Monday, 29 February 2016

Belated Awards News

Due to an overabundance of Real Life™, I have not had the time to post about all the recent awards shortlists that have been released. On the Australian awards front, we have seen the Ditmar ballot, the Aurealis shortlists and the Norma K Hemming award shortlist. Further afield the Nebula shortlist was also announced and Hugo nominations are currently open.

In case you missed the announcement of any of the Australian awards, I'm going to repost the shortlists here and link to those books that I've reviewed, as per usual.

Ditmar Awards

These are voted on by the members of this year's Natcon — Contact 2016. If you're an attending or supporting member, don't forget to vote! For more info, see here.

Best Novel
The Dagger's Path, Glenda Larke (Orbit)
Day Boy, Trent Jamieson (Text Publishing)
Graced, Amanda Pillar (Momentum)
Lament for the Afterlife, Lisa L. Hannett (ChiZine Publications)
Zeroes, Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti (Simon and

Best Novella or Novelette
"The Cherry Crow Children of Haverny Wood", Deborah Kalin, in Cherry Crow Children (Twelfth Planet Press)
"Fake Geek Girl", Tansy Rayner Roberts, in Review of Australian Fiction, volume 14, issue 4 (Review of Australian Fiction)
"Hot Rods", Cat Sparks, in Lightspeed Science Fiction & Fantasy 58 (Lightspeed Science Fiction & Fantasy)
"The Miseducation of Mara Lys", Deborah Kalin, in Cherry Crow Children (Twelfth Planet Press)
"Of Sorrow and Such", Angela Slatter (
"The Wages of Honey", Deborah Kalin, in Cherry Crow Children (Twelfth Planet Press)

Best Short Story
"2B", Joanne Anderton, in Insert Title Here (FableCroft Publishing)
"The Chart of the Vagrant Mariner", Alan Baxter, in Fantasy & Science Fiction, Jan/Feb 2015 (Fantasy & Science Fiction)
"A Hedge of Yellow Roses", Kathleen Jennings, in Hear Me Roar (Ticonderoga Publications)
"Look how cold my hands are", Deborah Biancotti, in Cranky Ladies of History (FableCroft Publishing)

Best Collected Work
Bloodlines, Amanda Pillar (Ticonderoga Publications))
Cherry Crow Children, Deborah Kalin, edited by Alisa Krasnostein (Twelfth Planet Press)
Cranky Ladies of History, edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely (FableCroft Publishing)
Letters to Tiptree, edited by Alexandra Pierce and Alisa Krasnostein (Twelfth Planet Press)
Peripheral Visions: The Collected Ghost Stories, Robert Hood (IFWG Publishing Australia)

Best Artwork

Cover art, Rovina Cai, for "Tom, Thom" (
Cover art, Kathleen Jennings, for Bloodlines (Ticonderoga Publications)
Cover and internal artwork, Kathleen Jennings, for Cranky Ladies of History (FableCroft Publishing)
Cover, Shauna O'Meara, for The Never Never Land
Illustrations, Shaun Tan, in The Singing Bone (Allen & Unwin)

Best Fan Publication in Any Medium
The Angriest, Grant Watson
The Coode Street Podcast, Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
Galactic Suburbia, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, and Tansy Rayner Roberts
SF Commentary, Bruce Gillespie
The Writer and the Critic, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond

Best Fan Writer
Tsana Dolichva, for body of work
Foz Meadows, for body of work
Ian Mond, for body of work
Alexandra Pierce for body of work
Katharine Stubbs, for body of work
Grant Watson, for body of work

Best Fan Artist
Kathleen Jennings, for body of work, including Illustration Friday series
Belinda Morris, for body of work, including Belinda Illustrates
Best New Talent
Rivqa Rafael
T R Napper
DK Mok
Liz Barr

William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review

Letters to Tiptree, edited by Alexandra Pierce and Alisa Krasnostein (Twelfth Planet Press)
The Rereading the Empire Trilogy series, Tansy Rayner Roberts
The Reviewing New Who series, David McDonald, Tansy Rayner Roberts, and Tehani Wessely
"Sara Kingdom dies at the end", Tansy Rayner Roberts, in Companion Piece (Mad Norwegian Press)
"SF Women of the 20th Century", Tansy Rayner Roberts
The Squeeing over Supergirl series, David McDonald, and Tehani Wessely

Aurealis Awards

Juried awards. For more info see website.

