Sunday, 23 July 2017

Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee

Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee is the second book in the Machineries of Empire series, the sequel to Ninefox Gambit, which I reviewed last year. I enjoyed Ninefox Gambit, which has been short listed for pretty much all the awards and won a Locus for best debut novel. In my opinion, Raven Stratagem is even better.

War. Heresy. Madness.

Shuos Jedao is unleashed. The long-dead general, preserved with exotic technologies and resurrected by the hexarchate to put down a heretical insurrection, has possessed the body of gifted young captain Kel Cheris.

Now, General Kel Khiruev’s fleet, racing to the Severed March to stop a fresh incursion by the enemy Hafn, has fallen under Jedao’s sway. Only Khiruev’s aide, Lieutenant Colonel Kel Brezan, appears able to shake off the influence of the brilliant but psychotic Jedao.

The rogue general seems intent on defending the hexarchate, but can Khiruev – or Brezan – trust him? For that matter, can they trust Kel Command, or will their own rulers wipe out the whole swarm to destroy one man?

I think Raven Stratagem benefits from a lot of the more bonkers worldbuilding having been explained in the first book in the series. You don't have to remember all the details from the first book (indeed, I didn't) but a familiarity with the general ideas is certainly helpful. There is also less focus on actual battles, which we saw a lot more of in Ninefox Gambit and which were, in my opinion, the weirdest bits and certainly the hardest to follow at first.

In Raven Stratagem we are introduced to some new point of view characters, who I quickly grew to like. From memory, pretty much all of Ninefox Gambit was told from Cheris's point of view, but in Raven Stratagem the story is split between a few key characters. There's the two Kel into whose careers Jedao throws a giant wrench — a general and a lieutenant colonel — and the hexarch of the Shuos faction, all of whom made for fascinating reading. This is a very character driven book and we get to know and care about all the characters (well, some more than others). I am very much looking forward to reading more about them (hopefully) in the final book in the trilogy.

This is a book filled with excitement, tension and other reasons to keep turning the pages. I was hooked as soon as I started reading and inhaled it in only a few days. There's no release date yet for the third book, but I will be awaiting it keenly. I highly recommend Raven Stratagem to fans of character-driven, hard science fiction. It is, however, very much a sequel and I can't recommend it to readers who have not yet read Ninefox Gambit. Happily, that's also an excellent book and I recommend both without compunction.

5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2017, Solaris Books
Series: Machineries of Empire trilogy, book 2 of 3
Format read: ePub
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Thursday, 20 July 2017

A Tyranny of Queens by Foz Meadows

A Tyranny of Queens by Foz Meadows is the sequel to An Accident of Stars, which I reviewed earlier this year, and the concluding volume of the duology. I didn't actually realise it was a duology until I was nearing the end — I had assumed trilogy by default — and I'm still not sure whether I'm ultimately disappointed about that.

Saffron Coulter has returned from the fantasy kingdom of Kena. Threatened with a stay in psychiatric care, Saffron has to make a choice: to forget about Kena and fit back into the life she’s outgrown, or pit herself against everything she’s ever known and everyone she loves.

Meanwhile in Kena, Gwen is increasingly troubled by the absence of Leoden, cruel ruler of the kingdom, and his plans for the captive worldwalkers, while Yena, still in Veksh, must confront the deposed Kadeja. What is their endgame? Who can they trust? And what will happen when Leoden returns?

This book continues the story of Saffi, Yena, Gwen and friends, following on directly from the events at the end of An Accident of Stars. This is not a book to read if you haven't read the prequel as pretty much all of the story depends on what went before it. In A Tyranny of Queens we follow each of the characters as we find out first what happens next and then how everything wraps up.

That was the thing I didn't expect about A Tyranny of Queens. I went into it assuming it was book two of a trilogy and, as I was approaching the climax/end, realised that it was going to wrap up too much of the main plot to leave much for a book three. And then it felt like it was over too quickly, with everything wrapping up a book earlier than I originally expected. This is partly my own fault for not realising this was a duology but it's also an effect that was amplified by the opening of A Tyranny of Queens being a bit slow. I was mostly interested in Saffi's story — initially back on Earth — but more  time was spent on what was going on back in Kena, not all of which was as interesting, initially (although it was all ultimately relevant to the overarching plot).

The other thing was, I didn't find the overarching plot across the two books as innovative as I would have liked. Most of the interesting and exceptional elements were in the social worldbuilding (not to say that the physical worldbuilding wasn't also interesting). The overarching plot wasn't boring but kind of didn't go far enough to be really interesting. Part of it was interrogating the portal fantasy premise, but part of it could have dealt at least a little bit with colonial ideas, or at least have given us more of a historical context for <spoilers redacted>, but didn't. The antagonist side of the story was fine, but there just could have been... more.

Basically, I liked this book but I didn't love it. I'm glad I read it because I enjoyed seeing how everything was resolved and what Saffi ultimately decided to do with her life. Also, it kept my interest enough that at no point did I actually put it down to go read something else.

I recommend A Tyranny of Queens to readers who enjoyed An Accident of Stars and I recommend the whole Manifold Worlds series to fans of portal fantasy or readers who like seeing less conventional gender roles and family groupings in their fantasy stories. Indeed, the latter is one of the really strong points of the series. Although I don't expect a direct sequel, I would be more than happy to read more books set in the same universe since there's a lot of scope there to tell a lot of different stories.

4 / 5 stars

First published: March 2017, Angry Robot
Series: Manifold Worlds book 2 of 2
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Monday, 17 July 2017

Matters Arising From the Identification of the Body by Simon Petrie

Matters Arising From the Identification of the Body by Simon Petrie is a science fiction crime novella set on Titan. It follows a public investigator looking into the suicide of a young woman who opened her own helmet and exposed herself to Titan's atmosphere.

Tanja Morgenstein, daughter of a wealthy industrialist and a geochemist, is dead from exposure to Titan's lethal, chilled atmosphere, and Guerline Scarfe must determine why.

This novella blends hard-SF extrapolation with elements of contemporary crime fiction, to envisage a future human society in a hostile environment, in which a young woman's worst enemies may be those around her.

