Tag: SF/F


Review – Legends of Red Sonja

Posted 18 July, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Legends of Red Sonja, by Gail Simone et alLegends of Red Sonja,Gail Simone et al

Received to review!

I didn’t love this TPB of stories about Red Sonja as much as I did the first TPB Gail Simone worked on, but I definitely appreciate what she did, the way she drew together female creators for this, and also the stories they all chose to tell. Women are prominent in many of them, and there are some delightful lines — like, “What’s wrong with men? I know plenty of decent male fighters.”

(If you don’t know why that made me laugh, well, it’s the flipside of what you usually get. Normally it’s a man damning women with faint praise for whatever skill or job.)

The whole storyline consists of a frame story with the Grey Riders, who are hunting Red Sonja, and then a series of stories told about her by her allies. What I loved about those was the way they emphasised different aspects of Red Sonja: her body, yes, but also her links with other women, her beliefs, her skill at fighting, and her cunning. Especially loved the little hat tip to complaints about her costume when she’s first given it, with the lady who gives her it telling her that if men are watching her curves, they aren’t watching her sword.

Red Sonja is kind of a male fantasy fulfilment thing. The chainmail bikini makes no sense, and probably chafes. But Gail Simone has made me feel very fond of her anyway: she and her team take everything about Sonja makes it feel more real, more worthy of celebration. She might’ve started as a sexist fantasy, but she doesn’t have to stay that way.

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , , , ,

Divider

Strange Chemistry & Exhibit A Reading Month

Posted 13 July, 2014 by Nikki in General / 10 Comments

Banner with images from Strange Chemistry cover art, announcing a reading month in August

I’ve been looking forward to this since Lynn and I were first talking about it. So come on, join in! We’re celebrating Strange Chemistry now that it’s been shut down; the authors deserve and need support right now, and a great way for bloggers to do that is creating buzz. So you, me, Lynn, everyone we can get our hands on: August, 1st-31st. To take part, you only need to read one Strange Chemistry book, so it doesn’t matter if you think you’re the slowest reader in the world.

Go to Lynn’s post here to sign up.

Here’s my list of probable reads:

  • Pantomime and Shadowplay, by Laura Lam.
  • Shift and Control, by Kim Curran.
  • Blackwood and The Woken Gods, by Gwenda Bond.
  • Zenn Scarlett, by Christian Schoon.
  • The Pirate’s Wish, by Cassandra Rose Clarke.
  • Stolen Songbird, by Danielle L. Jensen.

Some of these I should’ve got round to ages ago, so it’ll be good to have an excuse, and company on the journey.

Tags: , ,

Divider

Review – Black and Brown Planets

Posted 11 July, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Black and Brown PlanetsBlack and Brown Planets: The Politics of Race in Science Fiction, ed. Isiah Lavender III

The only stuff like this I’ve read before was during my degree, when I read books on postcolonial fiction as part of my Welsh Fiction in English class. The whole topic fascinated me, particularly because of the parallels between Welsh fiction and that of other non-dominant identities, so I have kept an eye on fandom discussions, and become involved in some (on both the right and the wrong sides, sometimes simultaneously). That’s not quite the same as reading a book like this one, with references, formal language, bibliographies, etc.

So I was interested to see how I got on with academic language again, since it’s been a while. Fortunately for me, this one is on ‘read now’ on Netgalley. And unfortunately for me, as well as being an interesting exploration of race in SF, it’s also generated a list of books I want to read/reread. For example, Malisa Kurtz’s piece on Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl. I remember not enjoying that, but picking apart the complexities of it has made me interested all over again.

I was also a big fan of De Witt Douglas Kilgore’s essay discussing DS9, and Gerry Canavan’s referencing it as well. I remember being quite a fan of DS9 as a kid, and never realising that Ben Sisko was that revolutionary a character. I just took him for granted. The possible link Kilgore draws between Sisko and Obama becoming present seems to me like a big jump because of that, but I’ll keep my mouth shut on that one since that’s very much a US politics thing.

Oh, and I loved Isiah Lavender III’s own essay on Octavia Butler’s work; I haven’t read enough Butler yet, but she’s excellent and well worth the analysis.

I don’t know when, but I will be picking up some of the books — both fiction and non-fiction — mentioned in this collection, in future. It’s an area of literature about which I know I’ve got tons to learn, and I hate having to admit ignorance. This makes a good start.