A Week Without Tuesday, Angelica Banks (Allen & Unwin)
The Cut-Out, Jack Heath (Allen & Unwin)
A Single Stone, Meg McKinlay (Walker Books Australia)
Bella and the Wandering House, Meg McKinlay (Fremantle Press)
The Mapmaker Chronicles: Prisoner of the Black Hawk, A.L. Tait (Hachette Australia)


The Undertaker Morton Stone Vol.1, Gary Chaloner, Ben Templesmith, and Ashley Wood (Gestalt)
The Diemenois, Jamie Clennett (Hunter Publishers)
Unmasked Vol.1: Going Straight is No Way to Die, Christian Read (Gestalt)
The Singing Bones, Shaun Tan (Allen & Unwin)
Fly the Colour Fantastica, various authors (Veriko Operative)

BEST YOUNG ADULT SHORT STORY“In Sheep's Clothing”, Kimberly Gaal (Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #61)
“The Nexus Tree”, Kimberly Gaal (The Never Never Land, CSFG)
“The Miseducation of Mara Lys”, Deborah Kalin (Cherry Crow Children, Twelfth Planet Press)
“The Heart of the Labyrinth”, DK Mok (In Memory: A Tribute to Sir Terry Pratchett, Sorin Suciu)
“Blueblood”, Faith Mudge (Hear Me Roar, Ticonderoga Publications)
Welcome to Orphancorp, Marlee Jane Ward (Seizure)

“Bullets”, Joanne Anderton (In Sunshine Bright and Darkness Deep, AHWA)
“Consorting with Filth”, Lisa L Hannett (Blurring the Line, Cohesion Press)
“Heirloom Pieces”, Lisa L Hannett (Apex Magazine, Apex Publications)
“The Briskwater Mare”, Deborah Kalin (Cherry Crow Children, Twelfth Planet Press)
“Breaking Windows”, Tracie McBride (Aurealis #84)
“Self, Contained”, Kirstyn McDermott (The Dark, TDM Press)

“Night Shift”, Dirk Flinthart (Striking Fire, FableCroft Publishing)
“The Cherry Crow Children of Haverny Wood”, Deborah Kalin (Cherry Crow Children, Twelfth Planet Press)
“The Miseducation of Mara Lys”, Deborah Kalin (Cherry Crow Children, Twelfth Planet Press)
“Wages of Honey”, Deborah Kalin (Cherry Crow Children, Twelfth Planet Press)
“Sleepless”, Jay Kristoff (Slasher Girls and Monster Boys, Penguin)
“Ripper”, Angela Slatter (Horrorology, Jo Fletcher Books)

“The Giant’s Lady”, Rowena Cory Daniells (Legends 2, Newcon Press)
“The Jellyfish Collector”, Michelle Goldsmith (Review of Australian Fiction Vol. 13 Issue 6)
“A Shot of Salt Water”, Lisa L Hannett (The Dark, TDM Press)
“Almost Days”, DK Mok (Insert Title Here, FableCroft Publishing)
“Blueblood”, Faith Mudge (Hear Me Roar, Ticonderoga Publications)
“Husk and Sheaf”, Suzanne Willis (SQ Mag 22, IFWG Publishing Australia)

"Lodloc and The Bear", Steve Cameron (Dimension6, coeur de lion)
“Defy the Grey Kings”, Jason Fischer (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Firkin Press)
“Broken Glass”, Stephanie Gunn (Hear Me Roar, Ticonderoga Publications)
“The Flowers that Bloom Where Blood Touches the Earth”, Stephanie Gunn (Bloodlines, Ticonderoga Publications)
“Haunting Matilda”, Dmetri Kakmi (Cthulhu: Deep Down Under, Horror Australis)
“Of Sorrow and Such”, Angela Slatter (

“2B”, Joanne Anderton (Insert Title Here, Fablecroft)
“The Marriage of the Corn King”, Claire McKenna (Cosmos)
“Alchemy and Ice”, Charlotte Nash (Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #61)
“Witnessing”, Kaaron Warren (The Canary Press Story Magazine #6)
“All the Wrong Places”, Sean Williams (Meeting Infinity, Solaris)

“Blood and Ink”, Jack Bridges, Prizm Books
“The Molenstraat Music Festival”, Sean Monaghan (Asimov's Science Fiction)
"By Frogsled and Lizardback to Outcast Venusian Lepers”, Garth Nix (Old Venus, Random House)

The Abandonment of Grace and Everything Thereafter, Shane Jiraiya Cummings (Brimstone Press)
Striking Fire, Dirk Flinthart (FableCroft Publishing)
Cherry Crow Children, Deborah Kalin (Twelfth Planet Press)
To Hold the Bridge, Garth Nix (Allen & Unwin)
The Fading, Carole Nomarhas (self-published)
The Finest Ass in the Universe, Anna Tambour (Ticonderoga Publications)

Hear Me Roar, Liz Grzyb (ed.) (Ticonderoga Publications)
The Year's Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2014, Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene (eds.) (Ticonderoga Publications)
Bloodlines, Amanda Pillar (ed.) (Ticonderoga Publications)
Meeting Infinity, Jonathan Strahan (ed.), (Solaris)
The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 9, Jonathan Strahan (ed.) (Solaris)
Focus 2014: highlights of Australian short fiction, Tehani Wessely (ed.) (FableCroft Publishing)

In The Skin of a Monster, Kathryn Barker (Allen & Unwin)
Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club, Alison Goodman (HarperCollins)
The Fire Sermon, Francesca Haig (HarperVoyager)
Day Boy,Trent Jamieson (Text Publishing)
Illuminae, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Allen & Unwin)
The Hush, Skye Melki-Wagner (Penguin Random House Australia)