Scarfe's job is investigate the suicide and the reasons leading up to it. It's told as a police procedural with a solid science fictional setting as a back drop. Petrie has written several stories set on Titan (see my reviews of his short story collections, Rare Unsigned Copy and Difficult Second Album) but I got the impression that this version of Titan was more populated and hence the story is probably set a bit further into the future than those other stories.

As expected, the scientific background is something Petrie gets spot on in this novella. As well as a well-developed setting, I appreciated the additional layers to Scarf's life. She wasn't solely focussed on her job, she also had a family and a back story that wasn't directly related to her job or this particular case, which I appreciated. Matters Arising From the Identification of the Body was fully fleshed out, for all that it was a novella and didn't take me very long to read.

As far as the crime aspect went, I pretty much only read speculative fiction crime so my opinion is a little coloured by that. This ticked all my boxes though. The mystery elements were intrinsically tied to the science fictional setting and the "solution" followed logically from what the reader had been presented with. I did guess one aspect of the resolution, but not the full explanation, which was handled well, in my opinion.

I highly recommend Matters Arising From the Identification of the Body to fans of science fiction and mystery/crime stories. It is both a procedural and science fiction, but I expect it will appeal more to fans of the latter genre than the former. This was also a more series story than Petrie's other mystery series set on a space elevator, which is significantly more tongue-in-cheek. I am looking forward to reading more stories about Scarfe and set on Titan.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2017, Peggy Bright Books
Series: Yes. The first in a series that will have at least one more instalment (there was an excerpt at the end of the book)
Format read: ePub
Source: Review copy courtesy of the author
Challenges: Australian Science Fiction Reading Challenge

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Ms Marvel Vol 6: Civil War II by G Willow Wilson

Ms Marvel Vol 6: Civil War II written by G Willow Wilson and illustrated by three different artists is the sixth volume of collected Ms Marvel comics and contains issues #7–12 with the numbering starting from 2015 (although the trade volume numbering didn't restart...). It is apparently part of the Civil War II event but, happily, makes perfect sense without having read any other comics from that event.

While CIVIL WAR II brews, the next generation of Avengers has bigger things to worry about - like a tri-state academic competition! As rival schools clash, Ms. Marvel's teammates Spider-Man and Nova are now her enemies! But when Kamala gets called to the real battle's front line, she faces a fight she can't embiggen her way out of. She's about to learn a valuable lesson: Never meet your idols! As war intensifies, tragedy strikes too close to home - and Ms. Marvel must choose between her heroes and her family. When friends become foes, Ms. Marvel struggles to put her life and Jersey City back together. Kamala will be forced to grow up fast and find her true place in the world. But will she be an international sensation...or a menace?

So first off, there's the requisite sigh for another bloody comic event ruining things. SIGH. But at least this more or less held together coherently. Except for maybe the first issue, which I think might have been a bridging one and seems, in retrospect, not very connected to the other five. The premise of the event is also not very original. It's basically minority report with Captain Marvel playing the role of wanting to stop future crime and enlisting Ms Marvel and some new randoms to help do it. There's even a psychic doing the predicting. On the bright side, the text seems at least somewhat aware of this fact, throwing in a reference to the Minority Report movie.

Around the Civil War II storyline there are two other stories being told: Ms Marvel/Kamala disagreeing with her friends (over the future crime stuff) and the story of Kamala's family migrating first from India to Pakistan and then to the US. Those two stories tie together the latter five issues in this volume and bring Kamala to dealing with the aftermath of the events of the main story. Although I did find the last part of the last issue was a bit rushed on that front. It will be interesting to see how that develops and whether it goes any further.

The real highlight in this volume, for me, was the background detail in a flashback of Kamala's grade two classroom. I was quite shocked to see children assembling a puzzle entitled "Napalm Sunrise" and reading books with titles such as "Poppa Bear is Wanted for Questioning", "Momma Bear Runs Afoul of Local Triad" and "Hobo Has No Toes". There was also boxes labelled as containing bees and (separately) teeth. And a poster about the cat of nine tails (yes, the whip). I'm not sure what to make of all that, really, but it certainly stood out.

Anyway, I'm not a fan of comic events, and this is no exception. However, this is also a continuation of Ms Marvel's story and I don't think it should be skipped out of hand if you've been enjoying Ms Marvel thus far. Therefore, I recommend it to fans of Ms Marvel. To people who haven't read Ms Marvel yet, I suggest starting from Volume 1: No Normal. This volume is certainly not a sensible place to start reading, at any rate.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, Marvel
Series: Ms Marvel (Kamala Khan) vol 6 (counting from 2014) of ongoing series, containing issues #7–12 (counting from 2015).
Format read:b Trade paperback
Source: All Star Comics in Melbourne

Thursday, 13 July 2017

How to Piss Off a Failed Super-soldier by John Chu

How to Piss Off a Failed Super-soldier by John Chu is a short story published by Book Smugglers last year. I bought it close to the release but only just got around to reading it. It's not very long — technically novelette length — and I easily read it in a single sitting.

From the moment of his birth, Aitch has been prodded, tested, and measured by his scientist mother, by the shadowy government who monitor his every move, and even by his superior younger brother, Jay. When Aitch escapes from his life as a bonafide lab animal, he becomes the DRP's most wanted subject. They will stop at nothing to terminate Aitch and cover up their failed super-soldier project--and when coercion and high-tech weapons won't work, they aren't above assassins and espionage.

Aitch will fight his mother and the DRP to his dying breath, until he learns from Jay that there might be a cure for his super-powers. He starts to believe he could have a future: one that doesn't end in blood and violence, and involves a broad-shouldered man with warm eyes... Aitch just has to trust Jay first.

That's probably a longer blurb than strictly necessary for a story this short, so I'll skip my usual summary and jump to my thoughts. I liked how much of the worldbuilding, for lack of a better word, was implied rather than explicit. I realise it's not everyone's cup of tea, but I enjoy stories that encourage the reader to fill in some of the blanks (so long as those gaps aren't too gaping, which they're not in How to Piss Off a Failed Super-soldier). I also generally enjoy unreliable narrators, so this story ticked quite a few boxes for me. For whatever reason, the narrator completely misinterpreting what someone said to him worked well for me, possibly because of the execution, which could easily have been annoying.

