Tag: SF/F


Review – In Other Lands

Posted 23 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of In Other Lands by Sarah Rees BrennanIn Other Lands, Sarah Rees Brennan

I haven’t loved Sarah Rees Brennan’s work before, finding it just a little too predictable, but In Other Lands won me over completely. I love Elliot in all his porcupiney glory; I love Luke, because he secretly reads books (how else does he know words like “epitome” but not how to pronounce them?) and he supports Elliot and Serene and protects people; I love Serene, because even though she subscribes to a whole bundle of stereotypes about men, yet there she is caring about Elliot and Luke and supporting them throughout.

I can understand people who don’t love the characters. Elliot, for example, comes across as a bully, particularly when Luke explains how things have felt from his point of view. And it’s true that sometimes Elliot is just not that nice. But there’s also a reason for all his behaviour that made me hurt for him: the way his mother left, the fact that he’s been bullied so mercilessly… Yes, he’s nasty to people almost on principle, but I can tell you from experience that it’s easier to assume that everyone has bad intentions rather than trust them and get hurt, after a remarkably short period of being bullied. It’s no wonder he reflexively lashes out — and if you read the whole thing, you see that he does try. He does know what he’s like, and he does try.

It does make me wonder why Luke sticks by him, though Elliot is always supportive of Serene, so that does make some sense. And it is worth noting that while Elliot might not be the most pleasant character, he spends a lot of time trying to avoid people getting killed.

(And while Luke is nearly always nice, it’s important to remember that hey, he kills people without question, beats people up for looking sideways at Elliot, etc. He’s not exactly perfect either.)

And of course I can get why people don’t like Serene; particularly if you don’t read through to the end, her character (and the elven society) comes across as “reverse sexism”. It’s kind of powerful in the way it exposes some of the ridiculous stereotypes about the way women behave, but if that was all there was to Serene, she’d be just as unlikeable as a male character who looks down on women. That isn’t all there is, though, once she forms a relationship with Golden; although it’s basically just flipping sexism round, and there’s a lot of humour in that, Serene as an individual turns out not to be just about reverse sexism. I particularly liked some of the interactions between her and Elliot, as they realise their relationship means different things to both of them.

That’s all about the characters. What about the world? It’s relatively generic, but spiced up by the odd comments Elliot makes about how things go in stories about other worlds, giving us a little bit of meta.

In the end, I found it very enjoyable, and if there’s an aspect of it being “like fanfiction” in terms of willing the couple to get together, the wish fulfillment, etc — well, I’ve read some damn good fanfiction in my time, and this captured some of the delight of the best fanfiction. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Goblin Emperor

Posted 17 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison

Another reread, still a favourite. It’s like a hot bath after a long day, because the main character is a good person — not someone without faults, but someone who is aware that he has faults and that he has human feelings, and tries to be mindful and generous despite suddenly gaining power over people who have harmed him. It’s not really about conflict — although there are several serious ones — or about any particular endgame. Maia just wants to be a good person, and to rule his people well. He hardly considers turning away from the responsibility, even though it is unasked and unwanted and he’s totally unprepared. It has to be him, so he does it.

And he does a good job. That might be the most unrealistic thing about it, but it’s just difficult enough and involves just enough of building a support network that it works for me. I love the characters around Maia and how they help him, and how they all gradually warm to him or, in some cases, not — and why they warm to him, or not.

I also love the thought that goes into the complexities of the language, including the non-verbal language involving their ear positions. I don’t always follow the patterns, but it seems consistent and commensurate with long-existing languages. It’s a secondary world Tolkien would find a fascinating start toward building a rich and complete world, I do believe.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Arabella of Mars

Posted 14 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of Arabella of Mars by David D. LevineArabella of Mars, David D. Levine

Arabella of Mars has that classic adventure romp feel — something a little bit Jules Verne-y, I guess, though what I thought of was Martha Wells’ Emilie & The Hollow World. I was told it’d be a fun read, and it didn’t disappoint: I finished it in one hour and forty minutes, when I should’ve been sleeping. The action ticks along at speed; Arabella is a fun character, if not perhaps unique in as a character in her unique independence for her world, and I especially appreciated the fact that although she’s a female character who dresses up as a guy and then found out, she isn’t sexually assaulted at any point. It’s such a staple of the genre, I was half-expecting it to ruin my fun any minute.