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Thursday Thoughts: Book Tastes

Posted 10 July, 2014 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

This week’s topic from Ok, Let’s Read for Thursday Thoughts is “book tastes”. I’ve already kind of covered this here, but it never hurts to talk it over again. My rating systems post (or rather, the comments I received) convinced me to start putting quick ratings on my reviews, proving it’s always interesting to discuss stuff with other bloggers. Here’s the prompt paragraph:

Currently, do you feel like you have a set genre or type of book that is your go-to and people know as “your genre?” Is there a genre that you’ve always loved or been drawn to in particular? Have you noticed your taste in books changing over time? Is there a genre or type of book that you used to love, but no longer read/enjoy? If so, what genre and why do you think that is?

The answer to the first question is no. I think at one point people would’ve definitely pegged me for an SF/F person, but I read too much of everything else I come across for that now. Still, I’d say that’s the genre I’ve always loved and been drawn to, and that’s the section I make a bee-line for in the library or bookshop. My first bee-line, anyway, heh.

Over the last few years, I’ve developed more of an interest in non-fiction. I think that really kicked off around the time I read an article about the fact that curiosity is the antidote to anxiety. I can’t find it again now, which is annoying because I’m sure it linked a study and stuff, but it made me curious(!) about whether reading non-fiction engaged my brain and got me interested in helpful ways. Spoiler: it does. I was even able to read a book about deadly epidemic diseases, Spillover, by treating it with curiosity.

I also got more into romance books, via Mary Stewart’s non-Arthurian work. I didn’t think I’d enjoy it at first, but turns out, I prefer it to her Arthurian work, and I got really invested in getting all her books and reading them. I’ve finished them now, which is sad, but it encouraged me to branch out into other stuff like Georgette Heyer (brilliance!).

I don’t think there’s any particular genre I’ve abandoned. Not even a subgenre; I still read steampunk or military SF or whatever if it has interesting elements, even if there’s maybe too much of it in the market.

Tags: , , ,

Divider

What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 9 July, 2014 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What have you recently finished reading?
The Planets, by Dava Sobel, which was… more literary than I expected. I mean, it’s more of a history of the way we’ve seen the planets than a gathering of scientific knowledge about them, though there’s some of that too.

What are you currently reading?
I’m trying to narrow my focus to one or two books at a time, which actually leaves me with two non-fiction books this week: The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker, which I think I’ve talked about here before, and Black and Brown Planets (ed. Isiah Lavender III). This is a perspective I don’t think I’ve really come across elsewhere: SF fandom through the eyes of POC, critiqued using the same rigour of any academic essays in any subject. I’m more used to fandom stuff, tumblr rants and DW posts, which are often deeply thoughtful and informative, but not in this format. I’m really enjoying it — and it’s increasing my interest in reading Samuel R. Delany’s stuff and rewatching Deep Space 9.

(I’m also getting a list of books I want to pick up that’re referenced in it; this is bad for me, in one way, but hey, I get to practice having restraint!)

What will you read next?
I’m going to focus on finishing Darwin’s Ghost (Steve Jones) and Elantris (Brandon Sanderson), I think. Maybe Knight’s Fee (Rosemary Sutcliff) and/or Hounded (Kevin Hearne), since the library is cruelly refusing to let me renew them anymore, and it’s high time I returned them anyway.

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Blog tour: Carrie Patel’s The Buried Life

Posted 3 July, 2014 by Nikki in Giveaways, Interviews / 4 Comments

People who already know my blog will know I’ve been excited about this book for a while, because I was involvedPhoto of author Carrie Patel, smiling (very tangentially) in acquiring it at Angry Robot (read all about it!). I’m amazed by how fast the actual release has come around: it doesn’t seem like that long since I met the team. Anyway, when the blog tour for The Buried Life was announced, of course I asked for a slot — I’ve championed the book since the start! (My review will arrive shortly. I intended it to be ready by yesterday, and then I somehow missed that it is now July. To prove that, I just typed “June”, the first time.)

So here’s Carrie Patel, graciously answering my chatty nosy questions!

Hi Carrie, it’s great to have you touring on my blog. I voted for The Buried Life in the acquisitions meeting I attended back in October, so it’s exciting to see it all ready to hit the shelves. It feels like it’s been no time at all, to me, but how’s it been for you?
Did you have to spend much time editing and tweaking it? Does it feel real yet?

