Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh

Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh is a standalone YA science fiction novel and the author's debut. It's set in a nearish future Seoul, during a very long-running and high-tech war. It's also been described as "K-drama meets Pacific Rim", which is not entirely inaccurate.

After a great war, the East Pacific is in ruins. In brutal Neo Seoul, where status comes from success in combat, ex-gang member Lee Jaewon is a talented pilot rising in the ranks of the academy. Abandoned as a kid in the slums of Old Seoul by his rebel father, Jaewon desires only to escape his past and prove himself a loyal soldier of the Neo State.

When Jaewon is recruited into the most lucrative weapons development division in Neo Seoul, he is eager to claim his best shot at military glory. But the mission becomes more complicated when he meets Tera, a test subject in the government’s supersoldier project. Tera was trained for one purpose: to pilot one of the lethal God Machines, massive robots for a never-ending war.

With secret orders to report on Tera, Jaewon becomes Tera’s partner, earning her reluctant respect. But as respect turns to love, Jaewon begins to question his loyalty to an oppressive regime that creates weapons out of humans. As the project prepares to go public amidst rumors of a rebellion, Jaewon must decide where he stands—as a soldier of the Neo State, or a rebel of the people.

I really enjoyed reading this book. I've made no secret of having watched too many K-dramas (Korean TV shows) in the past couple of years, and this book hit a lot of the same buttons for me as those shows. The biggest difference, really, being the futuristic setting and the inclusion of other satisfying science fictional elements. (Really, I've watched a lot of fantasy/supernatural K-dramas — if you have any science fiction recommendations, please tell me in the comments.) It's not just the setting which hits the K-drama notes, but the casual Korean phrases the author left in the text — it was like Viki subtitles but with much better grammar. But on to the actual story...

About a hundred and fifty years in the future Jaewon, our first person narrator, is a poor kid from the wrong side of the river (literally the Han river) who is on a scholarship to a prestigious military academy in the upper-crusty Neo Seoul. A lot of the story places him between two extremes: rich school friends with promising futures on the one hand, and local gangs and unskilled labourers and foot soldiers on the other. The war affects everyone in this strangely post-nation world, but of course it affects some people worse than others.

Against the backdrop of Jaewon trying to do his best and not get into too much trouble, other people are brewing trouble around him. There are the rebels who want Korea to go back to being a country, there are weird medical experiments, and there's a shady past surfacing to further complicate matters for Jaewon. There's also a romantic storyline and a troubling storyline for one of Jaewon's friends. I particularly liked the fact that although there is a major war on and children are being recruited into the military, the teenaged main characters aren't expected (by the narrative, as well as by the adults) to save the day and fix the world. Given some of the set up, that would have been an easy trap to fall into. The only thing I didn't really like in this book was the history of the ongoing war, which was a bit weird, especially with how it was being referred to. That said, the present consequences and so forth were fine, so I was able to overlook it without too much trouble.

This was a very enjoyable book to read and I think fans of YA science fiction (particularly dystopias and similar) will find a lot to like here. Honestly, I feel a bit weird calling this a dystopia. Because it absolutely is, fighting mechs can't change that, but aside from the constant large-scale war it didn't feel that much more dystopian than parts of the real world (and they had levitating phones). Anyway, I strongly recommend this book to fans of YA, nearish future science fiction and mechs. I especially recommend it to readers interested in a non-USian setting.

5 / 5 stars

First published: 2017, Tu Books
Series:No (or, well, not yet? I'd read more if a series were to eventuate)
Format read: Hardcover! Try not to die of shock ;-p (actually the ebook isn't available outside of North America, so I had no choice)
Source: Book Depository :-/

Sunday, 14 January 2018

The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict

The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict is a fictionalised account of the life of Mileva Marić, who was Albert Einstein's first wife. It's based partly on historical records and letters sent between the couple, but also includes a dollop of conjecture, as the author notes in her afterword.

A vivid and mesmerizing novel about the extraordinary woman who married and worked with one of the greatest scientists in history.

What secrets may have lurked in the shadows of Albert Einstein’s fame? His first wife, Mileva “Mitza” Marić, was more than the devoted mother of their three children—she was also a brilliant physicist in her own right, and her contributions to the special theory of relativity have been hotly debated for more than a century.

