Thursday, December 31, 2020

How to support the blog

Over the past year I've been contemplating moving away from affiliate links which barely work and finding ways for people to directly support the blog. Worlds in Ink is, and will remain, a passion project, but it takes a lot of time, effort and money to keep going. Books aren't cheap. While I am very privileged to work with some great publishers there are still titles which fall by the wayside due to budgetary constraints. And any show of appreciation, no matter how small, is always a great motivation to continue on.

I don't want to generate income from the blog. Starting a Patreon or asking for Paypal donations is not a viable option as those come with a boatload of tax implications. Ideally I want the blog to magically convert whatever revenue comes in into more books to read and review on the blog,

I've looked into creating an Amazon wishlist with titles I'm interested in for supporters to purchase should they be so inclined, but that comes with multiple issues. Since I live in South Africa you can only get 4 international parcels per year before you have to register as an importer and you are only allowed to receive 2 gifts which are exempt from custom duties. This means only big ticket items would be worth the effort and I wouldn't expect that amount of generosity from anyone.

No, problem I thought. I'll add only digital items and avoid that whole mess. This time Amazon threw a spanner in the works. You can only gift Kindle books to people living in the US. *Cue sad music and crying in the rain*

So that reallyleaves me with only one option. Gift cards - the electronic kind! Amazon or Kobo gift cards will allow me to purchase ebooks which a) work in my region and b) I can actually have access to. I own a Kobo ereader, but can easily read Kindle books on my tablet and might look into getting a Kindle in the future as well.

If you want to show your appreciation for what I do here on the blog you can purchase an eGift card from either Kobo or Amazon for any amount and have it emailed to crusaderofchaos[at]

Any support would be greatly appreciated! I know things are tough out there so nobody should feel obliged in any way, this is totally voluntary and I will continue shouting into the void regardless.

And if there are any millionaires out there I might be in the market for a new Kindle *hint, hint*.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Best Reads of 2020

2020 has been a hellish year. A year filled with stress, anxiety, huge uncertainty and immense loss. I don't know how I would've managed to stay sane if I didn't have books to escape into. While I managed to read 74 books this year most of them are lost in a murky haze. I know I read them, I know I enjoyed them at the time and that's about all I can remember. I blame my overwhelmed brain, not the books.

However there are books that stand out, books that stayed with me and manage to ignite a spark of joy or strong memory when I think about them. That's despite everything else that's happened this year.

So here, in no particular order are the best books I read in 2020.  

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
Cover for A Memory Called Empire

A Memory Called Empire is a remarkable, beautifully written novel exploring a myriad of themes — identity, colonialism, the persistence of memory, the power of language, the duplicity of words and how it shapes and builds society. It also examines the power of an individual, and of individual identity, and how that power can reshape the world even when pitted against the might of an entire empire 

Ancestral Night and Machine by Elizabeth Bear
Cover for Ancestral Night

Ancestral Night is a riveting space opera, filled with loads of adventure and an entertaining spin on the big dumb object trope. With homages to Iain M. Banks, fantastic use of the science behind Alcubierre drives and an absolutely compelling universe Ancestral Night was the hard sci-fi hit my brain needed.

Cover of Machine by Elizabeth Bear

Honourable mention: This might be cheating a bit, but I'm going to squeeze in Machine, the second book in the White Space series, Machine, here. While not a direct sequel to Ancestral Night it expands the White Space universe even further. I absolutely loved returning to this setting and seeing it from the angle of the universe's emergency services. A slightly unconventional angle that works surprisingly well.

Wanderers by Chuck Wendig
Cover for Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

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. 

The Warship by Neal Asher
Cover for The Warship by Neal Asher

A simply awesome read filled with colossal explosions, terrifying tech and epic space battles like only Neal Asher can deliver. Pure escape in book form. Need I say more? 