I don't think I can say much else about this story without going into spoilers. I really enjoyed it and I recommend it to fans of John Chu and slightly absurd and slightly military science fiction. I am always going to be happy to read another John Chu story and will grab any that cross my path.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, Book Smugglers
Series: No.
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased, I think from the Book Smugglers website

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch is the first in an ongoing urban fantasy series set in contemporary London. It's been recommended to me by several people over the years and I just got around to reading it now because the series as a whole was shortlisted for a Hugo Award. I'm glad I finally read it, and I can see why people have been recommending it to me.

Probationary Constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he’ll face is a paper cut. But Peter’s prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny. Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.

Rivers of London follows a London policeman from when he finishes his probationary uniformed stint and as he moves on to his next assignment, narrowly avoiding being permanently assigned to paperwork. It all begins when he sees a ghost after a murder and starts to become aware of the supernatural world. As it turns out, the Metropolitan Police have a supernatural division and that's where he ends up, more or less, trying to solve a series of magic-influenced murders with his new boss.

The tone of the book put me in mind of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett — in many ways the humour of the former and the London-ness (Ankh-Morpork-ness) of the latter. It was an entertaining read and it was partly the voice of Peter, the first person narrator, that kept me turning pages. The only negative in the writing style was the frequency with which Peter mentions being attracted to various women and also their breasts and/or his penis, but it wasn't too frequent and didn't by any means ruin the book for me.

I also enjoyed the slightly different take on the urban fantasy side of things — although it's possible I feel that way due to not having read enough urban fantasy books. A significant side plot deals with the... rulers of the river Thames and its tributaries (hence the title) and it provided some entertaining additional flavour.

I already have the next few books in the series waiting for me, and I intend to keep reading sometime in the near future (possibly after I've dug myself out of my reviewing backlog a little). I enjoyed Rivers of London and I recommend it to anyone who has even a passing enjoyment for urban fantasy and humour (especially British humour).

4.5 / 5 stars

First published:
Series: The Peter Grant / Rivers of London series book 1 of 6 so far
Format read: ePub
Source: purchased several years ago and also in the Hugo voter packet — I'm not actually sure which version I read

Monday, 10 July 2017

Cetaganda — The Vorkosigan Saga Project

Cetaganda is the latest book we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. In it, we see Miles and Ivan sent on a diplomatic mission to attend the Empress of Cetaganda’s funeral. Of course, knowing Miles the trouble-magnet, he could never just attend a funeral.


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


Katharine: So here we are again. We know Miles is going to find trouble (or it’ll find him), but it must be a record for it to have found him before their ship even manages to dock properly.


Tsana: Yes! But you know, if it didn’t, it would have been a much more boring story. I actually really liked how it opened with something weird happening and then it was a while before anything related popped up again. All while Miles in angsting about “WTF, it must be a trap somehow!” etc. But you know what my absolute favourite part of this book was? Ivan’s childhood reminiscences about Miles’s hijinx.


Katharine: Aha he’s still so outraged about it all - and hell, who isn’t, we’re always bringing things like this at work or school reunions. I’m loving that we get to see more of Ivan and therefore, their past and a slightly more relaxed version of Miles as he’s able to rely on Ivan for everything he’s too embarrassed about with everyone else. And that we see Ivan’s intelligence, and how it differs from Miles.


Tsana: Ivan’s intelligence seems to mostly be centred on trying to stay out of the trouble Miles is generating…


Katharine: And excelling at social occasions where Miles likes to trip over his own curiosity. Like, he’s good with the ladies but he can also handle polite conversation and cues so much better.


Tsana: Ah, I loved the bit where he was drugged but came through it fine in a way Miles probably wouldn’t have been able to (also wouldn’t have been in that situation to begin with). But we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves.


This is the first book where we get to see the Cetagandan home world and in which the Cetagandans aren’t just enemies to be fought or outwitted or avert a war with. What did you think of the planet?


Katharine: I thought it sounded spectacular, like everything would be pristine gardens (and that’s why the slightly dilapidated house would be of particular note) and buildings like the Taj Mahal everywhere. I keep wondering whether Bujold very slightly bases each planet or race on a different culture on earth - not that she doesn’t have the imagination to come up with something totally different of course - just to be, I don’t know, clever?


Tsana: I thought there were a few vague overtones of Japanese culture in Cetaganda. Not overtly, but based on, for example, the idea of flower-arranging taken to the extreme with genetic engineering. (I’m still a bit traumatised by that kitten tree.) But then the bubbles the haut ladies use put me a little bit in mind of burkas etc but with very different cultural ramifications and origins.


Katharine: Oh god the kitten tree. To hell with that! For some reason parts had me thinking of India but I have utterly no idea why. What did you think of the Ba?


Tsana: I’m not sure. They’re similar to the betan hermaphrodites we met earlier (like Bel Thorne) but I got the impression the Betans existed by choice, whereas the Ba were engineered to be servants (which seems an awful lot like slavery, for all that they seemed relatively happy) and used as test subjects both before and after their births. (Well, uterine replicator decantings, presumably.) The Ba are also only a part of the Cetagandan hierarchy. I actually found the differences between the Ghem and Haut more interesting.


Katharine: And at least the Ba seemed to have some level of power above that of general guards, thanks to who they report to… but yeah, sounded pretty much like slavery.
I have to admit I’m not strictly sure I understand the full differences between the Ghem and Haut… (I’d certainly fail in their social scene!)


Tsana: Well the haut are precisely genetically engineered the ruling class — so the Emperor and other “noble families” are all haut — whereas the ghem are less precisely engineered and are like the warrior class. I thought the way that people kept comparing them with the Vor helped me keep that straight. So ghem generals are who the Barrayarans come up against in conflict (and obviously the lower ranks of ghem doing the actual fighting). Then it got a bit confusing when we got to the part about who was ruling the other Cetagandan planets. Each planet has a male haut governor and then a female consort. They’re sort of married but don’t hold direct allegiance to each other, as we learn in the course of this book. Then there is the possibility of exceptional male ghem being awarded female haut for services to their empire or whatever. Which is a bit icky. And it’s all a bit complicated. I actually thought reading it a second time probably helped all the details stick into my head.


Katharine: I think it was at the other rulers part where I got a bit lost - but mostly it was easy to follow probably because they don’t all outwardly show their emotions. They’re all ‘everyone else is scum’ the end, which helped! Oh, should we raise the spoiler shield?