No Shortlist Released

In The Skin of a Monster, Kathryn Barker (Allen & Unwin)
Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club, Alison Goodman (HarperCollins)
Day Boy,Trent Jamieson (Text Publishing)
The Dagger’s Path, Glenda Larke (Hachette Australia)
Tower Of Thorns, Juliet Marillier (Pan Macmillan Australia)
Skin, Ilka Tampke (Text Publishing)

Crossed, Evelyn Blackwell (self-published)
Clade, James Bradley (Penguin)
Illuminae, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Allen & Unwin)
Their Fractured Light, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (Allen & Unwin)
Renegade, Joel Shepherd (Kindle Direct)
Twinmaker: Fall, Sean Williams (Allen & Unwin)


The Chronicles of King Rolen's Kin [The King's Bastard (2010), The Uncrowned King (2010), The Usurper (2010), The King's Man (2012), King Breaker (2013)], Rowena Cory Daniells (Solaris Press)

The Watergivers [The Last Stormlord (2009), Stormlord Rising (2010), Stormlord's Exile (2011)], Glenda Larke (HarperVoyager)

The Lumatere Chronicles [Finnikin of the Rock (2008), Froi of the Exiles (2011), Quintana of Charyn (2012)], Melina Marchetta (Penguin Random House)

Sevenwaters [Daughter of the Forest (2000), Son of the Shadows (2001), Child of the Prophecy (2002), Heir to Sevenwaters (2009), Seer of Sevenwaters (2011), Flame of Sevenwaters (2013)], Juliet Marillier (Pan Macmillan Australia)

The Laws of Magic [Blaze Of Glory (2007), Heart Of Gold (2007), Word Of Honour (2008),  Time Of Trial (2009), Moment Of Truth (2010), Hour Of Need (2011)], Michael Pryor (Random House Australia)

Creature Court [Power and Majesty (2010), Shattered City (2011), Reign of Beasts (2012)], Tansy Rayner Roberts (HarperVoyager)

Norma K Hemming Award

From the press release:
The Judges have released their short list for the 2016 Norma K Hemming Award for race, gender, sexuality, class and disability in Australian speculative fiction.
For more info, see their website.

Novel:        ‘The Hush’ by Skye Melki-Wegner, published by Penguin Random House on 2 March 2015
Novel:         ‘The Fire Sermon’ by Francesca Haig, published by HarperVoyager on 1 March 2015
Novel:         ‘Theophilus Grey And the Demon Thief’ by Catherine Jinks, published by Allen & Unwin in October 2015
Novel:        ‘The Orchid Nursery’ by Louise Katz, published by Lacuna Publishing on 1 October 2015
Novella:      ‘The Pyramids of London’ by Andrea K Höst, self published in February 2015
Novella:      ‘Formaldehyde’ by Jane Rawson, published by Seizure Books in August 2015
Novel:        ‘Welcome to Orphancorp’ by Marlee Jane Ward, published by Seizure Books on 17 August 2015

And finally, here is a link to the Nebula Awards shortlist.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Runaways: Battleworld by Noelle Stevenson and Sanford Greene

Runaways: Battleworld written by Noelle Stevenson and illustrated by Sanford Greene is another one of those one-off Secret Wars stories. It's pretty good, aside from the whole Secret Wars, Doomworld, etc aspects. I think I reached a zen state of accepting that I'm never going to understand the worldbuilding and taking the story as it came. The volume collects all of the Secret Wars Runaways run (issues #1–4) and Secret Wars: Secret Love #1, which is a one-off comic containing five short stories. It was weird but also pretty great.

The best and brightest teens from all corners of Battleworld are chosen to attend a prestigious school on the planet's capital! But what does the new class do when they discover the school's beloved headmaster is actually a diabolical super villain? RUN AWAY! A SECRET WARS story like none other from the remarkable minds of Noelle Stevenson (Lumberjanes) and Sanford Greene (UNCANNY AVENGERS)!

The premise here is: there's a school in Doomworld/Battleworld/whatever, run by Doom's daughter (who's like 10?) that teaches gifted kids to be doom soldiers. The school is obviously evil, which the main kids work out early on in the story. No points for guessing what they do about it (hint: look at the title).

The main thing to like here are the characters. They were all pretty great. The only cross-over from the original Runaways is Molly, the rest are newish as far as I can tell. I liked the new, younger, Cloak and Dagger siblings, power-flipped so that the girl is Cloak (and OMG wears actual clothes!) and the boy is Dagger. I also liked Amadeus Cho, who I know from other sources goes on to become the Totally Awesome Hulk, but in this is just the super-smart kid. Teenage Bucky Barnes (complete with metal arm) also features in this story, though quite why remains a mystery. There was also a reprogrammed Doom-bot head that named itself Emily, which I couldn't help but adore.

The story is a pretty standard "school is evil, we should probably do something about that" kind of spiel, but works because of the character interactions. I would, in general, be interested in reading more about pretty much all of these characters (other than the more evilish ones), but I'm not sure where that may happen (other than for Cho). If you know more, please tell me in the comments!

