Tag: SF/F


Review – Sarah Canary

Posted 11 August, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Sarah Canary by Karen Joy FowlerSarah Canary, Karen Joy Fowler

I do not know what to make of this book. I suspected I wasn’t going to enjoy it, since I haven’t enjoyed other stuff by Karen Joy Fowler, but that’s not exactly what happened. I did get caught up in the story, intrigued by the mystery of Sarah Canary. At the same time, I felt like it was one of a type of novel I don’t get on very well with, something very opaque, where motivations aren’t clear and things just happen to the characters as if they are just giving themselves over to whichever way life pushes them.

Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with that kind of story, it just doesn’t really do anything for me. Well, I’m sure there are exceptions, but this wasn’t one — the best I can say is that I read it very quickly, I had no intention of stopping, and I did find it interesting. Partially because of the genre-twisty is-this-SF question about it, rather than because of it — ambiguous stories don’t bother me, but the combination of style and character here did.

On the other hand, I did like the portrayal of B.J. For all that he’s clearly “not all there” in colloquial terms, he’s good at heart and the way he sees the world makes for an interesting point of view. The passages from his point of view were maybe the best in the novel, for me.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Mindstar Rising

Posted 8 August, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Mindstar Rising by Peter F. HamiltonMindstar Rising, Peter F. Hamilton

Mindstar Rising is a reasonably entertaining technological thriller, though I’m not going to touch the politics aspect of the speculative world Hamilton has created. The pace is okay, enough to keep you interested, and there are some characters that you get a little caught up in — Julia, for example, and her grandfather; I felt pity for the wreck he was in, and sympathy because of the way he adored her. And Julia… I sympathised with the way she was struggling to figure out how she fit into the world.

On the whole, though, I won’t be reading more of Hamilton’s work, at least until I’ve got this ridiculous stack of books down a bit (unless there’s another Hamilton book hiding in the pile). I think it’s something more in my sister’s line than mine, perhaps. Anyway, my main problem was the main character, Greg Mandel. He was just bland to me, up to the point where he used his psychic abilities to seduce a much younger, vulnerable woman. Then I started feeling twitchy. It’s one thing to use it against people in criminal investigations — although even then, I feel like someone’s thoughts and emotions are really their own business and no one else’s — but using it for the sole purpose of getting laid?

Also, man, I have had enough of the male gaze-y crap. There are intelligent women in this book, strong women, but I think every woman Mandel comes across is evaluated first in terms of how she looks. I’ve had quiiiiiite enough of that, thank you.

Entertaining, like I said, but I’m not feeling the enthusiasm.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Gloriana

Posted 7 August, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Gloriana by Michael MoorcockGloriana, or the Unfulfill’d Queen, Michael Moorcock

When I started reading Gloriana — maybe even before that, when I read about the premise — I was very doubtful about whether I’d like it. The way the plot revolves around the fact that Gloriana can’t have an orgasm just baffled me: it made it sound like that was the most important thing in life, which… it isn’t. Still, actually reading the book, and especially the ending, made me think that aspect of it is actually a metaphor. I understand people who find the ending abhorrent: there’s a rape scene which may seem to imply that someone who is anorgasmic just needs to be raped.

Reading both the original and revised endings, though, I don’t think that was where Moorcock was going with that. In both, he emphasises that what finally allows Gloriana to find fulfilment is not anything really to do with sex, but that for the first time in her life, she can focus solely and entirely on herself. For the rest of the book — the rest of Gloriana’s life — she’s too concerned with being a queen, with being a country. But here, in both scenarios, whether she takes control of it or not, she becomes an individual in her fear.

Now, why that had to be via sex and sexual violence is a question that’s definitely valid to ask, but it is important to read something carefully if you’re going to critique it. More immediate to me are the questions about consent concerning children and animals, which are not dealt with critically at all — rather the opposite.

In any case, all of that aside, I really liked Gloriana. Not so much for individual characters as for the whole idea, the plotting and scheming, the setting. Which is not to say that the individual characters weren’t of interest — they were, in their tangle of motivations and confusion of feelings. Montfallcon, particularly, was interesting because of the way his motivations were unveiled piece by piece, slowly. The labyrinthine world of the court as a whole, though; that, I really liked. I haven’t actually read Gormenghast, but from what I know of it, I think Moorcock made a worthy tribute to it in many ways here.

