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.

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?