Tsana: Now sounds like a good time!


<spoilers ahead!>

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Hugo Novella Discussion

This post is a bit late, relative to when I stopped reading, but there was a delay between me reading the last novella that I read and realising that I wasn't going to read the last two for reasons I'll explain shortly. But at least I've managed to write something about this category as a whole before the voting deadline, so I'm calling that a win.

The shortlisted stories are listed below in the order I read them with a few comments on each. The title links go to my reviews.


Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com publishing)

I loved this novella when I read it last year — it was one of my favourite reads of the year overall — and I nominated it for the Hugo shortlist. Having read the other novellas it remains my favourite, hands down.


A Taste of Honey, by Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com publishing)

This novella was interesting and enjoyable and kind of depressing and not exactly an easy read. The ending really made it for me but I also enjoyed the bits getting there... my feelings about it (emotionally, rather than critically) are mixed and I can't say more without spoilers. Critically, this is a strong story that certainly deserves to be shortlisted.


The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson (Tor.com publishing)

This story was kind of boring. I belatedly learned that this is probably because it was written in response to a Lovecraft novella which I myself have zero interest in ever reading. The story wasn't badly written on a sentence level, but the pacing was too slow. The ending was interesting, but the slog of getting there puts this story low on the ballot for me.


Penric and the Shaman, by Lois McMaster Bujold (Spectrum Literary Agency)

I have enjoyed Bujold's SF before, but this was the first time I read any of her fantasy. I actually bothered to buy and read the prequel novella before this one, and I enjoyed both. In fact, I enjoyed this second instalment more than the first and plan to read the others at some point. (That point probably being after I've finished the Vorkosigan re-read I'm in the midst of.)


~

And that brings me to the end of the novellas I actually read. I will say a few words about why I skipped the other two though.

This Census-Taker, by China Miéville (Del Rey / Picador)

This got skipped for two reasons: one, I haven't enjoyed Miéville very much in the past, so I was open to any excuses to skip it (and might have done so anyway), and two, this was a puppy slate nomination, giving me a valid excuse to skip it. Miéville is popular enough to have possibly made the ballot despite the puppies, but I don't really care. His fans can vote for him if they want to, but I was never going to vote him very highly. (Also, the opening couple of sentences were so off-putting).


The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle (Tor.com publishing)

I had fully intended to read this one until I found out it was also Lovecraftian. I am glad I saw that review before I started reading. I just. Don't care.


~

So my ranking for this category wasn't too difficult: Every Heart, Penric, A Taste of Honey, then No Award, then Dream-Quest, leaving off the two I didn't read.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold

Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold is the second novella in the Penric and Desdemona series, set in the World of the Five Gods, which is also home to a series of novels which I haven't read. I have read the earlier Penric novella, however, Penric's Demon. The main reason I picked up this series at all is because Penric and the Shaman is shortlisted for a Hugo Award this year.

In this novella set in The World of the Five Gods and four years after the events in “Penric’s Demon”, Penric is a divine of the Bastard’s Order as well as a sorcerer and scholar, living in the palace where the Princess-Archdivine holds court. His scholarly work is interrupted when the Archdivine agrees to send Penric, in his role as sorcerer, to accompany a “Locator" of the Father’s Order, assigned to capture Inglis, a runaway shaman charged with the murder of his best friend. However, the situation they discover in the mountains is far more complex than expected. Penric’s roles as sorcerer, strategist, and counselor are all called upon before the end.

While I enjoyed Penric's Demon, I didn't love it and wasn't sure that I'd bother reading more Penric books after Penric and the Shaman. However, I enjoyed Penric and the Shaman rather more than the introductory novella and found myself laughing out loud more often. I'm not sure to what extent that's due to my state of mind when reading (I was more tired and on night shift up a mountain when I read Penric's Demon) or the intrinsic quality of the writing itself. Probably a bit of both.

Penric and the Shaman tells the story of Penric's encounter with a shaman (loosely speaking) from three points of view: Penric's, the shaman's and the Locator sent to capture the (sort of rogue) shaman. I wasn't sure how much I'd like the split points of view, since I came in attached to Penric and Desdemona, but it worked very well. I should not have doubted Bujold's ability to make me care about other characters. The introduction of the concept of shamans also added to the worldbuilding that we were first introduced to in Penric's Demon (speaking as someone who hasn't read any of the novels), making it a deeper world.

I highly recommend Penric and the Shaman to fans of Penric's Demon and fantasy in general. I think the worldbuilding and jokes work better having read the prequel, but it's not absolutely necessary, especially since four years have passed in the interim. I expect I will read the sequels at some point (when I am less drowning in other books).

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, self-published
Series: Penric and Desdemona, book 2 of 4 so far (I think)
Format read: ePub
Source: Hugo Voter Packet

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

All Systems Red by Martha Wells is a novella I have heard a lot of people saying a lot of good things about. The only other book I've read by Martha Wells was kind of meh, so I'm glad the critical mass of people praising this book was well and truely exceeded for me to pick it up. It was an excellent read.

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it's up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

All Systems Red had me from the opening paragraph which, as I immediately tweeted, was a delight. It's told in first person from the point of view of a cyborg. A bored cyborg who has gained free will and really just wants to watch TV between half-arsing its contractual duties enough to hide its illegal free will. Unfortunately, the survey mission that should have been straightforward and relatively dull — from Murderbot's point of view, if not the scientists it's protecting — turns out to be anything but.

This novella was brief but excellent. It had mystery, danger, adventure, a compelling voice and made me laugh many times. It was also an interesting look at humanity and where the lines are drawn. Murderbot counts as machinery rather than as human because of how it was constructed. But it still feels emotions and has independent thoughts and we get the impression that even if it hadn't given itself free will it would still be having these thoughts and feelings, it just wouldn't be able to act on them. On the one hand considered non-human, on the other sentient and enslaved. And we see augmented humans who have some similarities with Murderbots in terms of data processing and telemetry (for lack of a better word) but are definitely human. I assume these are themes that will be explored further in the sequel novellas.