I also want to talk specifically about each story in the bonus Secret Wars: Secret Love issue, because they are deserving of individual comment:
  • "Guilty Pleasure" was about Daredevil, told from the point of view of his wife, Karen. It wasn't terrible, but I didn't love it, mainly because the premise was Karen being jealous/paranoid that Matt was cheating on her with an ex. I especially didn't like the art style, which was kind of retro. 
  • "Fan of a Fan" was short and sweet, about Ms Marvel/Kamala fan-girling over some guy I'd never heard of, and also rescuing him. Can't not like Kamala. (Except maybe in the hilariously dramatic retro cover of this issue, which, um.)
  • "Misty and Danny Forever" was about Misty Knight and Iron Fist (OMG I hope Misty Knight is in the Netflix show!) working through relationship issues of the we-have-kids-now variety. Also featuring Jessica Jones and Nick Cage. And a dinosaur. Not a bad read.
  • "Squirrel Girl Wins a Date With Thor" was so the best of these stories. The art was awesome, Squirrel Girl is always awesome, I loved the cameos on the dance floor of basically all the cool superheroes and lol when she tore the front of Odinson's shirt off to put out a fire and then poked his abs. Also! Carriage drawn by giant squirrels. Such awesome in this short.
  • "Happy Ant-iversary" was pretty weird. It was several of the Marvel characters re-imagined as insects in Bug-World while Ant-Man (?) sends the Wasp (?) on a scavenger hunt. It was cute and had some terrible/hilarious jokes and did make me laugh... but was also too weird for me to want to read more of the same (unlike the previous three stories). On the other hand, Black-Widow, Moth-Eye and Pizza Bug were gold.
I kind of liked the bonus issue more than the comic I set out to buy... Oh well.

I kind of recommend this volume. If you are OK with all the Secret Wars stuff and/or are willing to ignore the confusion of the worldbuilding, then this isn't a bad read. I would go so far as to say the worldbuilding was less relevant and confusing than, say, in Captain Marvel and Carol Corps. It's also not that similar to the original Runaways, except thematically. Do not go into this story expecting a sequel. It's probably best to think of it as a once off thing in a parallel universe of something?

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2015, Marvel
Series: Kind of? This volume is quite self-contained and bears little relation to the larger earlier Runaways stories. Like, they only have one character in common.
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: A non-Amazon online book shop

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Kaptara Vol 1: Fear Not, Tiny Alien by Chip Zdarsky and Kagan McLeod

Kaptara Vol 1: Fear Not, Tiny Alien written by Chip Zdarsky and illustrated by Kagan McLeod is a surprisingly funny and weird space fantasy comic. I would not have known about it if it hadn't been listed on NetGalley and it caught my eye due to being written by Chip Zdarsky (aka the illustrator of Sex Criminals), and drew me in because of the (admittedly very short) blurb.

Keith Kanga crash lands on KAPTARA, a world filled with danger and weird danger and dangerous weirdos! And if he can't survive, then Earth, the place where YOU live, is doomed!

The premise here is basically a group of astronauts on their way to Mars end up going through a wormhole-type thing and crash land on a fantasy alien planet. The main character, Keith, illustrated on the cover, is a gay bio-engineer/environmental scientist whose defining characteristics are not being physically strong and running away from trouble. The latter is particularly useful when things on the alien planet start trying to eat him.

Keith meets up with some of the varied inhabitants of the planet, who are quick to inform him that the Earth needs saving. But Keith would rather stay here where people are nice to him... The story seemed to me to be a mix of pre-Golden Age SF ideas (stories about alien planets with the merest nod towards the science part of SF) and very now, kind of internetty elements. It was weird and quite funny at times.

I would recommend Kaptara to anyone with a sense of humour to whom any of the above appeals. I am looking forward to reading more when the next volume is released. Will the Earth be saved? Who knows!

4 / 5 stars

First published: January 2016, Image Comics
Series: Yes, vol 1 of ongoing series, collecting issues #1–5
Format read: eARC
Source: NetGalley

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Sourdough and Other Stories by Angela Slatter

Sourdough and Other Stories by Angela Slatter is a collection of linked short stories — or a mosaic novel — similar to The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings, but written earlier and set later in the same world.

Welcome to the beautiful magic, restless passion and exquisite horror of Angela Slatter's impeccably imagined tales.

In the cathedral-city of Lodellan and its uneasy hinterland, babies are fashioned from bread, dolls are given souls and wishes granted may be soon regretted. There are ghosts who dream, men whose wings have been clipped and trolls who long for something other. Love, loss and life are elegantly dissected in Slatter's earthy yet poetic prose.

As Rob Shearman says in his Introduction: 'Sourdough and Other Stories manages to be grand and ambitious and worldbuilding-but also as intimate and focused as all good short fiction should be . . . The joy of Angela Slatter's book is that she's given us a set of fairy tales that are at once both new and fresh, and yet feel as old as storytelling itself.'

As always with Slatter's work, the writing in this book is gorgeous and the stories women-centric. I have to admit, I read it over the course of a several weeks so I lost some sense of continuity. As a result, towards the end I found myself flicking back to earlier stories trying to remember who that character with the familiar name was. I suspect this is partly to blame for my feeling that the stories are a bit less deliberately linked than those in The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings. That said, I also think Slatter's writing has improved in the interim.

