Tag: SF/F


Review – News From Gardenia

Posted 10 February, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of News from Gardenia by Robert LlewellynNews from Gardenia, Robert Llewellyn

The idea of creating a proper utopia, as opposed to portraying an idea that was meant to lead to a utopia and ended up being oppressive/only working for the upper class citizens, is not a new one, but it’s not one I’ve seen around much recently. Part of that is probably that it’s hard to make a society like that interesting; my English teacher Mr. E always used to point out that literature is about things going wrong, that what we are interested in is not happy people, but the conflicts they come into. I would add that we enjoy a happy ending, true, but it needs to be earned, whether by an epic battle or a comic series of misunderstandings and angst.

The problem with News from Gardenia, for me, is partly that. It’s a utopian society, and nothing seems to happen through the entire novel apart from the narrator being transported forward in time — where very conveniently, people immediately recognise what’s happened and sort out said hapless narrator.

The other problem is, well, I didn’t like the POV character. I’m not sure if he’s intended to be on the autism spectrum, as another reviewer suggested, or whether he’s just meant to be the stereotypical insensitive nerd guy, but his attitude to his girlfriend from page one was making me grind my teeth, and it didn’t get better. The writing isn’t good enough to carry that, making me wonder if it’s actually a character voice or the author. Blech.

So in summary, not worth it, sadly. But hey, if anyone wants it, I’m putting it on Bookmooch.

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Rachel Neumeier Blog Tour!

Posted 30 January, 2014 by Nikki in Giveaways, Interviews / 9 Comments

Cover of Black Dog, by Rachel NeumeierI’ve been a supporter/fan of Angry Robot and their sister companies, Strange Chemistry and Exhibit A, since… well, early on, really. So I’m glad that the second author I get to host here on this blog is Strange Chemistry’s Rachel Neumeier, promoting her new book, Black Dog. I haven’t finished reading it yet, but my review will be coming up soon: for now I’ll just say I’m intrigued by the Mexican-American heroes and heroine, and I think Neumeier is doing something fascinating and new here.

Anyway, I came up with a whole list of topics Rachel Neumeier might like to post about. I’ll let her introduce herself now!

“Thank you, Nikki, for inviting me to post at The Bibliophibian – it’s a pleasure to be here!

I liked the idea of picking out a Top Ten list of werewolves, but quickly discovered that ten was beyond me . . . I simply haven’t read enough UF or paranormal to manage a top ten list, yet.  I know that’s kind of shocking. I haven’t read anything by Eileen Wilks yet – though I want to, and have her first book on my Kindle.  I haven’t read Nalini Singh.  I’ve heard great things about NIGHTSHIFTED by Cassie Alexander, but I just haven’t found the time, yet.

I will say, any werewolf story that is more horror than fantasy isn’t likely to make my Top Ten list.  I like the modern shapeshifters of urban fantasy and paranormal much better than the old-fashioned horrific werewolves.

Let me start with werewolves and then move on to other shapeshifters – including at least two that I bet have never before appeared on “best shapeshifter” lists, though they totally qualify.

Okay, I discovered my all-time favorite werewolves in MOON CALLED by Patricia Briggs.  And my favorite little coyote, too, of course.  I totally fell in love with Bran Cornick not to mention Samuel and Charles.  And Adam, of course.  Scarily competent always works for me.

It’s hard to overstate how important the Mercy Thompson series was to me – without this series, it’s very unlikely I would ever have written BLACK DOG.  I would have stuck to straight secondary fantasy and maybe branchedCover of Iron Kissed, by Patricia Briggs out into SF, but UF or paranormal?  Very unlikely.

Is it cheating to pick two books in the same series?  But it’s my favorite series, so I think I will go with it.  IRON KISSED, the third Mercy Thompson book, is a really powerful story and made me really love Ben as a character.

Even though I haven’t even begun to read All The Things, I think the best wolves in UF/Paranormal are probably found in BITTEN, by Kelly Armstrong.  I don’t mind when werewolves don’t act a bit like real wolves no matter what form they’re in – but I am not so keen on werewolves that are supposed to act like real wolves, but don’t.  I really love the way the werewolves in Armstrong’s series act so much like real wolves when they are in wolf form.  Armstrong does by far the best job of capturing the playfulness and joie de verve of wolves.