The writing itself was, to my mind, easy to read. He doesn’t go for any false archaisms, though the style isn’t contemporary, and while he piles on the adjectives and so on, I do feel that’s an intentional embarrassment of riches, like the court itself.

I can understand why people dislike this book, or never finish it, but I’m glad I did.

Rating: 4/5

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 6 August, 2014 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

What have you recently finished reading?
Mindstar Rising, by Peter F. Hamilton. I think it was his first novel, according to the back of it, so I might try something from his later stuff, but this didn’t impress me that much. It was aaaaall about the male gaze, as well: the first thing we know about female characters is whether they’ve “let themselves go” or how young and nubile they are. Ugh. So in the end, not impressed.

What are you currently reading?
Some of the things I’ve been featuring on this list for a while are quite big books, so they don’t go on the bus with me, etc. So The Vanishing Witch (Karen Maitland) and Tomorrow and Tomorrow (Thomas Sweterlitsch) are still in progress…

My reading in the clinic is currently Gwenda Bond’s Blackwood, which works for the Strange Chem reading month, and which I’ve had for a while. Because of it, I ended up on Wikipedia last night reading up about Roanoke, Croatoan, and then all sorts of missing persons stuff — though I did also read about the genetic testing being done to see if the lost colonists actually assimilated with the local Native American tribes, which is more plausible than some theories, and quite interesting. I want to know what they find!

At home, for ARC August, along with the others I’ve also picked up Marcus Sedgwick’s A Love Like Blood. I’ve been slightly spoilered for the ending by an injudicious review, but I don’t have a great problem with spoilers, so I don’t mind too much. It’s interesting, though very similar in tone to other books in the genre in many ways.

Aaaand from my epic library clean-up, I’m reading Jurassic Mary: Mary Anning and the Primeval Monsters (Patricia Pierce), which is very interesting, although there’s a lot about the various men in the profession who overshadowed Mary Anning, which I regret a little in a book that wants to cast light on her.

What will you be reading next?
As usual, heaven knows, but Strange Chem-wise, I think I’m going to fiiiiinally read Stolen Songbird, and that also covers ARC August as well. Even if the “advance” part is kind of dead in the water, I still received it as an ARC and I feel obligated to get round to it.

Library-wise, I think it’ll be Sarah Canary (Karen Joy Fowler), which will also cover my ten-new-to-me SF Masterworks goal.

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Review – Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985–2010

Posted 5 August, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010 by Damien Broderick and Paul Di FillippoScience Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985 – 2010, Damien Broderick, Paul Di Philippo

This isn’t exactly filled with sparkling deathless prose, and if you’re expecting something definitive or unassailable, I think you’re a bit batty. If you think you’re going to agree with every choice, I think you’re more than a bit batty. It’s basically a list with some commentary, comprising of a number of novels which the authors found notable in one way or another — not necessarily literary merit, but sometimes just really cool ideas.

It’s an interesting list, a little more diverse than I was expecting, and I’m planning to go through it reading all the books. Sometimes the commentary by the authors is useful, sometimes it amounts to little more than a plot summary, but either way it usually gives you a feel of what the book is about, at the very least.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The King of Elfland’s Daughter

Posted 3 August, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The King of Elfland's Daughter by Lord DunsanyThe King of Elfland’s Daughter, Lord Dunsany

I can’t really understand people disliking this book. Well, no, I can: the language is olde worlde, the phrase ‘the fields we know’ is used far too many times, it’s more of a fairytale like story than modern fantasy, though it’s sold as being one of the defining moments for the genre, and if you’re looking at it from a modern point of view, the characters and their motivations are hopelessly unsatisfying.

I thought the language was beautiful, though: Dunsany struck just the right note for me, and for the most part I liked his turns of phrase. Even the repeated ‘the fields we know’ phrase and others like it hark back to ‘rosy-fingered Dawn’ and other such epithets in Greek epics. I love fairytales, and I think Dunsany’s mimesis here is pretty darn good. I can see how it influenced modern fantasy, and if you expect satisfying characters and development in a fairytale-esque story then… I’m not sure what you’re after. Modern updates of the stories often inject that kind of thing, but it’s not there originally.