Hi Nikki! Thanks so much for hosting me! The last several months have been busy and exciting—between getting ready for this release and working on the next book, the time has definitely flown. Fortunately, The Buried Life didn’t require too many edits, so I’ve been able to focus on writing the sequel. It’s still pretty surreal, though—I attended my first convention as a speaker last weekend, and sitting on the other side of the table felt unreal!

After my visit to Angry Robot, people were very keen to know things like how much input authors have into the cover designs of their books. I don’t actually know the answers, so what’s that whole process been like for you? Did you make any suggestions, or did it just appear like magic?

It’s funny that you ask, because it seems that the question of cover design comes up a lot. At the start of the process, Angry Robot asked me for any particular styles, images, Cover of The Buried Life by Carrie Pateland comparable book covers that would fit with the story and the atmosphere of The Buried Life. As I understand it, that’s unusually collaborative—many authors don’t get any input on cover design.

So, I sent Angry Robot a hodgepodge of images and reference covers that seemed to evoke a certain tone. My main request was not to feature the main characters on the cover. I don’t have an incredibly specific sense of visual aesthetics—I was more looking for something that hit the right mood or conveyed a certain atmosphere—but John Coulthart’s cover art was exactly what I was hoping for.

I know this is your first (published?) novel, so I just wondered how  long that process has been for you. Were you always gonna write, or did The Buried Life knock on your door and take you by surprise? How many hoops have you had to jump through?

I always wanted to write a novel, but The Buried Life took me by surprise. I’d played around with a few concepts before, but none of them had really stuck. Writing The Buried Life began as a kind of progressive experiment—the first draft was a challenge to see if I could finish a book, and each new revision was a test to see if I could fix it up for publication.

The revisions were probably the most important part of the process, and I learned a lot from having to analyse and edit my work like that. All in all, the process took a few years, but a lot of that was just time between revisions, which allowed me to come back to my drafts with fresh eyes and a new perspective. I wouldn’t want to take that long on future books, but the first time around, it was certainly useful.

Is there a character in it who you’d like to be more like? Or maybe even less like?

My husband (rightly) accuses me of being a little too type-A, which is a very “Malone” quality. I’m goal-oriented by nature, so I can sometimes lose sight of other things when I zero in on a goal. I’d love to be more like Sundar! He’s driven but kind, and he maintains a sense of humour in the face of adversity. He’s perceptive about people because he’s genuinely interested in them.

When I’m writing, I know that things sometimes come together in ways I wasn’t expecting. Did you have anything like that? What surprised you most while you were working on it?

The manner in which Jane’s and Malone’s stories came together and commented on one another surprised me. I always wanted to write them both as protagonists and perspective characters, but I don’t think I realized until I was well into the process how different the two characters really were and how much that affected their respective conclusions at the end of the story. I love perspective and the idea that two people recounting the same set of events can tell completely different stories, and that came through for these two characters in a surprising way.

What’s the most difficult part of writing, for you? Is it something in the process of writing (getting started, editing, letting other people see it) or is it on a narrative level (being mean to your characters, not letting them run away with the plot…)?

Getting a good plot foundation can be difficult, and yet I often have a hard time pushing forward with a book like The Buried Life (or its in-progress sequel) until I have that. I take lots of notes and make spreadsheets of characters, motivations, events, and themes, but there comes a point at which I’ve written just about all I can about the story without actually having written it. Figuring out what’s missing and how to plug a gap in the plot, or give a character a more solid motivation, can be difficult.

What media has influenced you in your writing? From just making you want to write to something that sparked some of the themes and ideas in The Buried Life — I’m interested in any kind of influence, and obviously I know you’re a narrative designer, so it certainly doesn’t have to be books.

Books were the biggest (and first) influence for me. When I was in school, I couldn’t go anywhere without one. I’d read on the school bus, in the car, and at restaurants if my parents let me get away with it. I did get in trouble (at least once) for reading under my desk during class. While I’ve enjoyed stories in many media, novels have been the most significant influence, and certainly the one that pushed me to write The Buried Life. There’s something uniquely personal about novels and the experience of reading them.

I don’t know how many people read the acknowledgements pages of novels, but I always like to. So who’s behind you, behind The Buried Life, who have you really got to thank for getting this far?

My husband, Hiren Patel, has been immensely supportive of my writing. His encouragement, and his focus in his own work, has pushed me to keep improving mine. Also, I might never have finished the first draft without Josh Sabio and Will Moser, two friends of mine who read it in college as I was working on it. Knowing that someone was waiting to read my draft was a huge motivation.

When I got more serious about revisions, my critique partners, Jacqui Talbot, Michael Robertson, and Bill Stiteler, were great about offering the feedback I needed to get The Buried Life the rest of the way there. I’d thank my agent, Jennie Goloboy, and the Angry Robot team, including Lee Harris, Mike Underwood, Marc Gascoigne, and Caroline Lambe, for taking a chance on a debut.

Finally, I thank my family—my parents, Richard and Jackie, and my sisters, Julie and Sydney—for their love and support.

Six word blurb of The Buried Life for newbies. Go!

Sinister conspiracy in an underground city.

Thank you for answering my questions, and I hope you have a whale of a time promoting The Buried Life. Congratulations!

Thank you so much! It’s been a delight to have you along from the beginning of this crazy ride!

So, everyone: don’t forget that The Buried Life is coming out in August. Preorders are a great push for any book, and you might want to consider doing that through an indie bookstore. Once it’s out, it’ll be available DRM free through Angry Robot, but also on major ebook sites for convenience.

One of the great things about Angry Robot (and Strange Chemistry and Exhibit A, when we still had them) is their willingness to take on debut authors. Let’s give them no cause to regret it!

In the meantime, I have my own copy already, so here’s another giveaway — comment here with a link to somewhere you’ve promoted this blog post (twitter, your own blog, facebook, tumblr, any mention counts) and you get an entry. On the day the book is released, I’ll draw a winner and buy them a copy via The Book Depository (or a retailer of your choosing that can take my order and deliver it to you). If there’s significant interest, I’ll pick two winners, so you increase your chances by spreading this to a wider pool of people.

Tags: , , , , ,

Divider

What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 2 July, 2014 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

Responses to emails and posts and such still pending. Sorry. On the bright side, emails have gone out to all the winners of my Strange Chemistry/Exhibit A giveaway, and all the books are ordered apart from one, so at least I’m doing something.

What have you recently finished reading?
The Brain That Changes Itself (Norman Doidge), which was… very problematic for me. Full review will be on the blog tomorrow, but I found some of his attitudes repugnant, despite how interesting the actual topic is for me.

What are you currently reading?
Many things, as usual, but most notably The Righteous Mind (Jonathan Haidt), which is very interesting so far. It’s actually an expansion of concepts I came across in my moralities class on Coursera, with a lot of overlap with things the professor of that course, Paul Bloom, already mentioned. But it’s nice to read it laid out in such a detailed way, and from another perspective. I haven’t knee-jerked yet, but I can confirm I am definitely very WEIRD (White, educated, industrialised, rich, democratic) in my responses to this kind of thing: of the various moral “receptors” Haidt mentions, I am most pinged by care/harm, and least affected by sanctity/degradation — although I also lack some other interesting features (for example, people who are easily disgusted tend to be politically, socially, etc, conservative: I’m very much a liberal) which are more universal.

And second most actively, Evil Dark (Justin Gustainis). I wasn’t incredibly won over by the first book, despite finding it fun. It’s a bit tropey. I mean, there’s even a fridged wife. But the detective character is actually showing some ability to adapt to changing situations, even when it goes against his deeply held feelings, so I’m intrigued by that.

I’ve also started, if barely, Kameron Hurley’s new book, The Mirror Empire. So far, there’s too much to hold in my head to have made any like/dislike decision yet. I’m intrigued by the gender system and how that works grammatically and socially in this world.

What will you read next?
I’m planning to read The Moral Landscape (Sam Harris), as his views are often touted as the opposite of Haidt’s. (This is another thing that makes me somewhat odd: I have not decided based on the fact that I like Haidt so far that I will dislike Sam Harris; I know he’s considered intelligent and thus will give him a chance.)

Other than that, no plans. I would say I’m somewhat limited by the books I brought with me on my visit to my parents’, but I have my Kobo with me and that’s stocked up like you wouldn’t believe, so that’s not really true. Still, I’m trying to limit myself to the books I’ve brought here or left here before. Some Ngaio Marsh is likely on the horizon.

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 2 July, 2014 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

This is gonna be a really quick Top Ten Tuesday post, because it’s now very early on Wednesday, and I’m a very sleepy Nikki. I’ll be commenting on other people’s posts tomorrow; for now I’m just turning in my work, doing this post, and going to bed!

So this week’s theme is ten classic books, either favourites or going to read. I’ll go with ‘going to read’, and pick from the Fantasy Masterworks series by Gollancz, because I actually a) own a bunch of those already and b) need to finish reading them.

  1. The Book of the New Sun, by Gene Wolfe. I already know I enjoy Gene Wolfe’s work, even if it’s prone to making my head spin with the complexity/weirdness. I’ve had these books for a while now, since I read some really good reviews of them; now it’s just getting over the fact that I know it’s going to make my head spin!
  2. Little, Big, by John Crowley. I’ve been meaning to read this for even longer than I’ve been meaning to read Gene Wolfe. I think someone recommended it to me back when I read Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I’m not sure if it’s actually similar, or if there’s just similar themes, or if this person just knew I read a bit of everything anyway.
  3. Suldrun’s Garden, by Jack Vance. Yet another that I’ve been meaning to read forever. I think I originally picked it up just because of the reference to Lyonesse, wondering if it was Arthurian at all. Since then I’ve just heard it touted as some of the greatest fantasy ever. I doubt it’s going to topple my favourite (go on, guess), but that’s a promising lead-in.
  4. Lud-in-the-Mist, by Hope Mirlees. This list is mostly showing me how far behind I am on my reading list, since this is another I’ve been planning to read for ages. I’ve actually glanced at the first few pages before, and it looks like fun…
  5. The Compleat Enchanter, by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt. This hasn’t been on my list that long — just sense I read 100 Must-read Fantasy Novels, I think. I like parallel world stories.
  6. The Worm Ouroboros, by E.R. Eddison. Tolkien was a fan. Next?
  7. Was, by Geoff Ryman. I keep looking at this and feeling unsure. It being based on linkages between people based on L. Frank Baum’s Oz books gives me pause.
  8. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, by Patricia McKillip. I love Patricia McKillip, I don’t care what she writes about, I’m gonna read it. She writes so beautifully, and creates really interesting worlds.
  9. Replay, by Ken Grimwood. This intrigues me because when I was a young teen, my mother prompted me for a story with a similar plot. I’m wondering if she ever read this and the idea just stuck in her mind, or if it was a coincidence.
  10. Time and Again, by Jack Finney. Time travel! And an author I admire recently mentioned this on twitter — I can’t remember who, but I know it brought the book to mind again. I think I already own a copy, so that’ll shuffle it up the list.

Tags: , ,

Divider

Review – Hard Spell

Posted 1 July, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Hard Spell by Justin GustainisHard Spell, Justin Gustainis

Hard Spell isn’t the best thing I’ve ever read, but it was fun — fairly typical in some ways, for urban fantasy, but still, compelling enough that I finished it and have grabbed the second book from my TBR pile. There’s a lot of male gaze-y stuff going on, with a couple of blatant male fantasy characters, but there are some surprises too — the main character starts with some prejudices pretty well fixed, but he’s able to change with the circumstances, which makes for a pretty satisfying end.

Overall, the plot is nothing new, but the writing is solid and it avoids shoehorning in sex and romance as the most important thing, which other urban fantasy can fall afoul of. In fact, that’s not a thing at all here — the leading lady in Stan Markowski’s life is his daughter, Christine, if anything. He does have a tragic past, etc, which all sets up how the story works out, but at least that all hangs together coherently. There’s some cool world building done on the premise that supernatural creatures are a part of the world for good — SWAT teams exist, but mean something else entirely, for example…

This is a pretty ambivalent review, I know. It’s pretty much a “hey, Gustainis, better impress me next time” kind of review.

Rating: 2/5

Tags: , , , ,

Divider

Review – Agatha H. and the Airship City

Posted 27 June, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Agatha H and the Airship City by the FogliosAgatha H. and the Airship City, Phil & Kaja Foglio

Agatha H. and the Airship City is based on a number of graphic novels by the same authors. And it’s… okay. It’s a fun adventure story, female protagonist with brains, etc. But something felt off to me — the way her figure was constantly emphasised, the whole bit where she was in her underwear… I don’t know what the context of that is, but if it worked in the comics, it didn’t work here. Especially since the opening made her seem so very young, and then suddenly it’s all about her being a young woman and people perving on her. Bleh.

I might check out the graphic novels, but I’m not going to read any more of the books. I don’t think they make good adaptations, or the authors don’t translate their ideas well to a novel rather than a webcomic. It felt pretty mediocre, which is kinda disappointing since I know people adore the series.

Rating: 2/5

Tags: , ,

Divider