Nevertheless, Sourdough and Other Stories was a wonderful read. I loved... too many of the stories to list them all. There were only one or two that I didn't absolutely love and, looking over the list now, only one I don't immediately recall from what I wrote about it straight after reading. Overall, a memorable collection that I highly recommend to all fantasy fans. As always, some brief thoughts on each story are below.


The Shadow Tree — A woman with a secret and knowledge of herbs punishes bratty royal children, tempting them with fairytales.

Gallowberries — A young witch dealing with losing her mother and finding a substitute. Took me until the end to realise the familiarity of the characters was from a link with the novella Of Sorrow and Such.

Little Radish — An unexpected Repunzel retelling. Really, there was no part of this story that I saw coming.

Dibblespin — Told from the point of view of the daughter of a troll-woman, partly about her half sister and mostly about the strange goings on in their forest and the nearby town.

The Navigator — A different kind of story to those preceding it. Set at sea, featuring a siren who has lost his wings and the one who loves him. A different take on sirens than others I've read.

The Angel Wood — A teenage girl meets her family legacy in a story that put me in mind of the Green Man (but on a smaller scale, maybe).

Ash — A short story of a witch and her revenge. I like how prone to vengeance so many of Slatter's characters turn out to be.

The Story of Ink — A story of a precocious eleven year old and the questionable task she's been set by her master. An unexpected ending which I'm sure is significant but which I don't immediately know what to make of. More part of a whole than a standalone story.

Lost Things — Surprisingly a kind of direct sequel to the previous story. I don't think the two stories should be read separately.

A Good Husband — A story about a water sprite and a woman who sort her help. A story of cleverness and domestic violence, and the jaded sprite's response.

A Porcelain Soul — The story of a girl about to graduate from a doll-making academy. But they don't make ordinary dolls, but rather infuse them with their souls to animate them. Things go wrong when the girls are working on their final projects. Definitely one of my favourite stories in this collection.

The Bones Remember Everything — I saw echoes of a few different fairytales in this one, but none that it was particularly based on (as far as my limited knowledge goes). Not sure what to make of it overall. A bit dire, in a good way as far as story telling goes. A familiar name makes an appearance in the historical backstory section.

Sourdough — A story about a young bread maker. Once I started reading, I was reminded of another story (by a different author) which turned out quite differently. That coloured my reading somewhat but this was still a good, solid, Slatter yarn.

Sister, Sister — A little bit of what happens after the fairytale, when things aren't quite just happily ever after and another fairytale intrudes. Featuring a fallen princess, a troll-wife and chosen family. I quite enjoyed this story as well.

Lavender and Lychgates — A story directly linked with "Sourdough", telling a later part of the same family's story. I was surprised at how many connections there were in this one... One of my favourite stories in this collection.

Under the Mountain — Another sequel, this time to "Sister, Sister", following the daughter's story. I'm not sure I can say more about it without spoilers. An unsettling note to end the collection on.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2010, Tatarus Press
Series: Sort of? Same world as The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings, also the novella Of Sorrow and Such
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from publisher
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Black Widow Vol 1: The Finely Woven Thread by Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto

Black Widow Vol 1: The Finely Woven Thread written by Nathan Edmondson and illustrated by Phil Noto is the first volume of the pre-Secret Wars run of Black Widow. I put off getting around to this series for a while because I don't have particularly strong feelings about Black Widow from either the movies or appearances in other comics. And because Russian characters are usually quite poorly done. Happily, this was not the case with this Black Widow run.


And the Black Widow has plenty of that. She may be an Avenger and an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., but the Widow has her own mission: to atone for her past as a KGB assassin. Her methods are dirty. Her heart is cold. But her work is flawless. On an undercover assignment in Russia, she finds that the Hand of God is reaching for her--and it's as merciless as its name. Outmatched by the brute force of this powerful new villain, Natasha discovers a deadly globe-spanning plot. It's a race against time, and the Widow has nowhere to turn for answers. The trail of blood and destruction will test her strength and cunning--but it may also test her faith.

Of one the first things that struck me was the art style of this issue. A lot of it is done in a more painted style compared with the bold colours and clean lines of many superhero comics. It suits the somewhat darker mood of this comic — Natasha trying to redress the wrongs of her past — and, best of all, doesn't feature icky objectification. Whoo!

The story, as I said, focuses on Natasha's desire to redress the wrongs she committed as a Soviet spy. However, nothing is ever simple and her side missions quickly devolve into conspiracy and supervillains. The this issue contains a complete story arc, but one that ends with several unresolved threads. I look forward to picking up the story in the next volume. Also, Natasha has a cat, as every good superhero should. This was one of the things that hooked me when I read the first issue (originally by itself when it was a freebie).

In many ways, this Black Widow run reminds me of the Matt Fraction Hawkeye run, in that it's mainly about what the protagonist does when she's not being an Avenger (but still sometimes being a SHIELD agent). I would hence recommend it to fans of that Hawkeye series as well as, obviously, fans of the Black Widow character, either in comics or in the movies. As far as I can tell, the storyline so far is not (very) incompatible with the MCU, in case that makes a difference. I will definitely be reading the next (two) volumes.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2014, Marvel Comics
Series: Black Widow 2014-2015, collecting issues #1-6 plus the Black Widow story from All-New Marvel Now! Point One
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Comic book shop

Friday, 19 February 2016

Sugar Scars by Travis Norwood

Sugar Scars by Travis Norwood is a book that caught my attention on NetGalley because of the basic premise: diabetic girl trying to survive the apocalypse. It's very Defying Doomsday-themed. I hesitated a bit because it appeared to be self-published and from an author I'd never heard of before. (Turns out it's not quite self-published, but it's close enough and as you'll see, I was right to hesitate.)