Instead, Levine goes a less easy route where the crew don’t really accept Arabella, by and large, after she’s discovered — but nobody tries to assault her either. It feels a little unsatisfying, because heck, you know she’s proved herself… but it also feels more real, and gives us that tiny bit of bitterness to help the sweet wish fulfilment go down. (And it is sweet wish fulfilment — Victorianesque society, girl becomes the hero and travels by airship to Mars, finds love along the way.)

It was very much a fun and light read, and I appreciate it a lot for that. If you’re looking for the utterly grim, relentless grind of a fantasy/sci-fi world where everything goes wrong at every turn, this isn’t it — and if that’s all that feels real to you, you might find this unsatisfying.

Me? Well, it felt more like a snack than a full meal, but a little bit of choux pastry makes a nice change.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Heroine Complex

Posted 9 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Heroine Complex by Sarah KuhnHeroine Complex, Sarah Kuhn

I got this to review at some point, but I also bought a copy… a fact which I now regret. Okay, there’s a lot of cool things about it: female Asian protagonists who kick ass in different ways, a casually queer character, bitey flying cupcakes, the main character talks frankly about anxiety… And for quite a while I was enjoying it a lot.

It’s just, I don’t like reading books where people like me are called dead inside, even in jest. I’m sure the main character isn’t intended to be read as asexual — it’s mostly that she’s forced herself not to feel in order to control her powers (let it go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore…) — but the lack of sexual attraction to people she describes is my every day and whole life. And I’m okay with that; it doesn’t bother me or my partner, and I don’t think I’m broken because of it (anymore). It’s just the way I’m made.

It’s not my “Dead-Inside-O-Tron”.

Yes, that’s what Evie calls her lack of sexual attraction — her “Dead-Inside-O-Tron”. Neatly calls up two stereotypes about people who aren’t interested in sex: that we’re robots, and that we’re dead inside. And before you protest that nobody says that, I saw it twice on my twitter the day I was reading this book.

I kept going for a while with the book, but when I put it down to go out and came back, I found that I was just tired of it. Tired of the romance scenes punctuated by Evie wondering why her “Dead-Inside-O-Tron” had stopped working. I can get a person feeling that way and calling it that; I can understand that it’s not targeted to hurt people like me by reiterating the whole “you’re dead inside” meme. It doesn’t mean I can keep enjoying the book.

Reader, I put it down. I have plenty of books to read that don’t remind me constantly that people think I’m a dead-inside robot.

The flying bitey cupcakes are still a cool image, though.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Carry On

Posted 7 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Carry On by Rainbow RowellCarry On, Rainbow Rowell

When I was feeling a bit rough, Carry On felt like an excellent choice for some light reading. It’s all the joy of fanfic — willing characters to get together, enjoying the riffs on the canon (in this case, Harry Potter), enjoying the commentary on the genre — with the inventiveness of original fiction as well; it’s not a copy of Harry Potter, and there are some rather clever things going on with the language, the relationships, the inner thoughts of some of the characters. Agatha is a great commentary on the Chosen One’s destined girlfriend; she opts out and goes away and we’re rather glad for her, without that icky feeling prominent in a certain subset of fanfic where the gay couple are glorified above all else and the straight love interest is vilified just for existing. Agatha has a point.

Penelope is great fun, too; she’s like a combination of the best bits of both Ron and Hermione, with more of a sense of humour than either.

And Baz. I never got what people saw in Draco Malfoy as a character, but Baz is great — his ambivalence about Simon, his difficulties in coming to terms with the way things actually are (because of course, he doesn’t fit the traditional story any more than Agatha or Simon do). It’s like the characters are all framed by this traditional hero’s journey narrative, and they rebel and burst out of it in all directions while the adults around them try to keep things on course (especially the Mage, but also Baz’s father and aunt, to some extent).

There’s little of the pure evil type of thing going on here, no Voldemort who can be unequivocally hated. Everyone means well. There are blinded revolutionaries and turn-a-blind-eye aristocracy, and if they could only meet in the middle things would be better, but it’s not about fundamentally bad people, a fundamentally wrong cause.

Simon and Baz together is just… it’s very much of a piece with Harry/Draco fanfic (which I never read, but was aware of), but it makes the two characters really fit, and their relationship seem inevitable.