All Systems Red was an excellent read and I recommend it to all fans of speculative fiction. It's a quick read and you don't even have to like robots or military SF to enjoy it. I cannot wait until the next novella comes out. I was sad when All Systems Red ended, not because it was a bad ending but because there was no more Murderbot to read and now I have to wait until next January for more.

5 / 5 stars

First published: May 2017, Tor.com
Series: The Murderbot Diaries 1 of a planned 4 so far
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased on iBooks

Monday, 3 July 2017

Hugo Graphic Story Discussion

I've written reviews in separate posts of the Hugo shortlisted graphic novels. I'm going to go through them in the order I read them and then give my overall impressions at the end of this post. Title links go to the reviews.

Ms. Marvel, Volume 5: Super Famous, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Takeshi Miyazawa (Marvel)

I read this about a year ago when it was first released. I have been following the Ms Marvel comics since Kamala became Ms Marvel (I also heart Carol Danvers but as Captain Marvel, since pants) and I have enjoyed them all. This was always going to rate highly for me.


Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening, written by Marjorie Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda (Image)

I actually got an ARC of Monstress close to its release date but sadly didn't get around to reading it until after the Hugo packet arrived (partly because the PDF is so big my old iPad 2 can't actually cope with it). I found this story a bit harder to find my footing in because it jumped into the story without much introduction. It did make more sense as I went along and I ended up more or less liking it. Not my favourite of the bunch but not my least favourite either.


Saga, Volume 6, illustrated by Fiona Staples, written by Brian K. Vaughan, lettered by Fonografiks (Image)

Saga is another series I've followed from the start and have been invested in from the very start. There have been some issues that have felt a bit too much like a chapter in a bigger story (which they all are) and have made me think rereading the whole series when its complete will be the superior reading experience. When I was reading Monstress, I was put in mind of Saga. However, having actually revisited Saga after a long gap and read this shortlisted volume, I am not entirely sure why I saw similarities. In this volume of Saga, the story is kind of more gentle than it has been at times, which is in particularly stark contrast with Monstress.


The Vision, Volume 1: Little Worse Than A Man, written by Tom King, illustrated by Gabriel Hernandez Walta (Marvel)

When I first saw the cover for Vision I was vaguely intrigued but not enough to go out of my way to read it without the prompting of the Hugo packet. I found it OK and a good series starting point (unlike Black Panther, see below). I probably won't bother reading the sequels but I am vaguely curious as to what happens (assuming no events interrupt the storyline).


Paper Girls, Volume 1, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang, colored by Matthew Wilson, lettered by Jared Fletcher (Image)

This had been on my radar for a while and the Hugo shortlisting and voter packet finally gave me the impetus to read it. I am glad I did! This story is awesome and is definitely getting my top vote. The next time I go past the comic book shop I plan to stop in to pick up the next volume (and maybe the third, which is due out soon, I think). I highly recommend this comic to all spec fic fans who don't hate the comic format.


Black Panther, Volume 1: A Nation Under Our Feet, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze (Marvel)

I had heard good things about Black Panther and this creative team... but I was mostly lost in a story that didn't feel like it started with the first issue in this collection (which, yes, is issue #1). I only really connected with some of the side characters and was a bit lost as to recent events the plot seemed to hinge on.


So out of that list Paper Girls is the easy winner for me, followed by Ms Marvel and Saga. It was pretty close between Monstress and Vision, but the depth of Monstress and the promise of the developing story edged out Vision. Unsurprisingly, Black Panther comes last, mainly because it doesn't seem like the right place to start reading his story.




Saturday, 1 July 2017

Black Panther, Volume 1: A Nation Under Our Feet by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze

Black Panther, Volume 1: A Nation Under Our Feet written by Ta-Nehisi Coates and illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze is the first collected volume of the current ongoing Black Panther comic book series from Marvel. It's not the first Black Panther series, but I believe it is the first to be both written and illustrated by black men.

A new era begins for the Black Panther! MacArthur Genius and National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates (Between the World and Me) takes the helm, confronting T'Challa with a dramatic upheaval in Wakanda that will make leading the African nation tougher than ever before. When a superhuman terrorist group that calls itself The People sparks a violent uprising, the land famed for its incredible technology and proud warrior traditions will be thrown into turmoil. If Wakanda is to survive, it must adapt--but can its monarch, one in a long line of Black Panthers, survive the necessary change? Heavy lies the head that wears the cowl!

You would think that this Volume One would be a good place to start reading Black Panther. It wasn't particularly and I'm not sure what would be a better place to start. I am not very familiar with the character — beyond his appearance in the latest Avengers movie — and my knowledge of Wakanda, his home country (that he is king of) is limited to references in other Marvel comics (and the aforementioned move).

A Nation Under Our Feet puts the reader in the middle of conflict and struggle in Wakanda and, to a degree, revolving around Black Panther. I was pretty lost for most of the book, not entirely sure of the who/what/why of the conflict and not strongly connecting with the titular character because I wasn't entirely sure what he was doing. I got the bit about wanting peace for Wakanda and looking for his sister, but I was fairly confused about the sister part.

The only characters I did feel I could get behind were the lesbian vigilantes, partly because we witnessed their origin story, more or less, and partly because who doesn't like lesbian vigilantes? Unfortunately, they didn't get an awful lot of page time, though I expect they would feature more in future issues/volumes. Although, I'm told they had a spinoff series that got cancelled after two issues, so, um. Well done, Marvel. 🤦‍♀️

I'm entirely sure who to recommend Black Panther to besides people already familiar with the character and location. My guess is that he has recently appeared in other comic book series too, but I have no idea which, other than not the ones I've been reading. It wasn't a bad comic book, but it didn't feel like a good place to start reading, unfortunately.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, Marvel
Series: Black Panther, volume 1 of going series, containing issues #1–4
Format read: PDF with hideous watermark covering some of the text
Source: Hugo Voter Packet

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Paper Girls by Brian K Vaughan and Cliff Chiang

Paper Girls Volume 1 by written by Brian K Vaughan and illustrated by Cliff Chiang is the first book in what I believe is an ongoing series. I picked it up because it was shortlisted for a Hugo Award and conveniently presented to me in the Hugo voter packet, but I had previously heard good things about it and it was already on my radar to eventually buy. So yay Hugo packet. What I didn't realise until I was reading it was the genre. From the cover art of Volume 1 and the freaking blurb I was expecting something geeky and female-driven. And I mean, it is... but there are also very distinct speculative elements to it.