Living after the apocalypse really isn’t that hard for most of the survivors. The virus killed all but 1 in 10,000. The few remaining people are left in a world of virtually unlimited resources. Grocery stores overflowing with food and drink. Thousands of empty houses to pick from.

But one survivor, a nineteen-year-old girl, requires more than simple food, water and shelter. As a type 1 diabetic her body desperately needs insulin to stay alive. With civilization gone, no one manufactures it anymore. She hoards all the insulin she can find, but every day marches toward the end of her stash of vials. She has a choice. Accept her fate and death, or tackle the almost insurmountable task of extracting and refining the insulin herself.

Brilliant scientists struggled to make the first insulin. What hope does a high school dropout have?

I'm going to start with the negatives. This book wasn't all bad, though, so be sure to at least skim the lower paragraphs for its good points.

The editing. I mean, it could have been worse, but until I got to the end and read the acknowledgements I would have guessed that it hadn't been past a proper editor. Apparently it had. The writing was clunky on a sentence level and repetitive on a paragraph level (we don't need to be constantly and thoroughly reminded of things we learnt in previous chapters) and the plot was severely lacking for a good chunk of the book. I almost stopped reading when I was about a fifth of the way in because it just wasn't pleasant to read and nothing much was happening. The only reason I persevered was because the blurb said Sugar, the protagonist, would have to try to make insulin herself. It took her ages to even realise that she needed to make insulin. Most of the plot was just things randomly happening, recorded very linearly in Sugar's diary (although it wasn't that diary-like apart from the occasional reminders).

The structure kind of made it more boring. To make up for not putting the book down 20% of the way in, I ended up skipping bits to make up for pushing through. Mostly that meant skimming paragraphs, especially the more repetitive ones. I did not skip any large chunks.

The most interesting part of the book was the quest for insulin and the (mis-) adventures Sugar had along the way. More's the pity that the quest was introduced so late in the book. This was partly because Sugar was a pretty ignorant character, which was a little frustrating to read. (And partly because of the linear structure.) It took her quite a while to realise that drugs have expiration dates. Also, while I understand her being used to the internet and not a library user, it was a bit disconcerting that she was shocked that the university had a library. I mean, it was in character, but wow.

Some other notes: the book included (non-explicit and not on the page) paedophilia and rape. Also, the bit that took place in Brazil was faintly racist. But at least in Brazil Sugar got to encounter more relevant female characters than on any other of her trips, so there's that. There's also some gore, mostly associated with getting pancreases out of pigs (but also with killing bad people).

I'm not sure I'd particularly recommend Sugar Scars. It wasn't terrible, but the actual prose definitely wasn't good. However, I also realise this may not bother some people. If you're reading for the insulin-making narrative, the story does pay off, but it's a bit of a slog to get there. If you want to check how much the prose will bother you, maybe have a look at the ebook sample; it's pretty consistent throughout.

3 / 5 stars

First published: 2015, Booktrope Editions
Series: No.
Format read: Review copy
Source: NetGalley

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

The Wicked + The Divine Vol 3: Commercial Suicide by Keiron Gillen

The Wicked + The Divine Vol 3: Commercial Suicide written by Keiron Gillen has art by several different artists (a different one each issue) rather than the usual Jamie McKelvie (although he does make an appearance). It collects issues #12–17 and continues the ongoing story of the series.

Every ninety years twelve gods return as young people. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are all dead. It’s happening now. It’s happening again.

Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson (Phonogram, Young Avengers) continue their modern fantasy where gods are the ultimate pop stars and pop stars are the ultimate gods.

The continuing story in The Wicked + The Divine continues to be interesting, but this was probably my least favourite volume to date. It wasn't terrible, but there are a few clear reasons I didn't enjoy it as much. The first was the changing art between issues. I understand this was somewhat out of the creators' hands (the need for alternate artists), but I didn't like the sudden changes. That's not to say the art was bad in this issue, I just prefer the continuity of a single artist (I mean, it annoys me when Marvel does it too). Among other things, it makes it easier to keep track of characters.

The other thing I didn't love was that I found this volume a bit harder to follow the story of. This is partly related to the art, I think, but also to the large number of flashbacks. I got slightly confused as to what was the present and what wasn't, and wait is that the same person as that? On the other hand, I do think that if I'd reread the first two volumes immediately before reading this one, I would have been less confused. This is a series I would like to read all in one go once it's finished, I think. In the meantime, I will continue reading volume-by-volume.

Those criticisms aside, this is basically what you expect from The Wicked + The Divine, if you've read up to this point. The book has a non-zero mortality rate, the plot progresses, ulterior motives are exposed (to the reader) and back stories are developed further. My favourite thing in this volume was learning more about Tara, the most mysterious of the gods until now (much debate over which Tara god she is, with someone in Vol 1, I think, suggesting that she could even be Tara from Buffy, a favourite line of mine).