The very first werewolf book I ever read was BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE by Annette Curtis Klause.  This story hits all the werewolf tropes – and it does it very well, too.  It’s easy to get pulled along by the new, shiny titles as they hit the shelves, and of course we all have ever-expanding TBR piles – but this one is well worth looking up.

I’ve read other werewolf stories, of course, but none that would make a Top Ten list.  Instead, I’m going to expand the parameters to other kinds of shapeshifters and see if I can fill out the rest of a Top Ten list that way.

And that leads me to an obvious choice, because, hey, Ilona Andrews!  For me, the Kate Daniels series did not hit its stride until the third book, MAGIC STRIKES.  Everyone insisted I should keep going, and I’m glad I did, because with the third book, everything pulled together and the series stepped up from “okay” to “can’t miss.”  Now Ilona Andrews Cover of Magic Strikes, by Ilona Andrewsis an auto-buy author (s) for me.  Because, Kate!  And Curren!  And their amazing chemistry.  Everyone needs to read this whole series just so they can appreciate the “Oh, sorry, we broke your rock,” line in MAGIC RISES.  There are probably other werelions out there, but I bet no one else does it as well as Ilona Andrews.  And, of course, there are also some fine werewolves in this series as well.

Another story which has werewolves, but I love the cat better, is DEFINITELY DEAD by Charlaine Harris.  Quinn!  I can’t even imagine.  What an amazing creature a weretiger must be.  I was sorry it didn’t work out between him and Sookie.

There are no werewolves at all in WAR FOR THE OAKS by Emma Bull, but every single person who loves UF should give this one, published in 2004, a try.  Because the Pooka is amazing.  And, hey, a Pooka who turns into a big, shaggy, black dog is sort of werewolf-like, right?

While we’re on the subject of black dogs, the ones in Deb Coates’ DEEP DOWN are not shapeshifters, so they don’t count.  Yet this is an UF . . . well, a rural fantasy . . . that readers who love the genre might not want to miss.  The black dogs in this one are not a bit like mine, being instead the classical harbingers of death.  If you’re the sort of person who can see ghosts, you may find these black dogs following you around and chatting with you, which may be a bit disconcerting.

Returning to shapeshifters, but departing from anything even vague dog-like, one of my favorite shapeshifters in fantasy is found in THE GREY HORSE by RA MacAvoy.  You will surely have no trouble guessing what kind of shapeshifter we find in this story, a beautiful, quiet fantasy first published back in 1987, set in Ireland.  I’m delighted to see that this one is now available on Kindle, though I have to say, I definitely preferred the original cover.Cover of Dun Lady's Jess by Doranna Durgin

And, while we’re on the subject of shapeshifter stories that also make the horse lovers among us happy, DUN LADY’S JESS by Doranna Durgin approaches the concept of shapechanging from the other direction:  a horse that is turned into a woman.  This story is actually a portal fantasy, clever and beautifully written, and anyone who ever went through a horse-crazy period (or is still horse-crazy now) should definitely look it up.

And that’s ten!  Werewolves, werelions and weretigers, pookas and black dogs, and a couple of wonderful horses:  a shapeshifter menagerie.  At the moment, I don’t plan to ever write shapeshifter stories set in any world other than that of BLACK DOG – but who can say?

Thanks to Rachel Neumeier for stopping by on her blog tour. Don’t forget to check out her site, and if you’re interested in Black Dog but haven’t got your hands on it yet, I’m doing a giveaway! Just use the Rafflecopter linked below to enter, and I’ll contact you if you’re the lucky one!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And in case you’re not sure, here’s a summary:

Natividad is Pure, one of the rare girls born able to wield magic. Pure magic can protect humans against the supernatural evils they only half-acknowledge – the blood kin or the black dogs. In rare cases – like for Natividad’s father and older brother – Pure magic can help black dogs find the strength to control their dark powers.

But before Natividad’s mother can finish teaching her magic their enemies find them. Their entire village in the remote hills of Mexico is slaughtered by black dogs. Their parents die protecting them. Natividad and her brothers must flee across a strange country to the only possible shelter: the infamous black dogs of Dimilioc, who have sworn to protect the Pure.

In the snowy forests of Vermont they are discovered by Ezekiel Korte, despite his youth the strongest black dog at Dimilioc and the appointed pack executioner. Intrigued by Natividad he takes them to Dimilioc instead of killing them.