In the early hours after Halloween of 1988, four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls uncover the most important story of all time. Suburban drama and otherworldly mysteries collide in this smash-hit series about nostalgia, first jobs, and the last days of childhood.

Which part of that blurb suggests anything about, like, aliens or time travel? NONE OF IT! And saying that here might be a bit of a spoiler, but I think not knowing would put potentially interested readers off more than I have spoiled just by saying that. So. Young girls, aged around twelve, in 1988, who deliver newspapers and encounter aliens and time travel. What's not to like?

The only downside of Paper Girls is that it's a volume 1 in an ongoing series, meaning that the story is in no way complete, many (most) questions are left unanswered and it ends in a cliffhanger. Happily, the second volume is already out and the third is coming relatively soon, so I am looking forward to continuing the story in the near future, just as soon as I get around to making a trip to the comic book shop.

I recommend Paper Girls to fans of nostalgia, girls and spec fic. I'm not entirely sure where the story is going, but I am very happy to continue along for the ride.

5 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, Image Comics
Series: Paper Girls, ongoing series, contains issues #1–5
Format read: watermarked PDF
Source: Hugo Voter Packet

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold

I am sorry all the Bujold covers are dreadful. It was this or a 
small, blurry, non-English one. (I would have gone with 
non-English if they were less uniformly of low resolution.) 
Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold is chronologically the third novel about Miles Vorkosigan, though it was published ninth. Generally, I recommend reading it in chronological order after The Vor Game, which I recently reviewed. It almost stands alone — it's a complete story but many of the character implications and connections will be missed by someone who hasn't read the earlier books. It's also the source of some of the humour.

The latest installment in the adventures of Miles Vorkosigan. Miles and Cousin Ivan travel to Cetaganda to play the part of sprigs of nobility doing their diplomatic duty. But when the Empress of Cetaganda dies naturally, and her lifelong attendant dies unnaturally, Miles and Ivan finds themselves in the thick of it.

Cetaganda sees Miles and his cousin (That Idiot) Ivan sent on a diplomatic mission to attend the Dowager Empress of Cetaganda's funeral. It's not a complicated mission, but rather one that requires them to stand politely in the correct places, eat, and socialise. Miles has never been good and standing around, however, and trouble has a tendency to find him even when he doesn't go out of his way to seek it. And really, if he didn't take matters into his own hands, how could he prevent interplanetary war?

Apparently, last time I read Cetaganda I only gave it four stars (on Goodreads individually and on LibraryThing for the Miles, Mystery and Mayhem omnibus, although the latter could've been because Ethan of Athos came after it). I'm honestly not sure why since I laughed a lot reading it this time 'round and have thus promoted it to five stars. Only a small portion of that laughter was because I remembered how it ended.

I really enjoyed reading about Miles and Ivan. This is the most we've seen of Ivan in one book since I started rereading chronologically, so that was nice. It was also very interesting to see some of the details of the Cetagandan Empire which, until now (in the books, chronologically) has mainly been seen as a military threat. In Cetaganda we see a lot more of its art and culture. (The kitten tree, burned into my mind from the first read-through did not become more pleasant the second time around, however). Rereading, I think, also gave me more space to contemplate said culture rather than just rushing through to see what Miles would do or what would happen to Miles next.

I highly recommend this book to people who have read the earlier Vorkosigan books. If you haven't, then better to start with Shards of Honour or, at worst, The Warrior's Apprentice.

5 / 5 stars

First published: 1996, Baen
Series: Yes. Vorkosigan Saga. Book 5 chronologically out of 16 maybe, I think
Format read: ePub in Miles, Mystery and Mayhem omnibus
Source: Bought from Baen several years ago.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire

Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire is the first book in the rather long (ten books and counting, not to mention a large pile of short fiction) October Daye series. I picked it up because the series has been shortlisted for the inaugural Best Series Hugo Award, and because I've been wanting to read more of McGuire's back catalogue.

October "Toby" Daye, a changeling who is half human and half fae, has been an outsider from birth. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the Faerie world, retreating to a "normal" life. Unfortunately for her, the Faerie world has other ideas...

The murder of Countess Evening Winterrose pulls Toby back into the fae world. Unable to resist Evening's dying curse, which binds her to investigate, Toby must resume her former position as knight errant and renew old alliances. As she steps back into fae society, dealing with a cast of characters not entirely good or evil, she realizes that more than her own life will be forfeited if she cannot find Evening's killer.

In many ways, this is a pretty standard kind of urban fantasy book; set in modern times, with a slightly but not too magical heroine who is (was) a private investigator and has to solve a supernatural murder. That doesn't mean it's a bad read and many of the details made this quite an enjoyable read for me. For one thing, there wasn't much of a romantic plot line, always a plus. (I still remember an urban fantasy I read where the hero apparently smelled of pine air-freshener and I am still not over the grossness.) It deals sensibly with themes of abuse and incorporates lots of different mythologies in the worldbuilding. I can see how there would be a lot of fodder for many more books in the series.

I also found it interesting that Toby isn't actually very young. It seems to me that these sorts of heroines often are, but although Toby looks relatively young, because of her half-faerie blood, she is past what would be middle-age for a human. That gives mer more scope in life experiences and allows her to take a more mature retrospective view of her past, and choices she made that other kids may now be making. She speaks frankly about negative aspects of her past, which I thought was good (introspection, etc) but which might also come off as heavy handed. I'm a little undecided, but I think it's ultimately better not to be too subtle about some of the issues involved.

Rosemary and Rue was a complete story but, of course, leaves the story open for Toby to have a lot more adventures because there will always be more problems in Faerie that need solving. I am keen to read more of the series but I expect I will end up spacing them out a bit due to too-many-books-too-little-time syndrome. (I have also been told by a couple of people that they really pick up from around book three, so hmm.)

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2009, DAW Books
Series: October Daye book 1 of ? (11 comes out later this year)
Format read: omnibus ePub
Source: Hugo voter packet

Thursday, 22 June 2017

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson is a Hugo-shortlisted novella, which is why I picked it up. The last time I read a Kij Johnson story, it was "Spar", which was shortlisted for a Hugo Award in 2010, the year of Aussiecon 4. As you might guess from my referencing it seven years later, it was a little burned into my brain, and not in a good way. So I was a little wary approaching The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, but that turned out to have zero weird alien sex, so bonus!

Professor Vellitt Boe teaches at the prestigious Ulthar Women’s College. When one of her most gifted students elopes with a dreamer from the waking world, Vellitt must retrieve her.

But the journey sends her on a quest across the Dreamlands and into her own mysterious past, where some secrets were never meant to surface.

So I didn't enjoy this novella. The start was kind of interesting and the ending was OK. The middle mostly consisted of endless travel and descriptions of scenery, both somewhat surreal and completely weird. At one point I had some theories about twists we might see for the ending, but the gruelling middle pushed them out of my memory.

The thing is, the story isn't badly written (unless your definition of "well written" perforce encompasses "not boring") and there are several interesting elements like the main character — a mature university professor who had travelled in her youth and now finds herself on a quest to save her university and town — a cat that follows her, the concept of the dream world, and the prose is smooth. But so many words are spent on describing the lands Vellitt travels through, most of them not directly relevant to the interesting parts of the overall plot, that I had a lot of difficulty staying interested in the novella. I put it aside for a little while because of that and because I just kept falling asleep when I tried to read it in bed. The only reason I bothered finishing it was because I wanted to write as many reviews of Hugo shortlisted works as I could.

I was told, when I was around halfway through The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe that it was written in conversation with an HP Lovecraft novella. I haven't read any Lovecraft and have no intention of doing so, so that didn't really help. I will note that the afterword from the author explained this a little more; Johnson had loved the Lovecraft novella as a ten year old and wanted to reinterpret the original sexist and racist work as an adult.

I don't particularly recommend this novel except to people interested in comparing it with the original Lovecraft novella or who are interested in, er, stories about journeys, I suppose. While it wasn't as memorable as "Spar", it hasn't encouraged me to try further Kij Johnson stories in the future. I don't expect I'll be reading any unless they're shortlisted for future Hugo Awards I have voting rights for.

2.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, Tor.com
Series: I don't think so
Format read: ePub
Source: Hugo voter packet

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Penric's Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold

Penric's Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold is the first fantasy novella (or story of any length) that I've read of the author's. Of course, if you've been following my blog you'll know that I've read most of her science fiction. I picked up this novella because it's sequel has been shortlisted for a Hugo Award this year, and someone suggested that I should read them in order.

On his way to his betrothal, young Lord Penric comes upon a riding accident with an elderly lady on the ground, her maidservant and guardsmen distraught. As he approaches to help, he discovers that the lady is a Temple divine, servant to the five gods of this world. Her avowed god is The Bastard, "master of all disasters out of season", and with her dying breath she bequeaths her mysterious powers to Penric. From that moment on, Penric's life is irreversibly changed, and his life is in danger from those who envy or fear him.

This was an amusing story. It didn't quite make me laugh out loud, but I was certainly entertained. Penric is a younger son of a minor noble who has unusual circumstances thrust upon him on his way to his betrothal. After encountering a sick woman on the road he acquired a demon; a kind of magical being which bestows sorcerous powers on. Usually only trained members of religious orders receive demons, so Penric's situation is a bit vexing for the people in charge of such things.

The story follows Penric as he adjusts and deals with his new situation and, basically, starts having adventures because of it. I found it entertaining even though I was unfamiliar with the world. There's enough worldbuilding in the novella to make sense of it and I didn't have any trouble following what was going on. I was perhaps a little less engaged with Penric than I've felt with Miles and Cordelia in the Vorkosigan books, but that's perhaps an unfair comparison since, so far, Penric has only had one novella to make an impression on me, rather than several novels.

I am looking forward to the next Penric novella (Penric and the Sharman, the Hugo-shortlisted on) and I think whether or not I bother seeking out more will depend on how much I like that one. The main reason I haven't gotten around to Bujold's fantasy books is because I have no shortage of fantasy books by authors whose fantasy works I know I like in my TBR, so I haven't especially felt the need. We'll see how it goes. Meanwhile, I do recommend Penric's Demon to fantasy fans looking for something short to read.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2015, Self-pub
Series: Yes. First of ongoing novella series and set in the World of Five Gods which also has a novel trilogy
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from iBooks

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire is a prequel novella to the wonderful Every Heart a Doorway, which I read last year. The two novellas stand alone entirely, aside from being set in the same world. Having read Every Heart a Doorway first, I had some notion of where the protagonists of Down Among the Sticks and Bones would end up, but not exactly how they got there.

Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

This is the story of what happened first…

Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.

Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you've got.

They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.

They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.

Part of the initial premise for this story, aside from the portal fantasy aspect, is that their parents decide, before getting to know them at all, what kind of children they'll be. Instead of allowing them to choose their interests, they have interests thrust upon them. And it is horrific. Horrific enough that when they find themselves in a world of vampires, necromancer science and werewolves, both of them would prefer to stay than go home.

I admit it took me a little bit of reading to really remember Jack and Jill from Every Heart a Doorway (and even now I'm still a little hazy, without having reread it), and before I remembered what I already knew of their story, I was half expecting this to be a trans narrative. It is not. It is a story about how to be a girl, and how there's no wrong way to do so.

Despite being about siblings called Jack and Jill, there's not much of the nursery rhyme in this portal fantasy. It's fantastical and bleak and grim and wonderful. This did not stop the nursery rhyme from running through my head every so often while I was reading, so beware. ;-p

I loved Every Heart a Doorway and I loved Down Among the Sticks and Bones almost as much. I will be happily reading any further stories McGuire writes in this world (a third novella has already been announced, whoo!). I highly recommend it to all fans of fantasy, especially portal fantasy.

5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2017, Tor.com
Series: Wayward Children, second published but standalone
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via Netgalley

Monday, 12 June 2017

Ditmar Awards

The Ditmar Awards were announced on Sunday night in Melbourne at Continuum 13. The full shortlist/ballot can be found at this link and I will copy the final results into the end of this post. First I want to share some specific excitement from the results.

Defying Doomsday won in the Best Collected Work category!!!, along with Dreaming the Dark by Jack Dann.

🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉

Furthermore, "Did We Break the End of the World?" by Tansy Rayner Roberts won in the Best Novella or Novelette category.