A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
Cover for A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

This was a re-read for me and like the first time around, A Fire Upon the Deep simply blew me away all over again. The Tines with their pack minds and the concepts behind the Zones of Thought still remain fascinating. An amazing space opera that still hits all the marks.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Review: Machine by Elizabeth Bear

Cover of Machine by Elizabeth Bear
Title: Machine
Author: Elizabeth Bear
Series: White Space #2
Pages: 496
ISBN: 9781534403017
Publisher: Saga Press
Published: 20 October 2020
Genre: Science Fiction / Space Opera
Source: Review copy from publisher

Meet Doctor Jens.

She hasn’t had a decent cup of coffee in fifteen years. Her workday begins when she jumps out of perfectly good space ships and continues with developing treatments for sick alien species she’s never seen before. She loves her life. Even without the coffee.

But Dr. Jens is about to discover an astonishing mystery: two ships, one ancient and one new, locked in a deadly embrace. The crew is suffering from an unknown ailment and the shipmind is trapped in an inadequate body, much of her memory pared away.

Unfortunately, Dr. Jens can’t resist a mystery and she begins doing some digging. She has no idea that she’s about to discover horrifying and life-changing truths.

When I read Ancestral Night I fell in love with the White Space universe. Elizabeth Bear has managed to create a universe of vast potential, filled with fascinating alien races, ancient relics and endless wonders waiting to be discovered. Ancestral Night was a great introduction and Machine, the second White Space novel, expands the universe further from a rather unconventional angle. Ever wondered what galactic emergency services and medical care would be like? Machine explores that question with a heavy dose of mystery thrown in. ER meets NCIS in space!

“We saved lives. We alleviated suffering, and I’ve lived with enough suffering to know that any time you can take the edge off it, repair it for even one creature, you are creating a net good in the universe. Not because the universe cared. The universe was vast and didn’t even care enough to be called implacable. But because life cared, and life had ethics and morals and obligations to one another.”

Machine follows the exploits of Dr. Brookllyn Jens, a rescue specialist with nerves of steel. Not only does she jump out of spaceships to come to the rescue of others, she does it all while living with chronic pain. And it’s this daily struggle, this integral part of her that makes her such a compelling and complex character.

“The pain still existed. It wasn’t gone. It just didn’t saturate my awareness the way it had before. It was a sensation, not a prison. It’s even in the words, isn’t it? We talk about being hungry, being thirsty, being distracted, being tired. But we are in pain. Pain is a trap. It surrounds us. It’s a cage: a thing we can’t get out of.”

When a rescue mission doesn’t go quite as planned Dr. Jens uncovers hidden secrets that shakes her to her core and shows that even the seemingly idyllic Synarche society harbors injustice. An injustice she has the power to bring to light.

Machine is a captivating read from the very start. It deals with issues of ethics, morality and the social contract in thought-provoking ways and even the concept of a machine takes on a multitude of meanings. While the pacing is uneven at times, there’s a very strong sense of foreboding that compels you to keep reading and even the slower sections just fly by. The story has some unexpected twists and turns culminating in an ending that will leave you breathless.

The cameos by characters from Ancestral Night are a nice touch, but I really loved the fact that Goodlaw Cheeirilaq has such a pivotal role to play. She’s my favourite alien law enforcement officer ever. Who doesn't love a mantoid alien sporting a bolero jacket and badge? Cheeirilaq definitely deserves a novel of her own.

My only criticism is that, given the parties involved, the way the core mystery is exposed felt too convoluted and stretched the bounds of credulity to breaking point. I’m sure there could have been a more elegant, less dangerous way to go about things…

Machine is a very good read that’s well worth checking out! While it can be read as a standalone I suggest you pick up Ancestral Night first to ensure maximum enjoyment.

The Verdict:
ER meets NCIS in space! Elizabeth Bear’s Machine is a riveting return to the White Space universe and offers a truly fascinating look at emergency services in a galactic setting. Bear deftly plays around with the questions of morality and ethics and the main protagonist, Dr. Brookllyn Jens, is one heck of character with some excellent disability representation. Machine is definitely well worth checking out!

The Rating: 7/10 (Very Good)

Thursday, December 17, 2020

A Quick Update

Despite what some people might think I have not been abducted by aliens or sucked beyond the event horizon of a black hole. Although, given the circumstances one of those might not have been too bad (the alien abduction one provided that they were friendly and probe-averse).

