the apocalypse as it played out in second-hand, static-jagged fragments. Nothing we could do or say could possibly save any of the souls tipping relentlessly into the dark; and yet we couldn’t turn away. This was our catastrophe as much as anyone’s; on this day, we were all simply human beings cowering from an implacable force of nature - the latest in a series of bottlenecks that had tried, over the millennia, to winnow our species to nothing." (page 22)
I had high hopes for the trilogy and I really wanted to love Light of Impossible Stars, but unfortunately it fell just short of my expectations. I was here for Trouble Dog and her crew. I wanted to know their story and how they could possibly beat the impossible odds they face. Unfortunately the narrative shifts away from Trouble Dog and instead focuses on the introduction of Cordelia Pa, and other brand new characters who could hold the keys to humanity’s survival. This shift felt jarring to me and while I enjoyed Cordelia’s story it sidelined the characters I had the biggest bond with. It almost felt as if the Trouble Dog and her crew were demoted to supporting character status in their own novel. Had Cordelia Pa been introduced in Fleet of Knives, the shift would not have been as jarring and would've provided the reader with more time to grow attached to her character in a more gradual way.


As always Trouble Dog and Nod kept stealing the show from their human counterparts and they are somehow even more endearing this time round. Trouble Dog still brings all the sass and attitude to the party, but she has also grown immensely from the first novel exhibiting more humanity and compassion as she learns how to deal with loss and grief.  Her crew becomes her found family and it's this bond which makes it such an engaging read. Nod provides some much needed comic relief with its constant exasperation at the Hound of Difficulty's recklessness adding even more damage for it to repair.

Light of Impossible Stars is a very fast read. The pacing is relentless, leaving you breathless by the time you reach the final confrontation. There are moments of joy, sadness and poignant redemption, but they almost go by in a blur not leaving enough time for things to sink in. The ending is satisfying and the last chapter hints at even more adventures to come for Trouble Dog.

My biggest criticism of Light of Impossible Stars, and the trilogy as a whole, is that it favours action over depth. The relentless pace of the story doesn’t leave enough room to explore the impact and implications of events and revelations on the characters. Taking the time to do so would’ve made the story a far richer, more emotional experience and elevated it from a very good read to something far more impactful.

Should you pick up the Embers of War Trilogy? Hell, yes! The Hound of Difficulty demands it!

The Verdict:
Light of Impossible Stars offers a satisfying conclusion to the Embers of War trilogy, but doesn’t quite live up to its full potential. The introduction of brand new characters this late in the series shifts the focus away from Trouble Dog and her crew and leaves little room to fully explore the consequences of events, diminishing the impact of the story somewhat. It's still a very good read offering loads of action and some truly memorable characters. If more adventures await the Trouble Dog I’ll definitely be along for the ride!

The Rating: 7/10 (Very Good)

Monday, March 9, 2020

Making Time To Read

Recently I haven't been reading much. Job stress left me a drained, exhausted husk with barely enough energy to lift a book, let alone read it. This wasn't a reading slump. I wanted to read, I just couldn't muster the energy or time to do it. Being surrounded by huge TBR-piles just heaped even more stress on top of everything, causing my anxiety to skyrocket.

I had to do something.

This past weekend I decided it was time to finally put aside some serious time for reading. I switched off all my devices, barricaded myself in my room and attempted to read for 24 hours. I'm long past the age where 24 continuous hours would be a possibility so I settled for spacing the 24 hours over the entire weekend.

I started off well, but on Saturday life interfered, as it normally does, and I lost out on quite a few reading hours. (Napping due to a power outage wasn't the greatest idea. I overslept somewhat...).

By Sunday evening I was running out of hours and had to settle for a total of 16 hours of reading. My brain was a relaxed, buzzing pile of mush gorged on fantastic stories. For the first time in a very long time I managed to  finish reading, not just one, but two novels of over a single weekend.

While I didn't quite reach my initial goal I couldn't be happier with the result. It was a great way to get rid of all the stress, I read some awesome stories and my TBR-pile got just that little bit smaller.