Now they must pass the tests of the Dimilioc Master. Alejandro must prove he can learn loyalty and control even without his sister’s Pure magic. Natividad’s twin Miguel must prove that an ordinary human can be more than a burden to be protected. And even at Dimilioc a Pure girl like Natividad cannot remain unclaimed to cause fighting and distraction. If she is to stay she must choose a black dog mate.

But, first, they must all survive the looming battle.

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Review – What Makes This Book So Great

Posted 27 January, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of What Makes This Book So Great by Jo WaltonWhat Makes This Book So Great, Jo Walton

If you’re looking for SF must-read novels, I would say to start here (or by exploring the original posts on Tor.com) rather than with something like the “100 Must Read” books I’ve been reviewing recently. They barely scrape above the level of a list: while they include a bit about each book and why it’s worthwhile, Jo Walton is more passionate, more excitable, more like another fan — she doesn’t claim any kind of authority for her choice in books, doesn’t hedge about including one book over another because it was more influential. Those “100 Must Read” books are a reference, a list; this book is a conversation.

It’s rare for a non-fiction book to keep my attention so strongly as this one did. Part of it is, I guess, that various things Jo Walton’s written resonate right through me — and I also know a little of her personal warmth and kindness. While I’ve spoken to a few authors and even trade tweets semi-regularly with a couple, Jo Walton is the only one who makes me feel that she cares about me as a person and not as a fan to be casually courted. So there’s that: I’m utterly and completely biased about her and her work, and there’s some similar stuff going on in our backgrounds (Welshness, for one thing), and even our non-SF tastes like Heyer and Sayers (and casual references to the same, even in the context of talking about SF). So it’s no surprise that I adored this.

It also helps that it’s very easily bite-size. I could read a few entries, then roll off my bed and reluctantly transcribe another few words — or take some of her enthusiasm and interests with me into my slush reading for Lightspeed, or have lunch with my family, or watch a lecture on astrobiology.

It’s the enthusiasm that really makes it, though. She makes me want to hurry up and read all the books, not just the ones she talks about, but all of them. And then reread them. She made me sit up in delight and grin and go yes, me too. Or hey, I want that.

The books may not all be conveniently in print, as the editors of “100 Must Read” books and others of that species try and arrange, but there’s a love of the possibilities of a tiny second-hand bookshop and the charity shop find that had me scrawling down a list of stuff to look for. It’s not a catalogue, a marketing ploy, a competition to be the most well-read — it’s just sharing books and the love of books and our idiosyncrasies about books.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – 100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels

Posted 26 January, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of 100 Must Read Science Fiction Novels100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels, Nick Rennison and Stephen E. Andrews

100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels is, like its fantasy counterpart, pretty predictable in many ways. There are some I hadn’t heard of, but it’s still predominantly from the white male establishment. There is some lip service to the increasing diversity of science fiction in the introduction, but that isn’t really carried through to the books. Flicking through it, I landed on female SF writers only twice in 84 pages.

On the other hand, the introduction is an interesting whip through of the foundations of the SF genre, and there are a fair number of novels here that I hadn’t heard of or hadn’t got round to yet that are now (higher) on my reading list. As long as you realise that it is limited in scope and not a definitive list of the best SF novels out there, it could be a useful resource.

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Review – Emilie & The Hollow World

Posted 18 January, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Emilie & The Hollow World by Martha WellsEmilie & the Hollow World, Martha Wells

I’ve only read one of Martha Wells’ books before, but that was enough to make me a fan. Compared to that one, City of Bones, Emilie & the Hollow World is a much more simplistic story, but I still enjoyed it a lot. Someone described it as a “girl’s own adventure” story, which I think is pretty accurate. The main character Emilie is resourceful: I don’t understand people who are criticising it saying she spends the first half of the book just following people around. She runs away from home, stows on board a ship, saves someone’s life with impulsive action, and immediately starts making sensible suggestions to the crew of said ship.

Now, if you were to say she’s a bit wish-fulfillmenty, well yeah, maybe. But heck, I loved Emilie’s adventures and her resourcefulness; I don’t see why it should be odder for a girl to be plucky and resourceful than for a boy. There’s also people complaining that she doesn’t act like a Victorian girl, but… this isn’t meant to be set in the Victorian period? It’s plainly another world entirely, for all that the vaguely steampunkish trappings might make you think it’s just alternate Victoriana, and there’s a hint of Victorian-ish morals around Emilie’s family. Still, those’re parallels; that doesn’t mean Wells has to stick with it.