I had a whole reading holiday planned where I could finally have enough time to make a small dent in Mount TBR and get to all the books I've been dying to read. Unfortunately COVID had other plans. Two days before my leave was supposed to start I got dizzy at work. I thought it was a drop in blood sugar levels. The next day I felt pretty good, but I had developed a slight scratchiness in my throat resulting in an occasional cough. I powered through the day and then I was officially on leave.

Over the weekend I felt tired and had a slight fever so stayed in bed. On Monday I was informed that a colleague had tested positive for COVID and on Tuesday I went to get tested too. The test was painless and quick. Unlike my expectation of them ramming it down as far as it could go the swab was barely a tickle and the worst thing was the desire to sneeze. There seemed to be a huge upswing in cases in my town with loads of other people also getting tested on the same day. 

My results took two days to get back. Turns out I was COVID positive. By that time I was already pretty sure of the outcome as I had lost my sense of smell so the result wasn't much of a surprise. I'm extremely lucky that I had the mildest of symptoms - a slight fever, some coughing whenever I got out of bed and extreme tiredness. The tiredness is something on another level. You can't adequately explain it to someone else. You just don't have any energy to do anything. Even lifting up a book seems to be too much of an effort and the most basic of tasks completely wipes you out.

For two weeks I was completely out of commission just staying in bed and watching the occasional YouTube video when I wasn't napping. Today is the first day I felt up to getting up to try to do something productive. I'm still tired, but I think I'm over the worst of it now. I might even be able to pick up a book soon...

Mask up, stay safe and take care of yourselves.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

On My Radar: Machine by Elizabeth Bear

I really enjoyed Elizabeth Bear's Ancestral Night. The White Space universe is truly fascinating and on 20 October, Machine, another book set in the same universe will be released. I can't wait!

Cover for Machine by Elizabeth Bear

Machine by Elizabeth Bear
ISBN: 9781534403017
Release date: 20 October 2020

Meet Doctor Jens.

She hasn’t had a decent cup of coffee in fifteen years. Her workday begins when she jumps out of perfectly good space ships and continues with developing treatments for sick alien species she’s never seen before. She loves her life. Even without the coffee.

But Dr. Jens is about to discover an astonishing mystery: two ships, one ancient and one new, locked in a deadly embrace. The crew is suffering from an unknown ailment and the shipmind is trapped in an inadequate body, much of her memory pared away.

Unfortunately, Dr. Jens can’t resist a mystery and she begins doing some digging. She has no idea that she’s about to discover horrifying and life-changing truths

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Opening Lines: A Deepness in the Sky

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 manhunt extended across more than one hundred light years and eight centuries. It had always been a secret search, unacknowledged even among some of the participants."

A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge

After thousands of years searching, humans stand on the verge of first contact with an alien race. Two human groups: the Qeng Ho, a culture of free traders, and the Emergents, a ruthless society based on the technological enslavement of minds. 

The group that opens trade with the aliens will reap unimaginable riches. But first, both groups must wait at the aliens' very doorstep for their strange star to relight and for their planet to reawaken, as it does every two hundred and fifty years.... 

Then, following terrible treachery, the Qeng Ho must fight for their freedom and for the lives of the unsuspecting innocents on the planet below, while the aliens themselves play a role unsuspected by the Qeng Ho and Emergents alike.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

New Arrivals: A Misplaced Book Haul

At the end of March, before the world went all crazy, I received one last package of review copies from Jonathan Ball Publishers (a HUGE thank you to them!). In all the madness I never got round to sharing images of the books. This makes this a somewhat misplaced book haul. Coming across the picture brought some much needed joy and reminded me of the awesome books still waiting on Mount TBR.

The titles I received were: The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt, High Fire by Eoin Colfer and Infinity Son by Adam Silvera.

Reading for the Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards took priority, but with that now over I can't wait to dive in!

