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.