Which brings me to another point I really liked — the world-building. I expected that, from the standard City of Bones set, and while this is lighter, that imagination is still there. I loved, for example, the half-underwater city. I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything quite like that before. There’s other stuff to appreciate, too, like the casual flipping of gender roles where Rani talks about Kenar pining for her, and when they reunite, she spins him around in her arms!

Overall, very much looking forward to my ARC of Emilie & The Sky World.

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Review – 100 Must Read Fantasy Novels

Posted 9 January, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 17 Comments

Cover of 100 Must Read Fantasy Novels100 Must-Read Fantasy Novels, Nick Rennison, Stephen E. Andrews

This is a pretty good whistle-stop tour of some important, influential, or particularly interesting fantasy novels. I’ve got two pages in my notebook scrawled full of books to try now, and reminders of stuff I want to go back to. It’s a very accessible little book; it begins with an essay about the origins of fantasy, includes a glossary of various terms which can get confusing (the differences between sub-genres, for example) and a lot of extra suggestions after each book for further reading.

Normally, this sort of book doesn’t interest me much because they always pick the same novels. Well, this one had a fair amount of the staples on it — Tolkien, of course, C.S. Lewis, Ursula Le Guin, Lewis Carroll, Michael Moorcock — but it did have some others which surprised me — Megan Lindholm, for example, listed under that name and not as Robin Hobb — and some pretty recent ones too. It doesn’t claim to show us the best of fantasy fiction, which is a good plan, to my mind — only books which are worth reading.

Not exactly groundbreaking, but worth a flick through at least. Excuse me, I’m off to look up some ebook prices.

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Worlds Without End Challenge

Posted 27 December, 2013 by Nikki in General / 1 Comment

This year, Worlds Without End ran a challenge about getting people to read female genre authors who were new to them. Now, I figured I already read plenty of female authors, but there’s always room for new ones, right? I even decided to go one better: I’d read double the amount suggested in the challenge. And I’ve been pretty successful so far — these are my completed reviews for the books I’ve read, available on Goodreads. Likes on Goodreads are super helpful, by the way: I’ve given up linking to the GR version of each review, as the links never registered any clicks, but it would really help me in getting ARCs and so on!

Oh, and there was one other rule — you had to pick a random new female author. So I had to pick two.

Anyway, here’s the list:

Now, the observant will have noticed that I am not quite there yet, and I haven’t got a lot of time. So, here’s the list of books I hope to get read in order to complete the challenge, by New Year’s Eve.

  • Lauren Beukes, Zoo City
  • Helene Wecker, The Golem and the Djinni
  • Melissa Scott, Shadow Man
  • Joanna Russ, The Female Man
  • Rosie Best, Skulk
  • Julianna Scott, The Holders

Wish me luck…

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 17 December, 2013 by Nikki in General / 1 Comment

Some other blogs I follow do this meme, every Tuesday, and it seemed like a good idea. So! This week the top ten theme picked by The Broke and the Bookish is “top ten new-to-me authors in 2013”. This is pretty hard — I’m rubbish at picking top tens — but hey, with this one I just need to use Goodreads and look among my four and five starred books for this year, and hopefully I should be able to figure something out. They will not, I warn, be in any particular order.