Monday, September 7, 2020

Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards 2020: The Winners

After much deliberation and loads of chaos among the judges it's finally time to announce the winners of the 2020 Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards. These are the best science fiction, fantasy and short works published in 2019 as determined by the SCKA panel of eight book bloggers. Deciding on the ultimate winners was not an easy task. 
The winners of the 2020 SCKA awards are...

Cover for A Memory Called Empire
  • A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

  • Realm of Ash by Tasha Suri

  • David Mogo, Godhunter by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

  • The Rosewater Trilogy AKA Wormwood Trilogy by Tade Thompson

  • The Deep by Rivers Solomon


Huge congratulations to all the winners! Your sedimentary monoliths of excellence* will be winging their way to you in a non-ballistic fashion. Treasure them, they are more than deserved!
* Due to shipping costs monoliths have been shrunk into pebble form for better manageability and easier conveyance.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

A Decade of Blogging

It was the Spring of 2010, a far happier, more innocent time for us all. Something must have been in the air, because that was the time a bunch of geeky South African book lovers decided to try out this whole book blogging thing. It all happened more or less spontaneously and as luck (or fate) would have it a bunch of us launched our respective book blogs around the same time.  At that time book blogs were a relatively new concept and especially in South Africa the book blogging community was just starting out. Working with publishers was pretty much unheard of and review copies were something reserved for mainstream media outlets.

Worlds In Ink officially launched on 5 September 2010 with a truly horrendous review of Iain M. Banks' The Algebraist. (Trust me. It's bad. The review, not the book. You definitely don't need to go looking for it). When I decided to become a book blogger I didn't quite know what I was letting myself in for. While I'm a voracious reader, writing has never been something that comes naturally to me. Especially with English being my second language expressing myself adequately and coherently can be an agonising process with literal hours spent shifting words around trying to find the perfect phrase. And it never seems good enough. I think that's one of the reasons I've never been a very prolific blogger, but I'd like to think that, at the very least, I've improved immensely since that very first post.

Many of the people who started out at the same time as I did have moved on to other things. Somehow, against all odds, I'm still plugging away at this blogging thing and still enjoying what I do. These past ten years have been a truly amazing journey. I've met some awesome people along the way and forged friendships through this shared love of books. Friendships which would have never been possible otherwise.

And of course the blog wouldn’t even exist without the brilliant publicists and publishers with whom I've had the pleasure to work with over the years. Pan Macmillan SA will forever have a special place in my heart for being the very first publisher willing to take a chance on my little fledgling blog. The wonderful folks at Jonathan Ball Publishers continue to spoil me with a treasure trove of books (actual physical review copies!) on a regular basis and each time a parcel arrives from them I can't help but squee in delight. A huge thank you also has to go to Umuzi, Penguin Random House, Tor UK, Tor, Forge, Hodder, Gollancz, Solaris and Tachyon Press and all the other international publishers who make digital  review copies available to us folks at the tip of Africa. Words aren’t adequate to express my gratitude for all your continued support over the last decade.

I still can't believe that I've been doing this for ten years. A decade seems like an eternity and yet the time just flew past. I hope that I'll be able to do this until I go to the great library in the sky when Mount TBR inevitably crushes me to death. Until then there are books waiting to be read...

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Review: Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear

Cover of Ancestral Night
Title: Ancestral Night
Author: Elizabeth Bear
Series: White Space #1
Pages: 512
ISBN: 9781534403000
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Published: 5 March 2019
Genre: Science Fiction / Space Opera
Source: Library loan

Buy it from:
The Book Depository

Haimey Dz thinks she knows what she wants. She thinks she knows who she is. She is wrong.

A routine salvage mission uncovers evidence of a terrible crime and relics of powerful ancient technology. Haimey and her small crew run afoul of pirates at the outer limits of the Milky Way, and find themselves on the run and in possession of universe-changing information.

When authorities prove corrupt, Haimey realizes that she is the only one who can protect her galaxy-spanning civilization from the implications of this ancient technology—and the revolutionaries who want to use it for terror and war. Her quest will take her careening from the event horizon of the supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s core to the infinite, empty spaces at its edge.