🍾🥂🎉

ALSO, the 2016 Australian SF Snapshot — the interviewing project that I (and many others) were a part of — won in the Best Fan Publication in Any Medium category.

🎉🎉🎉

Thank you to everyone who voted for us, and voted in the awards in general!

And now, with that squeeing out of the way, for the full results:


Best Novel: The Grief Hole, Kaaron Warren, IFWG Publishing Australia.
Best Novella or Novelette:  “Did We Break the End of the World?”, Tansy Rayner Roberts, in Defying Doomsday, Twelfth Planet Press.
Best Short Story: “No Fat Chicks”, Cat Sparks, in In Your Face, FableCroft Publishing.
Best Collected Work: (tie) Defying Doomsday, Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench, Twelfth Planet Press & Dreaming in the Dark, Jack Dann, PS Publishing.
Best Artwork: illustration, Shauna O’Meara, for Lackington’s 12.
Best Fan Publication in Any Medium: 2016 Australian SF Snapshot, Greg Chapman, Tehani Croft, Tsana Dolichva, Marisol Dunham, Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Stephanie Gunn, Ju Landéesse, David McDonald, Belle McQuattie, Matthew Morrison, Alex Pierce, Rivqa Rafael, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs and Matthew Summers.
Best Fan Writer: Foz Meadows, for body of work.
Best New Talent:Marlee Jane Ward
William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review: Kate Forsyth, for The Rebirth of Rapunzel: a mythic biography of the maiden in the tower, FableCroft Publishing.
(No award was given out for Best Fan Artist as the only nominee, Kathleen Jennings, withdrew.)

Sunday, 11 June 2017

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson is a Hugo shortlisted novella and, I believe, the first I've read of the author's work (I have Sorcerer of the Wildeeps waiting in my TBR). I went into it with no particular expectations.

Long after the Towers left the world but before the dragons came to Daluça, the emperor brought his delegation of gods and diplomats to Olorum. As the royalty negotiates over trade routes and public services, the divinity seeks arcane assistance among the local gods.

Aqib bgm Sadiqi, fourth-cousin to the royal family and son of the Master of Beasts, has more mortal and pressing concerns. His heart has been captured for the first time by a handsome Daluçan soldier named Lucrio. In defiance of Saintly Canon, gossiping servants, and the furious disapproval of his father and brother, Aqib finds himself swept up in a whirlwind romance. But neither Aqib nor Lucrio know whether their love can survive all the hardships the world has to throw at them.

This novella was consistently not what I expected. First it seemed like it would be a gay love story set in a Romanesque fantasy world — and it was — but then there was talk of quantum mechanics and holograms — women's work — and then... well, I don't want to spoil the ending. Suffice to say it was unexpected. The narrative structure also contributed to some of the unexpected turns. From our starting point, it jumps forward in time, then back to the next day. So we think we know what happens and we slowly find out why it happens. And it turns out there's good reason for telling the story in this way.

I enjoyed this story and only found it occasionally confusing. Not all our questions are answered (there's one I'm deeply curious about, but it's not something that matters in the end), but the ending is satisfactory, if bordering on bittersweet. I am interested in reading more stories set in this world, because it seemed like there was a lot more world than just that which was explored in A Taste of Honey, but not additional reading is necessary to enjoy or understand this novella. I will be keeping an eye out for more stories from Kai Ashante Wilson. I recommend A Taste of Honey to most fantasy fans.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, Tor.com
Series: No, but there are other stories set in the same world (eg Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, I believe)
Format read: ePub
Source: Hugo voter packet

Friday, 9 June 2017

The Vision Volume 1: Little Worse Than A Man by Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta

The Vision Volume 1: Little Worse Than A Man written by Tom King, illustrated by Gabriel Hernandez Walta is the the first collected trade of an ongoing comic book series about Vision, one of the Avengers who is sort of an AI/synthetic being (it's complicated). I wasn't especially interested in reading this comic when I heard about it (although the premise and cover art were tempting) and I only read it now because it was shortlisted for a Hugo Award.

The Vision wants to be human, and what's more human than family? So he heads back to the beginning, to the laboratory where Ultron created him and molded him into a weapon. The place where he first rebelled against his given destiny and imagined that he could be more -that he could be a man. There, he builds them. A wife, Virginia. Two teenage twins, Viv and Vin. They look like him. They have his powers. They share his grandest ambition (or is that obsession?) the unrelenting need to be ordinary.

Behold the Visions! They’re the family next door, and they have the power to kill us all. What could possibly go wrong? Artificial hearts will be broken, bodies will not stay buried, the truth will not remain hidden, and the Vision will never be the same.

Overall, my reaction to this comic is "meh". It wasn't terrible, but I didn't love it either. It was fine. It was a bit wanky and probably should have been more gothic, if that's the direction it's going, as it seemed to be from the first volume. It also inevitably suffers from being the opening volume in an ongoing series. Very little is resolved and a lot of hints are dropped for things to come — this, in fact, seems to be the adopted story-telling style — which do not yet come. The foreboding air it builds up is certainly interesting, and we do get a sense of how things are going pear-shaped, but I've been burned too many times by ominous and intriguing pronouncements overhyping themselves. So meh. I will admit the tone of the comic wasn't quite what I expected and I suspect that's what got it the Hugo nomination, but to me that wasn't enough to place it above any of the other Hugo-shortlisted graphic novels I've read.

The story basically follows Vision's family members as they attempt to be a suburban US family. Quite why is unclear and we do not learn many details as to why Vision created such a family for himself. The story is as much about things going wrong as it is about the family trying to fit in. That said, as far as twists on "pretending to be a normal suburban family" go, it was a welcome one. Also, I liked the art and the choice of colour for the background scenery, which gave it an American gothic kind of vibe, or something along those lines.

I'd recommend The Vision to fans of Marvel Comics, I guess? I don't think I will go and bother buying the sequel, but I wouldn't throw it away if someone handed it to me. Overall, I'll still with my female-led books, thanks. Although, actually, this was more about Vision's family than the titular character himself, but he was still a looming presence.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, Marvel
Series: Yes. Ongoing, this first trade collects comic issues #1–6
Format read: watermarked PDF
Source: Hugo voter packet