  1. Cassandra Rose Clarke. I loved The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, which reminded me of a more daring, personal The Positronic Man (Isaac Asimov & Robert Silverberg). All sorts of themes which I love, and there’s something so powerfully sensual about it, too — there’s a physicality to it that surprised me and moved me.
  2. Georgette Heyer. I think I may technically have read one or two of her detective novels in 2012, but I kept away from her Regency romances, because I thought that was obviously not my thing. How wrong I was! The Talisman Ring, The Reluctant Widow and The Grand Sophy were probably my favourites. Heyer’s romances are actually way more fun (for me) than her detective novels, and often wickedly funny too.
  3. Karen Lord. I’ve only read part of The Best of All Possible Worlds, but I’m enjoying it, and I really loved Redemption in Indigo. Folk-story type narration and structure, awesome female characters, etc.
  4. Martha Wells. I’ve only read City of Bones, but I loved it. Non-traditional gender stuff, avoids the easy way out, lots of tasty, tasty world building. I think I’ve bought almost all the rest of her books as a result.
  5. Franny Billingsley. Oh my goodness, Chime. Just, oh my goodness. I loved the narration, the magic, the things it said about abuse and surviving and living again. I also enjoyed The Folk Keeper and Well Wished — less so, and they’re less touching/heavy subjects, but they’re a lot of fun too.
  6. Arthur C. Clarke. Yeah, I know, I’m a bit late on this one. But I really enjoyed 2001: A Space Odyssey. I didn’t realise that I’d enjoy his writing style so much — I had him sort of filed away as maybe like H.G. Wells, interesting for ideas but not quite entertaining. Wroooong.
  7. Lord Dunsany. Yeah, again, I know. I read Time and the Gods and am determined to spend more time reading his stuff: it’s just the sort of mythic, rich stuff I can really dig into.
  8. C.J. Sansom. I’ve been meaning to read his stuff for quite a while, but this year I finally got round to it. I enjoy his writing style, and while there are bones I have to pick with the Shardlake books, I do enjoy his way of portraying that time period and his choice of protagonist.
  9. Chris F. Holm. About time another Angry Robot author showed up, doncha think? I love Dead Harvest, etc: it’s funny, it’s a good pastiche of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett et al., and the covers are amazing. I just had so much fun reading these books.
  10. David Weber. He and Aliette de Bodard fought a fierce battle for this last spot, but he won. I loved On Basilisk Station, despite many flaws I could find in it. I mean, ten pages of exposition slap bang in the middle of an epic space chase/battle. WHAT. But still. I love Honor and I’m looking forward to reading more of the series.

I’m being good and sticking to the letter of the law: only a top ten. The top ten books I read in 2013 is coming up not next week but the week after: goodness knows how I’ll manage with that. But for now, off I go to bury my nose in the pages of I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (Alan Bradley).

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Review – Little Brother

Posted 16 December, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Little Brother, by Cory DoctorowLittle Brother, Cory Doctorow

I’ve been meaning to read Little Brother for a long time, so when it came up for the SF/F course on Coursera, it seemed like it was finally time. Maybe it got built up a bit too much over time, because I found it fairly disappointing. There’s something very immature about it — in some ways, that’s part of its charm, because it’s enthusiastic and straightforward and the characters/plot are earnest.

But. While I enjoy Cory Doctorow’s non-fiction writing (he writes very clearly about copyright, piracy, etc), I haven’t enjoyed his fiction nearly as much. He seems to write still partly in a non-fiction mode: we get lectured about the world he’s setting up, rather than seeing it in action. It’s like a thought experiment, a way of playing out his concerns. There’s a place for that, of course, but it’s a lot easier to swallow when it’s wrapped up in prose like that of Ursula Le Guin. This probably is a fairly direct comparison to books like Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland: it’s a story born of convictions more than of the urge to tell a story, I think.

For a reader who is used to Cory Doctorow’s work and already interested in this kind of thing, the narrator’s explanations are unnecessary, and even for those who are not, it’s a bit heavy-handed. Doctorow’s writing is clear, and he gets his points across… but for me, that was a trade off against flow and interest.

I don’t really see why people found this so fascinating and absorbing, I’m afraid.

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Review – The Left Hand of Darkness

Posted 13 December, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula Le GuinThe Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula Le Guin

Reread this for my SF/F class on Coursera. I loved it more, this time: read it slowly, appreciated the details, just as the professor suggested. Partially because, of course, I knew it would be rewarding with Ursula Le Guin. I don’t think I was ready for this book when I read it before: the fierce joy and love in some parts of it, the devastation, the making-strange of familiar things and the making familiar of strange things.

Some parts were… maybe less subtle than I thought Le Guin would be. All the stuff about Orgoreyn seemed fairly obviously a commentary on the relations between the US and Russia; the portrayal of Karhide was more subtle, but the Voluntary Farm seems a fairly naked commentary on the gulags. I expected more subtlety, really.

I do love the world Le Guin builds. I was impatient with it last time, but having experienced more of her work, all the detail and background is part of the picture, part of the creativity, not ancillary to the plot.

Don’t read this if you’re not ready to be shaken up about gender, but really, that isn’t the important thing about it. The real importance of it is not the way Le Guin plays with and reflects on gender (Tehanu would be equally important for that, I think), but the way she thinks about dualism/wholeness, the imagery of Yin and Yang which her whole story invokes.

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