To save everything that matters, she will need to uncover the secrets of ancient intelligences lost to time—and her own lost secrets, which she will wish had remained hidden from her forever.

Ancestral Night had me captivated as soon as it mentioned an Alcubierre drive. Bear takes the use of Alcubierre drives, plays around with all the ramifications of their use, and takes that as the starting point to build an absolutely fascinating, thriving universe around. The White Space universe feels lived in, populated by both aliens and humans with their own distinct characteristics and governed by the Synarche, a multi-species governing body, founded on the principle of using resources for the greater good.

I loved the trio of salvagers, well most of them. Haimey has a wicked sense of humour and her interactions with Singer, the spaceship AI, provides for some hilarious snark. The third member, Connla, wasn’t all that interesting. He seemed almost too good to be true and the repeated descriptions of his physique became slightly grating. The introduction of the space pirate Zanya not only drives the conflict but also provides for a fascinating juxtaposition of beliefs. Her societal outlook differs vastly from Haimey’s and she ultimately acts as the catalysts which forces Haimey to confront the trauma of her past and to explore the various transformations she has gone through.

Bear explores the malleability of memory, the impact of trauma and the concept of identity in interesting ways. Some sections focusing on Haimey’s past could have been condensed slightly to prevent repetition and to make it feel less like a detour from the main storyline without compromising on the pacing.

There are moments that left me completely awestruck where I couldn’t quite believe the direction the story takes. Ancestral Night is a riveting space opera, filled with loads of adventure and an entertaining spin on the big dumb object trope. With homages to Iain M. Banks, fantastic use of the science behind Alcubierre drives and an absolutely compelling universe Ancestral Night was the hard sci-fi hit my brain craved. I definitely want to see where Bear takes us next. Highly recommended!

The Rating: 7.5/10 (Very Good)

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Review: Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O'Keefe

Title: Velocity Weapon
Author: Megan E. O'Keefe
Series: The Protectorate #1
Pages: 544
ISBN: 9780316419598
Publisher: Orbit
Published: 11 June 2019
Genre: Science Fiction / Space Opera
Source: Purchased

Buy it from:
The Book Depository

Sanda and Biran Greeve were siblings destined for greatness. A high-flying sergeant, Sanda has the skills to take down any enemy combatant. Biran is a savvy politician who aims to use his new political position to prevent conflict from escalating to total destruction.

However, on a routine maneuver, Sanda loses consciousness when her gunship is blown out of the sky. Instead of finding herself in friendly hands, she awakens 230 years later on a deserted enemy warship controlled by an AI who calls himself Bero. The war is lost. The star system is dead. Ada Prime and its rival Icarion have wiped each other from the universe.

Now, separated by time and space, Sanda and Biran must fight to put things right.

Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O’Keefe starts off the Protectorate series with a bang - an epic space opera featuring devastating weapons, a rogue AI, ruthless political machinations and a hint of an even deeper mystery at the core of everything. It’s one of those books where you can’t really say much about it without potentially spoiling things.

This is my first introduction to O’Keefe’s work and I really enjoyed her writing style. The worldbuilding is kept down to the essentials and slowly builds up into a captivating whole as you progress through the story and more of the elements slot into place.

The characters are compelling with three narrative strands being weaved together. The major story is told through the viewpoints of Sansa and her brother Biran as they try to navigate the conflict between Ada Prime and Icarion and find each other among the detritus of a battle fought on two different fronts. The third viewpoint character, Jules, provides a larger perspective at the darker underside of the world with hints of some major revelations to come.

Velocity Weapon excels at delivering exhilarating twists and turns which will keep you glued to the pages. I dare you not to fall in love with Grippy and Bero and I can’t wait to discover what adventures await. Recommended!

The Rating: 7/10 (Very Good)

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Should SFF Classics Be Required Reading?

There have been some recent Twitter discussions about whether classic SFF novels are important and if they should be required reading for someone who wants to get into speculative fiction. Does reading the classics make you a better fan? I have some thoughts on the importance of speculative fiction classics and a Twitter thread just wasn’t enough space…

Think of SFF as a house. You stumble upon this beautiful futuristic looking building, it looks interesting and at your approach the door slides open with a welcoming chime. You enter the building and discover limitless corridors lined with colourful doors. Each door leads to a different room and every room is furnished in their own unique way. Some offer dark delights, some have futuristic starscapes and others open onto magical landscapes. They are all there for you to explore to your heart’s content.

Where two corridors meet you find a plain wooden door with a tarnished plaque etched with one word - basement. Wooden stairs lead down into a dim interior illuminated with a single flickering light bulb. If you are interested you can go investigate down there and poke around the storage boxes, check the wiring and pipes and inspect the foundations. They are important, they hold things up, and they are the foundational base the structure rests on. But you are not required to go into the basement. You don’t need to delve through the dust and dirt. You can just run around the beautiful, airy rooms and discover the untold wonders they each hold. Without ever having set foot in the basement you can be perfectly content.

Inspired by what you see you can go on to add a second storey to the building. A story filled with wonders of your own making. Something a little shinier, more modern and perhaps even a little better than what came before. The basement will always be there. Once you are ready, when it calls to you and the time is right you can go explore that old basement too.

Among the dust and grime you’ll discover wonders tucked away in dark corners. You’ll find boxes filled with interesting things to examine and poke. Things that can fuel your sense of wonder, things to show just how far the world has come, things to give newfound context, to inspire and to be refurbished into something brand new. There will be things that still hold up well while others have crumbled away into moldy piles. But be warned to get to the treasures you are bound to have to wade through dusty cobwebs, face scary spiders and you might even uncover a skeleton or two…

With that overly long metaphor (which I’m kinda proud of) out of the way I think it boils down to the following. Do the classics matter? Yes and no. Having to read the classics should never have to be a requirement for entering SFF fandom. There shouldn’t be any gatekeepers with checklists quizzing newcomers about some obscure knowledge that signifies your bona fides as a ‘true fan’ . There are so many fantastic science fiction, fantasy and horror books being released each year that readers can be perfectly content without ever having to resort to reading the classics.

Does this mean the classics are obsolete? Definitely not. The classics are the foundations of the genre. While many classics are problematic when measured against modern norms they can offer useful historic context. Some classics have stood the test of time and still offer that same sense of wonder and cultural relevance as the day they were published. But there’s often a disconnect between modern readers and older material. Trying to force someone new to the genre to read something just because it is a classic and you HAVE to read it, is a surefire way to quickly douse any spark of curiosity they might have had.

A reader will know when they are ready to go explore the classics if they want to. There should never be a sense of obligation to read anything. Familiarity with the classics doesn’t make you a superior SFF fan. There aren’t any entry exams and you won’t be ranked on any leaderboards. Discover what you love. Read widely, read what makes you happy and most importantly have fun.


What do you think? Should the classics be required reading?

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Opening Lines: Ancestral Night by Elizabeth 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 boat didn't have a name. He wasn’t deemed significant enough to need a name by the authorities and registries that govern such things. He had a registration number—657-2929-04, Human/Terra—and he had a class, salvage tug, but he didn’t have a name.

Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear

A space salvager and her partner make the discovery of a lifetime that just might change the universe in this wild, big-ideas space opera from Hugo Award-winning author Elizabeth Bear. Halmey Dz and her partner Connla Kurucz are salvage operators, living just on the inside of the law...usually. Theirs is the perilous and marginal existence--with barely enough chance of striking it fantastically big--just once--to keep them coming back for more. They pilot their tiny ship into the scars left by unsuccessful White Transitions, searching for the relics of lost human and alien vessels. But when they make a shocking discovery about an alien species that has been long thought dead, it may be the thing that could tip the perilous peace mankind has found into full-out war.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Review: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

Picture of the cover for A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
Title: A Memory Called Empire
Author: Arkady Martine
Pages: 461
ISBN: 9780529001594
Publisher: Tor
Published: 26 March 2019
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Purchased

Buy it from:
The Book Depository

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn't an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.

Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan's unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.

In A Memory Called Empire, the first book in the Teixcalaan series, Arkady Martine presents a truly engrossing story about a galactic empire in decline. From afar the Teixcalaanli Empire appears to be a wondrous, pristine bastion of civilisation subsuming barbaric worlds in order to bestow the gift of civilisation to them all. Through the eyes of newly minted ambassador, Mahit Dzmare, we soon discover that the seemingly pristine facade is splattered with blood, rot and decay. While trying to uncover what happened to her predecessor Mahit has to navigate the political landscape of a culture she is just barely equipped to handle.

"But there was a point in knowing how the last person to hold all the knowledge you held had died, if only so that you could correct the mistake and keep your line alive a little longer, a little better. To stretch the continuity of memory just a bit farther, out on the edges of human space where it feathered away into the black." (p 135)

A Memory Called Empire is a remarkable, beautifully written novel exploring a myriad of themes — identity, colonialism, the persistence of memory, the power of language, the duplicity of words and how it shapes and builds society. It also examines the power of an individual, and of individual identity, and how that power can reshape the world even when pitted against the might of an entire empire.

This is a slower, intricate read which demands that you take your time to enjoy it to its fullest. It rewards the attentive reader with beautiful prose, nuanced worldbuilding and fascinating concepts to unpack and ponder. Without a doubt this has been one of the best novels I’ve read this year. My review is woefully inadequate to even try to do it justice. Highly recommended!

Addendum: A Memory Called Empire has just won the Hugo award for best novel so I'm not the only one who thinks it's great.

The Rating: 8/10 (Great!)

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Review: The Outside by Ada Hoffman

Title: The Outside
Author: Ada Hoffmann
Pages: 400
ISBN: 9780857668141
Publisher: Angry Robot
Published: 11 June 2019
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Purchased

Buy it from:
Angry Robot

Autistic scientist Yasira Shien has developed a radical new energy drive that could change the future of humanity. But when she activates it, reality warps, destroying the space station and everyone aboard. The AI Gods who rule the galaxy declare her work heretical, and Yasira is abducted by their agents. Instead of simply executing her, they offer mercy – if she’ll help them hunt down a bigger target: her own mysterious, vanished mentor. With her homeworld’s fate in the balance, Yasira must choose who to trust: the gods and their ruthless post-human angels, or the rebel scientist whose unorthodox mathematics could turn her world inside out.

The Outside melds cosmic horror and space opera resulting in a mind-bending story in which the very boundaries of reality become malleable. In a universe ruled over by AI gods post-human angels act as their avatars to guard against heresy and the encroachment of chaos. When autistic scientist Yashira Shien powers up her experimental energy source the very fabric of reality warps and her world changes forever.

This promised to have all the elements I normally adore, but about midway through I felt my attention wavering. While I enjoyed the story and Yashira’s journey to uncover the truth, the world just did not feel fleshed out enough for me to really care that deeply about what happens to it. The narrative became repetitive and left the elements that I found the most compelling largely unexplored.

While this didn’t quite work for me, The Outside is still a refreshingly surreal read with one of the best portrayals of a neurodiverse character I’ve read. It’s definitely worth checking out. Just be prepared for things to get weird...

The Rating: 6/10 (Good)

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards 2020: The Finalists

Despite the best attempt of the global pandemic to derail things the time has come to announce the finalists for the Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards. It was a herculean task to narrow things down, but after much deliberation and the working of some esoteric chaos magic we are proud to announce this year's finalists.


  • All City by Alex DiFrancesco
  • A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine


  • Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron
  • The Ten thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
  • Realm of Ash by Tasha Suri


  • The Migration by Helen Marshall
  • David Mogo, Godhunter by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
  • Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir


  • The Rosewater Trilogy AKA Wormwood Trilogy by Tade Thompson
  • Elemental Logic by Laurie J. Marks


  • This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
  • The Deep by Rivers Solomon


Now an even greater task awaits the judges - deciding the winners! I'm sure many aganosing nights will be spent trying to come to a final decision especially since all the nominees are so darn good.

The winners will be announced soon™. Watch this space to see who will walk away with the coveted geological riches.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020


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)