Seriously, this book is just gorgeous, in my opinion. I wanted to wrap myself up in it, read some passages again and again, and I did actually genuinely feel the tension of how it would all be resolved. I loved the ending, the descriptions of Lirazel coming back to meet her son and husband. I loved the little asides, like the mischievous trolls.

So, so glad I finally read this.

Rating: 5/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 26 July, 2014 by Nikki in General / 42 Comments

Time for Stacking the Shelves! I have not bought books this week! I have been to the library three times, though… Still, this is a much smaller haul than it could be, knowing me. (If you don’t believe me, go back and check last week’s.)

ARCs/review copies

Cover of Unthink by Chris Paley Cover of Of Bone and Thunder by Chris Evans Cover of The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero Cover of Tales from the Palace of the Fairy King by Daniel Lieberman

I’ve already read Unthink; I’m being pretty good at keeping on top of my books from bookbridgr. The next two are from Netgalley, and the last one direct from the author. Thank you to everyone involved in giving out ARCs and review copies!

Library (fiction)

Cover of Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey Cover of Windhaven by Lisa Tuttle and G.R.R. Martin Cover of This Is The Way The World Ends by James Morrow Cover of The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

The first two I actually own; Guardian of the Dead I own in Kindle format, though, and I only really use my Kobo lately, and Windhaven is… I think I’ve owned it in ebook for about five years, probably longer, and the site I bought it from has shut down leaving me with no access. So. Libraries! Then This is the Way the World Ends (I’ve checked the title and it should have the is in it; why the SF Masterworks cover omits it is anyone’s guess, though the physical copy I actually got has it right) doubles up for two of my challenges, one to read ten new-to-me SF Masterworks, and one to read all the books recced in Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010, which you’ll see below.

Library (non-fiction)

Cover of The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker Cover of Delete This At Your Peril Cover of Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010 by Damien Broderick and Paul Di Fillippo Cover of The Search for Richard III by Philippa Langley and Michael Jones

I’ve been meaning to read The Better Angels of Our Nature since I did the Everyday Moralities class on Coursera. The humour of Delete This At Your Peril reminds me of my dad (look it up, Mum — you’ll agree). I’m planning to read all the 101 SF novels recced in the third book here; not because I think it’s particularly better than any other book of recs, but because it spans twenty-five years and contains a lot I haven’t read yet/need to reread.

As for Philippa Langley, well, I’ve heard that she’s a bit… over-enthusiastic about Richard III and that she came across slightly batty on the documentary. So far the book isn’t contradicting that impression. Still, apparently Michael Jones’ chapters are worth it.

Comics (library)

Cover of the comic Mara by Brian Wood et al

Random choice from the library’s graphic novel section!

So, what’s everyone else been up to? Have y’all been good or bad this week with your buying habits?

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Review – The Table of Less Valued Knights

Posted 20 July, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Table of Less Valued Knights by Marie PhillipsThe Table of Less Valued Knights, Marie Phillips

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this one when I requested it. On the one hand, I love Arthuriana and I have enjoyed several loose interpretations of it, even humorous/light-hearted ones. On the other hand, I’m not very good at humour myself, and can be a bit snooty about anything that messes too much with my views on Arthuriana.

It turns out, I really enjoyed it, and read it in pretty much one go. I love that while there is humour, it’s pretty gentle: it doesn’t single out any character as a laughing stock, and the characters aren’t there just to be laughed at. They’re still people, with goals of their own, and they’re likeable people at that. I somewhat feared Sir Humphrey would just be a laughable oaf, but he turns out to be a good guy even if he doesn’t subscribe to the kind of honour culture the Round Table stands for.

It is all very modern and anachronistic: there’s customs officials between the kingdoms, for example, for the sake of absurdity. There’s also pretty liberal views on LGBT people, including a knight who prefers to be called Gwendoline, and a gay relationship driving part of the plot.

All in all, it’s fun, and I’m really glad I read it. The tone is maybe reminiscent of Gerald Morris, albeit for adults, but otherwise it’s quite a fresh take on the idea of Camelot.

Rating: 4/5

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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

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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.

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