I highly recommend setting aside a weekend to devote solely to reading. It's worth it!



Sunday, March 1, 2020

Review: Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

Title: Wanderers
Author: Chuck Wendig
Pages: 782
ISBN: 9781781088104
Publisher: Solaris
Published: 1 June 2019
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher


Buy it from:
The Book Depository

A decadent rock star. A deeply religious radio host. A disgraced scientist. And a teenage girl who may be the world's last hope.

Shana wakes up one morning to discover her little sister in the grip of a strange malady. She appears to be sleepwalking. She cannot talk and cannot be woken up. And she is heading with inexorable determination to a destination that only she knows. But Shana and her sister are not alone. Soon they are joined by a flock of sleepwalkers from across America, on the same mysterious journey. And like Shana, there are other “shepherds” who follow the flock to protect their friends and family on the long dark road ahead.

For on their journey, they will discover an America convulsed with terror and violence, where this apocalyptic epidemic proves less dangerous than the fear of it. As the rest of society collapses all around them–and an ultraviolent militia threatens to exterminate them–the fate of the sleepwalkers depends on unraveling the mystery behind the epidemic. The terrifying secret will either tear the nation apart–or bring the survivors together to remake a shattered world.

Wanderers is a hefty tome, both in size and subject matter. It’s a grim, prescient read that ebbs and flows with melancholy as the world is ravaged by not one, but two mysterious outbreaks. The first turns people into sleepwalkers. Without warning they become completely unresponsive to outside stimuli and start heading unwaveringly towards an unknown destination. Trying to restrain or impede their progress in any way has dire consequences. The second outbreak is far more deadly, initially manifesting as flu-like symptoms it transitions into madness and ultimately death. It’s the end of the world. Will anyone survive?

Through the lens of a collapsing society plagued by disease Chuck Wendig explores American society in all its messy glory. Throughout the narrative there’s a layer of bigotry, racism, sexism and fanaticism, both political and religious, which acts as the driving force behind the worst of what humanity has to offer. But in all that darkness there’s also hope - while the world falls apart there are still people who show compassion to each other. The shepherds, the families of those making up the flock of sleepwalkers, still care for and protect those they hold dear. Even when they know they will likely not survive they carry on in the belief that the flock will outlast them.

Wendig deftly interweaves so many diverse concepts into the story that you are always left amazed at each new revelation. Nothing is ever quite as it seems. Just as you think you have a handle on everything he drops another bombshell forcing you to reevaluate everything. Both the nature and source of the sleepwalker illness is something far different from what I ever expected.

The characters are engaging and fleshed out. Their vastly different backgrounds make for a very interesting dynamic as their paths converge. Shana Stewart is desperately trying to care for her sister, Nessie, who might just have been the first of the flock. Benjamin Ray, a disgraced CDC doctor tries to uncover the nature of the disease in order to find a cure. Pastor Matthew discovers the limelight, inciting religious fervor at the coming signs of the Apocalypse. And finally Pete Corley an aging rockstar who ran away from his family looking for one last hurrah. While I didn’t care much for some of them, they all have a crucial role to play and there’s a quite poignant redemption arc for one of the characters.

Hell, nobody’s okay,” Dove said. “Maybe we never were, and we damn sure aren’t now. But we’re here. Until we’re not. And that’s all I find it fair to ask for.”

Reading Wanderers is a slow, melancholy experience. It's grim, prescient and impactful in the most unsettling of ways. With news coverage of the Coronavirus outbreak it was a surreal reading experience hitting far too close to home. The ending floored me, driving home a horrific twist I didn’t anticipate and elevating the story to a whole different level.

The Verdict:
Wanderers is a grim, prescient read that ebbs and flows with melancholy and hits far too close to home with the current Coronavirus outbreak. A great apocalyptic read in the most unsettling of ways. Highly recommended!

The Rating: 8/10 (Great!)

[Trigger warning: Rape (Chapter 50) ]

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

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?

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