If you've enjoyed the series to this point, definitely keep reading. I personally will definitely be picking up Volume 4 when it eventually comes out. I quite like this series and I recommend it to all fantasy/gods among us fans. It is pretty great.

4 / 5 stars

First published: February 2016, Image Comics
Series: The Wicked + The Divine Vol 3 of ongoing series, collecting issues #12–17
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via Netgalley (but I also intend to buy the trade)

Monday, 15 February 2016

Tsana's February Status

Status: tense. My PhD thesis defence is imminent, so I've had rather a lot on my mind of late. Nevertheless, the past month has involved books reviewed, books received and books read.

Oh, and we announced the Defying Doomsday table of contents. In case clicking on a link is too much effort, I'll reproduce the super cool list of stories below:

Defying Doomsday

And the Rest of Us Wait by Corinne Duyvis
To Take Into the Air My Quiet Breath by Stephanie Gunn
Something in the Rain by Seanan McGuire
Did We Break the End of the World? by Tansy Rayner Roberts
In the Sky with Diamonds by Elinor Caiman Sands
Two Somebodies Go Hunting by Rivqa Rafael
Given Sufficient Desperation by Bogi Takács
Selected Afterimages of the Fading by John Chu
Five Thousand Squares by Maree Kimberley
Portobello Blind by Octavia Cade
Tea Party by Lauren E Mitchell
Giant by Thoraiya Dyer
Spider-Silk, Strong as Steel by Samantha Rich
No Shit by K Evangelista
I Will Remember You by Janet Edwards

And in other news, the (preliminary) Ditmar Awards ballot/shortlist was announced. If you're eligible to vote and enjoy this blog, you might consider voting for me in the fan writer category...

What Have I Read?

What Am I Currently Reading?

I just finished two books but am still part way through several others. I shall note them in the order I currently think I'm likely to finish them. I'm more than half-way through Sourdough and Other Stories by Angela Slatter, a mosaic novel similar to and set in the same world as The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings.

I picked up Runaways: Battleworld and got one issue in before deciding I wasn't in the mood for comics. Despite having read to other trades since then, I haven't come back to it. That said, it's not like it's long, so when I pick it up again, I imagine I'll run through the rest in one sitting. Probably.

I'm also part way through Mythmaker by Marianne de Pierres. This is another one I started and decided I wasn't quite in the mood for, but fully intend to return to.

New Booksies

The never-ending accumulation of awesome books continues with...
  • Meeting Infinity edited by Jonathan Strahan, bought on the recommendation of a friend (Hi Nick!)
  • Captive by Amanda Pillar, a novella set in the Graced universe, for review from publisher via NetGalley
  • Harley Quinn Vol 2: Power Outage, purchased at local SFF bookshop
  • Schild's Ladder by Greg Egan, also purchased at local SFF bookshop
  • Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan, YA novel, review copy, already reviewed
  • The Wicked + The Divine Vol 3: Commercial Suicide, comic for review, will purchase, review forthcoming
  • Sugar Scars by Travis Norwood, for review from NetGalley because of the Defying Doomsday-esque subject matter.
  • Map of Bones by Francesca Haig, also for review from NetGalley, sequel to The Fire Sermon
  • Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, also for review from NetGalley
  • The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu, also for review from NetGalley because his stories are awesome

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner is the third and final volume in the Starbound Trilogy, which started with the multi-award-winning These Broken Stars and continued with This Shattered World. The blurb nicely summarises the plot of the first two books (spoiler warning).

A year ago, Flynn Cormac and Jubilee Chase made the now infamous Avon Broadcast, calling on the galaxy to witness for their planet, and protect them from destruction. Some say Flynn's a madman, others whisper about conspiracies. Nobody knows the truth. A year before that, Tarver Merendsen and Lilac LaRoux were rescued from a terrible shipwreck -- now, they live a public life in front of the cameras, and a secret life away from the world's gaze.

Now, in the center of the universe on the planet of Corinth, all four are about to collide with two new players, who will bring the fight against LaRoux Industries to a head. Gideon Marchant is an eighteen-year-old computer hacker - a whiz kid and an urban warrior. He'll climb, abseil and worm his way past the best security measures to pull off onsite hacks that others don't dare touch.

Sofia Quinn has a killer smile, and by the time you're done noticing it, she's got you offering up your wallet, your car, and anything else she desires. She holds LaRoux Industries responsible for the mysterious death of her father and is out for revenge at any cost.

When a LaRoux Industries security breach interrupts Gideon and Sofia's separate attempts to infiltrate their headquarters, they're forced to work together to escape. Each of them has their own reason for wanting to take down LaRoux Industries, and neither trusts the other. But working together might be the best chance they have to expose the secrets LRI is so desperate to hide.

Much like the format of the two earlier books in the series, Their Fractured Light follows two main characters, Sofia and Gideon, who have their own agendas that are not incompatible with saving the world. (The world needing saving due to the events set up in the first two books.) They more or less fall in with each other once they both realise that the world needs saving and they're in a position to do it.