So yes. I enjoyed it. Again.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – The Glass Town Game

Posted 3 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of The Glass Town Game by Catherynne M. ValenteThe Glass Town Game, Catherynne M. Valente

The Glass Town Game feels a little like Fairyland-lite. Based on the childhood games and stories of the Brontes, including Branwell, Valente delivers another kind of portal fantasy in which the Brontes find themselves in the middle of their own imagined world. The four are generally fun to follow, though Branwell is rather annoying (probably quite in line with the real Branwell). It’s all very whimsical and charming, but the Fairyland books are better at that, so it didn’t quite work for me; I’ve seen Valente do it better.

That aside, it’s an absorbing read, with so much cleverness, including sly references to the Brontes adult work and little pieces from their biographies, etc. It ticks along at a fine pace, and each of the siblings gets the eye of the narrator on them in turn, dissecting their faults and flaws and cheering for their strengths and cleverness. You can’t quite root for Branwell (though you can understand him), but Charlotte in particular makes an excellent heroine. The first half is a little slower, and might take some getting into, but after the halfway point it picks up pace a lot.

If I were recommending somewhere to start with Valente’s work, it wouldn’t be this, but it’s definitely entertaining and beautifully written. It’s more in line with the Fairyland books in terms of style than her adult novels; it doesn’t come across as more poetry than prose, if that’s something which bothers you about her books like Deathless and Palimpsest.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Prime Meridian

Posted 30 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Prime Meridian by Sylvia Moreno-GarciaPrime Meridian, Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 10th July 2018

Prime Meridian is a rather quiet novella, following the low-key struggle of life in Mexico City for its protagonist, Amelia, while she dreams of life in the colonies on Mars. There’s no intense action, just an emotional undercurrent of bitterness and the fear that she’ll never escape Mexico City and her life there. There’s an honesty about Amelia’s character — not always likeable, for the reader or for the people around her — but always truthful, doing what she can to live her life and not kidding herself about it.

To say too much about this book wouldn’t spoil it, but I don’t think I can go too deeply into it. It’s wrenching in a way that has nothing to do with big worldwide events or apocalyptic calamities. It’s just about people, and the hope of getting out.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Maps to Nowhere

Posted 22 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Maps to Nowhere by Marie BrennanMaps to Nowhere, Marie Brennan

Almost all of these short stories worked for me, which is a wonder (I can be picky!). Each of them had some really fascinating ideas, and the only one that left me cold was ‘Love, Caycee’ (and even then, I liked the idea, it’s just I don’t think it quite came together into a story I found fun to read). Of course, one of my favourites is the one featuring Isabella Trent, particularly for the last letter in the narrative. Of course Isabella would get herself arrested over a matter of science!

But the others are all worth the time too, and I particularly liked ‘Once a Goddess’, the first story of the collection. Brennan is really great at atmosphere, as these stories show; each of them evoked its own landscape in my head.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Dark Sky

Posted 20 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Dark Sky by Mike BrooksDark Sky, Mike Brooks

In the first book, sometimes I found myself doubting that the Firefly references were intentional because they just felt misplaced (“I am a leaf on the wind”… during a successful flight?! why would you do that to me?!). In this book, the references just… I don’t know it couldn’t be heavily inspired by Firefly, when there’s a scene in which one character wonders if “bi zui” (shut up) is the only Mandarin the captain knows. Hmmm… sounds so familiar… And if this is like Firefly, I think I know exactly what the next book is going to be like based on a tiny scrap of the summary. Two words (well, a name): Adelai Niska.

It’s not a bad thing that it’s reminiscent of Firefly, but it can be distracting. Still, it has a lot of features which aren’t like Firefly, like the Maori bruiser Apirana (who would actually prefer not to beat people up for a living). There’s sweet relationships between various members of the crew, and everything trucks along fast enough to keep me interested. It’s derivative, yeah, but it’s entertaining, and I’m along for at least one more book.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Raven Stratagem

Posted 17 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha LeeRaven Stratagem, Yoon Ha Lee

I’ve been struggling to think of how to review this book, because it was a total whirlwind of stuff I really enjoyed, from the machinations of Cheris/Jedao to the characters to the countermeasures people try to employ. I really want to know more about the deeper plot between Jedao and a character who has mostly been conspicuous by their absence so far. I found it easier, this book, to concentrate on the plot and ignore the magical-science stuff surrounding the calendar, math, etc. I just took it as read and focused on the characters.

Perhaps it’s best I don’t try and say too much about it. It’s hard to describe, and all I can really say is that I enjoyed the characters (perhaps more so in this book than the last) and how things worked out. I enjoyed the twists of the narrative. And most of all, I stayed up all night to finish it.

Rating: 4/5

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