In 1896, the extraordinarily gifted Mileva is the only woman studying physics at an elite school in Zürich. There, she falls for charismatic fellow student Albert Einstein, who promises to treat her as an equal in both love and science. But as Albert’s fame grows, so too does Mileva’s worry that her light will be lost in her husband’s shadow forever.

A literary historical in the tradition of The Paris Wife and Mrs. Poe, The Other Einstein reveals a complicated partnership that is as fascinating as it is troubling.

This book caught my eye because— well why wouldn't it? As a woman and as an (astro-) physicist myself, why wouldn't I be interested in reading about a lesser-known woman who was so close to some of the most fundamental progressions in physics a century ago? And while I don't generally read non-fiction outside of work, this was a novelised account, so it didn't count as non-fiction, right? That's not to say I didn't have some problems with it.

First off, I didn't like the first person narrator voice of Mileva. I thought that as a woman in the same field — albeit more than a century later — I should at least have something in common with her. But aside from her professed love of physics I couldn't find any commonalities. I was also surprised at how much discussion of hair and appearance there was from someone who I would have expected to not care about those things beyond what was strictly necessary as mandated by society. I did not connect with the character at all, although I do admit I became invested in her plight as I read further.

That investment mainly paid off in making me want to shout at the page and tell her not to make certain poor decisions. That said, I was a bit disappointed to read, in the afterword, that the story was more fictional than I had hoped (some of the less consequential and/or more mysterious events were made up/extrapolated). This of course includes all the private interactions with Albert that weren't referenced in their letters to each other. Which brings me to the most controversial part of this book: Albert's treatment of Mileva. The way the author writes it, there were a lot of red flags in the beginning, but I can see how they were easy to overlook in a state of youthful inexperience. That didn't stop me being angry at Albert on Mileva's behalf, especially when he grew resentful of her for both being a housewife and daring to want to be more than a housewife. Those interactions, while somewhat upsetting, were the more interestingly written part of the book.

The other thing that bothered me, fiction aside, were some of the descriptions of physics. I generally didn't find them to be that great. I mean, the first description of special relativity was terrible, although the second one (when it came up again later) was an improvement. It was disappointing since it ought to have been quite central to the story. Some of the general physics chatter was superficial enough to not feel actively wrong, but... well, not everyone can be everything, but it was still disappointing.

Perhaps this book is best taken as historical fiction and not read for the physics aspects. As I said, I didn't find the characterisation of the protagonist very satisfying (and I didn't find her voice at all believable at first), but others might not have the same issues. It was overall an interesting read and I can imagine a passable Hollywood movie being made of it. I recommend it to readers that find the premise interesting, but with the caveats discussed above.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, Sourcebooks
Series: no
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via Netgalley

Friday, 12 January 2018

Some short stories to start off the year


On the back of my victorious short story reading challenge in late 2017, I have gotten into the habit of reading short stories.

I also have a great way of managing the stray short story reading: Pocket. It's a "read later" article manager that I'm only using for short stories (I theoretically also use Instapaper for non-fiction articles, but rarely check it). Pocket has smartphone and iPad apps as well as the website and all of them sync your stories and your place. I also discovered a Chrome extension, Accelereader, which tags all the stories in Pocket with reading time (which you can even adjust to your actual reading speed) so you can get an idea of the time commitment before you start a story. Very handy (apart from the need to open Chrome to get those tags on newly added stories). It's also supported by my Kobo, which does time estimates without the chrome extension. Recommended if you're looking for a way to keep online short stories for later perusal.

Anyway, here are the first five stories I've read in 2018:

Velveteen vs the Flashback Sequence by Seanan McGuire — More of a chapter establishing character than a properly stand-alone story in its own right. Nevertheless, an enjoyable read.  Source: http://seananmcguire.com/velvs3.php  

Velveteen vs the Old Flame by Seanan McGuire — A less fun read that dredges up some unfortunate back story from Velma’s time as a junior superhero. As with the previous story in this sequence, it feels a bit more like a chapter than a self-contained short story. Source: http://seananmcguire.com/velvs4.php 

Velveteen vs the Junior Super Patriots West Coast Division by Seanan McGuire — The plot thickens as Velma, our retired superheroine, faces off against the new generation of her former child hero team. New characters with interesting back stories are introduced and Velma’s road trip comes to an end. Source: http://seananmcguire.com/velvs5.php 

I Won At NaSuHeMo! by Marissa Lingen — A fun, quite short story written as diary entries of someone pursuing National Super Hero Month — a quest to get super powers in the vein of nanowrimo. Source: http://dailysciencefiction.com/science-fiction/superhero/marissa-lingen/i-won-at-nasuhemo 

A Hundred and Seventy Storms by Aliette de Bodard — A story of a young mindship, her keeper and a dangerous storm. An interesting read. I particularly enjoyed seeing a relatively young mindship who still has close living relatives. I am enjoying the Xuya universe and will definitely be reading more stories. Source: http://uncannymagazine.com/article/hundred-seventy-storms/ 

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Spider Woman: Shifting Gears Vol 1: Baby Talk by Dennis Hopeless and Javier Rodriguez

Spider Woman: Shifting Gears Vol 1: Baby Talk written by Dennis Hopeless and illustrated by Javier Rodriguez is another volume 1 following, chronologically Vol 2: New Duds, which I previously reviewed. Because randomly restarting numbering schemes is just so Marvel. Anyway, this is the volume with the pregnant Spider-Woman on the cover, and all five issues contained inside it deal with the one story arc of Jessica being (very) pregnant and then having a baby.

Jessica Drew is a private investigator, a super hero and...a mom-to-be? Since we last saw her, Spider-Woman's got a whole new responsibility -now she's adventuring for two! Ben Urich and Porcupine are still along for the ride -in fact, half the time they won't even let Jess leave the car! How's a gal supposed to save the day when her friends are being all overprotective? Then, Spider-Woman will be in over her head when she gets trapped in an alien hospital. Jess is no stranger to unusual circumstances, but getting held captive by Skrulls in the center of a black hole with a bunch of extraterrestrial moms-to-be might take the cake! Expectations won't be disappointed in the mother of all Spider-stories!

This was a strange read, not least because it started with an eight-month pregnant Spider-Woman and no explanation as to how or why. However, having gotten past the surprise — helped by the cover — the story takes us to interesting places. First Jessica Drew must deal with having to step back from her usual superhero PI work. Since her superpowers didn't vanish, she finds it hard to hold back because she can still beat up bad guys and the only thing stopping her is the risk to the baby if something more dire than petty criminals show up.

The story takes us through the boredom of pre-partum maternity leave, a requisite bit of action involving aliens and saving a bunch of other pregnant people, then a look at Spider-Woman's life as a mother. I enjoyed the middle part of the story the most — the action and the butt-kicking while pregnant. Overall, I thought this volume raised some interesting issues regarding motherhood, friendship, work and the sense of self. That said, the ending was a little sudden and did not follow through on some of the subversive ideas that were being built up earlier on.

Nevertheless, this was a fun read and I recommend it to fans of Spider-Woman. The pregnancy is dealt with better than I expected and we do find out why/how she got pregnant in the end. (We don't find out why everyone expects the baby to be a normal human though...) Spider-Woman has had some crappy storylines and this one is not so bad, even if it was unexpected when it launched.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, Marvel
Series: Spider-Woman, ongoing series. The start of a reboot which still follows the previous continuity
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Purchased from All Star Comics in Melbourne

Monday, 8 January 2018

Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor

Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor is the first in a rather long series (nine books according to a quick glance at goodreads) about time travelling historians. I picked it up because my mum has been recommending the series to me incessantly, so I bought the first book to make her stop.

Behind the seemingly innocuous façade of St Mary's, a different kind of historical research is taking place. They don't do 'time-travel' - they 'investigate major historical events in contemporary time'. Maintaining the appearance of harmless eccentrics is not always within their power - especially given their propensity for causing loud explosions when things get too quiet.

Meet the disaster-magnets of St Mary's Institute of Historical Research as they ricochet around History. Their aim is to observe and document - to try and find the answers to many of History's unanswered questions...and not to die in the process. But one wrong move and History will fight back - to the death. And, as they soon discover - it's not just History they're fighting.

Follow the catastrophe curve from 11th-century London to World War I, and from the Cretaceous Period to the destruction of the Great Library at Alexandria. For wherever Historians go, chaos is sure to follow in their wake....

The title is a pretty accurate description the plot of the book, alas. It's a series of events, very loosely linked by a bit of an overarching plot that I can only hope becomes more significant in the later volumes. Also a lot of plot holes, but I'll get to that later. The book starts with the main character being recruited to the organisation of time-travelling historians, takes us through her training and then suddenly jumps forward four years with minimal cues in the text. A conversation in the middle of a chapter about people having known each other for four years really shouldn't be the main indication that so much time has passed. That's just one example, but it's symptomatic of an overall lack of polish that could have been fixed by a good structural edit. (More copy-editing wouldn't have hurt either, but that wasn't the main problem.) As far as I can ascertain, these books were originally self-published but have since been picked up by various small publishers. It doesn't seem like they were edited for re-release either, unless the newish print editions are completely different to the ebooks. (I can appreciate the difficulty in making significant changes in a book 1 when later books have to remain coherently linked to it, but still.)

The biggest problem with this book was, like I said, the structure. It's one thing to ignore the standard western story-telling structures of climax and denouement etc. Fine. But a bit of foreshadowing and firmer worldbuilding would not have gone astray. Establishing the crappiness of the near-future world would have fit brilliantly at the start, but instead there was more worldbuilding loaded up near the end, which was very frustrating.

The only thing that kept me turning pages instead of giving up in frustration was the author's ability to string a series of events together into something approaching a compelling yarn. It was an addictive read, despite the part of my mind that was despairing at what I mentioned above. (Of course, that means that it could have been brilliant with better editing. Alas.) The main characters were well-written and I was invested in their outcomes. On the other hand, I did keep losing track of some of the minor characters and was much less invested in them, including at times I was clearly supposed to be invested. As far as the minor romance plot goes, let's just say I found our protagonist much more forgiving than I would have been and I did not end the book very invested in that relationship.

As for the plot, Jodi Taylor's historians start off on the Connie Willis side of things and, rather bafflingly given what they and the reader know about the bad guys by that point, shift over to the Kage Baker side of time travelling historians (without the cyborgs). I can't say I found their motivations exceptionally consistent, especially in the moments when it really mattered and when the people who knew the full picture were involved. That got particularly annoying towards the end.

For all my annoyance as evidenced in the above paragraphs, I mostly enjoyed reading Just One Damned Thing After Another. I wouldn't recommend it above Connie Willis or Kage Baker, although it was funnier than many of those authors' books (except To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis, which is hilarious). Right now I'm pretty torn about whether I will read the next book in the series. I expect I would be entertained but, even if the writing improves with successive books, I don't trust that I won't continue to be frustrated.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: Self-published in 2013, my edition Accent Press 2015
Series: The Chronicles of St Maries book 1 of about 9 (and ongoing I think)
Format read: ePub
Source: purchased from iBooks

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein

Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein is, as advertised, an anthology collecting the best YA speculative fiction short stories published in 2015. The stories are a mix of fantasy, science fiction and horror, and a few somewhere in between.

Fans of Kaleidoscope will find more tales of wonder, adventure, diversity, and variety in this collection devoted to stories with teen protagonists.

Our goal is to uncover the best young adult short fiction of the year published in the anthologies dedicated to the form, the occasional special edition of a magazine, and individual pieces appearing in otherwise “adult” anthologies and magazines, and bring them together in one accessible collection.

I have, in general, read "best of" anthologies before, but not any that focus on YA stories. In fact — and this is a phenomenon discussed in the introduction of the anthology — I don't think I've read more than the occasional isolated YA story in the context of some other anthology or magazine. Collecting a whole book of YA stories then made for an interesting overview of the genre as aimed at a younger audience.

A lot of the stories in this volume tackle difficult issues, such as abuse or the necessity of touch decisions, and do so well. However, that does not make for light or comforting reading. My favourite stories in this anthology were a mix of hopeful and more challenging: "Blood, Ash, Braids" by Genevieve Valentine, "Function A:Save (Target.Dawn)" by Rivqa Rafael, "Entangled Web" by E C Myers, and "Blue Ribbon" by Marissa Lingen. The last was my absolute favourite, despite being one of the more difficult to read stories, thanks to the subject matter.

As usual, more detailed notes on each story are below. I recommend this book to fans of both science fiction and YA. Beware, as I have already mentioned, it is not overall a light read, though some individual stories are light.


  • Songs in the Key of You by Sarah Pinsker — a nice story about a near future when “everyone” has personal soundtracks playing from their wrists and a girl who can’t afford the device but loves music. 
  • Blood, Ash, Braids by Genevieve Valentine — A witchy fantasy story about the the Night Witches in WWII (Russian women bombing Nazis from planes). An enjoyable read about friendship, protection and magic.
  • Mosquito Boy by Felix Gilman — A concept that didn’t really grab me. The narrator tells us of the emergence/existence of mosquito boy creatures (why are there no mosquito girls?). That’s pretty much the whole story. Meh.
  • The Rainbow Flame by Shveta Thakrar — This story is about teenaged girls questioning the world and their place in it. Except it’s a world made of magic and stories and, of course, things aren’t exactly as they have been told. I found it a bit slow to start and, while it picked up and got more interesting, it’s not a favourite.
  • The Sixth Day by Silvia Anna Hivén — A strange apocalyptic world in which the edges of reality seem to be stretching out and disappearing. It was interesting and a bit disturbing.
  • For Sale: Fantasy Coffins (Ababuo Need Not Apply) by Chesya Burke — An outcast girl with a special, magical role to play for her Ghanan home city, which will make her die young.
  • Kia and Gio by Daniel José Older — A story about ghosts, aliens and unrequited love. A nice read.
  • Bucket List Found in the Locker of Maddie Price, Age 14, Written Two Weeks Before the Great Uplifting of All Mankind by Erica L Satifka — A flash story told in the form of a bucket list (as per the title), complete with some crossed out items. Also more hints about the coming end than I expected. I liked it more than I expected to.
  • Function A:Save (Target.Dawn) by Rivqa Rafael — a lovely story about a coder and the president’s daughter/her almost-girlfriend. Set in a near future with bio-hacking and fancy medicine, this story was engaging, a little magical and, ultimately, satisfying.
  • Noah No-one and the Infinity Machine by Sean Williams — an odd yarn set in the Jump universe, but much earlier that that trilogy. I expected it to have a dark ending, but it ended up being quite lighthearted.
  • Forgiveness by Leah Cypess — a challenging story about a physically abusive relationship in a future where there are chips to control that sort of behaviour once it’s reported.
  • Probably Definitely by Heather Morris — a nice story about a ghost and a teenager still working on finding their place in life. I am impressed at how naturally-seeming the author’s non-use of pronouns was.
  • I’m Only Going Over by Cat Hellisen — a slightly odd story about a weird girl at a party and the protagonist trying to chat with her.
  • The Ways of Walls and Words by Sabrina Vourvoulias — This story took a while to grab me, which was unfortunate since it was quite long and a bit slow. It’s about two girls imprisoned and in service, in an unkind situation. The setting is, I’m pretty sure, colonial times in what is now the Dominican Republic. Their histories and friendship were interesting.
  • Reflections by Tamlyn Dreaver — The setting of this story seemed promising, but I had difficulty getting past the lack of (semi-)scientific explanation as to how the moon could be terraformed. The story of a girl being forced to move away upon the failure of that terraformation didn’t, unfortunately, do enough to draw me in. Not bad, but not enough for me. 
  • Entangled Web by E C Myers — A quick story set in a world with quantum smartphones that allow you to see how other versions of you are living. An interesting idea piece. I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of the world.
  • Blue Ribbon by Marissa Lingen — An affecting story about a group of teens and younger kids who get locked out of their space station after quarantine is enacted during a series of races they competed in. Tragic. One of my favourite stories in this anthology. 
  • Bodies are the Strongest Conductors by James Robert Herndon — A troubling story about a teen with an unusual medical condition and his friend. I didn’t exactly enjoy this story, but I also felt like I couldn’t look away.
  • Pineapple Head by Joel Enos — An odd story that didn’t go where I expected it to from the ominous hints (I thought) it gave the reader near the start. It’s about two gay boys connecting over time.
  • Grass Girl by Caroline M Yoachim — A shirt story about girls made of wood and the bamboo girl who feels out of place and uncool among them. I liked the symbolism.
  • The Birds of Azalea Street by Nova Red Suma — This story started out creepy and gross, but finished satisfyingly. I started out not very into it but ended up liking it more than the opening made me think I would.


4 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, Twelfth Planet Press
Series: The last of 3 yearly "best of" volumes
Format read: ePub
Source: The publisher
Disclaimer: This book was published by the same publisher as Defying Doomsday. Nevertheless, I have endeavoured to give an unbiased review.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold

A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold was my favourite book the first time I read the Vorkosigan saga. Chronologically it falls after Komarr and before the novella Winterfair Gifts (or the novel Diplomatic Immunity if you don't feel like counting novellas). It's quite a departure from the more military aspects of many of the earlier novels, and is instead a comedy of manners with some political machinations on the side.

The recently widowed Ekaterin Vorsoisson returns to Barrayar, following the events described in KOMARR, and finds herself under siege from several suitors, including Miles Vorkosigan. Miles’ initial attempts at courtship result in colossal disasters, affecting as well Miles’ brother Mark, who is forbidden from courting his own ladylove by the girl’s outraged parents. Some nasty political maneuverings by ambitious Vor aristocrats create new trials for Miles while he wages his campaign for Ekaterin’s heart. Intrigue, wit and high hilarity make this Hugo and Nebula finalist a must for readers of science fiction and romance alike.

The most important question, for a re-read of a favourite book, is did it hold up? The broad answer is yes, although it was quite different to re-read than to read for the first time. The main reason for this is that there was quite a bit of humour that depended on surprising revelations which, of course, weren't as surprising the second time around. I found myself laughing more at miscellaneous interstitial scenes that hadn't stuck in my head as clearly than I did at the big key scenes I remembered most clearly from my first read through.

Even if it was a little less funny the second time around, this was still an excellent book. The point of view changes between Miles, Ekaterin, Kareen, Mark, and Ivan, giving us insights into all of those characters as they strive towards their goals. The background setting of the lead-up to Emperor Gregor's wedding provides a bit of chaos and a lot of cause for schemes from third parties. Even so, between Miles secretly courting Ekaterin (secret from her, not from anyone else), Mark trying to sell his new business venture to investors, Ivan being bossed around by everyone from his mother downwards, and Ekatarin and Kareen striving for self-actualization, there's a lot of room for entertaining scenarios just between the key players.

A Civil Campaign is still one of my favourite Vorkosigan books and also books in general. I spent a lot of this current re-read of the series looking forward to this book specifically and probably hyped it up a bit too much in my mind. I was disappointed that I laughed less than I did the first time I read it, but, really, I only laughed a little bit less.

5 / 5 stars

First published: 1999, Baen
Series: Vorkosigan Saga: chronologically after Komarr and before Winterfair Gifts
Format read: ePub as part of the Miles in Love omnibus
Source: Purchased from Baen several years ago

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Reflections on 2017: short stories and other reading

Happy New Year to all my readers!

🍾🥂🎆🎇🎊🎉

2017 was a tiring year for me. Not as bad as 2016, so that's something. But I still ended up reading less than I would like. Which is hardly a disaster (and really, is more because of K-dramas luring me in than anything else).

I finished 83 books in 2017, not counting short stories that weren't part of an anthology or collection. From late September I challenged myself to read 100 short stories before the end of the year. They are all listed, with short reviews, at the posts below.
I managed to reach my goal on the 29th of December, so that was nice. I don't plan to do a similar challenge in 2018, however, I realised that having a way of noting short stories on my blog without extraneous effort was very encouraging. In the past I have felt that reading random short stories took time away from reading books that I could then review here. After the short story experiment/challenge I have decided to keep posting short reviews of all the stories I read. I'm going to group them in fives, though, so that the post doesn't go up too long after I read the first in the batch. I'm going to keep track of them in a proper spreadsheet too, so I can do some nice stats on them at the end of the year.

Speaking of spreadsheets, mine has yielded the usual nice charts that I like to share at this time of year.

First off, lets talk about genre. I have been mainly in the mood for science fiction the past few months, so my genre pie chart is much more evenly split between fantasy and science fiction than usual. I didn't read as many comics this year either, so that wedge is a bit smaller. It's 43% each to fantasy and science fiction, 11% to superheroes and only 1% each to horror and other. And 1% lost to rounding, apparently.


Next up, there's forms. As I said, I didn't read that many comics, and even fewer anthologies or collections — although this is apparently an average percentage for me, something I'd like to improve on. My novella reading is up too. I think this is partly because the shorter form is appealing and partly because so many great novellas have been coming out.


The last pie chart I'm going to include is the gender one. Unsurprisingly, I'm still mostly reading books my female authors. "Multi", in the plot below, is for works with multiple creators of different genders.


One final plot that isn't pie-shaped. This is the plot of how many books I read per month. On average, I read about seven books per month (well, 6.9 if you want a little more precision).


🍾🥂🎆🎇🎊🎉

The last thing for this post is to talk about resolutions for the new year. I did a pretty abysmal job at keeping track of challenges this year. I did participate in the Australian Women Writers Challenge, again, but other than submitting my reviews to the challenge I didn't really make much of a fuss over it.

I am not going to do any challenges in 2018 except for the basic Goodreads challenge (which I've set to 100 bookthings). I do want to make a new year's resolution to read more anthologies and collections that are already in my TBR. When I started doing the short story thing, I took stock and realise how startlingly many anthologies I own that I haven't even made a start on. That's something I'd like to fix.

🍾🥂🎆🎇🎊🎉

What about you, readers, what are your reading goals for 2018?


Sunday, 31 December 2017

100 Short Story Challenge: Stories 91 to 100

Done! I actually finished in the wee hours of the 29th and then immediately wondered what on earth I should read next since I wasn't ploughing through short stories. But that's a problem for later. I have, however, decided that next year I'll keep posting posts similar to these ones with mini short story reviews as I read them. Maybe still in batches of ten but I'm thinking about it (would batches of five be better?). More on that in my reflection post in the new year. I just don't want to discourage myself from reading short stories — having a concrete bloggy output for them is very encouraging.

Anyway, stories 91 to 100, marking the completion of my challenge to read 100 short stories in the last few months of 2017!


  1. Fall Like Snow by Seanan McGuire — An ominous story which did not end as hideously as I had feared it might. But golly McGuire is good at ominous. Source: Seanan McGuire’s Patreon
  2. The Sad tale of the Tearless Onion by Ann Leckie — Flash that I listened to in audio. Short, amusing and a bit odd. Source: http://podcastle.org/2009/06/12/podcastle-miniature-33-the-sad-tale-of-the-tearless-onion/
  3. Three Boys and a Cat by Hamizah Adzmi — An amusing story about three boys wagging tuition class and trying to get a psychic prediction of their exam questions. Source: http://visibilityfiction.com/visibility-fiction/three-boys-and-a-cat-by-hamizah-adzmi-online-reading/
  4. Velveteen vs the Isley Crayfish Festival by Seanan McGuire — A quick, fun introduction to a retired (for now?) superheroine, who features in several more stories. Recommended for fans of Tansy Rayner Roberts superhero stories and vice versa. Source: http://seananmcguire.com/velvs1.php
  5. Making Us Monsters by Sam J Miller and Lara Elena Donnelly — An epistolary story of two men who had been lovers during World War I. The one who survived the war is magically receiving, in the 30s, letters sent in 1918. The story wasn’t bad, but never really grabbed me. I also found the voices fo the two characters a bit too similar to easily keep track of. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/making-us-monsters/
  6. Margot and Rosalind by Charlie Jane Anders — A flash piece about a woman who created a hyperbrain. Interesting world building that I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of (in a longer story). Source: https://www.tor.com/2017/03/08/margot-and-rosalind-charlie-jane-anders/
  7. Portrait of Skull with Man by Vina Jie-Min Prasad — A weird and somewhat funny short story about a man posing with a skull. Source: https://firesidefiction.com/portrait-of-skull-with-man
  8. Velveteen vs. The Coffee Freaks by Seanan McGuire — Another fun superhero story about a retired child hero that just wants to get to her job interview in Portland. Source: http://seananmcguire.com/velvs2.php
  9. The Lost Xuyan Bride by Aliette de Bodard — a story set in the author’s Xuyan universe, on Earth and in roughly contemporary times. I found the world building fascinating with the detective noir story nestled nicely in it. I am definitely keen to read more stories set in this world. Source: https://aliettedebodard.com/short-stories/the-lost-xuyan-bride/
  10. And Then There Were (N-One) by Sarah Pinsker — A whodunnit set at a convention of parallel universe versions of the author. The main character is an insurance investigator given the task of solving the murder: which Sarah killed which other Sarah? An enjoyable read. Source: http://uncannymagazine.com/article/and-then-there-were-n-one/

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Komarr — the Vorkosigan Saga Project

Komarr is the latest novel we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. It falls after Memory and before A Civil Campaign. It introduces a new recurring character and gives us a closer look at the planet Komarr than we've had so far.


You can read Tsana’s review of Komarr here and Katharine’s review here.


Tsana: So this novel shows us the start of the next phase of Miles’s life, which changed dramatically in the previous book, Memory, when he was forced to leave the Dendarii. Now he’s solving mysteries/problems and having adventures… which isn’t too far from what was happening before, just with fewer soldiers. What did you think?


Katharine: I liked how he was basically shadowing one of the other Imperial Auditors, yet they still worked in unison and bowed to each others strengths. More jobs in life need to be like that.


Tsana: I think it helped that Vorthys knows for certain how competent Miles is, whereas most people Miles encounters don’t because they haven’t read his classified files. Also, the whole reason they’re both Auditors is because they’re competent, which is sometimes a tall order in real life… ;-p


Katharine: Very true, but I can dream of my version of utopia :p So yes, Miles is on one of his first investigations as an imperial auditor, and it’s taken them to Komarr, where a spaceship has happened to crash into the solar mirror that’s vital to the continual terraforming of the planet. Imperial Auditor Vorthys is the other chap with him, and his niece happens to live on Komarr, so it’s there they go to stay for what they first assume will be a few nights and nothing else.


Tsana: However, Auditor Vorthys’s niece is, Ekatarin, our other point of view character in this book. So we know from the start that she’s going to be important for the story — roughly half the book is told from her point of view, in alternating chapters with Miles’s point of view. And, minor spoiler, Ekatarin is set up to be another recurring character. As a result, her personal journey from the start of the book to the end is much more significant than Miles’s. Miles just gets the hang of this new Auditor gig, while Ekatarin goes through some big life changes.


Katharine: It’s good seeing how people view Miles every so often. We’ve seen him go through some pretty significant changes and so you think he doesn’t look as ‘mutie’ as he would have previously, but this book reminds us yet again just how the majority of people view him.


Ekatarin is from Barrayar, and old Vor. She married young to Etienne "Tien" Vorsoisson, who has a genetic disorder that he’s frightened of being publicly known - even though Vorzohn's Dystrophy is treatable - which just shows how judgemental Barrayans are about any condition. Ekatarin is worried for their son, Nikolai, and wants to start his treatment immediately… however Tien forbids it until they can treat it in absolute secrecy… which of course is far more expensive. This provides the majority of the tension between their once-happy marriage.


Tsana: When we got more of the backstory, it sounded like Ekatarin’s marriage to Etienne Vorsoisson started off well only because she was young (twenty to his thirty), idealistic and a bit naïve. As soon as things started to get a little challenging in their marriage, Etienne became emotionally abusive, mostly to Ekatarin, but also to his son. In the eight or nine years since (they’ve been married ten years at this point), Etienne’s moodswings, angry outbursts and a string of jobs in various locations, all quit prematurely, has eaten away at Ekatarin’s happiness and sense of self. It was really painful to read most of the married couple’s interactions.


Katharine: Especially as we see Ekatarin light up when eased into security around her uncle when they go out for lunch together, and then again as Miles becomes determined to make her laugh. We see hints of what she used to be passionate about - she has a deep interest in botany, but the constant moving made keeping her own garden pretty pointless after a while of barely a year in the same place. She has one plant that’s over seventy years old - that Tien throws from a great height at a certain point in the story when the options are either her, the plant, or himself.


Tsana: Maybe we are getting into spoiler territory now. (plant spoilers!)


~~~ spoiler shields up! ~~~