The complications arise from Sofia being a con artist (can Gideon trust her when she plays everyone around her, including him a few times?) and from Gideon being an elite hacker with secrets and mistakes in his recent past. As well as being more or less structured like a YA novel with teenagers saving the world, it's also structured like a romance novel (with minimal erotic detail of course, because YA). The characters go through the arc of liking each other, being driven apart and finding each other again (and the fact that they will is never really in question).

One nice thing about this novel, that mixes the formula up a bit is the reappearance of the other four main characters from the earlier books in the series. They are quite prominent in the second half of the book and, well, obviously, help with the whole world saving thing. More or less. The only thing that bothered me a little bit in this book was a relationship issue. One of the things that drove them apart was never discussed again (on the page). And I strongly feel that it should have been for Sofia to be able to be OK with their relationship. Otherwise, from her point of view, she's letting some extreme creepiness slide (from Gideon's and the reader's point of view, there's a perfectly reasonable explanation), and that bothered me. It wouldn't've had to have been a long conversation. Oh well.

The science fictional elements in this book were pretty enjoyable. I mean, I'm a bit meh about space zombies but the other aspects were pretty well done and even raised some interesting philosophical questions. Unfortunately, most of them are spoilers.

If you enjoyed the earlier books in the series, then I definitely recommend picking up Their Fractured Light. If you're new to the series, then it makes sense to read them in order. Since the books all feature different main characters, they do sort of stand alone, but this final book deals very heavily with the over arching plot and and probably makes more sense if the first two books have been read.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2015 Allen & Unwin
Series: The Starbound Trilogy book 3 of 3
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased on iBooks
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge, Australian SF Reading Challenge

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan

Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan is the first book I've read by this author. She's one I've been meaning to get around to for ages — I even have one of her earlier books on my TBR shelf — and when a NetGalley promotion for this one landed in my inbox, I thought, Why not? Well, actually, first I thought "Buh?" because the blurb in the spam and the blurb on NetGalley were not very helpful. The Goodreads blurb, below, at least tells us a bit of what the book's about.

Tell the Wind & Fire is about a young girl called Lucie who lives in a New York very different from the New York we know: the city is torn between two very different kinds of magic, and Lucie’s own family was torn apart years ago by that conflict. Lucie wears magic rings and carries a burden of guilt she can’t share with anyone.

The light in her life is her sweetheart boyfriend Ethan, but it turns out Ethan has a secret too: a soulless doppelganger created by dark magic, who has to conceal the face identical to Ethan’s with a hood fastened by a collar nobody but a Light magician with magical rings can take off… and who introduces himself to both of them by, for reasons nobody can understand, saving Ethan’s life…

The first thing you should know about this book that isn't in any blurbs is that it's riffing off A Tale of Two Cities. Which I haven't read but really should have realised from the opening line (which of course I recognised), but didn't for longer than I care to admit. The two cities in this book, rather than London and Paris, are both New York; a New York separated into the Light and the Dark and rarely the twain shall meet. The time period is alternate near future, I think. A lot of things were the same and technology wasn't much advanced other than involving magic. But it's not like magic was an especially recent discovery.

I quite liked Lucie, the main character. She was born in the Dark and had a crappy life until when she was 14ish and got herself and her father out into the Light. Now she has a reasonably good life with a boyfriend that loves her and safety, something she grew up lacking. Of course, everything falls apart in the opening chapter and the life Lucie thought was safe suddenly isn't. What I particularly liked about Lucie is that she's a survivor. Except for when she's actively trying to save someone she loves, Lucie spends most of her time focussing on surviving. Which isn't to say she doesn't do anything questionable, but she does try to make sure she is keeping the people with power over her happy. When several spanners are thrown into the works and people she cares about are in danger, she does the best she can.

I found the first part of the book steady-paced but not unputdownable. I wasn't bored, but I wasn't entirely sure what was going on or where the story was going. The last part (the last third or so, I think) was more exciting and with higher stakes. I had more difficulty putting it down at that point but, interestingly, I also found the story more predictable. I suppose I also liked the negative portrayal of the revolution. Lucie can see that the revolutionaries have a point, but the means they use to reach their end prevent them from being too sympathetic, which is a viewpoint I can get behind.

So I enjoyed Tell the Wind and Fire. Possibly my two least favourite things about it were the blurbs (so confusing) and the title, which makes sense eventually, but not the first time the phrase appears in the book. My favourite aspect was Lucie and the way in which her relationship with her boyfriend was an established part of the story. That is, they had already been dating for two years and, while the story gave them a bumpy ride, it was not about romance or relationship drama. I don't think we see enough of that, especially not in YA.

I recommend Tell the Wind and Fire to readers of YA who are interested urban fantasy, revolutions and stories of oppression. It's not the most formulaic or trope-ridden of YA books (unless riffing off Dickens is a trope) and, actually, I wasn't entirely sure it was YA until school was mentioned (another thing the blubs could've made clearer). I certainly intend to read more Sarah Rees Brennan books when I get around to it.

4 / 5 stars

First published: April 2016, Clarion Books
Series: No.
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley